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Meet Thor Erickson of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP

Today we’d like to introduce you to Thor Erickson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Thor. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In 2007, [bc]’s Founding Director Brent Brown’s firm Brown Architects was commissioned to design a Community Center in the Jubilee neighborhood, including a six-month community engagement process completed under the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP name. Brent recognized that the neighborhood faced many more issues than could be solved through the traditional client-based architectural model. Through conversations with organizations and individuals working in the field of community design, he became aware that, as a non-profit, [bc] could fundraise for initiatives beyond the scope of market demand, such as the renovation of extant homes in a low-income neighborhood, to better serve communities. The communities which have the greatest needs are typically the most lacking in resources, posing financial risks that for-profit entities are unwilling or unable to take. [bc] received 501(c)3 non-profit status in 2008 and has since grown to include four offices; Dallas, Houston, and Brownsville in Texas, and Washington, DC.

[bc] practices architecture and planning in a way that couples design with community engagement in order to confront inequity in our cities. Contrasting typical development practices, [bc]s work begins and ends with conversations with the communities in which it will take place. The impact of the work is multiplied as community members become empowered to take an active role in the shaping of their neighborhoods. Recent and ongoing projects include: The Cottages at Hickory Crossing, a permanent supportive housing complex for the 50 most chronically homelessness individuals in Dallas; Casitas Los Olmos, an 80-unit multifamily housing project in Raymondville, TX that incorporates Low Impact Development strategies to manage stormwater; sustainABLEhouse, an initiative to design affordable, efficient, contextually-appropriate, and resident-informed single-family housing through an inclusive design process; a state-wide disaster recovery initiative that reimagines an equitable disaster recovery mode; and many neighborhood-scale planning and creative placemaking initiatives. Consequently, the design process is a true collaboration between architect and client that empowers individuals who have never before been asked to participate in design conversations.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The inherent risk in working in underserved communities is breaching trust.

Marginalized communities are often just that—disconnected, disenfranchised, and distrusting due to decades of policies that have left them struggling. In beginning work with these communities, [bc] strives to build bridges of trust early on. [bc] often starts by partnering with organizations or individuals that have been already working in these communities and have established a trusted presence. Once work has begun, outcomes identified in the engagement process must clearly link to project outcomes in order for trust to be maintained and furthered into the future. This can often be difficult given project constraints but is critical to the success of the initiative.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about buildingcommunityWORKSHOP – what should we know?
[bc] is a Texas based nonprofit community design center seeking to improve the livability and viability of communities through the practice of thoughtful design and making. [bc] enriches the lives of citizens by bringing design thinking to areas of our cities where resources are most scarce. As an organization, [bc] works to improve access, choice, and quality in affordable housing, strengthen identity and build capacity among neighborhoods, and advance the practice of public interest design through a variety of programs and initiatives.

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