David Perkes explains the New Paradigm of the Public Practice

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Photo Credit: Neil Chambers
David Perkes does not come across as a pioneer for a revolutionary new way to view architecture and construction. He is soft spoken, and doesn't possess the desire to be the center of attention. However, his work in Biloxi, MS as the founding director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio (GCCDS) , is the beginning of a innovative solution for solving issues within communities. GCCDS is a professional outreach program of Mississippi State University's College of Architecture, Art + Design that was established soon after Hurricane Katrina and is providing planning and architectural design support to many Mississippi Gulf Coast communities and non-profit organizations.
Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

It doesn't function like an academic studio, because the people that work there are recent graduates of design programs. It functions like a design firm, but instead of waiting for a client to approach them with a project, Perkes discovers what is needed and then finds a way to make the project happen. He calls it Public Practice, and his successes has everyone taking notice, including the White House.

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Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

The first strains of what would become known as Public Practice started in 1993 by Samuel Mockbee at the Auburn University in Alabama. Mockbee saw the need to have architecture address the needs of the rural south. He co-created the Rural Studio to "demystify modern architecture and expose architecture students to extreme poverty in their own backyard". After Hurricane Katrina, the necessity of rethinking and rebuilding homes for the poor was revealed in shockingly vivid detail as entire neighborhoods where destroyed.

Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

Through the GCCDS, Perkes works in close partnership with the East Biloxi Coordination and Relief Center and has assisted in the renovation of hundreds of damaged homes and over hundred new house projects in East Biloxi and surrounding areas. The housing projects have been awarded an Honor Citation from the Gulf States Region AIA in 2007. He is not only rebuilding award-winning residents. He invites the owners into the design process to allow them to help decide the final project - something rarely done for most low-incoming projects. Perkes says that given owners the full experience produces a sense of true ownership and adds value to the neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Neil Chambers

Perkes has expanded the studio's focus from housing to other community-oriented projects such as a greenway restoration and floodproof commercial construction research. Moving forward, Perkes wants to continue developing the public practice to implement the method to all scales of construction and planning.

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