Architecture shapes how we live and come together. Amidst a pandemic and protests around the world, architects and designers are speaking out to condemn injustice and building space for empathy and understanding. In listening, they are looking to how we live together, and in turn, how we can create a more equitable and just world.
Design is directly tied to society, our past, and how we envision our future. In a time of dramatic change, from natural catastrophes and the climate crisis to a global pandemic and social unrest, there have been many examples of architects and designers making spaces for social impact. These projects and ideas illustrate how architects, builders and communities are bringing contextual designs to life. The following projects and articles examine conditions of crisis, injustice and inequity, and what role design can play in shaping shared experience when building space.
In an exhibit previously on show at the Center for Architecture and Design in Seattle titled “In the Public Interest,” Garrett Nelli challenges the profession of architecture to establish a focus on more community-engaged design. Nelli traveled to Los Angeles, rural Alabama, Haiti, Italy and New Orleans to analyze how the built environment has the ability to influence social change.
The Syrian crisis forced thousands of families to leave their homes in search of safe places to continue with their lives. Many families moved to Lebanon, where the UN raised a series of informal settlements. While effective in providing shelter, they didn’t provide specific solutions for children, many of whom didn’t have public spaces equipped to play sports and interact with other kids.
Following a three-year redesign, the Place de la République in Paris reopened, welcoming back the regular organized protests that make it one of the most important public spaces in Paris. For the designers of the space, TVK agency, it was important not to infringe on what many Parisians consider their inalienable right to protest.
In recent years, the architecture world has seen a significant surge of interest in socially-conscious design; from sustainability to social housing, and from public space to disaster relief, architecture is beginning to take on some of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our era. But despite its popularity, public-interest design is still only a fringe activity in architecture.
The National Memorial to Peace and Justice is sited on six acres of land in Montgomery, Alabama and is the first national memorial to victims of lynching in the US. In a city where markers commemorating the Confederate South still abound and markers to the Civil Rights Movement and slavery are few, the memorial provides the necessary space for truth-telling, hope, healing, and reconciliation.
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