Making or unmaking the environment: the role of envisioning in the history of sustainable design

Oropallo, Gabriele (2017) Making or unmaking the environment: the role of envisioning in the history of sustainable design. Doctoral thesis, University of Oslo, Norway.

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Abstract / Description

Over the last five decades, the urge to design, manufacture and consume in a sustainable fashion have become increasingly emphatic within design practice and mediation. This period has seen the articulation of several recipes for a kind of material culture with a low or manageable impact on social structures and the ecosystem. Designers are careful to present sustainability credentials when they pitch their work; corporations use sustainability as a communication genre to place their products on the market; aware consumers make their choices de- pending on what impact they imagine these choices will have on the ecosystem and the welfare of faraway communities. Visions have been presented as prospective success stories. They populate generations of handbooks of good practice. They affect policies, they shape behaviours and markets. Yet, with an attendant discourse mostly phrased in the future tense, the very making of sustain- ability, and the imprints it leaves as it unfolds in time are mostly left unexplored.

The meanings associated with key constructs like nature, environment, and human development change over time and across communities. They in- spire forms of design thought to be sustainable, with other sources of agencies then contributing to shape the articulation of the vision, the translation into mate- rial, and its mediation. When the genealogical connection that links a fleeting expression of sustainable design and the worldview that informed it is eroded by further historical change, its products are left surviving, still justified by their very existence, by the thing power they are able to shift. These products include policies, spaces for inhabitation, behaviours, artefacts, and common perceptions. Out of custom or practice, policies and perceptions might favour a more or less labour-intensive form of manufacturing, recycled materials over unprocessed ones, or slower life cycles instead of faster ones. It is an appropriate objective of the design history of sustainability to recover and interpret those genealogical lines that past visions of sustainability descended over time.

This thesis is a cultural history of sustainable design in which the ‘sustainability project’ is treated less as a teleologically incremental undertaking than a dynamic and constantly shapeshifting cultural trope. In other words, the focus is not on how the idea of sustainability progressed over time, but on how the several visions for sustainable design that existed and coexisted over time can be read as documents in their own right. Approaches to sustainable design that were proposed and implemented in the past can still function to-day as documents of the life from which they emerged, and maps of the topography of the context that shaped them. Therefore, the guiding principle in the following pages will involve to not discriminate between practices and approaches to sustainability and to assess which one is more credible, or even coherent. And neither will it to be measure the extent to which the expectations placed on de- sign in the age of the environmental crisis were met.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: sustainable design; sustainable fashion; consumption; cultural history
Subjects: 300 Social sciences
300 Social sciences > 390 Customs, etiquette & folklore
600 Technology > 670 Manufacturing
700 The arts; fine & decorative arts > 720 Architecture
700 The arts; fine & decorative arts > 740 Drawing & decorative arts
Department: The School of Art, Architecture and Design
Depositing User: Gabriele Oropallo
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2020 09:00
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2020 09:00

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