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Community-Engaged Design

Healthy by Design is a community-based design program started in 2017, and lead by SUSTAINABLE.TO.  Our experience mentoring community members to produce preliminary masterplan and detailed building designs has resulted in a working model that leverages a community’s knowledge and enthusiasm in a way that optimizes efficiency, reduces cost, and enhances public perception.

Good architects do not impose ideas, they synthesize ideas from the values of their clients.  Our unique approach to fostering and understanding the values of a community allows us to deliver a final product that is superior in quality and more beneficial to them and to their communities.

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Benefits of Community-Led Design

  • Increases a sense of ownership of the space by the people who use it
  • Demystifies the role that architecture and planning play in community building
  • Increases design, spacial awareness and collective decision making skills
  • Strengthens community based initiatives by adapting the physical environment to meet local need
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Approach To Community-Led Design

The length and type of design workshop varies depending on the scope of the design challenge.  No matter the scale, every project benefits from community involvement.  We have developed two standard approaches, each with unique benefits:

Intensive Charette

Focusing a great deal of effort on full-day charettes, possibly over consecutive days, is the commonly preferred method. It might involve adapting programs already in place to focus on workshopping design ideas, or inviting people specially to a full day, stand alone design event.  Or sometimes a collection of community members will be hosted over a weekend.  Regardless, creativity comes in bursts.  And community members often relish the chance to “binge” on a design problem.  Intense focus and rapid production results in an outpouring of ideas that can naturally evolve over a short period of time.

Series Approach

Rather than having one long, sustained burst of creativity, a series of 3 hour workshops allows residents a deeper dive into design theory and structural realities of their plans.  Holding the series at regular intervals over a short period of time is ideal to keep ideas active.  The short time between workshops can actually allow ideas to gestate and improve progress.  Although the Intensive Charette may be more exciting, the Series Approach may result in more mature thinking.  Both can be adapted to suit the design opportunity.

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Typical Process Of Community Mentorship

Regardless of which approach is employed, all design workshops must transition through the following phases…

Establish a Framework

This is completed beforehand, with SUSTAINABLE.TO and the Community Development Professionals, Social Services Organizations and/or other convenors including tenants associations or grassroots groups.  Key values, goals, and spatial requirements are established, and a program of requirements is drafted.

Design Brief

The first step in the workshop is presenting the design brief, as developed above, to the participants.  We do this by familiarizing them with the context of the site, and by explaining the program of requirements.  We focus heavily on the values and goals of the project. It is most important that the participants feel empowered to comment upon and change the framework before it is ratified by them. The intangibles drive creativity and add value to the result. Finally, the workshop deliverables and schedule are shared, discussed and approved by the group.

Design Education

Educating participants on how to design is crucial.  We focus on first principles of spatial organization, and sustainability.  Designing with/for the environment is our focus, and we teach participants how to use the sun and wind to their advantage.  Good design is a product of its context, and we teach community members how to embrace the assets their environment provides.

Unleashing Creativity

Once the problem is understood, it is time to generate ideas towards solutions.  We provide modeling materials, existing floor plans, and whatever might be required for participants to create and edit their ideas.  Participants are often assembled into groups, possibly with a unique requirement assigned to each group.  We employ as much model building and hand drawing as possible.  These “tactile” methods make it easy for people to experience and create design, even with no experience.

Sharing of Ideas

Throughout the design process, we regularly have milestone presentations.  Sharing ideas helps prepare presentation and leadership skills, and allows ideas to spread between groups.  It also allows us to learn how the ideas are evolving, and provide feedback that will improve production and gently guide thought processes.  Milestones will ensure groups remain on schedule.

Preparation of Final Presentation

At a certain point, groups must stop producing ideas, and start polishing them.  A final idea/concept/design must be selected by each group, and a final presentation must be drafted.  It is likely that final models, floorplans, and sketches will be produced. In some cases the groups will want to assemble their parts into an assembled whole of a masterplan. We encourage schematic representation of ideas.  This early in the design process, it is imperative that ideas take precedence.  Ideas will help us to understand what needs and opportunities the community members consider most valuable.

Public Presentation

Now it is time for the mentees to become the mentors.  Each group presents their work to a panel of local leaders at a public review. Each group is given time to explain the opportunities they discovered, and the ideas behind their design solutions. This is the perfect forum for local leaders to engage in the project, and to exhibit their collaborative interest to the public. The most important aspect, however, is that attendees who did not participate in the workshop will be educated on the project by their fellow community members. They will not be told what the project will be, but how it was created. The community will be co-authors.

Nothing instills pride and accountability like witnessing your own hard work result in something great.