The conference was, as expected, completely amazing. I may be actually leaking information back out my ears. This is going to take a few posts to cover all the good stuff.
The basis of the event is a challenge to architects and designers to “design for the 98% without architects. Many of the presenters are winners of the Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Award. According to the organizers “the winning projects showcase sustainability through interdisciplinary collaboration, ecological innovation and community engagement, illustrating high impact work accomplished through an economy of means.”
Monica Chadha of Studio Gang Architects introduced the Saturday program and gave a wonderful context to everything that followed by reminding us that the point of the weekend was to look for new ideas to infuse into our own work:
“We’re looking for actionable ideas rather than just patting ourselves on the back for something we did last week. ”
“Come Monday lets be ready to keep doing this!”
The entire day was a barrage of information and ideas from more than a dozen design teams doing amazing work around the country and the world. I’ll focus on some of the specifics in upcoming post. For the moment I’ll stay a little more big picture.
What Does It All Mean?
Tom Fisher, Dean of the UMn College of Design, wrapped up the Saturday session with some concluding thoughts about the day’s amazing presentations. I will paraphrase from his talk here.
We are, he proposed, living in a time of radical adjustments. We are at an inflection point when gradual changes become sharp ones and it behooves us all to try to stay ahead of the curve.
The Emergence of a New Field
Architecture has typically followed a medical model of service – we treat one client at a time and try to address problems as they come up. But this one to one concept of care is not enough to keep every person healthy and in the last century a new discipline – the field of Public Health – split off from medicine to provide care and health services to a wider range of people and to address health issues more holistically. Similarly, we are beginning to create a new field – Public Design – to address the wide ranging design needs of our communities.
The Emergence of a New Economy
We are (ever more clearly) living in a world of two economies. The main street versus wall street dichotomy that has been featured on Public Radio for the last three years has crystallized into a global investment economy and a loose coalition of local economies which are not doing very well. These local economies are being held hostage to the demands of the global market. But this new type of design mitigates that threat – it grows local economies. It thrives on barter and exchange. It creates local jobs and strengthens local communities. This is our opportunity as architects to commit to being a part of that second economy.
Its not enough to take to the streets in protest. We need to bring our design work to bear and include empowering local communities as part of our economic work.
The Emergence of Our Own Collective Future
We need to beware of considering ourselves to be benefactors “helping” impoverished or disadvantaged communities with our design largesse. There is a danger of cultural imperialism in swooping in to Haiti and assuming that we are going to improve the quality of life. As designers we have as much to learn from the communities where we work as much as giving to them. In the coming future we may all need to benefit from the skills in survival and community building that traditional cultures in the so-called third world and depressed areas of America have created.
So what should we do tomorrow?
We need to get deeply embedded in place. Our work is more than building buildings. Design can be everything in a local context.
We must keep doing the work the world needs done. Try not to worry about the job and focus on the work. The rest will follow.
EVERY ISSUE IS A DESIGN ISSUE.