“I’m a fundamental believer that design is either for or against the common good,” says Tim Swanson in the opening line of Fast Company’s new piece: Designing for Social Justice – 4 Lessons from Chicago Architects. Tim’s statement sets the tone for a powerful piece that looks at the complex social challenges and opportunities inherent in Chicago, and then highlights several CannonDesign projects and ideas that are positively addressing them. Tim and Emma Cuciurean-Zapan are quoted extensively throughout the article that specifically points to recent work with Malcolm X College, Cook County Bond Court and Boys & Girls Club of Chicago.

The full article can be read online. Below are several excerpts from the Fast Company piece:

On the need for cross-disciplinary strategies
While there’s no recipe for designing social justice, Swanson and Cuciurean-Zapan believe that a successful, enduring project involves a mission-driven end points, a cross-disciplinary approach, collaboration with policymakers and lawmakers, and significant involvement with end-users.

“In the United States and Chicago, we have serious things to deal with that aren’t policy alone, not design alone, and not education or job creation alone – it has to be all of them. We have to be honest about that,” says Swanson.

malcolmXOn the need to check hubris in social design
(CannonDesign) believes that, as builders and designers, they play an essential role in envisioning and realizing a more equitable future; however, they’re also keenly aware that the hubris of architects in the past exacerbated the problems of today. Unless that’s checked, the cycle of promise and failure is doomed to repeat.

“Recognizing what we don’t know is key; it’s not ‘trust me, I know” says Cuciurean-Zapan. “The notion of admitting what you don’t know and bringing in certain partners is key to the success of something.”

On being community builders
In Chicago, Swanson sees an opportunity for a construction-first approach, in which architects could be more directly involved with lawmakers, developers, and potential clients. In short, architects have an opportunity to knit together a community through the projects they design.

“The reality in the world of stakeholders is oftentimes architects, because of risk aversion, will remove ourselves from the equation,” he adds. “Once politics are set, once money is there, they call in architects. We’re pretty good at creating solutions we need to come to – like the notion of designing a building and designing a space – and as an architect or designer, our role is to leverage that at a bigger scale.”

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