Announcements 05.05.2021

Three of Our Projects Dedicated to Social Equity are Honored by Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards

The national recognition underscores our commitment to making a positive difference in the world through human-centered design

Three of our projectsa neighborhood livability framework, a mobile COVID-19 testing lab and pop-up care unit, and a pedestrian-focused outside office concept—have been recognized by Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas awards program. A reflection of our focus on justice, equity, engagement, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.), two of the projects aim to address systemic racial and socioeconomic inequities perpetuated by the built environment. They were conceived and developed through our firmwide Innovation Incubator, which nurtures curiosity, research, and discovery through design thinking. The third project reimagines the post-COVID workplace as an open and inclusive pedestrian network that stitches together various urban areas of Washington, D.C.

The annual World Changing Ideas Awards program honors products, concepts, companies, policies, and designs that are pursuing innovation for the good of society and the planet. Here’s an overview of our winning projects:

“A New Formula for Neighborhood Livability” is a toolkit to help planners and designers evaluate the social and racial inequities within a given community. 

A New Formula for Neighborhood Livability
Honorable Mention, Urban Design category  

Throughout the history of the U.S., significant effort has been made to racially segregate neighborhoods and exclude non-white people from resources and opportunity. The role of American urban planning in systemic racism has been widely studied, but urban design and planning practitioners do not have a shared methodology for measuring the impact of this racist legacy within their work today.

“A New Formula for Neighborhood Livability” is a toolkit to help planners and designers evaluate the social and racial inequities within a given community. It’s intended to augment the typical metrics used in transit-oriented development (TOD) projects.

“We have a definition for what makes a ‘good’ neighborhood: It’s walkability, it’s access to open space, it’s public transit,” says urban designer Annie Ryan. “But what’s missing is an understanding of the social forces of our projects—the opportunities that are enabled when we design and plan for these ‘good’ neighborhoods, and the risk that our work presents to further uphold segregation if we follow a business-as-usual approach.”

The Neighborhood Livability toolkit analyzes social equity metrics alongside standard built environment metrics using a process that’s easy for designers and planners. And by telling the social equity story of a neighborhood with “bite-sized” and accessible data types (e.g. population density, access to transit, racial diversity, proportion of low-wage workers), the team believes designers will be better equipped to facilitate necessary conversations with clients and community stakeholders around the direct impact that urban design policy has on long-term social equity outcomes.

“As urban designers who work at the neighborhood scale, our work is quite literally changing people’s lives,” says urban designer Guangyue Cao. “We can use existing data that’s all around us to create a more holistic definition for what ‘good’ looks like at a neighborhood scale. The more points we gather, the more intelligent the database will become.”

Project team: Guangyue Cao, Annie Ryan | San Francisco, California 

“As urban designers who work at the neighborhood scale, our work is quite literally changing people’s lives,” says urban designer Guangyue Cao.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we responded with a mobile testing lab concept that would make use of New York City’s school buses to provide urgent COVID-19 testing in underserved communities experiencing outbreaks.

Mobile Testing Lab and Pop-Up Care Unit
Honorable Mention, Pandemic Response category 

The COVID-19 pandemic presented an urgent need for equitable strategies that delivered safe and accessible healthcare to underserved communities. At its onset, we responded with a mobile testing lab concept that would make use of New York City’s 9,500 school buses, which sat idly during the pandemic, to provide urgent COVID-19 testing in underserved communities experiencing outbreaks.

Living in New York, the project team witnessed firsthand the devastating impacts of COVID-19, especially on the more vulnerable communities in the city. “As human beings, we cannot ignore these inequities; as architects and designers, we must try to take some form of action to help address them using our specialties and expertise,” says Mariana Giraldo, strategic planning specialist.

Giraldo discussed her idea about addressing these alarming equity gaps with Enlai Hooi, an industrial designer in our Denmark studio, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects. “There’s a need for an equitable strategy that brings care to the community,” says Hooi. “And so, we wanted to design a solution that could reach these populations with the scalability to be implemented across the country, and even the world.”

The team identified five key parameters that define the success of the testing process: mobility, accessibility, speed, flexibility, ease of implementation and scalability. Under this framework they created a two-part solution would have retrofitted school buses into on-the-go testing centers. Eventually, the team partnered with New York City Relief to deploy portable, folding, “pop-up” care booths for healthcare workers to engage with community members in a safe, meaningful way.

For designer Jordan Hanson, one of the most satisfying aspects of this project was its scale and timeline. “The pop-up-care unit allowed us to get to the root of a single problem to design a meaningful solution in a matter of weeks instead of months and receive immediate user feedback,” he says.

These design solutions are easily replicated across the world as a low-tech, DIY system that can be quickly adopted by underserved communities, enhancing equity, empathy, and public safety. “By bringing the testing unit directly to the population that needs it, we reduce inequities in testing and provide the community with the opportunity to make empowered decisions about their health,” says project designer Iv Shqevi.

These deployable healthcare units respond in real-time, gathering essential geolocation and test-result data, allowing a real-time data feedback-loop to help authorities with strategic decision-making.

Project team: Mariana Giraldo, Jordan Hanson, Iv Shqevi, Katie Johnson, Matthew Malone, Robert Goodwin, Michael Woods | New York, New York; Enlai Hooi | Copenhagen, Denmark (Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects); Paul McConnell (Arup) 

These design solutions are easily replicated across the world as a low-tech, DIY system that can be quickly adopted by underserved communities, enhancing equity, empathy, and public safety.
The proposed concept reimagines the city as an inclusive, safe, and compelling pedestrian network that stitches the disparate parts of the District together.

The Outside Office Pedestrian Network (OOPN Concept)
Finalist, Art & Design category

Honorable Mention, Architecture category 

Our Washington, D.C. studio envisions a post-COVID-19 work environment as an extension of the public realm. The proposed concept, originally part of a design challenge by Washingtonian Magazine, reimagines the city as an inclusive, safe, and compelling pedestrian network that stitches the disparate parts of the District together.

“This path is meant to be for all and used by all,” says senior project designer Armando Nazario. “We imagined a dynamic urban thread that connects the ‘office’ to a shared network of neighborhoods and landmarks, making the city more enjoyable, accessible and easier to navigate.”

The pathways are designed to include indoor and outdoor seating, offering a series of distributed co-working pavilions with a dedicated broadband signal and controlled acoustics to enhance productivity. The framework not only considers a decentralized office environment, but also one that supports a healthy and active life-work balance throughout the day.

“Many of the pedestrian routes are already established. But where the pedestrian connectivity breaks down is navigating the precarious, wide avenues that frame the National Mall,” principal Carl Knutson says. “This solution seamlessly integrates into the existing pathways into an accessible urban network that focuses on health, safety, and wellness.”

Project team: Carl Knutson and Armando Nazario | Washington, D.C.

The framework not only considers a decentralized office environment, but also one that supports a healthy and active life-work balance throughout the day.

Congratulations to the winning teams! Click here for the full list of winners and finalists.