Sep 12, 201312:56 PMPoint of View

Q&A: Sonia Dhillon-Marty

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Ise Jingu shrine in Japan. 

Courtesy © robizumi

Design can also be used to protest and provoke reaction. Last year when there were some publicized rapes in India, some people responded by suggesting more conservative dress for women. My daughter and I designed shirts that say, “ban rape not skirts.” Now the foundation is planning to host fashion shows in collaboration with many institutes across the globe to engage in dialogue about the state of sexual violence.

Just like we need to remind people of traffic laws, we do need to remind people about right and wrong. In today’s society, people are constantly moving and living with other cultures. Technology gives us access to more information and points of view. This all makes it hard for people—for cultures—to hold on to values. We need to offer simple guidance. I do this for my kids just by making sure I stay near them. For a broader impact, I continue to be interested in using art and design as a way to communicate, to share my values, and to spread empathy.

EM: You have talked about how it is important to value design and creativity as much as material thingsthat we should produce ideas and art rather than use up resources to fill up landfills. What does this mean to you?

SDM: The old phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” means to me that we should always see beauty. Life is a balance between working many hours to make more and more money and taking the time for nurturing our senses through leisure and cultural experiences. In economic terms, a fulfilling life and a truly prosperous society is the optimal return. There is a fundamental principle in economics called diminishing marginal return—that is that everything reaches a point where additional effort leads to a lowered return. Can we use this principle as individuals to maintain a sustainable civilization?

We obviously are living in a time of tremendous waste. At the same time, our economy depends on consumption and growth. I believe that we need to continue to produce and consume a lot for circulation of money and generating wealth for prosperity, but that we should shift our consumption and investment toward immaterial things—creativity, ideas, experiences. This is even more urgent with our growing population of 7 billion people. We cannot keep up our rate of material consumption. As I just read from Paul and Anne Ehrlich, “If the 5 billion-plus people in developing nations matched the consumption patterns of the 1.2 billion in the industrialized world, at least two more Earths would be needed to support everyone.”

I thought that the Rain Room at MOMA that I visited recently with my family was a wonderful example of creating experiential value for many, many people by just having a very good idea. I also just hosted another salon about food and our relationship to nature. Stanford University Dance Department faculty member Aleta Hayes and her students performed a work during the dinner to connect the guests with the tastes and the smells of our urban farm, Champ de Portola. The next farm salon will be for the harvest of our olives in the fall where we will have a taiko drum performance and olive pressing and offer freshly press oil for tasting. I am hoping that designing these kinds of non-material experiences and gatherings can help reinforce our collective social and ecological fabric.



Erin Moore is an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Oregon.

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