Clean Beaches Design Initiative


Collaborative Design students issue challenge for clean beaches.

MFA in Collaborative Design at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) in partnership with SOLVE is issuing the Clean Beaches Design Challenge, inviting teams of college students to design innovative solutions to clean up tsunami and other marine debris on Oregon beaches.


Collaborative Design students at Crescent Beach. Photo by Laura DeVito.

The impetus for the challenge came from the graduate students in Don Harker’s Cultural Entrepreneurship Class in the MFA in Collaborative Design program. Students had proposed several local issues to be addressed by designers and chose the tsunami beach cleanup as number one. Then they reached out to SOLVE, a non-profit organization with a track record of bringing volunteers together to restore and maintain Oregon’s natural spaces with an emphasis on beach and river cleanup.

The tragic 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated Japan had, and continues to have, a wide impact. The west coast of North America from California to Alaska has begun receiving an estimated 1.5 million pounds of tsunami debris which is expected to continue to wash ashore for the next five years. This is in addition to the 100 million tons swirling in the North Pacific Gyre. Oregon is especially vulnerable due to the ocean currents coming across the Pacific that turn south at the Oregon/Washington border. The debris ranges in size from micro plastics to floating docks. Problems related to the debris include financial, related to beach cleanup and the impact on the local tourist economy; ecological, including wildlife impacts and invasive species; public health, related to chemical contamination of micro plastics; public policy, related to tsunami preparedness and land use; and logistical, related to the sheer scale of the problem.

“The scope of the debris cleanup from the tsunami on Oregon’s shoreline presents an enormous challenge. But for more than 40 years SOLVE has both facilitated and witnessed what we can do when we come together to address environmental challenges such as this,” says John Tortorici, Executive Director of SOLVE. “That’s why, when Don Harker approached us about the Clean Beaches Design Challenge, we recognized its value at once.”



Collaborative Design students at Crescent Beach. Photos by Laura DeVito.

The Clean Beaches Design Challenge is a competition for college student teams interested in tackling a complex problem with scientific, political, and social dimensions. The competition is designed to promote the practical, integrative, and exciting aspects of science, technology, engineering, art, policy, education, organization, politics, psychology, and community when applied to the real world environmental problems facing our society. Research, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and systems thinking are integral ingredients and key to the successful design for complex problem interventions. Teams will learn about the science of recycling and repurposing debris and will better understand the work of professionals in that field.

The final judging event on March 9, 2013, will allow selected teams to present their designs, network with other teams, and receive feedback and ideas from the judges.

“This is just the kind of complex problem that demands fresh, collaborative, innovative thinking that we spend every day training our students to address,” says Peter Schoonmaker, chair of the MFA in Collaborative Design. “We see this Clean Beaches Design Challenge as an opportunity to expand the dialogue around problems such as this to include voices of young, dedicated, college students from all over.”

A slideshow of photos of Collaborative Design students at Crescent Beach. Photos by Laura DeVito.

Read more about the project on Laura’s Lens, an UNTITLED blog by Collaborative Design student Laura DeVito ’13, and on the Collaborative Design program blog, CODE:pdx.


Sea glass and plastic. Photo by Laura DeVito.

— Posted on 11/09 at 04:15 PM

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