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The Insignificance of Aesthetics: An Exhibition at Vitra Design Museum Adds a Context of Urgency to the Works of Victor Papanek

Victor Papanek. Image Courtesy of donation from Nicolette Papanek/Victor J. Papanek Foundation
Victor Papanek. Image Courtesy of donation from Nicolette Papanek/Victor J. Papanek Foundation

This article was originally published on Metropolis Magazine as "Design Provocateur: Revisiting the Prescient Ideas of Victor Papanek".

“Today industrial design has put murder on a mass-production basis,” declared Victor Papanek, design provocateur and critic, from the podium of a design-activist happening in 1968. “By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim,” he roared, “by creating a whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breathe, designers have become a dangerous breed.”

Even in Wealthy Cities, Architects Must Work for Social Justice in Every Way Possible

Woodward's Redevelopment. Image © Bob Matheson
Woodward's Redevelopment. Image © Bob Matheson

The "about" section of Vancouver-based studio Henriquez Partners Architects' website boldly states: "We believe that architecture should be a poetic expression of social justice." While empowering communities through socially conscious design is hardly a new concept, the term "public-interest architecture" tends to call to mind images of low-budget constructions. Rarely is it employed to describe the large, mixed-use projects that have come to characterize downtown Vancouver and Gregory Henriquez's firm.

However, experimenting with different models of social regeneration through architecture is the driving principle of the studio's work. Throughout the years, Henriquez has explored concepts such as affordable ownership and dignifying design for the city's disenfranchised communities. In partnership with local real-estate development and culture company Westbank, he has built a number of projects that seek to equalize living conditions for all in one of the world's most affluent and progressive societies. Here, in an exclusive interview with ArchDaily, Henriquez describes his firm's ethos, his stance on issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, and gentrification, and the lessons he's learned in over 30 years of heading Henriquez Partners Architects.