Makers for Productive Cities

February 3, 2015. By dk. 0 comment(s).

Two terms now trending in design are "makers" and "smart cities". I've written previously on the latter—asking, "Who own's a smart city's intelligence?" And we have spent much of the past year thinking about the formerdeveloping the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform with Panurban, a strategic design consultancy based in Paris. In November I tried to connect the two: giving a talk called "Makers for Productive Cities" for the Citisense conference, organized by the World Bank ahead of the annual Smart City Expo in Barcelona.

Citisense 2014

Partly the aim was to demystify the whole idea of "making" and show that it is less something new, and more part of a longer-term continuum of the human drive to make tools (most recently, the Back to the Earth and DIY movements). And partly we tried to tell the story of AMP—which has been an amazing journey: networking the energy, drive and intellect of the many young people who have participated in the makers' collective plus hundreds more in Agbogbloshie who are not online.

Watch the talk for an overview of the five lessons I shared from our experience: 

1. It's your nature, to be a maker.
2. Making today is manu-digital.
3. Making as a process is community-driven.
4. Maker spaces are emergent.
5. Maker cities are mesh networks.

Plus it was a welcome chance to give shout-outs to some of our friends and the awesome groups doing amazing things that inspire us: the Creativity Group at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana (founded by Jorge Appiah); the WɔɛLab hackerspace in Lome, Togo (founded by Sename Koffi); and Maker Faire Africa (founders include Emeka Okafor, Jennifer Wolfe, Erik Hersman and a bunch of other incredible people); and Open Source Ecology in the USA and world-wide (founded by Marcin Jacubowski). (There are also video highlights from a panel discussing the "Internet of Everyone" as counterpoint to the "Internet of Things".)

We're in the final stages of prototyping the AMP makerspace. Will post updates as possible.

Participatory Design in Africa

October 24, 2014. By dk. 0 comment(s).

A couple weeks ago, we were part of the "Industry Day" panel at the 2014 Participatory Design Conference (PDC) held in Windhoek, Namibia. It was an honor to meet the other panelists and the moderator, Jeanette Blomberg, a senior researcher on innovation at IBM and a titan in the field. Much thanks to the organizers of "Industry Day" at the conference: Penny Hagen, a design strategy consultant based in New Zealand (plus ferocious Tweeter -- who first looped us into the PDC community via a Tweet two years ago), and Daria Loi, a UX innovation manager at Intel, for thinking to invite us and making it possible to participate.

What is particularly interesting is that, as a methodology and school of thought, participatory design -- unlike design thinking or human-centered design -- places fundamental emphasis on restoring balance to power dynamics. While the increasingly popular (trendy?) tools of design thinking seek to identify human needs in order to solve them and spur innovation, ultimately the goal is to drive profits for business. In a certain sense then, although no one really talks about it, beneath the surface, the new hipness of design thinking for business has serious potential to drive not only consumerism, but also economic exploitation. However, the alternative regime of participatory design, which emerged from a movement to integrate factory workers in decision-making through "cooperative design" approaches, offers that unequal power relations should be challenged by means of design process.

Thus an intriguing debate developed through the panel discussion, which is that if on one hand participatory design practitioners must extend their activities beyond the domain of pure research, on the other hand, if they embed themselves in industrial organizations they run the risk of abrogating their fundamental responsibility to restructure power dynamics on behalf of the underprivileged. How can designers successfully remain advocates for social and economic reform once they are contractually charged to advance the interests of a specific business enterprise?

We presented our on-going work with the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform, a social R&D start-up incubated in partnership with Panurban, a strategic design consultancy. Despite the fact that we view this project as in a way an "anti-industry" -- given that it is a bottom-up, grassroots initiative to empower youth workers in Ghana's informal sector e-waste industry to remake themselves as a distributed network for sustainable recycling of high-tech material and digital fabrication -- as the project scales it inevitably becomes part of a larger industrial ecosystem. We have not found the answers yet, but are excited to continue exploring the role of participatory design by deploying theory in practice, on both sides of the Atlantic.

See 'Exploring the potential for participatory design in Africa' in the conference proceedings.

Anam City at Clinton Global Initiative

October 24, 2014. By dk. 0 comment(s).

We were excited to see that Anam City featured again at Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, this year in a plenary session exploring cities as innovation labs at the urban scale. Watch Mrs. Gesare Chife, Executive Director of the Chife Foundation, explain in a separate interview at CGI how the superblock model developed for Anam City can serve as a flexible prototype for new forms of human settlement in Africa (from 3:30):

Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Challenge Award

April 8, 2014. By dk. 1 comment(s).

Low Design Office has received a Centennial Innovation Challenge Award from the Rockefeller Foundation for the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform, "in support of the design, testing and implementation of a physical and digital platform that would enable young e-waste workers in Ghana to collaboratively create tools to transform e-waste materials and recyclable goods into products that could be sold for higher value." LOWDO Principal DK Osseo-Asare and Dr. Yasmine Abbas, Professeur Associé at l'Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris and Director of Pan-Urban Intelligence, an urban strategic design consultancy, are co-leads on the project.

Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) is a collaborative project to upgrade the quality of life and environment at Agbogbloshie, the largest e-waste processing site in Ghana and the "worst polluted" place on Earth for 2013, according to Green Cross Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute.

AMP contends that (domains of) architecture and electronics have converged. At such a moment -- if we can make open, democratic and collective the capability of manipulating materials from the level of chemistry up, by means of digital technology -- we can move beyond the notion of “e-waste”. Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE or 3E), old or new, constitute a vital stream of raw material for the global production chain. In particular, while there is fundamental overlap with the elemental “stuff” of digital space, it is equally important to note that the majority of EEE materials are generally recyclable such as plastics, steel, aluminum, copper, or other specialized or high-value materials.

The project seeks to create an alternate convention that links Agbogbloshie's e-waste, scrap & recycling industry with the technical know-how and social entrepreneurial framework to itself remake the landscape, over time. The approach is to design and build locally a knowledge database and set of tools for e-waste processing and digital fabrication. The intention is to empower informal sector e-waste workers and their peer groups to rehabilitate the environment of Agbogbloshie and to help green the community's current recycling practices. The short-term goal is to design and build a makerspace for the hyper-local context of Agbogbloshie, together with an open-source technology platform to support its operation. The long-term goal is to transform Agbogbloshie's e-waste and scrap industry into a network for more advanced materials processing and small-scale distributed manufacturing.

Participants in AMP work collectively to make & gain exposure to new horizons of digital fabrication, with potential for contributing to youth employment and advancement of Ghana’s maker community. To develop AMP, makers conduct a series of maker workshops (qamp or "camps"), ranging from design research to fieldwork, community outreach and workshops with stakeholders for e-waste dismantling, materials processing and prototyping solutions.

Refer to the project website for more information: http://qamp.net/

Come make with us

November 2, 2013. By dk. 0 comment(s).
Are you a young architect, artist, designer or computer programmer interested in making stuff? Low Design Office is hiring for project-based design work through the first quarter of 2014.

LOWDO is an architecture and design studio based in San Antonio, Texas and Tema, Ghana that aims for more with less: we make high performance buildings, landscapes, tools and systems with low environmental impact and low energetics (efficient use of materials, optimized operations and maintenance, low carbon footprint). We contend that low is the new minimalism: meaningful aesthetics and design innovation emerge from bottom-up responses to low supply.

To date our team has worked on projects on five continents that span social design, community engagement and low-cost sustainable construction with a practical, hands-on commitment to innovative environmental research through design/build. We are looking for dynamic, highly motivated and proactive candidates with strong design, graphics and 3D modeling skills who are precise, detail-oriented and capable of working independently.

Preferred Qualifications:

. Bachelors or Masters Degree in Architecture, Art, Design or Computer Science
. Proficiency with AutoCAD and Rhino
. Working knowledge of Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator)
. Experience with rendering, illustration and graphic design
. Capable of concept design and development, rapid iteration at high level
. Hands-on ability to build physical models, prototypes, construction and finish carpentry
. Any experience in the following is a plus: web development, mobile, hardware, robotics and mechatronics, metal-work, environmental science, videography and media communications

Interested candidates should submit a PDF portfolio to lowdo@lowdo.net with portfolio, resume and cover letter indicating your timeframe of availability and preference for Ghana or Texas office. Please note that given volume not all submissions may receive a response.

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