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Architects in communities: An opportunity for human-centered design

December 5, 2012

A recent article in the New York Times Sunday Review, entitled “Dignifying Design” describes the engagement of recently graduated architectural students in the design of a hospital in Rwanda. The photos in the article show a simple, bright, elegant space that looks quite a bit different from hospitals in the United States.

Rwanda hospital

A quote from the article struck me:

Mr. Murphy had a surprising insight about how much the developed world has to learn about good, human-centered design from the developing world. After finishing the Butaro Hospital and returning to the United States, Mr. Murphy said, he was struck “at how over-designed most hospitals are here — yet there’s little natural airflow, a lack of color and craftsmanship, and few outdoor spaces to take a deep breath and gain some perspective.”

The NY Times article lists some opportunities, one of which I was able to participate in from 2001-2004 with the Rose Architectural Fellowship. Apparently there is tremendous interest, but only a few spots available:

  • 4 spots at Ideo.org
  • 12 spots with the Rose Fellowship
  • 24 spots with Code for America

But, the good news is that these opportunities do exist, and that they have grown substantially in the last decade. When I applied for the Rose Fellowship, there were only four spots available across the country, and I was not aware of any other similar opportunities. And when I gave notice at the architecture firm where I was working at the time, they seemed confused that I would want to do such a thing. (I remember one comment, “Congratulations, I think”.)  So it is good to see that the opportunities are not only available, but that emerging architects want to pursue this type of work.

There are so many opportunities for improving the quality of our public architecture. As the author of the NY Times article writes:

But we have to advocate for [good design in the public realm] and many of us, until now, simply haven’t realized that we deserve better. We couldn’t imagine the alternative. But once you see what good design can do, once you experience it, you can’t unsee it or unexperience it. It becomes a part of your possible. The public-interest design movement is counting on it.

Although LD Arch Design focuses primarily on green residential additions and remodels, I do use my time to provide pro bono and reduced fee architectural services for community projects. A recent example is the Southwest Early Learning Preschool expansion in the Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle.

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