Postcard From Dana McKinney
The D.C.-based architect and urban planner pens an open letter on design as a conduit for compassion
In our Postcards From series, we invite esteemed creatives from around the globe to write an open letter to the international design community sharing their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of our era. On the occasion of Design Miami/ Basel 2022, we present a special series of postcards focusing on resilience through design. At a time when we can feel far too divided, these unique perspectives offer visions for a better world and concrete ways we can all help in this moment.
Today’s postcard comes from Washington, D.C.-based architect and urban planner Dana McKinney.
I still have hope in you. But how can you shed your austerity, your impersonal and rigid presentation? Design has too often collapsed into caricatures—with all the black, the concrete, the smooth, the cool, the glassy, the minimal. The fetishized sentiments cloak elements of human touch. Despite the evolution of post-modernism and the release from modernist ideals, design, you have shuttered in the wake of emotion.
How can you serve the most vulnerable among us? The young, the aging, the poor, the imprisoned, the disabled, the unhoused—anyone who does not qualify as a cisgender white male. Learn from others’ differences, celebrate diversity, and uplift. Design cannot stand indifferent to social conditions and injustices standing in our presence. Designers are fed a defeatist narrative of design’s limited role in social change, and therefore stand timid in reconciling these boundaries. We can instead insert ourselves in conversations on social welfare and policy. We can enrich our work with the texture of humanity and craft space for a more progressive future.
Design can become a conduit for compassion; we can embrace and inject love in each line drawn. There is a beautiful potentiality in which designers have greater comfort not just reconciling, but celebrating the curve, the color, the diverse, the texture, and the mess. These elements of spontaneity and informality are more akin to the nonlinear and complex sentiment of love. Design, take every moment to embrace the people you house, shutter notions of elitism, celebrate difference, encourage kinetics, and embrace love.
American architect and urban planner Dana McKinney is an advocate for social justice and equity through design. McKinney’s academic and professional work takes an interdisciplinary approach, integrating wellness, policy, and economics into innovative design solutions to benefit even the most vulnerable populations, including formerly incarcerated individuals, persons experiencing homelessness, and the elderly.
This letter is part of a special editorial series spotlighting stories of resilience through design. For Design Miami/ Basel 2022, Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Design Miami and Anava Projects invited a short list of exceptional creatives to share their perspectives on paths towards a more equitable, more secure future by design and beyond.