Rebel Nell Jewelry
Amy Peterson and Diana Russell 
Detroit, Michigan
2013–present
Photo: © Rebel Nell
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Rebel Nell Jewelry Amy Peterson and Diana Russell Detroit, Michigan 2013–present Photo: © Rebel Nell

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum's third installation of its socially responsible design series, "By the People: Designing a Better America," is set to be on display at the museum's New York location Sept. 30 through Feb. 26, 2017. Cynthia E. Smith, curator of the series, traveled for more than two years to metropolitan areas, post-industrial cities, rural towns, and poverty-stricken regions, conducting research and gleaning the conceptual and applied designs featured in the exhibition. The 60 projects have been divided into six themes that each focus on design as a means for change: act, save, share, live, learn, and make.

The humanitarian design series began in 2007 with the exhibition, "Design for the Other 90%" which asked professional designers to conceive of projects that would improve the quality of life for the 90% of the world that doesn't typically benefit from their work. The first exhibition was closely followed by "Design with the Other 90%: Cities" in 2011. This year's "By the People" is the first in the series to tackle challenges faced specifically by people in the United States and its bordering countries, and show how design can approach, as well as provide solutions to ongoing social and environmental issues. Projects vary from an established network of emergency water storage stations along the U.S. and Mexico border, to the Raleigh Denim Workshop, whose jeans are sewed by local farmers, and has one of the smallest carbon footprints in the world.

A few of the projects for the series include The Belt Line Atlanta Concept, a plan to convert four abandoned rail lines into a 22-mile green loop that connects 40 neighborhoods to bike paths, walking trails, and transit lines; Building Dignity, a collaborative project between activists against domestic violence and architects to improve security for victims and their families in Washington state; Open House, which transforms a rural property into an outdoor, public theater in York, Ala.; and a low-income housing development, Las Abuelitas Kinship Housing in Tuscon, Ariz., designed for grandparents raising grandchildren.

Below are a some examples of the design projects that will be featured in the exhibition:


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Cross-Border Community Station by Estudio Teddy Cruz + Forman and UCSD Cross-Border Initiative


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Open House by Matthew Mazzotta


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade by HOK


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Rapido rapid recovery housing by bcWORKSHOP, Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, Arise, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, Texas A&M University, Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, with twenty Lower Rio Grande Valley families Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy counties, Texas


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Las Abuelitas Kinship Housing by Poster Frost Mirto and The Design Element with Grandparents Raising Grandchildren


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Underpass Park by PFS Studio and The Planning Partnership