In 2008, designer Emily Pilloton had grown disenchanted by the disconnect between her work and community. She launched Project H to create opportunities for people to engage in design that was deeply connected to real social problems. Her ambition was to reconnect design with a social agenda.
Originally Project H operated as a social design firm, but in 2010, they were invited by Chip Zulliger, a renegade school superintendent in the poorest county in North Carolina to relocate to Bertie County, NC. There they would develop—and teach, a design-build curriculum for high school students called Studio H. The program, which today runs out of the Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA, reconnects students with a sense of craft and engages them directly in socially meaningful projects. Studio H’s program in Bertie County was the subject of the award-winning documentary film If You Build It.
Today Project H runs three educational programs, all featuring a shared conviction: allow students to connect ‘thinking’ with ‘making;’ give them lifelong skills that are transferable in any field. Students develop an empowered sense of self, learning how to realize the projects which they envision.
Studio H is an in-school design-build class for 9th-12th grade students.
Girls Garage is an afterschool and summer program for girls aged 9-13 which focuses on design and building. The program aims to instill confidence in young women by providing them with the skills and tools to build whatever they can imagine.
Unprofessional Development is Project H’s most recent program. Its mission is to bring project-based learning into all classrooms. Unprofessional Development consists of workshops and hands-on learning experiences aimed at educators, which exposes them to the pedagogical possibilities of design-build courses for youth.
We had a chance to speak with Emily and get her thoughts on how design can challenge inequality. Listen to the episodes below.