Over lunch last week, Sherwood’s Design Team in San Francisco gathered around three posters to have a discussion about Sustainability, Art, and the much bandied term “Innovation.” As much as we like to think we’re doing creative work, we need to continually challenge ourselves to think outside of the boxes, paradigms, and terminologies that come from spending 40 hours a week with people who think and talk like we do. What are our failings as engineers? How can we get a fresh perspective? Is it possible to burst the bubble we live in as engineers?
The first poster looks at things that are obviously unsustainable in our society: Poverty, obesity, homelessness, the incredible amount of water and energy it takes to grow the grain that’s fed to the cattle that becomes your cheeseburger and fries.
(That quarter pounder? 1,750 gallons of water. Yikes!)
What are ways we can deal with these problems? Somebody joked, ‘birth control’. But what if it weren’t a joke: yes, it increases personal liberty, and can help family planning which can reduce poverty; but it’s also yielding estrogen in our drinking water.
Sometimes the solutions are not black and white, right?
So next we see a representation of the ideas we’re familiar with as Urban planners and Sustainable Engineers: from green roofs to greywater, these are tools and concepts that we use in our work. And while these ideas are important and innovative – like the Vertical Farm concept which promises to revolutionize urban agriculture – they are still part of what Duanne calls “the known sphere of ‘sustainable solutions ‘ that designers, and architects are using.”
The goal here, says Duanne, is to get beyond that, to promote a different way of thinking. “Going back to the Italian Renaissance, the artists and the engineers were the same people. Now we’ve separated them and we like to feel they’re not joined – but art is a way of presenting current problems: political or environmental issues for instance. Art is a means of dealing with them, it’s one of the ways it can be expressed.”
So Duanne asked Angelica to make a poster that would “make us feel uncomfortable, take a look at crazy projects we may not be a part of, or not be used to seeing.”
Angelica came from an art background, and being flung in the midst of a group engineers when she joined Sherwood was “interesting,” she says:
“It was really hard for me to get excited about it at first. Green? What is it that we do? I had a super small understanding of green and development before, but as of right now, I see more of Sherwood’s role in it, and how important it really is.”
“We throw out ‘innovative, creative, and good,’ but how do you make drainage seem like the next cool thing? When I tell my friends what we do, I talk about specific projects, like the bike paths in the Presidio. I say, ‘Rain falls from the sky, and the water has to go somewhere. How do we deal with that?” That helps people understand.”
So now it was Angelica’s turn to make the Engineers uncomfortable. She put up a Matthew Barney, and a Japanese keyboard, a ‘dinner set’ literally that is tables and chairs made from rice – you can eat it!
And while these things may seem quirky, or weird, Duanne says the future is what we’re dealing with here: “At one point people were thinking of flying that way. It was just imagination, and artistic representations of it; and now we’re doing it.” So that weird, artistic, quirky flash an Engineer gets by looking at Matthew Barney’s work might help them get outside of the culture of engineering they’re assimilated in, is that the idea?
What do you think?
Let us know your thoughts on Art and Engineering, avoiding the mundane in your work, bursting your own bubble, or the “weird, quirky flash” of an idea you have that just might be a solution that nobody has thought of yet…..