24 Jun 2015

Workshop Environmental Histories of Design at Rachel Carson Center in Munich

A group of 15 international researchers mainly from the fields of Design History, History of Technology and Science and Technology Studies came together last week to discuss their articles (work in progress), in a workshop funded by the project Back to the Sustainable Future (University of Oslo) and hosted by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich. It was a great opportunity to put former and current visions of sustainability in design into perspective through critical analysis emerging from theoretical approaches and case studies. The overall atmosphere in my view was that of a small community of academics committed to the construction of a "better world" by assessing historical approaches towards sustainability in a critical way, in order to understand how are/were they socially constructed, to link them to the context where/when they emerged and draw a parallelism to current approaches.

Looking back to the workshop I am asking myself: What is the main contribution of such a "meta-approach" to sustainable design once the actual impact of these initiatives or positions on the environment/society is impossible to assess and the visions of what a better future should be are constantly changing? Well, during the workshop it was clear to me that such socially constructed visions of sustainability do impact how we shape our world in various ways and at different extents, and that putting them into perspective may help us to develop new ones, avoiding simplistic and naif approaches and understanding them in historical context, in relation to other contemporary phenomena.

The main period covered by the articles discussed was that of the 1960-70s when most influential design discourse and practice concerning the social and environmental implications of design emerged. Fifty years later, in the "era of sustainability" it's about time to learn from their ideas and  implications for our present in order to facilitate a second generation of significant positions. Where are the mature, world-changing initiatives of the 21 Century?