Design with the Other 90%: CITIES

September 14, 2012 - January 7, 2013
Kemper Art Museum, Ebsworth Gallery

Design can be a dynamic force in transforming and, in many cases, saving lives across the globe. Design with the Other 90%: CITIES explores the ways in which design can redress critical issues, from the most basic needs for people living on $2 a day in developing economies, to the challenges resulting from rapid urban growth and the proliferation of informal settlements. Traditionally, professional designers focus on 10 percent of the world’s population, but as global conditions change—a predicted two billion people will be living in makeshift communities by 2030—residents are partnering with designers, engineers, architects, and social entrepreneurs to create sustainable solutions to real needs. By presenting over sixty of the most innovative of these utilitarian objects, structures, and systems serving communities around the world, Design with the Other 90%: CITIES challenges conventional notions of architecture and design as much as it advances understanding of the essential role that innovative design can play in addressing today’s most pressing local and global issues.

The scope of the exhibition ranges from individual objects—portable vendor stands, large capacity carriers for bicycles, solar lanterns, water filters—to broader strategic and systems-level solutions for farming and irrigation, urbanization and inclusive communities, teaching and education, shelter and housing, clean water and sanitation, and waste recycling. LifeStraw, for example, is a personal mobile water purification tool designed to convert any surface water into drinkable water. Urbanism Manual for Precarious Settlements, developed by the faculty of the Architecture, Design and Urbanism Department at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, provides information not only on how and where best to locate safe new settlements, but also on how to work with local communities, resources, and governments as a guideline for future urbanization. Bicycle-powered cell phone chargers, solar energy devices, and building materials crafted from waste products further reflect the overriding concern with social, economic, and environmental sustainability that informs the exhibition’s designs.

The Kemper Art Museum exhibition assimilates elements of two previous exhibitions organized by the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum: Design for the Other 90% (2007) and Design with the Other 90%: CITIES (2011). The unique composite presents a compelling new design: a range of photographic and video documentation, sound tracks, full-scale artifacts, and models and constructions present not only objects and ideas but also on a sensory level the conditions of their need. Comparative information, such as statistical data about geographic locations, population densities, and urban growth rates, is visualized throughout the exhibition to further contextualize the challenges met by these design solutions.

Design with the Other 90%: CITIES is organized by the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s curator of socially responsible design, Cynthia E. Smith. It is adapted for the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum by Peter MacKeith, adjunct associate curator of architecture & design at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum and associate dean and associate professor of architecture at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. It opens September 14, 2012, and remains on view through January 7, 2013.

Exhibition support

Design with the Other 90%: CITIES was organized by

This exhibition's presentation at the United Nations was sponsored by

Generous support was provided by

Additional funding was provided by Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Bank, Smithsonian 2.0 Fund, the Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation, and Smithsonian Institution's Research Opportunity Fund.

Support for the exhibition at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is generously provided by I-CARES at Washington University in St. Louis; the Charles and Bunny Burson Art Fund at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts; the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; James M. Kemper, Jr.; the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation; John and Anabeth Weil; the Hortense Lewin Art Fund; and members of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum. Further generous support is provided by additional units of Washington University: the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration, the Institute for Public Health, the Center for Social Development, and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

The Make a House Intelligent project in St. Louis was made possible by Tarlton Corporation with additional support from Ben Hur Construction Company, John J. Smith Masonry, Kirberg Roofing Company, and Rock Hill Mechanical Corporation.


Accompanying the exhibition are two catalogs published by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum: Design for the Other 90% (2007) and Design with the Other 90%: CITIES (2011). A free guide to the unique composite exhibition on view at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will also be available.

Educator resources

The Museum's Education department connects special exhibitions with
students of all levels through specialized tours, curriculum plans, hands-on activities, and more. Download the Educator's Guide for the exhibition for more details.

Media links

- Design with the Other 90%: CITIES press release (July 31, 2012)
- St. Louis Public Radio's Cityscape interview with curators Cynthia E. Smith and Peter MacKeith (September 14, 2012)
- St. Louis Beacon's Nancy Fowler interviews Peter MacKeith (September 14, 2012)
- West End Word's Dickson Beall highlights the exhibition (September 26, 2012)

Related event

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Sam Fox School's Urban Design program, the exhibition will serve as a platform for an extensive array of public programs highlighting urban design issues and the expanding areas of global renewable energy and sustainability.

Image credits

Favela Painting. Praça Cantão, Favela Painting Project. Artists: Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, Haas&Hahn, with Santa Marta favela community youth. Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2009-10. Photo: © Haas&Hahn for favelapainting.com.

Yerwada Slum Upgrading Project. SPARC Samudaya Nirman Sahayak (SSNS) and Pune Municipal Corporation, with SPARC (Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres), NSDF (National Slum Dwellers' Federation), and Mahila Milan, Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) affiliates. Yerwada slum, Pune, India, 2008-present.
Photo: © SDI.