Fisher addresses Communicators Forum

Dean Tom Fisher addressed the University's Communicators Forum on December 10, 2008 on the topic of his latest book, Architectural Design and Ethics: Tools for Survival. According to Fisher, fracture-critical system designs -- a design where the failure of any one part will bring down the whole -- surround us: the I-35W bridge, the global financial system, the US electrical grid, the New Orleans levee system, our oil-dependent transportation system, and our suburbs. Perhaps the most fracture-critical systems design is our food supply system.

According to Fisher, we designed so many fracture-critical systems because of an over-optimism in our ability to maintain the extended infrastructure, an unwarranted faith in technology, and hubris.

We need the resilience and redundancy inherent in natural systems in these constructed systems, Fisher says, because, ironically the more interconnected and efficient a system becomes, the more likely it is to become less resilient and fail.

Fisher says the design task before us is to "design a more resilient, less interconnected, and less efficient world" and compares the levee systems of Holland and New Orleans as an example. The result of success in such an enormous task would be "a higher quality of life, one in which the inner riches of an ethical life can compensate for the decline in material resources."

Fisher also advocated public design -- design for the other 90 percent -- similar to the model employed by the medical community with regard to public health efforts.

Finally, Fisher offered a few principles for the development of what he calls "resilient design:" built-in redundancy, use of local and low-cost materials, and enabling simple self-repair. The principles of resilient design then, according to Fisher, suggest several scalable design strategies:

  1. Instead of superfluous form, make everything count;

  2. Instead of the quantity of things, focus on their qualities;

  3. Instead of throwing away, reuse or recycle everything;

  4. Instead of ignoring sources, source everything;

  5. Instead of more expensive things, make everything more affordable;

  6. Instead of extinguishing other species, provide for as many as possible;

  7. Instead of cutting us off from nature, connect to it in every way possible;

  8. Instead of reducing diversity, embrace it;

  9. Instead of creating objects to possess, build community;

  10. Instead of single-uses, make everything multi-functional;

  11. Instead of wanting more, do with less; and

  12. Instead of mindlessly consuming things, treat everything as sacred.