the best job you’ve ever had

The upcoming class of Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows will be one of the most diverse in terms of geography, scale and partners yet. The five exciting opportunities will be located in New York City; Poughkeepsie, NY; Porcupine, SD; Seattle, WA; and Denver, CO. Learn about the fellowship, the five work plans, and how to apply here.

The application deadline has been extended to July 26th, 2015. 


Enterprise summarizes the Fellowship, “The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship partners early-career architectural designers with local community development organizations, where they facilitate an inclusive approach to development to create green, sustainable, and affordable communities. As an integral staff member of the organization, the fellow will focus on advancing the organization’s practices in community engagement, sustainability and design excellence.

By becoming a fellow, you join a growing network of passionate and talented public interest designers who are continuously changing what is possible in community development.”

fellowships are for the field

The training of architects has always been rigorous, but public interest design requires all of the essential architectural skills plus financing, policy, community engagement and organizing skills….Fellowships provide an alternative career path, arming these individuals with skills, resources, and network to lead the future of public interest design practice.

– Katie Swenson, Vice President of Design at Enterprise Community Partners

In a blog post on October 22nd, Katie Swenson summarized some of the ways in which fellowships are important in the development of thought leaders, a benefit that contributes to the field as much as the individual. Read all of Katie’s blog post on Impact Design Hub.

I’m also glad to see that Greenwood, MS provided a great backdrop for Katie’s picture!

KatieSwenson gwd


no, thank you, de’vante

I recently met De’Vante Wiley (featured in the audio below) while hosting a group of high school volunteers participating in the Summer Youth Institute, an experiential learning program that explores Mississippi society, history, and diversity. De’Vante began working to improve his community at a young age, organizing a community garden in Baptist Town when he was sixteen. I was glad to see that Southern Foodways Alliance ran into him also, wrote about him in this blog post, and provided the link to the excellent interview they did.

A couple of weeks after I met De’Vante  he stopped by the community center. Just as he succinctly speaks about some of the most challenging social aspects of life in rural Mississippi, he also transcended one of the most challenging aspects of community work and said, “On behalf of the Baptist Town community, thank you for the work you’re doing.” From an outsider perspective, public interest work is warm and fuzzy, but the reality is that it is political, never complete, and addresses realities too complex to equal unanimous support from any large group.

Still, public interest designers conduct meetings, surveys, studies, games, and events to try to take into account the needs and aspirations of their client communities. Through this process to find the best possible architectural response, negative feedback is sometimes the only voice that is heard, while those pleased with an initiative stay silent. Positive feedback such as De’Vante’s “thank you” feels good on a personal level, but more importantly, indicates to social impact designers when a project is on the right track.

design futures should be in your future

Hosted by a collaborative of university based architecture programs, the second annual Design Futures Student Leadership Forum conference was hosted at Tulane University last week. Over sixty students from ten universities were given a unique view of the field, meeting public interest design leaders and hearing about their projects, but further, participating in workshops that asked questions that welcomed the next generation of public interest designers to be a part the discourse that leads, defines and sometimes plagues this field.

Sessions included topics such as funding sources, ethics, power structures and skills utilized in social impact design. By inviting thought leaders and asking them to create sessions that were workshops more than lectures, what resulted was powerful stuff. Students got a look at one of Katie Swenson’s Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship draft budgets, a power mapping exercise Christine Gaspar and the CUP (Center for Urban Pedagogy) staff had used to understand the agendas of involved parties related to unregistered hotels in New York City (pictured below), and insights from Theresa Hwang on ethical decision making related to the work of Skid Row Housing Trust, among others.

John Peterson, of Public Architecture, led a session that was designed for students, but was equally interesting to early career attendees. The workshop guided participants through a series of exercises that worked backward, from long range career goals, to options that can be pursued today to develop the skills that will make achieving those goals possible. As a panelist, along with Tulane City Center’s Emilie Taylor and UT Austin’s Nicole Joslin, I shared that though my time in architecture firms was important to my professional development, my time as a waitress taught me to talk with unhappy customers and to “know when a fire is a fire”, a skill that helps me keep projects moving forward even as challenges arise.

Though Design Futures was created as a conference for students, the format positioned presenters to discuss their work in a critical and reflective way that engaged attendees of all ages. Next year’s Design Futures at the University of Kansas is on my list of conferences not to be missed in 2015.


want to be a public interest architect? here’s one path

The new class of Enterprise Rose Fellowship opportunities was recently announced. Six exciting positions in Boston, Oakland, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Slayton, MN will offer early career public interest designers opportunities to accelerate a career path in design leadership and community engagement.

More information is below, and the detailed work plans are available on Enterprise’s website.


Applications are now open for Rose Fellowships for 2015-2017. Apply by July 10th 2014!

Questions? Contact the Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship office at (781) 235-2006 or

The highly competitive Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship develops the next generation of leaders in community- based design. Rose Fellows take part in a unique three-year experience offering unparalleled learning and networking opportunities. As integral members of their host organizations’ staff, fellows gain practical experience in site acquisition, site planning, architectural design, developing financial pro-formas, applying for financing and obtaining public approvals. Fellows also typically help their hosts improve standards and practices for design excellence, sustainability and community engagement. Rose Fellows also gain a national support system of colleagues who share their passion for public interest architecture and community development.

As full-time employees of their host organizations, fellows earn an annual stipend plus the standard insurance and benefits package provided by their host organization. The stipend for fellowships beginning in 2015 is $50,000.


May Fellowship opportunities posted
July 10 Fellowship application deadline 11:59 p.m. EST
September Finalists selected
October Interviews/Final decisions/Notifications
January 2015 2015-2017 Fellowships begin


gas station information

In a community as small as New Houlka, MS (population 617), it can be difficult to plan a community engagement activity that more than a handful of people get involved in. The CREATE: New Houlka class was struggling with not only this, but we also needed an introduction to this rural community. Last Sunday, the students found a way to solve both problems.

First, they identified a place that is a hub of public activity, and then researched when the most people visit. The answer: David’s One Stop after church on Sunday. David’s is more than a gas station, offering hot plates, homemade desserts, and tables to stay and mingle. David’s welcomed us to set up outside of their store on what turned out to be one a beautiful, warm day.

Students researched methods of community engagement a formulated a plan in class. Each developed a component of the engagement and on Sunday we had a large arrow that said “Tell us about Houlka.”, a map with push pins, a string of questions on colorful paper, and cookies to help draw people in to share their thoughts. For two hours, a constant stream of welcoming residents shared their ideas about what makes Houlka unique, the assets, the eyesores, and more.

Students also drew on some of the work of artist Candy Chang, and created “tablecloths” that we left at David’s to get responses beyond Sunday’s event (pictured below).

Throughout the day, a few themes emerged. Houlka is hopeful though it’s population and economy continue to shrink. Houlka is welcoming; residents were not skeptical of us and they are optimistic about how the new Tanglefoot Trail could impact downtown. The residents of Houlka support each other. Benefits for residents who have had a misfortune are held as often as biweekly.

A big thank you to the residents of Houlka for their warm welcome. Our class is excited to partner with you, and deliver a project that reflects the spirit of your community. Visit our facebook page for updates throughout the semester.

cottages not forgotten

It has been a long time since I posted about the Cottages, donated to the City of Greenwood for use as affordable housing, and a big part of my fellowship work plan. This is because a resolution needs to be passed by the Mississippi legislature (typically in session from January through March) to allow the Cottages to legally end up in the hands of the organization that will install and sell them. As with many affordable housing projects, we have run into unexpected snags, policy that never predicted our specific circumstance, and skepticism. A recent letter to the editor of the Greenwood Commonwealth voiced some very real concerns about the homes regarding their durability, safety in regards to resident health, and cost. As I continue to build relationships with our legislators and we hopefully move closer to successful passage of our bill, this letter also provided me with an opportunity to publicly respond to these concerns. Below are some important facts about the cottages and this project that I highlighted in my response in a letter to the editor run on Sunday, February 9th, 2014.

  • The Mississippi Cottages are high quality homes. They were designed not as temporary shelters, but as a way for Gulf Coast communities to build back better than they had been before Hurricane Katrina. I spent a significant amount of time in the homes while working in Biloxi, and I would not be dedicated to this project if these homes were not of a quality that I would live in one myself.
  • From a technical standpoint, it should be clarified that the homes are “modular”, not “mobile”. This means that they conform to the highest building standards, and will meet all code requirements in any area of the United States.
  • In regards to finances, the Cottages themselves were donated, but the land on which they will sit, their foundations, driveways, steps, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing connections were not. These items combined will cost an estimated $25,000 for a two-bedroom Cottage. Pending passage of a bill currently in the MS legislature, the Fuller Center will sell the homes to applicants for only the costs that they invest in the items listed above. The mortgage the Fuller Center will offer will be for 15 years with 0% interest. It is our projection that the actual per month cost will be approximately $120-$160 in mortgage principal payment plus $60-$120 in monthly payments for insurance and property taxes.

soft metrics

I believe strongly that design and thoughtful implementation add value to every project, but social impact work takes place in such a complex and variable environment that tracking outcomes based on specific projects is rare and imperfect. As I mentioned in my last post, we may not even know of the positive or negative ripple effects our work is having. Despite this, I also believe it is the responsibility of social impact designers to make an effort to document metrics associated with their work.

If we want the field of public interest design to grow, and funding to be dedicated to the projects and the jobs we believe make the world a better place, there is no alternative to demonstrating a compelling value proposition.

Rebekah Levine Coley, a professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, and her colleagues from Tufts University make just such a proposition through a six-year long study that tracked the development of 2,400 low-income children within poor families. The research concluded that “the quality of a child’s home predicted academic success and susceptibility to emotional and behavioral issues” more strongly and consistently than any other factor.  As Emily Badger writes in her report on the study, the breadth and depth of the research is important because it indicates causation over correlation. Read an excerpt below or the entire article here.

In retrospect, that study amassed precisely the kind of data you’d need to understand how housing itself – not the social environment of a “family home” – might influence children. The study recorded whether a home was rented or owned, or rented through public housing or subsidies, how affordable it was relative to a family’s income, how often families moved from house to house, and the quality of the property. Researchers looked for working refrigerators, holes in the wall, rodents, functioning heat and hot water, adequate light and fresh air – many of them signs of poor-quality housing outside of a family’s control. All of the families were low-income, but some had considerably more run-down housing than others.12837889-old-and-weathered-grey-barn-wall-with-empty-hole-from-broken-and-missing-barnwood-board-showing-aged

Controlling for other factors like a parent’s employment status and income, Coley and her co-authors concluded that the poor quality of housing more strongly and consistently predicted a child’s well-being than all of those other housing characteristics (including whether the home was considered “affordable” to the parents or not). Children in more derelict housing had lower average reading and math skills. They had more emotional and behavioral problems.

The information presented in this study is important in gaining traction for the broad assertion that where a person lives shapes who they are. As stated above, the breadth of this study is important, but public interest designers, rather than be daunted by the idea of studying 2,400 of anything, should see their own projects as an opportunities to reinforce the study on a case by case basis.

I am new to metrics, and am beginning to delve deeper in two ways. First, by frequently asking myself, “What are the intended outcomes of my work in Mississippi?” I have tasked myself with assigning three specific outcomes to track to the Baptist Town Cottage project by the end of November. I will then measure these outcomes before, during and after construction.  Of those three, I would like one of them to be a “soft metric” – something that is not numerical, hard to measure, and tied to well-being similar to Coley’s study.

looking up

A few weeks ago I posted an article by the Greenwood Commonwealth documenting “setbacks” that the project has faced. June, in particular, saw the team slogging through disappointments and downturns. Despite these challenges, we persevered and in July and August (and hopefully continuing into September and October) the overall project is making significant visible progress.
Thanks again to the Commonwealth, and talented staff writer Jeanie Riess, the ups and downs have been given equal coverage, and this image of the new street lights on Avenue A graced the front page last week.

lights go up

Calling for a Triple Bottom Line Design Metric (SSIR)

Public Interest Design blogger John Cary summarizes SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), the lesser known social impact focused cousin to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and the challenges to growth that this evaluation system has faced. He suggests, “Rather than remain a shoestring operation, SEED should leverage the USGBC’s vast network and resources. Both SEED and LEED would become stronger programs for it.” Read the full article on the Stanford Social Innovation Review at Calling for a Triple Bottom Line Design Metric (SSIR).

As a new advisory council focuses on the future of SEED, public interest designers are faced with a common question in this field – How can our work scale up? Does it inherently lose it’s ability to be responsive to the specific social needs of individual communities when molded to fit within the requirements of a certification program? I don’t think it does. Despite the vastness and the merited criticisms that can be leveled at LEED, the success or failure of the final product lies with the project team. Similarly, if SEED were to be applied to projects around the globe, the onus of success would remain with the designer in the field. It is the responsibility, and the joy, of public interest designers to immerse themselves within the groups that they work for, and this responsibility remains and would be amplified by an international platform from which best practices and lessons learned in triple bottom line design can be shared.