Category Archives: Social

Dignifying Design

Source: New York Times

Iwan Baan

An aerial view of the Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. More Photos »

By JOHN CARY and COURTNEY E. MARTIN Published: October 6, 2012

IN 2006 a 26-year-old architecture student, Michael Murphy, approached the global health pioneer Paul Farmer after a lecture at Harvard. Mr. Murphy asked which architects Dr. Farmer had worked with to build the clinics, housing, schools and even the roads he had described in his talk. An aspiring social entrepreneur, Mr. Murphy was hoping to put his design degree to use by apprenticing with the humanitarian architects aiding Dr. Farmer’s work. But it turns out, those architects didn’t exist.

“I drew the last clinic on a napkin,” Dr. Farmer told Mr. Murphy.

Soon after, Mr. Murphy flew to Rwanda, where he and a few other students, including Alan Ricks and Marika Shioiri-Clark, became Dr. Farmer’s architects. Mr. Murphy lived in the country for over a year while the Butaro Hospital, which laborers built with local materials, was designed. Now, a site that was once a military outpost is home to a 150-bed, 60,000-square-foot health care center that served 21,000 people in its first year and currently employs 270, most of them locals in an area with chronic unemployment.

The Butaro Hospital is a breathtaking building with intricate lava rock walls made of stones cut by Rwandan masons, and it is full of brightly colored accent walls and breezeways bathed in light and air. Deep-green flora blossom everywhere. For the 340,000 people who live in this region of Northern Rwanda, the project marks a literal reclamation: an area that was once a site of genocidal violence is now a center for state-of-the-art medical care. Healing happens there. An unmistakable grace permeates the place.

Building the hospital under the auspices of the nonprofit MASS Design Group (MASS stands for a Model of Architecture Serving Society), Mr. Murphy, Mr. Ricks and Ms. Shioiri-Clark relied on Dr. Farmer’s theory of a “preferential option for the poor.” The idea — adopted from liberation theology — is that the poor deserve the best quality intervention because they’ve been given the least by luck and circumstance. The students’ naïve audacity, coupled with Dr. Farmer’s wisdom and experience, resulted in a building that has set a new standard for public-interest design.

It used to be that young people with humanitarian aspirations went into law or medical school or applied to Teach for America or the Peace Corps. But today, increasing numbers of the most innovative change makers have, like Mr. Murphy, Mr. Ricks and Ms. Shioiri-Clark, decided to try to design their way to a more beautiful, just world.

This new breed of public-interest designers proceeds from a belief that everybody deserves good design, whether in a prescription bottle label that people can more easily read and understand, a beautiful pocket park to help a city breathe or a less stressful intake experience at the emergency room. Dignity may be to the burgeoning field of public-interest design as justice is to the more established public-interest law.

Careful listening is an integral part of this human-centered approach to design.— a nonprofit spinoff of the premier design and innovation firm IDEO — has made radical listening its hallmark; associates observe and grill would-be clients and sites with so much rigor that they could easily be mistaken for anthropologists. An team assigned to redesign sanitation in Ghana, for example, spent weeks slogging from home to home asking families intimate questions about their bathroom habits before they began designing a system that would safeguard against cholera and other waterborne diseases.

The relatively young field of public-interest design already faces a crisis: interest in human-centered design far outpaces the formal opportunities. Over 500 people applied for the four spots in’s fellowship program this year. The Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship is one of the few opportunities for aspiring architects to work on affordable housing and other development projects in poor communities; the program, which lasts three years, has 12 spots. The San Francisco-based Code for America trains and then dispatches two dozen self-proclaimed “tech geeks” to cities where they design new ways for city leadership and citizens to be in conversation, improving their communities.

Despite the scarcity of opportunity, there are already vivid examples of what embedded designers can do to improve and enrich people’s lives. One Enterprise Rose fellow, Theresa Hwang, served as a liaison between the nonprofit Skid Row Housing Trust and a professional design firm, Michael Maltzan Architecture, as they worked on a new housing complex for formerly homeless and disabled people in Los Angeles. The Star Apartments, now under construction, promise to be far more congenial and pleasant to inhabit than the soul-killing concrete towers of traditional public housing projects. The 97,000-square-foot complex consists of a dozen cantilevered cubes, wrapped in brilliant white stucco and integrated with 15,000 square feet of outdoor areas, art studios, a running track and other communal spaces. The finished project will provide 102 housing units.

Though unemployment is widespread among designers and architects, there exists a world of products, places and processes in desperate need of redesign. Imagine if designers — uniquely trained to listen and observe, and to improve the way things function, feel and look — were, like the Enterprise Rose fellows, embedded in schools, community centers, nonprofit organizations, health clinics, religious institutions and government offices, where they could experience community needs and behavioral patterns firsthand.

The need for designers — and their ingenuity and interest in beauty and functionality — is not limited to Africa, India, Haiti or other far-flung places where architects and designers are commonly called upon following natural disasters. People who struggle to maneuver strollers and wheelchairs in and out of urban transportation systems or work in a deadening sea of suburban office complexes share the same basic need for enlivening, dignifying design. Anyone who has recently visited a local motor-vehicles office most likely knows about the need we have in mind.

Mr. Murphy had a surprising insight about how much the developed world has to learn about good, human-centered design from the developing world. After finishing the Butaro Hospital and returning to the United States, Mr. Murphy said, he was struck “at how over-designed most hospitals are here — yet there’s little natural airflow, a lack of color and craftsmanship, and few outdoor spaces to take a deep breath and gain some perspective.”

When faced with a poorly considered, dehumanizing product — be it a dingy women’s center, a mountain of unnecessary bureaucracy or assembly instructions for a new product that make you feel inept — it is a failure of design. The bad news is that no country, rich or poor, is immune to bad design; the good news is that we can all learn from one another.

But we have to advocate for it and many of us, until now, simply haven’t realized that we deserve better. We couldn’t imagine the alternative. But once you see what good design can do, once you experience it, you can’t unsee it or unexperience it. It becomes a part of your possible. The public-interest design movement is counting on it.

John Cary is an architect and the founding editor of Courtney E. Martin is the author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists.”



“The land enclosed is no longer a presence, as if what was displaced or destroyed at these sites no longer matters. Memory has been traded for development. What will be erected with a strict belief that the future is the only concern? These fences are wrapping the future, standing in place of what was forgotten or never even known.”

Fences. Makeshift enclosures. Dividing lines. These increasingly present indicators of change define much of Phnom Penh’s topography today. Since the onset of heightened urban construction in 2009, Lim Sokchanlina has been concerned with the border-making practices of national development schemes that promise a better “New Phnom Penh”.

With both archival and artistic impulse, Lim repeatedly photographs these temporary partitions at especially contentious sites, seeking to provoke questions about real and representational borders, their physical and psychological ability to divide public and private, past and future, known and unknown.

Carefully composed under the brightness of midday sunlight, Lim’s corrugated color fields flatten the imposing fences into mundane facades. Colors, patterns, dents, rust, dirt, and markings invite a painterly inspection. His titles serve to keep a record of what was where when. The ghost of a landmark colonial building is remembered in Former Ministry of Tourism, Sothearos Boulevard and Sisowath Quay, 2009. Cambodia’s iconic Corbusier-trained architect Vann Molyvann’s work is mourned in Former Preah Suramarit National Theatre, National Assembly Street, 2009. Communities of displaced people are honored in Former Borei Keila, South side, 2012.

Isolated to the image, away from their bustling surroundings and ephemeral fate, the fences become permanent, recorded landmarks. As such, what they conceal, and ultimately what they will reveal, can be called into question.

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LSL2009W0004-390-2Phnom Penh. Cambodia. 2009: Former Dey Krohom, East Wall, between Sothearos Boulevard and National Assembly Street.

Mapping America

Let’s do it Cambodia:


Browse local data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, based on samples from 2005 to 2009. Because these figures are based on samples, they are subject to a margin of error, particularly in places with a low population, and are best regarded as estimates.

Cambodia Is Not For Sale

Source: and Facebook Invite

7PM: Land rights issues are hugely controversial in Cambodia; too few of those affected know about the laws, treaties and covenants that are designed to protect their rights. Join us for an evening celebrating the brave men and women who stand up for the homes of their friends and family. The local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) invites you to the performance “Cambodia is Not for Sale”. We’ll also screen short films about hope and despair from those affected by landgrabs. Could development be done in a different way? Art Café (from 9PM): X-PAT SOUNDSYSTEM presents a live music/DJ Mix featuring filmmaker, musician and artist IAN WHITE (Australia)
Please join us for an evening celebrating the men and women who stand up for the land and housing rights of their friends and family.
@MetaHouse, Jul. 26th from 6.30pm

• The Cause of Progress – Boeung Kak trailer, by Chris Kelly
• Flowers of Freedom: The Campaign to Free the Boeung Kak 15, by Licadho Canada
• Stolen Land, Stolen Futures, by Claudio Cutarelli
• Cambodia Is Not For Sale, landmark performance featuring:
o Douk Boromreth (Boeung Kak)
o Sor Son (Borei Keila)
o Chan Vichet (Dey Krahom)
o Yorm Bopha (Boeung Kak)
o Photos by John Vink/Magnum

Prostitutes and Terrorists

City Defends Boeng Kak Project, Attacks Critics – The Cambodia Daily – June 20, 2012 – By Zsombor Peter and Khuon Narim

“The filling of Boeng Kak Lake and the eviction of thousands of residents was necessary to root out the “prostitutes and terrorists” that were drawn to the area’s once-popular tourist zone, the Phnom Penh Municipality said in a statement yesterday.”

Phnom Penh Land Titling

A few maps forwarded to me by a friend.

Regards the attached maps, the first two are from the World Bank (2011) inspection panel report of the LMAP – you can find a copy of it on the world bank website. The third is from the Urban Sector Group (1994) ‘Report on the survey of squatter zones in PP’

PM’s land titling scheme full of ambiguity

Hmm. The camo uniforms are unnerving. Source: Phnom Penh Post Friday, 06 July 2012


About 400 youth volunteers depart Phnom Penh yesterday to take part in a land measurement program organised by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Adorned in new military uniforms, about 400 more young volunteers who have been enlisted into Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ambitious national land-titling scheme departed from Diamond Island yesterday armed with measuring tapes, computers and GPS units.

The budding surveyors are the latest group of some 2,000 students being dispatched across the country to measure land for families who claim to live in areas overlapping economic land concessions, though details of just how this will be implemented have been murky.

Im Chhun Lim, senior minister for the Ministry of Land Management, told the assembled volunteers yesterday they had six to eight weeks to help officials grant 1,200,000 hectares to villagers nationwide.

“After measuring, we will hand over land titles to the people free of charge,” he told the students, who are destined for 13 different provinces.

In total, the students had been divided into 168 groups to measure land for 350,000 families, Chhun Lim said.

The premier has stated clearly that the scheme will allow every family who has a claim overlapping an ELC to apply for a five-hectare plot, but the details of a plan to compensate those arguing they already occupy more land than this has remained ambiguous.

They are supposed to be able to apply for small ECLSs and a copy of the application forms for the leases obtained by the Post yesterday reveals the plots will be tax-free for five years but expire after 50.

Those granted the small ELCs will be bound to use the land for appropriate agriculture, cultivate it in a manner that does not conflict with the public interest or harm the environment and submit a five-year master plan, all at the threat of having the licences revoked.

Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc, said in theory the small ELCs were a good idea, but how fairly they would granted was another question.

“The problem is to give the fairness to everybody, not only the people who are close to the power while the others are not,” he said.

He wondered what would happen to the children and grandchildren of families that had been granted 50-year small ECLs and called on the government to clearly explain these areas of ambiguity.

“I think the small economic land concession like this is beneficial for people who can do the business by themselves, but I am concerned about the implementation,” he said.

The scheme is being implemented by provincial or district officials and technical experts from the Ministry of Land Planning, Urbanisation and Construction, with the help of the students.

But at a village in Banteay Meanchey’s Puok district, confusion reigns among residents who think the students are responsible not just for measuring land but also awarding it.

Sanh Vanna, 27, from Thlork village in Banteay Chhmar, said that despite spending four days measuring land already, the volunteers were unwilling to act contrarily to the wishes of the National Development Company, which has a 4,667-hectare concession at the heart of a land dispute.

“The district governor said that when I identify how much land I have, the young people will provide land to me according to the amount of land I have, but the young people do not dare to trim land for villagers if the company does not allow them,” she said.

District governor Phlek Vary said a committee including officials from the Ministry of Environment and district authorities was still determining the details of land measurements.

“We will carry out the solution for the village as the foremost stop. The premier put a lot of attention on us because he always makes phone calls to us, almost every hour,” he said.

Caught in the middle of it all is 25-year-old Chhern Yong, a student from the Royal University of Law and Economy, who explained that the volunteers had no right to tackle disputes, only to measure land.

“Since I have been measuring the land for the residents, both the residents and the company always drop accusations of land-grabbing against each other,” he said.

Yong said his group of 12 volunteers had gained better training after meeting provincial experts and working in the field than they had at the ministry.

“The provincial experts allowed us to measure by ourselves, but we do not know how to deal with the residents that have more than five hectares of land, who we have never met yet,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at
David Boyle at

WEF: Design Innovation Report



In 2008, during the Council’s first year, Members identified six design principles:

  • Clarity: Complex problems require simple, clear and honest solutions
  • Inspiration: Successful solutions will move people by satisfying their needs, giving meaning to their lives and raising their hopes and expectations
  • Transformation: Exceptional problems demand exceptional solutions that may be radical and even disruptive
  • Participation: Effective solutions will be collaborative, inclusive and developed with the people who will use them
  • Context: No solution should be developed or delivered in isolation but should recognize its context in terms of time, place and culture
  • Sustainability: Every solution needs to be robust, responsible and designed with regard to its long-term impact on the environment and society

When following these principles, design becomes a capacity-building tool. It informs and educates and, once it is made accessible, can become a democratic method in which voluntary processes start to formulate a common value system.

In this report, the Council highlights five of the projects it initiated during the past year:

  1. Design Innovation Policy: Aims to create a new value system in the global community where all of the Council’s principles can be applied to create a standard that could become a universal policy.
  2. Visualizing Complex Systems: Creates tools to inform society through transparency and participation.
  3. Reciprocal Index: Offers an alternative value system in society through transparency and participation within a specific context for a sustainable future.
  4. Environmental Index: Creates a shared information system that can alter resource consumption models to offer a larger context for participation and awareness.
  5. Safe Water Project: Entails the design of an inexpensive, hand-held filtration product that works as part of a large-scale, systemic response to the need for drinking water in environmentally challenged and under-served communities.

Design and innovation: catalysts for change

From my thesis advisor:


Global Agenda CouncilsARTICLE

Design and innovation: catalysts for change

By: Toshiko Mori

Jul 9th 2012

Design is pervasive throughout our everyday lives. A bit of it improves life; the lack of it worsens it. How we choose to live is the way we design to live. Our life has a design – an overall idea, encompassing how we project ourselves, our values and our lifestyle. It aspires to a common larger goal.

I have multiple identities, as many of us do. I am a mother, a wife, a business owner, an academic and an architect. I am Japanese but live and work in New York City. As such, my design criteria change according to the community I happen to be in.

Design and innovation are most powerful at the micro-community level, informed by location, culture, and purpose.  Each community harbours different risks and resiliencies, but these communities intersect, enhancing our ability to relate to one another.

The Environmental Index employs a bottom-up approach, empowering consumers – a key micro-community – to assess their own risks and resiliencies. Often, these local risks can have more impact than  the larger, less-immediate global risks.

It became clear from our observations that the pennies we spend on energy for our cars and air-conditioning really do add up. I want communities to become vigilant and create safety nets to ensure their long-term survival. But how do we design a society to be resilient even when it is turned upside down? This is the weakness of the top-down society: the tops of the trees cannot become roots.

For our Environmental Index project, we seek to create branches that can reach down to the roots or reach up to the sky, growing leaves and flowers and bearing fruit. These healthy societal ecosystems should propagate organically, in a voluntary and productive fashion.

There is a global crisis that is real and serious, yet politics and ideologies continue to divide the world. Design uses existing systems to cause a paradigm shift in the way we think. It can change our behaviour by making certain activities, such as riding bicycles, seem cool and desirable. An accumulation of such small, local lifestyle changes will ultimately solve global problems, such as climate change.

Design and innovation are the catalysts for that change.

Author: Toshiko Mori is the Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, USA and member of the Global Agenda council on Design Innovation

You can view the full set of reports from the Global Agenda Councils and read more blog posts.

Photo: Women build wooden boxes as part of an art project during the opening of the Guggenheim Lab in Berlin. Copyright: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Cambodia: Clinton Should Prioritize Improving Human Rights


Cambodia: Clinton Should Prioritize Improving Human Rights Address Killing of Activist, Land Seizures, Conviction of Opposition Leader

JULY 9, 2012
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen during the opening ceremony of the  ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting on July 9, 2012. © 2012 Reuters

The Cambodian government is desperate for improved relations with the United States. Clinton should tell Hun Sen that continuing grave human rights violations will come at the cost of US support. She should insist that the Cambodian government set out specific, time-bound measures to reverse the country’s increasingly disturbing rights record.

Brad Adams, Asia director

(New York) – United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make it clear in public and private to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that closer relations with the US will not be possible without significant improvements in the deteriorating human rights situation in Cambodia. Clinton will visit Cambodia from July 11-13 for the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) heads of government meeting.

In recent months the Cambodian government has launched repeated attacks on critics, including the summary arrest and conviction of women protesting eviction from prime Phnom Penh real estate, the siege of a rural village opposing the allegedly corrupt sale of their land to cronies of the prime minister, and an armed attack by military personnel working as enforcers for a rubber company who wounded four villagers protesting what they said was encroachment on their land. In April 2012, Chut Wutty, Cambodia’s best-known environmental activist, was gunned down while researching illegal timber sales. The government first claimed he died in a shootout, then that he had been killed by a soldier who had subsequently managed to commit suicide by shooting himself twice in the chest.

“The Cambodian government is desperate for improved relations with the United States,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Clinton should tell Hun Sen that continuing grave human rights violations will come at the cost of US support. She should insist that the Cambodian government set out specific, time-bound measures to reverse the country’s increasingly disturbing rights record.”

Hun Sen’s approach to critics was exemplified in early 2011 when he responded with typically threatening language to the suggestion by a Cambodian critic that he should be worried about the overthrow of a dictator in Tunisia. “I not only weaken the opposition, I’m going to make them dead … and if anyone is strong enough to try to hold a demonstration, I will beat all those dogs and put them in a cage.”

The recent release of protesters from prison after a summary trial shows that pressure from the US and other donors works.

Cambodia’s Appeal Court in June released 13 women who had protested the seizure of their land from the Boeng Kak lake area of Phnom Penh and then sold to Cambodian and Chinese companies. The women had been convicted on May 24 of obstructing public officials and illegally occupying land. The court upheld their convictions but reduced their sentences to time already served in prison. Their releases occurred against a backdrop of increasing national and international pressure, including concerns expressed to the visiting Cambodian foreign minister during a June trip to Washington, D.C. Two other Boeng Kak lake activists remain charged for the same reason, making them vulnerable to arrest at any time. Also under threat is the Venerable Luon Sovat, Cambodia’s best known Buddhist monk activist, who was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal court with “incitement to commit a felony” in a transparent attempt to silence a critic with a large and growing following.

Clinton should prioritize an end to illegal land seizures, which are often driving poor villagers off their land without adequate compensation. A number of Cambodian and foreign businesses have been implicated in the often violent abuses arising from government-instigated or condoned land-grabbing and other unbridled economic ventures in agriculture, manufacturing, and extractive industries. Elements of the Cambodian police and armed forces, including the military police, have also been involved.

The transfer of land through economic concessions and other state-sanctioned arrangements have reached an all-time high after government grants last year reportedly brought the total to at least 2.3 million hectares and as many as four million hectares. In response to outcries over rights abuses and other legal concerns, Prime Minister Hun Sen in May ordered a temporary halt to the granting of new economic land concessions and a review of existing ones, and in June he announced a program to reallocate at least 10 percent of the concessions to people living on them. However, at least six new grants have since been finalized and one other restored after review, with the government declaring such decisions are legal exceptions to the moratorium.

“Clinton should tell Hun Sen that corrupt land grabs from the poor through government concessions must end or the country may face widespread social unrest,” Adams said. “She should also make it clear that any hopes of a significant increase in American foreign investment depend on the end of pervasive corruption and establishing the rule of law.”

The Cambodian judiciary remains politically controlled by Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), effectively protecting the business interests and political positions of government officials. A recent example was in Kratie province, where on May 16, 2012, an estimated 1,000 members of the security forces stormed a village resisting a land concession controlled by the Casotim Company and shot dead Heng Chantha, a 14-year-old girl. The government justified the actions as necessary to suppress so-called secessionists. Instead of ordering an investigation into the killing, the provincial court issued warrants for the arrest of five protest leaders. The government is also using the incident to threaten the arrest of Mam Sanando, owner of a popular radio station and a veteran media critic of the government who has thus far remained out of the country to avoid detention.

It is crucial that Clinton press the Cambodian government to make the country safe for peaceful political opposition figures, Human Rights Watch said. Parliamentary opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been in exile, facing 12 years imprisonment on trumped up charges. Clinton should press the Cambodian government to quash all politically motivated court judgments against opposition politicians, transform national and local election commissions into truly independent bodies, and respect the right to freedom of expression via print, electronic, and social media.

“Where opposition leaders are hounded and prosecuted in politically motivated trials, the US often leads the international community in demanding that charges be dropped or convictions overturned,” Adams said. “The US and others have remained conspicuously quiet since Rainsy’s conviction, sending the message that they no longer consider pluralistic politics central to their relationship. Clinton should use this visit to demand that Rainsy be allowed to return to Cambodia so that he and his party can freely participate in elections in 2013, or the US will not consider the elections legitimate.”