Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Main Gallery - Ecological Urbanism Exhibit

Just uploaded some pics of the exhibit to the flickr pool.

But I had to comment on this:
I can bet this is the first coffin ever exhibited at Harvard University's GSD. This coffin seems to somehow capture the spirit of this whole thing better than any of the other work.

It takes a program and form we all think we know (and truly do not even want to think about) and does something new with it. The material is recycled and will, appropriately to its program, biodegrade in the soil and the new shape makes it so that less of that material is used. The scope is humble but it could have a big impact.

In this case it is definitely worth looking at the necropolis for inspiration.


  1. You really think a paper coffin is what is most emblematic of Ecological Urbanism? I like the notion that a piece of what is essentially product design can have vast implications of the ecology of the city, but I wonder if a discrete object should be the essential representation of an urbanism.

    It is interesting to note the ecological value that cemeteries can play in the city. These areas are often valuable migratory bird habitat and are considered key components of the urban wild network in many cities. Perhaps through this link to a larger network the coffin can indeed become that emblematic object.

    Personally, I would prefer something a bit more upbeat serving the role of icon...Perhaps the bicycle or city car from the MIT SENSEable City Laboratory on display. In this era of impending investment in infrastructure, a stackable car and trackable bike seem like good symbols of a shifting urbanism, ecological or other.

  2. You may be right. Maybe I just have seen the CityCar, CityScooter, and bike so often in so many platforms that I am beginning to wonder if and when it will become a reality.

    What they are proposing is a major infrastructural shift. I think the ambition and scale is right. But as a designer outside MIT's media lab sometimes you need smaller, more focused steps.

    I think the coffin is just that. It is humble in ambition, but has an interesting design resolution and can have a major impact. I did not try to be morbid with this post, I think that the scale, ambition, and resolution of this design problem could be a lesson.

  3. In fact, the paper coffin effectively negates the necropolis. As the material biodegrades, the reason for marking the spot disappears as well. The biodegradable coffin recognizes that there may no longer need to be a "city of the dead" to ritualize those memories. A biodegradable coffin with even a granite headstone seems counter to a sensibility that is not about permanent memorialization but a process of return.

    I'm with Quilian on this; implied within the product is an infrastructural shift (cemeteries are infrastructure as much as roads). I feel like a paper coffin could also signal a shift in the urban role of cemeteries to additional uses and functions much like the shift from the necropolis to the graveyard and the graveyard to the cemetery.

    I guess maybe I'm just less keen on the value of an icon that symbolizes "eco-" urbanism (and the resistance of icons to changes in their meaning) when compared to the possibility of reprogramming such a large-and outside of Boston, dormant-part of the urban fabric. To me it is significant that car/bike sharing is only going to be viable in cities of a certain size, while every town of a few hundred people has a cememtery.