Designing with Risk

Matthijs Bouw & Ellen Neises
Weitzman School
Course Code: 

This research seminar investigates designing with risk, particularly as it relates to the problem of climate adaptation and resilience. The role design can have in managing risk is to a large extent uncharted territory. Our aim is to explore potential roles and tools of design as a means of responding to risk in spatial, infrastructural and policy projects at a variety of scales.
In collaboration with faculty and thinkers in other disciplines, we will develop a body of knowledge about risk and how it relates to streams of intellectual energy around resilience. We will use the research seminar to collectively scope the openings where design can have the greatest agency (in either reducing risk or leveraging the potential for change that risk and instability create). These will be opportunities for further research, design projects, studios, investment or other intervention.

We will look at two risk types—energy resilience and coastal adaptation—in greater depth and from many standpoints, mixing philosophy, policy, economics, science, regulation, engineering technique and design. Critical analysis of texts and case study projects will build a repertoire of ideas and operations that students can apply in their own design practice. Guest lectures will contribute varied perspectives on risk and opportunity at the climate and project levels.

The desired outcome of the seminar is not only a better understanding the opportunities for design to exert influence, but also a well-visualized “toolbox” of instruments and strategies for engaging risk in a range of concrete resilience design projects. This research will help shape a larger effort at the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design to position architects, landscape architects and planners as a crucial allies in risk management.

The exploratory nature of this seminar requires the active participation of student members. Students will represent their disciplines in this discussion, and make connections between the diverse material we will study, their own research and the disciplines of planning, architecture, landscape architecture and policy design. Active preparation for case discussions (a staple of business, policy and law schools), leadership of at least 2 case discussions of a project or an assigned text, and participation in our weekly discourse is required, and a major component of your effort and grade.

Students will develop 2 other major work products: 1) the development of proposed design tools and strategies for risk communication, management, reduction, or exploitation; and 2) a final presentation of the findings of the research and scoping efforts of the seminar as they relate to your tools. This presentation will shape a roundtable discussion with an interdisciplinary group engaged in work on resilience, risk and design.