A century ago, the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen suggested to “always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.” This phrase has become beloved by strategic designers, a strain of designers which realigns and applies some of the principles of design to ‘big picture’ systemic challenges. UK-born Dan Hill is one of those peculiar hybrid thinkers. He is currently Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, the Swedish Government’s innovation agency, and in previous leadership positions applied strategic design to the built environment, education and research, government and media. Here, he responds to questions on the impact of the current crisis across a multitude of scales – the home, the office, and public space.
Right now, we might think of a further iteration: the city as omelette, a simple dish with many variations, which can carry numerous different elements, each with different ingredients, each offering different focal points of taste, different local cultural influences, distributed concentrations of intense flavour in a sea of egg.
If we want to articulate Saarinen’s multiple scales, however, perhaps a better description might be a kind of ‘polka dot pattern’ spread across the city’s fabric, with multiple ‘mixed-use’ neighbourhoods full of people working, learning, playing and living. This breaks the model of the single large city centre, with work and leisure carried out at neighbourhood level, and the city centre empty.
Whilst a global pandemic is a completely awful thing - there can be no ‘silver linings’ — it does also present a chance to rethink cities and places, from the scale of the screen up to the neighbourhood and beyond. I’m interested to explore exactly how we might do that, and with whom, and what kind of new patterns of living might emerge as a result.