The seminar “Advocacy in the Built Environment: Case Studies and Proposals” was created with the goal of showing passionate students that there are many avenues to be an activist designer outside of the university. Christa Wood describes how Perkins and Will’s Social Responsibility Initiative (which stemmed from the 1% program) has evolved over the years, specifically within the Seattle office. She references the firm’s blog and shares various projects with Mary’s Place, a local non-profit focused on empowering women (and families) experiencing homelessness.

Thank you for sharing your passion Christa!



Case Study: LMN Architects “Year of Action”

The seminar “Advocacy in the Built Environment: Case Studies and Proposals” was created with the goal of showing passionate students that there are many avenues to be an activist designer outside of the university. Jack Chaffin describes how LMN Architects began the Year of Action, and what it means to walk the walk. Enjoy!

Coming soon: Christa Wood and Perkins and Will’s “Social Purpose Efforts” (formerly Social Responsibility Initiative)
Case Study: LMN Architects “Year of Action”

Fog-water Farms and Community Park

I have been fortunate to work with the Informal Urban Communities Initiative through the two phases of the Fog-water farms and community park project. Both on the design team and on the ground project manager, it has been an enlightening process of community engagement. We have just conducted the 6 month project impact assessment and while I do not have exact metrics yet, the overall results were an increase in time outside (both children and adults), increase exercise and access to water.

FogWaterFarms_Final-16 copyFogWaterFarms_Final-17 copy

I am developing my thesis, and graduate at the end of 2017! I intent to return to Eliseo Collazos and work to improve and expand the community’s kindergarten and community center. Education and community gathering space are extremely important in all contexts, and I have no doubt that together we can generate a design that will improve the quality of life for the community. More to come on that soon! I have attached a document that highlights the work the IUCI and I have done in the community. Enjoy!

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Fog-water Farms and Community Park

Always improving: An evolving triangular fog-catcher design

Fog collectors function best when you orient the “sail” perpendicular to the prevailing wind, allowing the moisture-saturated air the maximum amount of surface area to condense upon. A traditional fog collector is rectangular in shape, built on a flat surface.

A_FC models
Traditional design on level ground (left). IUCI 2015 design on sloped mountain face (right).

But what do you build when the foggiest area is high up on a steep mountainside, with prevailing winds moving across its face? Ben Spencer, Co-Founder of the Informal Urban Communities Initiative, devised a triangular fog collector design that allows the net to die into the hillside. I helped manage the construction of 4 sails last summer, an amazing experience with Architects Without Borders.


1_last year

This summer, our goal was to replace old nets with a new material that has been tested to collect 150% more water (image below). Upon returning to the project one year later, we were able to reflect upon shortcomings of the 2015 design, devising improvements that would require less maintenance from the community and improved durability/lifespan of the system.

Raschel net 2015 (left), Enkamat net 2016 (right)

The main issue we noticed were structural in nature. Due to the high winds experienced during the summer months, the posts needed additional cable anchors to keep the system taught.

Last year, the high winds also made it difficult to create a taught sail, a characteristic which is crucial to a high performing fog catcher.

Relying only on cable tension proved too much for this sail

We installed an additional post to help maintain the geometry of the nets. The post stops the wind from pushing the sail into the hill and also creates a vertical support for the tip of the triangle.


The extra post worked wonders!

Changing out the net material also allowed us to revise the assembly process . The nets are a double layer, which (in the 2015 design) ended up pulling apart from one another in the wind. We decided to sew reinforcing stitches within the net to stop this from happening. We also improved the gutters by creating a 50cm overlap connection, creating a stronger ridged channel for the drops to drain into.


It has been an amazing process, watching the fog collectors evolve into version 2.0! I have had an amazing team of designers and engineers from Seattle joining the construction site for 2 week periods, and am continuously astounded by the resolve of the community to work together for 6-8 hours on their only day off (Sundays). I can’t wait to see how fast our new tanks fill up with fog water! More to come soon.

Video of collectors in action (LINK)

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This project with Architects Without Borders Seattle is supported by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundations
Always improving: An evolving triangular fog-catcher design

Design Development of the Fog Water Farm/Park

Returning to Peru is always a great experience which brings back a flood of memories of adventures and misadventures during the Peace Corps. I had a few days in Lima to shop in the organized chaos that is the Malvinas market, getting quotes for various materials we want to use in the park. I took advantage of my time in Lima by getting reacquainted with the delicious cuisine, visiting Panchita frequently to eat my favorite dishes (Tacu Tacu Lomo Saltado, Aji de Gallina, Ceviche to name a few)


Then it was off to Puente Piedra. I do not have much time here, and there is a lot to be done. Our first priority was to refine the design of the park making sure we were within budget. The first visit to the project site in Eliseo Collazos was jarring. All of those topographic lines on our plan did not quite convey the drastic change in height from the soccer platform to the road, the locations for our park terraces.


In the following days, Jorge Alarcon (Coco) and I surveyed the site to verify that our plans were accurate and to get a realistic idea of how large the soccer pad could be, while leaving room for water storage tanks. It was a great learning experience for me, where I could employ the 3, 4, 5, triangle technique I learned in Design/Build at a larger scale to make precise, square marks in the sand.

2.3_chalked site

The next Sunday meeting, we presented a schematic plan to the community, soliciting more feedback about priorities and realistic expectations of our modest budget. They seemed to understand that things like bathrooms and playground structures may have to happen in Phase 2 down the road, but we will design open spaces on the plan for the additional programs to be developed in the future.


Sadly, Coco had to leave us for his floating gardens project in Iquitos, but I did not have to wait long until Brian Gerich and Ben Spencer (designers of Architects Without Borders-Seattle) arrived to help conduct additional surveys to measure the change in height using a hose, water, string and string levels. Who needs fancy surveying equipment? Not us!

2.5_Site measure

With the necessary data gathered, and we were able to being meeting with local contractors to get quotes for project. I never thought my first contractor/architect conversations would be in Spanish, but with Ben and Brian’s experience we were able to move onto the next phase.


The quotes came in, and we refined the design to fit the budget. At this point, we were able to show some basic images of the project to the community for their final sign off. I worked some SketchUp magic over sight photos and produced these renderings.


We are in the process of writing up a contract, and hope to start construction on Monday, August 15! It has been a fun process and the community is very excited for their improved public space. Now that the infrastructure is set, our next step is choosing the types of plants they would like to grow, developing the Fog Water Farms/Park into an enticing green amenity to the quickly developing community of Eliseo Collazos. Stay tuned!


Design Development of the Fog Water Farm/Park

Fog-water farms: Designing from afar

Last year, I worked with Architects Without Borders in a small informal settlement in Lima. The team consisted of UW students and faculty who had been working in the area since 2010 to increase the residents access to green space through installing household gardens in a participatory process (Project description). During this time, the team was also researching the feasibility of installing fog-catchers (locations, orientation, material of nets etc.). In the summer of 2015, with the help of Jess Smith, I helped manage the construction of 4 fog catchers, using a new triangular design, cables and other metal hardware. (documented in previous posts).

1_last year

This year, the team and I have been working on the second phase of the project, the fog-water farms! The 88 square meters of net can collect quite a bit of water. When Jorge (Coco) Alarcon visited the site, he noted that the 2,500 Liter tank completely filled up in just 3 days! Collection rates will very season to season, and we will begin to install a different net material (Incamat) which has tested to be twice as efficient. Great expectations.

To continue with the theme of providing green space and fresh produce to a developing community, the second phase of the project will amplify the storage capacity of the project to 50,000 Liters of water, enough to sustain the Fog-Water Park/Farm during the dry months when there is no fog. In addition to a planted terraced hillside, the community emphasized the need for a recreation space- a soccer/volleyball platform.

2_Community desires

Our team assembled in February, and have been meeting twice/month teasing out logistical issues, amassing surveys, calculating water demand, and creating 3 preliminary designs for the community to elaborate upon.

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Designing without being able to visit the site is difficult, but through topographical surveys, core samples and photos from previous visits, we were able to create zones for planting, playing, water storage, and future expansions. Coco had a preliminary meeting with the community at the end of June, to get consensus on which direction to move forward on, and to get feedback on things to change.


This coming Sunday, we will get buy off on the plant selections, field size and water tank placement, and most importantly a maintenance plan and contract.

Wish us luck!

Fog-water farms: Designing from afar

Paternalism vs. Partnerships: an investigation of western architects working in low and middle income countries

In the Spring 2016, I enrolled in a class looking at the role architecture played in colonial and post-colonial Africa and Middle eastern countries. Brian McLaren, the chair of the architecture department at the University of Washington, assigned a diverse set of readings, and screened various movies that painted a picture as to how the European culture perceived the people living on the African continent.

Orientalism is a philosophy, a world view, pitting the Occident against the Orient, the West vs. the East, us vs. them, progressive vs. backward, modern vs. traditional. It was the white man’s burden to liberate the dark continent from its backward and barbaric ways, giving a moral imperative to the colonization (ie cultural genocide) of Africa.

fig 2

Considering the divisive and ethnocentric rhetoric that has infected our media and politics, the course readings this past quarter has allowed me to reflect on the politics and ethics of western designers practicing architecture in Africa, forcing me to investigate my own motivations as I continue a career which continues to work in low and middle income countries. By researching the intentions of colonial and post colonial European architects, and observing the unintended consequences, I hope to learn from past mistakes.

If you see yourself as the cavalry, parachuting in to save the poor, then there is a lot of personal growth needed before any of your work will benefit others. My own naive world view has slowly become more refined through living and working in Peru for two years, but I feel that I still have much to learn. In the past year, I have discovered many contemporary role models (MASS Design Group, TYIN Tegnestue, Francis Kere, Anna Heringer, Kounkuey Design Initiative to name a few) who are producing buildings utilizing a hybridization of traditional and modern building techniques, often improving the skills and built environment of the communities where they work.


Difficulties arise when searching for “lessons learned” because of the nature of marketing (few advertises their mistakes), although TYIN’s monograph Behind the Lines is an excellent exception to the rule. Reading the journey of these two young Norwegian students is an excellent glimpse into the ethical dilemmas that perceptive designers will face. Their failures and successes are discussed as they reflect and revisit their projects in Thailand.

I have attached the culminating paper from my Architecture of Africa and the Middle East class this spring. In it I briefly investigate the projects and design process of various colonial/post colonial architects and compare them to MASS Design Group, a Boston based non-profit architecture firm that has demonstrated a truly innovative model of how architects can (and should) address global issues at a local level.

I welcome any feedback you may have. Enjoy!

Witte_Paternalism vs. Partnerships

Paternalism vs. Partnerships: an investigation of western architects working in low and middle income countries