You’ve heard about the Rural Studio, and Hale County. Maybe you’ve even watched the movie Citizen Architect, but you should also read this article if you are interested in equity, design, and change. Rob Walker’s The Heart of Hale County, featured this month in Fast Company magazine, takes an in depth look at the social innovation work that has been taking place in west-central Alabama for the last two decades. But the writing is relevant to change makers working around the globe. In addition to details about work in Hale County, the article takes readers through a conversation about the most pressing questions in social impact design and architecture. Can outsiders be effective change makers in an unfamiliar place? How is success defined within the field of public interest architecture? Walker’s writing vacillates from triumphant to daunted, taking the reader along on his journey. In the end, what remains are questions, which is apt for a field trying to define itself within the context of today’s most complex and variable challenges.
Walker writes, “It’s worth celebrating design’s social successes, but it’s also worth openly assessing the limits. The potential of design to enable change has been established; maybe the promising paths forward involve the humility to recognize that lasting change is harder than it looks, and the willingness to openly debate and disagree on how to integrate differing design approaches into more wide-ranging solutions with a range of partners.”
photo credit Richard Elliott, during our visit to the Rural Studio, August 2013