Do Something Meaningful!

 According to the article, Wisdom From the Field, “seventy-five percent believed that the following principles represent an ethical basis for the practice of public interest design: Advocate with those who have a limited voice in public life. Build structures for inclusion that engage stakeholders and allow communities to make decisions. Promote social equality through discourse that reflects a range of values and social identities. Generate ideas that grow from place and build local capacity. Design to help conserve resources and minimize waste.” (P. 74).

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Public interest design is a design that serves the under served community. For so long the under served population has been overlooked because they were unable to afford the architect’s design fees. However, public interest design helps to level the playing field by offering a solution to this unfortunate problem. Public interest design strives to design for a broader community. According to Lawrence Scarpa, Principal at Brooks + Scarpa, “by giving back to the community and not just taking from it… we make our cities better.” (P. 29). Public interest design allows individuals to do something meaningful because it recognizes a pressing need. One component to success in public interest design is flexibility, which if executed strategically can lead to increased innovation and viability of public interest design practices.

Public interest design has the ability to be able to cultivate “the local community’s capacity and resiliency to address their own problems using the human and material resources available in that community.” (P. 39). “Public interest designers operate both to serve the architectural needs of clients and also to address the education and capacity building of the broader community.” (P. 50).

Firms that practice public interest design have to be intentional about the projects they select in order to ensure that their resources are best utilized. In addition, it is important that a public interest design team is made up of people with different expertise that can bring unique skills to the table. Regardless to if a firm is for profit or non-profit a plan should be developed and subsequently implemented in order to ensure that each project stays on course. The article suggests that even if a firm is doing a project pro-bono they should still track expenses and provide the client with a zero balance invoice upon completion of the project. By providing the client with an itemized invoice they are able to see how much money they would have had to pay if they were a paying customer and the firm is able to realistically track all of the expenses associated with the project. Regardless to the client, the outcome should be the same, high quality design that is intentional and purpose driven.  The possibilities of public interest design are endless.



  • My interest is in providing housing for low to no-income families. I identify with the model of having individuals that will be the end users involved in the process for several reasons, such as, the esteem that is built, the pride, and the respect.
    • What are the necessary steps to set up a public interest design firm?
  • Developers seem to really have their finger on the pulse of the public interest design industry, what additional risks do they assume taking on the additional responsibilities of being a developer? (P. 50).
  • What is the most effective way to get cities and/or counties to partner with public interest design firms in order to start addressing the needs of the underserved communities? Where is a good place to start?
  • The article discusses some of the constraints of students working on public interest design as a part of the coursework. Some of the constraints for students being “coursework pedagogy and content, and the limited timeframe of the academic calendar.” (P. 47). Even though public interest design has the tendency to have constraints I believe this is a worthwhile venture. Perhaps work projects should be completed in phases over the course of a few semesters so that students are getting maximum exposure and hands-on work with a public interest design project.



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