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How to Design Responsibly

How to Design Responsibly

Eleanor Davies | GOOD

“Dubai Shares See Biggest Fall This Year” read the headline in the business section of the BBC World Service Web site near the end of 2009. As soon as we saw it, my architect friends and I began discussing crisis and chaos in the middle east’s wealthy city state. The architects directed most of their ire at bankers.

Last year was a year of financial crisis, a year in which a very bad light was shed on the entire financial sector, and on bankers in particular. They were held responsible for the financial crisis, which is of course having detrimental effects on all other sectors, including architecture and design. Why did we designers now have to suffer? After all, hadn’t we just been minding our own business?

No doubt, bankers are very responsible for the global economic crunch, but I think the crisis is more than just a financial one. It is an unemployment crisis, a confidence crisis, a social crisis, and a creative crisis. It impacts all sectors and it was allowed to happen by all sectors, whether they acted directly or passively.

Finger-pointing can be done with little thought, interest, or self-reflection, but as recent economic reports and political actions indicate, finger-pointing alone achieves very little in the way of actual change. Bank bailouts and end-of-year bonuses highlight our persistent reliance on the financial sector, yet it seems incongruent for architects staring at newspaper images of desert skyscrapers to blame the bankers alone, as if those towers had been built by CEOs out of stacks of dollar bills.

Dubai’s skyline is filled with iconic structures designed by Western firms, the very firms now suffering the effects of financial instability on a scale comparable to Dubai’s loan defaults—loans provided, in part, by the West’s financial sector.

In the design field, we regularly despair about a lack of quality products, a lack of local manufacturing, a lack of value given to design, and a lack of concern about the detrimental effects of mass production and consumption. But then we find ourselves working within an industry that continues to issue instructions for ever-more products to be produced at ever-lower costs, in distant factories, for ever-lower need. And we do so without asking very many questions.

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