Seeking Abundance: Designing Engagement and Experience for All

The landscape, the land itself, is where inequity has always, and continues to express itself. Access to health, wealth, safety and education are embedded in the timeless wheeling and dealing of space, place, property. Marginalized communities, subaltern communities, oppressed communities are all terms that emanate from the non-reflexive view, a view that inherently prioritizes its own experiences and world views, primarily those of the mainstream, the colonizer, the oppressor. These embedded predilections have created spaces that, at best, are not designed to welcome or make comfortable a diversity of users and communities, and at worst, have systematically destroyed the structures and networks that had historically catered to the needs of the non-majority. There is a wealth of knowledge and a richness of the deaf experience, the indigenous experience, the immigrant experience, the blind experience, the black experience that must inform our design decision making. How do we, as designers, design a process that leverages culturally specific experiences to create spaces of cross-cultural resonance?

In this studio, we will explore how various communities experience, navigate, or claim space, whether architecture, landscape, or metaphysical, in order to create a culturally responsive environment that amplifies community, connection, and care. The structure of this studio is one that is informed by both the freedoms and challenges of the past year and a half of remote learning and working.  We have all been embedded in our home communities or adopted communities, which gives us access to a network we’ve been a part of for at least some part of our lives.  Perhaps more importantly for the work of this studio, we are in a time where, at least for a moment, some voices of some underprivileged are being heard.  Our work this semester will be guided by these unique opportunities.

1. Research – Initially, we will work through a few lines of questioning.  First, who can designers serve? Why have we become designers, what affinities do we share with mission driven organizations or communities, and how can we bring our unique skillsets to support community efforts and partners through the spatial disciplines?  Second, how do we engage with this topic or partner to understand how design can serve their needs? We will welcome lecturers, “desk mentors” and other experts as needs arise within projects to help approach topics such as Deaf Space Design, design in Black Space, or Indigenous Planning.

2. Design the Process – We invite students who have a clear idea of a partner and project they are interested in, but we also have a few sites and projects for students who are interested in the studio but may not have a particular project in mind.  Having chosen a partner/project, we will design and implement an engagement to reveal the correct design drivers, understand the mission and build support and interest in the project. 

3. Design the Place – Having determined the project site, chosen and engaged a partner, built a robust sensory design palette, we will design a new kind of place that is driven by a rich and diverse set of inputs, or design drivers built up over the semester. This place can be a small front yard for a special person, a park for a particular community, a memorial for a previously erased history, a large, newly preserved landscape, or a new kind of lifeways center.