Switching off Stars, for irresponsable architecture

07Oct12

Dignifying Design.

By JOHN CARY and COURTNEY E. MARTIN
Sunday Review. The New York Times. Opinion

Building the hospital under the auspices of the nonprofit MASS Design Group (MASS stands for a Model of Architecture Serving Society), Mr. Murphy, Mr. Ricks and Ms. Shioiri-Clark relied on Dr. Farmer’s theory of a “preferential option for the poor.” The idea — adopted from liberation theology — is that the poor deserve the best quality intervention because they’ve been given the least by luck and circumstance. The students’ naïve audacity, coupled with Dr. Farmer’s wisdom and experience, resulted in a building that has set a new standard for public-interest design.

It used to be that young people with humanitarian aspirations went into law or medical school or applied to Teach for America or the Peace Corps. But today, increasing numbers of the most innovative change makers have, like Mr. Murphy, Mr. Ricks and Ms. Shioiri-Clark, decided to try to design their way to a more beautiful, just world.

This new breed of public-interest designers proceeds from a belief that everybody deserves good design, whether in a prescription bottle label that people can more easily read and understand, a beautiful pocket park to help a city breathe or a less stressful intake experience at the emergency room. Dignity may be to the burgeoning field of public-interest design as justice is to the more established public-interest law.

Careful listening is an integral part of this human-centered approach to design. IDEO.org— a nonprofit spinoff of the premier design and innovation firm IDEO — has made radical listening its hallmark; IDEO.org associates observe and grill would-be clients and sites with so much rigor that they could easily be mistaken for anthropologists. AnIDEO.org team assigned to redesign sanitation in Ghana, for example, spent weeks slogging from home to home asking families intimate questions about their bathroom habits before they began designing a system that would safeguard against cholera and other waterborne diseases.

Read the full article here.

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