i+D - November/December 2021 - 21

How Design Makes the World (Measurably) Better - By Paula S. Wallace
Infinite Potential
When I first appraised the Savannah Volunteer
Guard Armory, I saw SCAD's future. I knew the
potential was there-even if I couldn't define or
measure it, I knew the building's storied past
and historic material would ground its adaptation.
Today, the principles of adaptive reuse, historic
preservation, and environmental consciousness
meet in a new measure: EQ22's environmental
quotient, which urges designers to reimagine,
rebuild, and revitalize the built environment,
sustainably, for the community good. First, though,
designers must unearth the essence of their subjects.
My faith in Savannah grew alongside a layered
understanding of the place: a port city and
crossroads of commerce and culture, proud of its
past and built to weather storms. Good bones.
A lot of soul. Practical, resourceful people. These
conditions-environmental elements-meant that
Savannahians could be open to a new kind of
university, they would embrace new community
members, and they would welcome efforts to
revitalize their city. Gently and inclusively, we
began to implement an authentic transformation.
SCAD converted a furniture warehouse into the
home for our advertising and graphic design
programs. The former Central of Georgia Railway
depot-a crumbled pile of Savannah grey bricks
saved from relegation into a parking lot-became the
award-winning SCAD Museum of Art. The Esther F.
Garrison School for the Arts, infused with world-class
art, was transformed into a dramatically redesigned
learning environment for children. And, of course,
Poetter Hall became the marvel of Madison Square,
welcoming the world to the Hostess City of the South
in signature Savannah style. These examples and more
highlight SCAD's commitment to adaptive reuse and
purposeful rehabilitation-disciplines we pioneered
long before " sustainability " was part of the world's
everyday lexicon.
Consider these facts: First, the United States produces
more than twice as much construction and demolition
debris as everyday garbage; second, rehabilitated
architecture creates a construction cost savings up
to 46 percent. Even the U.S. National Park Service
celebrates such initiatives. In their words, " Preservation
enhances real estate values and fosters local businesses,
keeping historic main streets and downtowns
economically viable. ... Developers are discovering
that money spent rehabilitating historic buildings
is actually an investment in the future. " Efficient.
Environmental. Economical. And, most importantly,
engaged-with Savannah's character and values. No,
the city transformation that SCAD launched was not
instantaneous, yet our four-decade-plus track record
and the dozens of historic properties imaginatively
rehabilitated by SCAD-more than 50 in Savannah
alone-continue to prove EQ22's value.
One for Many,
Many for One
Built in 1819, the historic Candler
Hospital structure is known today
as Ruskin Hall-a building that
houses the school's Admission
Welcome Center, as well as the
in-house design studio SCADpro.
(Images: Courtesy of Savannah
College of Art and Design)
As prolific Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard opined, " Life
can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. "
Reflection creates context, the prerequisite for equity. And when we
contextualize the present-by critically reevaluating the past to identify
growth opportunities and address persistent inequalities-we establish
the intersection of EQ22's environmental and equitable quotients.
In its simplest, most tangible form, the equitable quotient is the
visible expression of values within, throughout, and extending
from an entity. Today, equitable design is the methodology through
which design itself is adaptable. As architect Jennifer Wright
remarked, " Equitable Design revolves around individuals and their
relationship with space. Smart homes, multigenerational housing,
multitasking furnishings. " The insistence on equity, whether
focused on design or applied more broadly across an institution's
core business, and across communities, ensures that differences
are acknowledged and addressed.
In 2016, architect Rosa Sheng of SmithGroup noted that
" equity has a strong potential as a new paradigm and social
construct to succeed on many levels-equity in education,
equitable practice in the workplace, and social equity in access to
basic life resources. " To illustrate her premise, Sheng referenced
an architect's solution to the gendered bathroom debate: Classify
restrooms by size instead. This crafty workaround illustrates
dimensional design-the responsibility to creatively incorporate
awareness, inclusion, and empathy into all phases, from
conceptualization to construction.
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i+D - November/December 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i+D - November/December 2021

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