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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nepal Disaster Relief

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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?

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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!