Critical Urban Areas at the University of Basel announces Southern Designs: Planetary Futures. This eight-month series of discussions reflects how design, thought and practice from the South are shaping planetary futures.

What do design responses to the environmental crisis look like when they are grounded in the aspirations and struggles of the people most affected, who often reside in the Global South? How does design grapple with radical interconnectedness in conditions of perpetual injustice and rapid urban and environmental change?

In 2022, we launched a global call for projects to answer these questions. More than 150 multidisciplinary teams from around the world responded. In dialogue with emerging thought and design leaders, the six winning project teams will reflect on their collaborative and reflective work with communities, sites and materials and discuss how current social and environmental theory confronts the pragmatism and urgencies of making things together.

The climate crisis is just the latest manifestation of a long history of planetary injustice. While the Global North has historically produced, and continues to produce, along with China, the bulk of the emissions that have caused climate change, the consequences of this have become disproportionate among vulnerable subjects and environments in the Global South. Current sustainability agendas are shaped by the interests of rich and polluting nations, not the human majority and other people in the world. Addressing the global environmental crisis requires overcoming patterns of colonial extraction and asymmetric industrialization, and the resulting global inequalities.

Due to the climate crisis, design solutions have increasingly coalesced around a call to build and enhance sustainable and resilient systems. Politicians, planners, designers, development agencies and community organizations are investing hope in design as they aim to foster environments and subjects that can effectively respond to new levels of risk and uncertainty. However, critics have noted that adopting resilience as the ultimate goal may lead to the entrenchment of political and economic systems of violence and marginalization rather than their abolition.

Clearly the designs of the Global South. It does so relentlessly and often persistently. However, these global projects and practices are routinely blocked, co-opted or suppressed by institutions that govern in the name of resilience, sustainability or development.

Designs for the South begins from the premise that to fulfill the promise of disaster-resilient design, the South remains indispensable—not as a geographic location, but as a spirit of engagement. The project asks what resilience means when mobilized from the South, and how design for living landscapes and autonomous communities can work to advance global justice. Given the colonial relations to which both “design” and the “Global South” are linked, this impulse calls into question a fundamental question about design and points to a world beyond inherited spatial and epistemological divisions.

Opening roundtable discussion with Jennifer Gabris, Paolo Tavares, and Michael Oyedemo
Tuesday 28 September, from 4 to 6 pm CET
Run by Kenny Coopers
Register here.

Planetary Professions x Nana Ya Byama Ofosu
Tuesday 24 October, from 4 to 6 pm CET
Register here.

Reimagining (Nations) x Françoise Vergés
Tuesday 14 November, from 4 to 6 pm CET
Register here.

Rural Futurism x German Barnes
Tuesday 28 November, from 4 to 6 pm CET
Register here.

You can read about the South Designs initiative and selected projects here. Stay tuned, four more events in this series will follow in spring 2024.

All events are online and open to the public. Please register For the talks you would like to attend follow the link above (Please register for each event individually, i.e. if you would like to attend all four events, please register for each). The events will also be broadcast live with closed captioning via the Critical Urbanisms YouTube channel.

Organized by Kenny Coopers (Critical Urbanism, University of Basel) and Laura Nkola-Vince (African Center for Cities, Cape Town) as part of the SNSF-funded Sinergia project, Governance through Design.

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