Leighton Beaman joined the Department of Design + Environmental Analysis as Associate Professor of Practice in January 2021. A designer, writer and educator, Beaman’s work focuses on the history and discourse of design technologies, speculative design technologies, and sustainable and socially-conscious design practices.
“My research examines how materials technologies and hybrid assemblies – which could be combinations of humans and machines, different cultures, or different technologies – present new modes of creative production,” Beaman said. “And the inverse of that – how can these new modes of creative production be leveraged to create more inclusive and sustainable built environments?”
Beaman is a co-founder of Alterior Office, a research and design studio with work featured in exhibitions at Harvard University, the Universities of Virginia, Texas, and Cincinnati, Boston Society of Architects, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) art museum.
Lumina Pavilion: University of Virginia students, along with instructors Leighton Beaman, Andrew Kudless and Melissa Goldman, designed and built a public pavilion open to all communities on the University's Academical Village. The project was created in response to the events of August 11-12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA. The project was constructed on the same site where racist protesters burned torches and used hate speech.
Photo credit: Dan Addison
Proxy No 08: One of a series of installations created at institutes in Virgnia, Texas, Ohio, and Washington, DC, which examined collaborative modes of creative production between humans and machines.
Photo credit: Leighton Beaman
He is also co-founder of General Architecture Collaborative (GAC), a nonprofit that brings design to communities in Rwanda with projects like the Masoro Learning + Sports Center, the Masoro Health Center, and a studio for artisans of Abahizi Rwanda, an employee-owned handbag manufacturer.
“We try to think holistically about our projects and so our model goes beyond just design. We also help in the production of the actual project, like a contractor normally would. We raise the money for the project and then we try to direct as much of that money into the community as possible, which means we can try new ways of building, utilize local technologies and local ways of making in combination with the technologies we bring to the table.”
Masoro Health Center (MHC): One of nine buildings that form a community-focused health and wellness campus in the rural Rwandan village of Masoro. The MHC is the first community-focused project built as part of the On Purpose partnership between General Architecture Collaborative and Kate Spade NY.
Photo Credit: James Setzler
Maison de Masoro: Local artisans weave walls for Rwanda’s first earthbag building, a community-built house designed and organized by General Architecture Collaborative.
Photo Credit: Yutaka Sho
In an effort to maximize the benefits to the local community, GAC hires and trains local community members to build the projects, with an emphasis on hiring women who have limited access to this kind of skill-building in Rwanda.
GAC was recently named small design practice of the year for the Northeast region by The Architect’s Newspaper, and the Masoro Health Center is a finalist in two categories of the journal Architizer’s international design awards.
Beaman said he was drawn to D+EA’s non-traditional and multi-disciplinary approach to design.
“D+EA offers the opportunity to more rigorously explore how to leverage the somewhat isolated and inward-looking aspects of design research and experimentation into something relevant outside of the field. How are we engaging typically underrepresented communities? How does that become a design approach rather than one specific project? D+EA gives me the freedom to explore those issues.”
Building Together: Students and faculty from various departments at Cornell University work together to create structures as part of a D+EA course on collaborative modes of making.