PID Week participants and students. Photo credit: College of Design
The University of Minnesota’s College of Design (Cdes) hosted the premier Public Interest Design Week (PID Week) from March 19-24. Attracting approximately 500 participants nationally and internationally, the conference was organized by a tireless team led by conference chair, John Cary, of PublicInterestDesign.org, who is also a research fellow within the Cdes. If the many issues and problems percolating at the intersection of design and service were not addressed or resolved in 5 short days it was not for lack of trying – PID Week was a blazing success because it put a critical lens on many design challenges from macro to micro, urban to rural, economically rich to poor, from the United States to Africa. What struck me as singularly inspiring was the keenness and enthusiasm brought by the keynote speakers, the session leaders and participants to the PID conference’s platform. It seemed highly unlikely that participants were hanging out in the hotel bar due to lack of content.
PID Week participants, L-R: John Cary, PID Week Chair; Liz Ogbu, designer, social innovator and Keynote speaker; Laura Marlo, Reed Construction Data, a PID Week sponsor; and, Tom Fisher, Dean of the College of Design, U of MN. Photo Credit: College of Design
Central to PID Week’s success is the role of Thomas Fisher, professor of architecture and dean of the College of Design (Cdes) since 1996. Fisher is recognized as a catalyst in the design world as a university educator (John Cary is his former student), an advocate for good design from freeway bridges to football stadiums to healthcare, and a provocative intellectual force. He’s authored numerous books including Designing to Avoid Disaster: The Nature of Fracture-Critical Design (Routledge, 2012); The Invisible Element of Place: The Architecture of David Salmela (U of MN Press, 2011) and Ethics for Architects: 50 Dilemmas of Professional Practice (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010). His expansive mind and professional acumen is buoyed by a sense of humor. He is approachable. Even funny. Grass does not grow beneath Tom Fisher’s feet.
At the University of Minnesota College of Design graduation ceremonies, on Saturday, May 12, John Cary, who received his BA in 1999 from the same school, delivered the 2012 commencement address. After thanking dean Thomas Fisher and the faculty of the educational institution that “has given me so much,” Cary started with his inauspicious beginnings and launched into the story of his inspirational and accomplished life story and career–the two intricately entwined. His trajectory is sharply focused on the growing field of public interest design, an area that he is personally is helping to define. Here is his message to the graduating class, any graduating class in any field in fact, as well as the design professions in search of defining the 21st century practice.–SSS
I came to the University of Minnesota in 1995, having graduated from a Jesuit high school in Milwaukee’s inner city. Few people, except my parents who are here today, know that my first semester GPA in high school was a whopping 1.9. If you weren’t book smart or an athletic super star at my high school, you kind of fell through the cracks. At least I did.
Thankfully, I landed in the basement, where an inspiring teacher—who was trained as an engineer and taught drafting classes—introduced me to design. It was through that high school teacher that I got involved with Habitat for Humanity, and helped transform an abandoned house into a family’s dream home—to this day one of the most meaningful projects that I’ve ever worked on.
Project H Design Flickr Photo
Scott Timberg’s article “The Architecture Meltdown” (Salon, February 4, 2012) asks the question “Where does architecture go from here?” without offering an answer, so I will. The piece makes a compelling case f…