Design Corps

Organisation – Raleigh, USA

1991 onwards

Design Corps is a non-profit organisation founded in 1991 by Bryan Bell and Victoria Ballard Bell, initially to address the severe shortage of adequate housing for migrant workers in the area surrounding Raleigh, North Carolina, where they lived. The agricultural state relies heavily on large numbers of workers from Mexico and other Central American countries, for seasonal work such as fruit picking. Due to their immigration status these workers do not qualify for healthcare or housing benefits, whilst many of the farmers on whom they depend for lodging themselves struggle financially. This has resulted in extremely poor living and working conditions and a population that is segregated. During the past ten years Design Corps have set up a Farmworker Housing Program that secures funding and tries to build culturally appropriate housing for the workers.

Initially, Design Corps did not wait to be commissioned but instead approached farmers, petitioning them to help build better facilities. The programme includes an application for a federal government grant which can provide 50-100% of the construction costs, with the remainder of the costs being met by the farmer. The buildings are subject to a ten year contract where the farmer agrees to meet certain conditions for the standard of living of the workers in return for the new building. These conditions are set by Design Corps and are the result of consultations with the workers in the form of questionnaires, interviews and workshops. Their participatory approach allows the designers to understand individual needs and problems; for example in one case, the workers were provided with bunk beds by the farmer - these proved unacceptable for older men and so a 'no bunk beds' condition was written into the contract.

Here the role of the architect is expanded: Design Corps not only propose their own projects responding to specific needs, but also secure funding, and through their contracts with the farmers they use their expertise as a bargaining chip to secure better living conditions for those in need. Design Corps' work thus shows how architects can become agents with the power to change social and physical conditions through working alongside locals who know the needs of any given community. The work of Design Corps has expanded beyond their North Carolina base, with numerous projects for other US rural communities, and the formation of a Fellowship programme that places designers in communities who would otherwise not have access to professional help. They are also initiators of the SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Network, which has developed a common standard to guide, evaluate and measure the social, economic and environmental impact of design projects.

Key Projects

Mushroom Worker Housing
Florida Migrant Housing Program & 2004 Hurricane Response
Migrant Housing (Adams County, Pennsylvania)

Other Work

Bryan Bell, Good Deeds, Good Design. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004).

Bryan Bell, Thomas Fisher and Katie Wakeford (eds), Expanding Architecture (New York: Metropolis Books, 2008).

Julien Devereux, "Do-good Design: Bryan Bell and Design Corps spread the gospel of good design for good causes [interview]." Metropolis 23, no. 6 (February 2004)

Julien Devereux, "Design Corps's Humane Housing for Migrant Workers,", 2004,

References About

Finoki, Bryan, "Migrant Structures." Subtopia, (accessed November 23, 2009,).

Twemlow, Alice, "Corps values: Bryan Bell, DesignCorps." ID : Magazine of International Design 51, no. 1 (2004).


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