I’m Lindsay Brown, a Vancouver designer and writer. My current book project, on the massive UN gathering in Vancouver in 1976 that spawned UN Habitat, is described at bottom. I am also involved, from time to time, in civic troublemaking regarding development and property speculation.
Ouno Design, the textile-based design company which I now solely own and run, was co-founded in 2004 with the delightful Sarah Gee who now works full time as an artist.
In 2010 I co-founded a coalition that defeated a supposedly done deal for a megacasino in downtown Vancouver. This was an arts-led initiative to protest unique-in-Canada cuts to arts investment, but was also a fight for a better-designed version of Vancouver. Currently I’m actively annoyed by Vancouver’s other mega affliction: megadevelopers and the way in which they participate in the condo speculation that drives Vancouver’s rampant unaffordability and subsequent brain drain. Not to mention bad architecture. No one wants to live in an executive resort town. Decor starts to seem trivial when all your art and design colleagues are forced to leave town.
I wish more designers involved themselves in fighting for better buildings, towns and cities. Great cities are made as much by citizens who block or influence politicians and developers than they are built by city halls, developers and big money. When Big Money is left to its own devices, bad cities happen.
About the blog:
This blog is a long, messy photo essay on design. I started it because I wanted to restore to a sense of history to design, if only for myself. History can be fugitive, particularly in the New World. Everything is so decontextualized in the current stream of commodities; don’t even get me started on tumblr and pinterest.
Design-wise I prefer the modern and the ancient to the eras that lie in between. I’ve never really liked cathedrals; I find them garish and oppressive. I prefer the space-age, the futurist and the rustic, the utopian and the anti-utopian, the unstuffy and the unstaid, the green, the possibly-not-entirely-lost promise of the 1960s and 70s, the creative, the practical, the ingenious, the mixed, the unorthodox, and the way people actually live in real spaces. I am interested in bricolage, in making do, and in the way necessity mothers invention.
I like the sheer level of cultural borrowing evident in design, the actual impurity of design traditions long considered pure, and just generally the wild miscegenation of everything.
This is not to say that all mixing is good. I’m definitely not talking about the faux-historification of our cities, the demolition of our actual past followed by its replacement with a faux nineteenth-century ‘originality‘. That’s when you get elements of the past and the future, combining to make something not quite as good as either.
Because design is never divorced from anything else, this long essay is also about urban planning, philosophy, art, political economy, architecture, sociology, geography, neurology, pyschology and anything else that pertains to design, which is everything.
The word “ouno” is a name in both Finnish and Japanese, my two favourite nations for design. Apropos of nothing, the word also contains the symbols for both zero and one, and it’s the same right side up as upside down. My dad was a mathematician in love with puzzles, and that is maybe why those things please me so much.
This blog makes no attempt to avoid being nerdy or critical. There are plenty of nicey-nice design blogs out there and if that’s what you’re looking for, you will find many of those, and I wouldn’t blame you for going there. I just think that without critique and complaint, the design of cities and dwellings in North America won’t get any better. And it needs to get a lot better than it is—less creatively impoverished, more democratic and a lot more pleasurable. We do after all spend almost all of our lives in buildings and towns and cities and altered landscapes, all of which have a overwhelming impact on our conscious lives, our unconscious lives, our health, intelligence, creativity and our social interactions. These things affect us every moment of our lives whether we’re aware of them or not. And not only do we need more humane spaces in which to live, we need—above all—to ensure affordable housing for all. Without this, all our interest in decor is just privileged fiddling while Rome (or insert your city here) burns. Housing is a human right. Public policy and regulation are the only ways to insure people are housed and can afford to live in the cities where they work. The market and private industry are not going to get us there.
We all need to fight the worsening property speculation! Dear Canada and the USA and beyond, quit letting developers run—and ruin—this show.
To read about my book project on Vancouver’s UN-Habitat Forum event of 1976, concerning sustainable urban settlements, click here. Few seem to know that Buckminster Fuller, Margaret Mead, Mother Teresa, Paolo Soleri and Maggie & Pierre Trudeau, along with many thousands of others, came to Vancouver then to talk about better, safer, more sustainable, fairer, cities and clean water worldwide. This book is about what happened that year. It’s a snapshot not just of Vancouver, but also of how we began to view cities in the wake of the first Oil Crisis.
As for the fight against the corrupt casino project:
Vancouver: We won the first round against the mega-casino that the BC government tried to force on downtown Vancouver, but now it turns out City Hall has given the gaming company and PavCo a loophole. The fight continues. Please stay tuned. This is not good urban planning. And the gambling industry is relentless, makes huge political donations, and never ceases trying to coerce gov’ts into permitting expansion. Learn about our ongoing fight here. Ask Windsor/Atlantic City/St. Louis Melbourne how they’re feeling about the gambling-based urban planning choices they made. Casino capitalism creates untold social and economic problems, its revenues are parastically gained at the expense of other less-destructive industries, it is never as lucrative for local regions as advertised, and its promised charity contributions are always clawed back. You have been warned.