VICTOR PAPANEK Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Designer and educator Victor Papanek (1927-1999) was a strong advocate of the socially and ecologically responsible design of products and tools. He disapproved of manufactured products that were unsafe, showy, maladapted, or essentially useless. His products, writings, and lectures were considered an example and spur by many designers, and he was an untiring eloquent promoter of social and ecological design.


Papanek was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1927. He attended public school in England. He emigrated to the U.S. and studied design and architecture. He worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in 1949. He earned his Bachelor?s degree at Cooper Union in New York (1950) and did postgraduate studies in design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.A. 1955). Papanek was interested in humankind as such and pursued an interest in anthropology, living and working for several years with Navajos, Inuit, and Balinese.


Victor Papanek taught at the University of Toronto, the Rhode Island School of Design, Purdue University, the California Institute of the Arts (where he was dean), and other places in North America. He headed the design department in the Kansas City Art Institute from 1976 to 1981. In 1981 he became the J.L. Constant Professor of Architecture and Design at the University of Kansas. He also worked, taught, and consulted in England, Yugoslavia, Switzerland, and Australia.


Papanek created product designs for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Volvo of Sweden contracted him to design a taxi for the disabled. His designed products also included a remarkable transistor radio made from ordinary metal food cans that was designed to be produced cheaply in developing countries.


Interested in all aspects of design and how they affected people and the environment, Papanek felt that much of what was manufactured in the U.S. was inconvenient, sometimes frivolous.


As Papanek traveled around the world, he gave lectures about his ideas for ecologically sound design and designs to serve the poor, the disabled, and the elderly. He wrote or co-wrote eight books. Papanek received numerous awards, including a Distinguished Designer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988. The next year he received the IKEA Foundation International Award.