Raising expectations for design

grow rotorua 4 composite

Six-time winner of New Zealand’s most beautiful city, Rotorua has set out a plan for sustainable economic growth.

Not just growth, sustainable growth. Over the past six decades, we’ve seen the consequences of growth for growth’s sake, without concern for economic and social sustainability. The history and ongoing cost of not creating “places worth caring about” is vividly described by James Howard Kunstler in his seminal book The Geography of Nowhere.

Rotorua, by contrast, is keen to attract healthy business investors and talent by not only relying on its abundant natural assets, but also by instilling high aspirations for quality of place. Their current annual report features Farrow’s glulam wood project near Toronto, stating that this design “exemplifies the values which we aspire to.”

grow rotorua 2a copy

Designers have been talking about humanizing design for generations. So why is our built environment so dismal today? How has mediocrity remained the norm?

In order to raise expectations for design and to ultimately promote a culture that demands quality design, it is vital to cite examples in use.

There can be no change without awareness, and no awareness unless the public understands what they are looking at. Higher standards for what can be achieved at the same cost can be more widely understood through the following approaches:

  1. DEMONSTRATE examples that are a physical embodiment of higher aspirations
  2. ANALYZE elements that add up to health-causing, uplifting, built-to-last design
  3. COMPARE demand for quality design to concerns for healthier food and green standards
  4. EXPERIENCE places and the feelings they evoke through facilitated walks and tours
  5. ENGAGE clients and the public in a dialogue regarding these issues
  6. QUESTION marketing hype by asking, how does this place really make you feel?
  7. CONTRAST elements of health-causing and dis-ease causing design
  8. STATE a higher purpose and legacy for design than to simply contain programs and/or replace infrastructure

CVH analysis with title

In recent years, marketing hype has evolved to the point of describing the most awful, soulless spaces as “community place-making.” Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of advocates for healthy places (many of whom who do not have formal design training) who question this blather while raising expectations for what design can be and do.

Geography of Nowhere

-Sharon VanderKaay

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  • About The Nature of Innovation

    We see our collaboration with clients and colleagues as providing a living lab for enriching the creative process. Farrow’s built work has been internationally recognized for leadership in human-centric design. This is where we come to discuss our ideas as they hatch and our experiences as they happen.
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