timeline for design activism — what would you add?

I’ve been preparing a text on design activism and in particular, what can be learned from social movements. Part of the text is a timeline for “cause-oriented” design, which I include here in order to get input from readers about what is missing or debated. Please comment!  links and references  will come later (sorry, no time at the moment!).

[note: many thanks for comments so far–updates from me are in the comments]

1930s and 1940s

housing and furniture
– Bauhaus and the social potential of design
– Buckminster Fuller dymaxion car and house
– Schindler’s shelters: low cost, pre fabricated housing


Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes
Walter Segal self build system

“barrier free” movement (forerunner to universal design) in response to disabled veterans


1960s design groups: Situationists International, Superstudio, etc.
1966 Drop City community founded
1968 publication: Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand

1969 Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Community design & appropriate technology
1965 Intermediate Technology Development Group (Appropriate Technology) founded
1968-69 Community Design Center of Minnesota founded 1969, Los Angeles Community Design Center founded 1968


1970s Co-evolution Quarterly
1973 AIA Energy committee, founded
1970  Cosanti Foundation began building Arcosanti, an experimental town (ongoing)
1975 Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
1977  Soft Energy Paths by Amory Lovins
1977 A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein
1979 Passive Solar Energy Book by Ed Mazria

Design for development/consumer safety
1971 Design for the Real World by Victor Papanek

Diversity: religion
1977 Aga Khan award established for architecture recognizing good design in Islamic contexts (ongoing)


Social responsibility
1981 Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, 1981

1981 Structural failure at a major US hotel prompts the conversion of Bob Berkibile to one of the first sustainable design champions in architecture
1982 Founding of the Rocky Mountain Institute by Amory and Hunter Lovins

1984 Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing, and Family Life, by Dolores Hayden


1990 formation of the AIA Committee on the Environment
1993 founding of the US Green Building Council
1993 Design for Society, critiques of consumerist design by Nigel Whitely
1996 Ecological Design by Sim van Der Ryn and Stewart Cowan
1997 formalization of eco design with publications such as John Gertsakis, Helen Lewis, and Chris Ryan A Guide to EcoReDesign and Han Brezet and C. van Hemel Ecodesign: A Promising Approach to Sustainable Production and Consumption
1996-97 exhibitions of recycled material such as “Re- Materialize” and “Hello Again”

1993 Women in Design section founded at IDSA (Industrial Designers Society of America)
1999 Design and Feminism Joan Rothschild, ed
1996 Architecture and Feminism, Debra Coleman, Elizabeth Danze and Carol Henderson, eds,

1993 Rural studio, University of Arkansas design build studio focusing on poor local communities
1993 Congress for the New Urbanism
1999 Design Corps, US community focus, often rural or migrant groups
1999 The Glass-House Trust begins evolving into The Glass-House Community Led Design in 2006, UK


1999 Architecture for Humanity
1999 Architects without Frontiers

Alternative education
1998 Ecosa Institute, 1998


Humanitarian (becoming Social Design or Design for Social Impact)
2001 Designers without Borders
2003 Design that Matters
2004 Article 25 (formerly architects for aid)
2008 Project H Design
2008 Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio conference on design for social impact
2008 Change Observer blog (funded by Rockefeller for initial two years)
2010 IDEO.org, social design offshoot from IDEO

Accessible/public interest
2002 Public Architecture
2003 UK Design Council begins work on design-led solutions to social problems
2004 [Re]design, UK
2005 the 1%, Public Architecture’s initiative to professionalize pro bono work
2005 SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design), US
2008 SEED Foundation social enterprise and design, UK
2009 Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for Sustainable World by Alistair Fuad-Luke published by Earthscan

Prizes and conferences
2000, Conference: Structures for Inclusion 1 organized by Design Corps
2006 “ecodesign” category added to IDSA / BusinessWeek IDEA awards program
2007 The Buckminster Fuller Challenge for $100,000
2008 Curry Stone Prize, for design emphasizing social good, reaching wider segments of society, for $100,000
2008 Conference: A better world by design

2002 Architecture 2030: getting to zero carbon emission buildings by 2030
2002 Cradle to Cradle By William McDonough & Michael Braungart, North Point Press
2006 EcoLabs (developed ecoliteracy teach-in for designers in London 2009)
2007 Designers Accord originally climate driven, now expanded
2009 Living Building Challenge launched by Cascadia Chapter of US Green Building Council

Alternative education models and Politics in design education and research
2005 Biomimicry Institute, US
2005 Goldsmiths, University of London: Center for Architectural Research–design and politics/spatial politics focus
2006 Manchester Architecture Research Center, University of Manchester–design and politics/spatial politics focus
2008 Leeds School of Architecture, Landscape and Design Leeds Metropolitan University hosts “Mapping Design Activism” followed by Leeds Festival of Design Activism in 2009
2009 TU Delft Chair in Politics and Design
2009 academic network DESIS: Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability.
2010 Austin Center for Design, educating designers for social enterprise

13 Responses to timeline for design activism — what would you add?

  1. John says:

    What a great project, Ann!

    You might look at my list of manifestos for some ideas:

    I’m not sure if this qualifies, but check out Signs of Change, edited by Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee. It covers poster art created for social movements since the 1960s, though these are less “about” design itself and more about design in service of movements (i.e. first nations struggles, the anti-apartheid movement, anarchist / punk, etc.)

    Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish also has fantastic timelines throughout, though they read the social and critical implications of events and technologies that may not be explicitly activist (e.g. 1904, mass market comic books appear; 1933, Henry Beck redesigns the London Underground Map.)

    Otherwise, here are some additions to the timeline. I’m sure there are others!

    1860-1910 Arts and Crafts Movement strives to bring a moral dimension to design and manufacture.
    1896 First major recycling center started, by the Benedetto family in New York City

    1968 Atelier Populaire
    1970 Grapus founded
    1970 Self Help Graphics & Art founded
    1970 The Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective founded
    1971 Committee to Help Unsell the War, coalition of advertising workers opposed to the Viet Nam War

    1976 Habitat for Humanity founded
    1976 First UN HABITAT conference

    Design for Development
    1979 Meeting for the Promotion of ‘industrial’ Design in Developing Countries, in Ahmedabad, India

    1987 Soy-based ink tested in first practical printing run
    1990 Scandinavian Design 1990 – Towards 2000, conference

    1961 First Barrier Free Design standard, the American National Standard is published
    1990 Americans with Disabilities Act passed, new public and commercial facilities must comply with accessibility guidelines

    1995 Graphic Agitation by Liz McQuiston, catalogs protest graphics

    Social Design
    2002 Social Design Notes founded

  2. Ann Thorpe says:

    Thanks John — lots of great additions here. Manifestos are a good idea. Interesting question about mixing in graphic design, which I haven’t really done yet, but you make a good case for it with these examples.

  3. Ann Thorpe says:

    probably also should add the “teach ins” — both architecture 2030’s teach in and EcoLabs London teach-in on eco-literacy for design.

  4. John says:

    I should clarify that the 1896 recycling center is the first major paper recycling center.

  5. marcio d. says:

    Hi ann I will post the timeline in my blog, asking for additions directing the readers to this page, best.

  6. Francois Nsenga says:

    Dear Ann

    Please contact Prof. Ricardo Gomes (ricgomes@mail.sfsu.edu). He has been building up the archives of the late Nathan Shapira who, among many other dedications in his career and lifetime, has been advocating Design for the majority of the world: “Design to Live: Inclusive Design in the Majority World.” (http://nsdablog.com/designforsocialresponsibility/designformajority/)

    There is also the work of Nathan’s colleague, the late Selby Mvusi, that also needs to be mentioned. Just two years before passing (Dec. 1967), he had had time, from 1964 to 1967, to re-orient the Design Department at the University of Nairobi, emphasizing on teaching to ‘industrial designers in low-income countries’, instead of the classical Western inspired Fine Arts. The first Industrial Design course South of the Sahara, was conceived and given at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, since 1967.

    Congratulations for the initiative and wishing you good success!


  7. Ann Thorpe says:

    I’ve had a few emails about “sustainable design” academic programs where there is, perhaps, generic concern for a range of causes, but these are more common and it would be hard to draw the line on how to include these. I’ve also had some messages about academic geography depart–but I’m trying to keep the list more design focussed, although if architects are working in geography perhaps this is a significant trend. I should mention here the other useful ideas that are coming in by email:

    “Does this fit? http://www.thepolicylab.org (2011 start)
    Has a focus on disarmament (which is product/material?).”

    And this might apply for your alternate issues area?
    (both started in the recent past – 2008-ish?)

    The Agency group at Sheffield School of Architecture, formed in 2007 – http://www.shef.ac.uk/architecture/research/researchcentres/agency.html

    Doina Petrescu was made Professor of Architecture and Design Activism last year, showing an official university recognition of design activism.

    the Association for Community Design- http://communitydesign.org/-

    PID Institutes Bryan Bell has just started putting on

  8. Dear Anne,
    Good luck with this massive project. From Australia, you may like to add:
    1991 – incorporation of the EcoDesign Foundation in Sydney, Australia, dedicated to “industrial re-creation for ecological sustainment and social well-being” aiming “to radically reconceive and influence industrial and architectural design” (from its ‘Folio: Project Outline and Program’ 1991)
    1992 – EcoDesign Foundation presents ‘Green Desires’ an exhibition on ecology, design and products in Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.
    (I can provide more on history of EDF’s activities if required)

    Tony Fry’s writing has been consistently and fundamentally concerned with design activism: exposing the enormous power of design, its implication in unsustainability and the need for its ‘redirection’ towards sustainment. Thus this listing:
    1994 – Remakings: Ecology, Design, Philosophy by Tony Fry (Sydney: Envirobooks)
    1999 – A New Design Philosophy: an Introduction to Defuturing by Tony Fry (Sydney: UNSW Press)
    2009 – Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice by Tony Fry (Oxford: Berg)
    2011- Design as Politics by Tony Fry (Oxford: Berg).

  9. Isaac says:

    You can’t forget Lawrence Halprin. His work in Charlottesville, among other places, as well as his essay RSVP cycles is critical to understanding design activism and participatory design.

  10. Richard Hackett MA says:

    Dear Ann

    This sounds like a really interesting project.

    Did you see the exhibition at the ICA in 1999 called ‘Stealing Beauty’ it was suggesting a new design language, challenging conventional aesthetic values like a form of anti-design. I haven’t seen any other exhibitions like it since.

    There are a few details about it here:


    Also have you been in touch with Prof. John Wood at Goldsmiths College, Design, he would have some really good sources and suggestions for your research.

    I have some other suggestions which I’ll gather and send on.

    Richard Hackett MA

  11. Hi, this is great list, and very relevant to a phd I am embarking on around the topic of efficacy and activism in architecture. A few things to add might be:

    The Other Tradition by Colin St James Wilson, which documents the alternative, more humanist history of modernist architecture esp. the work of Aalvar Aalto.

    Work by Architects such as Laurie Baker in India.

    Samuel Mockbee and Rural Studio in Alabama.

    Recent organisations working in practice and education.
    Co-Design (Melbourne)
    Global Studio (Sydney)

    There would also be a really interesting history of Indigenous Activist Practice particularly in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. There is a International Network of Indigenous Architects that has recently formed also.

  12. Two conferences I think you may have overlooked:

    design beyond Design (links to the publication that resulted from the conference): http://www.janvaneyck.nl/0_4_3_publications_info/toorn.html

    and in Montreal, Declarations of Interdependence and the Immediacy of design, archived here: http://lokidesign.net/declarations/

  13. Donna says:

    Hi Ann
    I would suggest Andrea Zittel’s “Institute of Investigative Living,” launched by the artist in 1999 in the Joshua Tree Desert.

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