BANG BUA CANAL: A renovated public walkway, top, along the canal in Bangkok, where residents are helping to design cleaner places to live. (Photo: ACHR)

I joined the line to get into the United Nations the other day, fiddling with my iPhone before shuffling through security. The couple in back (he was toting an iPad) mused about what a design guru Steve Jobs had been. They headed toward the information desk and I toward “Design With the Other 90 Percent: Cities,” an infelicitously titled but inspired show organized by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and now installed (since the museum is closed for renovations) in the United Nations visitors’ lobby.

Design shows may conjure up fizzy displays of Van Cleef & Arpels or stylish tributes to Helvetica and classic automobiles. Design implies for most people the beautiful things an affluent society makes for itself.

This show is not about that kind of design. The objects here tend to look rugged and sometimes embarrassingly simple, as in “Why hadn’t anyone come up with that idea before?” Their beauty lies elsewhere: in providing economical, smart solutions to address the problems of millions of the world’s poorest people.

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Michael Kimmelman
New York Times

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