Designing for Hope
There is a danger that, through a combination of over-use and consensus, the term sustainability becomes debased and meaninglessness. A triple-bottom line view that one must live within one’s means in relation to social, economic and environmental resources sounds hard to disagree with, at least in principle. The challenge is a scalar one, as the web of global interactions through which those resources flow makes decision-making and the boundaries between cause and effect almost impossibly complex. It is easy for any protagonist engaged in shaping the city to claim that their efforts are sustainable, or at least as sustainable as possible, or to take a reductionist view and simply try to do less.
Designing for Hope avoids the latter, and instead advocates propositional interventions as a manifestation of social human interactions at a range of scales. Dominique Hes and Chrisna du Plessis attempt to skewer the ‘greenwash’ of many architectural and urban projects, critiquing gestural but essentially empty superimpositions that bear little relationship to climate, context or culture. Their case studies and references cover a globally diverse range of conditions to support an approach they term regenerative sustainability. They introduce and illustrate overlapping concepts and practices including biophilic design, biomimicry and permaculture. Their optimistic approach takes inspiration from a range of designers and significant social or political figures. They include illustrations of ways of working that draw inspiration from natural forms and processes, and design with reference to local social and physical conditions.
The book provides an overview of a huge field, and in doing so risks being so all-encompassing that it leaves the reader wishing for more precision and fewer generalities. Designing for Hope has the feeling of an academic textbook, but it is hard to know who it is aimed at. Most gratingly, the liberal use of generic stock photography and appropriation of ‘inspirational’ quotes from Gandhi, Dr Martin Luther King and others, gives it the appearance of a text one might find in a personal growth department of a book store rather than an academically robust publication worthy of an academic or professional audience. The subject is undeniably critically important, the research extensive, but the book would have benefited from far greater focus and consequential precision that could better equip its readers to turn ambition into action.