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Design During The Greatest Depression
by Katy Purviance on 01/11/09 @ 08:44:10 pm
Categories: Articles | 516 words | 2706 views

Jon Stewart calls this the Greatest Depression.

Michael Cannell of the NY Times tells us that design loves a depression.

An Excerpt (with my favorite parts bolded)

Now, given that all those slick Miami condos are sitting empty in the sky, designers like the Campana Brothers, with their $8,910 Corallo chair, and Hella Jongerius, with her $10,615 Ponder sofa, might have a harder time selling their wares. Already designers are biting their knuckles over the damage reports. The American Institute of Architects reported that last month’s billings index, a gauge of nonresidential construction, reached its lowest level since it began collecting data in 1995.

The pain of layoffs notwithstanding, the design world could stand to come down a notch or two — and might actually find a new sense of relevance in the process. That was the case during the Great Depression, when an early wave of modernism flourished in the United States, partly because it efficiently addressed the middle-class need for a pared-down life without servants and other Victorian trappings.

“American designers took the Depression as a call to arms,” said Kristina Wilson, author of “Livable Modernism: Interior Decorating and Design During the Great Depression” and an assistant professor of art history at Clark University. “It was a chance to make good on the Modernist promise to make affordable, intelligent design for a broad audience.”

Design tends to thrive in hard times. In the scarcity of the 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames produced furniture and other products of enduring appeal from cheap materials like plastic, resin and plywood, and Italian design flowered in the aftermath of World War II.

Will today’s designers rise to the occasion? “What designers do really well is work within constraints, work with what they have,” said Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art. “This might be the time when designers can really do their job, and do it in a humanistic spirit.”

In the lean years ahead, “there will be less design, but much better design,” Ms. Antonelli predicted.

There is a reason she and others are optimistic: however dark the economic picture, it will most likely cause designers to shift their attention from consumer products to the more pressing needs of infrastructure, housing, city planning, transit and energy. Designers are good at coming up with new ways of looking at complex problems, and if President-elect Barack Obama delivers anything like a W.P.A, we could be “standing on the brink of one of the most productive periods of design ever,” said Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Also, he mentions my favorite architect:

One way or another, design will focus less on styling consumer objects with laser-cut patterns and colored resin and more on the intelligent reworking of current conditions. Expect to hear a lot more about open-source design, and cradle-to-cradle, a concept developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart that calls for cars, packaging and other everyday objects to be designed specifically for recycling so that their parts and materials are used and reused without waste.

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