Environmental Design Pedagogy in Leningrad in the 1980s

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    Yulia Karpova
Throughout the 1970s, Soviet designers were increasingly speaking of ‘environment’ (sreda) as a complex and heterogeneous surrounding, including built and natural elements, historical and newly designed areas. During 1980s, this ‘environmental approach’ was increasingly inciting ecological awareness. In cooperation with environmentalists, philosophers, historians and other specialists, industrial designers sought for specific methods of environmentally affirmative design. In line with this, they also called for a corresponding reconsideration of design pedagogy: no adding “environmental design” as an extra discipline to design departments, but orienting the whole curriculum towards solving environmental issues.

This chapter highlights tensions and contradictions of late Soviet design environmentalism by considering the case of a design workshop run by Vladimir Kirpichev at Mukhina School of Art and Industry in Leningrad from 1978, and the department of environmental design into which it was reorganized in 1990. Following the Mukhina School’s tradition of educational workshops with flexible curricula and charismatic instructors, Kirpichev developed a specific vision of environmental design pedagogy that combined the idea of “collective genius,” the emphasis on handicraft, as well as concepts inspired by systems theory. I will argue that Kirpichev’s approach was essentially humanist, techno-optimist and oriented at satisfying consumer needs rather than solving environmental problems. However, this stance was challenged by the changing socio-political circumstances and broader international contacts in the early 1990s. As an example of this, I will consider Kirpichev team’s participation in the international seminar Interdesign, organized by the Industrial Design Society of America with the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and held in San Jose, California, in August 1992. At this event, young Leningrad designers demonstrated the tendency to de-centre the consumer in their picture of environmental design, and, arguably, took a step towards a post-humanist vision of design.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Culture of Nature in the History of Design
EditorsKjetil Fallan
PublisherRoutledge
Publication yearJun 2019
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jun 2019

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