Teaching Architects to Succeed While Serving the Public Interest

The Public Interest Design Institute encourages architects to embrace participatory approaches in design that address complex social needs; demonstrating that it's possible to "make a career as an architect serving those who need the most help."

November 28, 2012, 8:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez


For Bryan Bell, founder of the Public Interest Design Institute, a two-day training course offered at universities across the U.S. and initially funded by AIA, architects are facing a more fundamental problem than the economic crisis. Bell, in line with other industry innovators including Architecture for Humanity, Design for the Other 90%, and Public Architecture, feels that the architectural field is falling short of fulfilling its potential to offer design solutions for the challenges of the 21st century. “The objective of the institute is to help students and practitioners make a career as an architect serving those who need the most help,” writes Angie Schmitt, adding, “[w]hat’s revolutionary about [it] is that it teaches that architects can fully dedicate themselves to public service work and at the same time make a living.”

Bell’s approach to architecture goes past important environmental factors such as building performance and sustainability by focusing on social factors. His SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) rating system prioritizes participation and inclusion of stakeholders, challenging architects to respect places and communities, while also addressing multiple challenges simultaneously. “Award recipients must also demonstrate—with data—positive impacts on public health, the local economy, educational achievement, or any number of social benefits, all depending on the community’s need,” writes Schmitt.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Wow, we didn’t realize design could address these issues. We thought design was just making things pretty,’” Bell says. “We need to go out into the community and prove what design can do.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 in American Institute of Architects

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