Cultural Identity

Industrial Design 4

Industrial Design 4: Sustainability was taught in collaboration with the Berkeley Turkish School.  

CCA Students were tasked with designing and fabricating toys for the schoolchildren that are responsive to the cultural and sustainable contexts of the school. 

Industrial Design student Hugo Waldern shares his experience working with The Berkeley Turkish School for his ENGAGE course: ID4: Sustainability

Is this the right course?

I was not quite sure what to make of the Engage Program at first. I remember the first day of our class, having only a fraction of the student count than in my other industrial design courses prior. This gave me a bit of skepticism.

Was I in the right class for what I need?

I understood the course stood for involvement with the community, and I understood this could mean a product that could yield real results, yield real answers that so many other design classes failed to take advantage of.

Hugo also interviewed his fellow students about their experience:

The end product was nothing like what I imagined it to be. It was genuinely directed by our insights from each visit we made to our users. I enjoyed the open ended approach we took on. It allowed us to dive into research in
our own styles. Hence each group came up with unique products that were completely unlike one another.
– Ritz, CCA Student

Designing with children

The course required what any other class did; working prototypes, sketches, research, CAD modeling and a clear, cohesive story that explained how I ended up with my results. What was new to this list of requirements was deep understanding paradigm of ecology and sustainability, cultural perspective and understanding of Turkish customs and practices, an understanding of our client (Berkeley Turkish School students AND faculty) as well as a deep immersion back to my childhood.

What would I want if I were a kid? Dinosaurs! No, seriously Hugo, get dinosaurs out of your head! How can I understand a classroom full of children’s wants and needs for this hybridized tool and toy? I was soon paired with my partner, Zander, whom I have no doubt had equally concerning questions, and we began to tackle the problems presented as we have been trained. Research turned to sticky note ideas, soon turning into sketching then to prototyping. Zander and I were left in this cycle for weeks; testing, adjusting, tuning, modeling. We refined and went about throwing in all the ideas we could, ducking deadlines and fortifying our design against criticism, constantly destroying and rebuilding, questioning every element. Everyone (including my grandmother) was brought into our process, opinions and outside voices just as important as our own. All options were as quickly on the table as fast as they were off, as our process soon yielded its final results.

ENGAGE Set Apart

Theoretically, any ID class could offer the rigorousness course that Zander and I took. What separated the Engage course from the rest came down to the impact of our work. The work wasn’t just for a computer-modeled project online or in a portfolio, never to be built and rigorously tested. The Engage class was more than just making someone interested in our work. The course left my peers and myself open to elements of real design. For the first time ever during my three years at CCA, I felt had a real client. I felt I had a very legitimate, real obligation not to fail, like there was someone who I could actually help.

Hugo interviewed the community partner about the impact of the Engage projects:

I think it helped the BTS community feel more connected and engaged with the bigger context of the Bay Area. The products obviously are going to be very influential and helpful for our teachings. And I would be thrilled to have the course come back to us again. – Basak Cakici, Co‐Founder, The Berkeley Turkish School

Getting it right

We had real requirements; cultural, environmental and educational, each having to be handled separately to eventually become one chorus of working coherence. There were lots of elements to be tied together, what felt like three languages that had to morph to become fluent, understood, even intuitive. These are some of what felt like real challenges my peers and I faced while taking the Engage course. The Engage course is a lesson of observation, process and delivery to a client that will not be afraid to put your product to the test, and continue to do so years after you deliver your final prototype.


Tortilla Horizontal

La Tortilleria Horizontal built an experimental tortilla factory in Mexico City to engage the local community in conversation about the impact of GMO on corn and Mexican culture.


Corn holds a significant place in Mexican culture and history, and many native species are being endangered by big agriculture. La Tortilleria Horizontal built an experimental tortilla factory in Mexico City to engage the local community in conversation about the impact of GMO on corn and Mexican culture.

"Intriguing and unexpected people started to show up at the tortilleria and with them, they brought their own ideas and experiences. The tortilla was a simple space that offered a way to approach certain ideas but it was also way more about what the people did with those ideas and how they contributed and built upon that. The participation and engagement of the people who had the opportunity to stumble upon the project was the substance of what the tortilleria was all about and it is definitely what made the project so enriching and beautiful."

The team constructed a temporary storefront that operated for four weeks, hosting lectures, workshops, concerts, and communal meals. Community members could directly connect with their food heritage by making their own tortillas and engaging in dialogue around corn and GMO. Team La Tortilleria Horizontal envisioned this successful temporary operation as an interactive vehicle for awareness and community building that could be replicated at future sites.


Navajo Mountain School Project

The Navajo Mountain School Project was conceived to empower the Navajo community through renovating a disused building of historical importance.


The team planned to collaboratively transform an old school building into a site for community arts and culture education.

"Within this specific community, there is no lack of ideas that are needed to fill the spaces we were renovating. I’ve discovered a different level of collaboration, learned the nature of my community at Navajo Mountain, and taught myself to listen when I’m so used to just charging ahead with projects of this nature."

The project included public engagement opportunities and a craft workshop during communal renovation efforts. It aimed to provide tools and resources for the community to leverage its own creativity in continuing to develop Navajo art and culture programs after reconstruction.


Puerto El Morro

Puerto el Morro Pig Project created a communal pigpen that reduced environmental hazards to the elderly and children, while allowing Puerto el Morro to retain its cultural relationship with the pigs.

Project Overview:

Puerto el Morro Pig Project is a public space project that responds to the sanitation issue of free roaming local pigs in the town of Puerto el Morro, Ecuador. With the support of APROFE, a non-profit association dedicated to the welfare of Ecuadorian families, Team Puerto el Morro facilitated dialogue within the local community about the day-to-day health impacts of free-roaming livestock. Through community meetings, site-specific design sessions, and collaboration with local builders, Puerto el Morro Pig Project created a communal pigpen that reduced environmental hazards to the elderly and children, while allowing Puerto el Morro to retain its cultural relationship with the pigs.


Team Puerto el Morro sourced local material and collaborated with local farmers and community members in Ecuador to build the communal pigpens. The final pigpens are easy to maintain as well as readily accessible. They are located 2 minutes outside of town, on a site secured by the local agricultural association. This project was developed to address the specific pig culture of Puerto El Morro, but can be used as a model for other sites with similar environmental concerns, as well as modified to house other livestock.


They Call Us Viet Kieu

Minnie Phan received a Center Micro-Grant to complete and distribute They Call Us Viet Kieu, a short memoir on Vietnamese heritage and Vietnamese-American identity.

Project Description

Minnie Phan received a Center Micro-Grant to complete and distribute They Call Us Viet Kieu, a short memoir on Vietnamese heritage and Vietnamese-American identity. Visiting Vietnam in 2013 and being described as “Viet Kieu” (Vietnamese diaspora) inspired her to explore the complexities of Vietnamese identity and bring awareness to the Vietnamese American community. They Call Us Viet Kieu uses visual narrative to recount the experience of Minnie’s parents’ as refugees from Vietnam, as well as her solo journey back to the country. Through 32 full-color pages, Minnie illustrates the life-changing experiences in Vietnam that taught her how to embrace cultural heritage in a society that encourages assimilation. Minnie also engaged with members of the local Asian American community by listening to their stories to gain perspective on her own experience with culture clashes and microaggressions. Once completed, They Call Us Viet Kieu was presented at a gallery show at California College of the Arts. Vietnamese and American translations were shared with community centers in the Bay Area (Vietnamese Youth Development Center in SF, Au Co Vietnamese Cultural Center in SF, Kearny Street Workshop, Vietnamese American Community Center of the East Bay, Huong Viet Community Center in Oakland).

Project Outcome

Since its publication in 2013, They Call Us Viet Kieu has been admitted into libraries and community organizations in NY, TX, OR, WA (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and CA (San Francisco Public Library; California College of the Arts; University of California, Davis). It joined the permanent zine collection of the Riot Grrrl Movement exhibition, “Alien She,” at YBCA in 2015. There are currently over 500+ copies in circulation. Copies of They Call Us Viet Kieu are available here in both Vietnamese and English.

This project had a rewarding and lasting impact [on me]. Becoming active in my community exposed me to another side of the creative process. I want to continue to be active [in my community] and fully embrace the great life beyond CCA. – Minnie Phan


Beyond Census

The U.S. Census does not represent an accurate number of Arab Americans. ENGAGE students gathered personal narratives from Arab American individuals living in the Bay Area.

Project Objective:

“Beyond Census: The Lives of Middle Eastern Immigrants in Post -9/11 America” explored the political, cultural, and social logic proliferated by US Census data about the experience of recent Middle Eastern immigrants .
In partnership with The Arab Cultural and Community Center of San Francisco [ACCC], ENGAGE students gathered personal narratives from (Arab American) individuals living in the Bay Area.  Students aggregated data from multiple sources to reflect a more accurate census count, both by country and across all residents of Middle Eastern descent aiming  to expose the myths perpetuated about the Arab American experience through Census data. Finally, “Beyond Census” visualized the data sets said to represent the Middle Eastern experience and presenting them alongside personal stories from Arab American community members.


Project Outcome(s):

The ENGAGE course culminated in the publication of qualitative and quantitative data uncovered by research conducted throughout the class. In their publication ENGAGE students visualized American Community Survey GIS data sets and detailed their findings. ENGAGE participants also curated the personal stories (lectures/ films) of Arab American community members amongst the datasets, complicating (or as a way to speak back to) the restrictive (limited/obscuring/ inaccurate) representation communicated by the visualized data.


20/20 Foto

20|20 Foto lead a photography workshop created to empower youth affected by the femicides in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

Project Overview:

Seeking to support the critical cultural reconstruction of a region, 20/20 FOTO: Cross Border Community Action was the first proposed institutional cross-border art program between the two cities since the 2008 eruption of violence in Juárez. 20/20 FOTO was a photography workshop introducing youth to the fundamentals of photography, critical thinking, therapeutic storytelling, writing, reflection, and installation skills. Taking place in El Paso, Texas and in Juarez, Mexico; 20/20 FOTO partnered with Creative Kids (US) and Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Mexico) on photography workshops. In order to create a sustainable program Team 20/20 FOTO sought to create a camera library for the organizations and an academic curriculum so that the workshops could continue past their initial implementation.

“We believe, as evidenced in our work with the workshop participants in Juárez, that the longest lasting impact of 20/20 FOTO has already begun with them, as critical thinkers and producers of powerful images.” – 20/20 FOTO, IMPACT Awardee 2011


Prior to the start of their workshops Team 20/20 FOTO: Cross Border Community Action presented their project to Pentax, who quickly recognized the significance of their project and donated 20 high quality cameras. 20/20 FOTO workshop participants at Creative Kids (El Paso) and Nuestras Hijas (Ciudad Juárez) shared their experiences with one another through exchanged letters, photographic work, and video chats. Under the theme “Heroes and Super Heroes,” 20/20 FOTO crafted an engaging photography curriculum and hosted an online photography exhibition for the images produced by the young people at Nuestras Hijas about their heroes and superheroes. 20/20 FOTO was such a success in Ciudad Juárez that local photographers continue to use their curriculum to work with Nuestras Hijas on their photograph project.