Panel 4 – Public Interest Design Education Open Forum

New ideas and models of PID education are growing quickly to train the current generation of students. Panelists will present new customized programs, discussion of the opportunities, and many examples of the “learning outcomes” that collectively start to shape a comprehensive PID curriculum.


lisa bw Lisa M. Abendroth is a Professor of Communication Design at Metropolitan State University of Denver where her research focuses on issues of social equity toward marginalized audiences. Working across disciplines, she practices, evaluates, and writes about design that addresses underserved people, places and problems. She is a founding member of the SEED Network and co-author of the SEED Evaluator design assessment tool. Abendroth is a 2013 recipient of the SEED Award for Leadership in Public Interest Design. Along with Bryan Bell, Abendroth is co-editor of the Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues (Routledge, 2015).



What is public interest design coursework?

  • Learning about social equity – designers for the underserved. Empowering environments. Addressing cultural attributes and social equity within context
  • A reminder that it’s about people – people at the heart of decisions
  • A practice that benefits and empowers
  • Importance of the presence of human centered design across the built environment. Awareness of the impact that we are having.
  • A good way to teach design – provides an enriched educational experience, broadens context for students. Housing brings together many issues and defines design more completely.
  • Students are taken more seriously
  • Powerful education – can change where students see themselves in the future. Advocates for people.
  • In the public interest – maybe we don’t have an exact definition yet. Maybe we should not know exactly what it means. We are learning quickly and evolving. Right now there is a nice amount of openness.
  • Interaction with the community – did we get it right? Much of what students have already learned in studio does not apply.
  • Setting the table for partnership – designing mutually beneficial relationships
  • Merging of academic and public priorities

How are we preparing students to become effective public interest designers in the field?

  • You can sense a shift in the larger context of architecture within the public realm.
  • Design/build
  • First exposure to someone who will actually be using a project
  • Responsibility given in an academic environment
  • Variation of a professional practice class – looks at different stakeholders and case studies
  • Exposes students to different professions
  • People at the center of the process
  • Clear objectives throughout courses

What is public interest design practice? What skills should we be thinking about as educators?

  • Professions have purpose
  • Sense of social responsibility
  • Humility
  • Establishment of an effective process

Is there public interest design engagement so that there is dialog with the professional organizations? What about mentoring?

  • Involvement in community colleges as well
  • Diversity of profession

In the 1980s, no known existing programs. Need for creation of individual programs. What would you have liked to have when you went through school? What do you wish you had that would support your understanding of public interest design?

  • Communication vs representation
  • Empowering students to be subversive
  • Advocacy
  • Collaboration
  • Maybe we don’t need to come out of school with the whole skillset, but the ability to know how to find answers and work with others
  • Flexibility in process. Adaptability and understanding of system design.
  • Systems thinking
  • Understanding of methodologies that you can use in public interest – communication
  • Processes of community engagement – building relationships
  • Design facilitation, translation
  • Understanding of human behavior: sociology, psychology, our understanding of environments
  • The foresight of future issues as well as the ability to recognize current issues
  • Understanding of other disciplines and their structure/purpose
  • Teaching us how to educate other people. How can be other people’s partners?
  • Continuity of projects (the academic timeline is short). Anchoring in a place. But, there are only 120 architecture schools in the country. Replication and continuation can be difficult.
  • Understanding of post-occupancy assessment
  • Accountability

How do people facilitate productive dialog with the community?

Benefits of a certificate program:

  • Allows for core education program, with additional courses so that you can specialize.
  • Public interest design is something that can be taught and integrated into curriculums, even though the curriculum is already full.

Or should public interest be integrated into all parts of curriculum?

Where does public interest fit within the larger field of architecture?

  • Specialization
  • Non-traditional model
  • Not all students want to utilize a public interest model
  • Practices looking for soft skills (communication): PID education teaches good architecture and soft skills that makes good architects
  • Need to keep architecture relevant

Everyone wants their interest incorporated in the curriculum. To what extent should we embed these principles?

  • Give students the opportunity for exposure to the discipline

Value of Public interest design education

  • Non-proprietary: ownership is less important

Humanities course (possibly undergraduate)

  • Do you like people? Teaches collaboration and allows for flexibility in disciplines. Collaboration within the college environment

How do you encourage collaboration between architecture students or between architecture students and other disciplines?

  • The education is not reflective of the practice
  • Marriage of different disciplines (soft skills of humanities/design with the technical skills of biology/engineering)
  • Schools providing multidisciplinary classes
  • Policy issues in development
  • Tangible results to being in a collaborative environment

How do public interest programs get started?

  • Value of community
  • Should these types of discussions be required? – skill sets as universal
  • Shift from doing things for people to doing things with people

Extension narratives

  • Benefactor what university goes out into the community and works with it
  • Dynamic hero model where the person from the city center goes and educates the uneducated
  • Are we working for the community or working with the community?
  • Contextualization of learning: Teaching, research, and service merging rather than being separate entities
  • Public interest as moving forward with issues, but understanding when someone else can do it better. Definition of public interest design is evolving. What is next that we will bring to the table?
  • Is it possible to gain some of these opportunities through internships?