You don’t feel you’re contributing anonymously. We’re doing something real. Not just for us, but for someone else too
— Ryan Newsom, '15


Making a Difference through Making

Designers in education and industry routinely and assuredly assert that design thinking strategies can deliver the “game-changing” ideas needed to address the critical and complex problems of our times. Frequently, however, it seems we’re seduced by and fall in love with the promise(s) of these ideas – and possibly the god-like power their creation conveys – and are less committed to following through with their actual realization with the same degree of passion.

In an effort to provide a ‘proof of the pudding is in the eating’ model of design education and practice, first year MFA AC+D students begin the program with a pre-semester, 10 day collaborative design-build intensive. The experience is intended to help students get to know each other, and learn how to work together by designing and building a project for an actual client. Emphasizing a philosophy of civic engagement, projects are selected based on their potential to benefit an organization or population that generally does not have access to the services of designers and makers.


It’s always fun to see how these things happen. This is our third year [working with the AC+D students] and every year it’s amazing that JP can round up clients like this and students like this who are so talented, so limitless. It’s such a privilege to get to do this and to work for y’all and with y’all.
— Jack Sanders, Design Build Adventure

Design Build 2018

For the 2018 Design Build, AC+D students, led by design/build professional and educator Matt Miller and local artist and activist Cleo Davis, collaborated with the Urban League of Portland to design and implement innovative solutions to alleviate a particularly loaded intersection on Mississippi Ave and Russell Ave in downtown Portland.

Photos by Mario Gallucci


The 2017 MFA AC+D Design Build worked with the VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project, an organization founded in 1996 dedicated to protecting the rights of immigrant and day laborers in the Portland Metro area. Prior to the 2016 Design Build, the Voz MLK Workers Center was damaged due to a drunk driver. Throughout the Design Build project, students collaborated with highly skilled day laborers to rebuild and reimagine much needed seating areas and way-finding signage in an effort to repair the damage to the MLK Worker's Center.

Photos by Mario Galucci


In 2016 the MFA AC+D Design Build partnered with Escuela Viva Community School, a Spanish Immersion preschool in downtown Northeast Portland. Escuela Viva works to provide an enriching environment that supports the spiritual, academic and humanistic needs of children as well as the development of both English and Spanish language skills. For the Design Build, the AC+D students created a covered bike storage area for parents picking up and dropping off their children along with a new structure for waste and recycle bins to help keep the school's waste facilities clean and organized.

Photos by Mario Galucci



The MFA AC+D 2015 Design Build collaborator was Outgrowing Hunger whose mission is  "TO GET HEALTHY FOOD INTO THE MOUTHS OF HUNGRY PEOPLE". The organization "transforms unused private, public and institutional land into Neighborhood Gardens, where healthy food, resilient community, and economic opportunity spring up together".  For this Design Build Intensive the AC+D students focused on the East Portland Neighborhood Garden (EPNG), which provides personal gardening and fresh produce work-trade opportunities.

Photos by Mario Gallucci


The 2014 MFA AC+D Design Build project was working with Albertina Kerr's Port City Project Grow initiative,  a community inclusion program for developmentally disabled adults that emphasizes sustainability and learning through urban farming and arts practices . Project Grow aims to create a shared art experience by connecting program participants with other artists in the community and in the greater art world. The urban farm's focus is to teach program participants farm skills and encourage a connection to their food source as they earn income from farming the land. 

This project addresses the issue of community inclusion for adults with developmental disabilities. Based on the growing evidence of the effectiveness of Positive Behavior Support for People with Developmental Disabilities (PBS), this project attempts to bridge the research-to-practice gap by both building upon existing codified policies of inclusion, and adding value to developing practices through the production of tangible, functional expressions of cultural aspiration.

Photos by Mario Galucci