Bryan Bell’s approach to expanding design’s role in addressing public needs, highlighted last week on the Omnibus, is a powerful step towards redefining the popular conception of what design can do. He is not alone in this effort, joined by design/build curricula like Auburn University’s Rural Studio or the Yale Building Project (see expanded list below), design activist organizations like Architecture for Humanity or Public Architecture, as well as the growing number of private firms and individual designers who bring their expertise to bear on issues of social concern. But alongside the grand gestures are the small interventions that subtly or overtly improve the experience of urban life in surprising and often playful ways. The Canadian Centre for Architecture has curated some of the most inspiring of these Actions:
The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents the exhibition Actions: What You Can Do With the City, an exhibition with 99 actions that instigate positive change in contemporary cities around the world. Seemingly common activities such as walking, playing, recycling, and gardening are pushed beyond their usual definition by the international architects, artists, and collectives featured in the exhibition. Their experimental interactions with the urban environment show the potential influence personal involvement can have in shaping the city, and challenge fellow residents to participate.
Actions: What You Can Do With the City documents and presents specific projects by a large and diverse group of activists whose personal involvement has triggered radical change in today’s cities. These human motors of change include architects, engineers, university professors, students, children, pastors, artists, skateboarders, cyclists, root eaters, pedestrians, municipal employees, and many others who answer the question of what can be done to improve the urban experience with surprising and often playful actions.
To extend the sense of transformative possibility beyond the exhibition (and for those of us who can’t make it to Montreal to see the show before it comes down next Monday), there’s a parallel online exhibit. And, General Assembly‘s Take-a-Bag-Leave-a-Bag project, one of the designs that emerged from Urban Omnibus’ Make a Difference in Two Days event, is part of the show. So, it seems that the smallest-scale of designs to improve the public realm can reverberate far beyond our neighborhoods: to inspire our fellow citizens to participate in the constant shaping urban experience, and maybe to enhance the understanding of what design has to offer. Get involved.
A partial list of design/build programs in American architecture schools:
Tulane School of Architecture’s UrbanBuild
A bunch of schools are involved in Tulane’s CityBuild Consortium
UT Austin’s Design Build Texas
Parsons Design Workshop
University of Miami’s Center for Urban and Community Design
Auburn University’s Rural Studio
Yale School of Architecture’s Building Project
Neighborhood Design/Build Studio at the University of Washington
and, of course, NC State
Let us know about your own experiences. And if you’re not in school or about to start, Architecture for Humanity New York has monthly meet ups where projects and volunteer opportunities are discussed.