The Prairie View A&M University School of Architecture is educating students to redefine what resilience means through a public interest design studio. Applying living systems thinking and regenerative design processes, the role of designer is reconstituted and applied. Step one sets the framework for what resilience is, moving beyond a “gaming the system” approach to reinserting humanity into a value-adding role in the social-ecological system at the local level. Step two infiltrates the social-ecological system at the local scale in order to discover the potential of Place. Step three is to understand what role the designer must play in order to catalyze regenerative processes, primarily understood as community agency. Finally, the students and faculty together engage community members in designing for resilience at various scales ranging from the single family house to civic structures up to community wide infrastructure.
Houston has experienced a 500 year flood in each of the past three years, with Hurricane Harvey surpassing a 1,000 year event. The most vulnerable communities are hit the hardest. Independence Heights is a historically black, low-income community north of downtown Houston. It is bordered by Little White Oak Bayou with the areas closest to it falling within the 100-year flood plain, and half of the neighborhood in the 500-year flood plain. Without the resources to recover from repeated hits dating back to Tropical Storm Allison, much of the community has been left vacant. Economic strains such as gentrification, freeway construction, and historic redlining practices have also played a major role. The result of vacancy is a loss of the strong, interdependent social fabric that the community was founded on during the Reconstruction. For the past four years the studio has worked intensely with Independence Heights to imagine a regenerative future for the community.