A few weeks ago, Nadi’s communications and marketing associate, Rebecca Henderson raised a crucial question; she asked what our mission statement design for a better world meant to each one of us. Although all our answers were different, they highlighted similar themes such as accessibility, thoughtfulness, climate change, and most importantly designing people first spaces.
To me, design for a better world means re-instilling hope by promoting social change, empowering communities and improving the quality of life of all individuals, specifically, people whom society has conditioned to believe that good design is a luxury.
Good inclusive design, as explained by John Cary in his book Design for Good: A New Era of Architecture for Everyone, does not arise coincidentally. It originates from years of backbreaking work by people who have consistently fought to use the design and design process as tools to bring about social change. In this article, I will be highlighting two projects that exemplify how some designers and non-designers have used their projects as tools to empower and uplift communities around the world:
Gando Primary School
Completed in 2001 by architect Diébédo Francis Kéré and the local population of Gando, Burkina Faso, the project demonstrates how simplicity and humility can come a long way through understanding the real demands of a place, the tradition of its residents and their way of living. The construction of the school follows Kéré’s philosophy that architecture is a social process—especially in the poorer and less developed regions of the world. It's also about integrating the people you build for and making them feel it is their project. In this way, they identify with the building and are proud of it.
A notable attribute of the design is that it rejects the imposition of new lifestyles and alien forms for its users through the use of solely local materials, labour and enhanced social building skills. All three qualities combined result in a space that not only adapts to the needs and economic status of people in the region. It also responds to prevailing climatic conditions through the implementation of sustainable building techniques.
The beauty of the project is that the school is seen as more than just a school, it is an object of pride— serving both children from the local community and surrounding villages. The building process was also educative as it raised the community’s awareness of the advantages of traditional construction materials and high-grade planning concepts— empowering them with the tools to maintain the project in years to come.
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park
The creation of Hunt’s Point Riverside Park arose from a movement to reclaim the long-overlooked Bronx River as a natural resource and community asset. Before this, the site located in the Hunts Point neighbourhood South Bronx was an illegal dumping ground grappling with some of New York City’s highest rates of asthma, obesity and diabetes. Although the area was surrounded by water, people had no real access to it, and there was also the absence of green space throughout most of the community. The neighbourhood faced both an economic and environmental crisis with increasing numbers of joblessness and environmentally borne health issues that hindered people from realizing their potential.
Majora Carter who founded Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit environmental justice solutions corporation, spearheaded this transformation project which, brought open space, pedestrian and bike paths, as well as spaces for mixed-use economic development to the South Bronx neighbourhood.
Hunt’s Point Riverside Park is the first of many projects that follow Majora’s vision of “Greening the Ghetto”— an initiative that advocates the use of green economy and green economic tools as a social and economical solution to poverty. Not only did the park give new meaning to a community that was once neglected by the city of New York, but it also created green jobs for people who had previously been incarcerated and made them feel like relevant members of society. As she states, sometimes what we fail to understand as a whole is that people who have experienced the mental pain of prison, poverty or war do better when they work with living things and when they know their work improves our collective society.
Projects like Gando Primary School and Hunt’s Point Riverside Park are but two of many transformative projects that unlock the potential of places— they give a new meaning to the word beauty, inspire hope and highlight what is needed in our communities. Sometimes, such projects may go unnoticed, and we may not hear about them, but the important part is they change lives, encourage connectivity and save our planet. How have you inspired social change your community recently?