Public Talks Kick Off With Shaun Donovan and Kate Orff Event 

September 17, 2019

Columbia World Projects (CWP) held its first public event on Tuesday – a wide-ranging public discussion between Shaun Donovan, the former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; Kate Orff, an Associate Professor at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) and Director of GSAPP’s Urban Design Program; and Nicholas Lemann, the director of CWP. 

In the hour and a half-long talk, Donovan and Orff described the opportunities and challenges of major public infrastructure projects in the wake of a disaster like 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, focusing in particular on Rebuild by Design, a design competition that the Department of Housing and Urban Development launched during Donovan’s tenure. The competition identified and funded public projects to promote resilience in the face of climate change and disasters. Orff’s SCAPE design studio was one of seven projects that received funding through the competition and is now undergoing implementation. Living Breakwaters, the SCAPE project, combined the creation and installation of physical barriers built off the coast of Staten Island to protect against severe weather events with education and other activities to raise awareness about dangerous weather and climate change. The project actively restored oyster populations in the area, which was once a major oyster farming hub.

Donovan and Orff also discussed the importance of piloting large-scale projects to test their effectiveness, the difficulty of planning for events that happen so infrequently that knowledge of how to prepare for them cannot be passed down, and the challenges associated with integrating design with democratic processes. Additionally, they touched on how lessons from the Rebuild initiative can be used by organizations like Columbia World Projects – which aims to implement projects with the goal of improving lives – as they investigate how to replicate successes and draw broader lessons from individual projects.

The event was co-hosted with Center for Resilient Cities & Landscapes at Columbia's GSAPP and Columbia’s School of the Arts, as part of the Year of Water, “a year of art, lectures, symposia, and research focused on Earth's most precious resource.”

It was the first talk hosted by Columbia World Projects in its home at the Forum on Columbia’s Manhattanville campus. More events will be announced throughout the fall.

 A full video of the discussion is available below.

Shaun Donovan and Kate Orff Discuss Rebuild by Design