Nielson Design Lecture 2011
This year the Nielson design lecture surpassed itself. Having attended the inaugural design lecture (and every one since) it is an anticipated event in my annual calendar.
The signature lecture series is a collaboration between Nielson Properties and the State Library of Queensland and features internationally renowned speakers. This year the speaker was Bruce Mau. He can only be described as a visionary (Bruce describes himself as a futurist) and the lecture was both thought provoking and poignant. The auditorium was packed full, with an overflow of people watching a live stream. The many high profile guests included the Hon. Rachel Nolan, Minister for Finance, Natural Resources and the Arts, who introduced Bruce and also spoke about the importance of the Arts in Brisbane’s culture.
Bruce began by saying that his lecture would focus on problems and opportunities. From his time in Brisbane he had observed that there is a culture here that is quite special, and a calibre of work happening in Brisbane that is excellent. As a designer, he believes we need to think about our world as a design project. “The world is a thing that we make, not something that we live in.”
Bruce started his career as a communications designer. At the time, people were still using hot metal presses. Computers were new on to the market. The photocopier was a huge innovation – and fax was also new. Bruce said he saw a transforming context, and mapped out the landscape around him. People called him a futurist, and he said that even at the beginning of his career, he believed in a future better than what currently exists. His career developed and began to focus on education, working with key leaders in fields such as engineering, city design, IT, and FMCG. He was an avid reader, and was also personally interested in how science and art came together.
His first book project was “Zone” – which was about how to design a city. Through that process he met Rem Koolhass and they collaborated on his second book, S,M,L,XL – a book that presents a history of the remarkable visionary design work produced by the Dutch firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture along with a variety of insightful, poetic writings.
Some interesting projects that Bruce was engaged in included the design of Seattle library where they decided that every decision must be democratic, and opened every meeting to the public. They started with 10 attendees to meetings, and this grew to over 1,000. The project was about the design but also the people. He was also involved in creating a new university of biodiversity in Panama – interestingly the scale of investment for this project for the country was in scale by economy similar to 40 Getty Museums.
Bruce has also worked very closely with major brands such as Coca Cola. Sustainability is a huge focus for them, and he was instrumental in coming up with their “Live Positively”’ campaign. Because Coke is a true global brand, they aim to produce and contribute to the communities that they are part of. There is no place in the world where there is not Coke. This means that they need to care about everywhere – there is no where that they can “dump” because there is Coke in every part of the world.
Bruce was also invited to take part in planning Mecca – they asked him to plan for the next 20 years….. Bruce’s response was that they need to plan for the next 1,000 years and to consider that we are often planning around technology that is about to die’’ – for example: the car!
Other ideas Bruce spoke about included:
- We could soon reach peak oil demand – we have no ownership of any other industry therefore we need to focus on sustainability and think about a post oil economy
- The experience of education as a design problem (he is currently working with Arizona State University and wrote a manifesto for the new American University)
- Driving entrepreneurial learning – building large groups of people to work on problems
- Michael Crow the President of the Arizona State University undertook a study which shows that the best predictor of SAT score sadly, is zipcode. An Amercia, where economy translates into race, is not a place that Bruce is happy to accept.
- We are adding a million people to the earth a week, and doubling our capacity in technology every year (think about it, 2 complete new Brisbane’s every month!)
- Things are changing so fast – the computer brain at the moment is approaching the capacity of a small mouse. By 2050 it is predicted that computers will have the same capacity as all human brains combined
- Most of our experience is that environments are designed. We need to understand design economics and how they are produced and designed. Is there an agenda or direction on economy of movement?
- We are producing 50 billion images a week
- We are redefining wealth. We have a wealth of capital. Traditional. Now we are adding the wealth of information etc and ways that reflect new ways
- We are living through a revolution that is troubling – we have now the capacity to shape nature itself. Do we dare to do it right? Or do we destroy it?
Bruce went on to talk about design being our responsibility and that we need to re-invent everything we do. He said that the #1 challenge of every CEO is creativity. Sadly (and shockingly) the percentage of the world that has accessed education over high school is only 1%. This means that we are trying to create a revolution just with the one percent. In Bruce’s opinion, we are looking at the wrong way – we need to look at the 99% percent. That is why he was in Brisbane – to deliver this message.
Bruce thinks this may represent the greatest opportunity in human history – If we change the way we think we can make a staggering difference – and we will change the way we live and work. Bruce’s small goal is to change the goals of our civic design thinking and the way that we design and produce practically everything we do. He acknowledges that it’s not something that we know how to do yet, and so much of our talk about sustainability has put people off and made them feel self righteous or guilty. Bruce stated that he is not interested at all in climate change and who or what caused it. He is only interested in the possibilities (and here was my favourite quote of the evening) “not because we should, but because we can”.
On 1 November 2011 we crossed over the seven Billion people in the world mark, and since then have added an additional four million people. Bruce believes that climate change complicates things, but what we now I’d that they are that complex to predict.
One million new children this week is predictable. As a designer, Bruce stated that he sees the world upside down:
“Bad is good, terrible is awesome.” This is because through negativity there is possibility. With the population growth that is occurring, there will be 23 Australia’s by the end of the decade under the age of ten searching for the things that we have. The children are coming, there is no doubt.
Bruce stated that we must re-design everything.
Some of the major issues are:
- Water – our current water useage structure is like a toilet. Natural systems slow down the movement of water. We are working opposing to nature. We efficiently trash into our food and water supply. This could be catastrophic.
- In the Pacific – we have a floating island of plastic twice the size of Texas.
- Mexico City is sinking. Since 1936 it has dropped 36 feet. If we deplete this aquifer there will be 20 million refugees.
- To cool ourselves in the dessert and in hot climates we set a barrel of oil on fire. Our strategy about the environment has been an unmitigated disaster.
- We don’t know how much oil we burn – we make it invisible
- We have topped out on our interest in sustainability. We are not going to solve this problem by punishing people into action
- A freeway is a toxic river of fire. We are living on a toxic river of fire with an explosive end. We design to lose. If we want to compete with cars we have to design to win.
As a designer, Bruce sees opportunities. He ended his lecture with a hugely positive focus. He suggested:
- What about if we think of Brisbane as an ecology and try to make our output as clean as our input
- Imagine redesigning Brisbane with a carbon footprint of zero and a global market for our design
- We have done little to apply design for our need for shelter. We have invented lifts – why are we still sprawling horizontally instead of vertically
- We could design Brisbane as a new way for civic life. He wondered if we should keep one percent for art?
- What if we had a 99% for art? Would people visit Venice if they had 1 percent for art?
- We need to engage in new power and possibilities. Imagine a global market of 99 percent with access to education beyond high school, committed to this global enlightenment – that is why Bruce is here.
With such an enlightening, and powerful lecture, followed by amazing drinks and canapés at Santos Place (6 green stars) overlooking our beautiful city, it is no wonder that this series has been the QLD winner for the Australian BusinessArts foundations SME partnership award 2 years running
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