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Taking a Public Interest // Katie Bauer


"providing benefits of architecture to those traditionally un-served by the profession"


- Bryan Bell

Bryan Bell, architect and creator of Design Corps defines public interest design as, “providing benefits of architecture to those traditionally un-served by the profession”. This concept has evolved from designing for inclusion, originally articulated by Ronald Mace, who used the phrase universal design. Public interest design differs by adding another layer pertaining to social sustainability. In this model a designer aims to create equitable, diverse, connected and democratic means leading to a better quality of life. Taking a public interest has gained web presence with the help of John Cary, creator of and entrepreneur Bryan Bell, creator of Design Corps and the Social Economical Environmental Design (SEED) Awards. Today, public interest design bears a presence in the profession that cannot be ignored. Which raises a question for designers: is it our social responsibility to take a public interest?

Public interest design projects happen at different scales and socioeconomic statuses. The Bancroft School Apartments in Kansas City, are an example of architects taking a local public interest. This project was designed by BNIM and developed in partnership with Make it Right, and Dalmark Group. BNIM was approached by community members who were concerned about the decline of their neighborhood. The new Bancroft School Apartments are an effort to provide affordable housing, day care, cultural art spaces, community rooms, and more. This project is now a precedent in leveraging funding, partnering with passionate people, and extracting the needs of the community to help rebuild a neighborhood.

Mass Design’s, Doctors “Healing Housing” in Rwanda is an example of public interest in an under developed country. Mass Design is a nonprofit out of Boston, Massachusetts that focuses on socially equitable architecture projects. The Doctors “Healing Housing”, provides structures that can withstand earthquakes, are clean, and provide basic shelter in hopes of attracting and retaining doctors to serve Rwanda. The project was able to bring $400,000 into the regional economics, provide training and education of sustainable building practices, and employ 900 people. It also sets precedent for earthquake proof structures with use of compressed earth stabilizing blocks (CSEB).


These different firm organizations provide clear examples of attaining a social responsibility in the profession. It is imperative that we as designers take a public interest in order to attain a social sustainable future. Social responsibility is a question of ethics. According to the American Institute of Architects‘ Code of Ethics, Canon II, Ethical Standard 2.2, “members should render public interest professional services”. It is our professional ethical obligation to take part in public interest services. As Raul Pantaleo, one of the greatest public interest designers puts it, “to be a good public interest designer you must be a citizen first”.

design+make’s projects are also a part of the big umbrella that is public interest design. Although we are working on a small part of the larger whole, we are a means to the end. Our Mobile Office for Hardesty Renaissance will represent the partnerships that AAFE has developed in Kansas City; the collaborative effort between client and stakeholders. We are excited to take a public interest and help promote social sustainability efforts of Hardesty Renaissance locally in Kansas City.

Written by Katie Bauer

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