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Dialogue 11: John Peterson, Public Architecture, San Francisco

Public Architecture is a national non-profit architecture office based in San Francisco. It engages architecture firms with other non-profits and manufacturers to commit to designing for the public good through its nationally recognized 1% program, which acts to bring about positive community change through public-interest design initiatives and pro bono design service grants.

The 1% program refers to the proportion of investment made available for social projects that is taken from private clients fees that are keen to make a social investment and contribute to the environment of people who typically find architectural services beyond their reach. The result is a highly exciting practice, that delivers innovative and beautiful’ design to a diverse range of community stakeholders, not just those that can afford it.

As John Peterson (founder and President) describes it, this is a new model for architectural practice – one where foundations, corporations, and individuals grants and donations are also involved in moving beyond the economic constraints of conventional architectural practice, to make good design accessible to all.

This model of practice – one where community engagement is an embedded priority that does not compromise the architectural process or outcome – is hugely important in terms of demonstrating the value of live project experience in design school. This is contrary to the widely held conviction that engaging the community in the design process compromises the creative ambitions of the architects, often resulting in a less ‘architectural’ or aesthetic outcome (Reyner Banham’s ‘Black Box’ extrapolates on this theme).

Both John and I discussed the lack of any formal, school-based training in community consultation and engagement in schools, yet how we are lead to believe that our ‘profession’ is one that is duty bound to operate in the public interest.


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About Dr Harriet Harriss, Head of MPhil/PhD Research Programmes, School of Architecture, Royal College of Art

Dr Harriet Harriss (RIBA) is a qualified architect and leads the research programmes in Architecture and Interior Design at the Royal College of Art. Her teaching, research and writing are largely focussed upon pioneering new pedagogic models for design education as captured in Radical Pedagogies: Architecture & the British Tradition. Her 2016 publication, A Gendered Profession, asserts the need for widening participation as a means to ensure professions remains as diverse as the society they seek to serve. Dr Harriss has won various awards for teaching excellence within the last 5 years, including a Brookes Teaching Fellowship, a HEA Internationalisation Award, A Churchill Fellowship and two awards (scholars and staff development) from Santander. Before joining the RCA, she lead the MArchD in Architecture at Oxford Brookes as was appointed a Principal Lecturer of Student Experience. She was most recently awarded a Clore Fellowship (2016-17) and elected to the EAAE Council. Harriet is currently working on a book that explores women's leadership in academia.

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