Bruce Mau: Designer’s Responsibility @ Archeworks

by New Idiom


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By: Andrew Buhayar + Ido Mor

Do You Know Larry Brilliant?

Bruce Mau gave a lecture on Wednesday (November 14, 2007) evening to a packed house at Archeworks —and no, the lecture was not completely about Larry Brilliant–but we’ll get to that …Mau’s essay for this lecture will be published for The Archeworks Papers, Volume 1, Number Five that will be released in Spring 2008.

His reading began with the question, “Now that we can do anything, what will we do?”

To begin answering the question he first broke it down by addressing: Who are “we”; whether “we” can actually do anything; and the overall ethical obligation that comes with answering the question.

The question is very much in the spirit of Mau’s ongoing Massive Change work, in which he challenges designers to apply themselves beyond the “old thinking” of pure aesthetics. New thinking, according to Mau, must, “address complex systems. Take the practice of design to a higher level of resolution,” said Mau.

To begin, Mau discussed how in the first half of the 20th century, Marcel Duchamp broke away from the institution of the museum, testing the notion that art exists in any object or context. To this day, experts are still attempting to interpret Duchamp’s work and philosophy. Mau deemed that design has yet to make such a leap, but shared a few examples of people with the courage to think differently.

Mau spoke about the work of several individuals, all of whom are working on problems that will “change the world”. In fact, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, won’t waste his time with anything less. Kamen is now working on using Sterling engines to convert biomass into electricity. Not stopping there, Kamen went beyond the standard 25 percent conversion efficiency, making use of the remaining 75 percent (which would normally go to waste) for water purification. Mau also talked about Janine Benyus, co-founder of Biomimicry Guild, who is developing “the Google of biomimicry,” as he called it—a search tool bringing the scientific knowledge of natural systems to designers around the world. Jaime Lerner was the third example, famous for bringing sustainable transformation the Brazilian city of Curitiba, and tremendously bettering quality of life of its citizens during his time as Mayor.

Finally, we came to Larry Brilliant.

In a show of hands it appeared only one or two people in the audience had ever heard of Brilliant—one of the leaders behind the World Health Organization project to eradicate smallpox. “There’s something wrong with our culture,” noted Mau,” when we’re paying homage to Britney Spears and not recognizing people like Larry Brilliant.” Mau urged designers to move beyond the temporal trends of fashion and aesthetic, and take on problems with greater complexity, adding, “We have created an ethical obligation to act.” In the end he reminded the audience of the famous tagline from the Massive Change movement, “It’s not about the world of design. It’s about the design of the world.”