Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Design for the Greater Good"

Project M Lab, Greensboro, Alabama.

I've been in Hale County, Alabama since Tuesday, home to Sam Mockbee's Rural Studio. I came down here with Piece Studio, a Baltimore-based graphic design firm focused on socially responsible projects. This summer, Piece won a Sappi grant to help a local non-profit in Greensboro called HERO. I think the best introduction to HERO is this You Tube video. Pam Dorr is the executive director and in five years she and her team have built nearly 90 new homes here.

The principals of Piece, Mike and Bernard, also teach at the Maryland Institute College of Art and they've brought 5 young graphic designers with them. The team is working through a creative incubator known as Project M Lab. It was developed by John Bielenberg, and it's kind of like the graphic design equivalent of the Rural Studio, in that designers immerse themselves in the community and develop ideas that can help the area. John says the goal behind Project M is "design thinking for the greater good." He set up a lab down here where designers can work and develop these ideas. I'll be writing more about John and Project M Lab soon...

Greensboro is the home of Project M lab and HERO and it's a curious town. Population 3,200. The Main Street looks like a preserved movie set, a Potemkin City. The facades along the street are in tact, but most of the storefronts are empty. They have no business. The owners have filled the windows with curtains and mannequins to make it look like there is still activity.

Many of the storefronts have hand-painted signs in this cursive font.

Behind the store fronts:

The building is literally crumbling.

Here is the Bunk House where I am staying with the designers. It was renovated by HERO. People stay here during their time at Project M. It's not heated and it hit 28 degrees the other night. We are all sleeping in bunk beds in the same room. It makes for quick bonding.

John took us on a tour through Hale to see Rural Studio Projects:

A new Boys & Girls Club.

Chapel made out of windshields.

Smoke House in Ward's Bend using glass bottles and street signs.

The street signs composing the roof.

The group walking through Ward's Bend.

A new dog shelter that used a unique construction method called lamella.

The core inside houses the program: small interior office space, cat crates, and stalls for dogs.

Inside the shelter. You can see the intricate lamella truss overhead. This is wrapped in a steel skin.

Close up on the truss. The students had to figure out this fabrication process and execute it.

An exterior shot of the crates for stray cats.

Inside the Rammed Earth house with posters by Amos Kennedy.

Another Kennedy print.

And some general shots from around town:


Inside the Greensboro Flea Market.

The group hard at work inside the Project M Lab.