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Posts from the ‘RISD Maharam Fellows’ Category


Finding the synergy of architecture, sustainability, and urban development in Ethiopia, Ruth Wondimu, MArch 2023

Hi everyone! With time flying by so fast, there has been so much for me to share. 

The final few weeks of the fellowship were the most productive, insightful, and joyful parts of the fellowship. The fellowship finalized in the panel that became the ideal synergy of my architectural education, interest in sustainability, and urban development topics in Ethiopia. 

Working towards finalizing the panel involved multiple coordination, cooperation, and outreach with various unexpected challenges. To explain this further, I will divide this journal into three parts. The first part is what I would consider the planning phase. The second one involved various outreach activities and the third one involved the execution of the tasks.

In the first phase, my team and I had struggled securing partnerships in methods we had assumed would be successful. We had been dependent on using emails, phone calls, and social media channels to reach out to multiple groups we wanted to partner with. However, our concerns with the timeline led us to taking a more assertive approach. We started heading into various offices without an appointment. Although we were weary of the consequences, we were surprised to see a different professional culture where people preferred to have the conversations in person. Since then our trajectory towards conducting the panel became exponential. 

We were first able to find the ideal space and partnership for the event at a multidisciplinary organization called The Urban Center. Although the space came with the organization that would provide us  the community outreach we needed, it also came at a cost. Therefore our next step was to find sponsorship. The need for sponsorship led us to find more of our ideal company, Kefita Building at Rock Stone development, whose members became our partner, sponsor, and panel member. With our panelists in order and space secured, we were ready for the next phase of our project.

The second phase of our project involved multiple content creation and outreach. Although sustainability and green architecture are terms that are used often, there is a certain level of vagueness in their meanings. Therefore, to set the tone for the conversation, we decided to create and share the following content that provides the definitions and examples we were thinking about. I also further used these same slides for a presentation that preceded the conversation at the panel. 

While sharing the above content, it was also very important to cater to each panelist’s expertise when devising the questions. Therefore, much of our time was also taken up with developing the following document that contains the questions and related contents of the panel. This document allowed us to stay on top of our topic and to have a very successful engagement with the audience. 

In the final stage, which is about the last week and half of the panel we focused on outreach and finalization of the content. In this process it was very interesting to see how different skill sets come into play. For instance, although my architectural education had allowed me to learn some of the software that graphic designers would use, I was struggling with the layout and intricacy of the poster. Then, one of the members of green Ethiopia, Dawit Yitref, was able to take the concept notes and turn it into a professional poster that had surpassed what we had imagined. The poster, attached below, was then distributed through various social media channels allowing us to register 91 people ahead of time. 

The day of the panel unfortunately started with two disappointing news. The first one was when one of our panelists informed us that they will not be able to attend due to unforeseen circumstances. The second one was when the national TV channel informed us that they have overbooked events for the day and that they might not be able to cover the event for us. Throughout the day we worked tirelessly calling every media channel, camera crew, and host we could find to no luck. Finally, a close friend of one of our members, Sintayehu Teferi, was able to capture all the important moments. 

As soon as the time for the panel got close, people in large numbers started coming into the space. We had our panelists, our photographer, and our attendees ready. This was an exciting moment for me personally because I could see my parents and friends in the audience. I could see the people I look up to on the stage with me conversing on issues that I am extremely passionate about. The concepts of locality, context, equity, and more were always a part of each question we raised. The answers that came from the panelists were some of the most insightful and diverse set of knowledge I had acquired. 

Based on the document mentioned above, the questions were divided into topics of Energy, water, material, equity, measurement. Through each of the topics our panelists Adiamseged Eyassu, Elias Ayalew, Yasmin Abdu, and Fitsum Gelaye shared their expertise. 

Adiamseged Eyassu, project director of Rockstone Ethiopia Real Estate, shared his experience in developing a green high end residential building in Ethiopia. He was able to explain the systems, technologies, and methods Kefita utilized in order to be able to design and build a green building. He also went further into the possibilities the future can hold in looking into affordability and accessibility in the industry of green building. As someone that was working on a building that was in the process of a green building certification, his insights were inspirational for the professional community  in the audience.

Architect and lecturer, Elias Ayalew, was one of the panelists who gave the most contextual examples in the methods local architects and construction professionals utilize to produce green buildings today. He was able to share his expert knowledge on the challenges and opportunities the industry faces in making green buildings. His examples ranged from high risers in the middle of the city to small huts in some of the most climatically difficult areas in Ethiopia. He was also able to define what green building means to him and how having an in-depth understanding of context is important in approaching these issues. 

Fitsum Gelaye, who works as Programs and Engagement Consultant at Resilient Cities Network, had many insightful examples and knowledge to share especially at the urban scale. Her insights ranged from challenges Addis Ababa has with informality and lack of basic resources to the challenges other african cities are facing. As someone that had worked with water for most of her career, she further emphasized her points related to water conservation, mitigation, recycle, and the heavy intersection between the architectural and urban scale. During our equity portion, her quote that is read as the following, became one of the highlights of the evening. 

“A city is as resilient as its most vulnerable community”

Yasmin Abdu, who is a researcher and architect, was also one of our insightful panelists who was able to share her knowledge on advocacy and community engagement. Her points mainly spanned the relationship between every topic and its implementability on a community level. Her examples were on research conducted on the effects of sustainability related topics that impact the community at large. She further demonstrated her ideas through government led projects as well smaller initiatives that integrate community advocacy with sustainability. Finally, she emphasized that the desire to integrate community engagement in making decisions should be amongst the main discussion points on any project that comes forward. 

The panel was then followed by a question and answer that was just as fruitful and engaging. The panel that we had intended to be a total of two hours took a total time of two hours and forty five minutes. Nonetheless, most of our audience was still there supporting us, engaging with our topic, and continuing to converse at the networking session. 

As I got on the plane back to RISD for my final year as a grad student, I realized that this experience is one that I will cherish for a very long time. It is an experience I learned so much from, an experience I developed connections I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, and an experience that stationed itself  in the place I will always call home. For that, I am very thankful for RISD and the Maharam Fellowship.


Thoughts, Santiago Alvarado, BFA Industrial Design 2022

As a brown person, as someone who is of indigenous descent but facing the after affects, ongoing violence of colonization. Let me begin by coming to a mutual understanding with you of what exactly does this mean to me.

I will say again who I am to remember where I begin to know where I go. I am a Quechua person who’s been assimilated as a byproduct of colonialism and U.S. imperialism. Essentially my abuelos in Peru wanted a “better life” and went to the city (Lima), that was corrupt by instability in government (U.S. imperialism + the after affects of spanish colonization). Then because of the instability of Peru and Lima, during the Shining Path era, my family thought the next “better life” would be the U.S. They move to New York, then Connecticut and now my body exists and takes space on Narragansett land.

It means I was not raised in a community of Quechua people aside from my immediate family. My family’s knowledge keepers have tried to assimilate to U.S. colonialist and imperialist cultures and values to protect my family. This doesn’t work. It’s an ongoing struggle to try to come to terms with the reality that you will never be on the same level as those who the hierarchical institutions was created for. It a discussion-conversation-argument-fight my family and I have presently. Why I feel so far away sometimes. The dissonance in understanding of the systems that we are forced to exist within (colonial, capitalistic, patriarchal, heteronormative systems).

These systems and the people who created them, have a designated place for you and that place is beneath. A system built on coloniality will never recognize the invisible objects that are designated to uphold them. It is important to remember that in the eyes of the colonizer you will always be seen as an object. A token. A commodity.

For colonialism to hear your voice and actually listen, that system must acknowledge every piece of control upheld. Every heinous crime and act it has instilled on nonconsenting bodies, that relies on your existence within it. If they admit this though, everything falls apart. They lose control, lose power, and this is devastating to anyone who is trying to keep the pieces of decay at bay. Grabbing at bones that are turning to dust and calling it a body that works.

You then, are the hand and the pin of a grenade, you are the explosion, everything and nothing. Potential energy encased in a rulebook and that you don’t/didn’t/can’t have words to speak your tongue (yet/still). That you you are expected to play the role and fit the part. Be the thing. These bodies.

To try to exist like this, to meet white expectations is to stick your body beneath theirs, to fit as legs of a table that those above will eat on. There is no seat at the table for you. There never will be. If there is, they have made you believe being a chair is the equivalent of being a person.

In colonialism, you are better seen and not heard, because if they listen they have to acknowledge that every piece of control that relies on your existence diminishes their own power. The solution lies within breaking the table.

This writing of course, exists within said institution, and as such is both for my peers and myself who are existing within this system. It is also for those who aren’t here in this room with me, to the people who aren’t playing the game of academia.

People who didn’t get it, didn’t want to get it. Academia to clarify, is a game– one that was made to make folks feel smart and boost ego, withhold knowledge, push intellect to create hierarchy above you and everyone else who doesn’t get to write this script.
You cannot decolonize a colonial institution. To do so is to undo the institution itself. This relation of submission serves the hierarchy of the institution, and accepts designation, taking away self determination of a sovereign self.


Potential New Beginnings, Investments for Continuity, Visibility – Abena Danquah, B.ARCH 2023

What an experience this journey has been! In this post I will be highlighting one of my last interviews with Mr Kwesi Ntiamoah, a Kente weaver who has been involved in the trade for decades! I remember walking into the Accra Arts center, asking any artisan who was willing for an interview or to learn more about their trade. When I got to this stand with Kente fabrics, from the wrappers to sewn clothing, there were about three men guarding the area. I asked if I could interview them about the cloth and their process, and one of them told me to wait for 5 minutes. He exclaimed that I was in luck, the man who actually wove them was in the back and he’d call him at once. This was a great amount of luck because most of my encounters at the center had been with people who were selling the crafts on behalf of the artisans themselves.

Through our time, I got to know how Kwesi had gotten into the trade, having been introduced to weaving by his father and how much of an impact it’s had on his own life and journey. He shared how the industry could generally do with some more support, and more so that being in training of the artisans and them being invested into. That was a new perspective for me because with most interviews, we’d focused on how the work of the artisans was being patronized and supported from the side of the customers or those interested. What hasn’t really been taken into much consideration has been the encouragement on more people actually getting into the industry as artisans themselves. More and more, people are not encouraged by the difficulty that comes with being an artisan or artist in Accra, from the lack of investment in their craft to the unpredictability of the trade without a strong network or support system. While my experience has focused on how to gather more support and interest into the work of these artist and artisans, another important angle to consider also is how can more people be encouraged to pursue their interests in being an artist or artisan with the existing financial and socio-economic barriers or concerns that are currently causing disinterest.

Mini Interview where Kwesi shared his thoughts on the industry and his personal craft.
Looking through Kwesi’s Fabrics and Works


I’ve made wonderful encounters through this experience and learnt so much from the artisans I’ve met. I do wish I had met more female artisans as while I did encounter a few working in the industry, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet as many at the forefront of the crafts/ artisan work per se. Despite the summer experience coming to an end, I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of much needed personal and general curatorial journey, working towards the visibility and empowerment of more and more artisans and artists in Accra and beyond.

What’s next?

I will continue to work with the Diaspora Affairs Office, wrapping up on the database successfully and exploring the possibility of working with the artisans collectively in the near future.


Familiarizing Ourselves with Teaching Material- Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, BFA ID 2023 and Mei Zheng, BFA ID 2023

Familiarizing Ourselves with Teaching Material- Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, BFA ID 2023 and Mei Zheng, BFA ID 2023

Written by Carmen

Hello everyone! I’m excited to share the journey Mei Zheng, my internship partner, and I have gone through during our Maharam Fellowship this summer. We’ve decided to write the blog in tandem to provide both of our perspectives with clarity.

Week 1 & 2 – 

We began the internship with one remote week in order to familiarize ourselves with some of the past lesson plans that HYPOTHEkids have done to serve as points of reference for our own lesson plan. We met with our supervisor, Liv Newkirk, who is the Program Manager for HYPOTHEkids’ Bio-force program, for the first time on Zoom. This was helpful in transitioning to our in-person interactions the following week.

We were introduced to the HYPOTHEkids headquarters in West Harlem, NYC and met the lovely staff. We finally got to meet with the Director Christine Kovich in person after having been in contact solely through zoom and email. Liv Newkirk familiarized us with the program we were intended to teach called the Pathways to Graduation Program, which I will explain next.

The Pathways to Graduation Program: 8 week program for newly immigrated students who come with varying levels of English proficiency to earn their GED (High School Equivalency Diploma) which is supported by the NYC Department of Education (DOE). The students vary in age from 16-23 years old and the cohort was composed of 25 students. There was a 2 week rotation starting at the Beam Center (located in Red Hook, Brooklyn), then our 2 week rotation through HYPOTHEkids, followed by another 2 weeks with Solar One, and to end with two weeks back at Beam Center for the students. This was a collaborative program with the three non-profits as well as the NYCDOE. For the first few weeks of our fellowship, we had to prepare the lesson plan since we were taking the lead for the HYPOTHEkids 2 week rotation that happened from June 5th to July 14th 2022.

It was fascinating to learn about the collaborations that occur in non-profit spaces. It is something I didn’t know occurred but I’m glad they do because they create more enriching programs and experiences for both the organizers, facilitators, and beneficiaries. 

Week 3 – 

It was proposed by our supervisor, Liv, to focus our lesson plan on using heart rate sensors with Arduino hardware/software. In preparation for that, we were able to join an Arduino and coding class taught by Liv that is under one of the high school internship programs that HYPOTHEkids organizes. The classes are taught at Columbia University’s Engineering building which is a few blocks away from HYPOTHEkids’ headquarters. We wanted to familiarize ourselves with the Arduino software before teaching it in our intended lesson plan for the Pathways to Graduation Program. It was interesting to find similarities between the design and engineering methods of thinking, because we do end up using similar terms but then have different definitions. For example, as Industrial Designers we do not necessarily have to worry about our products working if they are “looks-like” models but for Biomedical Engineers that is what comes first.

While we were at Columbia, we observed the Bioforce students who were learning how to code which was helpful in getting ourselves familiar with a classroom environment that would be somewhat similar to ours in the following weeks. 

Below are some images of our attempts at using Arduino:

June 30th, 2022 – First Visit to the Beam Center:

We were invited to see the final projects of the Beam Center’s first rotation on Thursday, June 30th. We got to meet the students before officially teaching, which was nice to see how they interacted with each other and how they introduced themselves to the guests when explaining their personal projects. The prompt was to make Identity Boxes using an Arduino code that allowed some of their elements in their dioramas to move such as a paper robot head, the sun, a llama, a ferris wheel, their flags, etc. It was heartwarming to see what they chose to include in their boxes. Some of the guests that came to see the student work were members of the DOE who I imagine came to see how the new programming was going.

Some students included pictures of their family, aspirations they have in life; one of the students wanted to become a nurse so she included images of medical professionals; another student loves to dance so she included a rotating silhouette of a ballerina in the center of the box with her family in the background overlooking the sunset. This moment was impactful to me because some were open to sharing their stories about why they are in the program and in the United States and some were away from their immediate family so they missed them. I truly appreciated their sincerity and trust through our conversations that were guided by their identity boxes. This influenced the way we were going to structure our classes in terms of trying to relate the topic that we would be teaching to their lives for them to have a personalized experience or at least know that we understand where they are coming from and want to meet them where they are collectively.

What’s Next?

We look forward to sharing insights on our first weeks of teaching in the next posts. It was lovely meeting the students at the Beam Center in that type of environment before our formal teaching.


Ancient Traditions, Modern Reincarnations – Derek Russell, B.ARCH 2022

One morning, walking past Manuel and into the kitchen, he asked simply, “do you want to go to the Amazon?” And so it was written.

Sunset over the Aguarico

In the distance between Quito and Ecuador’s Amazon, altitude abruptly changes over 5,000 feet. To voyage from the capital city in the clouds to the eastern lowlands requires both patience and a sturdy stomach, lurching over curves at mountain passes with sheer vertical drops deep into the valleys below. The journey takes approximately five hours to complete, three if Pablo is behind the wheel.

That drizzling 5 A.M. journey, a time just cresting the city’s hustle and bustle, greeted us with a plethora of landslides as Pachamama’s arms opened deep into the ravines below. Newly formed waterfalls punched holes through what I thought were solid roadways, collapsing concrete in an instant. We somehow managed to brush past fallen boulders through a narrow impasse, the determination to complete a journey that had already been stalled for weeks in the protests seemed to pave a path forward. It wasn’t until weeks later that I discovered we were some of only few travelers to successfully venture out of the Andes that day, that week even. And so it went that the distance between fallen highways and Shushufindi collapsed beneath our rubber tires, and in just a few hours we arrived at our destination.

A totem watches over Shushufindi in the oil province of Sucumbios

Pulling into the central hub of the city at the edge of the Amazon, my heart sank. Truly, to me, it felt like one of the worst cities in the world. One distinct phrase emerged at the forefront of my mind, “there is no vernacular here.” This is the oil province, Miguel told me amid disheveled scrap yards and burning torches in the distance, the smell of petrol eking from the pavement. Shushufindi, he told me, a name deriving from the indiginous Cofan word for ‘paddle,’ is a new city. Built quickly and cheaply on the oil industry’s capital to house the working population, to clear cut forests and replace them instead with a concrete jungle. Really, it was only a few years old. Strange public art installations attempt to detract from the cheaply constructed double decker homes of concrete and steel mesh. Staring into their windows, I couldn’t help but think of the rubble I saw on the coast of Esmeraldas that I knew had at one point looked identical. That is, before the earthquake. So it was with our indigenous guides, Yadira and her two sisters Ruth and Naidaline, members of a nation known as the Siekopai, that we escaped through the boundaries of this portal city into the depths of palm oil plantations where the Amazon lay hidden.

Palm oil plantations that stretch on for miles

Siekoya Remolino, the settlement of the Ecuadorian Siekopai, was only the first stop on a long journey ahead, for my true destination was the port city of Guahoya far away in the Peruvian Amazon. To get there would require a nearly 15 hour canoe ride through the snakelike waterways of the rainforest. I was told that time works differently here when I asked what hour I should expect for us to depart. There are no schedules, instead things simply happen when they happen, unfold as they should. So with an eager, and mildly unnerved, spirit, I set myself to sleep in the hammock my coworkers provided me knowing that the most difficult part of the journey was yet to come.

The morning proved to be far less than ideal, the heavens above opening, pouring rain into our hydroscape. To my surprise, the water did not pool over the soil the way it does back in Providence, here it flows swiftly and precisely down river, towards our destination, and eventually as far as the Atlantic ocean; tears for a continent. There is something to be said about the pace of life in the jungle, it is truly something unmatched anywhere else that I have encountered. Extreme bouts of boredom interspersed with spontaneous bursts of excitement as we weave our way through the largest undisturbed ecosystem in the world. No cars or bridges, signs of sprawling civilization, crossed our vision. Just a sightline of tropical forests and expanding cavities over water cutting through, and the logs of course.

The same rainstorm that nearly delayed our trip from Quito, the same water that nearly flooded the village on the even of our trip downstream, had all aggregated here in the Aguarico. A high tide meant that we would move more swiftly than normal, but at a cost. Detritus that once littered the forest floor now littered our path, really it felt like we were in a simulation of the old arcade game Crossy Road, meagerly attempting to pass between one obstacle and the next. I quickly learned the hand signs seated next to Robinson at the bow: a fist to cut the engine, a release to bring it back to life. After many hours of this game of chicken, multiple bathroom breaks along the shoreline, a stop with the Peruvian border patrol so as not to evoke the wrath of their two-person police dinghy, we had crossed into foreign territory. I will never forget watching the sun set on the Rio Napo, the most beautiful colors I have ever witnessed in the sky. An in an instant we are plunged into darkness, left with nothing but a spotlight roving like the lantern atop a lighthouse past vines and an impenetrable fog. We search without eyes, another few hours, until suddenly, a spark in the distance.

The Siekopai, also known as the Many Colored People, are an indigenous community that has called the Amazon home for hundreds of years. They are a vibrant craftspeople who create multicolored garments and speak a unique language. Following a border dispute in the 1940s between Peru and Ecuador, the population was splintered, causing some of the community to flee deep into Ecuador and lose contact with their families. For nearly sixty years, the two groups remained separated until they were finally reunited. As a result of globalization and oil drilling in the Amazon, many indigenous practices are being lost as locals are assimilated into a capitalist system, relying less on subsistence living and more on working class jobs within the petroleum refineries and palm oil plantations. Distance between the two groups has made collaboration strenuous, and as these communities modernize, the ability to share and preserve knowledge becomes increasingly more difficult.

Pictured here are images I had the pleasure of taking for a historic workshop conducted by the Siekopai peoples in the Peruvian Amazon. Many women from various communities all across the jungle gathered in a the village of Guahoya to reunite and share ancestral knowledge of their traditional pottery making to the young generation. This pottery workshop is the first of its kind to be conducted since the recent reunification of the tribespeople. It is important to understand that the implementation of ancestral knowledge is a modern practice, and by creating spaces for community, there is hope that craft can once again incite sovereignty and agency for these struggling communities. I was lucky enough to be invited to help document the process. What I witnessed on this journey was an incredibly knowledgeable and generous community. With workshops like these, a new life has been injected into the Siekopai as they are able to reconnect with their families and strengthen historic bonds that have been fractured. The mending process is slow, but very much alive and thriving.

Weeks later I was given the opportunity to return to the Siekopai community in Ecuador to continue the work that began in the pottery workshop. Here, a guest speaker conducts an entrepreneurial workshop with the women of Siekoya Remolino, who made the ultimate decision to create a women’s collective to help brand and sell their crafts. The drive of these women was truly stunning, in mere weeks they had constructed an entirely new workshop dedicated to pottery making. With so much energy and excitement, I saw them take many steps towards becoming business leaders in their community.

They had asked me to help them create an official logo for their new brand, and so for the last part of the entrepreneurial workshop we had a session on logos, branding, as well as time to brainstorm together how they wanted to represent themselves moving forward. The organization is to be called Kenao, the Paicoca name for a particular ant species that is very small yet lifts immense loads. While the women had many symbols that they wished to incorporate into their logo, we narrowed down a few that particularly represented the ideas their organization stood for: a shamanic baton native only to their tribe, their pottery adorned with a symbol that is specifically used to represent women, and of course, the Kenao.

Sketches for the final logo design

While at many times I felt withdrawn from the prospect of helping to monetize artifacts of cultural importance, the reality is that these communities are a part of the global economy. Often, especially in more developed countries, we tell ourselves many myths, particularly related to indigenous peoples. Somehow a way of life in tune with the land is seen as something that is primitive, communities stuck in a time beyond time. But although they use ancient technology, perfected over a thousand years, they are modern people who desire a livable income and a safe community to live in. If their cultural practice can in some way give back in a system that has made subsistence living nearly impossible to sustain, then that is the path forward. Until sovereignty, until palm oil plantations are returned to the earth, until petrochemical industries stop extraction, these indigenous communities live with the rules that another society has imposed upon them. Customary practices have been disappearing, but here we have a chance to not only relearn what has been lost, but prove that these artisans can create work that is viable and modern and beautiful.

A digital illustration I created at the request of the Siekopai women, Yadira playing an Ocarina

Science and Social Justice — Lucia, ID, 2024

Hello everyone, hope you all have had a lovely summer so far, full of plenty of learning, fulfillment, rest, or relaxation — whatever you were looking forward to. Since my previous update, I’ve been able to forge some incredibly valuable connections and understand more about the intersection between environmental science, justice, and design. 

Connections Made

An unexpected gem of my internship experience this summer has been meeting some truly incredible people who do amazing organizing and advocacy work. It’s been a privilege to learn from such a diverse group of talented, dedicated, and hard-working people. 

As an organization, we had the pleasure of working with Jim from the East Bay Academy for Young Scientists (EBAYS) on a community soil monitoring project. Jim is an incredible person — after moving to San Francisco as a young adult during the peak of the AIDs crisis, he has dedicated his adult life to advocacy and teaching underserved students how to use social justice to uplift and direct scientific data-collection. During our discussions, I recalled the principles of human-centered design research I had been trying to introduce into the Eco-App’s curriculum as well. 

Under Jim’s guidance, throughout the course of several weeks, we collected 180+ soil samples around San Francisco. We focused on collecting surface soil from areas around the local Bayview Hunters Point community (i.e. community playgrounds, lower-income housing) as well as around Noe Valley, one of SF’s historically wealthier districts for comparison. 

Going into the study, we wanted to establish a clear purpose or direction — to both inform our methodology while also giving the analysis some kind of social application and direction. See, we couldn’t just go into an already struggling community, say “your homes are poisonous” and leave. A big part of equitable pollution monitoring is to provide meaningful and actionable next steps and resources after presenting data — community agency, if you will. With this in mind, we decided on an objective: 

We will collect lead level data from surface level soil around local Bayview Hunters Point community areas and map the data to inform the community on where it is safe for their children to play and live. 

To analyze the samples, we used an XRF gun to scan for the atomic signatures of materials like lead, arsenic, mercury, and thorium. Then, using the GPS coordinates we collected alongside the soil samples, we placed all of our lead findings on EBAYS’s existing map that compiles all the lead collection data they have — which was originally around the East Bay in Western Oakland.

A map of San Francisco plotted with lead concentration data points. The first region, Noe Valley, has the highest concentration of "high" and "very high" points, while McLaren Park, Hunters Point, and Candlestick Point has data points more in the "very low" to "high" range.
A map of our soil sampling, grouped and labelled by region.

We analyzed our data based on the CA Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standard of 80 ppm as “acceptable.” We were surprised to find that many of the areas around Bayview Hunters Point (BVHP) — where we had initially expected to see high levels of lead contamination from the history of industrial activity — had more data points in the “acceptable” concentration range than Noe Valley, which tended to land more in the yellow range, under the guideline “restrict access to children.” This was a bit concerning for the latter, considering some of these observations were taken near a local park with groups of children and around residential streets. The highest data points were taken from paint chips we had directly collected from peeling houses, so we hypothesize that the high lead levels in the soil were due to runoff from these historic, lead-painted houses. Ultimately, these findings are somewhat promising for what they suggest about the efficacy of environmental advocacy in areas under tight public scrutiny (on the part of BVHP) and of sweeping, large-scale developmental overhauls — and shows just what good properly maintained green spaces can do for historical contamination. A more concrete resolution requires further investigation, though. This week, we will prepare to present our findings at a local environmental justice task force meeting. 

Aside from the work we’ve done with Jim, LEJ has also served as a catalyst for many other kinds of connections. We recently tabled at the California Academy of Science’s Teen Science Night, where we were able to talk about our projects and speak about environmental justice in BVHP — all the while making connections with the youth who were interested in joining future cohorts of Eco-Apprentices.

 Additionally, I was personally able to connect to Dan Fiske from the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals (CCLP) through the recommendation of another staff member at LEJ. CCLP works on providing direct and specific legal advice and policy understanding to local underserved communities in Bayview — which connects wonderfully with my original goal of increasing access to environmental justice. Recently, they have focused on the ongoing lawsuit against TetraTech, the company who was originally responsible for cleaning up after the Hunters Point shipyard closed down and was allegedly found to have falsified clean soil analyses. CCLP needs help with layout and design work for their publications and outreach materials. On top of these, I’ve also been able to connect with various other community-based organizations and even SF government organizations working to build up community resilience to climate change-related issues — helping to set the groundwork for community surveying projects that will extend far beyond the end of my internship here. 

To end off, I’d just like to share a quote that Jim shared with us all when he came to speak — a bit of a mantra that he says has kept him going through difficult times, and which I’ve taken to heart when thinking about my own role and future as a designer and artist. 

If you pursue fixing something important to you as your career, you will wake each day excited to pursue your goals.”


Legends, Curating, Material – Abena Otema Danquah, BArch 23′


I got the opportunity to meet with THE Wiz Kudowor. I don’t even have the words to capture the greatness and impact of his artistry, but he’s one of the legendary Contemporary Artists to come out of Ghana, West Africa and beyond. Wiz and I met on a Wednesday afternoon in his studio and spent almost 3 hours going over his work, his journey as a contemporary artist, Pan-Africanism and identity through our work/ vice versa. I was literally all smiles through the meeting, so excited to be in the same room as this pioneer in the industry who had so much wisdom to share. We bonded over our shared love for painting as he showed me his various works, our thoughts on some of the newer artists and the amazing work they were doing and how much the Ghanaian art world keeps evolving. Particularly in West Africa, it was interesting to hear how when he was starting off in his career, most of his work was either exhibited in the US, Asia and within the African continent, Nigeria. Focusing on Nigeria in particular, we acknowledged how impressive the Nigerian art culture and appreciation was and still is, to the point where Ghanaian artists were so valued in Nigeria during the earlier days in his career because the Ghanaian art market itself was still growing. Interestingly, to this day Nigerian art markets and culture still continues to evolve so beautifully, and we conversed about how good it is to be seeing some of that energy reflected in the growing Ghanaian art world also.

I think something that really stood out to me during our conversation was how important it was to have representation from curators, dealers, gallerists and even admirers coming from the region (Ghana and West Africa). Conversations about exploitation of local artists and artisans are not had enough. Even with more and more local curators starting shop and setting up their galleries and offices in Accra and other parts of Ghana, there are still some notable Gallerists and galleries that are taking advantage of the “African Art” (a tag we both expressed funny thoughts about haha) excitement in the art world and making more profit than the artists who are underexposed and super excited to share their work. I mean business is business in the industry, but there is also an element of care and hopefulness that comes from curators and dealers of the same culture as the artists wanting to share the works for the passion, sweat, relatability and connection of and to the work. Regardless, I personally am glad to see more galleries like Artists Alliance by Professor Ablade Glover, The Noldor Residency and the woman run ADA Gallery sharing the works of the artists they have in residence while also uplifting their lifestyles and potential! I think this was important to document in my journey because a huge aspect of this project is not only to give a few artisans the opportunity to have access to larger markets through the diaspora and locals. It’s also to highlight how important and beautiful it is to support their work, engage willingly and purely with their talent and stories and to share and love the work because it is a representation and documentation of our collective pasts, presents and future through their talent.


I also took a trip outside town to the mountains in Aburi because I’d heard a number of artisans usually set up their work stations along the roads. I met one especially cool man, Mr Joshua Ohene, who shared had a variety of works from large scale drums to stools, all carved by him. He is Akuapem, a tribe from the Eastern Region and a lot of his work captures tales and narratives passed on generationally. He actually learnt how to carve from his father! I was intrigued by the process that goes into his carving, from having to get a permit to go into the forest to chop the wood, the process of preparing the wood before its carved to how they now go about deciding what narratives to tell in their work. ‘Struggle Woman’ was one of the works he described to me, where he was capturing the life of many women he saw around him in his community. Carrying her child on her hip and a basket on her head to sell in the market (not with the intention to glamorize her struggle I think, but rather to acknowledge the sacrifice and hard work of a lot of the women in the community, being care takers and bread winners also ). Most of our conversation was in Twi so the direct translations can be interpreted a little differently. I was very drawn to his narratives and work generally, and being one of the first artisans I had to communicate throughout in Twi, it almost felt like I was really just learning from an elder or grandparent about our art culture – more specific to the Akuapem region of course – but it was really cool seeing how narratives that you’d typically hear in our oral histories are being inscribed and detailed into these pieces.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how while I’m learning so much from some of the people and artisans I’m meeting along this journey, it would be interesting to see how their work could be brought together in a space or an event to promote not just their market bases, but the lessons, educating and just warmth and knowledge that comes from encountering these creators and their works. Also, I think moving forward another direction I’d like to take is perhaps meeting with people already doing curatorial work and learning how they not only gather information form their experiences (related to this project), but also how to intentionally create impact through their curating, be it from the artists to spectators/ consumers or just in the work gathered (still figuring out my thoughts on this but basically, some guidance from people already in this line of work or doing similar projects might be really cool in shaping the experience)!


Initially I had wanted to add a study on local architecture in this experience (largely for personal reasons relating to my architecture experience + general growing interest in local architecture). I decided to focus on the artisans and artists this summer, however I still got the opportunity to visit a few sites in the Dodowa area where a lot of building techniques and old buildings have been preserved for some time. I’m glad I got to explore these sites as I got to see how people in the area were. still practicing what i would describe as rammed earth methods of building coupled with the now typical cement support to almost achieve some sort of balance either in starting off to build or in terms of building maintenance. Super cool! Especially seeing how these methods transcended between building home like structures to even cooking ovens and shelters for gardening. I’d love to explore more of that in the future I think.


Walking out for conversation, Pei-Yu, 2024, ID

Stay out of the conversation. 

Twenty to forty years ago, speaking of this massacre was not only prohibited but many were also executed for even mentioning it. I’d never heard of the stories as a kid. What I have observed throughout my journey, there was a definite fear of remembering the past. Although it has been thirty-plus years since lifting more than half a century of martial law, terror and miscommunications exist. 

“We don’t talk about politics” or “Keep politics out of this” was what I got a lot of times when starting conversations about the massacre. 

Starting conversation 

For one of my past projects with Kiong Seng, we made a poke-a-present game filled with stories of the massacre and had the public interact with it. The game was laid out like the map of Taiwan. We walked out into the streets and invited passersby to participate and “win a prize.” When they poke through the map, they will find stickers and a letter. In the letter, we wrote the stories of the massacre in that region. Then, we encouraged the participant to write their thoughts on a post-it note and cover up the hole they had just made. 

The purpose behind the game was not only to spread awareness of this historical event but also to start a conversation. We saw many parents telling their children about this historical event and many elders willing to share their stories with us. However, there were still many that refused to write anything. Some think we were bending the truth, and few told us not to dwell in the past. Despite the mixed results, this activity presents the current situation of transitional justice and remembrance of the massacre. 

A pop sound is made when they poke through the map, made of heavy-weighted paper. It is an aggressive and nerve-wracking action of breaking something that looks perfect and well-sealed. Similar to the process of uncovering injustices in the past. The participants read the stories of the past. Some stayed silent while they absorbed the pain in the letters, while others were in awe that they had no idea of a story so close to them. When they choose to write on the post-it note, they are in conversation with the past and themselves. It perpetuates the constant revisions, understanding, and reimagining of history, thereby preserving it. In the end, the map was filled with colorful post-its representing the beauty of diverse opinions and people on this land. Even though some holes are not poked through or covered up, it also shows the continuation of working through and discovering more stories and more conversation. 

Keeping the conversation going

For this recent mapping project, I was interested in the act of remembering and memorial. There are many ways to remember a historical event. Though in recent years, the government has made 228, February 28th, a national remembrance day of the massacre, I realized that many still don’t know what that day is for. 

photo of the 228 Memorial Park in Tainan, Taiwan

I begin by thinking of how to map the act of remembrance. The first thought that came into my mind was the few memorial statues and sculptures in each city. Upon further research, most of these sculptures had misinformation or that it had a lack of maintenance. Conversely, we also have a lot of statues of the past dictator in almost all public schools. This dichotomy of historical sculpture and statue preserving two different ideologies interested me. 

This roundabout in my city had a statue of the “founding father” who never set foot in Taiwan and was used as political idolatry during the martial law period. It was also the same roundabout where lawyer Tang Te-chang was executed publicly, whose corpse was left exposed for a week as a warning during the 228 Massacre. Now the statue of the “founding father” has been taken down after a protest. A new statue not related to the massacre was installed. 

I began to invest in different memorial sculptures and designs, trying to understand why people don’t know about them or don’t care. I organized and collected all the other monument places on a spreadsheet. I wanted to apprehend how younger people, like me, think about this issue. Therefore, I planned a road trip, inviting many to join my conversation on the 228 massacre. Many were students like me. Most of them had little to no knowledge of this historical event. I started the road trip by introducing the historical event in the city we were in, encouraging them to ask questions and share their thoughts. 

I was really surprised by how a lot of the conversations turned into. One of the participants, whose political stance was more towards the party involved in the massacre revealed that their relatives were political victims. Though they understand the historical trauma, they still believe in their political views. While I traveled to the different cities, telling stories and talking to people, I kept reflecting on the purpose of this trip. 

After the conversation – now what?

Why is it essential that we talk about the past? 

This is a question I asked all my interviewees and myself. 

History is not about the past. It is the present and the future.

From the tour guide for GinSan 228 

It’s important to talk about it because we can now. Being able to speak freely and have conversations about it, whether pleasant or not, is a privilege. 

one of the interviewees as we drove through the city of Pingtung

To me, the current conclusion I have, talking about the past, is human nature. We like to remind ourselves of what happened yesterday. When the elders speak about the past, they are not just talking about the horrendous past, but also about their past. The history they lived through. Just like how in some of the historical tours, the purpose was to learn about the city’s past.

Learning about the collective past is a way through personal history. Regardless of what side of the story you are on, active learning and listening are love. Love to the land. 

This is similar to those whose loved ones were lost during the massacre. Preserving history was an act of preserving their loved ones. Giving their stories truth was a way that we, who were fortunate to not have to go through the same trauma, can respect their love.

Remembrance of the traumatic past of this land is to remember it was once loved. 

Remember the land. 

Love the land.

Sidenote: There have been dramatic political changes recently with the visit of US Congress Representative Nancy Pelosi. Broadcasts of China’s aircraft and military drills around the island report non-stop. 

Regardless of what happens, life goes on. There will be hope as long as we’re alive. 


Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023

Navigating urban narratives and green alternatives #2, Ruth Wondimu, MARCH, 2023

This past month in Ethiopia has been a time of reflection, learning, and asking many questions for me. My conversations with many architects, family members, and the community have often been my method for getting to know my home again. Although I was hoping that everything I continue to learn about would be something positive, I have been able to learn about the difficulties people live through on a daily basis. For some time, I had found the outreach work challenging because it had been difficult to securely book some time to talk to the organizations that I had believed were highly relevant. However, my work gained a positive trajectory when I was able to attend the annual conference for the Ethiopian Architecture Association on July 23, 2022.

The Ethiopian Architecture Association hosts a panel discussion and an election ceremony annually. However, this panel was happening after three years of discontinuation due to impacts of war and Covid. Therefore, this panel was also a time of reflection for the community. The panel started with a moment of silence and prayer for the victims of war that’s still happening across Ethiopia. From the way everyone immediately stood up, it was easy to see that there was this moment of collective grievance and pain. That became one of the points of conversation for the conference. 

This conference was a very eye-opening experience for me because I went in with the hope of making connections and sharing ideas on sustainability topics. However, that was only a small portion of what I was able to attain and learn from. The first topic of the conference was post war construction. In the hope and belief that one day, this war will come to an end, the discussion was on how architecture can play a role in reconstructing and building new health care facilities, schools, residential places and more. For me, it was a reminder that it is a time of grievance as a country and that people were actively looking for ways to contribute to the better future.

Although there were a variety of topics that were mentioned such as architecture’s role at a time of covid and what the association has done, a project that caught my attention more deeply was called The Ethiopian New School Project. It is a project on developing design prototypes for over 1200 new public schools based on the latest technological advances and environmental considerations. Therefore, the designs were a variety of prototypes developed based on their climatic and locational conditions with heavy considerations of water systems, energy access, and comfort. I was immediately excited to figure out who was responsible for the environmental consulting aspect of it. I was later informed that there aren’t many groups responsibly dedicated to the environmental aspect of the project.  However, I was able to obtain the contact information of the few groups that could be of significant value in discussing environmentally conscious projects.

Ethiopian New Schools Proposal

Following the conference, I have been able to connect with two groups that have been pioneering discussions surrounding architecture and urban development. One of them is Architecture Werhawi (Architecture Monthly) and the other one is The Urban Center. The two groups also often collaborate on a variety of projects. I was able to send my proposal where teams from each group will be able to review my proposal and hopefully collaborate. 

On a personal reflection, I believe that this experience has taught me that circumstances on ground have been and continue to be difficult for people. The consequences of war impacts people on the daily through personal stories, inflation, and unattainable living expenses. The unemployment rate and low wages have been discouraging for many recent graduates. That, however, makes me believe that there is a role for the green industry to play here. The fact that a new type of industry might create new employment opportunities, encourage utilization of local resources on a more industrial level, and make water and electricity more easily and widely accessible is a good enough reason to discuss this topic. Therefore, this experience has empowered me to facilitate this conversation further.


Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy: Mei Zheng BFA ID 23’ and Carmen Belmonte Sandoval BFA ID 23’

Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy

Mei: Hello, everyone! My name is Mei [they/them]. I’m a rising senior in Industrial Design with double minors in Nature, Culture, Sustainability Studies, and History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences: Scientific Inquiry at the Rhode Island School of Design.

For our Follow the Fellows, my partner, Carmen Belmonte Sandoval, and I will be taking turns each to share our own perspectives throughout this Maharam Fellowship.

Introducing The Pathways Program


This summer, we are working with HYPOTHEkids [a K-12, STEAM-education non-profit located in West Harlem, NYC] and Beam Center [Brooklyn, NYC] teams to redefine design pedagogy through the Biomedical Engineering and Design Thinking lens. In addition, the Pathways Program [a 6-week accelerated program collaboration between HYPOTHEkids, Beam Center, and SolarOne NYC] has already kickstarted and had our 2-week portion for July 5th, where we redesigned educational materials with considerations of students who’ve newly immigrated to the United States and are in the process of getting their GEDs. In this program, we’ve developed a multilingual curriculum to make heart rate monitors through guided activities, presentations, workshops, and celebrations for these hands-on experiences.

As we began our Maharam Fellowship, we centered, firstly, on the experiences of these students through empowerment in understanding the many different ways of communication to inspire co-creation and collaboration.

6/13 Starting Adjustments, Virtual Programming 

For our Maharam Fellowship, we are collaborating with HYPOTHEkids. When we started, the first couple of weeks were mostly us getting adjusted to moving, getting acquainted with learning materials, and meeting our vibrant internship advisor and Bioforce Program Director at HYPOTHEkids, Liv, along with HYPOTHEkids staff members! In this process, both virtual and transitioning to in-person, we understood the limitations of our proposal, which included the engagement of public space [i.e., collaborating with NYC public parks and NYCHA], and that plans do change as time goes on. 

During these virtual meetings with Liv, we discussed further the planning of the expected weeks along with the existing Biomedical Engineering Design materials to construct learning lessons to be flexible and interactive. Carmen and I recognized that though these processes are similar, the effectiveness remains in how the content is made accessible in context. The question that came up for both of us was,

  • how might we develop these multilingual materials visually to align both content to context? How can we utilize design to inspire joyful and accessible experiences?
HYPOTHEkids Biomedical Engineering Design Notes
Double Diamond Implementation by Meret Götschel

Our main goal for this collaboration is to introduce and engage new design thinking tools to inspire hands-on, intergenerational learning amongst all. Even with the change, we noticed that the connections to our initial proposal remained centered with the Pathways Program, as it asks us all [students, educators, facilitators] the question of,

  • how do we intend to arrange “with” and not “for” marginalized students to create spaces of empowerment, agency, and accessibility that are expansive?

We are prepared to be flexible as this experience emerges, with pursuing these initial activities and goals as discussed:

  1. Interacting with staff members [i.e., Curriculum Specialists, Directors, Coordinators, etc.] in re-formulating pilot lessons about STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics] and inviting collaboration between other local non-profit organizations.
  2. Participating in these workshops’ planning and assembling process and the on-site presence of HYPOTHEkids.
  3. Researching and assessing successes in the engagement and cost-effectiveness of developing this new intergenerational educational curricula.
  4. Developing educational and accessible engagement artifacts/skills to continue memorable learning experiences.

Truthfully, we both arrived and started our Maharam Fellowship a bit earlier than most of our cohort in late June and wanted to take some time to sit with and reflect on our insights before we shared them, as these moments are ones to remember. 

6/18 – Mei: With my suitcase and duffle bags in hand, traveling by train from Providence, Rhode Island, to New York City, I felt this readiness to undergo a series of transformations and the willingness to “not know.” Such acknowledgment of this gem of “not knowing” was shared through the knowledge of Alexx Temeña, founder of the School of Embodied Praxis, and the 2022 breath fellowship, a virtual eight-week residency collaboration between the School of Embodied Praxis x The Haus of Glitter strengthening the art and practice of care in rest to which I’m so grateful to have been a part of, to recognize that rest practice allows the embodiment of fluidity in design learning, design learning is not linear, hence: to know is to “not know”; to rest is to protest; to learn is to practice. So when I finally found myself in the abundance of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, I knew there was much to learn from my surrounding community and what could emerge from this experience. 

Captured what emerged from exposed film moving in, showing powerful stillness through the lens of this window to transformation crucial to my experience beginning this Maharam Fellowship [thank you, Radhika, for sharing this gem, “The Window of Transformation” by Kai Cheng Thom].

Thank you for the warm welcomes from my fellow roommates, Noah [RISD Arch 21’], Marc [RISD Furn 19’], and Sruti [RISD Furn 19’] [always felt your presence here], for creating such a space for slowness and kindness, even when I got the entrance key stuck the first day.

The Window of Transformation by Kai Cheng Thom

6/20Planning In-Person, Seeing HYPOTHEkids

Upon arrival at HYPOTHEkids, it was exciting for us both to see how lesson plans were developed on-site by staff and distributed through assembled kits. In addition, we met Christine Kovich, Executive Director of HYPOTHEkids, and Liv Newkirk, Bioforce Program Director and Internship Advisor, for the first time in person! 

Supplies used for assembling kits & lesson plans.
Meeting with Liv to discuss questions, thoughts, and more about curriculum development.

We began our mornings brainstorming ideas, writing notes, and sharing feedback through Miro. This helped us construct goals, deliverables, and methods to redesign this curriculum. Within this week, Carmen and I referred to visual learning methods from our past studio experiences at RISD, which inspired us to experiment with programming. Miro helped us define our core questions, to then we were able to prompt conversations that needed to happen about access to equipment, language, and space.

Planning notes through Miro: activities, materials, timing, review, etc.

Unlearning and Relearning Design Pedagogy

The Social Change Ecosystem Map by Deepa Iyer, Building Movement Project, 2018

Mei: This fellowship experience will significantly impact my social practice, as it’ll engage, firstly, why we designers are integral and essential in co-creating these opportunities that offer expansive ways of design thinking. In exploring these vast methods of teaching and learning with the community, I spent these initial weeks reading into and practicing more profound mutual aid and rest. I like to imagine a future where we: the critical experimenters, visionaries, healers, and more [who care and engage in these collaborative settings for equity, liberation, justice, and solidarity] co-creating spaces of mutual aid and solidarity as to accessibility and social justice [refer to Deepa Iyer’s, The Social Change Ecosystem Map, 2018]: co-liberation. In redesigning even this curriculum around materials on Biomedical Engineering Design, that is digestible and slow, we unlearn harm in the ways that design teaches us to move linear/fast, and we relearn that this process is emergent/slow. Celebrating each other through this joy is what I find in a community that holds you and others tenderly. 

“If you think that this work is like programming a microwave, where an input leads to immediate output, that’s capitalism speaking.”

[Rehearsing Solidarity: Learning from Mutual Aid, 117]
Art reminds us of the presence of history in visual storytelling, deeply embedded in the social fabric of a community – a mural spotted across the street from HYPOTHEkids in Harlem, NYC.

What’s Next?

In the upcoming weeks to share, we’ve continued designing the curricula through experiential learning [i.e., by practicing Arduino at Columbia’s Biomedical Engineering Department] and met the creative and passionate students at Beam Center. We also began teaching the first week of the Pathways Program! We continued to follow the goals of accessibility to language and collaboration between all students to offer these many pathways to understanding.

Thank you for finding time to come along with the beginnings of this journey in unlearning and relearning design pedagogy.