Making the Echoing Green Finals


In December of last year my new business partner, Kyle Rawlins and I decided to apply for the Echoing Green Fellowship for social entrepreneurs. I had applied before with FOURM design studio and made it to the semi-finals. I decided that with the launch of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces, it was time to give it another go. Just a couple of months ago we were informed we had made the finals. We were one of 70 finalists( out of approximately 2000 applicants) that would be invited to the Echoing Green Finals interviews. I was ecstatic!  Kyle was calm and cool as usual. We rapidly responded to their additional queries and chatted with a current fellow assigned to us, Katrina Spade who founded the Urban Death Project. ( you must check this out as its amazing). She along with the folks from the Reset Foundation gave us some great advice on the interview experience.


Image of Urban Death Project

We were then asked if we wanted to participate in the Echoing Green’s largest fundraiser, the annual Big Bold Benefit, by pitching our company in 60 seconds in front of 400 people. After my heart skipped several beats I said “sure” knowing that they would only select a few to do it so what were the odds. One day later we were informed that we would be one of 11 organizations pitching that night. My heart may have stopped for just a minute. I then went into a round of pitch coaching with Bill Smartt who helped me get the complexities of our company explained in just 60 seconds. This is a very short time with little room for error so I practiced it in the shower, on walks, in the car, on the street and anywhere people would not think I was crazy.  During the  week I also found out that my friend Damon Packwood founder of Gameheads was a finalist and my colleague from Harvard Quardean Lewis-Allen of Made in Brownsville. Their work is exemplary of the kind of amazing people we were among.


Finally, the day came and on Wednesday of this week, Kyle and I had our first interview with staff and that evening I gave the pitch. I was last and think it went pretty well despite an obvious gaff afterwards during the Q&A where I tried to answer another applicants query….sigh.

Designing Justice+Designing Spaces Facebook

Me and my partner Kyle

Thursday we had individual and partner interviews with several groups of judges, a photo shoot, peer coaching session and a final pitch at the end of the day with dinner and drinks. It was by far the most intense and exciting selection process I have been through and I am grateful to the Echoing Green staff for all their help. Can’t help but do some shout outs: Janna Oberdorf( helped me with pitching), Maggie Gleason( reminded me to eat and feel calm), Leah Stern( helped us figure out our theory of change), Neelam Sakaria & Fozzie Nelson ( helped us figure out where we were going) , Teresa Vazquez ( helped us think through converting small fish into big fish) and many more…..

No matter what happens, we had an amazing experience with the best being the other amazing finalists we met. They are truly incredible people. I made some new professional colleagues and some new friends ( including my awesome roommate Sylvia) this week thanks to Echoing Green.


Designing Refuge

“It was the first time since I have been here that I felt like I had a purpose”

– Robyn



Cedi building her design for a mobile women’s shelter

So much has happened the last 6 months that I am never sure where to start. However today it is clear that I need to share our experience in the San Francisco county Women’s Jail #2. I feel this way because it so clearly demonstrates why architects need to engage the people they are working as collaborators instead of end users.


As some of you know I have been working with the 5 Keys Charter School to design a School on Wheels (starting construction in May!). However, we are also engaged to adapt another  municipal bus to be a women’s shelter. Prior to starting this project, I did not know that women are often released from jail in the middle of the night and have no safe place to go. They spend the night on the street, find shelter that may not be safe, or get bombarded with drug dealers and pimps before they even get a chance to start figuring out their life after jail. Many women have written to the sheriff about this issue and they along with the 5 Keys Charter school has responded by asking us to transform a donated municipal bus into a comfortable refuge for women the night they are released from jail.


Now last I checked I have never been in jail nor have I had to sleep a night on the streets. Frankly, what do I know about the needs of a woman who is hoping to start again fresh with little to no resources but the clothes on her back the night she was arrested. So we decided to facilitate a 3-day and consecutive 2 day workshop at County Jail #2 in San Francisco with over 60 women to develop a design that will best meet their needs.  The workshop used a number of different design tools to explore what spaces of resource and safety would look like to the women who will be using this intimate place of refuge. We tried out some new stuff like doing a full scale mock up with just our bodies. We also worked with artist Ana Teresa Fernandez to explore ideas of pattern making in the project.  We are hoping to work with Ana on both buses to develop an exterior expression that integrates her social justice work and is responsive to the community we are serving.


With so many women we needed not just Ana’s efforts as a volunteer but those of the following amazing women who continue to support this essential work: Abigail Hammett, Kelly Gregory, Sameena Sitabkhan , Taylor Dearinger, Cristina Rossi and Jess Pauly. Jess along with our intern Zoe Parsigian were there every single day.

Now I assumed they would want beds and a plush comfy space but what we discovered is that this is not at all what they desired. Instead we learned about the need for a place to make a call, get access to the internet, some alternative clothing that was comfortable( sweats or leggings preferred) and to my surprise, recliners! They wanted the space above all to be clean and safe. Beds we not a priority nor was a shower. They asked for mirrors and toiletries to freshen up in order to meet the world and the challenges they know all to well.

It was a great week and we got so much information that we will spend this week just coding and analyzing the data before we get going on the design. We will be looking for funding for the construction of this space so feel free to share this great start with others. We already know this new prototype is needed in many other cities like Los Angeles. We hope this small space of transition will make some difference in decreasing recidivism and provide these and other amazing women with a better chance at getting on their feet.

I want to thank the staff of the 5 Keys Charter School  and CJ #2: Patricia Richard, Captian Fisher, Angie Wilson,  Marcela.Espino, Joanna Hernandez, Maria Cornejo, Jackie Gordon
Terye Lewis, Arly Wagner, Leandra Martin and the deputies on staff for making our largest workshop ever possible. Finally the biggest thank you to all the women who participated in SF County Jail #2 for their support and amazing design work on this project!




Cedi presenting her design ideas


Kayla presenting her design for a honeycomb skylight

Creating BIG Oakland

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When I got back from doing the Loeb fellowship I had no home to come back to nor an office to kick start my business. Despite rising costs and scarcity of residential units in Oakland I found a place to live that I love. Who knew that the trick would be to find an office.

DVB Video Capture I

Since my return in 2013 I have moved 5 times due to buildings getting sold, rents doubling and just plain incompatibility with the people sharing space with us. During this time, I looked at co-working spaces hoping there would be space for my practice including all the “Stuff” that comes with a creative profession. Turns out that unless you want to touch down with a laptop or take an expensive cube at the perimeter, there is little available for small architecture practices.  I started to think that what we needed was a place for small design firms like mine where we could share resources and own the building ourselves. I mean, why not?  We are architects and if we team up with contractors, we could support each other in making it a reality.Oscia CaptureI started to talk about it with others and was told about another architect Oscia Wilson with the same idea. I was excited to see that she was already on the path to creating it. I met up with her at a co-working potluck and realized I was connecting with someone who was serious about making this a reality. I called my friend and now business partner Kyle Rawlins and together with contractor Jean Bjork we decided to launch Big Oakland– One of the first co-working spaces exclusively for the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

Office images

Sometimes if you need something, you just have to make it yourself but it takes a village.  Therefore, I hope you will support our kickstarter campaign that we launched this week and help us make this dream a reality.

I look forward to hosting you there and never moving again!






The Witness is here….Finally!

The Island

For 5 years I have spoken about it and  written about it, played it  and stressed about it at times but today I have the great pleasure of sharing that the Witness is complete! It is already pre-released on STEAM ( you can just download it onto your PC or MAC) and will be released tomorrow in full for those of you who prefer other modes of playing video games like PS4.   For those of you who have never played a video game in your life I suggest you give this one a try. It’s peaceful, beautiful, intelligent and mystical.

The Lake

I am proud of my part and but even more so for the entire team that you can read about here:


Working with Jonathan Blow, Digo Lima  and Nico Wright

It is the longest I have ever worked on a project in my entire life so I hope that you all get a chance to enjoy it. In the meantime you can check out the reviews online. I like this one by IGN.

Check out the stills below and I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The MountainThe Beach

The Swamp

Pink TreesThe Beach


Designing and Building: A School on Wheels

Google Impact

can see that turning buses into other stuff is getting popular because on September 19th it was announced that we were one of 25 out of 800 applicants to win a Google Impact Challenge Grant.  In addition, after two amazing community engagement workshops, 6 site visits and many interviews and surveys we have completed our concept design for the School on Wheels. We made a video you can watch and the rendering below.big view animated 06a

The Rauschenberg Foundation also released their new call for proposals for next year’s Artists as Activist and a video of me speaking about our project that helps set the stage for the kind of proposals they are looking for. You can check it out here with a zippy acoustic soundtrack. If you are an artist working on issues of mass incarceration, make sure to apply!

As for our next steps, construction will begin soon and we are looking for space and electrical/mechanical engineers to help us out. If you know resources for either please send it my way.

Pop up Resource Village Project Description

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Starting January, we will also begin working with incarcerated women to design the next bus which will be a shelter for women released in the middle of the night. Often there are pimps waiting for them as they come out and they have nowhere to go. This vehicle will have social service representatives available to them, a shower, warm bed, and clothes. My hope is we can drive them somewhere safe too.

We will also continue to reach out to other mobile service providers who can join us in creating the Pop up Resource Village. My hope is the next update will be photos of our first bus under construction and the women at work designing a mobile space for re-entry!



The Witness is Coming


If you told me that I would be able to launch my practice designing architecture for a  videogame and then told me that it would take 5 years I wouldn’t have ever believed you. It still seems crazy to me that this past September marks the 5th year I have been working on The Witness.  For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, it is a game that takes you to an unknown island where you learn a graphic language to solve puzzles and open secret doors to other spaces and realms. It is by far the longest I have worked on a single project, which really should not be a surprise given that it is an entire world.The Witness Aerial

That said is was still an exciting day for me when the development company Thekla issued the release trailer stating that it would finally be coming out January 26th 2016. In preparation for the big day I wrote an article that was recently published in Gamasutra Magazine. It was intended to hi-lite the role of architecture in this game and to help game developers understand how powerful architecture can be in helping them create environments that support gameplay. While I would not do a game that was violent or misogynistic, I whole-heartedly support the improved development of architecture in all games as my hope is that it will increase the visual literacy of our population and improve our real world environments.

The Witness

In addition to writing about the game I have been trying to use my status as one of a very very very small group of black people( never mind women) working in the industry by doing a workshop with my colleagues and artists from The Witness, Orsi Spanyol and Luis Antonio. The workshop was with a great organization called Gameheads. They are focused on developing games with youth including prototype development, programming, art and production.


We spoke with them about our process but we also played their games and talked about how they could develop them further. The students were smart, creative, and sophisticated in so many ways. They were inspiring to me and wearing my new Gameheads t-shirt I left feeling really good about working in this industry.  Who knows if I will continue doing this kind of work but the truth is I would really like to.


Turning Teachers into Makers


Every once in a while I have an idea that comes off better than expected and last Thursday’s Pop-up Resource Village Workshop we did with the teachers and students of 5 Keys Charter School and Asian Neighborhood Design( AND) was definitely one of them. I can’t remember a time I had more fun at work.  For this workshop, I thought we might sidestep the old qualitative interviewing and observing and get all the users to build a full size model of the project. In this case, a bus turned into a classroom.


With the assistance of John Cothran ( our construction leader and instructor) and several former and current AND students we managed to build a floor and drill together the kit of parts needed to assemble the mock up in just  a few hours.


The agenda for the day was to talk about critical aspects of design for consideration, then break into groups and work with architects to design a section of the bus. Myself, John, and two of my amazing volunteers Jason and Abigail led those groups in order to help participants tap into their innate design knowledge.


It apparently worked because when we all arrived in the workshop together I had never seen such enthusiasm and creative ideas coming to life so quickly.

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With utility knives, cardboard, fabric, papers, glue guns and drills a space for learning came together that included technology lounges, welcome areas and sections that popped out to provide even more space. They added supportive signage to the interior and exterior not forgetting to include plants, lighting, and furnishings.  Frankly, I could not keep up with them nor had I provided all the necessary tools for them to manifest the scope of their ideas. Stairs for rooftop access and space to design exterior environments were ideas they had to describe even if they could not build it.

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In addition to all that students and teachers we were fortunate to have filmmaker Richard O’Connell and his colleague there to record the experience for their documentary “The Corridor”. They were very stealth amidst the creative chaos although I am not sure how they managed.


While it took a bit of time to plan and prep, it was more than worth it.  I still have to do some more traditional interviews before we begin design but I will do it with a smile on my face as I remember one 5 Keys teacher holding up two pieces of scrap cardboard and telling her partner  “Hey Sherman! These will be perfect for the built in side table book shelves!”

Honestly, I would never have thought of that.

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The Pop Up Resource Village: Bringing Education to the People

5 Keys Charter School Graduation

5 Keys Charter School Graduation

I continue to be in awe of the changes that are happening across the country as our consciousness is finally raised around the value of black and brown lives. It is helping me to do my work better as municipalities see the need to address the crisis caused by our prison industrial complex and are open to new innovative alternatives like the latest venture I have started and wanted to share with you.

As some of you may know studies show that increased academic achievement is one of the most reliable predictors of reducing recidivism that occurs in our system at alarmingly high rates.  In order to address this issue my project partner the 5 Keys Charter School has opened more than 13 sites around the Bay Area and Los Angeles both inside and outside of jails to help thousands of students to get high school diplomas, GED’s, jobs, and life skills training. Check out this trailer of “The Corridor” , a film in the works that profiles their amazing program.

The Corridor 2

Despite their success, the fixed location model necessitates hundreds of hours of student travel time to reach school locations. Time spent and the cost of travel present a marked burden for people who are living on a very low income. Additionally, many of the young adult students are single parents with limited options for childcare. Safety issues are another concern, as many students literally cannot cross certain streets to attend classes out of the real fear that they have entered into gang territory. Finally, students who begin courses at one location while incarcerated are often released to neighborhoods with no nearby classes.

Therefore late last year I was approached by the founders, Sunny Schwartz and Steve Good,  to help them adaptively re-use 3 municipal buses to be a school on wheels and mobile safe house for women and vulnerable inmates who are released during the night.

At the time we had no funding but a good friend of mine, Prescott Reavis, told me about an amazing new fellowship called the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist and I also thought it was a very good fit. After several rounds of submissions and  an interview I was awarded this fellowship that will fund us to not only develop these buses but to engage the community and build a robust infrastructure of mobile resources  such as medical buses, fresh good trucks and catering offers to create what I am calling the Pop up Resource Village.

School on Wheels Bus Model

School on Wheels Bus model

Where would the bus go?

Where would the bus go?

These added wrap around resources will draw people to the site and support communities at the locus of need. Our work will also look at how this model can be an engine for urban renewal that will eventually make itself obsolete.  The plan is not to just show up once a week but to collaborate with city agencies including the Department of Public Works to create a beautiful and functional environment for the resource center to plug-in and support the community even when the buses are not there. Our hope is that this strategy will turn blighted public places into welcoming spaces that encourage permanent development.


Working with the community to explore existing resrouces


School on Wheels Community Workshop

Just last week we kicked off the process starting with engaging funders, students, teacher and community leaders around how to develop this infrastructure. It was a huge success and a significant amount of knowledge was gained. As we begin design, we will work closely with our second project partner Asian Neighborhood Design who will work with their Employment Training Center composed primarily of 5 Keys students to construct the fit out.

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Asian Neighborhood Design Employment Training Center Cohort

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ETC students making it happen

There are many new things happening as I start to move our work in a direction that scales these initiatives up to address city wide infrastructure. In the meantime we need these new prototypes and  I hope you will follow the progress of this one with me over the next two years as we continue to explore the role that design can play in ending mass incarceration.




Architects, Silence, and Human Rights

As some of you may know, I am on the board of Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, which is a professional organization that advocates for ethical practices in both the social and environmental arenas of design, architecture, landscape architecture, and planning.  Our president, architect Raphael Sperry, has been leading the organization for the last two years in petitioning  the American Institute of Architects(AIA)  to amend the Human Rights Standard of their Code of Ethics to prohibit the design of spaces intended for torture or killing (in effect, execution chambers and supermax prisons that use solitary isolation.)


Sadly, late last year the AIA indicated that they will take no action to address the participation of architects in designs intended to degrade, torture, or kill people.

 “The AIA Code of Ethics should not exist to create limitations on the practice by AIA members of specific building types. The AIA Code of Ethics is more about desirable practices and attitudes than condemnation,”

Raphael Sperry’s op-ed on CNN  and a very powerful piece in the New York Times on this disappointing decision summarize AIA’s narrow and legalist arguments against human rights and present ADPSR’s forceful response.

Ferguson protest,New York. Carlo Allegri_Reuters

Ferguson protest,New York. Carlo Allegri_Reuters

I was hopeful that in the wake of the changes we see happening in criminal justice policy that the AIA would be part of this shift. I also thought that the leaders of my professional organization would have the courage to make this much needed change in our code of ethics given that the Black Lives Matter movement has initiated the first honest dialogues on race we have had since the civil rights movement.

Ferguson protest-Oakland.Stephen Lam_Reuters

Ferguson protest-Oakland.Stephen Lam_Reuters

Perhaps many in the AIA are ignorant( either willfully or because of the blinders of race, class, and gender privilege) of the fact that a disproportionate amount of those who are executed and who find themselves in solitary confinement are men of color. They should consider that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture has stated that long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture and a violation of human rights. The United Nations has urged the United States to desist in its use of death and long-term solitary confinement as a form of punishment and control in our prisons. It is public knowledge that these practices are racist, dehumanizing and violate human rights so why would my profession condone our participation in the creation of these spaces as an ethical practice when so many other professionals including doctors, psychologists have not? Why do we remain silent?

DJDS Re-envisioning Justice Architecture 140827

Perhaps it is the shocking lack of minorities (including women) represented in the leadership positions of our profession or our tendency to be a bit self-absorbed. What I know is that the AIA has always been a conservative organization and sadly does not represent my values. I know that we have a long way to go in reducing the fear we have of the other and the discomfort that comes with changing our identity as well as the economics of business. That said, the arc of justice is also long and there are many leaders in our profession who believe this decision was made in error. The AIA may decide to adopt this amendment to our code of ethics in time.  However, what is right and what is wrong here will still be the same.

ADSPR Exhibit: Willie Worley, Jr. Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Polkton, NC

ADSPR Exhibit: Willie Worley, Jr. Brown Creek Correctional Institute in Polkton, NC

ADPSR continues to advocate for changing the AIA ‘s code of ethics to prohibit the design of spaces intended for torture or killing and if you would like to support this work please sign our petition or join ADPSR . We are stronger in great numbers!



ADPSR Exhibit: "Architect's Dream" by Aron D Castlin and Ricky D Matthews, Pelican Bay D-I in Crescent City, CA

ADPSR Exhibit: “Architect’s Dream” by Aron D Castlin and Ricky D Matthews, Pelican Bay D-I in Crescent City, CA