29 June 2015

Designing Sustainability

Written by Published in Book Reviews
Table Lamp Table Lamp ©© 2015 Stuart Walker design

Design, as the creation of physical goods, plays a very important role in shaping our environment and one can argue that if it hadn’t been for modernity design would not have emerged. However, we are experiencing a shift away from the ethics values and ideas of modernity and a transition towards a sustainable human society. In this, Walker’s approach calls for a new material culture

designing-sustainability-walkerStuart Walker’s new book, Designing Sustianability, is a continuation of his original and groundbreaking in the field of design for sustainability. It follows his previous two books, Sustainable by Design: Explorations in Theory and Practice and The Spirit of Design: Objects, Environment and Meaning and comes to close the loop in an ongoing exploration of the reasons behind today’s unsustainability and what alternatives present themselves.

The book looks at the enormous issues of climate change, of cultural, social, and environmental exploitation, alienation through technology or media, capitalism and consumerism, in a holistic way. This very wide scope provides a clear picture of the roots of unsustainability and their interconnected interactions. This deep understanding of the systemic failures is not critique for the sake of critique. Only by deeply understanding the problematic situation will we be able to pinpoint where real ‘radical’ change begins and engage in meaningful innovation towards sustainability.

The need for such radical change becomes clear when looking into the emergence of eco-modernity. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. By creating green washed products that try to alleviate the environmental or social pressures without looking at the root problems of the situation is more dangerous than doing nothing about said pressures as it increases the inertia for change even more. It goes back to the question of whether reducing unsustainability cause the emergence of sustainability.

Walker’s work points to the direction of this radical change in design by creating propositional artifacts, objects that have no utilitarian purpose but are the embodiment of the values associated with sustainability. This exploration is the only way to discover the new ideas needed to make the shift from this era of human development to the next. The book does not try to offer simple answers, but presents the possibilities and the characteristics of what design for sustainability could look like, from there on, it’s in our hands...

Poetic and eloquent, Designing Sustainability, represents a crystallisation of the author’s message and adds to the discourse of sustainability an holistic perspective of sustainability tied to a better understanding of personal meaning and inner spirituality, aspects of human societies left behind and forgotten. Avoiding being pedantic, he proposes a way of designing that is enriching and personal while nourishing human flourishing.

This book is a must read not only for academics and design practitioners but for anyone looking for what the next era of human society will look like in regards to the choreography of the objects around us. Changing the relationship between the manufactured world and us will open up the space for new ways of making, having and being.

Designing Sustainability: Making radical changes in a material world  by Stuart Walker is published by Routledge.


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