Open Access
Katherine Melcher

In architecture and related design fields, there is a perception that community participation in design requires a compromise with aesthetic quality. Alternatively, community-built design (the practice of involving local residents in the design and construction of places) values both participation and aesthetics. Community-built practitioners value aesthetic quality because it instills a sense of pride in the project that in turn strengthens the connections between people and the place involved; it builds community. A qualitative analysis of articles written by and about community-built artists and designers illustrates how their processes work to respect the contributions of all participants while, at the same time, producing artful design solutions. Practitioners utilize a form of structured openness in their projects, processes, and roles. Community-built practices suggest that designers in fields such as architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, should not think of participation and aesthetics as trade-offs but, instead, consider participation as an opportunity to bring new ideas into their work and to develop an aesthetic that reflects the richness and complexity of the participatory process.

In architecture and related design fields there is a perception that socially-responsible design involves a compromise with aesthetic quality. For example, in his review of the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit “Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement,” Nicolai Ouroussoff noted that “the big surprise of the show is that so many of the projects are actually good. …the exhibition makes a powerful case that it is possible to create work that is both socially uplifting and architecturally compelling.” 1 The general impression is that when design involves large numbers of people, it cannot result in a place with high-quality aesthetics. When Katherine Crewe studied designers’ perceptions of citizen input, she found that “all interviewees expressed frustration of some kind at the public’s aesthetic tastes.” 2 This “ongoing ‘potential’ for conflict” 3 between the taste of designers and public preferences has not been discussed much since her study was published in 2001.


Community-built practices involve local residents in the design and construction of community projects such as parks, gathering places, murals, and gardens. 4 Professional artists, designers, and architects, who identify themselves as community-built practitioners, value both participation and aesthetics in their work. In this paper, an analysis of written texts about community-built work demonstrates how inclusive participatory processes do not necessarily require a designer to abandon aesthetic concerns. The experiences of community-built practitioners suggest that participatory designers in fields such as architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, should not think of participation and aesthetics as trade-offs but, instead, consider participation as an opportunity to bring new ideas into their work and to develop an aesthetic that reflects the richness and complexity of the participatory process.


As a human activity, design has always intended to solve human problems and to make life better for us humans. Social design as a subset of design raises the questions of which humans we are designing for and how we decide what a “better life” means. In our pluralistic society, there is not one easy answer to these questions; there is not one problem or need that all humans have equally. Yet, at the same time, designers must create one design. For projects in the public realm, that one design needs to serve many, ideally serving in many different ways.

The debate over how design can best serve humanity can be illustrated through the lack of consensus on terms used to describe the practice. 5 Terms such as “humanitarian design” and “design for humanity” capture the idea of design serving people, especially those who might have been marginalized or overlooked in society. “Social impact design” shifts the focus from the client to the outcomes of the project. Terms such as “participatory design,” “community-engaged design,” and “public interest design,” emphasize the involvement of people (again, particularly those who might not have “had a voice” in the past) in the design process. This last set of terms is less-focused on who the design is for or what the impact of the design will be, but instead on how the process is run.

Within the debates surrounding these different terms, one can find two opposing characterizations of the relationship between aesthetics and participation. On the one hand, humanitarian design (and designing “for” humanity) is criticized for prioritizing, as Cinnamon Janzer and Lauren Weinstein describe it, “the agenda of the designer and freedom of creativity” over “end-user empowerment and a deep understanding of the end-user’s worldviews.” 6 By envisioning design as something given to people by outside experts, these terms do not acknowledge the ability of people to solve their own problems. Because it prioritizes the designer’s aesthetic over the citizen’s input, this approach is accused of having imperialistic or neocolonialist overtones. 7

The other characterization offered is to prioritize participation over aesthetics, making the designer a facilitator rather than an expert. Rising out of the social movements of the 1960s and in reaction against the top-down urban renewal projects of the time, community and participatory design’s central concerns were that people have a voice and, ideally, decision-making power in design issues affecting their everyday lives. 8 Nadia Anderson notes that participation in design “shifts the relationship of the architect to the public from one of expertise, in which the architect provides knowledge as a service to a passive public, to one of reciprocal partnership, in which both parties share knowledge to enhance each other’s perspectives.” 9 The people are considered the experts in their own lives, and “the artist is no longer the individual creative genius but rather an engaged facilitator of activities.” 10

In this approach, visual aesthetics often gets ignored or overlooked. Much of the published writing about public interest design or participatory design ignores questions of aesthetics, focusing instead on the social ethics and impacts of the practice. 11 Within the field of design in general, Ilpo Koskinen reflects that “when the attention of design shifts to social forces, aesthetic concepts tied to products lose a good deal of their relevance,” 12 and “with this shift, traditional object-bound aesthetic concepts lose a good deal of their validity and may give a false impression of new social design as social science rather than design.” 13 Koskinen outlines new approaches that redefine aesthetics to be about social impact rather than a perceptual and sensual experience. 14


Reclassifying designers as facilitators rather than experts raises questions as to what design professionals contribute to participatory process, especially in terms of aesthetics. Traditionally, design professionals' area of expertise, their sine qua non, was aesthetics. 15 If participatory designers retain a traditional notion of aesthetics (in architecture, often considered a preference for “high Modernism”), they risk devolving aesthetics into debates about taste and style. They could be seen as imposing their class-based tastes on others. If architects no longer care about the aesthetics of physical form, what do they bring to the process that a community developer or engineer would not? When architect Alejandro Aravena argues that “these difficult complex issues require professional quality, not professional charity,” 16 I think he is arguing that an architect’s expertise in how to create beautiful and inspiring forms is a valuable contribution to a participatory design process. Defining what “professional quality” means in terms of participatory and architectural design remains open to debate. But, I argue, visual aesthetics needs to be part of the debate surrounding social design instead of being replaced by other social goals.

If we reject both characterizations, if we do not accept that one has to choose aesthetics or participation to the detriment of the other, the question remains: how can a designer support and celebrate human empowerment while also creating an aesthetically-pleasing design form? Is there a way for designers to inspire the creativity of all participants, and use that collective creativity to inspire compelling and uplifting design?


Community-built practitioners acknowledge that there is, as Milenko Matanovic, founder of the Pomegranate Center says, “a precarious tension between community participation and good design.” 17 Community involvement is the core defining feature of their work. 18 As community-built artist Tom Arie Donch explains, “Community built starts with a very fundamental thing: that everyone can be involved and that everyone has a point of expression.” 19 However, at the same time, Matanovic admits that “… when the community decides to design ‘by committee,’ the result [can end up] being a mediocre project reflecting the lowest common denominator.” 2020 Instead of ignoring or dismissing concerns over aesthetic quality, these practitioners value high-levels of aesthetic quality. “It’s like a good chef,” Matanovic explains, “your calories come in many different ways, but a good chef will arrange something that is pleasing and professional.” 21


The following descriptions of community-built practices are based on a qualitative analysis of articles written by and about community-built practitioners. 22 The analysis demonstrates how they value both participation and aesthetics, even when the two conflict. Additionally, their practices demonstrate how designers who work in the public realm can negotiate these tensions in order to respect the contributions of all participants while, at the same time, producing artful design solutions.

The Value of Aesthetics in Community-Built Work

Perhaps one reason aesthetics is not often discussed in relationship to participatory design is that aesthetics is a highly subjective term that can be defined by many different criteria. 23 For this paper, aesthetic quality is defined by the positive qualities that community-built practitioners themselves identified within their projects. The four physical and visual qualities most often mentioned in the analyzed texts were: unique, authentic, and local; beautiful; high-quality (especially in terms of craftsmanship); and unified (in appearance and/or meaning).


If we take these four characteristics to be the primary positive aesthetic qualities of community-built projects, we can then examine the role of aesthetics and its relationship with participation more closely.


The first quality of being unique, authentic, and local is easily supported and enhanced through participatory processes. The more people are involved in the design, the more likely the project will be a unique expression of local character. In this case, participation aids aesthetic quality instead of detracting from it.

The second quality, beauty, like aesthetics itself, is difficult to define objectively; whether or not participation contributes to the beauty of a project depends on how one defines beauty. Regardless, beauty is highly valued in community-built work because it helps people develop a sense of pride and attachment to a place. For example, Matanovic states that “When beauty is baked into the design, more people use our malls, streets, bridges, and town squares and they do it with more enthusiasm, civility, and respect.” 24

The latter two qualities – quality craftsmanship and unity – are more in conflict with participatory practices. Constructing a quality project with volunteer labor of varying skills is challenging. Having a unified project while at the same time valuing everyone’s ideas and contributions is also difficult. However, despite their challenges, these qualities are valuable to the community-built projects. Practitioners linked quality construction to participants’ sense of pride in both the project and in themselves. For example, mosaic artist Lilli Ann Rosenberg observed: “… you want it to look really marvelous. You don’t want them to make something they can’t be really proud of, so you make sure it’s going to look good.” 25 Taking pride in a well-made final product can lead to senses of empowerment and ownership, and ultimately, a close connection to the place. 26


Practitioners require unity in a project because it moves the project from a simple collection of individual voices to an expression of how those individual voices can coalesce into a larger community. By finding unity in the design, people can explore how they fit into a larger group. In mosaics, Donch suggests that it can start “with a single child making the tile … to realizing that she is part of a larger group that are all putting them together and making drawings and making tiles.” 27As participants work together to develop that unified form or content, they also develop a sense of connection to others and to the community at large. Muralists Eva Cockcroft, John Weber, and Jim Cockcroft reflect: “The social nature of the process, if carefully supported, allows each child to grow, to be valued, and to define himself or herself as a member of the school community or larger community, rather than as an isolated dreamer.” 28


Although these aesthetic qualities — in particular, quality craftsmanship and unified design — may be challenging to realize within participatory processes, they also contribute to the overall project goals of strengthening people’s relationships with place and with each other, which is, ultimately, the goal of community-built work. For these reasons, aesthetic quality, even if it sometimes conflicts with the participatory values in community-built work, remains valuable to the process and the final projects. In fact, many practitioners find value in the conflict itself. Artist Lily Yeh points out that “conflicting forces can be harnessed into a powerful, cohesive energy that serves to build rather than destroy.” 29 Conflicts within participatory design can actually result in interesting aesthetics. As the Portland-based non-profit City Repair advises, “Design by consensus can be very challenging. There will be disagreements about aesthetics, style and other details—and often these differences of opinion lead to the most interesting projects!” 30

Negotiating between Participation and Aesthetics

As seen above, community-built practitioners value both participation and aesthetic quality in their work and are not willing to sacrifice one for the other. How do they negotiate the conflicts between the two, especially between valuing contributions of all participants and creating a unified design? How do they, as Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft phrase it, “try to ensure that the active creativity of each group member is elicited and valued so that it contributes to the give-and-take from which emerges a shared vision”? 31 There is not one community-built process; each practitioner has his/her own approach. However, from the textual analysis, three aspects of the community-built process appeared to be especially well-suited for negotiating the tensions of inclusive participation and quality projects:


1. Community-built practitioners select materials and styles that are accessible to beginning artists and builders.

2. They use a unifying structure, such as a theme or master plan, that is flexible enough to allow for individual variations.

3. The approach and attitude of the practitioner is key in developing the appropriate give and take between participatory processes and aesthetic quality.

Materials and Styles

Community-built practitioners often use low-tech materials and construction methods that allow many people to be involved in the project while producing quality, long-lasting results. Materials such as wood, concrete, stone, and mosaic tile, are less intimidating to people with a variety of skill levels. Since construction methods using these materials tend to be labor intensive, they require the help of many hands, making them ideal for participatory construction. Low-tech materials also tend to age well. Stylistic choices such as curvilinear forms can be less intimidating for beginning artists 32 and are also more forgiving of the mistakes that can occur in volunteer construction projects. 33


Mosaics are an ideal medium for community-built work because of their accessbility, permanence, and collaborative nature. As artist Laurel True says, “there’s something about mosaics that makes people who don’t think of themselves as artistic feel they could do one.” 34 At the same time, Rosenberg explains, “the lasting nature of the medium speaks reams to those whose ceramic works are set in concrete, and to those who see these works in public places-- this is art for the ages, art that will last for generations. This is work that is of value, and by obvious implication the makers of it also have value.” 35 Clay tile mosaics also force a form of equality between participants. Rosenberg observed that clay tiles made by community members can only get to a certain size before they break, which makes sure that no one image or one person dominates the wall. 36

The Process: Open Structures

A theme seen across community-built practices is that of an organizing structure that is also open and flexible. For example, mosaic murals utilize a unifying structure that at the same time is open to variations brought in by individual contributions. Master plans, such as those used by schoolyard designers Sharon Danks, can provide a structure for moving forward but also “adapt to the shifting needs of their resident populations.” 37 To describe this balance between structure and openness in their design processes, practitioners use terms such as “planned indeterminacy” 38 and “chaordic (chaotically ordered)” 39 to describe their processes. Others use the metaphors of jazz and dancing:


“Up front, people involved need to know that the project is like a jazz band as opposed to an orchestra. This is a different project. Not everything in this type of project can be planned in advance.” 40

“It’s like a dance. It’s a score. … In a sense we are dancing with the community. And, but there are rules, there are patterns, there are techniques, there are things we can use and kind of flow with. In general some of the things are important to do in a specific order, but sometimes you throw them out.” 41

“As in jazz, our design and building process is conversational and improvisatory, adjusting itself like a meandering river to the terrain.” 42


In the community-built design process, two common open structures used are master plans (especially in place design) and themes (especially in artwork). Themes can create coherence that is open to individual interpretation. Rosenberg states that “many different ways of expressing the same theme can be integrated in an overall unified design.” 43 Community-built playgrounds and gathering spaces often incorporate place-based themes, drawing from local history and architecture. Murals are more inclined to express social and cultural themes, allowing individuals to make statements about their own life experiences (Fig. 1).

Figure 1.

The use of local history to inspire a themed mural. The Imagineers, Mural, Newton KS, USA. Artist: David Loewenstein.


Deciding on a theme becomes an opportunity for a community discussion about who they are and what they value. It is not unusual for there to be conflicts over what theme should be used – between participants, between participants and the practitioner, and between participants and others in the community. Once a theme is decided upon, the practitioner works with individuals to develop ways to express their individual interpretations into images and art. Rosenberg concludes: “Thus, in each case, the collective creation reflects that which the participants hold in common. The creation of the mural becomes the blending and integration of their unique experiences of a common theme, and the finished project bears witness to their underlying unity.” 44

Practitioner Attitudes: Stepping Forward and Stepping Back

The quality of structured openness also applies to how practitioners define their roles and manage the design process. Despite claims that everyone is an expert and everyone has something to contribute, community-built practitioners define their role as distinct from that of other participants. Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft recommend that “the leader must, without being dictatorial, set a pattern and method of work, insist on maintaining the unity of design and theme, instill a sense of responsibility to the group and to the community, and revive flagging spirits with tireless enthusiasm.” 45 In general, practitioners suggest that the community controls the theme, vision, and direction of the project, while the practitioner is in charge of finding ways to express that vision through art and design. Central to the practitioner’s role is maintaining the quality and unity of the project. Rosenberg reflects: “You’ve got to be an expert when you’re working on things like this. Because you want it to look really marvelous.” 46


As mentioned above, often the role a designer takes in participatory projects is characterized as an either/or: either the designers follow the community’s desires or they impose their own ideas on them. Community-built practitioners admit both into their practice. Although what everyone brings to the process is valued, Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft warn artists: “If one accepts every suggestion willy-nilly, one is likely to paint a meaningless and superficial mural that often bears no relation to anything, except picture postcards.” 47 Designers should have a strong point of view but also be open to whatever the community brings into the process. True discusses this tension: “I wanted to give over as much as possible to the kids but still keep an eye on the overall project composition.” 48 Rosenberg agrees: ““I suppose you do let things happen which you think will be more interesting than other things. You do have to have an overall point of view--or you do have one whether you want to or not.” 49 At some point, the practitioner has to step in and make decisions on what is included in the final project and what may have to be left out. Muralist Elizabeth Raybee recalls: “Learning when to accept the stylistic differences that come out in collaborative projects, versus when to pull misplaced tiles and make corrections if the original vision is lost, was not always easy, but it was discussed and exercised.” 50


Over the course of a project, the role of the practitioner might change as well. True, when working with youth in Haiti, gradually took a smaller role in the project as the youth became more and more capable of running the project themselves:


“At the beginning, I co-conceptualized the tree of life as a great image to work with …. I had the kids draw pictures of trees and then took a kind of general composite tree and presented it to the group. As the design was transferred onto the wall the kids had a chance to make any changes and adaptations they wanted. I just gave them a starting point.

For the second phase the kids also did drawings and these I collaged into a larger mural.

For the third phase the kids did all the drawings and I taught them how to make an arrangement that would fit on the wall and include as many of the kids drawing elements as possible. …

By the fourth phase of the project, the kids had it totally handled from start to finish. They had the design already transferred onto the wall when I arrived for the fourth trip down there.” 51


Community-built practitioners skillfully step in and out of the process – responding to each situation in a unique way – which can be a form of artistry in itself. In addition to being flexible about their roles, practitioners try to approach the project without any preconceived solution. Initially holding back their own opinions, they remain open to new ideas or opportunities that may arise. Yeh explains that “having no pre-set ideas, I had the freedom to work with whatever resources came my way and with whoever was willing to participate.” 52

Holding back and taking a second look can result in an appreciation of new aesthetic forms. Rosenberg experienced this while working with children on a mosaic project:


“When the children started to glue the mosaic to make the sky, each child concentrated on a little patch in front of him, making his own separate sky. I interjected quickly, ‘No, no... don’t do just a little piece in front of you... do the whole sky together!’ But as I heard myself demanding that they conform to my conception of how the work should be done, I checked myself and took a second look. What was happening was beautiful! The sky had a turbulent, Van Gogh-like quality. 53 […]

An important lesson can be drawn from this. Before you attempt to impose your values on a child’s work, stop a moment and taken a more critical and objective look to recognize, perhaps, the greater value of what is really occurring.” 54


Within community-built practices the divide between good design and community participation is not clear cut. There are some inherent contradictions between quality aesthetics and the desire to include all voices in the process. But despite the tensions that quality design creates with participatory practices, the two can also complement each other. Practitioners use a flexible approach to projects, involving a combination of quality and accessibility, as well as structure and openness.


The experiences of community-built practitioners suggest that participatory designers in other fields such as architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, do not have to consider aesthetics and participation as trade offs. Instead, participation could be considered as an opportunity to bring new ideas into their work and to develop an aesthetic that reflects the richness and complexity of the participatory process. It may be easier to visualize how many voices get synthesized into one design when talking about murals and mosaics, but community-built practitioners also work with gathering spaces, playgrounds, and schoolyards (Figs. 2 and 3). Many of the lessons learned from community-built practitioners can be useful for architects and other designers engaged in participatory design practices.

Figure 2.

Sunnyside Piazza Intersection Repair, Portland OR, USA. Designed by the neighborhood in collaboration with City Repair.

Figure 3.

World of Wonder playground, Athens GA, USA. Designed by Leathers and Associates.


First of all, aesthetics do matter in participatory design. Aesthetics matter not just in-and-of-itself, but because visually-inspirational projects instill a sense of pride in the participants, contributing to some of the broader goals of social design, such as empowerment. The aesthetics of a community-built project is not a purely social aesthetic: how a project looks and feels matters to building pride, empowerment, and a sense of community. At same time, this aesthetic is not just a question of taste or style as it has traditionally been defined in “High Modernism” architecture. Instead, the aesthetics of a community-built project is about the quality and care in how the design is put together, particularly in how multiple pieces can fit together into one design. Many architects may dislike the taste and style of community-built projects because of disciplinary preferences for non-figurative art and simple forms. However, I suggest that community projects that exhibit high levels of care – in design and construction – can also be considered aesthetically-pleasing. Instead of ignoring aesthetics or redefining it to be about social impact, participatory designers should include discussions about the aesthetics of physical and visual form as part of their process, acknowledging that conflicts and differences of opinion will arise. Focusing solely on the social aspects of the process perpetuates the perception that designers have to choose between aesthetic quality and inclusive participation.


Ultimately, participatory designers can challenge the belief that accepting the creativity of others into their work diminishes the creativity of the designer and the overall aesthetic quality of the design. A carefully-orchestrated process, facilitated with a flexible approach can bring out the best in participants, potentially elevating the collective work. It might be easier to visualize how this can happen within a mural, but architects and landscape architects can explore how built structures and environments could also be designed to have a clear framework that ties the project together, while also allowing space for individual variations.

Instead of glossing over aesthetic concerns or dismissing them as superficial, participatory design can develop a complex aesthetic that arises out of the challenges of participatory processes. At the same time, the role the professional designer plays should be valued. In addition to being a facilitator, a community organizer, and a social scientist, they should strive to be experts in developing a creative synthesis that is expressed in a beautiful or inspiring form. The last part is where designers can truly distinguish themselves as aesthetic experts.


Nicolai Ouroussoff, “Real-Life Design: Erecting Solutions to Social Problems,” <em>The New York Times</em>, October 14,2010.


Katherine Crewe, “The Quality of Participatory Design: The Effects of Citizen Input on the Design of the Boston Southwest Corridor,” Journal of the American Planning Association 67, no. 4 (2001): 437–55 (451).




For a more complete description and definition of community-built see Katherine Melcher (2017), “Community-Built as a Professional Practice” (2017) and Katherine Melcher, “Community-Built Projects, Processes, and Practices” (2014).


According to the recent report “Design and Social Impact: A Cross-Sectoral Agenda for Design Education, Research, and Practice”, Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2013: “The field is also known as public-interest design, social design, social impact design, socially responsive design, transformation design, and humanitarian design.” (8).


Cinnamon L. Janzer and Lauren S. Weinstein, “Social Design and Neocolonialism,” Design and Culture 6, no. 3 (November 2014): 327–43 (331).


Bruce Nussbaum, “Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?” Fast Company, July 6, 2010 and Janzer and Weinstein, “Social Design and Neocolonialism.” It is also interesting to note that the titles for Cooper-Hewitt’s exhibitions on social design shifted from “Design for the Other 90%,” in 2007, to “Design with the Other 90%,” in 2011.


Henry Sanoff, Community Participation Methods in Design and Planning (New York: Wiley, 2000).


Nadia M. Anderson, “Public Interest Design as Praxis.” Journal of Architectural Education 68, no. 1 (January 2, 2014): 16–27 (19).




For example, texts by Abendroth and Bell (2015) and Sanoff (2000) discuss social impacts and implications of the process, but rarely bring up aesthetics or design form.


Ilpo Koskinen, “Agonistic, Convivial, and Conceptual Aesthetics in New Social Design,” Design Issues 32, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 18–29 (18).


Ibid., 27.






Quoted in Amy Frearson, “Architects Have No Moral Obligation to Society Says Aravena,” Dezeen, February 23, 2016.


Milenko Matanovic, Multiple Victories: Pomegranate Center’s Art of Creating Community- Crafted Gathering Places (Issaquah WA, USA: Pomegranate Center, 2007), x.


Melcher, “Community-Built as a Professional Practice.”


Tom Arie Donch, “Community-Building,” presented at the Community Built Association conference, Portland OR, June 2012.




Quoted in Beti Žerovc, “The OHO Files: Interview with Milenko Matanović,” ARTMargins, August 24, 2011.


Ninety-five texts about practitioners who self-identify with the term community-built (defined as people who are or have been members of the Community Built Association - CBA - or people who use the term “community-built” to describe their work) were analyzed using grounded theory methods. For a more detailed description of the method, see Melcher, “Community-Built Projects, Processes, and Practices.”


One example on how aesthetics can be defined to value different aspects of a design is in Koskinen, “Agonistic, Convivial, and Conceptual Aesthetics in New Social Design.”


Milenko Matanovic and Alison Orseman, “Building Better Communities,” Issaquah WA, USA: Pomegranate Center: 29.


Personal interview, February 6, 1992, quoted in Ann R. Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg, Community Artists: A Case Study in Calling Forth Creativity,” Univeristy of Oregon, 1993.


Melcher, “Community-Built as a Professional Practice.”


Donch, “Community-Building.”


Eva Sperling Cockcroft, John Pitman Weber, and James D. Cockcroft, Toward a People’s Art: The Contemporary Mural Movement (New York: Dutton, 1977), 139.


Lily Yeh, Bill Moskin, and Jill Jackson, “Warrior Angel: The Work of Lily Yeh,” Bainbridge Island WA, USA, 2004.


City Repair, Placemaking Guidebook: Creative Community Building in the Public Right of Way, 2nd ed. Portland OR, USA: City Repair, 2006), 83.


Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft, Toward a People’s Art, 116.


Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg.”


Matanovic and Orseman, “Building Better Communities.”


Mosaic artist Laurel True quoted in Natascha Chtena, “True Mosaics: Interview with Mosaic Artist Laurel True,” Think Africa Press, 2011.


Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg.”




Sharon Gamson Danks, <em>Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation</em> (Oakland CA, USA: New Village Press, 2010), 14.


Karl Linn, Building Commons and Community (Oakland CA, USA: New Village Press, 2007), 88.


City Repair, Placemaking Guidebook, 140.


Matanovic, Multiple Victories, 72.


Donch, “Community-Building.”


Matanovic, Multiple Victories, 25.


Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg.”


Ibid., 80.


Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft, Toward a People’s Art, 115.


Personal interview, February 6, 1992, quoted in Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg.”


Cockcroft, Weber, and Cockcroft, Toward a People’s Art, 235.


Quoted in Chtena, “True Mosaics.”


Personal interview, April 2,1992 quoted in Hubbird, “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg,” 91.


Elizabeth Raybee, “The Good Life: A Community Built Mosaic Mural,” ArtWorks, California Arts Council.


“Laurel True Arrives in Jacmel, Haiti: Days 1 and 2.” Mosaic Art NOW, 2010.


Yeh, Moskin, and Jackson, “Warrior Angel,” 1.


Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg, and Ken Wittenberg, Children Make Murals and Sculpture; Experiences in Community Art Projects (New York: Reinhold Book Corp., 1968).




Abendroth, Lisa M., and Bryan Bell, eds. Public Interest Design Practice Guidebook: SEED Methodology, Case Studies, and Critical Issues. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Anderson, Nadia M. “Public Interest Design as Praxis.” Journal of Architectural Education 68, no. 1 (January 2, 2014): 16–27. doi: 10.1080/10464883.2014.864896.

Chtena, Natascha. “True Mosaics: Interview with Mosaic Artist Laurel True.” Think Africa Press, 2011

City Repair. Placemaking Guidebook: Creative Community Building in the Public Right of Way. 2nd ed. Portland OR, USA: City Repair, 2006.

Cockcroft, Eva Sperling, John Pitman Weber, and James D. Cockcroft. Toward a People’s Art:The Contemporary Mural Movement. New York: Dutton, 1977.

Crewe, Katherine. “The Quality of Participatory Design: The Effects of Citizen Input on the Design of the Boston Southwest Corridor.” Journal of the American Planning Association 67, no. 4 (2001): 437–55.

Danks, Sharon Gamson. Asphalt to Ecosystems:Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Oakland CA, USA: New Village Press, 2010.

“Design and Social Impact: A Cross-Sectoral Agenda for Design Education, Research, and Practice.” Smithsonian Institution, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2013.

Donch, Tom Arie. “Community-Building.” presented at the Community Built Association conference, Portland OR, USA, June 2012.

Frearson, Amy. “Architects Have No Moral Obligation to Society Says Aravena.” Dezeen, February 23, 2016. https://www.dezeen.com/2016/02/23/architects-have-no-moral-obligation-to....

Hubbird, Ann R. “Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg, Community Artists: A Case Study in Calling Forth Creativity.” Univeristy of Oregon, 1993.

Janzer, Cinnamon L., and Lauren S. Weinstein. “Social Design and Neocolonialism.” Design and Culture 6, no. 3 (November 2014): 327–43.

Koskinen, Ilpo. “Agonistic, Convivial, and Conceptual Aesthetics in New Social Design.” Design Issues 32, no. 3 (Summer 2016): 18–29. doi: 10.1162/DESI_a_00396.

“Laurel True Arrives in Jacmel, Haiti: Days 1 and 2.” Mosaic Art NOW, 2010. http://www.mosaicartnow.com/2010/05/laurel-true-arrives-in-jacmel-haiti-....

Linn, Karl. Building Commons and Community. Oakland CA, USA: New Village Press, 2007.

Matanovic, Milenko. Multiple Victories: Pomegranate Center’s Art of Creating Community-Crafted Gathering Places. Issaquah WA, USA: Pomegranate Center, 2007.

Matanovic, Milenko, and Alison Orseman. “Building Better Communities.” Issaquah, WA, USA: Pomegranate Center. http://www.pomegranatecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Pomagrante_C....

Melcher, Katherine. “Community-Built as a Professional Practice.” In Community-Built: Art, Construction, Preservation, and Place. Edited by Katherine Melcher, Barry Stiefel, and Kristin Faurest, 23–37.

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The research that provides the basis for this article was funded by a National Endowment for the Arts’ Research: Art Works grant. The author is grateful for the NEA support. She would also like to thank the reviewers of this article for their useful feedback and members of the Community-Built Association for providing their inspirations and insights that made this article possible.


Figure 1: Photo © David Lowenstein.

Figures 2 and 3: Photos by the Author.

Katherine Melcher is an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia. As a professional landscape architect, she facilitated community design projects in San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Thailand. Currently pursuing her Ph.D. in art theory and philosophy through the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts, Portland ME, USA, she also co-edited the recently published book Community-Built: Art, Construction, Preservation, Place (2017). E-mail: kmelcher@uga.edu.

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Monday, April 10, 2017