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Interview with Design Justice Seattle – Equitable Design Collective

Design Justice Seattle (DJS) is a collaboration of landscape architecture students engaged in the pursuit of a more equitable future in Seattle. DJS aims to partner across disciplines to craft an evolving design process that responds to social and environmental injustices. Our methods include facilitating workshops, charrettes, and panel discussions, aimed at empowering designers and community members to support disenfranchised and marginalized groups. DJS celebrates the power of listening to, learning from, and designing with communities to shape public space. By tackling issues of institutionalized injustice, DJS works to carry the conversation of advocacy and service into the world of design.

Members: Allison Ong, Jean Ni, Monica Taylor, Rich Desanto, Sierra Druley, & Sophie Krause

Q: POWER in design is…

A: Power is identifying tools for designers to use when engaging social justice and place-making.
Power is empowering voice through dialogue and form that encourages the equitable occupation of space.
Power is responding to systems that perpetuate injustice, by leveraging the access and resources of privilege, in an effort to create systemic change.
Power is mobilizing knowledge into action.

Q: What are three implications of design power that you have encountered?

1) Building equitable and shared spaces can create places that bring people together and should be a critical goal for design.
2) Design has the ability and opportunity to profoundly affect the health and wellbeing of urban communities.
3) Design offers an effective platform to challenge stigmas and assumptions that guide the way our city is shaped every day.

Q: When have you had powerful impact through design?

A: Earlier this year, students and staff at University of Washington’s College of Built Environments came together to join the efforts of Design as Protest—a nationwide action connecting professionals in various fields to utilize their skills to stand up to injustice and discrimination in the built environment. On January 20, 2017—inauguration day—we brought together students, faculty, and professionals to explore how their knowledge and skills in construction, design, and planning can better serve the common good by confronting issues that impact vulnerable populations in our cities and communities. The Design as Protest: Day of Action engaged citizens and students across the country, from cities including Chicago, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York City, and San Francisco, and university campuses including University of California, Davis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and University of Virginia.

From this event, a core group of students formed Design Justice Seattle with the intention to continue engaging with design activism. Our spring event, Designing for the Right to Dwell, hosted a symposium to discuss different perspectives and approaches to navigating and addressing urban homelessness. Speakers consisted of individuals who currently or formerly experienced homelessness, researchers in sociology, and architects/landscape architects designing responses to homelessness.

Q: Who inspires you?

A: Before DJS became an independent student organization we received support from many UW staff members. Jeff Hou, our chair of landscape architecture at the time, became a pivotal contributor from the very beginning. Jeff’s research on urban spaces and advocacy for participatory design in communities of color continues to be inspiring for work in the built environments. From workshopping initial ideas to reaching out to Seattle’s design community, Jeff Hou has been a great influence and facilitator for us as a growing organization.

Q: What questions do you ask before you begin any design project?

A: We start by listening—to those who we are designing for, what their needs are, and how they can help define our role. We ask ourselves how built environments can help push a more community-specific and socially conscious agenda forward: what has been done by Seattle designers, who is working on these platforms across the larger national context, what has been successful or unsuccessful, and how can we learn from these efforts?

Q: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to contribute?

A: As emergent designers of the built environment, we feel it is crucial to address the greater politics of being-in-space and the affordances we are allowed by our everyday contexts. Our goal as a group is to bring existing knowledge and future urban dynamics to the same table. We believe in more collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches for the practice of design that strengthen links between research, scholarship, experience, and implementation. We want to provide a platform for actively cultivating an integrated body of ideas that have the potential to shape Seattle into a more livable city. The conversations are out there–we want to bring them together and make them heard.

Learn more about Design Justice Seattle’s work:
Email  – [email protected]

Don’t miss Design Justice Seattle at the #SDF2017 Block Party with their installation, Can We Be Here?