California – Los Angeles: Southern California Library

Joshua Nelson

Baltimore native Josh Nelson is currently a graduate student at UCLA pursuing his Master of Architecture. His interest lies in the intersection of research and design, especially with their relation to contemporary urban issues. This curiosity kickstarted his involvement with the Urban Humanities Initiative at UCLA, a cross disciplinary program run by cityLAB that brings together students and faculty from Architecture, Humanities and Urban Planning. This education tool focuses on tackling urban issues from a nontraditional perspective, where people of different areas can come together to broaden their horizons and create innovative approaches. Through this collaborative environment, Nelson was connected to Southern California Library (SCL), a community library and archive located in South LA that traces community resistance and activism. Having spent a lot of time in academia discussing these issues of equality and social justice, he found this to be the perfect opportunity to put his words to action.

With the hopes of using his knowledge and skills to empower individuals and communities to create change, Nelson has been working with SCL this summer to design an exhibition system throughout the city. He and SCL hope to spread valuable archival material typically only accessed by people looking for it in order to increase awareness and involvement with the library. He strongly believes in the power of information, stressing the importance of people understanding the history of struggle and resistance that has shaped this city. He appreciates this chance to play a part in empowering people through knowledge and design. This mission particularly resonates with the architecture student who believes the power of design can also be translated to create impact on a smaller scale such as this. He hopes the rich history of Los Angeles can engage in the daily lives of its residents and the library can become a space for community organization.


Over the course of the past few months, Nelson and his team have been meeting often to ensure collaboration and consensus through each step of the process. They first ensure everyone is on the same page before breaking off to search for inspiration, research previous similar installations, and consider their exhibition space. They then use their collected knowledge to prototype with scale models and cutouts of the material to test and examine possible arrangements. The prototype process continues, continuously building off its preceding model, until the group eventually reaches their final design. Currently they have decided on a series of frames for these displays that can not only adapt to different community spaces but also enable the curation of multiple narratives. Nelson describes that their next step revolves around working an interactive element into their design to enrich user experience and understanding.

Initially, Nelson and his group faced communication and deadline challenges. Working under a time crunch and communicating primarily by email resulted in a thought provoking model but not one that could be readily implemented. Though initially put down by this criticism, Nelson believes this feedback actually pushed the project in a more innovative and effective direction. For example, after receiving a grant to continue this project, their group has moved toward more in-person conversations which enabled them to express their ideas more clearly and process constructive criticism better. Overall, Nelson has learned through this service experience to be more adaptable in his own behavior as well as with his ideas. Nelson states, “It may not be apparent at first, but I have found that being open to what opportunities may come your way, and acknowledging that it is ok to feel uncomfortable is a good place to start.” He has realized that the ultimate goal is to serve our community by contributing to the world around us with our own individual skillsets.

If you are interested, please visit their website or email  

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