On January 20th, the Architecture School, led by Barbara Brown Wilson, Jeana Ripple, and Elgin Cleckley, signed on as a local host for a Design as Protest Day of Action workshop (https://designjusticeplatform.com/). Bryan Lee, an architectural designer, artist, writer, and advocate for social justice through design based in New Orleans, developed this workshop as a platform opening up conversations around how design can serve as a tool for social justice.
The workshop guide describes the event as follows:
"To protest is to have an unyielding faith in the potential for a just society. It is an act of individual and collective hope, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. The act of protest, requires not only an awareness of true inequality, but a compulsion to speak out against it in its many forms. It is a roadblock to injustice and ultimately an affirmation of its alternatives. Design speaks to these alternatives and attempts to visually and physically represent our collective aspirations for the future.
The Design As Protest (DAP) Cypher is a Design Justice gathering to bring community members, artist, activists, and designers together in pursuit of a design intervention with the explicit intention of addressing issues of injustice throughout the built environment. This is an action, using the language of design, to protest a new administration that actively opposes civil liberties and seeks to perpetuate injustice in our world.
The Design of our built environment, and the injustices that persist within it, are the lasting physical result of policies, procedures, and practice. Given the permanence of our work, we must pay particular attention to these relationships and seek Design Justice whenever possible."
The DAP Cypher is folded into the larger framework of the Design Justice Platform, which aims to create a living document outlining an ethical, apolitical, socially and environmentally conscious standard of ethics for designers. The Platform intends to aggregate resources and references into a framework, provide opportunities for action, and synthesize information to continuously develop the Platform and publicly engage in discourse related to the built environment.
As students shared concerns and responses, the post-it notes aggregated around central themes. Very quickly our individual concerns became collective concerns. We read the thoughts of our peers and broadened our understanding of each other. Our responses began to take into account the perspectives of others in the room. Seeing the passions and fears of our colleagues all expressed in their own handwriting on brightly colored squares, we empathized; we connected.
Students broke into groups that would focus on design for each of the following categories along the design continuum:
Students were asked to keep several questions in mind, such as what social justice issue should design address? Who does this issue directly/disproportionately impact? How does design reveal this issue in the built environment? What is the design justice response to this issue?
This workshop with the Design Justice Platform allowed us to bring social justice issues to the front of our minds through drawing, discussing, debating, and reflecting as a community. Not only were we designing spaces with community in mind, we were creating our own community - engaging with and incorporating a wide variety of viewpoints and experiences. This process provided a real and needed sense of civic action and cooperation beyond our encapsulated academic lives. Finally, it offered an opportunity to develop a community that is actively confronting the social justice issues that we are currently facing and will continue to face in the coming years.
Near the end of the workshop, as we presented our projects and discussed our findings, a common theme emerged and gained strength. Each presentation reinforced the one before it, addressing a different facet of social justice, but clearly working in conjunction, with the same goals in mind. All of our projects revolved around others - around individuals other than ourselves, around under-represented groups, around the public at large - allowing space for others to be heard. Within an administration actively suppressing the thoughts and ideas of those who are different or less privileged, the acknowledgement of a need for free expression, as well as the need to actually listen to these expressions, became as a central tenet. Within the design profession we cannot only listen to those who own the biggest podium. The issues of those without privilege must be heard as well, and as designers of the built environment we have a responsibility to listen to every voice which will use these spaces.