GARY HUSTWIT: “WE’RE DESIGNING NEITHER OBJECTS NOR SPACES, BUT STRUCTURES FOR PEOPLE TO GET INVOLVED”

20.11.2012, 12:31

Filmmaker Gary Hustwit has come to Moscow to give a lecture on crowdfunding at the Polytechnic Museum and present «Urbanized», the third part of his «Design Trilogy» made with funding collected at Kickstarter. In his interview for Strelka blog he talks about the future of crowdfunding, participatory design and the challenge for designers to make it easy for people to get involved.

— Gary, what are the benefits of participatory design?

— Anytime you don’t involve the users of all these objects, buildings and streets in the process of designing them, you end with things that are not designed for people, but designed as individual objects, popping up in the middle of the landscape.
We looked at a few examples of participatory design in the «Urbanized», the last film of Design trilogy. One good example is Alejandro Aravena and «Elemental» in Santiago, Chile and their social housing project. They are involving people that are going to be using these spaces in the design. They ask simple questions — whether to have a bathtub or a water heater or a shower, and so on. Those are things most designers wouldn’t think about asking the user.
Funny, but usually it’s not more expensive to design something well, it just takes a little more time and thought.

— Does public participation change the role of architects and designers?

— Most of the time politicians or administrators or even architects work in a sort of a bubble, not thinking about how these objects are going to be used, not thinking about the context. The role of the architect or designer is to facilitate communication with the user. A lot of times we’re designing neither objects nor spaces, but structures for people to get involved.
The key of involving people in design is this idea of possibility, asking them, «What could this be? What would I really want it to be?». Candy Chain, a public artist who is based in New Orleans, did those stickers saying «I wish this was…» and put them on abandoned buildings all around New Orleans, with a pen next to them. Of course, the response will be completely different for every single individual, but at least that starts a dialog with the users of the city and invites them to participate.

— Is it really possible to invite citizens to be more active?

— It’s a challenge for designers to make it easy for people to get involved. If users aren’t used to this new kind of thinking, all the internet activity in the world won’t change the way they operate. That’s the challenge for designers to make convenient platforms and get people involved without them feeling that they’re getting involved. Clearly, that’s a design problem.

— Crowdfunding has changed the way creative industries operate today. Is it about to change our daily life as well?

— Crowdfunding started in the creative world, but it’s gradually transferring to other kinds of activities. We are going to see the idea of crowdfunding in all aspects of our lives — be it a record or a playground in your neighborhood. Or even a city. Since the internet has connected us, we are looking at the benefits that come from that. For anything that people need, crowdfunding is the option that can make it happen.

— What is your image of a perfect city?

— I don’t think there is anything like a perfect city design or «undesign». The city has to design itself. Urban design is always about incremental changes and individual needs which can’t always be anticipated.
What’s important to us as a society now and what will be important in 20-30 years may not be the same things. I don’t think there’s a kind of way to foresee what the future physically looks like. But the concept of involving people in the design of the city is getting us closer to the ideal.

You can watch video version of the interview on Strelka’s Vimeo.