The Yes Men, corporate trouble makers and designers of the WTO parody site, marked the 18th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster with the launch of Dow-Chemical.com, a straight-faced parody site using the design of the original, and a cheeky press release in the voice of the corpoation. Unfortunately, their cleverness got the best of them and the site was brought down in a matter of days. (Mirror sites are now up.)

bleeding Dow logoWhile funny at first, in context the parody Web site feels a bit thin. Sure it’s fun to parody the public relations language used to bathe coroporations in the soft glow of environmental and corporate responsibiliy. But also marking the anniversary were thousands of people marching in the streets of Bhopal.

An estimated 500,000 people were affected when 40 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide factory in Bhopal in 1984. Today, the number of deaths stands at 20,000. Virtually nothing has been done to clean up the site, and the water used by people for everyday needs is still contaminated. And via Reuters:

“Former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson faces charges of culpable homicide and Indian courts have repeatedly asked New Delhi to seek his extradition from the United States where he now lives in retirement. Anderson, considered a fugitive from Indian law for refusing to face charges in its courts, could be jailed for 10 years and fined if found guilty.”

So what of design and social change? Well, a bit of design forensics determined that it was a failure of design that led to the disaster. On December 2, New Scientist published an article on their investigation of the accident and recently released documents that identify the reasons for the failure and show that the company that built and owned the Bhopal plant cut crucial corners and safety features from its design of the plant.

“Union Carbide was forced to release the documents last month by a court in New York state that was hearing a class action suit filed by Bhopal survivors in 1999. According to New Scientist, Carbide’s 1972 memo specified that the US headquarters would either perform all design work for the plant, or approve designs done elsewhere. The report said that on the basis of fresh evidence, the US Company could be tried for negligence only if the Indian government joined the campaigners in the US lawsuit.”


Further info via rtMark press release:

“Burson-Marsteller, the public relations company that helped to ‘spin’ Bhopal, has meanwhile sued college student Paul Hardwin for putting up a fake Burson-Marsteller site, http://www.bursonmarsteller.com/, which recounted how the PR giant helped to downplay the Bhopal disaster. Burson-Marsteller’s suit against Hardwin will be heard next week by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Hardwin, unable to afford a lawyer, has composed a dryly humorous 57-page rebuttal to the PR giant’s lawsuit. On page 7, for instance, the student notes that Burson-Marsteller’s stated goal is

‘to ensure that the perceptions which surround our clients and influence their stakeholders are consistent with reality.’

Hardwin goes on to assert that his satirical domain is doing precisely that, by publicizing

‘academic and journalistic materials about Burson-Marsteller’s involvement with and relationship to, for example, Philip Morris and the National Smoker’s Alliance, a consumer front group designed to create the appearance of public support for big-tobacco policies; Union Carbide and the deaths of 20,000 people following the 1984 disaster in Bhopal; and political regimes such as that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and more recently Saudi Arabia following the events of September 11; and to properly associate them with the relevant Trademark so that they may be understood accordingly by Internet users.’

In response to the suit’s claim that ‘a substantial degree of goodwill is associated with [the Burson-Marstellar Trademark]’ Hardwin offers much ‘evidence to the contrary’ including ‘a newspaper headline in which the Complainant is characterized as “the Devil.”’

The primary goal of RTMark is to publicize corporate subversion of the democratic process. Just like other corporations, it achieves its aims by any and all means at its disposal. RTMark has previously helped to publicize websites against political parties, political figures, and entities like the World Trade Organization and the World Economic Forum.

>  7 December 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

American Concentration Camps

Manzanar Detention Center

Blamed for an attack on America, non-white Americans and residents of foreign descent had become so hated that in February 1942 the President ordered their arrest and detention at “relocation centers” around the country. 110,000 men, women, and children were removed from their homes, rounded up at gun point, and locked up for the next three years.

From a Web site on Owens Valley History, the site of the Manzanar detention center:

“Two-thirds were first-generation American citizens. They lived in American cities, attended American schools, and thought of themselves as Americans... They were removed from their homes, schools, and businesses, and brought to Manzanar and nine other camps like it.... A few were second-generation Americans.... Neither they nor their parents had ever known any other life than their life in the United States.

Almost a third of the prisoners were Japanese citizens, resident aliens by definition of the U.S. immigration law.... All of this group had lived in the United States at least eighteen years, since American borders were closed to Japanese immigrants in 1924. All had been specifically barred from applying for American citizenship. The right to become an American citizen was not allowed to the Japanese until 1952, when quotas were introduced.”

The Library of Congress Web site features a collection of 244 photographs of Japanese-American internment at Manzanar taken by reknown landscape photographer Ansel Adams. Depicted are scenes of daily life, agricultural scenes, sports and leisure activities, and portraits of the detainees. Browse via the subject index or the thumbnail view.

From the Library page about the collection:

“In 1943, Ansel Adams photographed the Manzanar War Relocation Center at the suggestion of its director, his good friend and fellow Sierra Club member, Ralph Merritt. Adams wanted to contribute to the war effort while at the same time show the loyalty of the Japanese-Americans interned at Manzanar... In 1944, some of these images were published in Adams’ book Born Free and Equal. The book had a limited circulation, perhaps due to the political climate of war-time America. When offering the collection to the Library, Adams said in a letter, ‘All in all, I think this Manzanar Collection is an important historical document, and I trust it can be put to good use...The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment.’”

The internment camps were small planned communities built with volunteer, contract, and forced labor on the site of a ghost town.

“The center was located at the former farm and orchard community of Manzanar. Founded in 1910, the town was abandoned when the city of Los Angeles purchased the land in the late 1920s for its water rights. The Los Angeles aqueduct, which carries Owens Valley water to Los Angeles, is a mile east of Manzanar.”

In addition to vital necessities of food and shelter, the camp had its own school, church, factories, hospital, and even a local paper. See this essay for details on the design and operations of the camp.

Mrs. Naguchi and her daughters40 years after the closing of the camps, the United States government conceded that the relocation was based on racial bias rather than on any true threat to national security. 50 years later in 1992, President Bush offered reperations and an apology.

Congress established the Manzanar National Historic Site, containing 550 acres, on March 3, 1992. It is currently administered by the National Park Service, under the U.S. Department of Interior. See the Park Service Web site.

Nearly 60 years after the war, Yoshie Hagiya, age 77, Oxnard High class of 1942, received her school’s valedictorian honors.

>  23 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Murals and Anti-Murals in Nicaragua

Two years ago I spent my birthday in Nicaragua. I was traveling with a delegation organized by Peaceworks, meeting with local groups and learning about the country and its struggles. As the eight of us bounded along the dusty roads in the back of a white pickup truck, one could periodically spot these odd abstract murals along walls and fences. They were vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes in pastel colors. It turns out the stripes had been painted over Sandinista slogans and murals under orders from right-wing President Arnoldo Aléman. See Nicaraguan Murals 1930-2000 on the Stanford site for a hint of what was lost.

The painted stripes reminded me of Sol LeWitt and Sean Scully. A fizzy gallery world rhetoric of geometry instead of engagement with the world at large. And that’s just the way the CIA likes it. From the Monthly Review:

“[The] CIA and its allies in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) poured vast sums of money into promoting Abstract Expressionist painting and painters... What the CIA saw in Abstract Expressionism was an ‘anti-Communist ideology, the ideology of freedom, of free enterprise. Non-figurative and politically silent it was the very antithesis of socialist realism’. They viewed Abstract Expressionism as the true expression of the national will. To bypass right-wing criticism, the CIA turned to the private sector (namely MOMA and its co-founder, Nelson Rockefeller, who referred to Abstract Expressionism as ‘free enterprise painting.’)”

See also articles in Salon and the New York Times.

Needless to say, the CIA also poured of money, weapons, and comics into toppling the Sandinistas.

Obras No PalabrasSomoza BricksWe rode through the streets paved with hexagonal ‘Somoza bricks’ crumbling from the wear and tear. The Somoza government had laid the bricks, having purchased them from factories he also owned.

These stark blue billboards were everywhere. “Obras No Palabras” painted in the same yellow italic sans serif and listing some local government financed project. “Works not Words,” a kind of anti-propaganda propaganda promoting the good will of the State and attempting to short-circuit debate.

And indeed, Aléman’s works have spoken loudly. This past September, Nicaragua’s Attorney General charged Aléman and 13 members of his family and former administration “with money laundering, fraud and other crimes.”

I bet he never saw that coming from his own former vice-president.

>  20 November 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

Roofless in Tokyo

House by the river

Since the collapse of the bubble economy, the number of homeless in Japan has risen from 1,000 in 1992 to over 30,000 in 2002. The long recession means a severe shortage of unskilled day labor in construction and manufacturing. The average age of the homeless here is 55 and they are almost entirely men. What little day labor there is usually goes to younger men. With no work, no money, and no where to go, the men buid their own shelter on public land along the boardwalk by the river and along the edges of the few public parks near the employment brokers (both legal and illegal). The houses are neat and trim, built to fight the weather and cold and to provide some basic comfort. They are also collapsible. Once a month the government comes and sweeps the houses off the boardwalk. It’s usually the same day every month, so the guys dismantle their houses and haul the materials over the wall... to rebuild them later that afternoon.

The houses are tucked away behind fences and under bridges to be less visible, and are kept neat in a conscious effort not to disturb passersby. Unlike in the States, I’ve not encountered any panhandling. They may be hungry, they may be desperate, but some things are just not done.

Row of houses along the boardwalkAlmost all the structures use the same blue vinyl tarp. The tents in the parks are looser and less constructed than along the river, presumably because the sweeps in the parks take place weekly.

The situation is utterly absurd... but not unlike that of my own neighborhood. There’s no place to go, says the City, you just can’t stay here.

After a mass eviction in 1993, the “Coalition of the Homeless in Shinjuku” was formed to provide mutual support, to seek livelihood and employment guarantees, and to stop the evictions, referred to by the government as “environmental cleaning.” After years of denying the problem, the national government passed a controversial law in August 2002 to provide some relief. Still, the evictions continue and the additional shelter has not yet been built. It remains to be seen how the new measures will proceed. The guys don’t want handouts, they just want work, affordable housing, and to be treated with respect.

Read more about the Movement of the Coalition of the Homeless on the Web site of the Resource Center for Homeless Rights.

>  28 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Japanese Manhole Covers

Manhole cover in Osaka

Grooves in manhole covers are necessary to provide traction in all kinds of weather to the vehicles above. But there’s no reason those grooves can’t spell out fun. Japanese manhole cover designs range from sublimely patterned to the surreal and fully illustrative. I haven’t been able to find any background information in English, but it seems there are not only different designs for the different types of conduits they cover, but each city has its own designs celebrating some signature feature of the town. Some are even maps to the local landmarks. Here are some sites with pictures:

There’s even an informal Japanese association of manhole cover watchers that organizes tours. The site highlights some of their favorite covers.

On a related note, see also this portable Japanese emergency toilet design that fits over a manhole in case a natural disaster. Screw that port-a-john business. When the City collapses, I want one of these handy.

I took the photo above near the main train station in Osaka.

>  13 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Save America’s Clocks

Save America’s Clocks is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to locating, inventorying and assisting in the preservation and maintenance of all of America’s public clocks. By public clocks we mean any and all clocks that the public sees. That includes street (post) clocks, tower and church clocks, digital clocks...you name it. Non-working clocks betray the public trust and send out a message that nobody’s home.¬†When these clocks are left to deteriorate, we all lose part of our rich heritage.”

Not much on the site yet, but there are lots of pictures of public clocks.

Is this ‘Social Design’? More design in the public interest. I should do a more substantive entry on public clocks. In the meantime, three days of meetings in Tokyo and the jet lag is still killing me. Still haven’t quite shaken the grip of U.S. time.

Found via Ruavista.

>  5 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Images of Universal Design

“[In 1996,] the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Building Museum sponsored the first national search and collection of images showing examples of universal design excellence in the fields of architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture. This collection was completed in September of 1996 and is intended to encourage and assist universal design by providing examples that can be used in design practice and education. The jury selected images feature and credit the work of designers who are reaching beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to create products and environments that are usable by people with the broadest possible range of abilities throughout their lifespan.”

The project was managed by Universal Designers and Consultants of Takoma Park, MD. The list of winners links to four project profiles:

adaptiveenvironments.org links to four others:

Read the introduction for an overview of universal design principles and the project selection process.

>  1 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Talking Signs

Talking Signs technology is an infrared wireless communications system that provides remote directional human voice messages that make confident, independent travel possible for vision impaired and print-handicapped individuals....

The system consists of short audio signals sent by invisible infrared light beams from permanently installed transmitters to a hand-held receiver that decodes the signal and delivers the voice message through its speaker or headset. The signals are directional, and the beam width and distance can be adjusted. The system works effectively in both interior and exterior applications.

Talking Signs may be used wherever landmark identification and wayfinding assisstance are needed. To use a Talking Signs system, the user scans the environment with the hand-held receiver. As individual signals are encountered, the user hears the messages. For example, upon entering a lobby, one might detect ‘information desk’ when pointing the receiver directly ahead, ‘public telephones’ when pointing to the right and ‘stairs to the second floor’ when pointing to the left.

Messages are unique and short, simple and straightforward. The messages repeat, continuously identifying key features in the environment.”

The site notes that the San Francisco City Council has passed a resolution calling for the installation of talking signs at all public facilities, including 600 in the San Francisco Airport. The devices have already been installed in several San Francisco public spaces including subway stations, crosswalks, libraries, and public toilets. The Japanese government is installing 2,000 signs at key intersections throughout Japan.

Here’s a diagram of how it works.

Talking Signs’s Ohio representative writes:

“With remote infrared audible signage we [the vision impaired] can independently become oriented to unfamiliar places, cross streets safely while staying in the crosswalk, create mental maps that translate to a broader orientation and enjoy a type of freedom that the sighted community just takes for granted. Orientation to public places is a civil right, as surely as getting into the building or using the telephone. Yet, when you look around you, where are the talking signs?... As the old saying goes, we have the technology. What we now need is the advocacy.”

>  27 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

2002 MacArthur Fellows

The 2002 MacArthur Fellows were announced today. Here are a couple of bios of folks involved in projects I’d consider “social design”:

Camilo Jose Vergara is a photographer-ethnographer who uses time-lapse images to chronicle the transformation of urban landscapes across America. Trained as a sociologist, he reaches into the disciplines of architecture, photography, urban planning, history, and anthropology for tools to present the gradual erosion of late 19th- and 20th-century architectural grandeur in urban neighborhoods, their subsequent neglect and abandonment, and scattered efforts at gentrification. Repeatedly photographing, sometimes over the course of decades, the same structures and neighborhoods, Vergara records both large-scale and subtle changes in the visual landscape of cities and inner cities in the United States. Sequences reveal, for example, trees growing in abandoned libraries and decrepit laborer housing swallowed by advancing foliage. Over the years, Vergara has amassed a rich archive of several thousand photographs that are a rare and important cache of American history. These images, monuments to the survival and reformation of American cities, are a unique visual study; they also inform the process of city planning by highlighting the constant remodeling of urban space.”

See some of his World Trade Center related photos on the New York Historical Society site or a couple of photos from the New American Ghetto series.

Paul Ginsparg is a theoretical physicist widely known for creating a computer-based system for physicists and other scientists to communicate their research results. Ginsparg’s document server represents a conscious effort to reorganize scientific communications, establishing a marketplace of ideas of new submissions with minimal editorial oversight and abundant opportunity for commentary, supporting and opposing, from other investigators. Ginsparg circumvented traditional funding and approval mechanisms by developing the software in his spare time and running it on surplus equipment. This system [is] informally known as “the xxx archive,” currently hosted at Cornell University at http://arxiv.org.... All documents are available without charge worldwide through the internet, making the latest results available even for those without access to a good research library. Ginsparg has deliberately transformed the way physics gets done — challenging conventional standards for review and communication of research and thereby changing the speed and mode of dissemination of scientific advances.”

See some remarks about the project he delivered in 1994.

David B. Goldstein is a physicist with a passion for... improving global energy efficiency. His work, which consistently refutes suggestions of inherent conflict between economic growth and environmental quality, touches on a broad spectrum of energy-related issues — from appliance design, to building construction, to governmental policies in developing industrial nations, to housing and transportation planning — and on developing effective policies to address these issues. Goldstein recognized, for example, that early refrigerators wasted a significant fraction of U.S. electrical output due to poor design. He led the effort to hold an efficiency design contest and then successfully lobbied regional and national regulatory agencies to establish energy consumption standards based on the new design, thus creating a market for the more efficient devices. More recently, he has initiated a project to encourage people, through mortgage lending incentives, to minimize the amount of energy they waste driving unnecessarily. Over the last decade, moreover, he has sought to influence and improve building efficiency standards in Russia and China. Throughout his work, Goldstein draws from his scientific training to eliminate political and economic obstacles to greater energy efficiency, with constant attentiveness to the environmental penalties of energy waste....

Since 1980, he has co-directed the Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco.... In addition to his work at the NRDC, Goldstein serves on the boards of the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, the Institute for Market Transformation, the New Buildings Institute, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, and the Institute for Location Efficiency.”

The mortages mentioned above are run through the Institute for Location Efficiency. The Location Efficient Mortgage is designed for “people who would like to purchase a home in an urban neighborhood and who would be willing to rely on public transportation and to use locally available services and amenities rather than own a personal vehicle.” Definitely not your typical envrionmental NGO.

Brian Tucker is a seismologist whose work focuses on preventing readily avoidable disasters in the world’s poorest countries by using affordable civil engineering practices. He founded GeoHazards International (GHI) after recognizing that multi-story residences, schools, hospitals, stores, and offices built from adobe, stone, or unreinforced masonry in many regions of the world are death traps when earthquakes strike. GHI is the only not-for-profit, non-governmental agency dedicated to preventing structural failures in developing countries. Tucker works on-site with local governments, artisans, and citizens to implement cost-effective measures to construct or upgrade schools and other public service buildings and to educate residents about damage-prevention measures. He is an expert at adapting techniques used by developed countries in risk-mitigation projects so that they fit within the social, political, and economic constraints of at-risk communities in the developing world. GHI’s principal focus on schools is particularly important because their typically poor construction makes them a common source for earthquake casualties. His current work to develop and apply a Global Earthquake Risk Index is designed both to estimate risk and to motivate risk-reduction measures. His efforts have dramatically reduced the potential for death and injury to children and others from earthquakes in vulnerable cities around the world.”

Stanley Nelson is a documentary filmmaker with over 20 years’ experience as a producer, director, and writer.

“His award-winning film, The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords, synthesizes biography and history, bringing clarity and dimension to the often neglected role of black journalists in chronicling American history. In Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind, Nelson examines an enigmatic African-American icon, illuminating character and cultural context. With Puerto Rico: Our Right to Decide, he probes still farther afield, considering the implications for political democracy arising from the historical trajectory of confluence and conflict among Anglo, Spanish, African, and indigenous social structures. He is currently working on a documentary about the murder of Emmett Till; other projects include the heritage of the African-American middle class on Martha’s Vineyard and on the international anthropology of the transatlantic slave trade.”

More of his film credits are listed here.

>  25 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , , , , ,

Universal Design New York

“New York City has a long history of protecting the rights and enhancing the opportunities of the disabled. In fact, our Human Rights Law contains provisions for the disabled that go above and beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act. I am proud that our City is continuing its leadership role by becoming the first in the Nation to release a book to help architects, designers, urban planners, and developers make their structures equally accessible to all.

Universal Design New York was created by the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction, in cooperation with the New York City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It describes the concept of universal design and illustrates many useful examples of this innovative design philosophy. This guide also addresses myths associated with the cost of this approach and provides a model for other municipalities to follow.

From a letter by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the introduction to Universal Design New York. Kind words of support from the Mayor, unless of course you need a public toilet or are disabled and poor, in which case Mr. Giuliani would deny you social security, housing or shelter.

In the preface to the book, Catherine Paradiso, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and Kenneth R. Holden, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Design and Construction, write:

This book was developed to help the community of people who develop the City’s real estate and infrastructure learn about universal design. When implemented properly it removes many of the problems associated with trying to meet requirements of both the NYC building code and the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, when designing from this paradigm, some regulations are met with ease. For example, a pedestrian pathway that is gradually sloped from the curb to the entrance eliminates the need for a ramp. Another example would be installing automatic doors instead of manual doors. Distributing and integrating accessible seats throughout a theater is yet another. These examples demonstrate how access and regulations come together to create a better environment for everyone when using universal design criteria.

This book contains many examples that make accessibility easier for the general population. When all aspects of designing in a space are universal, everything becomes easier for everyone. Children, people who have learning/cognitive, vision or hearing impairments, people who use wheeled mobility devices, senior citizens, people of short stature, parents carrying children or packages - we all benefit from universal design.

Universal Design New York is intended for two audiences. Public agencies and environmental design and construction professionals hired by the City make up the first group. They can use it to design sidewalks and street crossings, parks, community centers, shelters, museums, and any of the many other types of buildings and facilities that the City builds. The second audience consists of developers and designers of privately constructed facilities in the City. These include hotels, office buildings, restaurants and theaters, to name just a few. Any designer can apply the principles of universal design to any project....

Information in this book demonstrates how demographic trends will increase demand for universal design. Looking to get ahead of that trend, the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and the Department of Design and Construction believe that now is the time to implement universal design practices. Many of the products the City buys and virtually all of the buildings the City builds today are going to be here for a long time. We should be planning today for the time when the need for universal design will be obvious to all.

Check out the table of contents. As stated above, the site is chock full of examples with photos.

This guidebook purposely avoids recommending prescriptive design standards for the universal design of buildings. Instead, it provides general guidelines designed to broaden and enhance the usability of buildings for everyone.

This guidebook’s visual illustrations of successful applications of certain universal design guidelines are not meant to be copied or imitated. Rather, they are provided to promote a general understanding of the concept - i.e., to stimulate extension of the principles to other building applications.

Many thanks to the Inclusive Design and Environmental Access School of Architecture and Planning at University at Buffalo for posting the book online.

>  24 September 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

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