When IU lecturer Jon Racek sent me a note and said one of his classes had created a piece of playground equipment it subsequently donated to St. Charles Catholic School, I was intrigued.
Then, I clicked on the photograph he’d attached to the email, and fell in love. Multiple sets of tiny legs and hands emerged from the brightly colored “tire ball,” and I could practically hear the giggles and playful shouts.
Racek’s class “Design in the Developing World” spent the last spring semester discussing the importance of design in the global community. Among other projects, they created a playground design for a nonprofit organization in Nairobi and physically constructed the “tire ball” that now graces the St. Charles playground.
“This past spring, we studied playgrounds, which is kind of my background,” said Racek, who founded Play360, a nonprofit that trains organizations to build low-cost educational resources throughout the developing world. “But overall, this class is meant to widen students’ exposure to where design is important. Going forward, we might try to come up with a possible design for a bicycle ambulance for people in Liberia. We’ll take on a different project each spring.”
IU sophomore Jake Neidlinger was in the class, which he said made him rethink his future plans.
“While the big final project was the ‘tire ball,’ the class discussed many more principles of design used in poor countries and even more economically sound countries, including things like the zeer, a smaller pot that fits into a larger pot and is insulated with cool soil or something else to help food last longer,” Neidlinger said. “The class was so interesting and helpful, not just for myself but for the world around us. It has inspired me to want to go to developing countries and help build something that can help economically, socially and environmentally.”
Racek teaches in the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.