Parsons Tackles Disaster Preparedness Through Design

Four months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, an interdisciplinary team of graduate students from Parsons School of Design at The New School traveled to the U.S. territory to survey the destruction of the island’s lighting system by one of the worst natural disasters in modern history.

Power in Puerto Rico had been knocked out for weeks, and students wanted to hear from local residents, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders about the impact the lack of light was having on their everyday lives. They also planned to research, create, and implement design solutions to mitigate the crisis.

The students launched Lighting in Action, an organization that works with communities in Puerto Rico to install solar lighting solutions.

“Our study of lighting conditions is an effort to fully involve ourselves in real-world challenges — in this case, the urgent problem of natural and man-made disasters,” according to the students, who come from the MFA Lighting Design, MArch, and MFA Design and Technology programs. “The relationships and networks we develop while in Puerto Rico we hope to continue to build into a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas.”

The project is one of the many ways Parsons is dealing with disaster preparedness through design — a three-year endeavor that culminates in a pair of exhibitions at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center and an upcoming design intensive that kick off in September.

Disaster Preparedness in the Constructed Environment is an exhibition featuring student projects that arose from a 2017 design intensive, along with a series of videos documenting the observations of students from Lighting in Action, a Facebook Live interview with Kirkbride and students involved in the exhibition, and a slides from the 2017 design intensive. It coincides with Earth Manual Project – This Could Save Your Life, an exhibition co-hosted by the Japan Foundation that showcases creative ideas for dealing with disasters at different stages — from preparedness education to response and relief efforts — from leading designers from Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and other countries where such cataclysmic events are frequent.

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