By the People: Designing a Better America

By Veronica Torres

The Razorback Reporter

Design can influence everyday life through transportation and environmental sectors in a positive or negative way. The Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design brought the exhibit “By the People: Designing a Better America” from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. This exhibit shows designers making influences throughout communities in the United States in a socially responsible way.

“The goal of this exhibit is to research and study how communities can influence every aspect of the design world,” junior James Hull said. “How people can come together, make and design elements that will help their social or economic downfalls.”

Design can influence everyday life in many ways.

“It could be where bus routes are placed along a road, or where there are bikes lanes,” Hull said. “Having designated green spaces and parks can impact the morale of a community.”

Students are incorporating design into communities within their class curriculum.

“I’m working on a class project right now where we are thinking of a library as a community center instead of a regular library,” Hull said. “A place where people can gather, learn, and explore are often goals of designers when designing for communities.”

Community design is about the change in the community that makes the community more efficient and easier for the people in the area, Hull said.

By the People: Designing a Better America is on display 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Vol Walker Hall for students to visit. This exhibit leads up to two events with Cynthia E. Smith.

Smith will have a gallery talk at noon Nov. 13 and a public lecture at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 13 in Vol Walker Hall. “She will move from exhibition display to exhibition display and discuss what each piece is all about, really open up what the wall captions provide and position the displays in an overall framework,” said Peter MacKeith, the Dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design.

This exhibit is based on examples in the United States and is more of a current state of affairs and will touch on the complete sequence, which this is the third, MacKeith said.

Students can expect to learn from Smith with her experience at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

“She’s had this position at the Cooper Hewitt with the curator of socially responsible design for a decade or more, so that perspective is valuable to learn about,” MacKeith said.
Attendees will have the opportunity to learn what is socially responsible design, how that differs from design generally and can there be such a thing as socially irresponsible design, MacKeith said.

“By the People challenges the country’s persistent social and economic inequality,” according to the Cooper Hewitt website.

Design is not for the 10 percent that can afford it, but for the 90 percent who can’t afford it or don’t know how design can assist them, MacKeith said.

This exhibit is the first to take place nationally outside Cooper Hewitt, according to a Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design document.

“We are the only school in professional design programs in the state and we therefore have a responsibility to bring design to the state,” MacKeith said.

By the People was set up by seven students, a representative from Cooper Hewitt and Fabrication Specialist Justin Tucker.

“The installation of the exhibit was a tedious process since the displays came from Cooper Hewitt, so all the items were very well packed as well as delicate,” Hull said.

“Setting up this exhibit posed a new challenge from previous ones. Since the exhibit was from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, there were strict guidelines on how things could be displayed, and how we could handle them,” junior Phillip Kling said.

A representative was supervising the delivery of the parts to make sure that everything arrived in good condition and was handled correctly, he said.

There are many pieces to the exhibit and they are to be handled with care. It took a few days to unpack things and coordinate with the supervisor on what needed to go where and whether it was in good condition, James Hull said. Hull thinks displaying the work was the easiest part because all the pieces came together, he said.

“Curator of Socially Responsible Design Cynthia E. Smith conducted over two years of field research—traveling to shrinking post-industrial cities, sprawling metro regions, struggling rural towns, areas impacted by natural and man-made disasters, and places of persistent poverty—in search of design for more inclusive and sustainable communities,” according to the Cooper Hewitt website.

Students appreciate the work of Smith in the By the People: Designing a Better America exhibit.

“By the People is about giving the community a voice in the design process, so that the people who are more familiar with their city can impact the design and make it better in the end,” Hull said.

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