Art in the 90s: the rise of Eco-design

The end of the 20th century was a time of rapid industrialisation in China. It was noted on the world stage that if Asian countries started to pollute at the same rate as the Western world, then the environmental disasters predicted in the 1970s would come true much earlier than expected. The seriousness of the situation was acknowledged across the world culminating in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, during which the UN drew up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The field of design, caught between the arts and industry, was directly affected by this need to re-evaluate our gas-guzzling, polluting lifestyle. The 1990s were therefore characterised by the development of the theory of Eco-design, prompted by the article “Design for a Sustainable World” (1988) written by the design historian Victor Margolin and published in Design Issues, and similarly by the work Ecological Design (1996) by Sim van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan which talks of the integration architecture, urbanism and technology in the natural world. The trigger for this wave of thinking had been Ian McHarg’s book Design with Nature (1969), which had laid down the base considerations for environmentally-aware design (soil, climate, hydrology). Nowadays his theories have become the inspiration for the first principle of Smart Cities: harmonisation with nature. Generally in Eco-Design the production of an object should factor in the base material, manufacturing, distribution, usage, waste materials, issues with production or issues with use. Therefore initially, Eco-design was not characterised so much by formal theories or trends but rather by recyclable materials, production processes and environmental impact. As such its status as a separate design movement appears confusing. Sustainable Design Eco-Design was firstly distinguished by the materials which it employed. Whilst 15 to 20% of plastic is recycled, it takes...

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