Social justice. How can that be achieved? At Portland State University School of Architecture, faculty and students are exploring just this issue in different forms. Often when people think of Portland or the state of Oregon, images of “crunchy” eco-“warriors” come to mind, but these issues are not simply proxies for a lifestyle or consumer choices. Rather, when discussing people and ecology, the issues are about resources. Specifically, how do humans use and allocate resources to promote fair, well-distributed advancements rather than exploitation, oppression and conspicuous consumption.
Towards that end, the School of Architecture has just inaugurated the new Center for Public Interest Design, an initiative that is working towards “making transformative and systemic change,” in the words of Director Sergio Palleroni. These solutions and interventions rely not just on the imagination or innovation of design minds, but on research “that investigates the best of these emerging models of practice, and participatory action research that accounts for the contribution of client communities and the unique social, political and economic conditions of each place—while making the best use of our planet’s limited resources.” This can potentially offer an important template for social involvement, one that is rooted in cultural, demographic, and historical research rather than merely applying a superficial spatial approach.
One project that resulted from this research-based collaboration between teachers, students, and industry is the SAGE Classroom, a modular, cost-effective and ecologically responsible option for schools that require more classroom space. The aim is to use responsible, renewable construction materials to construct a classroom that provides a healthier environment for teachers and students while conserving energy over the lifetime of the structure. What’s more, the initial cost is slightly more than a conventional classroom structure.
Combining a measured, well-researched methodology to cultural engagement ideally includes both domestic and international projects. For the Center for Public Interest Design, their first international project is to add their thoughts and skills to the Montesinos Orphanage and Environmental Technical School in Haiti. Based on the needs and vision of the parish priest and the children who are the clients of the project, this proposal addresses issues like water systems and seismic activity to produce a “school and dormitories for 160 students [that] have been completed, and we are [now] focusing design and construction of a bakery, water systems, organic farm, and restoration” on the 30-acre site.
Another interesting venue for investigative learning is the Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning Plaza, a laboratory that explores different “sustainable building practices” in a manner that also engages the public. Therefore, not only is the lab open to the public, but it provides a site for demonstrating technology and innovations to the public. Students simultaneously discover how design can function differently to affect infrastructure. For example, the current two year project is about living walls that can be enjoyed visually while simultaneously providing information about issues like managing storm water.
Students can attend as undergraduates, however the degree is actually pre-professional and will be attained as either a B.A. or B.S. with a major in Architecture. The graduate degree is a two-year M.Arch. In both, one can take advantage of the interesting research-based opportunities provided by the centers and laboratories. Faculty includes over 30 full- and part-time faculty to instruct over 200 students. Tuition is approximately $1974.00 and $4954.00 for resident undergraduates and graduate students, respectively. Non-residents pay considerably more, at $7154.00 and $7860.00 for undergraduate and graduate students. General scholarships are available, as well.