When Design Matters

(Quick Precursor:)  In my last blog, I told you all that I was going to take the next couple of entries to describe some of the life lessons I have gathered from activities I am passionate about, excluding architecture.  However, sometimes thoughts and ideas produced by passion come to surface that do not necessarily conform to preexisting frameworks, and it is exactly these thoughts and ideas that the world needs to be introduced to, for it is the things that set your heart on fire that will change the world.  The topic of this blog is one of those things.


     Nearly a month ago, Nepal experienced a devastating earthquake that left 8,500 dead and millions with shelter.  Hundreds of aftershocks have only served to prolong the cold, silent terror that lurks over the people of central and Eastern Nepal like a thick, suffocating blanket.  The people live in constant fear of what another seismic episode could bring, which one of their loved ones it could rip from their arms.  As the image below shows, both the rural and urban landscape are filled with endless scenes of devastation, of brick and concrete rubble encasing the broken dreams and hearts of countless Nepalese.  It is one thing to see such devastation on the news inside one's safe and comfortable home, but that is not where I find myself today.  My trip to Nepal two years ago left me with more than just memories of pre-disaster Nepal, but it also left me with deep friendships with people who are suffering and in need.  While I praise God that their lives were not taken, their homes and their livelihoods have been erased in a largely preventable disaster.  That's right, I said preventable.

     While we seldom have control over the forces in life that are thrown at us, we do have a sizable amount of influence over how we prepare for and handle those incidents.  Such is this the case with the terrible destruction inflicted upon the building infrastructure in Nepal.  While I was in Nepal, and for several months before and afterwards, I completed a research project on entrepreneurship in non-profit architecture, utilizing the seismically unstable buildings in Nepal as a hypothetical opportunity for creative design work for people in need.  In my research I learned a lot about the reason behind the unnecessarily large destruction wrought by these earthquakes, primarily due to a lack of available strong building materials, but also a lack of governmental enforcement of human safety and welfare in new construction.  The combination of these creates a recipe for chaos and danger, and it's a problem that's ripe for a solution.  

     A team from my local church just returned yesterday from spending two weeks helping to alleviate some of the greatest need in the country in the Kathmandu area.  They took with them hundreds of pounds of tarps, water filters, toys, and other emergency supplies for the Nepali people and distributed them to some of the outlying villages in the Kathmandu valley.  The actions they and many other organizations across the world have taken to meet this great need are so necessary and cannot be ignored.  And yet as I have continued to be more exposed to the vast amounts of needs in the world and the innumerous means and methods of filling those needs, I have only seen a greater call for innovation and ingenuity in how we approach our methods of attack.  I recently attended the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Convention in Atlanta, where I was privileged to hear and see the work that architects are engaging in across the country to tackle issues such as poverty in Africa and disasters in our own country.  The panel discussion leaders showed the work that their firms have engaged in, ranging from intelligent, disaster-conscious hospitals to deployable disaster relief shelters that simultaneously act as low income housing in New York City.  The broad range of proposals and understanding of the issues at hand show a fertile ground for creative responses to the needs.  Questions are being raised, ideas are being proposed, but the best thing is that there are people who are taking action all over, and they're doing it in both conventional and unconventional ways.  Conventional ways such as Venture Church's emergency provisions and rebuilding efforts and Architecture for Humanity's disaster relief shelters, and unconventional ways such as Julia King's architectural contribution to India's sanitation problem (Lessons from Potty Girl) and 100 Fold Studio's vision for long term architectural input (The New Face of Architecture).  If you're interested in impacting the world in conventional ways, consider your hand shook.  I can assure you we will never reach a point where we run out of needs for this type of humanitarian aid.  And if your passions lie in another direction, I hope my words may spur you on to greater things, to new levels of meaning and purpose for the gift of creativity and design that has been placed deep inside you.  I don't believe any passion is ever given without the possibility (and I would add "responsibility") of it's ultimate fulfillment.  Do you have a passion for any of the needs you see around you?  Whether it be the other side of the world or the other side of the street, the opportunities for employing our creative potential to radically change the world are infinite, and you, my friend, may be just the person to initiate that change.  In his Ted Talk titled "How to Build Better Blocks", speaker Jason Roberts describes his own, seemingly futile attempts to bring about change for his dead, car-controlled Austin community, and the incredible success he experienced.  In his discussion, Roberts stated, "If you're passionate about something, you're probably going to be a leader."  To some, those words might utterly terrify you.  To others, they mean the self-imposed road blocks you've placed before yourself no longer hold any practical meaning.

     Before I end, let me share with you some of my own personal experience with following my passion for utilizing my skill sets to bring about the kind of change in the world that I consider of utmost importance.  In less than a month I will be traveling to the country of El Salvador to aid in the construction of a new building for an orphanage called La Casa de mi Padre.  My story with La Casa began years ago when I worked on a promotional design for the orphanage with 100 Fold Studio, and has just recently culminated in an opportunity to actually go and employ some of my construction skills for a cause I truly believe in.  Now you may be asking yourself how working on an orphanage relates to a discussion on creativity's role in meeting needs across the world.  I admit, missional construction projects are fairly conventional, but I will tell you that I consider this only one of many steps in fulfilling my desire to utilize design in missions work.  I fully plan on experiencing things, seeing things, and learning things while in El Salvador that will influence my vision and my perspective on the future.  For me it is a development opportunity, just as working at CTA has been and continues to be an opportunity to develop myself into the type of creative individual who looks around at the world and sees what can be.  Call it visionary exercise, a continual practice of formulating and stepping out in new ideas and ventures while also looking for where the most strategic place to focus my energy and resources would be.  Management guru Peter Drucker once advised to, "look for things that are ready to happen."  So as I continue to develop myself professionally while simultaneously seeking opportunities to serve along the way, I strive to keep my eyes and my ears open to what the zeitgeist of the world around me is communicating, what it is the world needs and how my particular skill sets can play a role in fulfilling that need.  Design matters, and its up to you, my friend, to "design" your path.  Design is needed in how Nepal rebuilds it's cities.  Design is needed to create spaces and communities that nourish life.  Design is a necessity, and your creative ability enables you to play a role in fulfilling that need.  So don't miss out on these incredible opportunities that lie at your fingertips.  As author Andy Stanley wrote in his stellar book Visioneering, "Everyone ends up somewhere in life. Some people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision.”


PS:  For anyone interested in reading more about my research in entrepreneurship and Nepalese building solutions, I would love to give you a free pdf of my book!

Jacob DeNeui