State of Design, a New Metropolis Magazine Learning Opportunity


Graphic Credit: Metropolis Magazine
Metropolis Magazine is celebrating its 30th year anniversary this year (2011). To mark the occasion, they partnered with the Education Legacy Fund (ELF) to inaugurate an annual series of open, constructive dialogues about what is shaping twenty-first century design and how designers are responding to the evolution of culture. The first event was held March 22, 2011 at the Steelcase showroom in New York City. Tim Brown, IDEO CEO & President and author of Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, and Michael Murphy, MASS Design Group Cofounder, were honored during the occasion for their contribution to design. They then discussed with Susan Szenasy, Editor in Chief of Metropolis Magazine, how design is playing an increasingly important role for a global community facing new economic and environmental realities.The state of design is not as it was. For the better part of the last two centuries, the act of making things (be it a hospital, bottles, cars, computers, televisions, frozen dinners or forks) has been connected to a tremendous amount of damage. Now, new design leaders are emerging who are creating examples pointing in a different and better way. Metropolis calls these people game changers - and in a recent issue, the publication showcased individuals, companies and projects that are raising the bar.


Photo Credit: MASS Design Group

For example, Murphy's Butaro Healthcare Facility, in Rwanda, is a model for how other developing countries can build effective medical buildings. The project is completely naturally ventilated and made by local workers - this is a sea change for both the first and third world. In places like Rwanda, people visiting a hospital with a broken leg often contract tuberculosis because ventilation is so bad. These facilities are usually modeled after buildings in the United States or Europe, but do not have the infrastructure to support HVAC equipment to provide adequate air changes and indoor environment comfort. In turn, what you get is the ideal conditions for transmitting and infecting healthy people with very unhealthy pathogens and illnesses. Even in the developed world, natural ventilation is on the minds of designers and engineers working with high-performance healthcare. They realize that the only way to achieve the 2030 Challenge will be to effectively institute safe ways to un-mechanize ventilation systems - because they are huge energy sucks. Murphy is blazing a trail for both.

Architecture has been slow to innovation - and one of the reasons progress isn't faster was accidentally spotlighted during the event. At one point during the panel discussion, Szenasy called Murphy an "architect" - a term he quickly tried to dispel as a way to describe himself. Legally speaking, you have to go through the rigorous effort of the Intern Development Program defined by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards as well as take the 5 to 7 tests making up the Architect Registration Examination as well as have the correct educational requirements determined by each state to legally be called an architect. The whole process takes about 5 to 7 years while testing and registrations costs young designers around $10,000 to $15,000 alone - not to mention the education requirements which can be anywhere from $60,000 to $120,000 and take between 2 to 4 years.


Photo Credit: MASS Design Group

Of course, by the time you get through the process you have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the conventional ideals of architecture to the point that running off to Africa to design and build a hospital for a country desperately in need of one would be out of the question. Yet, Murphy along with his fellow MASS collaborators logged 22,000 hours on the Rwandan project. They helped trained thousands of local men and women in construction crafts, and are assisting in shaping the first ever architecture school in the country. Without a doubt, he is a game changer - but laws are laws, he's no architect. Throughout the event, Murphy expressed that architecture is continually fighting from becoming irrelevant. Is it possible that architecture needs to rethink its requirements to be an architect, or should innovative designers simply go to where they are more welcomed?


Photo Credit: Sean Hemmerle

Brown did bring sobering news. He stated that of the many projects such as Murphy being completed around the world, they are few in comparison to how conventional projects are still being pumped out by other companies and corporations. Essentially, the state of design is changing, but it's not changed. Brown is a globe trotter having spoken at the TED conference and the World Economic Forum. His opinion is that design will have its greatest impact when it is not designers solely responsible for design, but when everyone (professionals and non-professionals) has a hand in making the things we use, live in and buy. IDEO has a huge portfolio of innovative solutions which incorporate and invite the non-designers into the act of creation. In his new book, Change by Design, he calls for new ideas that can tackle the global problems we face. Embedded in that statement is a subtle message - we need new thinking because what we have today is a product of the old and conventional mentality. At the event, Brown received the Havemeyer Award given to a significant contributor to the global conversation about design.


Graphic Credit: William Ruoto

Designers are waking up to the challenges and opportunities created by the new realities of the world. Experience no longer trumps ideas that connect people to solutions they need. Intergenerational, interdisciplinary dialogue is a path to generating revolutionary results. The game changers at this year's event are helping to usher in a new way to live on Earth - we need many, many more.

More on Socially Sustainable Design
IDEO's Designs Bridge the Technological Divide
Rare Mountain Gorilla Twins Born in Rwanda
At IIDEX: Revive Socially Responsible Recycling
Ecologically and socially responsible Jewelery: GreenKarat