Design for proportionally

“Small (and slow) is beautiful”.

Sustainist culture shifts design questions towards questions of appropriate size and scale. We question that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Or that faster-is-always-better.” In designing for size and speed, the transition into sustainism implies a shift in design perspective. Towards the human scale, the appropriate scale. It asks us to (re-) proportion things: it shifts our focus from scale to proportionality.


How might we bring questions of proportionality into our designs?

What could it mean to design for variable scale, enabling us to upscale and downscale depending on the context or purpose. How can we know when our designs are out of proportion to the qualities the purport to achieve? How might we design for an “appropriate scale” that is neither to large or too small. What might design for “limited size” or “selective slowness” look like?

Background proportionality.

Sustainist design is more concerned with appropriateness, with a greater eye for context as a critical factor.

We know that bigger isn’t necessarily better. But neither can we simply follow the adagium of E.F. Schumacher that “small is beautiful”. A sustainist perspective asks what scale is appropriate in a design. It ask us to proportion things rather than following economies of scale as the only logic.

Sustainism question the modernist ideas of large-scale and high-speed. The prevailing idea of “speed” is an instructive example of how we have become trapped in a modernist perspective. For most of us, “speed” means things going fast. But actually the concept of “speed” is an entity that is comparable to temperature or resolution, in that it can be either “high” or “low” High speed or low speed. Yet when we say “speed” we rarely think that it also covers low-speeds, like in slowness.

In a sustainist culture speed, high or low, becomes a design question, a strategic choice rather than an unquestioned assumption. It prompts us to ask for “appropriate speed,” and raise questions of “selective slowness”. Such a sustainist mentality can be seen in development such as “slow food” or “slow money”, and recently the talk is also about planning “slow cities” or “slow architecture”. These are questions of proportionality, not of absolute magnitude or scale. They express new qualities that can be purposely included into our design briefs.

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