Cdes header

program name College of Design

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Drinking from Fire Hydrants and Focusing on Failures: Structures for Inclusion Conference Reflections

Virajita Photo 1.jpg
SFI Conference in Detroit; Photo courtesy Virajita Singh

The 15th annual Structures for Inclusion Conference was held this past April in Detroit, Michigan. Two students from the University of Minnesota, Thomas Kallenbach and Aika Mengi, were able to attend, and both produced the following reflections about their time at the public interest design conference:

Thomas Kallenbach

The 2015 Structures For Inclusion conference was hosted by Lawrence Technological University and Design Corps in Detroit, Michigan with events taking place in both downtown Detroit and at the Lawrence Tech. campus. The Autodesk Foundation and SEED Network sponsored the weekend; both sponsors played an integral role in the momentum of the discussion. I went into the weekend with an open mind as I was a first timer to the City of Detroit and had no experience regarding design conferences. I knew I was going to be enlightened by professionals, students, and community members' insights on the idea of Public Interest Design, and I was correct.

The overall theme for the weekend was "resilience of mind, body, and spirit". Resilience was a very appropriate and fitting theme for a conference being held in Detroit, a city that is currently being lifted back on its feet. Despite all the negatives I'd heard about Detroit, I couldn't believe the positive attitudes and actions taking place in a city built for 2 million people, but currently residing just under 700,000 people. There was a strong sense of hope that was clearly evident in the residents. I left the City with faith that it will be prosperous once again, and I believe that it will happen sooner than many think.

The major takeaway I had from my weekend in Detroit is that if we want to see more successful public interest projects then we need to focus more on the failures of these projects; as designers we need to make known what didn't work in the process in order to avoid these problems in other future designs. When practitioners speak of their projects they only want to speak on behalf of the positive impact because they want their project to have a good reputation, but in order for this field to progress we need to share not just the process, but rather the story (while admitting to our failures). We need to focus on the resilience of culture and not just merely the built environment.

Virajita Photo 3.jpg
SFI Conference in Detroit; Photo courtesy Virajita Singh

Aika Mengi

I have never been to a conference, I didn't know what to expect, especially one that was focused on design. But whatever it was going to be I was very excited to be a part of the conferencing crowd.

The weekend was not unlike what I would think it would feel like to try drink from a fire hydrant. It felt a lot like orientation, overwhelming with the amount of information that was being thrown at as. The Pecha Kucha presentation style of 20 slides in 5 minutes meant we were able to hear highlights of some really great projects all over the world. My favorite was MASS design hospital design and construction in Rwanda. I loved how they not only created a beautiful and functional building, there work there is helping to develop gender equality in Rwanda. It was a great example of how Architecture is so much more than a building, if Architects chose to see their role as more than designing buildings.

I thought it was interesting to see and hear the slightly different perspectives on the Role of architects in PID. For a lot of architects, it sounded like in order to practice in PID, architects need to be one stop shop. But the architects from Germany see the architect as another a member of a team. And that PID needs to be more interdisciplinary. The majority of attendants were architects, and as an urban planner it felt like there was some appropriation of different fields. I was discussing this with an alumni, and he also mentioned how a lot of the projects were landscape architecture projects, or urban planning projects.

The conference was an accurate representation of what perhaps is the state of the PID practice in the US, still working to define its role. During the wrap up, a lot of these things came up, the homogenous nature of the participants of the conference. The majority of people were from the design field, and if SFI is to be inclusive then all the parts that are a part of PID should be involved, the economists, community, construction firms and ecologists.

To celebrate millennials' revelry of top 10 lists, here are the top 10 things I learned from the Detroit SFI.

10. It doesn't matter which scale PID project is on, it's all about the impact on the community.

9. Everybody is not on the same page.

8. When people are heavily invested, emotions can go from 0-100 really quickly.

7. Disagreements are not a bad thing, and can help create a clearer understanding of an issued. (How you disagree is important!)

6. Metrics, Metrics, Metrics! There must be a way of judging the impact of PID projects.

5. Failure, we don't hear about it enough, learning from other people failures can help us avoid them in our own projects.

4. Interdisciplinary collaboration is easier to talk about than it is to practice.

3. PID still needs to be more inclusive, there was a very obvious lack of community members sharing their thoughts on PID and the impact on their lives.

2. Money changes things, but it is about the People!

1. It really is all about the PEOPLE!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

"Nature Looted Nepal"

Today's blogpost about the personal toll of the recent Nepal earthquake was written by Indira Manandhar, a graduate student in the Sustainable Design in Architecture program, and a native of Nepal. To learn more and see how you can help, please see this week's PID Newsletter or scroll down to the previous blogpost on ways to donate to the relief effort in Nepal.

Just half an hour before the earthquake, I talked with my mom and brother in Nepal. It was already midnight here when I saw news about the earthquake. Facebook was full of pictures with devastated monuments. When I saw the "Dharahara," a 9-story historic tower in Kathmandu, was flattened, I was sure it was not a prank. I tried to call my family, and messaged each and everyone I know in Nepal " R U There?" and kept waiting for their reply. Finally at 4 am, one of my relatives saw my message and informed me that my family is fine but that the other adjacent house of my house was destroyed. After this news, I became more desperate to talk with my family. We kept looking on the USGS website for earthquake updates. The aftershocks of more than 4 magnitude kept on going. There have been more than 60 aftershocks this week. I know it is the rainy season in Nepal. After the first quake, I started praying for no rain as it would make the condition worse. I could not handle that fear and pain alone here in US in that night. I shared on Facebook to get someone to talk, spread word and help Nepal: "Nature looted Nepal. We lost our heritage we had loved, taken care and proud of. We knew that it's gonna happen but not this soon..You could have given some time to prepare...RIP to those who lost their lives and much worried for all family and friends, still terrified and waiting for nature to calm down." My family and many others were out in open areas. It rained heavily that day and night in Nepal. They all are wet, hungry and cold outside. The aftershocks became more devastating, as they are making the weaker buildings fall down. My house is not livable now. As many servers, including T-mobile, Viber, and Skype, had made it free to call directly to Nepal mobile and landline numbers, it became a bit easier to at least direct my family and help them decide on further steps to take, get resources for help and make their stress a bit lighter as they are all in shock, and could not think properly about what and when and where. I regret I cannot be there with my family and Nepal at this moment.

Though my immediate family members are safe, countless people have lost many. I am very worried for the coming days' scarcity, crime and other epidemics. Nepal is not that technologically advanced. We are getting news that the government is not cooperating with relief funds and helping hands sent to the country. The local youth groups are more active than the government. I have been talking and sharing information with my friends who are architects professionally working in Nepal. They have started actively campaigning for low cost shelters for victims because, as per my friend, now tents are out of stock; there is no place to buy a tent in Kathmandu and shelter is the first priority for the victims. The capital city is in such mess, I cannot even think what might be happening to the other small villages. Food, clothes, and other medical supplies sent from international organizations and Nepalese from outside the country are all stuck in only one international airport due to the lack of proper direction for releasing those materials. Many small groups of Nepalese have already left from the USA with their own travel baggage full of the necessary materials so that they could at least help some victims on ground.

Nepal needs help not only in materials and funds but the proper organized planning for helping those victims.

Thank you U of M for keeping us in your prayers and thoughts. I am really thankful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nepal Disaster Relief

Nepal 1.jpg
Girl, 13, in ruins of home in a village in the hills surrounding Kathmandu. Photo credit Jason Burke, The Guardian

This past Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, striking at the densely populated area around the capital, Kathmandu. Current estimates put the death toll around 3600, and the number of injured at 7000, both expected to rise in the coming days. Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, now faces a steep uphill climb. Essential supplies like food, water, medical support, and electricity are scarce and difficult to disperse, and thousands of families and individuals have been left homeless after their homes collapsed. Below is a list of charities and organizations doing work in Nepal in the aftermath of this devastating disaster:

CARE - Organization dedicated to fighting poverty, with a presence in Nepal since 1976. They are reportedly partnering with other charities to help as many as 75,000 affected people.

Catholic Relief Services - International humanitarian agency of the US Catholic Church. From the Nepal office, has begun stockpiling and distributing emergency relief supplies.

International Medical Corps - Provides emergency health care services, as well as provides training for ongoing medical care after the relief organizations have left. Have created fund to support emergency relief teams working in Nepal.

Mercy Corps - International charity working to help those afflicted by poverty, conflict or disaster. Currently have Nepal fund set up, with a team on the ground in Kathmandu.

Oxfam America - Confederation of NGOs, currently on the ground and launching a rapid dispersal of water, food, and sanitation supplies.

Save the Children - NGO dedicated to promoting children's rights and providing support to children in developing countries. It has set up a Nepal fund, with ten percent of the funds going to future disaster preparedness.

UNICEF - UN program dedicated to helping children in developing countries, currently working to deliver water purification tablets, and other hygiene and nutrition supplies. Also accepting donations via text: donate $10 by texting "Nepal" to 864233 (UNICEF).

World Vision - Christian organization with an existing presence in Nepal, working to bring children out of poverty, and build communities.

AmeriCares - Global emergency relief organization. A team has been sent from Mumbai to focus on medical aid and assistance.

Direct Relief - Organization providing emergency medical care after disasters, centering response around Kathmandu, where the existing medical centers are overrun.

GlobalGiving - Global charity fundraising website, with Nepal fund set up. Money collected will initially go to first responders, eventually shifting to long term relief efforts.

Handicap International - Charity which works with disabled and vulnerable populations. Staff of 50 in Nepal will be setting up units in hospitals to provide post-surgery rehabilitation, as well as equipment, food, and counseling.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tiny House, Wide Impact

Ben Kraft at work on his tiny house behind Rapson Hall. Photo credit Juliet Farmer, Minnesota Daily

This article originally appeared in the front page of the Minnesota Daily on April 21st. To read the original article, follow this link.

Written by Ellen Schmidt, Minnesota Daily

Behind Rapson Hall on the University of Minnesota's East Bank, architecture master's student Ben Kraft spends 14 hours a day building a miniature home for him and his wife.

Kraft's work building the 220-square-foot house, which serves as his final thesis project, is part of a recent nationwide tiny house trend in which people are striving to downsize, cut costs and live more sustainably.

Kraft, who is originally from southeast Alaska, said his home state inspired him to build the tiny house.

Many of his hometown friends and other young people in southeast Alaska are struggling to own homes because they're too expensive, he said. So he set out to learn how to maximize quality of life in minimum space.

"My project focuses on the potential of tiny house design in principles to alleviate the financial barriers to housing that many families in southeast Alaska experience," Kraft said.

Tiny housing is a more affordable option than traditional architecture largely because of its sustainable aspects, he said. A small home requires less lighting and overall utility use.

Where the typical American home is about 2,600 square feet, tiny houses normally range from 100 to 400 square feet, according to The Tiny Life, a website dedicated to the tiny house movement.

The University's Center for Sustainable Building Research in the College of Design gave Kraft input on how best to build a structurally sound and sustainable home.

"The wall has to do a number of things including holding up the roof, keeping out the rain, keeping the heat in and deal with any drafts or unwanted airflow," said
Dan Handeen, a research fellow at the center. "So we were helping him figure out what materials and structural system were the most appropriate."

Kraft said his house will cost $12,000 in total, which includes furnishings.

Although that may be a higher initial investment than many people might spend in a monthly rent or mortgage payment, he said, it pays off. Kraft said he'll be debt-free within two years.

And because the house costs so little, he said he'll be able to afford more sustainable options like solar panels and high efficiency faucets, showers and water heaters.

One of the most important parts of building a tiny house is designing it to meet your lifestyle, Kraft said.

Unlike a regular home where homeowners can adjust it to fit their preferences, a tiny house "has to be designed around your schedule, your patterns [and] your lifestyle from the very beginning," he said.

Because Kraft's wife is a chef and pastry maker, he built a kitchen larger than the one in their current apartment to accommodate her needs.

Once he completes the home he's been constructing since December, Kraft and his wife will take their new home on the road to wherever he finds a job.

"It's going to be used as an experiment," he said. "I feel like I have to live in it to get a full experience of what it takes to live in a [220-square-foot home] because, realistically, a lot of people have bedrooms larger than my entire house."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Training the Next Generation of Liberian Architects

Students of Architectural Training Consultants at work in Liberia (Image courtesy Beauclarc Thomas)

"Architectural Training Consultants was inspired by my passion to train young Liberian professionals and students. It's a way for me to give back to my country of birth, an opportunity to give back hope to young Liberians after more than a decade of a brutal civil war."

Beauclarc Thomas was born in Liberia, and was partly schooled and worked there until the civil war broke out. In 2011, he migrated to the United States and settled in Minneapolis. "With the continuation of my education and architectural experience, I was privileged to have worked for most of the top and prestigious architectural firms in Minneapolis," Thomas said. Soon after moving, he started his own firm, B. A. Thomas Innovative Homes, a St. Paul studio providing design services to relocating Africans.

In 2012, Thomas started Architectural Training Consultants, a program to provide quality education in architectural modeling and technical software like Revit and Building Information Modeling (BIM), as well as general architectural studies, to young Liberian and African college students. "Liberia lacks a college that teaches Architecture," Thomas said. "Pursuing a degree in Architecture requires travelling out of the country. Our goal is to build the first full Architecture college in Liberia."

The program, which runs for twelve months, involves 4 phases of training and grants a certificate upon completion. Although the initial classes of the program were held virtually over the internet, since 2014 Thomas and others are now flying to Liberia to provide in-person training in addition to the virtual classes. This year, the first class of BIM students will graduate from the program - hopefully the first of many to come.

Class at the Architectural Training Consultants center in Liberia (Image courtesy Beauclarc Thomas)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

What is the Difference between Public Interest Design and Design Activism?

Design at Noon Poster V.1.jpg
Poster for the Design @ Noon session, designed by Eugene Park

"Design @ Noon" are a series of discussions, three over the course of this spring of 2015, that are meant to create a dialogue based on themes that emerge from the strategic plans of units within the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. Their overall goal is helping make the whole of the College of Design greater than the sum of its parts. Each session focuses on a different topic that was identified as key in the existing strategic planning activities. While attendance is open to all, some interested faculty, students, and outside partners are identified ahead of time and invited to the table.

The first Design @ Noon session, held on February 27th, 2015, facilitated by Associate Dean of Research, Renee Cheng, examined the question, "What is the difference between public interest design and design activism?" Over 30 attendees that included students, staff and faculty from across the College and beyond were present to discuss this topic. Breaking into groups of 3-4 people to discuss their involvement with public interest design (PID) they discussed a series of three questions related to PID and design activism in detail.

The three questions were:

  • What is PID and design activism? What are the differences?

  • What I/we really need is ______ to make our work even better

  • Wouldn't it be great if the community knew ______ about the College of Design?

Discussion at the PID/Design Activism Design @ Noon session

These three questions elicited a wide range of discussion as a large group. Some of the topics discussed included: Who is exactly is meant by "public," and what is in their interest?; Should all design be considered "in the public interest"?; a possible distinction between PID and design activism being where design activism relates to change and provoking, while PID relates to serving; the need and desire to connect with other groups throughout the University, and to make the work more visible and accessible to the general public; ways to ensure the public and community groups are fully included, and that they are aware of the resources the College of Design can provide.

At the end of this discussion, a consensus was reached for two outcomes/next steps. They are: to explore starting a Design Issue Area Network at the University Office for Public Engagement, to bring the community-focused work within the College to a broader University level; and to find a venue for communicating within the College and University at large before reaching out to community partners regarding projects.

The next Design at Noon event is on the connection between thinking and making, Wednesday April 22, Rapson Hall Room 225. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Upcoming If You Build It Screening

Mark your calendars: The College of Design: Public Interest Design, Students for Design Activism, and the University of Minnesota AIAS will be hosting a screening of "If You Build It," a documentary exploring the intersections of design, education, and community through the work of Project H, on Tuesday, March 31st at 5:30pm in Rapson 100. Refreshments will be provided, with a panel discussion moderated by Dean Tom Fisher following the movie.

Event Info:
What: If You Build It Screening, Panel Discussion - Refreshments Provided
When: Tuesday, March 31st, 5:30 pm
Rapson Hall, Room 100
89 Church St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Synopsis from the film's website:

From the director of WORDPLAY and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education. IF YOU BUILD IT follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina, where they work with local high school students to help transform both their community and their lives. Living on credit and grant money and fighting a change-resistant school board, Pilloton and Miller lead their students through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills: it shows ten teenagers the power of design-thinking to re-invent not just their town but their own sense of what's possible. Directed by Patrick Creadon and produced by Christine O'Malley and Neal Baer, IF YOU BUILD IT offers a compelling and hopeful vision for a new kind of classroom in which students learn the tools to design their own futures.