Portland State University’s School of Architecture has announced the launch of its new Center for Public Interest Design, a research center that aims to investigate and utilize the power of design to make social, economic and environmental change in disadvantaged communities worldwide. The Center is the first of its kind in the nation.
Positioned at the forefront of a burgeoning international movement in public interest design among architects, designers, and the general public, the Center is headed by Professor Sergio Palleroni, a recipient of the American Institute of Architects’ prestigious Latrobe Prize for Public Interest Practice in Architecture in 2011.
The new Center’s startup is being funded by a gift from an anonymous donor, who has pledged a total of $1.5 million over a five-year period, starting with an initial $500,000 in December 2012.
The mission of the Center meets a critical worldwide need for affordable, sustainable design. Bryan Bell, the founder of Design Corps, has often said that only 2 percent of building in the US involves an architect. That number is even lower in developing or undeveloped countries, where access to clean water, safe and well-designed shelter and other basic necessities may go unmet. The Center aims to change this fact, with the understanding that architecture can help make the world a better place and that architects can be agents of change.
“Our research shows that one major obstacle to the growth of public interest design is the lack of education being provided in this emerging field. Universities need to step up and train designers to effectively provide this public service,” said Bryan Bell. “Portland State University has taken a groundbreaking step by opening the first center that will focus on this important field.”
Palleroni and his colleagues are already promoting the emerging field of public interest design by supporting research in public engagement, fieldwork, service opportunities and professional education and training.
The first five projects in the Center are rethinking the way designers collaborate with communities to change living conditions, regardless of economic or social status. The projects include the design and construction of an orphanage and environmental-technical school in Titanyen, Haiti, a collaboration with architecture faculty and students at Ecole Speciale d’Architecture, Paris, France; and the SAGE classroom, which has gone on the market nationally in the last week and promises to make healthy and green modular classrooms affordable to all.
Prior to the anonymous gift, the 2011 Latrobe Prize given to Palleroni, Bryan Bell, David Perkes and Roberta Feldman helped to seed the team’s efforts in public interest design. That $100,000 award allowed this team to undertake the first comprehensive study of the public interest design field. The 150 international public interest design practices identified through this study helped inform the creation of this Center and will help create an archive of best practices that will be available to all designers and the public.
Palleroni, with three decades of experience addressing issues of shelter, education, and resources for the most needy worldwide, is joined by Assistant Professor B.D. Wortham-Galvin, who brings an impressive track record of working with impoverished communities and Portland neighborhoods. Assistant Professor Margarette Leite contributes expertise in sustainability, building materials and school conditions in the US and abroad. Most recently she has led an effort to create the first affordable green and healthy modular classroom in the US. This effort will bring together the work of several research units and faculty and student initiatives at PSU with collaborators at other institutions throughout the US and around the world.
Press Release via Portland State University