Activist Designers: Design 99

Gina Reichert, an architectural designer, and her husband, artist Mitch Cope, are the duo behind Design 99, an organization in Detroit that creates everything from bathroom tile designs to neighborhood planning strategies. They set up shop—–quite literally as a shop—–in August 2007, offering design services for 99 cents a minute or $99 per house call. “We put design in a retail environment because people know how to enter a store and ask questions,” Reichert says. “A lot of people disregard design not because they’re uninterested but because they don’t think they have access to it.”

 

 

Design 99

The couple closed their store in 2009 in order to focus on a community project. The year before, they purchased a foreclosed house in a rough-and-tumble East Detroit neighborhood for $1,900 and have since turned it into what they call the Power House. The structure serves as a hands-on demonstration center for sustainable design—–it runs on solar power and wind energy and will eventually power other homes in the neighborhood—–but it also aims to motivate other individuals to take action to improve their own communities.

The project has since expanded to include ten homes in the area, and Reichert and Cope are currently at work planning a community skateboard park, job-training programs, and a bike shop. “Design is a combination of public service, problem solving, and creative ideas,” Reichert says.

“It’s great to have a client but sometimes it’s good to go out into the physical environment, critique and analyze it, and think about what you could do.” And when Reichert and Cope walk around their block, ideas for improvement instantly start flowing.

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