Peter Haas: Haiti’s disaster of engineering

“‘Haiti was not a natural disaster,’ says TED Fellow Peter Haas, ‘It was a disaster of engineering.’ As the country rebuilds after January’s deadly quake, are bad old building practices creating another ticking time bomb? Haas’s group, AIDG, is helping Haiti’s builders learn modern building and engineering practices, to assemble a strong country brick by brick.

“Inveterate tinkerer Peter Haas is the co-founder of AIDG, the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which connect people to electricity, sanitation and clean water through a combination of business incubation, education, and outreach.” (TED)

Teaching Design in the Face of Disaster


Logo - Core77Article Link:  “Teaching Design in the Face of Disaster”

by Kara Pecknold
Core77, April 18, 2011

Teaching design to students in Karachi


“Tobias Ottahal and Hamza Vora, two graduates of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, went to Karachi to expand their horizons, put their degrees to the test and teach third year design students in the Visual Studies department at Karachi University about human-centered design. What they did not expect, however was that this opportunity would take place during the Pakistan floods of 2010.”

Tobias and Hamza then went on to teach design skills to local residents so that they could address the new problems they faced and make life in relief camps more bearable.

I’m reading a book right now by Victor Papanek called Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change.  Originally published in 1971 and updated in a new edition in 1984, its philosophy is timeless and many people call it a bible of modern design for social impact.

At the end of chapter 4, he lays out four ways that “working for the needs of under-developed and emergent countries” goes:

  1. Designers design for others from their offices in countries far away — results may be beneficial for a short time but have no real roots and positive effect disappears shortly
  2. Designers spends some time in the country, designing for the real needs of the people there – results are only slightly better, but lack enough time for meaningful engagement
  3. Designers move to the country and train local designers – Papanek’s assertion here is that effects are again slightly better, but that training designers according to one design ideology makes them dependent on that one design ideology
  4. In an ideal case, designers move to the country in order to train designers to train designers (not a typo, it’s a third link in the chain) – the purpose would be to seed local, authentic, home-grown design that is one more step removed from dependence on the designer and his or her ties, background or motivations

Interesting stuff.  As I’ve suspected and have begun to hear from more sources, the concept of designers coming to the rescue from far-off places can be a little naïve, but it all depends on the approach and how things are done.

It sounds like Tobias and Hamza are working on Papanek’s #3 and maybe toward #4, and that sounds like a good direction to be heading.  Design thinking, perspectives, tools and approaches can be powerful and valuable assets for any application.  I’m glad to hear they’re being passed on in a situation like this.

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