Author, industrial designer, architect, educator, social activist, and leader, Emily Pilloton (B.A. Architecture, 2003) is a firm believer that design and the designer can and should have world-changing social impact. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the 501c3 nonprofit organization Project H Design, a grassroots network dedicated to using design to create positive social change in local communities. In 2009, she published Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People, a collection of life-improving humanitarian products, and embarked on The Design Revolution Roadshow, a traveling exhibition and lecture series bringing design that empowers” to high schools and universities nationwide.
The “H” in Studio H has many definitions, including humanity, habitats, health, and happiness—themes that underlie the community-centric goal of Project H Design’s endeavors. Created in 2008, the organization has nine chapters across the U.S. and massive popular support, with over 380,000 followers on Twitter, and over 3,000 Facebook fans. Successfully completed projects include building furniture for rural elementary schools in Mexico, the development of interactive outdoor learning environments (Learning Landscapes) around the world, the design of Hippo Roller, an innovative yet practical device helping rural women transport water, and creating therapeutic spaces for children in foster care homes in Austin, Texas.
One of the most exciting projects in Project H Design is Studio H, a year-long high school “design/build” program at Bertie Early College High School in Windsor, North Carolina in one the poorest counties in the state. Working hands-on, students engage in critical and creative thinking and productively apply these newfound skills to give back to the community. Through the course, students earn college credit and the opportunity of summer employment, working on a Studio H-sponsored community project. The first year of Studio H concluded this past October with the opening of the first large-scale project, Windsor Farmer’s Market. Designed and constructed by the students (except the more specialized work), the Windsor Farmer’s Market is emblematic of the community-centric focus of the Project H Design initiative, ensuring continuing community access to fresh foods and growth of the local economy. Studio H continues with an intensive semester format in January 2012.
The impacts of Project H Design have also been felt globally. The Learning Landscape, in locations such as Thailand, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic, utilizes a simple grid of tires buried in the ground to facilitate interactive learning and play. Through the Learning Landscapes Network, educators around the world can contribute new ideas to the Learning Landscape system.
Though the influence of many of Project H Design’s initiatives are only felt locally, their profound community impact speaks to the larger movement of sustainable design as a practical humanitarian approach to deliver tangible, positive results. This focus continues to grow and gain national recognition. In November, the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland opened the exhibition, Studio H: Design. Build. Transform. Studio H Design is a three-time consecutive Sappi Ideas that Matter recipient. Learning Landscapes continue to be built worldwide.
Before founding Project H Design in 2008, Pilloton regularly contributed as Managing Editor to the green design blog Inhabitat, and held adjunct professorships at the Illinois Institute of Art and the School of the Art Institute Chicago. After receiving her B.A. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, Pilloton went on to study for her M.A. in Designed Objects from the School of the Art Institute Chicago. In 2010, she was a speaker at TED, lecturing on incorporating design into public education to further the creative capital of future generations. This coming year, Pilloton will deliver the commencement speech to the College of Environmental Design 2012 graduating class.