Design Activism to Contemporary Designers Essay

September 23, 2021 by Essay Writer


Designing have attracted a quite large number of people, which offer beneficial professional for many people. Sometimes designers undertook some projects without considering the consequences to the people affected by such projects.

Therefore, there were endless tussled between the projects developers and the directly affected communities where the projects took place.

Fortunately, this profession have embarked on perfection of their works in contemporary designing through initiating projects based on mutual benefits.

Contemporary designers have come up with projects based on ethical considerations, and caring society through social responsibility.

As a result, scholars have coined the term “design activism” to enhance the role of designers to the society (Bell & Wakeford, 2008).

A proper implementation of contemporary projects successively has delivered many benefits to a society, such as environmental conservation, resettling of homeless people, and improvement of communication. The living standards of the affected people have gradually elevated than before the projects initiation (Roberts, 2006).

This paper covered three projects recently initiated and how they utilised design activism. In addition, an augmentative discussion will monitor how well the projects have or can alleviate contemporary social problems, such as unemployment, drug abuse, homelessness, and crime.

Recent projects

Designing the Hurricane-Resistant Salvador Dalí Museum

Situated in an area occasionally hit by hurricanes, St. Petersburg, Florida, the Salvador Dalí Museum have been built to avert effects of such catastrophe won’t have impact.

Opening Salvador Dali Museum in early this year marked a possibility to overcome some deadly disaster in manner that could attract related interests beneficial to the country. This is evident with the increasing number of visitors touring the venue.

Since the building, the venue has received more than 300,000 visitors. The attraction has been associated with “clean minimalist lines juxtaposed against a sparkling geodesic glass atrium, the spectacular structure designed by HOK” (Pham, 2012, p. 1).

The benefits so far reaped from the building have been on increase as other places in the country still suffering from severe storms with deadly results. The shell supporting the building as designed by HOK is capable of withstanding Category Five Hurricane.

Therefore, there was termination of threats to the occupants and visitors from catastrophes. In addition, the designed building has various green systems, such as “solar hot water powered dehumidification system” (Pham, 2012, p.1).

Other features include high efficient ventilations and designed day lighting system to illuminate the inside of the buildings. As senior vice president of HOK, Yann Weymouth explained, this building has been a beauty, sustainable, and disaster free structure.

UNCHR resettlement and sheltering project

In many countries, cases of homelessness and incidents of refugees fleeing to other countries have been evident time after time. Political instability has been a major factor contributing to rise of number of refugees seeking refuge in a different country.

Unfortunately, some of the affected people have not been able to flee to other countries hence, the just relocated to other parts of countries where peace prevail. As result, there are cases of internally displaced people (IDPs).

On the other hand, natural disasters have claimed many lives and worthy properties. The magnitude of destruction led by these catastrophes, such as earthquake and floods has led many people homeless.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), also known as the UN refugee agency has been in the frontline to offer humanitarian assistance to such affected people.

At least, the agency has come up with means to create a roof over the heads of these homeless people by providing tents (UNHCR, 2012).

The supply management service, an umbrella under this agency operates from Budapest have made it available for tents whenever an emergency arise.

The commission have been targeting a population of 250, 000 people with 50,000 tents. UNCHR have three centres in Dubai, Copenhagen, and Durban.

This project has enabled UNCHR keep two kinds of tent, that is, lightweight emergency tents and canvas tents manufactured in India and Pakistan. The logic behind the lightweight tents have been the quick response in time of emergency although the shelf life is shorter compared with Canvas tents.

UNCHR have been providing shelter and other nonfood items to the affected people, especially with the skyrocketing conflict-generated displacement in several countries.

This project has saved a significant number of homeless people from hostile environmental conditions, such as coldness at night and scorching sun during the day.

This has enabled the homeless people to solicit an alternative assistance to build their house where possible. In other cases, the same agency can provide assistance in building houses through self-help schemes.

Recently, the agency could handle the increasing number of Pakistan citizens fleeing the fighting Army and Taliban around the Swat Valley. Although some people have secured refuge in schools, public buildings, or to other friends, UNCHR have helped in sheltering people in camps.

The number of the refugee has been overwhelming with more than 1.5 million people displaced by May 2008. Chinese affected by earthquake approximately five million were homeless in Sichuan province in 2008 got same.

UNHCR had to intervene by taking initial 2,000 tents to Chengdu and later an additional 9,000 tents airlifted later to shelter about 55,000 people.

Volkswagen’s sustainable plants and think blue beetle projects

In automobile industry, Volkswagen manufacturers have been one of the oldest industries and still the company have even come up with recent projects to steer ahead global efforts in environmental conservation and sustainable development.

Evolution of new and improved designs have seen the company come up with vehicles models that have competed very well with other models worldwide.

In the efforts to conserve environments, plans are underway to design vehicles that are more efficient. In addition, there will be a facilitated sustainable production in countries of operation in the world.

This would culminate its initiative on “think blue factory”. The completion of this project will yield a Volkswagen plants with a reduced environmental impact by 25% come 2018.

Expected models will be consuming a reduced energy and water by 25 per cent as well as reducing the waste and emissions by similar magnitude (Carter, 2012).

Manufacturing of a luminous Volkswagen Beetle from pieces of scrap boosted this project. Some scraps have been just waste for most people but for Haribaabu Naatesan, a sculptor, these scrap are useful if planned well through designs.

As a result, he took more than 2,805 pieces of scrap to design this luminous Volkswagen beetle, which is a replica of a classic car with 800 spark plugs, 60 motherboards, bottle caps totaling 200, among other commonly discarded items.

Some of the other discarded products used in constructing this vehicle were pens, barbeque sticks, and audio cassettes among others. This is truly a creative way of utilizing the waste to more productive products (Cameron, 2012).

Application of design activism on the above project

The rise of many designers as a profession has been in a crossroads to decide on if these projects are globally accepted and consumable. The current world have become a corporate world but the political and social aspects have been the central concern of projects initiated (Heller & Vienne, 2003).

From the above projects, these projects have concentrated on global perspective to alleviate the social problems surrounding the inhabitants.

For instance, UNCHR initiative has been in all the countries. As a mandate, UNCHR have influenced both political and social changes as they offer humanitarian assistance to homeless and advocating for calmness and political stability in the affected countries.

Designing and research have a very close linkage given the artisanship required in both. Therefore, cases of risks are very evident in developing a project geared toward a community or certain clients.

Building of the Salvador Dali Museum could be a risky initiative because backfiring of such project could have led to amplified danger given the number of people likely to use the building at any time.

Designers should therefore not initiate such project without a second thought on people security (Antonelli, 2005). Moreover, the purpose of the project should not at anytime deviate from disaster management and alleviation. People’s life should not serve as apparatus to experiment viability of any project.

So far, everyone hope that the building will withstand any kind of Hurricane to avoid destruction of national heritage and other properties in the building.


Design activism has a huge backing from many scholars and professional with better motive to sustainable designing. This has consistently yield better results for current designers and upcoming designers.

This was evident in the comment by University of London’s professor John Wood that “Having once predicted that design will be the new paradigm for saving the planet in the 21st Century; I am immensely pleased to recommend Design Activism”(Fuad-Luke, 2009, p. 54).

This will help designers to overcome long-term negative effects that may emanate from such projects.

Designers have a crucial role in influencing the political and social components to lifestyles that cares for environments and sustainability. Each project should focus on alleviating negative impacts to be beneficial (Thorpe, 2011).


Antonelli, P. (2005). Safe: Design Takes on Risk. New York, US: MOMA New York.

Bell, B., & Wakeford, K. (Eds.). (2008). Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. New York, USA: Metropolis.

Cameron, C. (2012). Volkswagen’s Think Blue Beetle is made from 2,805 Pieces of Recycled Trash! Web.

Carter, M. (2012). Volkswagen Announces Plan for More Sustainable Manufacturing Plants by 2018. Web.

Fuad-Luke, A. (2009). Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. London & Sterling Virginia: Earthscan.

Heller, S., & Vienne, V. (2003). Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility. New York: Alworth Press.

Pham, D. (2012). INTERVIEW: HOK’s Yann Weymouth Discusses Designing the Hurricane- Resistant Salvador Dalí Museum. Web.

Roberts, L. (2006). Good: Ethics of Graphic Design. Lausanne Switzerland: AVA Publishing.

Thorpe, A. (2011). Defining Design as Activism. Web.

UNHCR. (2012). Shelter. Web.

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