By John Cary
Curator and writer John Cary is the founder of Public Interest Design and an A+ Awards juror. This story is the first in a three-part series that spotlights notable, mission-driven work in the architecture and design fields.
A year ago, Archinect and I published "Top 10 Design Initiatives to Watch in 2012—For The Public Good." I emphasized at the time that the list was "not an exercise in trend-spotting, but rather a simple meditation on initiatives poised to advance the field." Here I am, a year later and a year wiser, to take a quick look back. What faltered? What succeeded? And what surpassed my wildest expectations?
Tomorrow, I'll present another 2012 recap that will focus on significant milestones in the public-interest design field. Spoiler: Only two initiatives grace both lists. That's not to say the others didn't live up to the hype, although some arguably didn't. It's more to acknowledge the difficult task of looking forward, which is what I'll be doing Thursday with my predictions for 2013, rounding out this special three-part series for Architizer.
1. The TED Prize was awarded to “The City 2.0”
Leading off our "initiatives to watch" list last year was the impending rollout of The City 2.0, this year's TED Prize focused on the future of cities. It represented a first for TED—conferring its $100,000 award and "wish for the world" on an idea, not a person. By many accounts, it proved incredibly difficult and complex, as any conversation on the future of cities inherently is. The City 2.0 was relaunched and reoriented (in part by this author) in June 2012, to focus on storytelling, with the idea that cities are about people and people are about stories. The centerpiece is an evolving storytelling platform, designed by the Los Angeles-based creative agency of Seso. In October, this online effort went onland as over 70 cities around the world hosted "TEDxCity2.0 Day" events. Over the course of this year, TED is also conferring a series (ten in all) of $10,000 micro grants, of which nine have been awarded. Each project will be profiled through a series of videos to debut at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California, in late February. TED relaunched its TED Prize this year, increasing its monetary prize ten-fold, to $1 million. Stay tuned for the announcement of the first lucky winner in late-February.
2. Design for America has, indeed, spread its wings
Design for America (DFA), the brainchild of Professor Liz Gerber at Northwestern University, nearly doubled from 8 last year to 14 studios across the country today. Meanwhile, DFA's network expanded to more than 2,000 students, partners, mentors, and advisors, in addition to its 350 core team members. DFA is not solely focused on design schools, but also in introducing students from all disciplines to the transformative power of design. DFA teams are currently tackling 50 local and social challenges. Looking forward, DFA hopes to have 30 studios by 2015. More immediately, it has plans to harness technology and launch an online learning platform, already being tested by its existing network.
3. The Public Interest Design Institute hit the road
Design Corps successfully took its two-day Public Interest Design Institute training program on the road over the past year, reaching 451 participants via 8 sessions to date. Hosts ranged from Harvard and Yale Universities to the University of New Mexico and the University of Texas at Austin. Employing the Harvard Case Study model of learning, which manifests in a parade of project presentations curated by Bell, the program is framed around the five simple Social/Economic/Environmental Design (SEED) Principles. The conclusion of the $150-$450, two-day training sessions is a two-page, 20-question exam, with a series of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, such as "How much it cost to join the SEED Network?" Looking ahead, Design Corps already has sessions planned at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Maryland, University of Minnesota, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Portland State University, and in Atlanta, Georgia.
4. The 1% program eclipsed 1,000 firms
Public Architecture's 1% program eclipsed 1,000 firms on January 17 of this year, just a few months shy of the organization's 10th anniversary. The number of firms currently stands at 1,121. Together, they have pledged a total of 335,729 hours annually, now valued by the organization at roughly $40 million. Meanwhile, 674 nonprofits have registered with the program to request pro-bono design assistance to date. TheOnePercent.org, relaunched in 2007, was pegged for a redesign again this past year, but remains largely unchanged. Public Architecture did release several beautifully designed e-publications, including handbooks for current and prospective architecture firms and nonprofit participants, as well as the first in a new series of case studies in partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA). And building on the partnership it formalized in late-2011 with the AIA, Public Architecture more recently formalized a partnership with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
5. The Intern Development Program 2.0 took effect
Over the past year and a half, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) rolled out what even it describes as "the most significant update of the Intern Development Program (IDP) since its inception 35 years ago." The improvements are routinely attributed not to improving the experience of the youngest and most vulnerable in the architecture profession—aspiring architects—nor to making design more accessible to the public, but instead to a five-year old report, called the 2007 Practice Analysis of Architecture. That report surveyed "a record" 9,835 registered architects, less than 10% of the architects in the U.S. Still, one young architect said that IDP 2.0 "solves about 90% of my problems with the actual administration of IDP," encountered while working on capital projects for a nonprofit organization. "The real question is—since we can safely assume most of these changes result from not enough paying work to go around for interns in this market—will NCARB keep that mindset when the economy picks up?" Only time will tell.
6. Design Like You Give a Damn 2 hit the shelves
In May, Architecture for Humanity released Design Like You Give a Damn 2: Building Change from the Ground Up, published by Abrams. The book builds on the the organization’s 2006 edition by the same name, featuring more than 100 amazing projects. The book's most significant resource: an 18-page feature compiled by AFH co-founder and co-editor Kate Stohr, meticulously detailing 63 different forms of financing. We’ve never seen a resource approximating it, while financing has long been one of the biggest question raised about public interest design work. Architecture for Humanity also released a generous 35-page PDF, which may sound like a lot of pages to disclose until you realize that Design Like You Give a Damn 2 is a hefty 335 pages, like its predecessor.
7. Studio H, the documentary, due out in 2013
Studio H—the brainchild, high school design/build program of Emily Pilloton, Matthew Miller, and Project H Design—moved crosscountry this year to a new home at the REALM Charter School in Berkeley. Their extraordinary work and efforts in Bertie County, North Carolina, was meticulously documented by award-winning O'Malley Creadon Productions. The film—boosted in part by a Kickstarter campaign that attracted 344 backers, who chipped in $38,336—is in its final cut, being submitted to film festivals, and is hoping for a theatrical debut in 2013. More information on Studio H, the film, is forthcoming, while the actual work of the Studio H design/build program is available online here.
8. Archiculture film in production
Arbuckle Industries, the creative force behind the long-awaited Archiculture film, reports that it is deep in audio and music mastering, turning an eye to distribution options. They're also redesigning the Archiculture website to match the final short-length format and storyline of the film, since the current website was for a feature-length version. In addition to the film itself, 35 interviews with academics and industry professionals will be released in an interactive video player. More information on this impending relaunch is forthcoming.
9. U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale showcased "Spontaneous Interventions"
For the 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale this year, architect David Chipperfield put forward the theme of "Common Ground" to, in the words of the designer, "encourage my colleagues to react against the prevalent professional and cultural tendencies of our time that place such emphasis on individual and isolated actions." The U.S. Pavilion, the theme of which was "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good,” was open from August 29 to November 25. For those that couldn't make it to Venice, a dedicated website as well as the special issue of Architect Magazine were published, providing great windows into the show, the 124 projects, and the energy around them all. An initiative of the Institute for Urban Design in New York and partner Architect Magazine, the U.S. Pavilion was co-curated by a small team, with Cathy Lang Ho serving as lead curator. Their efforts were awarded with a "Special Mention for National Participation" by the Biennale Jury.
10. Public Policy Lab took shape
We've watched with interest and admiration as Public Policy Lab has evolved over the past year, building out its website, maintaining an inspired and info-packed blog, and introducing the concepts of service and system design through efforts and events in New York and beyond. The crowning achievement or arrival for the organization may very well be a major grant from the Rockefeller Foundation through its coveted New York City Cultural Innovation Fund grant. The grant supports or represents a partnership with Parsons The New School for Design, but ultimately supports work with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development on improving housing-related services. The parties maintain a dedicated website, chronicling their work together.
Bonus: Rounding up to 12, one public interest media site reboots, while another waits
In a bonus section of sorts last year, we identified the Worldchanging.com and Next American City websites as poised for reboots in 2012. In one case, there's been little progress, while in the other a radical makeover.
The main Worldchanging.com website remains entirely unchanged since fall 2011, while the Open Architecture Network domain that bears the Worldchanging brand hasn't fully adopted it. So the wait goes on. In the meantime, OpenArchitectureNetwork.org has seen a rise in the number of projects, from 7,346 a year ago, to 11,684 today--an impressive 37% increase. The site also records 1,596,188 people benefiting from 128 projects, up from 1,301,753 people benefiting from 102 projects a year ago--a nearly 20% increase in both categories. Finally, the number of OAN members or registered users increased from 34,149 to 37,948, up 11%.
Next American City's website, currently AmericanCity.org, successfully underwent a major redesign. This coincided with the launch of a a new weekly series of long-form articles, called Forefront, replacing the organization's well-known print publication. In just seven months, nearly 3,000 people subscribed, and the organization also showed substantial growth in its social media following. Beyond the site, Next American City opened an events and exhibition space, called The Storefront for Urban Innovation, which won a City 2.0 Award from TED, among other accolades. It's now on the brink of announcing a major grant-funded project that will dramatically expand its focus on rapidly urbanizing cities across the globe.
Next up in our three-part series: Top 10 Public Interest Design Milestones of 2012!