Creating culturally bound, sustainable, and economical design solutions
In my former career as a project designer working for a corporate design firm, I often thought that an architect was supposed to express her or his or passion for the trade by devoting late nights and countless hours towards the design and perfection of a building. I would routinely work late hours to perfect my lines, and produce sleek and modern formations incorporating fluid design forms. In the end, my superiors just wanted me to satisfy the clients and help the billing indices for that month meet the quota. I did not mind seeking out new clients and I loved many of the design challenges that come with the new jobs I was getting. As we started getting projects in the Middle East and South Asia, I started to question the philosophy and values of modern architecture. I soon realized I no longer loved the architecture I was trained to create, rather my passion was turning more towards creating communities through sustainable designs and culturally rooted architecture.
Over the past decade, I have evolved as a designer and have found new paradigms for the work of MIIM Designs. We have shifted from an old top-down paradigm of “one solution for all locations” toward a more organic, sympathetic, bottom-up “questioning design” approach in order to design a better world. A designer can sometimes express sympathy by probing and “problem finding”. Sympathy then becomes love when designer executes the design, creating a culturally bound, sustainable, and economical design solution that addresses the needs of users at multiple levels, integrating seamlessly with the world around it, and occasionally daring to imagine a better world. We can address the needs of a community, alleviate poverty, raise educational standards, and enrich the core values of a new generation that will formed by the spaces we create.
One of the simple ways we have started to share our love for design is by raising awareness and raising money for people whose worlds have been drastically altered. After the unfortunate Typhoon Haiyan destroyed families, homes, and communities in the Philippines, we teamed up with Architecture for Humanity to spread the importance rebuilding the affected cities. The Haiyan Action Plan, initiated on 12th of November, was only 13% ($38 million) funded when we initiated our #rebuildPH T-shirt campaign. We jumped into action and designed a rebuild the Philippines T-shirt. With the help of many generous hearts, we raised money through donations and T-shirt sales to rebuild the Philippines through a collaboration with BonfireFunds. We continue to make progress in this effort, and we will continue to update all of our supporters on how we are rebuilding a resilient Philippines.
Rebuilding a community after a devastating event is the start of a much longer project that includes the building of spaces where children can achieve their potential. When our Ghanian friends from the Mmofra Foundation approached us to create an educational outdoor facility that would fit in with the surrounding environment, we were overjoyed. We learned about the site and repurposed and reused what we found to create small modular elements and new play-spaces for the children. After all, Mmofra means “children” in the Akan language of Ghana.
“Teaching a man to fish” when there’s fish to be found is one way of alleviating poverty, and that is exactly what our friends of MaaBara do. Maa-Bara means “water farm” and comes from the Ogoni language of the Niger Delta. Maa-Bara is based on a minimal-waste closed-loop sustainable agricultural model that uses kitchen scraps to grow healthy, fresh fish, and vegetables. Each Maa-Bara structure is designed to uses kitchen scraps as feed for tilapia fish. The tilapia-waste-laden water then becomes a nutrient solution for hydroponics (growing vegetables without soil). The output is an empowered and employed community which grows their own food.
Valentine’s Day is a time to give. If you find that you are not in a position to donate to one of these organizations in the name of your Valentine, consider then purchasing your Valentine’s gift from our friends at Zady. Zady provides an alternative to today’s “fast-fashion” offering the choice to “buy good” against the pressures of consumer fads to buy more. Each and every single Zady product is locally sourced, handmade, sustainable, and is produced with the help of the non-profit the Bootstrap project, which provides artisans seeking to launch a micro-business in the developing world with the crucial funds they need to grow their business and revive their traditions.
Valentine’s Day reminds us that love is what keeps us really alive in this world. Designers show love through sympathy and compassionate creation, and we see our love returned to us through the joy of the enthusiastic users of our design. At MIIM Designs, we make purposeful designs that are loving designs, and we share this vision of design with our friends and partners. We hope that the love you share today with one special person is also a purposeful love that has a positive impact at other levels across the globe. After all, your choices spread across this world like a ripple across water. Let those choices spread love.
Maryam Eskandari, founder of MIIM Designs LLC, an architecture and research studio based in Palo Alto, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated from the Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture at Harvard and MIT. Follow her on Twitter @MIIMDesigns or Facebook.com/MIIMDesigns