There is no denying it, small is beautiful. In a nation where cookie-cutter McMansions have become common from coast to coast, and the disposable ideal is so prevalent that there is no question when, within one city block, multiple buildings will be razed in a day to make room for the bigger and better, it is refreshing to know that someone is attempting to bring light not only the creative reuse of materials, but the resilience and innovative characteristics of humanity itself. Wes Janz, professor of architecture at Ball State University, acknowledges the importance of local influences with an eye to learn, to bring recognition, and to help the one billion less fortunate among us.
Onesmallproject, Janz' website and forthcoming book, brings together small architectural projects from poor urban settings, informal shelters in working class neighborhoods around the world, and squatters’ make-shift homes, with the work of those who recognize the value in such places or are trying to help improve them. Onesmallproject identifies the value that these make-shift buildings have in teaching professional designers, as well as students, the ability to be creative with approach and materials. It teaches one to be aware of ones’ surroundings. It teaches one to be mindful of costs and to consider all economic levels as viable clients in the attempt to serve others in practical and applicable ways. And hopefully, it teaches one to be cognizant of all possibilities.
More importantly, onesmallproject brings due attention to those who have built unique and dutiful shelters out of the disposable materials cast aside by others. It acknowledges without personal persecution, the conditions that so many reside in, and it draws attention to the needs of many. It shows what is possible using creativity and innovation under desperate situations. And it gives a visual image of the needs of the underserved.
But most of all, onesmallproject shows us where we can help, where we can open our eyes to see value in what is around us rather than closing our eyes tight in avoidance. Onesmallproject shows us how to use our skills and knowledge to help those that we can help, not just those we choose to help, or those who pay the most. Designers have the ability to identify areas that need help and can in fact render help. A better designed, more durable home is just one way.
Complacency is a very scary place, much more hopeless than any of the areas Janz documents on onesmallproject. Perhaps if we can just remember the beauty of small things we all may stand a better chance of not falling into it.
Sydnee MacKay, a graphic designer for Central Michigan University, is an active contributor to Designers Without Borders. With a keen interest in design and the developing world, she will be conducting design research in Kampala, Uganda this winter exploring the effects of culture on design preference and response.
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