How Economic Downturn Can be a Driving Force for Sustainability

by , 03/15/10

sustainable design, green design, great depression, sustainable building, green retrofits, green renovation, design in a depression, recession

The world is currently experiencing an economic downturn or recession, but by examining The Great Depression in the 1920-30’s, one may find clues as to what lies ahead for the future of design. Like The Great Depression, this recession began with a market crash, affected almost every country, caused personal income and interest rates to drop and unemployment rates to soar. However the past is filled with examples of successful, efficient designs that flourished during trying times.

sustainable design, green design, great depression, sustainable building, green retrofits, green renovation, design in a depression, recession

During this recession, the global housing bubble collapsed.  Before 2006, construction peaked and new projects loomed everywhere.  Cranes and towers rose over downtown MiamiSuburbs in Arizona and Nevada popped up like flies.  Realtors, investors, architects and designers were ecstatic.  Now, during the crashing economy, no one is getting loans, realtors aren’t selling, investors are scraping by and architects and designers are jobless.

In Michigan during The Great Depression, the industrial revolution still in tow, auto sales dropped.  The shift away from extravagant experimental designs allowed for an emphasis on energy-efficient production in an attempt to lower costs.  The public demanded design that would stand up over time.  In order to still get cash, a quick witted salesman, Earl Englander, began refurbishing the interiors of vehicles.  He later went on to upholster furniture and his business, Englander’s Furniture, eventually became one of the largest furniture stores in the country.  In this example, The Great Depression became the driving force for sustainable concepts that we still see today.

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1 Comment

  1. Patrick Dickson March 17, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    A thought-provoking essay. Value … economic and aesthetic … arises increasingly from design rather than materials. Designs that have enduring value often have elegance of form, symmetry and functionality, as well as efficiency of energy, space, and materials. Buckminster Fuller, of geodesic dome fame, forecast the trend toward ephemeralization (less material required for greater benefit). Huge SUV’s and MacMansions run against this necessity to do more with less and make it have more enduring value. Ms. Bernick’s essay points out the opportunity and challenge for designers to transmute things that were not designed according to these values to well-designed things… aesthetic, efficient, useful, and enduring. Thanks for the ideas in your essay.

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