Today, the University of California, Berkeley, announced Deanna Van Buren, co-founder of Designing Justice + Designing Spaces (DJDS), as the recipient of this year’s Berkeley-Rupp Architecture Professorship and Prize. An award honoring architects or academics who show a commitment to sustainability and the community, it offers up the chance to teach and conduct research for a semester at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design (CED).
Van Buren is the mind behind DJDS, an Oakland-based nonprofit aiming to holistically transform the American jail system through a vision called restorative justice. As a national leader and advocate for smart justice architecture, her work zeroes in on supportive justice interventions that can help solve the serious issues caused by mass incarceration. Her architecture and real estate development practice, which she launched with Kyle Rawlins in 2015, works with government, non-profit, and community partners to spread awareness and create design projects that address social justice needs.
“Deanna is a visionary leader, whose design work and activism are reshaping the cultural construct of justice in the U.S.,” said CED Dean Jennifer Wolch in a statement. “Her support for underserved communities, and efforts to create spaces that cultivate diversity in our field, exemplify the values we strive to encourage with this prize.”
Van Buren’s extensive background showcases her commitment to the role of architect-activist. Last November, she spoke at a TEDWomen conference where she challenged the audience to consider what the world would like without prisons, and what we could build in their place. Before beginning DJDS, Van Buren founded the public interest design studio FOURM, and earlier this year started BIG Oakland, a new co-working space for minority- and women-owned architecture, engineering, and construction companies. Van Buren previously held positions at Perkins+Will, The Buchan Group, and Eric R. Kuhn & Associates where she completed institutional, educational, and urban design projects around the world.
Her portfolio with DJDS includes a handful of peacemaking centers, roving villages, and housing units for youth in both Syracuse and Oakland, among other places. Her latest project is Restore Oakland, a restorative justice and economics center in East Oakland that, when open next spring, will be the first of its kind in the United States. Her team also recently launched the Pop-Up Resource Village in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, which brings resources and dynamic programming to in-need communities of color via mobile architecture and nature.
Van Buren believes in the power of design and creative placemaking as means to help keep people out of the jail system and provide room for healing as well as training on the systemic injustices that stem from inequality. “Architecture is a potent medium for shifting and solidifying and fomenting movements,” she said. “We can’t do much without space. We can’t launch movements without a place for us to gather that is safe and nourishing.”
Among her many accolades, Van Buren is the only architect to have ever been awarded the Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellowship, and she’s also held the Loeb Fellowship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. As part of the Berkeley-Rupp Professorship and Prize, she will be awarded $100,000 and the visiting professorship at UC Berkeley starting next fall. There she’ll focus on a book project and teach an intensive seminar that explores architectural responses for peace-building. She’ll also give a public lecture and hold a gallery exhibition.