Exhibit Review: Design with the Other 90% CITIES

While I was in New York City last week I was lucky enough to catch the exhibit – Design with the Other 90%: Cities before it closed. The exhibit, by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and hosted by the UN Visitors Center, displayed 60 projects, proposals, and solutions that “address the complex issues arising from the unprecedented rise of informal settlements in emerging and developing economies.”  I found this exhibit especially inspiring because it went beyond defining the problems of rapid urbanization, and instead focused on actionable and innovative solutions that have already been carried out.  Below I have selected a few of my favorite projects:

Map of Kiberia – Kiberia, an informal settlement of about 750,000 to 1 million people in Nairobi, Kenya, was the site of a large participatory mapping project. The Map pictured was created as part of a larger crowd sourcing community mapping project using volunteers and tools from OpenStreetMap, the GroundTruth Initiative and community organizations.  The final product is a digitized map called “Voice of Kibera” which allows residents to share community information via news, videos, and SMS messages, which are added to the map using the open source Ushahidi platform.

Incremental Housing in Iquique, Chile and Nuevo Leon, Mexico – The government of Chile hired the Architectural firm Elemental to design incremental housing, on land purchased through a government subsidy as a new form of “social housing.”  Instead of using the traditional “sit and services” approach to social housing, the architects here went beyond providing the basic foundation and infrastructure necessary for families to build their own homes.  Instead the firm designed the most expensive half of the house – the structure, bathroom, kitchen and roof. Then the family completed the remaining portions of their home. Through this unique approach a variety of houses emerged.

Grassroots Mapping – Lima, Peru.  According to the exhibit, “Grassroots Mapping is an open-source, participatory approach that enables communities to create their own maps using inexpensive equipment. Residents own the resulting images and maps, which they can use to support land-title claims or to aid in upgrading efforts.”  Having participated in a community mapping project in South Africa before I know that one of the most complex elements of such a project is getting reliable aerial images of these areas.  Therefore I found the simple approach used here quite exciting.  An MIT graduate student simply used digital camera with continuous mode shooting lofted by a kite, balloon, or inflated trash bag to snap aerial images.

Even though the exhibit has since closed information about all of the urban solutions can be found on the project’s website.

– Melissa

All images are linked to their original source or taken by the author at the exhibit.



  1. Becky Reese

    Very nice!

  2. amyloufaust

    So jealous you went to the exhibit! I really wanted to go before leaving NYC – looks like they had a great sample of projects. I didn’t realize it was so focused on participatory processes. Good stuff.

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