Public interest design

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Public interest design is a human-centered[1] and participatory design practice[2] that places emphasis on the “triple bottom line” of sustainable design that includes ecological, economic, and social issues and on designing products, structures, and systems that address issues such as economic development and the preservation of the environment. Projects incorporating public interest design focus on the general good of the local citizens with a fundamentally collaborative perspective.[3]

Starting in the late 1990s, several books, convenings, and exhibitions have generated new momentum and investment in public interest design. Since then, public interest design—frequently described as a movement or field—has gained public recognition.[4]


Public interest design grew out of the community design movement, which got its start in 1968 after American civil rights leader Whitney Young issued a challenge to attendees of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) national convention:[5]

". . . you are not a profession that has distinguished itself by your social and civic contributions to the cause of civil rights, and I am sure this does not come to you as any shock. You are most distinguished by your thunderous silence and your complete irrelevance.[6]"

The response to Young’s challenge was the establishment of community design centers (CDCs) across the United States.[7] CDCs, which were often established with the support of area universities,[8] provided a variety of design services – such as affordable housing - within their own neighborhoods.

In architecture schools, “design/build programs” provided outreach to meet local design needs, particularly in low-income and underserved areas.[8] One of the earliest design/build programs was Yale University’s Vlock Building Project. The project, which was initiated by students at Yale University School of Architecture in 1967, requires graduate students to design and build low-income housing.[9]

One of the most publicized programs is the Auburn University Rural Studio design/build program, which was founded in 1993.[2][10][11] Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth created the program to inspire hands-on community-outreach and service-based architectural opportunities for students.[12] The program gained traction due to Mockbee investing in the low-income housing aesthetics — an aspect previously downplayed in architectural design of houses for the poor.[12] Mockbee and Ruth expressed their understanding of the communities through their architectural designs; the visuals and functionality address the needs of the citizens.[12] The Rural Studio’s first project, Bryant House, was completed in 1994 for $16,500.[13]

Public Interest Design from the 1990s – Present[edit]

Interest in public interest design – particularly socially responsible architecture – began to grow during the 1990s and continued into the first decade of the new millennium in reaction to the expansive globalization.[14] Conferences, books, and exhibitions began to showcase the design work being done beyond the community design centers,[2] which had greatly decreased in numbers since their peak in the seventies.[8]

Non-profit organizations – including Architecture for Humanity, BaSiC Initiative, Design Corps, Public Architecture, Project H, Project Locus, and MASS Design Group – began to provide design services that served a larger segment of the population than had been served by traditional design professions.[2][15][16]

Many public interest design organizations also provide training and service-learning programs for architecture students and graduates. In 1999, the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship was established,[2] giving young architects the opportunity to work on three-year-long design and community development projects in low-income communities.[17]

Two of the earliest formal public interest design programs include the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio at Mississippi State University[2] and the Public Interest Design Summer Program at the University of Texas[18] .[19] In February 2015, Portland State University launched the first graduate certificate program in Public Interest Design in the United States.[20]

The first professional-level training was conducted in July 2011 by the Public Interest Design Institute (PIDI) and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.[21]

Also in 2011, a survey of American Institute of Architects (AIA), 77% of AIA members agreed that the mission of the professional practice of public interest design could be defined as the belief that every person should be able to live in a socially, economically, and environmentally healthy community.[22][23]

Conferences and exhibits[edit]

The annual Structures for Inclusion conference showcases public interest design projects from around the world. The first conference, which was held in 2000, was called “Design for the 98% Without Architects."[2] Speaking at the conference, Rural Studio co-founder Samuel Mockbee challenged attendees to serve a greater segment of the population: “I believe most of us would agree that American architecture today exists primarily within a thin band of elite social and economic conditions[24] creating architecture, and ultimately community, it should make no difference which economic or social type is served, as long as the status quo of the actual world is transformed by an imagination that creates a proper harmony for both the affluent and the disadvantaged.[24]"

In 2007, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum held an exhibition, titled “Design for the Other 90%,” curated by Cynthia Smith. Following the success of this exhibit, Smith developed the "Design Other 90" initiative into an ongoing series, the second of which was titled “Design for the Other 90%: CITIES”[25] (2011), held at the United Nations headquarters. In 2010, Andres Lipek of the Museum of Modern Art in New York curated an exhibit, called “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement.[26][2]

Professional Networks[edit]

One of the oldest professional networks related to public interest design is the professional organization Association for Community Design (ACD), which was founded in 1977.[2][27]

In 2005, adopting a term coined by architect Kimberly Dowdell, the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Network was co-founded by a group of community design leaders,[2] during a meeting hosted by the Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The SEED Network established a common set of five principles and criteria for practitioners of public interest design. An evaluation tool called the SEED Evaluator is available to assist designers and practitioners in developing projects that align with SEED Network goals and criteria.[citation needed]

In 2006, the Open Architecture Network was launched by Architecture for Humanity in conjunction with co-founder Cameron Sinclair's TED Wish.[28][non-primary source needed] Taking on the name Worldchanging in 2011, the network is an open-source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design. Designers of all persuasions can share ideas, designs and plans as well as collaborate and manage projects. while protecting their intellectual property rights using the Creative Commons "some rights reserved" licensing system.

In 2007, DESIGN 21: Social Design Network, an online platform built in partnership with UNESCO, was launched.

In 2011, the Design Other 90 Network was launched by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, in conjunction with its Design with the Other 90%: CITIES exhibition.

In 2012,, with the support of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched HCD Connect, a network for social sector leaders committed to human-centered design. In this context, human-centered design begins with the end-user of a product, place, or system — taking into account their needs, behaviors and desires. The fast-growing professional network of 15,000 builds on "The Human-Centered Design Toolkit,"[29][non-primary source needed] which was designed specifically for people, nonprofits, and social enterprises that work with low-income communities throughout the world. People using the HCD Toolkit or human-centered design in the social sector now have a place to share their experiences, ask questions, and connect with others working in similar areas or on similar challenges.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ HCD Connect Methods
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Cary, John. "Infographic: Public Interest Design". Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  3. ^ Schneider, Gretchen (Spring 2013). "Design in the public interest sets a new course". Design for Dignity. Architecture Boston: 36–39.
  4. ^ Cary, John; Courtney E. Martin (October 6, 2012). "Dignifying Design". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  5. ^ Leavitt, Jacqueline; Kara Hoffernan (2006). "Multiplying Knowledge: Service-Learning x Activism = Community Scholars". In Mary C. Hardin (ed.). From the Studio to the Streets: Service Learning in Planning and Architecture. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. pp. 103. ISBN 978-1563771002.
  6. ^ "Whitney Young 1968 Speech to the AIA". Archived from the original on 2015-05-10. Retrieved 2012-10-23.
  7. ^ Design Coalition, "Our Roots"
  8. ^ a b c Pearson, Jason (2002). Mark Robbins (ed.). University-Community Design Partnerships: Innovations in Practice (PDF). New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN 1-56898-379-4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  9. ^ Hill, David (March 2012). "The New Frontier in Education". Architectural Record. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  10. ^ Clemence, Sara (April 2012). "Avant-Garde in Alabama". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  11. ^ Bostwick, William. ""Citizen Architect": The Humble Origins of Socially-Responsible Design". Fast Company. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  12. ^ a b c GOODMAN, ANNA G. (2014). "The Paradox of Representation and Practice in the Auburn University Rural Studio". Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review. 25 (2): 39–52. ISSN 1050-2092. JSTOR 24347716.
  13. ^ "Samuel Mockbee and the Rural Studio: Community Architecture". National Building Museum. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  14. ^ Public Interest Design Education Guidebook : Curricula, Strategies, and SEED Academic Case Studies. Lisa M. Abendroth, Bryan Bell (First ed.). London. 2018. ISBN 978-1-315-62745-8. OCLC 1033684451.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  15. ^ Hughes, C.J. (March 2012). "Does "Doing Good" Pay the Bills?". Architectural Record. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  16. ^ Allweil, Yael (2007). "The House of Dance and Feathers Mardi Gras Indian Museum-New Orleans, LA by Project Locus: Patrick Rhodes, Executive Director [EDRA/Places Awards 2007--Design]". Places. 19 (3).
  17. ^ Enterprise Community website, "About the Fellowship"
  18. ^ Cary, John. "Chronology of the Public Interest Design Field" (PDF)., University of Minnesota College of Design, Tandus Flooring. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 April 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  19. ^ Overview of Public Interest Design program, University of Texas School of Architecture Archived 2012-04-16 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Portland State College of the Arts: | CPID Launches Graduate Certificate in Public Interest Design". Archived from the original on 2015-02-18. Retrieved 2015-02-18.
  21. ^ Harvard School of Design course description
  22. ^ Bell, Bryan. "Public Interest Design Takes Shape". Archived from the original on 28 October 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  23. ^ Bell, Bryan; Roberta Feldman; Sergio Palleroni; Davide Perkes (31 December 2011). "2011 Latrobe Prize Progress Report: Public Interest Practices in Architecture" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 23 October 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ a b Bell, Bryan (2003). Good Deeds, Good Design: Community Service Through Architecture. New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press. pp. 156. ISBN 978-1568983912.
  25. ^ Design for the Other 90%: CITIES Archived 2012-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ MoMA Exhibition: "Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement"
  27. ^ Association for Community Design website, "About" page
  28. ^ Cameron Sinclair's TED Prize talk and wish for the Open Architecture Network
  29. ^ The Human-Centered Design Toolkit from IDEO

Further reading[edit]

Books advocating public interest design:

  • Jones, T., Pettus, W., & Pyatok, M. (1997). Good Neighbors, Affordable Family Housing. ISBN 978-0070329133
  • Carpenter, W. J. (1997). Learning by Building: Design and Construction in Architectural Education. ISBN 978-0471287933
  • Bell, B. (2003). Good Deeds, Good Design: Community Service through Architecture. ISBN 978-1568983912
  • Stohr, K. & Sinclair, C. (editors) (2006). Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises. ISBN 978-1933045252
  • Bell, B. & Wakeford, K. (editors) (2008). Expanding Architecture, Design as Activism. ISBN 978-1933045788
  • Piloton, E. (2009). Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People. ISBN 978-1933045955
  • Cary, J. (2010). The Power of Pro Bono: 40 Stories about Design for the Public Good by Architects and Their Clients. ISBN 978-1935202189
  • Stohr, K. & Sinclair, C. (editors) (2012). Design Like You Give a Damn 2: Building Change from the Ground Up. ISBN 978-0810997028

External links[edit]