Interviewer: Greg Labrosse
Language of interview: English
Country of practice: United States
Profession: Architectural and urban designer and the Assistant Dean of the Pratt School of Architecture in Brooklyn, New York.
Quilian Riano is an architect, urban designer and artist interested in the social and environmental effects of architecture and urban production. He has extensive experience in community participation processes in Nicaragua, Colombia and the United States, and he is currently a professor at Kent State University (update: He was recently appointed Assistant Dean and Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture). During our conversation, Riano talks about his interest in using design and community processes as tools to address social issues, as well as his work designing spaces for alternative justice, in relation to both his experience as a immigrant in the United States, and his collaboration with Indigenous communities, facing environmental and social challenges in their territories.
Through the case study of Corona Plaza, in Queens (NYC), he explains the concept of “pluralistic democracies” as the antithesis of the neoliberal policies of space. This project developed a participatory approach, and the use of playing and art as tools for social and spatial change. Further, Riano describes how he prefers to work with projects established from a local approach, since there are many cases in which communities have experienced participatory design processes that were only beneficial for institutions and universities, instead of the participants.
Moreover, Riano explains how community work can promote true social inclusion and more long-term, sustainable processes. He focuses on the importance of fostering open communication with communities and establishing feasible expectations. He underlines the importance of small scale projects and flexible spaces that can promote collective reconciliation for restorative justice processes.