Bryan Bell, AIA, describes his practice as “public interest architecture in a professional, for-profit firm.” This business model, he explains, allows him to provide good design to a wider range of people and still make a decent living. A past Harvard Loeb Fellow and recent Latrobe Prize winner, Bell discussed the research conducted for these grants and how it affected his work as well as how other architects can get involved.

Bell’s presentation centered on strategies that he compiled as a result of his experience and extensive research into public interest architecture. He surveyed nearly 400 AIA members and conducted 150 interviews with architects doing this type of work including Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, and Michael Pyatok, FAIA, both of whom also presented at Reinvention. Bell distilled that wealth of information into nine ways that architects or firms can become successfully involved in designing for the 15 percent:

  1. Expanding firm roles and services
  2. Initiating projects
  3. Community engagement
  4. Advocacy
  5. Working in/for public policy
  6. Demonstrate value of architect-designed buildings in the social arena
  7. Create prototypes—research
  8. Build relationships with nonprofits
  9. Practitioner, community, and policy—finding financial resources

Bell showed examples for these strategies and talked about how to convince clients, governments, and communities that design can solve a variety of problems and create healthy, active, and safe places to live. One of the examples was a migrant housing prototype he designed after massive hurricane destruction in 2004 wiped out a lot of existing, low-quality housing. He designed the dwelling based on talks with workers and farmers to find out their priorities. Then he found funding in Florida to cover half of the costs, so farmers only had to provide land and infrastructure. That prototype is now a national farmworker housing program with several success stories.

The SEED Network was Bell’s last topic. SEED stands for Social, Economic, and Environmental Design and the network offers third-party certification that takes into account more than just sustainability. He founded SEED to bring a professional standard to socially responsible design so architects can communicate to clients and the community what they’ll get, which he hopes will eventually build stronger public trust in architect-designed buildings. The program allows architects to document in quantifiable ways the results of their designs. “SEED brings design rigor to all levels of a building,” Bell explains, “not just green aspects.”

The SEED Network offers a free tool that walks architects through the certification process and training courses are available through the Public Interest Design Instituteweaetxdyvaydzcwq, yet another organization created by Bell.

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