Double Over-Capacity Crowd Really Gives a Damn


So many concerned designers showed up to last night’s event “Design Like You Give a Damn,” they had to turn people away. So they’re doing it again tonight for free, courtesy of Wired: 65 West 11th St., Rm 550; Wollman Hall; 5:45pm – 7:15pm. Lindsay Ballant was at the packed lecture and filed this report for UnBeige:

“It is highly feasible to take care of all humanity at a higher standard of living than anybody has ever experienced or dreamt of. To do so without having anybody profit at the expense of another, so that everybody can enjoy the whole earth. And it can all be done by 1985.”

This was the Buckminster Fuller quote that was staring at the crowd as we waited for last night’s lecture to begin at the New York Public Library.

With John Hockenberry moderating, Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr presented details from their book, Design Like You Give a Damn to an overflowing audience. The book focuses on the movement towards socially conscious design by showcasing projects that address the basics: food, water, shelter, education. Sinclair and Stohr presented several examples from the book, including semi-permanent housing made of hemp, emergency housing tents for the U.N., new designs for “VIP” latrines, and educational computer kiosks for children in remote villages. [Download a PDF of the latrines and other projects here.]

But what were probably most impressive were not the large-scale projects we’ve all heard about before. They were the solutions to small problems, like redesigning simple grip clips to reinforce a temporary structure. Often the solution is working with what you already have.

Projects like the Palette House, from New York-based designers I-BEAM, whose ingenious design utilizes wooden shipping palettes already in use to transport relief materials and then turns them into building blocks for the house. Roundabouts in playgrounds double as a water pumps, generating enough water to irrigate the whole community. These simple concepts are called Urban Acupuncture: when a small change is made that ripples throughout the whole community.

Which led Sinclair to another quote, this time from Le Corbusier: “Revolution can be avoided.” As illustrated by recent natural devastations–the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan–and the endless political turmoil in Africa and the Middle East, we’ve seen how instigating change in the world really has to happen–from the ground up.

It’s the quintessential modern dilemma: designers tend to get caught up in technological advancements when trying to do good. But Sinclair insisted that the best ideas come from keeping the human base in mind. It’s the only way that we’ll be able to achieve what Buckminster Fuller had in mind–even if it’s thirty years late.

Lindsay Ballant is associate art director at Print.