Weeknotes Week 036

One week and eight thousand kilometers later, Justin and I are in Santiago de Chile where we've been the guests of Elemental as we learn about this incredibly unique and exciting project. Elemental is a "do tank" that started as a relatively modest project with the goal of providing new housing to upgrade a portion of the slums in Iquique, Chile. Fast forward to today and Elemental is actively working on projects in multiple countries and expanding from a laser focus on housing to the larger challenge of using "the city as a shortcut to equality."

Santiago de Chile as seen from the offices of Elemental.
Santiago de Chile as seen from the offices of Elemental.

When we talk about strategic design, there are few people who fit the description better than the team at Elemental. By leaning on expertise from areas such as law, traffic engineering, community organization, economics, and sociology the designers at Elemental are working to develop systemic change within the interlinked problem space of the city. Building new homes for slum dwellers is one thing, but explicitly designing those houses as a tool to bootstrap the owners out of poverty demonstrates an important reframing of the problem, required dedicated follow through, and has delivered much more meaningful and valuable results.

After visiting two of Elemental's projects and speaking with many of the team members my brain is a little saturated. I've been culling through notes and trying to make room for our meetings with the Minister of Housing and the former CEO of Copec, both early sponsors for the Elemental work. Tomorrow is a full day and then we're off to Australia. And yes, this month is heavy on the travel. That's why we support the Carbon Fund.

One thing we heard this week in Chile that echoes previous conversations in many different places: people want to hire design services, they believe in design services, but their procurement systems don't allow it. How do you buy something when your procurement system has no check box for it? How do you invest in a process when you're used to buying products? This is going to be a recurring theme.

By now Adriel and Ezra should be landing in Finland where they each have a busy week of fieldwork for the studio briefs. Our session last Monday was intense but great. One of those moments where a lot of swirling thoughts become more clear – still cloudy, but we're developing a nephology to describe them. The Breslin was kind enough to lend us their mezzanine for a half day meeting. Those people make a mean breakfast.

Speaking of hotels, Minna has been securing hotel rooms for us in Helsinki. Checking these bits of logistics off the list is ever so satisfying.

Slowly we're exploring the viability of the HDLT, a project which we'll share more about when there's something solid to share. Marco has begun due diligence on this in anticipation of first discussions with some key partners next month. He's also lining up some key people for HDL 2010, including our first confirmed studio designer. We're waiting to hear back from another key invite – a speaker for HDL 2010 that would make me pleased as punch to have on board.