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Sowing SEED

Designers are rethinking the ways in which architecture can foster social equity

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has taken its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification a step further to include social equity. Beyond earning credits for the “green” features of a building, architects and designers can score points for buildings that address critical issues facing the communities in which they stand. Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) takes a “triple-bottom line” approach to design—one which weighs people, profit and planet equally.

Greg Kearley, executive director of InscapePublico, supports such public interest design projects. In fact, he founded not-for-profit InscapePublico in order to provide other nonprofits with access to affordable professional architecture services. (InscapeStudio is his for-profit venture.) He describes all InscapePublico projects as being socially responsible and environmentally sensitive.

Luther Place is the firm’s latest undertaking and SEED certification is one of their objectives. “LEED deals with the environment and very specific benchmarks in terms of sustainability, but a SEED project also incorporates the social benefits into the criteria,” said Kearley, noting that Luther Place—a Lutheran church and its Parish Hall, which provides myriad social services—is particularly well suited for SEED.

SEED projects regard a given community as a design partner. In the case of Luther Place, the church serves in that capacity. Its mission is to support underserved communities in the region by providing services that include a hostel, a women’s shelter, children and senior programs and shared office space for other nonprofits with similar missions. Kearley’s design program is targeted at expanding those services to include revenue-generating capabilities.

In rethinking Parish Hall’s spaces and their organization, Kearley aims to incorporate a rentable space for wedding receptions and events as well as a catering kitchen. “There are a lot of Hispanic members in the community who have small catering businesses but no place to actually prepare food, so it will be a kind of incubator for small businesses but also earn revenue for the church, which will allow them to better serve their community,” explains Kearley, adding that covering brick and mortar costs is key to the success of any nonprofit.

The reconfigured four-story building, set for completion in 2018–2019, includes: the expansion and relocation of the youth hostel; a multi-purpose social hall to host summer children’s programs, a senior center and act as a rented space for events; a flexible meeting space and offices for use by different nonprofits; the aforementioned kitchen; a nursery for child care and youth spaces for after-school and weekend programs; and an apartment for the property overseer.

“Everything that goes on in there relates to the mission of the organization, Luther Place Church, which is making better communities in the Logan Circle area,” sums up Kearley.

With the notion of architecture as activism, Kearley explained his philosophy: “We can create forms and spaces that allow others to make a positive impact in their communities.”

He views SEED as a tool for achieving that goal.

“SEED makes you think more rigorously about how to orchestrate a project and how you listen to your nonprofit partners—what their needs are and how you can turn their objectives into spaces for them to occupy. SEED goes a step beyond LEED,” he continued. “It takes a more holistic and human approach.”

SEED-certified projects span the globe.

A few notables include:

2017 Design Corps SEED Winner Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP), in Accra, Ghana, addresses issues related to education, conscious consumption, local sourcing, recycling and community empowerment and economics, while introducing a marginalized population to the idea of green-collar jobs. The youth-driven transnational project promotes “maker ecosystems.” The goal is to foster collective action by creating a replicable digital-physical platform for recycling, creating, sharing and trading goods.

The Vertical University project—another 2017 Design Corps SEED Winner—located in Kathmandu, Nepal, serves as a 25,000-square-foot living classroom that stretches from Koshi Tappu to Mt. Kanchenjunga. The continuous vertical forest corridor includes the country’s largest aquatic bird sanctuary; the world’s third tallest mountain peak; and 6,600 flowering plant species, 800 bird species and 180 mammal species. The university’s mission is to demonstrate conservation methods for protecting these natural resources. By empowering local communities to advocate on behalf of this biodiverse landscape, the project will have significant social, economic and environmental impact.

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