My interest in design was sparked by doing a Permaculture design course in 1994. Permaculture is a framework for 'the conscious design of sustainable systems'.
The development of design so that it can encompass the future consequences of ideas and actions led me to look further at the notion of the future and especially to look beyond a 'preferred' future and look at probable and possible futures as the context into which present-day decision making takes place.
The notion of 'future-proofing' designs, of considering the consequences of not only self-determined action but also external changes in the environment opened up the need to address breaking out of the 'mind-set' of the known and into how humans allow for unknown-unknowns (Homer-Dixon, 02000). Ged Davis (01998) talks of the 'tryanny of the present' in which people are 'strongly influenced by conditions in the present'. Futures allows us to create a timescape (Barbara Adam) in which designs can be assessed against their whole lifespan.
Much sustainability work has focused on the 'prefered future', a 'static end goal of a sustainable future' or on creating systems that are permanent. These seem to need complementing with design strategies that allow for risk assessment of threats, vulnerability appraisals, success and failure analysis. If sustainability requires technical and social ingenuity (Homer-Dixon, 02000) then building in resilience, adaptability, environmental scanning and futures thinking all form part of an on-going process of design, improvement and innovation. Whole life cycle analysis of design ideas, strategies and action projected over decades and centuries opens up the 'long now'.
It protects our options as well as keeping us fleet of mind and foot. We must always distinguish between 'cleverness' and intelligence as human intervention - no matter at what level or scale - within the complex and dynamic eco-system that is Planet Earth often has 'unintended consequences and revenge effects' (Tenner, 01996). We appear to need to be vigilant like never before. Real danger comes from surprises we never expected and that in turn demands 'preparation and preparedness'.
We need sustainable designs that cover capacity for fire-fighting if needed, for appropriate maintenance, for investment in prevention, and for sensible development.
Version 1 - 31.1.02002