Design and Social Responsibility by William Mangold

The idea that designing and building the physical environment carries social and ethical responsibilities is not new, but since the building boom of the early 21st century and subsequent market crash, there has been a growing discussion of socially responsible design. Socially responsible design goes by a number of names (including Design Activism, Public Interest Design, Human-Centered Design, Social Impact Design, Social Design) and has not been formally defined, but it is generally characterized by attitudes that value justice, equality, participation, sharing, sustainability, and practices that intentionally engage social issues and recognize the consequences of decisions and actions.

The following list of readings has been developed as part of my ongoing research into socially responsible design theories and practices. It may be helpful to make a few preliminary statements from my research that help tie together the readings:

Socially responsible design is an attitude that emphasizes the needs and experiences of people over concerns of form or aesthetics.

Socially responsible design may grow out of a radical (Marxist, feminist, queer) perspective that critiques conventional practice and current socio-spatial conditions—as well as the underlying systems of commodification, subjectification, and exploitation—and seeks alternatives that are more just, accessible, and equitable.

Socially responsible design may come out of a humanist perspective that emphasizes the cultural value and meaning of places, idealizes democratic civic engagement, and welcomes utopian visions of alternative socio-spatial futures.

Most often there is not a strong theoretical orientation to socially responsible design. Rather it develops through trying to solve everyday problems or address local needs. This pragmatic approach often recognizes the constraints of time, money, evaluation, and engagement, but seeks to find ways to address specific needs and create better socio-spatial relationships.

In the context of contemporary neo-liberal capitalism, socially responsible design practices most often survive as institutionally supported programs. They often emerge as small-scale individual or collective efforts to address local needs and concerns.

Socially responsible design is not new. Socially responsible design practices can be traced back at least as far as the Industrial Revolution when designers and theorists such as William Morris and John Ruskin were responding to the socio-spatial conditions they perceived. In her research, historian Delores Hayden traces a number of socio-spatial alternatives that were developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the efforts undertaken as part of New Deal policies in the 1930s can be considered socially responsible, and the 1960s saw a flourishing of alternative practices and environments.

While the references below mostly consider design at an architectural scale, socially responsible design addresses a wide range of scales and practices, and includes theories and practices developed in social movements and in participatory art.

I have made a stab at organizing this recommended reading list into a couple of broad categories: context, theory, practice. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions!

William Mangold is a partner in a small design firm and Adjunct Professor in Interior Design at Pratt Institute. As a Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental Psychology program at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, his research looks at social responsibility in design, and utopian visions for transforming the social and spatial environment. Trained as an architect at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), he has worked on various buildings in New York City for the firm of Ivan Brice Architecture, including a number of restoration and adaptive reuse projects. Most recently he has taken on the design and renovation of an 1872 rowhouse where he lives with his family in Philadelphia.

Context and Criticism: Establishing the Need for Socially Responsible Design

Architecture After Capitalism, Praxis, Issue 6.  2003.

Bouman, Ole and Roemer van Toorn, eds. 1994. The Invisible in Architecture.

Charley, Jonathan. 2010. “The shadow of economic history: the architecture of boom, slump and crisis,” Architectural Research Quarterly, 14: 363-372.

Cunningham, David and Goodbun, Jon. 2006. “Marx, architecture and modernity,” The Journal of Architecture, 11(2). pp. 169-185

Forty, Adrian. 2004. “’Dead or Alive’ – Describing ‘The Social,’” in Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. Thames & Hudson.  pp. 102-117

Ghirardo, Diane Yvonne. 1991. Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture. Seattle: Bay Press.

Gutman, Robert, ed. 1972. People and Buildings. Basic Books.

Harvey, David. 2009. Social Justice and the City. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Heynen, Hilde. 1999. Architecture and Modernity: A Critique. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Kaminer, Tahl.  2011. Architecture, Crisis and Resuscitation: The Reproduction of Post-Fordism in Late-Twentieth-Century Architecture.  Routledge.

King, Anthony. 1994. “Architecture, Capital and the Globalization of Culture,” in Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity.  Sage.  Pp. 397-411

Kingwell and Turmel, eds. 2009. Rites of Way: The Politics and Poetics of Public Space. Wilfrid Laurier Univ Press.

Mangold, William. 2014. “Architecture and the Vicissitudes of Capitalism,” in Architecture in an Age of Uncertainty. B. Flowers, ed. Ashgate.

Mateo, Josep Lluis. 2010.  After Crisis: Post-Fordist Conditions for Architecture.  Lars Muller.

McNeil, Donald. 2006. “Globalization and the Ethics of Architectural Design,” City, 10(1).  pp. 49-58

Merrifield, Andy, and E. Swyngedouw. 1997. The Urbanization of Injustice. Washington Square: New York University Press.

Pallasmaa, Juhani. 1999. “Toward an Architecture of Humility: On the Value of Experience,” in Judging Architectural Value.  W. Saunders, Ed.  University of Minnesota Press. 2007.

Saunders, William, ed. 2005. Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture. University of Minnesota Press.

Ward, Anthony. 1996. “The Suppression of the Social in Design,” in Reconstructing Architecture: Critical Discourses and Social Practices. Dutton and Mann, Eds. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 27-58.

Theories and Histories of Socially Responsible Design

Basta, Claudia, and Stefano Moroni, eds. 2013. Ethics, Design and Planning of the Built Environment. Dordrecht: Springer.

Charley, Jonathan.  2008.  “The Glimmer of Other Worlds: Questions on Alternative Architectural Practice,” Architectural Research Quarterly, 12, pp. 159-171.

Fisher, Thomas R. Fisher. 2006. In The Scheme Of Things: Alternative Thinking on the Practice of Architecture. Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Fuad-Luke, Alastair.  2009. Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. Routledge.

Hayden, Dolores. 1982. The Grand Domestic Revolution: A History of Feminist Designs for American Homes, Neighborhoods, and Cities. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Heller, Steven, and Véronique Vienne. 2003. Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility. New York: Allworth Press.

Jenkins and Forsyth, eds.  2009. Architecture, Participation and Society.  Routledge.

Kossak, Florian, ed. 2010. Agency: Working with Uncertain Architectures. London; New York: Routledge.

Meron, Gilad, ed. 2012. Annotated Bibliography of Public Interest Design. Center for Sustainable Development, University of Texas at Austin.

Papanek, Victor. 2005. Design For The Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. Academy Chicago Publishers.

Scott, Felicity. 2007. Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics after Modernism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sommer, Robert. 1983. Social Design: Creating Buildings with People in Mind. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Thorpe, Ann. 2012. Architecture & Design versus Consumerism: How Design Activism Confronts Growth. Routledge.

Mapping the Terrain of Socially Responsible Design Practice

Awan, Nishat, Tatjana Schneider, and Jeremy Till, eds. 2011. Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. Routledge.

Bell, Bryan, Katie Wakeford, Steve Badanes, Roberta Feldman, Sergio Palleroni, Katie Swenson, and Thomas Fisher, eds. 2008. Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. Metropolis Books.

Better Barraza, Hansy, ed. 2012. Where Are the Utopian Visionaries?: Architecture of Social Exchange. Pittsburgh: Periscope Publishing.

Cary, John, ed. 2010. The Power of Pro Bono. Metropolis Books.

Dean, Andrea Oppenheimer, and Timothy Hursley, eds. 2002. Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency. Princeton Architectural Press.

Hatch, C. Richard. 1984. The Scope of Social Architecture. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Klein, Stephan, ed.  1993.  What is Socially Responsible Design?  Pratt Institute.

Murphy, Diana, Cameron Sinclair, and Kate Stohr, eds. 2006. Design like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises. New York, NY: Metropolis Books.

Smith, Cynthia E, and Cooper-Hewitt Museum. 2007. Design for the Other 90%. New York: Smithsonian, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum : Distributed to the trade worldwide by Assouline Publishing.

Thompson, Nato, ed. 2012. Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-2011. New York, N.Y.; Cambridge, Mass.; London: Creative Time; MIT Press.

Thompson, Nato, Arjen Noordeman, and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 2004. Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. North Adams, Mass.: MASS MoCA.

Whyte, William. 2001 [1980]. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. (film)

Relevant Websites:

Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility

Architecture for Humanity

Association for Community Design

Design Corps / SEED Network  /

Index Design

National Endowment for the Arts, Field of Design

Practical Action

Project for Public Spaces

Public Architecture / The 1% Program /

Public Interest Design Blog

Resources from the Public Interest Design Summer Program at University of Texas at Austin

Spatial Agency

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