Publicizing Public Design: SFI Conference Recap

SFI-10+1A few weekends ago I attended Structures for Inclusion 10+1 (SFI) at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. The conference aims to foster awareness of public design initiatives that are taking place around the globe. The weekend consisted of individual presentations, panel discussions, a Luncha Kucha (Pecha Kucha with sandwiches), breakout sessions to provide attendees direct interaction with panelists, workshops, and tours.

The energetic collective of over 400 design professionals, students, and academia sat for open remarks from Bryan Bell, founder and executive director of Design Corps and co-sponsor of SFI, who discussed SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), a certification initiative that encourages design professionals to support public interest in design or, as it was reiterated over the course of the weekend, “design for the 98 percent without architects.”  I hadn’t been made aware of SEED until the conference weekend but all of the projects shared at SFI represented of the principles that the initiative stood for, which  gave me a better understanding.

One of my favorite projects was the work that Rural Studio director Andrew Freear presented on the Perry Lake Park project. After building a central meeting area in the park, they added on three futurist, stand-alone restrooms, one of which was very Zaha Hadid-like.

I also enjoyed hearing from Emily Pilloton, founder of Project H Design. The students in the public high school design and build program in Bertie County, North Carolina, where Project H is now based, was one of the SEED Competition winners. The one-year program produces two projects—chicken coops and a farmer’s market, which is still in its design phase. What was even more inspiring was finding out the Emily started Project H shortly out of graduate school with just a few thousand dollars in hand.

Going into SFI, I had no idea how much of an influence the conference would have on me—it enlightened me to see some possibilities for the future of my studies and career path. I always knew that I wanted to help people in some form or fashion but never knew quite what that would entail. And while I’m still not completely sure, learning that there are a community of designers and architects out there using this same design passion to better deserving communities really opened my eyes. I’m now considering volunteering with the Chicago Chapter of Architecture for Humanity after hearing director Katherine Darnstadt speak during the Luncha Kucha and then again at the Volunteering Workshop.

I look forward to next year’s SFI, which is potentially scheduled to be hosted in Austin. In the mean time, all of us pumped up public designers, and those in the making, still are overwhelmed with a great energy. I encourage all to keep this conversation going until next year by joining the SEED Network’s Web site at I'll see you there!

–La Keisha Leek, design student blogger for Contract

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