Next City — “Five Lessons on Designing for Good”

October 30, 2017

“In a time of such heightened inequality, the ethical dimension of design has never felt more important. Well-designed spaces are not just a matter of taste or a question of aesthetics; they literally shape our ideas about who we are and what we deserve in the world. That is the essence of dignity. And both the opportunity and the responsibility of design. ...

The best practitioners are distinguished in seeing and treating the people they build with as partners, not clients. Money is obviously necessary to getting the work done, but it’s not at the center of the relationship. And the relationship is reciprocal, not transactional, built on genuine respect for the insights that everyone brings. ...

On the campus of Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Studio Gang and the college were able to work closely with an unusually design-conscious funder, the Arcus Foundation, to push through several challenging features now central to the success of the college’s Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. The foundation gave the support the architects needed to experiment with an innovative exterior facade, and a hearth and kitchen unusual for a public building. Designed to foster dialogue, the latter two features required special approval and a shared commitment to seeing them through despite the odds.

It’s important to acknowledge that individuals and entities undertaking design projects for the first time are putting just as much or more on the line as designers. To reap the full rewards of partnership, designers also have to take risks and push themselves. When both groups do, the payoff can be transformative.”

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Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing