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Spring 2019 – Workshop #4: Creating for Communities

During our last workshop on 3/27, we convened at The Great Cities Institute at UIC to explore how different methods of people-centered design thinking can help empower neighborhoods. The workshop focused on how to engage community members and stakeholders as well as utilize different design frameworks, such as empathy mapping. It was led by Max Davis (3D Modeling and Digital Fabrication), Bob Corporaal (User Experience Design and Strategy), and Jonathan Fair (Campus Architecture at UIC).

Season Theme: Accessory Dwelling Units

Workshop Method: People-Centered Design Thinking

Photos by Lindsey Conklin

Max, Jonathan, and Bob (L to R) each presented elements of design thinking that they utilize in their own work before we split into groups and applied one of their approaches:

*Max - Designing a Maker Space with ADUs

Max first presented on the True North community in Detroit which is a mixed-use development for creatives utilizing ADU-type structures. His driving question was: Why haven't we seen this type of development in Chicago? It has inspired him to build a maker space out of ADUs in Chicago so Max's group strategized where to build one in Chicago.

Photos by Lindsey Conklin

Al Walker (Facility Manager at Windsor Park Evangelical Lutheran Church), described the process of his group by writing: "Our goal was to find a suitable location for Max, who played the role of a client, in order to build an ADU like the ones built in Detroit. Max wanted to solve the problem of a long commute to and from work by building two of these units adjacent to one another. We were able to deliver three possible living arrangements based on particular location constraints and what we believed the advantages were within the framework of those constraints. We also had to deal with the stigma and political opposition currently associated with ADUs. Therefore our design approach had to be focused on understanding our stakeholders. It is always a delicate balancing act delivering on the requirements of a particular stakeholder while trying to stay within the parameters of the project based on regulatory requirements, environmental conditions and social norms."

*Bob - Using Empathy Maps to Design an ADU Gallery Space + Artist Studio

Bob presented a simplified form of empathy mapping which is a design thinking method aimed at better understanding the various stakeholders in any design project. It asks: What is in the heads of the various stakeholders in the design process? For example, what do they do, see, and hear? What are their pain points?

Bob's group split into three stakeholder groups - the owner of the property, city officials, and the community - to investigate building an ADU to house a gallery and artist studio. Each stakeholder group used empathy mapping to explore the different perspectives.

Photos by Lindsey Conklin

Annie Ball (Designer at KOO Architects) used empathy mapping to understand being the owner of the property in this scenario. She detailed her experience by writing, "During the initial breakout we focused less on making and more on listening. We found it critical to understand the client first before taking action. By diving into his personal narrative it provided our team with a better perspective on the aspirations of the project, in addition to understanding the social impact the artist studio would have on the community. Empathy mapping proved to be highly effective during our workshop. It equipped our team to question the client in a proactive nature, and through this inquiry we created a road map for feasible design outcomes. We focused on obstacles and opportunities that would arise for the client from the beginning of concept until occupancy of the artist. The conversations that transpired due to empathy mapping forced our group to not only address the needs of the client, but recognize the potential for neighborhood adversity."

Kalindi Parikh (Director of Planning for the Chicago Loop Alliance) used empathy mapping to understand being a city official in this scenario. She explained, "The goal of our group was to design an accessory dwelling unit for an artist residence and studio space. While I was at first disappointed to be given the role of a rule-enforcer, it made me think more creatively about city requirements and why they exist. We ended up creating a site plan that would be acceptable within our understanding of city standards. But instead of building a structure, I think we ended up building empathy and understanding for city departments. With a better understanding of why building and zoning codes exist a certain way, we can be more effective in examining how to use them and determining which ones are worth changing."

*Jonathan - Using AMUs to Design a Student Spaces for UIC

Jonathan presented on a variety of projects he's worked on as Assistant Director of Campus Architecture at UIC. He is constantly engaging users (professors, students, administrators) in order to understand what they want and what they think. Questions he asks in his work are: What spaces do students want to be in? Why don't students stay late on campus? How do we encourage them to stay? His group considered how to use Accessory Manufacturing Units to enhance an existing location (with an aging building and a parking lot) and create functions and programming for the college.

Photos by Lindsey Conklin

Tejashri Varpe (Architectural Designer / Sustainability coordinator at UrbanWorks Ltd.) described the process of her group by writing, "The goal was to develop a successful micro development of ADU's that support the academic mission and space needs of the college. The team had to focus first on planning the available lot in context with existing structures on site and major adjacent streets. The ADU's were more like MDU's (Maker's Dwelling Units) with transient accommodation. As the client wanted to keep campus spaces activated after hours, these MDU's were supporting the cause. The approach was to create a positive impact of development on surrounding properties and major streets. The group used sustainable planning strategies for noise reduction around dwelling units in addition to community engagement by reactivation of park space. As it turned out, a major component of the exercise was planning the available lot in context. Activation of the site after hours was the focal point of the program followed by the design of the dwelling units themselves. Involvement of students in programming and planning would then play a vital role in how the space would be used."

These exercises were crucial for us to better understand not only the potential complications of designing for communities using ADUs (and AMUs!) but also the powerful impact of doing so.

Special thanks to Max, Bob, and Jonathan for planning the workshop.

You can find notes from this workshop here.


LINDSEY CONKLIN is an anthropologist and researcher who works at the intersection of social impact design, the built environment, and community development.

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