Culture Article Summary and Comparison

The first article explores the role of understanding culture in developing a new approach to design in the new and globalised age through a dialogue with Benny Ding Leong. The inception of this approach began with Leong becoming disillusioned with contemporary design which ‘served merely as markers of personal style and taste’ and fell into obsolescence rapidly rather than encompassing a meaningful story or function.

In contrast, the ‘prescient’ design philosophy present in Ming dynasty furniture was able to promote moments of ‘deep thought’ in his interaction with the pieces.

A deep cultural knowledge of such theories he believes could enrich current design theory and underpin new innovations in practice.

He uses Hong Kong as an example of cultural bifurcation, a place which encompasses both traditional Chinese culture and contemporary Western thinking.

He begins from ancient times in his exploration of Chinese culture, drawing on Confucianism, Taoism and ancient literature to consolidate four key criteria, or values, to be met when approaching design with cultural knowledge;

  • Life Centring
  • Totality
  • Reflectivity
  • Unification

Furthering his research, he found three distinct approaches to design problems which have been obscured by time and contemporary rationality.

  • Transcendent
  • Harmonious
  • Progressive

His method as it exists now is to deal with issues that originate in everyday life utilizing traditional cultural based knowledge and modern production capabilities. The elements of the culture may not necessarily be made visually explicit but deeply embedded in the design philosophy which generates the products.

Rajeshwari Ghose notices a similar dissonance in First World design thinking being crudely applied to Lesser Developed Countries and Newly Industrialised Countries of Asia. Ghose highlights the Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design for Development as a manifesto of appropriate design for the developing world. It called for defining a quality of life within the values of a society, seeking local answers for local needs while making use of advanced technology and creating new values, preserving plural identities and addressing priority needs.

Ghose points out Islamabad as an example of imported designs not being functional, applying a Western approach in planning the Islamic capital of Pakistan. In a similar fashion, high rise apartments, while a signpost of the international style and status symbol of modernity, if applied in an LDC without the necessary infrastructure would more likely succumb to poorer maintenance standards and safety hazards (fire etc.). Conversely, mud buildings in India, advocated by Lawrie Baker, while adhering to the Ahmedabad Declaration would need to carry the right status associations to be accepted by the wider population, and it would best start with the upper middle class. Existing low cost housing plans have often been too expensive for those it was intended for and failed to take into consideration vast socioeconomic and psychological factors.

Ghose reasons current First World models are based in acquisition and material pleasure and designers are caught in schizophrenia between idealistic rhetoric and working to maintain affluent First World lifestyles.

The harsh reality in the developing world is that design is currently made for the concentrated dominant economic elite, rather than the majority subsistence sector whose ‘demands are different not only in degrees but also in kind.’


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