What is Slow Design, And Where Did It Come From?

slowdesign.org/Screen capture

Michael Bardin of Perkins + Will proposes the term "slow design" for design without air conditioning in a recent article in Fast Company. He writes in You've Heard About Slow Food. What We Really Need Is Slow Design:

Taking a cue from the Slow Food movement, which successfully created a widely recognized global consumer culture around the value of unprocessed and local foods, architects and designers must promote the superior value of “slow” designs that turn the machines off and instead offer the comfort that comes from being in touch with the environment in ways that enhance the quality of individual experience and wellness.

He makes some very good points about how to do this, including proper shading, ventilation, dressing appropriately, and using plants. It is good advice. But I don't think he can call it "slow design"; it is far to narrow a definition, just one aspect of a much larger discussion about slow design that has been going on for a decade at least.

The Origins of Slow Design

Most people ascribe the first use of the term "slow design" to Alistair Fuad-Luke (who used to contribute to these very pages early in the life of TreeHugger), in his 2002 paper Slow Design - a paradigm in design philosophy? (pdf) and The Slow Design Principles (pdf). He also created the site Slow Design.org. His definition of the term is a bit broader and all-encompassing that Bardin's, talking about much more than simple line items such as air conditioning. Fuad-Luke's qualities of slow design (quoted in Wikipedia) include:

  • Longer design processes with more time for research, contemplation, real life impact tests, and fine tuning.
  • Design for manufacturing with local or regional materials and technologies or design that supports local industries, workshops, and craftspeople.
  • Design that takes into account local or regional culture both as a source of inspiration and as an important consideration for the design outcome.
  • Design that studies the concept of natural time cycles and incorporates them into design and manufacturing processes.
  • Design that looks at longer cycles of human behavior and sustainability.
  • Design that takes into account deeper well being and the findings of positive psychology
  • .

Core 77 on Slow Design/Screen capture

Then there is the Slow Lab in New York City, lists as its mission:

To promote slowness or what we call 'Slow design' as a positive catalyst of individual, socio-cultural and environmental well-being.... Slowness doesn't refer to how long it takes to make or do something. Rather, it describes an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.

Our own Collin Dunn defined it more simply in his 2008 post Jargon Watch: Slow Design

Slow Design, much like its gastronomic predecessor, is all about pulling back on the reins and taking time to do things well, do them responsibly, and do them in a way that allows the designer, the artisan and the end user to derive pleasure from it. Just like Slow Food, it's all about using local ingredients, harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all, it emphasizes thoughtful, methodical, slow creation and consumption of products as a way to combat the sometimes overwhelming pace of life in the bigger-faster-now 21st century.

Michael Bardin's article makes some very good suggestions for a method of designing without air conditioning. But that is one small aspect of a movement that is much larger than green design principles, but is also defined by where buildings are and how they are used. I am not certain that he should be appropriating the term for something that is too little and too late.

See TreeHugger's posts on slow design (and design without air conditioning) in related links at the upper right.

Tags: Designers | Green Building