Panel 6 – Inter-cultural Competencies

How can public interest designers serve more diverse communities around the world without imposing our own culture on others? The panel will discuss models and methods that show respect and appreciation to generate equity and empowerment.


  • Kofi Boone, Moderator/Presenter
  • Andrew Brose, MASS Design Group, SEED Award Winner
  • Henry Sanoff, NC State University
  • Donghwan Moon, Mtree Architecture, SEED Award Winner
Kofi Boone is Associate Professor NC State. Kofi focuses on the changing nature of communities, and developing tools for enhanced community engagement and design. Through scholarship, teaching, and extension service, Professor Boone works in the landscape context of environmental justice, and his research includes the use of new media as a means of increasing community input in design and planning processes. Professor Boone is the recipient of several awards including the Opal Mann Green Engagement Scholarship Award, the Department of Landscape Architecture Professor of the Year, and the Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher. Professor Boone serves as co-director of the College of Design’s Ghana Study Abroad Program and taught 6 courses in West Africa. Most recently, he led an International Service Learning partnership with Women In Progress/Global Mamasto develop concepts for new facilities and product lines. The partnership featured direct engagement with Batik artists, and field documentation of Ghanaian craft villages.
Andrew Brose has spent his career collaborating with architects and builders in Africa. Working with MASS Design Group he oversaw the design and construction of the Ilima Primary School and Teachers Housing in a remote region of DR Congo. Andrew joined MASS in 2010 after receiving his Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Oregon. Professionally he is constantly seeking new ways to use locally sourced, renewable materials on projects while providing culturally sensitive and context appropriate solutions.
Henry Sanoff is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Architecture, NC State University. The Spatial Design Game is across-cultural group consensus decision-making process that builds competence through the transfer of design principles. There are three interconnected steps in the process, The first step requires the identification of objectives, where participants make individual choices followed by group agreement. Next, activities are matched to corresponding objectives, which form the basis for subsequent space planning where graphic symbols are prepared to represent all activities. Being engaged in such a process builds competence in the language and concepts allowing participants to be more effective collaborators with design and planning professionals. This small group approach has been used for many years in a variety of cultural settings.
Donghwan Moon is an architect and urban designer currently working at Foster and Partners in New York. He has been working on various projects including large scale commercial/residential projects and city master plans in United States, China and Korea. He is also actively involved in public interest design, working as a director of architecture at non-profit design group called Mtree. He has been leading the team and completed several community-based and humanitarian projects in Kenya since 2013. He holds a Master of Architecture in Urban Design from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.



Kofi Boone

What are inter-cultural competencies?

  • Incompetency: extractive – removing information for one’s own benefit (example: Indiana Jones)
  • Competency: knowledge, empathy, self-confidence, cultural identity
  • How can culture be defined as a fluid thing?  Culture is not fixed.

Projects in GHANA:

  • International study / engagement for students
  • Landscape architecture as a profession is foreign in Ghana
  • We used the bead-making tradition as a way to engage and understand the community – a way to code and understand the world
    • Students learned that these artists are their peers
  • PLAYTIME IN AFRICA (SEED honorable mention)
    • Promote public spaces in cities
    • Used different tools and forms of engagement

Andrew Brose

“Traditions are also ever changing but somehow do not die easily.” – Nezar AlSayyad

Our three methods of design collaboration: immerse, collaborate, participate


  • Visit, talk to people, and map ideas – this makes them engaged and gives them a voice
  • Talk with people where they are living (go to them), use tools available – trace it on the ground if necessary, communicate across languages


  • A better building process when collaboration is involved
  • Projects:
    • Cholera treatment center in Haiti
      • Local craft / trade: metal-working
      • Worked with local artisan to create metal panels for façade – empowered that individual
    • Butaro Hospital, Rwanda
      • Local resources: volcanic stone
      • Concrete columns needed to remain wet as they cured – usually the builders would wrap imported blankets – MASS chose instead to use local and readily available banana leaves


  • Share accomplishments
  • Share photos
  • Work with kids
  • Urwururukanzu, “Lift the Roof,” party with community during construction of project when roof goes up

Henry Sanoff

Issues of cultural awareness go back 60 years – Silent Language by Edward T. Hall

Developed tools as a social / community consultant:

  • Democratic Design by Sanoff
    • Toolbox for any cultural setting
    • Design games, particularly effective / responsive to Japanese culture
    • There is some imposition of my belief system in this – in techniques and inherent value system
  • Value of collaboration:
    • Consensus decision-making
    • Diffusion of aggression
    • Small-group concept (5 or less people) ensures that everyone has opportunity to have his/her voice heard
  • Project: Nano Community Participation
    • Public expressed their was not enough recreation space – town proposed they fill in part of river to create public space
    • Sanoff: 3-day strategy
      • Workshops set up Sunday morning in small groups
      • Young people must be involved
      • Create objectives for project
      • Each group presents their ideas
      • Listening is crucial – creates sense of ownership by public

Donghwan Moon

How can public interest designers serve more diverse communities around the world without imposing our own culture on others?

  • Public interest designers: people who are passionate and responsible.  Use design as a tool.
  • Understand issues and problems of communities. Collaborate for a better good and sustainable life.
    • Respect local techniques / skills / technology
  • Serve without imposing our culture – respect cultural value – Work as one.
  • Empowerment, Impact, and Hope.

Questions & Answers

1. How much immersion is enough?

  • Sanoff: My strategy is to transfer the project to local communities after design engagement.  This has the impact of seeing the communities change over time. There are also issues of goodwill in public interest design – when people come in and make changes, they leave and the problem reverts back – if you engage the community this will not be as big of an issue.
  • Brose: We work to train nationals and work alongside them – we work with architecture schools in the area and hire interns.
  • Boone: Immersion is time-based and flexible – sometimes it’s easy and sometimes not, but it is necessary for TRUST.
  • Sanoff: Architecture schools do not teach how to interact with communities, the model is still based on the hero / individual architect.

2. How do you respond to the connection of public interest design in other countries with colonialism?

  • Sanoff: This is exactly the reason why I don’t do projects in other countries – my role is facilitator, they do the design.
  • Brose: Ultimately it is about with whom and how you work.  We live in a global society – traditions are changing. Government of Africa is bidding out their projects to other countries – MASS is working to change the perception that there are not good architects in the country / region
  • Moon: We live in a global world.  What we learn from a project in another country can be applied here, and vice-versa.  It’s about how you look at people and environment

3. Globalization is not an excuse – the power structure still remains – potential issues with Messiah complex.

  • Sanoff: I agree, however a lot of it depends on who the client is and who you’re serving.
    • As a profession there are many instances where similar ethical issues may come up: prisons, doing work for unethical people (dictators, etc).
    • As teachers, our job is to lay out the options and issues