• Credit: Clinton Global Initiative

When an international community that includes heads of state, business leaders, and foundation directors convenes to discuss the most challenging issues we face as a globe, and they invoke the word “design” as a potential solution, it’s a seminal moment for the design profession. The Clinton Global Initiative opened its annual meeting yesterday on the topic “Designing for Impact” with this question: How are we designing our lives, our environments, and the global systems we employ in order to impact the challenges at hand?

Throughout the CGI conference, in sessions on topics ranging from “Influencing Behaviors and Attitudes” to “Turning Inspiration Into Action,” architects are being named as integral players in re-imagining both spaces and systems. With an international focus on “Designing for Impact,” it would be tempting to simply view this as reason to insert ourselves center stage after a tough downturn for the profession.

But architects have a role to play. For more than three billion people living in poverty around the world, architecture means access: access to schools, access to safe water and sanitation, and access to the economic and physical security that comes with effective education. With this increased awareness of global economic inequities and the instability and injustice that accompanies them, an emerging generation of architects is working within communities that had never before been labeled as “client.” These architects are actively taking design out into the world to the people that need it most. In tackling solicited and unsolicited building projects to address these global challenges, design has become an effective and dynamic platform for the emergence of sustainable social change.

The question at hand at CGI—how are we designing the world?—conveys that design is a key tool for problem solving on everything from widgets to coalition governments and an undiscovered conduit of change for those that see design as a luxury rather than a necessity. It can also be tempting for architects to do nothing in the face of such immense challenges in unfamiliar regions and circumstances. But what many architects are proving today is that they have the ability to lead by, with, and for design—making its principles essential to any conversation about change.

Over the next few days at CGI, architects will be actively participating, side by side with global leaders, in re-framing the conversation about the power of design. As this discussion moves forward, architects are demonstrating their willingness to proactively create healthier, sustainable environments. They are leading by design, building for impact, and not waiting for instructions.