Building Hope by Listening
The people of Guisquil may need better housing and public amenities, but they already know how to live well.
Last week, we talked about what it means to be patient in an emergency. Like the rest of us, young people are challenged to maintain environmental optimism in the face of the interlinked crises of climate action and social justice. Yet, students and graduates of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation stubbornly embrace hope as a practice. Their projects demonstrate integrative, practical approaches that stem from radical imagination.
Last December 2022, we interviewed Christian Romero, whose project, “Memoria En Capas,” proposes innovative affordable housing for the village of Guisquil in his native El Salvador, where his grandmother lives.
I was inspired by the way Christian talked about his growth as a student and how his thesis semester changed everything about his approach to architectural design. He began with a desire to flex his considerable design talent and demonstrate skills he’s acquired through six years of architectural education.
But the disruptions of the pandemic shutdown forced him to reconsider his plan. Grounded in the U.S. and unable to visit in person, he found creative ways to engage community members using social media. He heard their stories, learned their preferences, offered design options, and responded to feedback. In short, he listened.
That mindset shift from Giving Answers to Asking Questions is a big part of this work. The role of professionals must shift: architects less as experts and more as facilitators of collaboration. As partners in the radical imagination of a different future.
One beautiful insight that emerged in the conversation with Christian is that the people of Guisquil may need better housing and public amenities, but they already know how to live well. They have a rich, shared communal life. Christian called it a microcosm and sensed that he could employ his design-thinking skills to help people forge, nurture and enrich even better connections. His skills can strengthen his family’s hometown’s future resilience by better housing their rich community life.
And that’s only one interview! Melonee and Jemimah were just as inspiring. I’ll share a few highlights of their interview next time.
Have you been thinking about how design professionals might better serve clients and communities during these volatile, changing times? 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.