These days, Portland, Oregon, is synonymous with progressive leadership on a host of topics, with issues relating to land use and the environment up there on the list. With the new Center for Public Interest Design at Portland State University’s School of Architecture, add another. The center, funded by an anonymous $1.5 million gift and the first of its kind in the United States, will be dedicated to studying and harnessing the power of design to effect social, economic and environmental change to disadvantaged communities locally and globally.
At the heart of the new center is Sergio Palleroni. A recent winner of the AIA’s Latrobe Prize for Public Interest Practice, he brings decades of experience to the project and a unique perspective on the impact architecture can make in the lives of people and communities. “I grew in South America and saw indigenous communities displaced by other cultures,” Palleroni explains. The experience ultimately led him to architecture. “It allowed me to engage and to resolve who I was and where I came from,” he says. “First I went into practice and then into teaching. I love teaching and feel I have more of an impact—opening the eyes of a new generation.”
The new endeavor already has several projects lined up. There’s the design and construction of an environmental-technical school in Haiti, undertaken in collaboration with faculty and students at the Ecole Speciale d’Architecture in Paris. Also on the docket is the Sage Classroom, a new, healthier, greener, more affordable modular classroom. Closer to home, the Rosewood Initiative is working with an underserved Portland community to create a safe space for public gathering.
With the new center, Palleroni and his colleagues are aiming, he says, “to get architects to engage across the world and make deeper systemic changes.” And he adds, “It’s a chance to create an institution to address sustainability on all levels and rethink education. Why wouldn’t I want to be a part of that?”