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Prized Design
Taiwanese architect receives top Curry Stone social design award.
JieDa community, TaiTung, Taiwan with buildings designed by Hsieh Ying-Chun.
Hsieh Ying-Chun, Rural Architecture Studio and Atelier 3

Cliff Curry, co-founder of the Curry Stone Foundation, said that what impressed him about Hsieh Ying-Chin was the Taiwanese architect’s unwavering dedication to not just building but advancing prefabricated housing for disaster-stricken communities. “He took something and improved, improved, improved upon it until it was worked out,” said Curry of Hsieh’s steel-frame houses that more often than not become the permanent homes of residents, lasting long after the community has recovered from an earthquake or flood. “The design has scalability and also the potential to be exported to other parts of the world,” said Curry.

Hsieh received the grand prize in the foundation’s annual Curry Stone Design Prize (CSDP), now in its fourth year. The awards were announced on October 4 and will be formally bestowed on November 7; in addition to Hsieh, winners included Paris-based firm Atelier d’Architecture for fostering community through participation-based projects and software company FrontlineSMS and its founder Ken Banks for sustaining social movement efforts through simple communication media. The grand prize comes with a $100,000 cash prize, the two other prize-winners receive $10,000 each.

The prize recognized Hsieh for his ongoing role in rebuilding and developing new domestic architecture in rural areas of Taiwan and Asia devastated by natural disasters. An architect with a traditional practice until 1999, Hsieh changed gears when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake devastated central Taiwan, motivating him to lend his design knowledge to the problem of relief shelter. The CSDP jury noted for this and subsequent disaster events, Hsieh was able to use extremely limited budgets to rethink domestic structures as well as auxiliary facilities like sanitary composting toilets, positively impacted thousands of people. The jury also praised Hsieh for his work process, which includes educating locals about smart, sustainable construction, an approach that involves them in the rebuilding and also empowers them to continue to improve their own communities.

Toilets, like those for SiChuan, Taiwan are the first facilities Hsieh builds in any disaster relief housing efforts (left). Hsieh Ying-Chun in front of one of his woodframe structures; he has also designed steel-framed temporary housing (right).

Hsieh was selected for top honors by a jury that included past CSDP winner Alejandro Echeverri, Harvard Graduate School of Design dean Mohsen Mostafavi, Cooper-Hewitt curator Cynthia Smith, and Curry himself. Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity acts as a senior advisor for the prize, while Emiliano Gandolfi serves as prize secretary and Chee Pearlman as prize curator. “We select from a global nomination pool, and often choose winners who are not very well known in the media, and not on the usual suspects list,” Pearlman said.

Curry, an Oregon-based architect, established the foundation and prize with archaeologist Delight Stone in 2008. The prize was created to honor practicing designers who focus on civic improvement and aim to increase awareness of social design work at large but particularly among a younger generation of designers. To that end, this year the awards ceremony will honor all the 2011 winners at the Harvard GSD where students will have ample opportunity to engage with the designers. The November 7 ceremony will also feature short films showcasing the work of each winner and for the first time this year, the CSDP has organized a “festival” the day following the awards, when students will be invited to participate in workshops led by the winners.

In addition to Hsieh, students will meet the leaders of two firms that represent different aspects of the design and technology fields. Atelier d’Architecture is renewing urban spaces in a collaborative effort involving construction, farming initiatives, and public art. Their multi-disciplinary projects often act as a catalyst for action taken up by local residents to invest and engage in the development of their communities. FrontlineSMS was founded in London in 2005 by Ken Banks. Motivated by social-needs problem solving, FrontlineSMS strengthens communication within the grassroots efforts of social organizations by allowing laptops and mobile phones to become hubs for real-time information sharing; organizations can send mass text messages to target groups for instant communication in places without steady access to Wi-Fi. “The award is curated so the three winners can tell a bigger story and show the ways in which social impact design is rendered in different communities,” Pearlman said.

Hannah Novack and Molly Heintz