Design and Violence

AK-47

Mikhail Kalashnikov, 1947

Is there design this good that doesn’t kill people?*

The Automatic Kalashnikov, or AK-47 rifle, is named after its designer, Soviet military engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and the year of its launch in 1947. Building on previous assault rifle technologies, Mikhail designed it to be lightweight, easy to handle, durable, and cheap to produce. Since becoming the standard-issue weapon for the Soviet military in the late 1940s, it has gone on to signify left-wing resistance and anti-colonial struggle, even finding its way onto the flag of independent Mozambique. By the same token, it is also a symbol of crime and stateless terrorism, involved in countless atrocities. It is a testament to the power of design that making a tool like this widely accessible, reproducible and adaptable has had such wide political and social impact. It also underscores the continuing role of violence in social change. There are estimated to be 75 to 100 million AK-47s of varying authenticity in circulation worldwide, making it the most prevalent gun in the world.

*subtitle borrowed from a GOOD magazine cover (Sept/Oct 2007)
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.