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C200: Design Is A Verb

2011 March 31
by Lisa Richmond

< The New York Center for Architecture >

Design decisions impact every aspect of our urban lives. Do we feel safe on the street? Good design. Can we live close to parks, shopping, childcare? Good design. Do our homes and offices offer clean air and sunlight? Can all of us access vital resources, regardless of income? Are our buses and trains, parking lots and libraries intuitive to understand and easy to access for people of all abilities? Are our parklands and waterways healthy, and is there adequate habitat for our wildlife?  Are we inspired and uplifted by what we see and feel and smell around us? Great cities depend on great design.

It’s in our best interest to live in a city where all of us feel empowered to realize the promise of great design. Though it is ubiquitous and powerful, however, design is largely invisible, reflecting decisions made behind closed doors long before their physical impacts are evident. How do we put the power of good design in the hands of everyone, educating and engaging all of us to be informed stewards of our designed environment?

Cities across the world are answering this need with design centers, built to educate and invite public participation.  From the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) to the New York Center for Architecture, from Copenhagen to Shanghai, design centers are thriving as intermediaries between design and the public, empowering citizens to take an active and knowledgeable role in everything from policy to development, parks to transportation.

Seattle needs a design center, too. A living laboratory that translates complex issues to help the public become more effective participants. In keeping with our Seattle character, a center could enable thoughtful decision-making through access to tools and information. Programs, exhibits, research, charrettes, town hall meetings and publications are the arsenal of a design center geared to promote civic engagement in shaping community. Seattle has a long history of citizen action on the built environment; a center would offer a common living room, a staging ground for empowerment. To learn more about design centers and efforts underway to create one in Seattle, visit

Design is a verb, and we need to do it together.


Lisa Richmond is Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects Seattle, working to improve the quality of our environment and society through design.