Building Hope by Learning and Representing
It takes patience to design and build for the long-term.
Last time, I shared a bit of Christian’s project to better house the public and private lives of his family’s home village of Guisquil, El Salvador. Today we continue with insights into two more visionary projects demonstrating creative, practical resistance to the status quo.
Remember in his 2013 interview with Wendell Berry, Bill Moyers asked how Berry keeps from becoming “fatally pessimistic?” Berry answers: “Well, hope. And, in my work, especially in the essays, I’ve always been trying to map out the grounds of a legitimate, authentic hope. And if you can find one good example, then you’ve got the grounds for hope.”
Fortunately, Melonee and Jemimah’s projects provide not one, but two brilliant examples, two grounds for hope. Let’s check in with their interview, recorded last December 2022.
Melonee Quintanilla’s thesis, “Strong Foundations,” seeks redress to the underfunding of public infrastructure in majority Black communities, exacerbated by disenfranchisement, redlining, ‘slum’ clearance, and systemic racism. Working closely with community representatives, Melonee designed a school that celebrates the shared history and culture of Baltimore’s Harlem Park.
Jemimah Asamoah designed a waterfront park and community center along the Potomac River to serve D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. Her thesis, “Beyond Sustainability,” used Biophilia as a design tool to repair human-nature relationships and foster community resilience. Her big vision is rendered in beautiful, compelling detail and we can’t wait for you to see and hear more about it.
Everyone on our production team was struck right along with Melonee and Jemimah by how much their projects have in common. Both confront racist policies and infrastructure: highways that bisect and sever community connections, food deserts, and decades of underinvestment. Both seek to reanimate history, reconnect people to nature and serve everyone—toddlers to elders. Both women deeply imagined the places they wanted to create for people out of an intention to heal, honor and celebrate.
Melonee stays hopeful by using her privilege as a college graduate to mentor high school students. To show by example that a design career is possible for people of color and to emphasize the importance of having their voices at the table. Her design approach, inspired by her grandmother’s example to “make something out of nothing,” weaves together a diversity of influences from jazz, soul food, quilting, urban parks, and Baltimore’s great stoop culture.
Jemimah grew up in Ghana, which may have influenced her answer when asked about having patience in an emergency. She said it’s important to learn as much as we can, so our solutions aren’t hasty or add to the problem. Jemimah’s outlook is that it takes patience to design and build for the long-term, which nicely echoes Wendell Berry’s wisdom. We have much to learn by listening. Patient listening to land, to places, to history, to people.
How are you building hope?
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This project is supported by a Faculty-Student Research Award from the Graduate School, University of Maryland, as well as grants from the University’s Sustainability Fund and the School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation.