This interview with professor and author Tom Fisher, Dean of University of Minnesota, is part of a documentary series called “Things May Happen”, in which he describes the dangers of Fracture-Critical Design. This topic is also the subject of his recent book, Designing to Avoid Disaster: The Nature of Fracture-Critical Design. Fisher discusses examples in which our systems, whether they be architectural, structural or even social and financial, fail with disastrous consequences. In a TEDxUMN talk at the University of Minnesota, Fisher spoke about the 1-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007, the failure of New Orleans’ levees during Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill on the Gulf Coast, the Wall Street investment bank failures, the housing foreclosure crisis and now the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy. Covering a whole spectrum of “when things go wrong” scenarios, Fisher illuminates the failed foresight in designing systems that are resilient to disaster.
Interestingly, he notes that our economic system, as designed, has a tendency to fail and fail big enough to affect the global economy. Our lifestyle, as designed, is unsustainable and requires “five planets to support”. These warnings are part of Fisher’s discourse and is a call for resilient and considered design systems that anticipate failure and avoid disaster.