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On public art + designing with, not for, a community

We speak often of art for activism, and I must say it is one of my very favorite things. We also talk often of design for this or that community, and not enough about design with communities. There are multiplying whispers of it out there, including on this platform, but one more example could do us good. A project by one Markus Linnenbrink recently caught my attention.

Photo of Karolle Rabarison
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Markus was tasked with creating art for the 40-meter visitors' tunnel in a prison in Duesseldorf, Germany. In reading about his work, what immediately made me pause was a fact about the prison itself. 

"It is a so-called model institution because the building itself was not designed by an outside architecture firm, but rather by a team of people with experience in prison life and routines," he explains.

Wow. It blows my mind that we consider this approach novel because it just makes so much sense. 

And Markus's own work isn't unworthy of mention. His art is the result of a well-thought process that considers the function and ideal role of prisons, and of course the specific users of the tunnel. 

"Family, relatives, lawyers, social workers, parole officers, priests and police all had to use the tunnel to reach the visitors' area located in another building inside the prison compound. Access to the tunnel requires a security funnel, more intense than any pre-flight security."

Read more about Markus's work, and what elements of his process served as proxy for first-hand experience with prison routine:

For those of us sitting in London, DC, or Berlin:
  • How might we best incorporate insights from first-hand experience with on-the-ground realities when designing for low-income communities in cities like Kabul, Mumbai, and Nairobi?
  • And when we think safety and women for girls, how might we incorporate art into a solution in a way that is both functional and beautiful?


Join the conversation:

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

What an interesting analogous post. The designing with as opposed to for topic has come up a lot during the challenge and is vital to the conversation. You should check out the conversation on the comment section of Nathan Waterhouse's post: Aditi Kaul form YP explains the importance of working with from the perspective of having work in an NGO that works based on this mission.

Your post also makes me think of an amazing project: One Million Tower:
In this project a community living in a high rise, architects, animators and designers joined forces to reimagine their abandoned public spaces and worked to re-appropriate and revitalize them.

Photo of Karolle Rabarison

Just now getting a chance to browse around One Million Tower—very cool! (and very relevant to the internet wormhole I've fallen into today: on high rise construction in Mumbai)

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