PennDesign students implement Social Impact Projects for Philadelphia communities

This spring, PennDesign and PennPraxis, the nonprofit outreach, practice, and professional arm of the school, offered grants for the inaugural Social Impact Projects. Five cross-disciplinary, student-led teams won grants of up to $8,000 to implement their plans. The Social Impact Projects are intended to extend critical discourse and foster more cross-disciplinary collaboration at PennDesign, as well as leverage design to benefit surrounding communities.

“The projects offer a great opportunity for the students to be more involved with the community and to test some of their ideas now,” says Julie Donofrio, managing director of PennPraxis.

The Waste Not/Redux team is repurposing discarded construction materials to create installations that serve communities in rapidly growing South Philadelphia neighborhoods.

“There’s a lot of estate-type materials from cleaning out houses,” says Allison Koll, an architecture and landscape architecture student. “We watched one of the trucks come in and dump a whole lot of decent furniture in this pile of garbage.”

Instead of ending up in landfills, these materials can be used to create spaces such as a community garden or an outdoor movie theater with seating.

The team is considering partnering with two South Philadelphia community groups to reach immigrants from Bhutan to help decide how an installation will best reflect their needs, as well as where it should be situated.

“We have our own ideas as designers,” says Clay Gruber, a second-year architecture student. “Then you go to the community or the client and you say, ‘Here are our ideas, but what do you want?’”

The project will be completed in the fall.

The other Social Impact Project recipients are working on a one-day home restoration workshop in September for residents of the Mill Creek and Belmont neighborhoods in West Philadelphia; creating a temporary art installation to raise awareness of a Kensington community revitalization project; collaborating with Rebel Ventures—a program of the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn—to design and promote products to encourage children to eat healthier foods; and studying the business practices of design firms that focus on projects that achieve positive social impact.

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