A Volunteer's Story: Perspective from a Pro Bono Designer Working in the ExcelsiorRead Now
My name is Tianyu Guan. I am not a Bay Area native. I am not even from this country. I grew up in Beijing for 18 years and came to this continent for college on my own--I am the only one from my family who is in the US. As a result, from the very beginning I found it hard to identify with the local culture or community. Fortunately after almost 4 years of college life, I begin to see Berkeley as a meaningful place to me. But around the Bay Area, there is another neighborhood with which I identify--the Excelsior District.
Most of the time, when I tell my friends that there is a hidden gem in SF with a beautiful name called the Excelsior, they look confused and lost--just like when I first heard about the neighborhood. Probably it is not where most tourists would visit when they land at SFO, but I have found myself adoring and identifying with this community more and more over the past 2 years.
I will never forget the day when Nicole first showed me along Mission Street. At the corner store on Persia Avenue, we ran into a man who has been living in the Excelsior for his entire life. He kept talking about how prosperous the neighborhood once was and how much he cared about it. He then went on talking about what kinds of changes he was willing to see. Although I could not understand every single detail he mentioned, I was deeply moved. I was moved by the idea that the local community cares--it is devoted to improving its public spaces and is willing to try new ideas. Moreover, it has a respect for design and public community processes.
From that moment on, I began to see design projects--even the tiniest one--from a refreshed perspective. Previously as a new design student, I tended to approach a project from an "artistic" way without realizing how arbitrary it might be. I saw design solely as a self-expression rather than a respond to certain needs of a client. My experience with EAG gradually turned me into an attentive listener who is willing to understand the clients and the communities.
I also began to turn into a patient do-er who values the idea of making changes little by little. For example, I benefitted a lot from my first EAG project--the Pavian Fashion facade renovation work in 2011. I was grateful to receive trust from both the EAG and the owners of Pavian Fashion--Mr. And Mrs. Shen. Not only because it is my first design that got built out but also because it got me exposed to different design phases in reality. I learned how to work back and forth with clients and contractors. I learned about building materials and constructions details. This project taught me that all the seemingly trivial details can be pivotal in the real world.
Most importantly, working with EAG confirms my passion in environmental design, especially design in the public realm. Only after putting my dreams in the spotlight of the real world did I realize what I am pursuing is meaningful to both myself and the living environment. Here, I want to repeat the almost cliche saying--make the world a better place. I know it sounds simple and naive, but I believe my work with EAG is indeed making the world a better place, little by little, step by step.
About Tianyu Guan
Tianyu Guan was born in China, educated in California, and now resides on a street off of a street off of the gorgeous UC Berkeley campus. Officially a 4th year landscape architecture major at Berkeley, Tianyu also works as a designer, illustrator, and photographer in her spare time. Her inspiration and interest lie in exploring how innovative designs enhance urban living experience and challenge people's vision on city life. She has volunteered with the Excelsior Action Group for the past several years as a pro bono architectural and graphic designer, completing numerous projects for the organization including the design for Pavian Fashion’s facade improvement.
When she's not gazing lovingly into the eyes of her computer, Tianyu likes to explore the endless culinary treasures of the Berkeley-Oakland-San Francisco triangle, go on impromptu adventures around the city, and people-watch at Cafe Strada.
If you are curious about Tianyu's design works, please go check out at--TianyuGuan.weebly.com.
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