A SEED-y Impact: What Socially Responsible Design Really Looks Like

The SEED network was born from an immense brainstorming session at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in October of 2005. Architects and designers at this meeting represented over 100 various organizations – all of which had expressed growing concerns about the role that architecture and design played in the social challenges of lower income communities. These innovative minds came together and developed the Social Economic Environmental Design group, which has since grown into a global movement fueled by the belief that “design can support a community from the ground up.”

Today, the organization continues to promote and encourage designers everywhere to help develop healthy, thriving communities with their designs. Accountability plays a major role in the SEED network, and its members and participants continually strive for socially responsible design. But what exactly does this design do – and what is its importance?

The Impact of SEED

As part of the SEED mission statement, projects must be focused on promoting social equality within communities, as well as ways to include those residents and stakeholders who have limited public influence. Designs are intended to help an area conserve its resources and minimize its waste, and also to generate local capacity.

With these objectives in mind, what SEED has truly done for the design world is to develop a culture of evaluation, and a commitment to socially conscious intent with every blueprint that’s drafted.  

Evaluators within SEED are careful not to measure these intentions based on a one-size-fits-all method either. In fact, because every community exhibits a unique set of needs, evaluations of design concepts are based off definitions of success on a case-by-case basis. The ways in which that success can be measured also varies, which means the goals of every project will look vastly different – as will the outcomes. Understanding that every community’s challenges will require personalized strategies is one of the key components of why SEED recognition is so highly valued.

The Impact of a SEED Award

Enter the Carrick Dairy District, a recent project centered around Pittsburgh’s only functioning dairy, the Colteryahn Dairy. Desmone Architects was awarded the project in early 2013 and was tasked with the mission of revitalizing the Brownsville Road corridor, where the facility is located in Carrick. The primary objective in this plan was to not only attract visitors to the area, but to also improve the relationships between local businesses and the neighborhood in order to achieve unification of the overall community. The project was awarded a SEED Award for its impact, inclusiveness, and general excellence in design.

In the past, over a hundred projects from all over the globe have been evaluated each year in order to select just a handful of winning achievements. The 2016 SEED Awards chose just six project winners and two Honorable Mentions – one of which was the Carrick Dairy District. So not only has this project proven itself successful and valuable to both the Brownsville Road corridor and Carrick, it illustrates that forward thinking and socially responsible design has permeated the Pittsburgh region as a whole.  

The Carrick Dairy District is just one instance of design which bears in mind its community and its impact. And though the significance of its SEED Award is certainly noteworthy, it’s equally as important that the Pittsburgh region has begun to take steps towards advancing the rights of its residents to live in socially and economically healthy communities.