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Designing For Flux – Introduction To The Series

March 9, 2016

Glancing at the headlines, or the harrowing images on our screens, one might be forgiven for thinking it’s all coming to an end. War, terror, rising tides, desperate refugees clawing at barriers or clambering for their lives from sinking boats. Could the wild-eyed lunatics raving in the streets with sandwich boards strapped to their chests be right? Has our violence against nature and each other brought us to the brink of extinction and apocalypse?

Not quite. In the past year, the rate of extreme poverty and hunger fell to the lowest on record. Average life spans have increased by more than 20 years since 1955. Infant mortality has plummeted. Even war — despite all the horror we see — has declined dramatically and become less deadly. The end, it seems, will have to wait.

And yet, in a fundamental sense, we are experiencing the end of the world as we know it, and the beginning of something new. Climate change may not mean our inevitable destruction, but it does mean the inescapable rise of catastrophic uncertainty — not ecological suicide, but Russian roulette. Borders are becoming more fluid and porous as political authority and national identity buckle and tear under the pressure of immense shearing forces. Digital technology is disrupting and disintegrating entire industries, and the very meaning of concepts like labor, wealth, nation, home and security are all being called into question. This is the end of a world of safe assumptions. We are entering an era of flux.

 The refugee crisis is only the most visible manifestation of that flux, and even the word “crisis” assumes a stable order from which all this chaos, dislocation and suffering is just a temporary aberration. But what if chaos is the new norm, and temporary the new permanence? What does it mean to design solutions and make a lasting impact when the idea of something that lasts may itself be obsolete and the problems are becoming ever more wickedly complex?

These are the questions we set out to grapple with in this series. From refugee camps in Jordan to high-rises in Chicago, and from the most desperate needs on the ground to the broadest systemic interventions, we’ve set out to explore the role design has in this new world. Can design address not only the clamor for new shelter solutions, but the broader conflict, economic dislocation, and ethnic strife that causes migrant flows and refugees to flee their homes to begin with? Can designers redefine how we build houses and cities to account for shifting global energy paradigms and fluctuating ecosystems? How can design thinking and methodology adapt to a world where there are no constants but change?   

Questions are perhaps the only thing in steady supply in the age of flux, along with ideas of course. We hope that you’ll share your own ideas and questions with us as we explore our theme, and that this is only the beginning, not the end, of many crucial discussions.

One Comment

  1. I am a partner in a newly formed architectural firm, Weston Wright Architects + Partners. Our work is driven by climatically responsive solutions. I am very intrigued by your series and the thoughtful questions raised. I look forward to joining the dialogue.

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