From the Notebook of Bryan Bell

What role can architects play in contributing to the world around us? “The top’s off the bottle,” claims Bryan Bell, founder of the Raleigh, North Carolina–based nonprofit Design Corps. That’s because people’s ideas about the profession are changing. “When I was in architecture school in the late eighties and said I wanted to do community design work, people thought I was talking about affordable housing. The ADA was passed soon after, so accessibility became a design issue. That’s two issues out of thousands that we identified with architecture. Along comes the green movement, and now we’re talking about the future of man as a species. Then Katrina hits, and architects are among those at the table. Now it’s like, what issue shouldn’t we be involved with?”

Bell is best known for bringing quality housing to migrant workers in the Southeast through Design Corps, which is as much a community-services agency—identifying issues that need attention—as it is a design studio. What’s missing from architecture, he argues, is an understanding of how to tap into existing resources. “When I graduated from Yale, I had never heard of the Farmers Home Admin­istration. Don’t you think someone with a master’s degree would have heard of a federal program that spends billions of dollars every year on housing?” He learned about it by working with nonprofits for several years before starting his own in 1991. “The only thing it takes to be a nonprofit is to serve the good of the pub­lic.” he says. “So we do housing, economic development, and educational projects—we just prioritize design.”

More information on Bell and his work with Design Corps is available here.

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