Sunday, December 2, 2012

Design professor and students give back to poor communities

Chen Chie-peng, a professor in the Department of Interior Design at Chung Yuan Christian University, believes that service should be a core value in the field of design. Last year he assigned "Reconstructing Disadvantaged Communities" as a graduation project for his college seniors. While Chen was in charge of raising funds, his students were responsible for all of the design and construction work. He hopes to be able reconstruct at least one residential space every year to make it more suitable for living.

Most people think that interior design is simply about decorating houses, and that only the rich can afford it, but Chen believes design should take a broader definition that also includes reconstructing spaces and readjusting traffic flow. Design is not only meant for the rich to enjoy, it is supposed to fulfill everyone's basic living needs, he says. Despite being ridiculed by his colleagues, Chen still believes that the disadvantaged also deserve to enjoy design services, because after all, differences in wealth occur merely because some people are more or less fortunate than others, he says.

Apart from learning various skills, including how to draw blueprints, paint and do carpentry, they also learn how to save on construction costs and work in situations where financial resources are limited. In recent years, many of his students have taken up his cause after graduating. One such student, who is a member of the Aboriginal Bunun tribe and grew up in Hualien County, started going home to the countryside on the weekends after graduating to help do reconstruction work and beautify the community where he grew up.

The year before last, Chen took a group of students who were about to graduate to do community service in the Chin Cheng Community in Bade City. The old community only has 100 homes and a little more than 200 residents, while each house is only around eight ping (24.4m2). Most of the residents are old veterans, families with foreign spouses and Aborigines. Chen says that he initially felt like the community was gloomy and forlorn, so he decided to take the students there to improve the surroundings, but they were only able to plant some trees and plants to make it look better and reconstruct some pavilions in the area.

With better interaction between teacher, students and residents, and after receiving NT$200,000 in donations, Chen decided to have the students use the money to enhance traffic flow and accessibility in the area so houses would be better suitable for the elderly. Although they only had enough money to do reconstruction for one home, Chen hopes they can work on at least one home every year and eventually complete reconstruction in the entire community.

(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)

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