IT’S NOT THE DESIGN. IT’S THE MENTALITY.
It seems rather logical that the problems the world is struggling with today should be solved by the creative minds. Designers are, after all, those strange creatures known for asking two questions for any given situation: why does it look like that? And: is that good or should it look differently? So can we present these people with the problems of the world? Are they indeed stubborn enough for it?
Fonk Magazine, February 2012
The truth is these solutions already exist. Countless designers, but also scientists, managers and artists are keeping themselves systematically engaged in problem solving on all levels: traffic problems, housing problems, the lack of space, the pollution of the environment, food shortages, and so on. The true issue is to gain approval for these solutions.
The vast majority of things that are designed never become reality. Archives abound with proposals for improving mobility, for building modular and less expensive housing, for production methods that yield less pollution… There are websites specialized in showcasing those designs that are not implemented and realized, simply because they would otherwise become lost to humanity’s knowledge.
Rather than seeing this as degradation of design that increases due to a certain level of permissiveness, and certainly not placing the unwillingness of the world on a deliberate slow-down of improvements due to underlying reasons (we are no fans of conspiracy theories), we would rather regard this as helplessness. We are simply not well equipped.
Every company, every production process, every institution or government structure is a machine, a device with a Purpose. The Purpose is at the heart of the organizational structure that would otherwise not exist without it. Efficiency bites its own tail: changes are made where necessary, and thus when necessary for the correct functioning of the machine. In other words, we cannot do otherwise than what was originally thought or conceived.
The world suffers from inertia. It is impossible to just change something that has been well-thought in all its aspects and carefully designed. Awareness slowly creeps its way in. In an economy which is constantly developing in its network-like structure, flexibility is needed much more than for the assembly-line objectives that used to be the norm. Collaboration can only deliver if we are prepared to accept some level of unpredictability. That is the difference between aim (goals) and direction.
A possible definition of social design – that of directing the unpredictable – hides a suitable way of thinking for the new situation. Behind the Occupy idea where one can simply not accept that the system comes before us and it cannot be changed, lies plenty of stored energy ready to come into motion. It is here, in the growing horizontal structure of relationships created by a growing global connectivity that we find a business model for necessary interaction. Thus the creativity that was until now largely wasted is being given a better chance. So far things look quite promising.
However, taking one more step is crucial. WE HAVE TO WANT THIS to happen. Not they, not somebody, but WE. Not perhaps, in a while, or optional, but HAVE TO. Not approximately or about, but THIS. And above all, not half-heartedly, not expecting, but really WANTING.
To organize this is the first step. And here designers will naturally be of great service. By imagining scenarios, sketching perspectives, placing dots on the horizon. By creating an experience of what is yet not there, by connecting it with communication, by…
Yet again, it is not the design itself that provides the solution. It is the mentality that says: we are going to do this. And that does not involve design.
Golden solutions for emergency situations
Sodalamp: twice poverty is once wealth
Sitio Maligaya is a slum in the vicinity of Mariveles, Philippines. The houses are made of corrugated metal, there is little or no affordable electricity for the residents. But what they do have is empty soft drinks bottles. They drill a hole in the roof, stick a soft drink bottle and there they have it: a lamp (at least during daytime). (Whether the Philippines or the Brazilians have invented this trick is yet another subject.)
Curitiba: no money for a subway
In the Brazilian city of Curitiba there was a need, but no money, for a subway. The visionary mayor, Jaime Lerner, thought about what a subway actually is and what it does: a clear track and a quick transfer. So naturally, he observed that there was no need for rails or tunnels, and started developing a new system for his city: rapid bus lines on clear main routes, slower busses that connect related neighbourhoods with the rapid bus lines, and a blend of transfer stations in between. The least expensive subway in the world now carries around half a million passengers a day.
From nuisance to added value
Park in the Sky
The New York Highline used to be a freight railway, now no longer in use. It used to be the lifeline of the city once; now it is just a hindrance, a rusted relic of outdated ideas. That is what most New Yorkers used to think. But two of them, Joshua David and Robbert Hammond thought differently and saw the opportunity to make a residential area from all the rust. This is how New York got a new park right in the middle of residential and industrial areas, a place that does not require extra space, but instead gives back true value to the people, connecting them with each other and with the city.
Jardines Túria, Valencia
The rivers in Spain are often dry – or worse, almost dried out. In late spring and winter they turn into areas of great interest for mosquitoes and other pests. This sort of place, which you would not want in a city with two million inhabitants, can be found in Valencia. To keep the nuisance of such an area away, another canal was dug further away from the city and eventually the river Túria dried out completely. Not long after, the river was again regarded as a wealth of usable space, right beside the centre. Bofill made a park, the municipality provided playgrounds for children, and an opera and a now world-famous art and technology complex – the Ciutat de Arts i Ciències – was built after the design of the Valencian architecht Santiago Calatrava.
From lack of money to ownership
The maintenance of Vondelpark (one of the largest parks in Amsterdam) is a very expensive enterprise, especially for soil maintenance. The park was originally built at the initiative and with the financial support of wealthy Amsterdamers, as a much-needed green lung for the increasingly densely populated city. The time for such investments is now past, but the thought that ‘many less-wealthy Amsterdamers are wealthier together’ brought on new possibilities: the renovation of the Vondelpark was made with the money raised by issuing ownership certificates for patches of space in the park, as for example one square meter of grass, the bench at the entrance, or a piece of the gate. Many Amsterdamers can now call themselves owners of the Vondelpark, and the park is now restored to its previous quality.
The connections around Hofplein, Weena and Coolsingel in Rotterdam are a nightmare for pedestrians. There was not much room for improvement in the existing profile. The idea was brought to the table to look for the space elsewhere, to build a bridge through the air and thus make everything more accessible and easy to reach. Moreover, such an attractive new development gives the city a new look. But for such a large project there is momentarily no funding possible. So with the help of crowdfunding the necessary funding was raised for the materials needed, but still no one was there to work on it. Under the well-known Rotterdam motto ‘stop whining, just do it’, all citizens who could hold a hammer and a saw were literally asked to roll up their sleeves and put their hands to work – fortunately led by a skilled carpenter, and build the Luchtsingel themselves. Thus comes crowdbuilding after crowdsourcing. The completion of the Luchtsingel is planned for April.
Giving instead of taking
Bruce Mau about beauty
‘The notion that we need to compete with beauty is that the world that has evolved is a mobile world, people, capital, ideas, technology have mobility. If places and cultures want those things to be in their place, if you want people with knowledge resources, with money, with wealth of understanding of the world, to be in this place you have to compete to get them here, and keep them here. The way that you are going to do that is with beauty. And that means beauty of all sorts, that means culture essentially, it means culture of a place that is beautiful. (…) You have the radical capacity to shape the world, but you mostly only use them for mining instead of using those tools to create the most extraordinary place in the world very inexpensively. So you have the tools but you are embarrassed to use them. And I think the opportunity is just absolutely huge.’
Charles Eisenstein (Sacred Economics) about the Occupy Movement
‘Today, we live in a money economy, where we don’t really depend on the gifts of anybody, but we buy everything. Therefore, we don’t really need anybody. Because whoever grew my food or made my clothes or built my house, well, if they died or I’d alienate them or didn’t like them, that’s okay, I can just pay somebody else to do it. And it’s really hard to create community if the underlying notion is “that we don’t need each other”. (…) Joint consumption doesn’t create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection.’