Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies

Collaborations: MFA CD Blog

OCCUPY Portland: Musings and Observations Part 1

Text by Danielle Olson MFA ’13

Photo via Merrick Monroe

The following is a story of my involvement in the Occupy movement, specifically Occupy Portland, and how it has influenced my academic experience as an MFA Collaborative Design Student at PNCA. The Occupy movement’s purpose is to intervene in a system: a system where the government is heavily influenced by wealthy corporations.

Where it begins: October 15th

My first visit to the Occupy encampment was amidst the Global Day of Action; although I can’t say from first-hand experience, it felt like a throw-back to 1969. The organically formed tent city, sprawling with people, music, and colorful signage, was reminiscent of a bazaar.

After spending some time talking to people at random, I found myself wanting to hear their personal stories: why they were there, and what they were trying to make happen. Spurred on by this inspiration, I decided that I would return to interview more people for the intervention project required in our Systems Thinking class. The requirements for this project were to come up with some kind of action, public art, etc. that would find a way to intervene in a system. By intervening in the Occupy system in a way that strengthens it, I could also hope to make an impact on the larger systems of government and corporations. I wanted to ask questions that would get people thinking about what the Occupy movement is about and what needs to be done; to evoke the thoughts of not only those being interviewed, but those who might watch the footage online.


My first interviews! October 23rd

Alejandro and Reya both talked about the compassion and rich interaction they had experienced through Occupy Portland. Reya expressed the inner thoughts that led her to become active in the movement, “I love working with children, and in analysing the current state of the world I’ve realized it’s something I’m not proud of handing to them.”

Serenading a CEO: November 3rd

I recorded several more interviews and spent a few hours at the camp along with one of my classmates and one of my mentors. Joel, a seasoned activist there, had some profound things to say. I spoke with people who were involved in various committees and working groups, including Troy who was homeless and came to the occupy camp to help manage and make art for the art tent. We walked to the Hilton where some people were protesting Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who was speaking to the Portland business alliance. They were singing to the tune of Love Potion Number 9, “Lord knows you’ve got to change Jaime…the truth is, you know it, you should be in jail!” The singers included some very creative verses. To top off that event, we watched a swat team ride by: about 9 officers in all black, hanging out of windows and doors on all sides of a white van.

Photo via Michelle Rafter

* * *

Field Trip: THE NEST


An essential dimension of the Collaborative Design program is, well, collaboration. Some have the sense that collaboration as easy, elementary if you will. This has not, however, been the experience of the MFA students inhabiting the first semester of this new program. Teams have been used in several design labs and classes. So, forming, storming, norming and performing is the reality, but who would have thought the distance between each level of team development would be like crossing the Grand Canyon? Many ways to cross and none easy, just ask Evel Knievel.



One team decided they needed time in the woods, being together, making their collective way to a destination. In this case, The Nest, a little tree house nestled on the gentle base slopes of Mt. Hood, made for an agreeable goal of interest to all. This “time in the woods,” is one of many techniques that can help a team come together.



Team members need trust, respect and experience with each other. From primitive tribes to University board rooms, teams have built all we know as the human environment, and will continue to build the future. Collaborating with people who think differently, have strong opinions, different mannerisms, different talents, and different values is essential for nearly all successful endeavors, including creating a smoothly working democratic society.


Text by mentor Don Harker
Photos by Laura DeVito ’13

* * *

S.H.I.T. Lab: Northwest Permaculture Convergence

Sanitation, Hygiene and Integral Technologies: legal, social and technical breaks in the nutrient cycle. (SHIT lab)

After immersing ourselves in the scientific, technical & social histories of human waste, our first major project was to design, build, and implement a portable composting toilet system for the Northwest Permaculture Convergence this past October.

nikon (19 of 19)

In collaboration with our mentors Mathew Lippincott and Molly Danielsson of the Cloacina Project, we put together an open source hardware platform for toilets, urinals, hand sinks and privacy screens to accommodate a 500-person event. We also created signage, training protocol, and a help line using GroupMe to provide a safe, hygienic, and educational user experience. At the end of the weekend, we delivered the compost to a nearby farmer, and attendees of the NWPCC were thrilled to have closed their nutrient cycle!

nikon (18 of 19)

nikon (10 of 19)

We are currently working on putting together a manual for DIY dry household toilets in the context of a natural disaster. Sanitation is a universal human need, but it is often inadequately addressed. We are excited to be a part of the conversation!

Text by Morgan O’Hara ’13
Photos by Halley Roberts ’13

* * *

Wieden + Kennedy Tomorrow AND Oregon Sustainability Center


This semester we have been working with W+K Tomorrow— Nick Barham and Jamie Ostrov, to develop the Action Center of the Oregon Sustainability Center. The OSC is Oregon’s first living building, meaning that in all planning stages it has undergone the Living Building Challenge it will be a triple net zero space, will act as a beacon in the city, and will provide an evocative guide for other building projects going forth.

An illustration of how the building will achieve water independence. Image taken from the OSC blog.

The Action Center will be an interactive space in the first two floors of the OSC, which will explain the inner workings of the building, create context within the community of Portland and Oregon, and attempt to address the dynamic and exploratory notion of a building literally being alive.

An example of what some of the living walls may look like.

We have spent the past several months researching and examining other projects in order to gather and cull successful ideas for the space. The aim is to shape the building’s interior to truly incorporate the community of Portland, reflecting both the innovative tech side of the city, as well as the D-I-Y crowd. We are currently in the concluding stages of our development process, which involves a number of students working closely with a WK creative to synthesize our final designs for the Action Center. These will be presented to the OSC board in December.


Future location for the OSC building. Image borrowed from here.

Text by Halley Roberts ’13.

* * *

Workshop: Smith Rock Adventure

smith rock, gray

The Collaborative Design’s Smith Rock elective was a weekend workshop in Central Oregon’s majestic Smith Rock State Park and surrounding area. Located between Sisters and Redmond, Oregon, Smith Rock State Park encompasses 651 acres on the Oregon high desert plateau and towers to 3000 feet in elevation. The Collaborative Design class met with Park Ranger Bruce Smith to talk about the history of the park and discuss some of the wicked problems that arise from the contentious intersection between landowners, park service, visitors, and wildlife.

smith rock, emma and chelsea
Chelsea and Emma

Aerial disturbance to Gold Eagles, which nest in the rock formations, is one such problem that has been ongoing and unresolved. Over the years, disturbance to nesting eagles has led to decreased survival of fledglings, and a drop in returning nesters. Smith Rock is also known for attracting year round visitors with over 1800 climbing routes, a popular sport whose unregulated days may be numbered at the park. The park service is currently faced with the challenging decision to regulate some of these climbs to protect visitors who may fall vicitim to reckless climbing practices associated with the popular “swing” off Monkey Face Rock coveted by thrill seekers. The student group broke out into some great brainstorming sessions on how to draw solutions around these and other problems with consideration to multiple stakeholders.

smith rock, peter
Fearless leader, Peter Schoonmaker.

The final day of the workshop, the group was visited by Brad Chalfant from Deschutes Land Trust, who shared his experiences in land use planning in rural areas. His insightful lecture emphasized that management is not one-size fits all, exemplified by recreation-oriented Bend as compared to the ranching-oriented city of Prineville. The trip was wrapped up with a visit to the B&B fire complex on the Deschutes National Forest, Sisters Ranger District, where the chair of the collaborative program, Peter Schoonmaker, led discussions on changing forest management practices over time.

smith rock, santigie

The workshop was an effective place-based educational experience for students to learn about some of the problems that exist within even the most beautiful systems. Furthermore, it provided an opportunity for the group to learn more about each other and establish strong and trusting relationships that will certainly last beyond the the inaugural 2-year program.

smith rock, fording
Fording the stream

Text by Chelsea Stephens ’13
Photos by Halley Roberts ’13

* * *

Shoulders We Stand On: Donella Meadows

photo from here

“Simple miracles. Satisfying work, like baking bread or building a shelf. Fresh, delicious food. . . . Health for land and people. Sometimes I wonder, with all our supposed progress, what we’re rushing toward and what we’re leaving behind.”
—Donella Meadows, “An Ode to the Cow and the Milk,” The Global Citizen, January 25, 2001

It is important to acknowledge that our thoughts and inspirations never arise ex nihilo; there are those who have gone before that pave the way for our convictions, the things we feel beholden to, and our way of approaching wicked problems.

One such pioneer in the world of systems thinking, sustainable living, and environmental conscientiousness is Donella Meadows, 1941-2001. Meadows’ writings, research and practical demonstrations of living in a resilient manner have come to shape how we think about and understand global systems on both a macro and micro scale. Her work addresses the long delays and complex feedbacks that are common to systems, but also inspires people to think about individual choices in their daily living.

A chart from Meadows’ 1972 book The Limits to Growth. Image from here

In 1972, Meadows, along with two other scientists from MIT (Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, her husband at the time) created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global ‘overshoot,’ or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Shockingly, their model at that time was right, and the three co-authors have long been internationally recognized for their groundbreaking research into early signs of wear on the planet. The book launched a worldwide debate on the earth’s capacity to withstand constant human development and expansion, and we now know that their predictions for earth’s limits came quite close to the truth.

Cobb Hill
An image of Cobb Hill, the eco-village and organic farm that Meadows developed in Vermont.

One of Meadows’ more recent articles, titled, “Places to Intervene in a System” (1997), has found its way into the students’ fall reading list for their Systems Thinking class with Howard Silverman. You can access the whole article here.

Meadows has been right on so many levels, and we owe a great debt to her innovative thinking, desire for achieving sustainability, and her concentrated efforts to make others feel the same. In her own enduring words, “We have exactly enough time, starting now.”

* * *

Page 4 of 4 pages ‹ First  < 2 3 4