Seeking Abundance – Designing Engagement and Experience for All

The landscape, is where inequity has always, and continues to express itself. Access to health, wealth, safety and education are embedded in the timeless wheeling and dealing of space, place, property.  Marginalized, subaltern, oppressed communities are all terms that emanate from the non-reflexive view that inherently prioritizes its own experiences, primarily those of the mainstream, the colonizer, the oppressor. These embedded predilections have created spaces that, at best,  are not designed to welcome or make comfortable  a diversity of users, and at worst, have systematically destroyed the structures and networks that had historically catered to the needs of the non-majority. There is a wealth of knowledge and a richness of the deaf experience, the indigenous, the immigrant, the blind, the black experience that must inform our design decision making. In this studio, we will learn how people of varied abilities and backgrounds feel, smell, touch, remember, and navigate the landscape, so as to create a responsive designed experience that, in serving their needs first, enriches all our experience.

The structure of this studio is one that can only happen at this precise juncture, which creates two remarkable conditions. First, we are all currently embedded in our home communities, which gives us access to a network we’ve been a part of for at least some part of our lives.  Second, we are in a time where the voices of the underprivileged are being privileged. 

1. Research –  Our research will have three parallel tracks, to answer three questions.  First, how do we find the partners in our communities who might benefit from our skills as designers, or the story that needs to be told through spatial experience?  This is the upstream work that allows designers to bring our services to communities, organizations and institutions that are providing resilience, vision, or services to people everyday.  Second, how do we engage with this topic or partner to understand how design can serve their needs?  We will begin by understanding the long history of engagement, currently prevalent modes of engagement, and have guest speakers share their experiences and methods in each mode.  Finally, how has design been able  (or not been able) to respond to the needs of differently abled people or communities whose culture has traditionally been sublimated? These will be short case studies on approaches such as Deaf Space Design, design in Black Space, or Indigenous Planning. 

2. Design the Process – Having chosen a partner/project, we will design and implement an engagement to reveal the correct design drivers, understand the mission and build support and interest in the project.

3. Experience Study – We will choose a sensory experience and work with to explore its properties and the effects that can be created through it. Each person will create a precise sensory experiment to better understand how a heightening or diminishing of one sense changes our relationship to the others, accesses memory, creates a feeling of well being or anxiety. Through this work we will develop a new design vocabulary,  or a new landscape palette, that accounts for so much more of our body’s ability to take in information than we as designers typically tend to.

4. Design the Place – Finally we will design a new kind of place, space, memorial that is driven by a rich and diverse set of inputs, or design drivers built up over the semester. This place can be a small front yard for a special person, a park for a particular community, a memorial for a previously erased history, or a large, newly preserved landscape. This could also be a new kind of lifeway center, housing for a rural, elderly community, or a new city scape that caters to the particular needs of a precise refugee population.  

GSD students may view additional information on option studios:

Option Studio Presentations

Schedule for Zoom Q&A sessions