Amy Campos: Broadening the Conversation

Amy Campos and CCA students at the Dolores Shelter Program

In fall 2011, CCA faculty member Amy Campos and a group of Interior Design students worked with Dolores Shelter Program (DSP) as part of an ENGAGE at CCA course. Their brief: to generate ideas for the renovation of DSP's homeless shelter on South Van Ness in the Mission District of San Francisco.

The facility's residents are in great need of an empowering and supportive sense of place, hope, and safety, and the aspiration was to facilitate this via better space planning and organization, and the creation of more durable and usable furnishings and storage.

DSP currently offers shelter to more than 100 homeless men each night, with construction currently in progress to expand the facility to provide equivalent facilities for the city’s homeless LGBT communities. In addition to providing fixed and movable beds, the facility also provides showers, hot meals, medical services, educational and vocational support, case management services, child care, and congregation space for a local church.

While the students were not designing for all of DSP’s many purposes and user groups, these groups' presence in the space and the notion of 24-hour programming became very much a part of the students’ conceptualization and design processes.

Bringing Design Imagination to the Table

"Marlon Mendieta, the program director at DSP, doesn't have a design background," Campos explains, "so he recognized how much CCA students could bring to the table in terms of design imagination. He is an incredibly thoughtful person who cares a lot about the people he works to help. The students immediately recognized their impact in providing better, more efficient, more meaningful accommodations for the DHP's guests."

Campos and the students held a number of brainstorming sessions to focus on the client’s needs and develop a clear and realistic understanding of the people they were serving, the facility to which they would be proposing alterations, and the relevant operational, financial, and staff-related constraints.

In the end, some of the key design concerns included understanding the negative psychological impact of waiting outside in the cold to check in each evening, and realizing the importance of being able to exert individual control over one’s immediate space.

Adam Klafter (Interior Design 2014) proposed to combine the outdoor check-in space, overcrowded dining area, and outdoor storage into one large streamlined interior/exterior "living room" experience.

Tiffany Blaylock (Interior Design 2014) completed exhaustive spatial studies of the DHP’s existing storage and sleeping areas to produce a design for a bunk unit that would provide storage, privacy while changing clothes, and a sleeping area with individual lighting controls.

Mendieta was blown away at the students' acute sensitivity to the subtleties of inhabitance at the shelter, in addition to the creativity of their suggestions for drastically enhancing DSP's spatial and operational efficiencies. This conversation proved so valuable, in fact, that he plans to bring the students' ideas to a meeting of local shelter directors. He has expressed interested in taking them to the national level as well, where they could have very real long-term effects on policy and practice.

At the Alameda County Community Food Bank

In spring 2011 Campos led another ENGAGE at CCA course, this one at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. That organization's executive director, Suzan Bateson (Graphic Design 1973), does come from a creative background -- in fact she is a CCA alumna.

"Suzan offered the perfect balance of directed goals and an open mind, and the students brought to the table very inventive and unexpected solutions for the organization," Campos explains. The students worked individually and in teams to design proposals for restructuring the food bank's public and private spaces to optimize all of its functions: receiving, sorting and storing food, presenting food to clients in a shopping environment, administrating the organization’s operations, and providing reception, support, education, and events for clients and volunteers.

Student Yu Ling Tong (Interior Design 2011) pointed out in her proposal, "Working with a nonprofit client, budget is the first thing that comes to the design. Functional beauty is the key." To this end, she and a number of other students proposed the creative reuse of warehouse materials such as shipping pallets and scrap banners, which are ubiquitous at the food bank, refashioning them into walls, partitions, bins, and furniture.

The following semester, Campos's Interior Design students' proposals were used as a guide for the creation and placement of a number of murals produced for the food bank in Eduardo Pineda's ENGAGE mural course. Pineda referenced as a guide for his students' projects the Food Bank Studio book that Campos had published the semester before.


ENGAGE at CCA is a campuswide initiative now in its third year. Managed through CCA's Center for Art and Public Life, ENGAGE courses are open to students in any major, and each one focuses on a project in which the enrolled students and faculty leader work with community-based organizations and outside experts to address a pressing local issue.

"Non-ENGAGE studios can produce poignant work," reflects Campos, "but it is much easier to reaffirm the value of the work to students when it is reinforced through the multiple audiences that are formally part of the structure of the ENGAGE courses: client, user, facilitator, educator, peers, and the community at large."

Pineda agrees, commenting on how valuable it was to be able to continue the work of Campos's prior ENGAGE studio course. "Being able to work with the same organization continuously over multiple semesters is so valuable: for the organization, for the students, and for me as an instructor."

From New York to the "Up-Starter" Bay Area

Campos came to CCA three years ago from New York. There, she taught part-time while working full-time as a project manager and senior designer at a small Manhattan architecture firm. Here in San Francisco, it's the opposite scenario: Her full-time teaching gig has enabled her to set up her own research practice.

"Having the ability to align my research and pedagogical interests with my own self-directed work has been incredibly productive and gratifying," she explains. "I have three main interests that run through everything I do: broadening the audience and the conversation around the interior environment; working on full-scale environmental installations; and research into impermanence, planned obsolescence, and consumption in design."

In fall 2012 she will participate in a multidisciplinary engagement with global issues around waste via her junior-level Materiality studio in Interior Design. The course is part of an initiative called "Wasteland" (analogous to last year's "Water Works" program) in CCA’s humanities and sciences division).

The students will explore rigorous and experimental material design techniques that are grounded in Campos's research over the last few years, as well as recruit the scientific expertise of various outside consultants and lecturers who will come to class for lectures and critiques. This is all in addition to continuing her appointment as the architecture division's ENGAGE faculty mentor.

"It is wonderful to be around the Bay Area’s unique up-starter attitude," Campos concludes. "There is a positivity and drive that enables people here to do and make more proactively. From the food culture to the tech culture, people make things happen here. Since joining the faculty at CCA I've really benefited from being around like-minded, creative self-starters."