structures for inclusion conference last weekend

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I attended some of the Structures for Inclusion conference here in D.C. last weekend, and was impressed with the quality of the speakers and the presentations. The event focused on providing architecture to underserved communities, and was organized by Design Corps, with sponsors such as the National Endowment for the Arts and several other groups.

The opening panel topic was Design Activism, and featured four speakers working on really interesting projects both here in the U.S. and abroad. Emilie Taylor from Tulane City Center (the research and outreach arm of Tulane's school of architecture) spoke about an urban farm and other community-based projects she and her colleagues have worked on in New Orleans. Anselmo Canfora, a U.Va. professor, talked about the school's Initiative reCOVER, which is building a school in Uganda in partnership with a group called Building Tomorrow. Michael Murphy presented on the hospital his firm, MASS Design Group, is designing in Rwanda with the well-known nonprofit Partners in Health. And Ifeoma Ebo of Anshen + Allen told the audience about the work she's done on a home-based care center for a township in South Africa.

Each speaker emphasized the crucial importance of truly understanding the local issues and culture before designing for an underserved population. They also discussed ways to ensure that the community gets (and stays) deeply involved in the project, and that the local economy benefits. Ebo advised the many young designers in attendance to be creative in looking for fellowships and grants, and to try and learn about business development in addition to design.

By the end, the session had contributed much toward the goal laid out by Design Corps founder Bryan Bell in his welcome and introduction to the conference. "We could do so much more for countries and individuals than we are doing," he said. "This is an exciting time to be a designer. We need to change the public perception of what we can contribute to the common good."--m.d.



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