Sergio Palleroni has been a long-standing leader, thinker, practitioner and educator in the field of social impact design. Palleroni has taught at the University of Washington Seattle, University of Texas Austin, and is currently a professor at Portland State University, where he founded and now leads the Center for Public Interest Design.
Palleroni’s career in public interest design actually predates the term ‘public interest design.’ Drawing inspiration from educator/philosophers like Paolo Freire and Ivan Illych, Palleroni began working in the 1980’s in Nicaragua, working for the Sandinista government in the aftermath of the Nicaraguan revolution. From there, his work took him to Mexico, where he worked on reconstruction after Mexico City earthquake.
These experiences became the basis of a revolutionary pedagogy begun in the late 1980’s. While the idea of a design/build studio, or a studio abroad program, was not new, the philosophy at the core of Palleroni’s teaching was a watershed in architectural education.
Palleroni founded the BASIC Initiative in 1995. The BASIC initiative was a groundbreaking educational program which sought to move students out of the design studio and into communities. It operates as a partnership between Portland State University and the University of Texas at Austin, where students are drawn out into the field to do various design/build projects, including housing, schools and health clinics. The program operates throughout Mexico and the American west, serving migrant communities and Native American populations. Every few years, the Global studio replaces the Mexico program, taking student around the globe to work with communities.
Later in his career, Palleroni would develop and implement the U.S.’s first academic certification for those wishing to pursue a career in public interest design. The Certification requires coursework and field work in diverse issues of non-profit management, urban poverty, ecology and citizen participation, and is open to both graduate students and working professionals interested in entering the field of social design.
Along the way, Palleroni has trained and mentored generations of public interest designers who continue to influence the field in their own way. He has succeeded in being a revolutionary for the past thirty years, and shows no signs of stopping.