It is with regret and some reluctance that I am conceding defeat and putting my trusty old commuter bike out to pasture. Having lost access to both lower chain rings and run out of ideas for fixing the problem myself, I took it into our local shop, where a heavily inked mechanic who hadn’t been born when I purchased the bike some 30 years ago from the same shop told me he couldn’t fix it. Or more accurately, wouldn’t fix it. “This bike needs everything,” he muttered, disgusted, and sent me on my way.
At Main Street Design we a lot of time worrying about the durability of what we design. Our clients are understandably concerned about things falling apart, and perhaps even more about making sure exhibits are easy to maintain and repair. But the culture we live in increasingly favors disposability over durability. Ikea-syndrome is widespread and pervasive across all aspects of our lives, from food and clothing to home furnishings and consumer electronics. Recycling might make us feel better but it doesn’t even touch the problem. Hundreds of pounds of raw materials go into a single smartphone, and by some estimates American’s throw away 300,000 phones every day.
Frank Grauman, a principal at the architecture firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (which designed the original Apple store) once shared an anecdote about bringing his ancient oxfords into his neighborhood cobbler to be resoled for the umpteenth time, only to be told by the old Italian shoemaker, in heavily accented English, “No canna be feex.” From Frank’s perspective this was an affront to the natural order of things. As he saw it, there was nothing that couldn’t be fixed – patched together, repaired, recycled or repurposed – to extend its useful life. It wasn’t quite clear, as Frank told his story, which was the more powerful emotion: frustration that he couldn’t get his shoes resoled, or pride that he’d finally, truly, thoroughly worn something out.