Building Voices: Community Design Toolkit

Apr 18, 2017

A view of the walkway in the Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. An example of integrating urbanism and nature. Some designers would have made sure those plants were edible.
Credit creative commons

People around the nation and world are using development as a community organizing tool.  Change becomes a reason to work with others and improve their neighborhoods.  Now, the UH Mānoa Architecture School is convening designers, government leaders, and community members to inject fresh ideas into Honolulu’s development plans.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports on the Building Voices Symposium and Design Competition set for Earth Day, April 22nd .

Organizers of the Building Voices Symposium and Competition set for Earth Day, Saturday April 22nd, at the Hawai‘i State Capitol, (l-r) Cathi Ho Schar, Simon Bussiere, and Karla Sierralta.
Credit noe tanigawa

The Building Voices Symposium happens on Earth Day, Saturday April 22nd, 2017, 8am to 5:30pm at the Hawai‘i State Capitol.  Experience new ideas and key resource people.  

Ever ask yourself…   Architect Cathi Ho Schar, director of UH community design center, and co-organizer of the Building Voices Design symposium says our urban frustrations don’t have to be that way.  We just need to rethink.

Here's a view of the Auwaiolimu area on the slopes of Punchbowl---not! But it could happen soon.
Credit creative commons

Schar:  Why is it so expensive to live here? Why are we stuck in traffic all of the time? Why can’t I walk anywhere? Why is it so hot?  Why do we have so much air conditioning?

To know what drives that and to start to articulate an agenda for designers, community members, policy makers and planners to work in a different capacity to bring about change.

The Building Voices symposium at the state capitol on Saturday, Earth Day, is set up to provoke you with ideas, some from afar, then get down to brass tacks with local resources and officials.  Co-organizer, landscape architect Simon Bussiere.

Schar:  We did try to set up the symposium so the morning was more of a provocation full of speculative ideas, and invited voices, possibly from afar, and in the after noon we have a number of roundtables, bringing people from the community together to discuss affordable housing or culture as a lens to address ecological issues, what’s happening here at the University of Hawai‘i .

Bussiere:  Broadly speaking, it’s about identifying big problems, being highly aspirational, eating lunch, then coming together in a hyper pragmatic way to find possible solutions, possible paths forward, possible models for working.

Schar:  We had to invite people who know and work here who understand, let’s say, the roadblocks.  And we have an affordable housing round table addressing a very pervasive problem in Hawai‘i which is, none of us can afford to live here.  They’re trying to look at innovative new models and prototypes for how we can address the problem through changes in policy or different uses of materials, low cost materials, construction types, financing models, scale.  Also in that discussion, including people like Harrison Rue from TOD and Jesse Woo from HUD to talk about policy and financing issues related to affordable housing design.

Building Voices wanted global input for Hawai‘i specific solutions.  Co-organizer, architect Karla Sierralta, says first, they went on a listening tour to develop areas of concern, then initiated a design competition around solutions for ecological resilience, resource independence, healthy citizens, community mobility, and housing for all. 

Sierralta:  Since we’re trying to promote the power of design and what we designers can do for our built environment and for the way we live in our cities and how to improve how we live in our cities.  So we launched an international design competition which asked everybody on their ideas of what potential prototypes could be for innovative built environments and systems that were focused on these themes we came up with after our listening tour.

One hundred eleven entries were received from ten countries around the world and here in Hawai‘i.  Eleven judges including designers from google, amazon, and uber, were led by jury chair, Javier Vandrell, director of the Rural Studio in Alabama.  Three top award winners will be announced at the Symposium, where projects and ideas will also be on display.  Judging criteria?  Not just the usual social, economic and ecological lenses. 

Sierralta:  We envisioned it that there would be four sustainability lenses, so not only social, economic, and ecological, which are the typical lenses that we usually talk about, but we also added the indigenous culture lens so we had what you’d call the quadruple bottom line.

Susannah Drake, founder and principal of Dland Studios in Brooklyn, for example, created much more than walkable greenspace with her Gowanus Canal Sponge Park.

Schar:  They’re not just designing within the parameters of their own project, like Susannah Drake, she’s worked through nine different governmental agencies in order to get her work implemented. 

Bussiere:  She’s been able to be extremely innovative in her methods and has used projects as excuses to expand the problem field.  To make the solutions much more multi headed.

Drake’s prototype park involved nine government agencies, many community groups, and eight years  to achieve.

Drake:  I’ve enabled communities to implement change by sort of providing tools for them to innovate within a public design process.  Going back to the Gowanus, we basically amassed all these grants and a city council fund for some of the construction funding so it was this very publicly motivated project to do a prototype.  We just used our design abilities, our writing abilities, and our community organizing abilities and brought it all together.  It’s one way to make change.  (Laughs)

It’s a park that cleans water, the idea being that landscape can continue its expression in urban environments---Susannah Drake says green infrastructure is increasingly important because of its flexibility in natural disasters.  This community-generated prototype is now being considered for other sites, as an example of how environmental systems can continue to work within cities.

Drake:  One of the huge potentials that I think exists in Honolulu is that you have the City and the State kind of together controlling one watershed in a really holistic way.  It’s also the deep cultural heritage of the way your watersheds are organized in relation to the indigenous population.  It’s so amazing.  And it’s such an opportunity.  I hope that we can start to see a realization of holistic planning that takes into account that deep history.  I think there’s a huge opportunity in Honolulu in particular.

Schar:  How can you make a difference?  Where can you make the biggest difference?  How can you initiate change in a meaningful way?

Good questions for Building Voices, 8-5:30pm on Earth Day 2017 at the Hawai‘i State capitol. 

Spearheaded by the UH Architecture School, Honolulu’s designers are asking, is there a better way?  On Earth Day at the Hawai‘i State capitol, all are invited to try to find it.

People around the nation and world are using development as a community organizing tool.  Change becomes a reason to work with others and improve their neighborhoods.  Honolulu is in the throes of major building projects, does anyone have the time and energy to ensure they do what we need?