Skip to main content?

Sergio Palleroni

Professor Sergio Palleroni has been a long-standing leader, thinker, practitioner and educator in the field of social impact design. In fact, his career predates the term ‘public interest design.’ Drawing inspiration from educator/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 1980’s. 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 which sought to move students out of the design studio and into communities. It operates as a partnership between Portland State University and the University of Texas at Austin. 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.  Over the past twenty years, the program has completed over ninety-five projects.

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. 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 here: