Dire economic news has been a boon to at least one group: design puritans. NY Times journalist Michael Cannell started it all with an article headlined Design Loves a Depression: “The pain of layoffs notwithstanding, the design world could stand to come down a notch or,” he said. No doubt out-of-work designers will take great comfort from the moral lesson it teaches those wasteful creators of limited editions. To the rescue came NY design guru Murray Moss, who reacted with venom on the Design Observer website. He described Cannell’s argument as “regressive and mean-spirited” and pointed out that “design… loves a depression no more than it loves a war, a flood, or a plague.” Judging by the sheer number of comments, it was one of the most popular articles the site has ever run, and brought supportive responses from designer Constantin Boym and 2008’s Venice Biennale director Aaron Betsky who proclaimed “Amen Murray!”
Yet Cannell was by no means alone in lauding the New Depression. In a piece reviewing a new London restaurant, The Observer’s Stephen Bayley wrote a self-satisfied and confused analysis: “Times of constraint have historically stimulated architecture and design”, he said, giving precisely one example to support his case. In the Sunday Times, Hugh Pearman’s glee was palpable: “There’s nothing like a recession for bringing architecture back to its senses…. New Puritanism stalks the streets. By and large, this is a good thing.” To top it all, that king of humility Karl Lagerfeld appeared on the BBC’s Today programme, describing the worldwide economic downturn as “a healthy thing, a horrible but healthy thing. It’s a medical treatment of the world.” Doctor Karl has even been quick to label this development as “the new modesty” which will no doubt be the title of a modestly exorbitant Chanel range for 2009. Hair-shirts are in.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. In a Guardian article by Jonathan Glancey, architects were keen to offer helpful hints on how to survive the recession. Norman Foster kindly suggested opening 22 offices worldwide. Well, it’s worked for him. Designer and Royal College of Arts professor Nigel Coates took the opportunity to coin a tart new word: “There’s been a lot of boring and plain bad new building during the boom years – frumpitecture, I call it.” Meanwhile, RIBA president Sunand Prasad spoke of the last recession: “Luckily, architecture encourages broad thinking. Many found new careers in law, academia, catering and so on.” So there we have it: out with frumpitecture, and in with the chef’s hat.