Reactions to “Designing Peace”

By: Emily Furfaro, Brianna Gadaleta, and Meghan Stevens

On June 10, 2022, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum launched “Designing Peace”, an exhibition displaying a vast scope of design responses that aim to forge peace in distinct parts of the world. Cynthia E. Smith, curator of socially responsible design, in addition to Caroline O’Connell, curatorial assistant are the organizers of the humanitarian design exhibition. Cooper Hewitt’s presentation highlights some of the most drastic crises in the world, while investigating the ways in which these designs can create structural change, justice and most importantly peace.

“Designing Peace features forty design proposals, initiatives, and interventions from twenty-five countries, represented by objects, models, full-size installations, maps, images, and film. The pieces address anything from socioeconomic inequality, resource competition, armed conflict, police brutality, environmental degradation, and other humanitarian issues. This exhibition brings visitors into a world in which all countries, people and all of society is focused on durable, long-lasting peace.” -Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

One installation within “Designing Peace” is Casa Azul, a joint project of Fordham’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA)and the UN International Organization for Migration. The aim of the installation is to showcase the importance of collaborative design, and its potential to build durable peace by “bringing together different disciplines, sectors, and stakeholders, especially women, youth, and those on the margins.” It is an ethical approach to humanitarian design that addresses aspects such as, beauty, dignity, protection, humanity, solidarity, and many essential elements of healthy and happy life. Casa Azul lays out a design approach meant to create spaces for safety, culture, and education along the Venezuelan migration routes. In the exhibit, the blue house structure is accompanied by posters and informational reading discussing the different elements considered throughout the design process. The playbook featured in the exhibit, presents various design actions and modules for several different spaces dependent upon the services and needs of each dimension, which can be applied to both existing and newly built structures. Within the chapters of the playbook, you will find the best practices for organizations and individuals to promote the foundation and the maintenance of migrant resource centers.

Meghan | Visiting the “Designing Peace” exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt Museum was an eye-opening experience unique from most museum ventures in New York City. The exhibition did a fantastic job highlighting the diverse ways civil society can harness the power of design as an agent of peace. Through the exhibition’s interactive nature, visitors had the opportunity to immerse themselves within different human experiences during conflict. Whether it was sitting within the blue walls of Casa Azul or taking a gander into ordering at the Conflict Kitchen, each design was brought to life. Their tangibility allowed viewers to envision their purpose in maintaining peace and added a new dimension to the power of the exhibition. The integration of technology throughout the exhibition also contributed to its engaging qualities. It was interesting being able to dictate which parts of humanitarian history I was interested in learning more about; these stations created a truly personalized experience and helped me navigate through the exhibition.

Emily | The “Designing Peace” exhibit’s thoughtful organization and interactive designs made it a very memorable museum experience. It is rich with educational content and displays that could occupy one’s fascination for hours on end. Among my favorite displays within the exhibition were Casa Azul, the documentary on the racially motivated murder of Halit Yozga, and the interactive virtual pamphlet on the importance of language surrounding the conflicts in Yemen and Cameroon. “Designing Peace” successfully touches on a myriad of social, political, and racial issues and conflicts.

Brianna | I have visited several museums showcasing beautiful sculptures, art, paintings, and lavish goods of history; however, Cooper Hewitt’s “Designing Peace” exhibition is more than just installations, projects and displays. It is an ongoing conversation exploring the capabilities of countries, communities and even individuals’ power to advance our world towards a more equitable, peaceful place. These displays curated by the museum were truly inspiring and piqued my interests on how I can impact my local communities in a way to leave it better than I found it. Particularly, I took home with me a postcard from the Positive Peace Index, as this exhibit identifies the socioeconomic factors essential for sturdy peace for a community. The pillars that are mentioned in the card such as, Well-Functioning Government, and Education, Skills and Innovation and others, are areas that I want to investigate further in my own communities whether it is my home town or college town. It’s important to me that these places I cherish and live in are fundamentally sound, as well as taking care of the people that are the heart of the spaces.

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