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Loeb Fellow Urges Activism in Design

By Rebecca D. Robbins, Contributing Writer

There is a growing movement in architecture toward social activism, according to design activist and current Loeb Fellow Bryan Bell.

Architects are recognizing their responsibility to use their skills in community projects, Bell said in a speech at the Graduate School of Design on Friday.

“The collective consciousness of design is changing,” he said.

Bell added in recent years, designers have begun serving more of the general public, taking on a greater number of issues, and embodying a greater scope of roles.

Designers, who have “a superhero ability to see things that aren’t there,” can harness these skills to improve the community, said Bell.

However, Bell said, these skills are often underused.

“Architecture and the design professions have so much unrealized potential,” he said.

According to Bell, only 2 percent of home buyers employ an architect, adding that architects have a duty to serve the 98 percent of citizens who would not otherwise have a professional to help them design their space.

Bell emphasized architects can help create positive change in all realms of social activism.

“I assert here that every issue is a design issue,” Bell said. He cited existing design projects to improve access to drinking water, resist natural disasters, cure jaundice, protect wildlife, and address literacy and immigration.

There is no sacrifice of design quality in public interest architecture, Bell added. Maintaining that beauty and service are interconnected, Bell said he aims to create “the most beautiful, well crafted design I can” in every project he takes on.

Bell also made it clear that design activism is already a burgeoning movement.

“This is not something proposed for the future,” he said. “This is already happening.”

Although Bell said he is pleased by the progress that has been made, he called for greater activism among design students and architects.

“The massive shift we need will only happen by many of us becoming activists,” Bell said. “The need is undeniable. The only thing stopping us is us.”

Audience member and second-year School of Design student Laura Janka said that social activism presents an opportunity for architecture to reverse its elitist image. “We’ve missed something in society, and now we have this chance to fix it,” she said.

Victor M. Sanz, a second-year student at the School of Design who also attended the speech, said Bell’s work is challenging traditional notions of what design can accomplish. “Architecture is not about working in an office,” he said. “It’s about something bigger.”

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