Postcard From Sasha Topolnytska
The Ukrainian multitalent shares her thoughts on design as a tool for physical, emotional, and mental healing
In our Postcards From series, we invite esteemed creatives from around the globe to pen 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 are presenting 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 Ukrainian-born, Brooklyn-based designer Sasha Topolnytska.
The destruction of Ukrainian cities, communities, homes, and lives as casualties of war in the wake of the Russian invasion has been devastating on many scales. Though reconstruction will take time and a lot of effort, many local Ukrainian designers, architects, and urban planners have convened both at home and abroad to respond and rebuild since the first weeks of the attack. For example, Ukrainian-based design studio MetaLab, together with a group of professors from Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University, created an initiative called Co-Haty that has been re-designing abandoned dormitories to provide necessary housing for internally displaced Ukrainian families. Another initiative called Restart Ukraine by the Zvydsy Agency has been working on the recovery strategy of Ukrainian cities and villages after the war is over. And while being completely displaced from their city, Kharkiv School of Architecture was able to restart classes in Lviv a month after the start of the war providing necessary education to the new generation of designers to rebuild the country.
Despite living in wartime and dealing with personal and communal trauma, these designers use their problem-solving skills and imagination as a coping tool to help them move forward and act. Providing help to their communities through various immediate physical and visionary projects, they have offered hope for a bright future by enabling millions to not give up and continue to fight for their country.
The courage, resilience, imagination, and inventiveness of the Ukrainian design community has shown how design skills can serve as a tool to focus outrage and grief into effective action. And this makes me wonder: If design can serve as a tool for both mental and emotional healing at a moment like this while also providing necessary skills to rebuild cities and communities, how can we then expand on design and spread the knowledge to others? Can implementing design education early in life empower more young people and help to enable personal growth? Can these skills then help them to build and maintain communities as environments of care, cultural expression, and social vitality? And maybe through this expansion of design and investment in the new generation of designers, we can create a more holistic, sustainable future for everyone.
I’ve always appreciated design’s potential to make a meaningful impact, but in the last four months of my life, having witnessed in real time all that design thinking can offer, that faith in design as a tool for healing and community building has grown exponentially. It seems only right to commit to sharing this understanding not just with my fellow Urkainians, but also with communities around the globe.
Looking for ways to support Ukrainian citizens? Sasha recommends the following:
- Kharkiv School of Architecture
- UNICEF Donation Drive for Ukrainian Children
- Our own Design for Ukraine fundraiser, featuring gorgeous works donated by Bocci and supporting GlobalGiving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund
Sasha Topolnytska is a Ukrainian-born designer and architect living in Brooklyn, NY. Her passion lies in creating inclusive experiences that can be shared among everyone regardless of background, age, physical or mental differences.
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.