Propositions for a place-based practice: Implicating the designer in care and relationality | Jean Chisholm

Research Outline

This thesis reflects on the role of the designer within a place-based practice, exploring the implications of being knowingly and intentionally embedded within community and building a design practice rooted in relationality and reciprocity. Propositions for a place-based practice emerged from a methodology of material and collaborative making, as examined through two case studies within Prince George and Vancouver, Canada.


Reacting to the abandoned proposal to create a design campus in downtown Prince George’s innovative but publicly isolating WIDC building, I assembled my own empty, confounding space: a box. Over the course of a month, I invited others to participate in using the box in ways that explored their own practice, constantly adding to and changing the form of the box using simple, accessible making techniques. This work led to a radio interview where I was able to explain my project and my frustrations to the specific audience within the university and the broader public, bringing attention to the fact that collaborators can make many things out of a box as a metaphor and commentary on the unfilled potential of the WDIC building. This project represented how acts of caring and making can create agency, navigating the implications of designing as a concerned community member, rather than designing for a community.

Story Ropes

Working with Laura Kozak and Charlotte Falk, the Story Ropes workshop explored a participatory process for informing public space design. This workshop brought together a group of 13 adults; 6 faculty and master-level students from Emily Carr University and 7 place-based knowledge holders, or “community stewards,” from Prince George, working in educational, public art, and social services sectors. Over the course of a weekend, the group crafted, collaged, and assembled rope segments representing our personal stories and values, and collaboratively led a walking tour to ‘sites of care’ throughout downtown Prince George.


Jean Chisholm is a designer, researcher, and educator living and practicing on unceded Indigenous territories within the colonial structures of British Columbia and Canada, specifically: the area of Vancouver, located within Musqueam, Skxwú7mesh-ulh Úxwumixw (Squamish) and Tsleil-Waututh territories; and the area of Prince George, located within the traditional lands of the Lheidli T’enneh. Her research explores community engagement, local identities, and transitions towards sustainable ways of living, often with a focus on her hometown of Prince George and other northern communities.