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bcWORKSHOP

Texas based buildingcommunityWORKSHOP (bc) is a nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through thoughtful design. It enriches the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas where resources are most scarce. To do so, bcWorkshop recognizes that it must first understand the social, economic, and environmental issues facing a community before beginning work.

Founded in 2005 by architect Brent Brown, AIA bcWorkshop has multiple initiatives throughout Texas, focusing on neighborhoods that are traditionally denied access to the professional design resources. Its diverse programs are unified by a commitment to building community. They begin with an acknowledgement that the social structure of a community is the best guide to designing and building the physical structures.

bcWorkshop first drew widespread acclaim for its RAPIDO housing program, launched in 2008 in the Rio Grande Valley after Hurricane Dolly. Post disaster, the recovery process can take many years, and in poverty-stricken areas rebuilding must also contend with pre-existing inequalities in the infrastructure. Rapido seeks to shorten this timeline to months. It is a bottom up, community-based approach centered on families that goes beyond architectural issues to examine every level of process, including social, economic and political contexts. RAPIDO is founded on a deep commitment to collaborate with residents, drawing them into the design process at the very beginning and keeping them involved throughout. The result integrates community outreach, case-management, housing design, construction and resource deployment. The program has since been exhibited internationally, including at the world UN Habitat Conference.

On a more intimate scale, the Congo Street Initiative is a resident-led revitalization effort in the Jubilee Park neighborhood of East Dallas. Congo Street began as an alley in the 1920’s. Its residents were poor, but the community was closely knit. The street flooded continually and over the years the small homes fell into disrepair. In 2008, bcWorkshop began the Congo Street Initiative as a way to redevelop the block without evicting longtime residents. Working with a team of architecture and engineering students, they redesigned the street and six houses on its north side using four guiding principles: 1. Collaborate with homeowners on design. 2. Keep the small scale of the neighborhood. 3. Promote sustainability 4. Respect the residents’ economic situations by ensuring the homes could be affordably maintained. This sort of social resilience actually functions as a form of disaster resilience, letting bcWORKSHOP work at both ends of the scale.

We had a chance to speak with Brent about the origins of bcWORKSHOP and the evolution of their process on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes here: