Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Palleroni Has Landed

And Delivered.

Last Tuesday night at the Graham Foundation, Sergio Palleroni lectured on his life's work with his program called the BaSiC Initiative. I knew a little bit about what he does from seeing it on the PBS series Design e2. None-the-less, he went into considerable detail on a number of projects and I was impressed by the depth, scope, and global reach of his work.

It all started nearly 3 decades ago when he decided to put his formal education to use by helping his people. After a brief stint building housing for the UN and World Bank, he struck out on his own.

Mr. Palleroni gave us a good impression of the poverty throughout the world and I gained an appreciation for the methods he was using to help them. He wasn't giving them fish, as most government entities do to house the poor, he was teaching them to fish. Which is probably the best way to reach out the vast number of people and communities that need help. During his lecture he casually mentioned a community he worked in of 1 million squatters. That resonated with me for a while and is still something I think about. A community of 1 million squatters. I'm so far removed from a situation like that I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like.

Teaching them how to build housing, schools, and libraries gives them a sense of empowerment and ownership over the land which in turn strengthens the community. Some even banded together to get loans and matching grants.

At some point during his presentation there was so much work I found it hard to believe that what he was showing was all his even with him presenting it. In speaking with him afterward I came to find out he had a family on top of it all. I asked him how he was able to complete projects on 5 continents (What, no Antarctica?) at the same time and raise a family.

By now, he is able to appoint students and research assistants he has known for a few years to lead projects. After a number of years of doing this those project managers and former students have gone on to start their own initiatives.

On balancing family life with professional, he humbly credited his wife for being understanding but admitted having her as a partner in the firm has helped. He used to bring his kids with him to locations around the world. But now that they're older they have to stay home to attend school.

Upon his departure I'm left with more questions: Is his Portland school initiative expandable to Chicago? What other programs like this can we create here in Chicago to address the specific needs of our poor communities? How can we address the social breakdown that seems to be a unique trait to poor communities in America and can architects design housing to facilitate the improvement of those social structures?

I want to thank Mr. Palleroni, who took time out of his busy schedule while in Chicago to speak with us. He mentioned the importance of sharing and distributing knowledge and in continuing that spirit he shared his slides with me so that I might composite his lecture with the audio recording I had thanks to the Graham Foundation. Accordingly, this lecture and workshop series couldn't have happened without Roberta Feldman of the City Design Center and the selfless contributions of the rag-tag group that makes up the partnership that is Converge:Exchange. Whether you missed it or have to see it again, please enjoy Sergio Palleroni: Affecting Lasting Change Through Design Build Activism.

Part 2
Part 3

Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

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