a goal we can agree on

Working in rural areas, particularly communities in which little new development has occurred for many years, often presents challenges that surprise me despite extensive experience in these settings. I am presented with points of view, biases, and opinions that I could not anticipate. In the community of Houlka, we have received lots of support and positive feedback, but we have also gotten a lot of questions over the last few weeks. Primarily, “Why aren’t the lines straight?”

Conceived of as a means to clarify uses (parking, driving, biking, and walking) within the square, as well as an eye-catching way to draw visitors from the Tanglefoot Trail into downtown, the student design features undulating yellow and white lines for a wide bike lane and walking area. Though this functional public art  is as unexpected to Houlka residents as the desire for only straight lines is to me, there is one thing we can easily agree on: a design that will decrease the risk of collisions between vehicles and bicyclists or pedestrians.

A little research reveals that from rural to urban and across the country, many issues are constants. In San Francisco, Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects is working toward similar goals, and even has proposed a solution that shares some of the traits of our downtown Houlka project. An image of their proposal is below, alongside recent photos of the CREATE class in New Houlka. 

Read more about Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects concept on Fast Company Magazine’s website. 

New Houlka photo credits: Leah Kemp

“The Heart of Hale County” gets to the root of the question

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.”

at rural studio 8_13

photo credit Richard Elliott, during our visit to the Rural Studio, August 2013