This critical view by Dean Saitta of the concept placemaking and its narrow implementation in many planners and designers views of what is a relevant version of placemaking, is welcome, especially here in South African cities and in Africa generally, where racial stereotypes and gentrified views obscure the reality of the majority of users needs and understanding of what contributes to a places reality, beyond its physical attributes and aesthetic considerations.
A common fallacy of the design professions is that the objects we design such as buildings, parks , chairs etc. can be adequately represented by our drawings and computer renderings of these designs and that these will suffice to create the objects themselves by means of the usual contracting mechanisms. Alberto Perez-Gomez calls attention to the origins and problems of this idea in his recent book. In revue of the book in Environmental & Architectural Phenomenology Vol .28 No.1 the following excerpts from the book review illustrate the authors ” critical (view) of the two dominant approaches to architectural design today: on one hand, functionalism, including sustainable architecture; on the other hand, a purely aesthetic approach to architecture, including parametric design. He writes that, for the past two centuries, architecture has suffered “from either the banality of functionalism (an architecture that attests to its own process) or from the limitations of potential solipsism and near nonsense, the syndrome of ‘architecture made for archi-tects’.”
The need, Pérez-Gómez concludes, is “for continuing formal exploration in a fluid and changing world” but also returning attention to “the fundamental existential questions to which architecture traditionally answered—the profound necessity for humans to inhabit a resonant world they may call home, even when separated by global technological civ-ilization from an innate sense of place.” The excerpts, below, present two passages from Attunement.
|Alberto Pérez-Gómez, 2016. Attunement: Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.|
“A dangerous misunderstanding”
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the assumption has been that architectural space (subsuming all aspects of real place) is easily represented through the geometric systems of descriptive geometry and axonometric projection, which translates seamlessly today into the digital space of the computer screen through standard architectural software. Thus, it seems obvious that architectural meanings would have to be created from scratch, through ingenious formal manipulation of the architect-artist, assumed to be relevant merely through their novel, shocking, or seductive character.
Whenever the physical context is invoked as an argument for design decisions, it is mostly through its visual attributes, imagining the site as a picture or objective site plan that merely provides some formal or functional cues.
This is a dangerous misunderstanding. The deep emotional and narrative aspects that articulate places in a particular natural or cultural milieu are usually marginalized by a desire to produce fashionable innovations. These narrative qualities, however, are crucial considerations as we seek the appropriateness of a given project for its intended purpose in a particular culture: framing a “focalized action” (Heidegger) or event that may bring people together and allow for a sense of orientation and belonging….
We can obviously perceive the qualities of places, particularly when cities have deep histories and their layers are present to our experience. Yet these are still obvious if we compare the “spaces” of newer urban centers, such as Toronto and Sydney (both with similar colonial pasts), which, indeed, ultimately appear as qualitatively different; despite their Anglo-Saxon character, the two cities have a different light and a feel, a different aroma, stemming from such features as the lake or the sea and the “air” of their respective climates.
We can also realize that we think different thoughts in different places, necessarily accompanied and enabled by diverse emotions, albeit usually unintended by the generic architecture of modern development; location affects us deeply, as does more generally the geographical environment (pp. 108-09).
|“Architecture as attunement”
Architecture is not what appears in a glossy magazine: buildings rendered as two-dimensional or three-dimensional pictures on the computer screen, or comprehensive sets of precise working drawings.
The most significant architecture is not necessarily photogenic. In fact, often the opposite is true. Its meanings are conveyed through sound and eloquent silence, the tactility and poetic resonance of materials, smell and the sense of humidity, among infinite other factors that appear through the motility of embodied perception and are given across the senses.
Furthermore, because good architecture fundamentally offers a possibility of attunement, atmospheres appropriate to focal actions that allow for dwelling in the world, it is very problematic to reduce its effect (and critical import) to the aesthetic experience of an object, as is often customary. Strictly speaking, architecture first conveys its meanings as a situation or event; it partakes of the ephemeral quality of music for example, as it addresses the living body, and only secondly does it become an object for tourist visits or expert critical judgments (pp. 148-149).
About the Author
Alberto Pérez Gómez directs the History and Theory of Architecture Program at McGill University, where he is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture. He is the author of Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics (both published by the MIT Press), and other books.
“A real tour de force, this is the work of an intellectual craftsman in full possession of the materials and tools of his trade: a broad sweep of historical material, from the present day to remote antiquity, and then back again, sized and shaped with the precision instruments of his art: philology, philosophical hermeneutics, and poetic reformulation. The workplace is contemporary culture; his task, nothing less than reshaping the way architecture is understood today. Architecture is shown to endow experience with attunements that are equally material, spatial, and linguistic, apprehended by both the body and the mind, through emotions and ideas, providing us with the kind of architectural atmospheres we would not only love to inhabit but dream of designing. For that last purpose there will be no better guide than this book”
—David Leatherbarrow, Professor of Architecture, University of Pennsylvania
Interesting research that indicates it is not just the quantity of green space that matters, but the quality of its design along with activities and interest that is maintained over time to generate repeat visits and create the desire in making visits and time in it, a regular part of visitors lives. From Atlantic CITYLAB by KIERAN DELAMONT
These research findings from a park within a low income neighborhood of Toronto illustrate the challenges of park design and management and how urban designers and landscape architects should possibly be thinking about park and urban green space design beyond the pretty plans and photoshop images that they use to win design bids and elicit money for urban upgrading budgets.
Children play in a large green space in the redeveloped Regent Park neighborhood. (DanielsCorp)
“It’s an oft-repeated maxim—even among planners and designers—that parks are good for mental health. In Toronto, for example, the 2013 Official City Parks Plan reads, “access to green space reduces stress level, decreases negative mood, reduces feelings of depression, and provides other benefits to mental health and well-being.”
City officials often talk about the relationship as if it’s beyond doubt. But academic research is split on the relationship between parks and mental health. “Empirical evidence is much more limited than one would expect for such a straightforward question,” write Roland Sturm and Deborah Cohen in their 2014 paper, “Proximity to Urban Parks and Mental Health.” Their study suggests that moving to an area with more green space tends to improve one’s mental health, while moving to an area with less has the opposite effect. But one year later in a paper titled, “The Relationship between Natural Park Usage and Happiness Does Not Hold in a Tropical City-State,” authors Le Saw, Felix Lim, and Luis Carrasco found “no significant relationship between well-being and use of green space as well as proximity to green spaces. […] This study reveals that without first considering the critical factors that permit this relationship to occur, it will be premature to conclude that an increase in green space provision will lead to a direct increase in well-being.”
Another article on planning’s unforeseen consequences that is very relevant in South `Africa by Sandy Ikeda of
People sometimes support regulations, often with the best of intentions, but these wind up creating outcomes they don’t like. Land-use regulations are a prime example.
My colleague Emily Washington and I are reviewing the literature on how land-use regulations disproportionately raise the cost of real estate for the poor. I’d like to share a few of our findings with you.
One kind of regulation that was actually intended to harm the poor, and especially poor minorities, was zoning. The ostensible reason for zoning was to address unhealthy conditions in cities by functionally separating land uses, which is called “exclusionary zoning.” But prior to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, some municipalities had race-based exclusionary land-use regulations. Early in the 20th century, several California cities masked their racist intent by specifically excluding laundry businesses, predominantly Chinese owned, from certain areas of the cities.
Today, of course, explicitly race-based, exclusionary zoning policies are illegal. But some zoning regulations nevertheless price certain demographics out of particular neighborhoods by forbidding multifamily dwellings, which are more affordable to low- or middle-income individuals. When the government artificially separates land uses and forbids building certain kinds of residences in entire districts, it restricts the supply of housing and increases the cost of the land, and the price of housing reflects those restrictions.
Moreover, when cities implement zoning rules that make it difficult to secure permits to build new housing, land that is already developed becomes more valuable because you no longer need a permit. The demand for such developed land is therefore artificially higher, and that again raises its price.
In Private Neighborhoods and the Transformation of Local Government, Robert H. Nelson effectively frames the discussion of what minimal government might look like in terms of personal choices based on local knowledge. He looks at the issue from the ground up rather than the top down.
Nelson argues that while all levels of American government have been expanding since World War II, people have responded with a spontaneous and massive movement toward local governance. This has taken two main forms.
The first is what he calls the “privatization of municipal zoning,” in which city zoning boards grant changes or exemptions to developers in exchange for cash payments or infrastructure improvements. “Zoning has steadily evolved in practice toward a collective private property right. Many municipalities now make zoning a saleable item by imposing large fees for approving zoning changes,” Nelson writes.
In one sense, of course, this is simply developers openly buying back property rights that government had previously taken from the free market, and “privatization” may be the wrong word for it. For Nelson, however, it is superior to rigid land-use controls that would prevent investors from using property in the most productive way. Following Ronald Coase, Nelson evidently believes it is more important that a tradable property right exists than who owns it initially.
The second spontaneous force toward local governance has been the expansion of private neighborhood associations and the like. According to the author, “By 2004, 18 percent—about 52 million Americans—lived in housing within a homeowner’s association, a condominium, or a cooperative, and very often these private communities were of neighborhood size.”
Nelson views both as positive developments on the whole. They are, he argues, a manifestation of a growing disenchantment with the “scientific management” of the Progressive Era. He thinks the devolution of governance below the municipal level to the neighborhood should be supported through statutory and state constitutional changes.
Although about one-third of all new housing since 1970 has been built within some form of neighborhood association, the majority of older neighborhoods fall outside this trend. Establishing neighborhood associations in these areas is difficult because the requirement for a homeowner to join is typically written into the deed, and this would be extremely costly to do for every home in an older neighborhood.
Nelson proposes a six-step solution that involves (1) a petition by property owners in a neighborhood to form an association, (2) state review of the proposal, (3) negotiations between the city and the neighborhood, (4) a neighborhood vote on the proposal, (5) a required supermajority, perhaps 70 percent, for passage, and (6) a transfer from the municipality of legal responsibility for regulating land use in the neighborhood to the unit owners of the association.
A current proposal by architect Michael Maltzan Michael Maltzan Envisions the Future of LA’s Infrastructure in Archinect showing copious planting overlaid on the 134 freeway in Los Angeles illustrates what has been a trend with architects c0-operating with engineers , in this case ARUP, to envision what infrastructural interventions in the urban fabric might become in terms of making more use of them and reducing their ecological footprint through green building, carbon reduction interventions and by covering them in photoshop planting, led me to these thoughts that are here combined with excerpts from a recent conference paper I gave at the ILASA Conference 2016 in Pretoria:
View from above of Michael Maltzan’s proposed Arroyo Seco bridge overlay. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
Section Perspective. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
With impressive design diagrams and pictorial renderings the viewer is challenged to engage with a seeming reality that ignores or subsumes most of the actors emergent realities that these behemoths that they are trying to camouflage, represent: The unsustainable and incoherent consumerism that underpins the way engineering and architectural solutions generally ignore the real environmental pickle that cities are in:
Green cruising: the view of the proposed overlay through a vehicle. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
In a lecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Bruno Latour posed the following question:
“When we ponder how the global world could be made habitable – a question especially important for architects and designers – we now mean habitable for billions of humans and trillions of other creatures that no longer form a nature or, of course, a society, but rather, to use my term, a possible collective… But why has the world been made uninhabitable in the first place? More precisely, why has it not been conceived as if the question of its habitability was the only question worth asking? I am more and more convinced that the answer lies in this extremely short formula: lack of space” (Latour, B. 2009. Spheres and Networks: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization, Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, 30 pp. 138-144, ).
Maybe this lack of space is why we need to rethink how we live together in the world. As human actors that have so dramatically altered the world, it is said that we have entered the Anthropocene. Latour continues by answering the question posed above:
“As is now well known, the notion of environment began to occupy public consciousness precisely when it was realized that no human action could count on an outside environment anymore: There is no reserve outside which the unwanted consequences of our collective actions could be allowed to linger and disappear from view. Literally there is no outside, no décharge where we could discharge the refuse of our activity” (Latour 2009 p.3).
It is now widely accepted that cities are the primary source of this problem. With more than 50% of the world’s population being urbanised, cities must become resilient in the face of the uncertainties of climate, economy and politics. Various attempts have been made to quantify the resource imbalances of cities’ consumption and waste in the form of: ecological footprints , urban metabolism and urban political ecology . These quantifications are needed so that the extent of the problems become visible. Research may lead to solutions to limit ongoing damage to the environment and may also redress this imbalance by making cities more sustainable and resilient for the survival of all their occupants, human and non-human, both now and in the future.
The smart cities and engineered solutions of architects and engineers fall far short of this goal in their version of “greenscaping” with aesthetically beautiful structures in verdant “nature” with scattered people looking on in wonder at their grand creations.
Rendering for the new Sixth Street Bridge. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
Maltzan describes his proposal
“Well, the proposal for the 134 freeway, the reason I got extremely excited about the 134 is the piece of infrastructure that we would take on, it could carry so many different pieces of the larger puzzle—not only in how you change infrastructure’s role in the city but how you change all of the pieces of the environmental portfolio of benefit. In our proposal, we’re dealing with sounds, lessening the negative acoustic impacts that extend way beyond the freeway. We’re talking about miles of effect that any piece of the freeway has because of how far sound travels. We were looking at a collection of water because It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you useyou have a significant amount of acreage that the top of the bridge or any piece of the highway creates. We were looking at solar and electricity generation for exactly the same reason: it’s very difficult to find large places to put solar farms in a dense urban environment. And one of the most underutilized pieces of land literally are the air rights over any of the highways, whether they’re elevated or sunken or a bridge. And then the greening of the sides of the bridge to work from an environmental standpoint, and just aesthetically for the visual environment of where that bridge goes through. And then finally the catalytic roof that we’re proposing, that takes the emissions from the cars and converts it, because of the way UV reacts to these titanium dioxide crates, and that acts as a catalytic converter.”
Section Detail. Image: Michael Maltzan Architecture
While I am sure that their intentions are laudable and their goal is to stimulate large scale public works to counter the past and present environmental and social crisis, it is unlikely that the results of their visions will improve anyone except a select fews lives into city.
“All of these pieces don’t have to be in play for every mile of the highway all combined. It’s a little like a menu: you can pick and choose which pieces you use or you employ depending on what the different characteristics of the freeway are, and if it’s elevated or sunken down or at grade. I think that if you begin to take this and other ideas that could be added to the laundry list, and started to look at the highway network as a real positive and begin to retrofit pieces of it (especially when it goes through and affects different neighborhoods), I think it could be one of the largest transformative urban projects of any city, for any place on the planet.
CalTrans used to dream at that scale. The highways, when they were being built, coming out of post-World War II, were seen as one of the most progressive civic governmental projects that was being done any place on the planet. There were all these positive things that were meant to come from that. And I think it’s possible for an agency like CalTrans to reinvigorate the benefit of the highways. I think they’re going to be under more and more pressure to do that, especially as you start looking at the realities of autonomous cars and other means of transportation. That’s going to start to minimize or reduce traffic on the freeways, or at least the traffic footprint. I think it’s going to open up more and more space for the highways to perform in a very different way.”
The proposal, although on grand scale and while attacking many problems of the inefficient metabolism of cites, largely ignores the underlying causes of this problem: the unsustainable consumerism that architects, engineers and city planners are dependent on for their livelihood – yes folks we have created the problem, through our designs, but designs alone, however smart they are, will not be enough to solve these problems
Overcoming these limitations requires a rethinking of the current development design process both by the relevant authorities, bureaucracies and by the design professions, the two entities who appear to be in cahoots in this process and who benefit the most by the exclusion of significant others from participating in the development agenda. They, the authorities and design professionals, have in, Latour’s terminology, “black-boxed” this process i.e. hidden its working from view and any attempts by politicians or others to disentangle it or make its workings transparent seem doomed to failure . Some local examples of how this process results in urban “white elephants” in our local South African context are the Cape Town Stadium and Green Point Urban Park, built for the Soccer World Cup 2010, the Cape Town BRT system and the Gautrain, all of which are in my opinion examples of vested interests gaining control of huge public budgets to facilitate their own economic or political agendas. While admitting that the large-scale improvements in public spaces related to the stadiums generated an awareness of the importance of public space improvement and management, Edgar Pieterse head of the African Centre for Cities criticises the results of these public space enhancements that were carried out in this process, as not having achieved the potential they might have. He writes;
“It [the design of the public spaces] remains predominately an imaginary infused with middle class café culture expectations, replete with Lavazza cappuccinos and generous pedestrian orientated pavements. To be sure these are elements that greatly enhance the public realm but at the same time reinforce the dramatic bifurcation of public life for the rich and poor.” (Pieterse 2012 ).
Cape Town Stadium Source Wikipedia
I believe that a political engagement is required to ignite a renewed interest in re-imaging the roles of the built environments’ participants, ecological environmentalists, social activists and those seeking a future for themselves and their offspring. It seems we should change from thinking about ourselves alone and think rather, for everyone as a whole, thereby supporting this process of change to more equitable and liveable settlements and cities. This applies especially to the “have-nots” who, if not catered for, will topple the entire structure with their neediness, frightening the “haves” with their greediness.
Pieterse suggests that in order to realise more dynamic and original public spaces, we need a more inclusive approach, one that encompasses and incorporates more of who we really are as a South African public:
“….such sensibility calls for a [landscape?] architectural agenda, design approach, urban aesthetic and built fabric that opens up opportunities for frank engagements across lines of difference and privilege in order to induce the necessary discomfort and untidiness that can lead to the thorny conversations about who we are, and how we represent ourselves in space and where we may be going as cities and distinctive cultures” (Pieterse 2012 p.87).
The situation that ~Pieterse criticizes in the context of the South Africa is equally relevant to LA as was highlighted at the ILASA conference by landscape architect Astrid Sykes from Mia Lehrer Associates who are based in LA right next toto the river, in presenting their work of the last 20 years on the LA River and a 2007 study done by a large multidisciplinary team for the city of Los Angeles on the future of the river that MLA were part of. While very positive in achieving consultation and buy-in from residents and the Mayor, it seems that this has been subverted by the City now 8 years later in appointing Frank Gehry’s office to do a project on the future of the river that teemingly ignores the previous work and as yet shows no signs of the public participation and co-design the earlier project was tasked with. It remains to be seen if this is an extension earlier work or more “green sky” City Brand building that Gehry is famous for with his Bilboa Effect.
ARMY CORPS APPROVES $1.3-BILLION LOS ANGELES RIVER RESTORATION PROPOSAL
In the same newsletter of Archinect that the Michael Maltzan project featured above comes from is a post Archinect presents Next Up: The L.A. River, at the A+D Museum on Saturday, October 29! Quoting from the newsletter
“For the latest installment of Archinect’s live podcasting series, Next Up, we’re focusing on the L.A. River, and the wide swath of urbanist concerns within its ongoing master planning efforts.
It could be the project that makes, or breaks, Los Angeles. With a complex historical legacy and an often-misunderstood ecology, the L.A. River’s 51-mile stretch is at once a huge urban opportunity, and to many, an even bigger eyesore. Thirty years ago, nonprofit Friends of the Los Angeles River was founded to protect and advocate for the river, and shortly after, the City of L.A. began looking at ways to take better advantage of the immense resource. Since then, many more communities and stakeholders have joined the conversation, raising concerns of ecology, sustainability, gentrification, public space, affordable housing, social equity—a wealth of complexities that testifies to what a lightning rod of urbanist discourse the River has become.
While conversations about the L.A. River’s future have been percolating for decades, not until only a few years ago did the plans become a divisive topic for the general public—in no small part due to the appointment of Frank Gehry’s office as a leader in the city’s master planning initiative. Reporting on the public’s first peek at the firm’s plans, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote, “as the river takes on new shades of economic and political meaning—becoming a magnet for attention and investment after decades of near invisibility—the race to reimagine it is growing more crowded.”
This engagement with the physical infrastructure, social dynamics and politics of the city might seem far from Landscape Architectures usual verdant concerns. To paraphrase the words of Brenner, Latour, Pieterse and Swyngedouw, “everything is political now” and if we wish our discipline to survive in this sea of change, we must become political and design and proselytize our own future place in this new cyborg or assemblage. Research is needed on how to create a transdisciplinary environment that can facilitate higher levels of engagement, participation and co-learning by politicians, publics, professionals and authorities alike, and is something that seems to be lacking in much of the current design process.
From the examples quoted above, it seems that large scale infrastructure is the very place to focus this engagement and to get out of the office, away from the computer and to get involved in a river, freeway proposal or public space project near you now!
With my apologies to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Frank Gehry and ARUP .
19 October 2016
Mapping is the essential function that gives our brain the ability to manage the huge amount of information about the body’s internal states, the world around it and our learned responses and memories and it then uses the complexly layered maps to make pre-concious decisions about how to respond before it tells us what we need to do to ensure our survival, security, comfort and pleasure, this is according to the latest research and theories of how the brain works by Antonio Damasio and other researchers that he references in his book Self Comes to Mind- Construction get the Conscious Brain. Is it any wonder then, that mapping plays such a seminal role in all types of design and planning and has infiltrated the hand-held wonder that each of us uses every day, the smart phone, in the form of not only Google Maps but the very structure of the web and the sites we browse that are complexly connected into hyperlinked information maps layered over each other that are able to return us the the information and connections we wish to see. This revue from Land8 Posted by Benjamin Boyd takes us through some of the ground covered in a new book :
Most people’s interaction with maps is on their phone these days and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, the landscape architect knows that mapping is one of the keys to both speculative design and its representation. A map “merges spatial precision and cultural imagination.” With data being increasingly ubiquitous, the transformation of maps into artistic visualizations has increasingly become a greater part of the design process. At the same time, data can be a crutch that eliminates “speculation and agency, while supporting a methodology that looks for projects to emerge out of an illusory objectivity.”
Cartographic Grounds: Projecting the Landscape Imaginary explores the varied methods of geographic representation and the intricacies of translating maps to plans – from representation to intervention. Jill Desimini and Charles Waldheim, both of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, have produced one of the most visually stunning books I have had the pleasure of reading this year. The book represents the culmination of work that was showcased in an exhibition in late 2012 at Harvard.
According to the authors, the ability of maps to not only represent space but also to depict “unseen and often immaterial forces” holds the “projective potential of cartographic practices that afford greater connection with the ground itself, making present and vivid the landscape, as it exists and as it could be, both to the eye and the mind.” This power is wielded by all landscape architects to varying degrees of success. Thus, it is the transformation methods of data to plan that are the focus of this the book.
Desimini and Waldheim explore and dissect ten key cartographic conventions and show how historical as well as modern practices levy their unique characteristics to provide better analysis, convey more information, and to increase the usefulness of a plan. The aforementioned map typologies discussed are:
Sounding / Spot Elevation
Isobath / Contour
Hachure / Hatch
The authors assert that “the cartographic imagination is a study of the importance of multiple representations – of seeing and depicting various realities depending on the relevance of the occasion.” This abstraction is fundamental to the future of mapping. Google understands this as well and aims to personalize maps to an even greater degree in the future for better representation and to aid us in translating that data into interventions
One of Waldheim’s other books published in 2016, Landscape as Urbanism, has also been profiled by Land8 as well as his involvement in the LAF Summit in June of 2016. Below is a video of Waldheim’s presentation provided courtesy of The Landscape Architecture Foundation:
John Thackara, a philosopher, writer and wide-ranging thinker, summarises the decisive contribution by design that gives practical form to a story, always in the service of the real needs of the people.
John Thackara at the Meet the Media Guru event in Milan
When you hear someone quote Marcel Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – there is a temptation to dismiss them as just another utopian, a dreamer who might have inspired ideas but cannot translate these into anything practical. Nothing could be further from the truth if the person in question is John Thackara, a philosopher, writer, event-organiser, thinker ranging across the boundaries between design and economics, and the author of numerous books – his most recent is How to Thrive in the Next Economy (Thames & Hudson).
Interviewed at the Triennale in Milan at the “Future Ways of Living” event (31 May), part of “Meet the Media Guru” platform, Thackara is one of those rare people who can open up huge intellectual vistas, but who can also give a very practical idea of the tools to use to realise them. To do that, he points to projects from around the world that interweave design, urban and rural planning, energy efficiency, and new ways of sharing resources, and in which communication technologies play a key role, but always in the service of the real needs of the people who live in a specific place with well-defined – and resolvable – problems. It is through these myriad small solutions, conceptualised and then put into practice, that the world will change. Thackara mentions here the theory of complexity: tiny changes can accumulate over time until one final alteration, apparently irrelevant in itself, provokes a radical transformation across the whole system.
Talking with this unique thinker – as we had the opportunity to do during his stay in Milan – means moving constantly from the plane of general ideas to that of small, practical, everyday things, where design, given a broader and in some ways innovative interpretation, can make a decisive contribution.
What is the contribution of design today?
It is the task of design to help us look at everything that surrounds us in a new way: to examine and evaluate the materials and structures – and, in general, everything that characterises a specific place. It is then up to the designer to find new, creative solutions to connect efficiently the people who live in the same area, but who have different expertise and interests. The third type of contribution, which is perhaps tied more closely to the traditional idea of design, is to give practical form to a story – the story of a place, for example. This should not remain a simple narrative, but can be translated into an object or practical service, one that can be shared, discussed and express a point of view.
Have there already been examples of services created in this way?
One very interesting example is the French site La Ruche qui dit oui, which started thanks to the contribution of a designer who is also a chef, Guilhem Chéron. In 2009 – using his experience with ethical purchasing groups – he came up with a new model for putting citizens in direct touch with farmers. The aim was to make the model more efficient and logical, offering consumers more choice and a wider network, with good prices and favourable conditions for the various actors in the game. Being a chef helped him make a very careful choice on the quality of the raw materials. Another example is a Maine farmers’ group, which has redesigned the way in which their products are distributed, and has also enhanced transport by boat as far as New York. These are projects that are sometimes very ambitious: they dare to imagine a world very different from the one that exists now.
What, in your view, are the changes needed most urgently today?
I often think of a simple question that can have far-reaching results if you ask it seriously and try to answer it: “Where did my meal come from?” Once we know the answer to that, the second question is: “How healthy is the place where it came from?” We should start afresh from the need to bring ourselves back into contact with the basic materials: food, air and water. This is the only way in which we can start to develop a different mindset and reach what I call “ecosystem thinking”. An interesting example is the West Country Rivers Trust, which is working to safeguard rivers in the southwest of England. A river is part of the heritage of an area, but they were polluted and no one seemed to be asking why. We started by showing very clearly, in visual terms, all the points at which a specific river is polluted by the behaviour of the people living or working on its banks. So we led people to wonder what they could do to remedy the problem. We designed a new form of association for environmental conservation based on the medieval “guild” model: someone cleans the river, someone else convinces the farmers not to pollute it with pesticides, and so on. We gave back to the people living in the region the ability to establish a form of contact with their rivers.
For several years, you have organised the Doors of Perception festival, which explores the cutting edge of technology, from the most innovative Internet developments to virtual reality – and doorsofperception.com is still the title of your blog, which provides extensive documentation of the projects and workshops that you have organised around the world. What, in your opinion, is the role of technology today in opening these “doors of perception”?
Web technologies are obviously fundamental for facilitating projects connecting people. It is very important that these involve encrypted, secure communications, so that you can share aspects of various projects that you do not want to make public, such as the assessments made by a community of each person’s work. I do not see a future for the dominant model today in the information technology industry, which is based on a hectic rush towards new products. I am no longer so interested in complex, costly technologies like virtual reality or robotic systems. I believe instead that we should recover a little of “hacker culture”, following the example of what is happening in countries like India, where the residents of whole city block make their living from repairing electronic objects with recycled materials, with the new deriving harmoniously from the old.
John Thackara certainly does not yearn nostalgically for a totally technology-free world. But after talking with him, it is clear that the last thing we need to see the world with new eyes is a virtual reality headset.
While I fully agree that this is what it should be – I wonder when it will be so really? from ecobuiness.com. Women are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, but there is also a growing number of sustainable development solutions by and for women worldwide. Sustainia’s global communication lead Katie McCrory highlights three examples.
Girls peeping from a classroom in India. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and women’s knowledge is often overlooked in the quest to find sustainable solutions and business models. Image: Shutterstock
Lilia Caberio is from Sulangan, in the Philippines. In 2013, her house was destroyed by the 170 mile per hour winds and 6-metre high storm surge during Typhoon Haiyan, and for a while she lived with her family in a tent erected where her home used to be. The typhoon was frightening enough for Lilia, but homelessness must have felt even more so. Until Elizabeth came along.
Dr Elizabeth Hausler Strand is the founder and CEO of Build Change, an organization based in Colorado, USA, established to build disaster-resilient homes and buildings in emerging nations. Elizabeth also happens to be a qualified bricklayer.
She and her team worked with Lilia to build a new, resilient home that will last a lifetime. Elizabeth is, quite literally, building a sustainable future for families like Lilia’s in disaster-prone parts of the developing world, and in doing so she is empowering women all over the region to become the architects of their own lives.
Build Change is just one example of the many sustainable development solutions bubbling up from the ground which are designed by and for women. In a world faced with the social, economic, and environmental consequences of climate change, it is women and girls who risk losing the most. Lilia and her family were lucky to survive Typhoon Haiyan, but many didn’t – and many more won’t.
The statistics show that women and girls are more likely to die in natural disasters than men. What’s more, women around the world aged 15 to 44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria. Globally, as many as 62 million girls are denied an education, and as working women they still only earn about 77 per cent of their male counterparts’ salary.
These are awful, unacceptable facts, and for too long they have resulted in women being depicted only as victims. In 2014 a UN Women report on gender equality and sustainable development drove this point home by saying, ‘Women should not be viewed as victims, but as central actors in moving towards sustainability.’ I couldn’t agree more.
Sungula Nkabinde on Moneyweb Today :
“Proposed revisions to South Africa’s water pricing strategy are as broad as they are complex, but what is clear is that water will become significantly more expensive in the future.
The Department of Water and Sanitation (DWAS) has gazetted a draft of the revised water pricing strategy, which outlines a theoretical framework that would engender a fully functioning water eco system. The 2013 document has led the discussion on how South Africa can reduce the financial burden on municipalities, which are required by law to provide water to those who cannot afford to pay for it, by transferring the full cost of delivering water services onto users. They will incur a raft of charges that will see water pricing reflect the level of water scarcity in the country.
Domestic and commercial users will pay for charges related to planning, capital costs, operation and maintenance, depreciation, and future infrastructure build on government water schemes. A new polluter pays principle will also be imposed to ensure users discharging water containing waste into a water resource or onto land pay an additional amount.
According to the DWAS, South Africa ranks as one of the 30 driest countries in the world with an average rainfall of about 40% less than the annual world average rainfall.
Even though the implications could potentially be disastrous for an already struggling economy, the consequences of not the addressing the water security problem could be worse. The revised pricing strategy seeks to incentivise more efficient use of water, and ensure the much needed upgrade to the country’s water infrastructure is properly funded.
Municipalities struggling with poor billing systems, significant water leakage and high rates of non-revenue water (water provided for which no income is received) are a big part of the reason why there significant capital is required to resolve the water crisis in South Africa.
Sanlam economist Arthur Kamp says it’s not possible to give a definitive, or even a ball-park figure of how much the cost of water is going to increase by, saying price structures are going to be quite complicated because it is going to be a hybrid model. There will be a wide range of charges that will be determined on a national level, other times sectoral level.
Says Kamp: “What (the draft revised water pricing strategy) does is it gives one the flavour of what they’re trying to achieve. There is a lot of infrastructure coming and we can’t afford it so the user is going to pay. And I don’t think anybody is going to dispute that water is a scarce resource and that tariffs need to reflect that”.