guest post: architecture for change (pt 3)


In her third post, Brandy fills us in on two more speakers form the conference.

Architecture for change – or at least the seeds of it.
Brandy H. M. Brooks
Director, Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence

Photo by Joanne Maly – Lincoln Maly Marketing.

Back when I was a young’un in AIAS, I went to the FORUM in Cincinnati , and took a fantastic tour that I still remember through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. So when Tom Dutton from Miami University’s Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine started talking about their DesignBuild Studio and their Residency Program, I was all ears for his update. In a word, I think CCE’s education change strategy might be described as “immersion”: whether on a project or a semester basis, setting students right in the thick of the community and its struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. Students make interventions large and small in the buildings and spaces of the neighborhood; but at the same time, the neighborhood makes its own interventions in the hearts and minds of students, bringing them face-to-face with the dynamics of power and privilege at work in our society and with the real people behind the term “underserved community.” It’s worth noting that the program doesn’t just recruit designers, but also students from a variety of majors at Miami University , such as social work and education. Multidisciplinary, immersive, engaged, transformative … that’s the kind of education I wish we all were getting!

Cozy by Design
Photo by Arizona State Univ, Stardust Center

If you don’t know Sherry Ahrentzen, you should. She’s the associate director for research at the Stardust Center for Affordable Housing & the Family at Arizona State University , and she’s bringing the concept of action research squarely into the center of architectural practice. Action research, you say? I wouldn’t have known the term either, had I not gotten to study it last year as part of my Master in Public Administration coursework; in general, we don’t talk nearly enough about research as a critical component or architectural practice and education. But action research isn’t just the passive study and analysis of a situation; as the name implies, it is an engaged feedback process where researchers partner with community organizations in a cycle of data collection and analysis that informs on-the-ground activity that then refines the ongoing research efforts. From energy efficiency monitoring to affordable housing preservation, this partnership enables community organizations to develop more informed strategies for neighborhood interventions – and it enables the creation of a tremendous body of knowledge about wise practices and critical issues in the field. Since one of my major initiatives at the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence is improving the accessibility and usability of our own knowledge base and then connecting it up to other knowledge centers in the field, this was probably my favorite “aha” moment of the conference. It was also my favorite interdisciplinary moment; I realized that we’re all wrestling with the same kinds of conversations in my two fields of study (architecture and public administration), and the moment is ripe for creating a bridge to share knowledge across discipline silos.

Brandy concludes her thoughts about the conference in the next and final post. Read part one and two.