Last week a parody of Dwell magazine made the viral rounds. Unhappy Hipsters consists of photos drawn from the magazine, each showing cool young homeowners looking forlorn in their expensive interiors. Tagline: “It’s lonely in the modern world.”
A year ago, some designers reacted to the distress of the financial pages by borrowing imagery from farming and scenes of rustic subsistence, a style informed by the fear that we can no longer rely on banks and other institutions.
The subtext seems to be that when people get scared their impulse is to strip everything away from their previous lives and go back to basics.
Why stilted? Whatever their actual environmental benefit might be, stilts express a culture-wide desire to tread lightly on the land. They’re also a throwback to the virtuously simple tropical huts and the early days of prefab.
Two years ago, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York displayed 30 humanitarian design and engineering projects, including a biodegradable shelter, a low-tech food cooler, and a straw that helps prevent the spread of cholera and typhoid. They were exhibited, incongruously enough, on the back lawn of the museum's headquarters, the former Carnegie mansion on Fifth Avenue.
Imagine for a moment that a business needs a radically innovative approach to a vexing problem. Designers and managers start with an intense focus on the human aspect—the real problems their customers face in daily life. Somebody gives the obligatory talk about out-of-the-box thinking. Then they step back—way back—and let creativity, not the cold exigencies of logic, reframe the problem. When it works, this process can lead to startling new solutions. In the parlance of the moment, this is called "design thinking."
The extra-large architectural complex—art museums, libraries, office complexes—built so prolifically over the past decade are commonly described as expressions of civic pride. They might just as easily be called grandiose expressions of runaway prosperity and municipal vanity. Whatever you call them, shrinking government revenue and newly parsimonious corporate donors have combined to bring the curtain down on mega-projects. Welcome to the post-big epoch.