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Research Lab on Urban Landscapes and Architecture

Forever or a Day

When we build, let us think that we build forever.
Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone.
Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for;
and let us think, as we lay stone on stone,
that a time is to come when those stones will be held
sacred because our hands have touched them,
and that men will say, as they look upon
the labor and wrought substance of them,
“See! This our father did for us.”

—John Ruskin

Many people have movingly spoken about the importance of making things that we treasure, that last, that we would be proud to pass on.  I tend to agree with all of them, except that, as a product designer, I can’t ignore all the things that don’t need to, or shouldn’t last forever.  Our lives are filled with detritus, because we don’t have good ways of getting rid of things:  plastic bags, Bic pens, razors, bottle caps, mice, keyboards, light bulbs, toys,  are all things that are very awkward to dispose of.  What we should concentrate on, in addition to making things last(again), is to make things really disposable, with full cognizance of the implications.  Pepsi lowered the water table in India when it started shipping syrup instead of the retail product.  On paper, a lighter package using less water seems like a smart solution.  The full ramifications don’t reveal themselves until later.  The bottling of beer in North America affects the volume of water in the Great Lakes.  Similarly, products you can dispose of in your back garden could also represent a dramatic movement of nutrient/mass around the world.  I don’t have an answer, but my feeling is that a real recycling system (and that requires materials that can really be recycled), coupled with a focus on local materials, would be a start.

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