Design, Care & Reparations

– by Sarah Sao Mai Habib

Early in 2021, designers, architects, planners, educators, policymakers, and artists came together to reflect on the massive transitional time we live in: a year into the covid pandemic and a year after the most recent & largest racial uprisings on Turtle Island aka the U.S.A. We came together to envision sanctuary, and what we dreamed repair could look like, bridging the scales of repair within our disciplines & personal lives. The following writing prompts were used to encourage our imagination and reflections:

  • Design/ Architecture/ Planning/ Policy will repair….
  • Design/ Architecture/ Planning/ Policy repairs because….
  • Design/ Architecture/ Planning/ Policy repairs with….
  • Design/ Architecture/ Planning/ Policy repairs so that….
  • I will repair…
  • I will repair (myself, my generation, my space) with… 
  • I delegate another or relieve myself of the following “duties”….
  • I will create space (within my time, my energies, my body) for… 


Here are some of our thoughts, feelings, inspirations, dreams and affirmations:


“ Call for reparations are not to be ranked according to their results, nor as paving the path for the next improved version. Reparations are part of the incessant labor of repair. Asking the question “what are reparations?” again and again, with others, is not an attempt to find one ultimate answer-to finally be able to pay, in Truth’s terms-but to affirm that it is through the potentializing of history that the labor of reparations could yield the recovery of a shared world of common care.” 

– Ariella Azoulay


  • Design/ Architecture / Planning/ Policy will repair….

Our relationships with ourselves by repairing our relationship and interactions with the territories we inhabit, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. 

The environmental damage due to their roles in extraction.

The housing crisis, and how it is manufactured through a confluence of  systems of oppression. [i.e. red-lining & predatory lending].

Systems, and the earth. It has the capacity to repair but has the strength to dissolve and disrupt. Thinking about generations before me, and their ability to navigate the earth and build shelter… the naturalness has been disrupted and we’ve given all of the power to white men with no inherent knowledge of earth and building… We’ve created walls, codes and policy that restricts the natural patterns of building.

The singularly designed, both for and by whom, built environment so that all inhabitants of cities and worlds have equal and equitable access to resources, light, air, and land, without causing further undue harm to planet or fellow person.


  • Design/ Architecture / Planning/ Policy repairs because…

We go through this world with our minds, bodies and hearts together. We can numb it, hide from it, reject it, but we cannot escape it, once born we will live until we die in this space and time. 

It shapes shelter & safety.

It has a fundamental role in shaping new worlds.

It contains life… homes, workplaces, recreation… design can craft the containers for living.

We can “future build” or “world build”. Through these fields we try our hand at divine creation, playing “God” if you will. If we intend to create our built environment, we have the ability to design to bring harm or to bring harmony, which also means we have the capacity to repair past harms. 


  • Design/ Architecture / Planning/ Policy repairs with…

Our communion for our common good, by coming together and supporting ourselves and others through periods of change, loss, uncertainty, and joy. When the going gets hard is when we truly have the opportunity to look at our fragilities and shed love and light on them. 

Awareness, alignment, patience, joy, reciprocity.

Communities, people, plants, animals, land, ceremony, ritual, truly relating to material & “unbuilding”.

People, space, textures, environments, agency.


  • Design/ Architecture / Planning/ Policy repairs so that…

The territories we inhabit temporarily, honestly and completely mimic what we once knew and forgot – that we are impermanent and complete, and we can live fruitfully together.  

Everyone is housed & healthy.

Everyone lives a full life, where they can live out their purpose beyond survival, and share their unique gifts.

We continue. We can share and grow and be nurtured in our “pots”. We can return to nature. So that we have room to grow and to interact. 



“Naps are time travel. You can receive an inspired message while resting. It’s a third space that facilitates deep healing. It makes sense why the toxic systems don’t want you tapping into this sacred place. This is why we resist.”

-Tricia Hersey of Nap Ministry


  • I will repair…

The generational survival strategies that have me operating from a place of anxiety.

The sense of woundedness that seeks external validation.

My order within my life. My balance in love, life, and family. My physical space to be a place of shelter and not a “project” to complete.

By staying true to my values, my limits and my vulnerabilities. Inviting nuance and questions into deterministic, homogenous and harmful approaches and by sharing resources and, lending time, hand and space to those around me and those far away when I can. 

My relationship with achievement, doubt, and curiosity. I will have reverence for that which I do not know. I will have reverence for all that I have already done and all that I will do — OR NOT DO — if that is what I feel like doing. I will also repair my body, by loving, listening, and letting go. 


  • I will repair (myself, my generation, my space) with… 

Love and togetherness, and with the healing practices and knowledge that have been developed and matured before me and with the plentiful resources that exist and persist. 

Generational femmes who are the reason for my existence. I will look at the lessons in my life & their lives, and be open to integrating the shadows, and allowing joy to shine through.

My first mother – the earth.

My love, my attention, my space, my growth. Breaking generational curses, recalling generational movements.

Making space. Space between me and others. Space between me and tasks or commitments. Space between a call and a response. Space that is nature, that is my sanctuary. Space that is made for remembrance and appreciation. Space that uplifts and invokes joy. Space that serves others. 


  • I delegate another or relieve myself of the following “duties”…

Letting go of the heaviness of perfection and overwhelming responsibilities I give myself…

Relieving myself of the duty and the weight of having to “be strong”, I create more space to receive care, to be vulnerable, to dream, to devote time to short/long term dreams that are mutually healing for myself & community.

I will not hold on to my funds so tightly that I cannot use them to give me a full life. I don’t have to be the expert in everything to run a business, I can ask for help and make space for myself.  

CLEANING. Not everything has to be cleaned right away. Do not pick up after my partner all of the time, because they will not learn how to pick up for themselves. 


  • I will create space (within my time, my energies, my body) for… 

Practicing deep connection with my needs, my rest, mind and body as one. I will practice the art of recognizing when my old skin is too tight, and will search for time and space to shed that old skin, accepting the pain of change and growth as gracefully as possible for me in that moment and time.

Whole & authentic self-expression, by relieving myself of the duty to be responsible for other peoples’ emotions and reactions. 

Creativity. Friendship. Collaboration.

For reading, nature, laughter, crafting, cooking explorations, ukulele song learning, my babies, dancing, growing with my partner, and writing!



Maintenance and repair in the “human built world” are more visible forms of labor, the processes of which are informed by societal norms & culture. Through this post, we hope to ground ourselves in a culture of healing, and a shift towards honoring the maintenance & repair of the unseen [or rather overlooked] that allow for all other work to be possible.

Please feel free to customize and work with the eight prompts at the beginning of this post for your personal and collective initiatives. We believe everyone, wherever they find themselves, has a role to play in social & environmental healing. As a general guide, give yourself & group three to five minutes on each prompt. Free write what comes to heart without censoring yourself as much as possible. Group share after completing the fourth and eighth prompts. Thank you to the Peace Poets who inspired this writing reflection through their “Sacred Writing” workshops.



Collective bio:

We are a collective who met through the Association for Community Design (ACD) Fellowship. The ACD Fellowship is a year long program for practitioners to increase their knowledge and skills in community engaged design. The inaugural 2019-2020 ACD cohort consists of: Venesa Alicea-Chuqui, Ebony Dumas, Sarah Sao Mai Habib, Taylor Holloway, Camila Jordan,  Melisa Sanders, and last but not least our mentor Shalini Agrawal. Together we are a band of designers, architects, urban planners, policy advocates, and creative people committed to design justice and the practice of whole-hearted living. 


Contributing writers’ bios:

Taylor Holloway , Architectural Designer & Social Impact Strategist, New Orleans, LA

Designer, architect, and educator, Taylor uses design-driven approaches to promote equity in the built environment. As a biracial woman, first generation college graduate, and individual who has experienced the U.S. foster care system, issues of access, creative voice, and healing are personal to her. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College, a Master of Architecture from the University of Illinois, and is honored to be a 2020 NextCity Vanguard, a 2019 Association for Community Design Fellow, an AIA Jason Pettigrew Memorial ARE Scholar, and the 2013 AIA Chicago Martin Roche Travel Fellow. Her organization, Public Design Agency, utilizes design-thinking, public art, and architecture to train future generations of designers, builders, & change-makers. 


Camila Jordan, Policy Maker & Urban and Community Advocate, São Paulo, Brazil 

Camila is an Environmental Engineer turned Urban Planner, Community Advocate, and Policy Researcher focused on designing systems change in cities, underserved communities, and across continents. As a Ginsberg Fellow at CHPC in NYC, she utilized cutting-edge technology to advocate for new perspectives from government officials in housing. She also was Director of The Basement Pilot in East NY, where she coordinated with government and nonprofit partners while servicing homeowners on the ground. In Brazil, Camila is leading TETO, a latinamerican NGO, that works with communities and volunteers towards poverty and emergency housing relief. She is a shameless book nerd, tree-hugger and aspiring yogi.


Melisa Sanders, Architectural & Urban Designer, St.Louis, Missouri 

Melisa Sanders is the founding Principal/Lead Designer of BlackArc, a multi-scalar design collaborative focusing on racial, economic, and social equity as a catalyst for community design. Combining over 7 years of experience in Interior Design, Architecture, and Urban Design, she approaches architecture practice with a holistic approach that encompasses how the built environment affects people, the environment, and community context. Additionally, she has taught various topics of Architecture/Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to teaching, Melisa has worked to support BIPOC students — providing mentorship and creating a scholarship for BIPOC students to attend conferences representing their identities and design justice. 



Sarah Sao Mai Habib, Artist, Writer, Builder & Cultural Worker, O’Gah Po’Geh/Santa Fe, NM

Hello, I’m happy to be writing to you as a current Maintenance 2021 fellow! You can read my bio in a previous blog post. As my first share on this platform, I wanted to introduce myself through some of my community and our collaborations. Without community, we can not maintain learning, accountability or growth. Throughout the fellowship, I will be in conversation with the themes of design, care and reparations, as they relate to adobe, earthen building & home. Thank you for reading! 


Preferred citation: Habib, Sarah Sao Mai. , . (2021, September 13). DESIGN, CARE & REPARATIONS. The Maintainers.