Along with being an amazing member of our thesis advising team, Kara Meyer serves as the Managing Director at + POOL, where she oversees the development of the world’s first water-filtering, floating swimming pool. She helped establish the 501c3 Friends of + POOL in 2015 and heads the organization’s operations, programming, and administration, with a focus on fundraising and expanding partnerships for the development of the + POOL project.
What is design for social innovation to you?
Design is all around us and impacts all of our lives. I believe this means designers play an important role in how we see our world. Design for social innovation means choosing to design for a world for all, not just for yourself, or your friends, or your client, or people who look and think like you. It means thinking about the big picture and about your impact on the whole. The beauty is, when you take the time to design for social innovation, you’re also producing better work for yourself, your friends and your clients.
What would you like to say to prospective students about the program & the course you teach?
I wish I had this program available to me earlier in my career. The courses I teach are very much in line with what I do professionally: taking ideas for social change from initial concept, all the way through to final realization and evaluation. The journey is different for every project and sometimes, once you identify a project, it’s like peeling an onion, you start to find more layers and more ways in which your design work can impact the world around you.
Can you talk a little bit about your background and the work you do outside of DSI?
After years of nonprofit development work, I helped start a company, Friends of + POOL, in 2015 to realize a design by four friends to build a water-filtering floating swimming pool in the New York’s East River. The project had gone through a series of Kickstarters where we proved the concept feasible, and so it was time to create a company that would work to establish a private-public partnership with the City of New York and leverage private investment to blaze an inspiring, sustainable, socially vibrant, and equitable path for the project. It’s the longest-term project I’ve ever worked on and it continues to evolve technically, socially and politically in ways I never would have imagined five years ago.
Can you talk in more detail about a project that you are working on?
When we created Friends of + POOL, we decided to establish an educational mission that shared all we had learned during feasibility phases and all we continued to learn about the water surrounding NYC. We knew the project would take a long time to be realized, as most major infrastructure projects in New York, so this work would engage the public more deeply and build community around a project that is truly designed with, and for, everyone. Some of the programs I’m constantly building and evaluating include a free learn-to-swim for low-income youth and in-school education programs that teach STEM through the lense of + POOL’s design. We also do one-off projects that serve our mission. For example, we recently built a 50 x 50 foot floating sculpture in the river that changed colors based on the quality of water in the river in real-time. We’re constantly ideating and this work helps create a pipeline for participation in our vision for the future. That is, one where the people that represent the full diversity of New York City are swimming safely in the river.
If you could give one piece of advice to students starting DSI, what would it be?
Make friends. There are so many great minds at DSI and it’s much more fun to change the world with your friends.