Thursday, April 2, 2009

When Ecological Optimism Gives Way to Fear

The discussion around ecology and how it can influence design often turns into a discussion of efficiency and economy of resources. We seek to use the latest in technology to design more efficient buildings and cities. We hope that by saving resources we will be able to maintain our lifestyle and produce more things for a longer period of time. In other words, cut costs to eventually make more profits. A city designed for efficiency requires 'rational' systems, where everything and everyone does something beneficial according to some standard.
Slave City in Ecological Urbanism Conference, GSD - by author

Atelier Van Lieshout, takes this premise and gives us Slave City. What at first may have been a beneficial system takes on a sinister tone, utopia giving way to dystopia.

I was amazed to see this project in the exhibit. It is there as a pre-indictment of designs that may have the impulse to go too far. Though we know that no one would intentionally go this far dystopia comes in small steps.
Model Work Sleep Unit with Puppets, 2006; steel, wood and clay; 70 x 17 x 25 cm -

That is why I was even more amazed to see the work of Senseable City lab just in front of Slave City. Don't get me wrong, I like their work but have to admit that I am afraid of it. I am not sure, for example, if I am comfortable with a government office having the technology to track my bike or cell phone. Today's cool tool of urban study is tomorrow's way to track dissent.
From SenseableCity Real Time Rome : Detail from Software 2. The yellow lines represent buses in real time and the red corresponds to density of people. Sep 2006

As the discussion of ecological design (whatever that turns out to mean) continues it seems that issues of privacy, appropriate use of technology, and even freedom will have to join the discussion of efficiency. Furthermore, ecological design should include a larger social agenda that does not allow it to be co-opted as a mere marketing and political tool. Or as the trays ZINE editorial put it, Ecology, INC.


  1. all intellectual thought aside, I think those slave city objects are really pretty...

  2. indeed. the paintings are pretty great as well.