Session 4: Community Involvement

Date: January 13, 2017
Location: Make Offices
Time: 12:00 pm – 5:00pm
Led By: Josef Fuentas,  AIA and Matthew Vargas, AIA

Session 4 PDF


Joe Fuentes and Matt Vargas coordinated Session 4, which was hosted at the newly-opened co-working space, MakeOffices, in downtown Washington, DC. The session consisted of opening remarks by DesignForce, followed by a presentation by Citizen HKS, an interactive session by OpenIDEO DC, a tour of the MakeOffices space, and a presentation by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. The overall theme of the session focused on teaching and inspiring the scholars to think about the design process and how it can be used for social impact – above and beyond the “typical” architecture of residential, commercial, and institutional design.


The session began with a short presentation by Ahmed Kurtom, who briefly described his company, DesignForce, which is an executive placement agency, as well as a workforce solutions consultancy. His most memorable piece of advice to the participants was to, “Apply your knowledge; don’t just store it away.”

Sheila Ruder and Amber Wirth, architects with HKS Inc., started their presentation with a collaborative exercise using a map of the District of Columbia and its immediate surroundings. Participants were instructed to add two pins to the map: a blue pin to represent one’s place of work, and; a red pin designating where one lives. Each pin had a piece of circular translucent plastic with two concentric circles, representing a primary “sphere of influence” and a secondary “sphere of influence.”


The main goal of this exercise was to start thinking of our broader community and how we can impact it in a positive manner. Afterwards, Sheila and Amber outlined HKS’s public interest design initiative, which is called “Citizen HKS.”  As the non-profit arm of HKS, Citizen HKS began by providing professional design services to social and community projects, but has since expanded to include fundraising and volunteering efforts through a program called the “Global Month of Service.”  Citizen HKS appears to have been a very successful spin-off of the architecture firm in that staff members commit many additional hours of their personal time to the design of these projects and volunteer efforts.

Facilitators from OpenIDEO (the social impact spinoff of IDEO, an international design and consulting firm), Tina Grassi and Ana Bello, next lead an interactive session during which scholars were taught the “Human Centered Design” process. It is a step-by-step problem-solving methodology that can be implemented in a variety of timeframes – from a 90-minute session (which was implemented for this session), to a five-day seminar. The process was developed by IDEO and is currently taught at Stanford University in their “”


The “” process entails five steps: empathize; define; ideate; prototype, and; test. The class’ 90 minute “mission” was to “Redesign the TRANSIT STOP EXPERIENCE … for your partner.” We worked in pairs, going through various timed exercises that were entitled:

  1. Interview;
  2. Dig Deeper;
  3. Capture Findings;
  4. Define Problem Statement;
  5. Sketch at least 5 radical ways to meet your user’s needs.;
  6. Share your solutions & capture feedback;
  7. Reflect & generate a new solution;
  8. Build your solution, and;
  9. Share your solution and get feedback.

The solutions varied from the whimsical (like the use of a flying pony) to radical design solutions, such as creating an alternative bike lane within the metro subway tunnels.


Following this exercise, the class was led on a tour of the MakeOffices, ending with a break in their lounge, where free drinks, coffee, and tea are available to members.

The last speaker was Omar Hakeem, of the Washington, DC, office of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. Omar introduced himself and described how his career path changed to include projects that are more socially oriented, including the design and implementation of community spaces in the very depressed city of Brownsville, Texas. He challenged the participants to think about one’s engagement within one’s own community as well as in other communities, how to implement designs that are impactful, and to be aware of one’s own biases when designing for others.

In order to counteract any biases, Omar presented a process of “LISTEN – CONFIRM – ACT.”  During the “listening” phase, the needs of a community are gathered.  Next, the design solution is created and “confirmed,” and finally implemented during the “acting” phase. He also encouraged the participants to think about using the design process to solve not just spatial issues, but policy issues as well.


Overall, the session was a solid overview of three different methodologies for implementing social responsibility and community leadership. The first presentation by Citizen HKS was an example of how a large corporation can successfully integrate a social impact effort within a traditional business model. OpenIDEO’s interactive session was enlightening in that it showed how the human-centered design process – which is a more structured version of the architectural design charrette – can be used to solve social and community issues. Finally, Omar Hakeem’s presentation brought the session to a close, melding ideas that were introduced throughout the afternoon. He described how a small architecture firm, like his buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, can successfully take on socially responsible efforts and use the design process to solve larger socio-cultural issues.