Architecture for the Masses

BY Arts Desk  December 16, 2008 at 2:43 PM EST

Architect Bryan Bell likes to quote a certain statistic: Only 2 percent of homebuyers work with an architect to design a home that fits their needs. In other words, shelter is a necessity, architecture is a luxury.

Bell is looking to change that. He is among a growing number of architects and designers who want to combine community service with their aesthetic training to make design more relevant to more people’s lives. It’s not an accident that people know their neighborhood doctors and lawyers but not their neighborhood architect, Bell says.

Bell’s North Carolina-based non-profit Design Corps -whose motto is “designing for the 98 percent without architects” – provides architectural and design services for communities that can have their needs addressed by situation-specific solutions. The work is characterized by the desire to work with and listen to the people they are serving, acknowledging that clients know their needs better than anyone else.

One project Bell is particularly proud of is a bus shelter in his hometown of New Orleans. Using input from city and neighborhood officials and from members of the community, Design Corps’ design and construction is as aesthetically pleasing as it is functional.

(Narrated slide show: View photos and listen to Bell talk about the Freret St. bus shelter.)

In November, Design Corps was featured at the 2008 Venice Biennial for hurricane-resistant housing designed for migrant workers in Florida. Bell also co-authored the recently published book, “Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism,” a collection of essays that document the challenges of socially, economically and environmentally-driven (SEED) architecture.