"Food, Water, Shelter, Air: Designers Wanted" - Curry Stone Prize

The title to this post is taken from materials I looked at prior to the announcement of the winner of the first Curry Stone Prize for humanitarian design.

It sums up what follows.

Taking a gentle poke at himself by saying he graduated from the University of Kentucky "a few years ago," Cliff Curry, describes his inspiration for the prize, how he and David Mohney, the former dean of the college of design at the University of Kentucky, were in frequent contact over the past couple of years.  They were inspired in part by Cameron Sinclair, a participant in the 2007 IdeaFestival. Curry is very brief.

Mohney, who takes the stage next discusses how the design prize was started anonymously. Thirty nominators, who remain, and will remain, a secret, were solicited and they proposed several candidates. In July, five finalists were chosen and announced at the 11th International Venice Architecture Biennale.

He says he took great delight in calling them to tell them about a prize they had never heard of before. In the background, he adds, you "could hear them googling."

Micheal Speaks, the new dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design, stands up to announce the winner.

He says that the contribution of design to the world community is invaluabl - it should be more valuable. The prize for this award, which will be presented annually at the IdeaFestival, is $100,000. There are no strings attached to the money. The winner is chosen for his or her ability to bring the idea to life. The winner is:

MMA Architects and Luyanda Mphahlwa and Mphethi Morojele, who designed an energy-efficient home made using timber and sandbags for infill for a Cape Town family that costs just $6,900.

They were unable to attend because of visa issues, but videotaped an acceptance of the award, which is shown later. The four other finalists, who are in attendance, are on stage to discuss their contributions to humanitarian design.

Emiliano Gandolfi, who is serving as a moderator for the group, begins by describing how architecture is going through a "cultural shift" whereby it "is more than an aesthetic," where public spaces are being completely rethought. One billion people - one in five - live in housing that is not fit for humans - and it's an urgent new field for architecture. The Curry Stone Prize encourages solutions to these conditions.

Shawn Frayne, inventor of the Windbelt, the world's first non-turbine wind-powered generator, addresses a need to generate electricity from very little wind, without spinning turbines, which work well on large scales, but on smaller scales they are very inefficient.

Much later in response to a question, he says that a vibrating belt to generate electricity was the result of a thought process going back to his middle school days. He was partly inspired a flag waiving in Haiti, by wind moving across grass. His friends and he were just naturally curious about things. He stuck with it, partly because "he was given permission."

"Parents and teachers," he says, "extinguish too much curiosity."

He says that the prize gets at an important idea: issues related to emerging economies affect the whole world. The talent in emerging economies are focused on significant challenges like getting really, really cheap electricity. A wind harvesting system meet that challenge. It can also power electronic sensors, taking the place of small batteries - perfect for applications where a small battery might have been used. Asked about the inspiration, he said he wanted to replace kerosene, which dangerous, for one month in a home. At one to two dollars per watt, the technology takes turbine power where its never been before.

He compares the advance to solar cells, which can now be printed. It's apt. In contrast, with wind, "its been turbines for 80 years."

Wes Janz, architect and associate professor at Ball State University, Indiana, whose work is inspired by the ingenuity of slum dwellers who build shelters from scavenged materials, speaks next.

Showing pictures of mud pavilions, he describes how scavenged materials - sawed tree trucks, re-purposed wood pallets - are commonly used. In 2003, Janz became interested in what could be done with left-over materials because of the devastation of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka. Though Oxfam did a good job, the villagers were relocated inland in places that could never be home.

The prize wants to recognize young emergent voices - these voices are the billions who live in the most difficult living condition. They are the designers. His students have them for teachers. The destitute have much to say; these are the "emerging voices" the prize can respond to.

He's passionate about learning from the people whose ingenuity have transformed these places.

Emiliano shows some of the projects of the winner, MMA Architects. Luyanda Mphahlwa, whose picture is displayed, has a beautiful smile. It must be the reward of work well done.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the city is still split in two. Found material is used extensively. Luyanda discovered that sand could be made of sand, and beams made from timber and steel. Sand bags form the wall interiors. The cheaper materials also allowed a gain in the home's square footage.

The entire house, which is very, very modular and extensible, can be built for $6,000.

A community building its own houses had a transformation effect on the community itself, he stresses.

Marjetica Potrc, an artist and architect whose "dry toilet" design, which converts human waste to fertilizer, which is now used in barrios in Caracas, Venezuela, steps to the podium. She references the dry toilet design. It's "participatory design." Why a dry toilet?

There is no access to running water in this area.

The biggest problem in architecture is a lack of infrastructure - water, electricity - that most take for granted. In Caracas, the lack of water is acute.

She also showed some pictures of "power from nature," another of her projects, and gives a rousing defense of the freedom to make good choices.

Antonio Scarponi, an architect whose project, "Dreaming Wall," cast text messages on a wall in Milan, uses technology and design to "jam" conventional social orders and to illuminate what unites, what divides us, speaks next. He wants to show the power of people through communications mediums, which reminds me of Clay Shirky's new book, "Here Comes Everybody."

A video from  appear on video telling the crowd how fulfilling the prize is, what kind of difference it will make. He particularly thanks the originators of the design and the University of Kentucky as well as the people at MMA Architects.

He is glad that the prize has found "a small project in Cape Town," and expresses his desire to "honor his invitation to Kentucky." I look forward to meeting this inspiring person.