คุ้น-เคย [koun.ku.ey]

     1. to get to know something intimately

KDI founders. From left: Jen Toy, Patrick Curran, Kotch Voraakhom, Arthur Adeya and Chelina Odbert
Kounkuey Design Initiative was founded in 2006 by six students at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Despite hailing from various countries and training in diverse disciplines, they were all asking one question.

How could they harness their skills to combat issues such as poverty, environmental degradation, and social isolation?

This question led them to Nairobi, where Kenyan co-founder Arthur Adeya is from. There, they began working with residents of an informal settlement called Kibera.
Rooftops in Kibera
Though their education had focused on the designer as sole author, the students knew that their skills would not be useful unless those living in Kibera were actively guiding them. And so it became their goal to deconstruct the traditional designer-client relationship and introduce new voices into the design process.

They sketched out a model of practice that followed a simple pattern: ask, listen, collaborate, and repeat.

Thai cofounder Kotch Voraakhom found the perfect name to capture the significance of this approach: Kounkuey. It means to get to know something intimately.

Today, KDI employs over 40 staff members on three continents, including designers, planners, engineers, community organizers, program specialists, and operations staff.

Learning about community needs and priorities in Oasis, California
An international, interdisciplinary firm, KDI combines:

  • the pragmatism of engineering,
  • the environmental attunement of landscape architecture,
  • the persistence of community organizing,
  • the formal beauty of architecture,
  • and the political savvy of urban planning

to create physical, social, and economic infrastructures that provide the basis for equitable communities.