• Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World
    Alison J. Clarke
    MIT Press, 2021
    Alison J. Clarke

Victor Papanek, CP-1 play-cube environment for children with cerebral palsy, 1968. Photo: Kristian Runeberg.

Design is currently said to be undergoing a moment of transition, moving from material to social innovation. The gathering momentum of areas such as design anthropology reveal how social and user-based approaches to the designed environment have shifted from their activist origins in the 1960s and '70s to the creative entrepreneurship of neoliberal economies. Despite the widespread impact of social design across scales, from accessible housing projects to co-designed welfare spaces, little consideration has been given to the historical moments of transition that shaped the social elements of design and architecture as disciplines. Using previously unexplored archival materials, the monograph charts the historical origins of the humanitarian rhetoric within design and architecture from the early 1960s through the '70s, with particular emphasis placed on the work of Viennese-American émigré Victor Papanek, and his relationship with leading architectural figures, including Buckminster Fuller. It reveals how grassroots activism, underpinned by a broadly anthropological approach, was ultimately commandeered by Cold War–policy makers under a “design for development” mantle, as part of a hitherto unexamined aspect of postcolonialism.

Alison J. Clarke is chair of design history and theory at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and founding director of the Papanek Foundation. A graduate of the Royal College of Art/V&A Museum London in design history, Clarke completed her doctorate in social anthropology at the University College London. A former Smithsonian Fellow, she is founding coeditor of Home Cultures: Journal of Architecture, Design and Domestic Space; the author of Tupperware: the Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (optioned for an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary); editor of Design Anthropology: Object Cultures in Transition (2017); and coeditor of Émigré Cultures in Design and Architecture (2017). A regular media presenter, including on the award-winning BBC series The Genius of Design, Clarke recently contributed to the exhibition catalogues for Hippie Modernism at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis; 2015), So You Say You Want a Revolution? at the V&A Museum (London; 2016), and As Seen: Exhibitions that Made Architecture and Design History at the Art Institute of Chicago (2017). She is presently co-curating (with the Vitra Design Museum) Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, opening Autumn 2018.