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Reading Room: By the People: Designing a Better America

Sept. 30, 2016

By Cynthia E. Smith, Caroline Baumann,
Darren Walker, Teddy Cruz, Fonna Forman, Mindy Thompson Fullilove, and Theodore Jojola | $29.95

“By the People: Designing a Better America”—the third volume in Cooper Hewitt’s series on socially responsible design—explores how design is successfully challenging social inequality and poverty throughout the United States. The book explores current economic, social, and environmental issues with a concentration on underserved and marginalized communities.

“By the People” features design projects organized into six working themes: Act, Save, Share, Live, Learn, and Make. In terms of content and format, “By the People” is a manual, featuring design solutions that expand access to things that are needed for living in today’s world: education, food, healthcare, and affordable housing; increase social and economic inclusion; offer improved alternative transportation options, and provide a balanced approach to land use between the built and natural environments. Cooper Hewitt curator Cynthia E. Smith conducted research that resulted in nearly 400 potential projects from 30-plus states along with indigenous nations: Lakota, Navajo, and Pueblo. Her travels brought her to urban areas that had been impacted by natural disasters, large cities, impoverished regions, post-industrial cities, and major metropolitan locations.

In meeting with local designers, organizations, and citizens, Smith’s research was guided by several key questions: Where does poverty exist? What populations and communities are most affected? Why are poverty numbers increasing? Which individuals, organizations, and networks are creating innovative and systemic approaches through design? What are the local, regional, and scalable design solutions?

In addition to the illustrated project profiles, “By the People” contains essays by, and interviews with, architects and designers conceptualizing and carrying out innovative and systemic approaches developed through design.

The 256-page book will be published this month by Cooper Hewitt and distributed in the U.S. by Artbook | D.A.P. and worldwide by Gestalten.

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