The Design Community’s Power to Elevate the Human Condition

Above all else, we must never forget that designing places is about understanding people.

While we can appreciate the beauty of the buildings we create and the intelligence of the systems we define, ultimately these things are only successful if they help the people who will use them. Creating successful schools and hospitals is not simply about designing modern facilities with cutting-edge technology.

It’s about listening to the pulse of the community that needs these spaces. Understanding its challenges, its economy, its health outcomes, its fundamental needs – and delivering the right solution for that specific community.

When the design community invests itself in this way and pulls every ounce of its creative energy spanning myriad disciplines, it is a positive, powerful force to be reckoned with. It is a force that belongs infused in every conversation and meeting focused on helping the world tackle the many challenges it faces.

At first thought, it’s daunting. How can designers help make the world a better place for current and future generations? How can we improve health outcomes across a global population with more than 7.4 billion people? How can we increase access to education for the 9.3 percent of children around the world currently out of school? These are remarkable challenges with intense complexities.

How can the design community help tackle these challenges? By bringing our best thinking across health, education, architecture, engineering, city design, landscape architecture, etc. and applying it to improving communities one by one. Here’s a look at a few leading examples from around the world:

Creating a Pipeline for Employment in Chicago

Recent research indicates the Chicago region is on pace to experience a significant gap between its current market of qualified healthcare professionals and a projected 84,000 new healthcare jobs headed to the region in the next decade. In response, City Colleges of Chicago and Malcolm X College recently opened a new School of Health Sciences. The 544,000 sf facility will accommodate up to 20,000 students and features a virtual hospital complete with operating and emergency rooms, an ambulance for EMT simulation, an exercise and sports sciences area that features a 900-seat gymnasium and a dental hygiene clinic to open later in 2016. It’s a forward-thinking facility for the students, the community and the city.

“Today, we lay the foundation for a best-in-class learning environment that will be the pride of the West Side and all of Chicago,” said City Colleges of Chicago Chancellor Cheryl Hyman upon announcing the project years back. “The new Malcolm X College will be a centerpiece of our efforts to ensure Chicagoans are prepared for careers in growing feels like healthcare.”

Places appropriately designed and calibrated to their community’s needs don’t just happen. The Malcolm X school required the input and hard work of City Colleges of Chicago, Rush University and Rush University Medical Center, community members, political support and firms like Moody Nolan, Jacobs Project Management, CO. and CannonDesign. It required design expertise spanning education, healthcare, science, sports, urban strategy, landscape design, architecture and engineering to come together to create a singularly dynamic solution for the community.

Fighting Cancer in India

It is estimated that approximately 2.5 million to 3 million people have cancer in India at any given time. Each year, more than 1 million cases are diagnosed and more than 650,000 Indians die of the disease. In response, the Tata family worked with designers to create Tata Medical Center – Eastern India’s first world-class cancer hospital and research center.

The medical center sets forth a modern vision for mass delivery of cancer care in a rapidly industrializing part of the world, an integrated health campus embodying clinical best practices. Treatment processes and patient encounters are optimized to improve the patient experience and increase staff efficiency, ultimately uplifting the spirits of both children and adult patients as they endure the physiological and psychological stresses of cancer treatment. Sensitive to the region’s culture and context, patient-centric design provides alternative waiting areas on comfortable open air terraces and pediatric interior design showcases native Bengali fables in a comforting yet sophisticated manner. Again, delivering such an impactful space required creative collisions between health planners, architects, urban designers, interior designers and multiple other disciplines.

Driving Social Change in Texas

Located on the southernmost piece of Texas and directly across the border from Mexico, Browsnsville, TX is a powerfully unique place. The 16th most populous city in the state, Brownsville has grown significantly in recent decades as its economy has focused on international trade with Mexico and increased manufacturing. Still, the city also faces unique socio-economic challenges including border condition poverty, low graduation rates, high unemployment and poor health outcomes despite some of the highest healthcare costs in the country.

Recognizing it could become an even stronger vehicle for change in the region, the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) recently engaged a diverse team of designers and thought leaders as part of an extensive visioning process to reshape its academic mission. Teaming with educational planners, architects, researchers, economists, sustainability experts, urban planners and more, UTB completely rethought how its academic plan and spaces could better align themselves to educate students to tackle these regional challenges. By scaling up to see itself as more than just a university in a city but actually a force for regional change, UTB is promoting renewed economic vitality, environmental protection and the health of its surrounding community. This efforts creates new opportunities for local students and also for the university to be globally significant while spurring economic development in the region.

UTB undertook a visioning process to reshape its academic plan to become a mission-focused, sustainably-minded research and teaching institution that directly addresses these regional challenges and promotes economic vitality, environmental protection and the health of its citizens. This effort creates new opportunities for the university to be regionally focused and globally significant while spurring economic development in the region.

While in different locations across the globe, these places listed above are connected by the fact they are designed with purpose. They are created with the individuals who need them in mind and aligned to their specific needs.  They are representative of the power of the design community to engage in elevating the human condition.

That’s the key and the core to design – creating value for people. When we do that, we can systematically catalyze impactful change for individuals and cities. We can build positive momentum, individual-by-individual and place-by-place, all coming together to change the world for the better.

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