We have a wicked problem.
As a society we waste an awful lot of materials. Consider, for instance, the sheer volume of packaging that hits the recycling bin after we open cheap consumer electronics and then replace them in rapid succession, and discard easily. Yes, we can recycle, but we’re still using a lot of raw materials when we don’t need to. This, of course, is an unsustainable system.
There are many new ways of looking at this problem and to solve it. These may include better recycling practices, minimal packaging, designing longer-lasting products, and things we haven’t thought of yet. This is what Dr. Kyle Whyte, professor of philosophy at Michigan State University, calls a wicked problem. Many companies are working hard to solve these wicked problems. Yet we still live in a largely unsustainable world. So where’s the disconnect?
Jathan Sadowski, a graduate student of ethics and sustainability at Arizona State University provides an insight: While he sees students showing interest in sustainability, he says that they have trouble connecting the abstract social, environmental, and economic factors that contribute to an understanding of the concept as a whole. Few students become industrial designers because they want to save the whales. Yet industrial designers are poised to reduce waste, make better use of resources, and extend product life. It’s a wonder that few do. Many get into design because they care about objects or buildings or graphics, but not always because they want to make those things sustainable. So how can we convince them?
About a month ago the Tulane School of Architecture announced that Maurice Cox had been appointed associate dean of community engagement. The title is an altogether apt one for Cox, who has spent almost two decades forging ties between design education, the political realm, and the public. Long associated with the architecture school at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Cox served a handful of terms as city councilman and was elected mayor in 2002. He is a former design director of the National Endowment for the Arts, a Loeb fellow at Harvard, and is one of the co-founders of the SEED (Social, Economic, Environmental, Design) Network, an organization dedicated to public-interest architecture. I spoke to Cox, prior to the arrival of Hurricane Isaac, about his new job and new city.
Martin C. Pedersen: You were firmly established in Charlottesville. Why move to New Orleans?
Maurice Cox: Ken [Schwartz, dean of the Tulane School of Architecture] had been trying to get me to come here in some capacity since he got here. We were always searching for what would make it an attractive opportunity. For me it was interesting to see [Tulane] president Scott Cowen change the university mission and build it structurally into the learning of students across campus. It was part of the attraction of this school to have a university wide mission that intersects with the school of architecture’s mission, and with the fate of the city. And I suspect that it’s a major reason why their enrollment is expanding. Students understand that this city has aspirations and that the university’s mission intersects with those aspirations. They also know they’re going to be in the most unique American laboratory the next three, four or five years. That’s what attracted me. Ken said, “I need someone in my leadership circle who can put all of these disparate pieces together and tell a coherent story.”
MCP: Outline for me your purview. What will you oversee?
MC: Ken combined two appointments. One is the associate dean of community engagement and the other is director of the Tulane City Center. The associate dean is responsible for finding a framework by which our real estate program, preservation program, and architectural program can create synergies. What we’re trying to do is use the center to bring them together.
On March 22, 2012, in celebration of the United Nations’ World Water Day, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s (SOM) City Design Practice launched the Great Lakes Century Vision video. The goal of the video, produced in collaboration with the award-winning design firm Thirst, was to broadcast and garner international support for a bold 100-year vision for the environmental and economic renewal of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region.