Saturday, February 2, 2008

Shift into 'Slow' Gear

The Slow Food Movement has long been active in European countries, with it's ubiquitous snail-mascot and new vocabulary (i.e. eco-gastronomy) making us stop (almost) and enjoy the concepts of local, fair, environmentally friendly food, and the idea of reconnecting to the pleasures of eating.

:: logo via Slow Food International

The concept is terribly European, and for Americans sitting in their cars, eating fast food, and listening to NPR, this is a little harder sell. But food awareness, in the form of organics, csas, community gardens, and locavorism - is becoming more global, with Slow Food USA, amonst a variety of other organizations cropping up to meet this demand.

:: image via Adbusters

Recently, this trend has expanding to other realms, including an intriguing concept of Slow Design in a variety of forms. Envisioned as a means of emphasizing (from the NYT) '...slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life...' there is a natural place for this in design. A recent New York Times article 'The Slow Life Picks Up Speed', applies this to design thinking with topics ranging from fashion, product, and home design - as well as shopping, travel, or anything.

An early pioneer of the idea, Carl Honoré, authored a book 'In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed' and runs a popular website on the subject as well. Some groups include SlowLab, a consultancy in NYC that is focusing on 'slow' in it's many forms. Other examples expand this beyond mere 'green' (which is slower) to eschew mass-production. The article mentioned the example of Christien Meindertsma, from a Dutch company named Flocks, uses wool only from the fleece of sheep she's actually met. That... is slow.

:: image via The New York Times

Shifting towards building, architect John Brown's site The Slow Home offers options for a "...movement devoted to bringing good design into real life." From the NYT article, Brown offers the following thought:

"A cookie cutter house in a new development is like a Big Mac and fries,” he said the other day. Not only are you undernourished by awkward spaces and huge houses, he said, but far-away developments require lots of driving, stealing your time and your health. Mr. Brown’s hope is to raise awareness “about resources and options,” he said. “If you learn about materials, think about where your house comes from, you’re going to be more involved with the culture of the house, rather than just engaging with it as a financial instrument.”

So what does this mean for landscape and urbanism? Perhaps it picks up on threads from earlier posts regarding both plantings and materials. Continuing this weeks obsession, Piet Oudolf could be considered a 'Slow' designer because of his desire to understand and know the materials and their innate life cycles, and apply this to the creation of spaces.

:: image via GAP Photos

Often, in the day-to-day race to create billable work, meet deadlines, and provide more and innovative services, we forget that this understanding of the craft is vital. Decisions may not be thought through completely, and while the immediate goal (short-term completion) is met - the ultimate goal (long-term success) is often lost. The profession is growing, in size and visibility. This is a key time to take stock and think about how we approach design, sustainably, ethically, and with quality. Making money and sustaining business is obviously vital. But how do we do this, as well as differentiate from related disciplines, or establish the same credibility as our peers?

The answer: By doing things better. This means, perhaps taking a moment, and doing them a bit slower too.

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