We had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Toy from the Kounkuey Design Initiative. Not only is she the co-founder for KDI but she also works as a Landscape Architect and LEED AP at the Olin Studio in Philadelphia, PA. Falcon and Kounkuey have been working closely on a partnership for this upcoming year and we couldn’t be more excited about it. You can read more on this here.
Without further ado, let’s go right to the interview.
KDI began in 2006 when we were graduate students at Harvard Design School. A group of us began meeting after hours to ask questions about social impact and design. We wanted to know, how could we use our skills to address the most challenging problems facing the world? What could we do as architects, landscape architects & urban planners? It may be a surprising fact to many that professional designers have traditionally served the top 10% of society – meaning most communities are not able to afford good design. We founded KDI to dedicate our careers to working with the other 90%.
What is your roll in the organization and what interested you in joining the initiative?
I am trained as a landscape architect and urban planner and am one of the original six co-founders. After working in the for profit sector for 10 years and I recently re-joined KDI as Design Director based in the Los Angeles office. What I love about KDI is that we are cross-disciplinary in our approach so I am always learning from my colleagues. In addition to architectural design, we also help clients develop programs like small business training, micro lending programs, group leadership structures, joint-use agreements, urban agriculture programs, transporation infrastructure, and post-occupancy analysis. There’s always something new! We take this comprehensive approach because we have found that in order for a project to be really sustainable it needs to benefit the community in multiple ways. Poverty is a complex problem that requires multi-faceted solutions.
What current projects and locations are you guys working on right now?
This year we are excited to be expanding our work in Kenya & Ghana in Africa. In the United States, we have a number of projects in the Coachella Valley, Los Angeles and Alaska.
Tell us more about that and why the decision on turning your focus on CA?
Although our work started abroad, a number of us at KDI are from California and we have been wanting to work with under-resourced communities in our own backyard. Our biggest project in the region is currently in North Shore, an unincorporated area on the edge of the Salton Sea. We are building a park there with the community that includes everything from a much needed soccer field to a custom playground and shaded pavillion to protect residents from the desert sun. We are excited to feature Falcon’s waterless urinals in the rest area.
We are very excited to be apart of the desert sun project. How do you see this partnership aligning with KDI’s goals?
Water conservation is so important to our work, especially in this region. We ask ourselves daily, how do we design given a severe and prolonged drought? What does green infrastructure look like in a region running out of water? We care deeply about introducing technology like Falcon’s that promote conservation and are thankful for the opportunity to be partners!