"Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?" --R. Buckminster Fuller
Worldchanging has always supported the belief that in order to realize our potential for sustainable and prosperous survival on this planet, it's crucial to think globally, and to move the entire human race forward as a team.
There's no question that part of that problem solving will call for high philosophical and legal thinking. But there are other heroes out there whose contributions will more immediately enable fellow humans to meet basic needs; who will create tools that will enable disenfranchised communities to improve their own quality of life in a way that is necessary, appropriate and fulfilling. When it comes to creating tools for survival that are at once utilitarian and aspirational; that are efficient, but also beautiful to look at and delightful to use, few among us are as well equipped to deliver solutions as designers.
Two prominent design competitions: the AMD Open Architecture Challenge and the Metropolis Magazine's Next Generation, have announced their winners. The winners and honorees offer a smorgasboard of truly inspiring solutions for the future of sustainable design, from an architecture and community resource planning, to utterly practical answers to humanitarian needs.
While the award-winning concepts on their own are newsworthy, the other Worldchanging element of this story is the circumstances under which the following designs were conceived. We can assume that, as entrants in a contest, the participating designers put their time and expertise to the task without compensation. Between the two competitions, 703 entrants responded. With that kind of turnout under unpaid circumstances, we can only imagine that a vast community of designers exists who are ready and willing to solve the world's biggest problems – if only we can give them the necessary support.
2007 AMD Open Architecture Challenge
The Global Studio, based in Seattle, Wa., took top honors in the 2007 AMD Open Architecture Challenge. The four internationally experienced architectural designers behind the studio (which works exclusively with NGOs and charitable causes) are Stephanie Ingram, Geoff Piper, Matthew Sullivan and Ashley Waldron. Their winning entry, featured in the photo above, will be built with funds supplied by AMD.
In September 2007, AMD and Architecture for Humanity (Worldchanging Team member Cameron Sinclair leads AFH) originally posed the challenge to designers around the globe: Envision a facility that will empower a needy community in the developing world with access to information technology.
The Global Studio created the Slums Information Development and Resource Centre (SIDAREC) Technology Hub, a technology-focused community resource center designed for an informal settlement of more than 250,000 people on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya (design by The Global Studio pictured above). SIDAREC, an NGO operating in Kenya's impoverished rural communities, maintains the philosophy that "community problems need community solutions," and the winning design integrates that meme into its process: The community center will not be ready for construction until the designers have integrated community feedback into their model and created something that uniquely answers the needs and desires of the people who will use it.
Existing SIDAREC facility (Credit: The Global Studio)
Proposed SIDAREC facility (Credit: The Global Studio)
Designers Matthew Sullivan and Geoff Piper had previously conducted graduate research in Kenya, and the facility's design reflects their cultural conscientiousness. To draw in passersby, street-side public facilities include a radio station, pay phones, an Internet café and a screen for projecting educational films and messages. Intermediary gathering spaces fluidly access such larger outdoor meeting spaces as the amphitheater, addressing a social preference to use outdoor, shaded space for large group gatherings.
Existing community soccer field (Credit: The Global Studio)
Proposed community soccer field (Credit: The Global Studio)
Facility entryway (Credit: The Global Studio)
The layout also creates a needed beacon for the community benefits it offers. "One of the things SIDAREC really liked about the design was the tower element at the front," says Piper. "They saw that as an icon of SIDAREC itself, and of the community it serves. That tower could be identified with the radio station, which they say is listened to by 600,000 people."
The contest was sponsored through 50x15, a global initiative founded by AMD with the goal of enabling Internet access and computing capability for 50 percent of the world's population by the year 2015. A total of 566 entrants from 57 countries participated in the challenge, and regional awards were also given for designs created for South America and Asia. See images of these and other top-placing entries here. Or click to learn about AMD's 2009 challenge: Re-imagine the Portable Classroom.
Metropolis Magazine NextGeneration
Already an anticipated institution in the design community in its fifth yearMetropolis Magazine's competition seeks to identify the next generation of emerging design leaders around the world by soliciting innovative solutions to practical and forward-thinking global needs. (click here for Sarah Rich's coverage of 2007's winning innovations for energy use).
Next Generation challenged entrants to focus on water for the 2008 contest. In its call for entries, released last October, the magazine called for "products, interiors, buildings, landscapes, communication systems," and any other solution pertaining to the life-sustaining liquid.
With up to one third of the global population living without reliable access to clean water, we need better design solutions that account for potable water, gray water, black water--its uses, re-uses, controls, management, efficiency, and conservation.
Architect and professor Eric Olsen from San Francisco emerged from a pool of 137 total entrants to win the $10,000 grand prize. The money will fund production of his design: the Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin.
Eric Olsen (Credit: Amy MacWilliamson for Metropolis Magazine)
Metropolis describes Olsen's tarpaulin as "a flexible, adaptable vessel that can be easily filled with water and carried home, where it works to make the water potable." The tarpaulin, made of laser-cut LDPE and rubberized nylon, can purify up to 20 liters of water (using a WHO-approved method to eliminate disease-causing bacteria) in 5 hours, using direct sun exposure as its source of power. The design is particularly versatile because it requires no chemicals or filter. It resonates with particular sharpness in the wake of the recent humanitarian crises in Myanmar and China, where hundreds of thousands of refugees lack access to supplies of clean water.
An interview with Olsen, more photos and more information about his design appear in the May issue of the magazine. Also, from Metropolis, a quick overview of the runners-up:
2008 Next Generation Design Prize Runners-Up:
Andrea Brivio, Davide Conti, and Fabio Galli (Italy): S_M_L, a housing project designed for the city of Melaka, Malaysia, that harnesses the power of the region’s daily rainfall and uses it to produce electricity and replenish gray water systems.
Yuichi Watanabe, Katz Miyahara, and Yoshi Ogawa (Seattle): Polarfloat, large floating structures in the Arctic Ocean that provide places for polar bears to land as the ice melts.
Joseph Cory, Eyal Malka, and Creative Constructions (Israel): WatAir, a simple unit with an integrated infrastructure for collecting dew and rainwater.
Paul Giacomantonio, Vera Templeman, William Sorich, and Kat Taylor (Pescadero, CA): “The Sun Curve,” a self-sustaining aquaponic food growing system, powered by solar and wind energy.
Charles Lee (San Francisco): Pacific Coast Interpretive Center for Ocean Health, living systems that recycle gray water and runoff by filtering wetlands, cooling the gray water with ocean water, and producing energy with tidal generators.
Lars Mayer (Germany): Sustainable Water, a surface water purification solution that is suited to the needs of developing countries and based on natural processes, using the seeds of the moringa tree.
Robyn Perkins (Boston): emergeMUMBAI, a method of rainwater harvesting that is used as a spatial backbone, a flood mitigation tool, and a water source for redeveloping public housing lands in Mumbai, India.
Gerald Lindner, Jeroen Tacx, Beate Lendt, Peter Heidman, and Martin Oostenrijk (Netherlands): Water Harvester, a double-tubed solar water distiller that is made of polyethylene film and uses a solar-powered water desalinator to make fresh water from polluted or salt water.
Renata Fenton and Enrique Lomnitz (Mexico): Isla Urbana, small, modular, inexpensive and expandable rainwater harvesting systems that can be affordably purchased by the low-income households in Mexico City most affected by the rapidly increasing water shortages.
Thomas Kosbau and Tyson Gillard (New York): Vena: Water Courses from Air, a biomimetic low-cost, low-energy solution for people in climates that lack consistent rainfall or clean ground sources to harvest vast amounts of drinking water from the atmosphere.
We at Worldchanging offer our congratulations to the winning designers, and our gratitude to the institutions that motivate such outpourings of humanitarian problem-solving. On a personal level, it's hard for me not to think of competitions like these as much-needed training for the immense mobilization we will need to face the challenges ahead. When I see the caliber of original thought and technical skill that's out there, though, I can't help but feel immensely hopeful that we really will rise to the occasion.