Since the first use of tools to achieve goals, design has been born as a response to problems and needs. Sadly, since we now live in a thoroughly designed world, many of our problems are themselves secondary consequences of prior acts of design. Collecting striking photographs with interviews and original essays, Actar's latest book/magazine hybrid, Verb: Crisis, edited by Mario Ballesteros, Albert Ferre, Irene Hwang, Michael Kubo, Tomoko Sakamoto, Anna Tetas and Ramon Prat, addresses architectural and design responses to the problems of our modern age.
Nowhere is the collision between man-solution and self-induced problem clearer than in the book's opening aerial time lapse photographs of Dubai. In only a few years, a fully completed city seems to have risen from the desert, grown only from oil, money and hope. Yet behind all of the investment, buildings like the Burj Dubai stand as a monuments to disequilibrium. As is done in each chapter, descriptive prose and photographs are followed by philosophical inquiry. Boris Brorman Jensen observes that Dubai's very existence attempts to answer the question of whether a city can be created from scratch, and its success or failure will be born out over time. While Dubai works as a microcosm illustrating the ability of human beings to manage their environments, later chapters explore cases of varying scale: from single building housing projects to massive plots like the Fresh Kills landfill.
After kicking off with Dubai as an example, the first section "Places" spans from city to city (Tijuana, Detroit, Madrid) across continents, before closing with Fresh Kills, the New York City landfill that's nearly a city unto itself. Looking at panoramic photos of the "reclaimed" grass topped wasteland, a multitude of bent pipes for off-gassing methane and other leachates betray the dump's history. John May's follow-up essays on the landfill serves as a depressing and strident warning against throwing garbage away without regard for the future.
Taking the reader on a journey from large scale problems like the proliferation of diseases like SARs (BioMed City, by Hilary Sample), through "Position" papers (Shigeru Ban discussing disaster relief and Teddy Cruz on border architecture), the collection closes with a section called "Projects." After viewing so much eye-popping trauma, it's nice to finally see architectural solutions. Of particular note are Takuya Onishi's "Experimental Emergency Architecture," lightweight structures that could easily be distributed to disaster areas and Foreign Office Architecture's "Carabanchel Housing," a social housing development in Madrid highlighting innovated bamboo design. Though solutions to macro problems like garbage recycling, population growth and disease still seem unassailably far away, it's heartening to see that at least on a small scale, design can still have a positive impact on human life, which is why we picked up tools to begin with.