Monday, February 11, 2013

Designed to last!

Rarely do present-day designs last - be it of a refrigerator, a washing machine, a laptop or a smart phone. Conversely, present-day designs are designed (not to last) to propel a consumptive pattern that is conducive for economic growth. In a world obsessed with ‘growth’, designers have been working overtime to churn out designs that can spurn profits, expand markets, reduce costs and increase sales. The relative cheapness of new designs entice a large population to fit into the clinical definition of ‘compulsive shopper’, oblivious of the fact that the lower prices do not include human and environmental costs.

Ann Thorpe, well known design strategist, provides intriguing insights to help the world transit from consumer-driven economic growth on to the path of sustainable consumption. Though she considers this book to be a 'work in progress', in reality it offers a contextualized toolkit for new generation of designers to research into the viability of ‘steady state’ economy.

'Our societal narratives about consumption need to change, argues Thorpe. Her book is loaded with interesting design innovations aimed at cutting down consumptive patterns in the developed world by a factor of 3-5, crucial to attain relative climate stability. Given the challenges of unsustainable economic growth, designers need to encounter the constraints of the real in search for scalable but sustainable solutions to practical problems. The idea of a ‘steady state economy’ may seem somewhat unreal but recent social activism across the world has prompted designers to play a role in weaving the status of well-being into experiences of daily life.

Thorpe cites working examples to prove that designers can indeed help slow the pace of consumerism by devising goods and spaces that offer alternative societal narratives about ownership and sharing. From barge-mountain floating swimming pool to lunar-resonant street light and from adaptive public reuse projects to parking-cum-temporary playground, there are range of design options that can not only confront economic growth but can build and strengthen social infrastructure for collective sharing and use. It is a book of the future, surely a 'brain-opener'....Link

Architecture & Design versus Consumerism
by Ann Thorpe
Earthscan, UK
242 pages, $39.95

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