Department of

Interdisciplinary Programs/interdisciplinary Design


Kevin Lair

Lecturer, Architecture
Lecturer, Design (Interdisciplinary)

Mailing Address

Architecture Department
158 College of Design
Ames, IA, 50011

Contact Information

Office: 484 Design


BFA, Painting and Drawing, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, 1991
BA, Psychology, Drake University, Des Moines, IA, 1991
MArch, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1995

On the Web

Supporting Files

Research Interests

All my work seeks to use design to create complex, meaningful and transformative change in the world. One of the critical challenges for such work is the need to continually rework disciplinary boundaries to be more adaptive and purposeful.  The most fruitful areas for exploration are interwoven among many disciplines and are only visible in from oblique views. My work always begins by asking What are the new vantage points from which we can redefine and engage problems?  Increasingly, the answer is that they are outside of conventional disciplinary contours and follow unexpected trajectories. Even as integrative design practitioners, we have to unlearn attitudes that have carved deep habitual ruts.

My specific project focus on rural environments that are extremely pressured ecologically, socially and economically, while being marginalized culturally. I propose ethical design practices that support resilient, place-based outcomes. The pervasive technology based solutions to rural issues have well-defined parameters. However well intentioned, they often exacerbate ecological fragilities rather than regenerating resilient, sustainable systems. To dig deep into new practices requires the ability to defer short-term interests be they ecological, personal or professional.

Such approach asks us to think beyond narrowly linear notions of how to “advance” architecture.  We need to ask instead, How can we “unsettle” and “resettle” the land that will provide for biodiversity, native systems and cultural vibrancy?  How can we root ourselves and build community with a deep appreciation of co-habitation with the more than human world?  How can we develop richer experiences that find wealth in local knowledge, shared interests and empathy?  In short, I call for a creative activism to bring into focus alternatives to consumptive and exploitative practices, an activism founded upon rural design agency and cultural equity.  The process of architectural and design endeavors begins by seeking an invitation to work within the communities we serve.  Reclaiming discarded and marginalized cultural and natural heritages rooted in place can help redirect us to more ethical and sustainable practices.  

Current Projects

Founder and co-director of the Westbrook Artists’ Site (WAS) in Winterset, IA.  WAS is 550 acres devoted to rehabilitative ecology, rural design, and creative exploration.  

Art in the Public Sphere Fellowship Project and building cultural equity in rural communities.

AgArts Iowa

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