From human-centric to life-centric design

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Photos: Ia Adlercreutz

Ia Adlercreutz
CEO & Strategist, Co-founders

I remember being a student and attending a basic course in architecture at the University of Technology in 1996. We were given an assignment that encouraged us to treat the concept of a house as a shelter. I remember loving this task and exploring the history of housing with great enthusiasm. Just the fact that we humans had been living hundreds of thousands of years in primitive shelters triggered me. I became interested in understanding what the “minimum viable house” for living a good life would be.

The fact that we humans have travelled all the way from the stone age through ancient civilizations and middle ages to the modern era without using other than natural materials when building, inspired me also a few years back when we started building a summer cottage of our own on a tiny island in the Finnish archipelago. The island had not been inhabited by any humans before, and therefore it seemed almost violent to start cutting down trees or digging holes.

 

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We ended up building a wooden house that was structurally very simple: there were only two primary beams and eight small concrete foundation pillars on which the whole house was standing. The idea was to build something that would leave no signs of humanity behind when time or nature at some point would be done with its work. We installed no running water nor electricity (other than solar panels) and warmed the house with wood when needed. In many ways this was our take on what a “minimum viable house” could be.

The world is rhythmic as Markku Wilenius, professor in future studies, writes. We need tens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years to understand the changes that are taking place around us. Everything might seem hazardous or coincidental in between the cycles. These cycles, I believe, are connected to culture as how we perceive life varies from culture to culture.

As climate change is a global phenomenon, there is a chance that the entire humankind feels its effects simultaneously. After all, we all need sun, water and air to survive. Climate change forces us to think about how our behavior has affected the planet in the past centuries. Suddenly there might be a new cycle starting and there might be a shift from Homo Sapiens to “Homo Plena”, the holistic man – a human that serves the world beyond his own needs and who is empowered by artificial intelligence.

I am a fan of ethnographic research and I have been delighted to see more and more businesses benefiting from it when gathering insight for design briefs. I would, however, challenge us to re-think the entire premise of human-centric design and thus human-focused ethnographic research. As long as we humans see ourselves as being in the center of all activities, we might not design a world that is the best possible for all organic life.

Let’s ask ourselves: How life-centric, really, are our design methods and the outcomes of our design work? Do they serve life as whole?