Environmental psychology provided the framework for understanding place, specifically Canter’s definition of place as the overlap between physical attributes, activities, and conceptions. When interviewing practicing architects, it became clear that in the for-profit design world, architects use a variety of techniques to become familiar with the specific physical attributes of place while activities of place are usually provided in the design brief. However, conceptions of place are harder to communicate across wide cultural and geographical gaps, hence are often neglected. At the same time, in the non-profit world of architecture, while more attention is given to learning conceptions, the information provided is not always enough for the architect’s place-information palette. As technology and particularly the variety of social network tools develop and become widely used around the world, I decided to study whether these tools can be harnessed to bridge the gap between local communities and global designers providing solutions in developing regions.
Based on case-studies in the field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), technology without human motivation is not enough to create development. Empowering local communities requires both a top-down approach and a bottom-up solution. The opportunity provided to Native American Nations in the US to use federal funds to both design and build their own housing solutions is a top-down approach that calls for bottom-up solutions to allow the community simple ways to influence the design — essentially the core of this project. Together with Professor Agogino from the department of Mechanical Engineering and Ryan Shelby, a Mechanical Engineering PhD. student, we established CARES — Community Assessment of Renewable Energy and Sustainability — with the goal to support Native American and other communities in making informed decision about sustainable design solutions.
CARES works closely with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation (PPN), a Native American Nation located near Ukiah, two hours’ drive north of Berkeley, to co-design sustainable housing and community design solutions that are culturally appropriate. Our trans-disciplinary design process encompasses faculty and students from architecture and engineering, and community members working together throughout the cycle of design, construction, and post-occupancy evaluation.
In the search for technologies that could facilitate our design process, we decided to organize an international design challenge for a Living Culture Center that the PPN is interested in building. Our proposal for the design challenge won second prize in the Berkeley Big Ideas competition from the Blum Center for Developing Economies, providing a kick-start to the project. We brought in a distinguished jury from leading design firms and received additional generous support from the College of Environmental Design and the College of Engineering, followed by a contribution from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and from the PPN. These resources allowed us to run a design competition attracting professionals and students from around the world.
Out of 38 registered teams, 17 submitted their design ideas including teams from India, Japan, Spain, Georgia, UK, Dominican Republic, Canada, and the U.S. Three categories of prizes were awarded: the general prize; a Sustainable Engineering Innovation Prize, and a Social and Cultural Integrity Prize — each of these acknowledging different design qualities of the submissions. The blind jury, comprised of contemporary Native-American and sustainable design practitioners, as well as community leaders, evaluated the submissions to select the winners. The first prize was awarded to a team of graduate students from the CED that included Gabriel Kaprielian, Marisha Farnsworth, Liz Kee and Jonghoon Im. The second was awarded to Elements Architects, a firm located in the Greater Chicago area; and the third prize was shared by Kengo Sato from Japan and Kadi Franson, Nathan Pundt and Leah Nichols representing a team from Oakland.
ParticiPlace2012 allowed the PPN to define their building requirements and discuss a variety of ideas that they can use as they go forward in realizing the building. The Living Culture Center will allow the PPN to practice, preserve, and revive their unique, native-Pomo culture. The proposed designs encourage active social exchange, cultural education, and living cultural practice. Once built, it will create space for PPN citizens to integrate long-standing traditions with contemporary lives.
On a research level the project demonstrates that even under conditions of cultural and geographical distance between designers and place, community members and designers can bridge this gap by using available information and communication technologies. Based on analysis of a variety of data collected throughout the process, my own research showed that international designers who had never visited the site could provide solutions that were as place-appropriate as the solutions provided by those who were situated nearby. Though globalization may have created a chasm between designers and local characteristics of place, this research calls to empower local community members through common technology to help bridge that gap and to enable designers to become intimate with the places that they help to design.