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19th European Roundtable on Sustainable Consumption and Production – Circular Europe for Sustainability: Design, Production and Consumption

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Design in the catastrophe situation

The word "catastrophe" has been used throughout human history to designate unexpected events of high degree of destruction and lethality. The Lisbon earthquake (1755) and the eruption of Krakatoa (1883) and Tambora (1815) volcanoes in Indonesia are examples of events that fit this description. Examples of recent catastrophes are the Haiti earthquake in 2010 (316,000 dead and 350,000 injured) and the Indonesian tsunami in 2004 (230,000 dead). Particularly since the twentieth century, the term catastrophe has also been associated with events originating from human action. In effect, the English historian Eric Hobsbawm treats the last century first half, which includes the two great world wars, as "the age of catastrophe". Events are observed which, if not caused, are exacerbated by human action such as the chemical leakage at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India (1984), the factory collapse in Lahore, Pakistan (2015) and rupture of mining tailings dams in Brazil (2015 and 2019), with high environmental, social and economic impacts. In this context, the need and opportunity of a design approach specifically geared to disaster situations, where emergency and adequacy are preponderant, opens up. In this sense, some design principles can be indicated, such as search for low cost product and service solutions, and features that allow (1) a fast development or adequacy of existing solutions, (2) minimum technology and energy requirements and (3) the possibility of transport over long distances at the lowest cost and least possible deterioration, among others. Aiming to contribute for this discussion, this paper presents an experience developed at a Brazilian University in order to (1) evaluate the necessary characteristics for products destined to catastrophe situations, defined as unexpected events of great destructive impact in social and environmental terms, (2) define singular aspects in therms of production, distribution, use and disposal based on a product life cycle approach and (3) generate (through a design experience) products that result from the proposed principles application. The objectives are to define some of the necessary requirements for the development of products and services related to catastrophes and contribute to a reflection on the specific design requirements of these situations.

Eduardo Romeiro Filho
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais


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