Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Mon 21 Apr 08 19:10
I'm a little late to this conversation, and I have to ask forgiveness because my schedule hasn't yet allowed me to read much of the book in detail. But I haven't yet found what I, specifically, was looking for - a discussion of design as a process of creating something other than an "artifact." I should explain, by way of background, that I am a landscape architecture student who also works for a mid-sized landscape architecture firm. And I'm in the final throes of my thesis project, hence the schedule problems. My personal feeling is that discussions about design among the lay public tend to be somewhat limited to discussions of design as a process of creating consumer products. The popular press about design, for understandable reasons, is very focused on buying stuff. Discussion of architecture in the book is fairly limited and (as far as I could tell) seems to lump architecture together with other ways of creating an "artifact", i.e., a building. Which in itself seems to me a very limiting way of looking at architecture, and it is even less useful as a way of looking at landscape architecture, urban design, and the other interrelated fields in which I work. There's a very short few pages in the book on "public design", which I found a bit disappointing. It seems to me that so much else in the book represents a critique and a plea for design to be more mindful of contextual issues that are not valued by the marketplace, but the discussion of stakeholder ownership, public design, etc. takes place only over a few short pages. (And I just have to say the constant repetition of the word "landscape" throughout the book really confused me on first glance until I realized it was a title for a sidebar and not really a heading for discussions of actual "landscape"!)
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Mon 21 Apr 08 19:20
And I just have to say - I LOVED the ecological literacy quiz (i.e. bioregional literacy) on page 172. I think I got a passing grade - barely! - and I've spent years up to my eyeballs in learning about these kinds of issues for the place that I live, Los Angeles. That quiz is not something I've run across elsewhere. As a follow-on to that comment, I was wondering if you are familiar with the efforts to develop "LEED for Landscapes," what is now called the Sustainable Sites initiative. As you may be aware, LEED ratings are not currently available for landscapes, only for buildings (there we are back in the "thing" problem again.) The Sustainable Sites initiative, among other goals, is seeking to develop a set of guidelines that will be bioregionally appropriate. I'm not familiar with initiatives in the UK that are comparable, and I suppose you don't have quite as many bioregions to deal with as we do! But I'd be curious to know whether there are similar efforts going on in other countries.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Tue 22 Apr 08 06:55
Oh oh, now I'm a bit behind on the responses, so let me try to catch up... First to Robert's question about skills, and the revolutionaries who identify and flag wave about the problem versus those who actually get on with solving the problem. Are they different skill sets? This is an interesting question. Ive been thinking about it over the past day and trying to think of some cases, such as William McDonough. He seems to have been successful at naming the problem, but also engaging in a lot of solutions work. The same could be said of some of the more nameless in-house designers at Nike (regardless of what you think of them overall, they are doing some interesting work) or Patagonia. I also see design nonprofit groups springing up, such as Design that Matters or Architecture for Humanity, that both raise awareness of problems while also presenting design solutions, sometimes mobilizing other designers as well. Victor Papaneck also designed solutions, as did Buckminster Fuller, so Im not sure the division of skills/labor really holds in the field of design. Were you thinking of some specific design examples? The bigger question you ask remains: exactly what skills make one suited to raise awareness of the issue effectively and productively present solutions?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Tue 22 Apr 08 07:40
It seems to me, at least in architecture, that the top designers don't get where they are without being what they call in Hollywood "being good in the room." They have to be able to talk about their process and their vision, in a word, be able to sell themseles, in order to get the job in the first place. Further to the skill of being able to sell yourself and get the job is the job of managing the actual process for the best outcomes, which is both technically and politically complex. So there needs to be both an effective interdisciplinary design team and effective leadership of that team. But I would expand the question even further and ask, not just How do we get that juicy job and do it well, but how do we make sure the kinds of jobs we want are on offer? Then you're getting into the area of public advocacy. If we want to design (for example) parks that have multiple cultural and ecological functions, but the requests for proposal that we see are all for limited and conventional scopes, how do we create that kind of work in the first place? I am not sure how all of the above might apply to product design, except to say that it seems to me the question might be not just How can I build and sell a better mousetrap to meet consumer demand, but How do I as a designer help shape consumer demand and how might I channel it in a more positive direction?
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Tue 22 Apr 08 11:59
Yes and there are the elements of "consumer" at both the individual consumer level and the "client" level. There is also, in the book, the central debates about sustainability, one of which is "who is responsible" (p. 196 likely suspects are government, designer, producer, consumer). and I agree that making sure there are the kinds of jobs you want (sustainability-wise) on offer does involve advocacy, indeed activism. This is my current area of research and I've written some more about it on my blog http://designactivism.net.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Tue 22 Apr 08 12:01
Regarding the term conservation is it a cornerstone of designers understanding of sustainability? It is in part. I think if we look at natures model, then we see that sustainability stems from the ability to both conserve and innovate. In the book I say, nature sustains itself by conserving its ability to adapt to change. This is not the notion that many people would have of conservation it has a more static connotation along the lines of conserving a supply by not using it. What is your interpretation of the term? I discuss (from about page 48) the idea of living systems in which conditions for life may vary and yet still be viable, as well as how some ecologists think of ecosystems in four phase cycles, one of which is destruction. As to using the term, I guess I try to use more specific terms when I can, so perhaps if the meaning is to conserve by not using, then I would say preserve, but sometimes the meaning might be to conserve by reducing impact, by restoring or by being responsive (eg passive cooling instead of mechanical cooling). This may be why it doesnt turn up so much in the book, and because it doesnt turn up that much it is not indexed (oh but we did try hard with the index but its not perfect!) I was conscious of avoiding jargon and trying to use accessible language, for example not using terms like environmental externality, but I dont recall consciously avoiding the word conservation.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Tue 22 Apr 08 12:30
Back to Anne's comments...Thanks for all those comments from a landscape architecture perspective. I realize that landscape architecture is at the very boundary of the audience for this book, and urban design and planning are generally outside the boundary of the audience. Architecture is also probably not at the center, but not as far out on the boundary as the others. The book is admittedly artifact-focused since that is the focus that many designers have and the one I am familiar with. I did make a conscious decision not to get in to either systems design on the one hand or into service design on the other. (The movement in product design is somewhat toward the idea of replacing individually owned products with services that those products deliver eg who actually wants a drill? most of us just want the hole). Are thosesystems and services-- what you are thinking of when you say a discussion of design as a process of creating something other than an artifact." ? Although I think these areas (systems and services) are important, Im not in the school that thinks artifact designers can automatically design them. Artifact designers get little if any training in hospitality or customer care, for example, two elements central to service design. Im not sure what training they would need to design systems, but beyond perhaps seeing a building or a product as a system, I dont think they are getting system design skills as part of their training now. This is not to say they cant do it, only that they are not necessarily more suited to it. What do others perceive?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Tue 22 Apr 08 12:54
In re conservation, I think William McDonough makes a pretty crucial point there - that "be less bad" isn't useful (or attractive) as an ideal. Especially since you can only follow it down the road so far before you start getting to the logical conclusion that we really ought to get rid of ourselves entirely! Versus the ideas of "upcycling," "technical nutrients," etc. - that maybe there's a way for us to have stuff and do stuff that doesn't inevitably lead to a more or less negative conclusion. With regard to landscape architecture, urban design, landscape urbanism, regenerative landscape design, etc. etc., a somewhat more user-friendly word that we toss around a lot is "placemaking." Which is not just laying out a site design that responds to specific site conditions, and is not just creating artifacts, and is not just creating systems or "services", but combines elements of all of these. (And really, properly considered, architecture works this way too - or it should. I don't think Le Corbusier's ideal of an architecture that is completely free from the shackles of local conditions is in keeping with today's ideas of sustainable architecture...)
What is going to amuse our bouches now? (bumbaugh) Tue 22 Apr 08 14:52
LEED for Landscapes interests me. Might one of you, Ann or (nitpicker), say more about sustainability standards for place/space, rather than buildings? It strikes me that the USGBC made early inroads, and makes inroads still, in urging LEED adoption by arguing, "Really, it's in your interests as the owner. A LEED-certified building is more efficient, hence, cheaper to run and maintain, so you get paid back for any premium in the near term. And going for actual LEED means you *know* you're getting the efficient building and can (maybe) measure the return." But, whereas in building, "green" = "efficient" kinda sorta, for land use, the green benefits are more likely to be externalities. In which case, the "it's in your interests" persuasion won't fly. Is that right? If so, how does LEED for Landscape get traction? If not, wise me up.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Tue 22 Apr 08 15:06
I have to say I have not followed the LEED for Landscapes development. In the UK we have a building rating system BREEAM which I perceive to be slightly less good than LEED (at least that is what some colleagues say but I dont know the intricacies). I should point out that I am American and was involved with the Northwest chapter of the USGBC back in 1999/2000. I have so far not heard anything of BREEAM addressing landscapes. Bumbaugh has a good question thoughmy guess is that there are still a lot of cost savings to capture in terms of going with the environment rather than against it (eg less watering, less chemical treatment, less maintenance, less brute force infrastructure such as culverts, more synergism with strategic shading, with peoples health and so forth..?) RE placemaking, it is a useful term and it does capture that "je ne sais quoi" of the architecture scale of design. It works less well for smaller, shorter-life artifacts. Sometimes people talk about needing to design these artifacts for "experience" (eg the user's experience), but that seems to fall short of what "placemaking" captures. This points out how our terminology can be an issue. People don't like the term sustainability, or conservation, etc. I've said in the book I don't think the terms "user" and "consumer" are that helpful in moving toward sustainability. The terms can frame the debate, in the way McDonough has "framed" efficiency as "being less bad." We can look for other ways to do this-- the other day I was talking with some people about fair trade products and someone said it creates the picture in your mind that "fair trade" is on a higher plane and all other products are "normal." Whereas if you think about it, fair trade should be the "norm" and all other products should be viewed as exploitative, unfair trade. I suppose this is sort of happening with the climate change issue, where people are beginning to talk about goals of climate stability and climate leadership. The reframing needs to happen on many more issues, and more broadly, I think. (I haven't forgotten P. Starck, more later)
I dare you to make less sense! (jet) Tue 22 Apr 08 16:30
> The book is admittedly artifact-focused I have no facts to back this up, but I get the feeling that it's artifacts in the form of consumer goods and clothing and lifestyle that are the biggest problem with sustainability. Example: My neighborhood is mostly 1950s brick houses with the original single-pane windows and central air/heat. Nothing about these houses is "green" except for the moss. However, my neighborhood is filled with SUVs that probably get 15mpg on a good day and most of my neighbors drive those a few miles into the city instead of taking the bus. Every week I see heaps and piles of consumer goods that can't be recycled -- broken kid furniture made of plastic, crappy home furnishings that can't be repaired, and all sorts of stuff made of plastic that's going straight to the landfill. (Some times it isn't plastic crap. My wife, ever the observant thrift-store skimmer, came home with a beatup wooden chair the other day. "Look what I found that someone left out for garbage!" "Uh, a crappy department store dining chair?" "No, A REAL Stickley dining chair!") So on the one hand, I think LEED and the like are very important for new buildings, but on the other hand, I think it's planned obsolescence and product design -- clothing, automobile, consumer electronics, etc -- that's destroying our environment. Ann, am I off-base here? Or is there data somewhere to back up my speculation?
Anne Boyd (nitpicker) Wed 23 Apr 08 06:51
wouldn't it depend on which yardstick of "green" you're using - buildings account for say 65% of energy use, 30% of raw materials use, 30% of waste output. those numbers are for the US and are from the USGBC; dunno where you'd find comparable numbers for consumer goods. as for what accounts for more toxic contamination of our environment -- ? bumbaugh, you can find out more about the Sustainable Sites initiative at <www.sustainablesites.org>. it's several years off from becoming part of LEED but that is the ultimate endpoint of the process. what Ann is calling "going with the environment instead of against it" pretty much sums it up - another way to put it is a commonly used term "nature's services", or as an acquaintance of mine calls it, green AS infrastructure rather than greening infrastructure. part of it is "being less bad" - wasting less water, using fewer chemical inputs - but another and more interesting part is harnessing the beneficial functions of landscape for things like getting stormwater runoff to recharge aquifers, harnessing the ability of healthy soil systems to sequester carbon, and recognizing the benefits to human health of landscape features. I know I keep harping on that handy little phrase "be less bad" but to me it's so useful as a way to express the limitations of the way we often understand sustainability. is human ingenuity the problem or the solution? is our desire for cool new stuff original sin or is it something that can be actively beneficial?
(wiggly) Wed 23 Apr 08 12:26
I think of conservation as more of a practical management of resources, one facet of which is recognizing limitations of resources and controlling consumption to prevent depletion. This definition is, of course, very close to some definitions of sustainability. The static definition of not using a supply in order to conserve it is a subset of the management definition in cases where the supply is being over-exploited, and needs to be used in conjunction with other managerial tools such as technological evolution. It seems, though, that conservation has been redefined as a negative (not unlike other words such as "liberal" or "feminist" in some circles) even as consumption has changed from a destructive term to a neutral or even positive description. That's unfortunate, as the word "conservation" could itself be a bridge to true environmental conservatives who have been silenced on the right over the last couple of decades. Starck's comments at TED, which I learned about in this topic, make me wonder if he realized that both the managerial and static interpretations of conservation are incompatible with the current economic/cultural system he designs for. I have had a similar epiphany in my own career, and I will soon quit and return to school in order to realign my professional life with my personal ethics.
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 23 Apr 08 12:39
>Were you thinking of some specific design examples? The bigger question you ask remains: exactly what skills make one suited to raise awareness of the issue effectively and productively present solutions?< I was actually looking down stream, beyond the presentation of solutions to execution, particularly on a large scale. When large numbers of people need to be educated, mobilized and managed over a long period of time implementations skills are needed. I think that an argument can be made that the future is dependent more on implementation skills than on ideas and designs. The core of the argument is that implementation skills are largely responsible for what what we have now. Replacing the now with something better will require those with implementation skills. These skills exist in most developed form in producing the now and maintaining same. Can these skillful implementers be attracted to sustainability or can those interested in sustainability be developed into skillful implementers? Keep in mind that the skillful implementers of the now will be a significant aspect of the challenge for the skillful implementers of sustainability.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Wed 23 Apr 08 13:43
Ok let me catch up a bit...It does seem like Starck has had some sort of epiphany, although admittedly I am still trying to make time to look closely at what he said. I like this thread about the skillful implementers so let me come back to that after i have a chance to think a bit (overnight here). At the moment I am prepared to go back to that issue of building versus product...I havent seen numbers on how much buildings contribute to environmental impacts versus how much products/vehicles and other, ostensibly shorter life artifacts contribute. This is a difficult question. As Anne says it depends on how you measure it (eg are you looking at toxins or carbon? Loss of topsoil or solid waste floating in the sea?). I think its not surprising that industrial designers would see products as the biggest culprit and architects/built environment people would see that as the biggest culprit, since each knows best the awful truths about their own field. I think the bottom line is that it is essential that we address both types of artifactsin synergistic ways where possible. In some ways theyre not so different. If you think about it, buildings are assembled from products like door handles, wall board and light fixtures etc. Some of the pre fab and prototyping work going on today suggests that buildings will become increasing like products, for better or worse (there are some good opportunities associated with pre fab) Ive heard some recent figures in England that suggest new build is going to overtake existing stock, in areas like housing, within the next 15 or 20 years, which really surprised me. Im not sure what the numbers are in the US. On the other hand, from a lifecycle perspective, we would expect the use phase of a building to be much longer than most typical products. Ive seen arguments that a lot of mid to late century buildings are not lasting anywhere near the length they should given the resources that go into them. We might also expect buildings, with their hunks of materials such as wood beams, steel beams etc. to be much more harvestable at end of life than a typical product. In product terms there is often an argument for retiring energy-using products (such as appliances) when more efficient models become available, but we dont view buildings this way. It seems more common to look at retrofitting them as much as possible, and then when thats done, add some home-generated renewable energy to bring down to carbon neutral.
I dare you to make less sense! (jet) Wed 23 Apr 08 14:11
>managerial and static interpretations of conservation are incompatible >with the current economic/cultural system he designs for. A few months after giving that talk at TED, Starck effectively "gave notice" as a designer. He'll spend the next two years fulfilling contractual obligations (or getting out of them entirely) and then do something else with his life.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 23 Apr 08 20:51
I do think the retrofitting model changes things a bit for buildings -- it's much harder to change the motor in my blender for a more efficient one, for example, than it is to have the windows in my house replaced with more insulatory ones. I suspect there's a market opportunity for upgradeable, cradle-to-cradle house components: buy our windows, and when you need to replace them, we'll consume the old ones in production of new ones. That probably doesn't make as much sense for products that typically last a while (like Jet's neighbors with their 1950's single pane windows) but surely furnace filters could be consumed. In that case it doesn't seem like the design or manufacturing problems are so hard to solve; what seems to be harder is convincing consumers to become, what, stewards of the products? To expand Ann's comment about drills -- I don't actually want windows, I want something that lets in light and keeps in heat.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Thu 24 Apr 08 05:28
Ah, consumers is another good topic, but I've just got here to the skillfull implementers. (By the way, Wiggly, Im glad you had your epiphany and came into this discussion.) I think perhaps Wigglys and Starcks epiphanies may suggest a further comment on the topic of skillful implementers. Im not convinced, actually that implementers all think the way things are now is that great, even if they are good at implementing it. A lot of designers I talk to would love to be working on social or sustainable design agendas, but they are trapped in implementing our current systemoften because they are good at it. It strikes me youre really talking about models of change and I tend to think of systems and networks. Ive recently looked at the implications of digital networks for sustainability and design (my bibliography is at it at http://www.designers-atlas.net/expandedbook.html in the link resources on sustainable design and open source). And its a good case study for change. People initially assumed that because the internet made it possible for anyone produce/participate, it would transform society and make sustainability more easily achievablethe ideas, proposals and infrastructure all showed the potential. A few key examples such as open source software were the harbingers. But parallel to that, in the same way that society at large seems to privilege one particular vector (economic growth), the internet is also tending to privilege that vectorand quickly. As someone put it, we are just paving the dirt road we already travel rather than transforming our mode of travel. But to replace the now with something better if you look at Barabasis work on networks, you realize the serious consequences of power laws (the 20/80 rule) in which only a few of the nodes (20%) on the network are really well connected (80% of the links). These are typically the large commercial networks such as Google, Amazon, Ebay or Yahoo. We do have Wikipedia... We are lured into thinking the web is a whole new democratic territory but really, as in the other parts of the economy (where we vote with our wallets) most of us are too weak (either in dollars or as network nodes) to be heard. We are largely beholden to commercial search engines. So anyone who wants to implement something better than what we have now is up against this systemic inertia. So how do we overcome it -- by BOTH the ideas people and implementation people. Some people might do both (Linus Torvald?) Your description sort of suggests we have a period of ideas and then down the road we have the implementation. I guess I see the whole thing as more messy and mixed up, with lots of iteration, cross fertilization and localization. What disturbs me is that if we are led to believe the internet is primarily a democratizing force, then it may be tempting to let the network decide, that is, assume that good, useful or original sites/content will become popular, or at least find viewers, on their merit. But the network is not inherently aligned with sustainability values. If we want to pursue sustainable development, then we need to make sure the 20% top hubs are aligned with sustainability values, not the business values that currently dominate. This being the WELL, Im sure there are some much more informed insights to be had on this topic, so please set me straight
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Thu 24 Apr 08 07:15
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Thu 24 Apr 08 07:19
Also, wanted to add that in the book I do look specifically at this issue of "change" starting roughly on page 184, where the "levels" of change start with "system" then go down to "profession" and on down to individual. I also look at bit at design inspired by open source methods, starting roughly on page 144 (raw v cooked)...
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Thu 24 Apr 08 07:35
David mentioned consumers and the theme of consumerism/consumption is turning up in few posts. I mentioned before that there is tension in the debate of the "reponsibility"...should we rely on the consumer demand to demand sustainable design? should governments require it? many designers don't feel empowered to push for it...should activists lobby for it? Should producers step up and take responsibility? Which is most important? There's a lot of interesting work on sustainable consumption going on here in the UK, with a recognition that we have to move beyond "informed choice." We can't just improve products, inform consumers of the better products and hope that they'll choose them. Consumer goods, and even architectural goods (possibly landscapes too) have psychological and importantly sociological implications. They provide a lot of "social meaning" in the absence of other vehicles for meaning (in the book I discuss this around page 128). see some of the UK's sus dev commission reports here: http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications.php?cats=yes&cat_id=4 To the extent our identities and social relations are tied to consumer goods, reducing "consumption" becomes much more complex than the typical public policy recommendations of greening the supply chain and educating consumers. I recommend Tim Jackson's book, The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption, for this topic and I agree with his analysis that reining in consumption ultimately means finding more noncommercial means of creating personal and social meaning.
Cogito? (robertflink) Thu 24 Apr 08 08:38
>Your description sort of suggests we have a period of ideas and then down the road we have the implementation. I guess I see the whole thing as more messy and mixed up, with lots of iteration, cross fertilization and localization.< My linear thinking may have been in control for a moment. Sorry.
Ann Thorpe (ann-thorpe) Thu 24 Apr 08 12:53
I feel I'm giving overly long responses--sorry for that. I'm not quite used to this style and the time difference makes it a bit disjointed.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 24 Apr 08 14:53
They seem thoughtful and readable to me!
I dare you to make less sense! (jet) Thu 24 Apr 08 14:58
Ann, I think long-form replies are perfectly fine given the time delay. Some people use the well in realtime almost like AIM/IRC, others check in to conferences once every day (or two).
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