Social Impact Projects
Social Impact Projects are intended to foster more cross-disciplinary collaboration at PennDesign, encourage students to work within the community, and leverage their design ability to benefit communities in need. The projects kicked off in the Spring of 2015, supported by PennDesign Dean Marilyn Jordan Taylor together with PennPraxis. Two years have been awarded: 2015 and 2016, with the hopes that the program will continue into the future.
Teams comprised of all of the five disciplines at PennDesign work directly with community partners to determine the time and locations for installations that can augment ongoing community efforts. Project geographies range from West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, to Kensington, to South Philadelphia, including one project is national in scope. Students share their experiences at the end of the fall semester to share the completed Social Impact Projects with the PennDesign community.
Read about the Fall 2015 exhibit and reception here: www.design.upenn.edu/pennpraxis/post/social-impact-2015-exhibition-and-call-proposals
2015 Social Impact Projects
Restoring Buildings, Rebuilding Communities was aimed at engaging residents of the Mill Creek and Belmont neighborhoods in West Philadelphia to demonstrate how simple repair techniques can restore the beauty and function of existing, historic rowhouses. Led by students in the Historic Preservation program, the project partnered with Lombard Central Presbyterian Church at 4201 Powelton Avenue to host an event at during which repairs that are directly applicable to similar conditions at adjacent residential properties were demonstrated.
The Pop Ups for Purpose team designed and constructed a temporary art installation to promote and raise awareness for the recently developed Frankford Gateway Conceptual Plan created by the Community Design Collaborative (CDC) for the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. The installation focused on the Lehigh Viaduct on Frankford Avenue, envisioning a welcoming gateway that could promote a sense of identity and safety for the area by implementing a lighting, painting, and planting scheme. The team’s coordination with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) ensured that the installation will engage with users in the neighborhood, and are consistent with the plan.
The Snack Garden project was conducted by a team of design students from the Integrated Product Design (IPD) Program of Penn. It aimed to encourage children to eat a healthier and more balanced diet, by not only offering specially designed dining plates to school, but also actively engages elementary school and high school students in the process of designing and promoting new products addressing healthy eating habits. The project built on designs for plates done in 2013 by an IPD student, in partnership with the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn. The team held two guided branding workshops with the crew from Rebel Ventures, including high school students from various West Philadelphia high schools. \ The special plates were manufactured and tested at Comegys Elementary School in West Philadelphia to gather student feedback. A marketing plan was conducted for the project, branded "The Snack Garden" in the summer of 2016.
Proactive Practice examines cutting edge social impact design firms to understand how innovations in business practice make their work possible. In the past two decades, designers have increasingly engaged projects serving social, economic, or environmental equity. The project is examining a handful of these firms in order to understand how their business models allow them to shape their own opportunities to impact their communities, and detail how their financial and practice structure allows them to be financially sustainable while delivering on a social mission. This project builds on the Scale / Scope symposium at Penn Design in Spring 2014, in which design students and practitioners shared how their methods allow them to impact systemic issues of wide relevance. Proactive Practice builds on and deepens this commitment by PennDesign to fostering a new generation of socially engaged designers. Proactive Practice is a project of Nick McClintock (M.Arch/MLA ’16), Gilad Meron, and Mia Scharphie, with Daniel Barber acting as faculty advisor. Proactive Practice will publish its findings online in 2016.
Finally, the WASTE NOT/Redux project aimed to develop sculptural installations using discarded construction materials, repurposed back into communities in Philadelphia that are experiencing rapid growth and transformation. Installations were intended to develop a public dialogue between designers, community members, and industry about waste and development in their respective neighborhoods, as well as give back to the community functional spaces and amenities to support their needs. The team worked with Southeast by Southeast in South Philadelphia to design a gardening structure that would allow community members to grow and cultivate herbs and vegetables, and educate youth in the traditions of the area's refugee communities. The team worked with Revolution Recovery and Recycled Artists in Residency to gather materials for the project, and also coordinated with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy to identify appropriate sites and partners. The installation was completed in April 2016.
2016 Social Impact Projects
The BLOSSOM Interactive team designed and installed a kinetic public art piece, engineered to be responsive to social media posts, to promote awareness of food security. Awareness built by the project was designed to result in donations to community charities that support hunger and food awareness: Philabundance, The Food Trust, Broad Street Ministry, and the Coalition Against Hunger. The sculpture team coordinated with Penn Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES) to install the sculpture on Locust Walk (at 37th Street) for two weeks in September 2016.
Little City Builder is currently working with the Please Touch Museum (PTM) to create a single-day tactile community installation/event focusing on earth and science education, climate change, and “smart cities.” The students will build on previous work completing their first year planning workshop studying the West Parkside neighborhood, and previous studio work focused on Mantua. The students have been coordinating regularly with the Please Touch Museum, and with Hive 67 in South Philadelphia during the summer of 2016 to construct components for the event/exhibit. The team is also developing educational materials on earth science and climate change which PTM will distribute at West Philadelphia neighborhood schools, to both promote the event and provide learning opportunities for area students. The event will take place in spring 2017.
Reclaming Sharswood was inspired by the Fall 2015 HSPV studio focusing on the Sharswood neighborhood, and involvement in DiverseDesign. Student are working with community members to design and construct a new North Philly Peace Park in Sharswood, an important open space resource and symbol of community empowerment that had been relocated due to eminent domain pressures. The team also partnered with Habitat and Humanity and Lowes Home Improvement for a robust community build day in June 2016, informed by community input. Students also will build an eco-designed educational kiosk with the help of Habitat, and complete a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Dox Thrash House, an important historic resource also in Sharswood.
See blog post: www.design.upenn.edu/pennpraxis/post/black-space-black-lives
Serenity Soular builds on previous work done by Swarthmore students in 2014 (one of whom is on the team as a PennDesign student), which worked to help local residents install a solar panel on the garage roof of Serenity House, a social-service organization in North Philadelphia. Since then, Serenity Soular has developed into an ongoing initiative to train North Philadelphians to work in the solar industry and to expand access to solar for low-income households. During the spring and summer of 2016, PennDesign students worked to fundraise for solar panels, which were installed by Solar States, and host several community events at the Serenity House to discuss improving the green space adjacent to Serenity House into a usable park space. The students are working with the community to develop concept designs for the park space and an educational pavilion, and are being advised by professionals from Women In Architecture.
2017 Social Impact Projects
Sprouting Possibilities is a collaborative project between students in fine arts and landscape architecture built on the shared vision of using trees to demonstrate the cyclical nature of growth and development to activate vacant land and strengthen communities. The team is working on two separate yet related sites in West Philadelphia to install temporary public art works and plant tree seedlings. The installations are intended to educate visitors about trees and contribute to community greening and skill sharing. The team is working with Urban Arboreta, the Enterprise Center CDC, and the Centennial Parkside CDC, as community partners.
The Botswana-UPenn Partnership project emerges from a multi-year relationship of PennDesign and Penn Medicine. In the summer of 2017, three PennDesign students will work in Botswana to conduct a human-centered design exercise with multiple nurses and healthcare auxiliaries who have been using Peek technology for school screenings in the Good Hope District of Botswana. The aim will be designing simple kits that encourage optimal, efficient, and sustainable use of technologies to promote preventive health care services. The project outputs will be designs and prototypes of an mHealth Kit that will support and optimize the national implementation of Peek Botswana. Students will work with the staff and patients of the hospitals and clinics in Gaborone, Botswana.
For Bridging the Past and Future, students worked with elderly and youth (grades 6-7) residents of Brewerytown and Sharswood – two Philadelphia neighborhoods experiencing intensive development and public investment – to memorialize the neighborhoods’ histories and contextualize the forces that have shaped them. The group worked with the Brewerytown Sharswood Community Civic Association and a local middle school to create educational materials and initiate dialogue among residents to document the history of the neighborhood and educate youth about how they can be agents of positive change. The materials and oral histories will be featured in a public art exhibition designed by the PennDesign students with neighborhood representatives in the fall of 2017.
Portal to the Parks- The team conceptualized and built Portal to the Parks, installed in front of the Slought Foundation, for Park(ing) Day 2017 (an annual national event to raise awareness of urban green spaces by converting parking spaces to temporary parks). The parklet highlights the experience of visiting the many wonders of the National Park Service (NPS), including those located in Philadelphia. The main purpose is to encourage people to have more park experiences. The installation offered an opportunity for participants to write stories, post them on a board and connect them to locations a map.
Rebuilding Together Philadelphia: PennDesign and Wharton Collaboration - In the spring of 2017, 400 volunteers, including PennDesign and Wharton students, completed high-quality repairs in ten houses in a two-block radius in Mantua during a three-day period to improve homeowners’ quality of life and, in some cases, allow them to stay in their homes. The students and community members will replace old carpets, repair walls and floors, stabilize railings, and install safety equipment for the elderly and disabled, as well as gutters and basic weather stripping on exteriors. The project aims to make a tangible impact and also raise awareness of issues facing affordable housing maintenance in Philadelphia and elsewhere. The project builds on a longstanding partnership between PennDesign, Wharton and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, whose mission is to improve living conditions for low-income families living in Philadelphia.