We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
Founder & Principal • Studio O
Liz Ogbu runs a multidisciplinary innovation practice, working to design social impact around the world.
Photo by Ryan Lash
If we’re not being thoughtful about who we’re designing for, the context of their individual and collective stories that brought us to this point, and the ultimate people-centered outcome that we’re striving for, then I’m not sure we’re engaged in more than a design exercise.
Liz Ogbu is the founder and principal of Studio O, a multidisciplinary design practice working at the intersection of racial and spatial justice. A designer, urbanist, and social innovator, Liz is an expert on sustainable design and spatial innovation in challenged urban environments. Her involvement and education in design has been comprehensive and wide-ranging. She studied architecture at Wellesley for her undergraduate degree, and earned a master’s in architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. She was also among the first group of innovators-in-residence at ideo.org, the nonprofit branch of international design giant IDEO.
The Decision Making Table
“I try to educate myself on what the historical context of a place is. Who has had access and who hasn’t. Who has had power and who doesn’t. And who is seated at the decision-making table and who isn’t and could benefit from me leveraging my own power, privilege, and creative agency to help get them a seat at that table,” Liz said. “I also spend a lot of time in conversation with all project stakeholders, particularly those who have been most impacted. I don’t rely on community meetings as the only platforms for engagement, but rather seek out invitations to people’s homes, places of business, or wherever else they feel comfortable.”
Physical and Emotional Healing
“When I talk about providing space, I’m talking about both physical space and emotional space,” Liz said. “We do physical healing through the design and emotional healing by listening fully. Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Even if we feel we have nothing to do with the pain. We have a responsibility to stand in the presence of it. It’s not just about a financial or physical investment; we must make an emotional investment as well.”
Cookstove prototyping in Tanzania
Photos courtesy of IDEO.org
What if gentrification was about healing communities instead of displacing them?
Liz Ogbu is an architect, challenging gentrification through spatial justice. In Liz’s TED Talk, “What if gentrification was about healing communities instead of displacing them?”, she asks for designers, government leaders, and real estate developers to stop equating progress with the erasure of culture and to “make a commitment to build people’s capacity to stay in their homes, to stay in their communities, to stay where they feel whole.”
Video produced by TED
Project: STUDIO O
When working on a Studio O project, Liz immerses herself in the historical context of the community and the physical space where the organization is working. She tries to forge genuine human connections with the people she works with and to build trust by avoiding transactional interactions.
“I don’t really think there’s a blueprint for what Studio O has to look like,” Liz said. “I’ve always embraced that it should operate in the space of experimentation and that I should continue to push it each year in the things that I’m feeling most called to, what sandboxes we need to play in, the different ways in which I work with other firms, and the different ways in which I think of what it means to be a designer.”
In addition to her work with Studio O, Liz also works as an educator, and focuses her research and teaching on social impact and how design can be a tool for making widespread change. She has taught at the California College of Arts, the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford’s d.school, to name a few. Liz’s achievements extend far beyond her community and educational impact. Through her features and contributions in a variety of publications and public speaking at events like TED Women, Liz has cemented herself as a thought leader in community engagement and social innovation strategy.
Community engagement, NOW Hunters Point, San Francisco
Photo by Anne Hamersky
PROJECT: THE DAY LABOR STATION
Day Labor Center shelter, meeting space, and garden design concepts
Images courtesy of Public Architecture
Advocacy by Design
As a project for Public Architecture, Liz served as project director and designer for The Day Labor Station, an innovative design and advocacy campaign working with day laborers across the country seeking to address critical issues of space, dignity, and community. Over 110,000 people look for day labor work each day in the US, and their role in the informal economy has forced them to occupy spaces meant for other uses. The team’s designs are adaptable and provide a sheltered space for the day laborers to wait for work, as well as community resources such as a meeting space, classroom, and garden. Though not built, the project proves an effective advocacy tool for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and is a much-cited project within the architectural community.