Design with the Other 90%: Cities, now on view at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, presents sixty projects, proposals, and solutions that address the challenges that arise from the increasing number of informal settlements appearing in emerging and developing economies. The exhibit is an updated version of the "Design for the Other 90%" exhibition that took place at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 2007 that shifts the focus to the urban environment. Currently, more than half of the world's population lives in cities and a projected one billion people live in informal settlements; the exhibition shines light on the importance of design in managing this rapid transition that impacts a growing number of people.
Design is often thought of as something reserved for the wealthy, a force that creates luxury products at the expense of others. With a change in thought that arose in the 1960s and 1970s, economists and designers began to shift their focus and engage with the underserved to find simple, low-cost solutions to combat poverty. Design with the Other 90%’s six themes — Exchange, Reveal, Adapt, Include, Prosper, and Access — highlight the different approaches that local communities, designers, architects and various organizations have taken to address social and environmental challenges.
One such example of “exchange” is the 10×10 Sandbag house. Located in the informal settlement of Freedom Park in Cape Town, architect Luyanda Mpahlwa designed a series of two-story homes that draw on indigenous mud-and-wattle building methods. EcoBeam technology provides structural support and sandbags provide thermal insulation and contribute to wind and moisture resistance. The design is cost-effective and energy-efficient with minimal transport since the EcoBeams are manufactured on site and local community members are involved in the construction process. As such, the project offers a model that can be easily replicated in other communities.
With the increasing frequency of natural disasters, the theme of adaptation is highly important. One such example of how local communities are preparing for such occurrences are Floating Community Lifeboats. Floods affect one third of Bangladesh per year offering a great incentive to find a reasonable solution to the phenomenon. Architect Mohammed Rezwan experienced floods firsthand and knows how detrimental they can be to children’s education. Starting with a $500 scholarship, Rezwan founded Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha in 1998. The first floating school was designed in 2002 using local materials and built with the help of local boat builders. The waterproof roofs have solar photovoltaic panels that can charge computers, lights, phones and SuryaHurricane lanterns.
The lanterns are made from recycled kerosene lanterns and have the potential to be of use to the some eighty percent of Bangladeshis who lack regular access to electricity. Shidhulai now operates 54 floating schools, libraries, health clinics, and a training center for parents, serving close to 90,000 families. Rezwan has even designed a three-tier farming structure built on floating platforms. It houses poultry on the top tier and has an area to raise fish within net enclosures beneath, not to mention room for growing vegetables and other plants.
By highlighting innovative design and collaboration, Design with the Other 90% celebrates design as an agent of social change with an international impact. Cities provide the focus from which affordable housing, entrepreneurship, non-formal education and public health initiatives are transforming livelihoods for those often overlooked. Furthermore, by considering social and environmental factors, the meaning of sustainable design grows as it comes to include a population that often cannot afford the high-tech, costly “green” solutions popular in today’s market. The exhibit is on view through January 9, 2012.
All images © Amanda Silvana Coen for Inhabitat