Back to the Sustainable Future: Visions of Sustainability in the History of Design explores the historical conditions for, and development of, sustainable design. Today, sustainability is an essential parameter in all design practice, education, research and mediation. However, this ‘green revolution’ is a glaringly white spot on the design historical map, still awaiting its scholarly historicization. Historical understanding of and critical reflection on the rise of sustainability as the primordial trope in design discourse is essential to building a solid knowledge base and to underpin present and future decision-making. Given the immense societal significance of sustainability and the crucial role played by design in its past, present and future, the project also has great relevance both for contemporary discourse and cultural history broadly defined.

Researching the design history of sustainability requires new, interdisciplinary collaborations and approaches, as well as new methods of inquiry. To that end, this project will forge bonds with the field of environmental history, and explore the untapped but promising potential of the Digital Humanities in a sustained effort to renew the discipline of design history more in tune with an ever more pervasive design culture.

Back to the Sustainable Future investigates how designers, educators, theorists, critics, promoters, consumers and users have conceptualized visions of sustainability in the history of design since the 1960s. The aim is to trace how notions of sustainability have migrated across time and socio-cultural domains, from design education and social activism via commercial and industrial contexts to mainstream media and consumer behavior. By doing so, we are addressing a significant lacuna in design historical scholarship and thereby expanding the subject matter of the field.


The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway and the University of Oslo.