Last week, we explored the opportunity to ask questions and shake things up. Inevitably in this process, people also get shook up, but as long as the intent is to find the best solution for the right question, usually this flushes out in the end. Take, for example, our friends in Roanoke, who decided to share the redevelopment money pie rather than compete for it. This paradigm shift yielded a smaller piece of the work, but with more likelihood of a steady stream of this work as future projects are also shared.
This approach to digging for the right question, the true underlying constraints has been emerging in the realm of industrial design. Long accustomed to working under the limitation of product briefs which contained extensive market research, full product specs, and often even branding requirements, “designers” were often so handcuffed as to only be able to add a pretty packaging.
|Aquaduct - YouTube|
But times are changing, with an increased opportunity to really tackle problems at their root cause. Take for example, the challenge posed to the firm IDEO. The two main challenges with water in the developing world: sanitation and transportation. Water-related diseases kill thousands of people each day. Water sources can be miles away from the home, and women must walk these distances daily carrying heavy water vessels. The question: “How might we solve this problem in a way which is cost effective, works within the existing infrastructure, and is appealing - ie will be used by the people with the problem?” The solution: The Aquaduct, a bicycle designed to enable a person to sanitize and transport water simultaneously.
Similarly, the village of Gaviotas was constrained by a remote location in the barren savannas of Eastern Columbia jungle, with connection to the “outside” world of commerce hampered by drug wars. Yet, it has managed to create an “oasis of imagination and sustainability,” including a positive environmental contribution through the replanting of the indigenous rainforest. Founder Paolo Lugari has been called the "inventor of the world."
One such innovative approach was tested out closer to home, at the Sol y Sombra historical estate of Georgia O’Keefe. The constructed wastewater wetland approach allows the water to be reused for enhanced landscaping and greenhouses. It avoids the costly equipment and maintenance of a traditional graywater processing system. In fact, the lessons learned were applied to a water treatment plant which had been built and funded by a US aid group, but which became defunct due to insufficient funds for the high electricity consumption and the specialized replacement parts. Examples of wetland wastewater treatment plants can be found throughout Mexico, India and other developing countries. Yet efforts in North America are often hampered by legislative spaghetti: piled high, twisty, and slippery.
There is a beauty in the simplicity of solutions created under tight constraints. Our biggest handicap in North America is the abundance of materials and funds, which allows us to address the surface issues through technology. But I ask, who is really on the cutting edge?