The Real Problems of Today’s Design

Since the emergence of the design profession, boosted in the Industrial Revolution with the increasing production of objects and the desire of a middle class eager to consume; designers, interior decorators and architects are known as professionals who create spaces and products to beautify the world.

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A origem da classe média, termo registrado por volta de 1745 na Irlanda (Bryson, Bill: Breve História da Vida Doméstica) e que nominava comerciantes, banqueiros, editores, advogados e outras pessoas dotadas de espírito criativo; também injetou novos níveis de demanda na sociedade. Essas pessoas ansiavam e buscavam por inovação doméstica e decoração, além de objetos desejáveis para encher suas casas. De repente coisas como tapetes e espelhos que raramente podiam ser encontrados antes de 1750 se tornaram comuns.

Almost 300 years have passed and architects and designers are still doing pretty much the same thing since the time of the Industrial Revolution: creating beautiful products such as mirrors and rugs to adorn residential and commercial environments and spaces.

There is nothing wrong with that. But is this what the world really needs from the creative professions right now?

And what problems do designers need to solve urgently?

CO2 Problems

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Photo by Brady Bellini via Unsplash

The modern, industrial-based world was founded on the assumption that our resources are infinite and inexhaustible: who could have imagined that one day we would run out of oil? Or forests? Or empty places to dispose of the byproducts of our material prosperity?

But that is precisely the situation we find ourselves in right now, trapped as we are in a linear economy that starts in a mine, quarry or oil rig and ends in a landfill.

According to a report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), humanity has just three years to stop the emissions of greenhouse gases and prevent irreversible consequences to the planet triggered by global warming.

The experts also concluded that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to date corresponds to 80% of all that humanity can produce if it wants to have a 50% or greater chance of stabilizing the Earth's warming at 1.5°C, but the production of this pollutant generated by the industrial sector and the burning of fossil fuels fell by only 0.3% per year in the last decade.

Construction is one of the biggest contributors to these emissions, both in the energy required for the operation of buildings and in the transport and manufacture of inputs for a work.

According to a report by the CNN Climate Change Forum, the three main emitters of CO2 come from cities, their cars and buildings: it is the gasoline that we burn for transport, industrial activities for the construction of buildings (cement factories, for example) and thermoelectric plants for generate energy for our homes.

Water Problems

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Photo by Chris Gallagher via Unsplash

Billions of people around the world continue to suffer from poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene, according to a report by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO). About 2.2 billion people worldwide do not have clean water services, 4.2 billion people do not have adequate sanitation services and 3 billion do not have basic hand hygiene facilities.

Water is the most precious resource in the world. In order to sustain our population and lifestyle, it is essential that we effectively manage our water resources, rivers, coastal areas and associated infrastructure.

In addition, floods in Brazil have become increasingly frequent. Flooding is a natural phenomenon that occurs when the water flowing in a river reaches the maximum limit of the smaller bed and passes into the larger bed, still remaining inside the channel. Although it is a natural occurrence, when there is an increase in flow in a watercourse, floods can intensify.

This intensification occurs as a consequence of human actions on nature, thus bringing various damages to society. We found, in both cases, the reasons why floods happen in Brazil. The main one (but not the only one) is the way in which the urbanization process took place in the country and, consequently, the expansion of cities.

The growth of Brazilian cities in the way it occurred implied profound changes in land use. The lack of urban planning and inadequate or incorrect interventions in the space have intensified the flooding and the harmful effects of floods.

There is an urgent need for more professionals studying water resources in cities. This field of study provides architects, engineers and designers with the integrated knowledge and skills necessary to understand the entire urban hydrological cycle and the links between its different aspects.

Cooling Problems

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Photo by Sergei A via Unsplash

Climate change is causing our planet to get hotter and hotter, and as we all turn on our air conditioners in response to high temperatures, we are actually making global warming worse, paradoxically making it hotter as we try to keep cool.

One of the most challenging aspects of this shift will be meeting growing cooling demands in an eco-friendly way. Cooling is harder than heating the planet: any form of energy can turn into heat, and our bodies and machines generate heat naturally, even in the absence of active heating systems.

There are already 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use around the world right now, and that number is growing by up to 10 appliances every second, according to the report of the United Nations Environment Program and the International Energy Agency. By 2050, experts predict that we will need 14 billion units to meet everyone's needs.

Before thinking about solving heat problems with air conditioning, natural solutions should be demanded by city halls and building codes, implementing systems that oblige architects and engineers to avoid the use of appliances as much as possible.

Feeding Problems

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Photo by Petr Magera via Unsplash

According to Dikson Despommier, Professor of Public Health and Microbiology at Columbia, if every city in the world produced 10% of its food indoors, it would allow 34,000 square meters of land to be returned to forests every year.

Urban agriculture projects aim to bring more green areas to cities by using building roofs and idle parking lots to plant vegetables, fruits and cereals.

Some cities have already been eyeing cultivation strategies within urban territories for some time. Ana Hidalgo, current mayor of Paris, has just opened in the French capital the largest urban rooftop farm in the world. The project reinforces the thesis that large amounts of healthy food can be grown on a 100% urban farm and in a community-based way.

The future of food doesn't just include large urban farms controlled by city governments or private companies in partnership with governments. We, too, can grow our own food. There are several companies working with refrigerated home planting strategies, that is, growing your food in “refrigerators”, inside houses and apartments.

Architects and designers who plan urban and indoor food will be more than needed in the near future.

Diversity Problems

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Rozana Montiel - Mexico. Image © Marc Goodwin

Have you ever thought that virtually all cities in the world, since the dawn of humanity, were and continue to be created and designed by men? From urban planning to the design of buildings, from public transport to chairs – women have played little part in the process of creating everything that surrounds us.

There have always been women architects, planners and inspiring urban policymakers, but across the world, the professions of built environments – in particular their upper strata – remain heavily male-dominated, more than in other fields such as education or healthcare.

Currently, 64% of architects trained in Brazil are women. In Engineering, there has been a 42% increase in the number of women graduated since 2016. But where are these reflexes in Brazilian society?

When we create something, we put our world view into what we do. Even if a project's methodology is very innovative, serious problems can still arise due to the lack of multiple perspectives.

But gender issues are not the only diversity problem.

Recently, McKinsey released a report noting the advantages of ethnic-racial mixing in companies. To analyze the relation of ethnic diversity to financial performance, McKinsey studied racial and cultural differences in six countries. Data indicates that companies with the most ethnic diversity in their executive teams are 33% more likely to be profitable.

But unfortunately only 4.33% of architects in Brazil are black, despite the fact that the black population is 54% of the total population in Brazil. In addition, 27% of unemployed architects and urban planners are black women, as well as black female architects, they suffer 16 times more sexual harassment in the work environment and their salary income is R$ 3436.15, almost half of what a white man earns.

Toilet Problems

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Templo Deco, Elixir Bunn Coffee Roasters / AZAZ Architects. Photo © Abdulrahman Bayshout

Although there are records of latrines dating back to 3100 BC, the first toilet was invented in 1596 by the Englishman John Harington (Bryson, Bill: At Home: A Short History of Private Life). He made two units: one for himself and the other for Queen Elizabeth I. The idea did not catch on at the time and it was only in 1775 that the Scotsman Alexander Cumming patented the modern toilet, already aiming at drainage in a sewer system. In 1885, another Englishman, Thomas Twyford created the first porcelain toilet that replaced the wooden pieces, described above.

The industrial revolution was a great milestone to popularize the use of toilets and spread hygiene and public health ideals. Not only in the production of sanitary ware, but also in the promotion of research on the topic of basic sanitation.

However, the UN points out that 4.5 billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation in the world. In other words, 2 in 3 people in the world cannot use the traditional toilet.

Some time ago, Bill Gates caught the attention of several people around the globe when he presented a machine capable of converting poop into clean water in five minutes without the need for water, with only chemical additives.

According to data from his foundation, sterilizing waste excreted by humans could prevent 500,000 child deaths and would save US$233 billion a year in costs for treating diarrhea and cholera, but this technology is still expensive and insufficient.

Technology Problems

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Image courtesy of Tabulla

Urban Techs are technology companies that directly improve the life and sustainability of cities. Some of the main startups that emerged in the last decade are companies focused on cities, urbanism and connecting people, the so-called UTs, such as Uber, Waze, AirBnb, WeWork, Yellow, among others.

The concept of Urban Techs is directly linked to the trend of smart cities, also called Cyber Cities: those that use technology in a strategic way to improve infrastructure, optimize urban mobility, create sustainable solutions and other improvements necessary for the residents' quality of life.

At the same time that these companies grow, what are the urban rules so that they can work? Don't we need more bike lanes because of Uber Eats? How is local tourism with AirBnb? Who is planning these relationships in public agencies? What about labor relations with delivery people?

In the last three years alone, UTs have raised 75 billion dollars, representing about 17% of all money circulating in venture capital in the world. Urban Techs is the largest investment sector in startups, attracting more funds than pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

According to Richard Florida, director of cities at the University of Toronto, the US is the dominant country in the urban startup game, with more than 45% of all working capital invested in this sector. China comes next with almost 30%, followed by Singapore, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, France, the Netherlands and Canada.

Brazil is not even on the list.

As we delve deeper into the 21st century, it becomes clearer that most of our social systems are no longer suited to their purposes. They were designed to meet the requirements of the first machine age and have remained essentially unchanged since the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What are the problems that designers should focus their energies on? What might the impact be if we can successfully apply our creative skills to today's real problems?

Via Tabulla.

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About this author
Cite: Matoso, Marília. "The Real Problems of Today’s Design" [Os verdadeiros problemas do design hoje] 10 May 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Simões, Diogo) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Ibdadesign - Dubai . Photo © Marc Goodwin


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