Designers Catherine Griffiths from Studio Catherine Griffiths (NZ) and Raffaele Persichetti from Holloway joined QUT sociologist Dr Barbara Adkins to share their thoughts on the role of design in solving homelessness at the APDL’s first Think Outside event.

Raffaele identified two major factors affecting homelessness–not enough accommodation and not enough capital to support services to the multi-disadvantaged. He believes systems design is the best way to address these issues and looked to nature through biomimicry to come up with potential solutions.

The development of urban gardens where people could use vacant rooftops to live, grow and eat was one solution that not only provided shelter but also offered a sense of achievement, social inclusion and community. Raffaele also spoke of construction materials taking up 55% of landfill in Australia and how collecting and reusing these materials not only provides cost effective building materials but also offers therapy through occupation.

With data showing 100,000 homeless people and one million vacant dwellings across Australia, Raffaele described homelessness as a numbers game. He advocated for an online system that would act as connective tissue to link need with availability, not only to vacant dwellings but also to services.

Working as a sociologist within QUT’s design school, Dr Barbara Adkins responded to the issue of designing out homelessness with a call for a move from homelessness to residence.

Sharing insights from a local homeless man, she stated that every day, people are trying to design themselves out of homelessness.

Describing the great work of the nearby Common Ground project, Barbara told how the homeless man she spoke to was designing an imagined future where he could reside in such a facility. In this future he would have security and control through objects. Light switches would give him choice through access to light when he needed it, rather than living by the sun and candlelight. Intercoms would give him control over who entered his space while a dedicated space would give him the ability to once again own precious collections and belongings.

Finally typographer Catherine Griffiths presented a word play where homelessness moved from hopelessness to hopefulness and then homefullness. This notion of homefullness was about the power of communication and knowledge in society and how it could be used to create real change. It was also about exploring the definition of ‘home’ and what it might mean to different people–not prescribing one solution for everyone based on a singular and perhaps misplaced definition.

A facilitated discussion following these perspectives drew on a myriad of questions raised by the audience. Topics included inclusive design, access to services for those who choose not to live in traditional dwellings and asking if design itself promotes waste and exclusion. Dr Barbara Adkins responded to one such question by stating that while many designs are answers in search of the right question, there is genuine opportunity to use design and the design process to provide real solutions.

Image: Photo by Candice Bridger
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