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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


New Beginnings – Derek Russell, B.ARCH 2022

I arrived into a state of upheaval. Flaming tires littered the road between Mariscal Sucre International airport and my new home in Tumbaco. As a result of a contentious election, rising inflation costs, and a waning quality of life, many indigenous activists from the Highlands took to the streets to voice their discontent. At a time of global economic uncertainty and recovery from an unprecedented pandemic, there couldn’t be more evidence that social progress and environmental equity are paramount in arriving at a just future.

Bamboo being offloaded onto the site


a city on the pacific coast of Ecuador, was my first stop on my journey with Fundacion Raiz. Six years prior, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the nation devastating many coastal cities poorly constructed by municipal governments and urban planners. Many buildings of concrete and steel failed under the sudden pressure, resulting in high casualty rates. Chris, a jewelry maker and one of my two project coordinators, told me stories of the shockwaves she felt in her home high up in the Andes, far from the epicenter. She couldn’t image what it must have felt like to the locals at the center of disaster. With her husband Manuel, they traveled to the devastated coast with the intention to provide aid. What they saw in the rubble was evidence of hope and resilience in the form of vernacular architecture, houses built from bamboo and local plants that survived the earthquake. They knew in an instance that their lives would never be the same, and with the support of Fundacion Raiz they gave birth to an initiative called the Casitas Emergentes de Bambu, or CAEMBA. Learning from the local craftsman, they were able to develop a design and streamlined manufacturing process for resilient housing that outlasts natural disaster.

A view of the existing housing being relocated


a Quechua term referring to collective work undertaken for the betterment of a community, is a driving philosophy for CAEMBA. As with most humanitarian aid giving, many ethical concerns are brought into question when those with privilege gift what they perceive as a necessity to a struggling group of people. It sets an inherent power dynamic, can lend towards imperialistic ideological impositions, and ultimately disengages with dialogue. By implementing the concept of Minga, Chris and Manuel combat these many colonial constructions with empathy and sharing. “How many architects can say they know every family they build a house for anymore?” inquired Manuel at the start of our build, citing an inherent lack of conversation in the construction process. “Here we know every family we build for, have cherished relationships with them, and are here to make a difference. Yes we build houses, but that’s only a small part of what we do, what we build are communities.” Here in Atacames, many of the families are destitute, squatting in shanty homes illegally beside a mangrove embankment. They dump their waste into the same water they fish from. Some women have turned to prostitution for stability, some men have turned to the illegal cocaine cartel. Each family that is receiving a home from CAEMBA has never owned property before or had access to proper sanitation. By working together with members of this community, Chris and Manuel hope to change that, inspiring others with knowledge of construction and material but also with dignity.

Pan de Mama Women from the trade school cooking a meal

Casa de la Mujere,

is an earlier project from CAEMBA in this same neighborhood of Atacames that has revitalized the local people. It serves as a community center for women, complete with a kitchen, craft room, event space, play area, and quiet room for nursing as well as resting place for both parents and children. Across the street is a maternity center for newborns and mothers. However, they chose not to stop there. In this space, they partnered with community organizers to create a fully funded trade school for the local women, imparting two-year degrees in areas such as: cooking, sewing, entrepreneurship, and craft. Upon my arrival, I was able to witness the first ever graduation from this community. When discussing her activism for women’s empowerment, Chris said, “It’s truly amazing to see the transformation that these women have undergone over the past few years. When we first started, these women were so shy. They grew up feeling like they were property, passed from their father to their husband with little say in their own life paths. Some only even have a second-grade education. Now they have certificates that prove that they are skilled, knowledgeable, and have agency over their own careers.” Once the new houses are complete, Chris and Manuel also make sure to write the deed to the home in the names of the women. For many, this is the first time in their lives they have actually owned something of significant value. Their smiling faces and revitalized energy speak volumes of the strides that CAEMBA has made to change the fabric of this community.

The lot

Me, helping build a foundation on siteBuilding in progress A collaborative process

Placing the final touches

Christina (Resident) securing a roof with a CAEMBA contractor


on two plots of land donated by city, this new CAEMBA neighborhood of 31 houses offers a vision of environmental justice. In collaboration with contractors knowledgeable in the building process, volunteers, and members of the family who will inhabit these future homes, everyone worked together in the building process. All of it can be done on the scale of the individual, without the need for heavy machinery. The building process is also a learning process, where locals are able to absorb new construction methods that they can apply to other areas of their careers. The houses are light but strong, being made of bamboo. They are also sustainable. Each house can be customized and changed depending on the tenants desires with a wrench and a hammer, all wall panels can be removed and reoriented, spaces for future doorways are also built into the design. An entire house can be built in a day, also deconstructed and moved. To ensure community stability, all tenants agree to a binding five year contract where they must remain as the owners of their home, after which they can opt to move or sell. However, families are highly encouraged to invest into their new homes, a safe space for generations of families to live. There is so much evidence that owning a stable home is one of the first steps in lifting families out of poverty. It allows folks to search for jobs, better healthcare, and gives additional time to other luxuries we often take for granted such as making their opinion heard in public office and other social programs that directly impact their lives. In only a week, an entirely new way of living was designed and implemented; a generation of possibility.

Day One: An empty lot

Day Two: A foundation

Day Three: A home

Family overlooking the construction of their new home Chris and Pasqual playing patty cakeA peaceful afternoon in the neighborhood


Last Moments at Sankofa, Shreya Kaipa, BArch ’23

September 23, 2021

Last week, my signs delivered and I installed them at the Diamond Street and Sprague Street Sankofa Gardens!

The Diamond Street garden dealt with misunderstandings around how to properly turn on and off the hose. Growers need to go inside the shed to turn the tap first, before turning the outside hose handle. If the order is switched, it leads to expensive flooding.

The Sprague Street garden sign is intended to encourage sharing knowledge, since there have been many accounts of miscommunication and stealing. In addition, Southside Community Land Trust asked for a couple copies of this sign for 3 of their gardens! One of their translators generously helped me with making both signs.

After installing the signs, Julius (the market manager) arranged a small lunch gathering for staff at West Elmwood Housing Corporation and growers I know from the garden. I spoke about my experience this summer and explained my intention with the signs. It was lovely being able to see everyone’s reactions and support towards my work.

Last month, I connect one of my favorite podcasts with Sankofa. Mosaic highlights stories about immigration and identity in Rhode Island; they are currently speaking with Raffini, one of the growers for a future piece. The producers also invited me to submit a community essay to share my thoughts from Sankofa! I am so grateful to be able to share my story on such a platform. 🙂


Sharing Knowledge, Shreya Kaipa, BArch ’23

September 4, 2021

This is from Melanie (my supervisor) and my last day working at the market! Pictured is also the market sign I made in July.

I have officially finished up my fellowship!

“Ke Parindey”, was one of the songs I performed on my last market day!

Over the course of the internship, the biggest moment of weakness I noticed was stealing and miscommunication. Ideally, I wanted to be able to propose and execute a spatial layout for a new garden that would encourage growers to collaborate and share expertise with each other. However, this wasn’t feasible due to resource and timeline constraints, so I decided to focus on my fine art skills to create a signage project.

Hawa, one of the vendors, had a bonnet with this pattern that I thought was beautiful! I decided to use it as the pattern for the characters in my sign.

I have been working on the visuals of 2 signs to be posted in 2 Sankofa Gardens. The first sign, pictured below, aims to encourage sharing of knowledge, expertise, and produce between grower, in order to reduce misunderstandings in the garden. One grower shared with me that growing up in their home country, sharing food with strangers from their farm was very common. If an outsider wanted to eat, it was welcomed, not shamed. As a result, I felt it was most important for this sign to read as a story, rather than a command. In order to ultimately give the growers the agency to determine what behaviors they believe are best.

The 2 stories illustrated, the right side: stealing, and the left side: sharing, are based on the experience of the growers I have met in the gardens. Many growers feel disappointed and angry when they find their vegetables have been stolen.

Melanie, my supervisor, shared with me the joy and connection she feels with growers when they share expertise on how to grow with her. She has strong relationships because of how she supports them in the garden, and how they give back to her.

I worked with a translator from Southside Community Land Trust, to provide the phrase in Kirundi/Kinyarwanda and Swahili (the 2 main African languages spoken in the gardens). The second language listed is Spanish.

It’s important to note, that ultimately, the stealing and lack of strong relationships in the garden is tied to the individual ownership system of the garden. I initially assumed it was due to language differences, but I noticed that at the market, when vendors are forced to exist together, they are frequently finding opportunities to support one another (whether it means helping set up a tent, or making the other laugh on a slow rainy day). And this occurs across farmers of different cultures!

This second sign, above, is a response to flooding issues with the water pipe in one of the gardens. Melanie explained how growers often turn off the external hose first, when they should be turning off the handle inside the shed first.

Left to Right: Melanie, Me, Matt (an AmeriCorp Vista), and Julius (market manager)!

The signs are planned to ship and be installed in the coming week!

I also had the honor to write and record a short essay about my experience with Sankofa for the podcast, Mosaic, which will be published through the Publics Radio soon as well. A final post is soon to come. 🙂


Groundwork RI – PCF Week 5/6: Develop, Deploy & Celebrate! | Jason Hebert, Juliana Soltys | MID ’22

Groundwork RI – PCF Week 5/6: Develop, Deploy & Celebrate! | Jason Hebert, Juliana Soltys | MID ’22

As the final weeks encroached, frantic motions were made to refine all the loose ends. Week 5 was the big week for completing all the projects so they would be presentable next week at the end-of-summer events. PCF’s Thursday group continued to paint their signs, remembering to include both English and Spanish versions. Concurrently, the completed signs from the week prior were drilled to their stakes; they were finally ready to be placed around the garden. PCF’s Monday group continued to prepare their tabling items — specifically the canvas that would be draped over the table and the recipe box that would contain produce-relevant recipe cards for passersby to grab with their produce. Recipes for beets and eggplants were picked by Juliana and myself; moreover, we ensured both Spanish and English translations.

To our pleasant surprise, PCF’s Tuesday group was interested in working on the tabling project! Juliana and I never met with this group because of logistics; therefore, the drying signs from the Thursday group piqued their interest. With that, we all met on Tuesday that final week at Hope Artiste Village where they painted the opposite side of the canvas. The recipe box was completed by Juliana, and I spent the day drilling the dried signs from Thursday. With much struggle, we finalized the tasks from week 5 by handing in the flyers to the Pawtucket Housing Authority. 

In retrospect, the youth from each group showed excitement and liveliness with the painting opportunities. Despite it being Victory Day in Rhode Island, the Thursday group at PCF joined us on Monday to paint the canvas with them. It was nice to see the two groups we had been working with come together at the end. Naturally, awkward cliques were formed during this meeting, but overall it was incredibly productive and wholesome. On the backend of everything, advertising for the event was difficult. With it both being a holiday and vacation time for our point-of-contact at the PHA, handing over the flyers failed multiple times. However, we were able to hand them off. On top of it all, there were some minor mistakes on the flyers that we had overlooked, so always remember to triple check your flyers before you print them!

Galego Event


Youth placing a sign in the garden

The final day (for the fellowship) spent with the Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Galego communities had arrived, and setup for the Galego end-of-summer event began promptly at 10:15 am. The Pawtucket Housing Authority group brought and constructed the tent, tables, and chairs that would be used. As assigned, the PCF coordinators brought the Groundwork tables and food from Harvest Kitchen. Juliana and I grabbed juice, ice, and the vital food from Caprichos. As we headed out, the youth were sent off to construct their tables and place the garden signs. We arrived back to see a beautiful and inviting setup alongside a plethora of people — familiar and unacquainted. For Juliana and I, grabbing the food was absolutely chaotic: as non-Spanish speakers in a crowded, Hispanic bakery, grabbing the food politely was awkward but successful. It is assumed the setup at the Galego gardens went smoothly and sweatily. 


All was prepared by 11 am! In retrospect, there was decent attendance, with the primary set of visitors being friends and family of the youth. Partway through, important members of the Pawtucket Housing Authority stopped by. They praised the youths’ endeavors and the gardens lusciousness, furthermore hinting at future collaborations. Regarding attendance from the Galego community itself: foot traffic was low but there were members that came with their families. We assume slow attendance was because of the timing during working hours as well as the broiling temperatures outside. To the surprise of many, a journalist also came to the event! I sadly have forgotten his name — as well as his company — but will keep an eye out for the article. 

Food, drinks, and entertainment for the event were spectacular. Harvest Kitchen prepared a similar menu as Providence’s event: veggie salad, potato salad, and cookies. Caprichos was unanimously an attendee favorite though; their array of appetizers, entrees, and desserts went out quickly. I, myself, ate a fair share of their food. Iced water and juice were supplied at the opposing end of the table. Outside of the tent, but still under the shade of the trees and buildings, youth played cornhole and Juliana played with a younger family member of one of the youth at the Spikeball net. Music was nearby playing off of Juliana’s karaoke speaker. The speakers’ lights were on, of course.

The weather was similar to the day before: objectively hot and humid. Being in the high 90s, you were guaranteed to sweat if you stood in the sun for even the briefest of moments. Thankfully, the shade from the tent, trees, and tenant housings created spaces for respite. This heat could be felt during the garden tours; however, hidden spots of shade were found along the way. Besides, the vibrant garden signs helped to forget the heat. Under the shade outside the gardens stood the farmstand. It was colorful and refreshing. Luscious vegetables were piled, laying proudly atop the painted canvas and adjacent to the vivid recipe box.


The event was an absolute success! Everyone seemed to be in good spirits despite the heat. The food was enticing, and the outcome of the youths’ projects was relieving and rewarding. They did absolutely amazing. Real changes were seen in the gardens, and the acceptance by the community was reassuring. Given our positions, Juliana and I spent much of our time documenting the experience. We were also exhausted from the day before, so this made it hard to socialize — but that didn’t stop us! All in all, it was an exhausting but rewarding experience for us as fellows, for the youth as leaders, for the coordinators as supporters, and for the communities as hosts.

Acknowledgements + Thanks

As cliche as it is, words can not express the gratitude I feel for this opportunity. Thanks goes out to Kevin Jankowski for the support and constant encouragement you gave us throughout the entire process. You have a gorgeous garden and a contagious charisma. To the Providence coordinators, Sarah and China: thank you ten times over for letting us into your garden space. Your energy and emboldenment made this possible — without it, we would never have been able to connect with the youth and with the surrounding community. The memory of eating the spicy pepper still sits strongly in my mind. To the Pawtucket and Central Falls coordinators, Arleen and Leandro: the sentiment is repeated. Allowing us the time to meet in the Hope Artiste Village will always be remembered so positively, even though the air conditioning was a bit aggressive now and then. To all of the food vendors, thank you for sharing your hidden gems with us; moreover, thank you for the patience with working with us as non-Spanish speakers. I have continuously been advertising your food to everyone around me. To Chandelle and Everett at the Galego gardens and Kimberly with the Pawtucket Housing Authority, thank you more than ever for allowing us into your space. The gardens were astonishing and the people who work within it are exponentially more amazing. I hope to visit you again soon. And of course, I am forever grateful to the youth who made this experience workable and worthwhile; you are all truly the next leaders of our society. Your effort, with and without us, was and will continue to be admirable and dignified. The world is a better place with everyone listed in this thank you message.

Last, but certainly not least, tremendous thanks goes out to my teammate, Juliana. Thank you for being there with and for me; thank you for letting me be with and there for you as well. It was such a ride (literally and figuratively) with amazing highs and unavoidable lows. Thank you for driving constantly and letting your car get filled to the brim with random items alongside the copious amount of dog hair. Our multiple hardware store trips were hilarious and humbling. Even more humbling were the hours we spent in the studio — none of which I would ever take for granted. Thank you for the constant support, empathy, resourcefulness, and insight you have to offer. Without you, this experience would never have been possible. I am excited to support you as you grow this next year and will always value you as a classmate, a professional, and (more than anything) a friend. 😀


Groundwork RI – PVD Week 5/6: Develop, Deploy & Celebrate! | Juliana Soltys, Jason Hebert | MID ’22

The goal of this week was to finish painting and placing the trash cans in their permanent locations. First, the youth leisurely painted the lids outside the greenhouse and sealed the containers with waterproof sealant. Next, we added bins and trash bags inside to hold the accumulated waste. Finally, the youth decided that the larger trash can with the heart top should be placed across the street from the greenhouse in the green area and the smaller one outside the greenhouse near the farm stand. Each was chained to discourage people from tampering with them, increasing their longevity. 

To prepare for the end-of-summer event, we talked with the coordinators and the youths about food, games, and setup steps.  The youth suggested we get Mi Casa, a Dominican restaurant a block away from the garden.  If the wind was blowing in the right direction, we could smell the delicious food cooking away while we were working.  With that, we walked over to discuss catering, and they were very patient with us since we didn’t speak Spanish.  After talking to one of the employees, we were able to order delicious chicken stew and rice.  We spent the rest of our time that day posting flyers in Spanish and English on electric poles around the area to gain more traffic with locals. 


The youth enjoyed the creative freedom of painting whatever they wanted on the trash cans.  Jason and I primed them with exterior primer, and each youth was able to paint one side of the bins.  The boys worked together on the rectangular container and the girls painted the square one with the heart cover.  One of them really enjoyed painting and started splattering Pollock style: paint got everywhere.  Some of the others weren’t too happy with the mess, but we mitigated the situation.  Chairs and tables ended up splattered with paint, but no long-term harm was done.  By the end, cleanup was pretty quick and easy!

Additional Activity

Before the event, we joined the group and YSANEL at Billy Taylor Park to work on a chalk mural.  They wanted to thank the park for being a beautiful, public space for meeting and learning while working with the public artist. So, we drew a peace sign and a heart, writing, “Thank you, Billy Taylor Park,” below on the large concrete slabs.   Although the planned mural is still waiting for funding, it was fun to draw and color in these park designs with everyone.  The heat created a challenge for engagement, but popsicles gave the youths a little pick me up during the afternoon. 

End-of-Summer Event:


We met everyone at the greenhouse at 9 am to drop off supplies, and the youth started the morning with a trash clean-up around Prairie Ave and the neighboring streets. Then, Jason and I ran errands to pick up last-minute supplies, including grabbing the food from Harvest Kitchen in Pawtucket. Next, we started setting up the green space across the street from the greenhouse and opened the farm stand with produce for locals to take.  Shaded tents were constructed, and tables and chairs were scattered around. GWRI has two fancy canvassing tables that we set up with a waste sorting game and the other with flyers and information about composting.  We put together lawn games like can jam and cornhole on the grassy spots and the food was set up on the folding tables.  


Attendance started slow but picked up in the middle despite the heat! The youth’s friends and family came, and locals walked by from the waterpark and Prairie Ave curious about the event.  We happily invited them in and offered food from Mi Casa and Harvest Kitchen. Mi Casa catered chicken stew and rice, a big hit with people coming back for seconds (and even thirds)! Harvest Kitchen provided a mixed salad, potato salad, and cookies, also a popular hit.  Reusable cups, dishes, and utensils were used to minimize waste and consumption. Two large jugs of cold water and juice kept everyone hydrated in the super hot and humid temperatures.  The tents and water were also a necessity to stay cool from the high 90s temperatures! The greenhouse was open for tours despite the heat. Youths and coordinators were open to show anyone around the gardens and learn more about GWRI.  The booths across the street provided more information about GWRI and had games about recycling and composting with prizes!  Other entertainment included can jam, spikeball, and cornhole around the green space.  Cornhole was a big hit early on, and as it got hotter, the youths played Uno in the shade.


The event was a success!  The heat was almost unbearable, but the delicious food and fun games in the shade made the event enjoyable.  The trash cans are now permanent fixtures on Prairie Ave, and it was so rewarding to watch the youth come out of their shells and create something for their community throughout the summer.  Jason and I took photos to commemorate the event so it was a little difficult balancing socializing and capturing candid moments.  Overall, the day was exhausting, but a rewarding experience.  Thank you to everyone that supported the event! 

Green Team with PVD Coordinators Sarah & China, PCF Coordinator Leandro and Juliana & Jason

Thank you Messages:

I’d first like to thank Maharam for funding the Maharam Fellowship and supporting local environmental work.  Without the support from the fellowship, Jason and I couldn’t have worked with Groundwork RI and supported the youths’ projects. 

Thank you to Amelia Rose for believing in our proposal and letting two RISD students work with GWRI! We hope to continue working together in the fall. 

Thank you Kevin Jankowski for asking tough, but important questions and checking in throughout our fellowship. Hope to one day see the garden and the bees!

To Chandelle Wilson & Everett, thank you for believing in our goals to support the youth to work with Galego Court Community Garden.  I’m glad we stopped by that one afternoon and were able to tackle realistic projects this summer.  Jason and I will definitely be stopping by in the fall!

Thank you to the PVD coordinators, Sarah Hashem and China Yang, and PCF Coordinators, Arleen Hernandez and Leandro Castro, for opening your doors and making space for us to work with you and the youth.  Have a great rest of the summer and hope to stay in touch and continue working together in the fall!

To the PVD and PCF youth, thank you for supporting two random people entering your summer and being active leaders and participating in our workshops.  The final projects are just the beginning of what I know you can accomplish in the future.  If you ever need Jason or me, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

And lastly…to Jason Hebert, Thank you so much for being my teammate and friend this summer. I’m grateful for our bonding during wintersession, blooming into this opportunity. This summer, you’ve challenged me and were supportive through the curriculum development to our many hardware store visits.  Working with you was almost effortless, and we were very efficient in our meetings… not so much in our building, but it was a great learning experience!  Thank you for supporting me at my lows and my many cravings for ice cream.  I am so grateful to have collaborated with you this summer and learn from you.  This is only the beginning, and I’m excited to see our thesis work develop and continue working together.  Most importantly, thank you for being my friend, and I’m just a little mad that I never learned any K-pop dances!


Design for change: An endeavor, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

Design for change: An endeavor, Vrinda Mathur, MID Industrial Design, 2022

Today, I am writing to you from the last working week of my fellowship. It’s been quite a journey these past few weeks with moments of ‘I can do this!’ briskly transitioning into ‘How do I do this?’

Design as a discipline is still in its nascent stages in India – where I am from. A layman’s understanding is limited to the superficial aspects of design and it is not necessarily viewed as a tool for powerful thinking and problem-solving. As a young, creative practitioner part of my goal is to reconstruct this very perception not just for my home country but across geographical and societal bounds. I consider design as a medium of expression, of communicating ideas and igniting conversations; Perceptive, relevant, and relatable. 

To culminate my research around tree canopy cover and equity, I conceptualized an experiential ‘walk and talk’ with the trees of Providence, in collaboration with Social Enterprise Greenhouse, supported by the PVD Tree Plan Steering Committee and Tree Equity Score.

Social media assets designed for the event. Sign up via

Let’s walk with the trees is a pilot walk designed keeping in mind the PVD Tree Plan that is set to launch in November 2021. Through this event, I hope to garner interest amongst those divided by tree canopy cover to come together on a journey traversing through low and high tree canopy neighborhoods of the city. You can read more about the PVD Tree Plan or watch this Youtube video.

The walk is set to start on Benefit St, home to two powerful institutions, Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University maintaining a score of 100 on the tree equity analyzer. The end point of the walk lies near Eddy St. on the Southside of Providence where the coast is lined by mountains of coal, salt, and recycled metal parts. In the 1.2 mile walk, we will be covering different themes around urban forestry and climate change including tree canopy equity and it’s impact on different communities, health, land use, and development.

Tentative route map of the walk

While planning and programming the event, I focused on how to make it more than an educational walking tour. Using a set of creative tools I worked on gamifying the walk such that it would encourage people to engage and collaborate with the facilitators. Think ‘Follow the Leader’ or ‘Simon Says’ where the group is asked to follow a set of actions that the facilitator sets. For example: ‘Hop to the closest shaded spot’ or ‘Take off your sunglasses for 30 seconds’. Simple prompts will be planned to simulate the effects of low tree canopy. Along the walking route, I will be installing posters that highlight the tree equity score of those particular areas with different expressions voiced by fictional trees.

Poster designed to highlight tree equity score. Seen here, 55/100 and ‘Uh Oh’
Timelapse video of the poster design

Members from the PVD Tree Plan Steering Committee will shed light on the upcoming master plan and also advise on how each participant can find a way to increase tree canopy cover in their neighborhood. Whether it means collaborating with local tree-planting organizations or speaking up for their communities with their respective council people.

Discussions with Doug Still, City Forester and Cassie Tharinger, Executive Director, Providence Neighborhood Planting Program

In my practice, I have always enjoyed packaging a project with an identity of its own. For this event, I tried my hand at digital illustrations and created a fun set of communication assets for social and print media use. I went back and forth multiple times between colors, typography, and design styles to create something that would appeal to people of different ages. My favorite part was the crooked trees inspired by different species I’ve noticed around Providence. 

Timelapse of the crooked trees illustration

It has been an overwhelming nine weeks since I started the Maharam Fellowship. Initially with just a seed of an idea addressing climate change through the lens of urban forests. I hope this event sparks important conversations and enables the participants to engage with the natural environment in different ways. 

If you are reading this blog post from Providence, RI consider signing up for the walk via Eventbrite.

Hope to see you there! 🙂


Scaling Up | Kate Reed | Industrial Design | 2021

Recap: I am an Artist in Residence at BosLab, in Cambridge, MA, researching new ways to use bacteria to dye textiles. I have successfully dyed textiles the color purple using Violacein.

Through my research, I have been growing vats of Violacein dyes and then refrigerating them until ready to use. I have found that the fresher dyes create the boldest colors, and the longer a dye sits, the more dull gray the colors become. Having said that, I love the range of colors the Violacein creates. I have created my darkest hues by growing up a vat of Violacein, and centrifuging it down to a concentrate. Using this concentrate, I have been able to control the fabric to dye ratio, allowing me to get very dark purple shades. This has worked amazingly well for small scale dye jobs.

I have spent the past month trying to scale up my work to be able to dye batches of textiles by the yard. This has turned out to be quite difficult because it means I need a lot of dye, and I have found that the more dye that I use, the smellier the project gets. I am working with synthetic e.coli, which unfortunately, smells like e.coli. Yesterday, I opened a dye bath that had been dying for 5 days and the smell was so putrid that it made my eyes water – no one ever talks about the smell of science. Generally though, the smell is only temporary, and once the bacteria is killed the smell mostly goes away.

I have been dying a series of scarves using the Violacein and the size of the scarves has made it difficult to dye consistently. As result, I have re-dyed the same scarf multiple times to create darker colors. This has created beautiful results, with nice variation in the purples from different bacteria dye batches. Because each dye bath is alive, the dye can grow in the most beautiful patterns and places. Each textile becomes a conversation between living and fossilized bacteria.

I went with Boslab to share our research and lab at a maker festival in Cambridge, MA. We brought a strawberry DNA activity to do with the kids there. It was very fun to share my research with the community, inspiring the next generation of biologists and designers. It was reaffirming for our future to see that all kids have an interest and an eagerness to play, experiment, and learn. But, somehow, as these kids grow up, they are herded into respective fields, and magically, the field of science becomes filled mostly with men. It made me proud to be a woman in science and role model for the next generation of young girls.

Design can empower communities. Responsible design can eradicate social problems. Biodesign has the power to shift this dichotomy and offer our planet time to rest and heal. As designers we need to keep thinking towards this future of products that help our bodies and our planet. But right now, the industry has not innovated as quickly and does not have the infrastructure to support living products. But this infrastructure will catch up to our living futures, it just needs the next generation of designers that believe in the balance between living futures, form, and function.

This summer at Boslab has given me the skills and tools to design living systems that put our planet and its ecology first. I will be forever grateful for my time here and the wonderful community I met. This summer project has unfolded at the perfect time in my life and leaves me inspired to continue my deep dive into the field of biodesign. 


The importance of Aesthetics | Transform Drugs UK | MFA Sculpture ’22 | Zibby Jahns

As I’ve continued to explore new visual ways to focusing on systems of harm and harm reduction, I’ve been frustrated with the reality that I don’t aesthetically like the work I’ve been doing. Is that important? The efficacy of an image doesn’t exist solely in its concept. It also has to wrangle the viewer, give them a feeling. The feeling of stigmatizing imagery is what so often makes it problematic, as I’ve delved into in previous posts. Stripping the feeling can strip the moralizing factor, but does it do the work that successful design does? How to elicit interest in a text with an image that doesn’t play on heart strings or preconceived notions? And how to still be attracted to the image?

The emotional impact of sculptural collage as demonstrated by Najeebah Al-Ghadban
Re-representing history through collage of its artificacts, rendered by Mike McQuade

I have been researching design that I like–even if it has nothing to do with drug use or harm reduction– to build some groundwork for an aesthetic I would like to play with in these illustrations. I have also been researching previous successful harm reduction campaigns and their stellar graphics (particularly in the realm of the AIDS crisis) as well as anti-drug (from reefer madness to acid house) and satanic panic design that wasn’t successful–i.e. Its inadvertent coolness and irony fed into drug culture. 

Act Up’s campaign (these images from 1989) around the AIDS epidemic spoke to systemic priorities instead of on stigmatizing imagery and striking, simple, boldness to get its messages across.

Lara Ann Frazier’s Info Graphics about the overdose epidemic use soft and warm watercolor palettes to deliver cold, hard facts.
These anti-drug campaigns deeply appeal to counter-culture aesthetic, making them ironic candidates for t-shirt designs.

These campaigns are all essentially about a lack of trust in the youth as opposed to transparency about systems of control. In his new book, This is Your Mind on Plants, Michael Pollan looks at how legality around psychoactive plants ultimately boils down to whether or not they serve the capitalist project. Caffeine is nearly institutional while mind-expansive chemicals that undermine productivity are classified as a schedule 1 drug. The ridiculous “Satanic panic” followed a similar thread: it perceived youth who listened to subcultural music –which spouts a distrust in systems of governance– as dangerous or in danger, succumbing to the seduction of Satan. Our country has a long history of intertwining its objectives with Christian morality, and this was no exception.

The fear-mongering marketing schemes against such subcultural movements were mocked and re-appropriated by drug users and underground music fans. The past few decades have been saturated with imagery appropriated from subcultures and then mass marketed to the benefit of corporations. There is some poetic justice to the kitsch delight anti-drug campaigns return to these overly-mined subcultures. Can these images also invigorate an interest in decriminalization outside of subculture?


Stripping Preconceptions in Accessible Imagery Around Safer Consumption | Zibby Jahns | MFA Sculpture ’22

When you search image databases for “drugs” or “drug use”, this is what you’ll find:

Desperation, shame, homelessness, death. These aren’t actually the symptoms of drug use–they are the symptoms of a society that criminalizes drug use. When the visuals of drug use reflect society’s stigma and place the blame on the user, as opposed to the system, education around overdoses cannot progress. 

For the past month, I’ve been working to make a new type of image, one that doesn’t replicate images of drugs–or kitchen cabinet substances posing as those drugs–or distraught teens huddling in a corner. I am working to create images that demonstrate healthy relationships with substances on a personal and social level, through accepted modes of discussing harm reduction and safer use.

Instead of making visuals within my own aesthetic confines, I’ve been experimenting with stripping these images of all their stigmatizing factors. I want to remove users from shadows and hoodies, and normalize use that doesn’t end in strife. I want to represent people in a way that isn’t gendered, nor do I want to give them a race or a body type–i.e. not white or black, fat or skinny, old or young, straight or gay–in order to eliminate the possibility of preconception or stereotype. My goal is to portray people, in a world, using drugs or not, existing in a society that could be our own. 

Why does it seem so far-fetched and dangerous to have conversations about safer drug use without some sort of visual warning sign? Our society already has safety measures in place for objects and activities that pose risk. This is a simple and ingrained part of our everyday lives. We are trained to use powertools and sharp objects; users are given protective-wear such as goggles, hardhats, and gloves; first-aid boxes are always on site for emergencies. Rarely do people chop down trees alone–they do so in a team. All of these protocols are the same for using drugs: Never Use Alone, Test Your Drugs, Use Clean Needles, Sterilize the Injection Spot, Carry Narcan. There are always ways to reduce harm in any situation. We know what protocol works–it was passed down through community members of drug users and their allies. The only thing standing in the way is stigma. How will your mind, dear reader, shift so that these principles seem one in the same? How can images help locate such a pivot point in the average viewer?

I have been sketching out these ideas in the most simplistic way I can imagine, to envision innocuous, accessible and de-stigmatized entry points for talking about these concepts. I have been experimenting with paints and collage, continually trying to strip down the shapes and images, until I began taking a hint from kindergartners and used construction paper to talk about adult safety. (This has been a great challenge, as I don’t find these to be very aesthetically pleasing.) 

We don’t dull a knife’s blade to make it less dangerous, we standardize education and safe practice around knife use at home and in school.

The overdose epidemic has hit kids so hard, but children are continually taught only abstinence–a method with a 96% failure rate. Why do we make discussion of safer drug use only a topic for adults? Why can’t we incorporate the conversation of testing drugs and knowing the effects of and first aid for overdoses into our everyday vernacular? This inspired the image of a parents taking a picture of youth preparing for a party or celebration, and casually reminding them to test their drugs. 

I like to imagine a world where an active, concerned parent talks to their children about condoms, urges them not to drink and drive, and gives them fentanyl test strips. 1 in 4 children report using drugs– “Just Say No” has not limited the death toll. 

Have fun, kids, and don’t forget to test your drugs!

This image I tried to “complicate” the collage by using stock images of safer consumption and partying to connote the actions of the people involved. As I did in the smoking illustration in the last blog entry, using fashion as a way to talk about systems and choice is a way to remove a moralizing factor from people. Even though historically our society has found a way to moralize every color, pattern and shape of clothing (from “only royalty can wear blue” to “men can’t wear pink” to “you were asking for it with the length of your skirt”), it is very less stigmatized than more radical stances on drug use.


El Poder de la Comunidad. | Kansas City, KS. | Leslie Ponce-Díaz, BArch/BFA ’23

During my Maharam Fellowship, I had the opportunity to participate in various community events that helped give students in the community academic and health-related resources in preparation for the upcoming school year. Through my community organization, First-Gen Chisme, I participated in three school supply giveaway events with local non-profits/government association: Central Avenue Betterment Association (CABA), El Centro Inc., and the KCK USD 500 School District. First-Gen Chisme successfully gifted over 350+ school supplies including pencils, pens, notebooks, folders with notebook paper, pencil bags, and glue sticks. First-Gen Chisme also gifted stickers and postcards on more information on how First-Gen students in the community can be supported through First-Gen Chisme’s resources.

El Centro is a local non-profit organization located in Kansas City, KS that focuses on “strengthening communities and improving lives of Latinos and others through educational, social, and economic opportunities.” The non-profit organization hosted a vaccine and book bag giveaway to students and families within the Kansas City Metropolitan area. First-Gen Chisme participated by handing out school supplies at their vaccine event. Once students received their vaccine, they were asked to wait 15 minutes and then they received a book bag from El Centro Inc. staff and the First-Gen Chisme school supplies. At the event, we were able to vaccinate 104 individuals from the community. First-Gen Chisme gifted an approximate of 180+ school supplies within the event for K-12 students and their families. There were also opportunities for students to get free hair cuts and food at the back-to-school fair located in Central Middle School in Kansas City, KS.

El Centro Back-to-School Vaccine Event with school supplies giveaway!
I found it amazing to see that the “paletero man (ice-cream man)” played an important role at the event as it caught the attention of many visitors. This has became the branding of First-Gen Chisme as it not only represents my culture but it engages the community through education and design.

Three days after the El Centro’s Vaccine event, the USD 500 KCK Public School District hosted a back-to-school
event with vaccination and free school supply giveaway opportunities. First-Gen Chisme participated by handing out school supplies at their vaccine event. At the event, there were 264 adult and teens that were vaccinated. First-Gen Chisme gifted an approximate of 200+ school supplies within the event for K-12 students and their families. This event was important for Enough is Enough as families got the opportunity to learn more about the initiative as well as get their vaccines and free items to take home. There were a variety of different community organizations that participated to make the event get the attention of the community. The First-Gen Chisme school cart was a great success! It caught the attention of families and they wanted to be a part of getting free school supplies for their families. I was able to hand out all of the supplies I had left from the previous two school supply giveaway events I participated in.

I LOVE this panorama view of the event. It demonstrates how vibrant and successful this event was for the community. It also shows how when people exit the building to the left, they can not help but look at the colorful First-Gen Chisme cart on their way out!

Alongside the public events in collaboration with other organizations and First-Gen Chisme, I initiated various visual arts and community projects to help raise gun violence awareness within my community in Kansas City. I created visual branding and content for Enough is Enough to share on their social media and school wide printed visuals. The visual content provides a youthful invitation to the community to know more of what the initiative is providing for the community. After researching various of gun violence awareness initiatives from #MarchForOurLives and Change The Ref, I realized the importance of creating content that engages in the voices of the youth. At first, I did have difficulty thinking about designing visuals that the school district would like to use within their campaign. Originally I was troubled by the blue ribbon because politically it can symbolize the ‘thin blue line’ visual often seen in relation to police officers. However, I did more research and I realized that the blue ribbon symbol was also a universal image that shows support for child abuse and prevention. I believe that through the inclusion of youth voices and stories, the message will become more clear on what the relations between the blue ribbon and the initiative Enough is Enough. I used already existing visuals of the initiative to create branding that expressed the districts message on gun violence awareness. I realized that the district’s already existing content is: inclusive, representation, bilingual, non-text heavy, and to the point. The district is also known to include blue ribbons around the community on poles and trees that expresses Enough is Enough’s message for gun violence awareness. All of these projects helped me create branding that expressed the work that the initiative is doing for the community.

Every time I go to my nearest library or drive by a school, I always enjoy seeing the blue ribbons tied on trees in the community and I wanted to visualize this through a perspective illustration for the Enough is Enough campaign. The initiative has allowed members from the community to download Enough is Enough Zoom/Laptop backgrounds to show their support towards the initiative in a virtual manner. However, I felt that the backgrounds were missing the community factor that is really needed when raising awareness on violence. I imagined a field of trees with tied abstracted Enough is Enough ribbons on the trunks surrounded by families, youth, and teens having important conversations and sharing a moment of community expressed better what the initiative is doing for the community. All of the graphics I have created include the district’s logo and a QR code that leads individuals to learn more about Enough is Enough.

Downloadable Zoom/Laptop Background created by the district.
Re-imagined Zoom/Laptop Background for Enough is Enough.

I also included this visual on the thank you gifts that I will be gifting to my two supervisors, Sharita and Randy, as a thank you for allowing me to be a part of this great movement within my community. Using my Maharam funding, I purchased a printed tote bag and pencil pouch as well as a small blue bear. This experience has been the most rewarding opportunity in my work as a student architect and community organizer and I am forever grateful for Sharita and Randy’s welcomeness within the initiative.

This internship is stemmed from my passions in helping the upcoming generation of students within my school district. It has been a pleasure not only working on Enough is Enough but also having the opportunity to help through my community organization, First-Gen Chisme. I have been able to brainstorm and re-imagine how First-Gen Chisme can become a physical non-profit space near Central Avenue in Kansas City. How can I continue providing resources for First-Gen students in a sustainable manner within my community? One of my main goals after graduating from RISD is to establish an official non-profit within Kansas City, KS through First-Gen Chisme that supports youth through art, design, advocacy, and education. I believe that the Maharam Fellowship and the B-Lab Venture Program have been great opportunities to engage my community through First-Gen Chisme and the potentials it has in helping the Kansas City, KS community. My involvement within Enough is Enough and First-Gen Chisme has been recognized by The Kansas City Beacon Media through an interview highlighting Enough is Enough and my work within the initiative. The Kansas City Beacon Media isa non-profit online news outlet focused on in-depth journalism in the public interest.

Overall, this summer, I have learned about “El Poder De La Comunidad. — The Power of the Community.” within my Maharam Fellowship as an intern in my past school district, USD 500 KCK, within their initiative Enough is Enough to raise gun violence awareness within the Kansas City, KS community. I have curated a Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet that captures all of the various projects I worked on this summer within my Maharam Fellowship at Rhode Island School of Design and the B-Lab Venture Program at Brown University. The Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet is in both English and Spanish to share with all of my family and friends! The orange cover is in English and the green cover is in Spanish.

English – Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet

Spanish – Final Maharam Fellowship Booklet

Final thanks to all of the RISD Careers Team that helped me out with my application and believed in my vision to help my community! This experience has meant so much to me and I am very thankful for this amazing opportunity. Muchas gracias! Thank you to Enough is Enough, Sharita and Randy, and all of the collaborators located in Kansas City that allowed me to be a part of their amazing community events. I look forward to seeing how my work with First-Gen Chisme can continue to support these great organizations and our Kansas City, KS community.