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Kemper Art Museum exhibit explores ways in which design can redress critical issues

Examples of large capacity carriers for the backs of bicycles. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
September 26, 2012
Just outside the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University St. Louis, is a simple dwelling, constructed of large stones placed in wire piers, which support a roof of steel beams.

Called an intelligent house, it was made in a single day. Inside the museum, a time-lapse video documents the construction process — half a dozen men moving stones from a bulldozer shovel into the wire rectangular forms that support the steel roof.

Three video screens, stacked at the entrance to the "Design with the Other 90%: CITIES" exhibition, play scenes from the developing world — people of all ages working and playing, mixing concrete in wheelbarrows at building sites, carrying fresh food away from outdoor markets on bicycles and kicking balls in the streets.

Text on wall plaques describes mass migrations to cities in the developing world and the resulting conditions — overcrowding into slums or informal settlements. These are not the 10 percent of people who generally employ architects and designers; these are the other 90 percent of the world, facing complex life problems.

The exhibit shows them partnering with architects, engineers, designers and social entrepreneurs in providing housing, commerce and communications to address basic needs and services, health, food and water.

A panoramic view of the “Design with the Other 90%: Cities” exhibition on display through Jan. 7 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
In a single large gallery, four walls are crowded with photographs, drawings and wall texts. About a dozen video screens chronicle building projects, mass transportation developments and scenes of food production. Soundscapes — sounds from the cities, mostly from the southern hemisphere — create an immersive sensory experience of life in such a place.

Buckminster Fuller's Dyamaxion Airocean World Map, a projection of a world map onto an icosahedron, is mounted onto an expansive table. Like a compass with triangles pointing in all directions, the map unifies everything in the exhibit. All the continents appear as one island, with nearly contiguous landmasses, their shapes and sizes preserved. Without obvious distortion or splitting any continents, the land is surrounded by one ocean. The map and the exhibition make clear that we are one earth, one people, all in this together, facing unprecedented problems.

Large banners read: Exchange, Reveal, Adapt, Include, Prosper and Access, identifying specific issues the designers and residents address. Above are globe lights, encircled with embroidery, made by a women's cooperative. Alongside is a cloud of LifeStraws raining down low-cost filters, which can purify any surface water for individual use.

A display on the use of recycled materials to build modular homes shows how using processed waste can create structures with increased thermal and acoustic properties. Another display demonstrates how sugar cane briquettes, similar to the traditional wood-derived variety, are made of waste from sugar production, thereby reducing deforestation.

UNICEF’s Digital Drum, a solar-powered computer kiosk. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
UNICEF's Digital Drum, a solar-powered computer kiosk whose first prototype was created in a car-repair shop using oil drums — houses computers, which provide Internet connectivity and educational material.

Innovative solutions to housing, commerce, transportation, irrigation, health and education — what a field trip this exhibition is for all ages. Busloads of students could easily spend a full day here. Learn more about this exhibition at: designother90.org or Twitter @designother90.

This exhibition was organized by Cynthia E. Smith, the curator of socially responsible design at Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and locally by Peter MacKeith of Washington University.

For information about related public programs and events at Washington University, including gallery talks, a film screening and panel discussion, see the kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu website.

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