Compost Modern

Hot Studio San Francisco, C.A. 2010–2013

“Knowing that we’re in this
highly volatile time, how do we
start to think about this?”

As climate change forces water levels higher, food supplies lower, and storm systems to rage ever harder, how can designers use their work to build resilience in a volatile world?

Beginning in January 2012, Sarah and a team of 25 volunteers spent one year thinking about this question for the CompostModern 13 conference in San Francisco, where Sarah served as curator and executive producer.

How could designers—particularly at city innovation offices—help people and systems weather coming environmental changes?

“Knowing that we’re in this highly volatile time, how do we start to think about this?” Sarah says she wondered at the time.“Sustainability was important. People were starting to use the word ‘resilience.’ How do we think about potential damage, as well as how to create a buffer for our populations and develop the capacities to become more adaptive to ecosystem challenges?”

Sarah understood that resilience had to involve looking at systems as a whole, as well as taking time to listen and to pay attention to both large patterns and small details. As the team brainstormed, they understood that resilient systems embrace change, rather than resisting it.

The conference would focus on how to get ahead of outside forces, how to morph to meet change, how to bounce back, and how to continue to develop.

For two days, an all-star, international team of thinkers explored cutting-edge work around resilient design in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Artists, product designers, architects, futurists, sustainability consultants, intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs shared ideas and thought about solutions. Design educator Nathan Shedroff and Eve Blossom, founder of Lulan, moderated the conference.

Speakers talked about responsible design, design activism, using art to explain and understand communities, and being connected in the 21st Century.

The highlight?

On the second day, John Bielenberg led a design blitz focused on the question, “Given that resilience is the ability to take a punch in the face, how might we demonstrate resilience in the world?”

More than 500 people, including 24 international design leaders, attended.

The conference was the first of its kind, and attendees continue to do resilience work inspired by what they learned. The conference also continues today. Sarah led the conference as part of her tenure on the AIGA SF Board of Directors, serving as Sustainability Chair.

Compostmodern was conceived and produced by Phil Hamlett, Jennifer Pattee, and Amos Klausner as a production of the AIGA San Francisco chapter, in conjunction with Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA SF). The inaugural event drew more than 400 people, demonstrating there was a high interest level in design solutions bridging from the idea of sustaining into the idea of becoming more adaptive and resilient over time.

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