University of Melbourne Magazine

Designing for social change

  • Landscape Architect Lucinda Hartley’s commitment to community development through design led her to establish CoDesign, a social enterprise working with communities, professionals and service providers to build social inclusion through neighbourhood improvement projects.

    Lucinda gained early career experience working across a broad range of projects in Australia, but it was her time abroad that set Lucinda on her current career path.

    “I was exposed to the stark realities of poverty and really started to unravel the possibilities of design,” says Lucinda.

    While working as an English teacher in Cambodia, Lucinda identified a need for improved education facilities. However, on consultation with a community worker she discovered a much more prevalent issue was moving around on foot during flooding, which was a regular occurrence. Together with local professionals and community members, Lucinda helped to create elevated footpaths. Over the next few years Lucinda worked on slum resettlements in Asia and gained a deep understanding of alternative approaches to city making.

    Lucinda Hartley, CEO and Co-Founder, CoDesign Studio.

    Lucinda Hartley, CEO and Co-Founder, CoDesign Studio.

    CoDesign, born in mid-2009, began as a volunteer-led practice. Now, five years on, the practice employs full-time staff and can sustain three times the number of projects.

    “We were doing something quite new, so it was a challenge to communicate the potential of participatory design as a tool for social change,” says Lucinda. “We were dealing with a diverse range of stakeholders so, for each project, we had to ensure that we continued to push for innovative ideas and maintained integrity in design.”

    As well as practical projects, CoDesign engages in social experiments on city design to bring the conversation to the public stage.

    Lucinda, recognised publicly for her work in 2012 when she made The Age Melbourne Magazine’s most influential Melburnians list, sees herself playing a bigger role in strategic thinking about community design.

    “I don’t know what it looks like yet, but I want to influence change at a more strategic level,” she says.