15 Years of Faculty Engagement: James Meraz

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James Meraz March 10, 2016


jason meraz_dm15As I reflect on the many studio experiences I have led with Designmatters – from earthquake preparedness in the cross-cultural pacific rim to safe and sustainable living conditions in the home for elders, to field research deep into the rainforest learning from nature’s intelligence and performative attributes – there are many memorable moments where I have been impressed with our student’s ability to create thoughtful design narratives, that can literally change the trajectory of people’s lives, whether it’s on a humanitarian level, or emotional, psychological level.

Teen Art Park: A place for Artistic Expression was a complex and exhaustive two-term project that had a group of environmental and product design students not only tasked to design a space for local underserved teens with a safe, supportive and creatively stimulating environment in which they could explore there own artistry, but also to physically create a fully functioning prototype for a local charter school that catered to at-risk teens who had exhausted all other options of support and education.

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In the 2011 Teen Art Park Studio, students addressed the day-to-day challenges and aspirations of greater Pasadena’s at-risk teenagers and set out to design an art park to foster safe, artistic expression.

Relations were, at first, fragile as our students were met with uncertainty and skepticism. Yet over time the intent and authenticity began to erode the barriers and issues of trust. A symbiosis began to emerge. At the open house, one of our young teens left us with this spoken word poem, that became a provocation, a call to action:

How as human beings are we supposed to succeed

If the issues with our youth’s problems are not recognized?

Street violence and drugs are brushed aside, as if it’s not a threat

And if the issues that our children face today,

Cannot and will not be faced

Then what are we here for?

It’s been an honor for me to have the opportunity to work with Designmatters and lead students in creating what’s next in innovative products, spaces and experiences, and – most importantly – fostering an educational experience that is a provocation, a call to action to our students to view the world through a new perspective: a perspective of sustaining and elevating the human condition.

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In 2012, ArtCenter students developed proposals for the architectural design and construction of an Armenian Genocide Memorial in Pasadena’s Memorial Park.


James Meraz works and teaches in the field we call Environmental Design. This field represents a multi-faceted and emerging profession which encompasses and blurs the line between many design disciplines. James has a unique vision and understanding of this complex field. He brings rich academic and professional expertise to the departments he teaches in. Principle of Studio Meraz, Inc. – A multi-disciplinary design firm providing exhibit, furniture, product, interior, set, architectural design services.

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