Human rights vs living rights

When I was first asked to write for this blog, this is the post I was most excited about writing. I’ve been saving it towards the end on purpose, so that I would have time to establish my own thoughts, and position any readers for this post too.

This blog post comes to you from the United Nations building lobby in New York. I was there in the fall of 2011 and spontaneously came across an exhibition titled Design with the other 90%: Cities. The exhibition was curated by the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum . That in itself is an impressive merit and setting, and what made it even better is that Bill Moggridge, a design icon and personal idol of mine, is the director of this institution. Acquaint yourself with the project on their website

As described by Mr. Moggridge in the foreword of the book that summarizes the exhibition;“Design with the Other 90%:Cities builds on the first exhibition in this series, Design for the other 90%, mounted by Cooper-Hewitt in 2007, which explored the critical issue of poverty and demonstrated how designers are developing solutions to meet the needs of underserved communities around the world.”

The focus is evidently on cities, and designing better living spaces has been the theme of my entire blog. In the introduction, Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director, speaks to the innate designer within me when she describes that “what is now required is an enlarged design perspective that involves questions of land security, affordable economics, clean water sanitation, overall site design, energy use, and climate change on the one hand; healthcare, education, and community organization on the other. Citizens cannot achieve this vision on their own.”

Reading those words remind me of the reason why I believe I became a designer in the first place; the opportunity to have a substantial impact through brilliant design. I don’t have to tell you how influential that exhibition in the UN building was. I bought the book to inspire me, and I have selected two projects from it that I want to describe to you. I will give you an account of the first project that relates to the use of images to create better living spaces theme of this blog.

The first project is titled 28 Millimetres: Women are Heroes. Here is a link to the project. Please have a look, it’s incredible.The project is realized by an artist called JR with collaboration with Kibera and Morro da Providencia settlement communities. The project was realized Nairobi, Kenya and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil between 2007-09. In Nairobi large ¬†photographs (taken with a 28mm camera lens) of women in the community are pasted to rooftops of corrugated metal. They are printed on water resistant vinyl, which protects the people underneath. This is an ingenious way to introduce some thought provoking design into the community, serving it some well deserved international attention, whilst simultaneously respecting the local community. I’m sure the people who could now sleep dry in their covered shacks, that their lives improved significantly.

The Rio de Janeiro example takes it a step further. There the women in the pictures are mothers of “three young men killed in the favela, caught in the turf wars between corrupt military police and drug traffickers. The photographs reveal not grief or despair, but their identity and humanity.”

The impact of this project cannot be questioned, and should not be underestimated. I trust the impact on the local community must have been massive, as the large scale images cannot be avoided and everyone must have inquired about their meaning and purpose. To put it gently, the images were the talk of the town. So if you EVER questioned the meaning of images in creating better living spaces, think again. JR and the team have done a fantastic job of creatively creating a conversation and provoked self-discovery. Such is the power of images.

In my next post, I will look at another project from the series that gives a slightly different perspective on using images creatively to create better living spaces. Can you already guess what project I’m referring to? Please comment on this story, or give your own opinion on any of the projects on the link provided.