Grace Farms will host the inaugural Design for Freedom Summit on March 31

Accelerating Change

Grace Farms will host the inaugural Design for Freedom Summit on March 31

Grace Farms, an interdisciplinary humanitarian center designed by SANAA in New Canaan, Connecticut, has been a primary gathering place for Design for Freedom Working Group meetings and events. (Dean Kaufman/Courtesy Grace Farms Foundation)

In October 2020, the New Canaan, Connecticut-based nonprofit Grace Farms Foundation formally launched Design for Freedom, a multi-pronged effort addressing the insidious (and chronically overlooked by the AEC industry) crisis of systemic forced labor within the global building materials supply chain. AN has special ties to the initiative as its origins can be traced back to the fall of 2017 when Sharon Prince, founder and chief executive of the Grace Farms Foundation, and AN’s late founding editor-in-chief Bill Menking convened to discuss the staggering global prevalence of modern slavery practices within the built environment. From there, Prince and Menking set out to not only raise awareness of forced labor within the industry but also identify ways to eradicate it in favor of an ethical supply chain untainted by human bondage and suffering.

At its official launch three years later, Design for Freedom had attracted the involvement of dozens of experts and leaders from across a broad swath of the architecture, engineering, and construction industry as part of its central Working Group. Accompanying the launch of Design For Freedom was the publication of an expansive report described by Benjamin Prosky, executive director of American Institute of Architects New York Chapter (AIANY) and the Center for Architecture, as being “essential reading for everyone involved in the design and construction industry.”

Now, on March 31, Design for Freedom will hold its first-ever summit at the 80-acre Grace Farms campus in New Canaan.

The day-long event will feature round table discussions, panels led by industry experts, and different experiences and exhibits all zeroed-in on accelerating the movement to banish forced labor from the global materials supply chain. The keynote speakers at the inaugural Design for Freedom Summit will be two princes: Sharon Prince and Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a former Jordanian diplomat who is the current president and CEO of the International Peace Institute and who previously served as the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2014 to 2018.

AN is a media partner for the summit, which will revolve around four core focus topics: corporate ethical responsibility, government policies, Design for Freedom Pilot Projects, and the future of the AEC industry.

a group meeting
Members of the Design for Freedom Working Group meeting at the Center for Architecture in Manhattan. (Niv Rozenberg/Courtesy Grace Farms Foundation)

“At the Design for Freedom Summit, we are expanding understanding of global human rights gaps in the building materials supply chain and creating pragmatic institutional responses,” Sharon Prince told AN. “Together with leaders of the built environment, participants will examine and discuss the means and methods to initialize Design for Freedom Pilot Projects and to move the marketplace toward fair labor material selections.

“We are particularly excited to release the Design for Freedom Toolkit, which is a comprehensive resource that AEC professionals can use to implement ethical, forced labor-free material sourcing strategies into their own practices in both interiors and construction projects,” Prince added.

In addition to Prince and Zeid, featured speakers are set to include, among others, Alan Ricks, founding principal and chief design officer of MASS Design Group, along with practice director Maggie Stern and principal Caitlyn Tayor; Florian Idenburg, principal at SO—IL; SHoP Architects principal Christopher Sharples; Joseph Mizzi, president and COO of Sciame Construction; Peter Miller, partner and co-founder of Palette Architecture; Richard A. Cook, founding partner of COOKFOX Architects; Jane Abernathy, chief sustainability officer at Humanscale; Slade Architecture co-founder and principal Hayes Slade, and Dr. Harriet Harriss, dean of the Pratt Institute School of Architecture.

Looking into black chapel, a tall timber column topped with an oculus
A rendering of the 2022 Serpentine Pavilion, Black Chapel, designed by Theaster Gates. It is the first international Design for Freedom project. (© 2022 Theaster Gates Studio)

As for the Design for Freedom pilot projects mentioned by Prince that will be highlighted during the summit, there are currently four of them located in the United States and abroad, all of them “modeling transparent and forced labor free supply chains and demonstrating design principles in action by creating a tangible example of a more humane built environment.” They are: Black Chapel, the 21st annual Serpentine Pavilion, designed by artist and urbanist Theaster Gates with architectural support from Adjaye Associates and additional support from Grace Farms in the role of Responsible Materials Advisor; Shadow of a Face, Newark, New Jersey’s forthcoming monument to Harriet Tubman designed by Nina Cooke John; the New Canaan Library, which is the first Design for Freedom building project in the U.S, and Temporal Shift, a site-specific new sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist Alyson Shotz  installed in an interior courtyard of the SANAA-designed River building at Grace Farms. It will remain on view through September 2022.

The announcement of additional international projects is forthcoming.

More information on the Design for Freedom Summit, including a full list of participants, an event agenda, travel details, and registration particulars, can be found here. Tickets are $50 for adults and $25 for students. The event, which kicks off at 9:00 a.m. and concludes at 5:30 p.m. on March 31, is AIA CES Approved 4 LU | HSW. Registration closes on March 30.