Gary Hustwitt: We built this City

Gary Hustwitt loves Graphic Designer. So much so that he decided to make a film about it. Despite never picking up a camera before ‘Helvetica’ marked his directorial debut, and his fascination with typography was brought to life. 4 years and another film, ‘Objectified’ later, Hustwitt treated the TYPO Audience to a sneak peak of his new offering, ‘Urbanized’, and they weren’t disappointed. As with his previous offerings the succinct title nods towards the subject matter, cities and buildings, though instead of form it focusses on the people that live within cities, and the strong sense of community spirit that takes shape in many forms.

Photo: Gerhard Kassner
He showed many examples of socially conscious community schemes, from a gardens project in Detroit to poster pocket plants in Toronto, both both from creative problem solving but depending on the generosity of others.

He showed how public bodies such as the Department of Transportation in New York, are learning from the examples set by citizens and using potted plants to define and protect a public space from littering and misuse. He showed how residents are redefining space in their neighbourhoods by renting parking spaces for a few hours and transforming the land use. Parking becomes football pitches, yoga classes, temporary gallery exhibits for a short while, re-imagining a city with more public space.

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The brilliant Candy Chang also made the cut in the film, talking with passion about her desire for public messaging to reflect what is really important to a community, not just being sold to the highest bidder. The ‘I wish This Was’ project and ‘Before I die’ are great examples of this. Both projects have since expanded cities around the world, proof that individuals are interested in a platform to express what really matters to their communities.

Now more than ever our cities need creative solutions to the challenges they face.

One of the more ‘graphic’ solutions shown was the Tidy Street project, where participating households in a street in Brighton are recording their energy consumption and the street itself is turned into an infographic, charting their use. By making each resident on the street visually accountable for their energy use, collectively a communities behaviour was changed, resulting in reduction in energy use of around 15% in a matter of weeks.

He ended the talk with a challenge to designers.

  • Identify a problem in your city
  • Get some friends and drakes together
  • Brainstorm a solution

Designers inherently have the skills to address these problems, and now more than ever our cities need creative solutions to the challenges they face.


Gary Hustwit

Filmmaker (New York)

Gary Hustwit is an independent filmmaker and photographer based in New York. He is the CEO and Creative Director of Scenic, a virtual reality content studio focusing on non-fiction VR. Gary has produced 13 feature documentaries, including the design trilogy of Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. His films have been broadcast on HBO, PBS, BBC, and television outlets in 20 countries, and have been screened in over 300 cities worldwide.

Text — Matt Judge — DesignAssembly