The documentary If You Build It shows how design is taught as a way to effect social change. The film opens the What Design Can Do Film Festival on 1 May at De Balie.

By Rozemarijn Koopmans

In If You Build It, Christine O’Malley and Patrick Creadon travel to an American secondary school in rural North Carolina where they follow Project H Design, a platform for design activists who aim to transform social systems through design-based education.

Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller of Project H Design teach the fundamentals of design, architecture and construction to a class of pupils. Faced with rising unemployment, a struggling educational system and increasing racial tension, the people of Bertie County in North Carolina turn to Pilloton, Miller and their students for help. The documentary discovers that what the class designs and builds for their town has the potential to transform their community for generations to come.

Reversing the brain drains

Bertie County proves to be typical of many towns in rural America. By what is referred to as a ‘brain drain’, the most educated and qualified people move to big cities, leaving behind hollowed-out communities. Building a life in these villages becomes less attractive for young people left behind. So Pilloton and Miller concluded that teaching crafts that instantly improve the quality of the surroundings would make a big difference. ‘It’s like running a design firm full of sixteen-year-olds.’

Although Pilloton and Miller come across as design ideologists who are convinced that superior aesthetics will change society, their way of thinking does result in concrete improvements. Not only does If You Build It impress with its demonstration of how design thinking can solve major contemporary issues, it also reveals the power of alternative teaching methods. If You Build It calls for embedding crafts and entrepreneurship in education and leaves you wondering whether we should redesign education. The answer is most definitely yes.

If You Build It
1 May  2014, 21:15 h.

De Balie
Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10
Amsterdam
020 5535100

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