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Sergio Palleroni

Professor Sergio Palleroni has been a long-standing leader, thinker, practitioner and educator in the field of social impact design, with a career that predates the term ‘public interest design.’ He is currently a faculty member and director of the Centre for Public Interest Design in the School of Architecture at Portland State University

Drawing inspiration from educators/philosophers like Paolo Freire and Ivan Illych, Palleroni began working in the 1980’s in Nicaragua, working for the Sandinista government in the aftermath of the Nicaraguan revolution. From there, his work took him to Mexico, where he worked on reconstruction after the Mexico City earthquake. These experiences became the basis of a revolutionary pedagogy begun in the late 1980s. While the idea of a design/build studio, or a studio abroad program, was not new, the philosophy at the core of Palleroni’s teaching was a watershed in architectural education.

In 1995, Palleroni founded the BASIC Initiative, a groundbreaking educational program between Portland State University and the University of Texas at Austin which sought to move students out of the design studio and into communities. It supports a range of projects working with poor and underserved constituencies. For example, housing and community services for migrant farm workers, housing for Native Americans and schools and health clinics in central Mexico. These programs combine appropriate technologies with reinforcing local values to inspire self-initiated development.  

Palleroni also developed and implemented the U.S.’s first academic certification for those wishing to pursue a career in public interest design. The certification requires coursework and field work addressing diverse issues including: non-profit management, urban poverty, ecology and citizen participation. Certification is open to both graduate students and working professionals interested in entering the field of social design.

Along the way, Palleroni has trained and mentored generations of public interest designers who continue to influence the field in their own way. As a leading member of the Design for the Common Good Network, a network of design consortiums from around the globe, Palleroni has worked towards creating spaces for new work in the field of social design to find a growing audience and greater support and engagement through biennial conferences and exhibitions. He has succeeded in being a revolutionary for the past thirty years and shows no signs of stopping. 

We had an opportunity to speak with Sergio Palleroni about his thirty year career in Social Impact Design on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes below.

19 | The Trajectory of Social Design, Part 1
20 | The Trajectory of Social Design, Part 2


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Bugs & Gas" by Abrazo from the album "The Havana Sessions."