Shelter Media Project & Public Architecture at AIA San Francisco’s 10th Anniversary Architecture in the City Festival

AIA San Francisco kicked off their 10th Anniversary Architecture in the City Festival last week at Obscura Digital, a multimedia design firm housed in a spectacular Iwamoto/Scott designed space in the city’s Dogpatch neighborhood.

The lively event launched a jam-packed month of films, tours, and events including Resilient San Francisco: Designing for the Big One, a Public Architecture/ Shelter Media Project presentation on September 18, featuring three San Francisco design teams who will unveil their ideas about how the city can become more resilient in the face of potential natural disasters.

The event is open to the public, so we hope you will attend if in the San Francisco area. 

Event Details:

Date: September 18
Location: I Interface Showroom, 457 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 
Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Eventbrite site for free RSVP. Note: the space can hold 100 people comfortably. If you could, please go ahead and register for the event so we can begin getting a proper headcount.

Event sponsorship: Holcim Foundation

For additional information, visit the Public Architecture site

Architecture and the City Festival Opening Night

Architecture and the City Festival Opening Night

DESIGNING WITH STORYTELLING: PART I

Thanks to Katie Crepeau for her recent post on Design Affects....stay tuned for Part 2.

 

 BY KATIE

 

Storytelling is as old as people have been on earth. Before written word, this is how knowledge was passed through generations of human beings. Then drawings and written form expanded the mediums used and humans were able to communicate more stories over longer periods of time. Today, we have more options than ever to communicate our stories–video, audio, image, published print, digital print, and the old faithful, spoken word. In a few years or less, we’ll probably have some new options too.

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Many designers are good at telling stories of their journey, their firm establishment, and the many projects where they invest countless hours of blood, sweat and tears. In architecture school, we were taught to talk about the program, the site, the materials, and the users in general. But rarely did we speak about how our project was going to impact the people.

In February, I received an email that registration was open for Public Interest Design Week in Minneapolis. I immediately clicked the link and started perusing the list of events. The first one was Shelter: connect, a media and storytelling workshop put on by Richard Neill and Lee Schneider of The Shelter Media Project. I hadn’t ever taken a course like this but I was curious about how it could help communicate design so I signed up.

We started Day One with the basics of a story. First, you need to choose and visualize your story. This can be a story that celebrates people, shows a process, or changes over time. The visuals, based on creating a video, can come from footage you shoot or acquire, still images, drawings, and animations. Then from this, you decide on the story structures–single voice narrator, multi-voice story, or segments and chapters. We discussed interviewing techniques, lighting, setting up shots, and working with locals. We then created an outline of our own project stories and shared them with our fellow participants. One of the participants, Jason Minter, presented his outline for Patranella’s Porch, a project that he just finished successfully fundraising on Kickstarter.

On Day Two, we got into the the nuts and bolts of filming. Richard and Lee brought in their gadgets for us to experiment with shooting, recording, and lighting. They showed us examples of work they’ve done for Architecture for Humanity, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, and the AIA, many of which you can see here. We also talked about the costs of putting together a video, from a one-person production to hiring a crew, editor, composer, and graphic artist.

It was an eye-opening workshop for me as I have never been into that many details of how to put a video together. I felt prepared to use these skills for my work with Prolasa in Goma, DR Congo, especially since I will be communicating a distant life to my audience. But I took away something greater from it–I learned about many projects in the Minneapolis and greater Minnesota region that were in need of storytelling. From an urban arts program to Lake Superior’s local fish resurgence to University of Minnesota’s interweb re-design, each person leading these projects was seeking a medium to communicate the vision, relevancy, and impact of their project.

So how do we begin to do this? Pick a medium, lay out your vision, and find the people who make your story come alive. Just like the blogging world reiterates over and over, you never know who’ll reach if you don’t try.

Next week I’ll be going into how to set up a story. Stay tuned!

 

Public Interest Design Week 2013

The last week in March was inspirational for all of us at the Shelter Media Project. We were invited to put together a two-day Shelter: connect workshop for Public Interest Design Week at the University of Minnesota and take part in Structures for Inclusion 2013—one of the leading events on the public design calendar. 

Virajita Singh, Richard Neill, Katie Crepeau, and Lee Schneider 

Virajita Singh, Richard Neill, Katie Crepeau, and Lee Schneider 

Lee Schneider and I used Prezi, our new favorite presentation software, to navigate our workshop of more than 25 participants—an interesting mix of students, academics, and activists working in the field of public interest design.

We screened the latest cut of our Haiti Reconstruction series; a new film for Public Architecture; and previewed works-in-progress including a new web series for the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative. 

Puyallup Longhouse, one of the SNCC work-in-progress films screened at Shelter:connect

Puyallup Longhouse, one of the SNCC work-in-progress films screened at Shelter:connect

Jason Minter, a grad student at Texas A&M, gave a spirited presentation about his proposal for a 'front porch' addition to a neighborhood restaurant which would create, in effect, a 'green' community living room, complete with planters made of recycled glass. It was an engaging start to participants’ presentations the following day, several of which included videos that showed great promise.

Virajita Singh, a Senior Research Fellow/Adjunct Assistant Professor at UMN, had perhaps the 'big idea' project of the workshop—a proposal to implement 'Design Thinking' on campus by brainstorming and prototyping a new portal design for the University.

The second day featured more participant screenings and an in-depth technical session that covered the many camera and audio systems used in today’s digital storytelling. We wrapped up the workshop with an informal Q & A and review of the different editing tools available in post-production.

We plan to post the next iteration of several of the most promising projects here on the Shelter website.

    

Build Change Completes Permanent Housing for 97 Families in Haiti With Partner J/P HRO

(DENVER, January 18, 2013) Build Change recently completed a pilot project in partnership with J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO), funded by the World Bank and administered through the Bureau de Monétisation de Programme d’Aide au Développement (BMPAD), to provide technical assistance and training for retrofitting damaged homes using a homeowner-driven approach. Through this project, Build Change worked with 400 people displaced by the destructive earthquake to move back into their neighborhoods in safe, earthquake-resistant, permanent housing.

A Build Change trainer teaches builders how to bend steel bars.

A Build Change trainer teaches builders how to bend steel bars.


With the goal of getting families into safe, permanent housing quickly and effectively, Build Change worked with homeowners to retrofit their damaged homes. More than 120 homeowners, including neighbors and family members, attended Build Change’s training on safe construction. The organization first taught them about the fundamentals of earthquake-resistant design and construction and what to look for in terms of quality construction materials during the reconstruction process. Each homeowner then met with Build Change to design a house that met their needs. Because the homeowners were involved in the process, many contributed funds to the project, purchased their own materials and managed the retrofit under the supervision of Build Change engineers. Build Change also provided practical and on-the-job training to 140 builders about earthquake-safe building techniques and retrofitting practices. As a result, more than 97 families – about 400 people – are now living in a safe house.

“We aim to demonstrate that something fundamentally different can come from a slum in the center of one of the world’s poorest cities: secure and sustainable communities,” said Gary Philoctete, Deputy Country Director and permanent in-country representative of J/P HRO. “In its collaboration with Build Change, J/P HRO found a great opportunity to address the need for improving construction quality while retrofitting houses. Through the use of onsite trainings for builders and homeowners, the partnership achieved a second strategically important goal: the optimization of resources. The positive feedback of the homeowners and of the wider community, both of whom appreciated the quality of the construction executed under the supervision of Build Change, demonstrates that the important message of the need of building back better has arrived in the community of Delmas 32.”

“J/P HRO has been a vital partner in delivering homeowner-driven retrofitting reconstruction services,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hausler Strand, Build Change founder and CEO. “When homeowners drive the process and make their own decisions about design and materials, the housing reconstruction is much more successful. Not only is it more cost effective, but it also creates long-term, sustainable change in construction practice.”

In 2013, the Build Change – J/P HRO partnership will nearly triple its impact from this initial pilot project, delivering homeowner-driven technical assistance and training to an additional 280 families. Dr. Hausler Strand concludes, “With J/P HRO as our partner, we will continue to make significant progress toward getting thousands more people displaced by the earthquake into permanent housing sustainably and effectively.”

A completed homeowner-driven, retrofit house in Haiti.

A completed homeowner-driven, retrofit house in Haiti.

Build Change has been working in Haiti since March 2010 in metropolitan Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, impacting some of the communities most affected by the 2010 earthquake. To date in Haiti, Build Change has trained more than 4,100 homeowners, 2,400 builders, 350 concrete-block manufacturing staffs and 130 engineers, and has helped more than 6,300 people with permanent housing solutions. Build Change has also implemented successful, homeowner-driven, reconstruction projects in Indonesia and China.

About Build Change

Build Change is an international, nonprofit social enterprise with a mission to reduce deaths, injuries and economic losses caused by housing collapses due to earthquakes in developing countries. It does this by designing earthquake-resistant houses and training builders, homeowners, engineers, and government officials to build them. Because of Build Change’s award-winning design and capacity-building programs in post-earthquake reconstruction programs in Haiti, Indonesia and China, more than 80,000 people are living in safer houses. Visit www.buildchange.org.

About J/P HRO

The mission at J/P Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) is simple: To save lives and bring sustainable programs to the Haitian people quickly and effectively. Since the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010, J/P HRO has been on the ground, working with some of the most vulnerable populations to not only recover from the earthquake but to build a brighter future for themselves, their families and their country. See more of the work we do in Haiti: www.jphro.org.

An Event About Public Interest Design in Los Angeles November 15

We’re planning an exciting event for November 15 in Los Angeles. Featuring a panel led by Frances Anderton, host of KCRW DnA: Design and Architecture, we will be discussing the movement in public interest design and how it is changing the architecture and design professions. On the panel will be Eric Corey Freed, Principal, organicARCHITECT, Eric Owen Moss, Director, SCI-Arc and founder of Owen Moss Architects, and Robin Osler, Principal, EOA: Elmslie Osler Architect.

We’re preparing a media presentation with the latest footage from the Shelter media project.  Purchase tickets at this link or download a copy of the informational PDF. Proceeds to benefit A+D Museum. The event is supported by Room&Board, B&O Pasadena and designguide.com.

Participatory Design in Detroit Heals a Neighborhood

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Detroit neighborhoods are blooming. We know this from films like Urbanized, and Urban Roots, both of which celebrate community gardens in Detroit and recently screened at the San Francisco Green Film Festival. But neighborhoods in Detroit are also blooming with an urban art renaissance. Just look at TAP, which stands for The Alley Project.

In 2004, The Alley Project wasn't a project. It was just an alley with four garages. Community residents let local graffiti artists work on stuff there, but people were worried about vandalism and safety. Slowly, however, a community started to form around the young artists and some of the older residents. "They've adopted each other," Erik Howard told me in an interview. Erik is the director of Young Nation, a youth and community development non-profit. He has helped guide TAP from a local hangout into a vital resource.

"The larger community might target vandalism as a problem, but the graffiti artists are also part of the solution. Problems are not just problems. They are also solutions that are waiting to be found. The youth's assets are they are driven, passionate and interested in art." -- Erik Howard

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This is a smart way to see community: looking at problems to provide hints for solutions. This is even smarter: Looking at the assets a community might provide and leveraging that social capital. TAP didn't mushroom up magically, although there was a strong community base for it to begin with. But it evolved in a partnership of design. Architects and students working Dan Pitera's Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) at the university of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture met with community members. "We would go out to the school and the studio," Erik told me, "and give the thumbs up or thumbs down" to DCDC's plans. "Architects were learning about community and the community was learning about architecture." After a series of design studios, DCDC proposed a master plan. Architecture is not thrown at you, as Erik, said. It's really a process.

Shelter | Written by Lee Schneider
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.
Photo credits: youngnation.us

Home For Good's Plan to End Homelessness in Los Angeles

Internationally, natural disaster is inevitably one of the leading causes of homelessness. Countries struck most recently by disaster like Haiti and Japan have hundreds of thousands living in camps in substandard conditions, and even more getting by without any shelter at all. Realizing the problems that exist internationally, it was all the more shocking when I learned that the city of Los Angeles, a city  practically untouched by natural disaster, hosts the highest number of homeless people in the United States, according to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center.

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Home For Good has created a plan to put an end to this problem by 2016.  According to their blueprint it is actually 40% less expensive to provide permanent housing for the homeless than to let them live on the streets. The reason?  Because of the percentage  - and expense - of homeless who cycle through the jail and hospital systems.  Home for Good has come up with a four-step process, which aims to effectively reduce the amount of homeless in Los Angeles County.

Firstly, they want to identify the homeless, both by name and reason for why they have come to live on the streets  Second, by doing this Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority can further understand and strategize how to help prevent future homelessness. Third, from this assessment Home For Good wants to create 12,500 units of permanent housing and effectively move the homeless into these units over the next couple years. Their statistics say that 88% of homeless housed through Housing First stay off the streets permanently. With those kinds of results it is no wonder that Home For Good has the power to really put an end to these people’s suffering.

The final step indicates an overarching theme for Home For Good’s plan, that is getting the message out and getting everyone involved who can help.  Even I didn’t know the magnitude of homeless crisis that existed within the city I live in, so it is only safe to assume that there are countless other people out there who need to be made aware of the current crisis at hand.  Homelessness is a problem of the world, for both first and third world countries, but by spreading awareness Home For Good is showing that it can be fixed.

For full access and information on this plan to end homelessness please have a look at this PDF.

Shelter | Written by Anya Vo

Diabetes in Haiti: After Medical Mission Ends, Still Much More To Do

We have left Haiti, but in many ways Haiti has not left us.

It is hard to describe the effect that an experience like working in Haiti has on you. Most of the time you feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the problems encountered by the average Haitian, let alone a child living in Haiti with diabetes.

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Your senses vacillate between being assaulted by sights of the tent cities still dotting the landscape, and rubble and sewage admixed with piles of garbage overflowing in rivulets, to being soothed by the beauty of a mountain resort with wild orchids and ginger plants. And at all times you marvel at how the doctors you meet – particularly Nancy and Philippe Larco and 81-year-old Rene Charles – navigate a system that would drown you in a matter of minutes if you were left alone.

Through FHADIMAC, the Haitian Diabetes Association they founded and continue to support decades later, the Larco-Charleses have been a valuable members of the worldwide diabetes community, advancing care for Haitians with diabetes, performing diabetes screenings to confirm that soon Haiti will be facing a diabetes epidemic, and working with Life for a Child and Insulin for Life nonprofit organizations to assure the children in Haiti have insulin and glucose strips to stay alive.

And in the midst of this, somehow you find yourself at their side – and accompanied by Merith Basey from AYUDA and Evelyne Fleury-Milfort, your ultimate role models for giving in Haiti – running the first diabetes camp ever in the county. You visit a clinic that is a joint effort between Israelis and Haitians outside Port au Prince and realize that the challenges of the overcrowded, barely functional capital city are magnified in the countryside.

Patients are lined up outside waiting their turn to be seen; some you can help and others you cannot, an appalling concept to those of us who rely on scans and labs and state-of-the-art therapies. Instead, you imagine the dismal outcomes these people face as you gaze into suffering eyes. From a breast mass likely already metastasized, to a diabetic foot ulcer likely never to heal, to a woman pregnant again and desperate because she can’t care for the children she already has, the hardworking Israeli and Haitian health care providers do what they can in a system so constrained and minimal.

On our last day in Haiti, we lectured to 40 pediatricians at the Haitian Pediatric Society. In the main medical society building with only one barely functioning toilet and filled with 20- to 30-year-old books on the shelves, we tried to teach these eager doctors the signs and symptoms of diabetes in the young to improve the near 85% mortality rate at onset.

If they don’t recognize diabetes, start IV fluids, give insulin, and reverse the severe metabolic disturbances of uncontrolled diabetes as soon as it is diagnosed, there is no chance these kids will survive. And if they do, and Nancy Larco enrolls them in Life For a Child and they receive the outdated treatment for diabetes that remains relegated to the developing world, then children will survive but not with health and a future. Don’t we owe them more than that?

So we have dreamed up some plans – plans to advance the care offered to children in Haiti to bring it a few small steps closer to what we offer in developed countries, and if we are lucky, plans to help start a microbusiness – perhaps beading diabetes utility bags – made by Haitian people touched by diabetes and sold to people with diabetes around the world. After all, doesn’t that diagnosis make us somehow all aligned, all connected and all concerned for each other?

The daughter of one of the Haitian pediatricians joined her mother for our lectures. She was a tall, attentive and well-groomed 22-year-old, who spent part of her life in Haiti and part in Boston. She just finished college in Boston and is trying to decide what she wants to do – likely public health – but where?  Will she come back to Haiti and continue the struggle from there, or try to change it from outside?  It seems that although many of the advantaged in Haiti have sent their children out of the country for school and for safety, many of these kids – including Nancy and Philippe’s – actually want to be back and to give back. They are Haiti’s future and must be supported and nurtured.

The most important thing we had reinforced from this trip is that it takes perseverance to make a real difference. We learned that, and so much more, from Carol and Mark Atkinson. After years and years, and trip after trip, they have incorporated Haiti into their psyche, with true understanding and true insight. What they have done is more than monumental, more than anything we have ever seen, and something that all of our colleagues need to know about. They have helped Haitians transform a corner of their own world – and stood by their side – but not taken over the command. I am sure there is a word for what Mark and Carol have done in every language, in every culture – and I am sure it underestimates it in each of them.

After Haiti, we flew to a meeting in Barcelona. Unfortunately for all with whom we talked, we harangued them about Haiti. We got a good cup of tea finally; we attended a great meeting, and had fun with colleagues from around the world. But our thinking, our perseverating about Haiti isn’t over yet.

By Francine Kaufman, M.D.

[Editor's note:  This blog was originally posted to ReportingonHealth.org, and appears with the permission of its editor, Michelle Levander. For more on Dr. Kaufman's trip to Haiti, go to ReportingonHealth.org, an online community that is a project of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.]

Photo: Courtesy Dr. Francine Kaufman

Design for Good in Japan: Masayuki Fuchigami and the 2nd Young Architects Plaza

Reconstruction of post-earthquake Japan has been slow and arduous, mostly due to uncertainty regarding the potential dangers and effects posed by the damaged nuclear reactors, namely the Fukishima reactor.  With Lee Schneider, director of Shelter, I interviewed Masayuki Fuchigami, a prominent Japanese architectural journalist residing in Tokyo, about the role architects are playing in the reconstruction of Japan, his particular role, and how the Design for Good movement manifests within a culture very distinct from our own. Mr. Fuchigami recently organized the 2nd Young Architects Plaza, an exhibition of design-for-good projects created by Japanese architects who wanted to contribute good design to the relief effort.  It was well-received in the media. But will it result in more humanitarian design projects being built in Japan?

Masayuki Fuchigami

Masayuki Fuchigami

There is an irony here.  Fuchigami noted that the Design for Good movement as many define it—pro-bono design for disaster or impoverished areas—is not a prominent approach within Japan, but that many Japanese architects are active in its implementation abroad.  Shigeru Ban, for example, one of the most famous architects in the world, provides his expertise and leads projects in disaster-stricken areas all around the world, including Rwanda, China, Haiti, etc.

Within Japan, however, and especially after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, this definition cannot quite apply.  Fuchigami told us that the government has not approached architects for their help nor expertise, and to a certain extent, is restricting their ability to aid in reconstruction.  It instead partners with large construction and engineering companies that have extensive design sections.  Fuchigami calls this a “very bad custom,” one in which produces “monotonous and tasteless” buildings, and homes that provide narrow living spaces, only exacerbating the mental and emotional instability of disaster victims.  Architects, on the other hand, want to design more “open and easier-living style houses.”

Unfortunately, the government is making this very difficult; instead, preferring quick action that ensures a speedy recovery and immediate relief.  Architecture, in its nature, takes time.  Architects “design in detail,” to produce something beautiful, intricate, and conducive to sustainable and “easy-living.”  Consequently, the government opts for immediacy rather than intricacy, and ends up with simple and mundane plans.  However, as we saw with New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the fastest response is not always the best.  FEMA sought a quick solution with temporary trailers to house the massive displaced populations.  This resulted in trailer parks with populations of up to 10,000, and where there was found, as the Huffington Post noted, “astounding rates of depression, anxiety and hopelessness.”  Nearly half of these trailer park residents reported “serious signs of emotional and behavioral distress” and a deep anxiety about the unsafe conditions.  Although immediate action is obviously necessary in the aftermath of a disaster, engaging specialists, like architects, whose expertise lends itself to avoiding these types of negative externalities could greatly reduce their severity.

Unfortunately, because of the Japanese government’s unwillingness to engage architects, they forced to act on their own, to “do everything for themselves,” says Fuchigami, which can be very difficult and costly, especially for young designers.  As of yet, the majority of reconstruction work being done by architects is concentrated on the community outreach side—a common element of the design for good movement—holding symposiums, studying the conditions of the disaster areas, and meeting with disaster victims.

Fuchigami admits that he and many architects worry that “all of the construction of East Japan will be covered by [these] monotonous houses,” that there is a need for “power and innovative ideas,” primarily from young architects.  He notes that, “older architects have power.”  They have friends in the government and greater resources to be able to enter disaster areas privately.  Young architects do not.  That is why Fuchigami decided to hold an exhibition that highlighted the most prominent and up-and-coming young architects in Japan and their plans for reconstruction.

From his list of about 80 leading Japanese young architects, Fuchigami selected 8 architects, and asked them to submit  innovative models and drawings of earthquake and tsunami resistant structures, including homes, harbors, fishing villeges, etc.  Their models and drawings were exhibited in the center of Tokyo.  Garnering much media attention, the exhibition attracted viewers across the political spectrum, including a previous member of the House of Representatives.  Impressed by what he saw, he asked Fuchigami to speak to the House members to educate them about reconstruction and in hopes of gathering support for these ideas, and possibly the necessary resources to ensure their implementation.  Fuchigami and three of his exhibited architects, whose designs he deemed particularly innovative and future-oriented, lectured to a large audience.  However, months later, they have yet to receive a response.

Although the lecture before the House failed to gather any sort of implementation assistance, Fuchigami still sees it as a success, for his exhibition, and for the future of Japanese reconstruction.  He asserts that, “we left something in their minds,” that this project is the only of its kind, and its popularity is spreading throughout Japan.  More and more students are holding symposiums and the exhibition is being moved to Sendai, an area destroyed by the tsunami.

When asked why he decided to develop this exhibition, Fuchigami stated that he wanted to take “positive action” to help his disaster-stricken country and its victims.  When the earthquake first happened, he immediately began to help, donating money to relief organizations and sending out emails and helping to gather relief materials to send to the disaster areas.  These, however, he viewed as “too passive.”  He wanted to do something to actively aid his fellow citizens, and thus the exhibition idea was born.

Although architects are finding it difficult to implement their plans, projects like these are slowly but surely affecting reconstruction in Japan, and are continuously garnering more influence and support.  Keiichiro Sako, one of the architects in the exhibition, has created and exhibited a futuristic but practical project which is composed of 12 huge concrete structures called “Sky Village”. Each Sky Village has over 100 houses on the 15m high roof that can survive tsunami. His idea is so unique and popular that many TV programs introduced it, and  one of the cities in Tohoku District shows keen interest in its realization.  As immediate relief efforts slow, architects have a greater chance to fill the missing niche, and ensure a sustainable, efficient, and beautiful reconstruction of a devastated Japan.

Now that 10 months have passed since March 11, many architects went into Tohoku District and started designing homes, community centers, housings, etc. by negotiating with devastated cities, towns, and villages.

Written by Madison Klinghoffer

Where is Architecture Going?

Buildings don’t move much (except in earthquakes), but professions can radically change.

There’s a fascinating debate going on about the changes in the professions of architecture and design.  Writing inSalon, Scott Timberg has noticed that creating wildly-expensive ego-driven buildings is not such a great career choice these days.  But there is another way to make a living in design, and in architecture, and that is by designing for the ‘other 99%’ – all those people who have not received the benefits of good design. Tom Fisher, Dean of Architecture at the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, writes in Metropolismag.com about the rise of humanitarian design as a real profession.  He talks about the power and purpose of organizations like Architecture for Humanity, Project H, the Seed Network and the Mass Design Group.

In Public Interest Design, John Cary contrasts the two views.  What are your thoughts?

Design With the Other 90%: CITIES

You’ve heard about the “99%,” but there’s a “90%” you should also know about. They are the 90% of people on Earth who usually do not have access to design services, because designers mostly have focused on just 10% of the world’s population. Now that’s changing, as powerfully illustrated in an exhibit at the United Nations in New York, presented by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The exhibit shows, both in person and online, that design can and must address the world’s most critical issues.

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Worldwide, close to one billion people live in slums, and that number is expected to double by 2030. When you’re facing a problem like that, your solutions better be innovative. The exhibit, called “Design with the other 90%: Cities” shows the way. The museum’s curator of responsible design, Cynthia Smith, recently showed me around. For two years she traveled to sixteen different cities, gathering the materials for the exhibition. I learned about some inspiring people she encountered, like a young architect named Mohammed Rezwan.

Rezwan grew up in the northern part of Bangladesh, where there is annual flooding that’s getting worse and worse. He decided that he didn’t want to design buildings that were going to be under water in his lifetime. As Cynthia told me, he started to work with local boat builders to modify traditional bamboo craft with solar panels, computers, video conferencing, cell phone and internet access. He’s created a fleet of 50 boats that can serve as libraries, floating schools and health clinics. All over the world, people are being pushed out of rural areas by global warming and human conflict, but Rezwan’s 50 lifeboats can help communities stay intact. His journey is the subject of a new film calledEasy Like Water. The director, Glenn Baker, is taking that film to Sundance.

I’m particularly interested in online collaboration, and the exhibit has a functioning example in the Map Kibera project. When you look at an official map of, say, Africa, informal settlements, otherwise known as slums, can appear as blank spots because nobody has mapped them. Without a map, a slum is easier to ignore or dismiss. On the other hand, “mapping helps people document,” Cynthia told me. “They can go to the local authorities and say, look, this is what we have and this is what we need.”

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Consider Kibera, one of the largest informal settlements in eastern Africa. It’s about two thirds the size of New York’s Central Park, and has an estimated population of 250,000. Until it was mapped, you’d never know that this area contained more than 200 schools, from the preschool level to academies, that were created both by residents and by NGOs. The Kibera map, which is online, shows zones that are safe and those that can be dangerous. It’s built on theUshahidi platform, which means that people can text in information to update a map and even post geo-located videos.

Here’s one more brilliant idea from the exhibition that is changing the conversation among architects and designers. It’s called “incremental housing.” Architects design and build the most expensive parts of an apartment, like the structure, the roof, bathrooms and kitchen, and then leave the rest open for residents to fill in. This flips the usual depreciation model for public housing. Usually it loses value over time, but in one example Cynthia showed me, the building framework cost $20,000 to make, residents added improvements valued at $2,000, and the end result was an apartment that appreciated in value to $50,000. “I think that good design has always incorporated the client in the conversation,” Cynthia said. “User centered design is empathetic. Until you begin to understand somebody else’s needs you can’t really come up with a solution that meets those needs.”

The “Design With the Other 90%: Cities” exhibit lives in an online version where you can interact with its powerful ideas and contribute a few of your own to the Other 90 Network.

You can hear Cynthia Smith’s guided walk through with me on the be global podcast.

Photo credits: Bang Bua Canal by ACHR, incremental housing before and after by Elemental.

This article, written by Lee Schneider, originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Hope Floats in Bangladesh and at Sundance

I’m heading off to the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 20 to pitch my film-in-progress, Easy Like Water, to broadcasters.  The film is almost ready – we’ve got an early rough cut — and I’m excited to get this story out about an ingenious sustainable design solution and its creator.

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Easy Like Water is a one-hour documentary film about an innovative Bangladeshi architect who is building floating schools, equipped with solar-powered internet, in his flood-prone riverine community.

Architect Mohammed Rezwan has created floating schools outfitted with solar-powered computers in flood-prone Bangladesh.

Architect Mohammed Rezwan has created floating schools outfitted with solar-powered computers in flood-prone Bangladesh.

Flooding – increasingly destructive and unpredictable – destroys more than 300 schools a year here.  Bangladesh is a real-life “Waterworld,” and Mohammed Rezwan is the country’s Noah. “If the children cannot come to school, I thought the school should go to them,” he explains.

With a concept that is elegant and homegrown, Rezwan’s organization, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, is helping his community adapt to the new climate reality – and cultivating the next generation of problem-solvers.

I grew up in South Asia, and always felt Bangladesh got short shrift when it was labeled a “basket case.”  So Easy Like Water is also the story of my personal quest to replace that label with a more nuanced portrait that depicts the developing world as a cauldron of ideas and energy – and Bangladesh as a place where the world may turn for guidance when it finds water lapping at its doorstep. “It will not be only Bangladesh that goes underwater,” asserts Nobel laureate climatologist Atiq Rahman. “New York will go underwater; London will go underwater. Tokyo will go underwater.  The question is: are we going to be wise enough to act now?”

Third-grade girls board a boat school on the Atrai River in Bangladesh.

Third-grade girls board a boat school on the Atrai River in Bangladesh.

Using “environmental Jujitsu,” Rezwan has harnessed the water to connect his community. But can this soft-spoken local hero overcome both flooding and global indifference? Easy Like Water shows the human face of the unfolding climate disaster – and tells the inspiring story of a bold innovator who is building a future that floats.

The film provides an entrée to exploring America’s biggest “head in the sand” issue –the immediacy of global warming. Through that schema it weaves together a host of related areas: design for good, climate change as a human rights crisis, girl’s education, sustainable agriculture, empowerment of the rural poor, and yes, even tigers.

Oh, and the title?  In Bangla, “Panir moto shohoj” means “no problem” or “piece o’ cake” – literally “easy like water.”

Learn more and watch the trailer at: www.easylikewater.com

Written by Glenn Baker, director of Easy Like Water

[Editor's note:  Glenn got in touch with the Shelter project after he came across Lee Schneider's Huffington Post blogand be global podcast about the Design With the Other 90%: CITIES exhibit. The subject of Glenn's film, Easy Like Water, has a prominent position in the exhibit.  Glenn is on his way to Sundance and sent in this report. ]

Glenn Baker is an award-winning filmmaker with more than 30 documentaries broadcast on PBS. He produced and directed “STAND UP: Muslim American Comics Come of Age” for the PBS series “America at a Crossroads.” Baker grew up in India, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tunisia, an experience that informs his approach to making media that reflects diverse viewpoints and promotes dialogue.

Photos courtesy Glenn Baker.

Announcing Shelter: connect

Shelter | Written by Lee Schneider I'm thrilled to announce the debut of Shelter: connect, the educational outreach initiative of the Shelter documentary.

Shelter: connect creates a virtual bridge between cultures, enabling design students in the U.S. to connect with communities in the developing world, sharing innovative design ideas to address urgent shelter needs. It is driven by a series of workshops Richard Neill and I will be leading.

A key player in the Shelter: connect initiative is our new hire - outreach coordinator Caroline Markowitz. Caroline is a recent Princeton University graduate. While at Princeton, she majored in history with a minor in environmental studies and was a four-year member of the varsity lacrosse team. She wrote her senior thesis about the World Bank funded Narmada Dam Project in India and the role of environmental and humanitarian NGOs and organizations in persuading the Bank to halt funding due to poor environmental and resettlement regulations.

To develop and launch the Shelter: connect initiative, Caroline is working with Caitlin Boyle, founder and president of film.sprout.  Film.sprout is a consulting and booking agency that helps documentaries achieve broader social impact. Caitlin developed and ran audience outreach on celebrated documentaries like King Corn, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, The End of the Line, A Small Act and Bag It. It's wonderful to have her expert advice and guidance as we build out the Shelter: connect initiative. Caitlin is a pro who is respected throughout the industry.

Coming in January, look for some major design changes to this blog to accomodate the goals of Shelter: connect.  If you're interested in learning more about the program, get in touch with Caroline in our San Francisco office.

Shelter: connect was piloted this past fall at the University of Minnesota's College of Design and we look forward to launching it, and a short video about it, early next year.

 

Virtual Exchange: The Shelter Project Reaches Out

College of Design: University of MinnesotaThe Virtual Exchange Program got off to an energetic start yesterday at the University of Minnesota College of Design. Richard Neill and I traveled to the campus to run a workshop with architecture professor James Lutz. What is the Virtual Exchange Program?

During this active production time for Shelter we are meeting architects and engineers all over the world who are designing for good. We also meet people everywhere who would benefit from good design. We started to think about how to bring them all together...

The Virtual Exchange Program (vXp) is an open source forum for sharing design expertise and knowledge. It fosters dialogue among architecture, design and engineering students and people in developing nations and elsewhere who would benefit from an exchange of ideas.

I've spoken with architecture and design deans and professors at Pratt, Parsons, USC and other schools. Uniformly, the sentiment from them is that it's often not practical to travel design, architecture and engineering students around the world to connect with faraway people. Although travel programs can be costly, worldwide dialogue about design is necessary.  (vXp) fills the need for design sharing and distribution with a new take on international study.

Since we make media for a living, we can create engaging videos that share humanitarian design projects in storytelling form.

What makes this different is that we burst beyond traditional methods of communicating design, architecture and engineering projects by using video and audio. We open an online communication channel for people needing life-saving design solutions. They are heard by the best and brightest students who are in a position to answer the call and create those designs. Media is the 'virtual' part of the exchange.  The dialogue (vXp) creates can lead to actual people getting on actual planes. But at this stage of the project, opening the dialogue is what counts. Look at a prototype video that I just finished editing from our Haiti production.

Here's the plan. Wherever we go to film Shelter, we find architecture, engineering and design students in developing regions of the world, or in disaster recovery areas, and ask them to voice their needs for humanitarian design. We record them and make a short video. Then, guided by architecture, design and engineering professors, we show the videos to students here and ask them to respond with viable projects - projects that resonate with the needs expressed.

Michelle Marrion filming Shelter in Haiti.

Yesterday in Minnesota we piloted an early version of (vXp) in a workshop we conducted at the invitation of Thomas Fisher, professor of architecture and dean of the College of Design, and James Lutz, the professor of architecture mentioned above. Jim led a group of graduate architecture students to Haiti last March.

We split the workshop between exploring design for good projects that we've filmed and talking about process of making short videos to promote, explain and propagate student projects.

While on campus, I interviewed Tom Fisher, who is a big picture thinker in architecture, design and policy. I will post some clips of that interview soon, but for now, have a look at Tom's blogs on the Huffington Post.

We're looking forward to bringing (vXp) to other colleges and universities.

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Design and Hope in Arch 114

Shelter | Written by Lee Schneider Hope comes designed in amazing packages. I experienced a little of that hope this morning at USC, where I was giving a talk about Shelter on the theme of 'designing for a culture.' The freshmen architecture students liked the Shelter clips I played. Nobody napped during the talk. (Hey, students can be a tough crowd.)  I focused on two questions:  Why does design matter?  And also, when you design, who is really your client?  USC Architecture Class

After filming in Haiti this summer, a conceptual driver for the film took shape.

Designing for good might begin as a lofty principle, but on the ground and in country, it's really about designing for a culture.

As we film Shelter around the world, I am seeing how architects, engineers and designers who listen to their clients and take time to connect with the culture they're working in  -- these are the people who do successful projects.  Those who are willing to adopt a visionary approach to the importance of design - these are the folks who prosper.Design matters. An example?  Steve Jobs.  Apple. When I asked the crowd of nearly 200 who had anything made by Apple, all hands went up. Apple has not only designed for a culture, Steve Jobs also created a culture.

To show how an architect or designer's connection with clients can lead to unexpected alliances, I screened a piece of short media about EDAR, a portable structure in use in cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, and also a short film Richard Neill and I made for the Architecture and the City Festival.

My favorite part of the morning came as some students were being honored for their creativity and achievement. The video projects they created captured the exuberance and freshness you can find in an architecture class.  Have a look at one of my favorites:

Many thanks to Lauren Matchison and Kara Bartelt, who invited me to speak at Architecture 114 - Architecture:  Culture and Community.

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Presenting Shelter at the Architecture and the City Festival

Shelter | Written by Lee Schneider It's always an amazing experience to screen a film for a live audience. I find that I learn so much from how they react to scenes and moments: a ripple of laughter here, contemplative silence there, or a simple 'huh,' signifying a small revelation.  We screened two work-in-progress sequences from Shelter at the San Francisco Public Library this week as part of the Architecture and the City Festival. The screening provided me with a lot good feedback and a lot to think about and we continue the shape the film.

It's equally amazing to me to watch a film come into focus as we work in production. Many months are spent preparing: pre-interviewing potential subjects, test-filming them on flip cams, mapping out schedules and strategies. Then there is a sparking moment when I  meet those people in person and feel the gravity of their stories.  Here are the sequences that we showed in San Francisco.

 

 While filming in Haiti in August I saw that designing for good means that you have to design for a culture.

Shelter-Haiti-1030422 You have to have a dialogue with the people you want to design for, and understand how they have built in the past.  This might seem obvious, but it is equally obvious that, humanitarian design fails when it is imposed on a community instead of being created in a partnership.  It's the kind of partnership that we are going to forge with our outreach program. The leading edge of that program is something we're calling the virtual exchange.  While in Haiti I filmed Haitian architecture students, asking them about their hopes and dreams for the future, how they believe would be the best way to rebuild (and build in) Haiti, and what message they might want to send to architecture students in America.   We will show that footage at the College of Design: University of Minnesota in the fall - and then record statements and ideas from students there.  We'll take those statements back to Haiti on our next production trip.  That's the essence of the virtual exchange program.  I've spoken with the deans of architecture and design at various schools, including Pratt, Parsons, and the New School for Design, and some schools here in California, and received enthusiastic support and great advice. I'll let you now how the planning is going in future articles.

Next week we start our planning sessions for production in Japan.  We've been invited by Architecture for Humanity fellow Nathaniel Corum to following a design/rebuild initiative near Sendai, site of the nuclear accident, and also in communities devastated by a  tsunami.  It promises to be a very different trip from the Haiti production section: instead of Haiti's August heat we'll have Japan's November cold, and since there are few structures left standing, we'll be camping and charging the cameras off solar arrays.

Follow me on Twitter.  Check out Shelter on Facebook.  Donate to the film via the San Francisco Film society and it is tax-deductible.

Milestones

Shelter | Written by Lee Schneider As I was filling out our mid-year report for the San Francisco Film Society I found myself thinking about milestones.  Usually report cards like this make me nervous.  I think I got a really good one in the fourth grade.  The teacher commented, "Lee is our stronghold of scientific inquiry."  So as I opened the online form for SFFS my mind was racing.  SFFS is our fiscal sponsor, and they are the entity that makes it possible for all of you to make tax-deductible donations to Shelter. I wondered if we had accomplished enough in the past six months?

Turns out I didn't have to worry much.  As I started to compile the report I could see a satisfying list of achievements for the film and its related projects.  Here are a few of them.

We raised more than $5,000 on IndieGoGo in a "crowdsourced" funding campaign.

We created a great trailer.

We doubled the size of our advisory board, adding great people in media, philanthropy, marketing and NGOs.

We have four grant requests pending, applied for three major ones and were invited to reapply to all of them in the next funding cycle (They were Sundance, California Council of the Humanities and the Tribeca Documentary Fund.)

 We're prepping six more grant applications that will be ready by the fall.

We spoke about Shelter at gatherings large and small, including at Architecture for Humanity in San Francisco, and to a class of architecture students at USC.

Many of those students volunteered to create blogs for Shelter, and the most recent one is posted here.

We're planning a symposium at USC for the fall on the topic of 'design for good.'

We've launched the 'virtual exchange program' that will allow architecture students in Haiti create videos about their hopes and dreams that will be shown to students in the schools we visit to speak about Shelter.

We've hired a production coordinator in Haiti who is helping us set up our filming days there.

We've hired a graphics company, fusioncreative.ca, to design a visual identity package for the film.

And, finally, we're helping to curate a film festival about architecture for the Architecture and the City Festival in San Francisco this September.  We're planning to show a short work-in-progress version of Shelter there on September 7th.

Wow.  Not a bad list, and I left out some of the blogs and media we're working on now.  Thanks for following along on our journey.

If you'd like to donate to the film, you can do that through the San Francisco Film Society.  It's a tax-deductible donation.

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Mobilizing to Help Japan

Shelter | Written by Madison Klinghoffer On March 11, 2001 an 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, prompting massive tsunamis, up to 23 feet high, that devastated the northeastern coast and triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.  With approximately 500,000 Japanese citizens either displaced or evacuated, officials are scrambling to distribute sufficient food and water, and to provide adequate shelter, as thousands are forced into school gymnasiums and any remaining structures to escape the devastation and turmoil outside.

Within days of the tragedy, architecture organizations across the globe began to mobilize to bring relief to the Japanese people—if only to afford them some much-needed privacy in the midst of cramped and chaotic public shelters.  The Voluntary Architects Network is helping to supply a knockdown cardboard partition system, designed by Shigeru Ban, to the gymnasiums housing refugees, and the American Institute of Architects has already reached out to their Japanese counterparts to offer any assistance in their relief efforts.

Other organizations are spearheading fundraising campaigns to finance current and future efforts in Japan.  Architecture for Humanity, although actively mobilizing teams in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, has put forth a timeline for their reconstruction plan.  The first “transitional” phase, which they have already begun, will last four months and will focus on raising funds and providing initial assessments, while continuing to coordinate with Japanese architects and professional building associations.  They have a fundraising goal of $200,000.  The second “reconstruction” phase, will take place during the next two years in which AFH will engage in small-scale projects for local organizations in which they believe they can have the most success.

Private architects, as well, are getting involved to help speed up relief efforts.  John Pawson, a British architect who spent many years in Tokyo, is offering a “Ribbon for Japan” download on his website, and suggests a 1 euro donation to the Red Cross.  Others are offering their expertise—numerous professors of environmental and earthquake engineering at the University of California Los Angeles have released their contact information to relief organizations to make themselves available to give guidance and advice on how to rebuild a safer Japan.

SOIL

Shelter | Written by Megan Nemeh

It is is easy for citizens living in developed countries to take sanitation for granted. In the United States, citizens do not spend much time thinking about waste. They don’t need to. The United States has one of the most developed waste sanitation systems in the world.

Waste is deposited into a toilet. It is flushed, and it disappears, taken care of by towns, cities, municipalities, counties, and their employees, the very employees who are probably looked at with pity, and maybe even a bit of disgust.

The latter is not a savory topic of conversation, nor does it make people comfortable. It’s not a cause celebree among international aid and development groups. It certainly doesn’t inspire massive, celebrity-backed concerts. Fortunately, Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihood, or SOIL, doesn’t let this deter them. The organization is currently devising means to tackle the problem of waste sanitation in post-earthquake Haiti. Inefficient waste disposal poses enormous challenges for the Haitian population.

SOIL, led by Stanford graduate Dr. Sasha Kramer, is a “non-profit organization dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities, and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti.” SOIL’s mission is straightforward. Human waste is collected, composted, and recycled, and resulting soil is used for agriculture and reforestation.

SOIL’s aims are lofty. Though waste collection and composting, the team seeks to “improve public health, increase household income and agricultural production, mitigate environmental degradation, and provide low-cost sanitation for rural communities.”

SOIL kicked off with the construction of 200 ecological public toilets in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. The organization has since moved into the arena of installing the toilets in private homes. At a recent talk at Stanford, Dr. Kramer expanded on SOIL’s goals.

“Instead of focusing on very high outputs, we must focus on developing a sustainable business model that can be passed onto the private sector. We are moving away from public toilets and moving into household toilets. It’s very challenging to maintain public toilets.”

The SOIL waste collection and compost system works as follows: the specially built, ecological toilets separate liquid and solid wastes. The waste is then collected from a 15-gallon drum collection system that sits under the toilet, and is taken off-site for composting. The waste must compost for a year before it can serve as usable fertilizer.

The team has, understandably, encountered challenges. In October 2010, at the height of the cholera outbreak, the team worked to ensure the composting was foolproof. There was also the problem of the chickens; as it turns out, chickens are attracted to waste compost, and were laying their eggs at the compost sites. The team had to then cover with compost with chicken wire. Dr. Kramer anticipated these challenges, and sticks to a refreshing philosophy in an effort to identify kinks:

“One thing I’ve realized is really important is, when you’re advocating a new technology, to try it out yourself.”

Currently, SOIL derives monthly income from compost sales and from private toilet collection. The monthly income helps further SOIL’s goal of using poop- yes, poop- to take deforested hillsides and turn them into agricultural land that can start feeding people. According to SOIL’s official statistics, “only 16% of rural Haitians and 50% of those in cities have access to adequate sanitation facilities, by far the lowest coverage in the Western Hemisphere…at the same time, agricultural output is low due to poor soil fertility, soil erosion and lack of fertilizers.”

Dr. Kramer seeks to move SOIL out of the emergency approach to a more long-term, developmental approach, in an effort to address the incredible- and criminally neglected- challenge waste disposal presents. As the world’s population continues to increase and as cities continue to grow, effective sanitation is necessary. Shelter- and good design- does not start and end with a roof, a door, a floor, or walls. It’s much greater than the sum of its parts.

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