Last week, sitting comfortably on ergonomically designed kitchen stools which responded perfectly to every single one of my movements, I had an interesting exchange with two of the creative minds behind the revival of community-led design at Luxembourg’s 120 year old, state-funded arts and crafts institution: the Lycée des Arts et Métiers.
Today, Gilles Gardula and Joseph Tomassini were telling me, their design students, still ask the question Walter Gropius asked in 1919 when he founded the Bauhaus school in Weimar, Germany: “How do we want to live together?” The question is as pertinent now as it was back then, and not only for designers, but for urbanists too.
Both environmental concerns and the mental imbalances caused by a society in thrall to disposability, and “the new”, are forcing us to think beyond design as a sophisticated form of material possession, and beyond the technology of the “machine for living” models of urbanity from the last century.
The extreme marketisation of all things of the past decades has left us with a profound need for sharing, caring, exchanging, recycling and other forms of resistance. This is where designers, urbanists and architects should be now: thinking with people and not for people. In other words, we need more empathetic designers, making the most of the resources available, thinking long term and adopting an ethical perspective.
So, instead of cities competing to attract companies such as Amazon whose dictum “delivering everything under the sun” is shorthand for a society where thousands of people perform boring, repetitive, (disposable) jobs for most of their lives, it may be time to ask the question: “How do we help people to live better, more fulfilling lives, and occupy themselves in meaningful work, educate their minds, make the things they dream about and express their creativity?” How do we help them make their lives and the cities they inhabit into works of art?
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