Reviewed by Quilian Riano
By now we are more than familiar with the numbers; 10% of the world's population owns 85% of the world's wealth (Brown, 2006), 17% of the world's population lives in extreme poverty, less than $1 a day, another 23% live in moderate poverty, less than $2 a day (Chen & Ravallion, 2004). We are talking about 40% of the population, 3.8 billion people or almost 3 times the total population of China, at the lowest end of the world's economic scale. When one is confronted with these overwhelming numbers and statistics it is hard to find any hope of being able to help change the situation. However, once we look closer, the statistics reveal an emerging market of consumers with a variety of design needs and a combined purchasing power of over $100 billion dollars a month. Keep in mind that we are still talking about the people at the lowest edge of economic indicators, once you add those in relative poverty, according to country, you have a whopping 5.9 Billion people or 90% of the world's population as potential clients.
It is clear that the need is overwhelming and, in a sign that design institutions are beginning to notice it, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum addresses it in its 'Design for the Other 90%' exhibit. The exhibit includes a variety of design strategies that have taken 'helping the poor' outside the charity arena, and into the entrepreneurial design realm. Clearly, what the exhibit advocates is not profiteering from those in need, but rather for designers to work closer with the poorest clients to give them an opportunity to earn a productive life while remaining within their means. The exhibit itself is displayed in the garden of Andrew Carnegie's Fifth Avenue Mansion, now home to the Cooper Hewitt, giving the exhibit a luscious, if not ironic, backdrop. A series of small architectural interventions await outside creating a small village populated by the furniture and other objects that make up the rest of the exhibit. These small architectural interventions roughly break into two categories, shelters and public space pavilions.
Global Village Shelter
Both shelters displayed in the exhibit are meant to be temporary solutions for emergency situations, the Mad Housers' shelters are for the homeless of Atlanta, while the Global Village Shelter (designed in collaboration with Architecture for Humanity ) is meant to be used during times of crisis. Although the shelters are a welcomed relief for those in dire need, permanent sheltering solutions are not included in the exhibit. This is an unfortunate omission because as Paul Polak, from the International Development Enterprises , writes in the exhibit's catalogue a great need for the rural poor is an inexpensive, bankable, and expandable permanent house that they can assemble easily and place on the plots of land they already own. Once they own their house they can use it as collateral to borrow either to expand said house or to buy the livestock or farming tools needed to help further their prosperity. Polak's comment should be taken as a challenge by the design community to come together and develop a program similar to the One Laptop Per Child, with the design of a permanent shelter of $100 or less as its ultimate goal.
Furthermore, working with the rural poor is unquestionably important, but if a full one third of the world's population lives in urban slums (and that percentage is rising) what may be needed is more ideas for shelters and other structures suitable for that context . It may be that in the slums prepackaged solutions will only go so far and more traditional design services are needed; architects, landscape architects, and urbanists working directly with the communities to come up with site-specific solutions. Nonetheless, in the show there are very few items trying to deal with the precarious condition of the slums, most interestingly for the built environment is the Moneymaker Block Press which is a system for a few people to quickly make an inexpensive basic building material.
The Seventh Ward Shade Pavilion
Day Labor Station
In contrast to the necessarily simple designs of the shelters the public-space pavilions, The Seventh Ward Shade Pavilion and The Day Labor Station , play with volumes and materiality to create a more complex architectural experience. The Seventh Ward Shade Pavilion was designed by a group of University of Kansas students and is an expandable wooden structure that filters light with pattern of cut-out circles. The Day Labor Station comes to us via the non-profit Public Architecture an gives day laborers a place to spend time as they wait for work. The structure is designed to be off-the grid and built of sustainable materials and to be responsive to community needs by allowing educational and organizational activities to happen within it. Both of these solutions are for use within the United States and move beyond the simple act of building to encompass an educational and social agenda which, specially in the case of the Day Labor Station, give space to programs common in most of our cities which a majority of us conveniently choose to ignore.
Solar Dish Kitchen
There are many other simple and elegant solutions to the very real problems of the world's poor which I urge everyone to explore through the online catalogue . One that caught my attention particularly is the Solar Dish Kitchen , which was constructed in a collaboration with the community, architecture students, professionals such as James Adamson from the Jersey Devils , and artists. The dish is a lesson on how to smartly and appropriately use the environmental conditions of a site as part of a low-cost, low-impact architectural strategy. It is simple, cost effective, low-impact design solutions such as these, and not charity, that will help those people with the most needs around the world.
Brown, D. (2006, September 6). Richest tenth own 85% of world's assets. The Times Online.
Chen, S. & Ravallion, M. (2004). How have the world’s poorest fared since the early 1980s? Development Research Group, World Bank.
Polak, P. (2007). Design for the Other Ninety Percent
C. Smith (Ed.), Design for the Other 90% Exhibit Catalogue
pp. 22-23. New York, NY: Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum.
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http://dsgnagnc.com/quilian-bio/DSGN AGNC Founder and PrincipalPart-Time Assistant Professor, Parsons The New School of Design MArch - Harvard University | Graduate School of DesignBDes - University of Florida | School of ArchitectureQuilian (pronounced Killian) is a designer, writer, and ...