Five Talks On Using Design for Social Impact

Socially conscious designers leverage economic, environmental, political and cultural factors and consider them in their efforts to improve the livability of the built environment.

reSITE has compiled a list of five talks that exemplify socially conscious designers who are using creative methods to enhance cities. Whether it be improving infrastructure in slums, activating dormant public space with new constructions, or improving lighting design to enhance accessibility, these thinkers are pushing their fields forward to respond to the questions of the future.

Ravi Naidoo on Creating a Better World Through Creativity

Ravi Naidoo, the founder of South Africa’s Design Indaba—a "think-tank, do-tank." Naidoo uses the phrase to describe the platform that lifts design thinking into actionable events that includea a flagship conference that brings together some of the greatest architectural scholars and artists around the world. Naidoo tells the story of the project’s genesis in the hopeful, post-apartheid, reality of South Africa. Design Indaba was a pioneering force on a number of projects, from bringing telephone lines to disenfranchised communities to helping launch the first South African into space. He has championed innovation and optimism in a country that for so long was riddled with oppression. Ravi believes in a better world through creativity with the fundamental conviction that design has the “power to enhance democracy, elevate cultural identity, improve the quality of life, and act in the service of people.”

Our mission is, ideas are the most amazing powerful force, creativity is the ultimate renewable energy, we can conceive of a better world through creativity.
Ravi Naidoo

Using Temporary Interventions to Activate Urban Wastelands with Gilly Karjevsky | reSITE Small Talks

The global economy has exacerbated social problems across the world, making the challenges our urban centers face similar, no matter how culturally or economically different they are. Gilly Karjevsky, a Berlin-based independent artist, curator, and co-director of ‘72 Hour Urban Action,’ is determined to uncover the potential urban wastelands hold. Karjevsky emphasizes cities suffer from the same ailments, but each center differs in their approach to these problems. Some cities have greater resources, more people to undertake building projects, and greater planning efforts, while others suffer from poor funding for urban renewal efforts.

Karjevsky acknowledges the power design and innovation has to inoculate the urban environment with beauty and functionality. The scars of poverty, urban neglect, shuttered businesses, and crumbling infrastructure exist everywhere, but through Karevsky’s ‘72 Hour Urban Action’ initiatives, public spaces have been transformed to provide amenities that brighten the urban environment with low cost to the cities that possess wastelands. With so much public space left crumbling and unused, Karjevsky is determined to create value in the barren.

Leni Schwendinger on Nighttime Design for the 24-Hour City

Urban areas can flourish when they are vibrant and active, which can happen 24-hours a day. Leni Schwendinger, the founder of NightSeeing™ and the International Nighttime Design Initiative, discusses the role of lighting design to create a 24-hour city, one characterized by economic movement, activities, infrastructure, and liveliness that function throughout the day and night. She emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and creative lighting design in urban environments that is conducive to social interaction and community engagement after dark, transforms public spaces into safer and more inviting areas. She makes a case regarding the economic benefits a 24-hour city poses, drawing on examples of Sydney and London who have created initiatives to improve their nighttime infrastructure. Shwendinger aims to strike a balance between functional lighting for visibility and aesthetic lighting projects, creating a unique nighttime identity for a city.

Jean-Louis Missika on Reinventing Paris

Former Deputy Mayor of Paris, Jean-Louis Missika, explains the project of Réinventer Paris, whose goal is to encourage innovative and sustainable solutions for urban development, while also promoting creativity, diversity, and collaboration among architects, urban planners, developers, and other professionals. The initiative invites proposals from multidisciplinary teams to redevelop specific sites across the French capital. Sites may include disused buildings, former industrial spaces, or areas in need of economic and physical revitalization that will stimulate social activity in the area. Participating teams are encouraged to propose ambitious and imaginative projects that align with the principles of sustainability, social inclusion, and economic viability. The architects designs must integrate plans for adaptive reuse, or the capability to use the design for another purpose in the future.

Missika believes "Réinventer Paris" exemplifies how forward-thinking cities can reimagine urban spaces and address contemporary urban challenges in a dynamic and sustainable manner. The movement has served as a model for similar initiatives in other cities seeking to transform their landscapes into living tapestries that address public necessities.

Enrique Peñalosa on Why Equality in Cities Begins with Sidewalks

To create urban environments that are truly equitable and inclusive, a citizens' ability to move freely and safely throughout the city must be a hallmark feature of the metropolis. Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia discusses some of the pitfalls of poor planning, and how learning from them can help to invigorate cities through contemporary infrastructure and transport that stimulate economies and drive out crime. Peñalosa served as the Mayor of Bogotá for two non-consecutive terms from 1998 to 2001, and from 2016 to 2019. During his time in office, he implemented a series of innovative urban and transportation policies that aimed to improve the quality of life for the city's residents, with a strong focus on social equity and sustainability.

In every little detail a city should show two things, first that human beings are sacred and second that human beings are equal.
Enrique Peñalosa

One of Peñalosa's most significant achievements was the implementation of the TransMilenio bus rapid transit system in Bogotá. This system revolutionized public transportation in the city, providing a fast, efficient, and affordable transit option for the millions of residents. Peñalosa believes the successes of public transport can be extrapolated to all cities. Cars pose a barrier to economic development as the high costs of gas and maintenance leave people without the ability to purchase one unable to climb the ladder of success. Peñalosa’s philosophy to create truly democratic cities relies on public transport, ending reliance on cars, connecting people, stimulating economies, and making cities livable and comfortable environments.

Alfredo Brillembourg on How We Should Tackle Urban Poverty

Alfredo Brillembourg, the founder of Urban Think Tank, a company originating in Caracas, Venezuela was concerned about the makeshift cities that arise in the urban landscape in South American cities. In Caracas, he noticed the welfare state had once been prosperous, directly addressing the needs of the people, but ultimately failed to create jobs and city infrastructure around the housing blocks constructed by the government. The residents filled in those gaps, building neighborhoods including shops, restaurants, bars, creating the exact business the government neglected to provide. From their own innovation, the low income areas became cities of their own, with unique identities and centers of commerce befitting their own communal needs. Brillembourg believes to solve urban poverty we must create infrastructure that can withstand the densification of cities and respond to the poor communities that already exist.

We [architects] have to be the moderators of the process between the bottom up initiatives and the top down initiatives of government and mayors.
Alfredo Brillembourg

To address the needs of inhabitants, Brillembourg emphasizes a dialogue between residents and the government is essential. The architects' responsibility is to bridge the gap between community and government. His plans rethink the need for cars in cities, effectively showing that by rethinking the foundations of architecture, we have the ability to create comfortable, equitable futures for the growing population.

Bonus Podcast Episode:

Design and the City Episode: Michel Rojkind on the Social Responsibility of Design

In another honorable mention about the kind of impact social consciousness woven into design has, catch Michel Rojkind on our podcast, Design and the City, featuring world-renowned architects and designers who are pondering social responsibility and contemporary design. Listen to our episode with Michel Rojkind, the Mexican architectural visionary, below.

Rojkind’s eponymous firm Rojkind Arquitectos has designed large cultural centers like Fora Boca and Cineteca Nacional in his native Mexico. In this conversation during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with reSITE founder Martin Barry, Rojkind talks about his commitment to creating human conscious designs. At the heart of his method is “jamming” which he credits to his musical past, where designers participate in a think tank of ideas to create the final products that Rojkind Arqitectos have become known for. Rojkind believes this practice must extend to post pandemic design. We cannot just patch over new challenges but must address the enduring change that has occurred. He considers architects as having a choice whether they address the problems of the future or get stuck in the past. How can projects give back? How can architecture plant seeds and build community? How can we help to define the now? How do our designs respond to the changing climate? Rojkind and Barry discuss each topic in depth in this episode.

Design as a conduit of social innovation touches cities' most underrepresented populations. Every neighborhood should have the basic right of containing aesthetically attractive and multipurpose buildings. Beyond structures, every city should provide inhabitants the ability to enjoy the outdoors with abundant parks and squares. Designers have a responsibility to bridge the needs of people with beauty that improves the quality of life. As each of the speakers elaborate, emphasizing safety, creativity, inventiveness, equity, and infrastructure exponentially improves the built environment. In meticulously planned and well maintained cities, social wellbeing increases. Inclusive infrastructure lifts the floor and creates dignity that is lost in the neglected neighborhoods Brillembourg is concerned with. Cities are the sum of their parts, and when those parts are carefully constructed, the people inhabiting them are rewarded.

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