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Design and the Depression, The Debate: Part One

Is there an upside to the recession? Quite a few people seem to think so. David Goodhart, editor of Prospect magazine, hopes for a good recession in which only rich bankers will be laid off, and the effects of which will be largely ‘cleansing’.

The design version of this argument would have Zaha Hadid, Ross Lovegrove, Marcel Wanders, and Campana Brothers canned; and a moral reawakening would replace stylistic decadence. With echoes of the early-Nineties, designers are again beating themselves up over their supposed excess. Back then, they regretted the superficiality of Eighties’ Post Modernism and the matt black and chrome-trimmed Yuppie lifestyle. Today, outlandish architecture and design-art are placed alongside Damien Hirst’s Diamond Skull and the Candy and Candy’s apartments as symptoms of empty extravagance.

But the Bring-On-The-Slump crowd are equally self-indulgent. Recessions are marked by bankruptcies, mass unemployment, house repossessions and general misery, not by moral renewal. A mean-spirited Puritanism lies behind those beckoning recession.Their outlook reveals a shocking detachment from economic and historical realities. The recessionistas just don’t get it, they have not grasped the depth of the economic crisis we face. This is no mere downturn, blip or ‘natural correction’; it’s a process that will last years. It could inflict a terrible toll on the profession. No doubt these commentators come from the kind of backgrounds that weren’t blighted by previous busts, but few practising designers and architects will be able to maintain such glorious indifference in the face of the coming havoc.

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