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Eric Cesal on the Role of Design Amidst Changing and Contradictory Patterns in Disaster and Resilience

Eric J. Cesal is a designer, writer, and noted post-disaster expert, having led on-the-ground reconstruction programs after the Haiti earthquake, the Great East Japan Tsunami, and Superstorm Sandy.  Cesal’s formal training is as an architect, with international development, economics and foreign policy among his areas of expertise.  He currently serves as the Special Projects Director for the Curry Stone Design Prize.

He will be discussing the role of the design community amidst changing and contradictory patterns in disaster and resilience. Specifically, how present methods of socio-economic organization continually multiply the risks already shouldered by vulnerable communities.  How we organize a city, a neighborhood, a street and a building enhances either resilience or vulnerability.  The commodification of the built environment during the neoliberal era largely enhanced vulnerability while paying lip service to resilience, which is why we face ever-escalating costs for disaster.  

 As designers, our choices frequently and unwittingly capitulate to this ongoing agenda.  Our design decisions, while perfectly legal, effectively bury risk within the walls of our buildings and the layouts of our neighborhoods.  Cesal is currently working on a new book which seeks to unravel how and why our built environment has become unresponsive to disaster.