Client Drexel University
The staff at Drexel University‘s new Dornsife Community Center is diligently building relationships, community and programming around the facility. To accelerate this process while adding amenities to the significant lawn surrounding the Center, Drexel hired Public Workshop to create a participatory design-build workshop for Dornsife staff, stakeholders and neighbors. We are quite used to our design-build process resulting in deep collaboration, rich conversations, new people getting involved and everyone working well beyond themselves. However, this workshop was striking in the empathy that grew out of it and for how long people stayed. Whenever we design a participatory design ‘tool’, like the basic form of the pictured lounge chair, we build an inherent amount of flexibility for participants to adapt the design to the needs as they know them or to even make the design better. In this case, we were surprised that the chair design became an ethnographic mapping tool when participant teams naturally started making chairs not for themselves, but other Dornsife stakeholders and users who weren’t present during the workshop. Many of the teams ended up significantly raising the height of their chair designs or created other adaptations to accommodate the many seniors they know who use the Center. While not everyone was able to stay, perhaps it was this palpable sense of ‘care’ for one another that kept a large number of people–most of whom didn’t know one another–around for almost five hours after the workshop was supposed to end, building, teaching one another and talking about the Center and its future. We are so happy to have facilitated this workshop and the action research therein. ‘Need’ and an opportunity to build real, tangible solutions with others–time and again–equals so much more.