The Quarterly Journal of Design #19 Summer 2018
This issue includes: The making of Martin Margiela, with Kaat Debo and Alexandre Samson; dispatches from São Paulo’s design community; Eva Franch i Gilabert’s designs for the Architectural Association; spectacle and the city in the work of David Rockwell; riding the crest of the on-demand economy with UberEATS; 12 textile tales about Jonathan Olivares; the lost sketches of Thea Leonhard; Mali’s history of indigo dye with Aboubakar Fofana; and Konstantin Grcic’s farewell to Munich. UK £10
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Tears for a Cube Words Oli Stratford
One of the most beautiful exhibits in the current Loewe Craft Prize exhibition at London’s Design Museum is a small paper cube designed by the artist Ashley YK Yeo. Perhaps that is underselling it. This cube is absolutely shut-the-front-door exquisite. It is called Arbitrary Metrics II and it’s so gossamer ﬁne as to be barely there. It’s like a fairy’s lockbox of loveliness. Yeo has hand-cut the paper such that the entire structure is formed from interlocking tendrils that curl and lace themselves into little tangles of ﬂowers and arabesque. It is so lovely that Helen Mirren, whom Loewe had brought in to present the prize, is reported to have literally cried when she saw it. That reaction is worth reﬂecting on. At ﬁrst, I didn’t know what to make of Mirren crying. On the one hand, my inner cynic (who largely rules the roost) deemed it a terribly Romantic response: an act of ﬁne feeling worthy of Coleridge or Shelley, but directed at a small paper cube as opposed to nature or beautiful youths. On the other hand, a more generous part of my psyche (presumably momentarily escaping from the headlock in which CynicOliver keeps him) felt that Mirren’s Introduction
reaction was perfect. If she liked it, then why the hell not cry? The joy of objects is that they are mute and only take on meaning when entering into a relationship. An object is, if you like, part of an equation: add its variable to that of a person, perform a basic function and only then do you get an outcome. For instance, Helen Mirren + Arbitrary Metrics II = tears of unbridled joy. I, for one, have a similar reaction when confronted with one of my favourite pieces of design, Alessandro Mendini’s Parrot sommelier corkscrew. It’s a corkscrew that is also a parrot – I don’t understand what further frontiers are available for design to cross after that. The point being, you never know what is going to ﬂoat somebody’s boat and one of the most satisfying things that can happen around any piece of design is that it provokes as broad a range of responses as possible. Arbitrary Metrics II, for instance, was put together with such care, precision and skill that it’s rich enough to reward multiple reactions. I hope many people visiting the Loewe Craft Prize ﬁnd the work as beautiful as Mirren did, just as I hope that others ﬁnd it baﬄing, or intellectually stimulating, or prissy, or rigorously technical, or even pointless. After all, one person’s paper tiger is another person’s paper cube. 8
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Anatomy A Civic Leg Silo Studio’s furniture for community pride
Material Blue is the Warmest Colour Aboubakar Fofana and a history of indigo in Mali
Project Eventually Everything Connects Twelve textile tales with Jonathan Olivares
History A Folder of Sketches Rediscovering the work of Thea Leonhard
Travelogue São Paulo A city moving on from the modernist dream
Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
Conversation Making Margiela Complementary exhibitions about the legacy of Martin Margiela
Report Precarious by Design How app interfaces steer the on-demand economy
Comment Comment of Comments How meta is too meta?
Interview Change of Direction Eva Franch i Gilabert discusses her move to the AA
Gallery Notes Concerning a Studio on Schillerstraße , Munich A fond farewell to Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design’s Munich home
Introduction Tears for a Cube
Masthead The people behind Disegno
Timeline April to June 2018 in review
Photoessay One by One Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby slip into ceramics
Observation The Alchemist’s Study Pseudo-Democritus and material transformation
Comment Dragon Energy Design Kanye West’s rising architectural ambitions
Comment Sports Luxe, Give no Fucks In which youth culture is eaten by fashion commerce
Profile Cities of Spectacle Theatrics in the architecture of David Rockwell
Singapore’s Design Policy () What place for design in a city-state? The Vluchtmaat () Lessons from Amsterdam’s squat for refugees The Zad and NoTAV () A communal tale of defeating state infrastructure
Endnote Modernity Paul Lukas, designer, receives a gift from his mother
Pierpaolo Ferrari, 2018
106 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NB Tel. 020 7631 5200 email@example.com
Contributors Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s new ceramic show in New York focuses on imprecision and experimentation. p. 22 Crystal Bennes is an artist and writer based in Edinburgh. p. 154 Cat Bluemke’s interdisciplinary practice examines the hegemony that constructs politics and subject. p. 113 Sheila Chiamaka Chukwulozie is a theatre-making historian looking for an audience. p. 158 Céline Corbineau lives and works as a set designer in Paris. p. 46 Fatoumata Diabaté is the president of the Association of Women Photographers of Mali. p. 158 Ramak Fazel proclaims craigslist.org to be “the most dynamic social space in Southern California”. p. 83 Fabian Frinzel likes ice cream in the summer. p. 127 George Isleden is soon to launch a line of “reading room luxe” clothes for the fashionably bookish. p. 59
George Kafka writes about architecture and co-curates banging playlists. p. 150 Dean Kaufman originally studied journalism, but ended up working as a photographer. p. 120 Paul Lukas, industrial designer, believes that we learn from our mistakes and, above all, from those of our more successful colleagues. p. 180 Frida Melin works as a curator of collections at ArkDes, Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design. p. 170 Clara Meliande is a designer and researcher who is especially interested in the political roles of design. p. 97 Theresa Marx has recently found a tiny skylight in her ceiling through which she squeezes to reach her own private rooftop – this is where she will be found this summer. p. 46 Riya Patel is a writer and curator of The Aram Gallery, where she is currently preparing a show on architectural models. p. 74 Marco Pecorari tries to grasp the ephemeral. p. 32
André Penteado is a Brazilian visual artist based in São Paulo where he also teaches photography and has a lot of fun shooting very special commercial jobs. p. 97 Jay Prynne doesn’t want to listen to Kanye West any more. p. 56 Leonhard Rothmoser works in the field of text-content-head-arm-handpencil-paper performances. p. 45, 56, 59 Fatoumata Tioye Coulibaly is a photographer and cinematorgrapher based in Mali. She is the vice president of the Association of Women Photographers of Mali. p. 158 Ian Volner’s book, Michael Graves: Design for Life, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2017. p. 120
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Words by Johanna Agerman Ross, Edward Barber, Crystal Bennes, Sheila Chiamaka Chukwulozie, Konstantin Grcic, George Isleden, George Kafka, Paul Lukas, Clara Meliande, Frida Melin, Jay Osgerby, Riya Patel, Marco Pecorari, Jay Prynne, Kristina Rapacki, Debika Ray, Oli Stratford and Ian Volner. Images by Edward Barber, Cat Bluemke, Fatoumata Diabaté, Ramak Fazel, Fabian Frinzel, Dean Kaufman, Paul Lukas, Theresa Marx, Jay Osgerby, André Penteado, Leonhard Rothmoser, Fatoumata Tioye Coulibaly, Matthew Williams and Guillaume Ziccarelli. Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss gsm. The cover is printed on Arcoprint Extra White gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk
Thanks Thank you to Amy Peet for her eﬃciency and dedication; to the team at ArkDes for a great idea; to Narayan Khandekar for guidance; to Cecilia Vilela for all of her help; to everyone at KGID for sharing their memories; to Konstantin Grcic for his generosity and ongoing support of the journal; to Laureline Galliot for a superb collaboration; to Johanna Macnaughtan for all of her kindness and expertise; and to Joan MacKeith for helping everything to run smoothly. We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #19 possible. Not least Princess, the Milanese golden retriever who found the heat of Salone all too much.
Apology In ‘Kabul’s Weavers’ in Disegno #18, we omitted to note that the text was based on an original interview conducted by Marigold Warner. Our sincere apologies to Marigold. Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask ﬁrst. Contact us Studio , The Rose Lipman Building De Beauvoir Road London N SQ + disegnodaily.com Tack Press Limited Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with creative agency Disegno Works. disegnoworks.com
of redundancies that saw nine people
the line at the corporation granting
leave their posts. Straining under an
Mattel the rights to create a Frida
Forensic Architecture nominated
ongoing revamp of its campus, inflated
Kahlo Barbie doll for its Inspiring
for the Turner Prize
rent caused by the upcoming completion
Women series. Originally calling
Forensic Architecture are worthy
of the nearby Crossrail link and its
for a redesign (in true Mattel form,
contenders for the Turner Prize
costly application for taught degree-
the Kahlo doll doesn’t fully reflect
and the Eyal Weizman-led practice
awarding powers, the United Kingdom’s
the artist’s near-unibrow and its
is currently the bookies’ favourite.
oldest independent architecture school
proportions are, like those of all
Worth reflecting on, however, is
seemed in turbulent financial waters.
Barbie dolls, wildly unrealistic),
whether the accolade is the best
It was nevertheless something of a
Romeo eventually won a temporary
recommendation for the practice’s
surprise when, in April, the AA posted
injunction that stopped sale of the
work, which uses architectural
a loss in excess of £800,000 for 2017.
doll. It came not long after London’s
techniques to gather evidence of war
The school’s incoming director
V&A announced an upcoming exhibition,
crimes and human-rights violations.
Eva Franch i Gilabert, interviewed
which will see 200 artefacts from
Weizman has rightly argued that art
elsewhere in this issue, certainly
Kahlo’s home exhibited for the first
can help to disseminate vital
has her work cut out.
time outside Mexico. Let’s hope for a more sensitive treatment of her legacy
information, and Forensic’s work
here – as sensitive as you can get
undeniably positions galleries as spaces that can and should serve
Limited movement on colonial objects
when you put someone’s personal
public discourse. Yet the pageantry
The German Lost Art Foundation
belongings on public display, anyway.
surrounding the Turner may prove
allocates state funding for museums
damaging. Germany’s ruling CDU party
to investigate their collections for
has previously dismissed the practice
Nazi-looted art; in April, it extended
as an unserious “artist group” and
this mandate. The organisation will
rejected its findings in the case of
now offer government grants to museums
a racially motivated murder in Kassel,
for provenance research into artefacts
while much of Forensic Architecture’s
taken from former colonies, with
credibility comes through its clear
culture minister Monika Grütters
resistance towards existing power
saying she wanted “develop new forms
structures. How will the group fare,
of cooperation with the countries of
then, should it become the darling
origin”. It is undoubtedly good news,
of the mainstream art industry?
but also highlights quite how slow Western European nations have been to grapple with their colonial histories. The UK, for instance, still does not have a museum dedicated to empire, and in 2007 a formal restitution claim made by Ethiopia for artefacts looted after the 1868 capture of Maqdala, which are now held by the V&A, was rejected. It was only in April that the museum’s director Tristram Hunt offered some form of acknowledgement of the situation’s untenability:
A bad education
“The speediest way, if Ethiopia wanted
Following the tragic suicide of one
to have these items on display, is a
of its students, the fashion programme
long-term loan”. A loan, it should be
at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts
noted, is not a restitution.
in Antwerp came under scrutiny in a report conducted by The Business
Images courtesy of Tate and V&A.
of Fashion (BOF). The course is known
for having produced a string of highly
It is a cruel irony that the legacy of
successful designers, but also for
the Mexican 20th-century artist and
its controversial teaching methods.
lifelong communist Frida Kahlo
Current and former students who were
currently lies in the hands of the
interviewed by BoF for the piece
Panama-based Frida Kahlo Corporation.
accused the school of a culture
London’s AA reports heavy losses
Or so, at least, it appeared until
of public shaming, extreme mental
Last winter, London’s Architectural
this April, when Kahlo’s great-niece
and emotional pressure leading to
Association (AA) went through a round
Mara de Anda Romeo stepped in, drawing
emotional damage, and an exceptionally
Dornbracht Culturing Life LifeSpa
high workload, commenting: “If you
You’ve got mail
Will Alsop (1947-2018)
sleep more than four hours, you’re set
In the aftermath of some shocking,
A giant Yves-Klein-blue spaceship
to fail.” With a graduation rate of
but perhaps not surprising, high-
in Marseille; a library in the shape
just 23 per cent, Antwerp and its
profile data-security breaches,
of a capital “L” in Peckham; a massive
intensive teaching methodologies are
the EU tightened its data-protection
checked box of a building perched on
bound to come under renewed scrutiny.
laws. In the biggest restructuring
impossibly spindly legs in Toronto.
Surely institutions should nurture
of data privacy in 20 years, the
These are some of the late British
– rather than break – their students?
General Data Protection Regulation
architect Will Alsop’s most famous
(GDPR) aims to transfer the control
buildings. “Fun should be taken
of personal data from corporations
seriously,” he once said, “it’s not
back to the individual. Nothing could
a trivial thing.” Famously wacky,
have prepared people for the tidal
Alsop’s masterplans were not as
Greenpeace takes Volkswagen apart
wave of increasingly desperate emails
successful as his built projects –
The V&A’s The Future Starts Here
appearing in inboxes on 25 May –
he once proposed that the Yorkshire
exhibition opened in May with a
the last day for companies to ensure
town of Barnsley be turned into a
promise to display design projects
that they complied – although it did
Tuscan hill village, surrounded by
“shaping the world of tomorrow”,
provide a welcome opportunity to
resin walls and crowned by a halo.
but at least one aspect of the
unsubscribe from a host of unwelcome
It never quite took off. Although
exhibition remained traditionalist
newsletters. It was a timely move
he was dismissed as a dreamer by
– the exhibition was made possible
towards dealing with a digital
some, Alsop’s buoyancy and unfailing
through the financial support of its
landscape that’s growing faster than
belief in the expressive power of
lead sponsor, the Volkswagen Group.
the regulations governing it. Even
architecture will nevertheless be
It is naive to expect cash-strapped
if it was all a bit of a ball-ache.
institutions to turn down corporate overcome its recent scandals by yoking
A fresh threat to the ozone layer
itself to an exhibition grounded in
A manufacturing whodunnit of
ideas of social progressiveness felt
atmospheric proportions emerged
particularly cynical. Three cheers,
in May, when a paper published in
then, for Greenpeace, which launched a
the scientific journal Nature revealed
counter-installation in the courtyard
that someone, somewhere, had resumed
of the V&A with the museum's blessing:
making the banned chemical CFC-11.
a performance piece in which four
CFC chemicals were once widely used
mechanics dismantled a Volkswagen Golf
in foam production for furniture
in protest at the company’s refusal to
and buildings but were banned by
abandon polluting diesel technology.
the 1987 Montreal Protocol when it
Titled The Future Doesn't Start Here,
was discovered that the chemicals
it was an elegant, witty and sincere
had led to a hole in the ozone layer.
riposte – one that, in an ideal world,
While CFCs continue to leak from old
might have made for an intriguing
buildings and appliances, no fresh
addition to the exhibition proper.
synthesising of CFC-11 had been reported since 2007. The Nature
The Kvadrat empire grows
paper, however, revealed that global
There is something increasingly
emissions had risen by 25 per cent,
rapacious about Danish textile firm
a sharp enough increase to leave
Kvadrat. The company already operates
resumed production as the only
a host of satellite brands such
possible explanation. Alongside
as Danskina, Kinnasand and Really;
its use in foam, CFC-11 was once
in 2018 it has expanded its portfolio
used as the liquid inside drinking-
further. In March, the company
bird novelty toys; let’s just hopes
acquired the German textile company
that whoever has decided to imperil
Sahco, installing Anna Ebbesen and
the planet’s future by producing it
Vincent van Duysen as its creative
again has a hell of a more important
directors, while in May it took a
use for it than that.
majority stake in the Dutch textile business Febrik. The move for Sahco is a straightforward effort to increase the brand’s presence in the residential market, while Febrik has been acquired for its knitted
Images courtesy of Greenpeace and Malcolm Crowthers.
funding, but Volkswagen’s efforts to
L EG E N DA R Y PE R F O R M A N C E FA B R I C S SU N B R E L L A .CO M
FA D E PR O O F / E A S Y C A R E / B L E AC H C L E A N A B L E
textiles. Jos Pelders, Febrik’s
Elsewhere in this issue, Disegno’s
founder, praised the deal in the press
deputy editor Kristina Rapacki
as an “opportunity to accelerate our
Trump declares war on closest allies
examines the astonishing regularity
global expansion through the Kvadrat
In early June, the US slapped a 25
with which architecture moves to the
network”. One senses that Kvadrat has
per cent tariff on European, Mexican
meta level (see ‘Comment of Comments’
“global expansion” on its mind too.
and Canadian steel, and 10 per cent on
on p.45); would it really kill someone
aluminium. “Insulting,” said Canadian
to run a design festival about how to
prime minister Justin Trudeau.
run a digestible design festival?
“Unjustified,” said UK prime minister Theresa May. “Illegal,” said French president Emmanuel Macron. President Donald Trump, who imposed the tariffs, had this to say: “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” Let’s see. Not only is Trump waging a trade war against his most immediate allies, but he is also fighting on multiple fronts, with his current renewal of offensives against China. Trump really just wants everyone to “play fair” on the global marketplace, he says. But is the president playing fair? His imposition of tariffs on his allies was based on Section 232 in the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, a piece of Cold War legislation that allows the president to adjust imports without a Congress vote, should the Department of Commerce deem that foreign shipments pose a national-security threat. Basically, the definition of playing dirty, then.
The Venice Architecture Biennale The 16th iteration of the Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara May and by early June a generally
Just short of celebrating half
favourable critical consensus on its
a century on the stands, Interview
offering had been reached. Writing on
magazine announced its closure
disegnodaily.com, however, the critic
amidst financial turmoil, lawsuits
George Kafka found cause for complaint
and resignations. Founded by Andy
with the festival’s sheer scale and
Warhol in 1969, the pop-culture
organisation: “It’s too much, and
journal – once dubbed the “Crystal
everyone seems to know it[…] This,
Ball of Pop” – documented the doings
the supposed apex of architectural
of Manhattan’s élite and Hollywood
display and discourse, where great
celebrities, with covers frequently
minds used to ordering space with
created with the help of the artist
legible intelligence and sensory
Richard F. Bernstein: “He makes
awareness gather, is a mess.” It’s
everyone look so famous,” said Warhol
a valid complaint, not least because
approvingly. Although the title had
the accusation of debilitating bloat
admittedly somewhat faded since its
and disorder might be thrown at each
heyday, it is with some nostalgia
and every one of the various design
that Disegno bids it a fond farewell.
weeks, festivals, biennales and triennials through which design and architecture manifest themselves.
Images courtesy of Kvadrat and Caro Communications.
of Grafton Architects, opened in late
Interview magazine closes
One by One Words and drawings Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby Photographs Guillaume Ziccarelli
One by One is an exhibition of ceramics, 16 pieces in all. This new body of work, born from experimentation, represents a fresh area of research for us; however, the project started some time ago, while we were developing a collection of ceramic tableware for the British producer Royal Doulton. This process required us to test glazes to see how they would react to the surface textures of a range of clays. We were struck by the imprecision of the results and took joy in the fact that we could not be certain of the outcome. Clay reacts unpredictably, particularly when fused with glazes. Glazes change colour dramatically when fired at different temperatures, as does clay. So much of our work as industrial designers is concerned with control and perfection in manufacture. Project timescales are long, allowing for prototyping, testing, mould-making and production, but this rarely leaves any space for serendipity. Working with clay released us from these constraints. The process is erratic, fast, expressive – an antidote to our day-to-day, exacting design practice. We found this liberating. The pieces were produced using a wire to slice clay into tiles roughly 12mm thick, the exterior shape determined by the shape of the clay block that arrived at the studio. Every tile was then stamped with the studio marque and given an individual, but not necessarily sequential, number. These numbers played a part in the overall graphic composition and we used them as points of precision against the imprecise shapes. We also punched holes in some of the tiles. Perforations have regularly appeared in our work, sometimes as a formal pattern – as on the De La Warr Pavilion chair and the Olympic Torch – and sometimes randomly,
as in the case of the Western Facade bench. In either format, perforations offer a way for light to interrupt a surface. In the case of the One by One ceramics, the perforations interrupted the flow of the liquid slip, creating marks of turbulence that can be clearly seen in some pieces. The slip (a mixture of clay and water) was poured over the wet clay tile in a single motion and bonded immediately with the surface. The shapes produced, although previously designed in our heads, were always a surprise. The slip never behaved in the correct way! Gravity, surface tension and viscosity all had a role in shaping the patterns and playing with the concentration of the slip allowed for a variety of outcomes. A thick slip can look like paint, but when it is diluted to an almost water-like consistency, layers can build up to give subtle depth to the shapes. For this collection, we only used natural colours: a black or terracotta body clay, with a palette of black, white and terracotta clay slips. As there was little intervention in the form of the ceramics or the slips applied to them, it seemed appropriate not to add artificial colour. As a counterpoint to the ceramics, and exhibited alongside them, is a series of precise pencil drawings. Their subject matter references previous design projects, each with a distinct and recognisable silhouette. In isolation, they take on an abstract quality as they capture the essence of the objects without alluding to material or scale. One by One marks a new area of interest for us and one we are continuing to develop. New pieces are already starting to take shape. The tactility, simplicity and immediacy of the material has drawn us in. One by One was on display at New York’s Josée Bienvenu Gallery between May and June . The exhibition was curated by Alexis Fabry.
A cat statue ornament on one of the mansion properties in TocĚŒka, where this kind of decoration is typical. Here, the cat has been mummified in a thick wrapping of brown packaging tape.
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Making Margiela Introduction Marco Pecorari
Images courtesy of MoMu and Palais Galliera.
Fashion in museums has never been so fashionable. Increasingly, art and design institutions are hosting fashion-focused exhibitions. Examples include MoMAâ€™s Items: Is Fashion Modern? (2017) and Christian Dior, couturier du rĂŞve (2017) at MAD Paris, the latter of which attracted more than 700,000 visitors and set a new attendance record for the museum.
A porcelain gilet taken from the A/W 1989-1990 collection of Maison Martin Margiela, on display at the Palais Galliera in Paris.
Despite this fashion for curating fashion, it is still unique to have two exhibitions about the same fashion designer in the same city, at the same time. This becomes even more unique if we consider that that designer is Martin Margiela, whose work is being exhibited at MAD Paris and Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, and who only retired from active designing in 2008. Born in Louvain, Belgium, in 1957, Margiela started his own brand with Jenny Meirens in 1988 and is regularly cited as one of the most influential fashion designers of the late-20th century. Often defined as a conceptual or avant-garde designer, he operated as a sort of détournement of the fashion industry. He recuperated and deconstructed conventional industry practice by presenting his fashion shows in derelict urban spaces; by branding his clothes with a white label and no name; and by recycling and post-producing discarded clothes, thereby transforming them into haute-couture creations. The exhibitions Margiela / Galliera 1989-2009, on display at the Palais Galliera until 15 July, and Margiela, les années Hermès (the Hermès years), on display at MAD Paris until 2 September, trace an atlas of Margiela’s work at a moment when his legacy is being questioned. While his old brand has deleted his first name from the label, many contemporary fashion designers are evidently replicating his design techniques and signature pieces. Furthermore, a documentary titled We Margiela (2017), directed by Menna Laura Meijer, retraced the history of Margiela’s brand without involving the designer himself, challenging the idea of collaboration that had often been celebrated by his work. In a sense, the two exhibitions act as a response to these events. Serving as art director for Margiela / Galliera 1989-2009 and having been similarly involved in the making of the MAD Paris show, Martin Margiela seems to have used the exhibitions to restate his legacy. Visitors can see the complexity and uniqueness of his oeuvre, while also encountering two different approaches to the presentation of a designer’s work. The Galliera exhibition focuses on the figure of Margiela himself, prompting an interesting short-circuit given his constant attempts to disappear from his creations. Meanwhile, Margiela, les années Hermès, originally showcased at the ModeMuseum Antwerpen (MoMu) in 2017, highlights the ways in which a creative director may actively reinterpret the heritage of a fashion house, as Margiela did during his tenure at Hermès between 1997 and 2003. These reflections gain in potency, given that they have arrived at a time in which fashion brands seem to be capitalising on the constant churn of creative directors, often producing empty discourses about brand heritage and thereby complicating the meaning of creative work in the fashion industry. The following discussion with Kaat Debo, the director of MoMu, and Alexandre Samson, a curator at the Palais Galliera, was an opportunity to learn about the exhibitions on Margiela that the two had curated, as well as a chance to discuss wider fashion curation. From individual authorship to national identity, the discussion takes on a host of the issues raised by Paris’s dual Margiela shows.
Scenography from Palais Galliera’s
Margiela / Galliera 1989-2009, produced by Martin Margiela.
Marco Pecorari Let’s start with the fact that we have two exhibitions about the same designer being displayed at the same time here in Paris. What were the premises of those two exhibitions? Kaat Debo There are always many reasons as to why you do or don’t do an exhibition. When you actively want the participation of a designer, for instance, you’re always dependent on their schedule. In the case of Martin, he’s no longer active within the industry, so it happened a bit by coincidence. I was in contact with him regarding a piece in our collection which we had a question about, and we ended up talking about his work for Hermès from the turn of the millennium, which we don’t have in the museum. I told him that I always liked those collections and thought it was a pity that they weren’t really visible, given that they were produced in a pre-digital, pre-social-media era. You just can’t find them online. Martin said that he had always loved his time at Hermès and, if I wanted to do an exhibition, he would be willing to participate. Well, if he would love to do an exhibition and we would love to do an exhibition, why not? The first thing we did was go to Hermès and see what they had in the archives. At the same time, we knew through Martin that there was also contact with Galliera about doing an exhibition in Paris. Alexandre Samson In 2016, we had done an exhibition called Anatomy of a Collection, which was intended as a preview of what is going to happen in 2020 when we open our permanent galleries. So we did that exhibition, but the public just wasn’t there at all. It was a flop. So Olivier [Saillard, the then director of Galliera] came to me and said that we needed a new idea. He asked me what my ideal exhibition would be, and I replied Martin Margiela, because we had an incredible collection of Margiela silhouettes started in 1989 by the curator Marie-Sophie Carron de la Carrière. Olivier felt that it was a good idea and tried to contact Martin through [the Belgian fashion consultant] Linda Loppa. We were so surprised because Martin answered and said he was interested. Wow! Kaat We were well aware that Alexandre was going to do a retrospective on Margiela, so the idea became to bring the two museums together and make it into something big like a Margiela season. Galliera has an amazing collection of early Margiela pieces, but when you stage an exhibition you still need to loan from other museums and private lenders. It’s absolutely necessary that you’re in touch about who is loaning what, because you don’t want to get into competition with other institutions. We had quite intense contact with each other and I actually decided to take some pieces out of our selection so that they could go to Galliera’s exhibition. We had Martin as a link between both shows, who was aware of the selection in both exhibitions, which made things easier. If you make an exhibition, you need the designer to tell you some of the stories and explain their techniques; how their collections come to life; how the bigger concepts behind their brand emerged. That’s the privilege of working with contemporary designers – they help you with information you can’t find in the garment as an object. You can gain a lot of information through the garment, the press information you have, the articles written about certain collections; but all of that is second-hand. First-hand information can only come from the designer.
“If you make an exhibition, you need the designer to tell you some of the stories and explain their techniques; how their collections come to life; how the bigger concepts behind their brand emerged.” —Kaat Debo
An assortment of silver footwear on display at Palais Galliera.
Alexandre When Martin came to see us, he took his time to explain all his ideas and collections. It took hours and hours, and we made notes and notes and notes and notes, as I’m sure Kaat did too, because Martin is very generous with his past. The first great exhibition about Margiela’s work was hosted in 2008 at MoMu: Maison Martin Margiela ‘20’ The Exhibition. That was the ultimate reference for us. But while that was about the maison, we wanted to focus on the man. Curiously, Martin is a guy who is utterly anonymous but all of his designs are very motivated by humanity. We wanted to show that Martin was a trailblazer and one of the most important designers of our time, of course, but also that he’s very human. In comparison to contemporary fashion, in which everything is about business – pre-collections and so forth, which are against the idea of creativity – it became very important to underline the idea that Martin had the strength to follow his own ideas for 20 years. Kaat I think Martin’s exact legacy is hard to pinpoint. If you look deep into his collections, they’re so rich in ideas. When he starts talking about his collections, you realise that the whole concept is so clever and layered, and that there was a real flow of ideas between the maison and Hermès. There were a number of key things for us to represent in the exhibition, however: his love of craftsmanship; his love of the traditions of fashion; his love for vintage design and the cut of a garment; his love for the iconic male western wardrobe. Martin’s work is so rich that designers can relate to it for very different reasons: from conceptual to very commercial, from experimental to traditional. You have designers who make literal references to his oeuvre and who are clearly inspired by him, but you also have mainstream brands that have taken things from his legacy without realising they’re borrowing from him – garments with unfinished hems and things like that. That’s why it’s important to do these two exhibitions now. A lot of his work is somehow disappearing from our memories. I notice that students, for instance, don’t know exactly what Martin did. Many remember the iconic pieces, but they don’t know his oeuvre. Alexandre Our vision of Martin actually became blurred during the research. We looked at the MoMu exhibition, but also Street magazine, which was this incredible bible for Margiela. There is also the Rizzoli book about Martin’s work [Maison Martin Margiela (2009)], which is so rich. I was overwhelmed by that book. We had the idea of Martin as someone very poetic, who created very poetic works, but clearly Martin is not a poet – he’s a designer. First and foremost, his work was design. We made a very precise overview of the collections – very strict, very brutal, with no poetry at all. Just facts and design and ideas, and that was it. People always say, “Is fashion hard to display in comparison to art?” Well, sometimes a designer like Martin has a moment of pure creation and composition, but we have to accept that clothes are a means, whereas art is an end in itself. Even design pieces are an end in themselves, whereas clothes don’t exist if the human body doesn’t wear them. What is unique about fashion in the world of museums is that it needs a human body to live. Fashion is about choices. Kaat Curators and exhibition designers have to think of ways to replace that body. There are a thousand ways to do that. You can do it with a bust
Scenography from MoMu’s Margiela,
les années Hermès.
A gilet made from advertising posters, shown as part of the Maison Martin Margiela S/S 1990 collection.
The casting sheet for Maison Martin Margiela’s A/W 2001-2002 catwalk show.
or with mannequins. The mannequin can have eyes, a nose and a mouth, or an egg-shaped head with no neck. And then you have fashions within all of this too. In the 1970s, there were a lot of mannequins with painted eyes and make-up – very realistic faces. Do your mannequins have wigs or are they bald? There used to be a time when every museum that had a fashion collection had someone who could make wigs. All of this has an implication in terms of how you show a dress. A problem we had with the Hermès exhibition was that the collections Martin made for Hermès were designed for many different women. He didn’t want traditional models: 16-18-yearolds, size 36. He had women of many different ages whom he found through street casting or through friends. So how do you display that in a museum when you’re working with standard mannequins: size 38, with an impression of a face, but not a real face. You also have the question of working with a standard body, which is problematic. Sometimes people ask me what size clothes we buy for the museum. We buy size 36 or 38, which corresponds, of course, to ideals surrounding beauty. It’s a good question as to why we don’t buy size 44 or 42. Quite early on, Martin had a lot of diversity in the people he was working with: he was not only working with Caucasian models, but also black models and Asian models. So how do you translate that if you only have white mannequins? These women were so important to Martin’s collections, but we don’t show them. We came up with the idea of making new films using former Margiela models, which was helped by the fact that we were working with Hermès’s archives so the models could wear the clothes, whereas those in a museum collection cannot be worn. That was a layer we could add which you cannot do with a mannequin.
“Sometimes people ask me what size clothes we tend to buy for the museum. It’s a good question.”—Kaat Debo
Marco I heard people, especially with the Galliera show, speaking about pieces that they had never seen before. It would be interesting to understand the provenance of the pieces you have in the exhibition. Kaat We loaned from Galliera and Hermès. We had our own collection too, and then we borrowed a lot from private collectors. Some pieces are loaned from friends of Martin. Marina Faust, who did a lot of Martin’s photography early on, was paid with clothes, for instance. Then we had to see how to make looks, because our problem in 2008 with the Margiela exhibition was that we didn’t have enough entire looks. In that exhibition, Martin was only involved from the side because he was working on his last collection. We really had problems finding a lot of the pieces, so we decided to only have one or two sections with entire looks. The other groups were separate pieces: coats, dresses, a pair of trousers on a bust. Sometimes you make curatorial choices because you don’t have pieces, which is why I was so happy that Galliera found them. In our case, Martin also helped us bring together pieces in our archive: we had a coat and a pair of trousers which he said we could combine even though they’re not from the same season. Our policy as a museum is never to mix seasons and start compiling looks, but if the designer themselves does it, then that’s fine. Marco That leads to ideas of authorship, which is so fundamental to Margiela. His involvement in these exhibitions reflects interestingly on an individual whose work was based on anonymity. There is a nice contradiction. You have the authorship of the designer as the brand; the authorship of the creator; and then this later notion of authorship in terms of Martin coming in and assembling new looks out of separate collections. Kaat There is a kind of friction in having him involved when his image is to be anonymous. Even now, people still question if he really exists. The first question I’m always asked is, “Did you meet him?” I think he pushes his own boundaries a bit, but my understanding is that he will not abandon that policy of anonymity. The difference, however, is that when he was at the maison he had a voice through the press office and by speaking in the first-person plural. The team was speaking, but as a designer he was behind that “we”. Today, he doesn’t have that “we” anymore. So, if he wants to have a voice now, he needs to talk through us, so to speak. We had a whole discussion with him about how we should announce his involvement. “Do you want to be art director; do we say ‘With the help of Martin Margiela’?” I think we announced it in the end as coming into being with the help or assistance of Martin Margiela, whereas Galliera said that he was art director. Alexandre I was very curious about how you would announce his participation. First, I looked at Kaat’s credits and said I would do exactly the same. But, of course, people in Paris started to talk. The moment someone in the press said that Martin was involved in the art direction and started to ask whether he was signing off the scenography, we knew that we had to announce it. We said to Martin, “If you don’t want us to say you’re art director, please tell us.” He said, “OK, let’s do it.” I was very surprised at first, but does it change a thing? I don’t think so. He had the same involvement as he did with MoMu.
Models showing looks from the Maison Martin Margiela S/S 2009 collection.
A jacket in double-faced cashmere, sleeveless high-neck cashmere pullover, mid-length Shetland wool skirt, and calfskin boots from the Hermès A/W 1998 collection.
Kaat He told me that he doesn’t have a press office anymore to ask what the boundaries are. Times have changed drastically since he stopped. There was no such thing as social media then, or at least not as big as it is now, and I don’t know if everybody had a camera phone at that time. I think he realised that the press now is very different from when he was an active designer with a team. Marco So how did you see the function of the exhibition in terms of the contemporary scene? Recently there have been issues around appropriation of Margiela’s work, such as by Demna Gvasalia at Vetements. This notion of the replica is an interesting discussion if you look at it through Margiela’s eyes. Alexandre I think people in the past have taken from Martin because he has no public face and if you have no face in our time, you don’t exist – you need photography to have a concept of a person and their personality. It’s easier to steal from someone you don’t know. Kaat Fashion has a very short memory. For recent graduates, the 1990s is a different century. What interests me, however, is that we have fashion houses that have had multiple different creative directors, each of whom has interpreted the original DNA of the house. In the case of Vetements and Demna, you have a young designer who trained within Maison Martin Margiela, is completely familiar with the DNA of that house, and has started working on that DNA, albeit not within the commercial frame of Maison Margiela. That is new. Up until Vetements, there was not a situation in which, for instance, you would have someone who trained at Chanel, left Chanel, and then started a brand based around the tailleur because they knew the ins and outs of how it’s made. I always give the example of Dior. Christian Dior was only designing for 10 years and then he died. The house has existed for far longer under the authorship of other creative directors than under Dior himself but they’re still referencing his work from the 1950s. So what is the relevance of reinterpreting the Tailleur Bar today? This whole question of authorship is an interesting one and Vetements is an interesting case. You can be pro or contra – and I have my personal opinion – but as a museum you have the task of showing the authorship of a designer. Where does inspiration come from and when does it stop being inspiration and become a copy? Marco As a public museum, you have a responsibility towards your collection on one side, but also the public, which you’re serving, on the other. When planning an exhibition, how do you negotiate between what you’d really like to do – say an exhibition on authorship at large – which might be a bit daring and difficult to understand in terms of content, and what is more likely to resonate with a wider public? Kaat Working in a small museum in a small city, as compared to working in Paris for Galliera, I have a lot of creative freedom. I have a board that is partially filled with external chairpersons but we have an agreement that I decide on the creative direction. I have to present my programme but they will never question me about why I did Dries van Noten rather than Ann Demeulemeester, for instance. I am responsible, however, for ticket sales, so it’s not that I can do whatever I want. I know what kind of exhibitions attract a lot of people, and which attract fewer, but I also think it’s my task to look for relevant subjects and take risks.
A collarless cashmere and silk jacket and pants, high-neck cashmere and silk pullover, and silk crêpe scarf; a double-breasted woollen jacket and trousers; a sleeveless high-neck cashmere and silk pullover, and a kidskin and lambskin muff. Both looks are from the Hermès A/W 2001-2002 collection.
Rings made from a length of ribbon, taken from Maison Martin Margielaâ€™s A/W 1989-1990 collection.
Alexandre Everything starts from the collection. We have an incredible collection, but there are things we do not have represented within it. MoMu is about Belgium, Antwerp and an era in the 1980s that changed fashion, whereas here in Galliera we’re more elegant, historical, Marie Antoinette, blah, blah, blah. But we still have to start from our collection for its richness and because it’s our duty to show our archives and treasures to the widest public possible. That’s our mission at the museum. I would like to do an exhibition about the American designer Claire McCardell, but let’s face it, nobody in Paris knows who Claire McCardell was. It would be a dream for a fashion historian because her work is incredible and is the basis of modern and contemporary fashion, but when the public come to Galliera, they want to see the story of Paris and the place of Paris: glamour and couture. Marco In terms of what Paris is offering as fashion exhibitions, there often seems to be a bit of celebration of “Frenchness” and about what Parisian fashion means. Do you see Paris’s museums, and museums worldwide, being able to problematise those notions a bit more? Alexandre You have to think about the place where you’re exhibiting. For instance, three years ago in collaboration with MoMu we did a fashion week exhibition in Paris’s Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration. We discovered that 50 per cent of Paris fashion has been made by immigrants, not French designers, which really underlines the strength, power and importance of immigration to the city. We could say that Paris has its place as the first capital of fashion because it brings people here and offers them a place to work. Martin, for example, was one of the few Belgian designers to set up a house in Paris and show in Paris. Kaat As a museum, you have to function within a marketing strategy of a city, because you’re an active participant in its tourist industry. It’s important for Paris that Galliera lets tourists learn about French fashion; for Antwerp, it’s important that people who come to MoMu can learn about Belgian fashion. But you have to be aware that you’re taking part in the construction of an identity of a country or city. Galliera is taking part in the construction of the Parisian fashion identity – which you describe as chic, glamorous, haute couture – whereas we are taking part in the construction of the Antwerp fashion identity, which is linked to innovation, experimentation and the avant-garde. Both French fashion and Antwerp fashion are labels, and if you look at the French houses today, there are no French designers [in the creative director roles]. Similarly, what is a Belgian designer? Demna, for instance, studied in Antwerp and cultivates the image of Antwerp fashion because he likes to link to that image, but if in 10 years he changes that identity and wants to be linked to Parisian fashion, then maybe the world will perceive him as a French designer. These things are no longer linked to national identity in a strict sense. E N D
Looks from Maison Martin Margiela’s A/W 2000-2001 show (top), alongside those from the house’s S/S 1996 collection (bottom). Opposite page: gloves from Maison Martin Margiela’s A/W 1993-1994 collection.
BetteLux Oval Couture Steel can wear anything
Design: Tesseraux+Partner www.bette.de
Comment of Comments Words Kristina Rapacki Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Schools of schools, competitions of competitions, directors of directors. Architecture and design are currently committed to reflecting on its own institutions at a certain level of remove. To what end, you might wonder. Let’s go meta on all this meta. Three’s a trend. Or that, at least, is the (admittedly imprecise) yardstick by which the media tends to measure these things. So, when it was announced at the end of last year that the 2018 Istanbul Design Biennial would be themed “A School of Schools”, and I recalled that New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture had organised a Competition of Competitions in 2013, it seemed as though something trend-like was afoot. And lo, in the pages of this very issue, the Architectural Association’s incoming director announces that she aspires to be a “director of directors”. Trend. So far, so buzzwordy. But what does this tendency to take to the meta-level reveal? (What, in other words, are the motivations behind such motivations?) It seems that the impulse to institutional self-reflexivity is sound. Jan Boelen and Deniz Ova, who are the curators of the 2018 Istanbul Design Biennial, hope to “use, test, and revise a variety of educational strategies” to see if they still apply to the shifting landscape of contemporary design. The Storefront exhibition pointed to the mostly unquestioned format of the architectural competition and asked whether it exercises unwelcome forms of power. And to be a director of directors at an architectural institution is to cede some of one’s authority to include a wider array of voices. Architectural competitions, schools and their directors bear such analysis. But there is also a degree of self-aggrandisement in this device (think “king of kings”). This is almost certainly accidental – as we all know, contemporary architectural discourse has nothing messianic about it – but to claim the superlative is not only to take a step back and think critically about the bigger picture, but also to assume that one has the clarity and critical distance to do so. We are all enmeshed in the same mesh and this ought to be acknowledged if we feel compelled to launch ourselves into the meta-heights. If not, we might well feel the need to arrange a school of schools of schools, a competition of competitions of competitions, and a director of directors of directors. Let’s try not to end up in meta-meta-land.
The Alchemist’s Study Photographs Theresa Marx Set design Céline Corbineau
The earliest-surviving alchemical treatise is the work of an unknown philosopher, dubbed “Pseudo-Democritus”. Titled Physika kai Mystika, the text – of which only fragments remain – oﬀers up recipes for the transformation of metals. It makes an auspiciously bombastic start: “Nature rejoices with Nature; Nature conquers Nature; Nature restrains Nature.” While alchemy has long since given way to modern science, the manner in which PseudoDemocritus conceived of “confused and superﬂuous matter” as ripe for manipulation and transmogriﬁcation remains of interest. Our contemporary design landscape rightly prizes material experimentation, as well as the development of resources that might oﬀer fresh typologies, functionalities and solutions. Even today, nature is seen as something that might be restrained and conquered. Yet nature and materials are also something to be rejoiced in and savoured. The coming pages present objects that revel in the joys of the lost art of alchemy and probe material transformation. 46
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Transformation â€“ Glitheroâ€™s Silverware vase sees seaweed from the English Channel placed onto photo-sensitive porcelain. As the handturned porcelain is exposed to light, silver salts begin to develop, producing a photograph of how the seaweed was once traced across it. Silverware vase by Glithero
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Illusion – Many of Pseudo-Democritus’s recipes simply describe ways to alter the surface colour of an object, giving the illusion of some deeper natural change. In the case of Big Game’s Everyday cutlery for Hay, a stainlesssteel typology is enlivened by a golden finish. Everyday cutlery by Big Game for Hay
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Symbology â€“ Liliana Ovalleâ€™s Piedra Roja table is supported by a hand-carved piece of black serpentine soapstone. Soapstone was referred to in alchemical texts by a sign that bears a striking resemblance to the love symbol adopted by Prince in 1993. Piedra Roja table by Liliana Ovalle
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Preparation â€“ Alchemical experimentation resulted in several new forms of pigments, many of which were achieved by grinding up minerals, insects and plants. Laetitia de Allegri and Matteo Fogaleâ€™s hand-powered marble and stone pepper grinder is inspired by traditional stone mill grinders. Heiko Pepper Crusher by De Allegri and Fogale for AirBnB and Ambra Medda
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Silver – Silver was one of the seven base metals of antiquity in alchemy and came to be associated with the moon in astrology. Designers Sari Räthel and Ricarda Wolf use it as their primary material to explore modes of adornment and the intersection between jewellery and the body. Rather than requiring a piercing, this earring squeezes onto the ear. Silver earring by Räthel & Wolf for the Paula Knorr autumn/winter 2018 collection
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The Laboratory â€“ Some revisionist scholars argue that alchemy involved some scientific endeavours. Bethan Laura Woodâ€™s Cucurbitaceae project similarly blurs boundaries, etching laboratory glassware with vegetal patterns that have been executed by Aimer, a specialist in borosilicate glass. Cucurbitaceae glassware by Bethan Laura Wood for Seeds London gallery
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The Squared Circle – Omer Arbel’s 84 lamp is produced by blowing white glass through a fine copper mesh basket, all of which is encased in a thick sphere of clear glass. Its geometrical play recalls the squared circle, a graphic representation of the fabled philosopher’s stone. 84 lamp by Omer Arbel for Bocci
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Gold â€“ The most familiar endeavour of alchemy is chrysopoeia, the transmutation of base metals into gold. The practice finds a wry modern counterpart in Sebastian Bergneâ€™s Golden Opportunity, a stainless-steel nail that has been coated in 23-carat gold to give it a lustre above its usual station. Golden Opportunity nail by Sebastian Bergne
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Chemistry – Central to alchemical thought is the idea of the alkahest, a universal solvent that might dissolve all compound materials. Such a notion is antithetical to the idea behind Jasper Morrison’s 1 Inch Reclaimed chair, a design formed from reclaimed wood polypropylene – a composite of waste polypropylene and wood fibre. 1 Inch Reclaimed chair by Jasper Morrison for Emeco
Sports Luxe, Give no Fucks Words George Isleden Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
In March 2018, designer Kim Jones took up the artistic directorship at Dior Homme, his former posting at Louis Vuitton falling to Virgil Abloh, founder of streetwear label Off-White. Both men – along with near-contemporaries Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Riccardo Tisci at Burberry – made their name by subverting traditional aesthetic codes and introducing a little low-culture mala leche to the world of high fashion. Call it haute streetwear or sports luxe (or ideally neither – both terms are faintly loathsome), there’s little question about which look is the cat’s pyjamas among Europe’s elite. The implementation of the aesthetic is reasonably consistent: utilise material, structural or silhouette elements from activewear or streetwear; set prices that would make Charles James blush; and launch capsule collections in collaboration with musicians, athletes and streetwear brands to ramp up the all-important authenticity. At its best, the tendency opens up new avenues for designers and serves (pricing aside) as a democratising force. At its worst, the whole thing can seem parasitic. Dior and Louis Vuitton are owned by LVMH, and it’s clear what the conglomerate sees in Abloh and Jones’s ability to weave contemporary references into fashion. The use of streetwear is thought to have been responsible for a 5 per cent rise in the luxury personal goods market in 2017, lifting sales to €262bn; LVMH wants designers who can reap the benefits. “Virgil is incredibly good at creating bridges between the classic and the zeitgeist of the moment,” Louis Vuitton CEO Michael Burke told The New York Times. The “zeitgeist of the moment”, one assumes, is filthy lucrative. One would like to assume that these storied houses care about cultural references, but the cack-handedness with which they often handle them suggests otherwise. Take Balenciaga. For its autumn/winter 2018 collection, the brand staged a catwalk built around a skate ramp-esque structure decorated with graffiti tags: “YOU ARE THE WORLD”, “BALENCIAGA”, “40 RUE DE SEVRES”, “THE POWER OF DREAMS”, “ENERGY”, and “BE AWARE”. Displaying all the authenticity of Steve Buscemi trying to pass as a teenager in a T-shirt reading “Music Band” (“How do you do, fellow kids?”), it seemed indicative of the ways élite houses treat street culture. Beyond its susceptibility to commercialisation, they couldn’t care less.
DC10 chair by Inoda+Sveje
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White stuff: Naima Annoni, Enrica Caiello, Riccardo Piovesan, Maria Cristina Ziviani Brera - Accademia Belle Arti
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Dragon Energy Design Words Jay Prynne Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
“Did you see Kanye is starting an architecture firm?” I messaged a friend over the May Day bank holiday. “Of course he is,” the reply came back. “He’ll probably land the contract to build Trump’s border wall.” Thing is, that is exactly what’s going to happen, isn’t it? Kanye West’s announcement of his Yeezy Home “architecture arm” coincided with a series of increasingly bizarre tweets praising Donald Trump (“Thank you Kanye, very cool!”), giving the prospect of West and his Twitter-proclaimed “dragon energy[…] brother” standing atop a “Trump is Yeezus”-branded wall (probably busy explaining to protestors that having a 30ft barrier erected across the continent “sounds like a choice”) a dread inevitability. West’s flirtation with design and architecture, however, has a relatively long history. His Yeezy fashion brand has operated since 2015; as early as 2013 he was professing to be “a product person[…] Not just clothing but water bottle design, architecture,” and remarking that his social calendar was dominated by architects: “people that wanna make things as dope as possible”. Ludicrous though West may be, his concept of design and architecture is by no means unique. His call, upon launching Yeezy Home, for “architects and industrial designers who want to make the world better” finds a more bombastic parallel in designer Babette Porcelijn’s 2017 remarks to Dezeen that society “need[s] designers to show us what we should do”. Meanwhile, his desire to work across multiple fields is little different to the multidisciplinarity and “design thinking” vaunted by many in the industry. Even his view of architects as dope doesn’t seem hugely out of kilter with how many practitioners might define their work. There isn’t anything wrong with idealism, but there are dangers in perceiving design as a cure-all. The risk is that we fall into the kind of blind-faith, tech-bro, saviour complex exhibited by Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and their ilk (and we all know how the Zuckerberg experiment turned out). There are numerous problems that architecture and design can tackle – and West’s water-bottle suggestion would be an excellent place to start – but a dragon-energy-fuelled mission to improve the world is a tall order for any field, particularly with Trump as a co-pilot.
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Cities of Spectacle “I’m just looking to see if the world has ended since we started talking,” says David Rockwell, pausing to check his mobile 45 minutes into our meeting. “Apparently it hasn’t.” Words Oli Stratford Photographs Matthew Williams Profile
Well, that’s some good news at least, particularly given that in these imperilled times one can never really know when the world might have ended without you realising it. A careless tweet could have been wazzed into the ether, derailing the Panmunjom peace process and dooming the planet to nuclear holocaust; or else the climate might have irretrievably collapsed in a final splurge of tar sands, flooding sections of the Earth beneath rising oceans, while sentencing others to Mad Max droughts and temperatures. Amidst these reasons for pessimism, one begins to worry that it’s not so
“Theatre is a great laboratory for looking at how design comes alive when lots of people are participating for a particular period.” much a question of if humankind will meet its spectacular end, but which spectacular end it’s going to meet. Our only hope may be that the impending nuclear winter cancels itself out against the blast furnace of global warming, although if memory of school science lessons serves, the rapid mingling of cold and hot fronts results in… tornadoes! It’s no wonder the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock has ticked round to 11.58pm, the closest it has been to midnight since 1953, when the Americans and the Russians started detonating H-bombs. The world is going to hell! Fortunately, however, architect Rockwell, sitting in his firm’s offices on Union Square West, New York, is remaining calm (or at least more calm than your correspondent) in the face of adversity. Despite the political and climatic spheres having long since descended into morbid spectacle, Rockwell continues to be a firm advocate for the spectacular as one of society’s most potent tools for world-building and engendering community. “In an age in which we’re so connected virtually and there’s so much technology mediating our
lives, I’m interested in taking an architect’s filter and looking at larger-than-life events,” he explains. “I’m interested in the human desire to participate in something bigger than yourself.” Since founding his practice in 1984, Rockwell has developed a fascination for spectacles, complementing his architecture and interior-design work for commercial clients such as Nobu, W Hotels and Shinola with a slew of spaces for the performing arts. “Theatre is a great laboratory for looking at how design comes alive when lots of people are participating for a particular period of time,” he says. “You think why we live in cities, and it’s not to be in our own box on our own devices, but to rub against other people. I’ve always thought theatre is a playpen to research that.” In this sense, Rockwell’s notion of spectacle is theatrical, prioritising moments in which everyday existence in some sense steps outside of itself in order to “engender an alternative state” and encourage human connection. In 2006, Rockwell codified these ideas in Spectacle: An Optimist’s Handbook, written in collaboration with the designer Bruce Mau. A paean to theatricality in the public sphere, the text examines live communal events such as Burning Man in Nevada, El Encierro in Pamplona, the Kumbh Mela in India and firework displays the world over, and praises their ability to “turbocharge the everyday” and “tap into our deepest desire to belong and to participate”. In contrast to the spectacles of Trumpism and climate collapse, Rockwell’s vision of the spectacular proposes a definition grounded in day-to-day existence. “Maybe Spectacle is actually about the design of living in the moment,” reads the concluding section of the book’s opening interview with Rockwell. Certainly, the US’s current experiments in spectacle-infused Twitter diplomacy capture something of this carpe diem spirit, albeit filtered through a uranium-tinged haze of sleaze and international loutishness mainlined into the global cortex via the early-morning flatus of a “very stable genius” president. “I’m sure you could do another book now that looks at the history of spectacle and politics, and our current chapter with our current president would yield all kinds of hopefully interesting insights to guide us in the future,” notes Rockwell, smiling impishly. Of course, this book – or at least a pre-Trump version of it – has already been written. In 1967, Guy Debord penned The Society of the Spectacle,
a landmark text that developed the Situationist notion of “the spectacle” – an account of how capital has shaped the world. Debord defined it as the layers of unreality present within society – the tentacles of mass media; the preponderance of commodities; “the separation and estrangement between man and man” generated by the reigning economic system – that have placed everyone and everything at a remove from one another, and whose “social function is the concrete manufacture of alienation”. Debord’s spectacle is both the end-game and the mechanism by which socio-economic forces have steered society’s course from industrialisation through to late capitalism, generating a worldview of images and proxies that mediates all relationships and serves as “an affirmation of appearances and an identification of all human life with appearances”. The spectacle emerged when social relations were bastardised into consumer relations (an “evident degradation of being into having”), which further putrefied into appearing so that “everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation”. In a more imagistic sense, the spectacle is a kind of sociological fatberg: a lumpen clot forged from the flushed-away condom, cotton bud and cooking fat cast-offs of consumerism, accrued until it has blocked society’s vital passageways with enough bung to render any genuine movement impossible. Society is now slumbering under this blanket of passivity and atomisation sent drifting down upon us by the muck spreader of the spectacle. To quote Will Self, Debord’s text feels familiar simply because it “so accurately describes the shit we’re still in”. Debord’s spectacle remains the greatest show in town. It’s the Global Shitshow! The spectacle is not the same as a spectacle (so keep a weather eye on those definite and indefinite articles!), but there is a vital interplay between the two, which works out to interesting effect in Rockwell’s practice. Whereas Debord lamented society’s “vulgarised pseudo-festivals” as “parodies” of true forms of expression and communion (and here Debord’s target seems broad – theatre, cinema, sporting events and national holidays are all, to his mind, handmaidens of the spectacle), Rockwell insists upon their status as genuine outpourings of social feeling and as valid entry points to more lasting and everyday forms of interaction. Central to Rockwell’s design work, therefore, is the idea
that one possible route out of the torpor of the spectacle (or, at least out of the social alienation and communal disconnect that attend it) is through the frisson of spectacles. “When you go to the movies, part of what you talk about before and after, the conversations around the movie, is not just about the object,” he says. “It’s about the backstory and the richness of the human lives that are part of it.”
“When you go to the movies, part of what you talk about is not just the object. It’s the backstory and the human lives that are part of it.” It is in this spirit that, within the bowels of his Union Square offices, Rockwell has set up a dedicated set-design division – a grotto of maquettes and miniature stages from which have emerged beautifully intricate sets for plays and films such as Kinky Boots, Team America, Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. The studio has also developed the staging for the 81st and 82nd Academy Awards. Meanwhile, Rockwell’s team of architects have designed a host of temporary and permanent theatre spaces, the most recent of which is a spring 2018 renovation of the 106-year-old Hayes Theater on Broadway for Second Stage Theater. The project saw Rockwell’s team not only restyle the venue – the smallest of its kind on Broadway – but also upgrade its systems. “The last show before Second Stage acquired the space was Rock of Ages, which just tore the crap out of this theatre – beer stains all over the place,” says project architect Michael Fischer. “You could definitely see that this is a theatre that’s seen the years go by and sometimes it’s very difficult and far more expensive to work with spaces like that. For example, it had a tonne of asbestos in it.” In this sense, theatre work is curiously lacking in spectacle – it is more a matter of logistics and basic functioning. “We completely re-did the AC system, rebuilt the electrical system, created new counterweight rigging,” says Fischer. “It’s the kind of stuff that you don’t really see, but which makes audience members comfortable.” This emphasis 64
Alongside Rockwell’s architecture work, the studio also contains a division devoted to set design and theatre.
The Rockwell team at work in the studio’s Union Square West office in New York (left). Above, Rockwell’s portrait is disassembled through panels of glass.
on essential operations aside, however, Rockwell is concerned with engendering sumptuousness within his designs. “I think ‘neutral’ stands in for not taking a position a lot of times,” he says, with Fischer adding that “one of the problems with black-box theatres is they’re trying to be [places] where anything can happen, which sometimes means nothing can happen particularly well.” The Hayes was designed to bear out an alternative ideology. The auditorium is a snug seashell, whose seats have been upholstered with an iridescent coral-pink fabric that shifts tone and lustre as you move around it, while the theatre’s original baroque detailing has been coated with a layer of white paint, such that its neo-Georgian angels, garlands and curlicues recede into the territory of texture. Elsewhere, the walls are decorated with a pixelated, gradating blue reproduction of ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’, a tapestry taken from the 18th-century artist François Boucher’s The Loves of the Gods series. “If you don’t like blue, you’ll be in big trouble,” says Rockwell, “but I think the reality is that there’s no safety in neutrality[…] and the colour and detail and richness and seduction are all part of the theatre experience.” Reproductions of Boucher’s tapestries hung on the theatre’s walls when it opened 1912, its designer Winthrop Ames having commissioned a local theatre workshops to recreate them after seeing the originals at the Met. The contemporary Hayes, then, is emblazoned with a representation of a representation of a representation. It is a space which you suspect would have mightily vexed Debord: a site for spectacles, ensconced within the bourgeois enclave of Broadway, just off the LED-lined throne room of the spectacle itself – Times Square. “As culture becomes completely commodified it tends to become the star commodity of spectacular society,” wrote Debord. “When art[…] paints its world in dazzling colours, a moment of life has grown old.” For Rockwell, however, the appeal of working with theatre spaces is somewhat Debordian. “I walked into a new building recently which had the full checklist of what one thinks of when one thinks of timeless design,” he says. “Timelessness is talked about a lot in architecture, but timeliness is more overlooked, whereas in theatre that’s the whole point because it doesn’t exist unless you’re there in real-time with all the other people.” Here, one might detect
traces of Debord’s treatment of time, and its notion of “historical movement” having been replaced by a “history that is everywhere simultaneously the same” – the envelopment of social memory by the numbing pseudopodia of the spectacle. Whereas Debord took the unreality of spectacles and their ilk to have proliferated until they had become the daily bread of modern society (prompting a kind of ubiquitous overdose that enabled the subsequent catatonia of the spectacle), Rockwell sees the spectacular as a kind of seasoning that enlivens otherwise thin gruel, and which can place renewed emphasis on direct interaction. “We live and breathe in coming eyeball-to-eyeball with other human beings,” says Rockwell. “I remember my first trip to New York City, where what I was struck by wasn’t the New York most people see from the air, which is neat and Cartesian, but this messy, vital, changeable ground plan. [Similarly,] what
“We’re interested in spaces where disparate people rub up against each other and engage, and spectacle is a very zoomed-in version of that.” I find interesting about the theatrical is not looking theatrical, but behaving theatrically. As architects, we’re interested in spaces where disparate people rub up against each other and engage, and spectacle is a very zoomed-in version of that. It’s a supercharged version of people sharing some experience over a condensed period of time in a way that takes you outside of yourself. It’s clear to us as a studio that the theatre work makes our architecture better, and the architecture makes the theatre work better.” One project on which this ethos has come to bear is Imagination Playground, a proposal for the design of playgrounds that launched in July 2010 at Burling Slip, New York, and is now expanding worldwide. In contrast to the fixed equipment of
This page: maquettes and ephemera from Rockwellâ€™s studio. Opposite: Rockwell at his desk.
most comparable spaces, Imagination Playground was developed around a series of archetypal foam blocks, cogs and rods – objects that owe an aesthetic and functional debt to pool noodles and floats. These forms do not prescribe a set behaviour, but are instead intended to be flung around, remixed, assembled and disassembled with all the wild, puddle-duck summer fury of children splashing through municipal pools. “It’s about permissiveness, which is not often at the top of the list of programme requirements [in architecture],” says Rockwell. “Sometimes if you design a space and try and put everything in, there’s no room for spontaneity. There are phenomenal playgrounds in the city with great equipment, for instance, but a lot of them seem very prescribed and linear in terms of play value. When we did our first test play-date [with Imagination Playground], we didn’t know what the kids were going to do. [First of all] they took the noodles and hit each other, then they settled down to build individual things. Then, 15 or 20 minutes into it, they looked at what they had created and what others had created, and wondered ‘Can I link mine into yours?’ That only happened because there was a space for it.”
which would probably have given Debord an ulcer). It has been designed as a permanent six-storey building, to which the architects have attached a gleaming ETFE-clad shell that perches above
It has been designed as a six-storey building, to which the architects have attached a gleaming shell that perches like a beetle’s carapace. the structure like a beetle’s carapace. Using an adaptation of the gantry-crane technology common in shipping ports, this shell can telescope out from the building to cover an adjoining plaza, creating a multipurpose 37m-tall, column-free hall. It’s a kind of private-sector, shreds and patches reanimation of some of the formal properties of the Fun Palace, an unbuilt 1964 schema by the architect Cedric Price and theatre producer Joan Littlewood. Advocating radical programmatic and architectural fluidity, it was designed as an unenclosed steel lattice, serviced by gantry cranes that perpetually built, demolished and rebuilt spaces within the grid according to its users’ whims. Rather than serve a traditional architectural ideal, the Fun Palace was intended to prompt those who interacted with it to “wake to a critical awareness of reality” and “start practising an art new to most of us – living.” The Fun Palace sought to address “the general trend towards isolation [within urbanism]” described in The Society of the Spectacle and instead enable, to further quote Debord, a fragmented society to “unify itself by re-appropriating the powers that have been alienated for it”. Certainly, Price and Littlewood’s proposal seems a rare example of an architectural development that Debord might have deemed encouraging; more generally, he saw urbanism as “capitalism’s method for taking over the natural and human environment” and engendering a “conspicuous petrification of life”.
“They took the noodles and hit each other, then they settled down to build individual things. That happened because there was a space for it.” Rockwell’s next project is an attempt to graft this approach onto New York’s built environment. The Shed, executed in partnership with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is a 18,600sqm arts venue in west Manhattan, scheduled to open in 2019 as part of the wider Hudson Yards project – a $25bn privatesector development aiming to convert 28 acres of rail yards and industrial hinterland into a cultural, commercial and residential destination (a term 70
The Hayes Theater on Broadway, captured between shows. The theatre’s seats are covered up with dust sheets while a new set is put in place.
The theatre’s pixellated reproduction of ‘Bacchus and Ariadne’, an 18th-century tapestry.
No doubt he would have recognised this tendency in the developers behind Hudson Yard’s promise to martial some of “the world’s most iconic retail brands and leading companies” to create “a new neighborhood for the NEXT GENERATION”. Commercialism aside, however, Rockwell is optimistic that the elements of Prician adaptability present in The Shed’s design may nonetheless help engender genuine social connections within the wider development. “When I was studying, I spent quite a bit of time wondering about what Cedric Price was thinking,” says Rockwell. “Permanence is terrific
epic poem of this struggle, a struggle that no fall of Troy can bring to an end.” But while the world may still be faced with Debord’s diagnosis of an Aegean stables’ worth of Homeric horseshit being forced down society’s gullet, it is Rockwell’s contention that architecture might be wise to adopt more of the ephemeral traits of spectacle. In this way, our built environment may help break the spell of “the empire of modern passivity”. It is only through the moments of social participation encouraged by spectacles, he argues, that the all-pervasiveness of the existing order might be challenged. “One of the things one tends to want to hear from architects is absolutes, whereas we’re much more interested in not being defined by a box of absolutes,” he says. “You go up on a stage, look at an audience, and it’s pure potential. I think the way in which I would see that affecting public spaces is for those spaces to not be so autocratic. We need spaces that invite changeability or which distribute power, although of course it’s very hard to draw a generality like that. If you’re looking to unlock the answer as to how to make better public spaces with a view towards performance and theatre, then I don’t know the answer to that – beyond that is what we’re engaged in trying to do.” E N D
“I spent quite a bit of time wondering about what Cedric Price was thinking. Permanence is terrific as an outcome, but as a goal, it’s kind of stifling.” as an outcome, but as a goal, it’s kind of stifling. What surprised me in the research for Spectacle was how much the resonance of an experience depends on its set-up and take-down, because spectacles are very much about process. In theatre, you do a massive amount of planning to hopefully have these few spontaneous moments [and] The Shed’s interesting because it’s performative in that way. If you look at the conditions which invite artists to work, [you want to] give them tools and ways to change things. Flexibility, morphability, and changeability in structural and temporal experiences are the underpinnings of spectacle.” What, however, are the current underpinnings of the spectacle, a piece of critical apparatus that remains worryingly relevant? Debord’s spectacle was set out in 1967, but its description of “the shit we’re still in” remains as valid an analysis of society as Price’s 1964 proposal remains a call to arms for architecture. The spectacle is a world in which our only true connections are to the myriad commodities and commodified ideologies that wage war for our attention, and in which the spectacle reigns as “the 72
Master artisans. Exceptional objects. A new perspective.
A Civic Leg Words Riya Patel
Since the beginning of , London newspaper headlines have carried a consistently grisly theme. Acts of youth crime – murder, gang violence and stabbing among victims as young as – have been reported with chilling regularity in the city. The tragedies have brought to the surface a problem rooted in austerity measures put in place by the UK government following the recession. The issue is complex, but many blame deep cuts to policing and youth services for a situation in which an entire generation – as well as larger swathes of society – has been left behind. In January , a report by London Assembly member Sian Berry warned that cuts in youth services have a devastating eﬀect on crime prevention, removing vital support to teenagers susceptible to joining gangs or turning to criminal or anti-social behaviour. It found that at least £m has been slashed from youth-service budgets across London since , with the average council reducing spending by per cent. Wealdstone, north-west London, is one part of the city where such cuts are keenly felt. The former industrial area is . miles from the capital’s centre. Large local employers, such as the Kodak factory, have been in decline, with , jobs lost locally since . In early May, a -year-old boy was shot on the local high street, with a -year-old gunned down minutes later nearby. The incidents happened in a -hour period that saw ﬁve shootings in London. The local police station in Wealdstone closed a few years ago and remains boarded up. “It’s pretty bleak,” says Matt Weston, director of the regeneration agency Spacemakers. “Young people dealing drugs and going into gangs at or . Knife crime, shootings: that’s the press story.” Spacemakers, together with architects We Made That and graphic designers Europa, won a contract from Harrow Council to create a new public space for Wealdstone in late . Regeneration is a contentious issue in the UK capital. For decades, the market has dictated the shape of the city. In poorer boroughs, the standard approach is to slap a hasty
1 Rubbings and drawings from the first workshop.(Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
2 Materials from Wealdstone. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
3 Kayleigh Littlemore and Marius Dinu pin up research from the first workshop. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
4 The team working inside their temporary classroom, which they established inside a carpark. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
re-brand on forgotten areas to push up land values and drive growth. Little consideration is given to the desires of existing residents, who frequently feel alienated by the process. Spacemakers (formed in after its part in the revival of a covered market in Brixton, south London) has a history of using design to engage with regeneration in more delicate and imaginative ways, however. It published a fanzine for Tottenham to give locals a voice after the London riots, established a temporary “university” in Kilburn to help the community re-imagine what its ailing high street could be, and created a mobile town square to start new conversations about civic space in Cricklewood. Getting to grips with Wealdstone’s problems required a similarly unusual approach. An opportunity to work on its ,sqm town square arose when the council’s civic centre relocated to the locality from Harrow, a wealthier area just a mile away. As well as the new council premises, the plans include includes , new homes. The ambition is for the public space to be a cohesive element for the communities that will co-exist in Wealdstone. The project’s funding comes from a £.m pot awarded to Harrow from the Greater London Authority, under the London Regeneration Fund. A much larger £.bn programme, Building a Better Harrow, is aimed at transforming Harrow and Wealdstone town centres with new housing, schools and jobs. Weston says the inﬂux of funding is welcome, but the investment nonetheless needs careful handling: “There’s the risk of Botox-y regeneration: nice paving, sexy bins. Communities won’t just come together by building a square. You have to change the dynamics.” Time spent in Wealdstone, for instance, revealed a lack of places for people to gather, especially in the evening. Talking to neighbours and local businesses, Spacemakers found that groups of youths were consistently perceived as the area’s main problem. To address the negative stigma head on, the agency identiﬁed that young people should be part of the solution and involved in planning the new space. Weston says: “[We asked:] is there a project where we can re-direct some of this money into the pockets of young people? Is there something short-term we can do to aﬀect a few young lives?” Spacemakers spotted an opportunity that could be gained by re-allocating £, of the regeneration budget set aside for temporary street furniture. Instead
of choosing oﬀ-the-shelf items, they proposed using the money to fund a youth workshop to design bespoke pieces instead. A sum of £, was set aside to commission an established designer-maker to lead the project, and £, was made available for the materials and essentials, and to pay the participants. A further £, was earmarked for the graphic designer Karolina Cialkaite, who grew up in Wealdstone, to support the project locally. Selling the idea of the Wealdstone Youth Workshop to a normally risk-averse council was the next challenge. Weston proposed it as a “circular transaction” rather than a one-way expenditure without return to the community: “We were telling them this is a process rather than a product. And that’s a hard thing for a council to say yes to.” Three successful precedents were used to bolster the cause. The ﬁrst was Cucula, a Berlin-based project that trains refugees to make wooden furniture from designer Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione manual. Product designer Sebastian Däschle trialled the ﬁrst workshop with ﬁve West African refugees in , aiming to empower and equip them with professional skills. After an initial crowdfunding campaign, and with the help of supporters, the company now trains eight refugees at a time and has begun developing a furniture collection designed by the project’s trainees under the tutelage of Jerszy Seymour. The second example was Assemble’s work in Granby Street, a blighted area of Liverpool in which the community had been gradually eroded by various regeneration projects. In , Assemble launched Granby Workshop, a series of ceramics workshops with residents that became a model of local designer-led manufacturing. The London-based collective guided the work, leading to a range of products and ﬁttings that community members could then produce on-site in small batches. The ﬁrst items were a series of ﬁxtures and ﬁttings made for homes saved from demolition by local residents in . The workshop continues to operate (with help from crowdfunding) and now has a wider product range that it uses to fulﬁl individual orders and commissions beyond the area. Martino Gamper’s Arnold Circus stool was the third source of inspiration, showing how a single
Cucula is the subject of the article ‘Countermeasures’ in Disegno #15.
5 CNC furniture parts, copied from shop signage and designed by the group. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
6 Kayleigh Littlemore sketching some layouts for cutting. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
7 Leo Harrison holding an early prototype chair aloft. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
8 Prototype furniture parts, ready for a public event. (Photograph Karolina Cialkaite)
distinctive product could serve as a symbol of local pride. Designed in , the distinctive, rotation-moulded piece has a tear-shaped seat, comes in a range of bright colours, and is stackable and lightweight. It was developed as the oﬃcial seating for public events in Arnold Circus, a historic bandstand and garden at the centre of the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, east London. In , the bandstand was in a state of disrepair, attracting anti-social behaviour. Lack of council support inspired a local resident group to tackle the regeneration and establish a programme of annual events to activate the space. The stool has now become a successful product in its own right. These three cases set a precedent for engaging local communities in design and manufacture, but Wealdstone Youth Workshop was the ﬁrst attempt to work with such a young local group – all the participants were aged to . Local design, rather than manufacture, was the focus, but the solution still had to be low-cost, simple to develop and a point of distinction for the area. In ﬁnding a designer-maker to lead the project, Spacemakers sought a studio that had the agility to work with unknowns, and the generosity to lead a genuine collaboration with the young participants. It was vital that they were listened to and encouraged to develop design skills. “We were worried about the designer-maker doing all the work, but that’s not really what happened,” Weston says. “The challenge was really about giving young people agency.” Silo Studio, founded by designers Oscar Lessing and Attua Aparicio Torinos, were chosen to lead the workshop. Their brief was to carry out eight sessions and three public events with the group, working towards an outdoor seating solution for people. The seats would need to last ﬁve years, be used for temporary events in the square, and be stored in a small kiosk when not in use. “We were excited about the project,” says Lessing. “More than a proposal, we put together a mission statement about what we thought was an important agenda.” Despite a timeframe of just six months from initial workshop to ﬁrst product, Silo proposed a programme that could respond to the participants’ direction. They opened their mission statement with a Charles Eames quote: “Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.” Anatomy
The east London-based designers are adept at embracing risk. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art seven years ago, they have consistently challenged norms with unusual works. Projects include textile-moulded glassware in candy colours that appears to bulge despite being empty; ﬂoppy proﬁles of part-expanded polystyrene that bend and knot together to create furniture; and serving trays made by squeezing plastic out of a thin nozzle and pressing it into shape. The work is idiosyncratic but purposeful, revealing something unknown about a material or process that has so far escaped mainstream industry. Although Silo’s characterful (and often colourful) works look like good fun, their wow eﬀect is hard-won. For every eureka moment and happy accident in the factory, there is a catalogue of trial and error. “Despite how ridiculous our stuﬀ looks, honesty and authenticity are important to us. We’re really just trying to show what the material is about,” Aparicio Torinos and Lessing explain. Silo’s work traditionally develops out of exploration of a material or methodology, but the workshops presented Aparicio Torinos and Lessing with the challenge of beginning from the young people themselves. “We like to let a material do things and see what’s possible. That’s often what gives us direction,” says Aparicio. “In this case it was the group. It was about exposing them to things and seeing their reaction.” Fifteen young people initially applied to take part, encouraged through schools, adverts, posters and Cialkaite’s work in spreading the word. Eight local participants aged and were chosen. Two dropped out of the process early, but the ﬁnal six – Esther Calinawan, Kayleigh Littlemore, Leo Harrison, Marina Marbella, Marius Dinu and Tanya Galia – continued to the end. A spirit of collaboration was encouraged from the start. In the selection interview, each participant would work on a design with model-making materials for a set time and then pass it on to another. “The goal was to make them not so precious about what they do. And [show] it’s not like a competition where someone’s idea wins,” says Aparicio Torinos. It was also a chance to observe the young people’s attitude to making. Those who responded well to collaboration were chosen, with the overall mix having complementary skills. Littlemore, who lives in Harrow Weald and is studying history at university, was at ﬁrst daunted by the creative aspect of the Anatomy
9 Wealdstone Legs in natural material colour, straight after being moulded at Bibby Engineers. (Photograph Silo Studio)
10 Prototype chair featuring local architecture chosen by the participants. (Photograph Silo Studio)
process. “Drawing isn’t something I do very often, but something I found I really loved,” she says, while her strong analytical skills made her a valuable part of the team. “Silo really brought out the best in each of us, learning from each other what each of us could do.” The ﬁrst sessions took place in a local café and later the council found space to host the group in one of its car parks. Though not part of the brief, the designers made the most of the unusual situation by building an enclosed temporary classroom on the footprint of a few parking spaces. Despite the dingy surroundings, the ad-hoc base meant that the group could return to its work every Saturday without interruption. Silo began each day with a starter presentation – initially on a piece of history, material, person, thing or place. As well as images of public spaces, the group were shown design examples such as Curro Claret’s La Pieza (), a low-cost laser-cut metal bracket aimed at joining various found elements together to make simple furniture. The furniture was made in collaboration with the Arrels Foundation, a group dedicated to helping the homeless in Barcelona. The sessions ended with debates about how best to move forward. Early workshops included observations of Wealdstone to ﬁnd a vernacular language, cutting and CNC engraving shapes into wood, and a public event to test the idea of self-assembly furniture – allowing seating arrangements to be put together ﬂexibly. In the fourth session, the idea for a component rather than a complete chair began to crystallise. The deciding factors were space-saving (the chairs must stack or fold to ﬁt in a small on-site storage kiosk); economy (the budget would stretch much further by making a repeatable component); and a desire to go beyond the council’s limited brief. In particular, Aparicio Torinos taught the group: “As a designer, one thing is what they expect from you, and another is what you want to do.” The production of a component – later titled the Wealdstone Leg – would also provide an opportunity for a small-scale production business beyond the project at hand. “We could choose to make iconic chairs, or we could choose to make more with the same money,” says Dinu, who studies architecture and product design at Harrow College. For the young participants, the project was a ﬁrst taste of making something ﬁt for the real world and the impact of economics on decision-making. “We wanted them
to understand the bigger picture of it: what it would really be like to be a product designer,” says Lessing. “On process and materials, they were involved in every aspect.” The group eventually selected injection-moulding as the best production method for the leg, having weighed up the pros and cons of rotation moulding, CNC tube bending and laminated plywood. The biggest investment was the steel die, which took three weeks to machine. Bibby Engineers, a Cornwall-based toolmaking and moulding ﬁrm, made the die and the ﬁrst batch of legs. Silo had worked with them in for PPPPP, its range of pressed polypropylene and paper pulp trays. Building on knowledge from that project, Silo turned to the same material for the leg: a composite of per cent polypropylene and per cent paper pulp. While structural plastics are more commonly reinforced with glass ﬁbres for strength (the same technology that gives the thrilling S-shape of the Panton chair), sustainably sourced paper pulp has the advantage of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in production. The form of the leg is mostly functional: an L-shaped structural section that provides strength using minimal material. A dose of personality comes by way of its rainbow palette of colours, and the mottled appearance given by clumps of paper ﬁbres. Dying the raw material before moulding also makes the product a “through-colour” solution. Rather than painting or applying a ﬁnish to a basic leg, which would require treating and maintaining over time, the legs come oﬀ the production line in their own inherent shade and need little ﬁnishing. A characterful quirk – testament to Silo’s love of the factory error – is the marbled mix of colours in some of the pieces, where the dye has been switched over during the production process. “It had to be loud enough, but not so much that it’s screaming,” says Lessing. The group are clearly pleased with the economy of their invention, as well as its punk aesthetic. “We couldn’t injection-mould a whole chair, but we could do a leg. We thought: ‘if you can do a leg, what else can you do with it?’” says Harrison, who lives in Wealdstone and hopes to study engineering. As well as legs for stools, chairs and tables, the component can be used as a shelf bracket, arm or support for a bench back. At £ a go, it’s also good value for money. Multipurpose products have marketing advantages too. “If it does more than one thing, 80
11 A stack of Wealdstone Stools. (Photograph Thomas Adank)
12 Leo Harrison holds a Wealdstone Stool. (Photograph Thomas Adank)
you can sell it as more than one thing,” says Littlemore. Interested customers can buy whole pieces or single legs to adapt to their own designs. To keep it cheap, standard lengths of plywood will be used to complete the range of seating for the square. The students will receive a royalty from each sale, on top of their £ stipend for taking part in the project. The group stretched the budget further to make a retail website (w-y-w.co.uk). w-y-w.co.uk). The leg debuted with a temporary w-y-w.co.uk showcase in the Barbican shop. “Something we designed on display somewhere like [the Barbican] – it’s not something I thought I’d ever see,” says Harrison. “It’s a really big thing,” Dinu agrees. “To have a website, to be selling products made by us – to think that without us this wouldn’t have happened.” Many designers have the ambition to work on social projects, but special determination and tact are needed to achieve meaningful collaborations. Silo’s energy seems to have kept the youths engaged, while at the same time, patience has helped give the group self-belief. “We were navigators and they made the decisions,” says Lessing. “It was clear that they had to decide what they wanted to get from the project.” From the outside, it’s hard to know how the collaboration truly worked, however. Looking at the professionalism of the outcome, you might think Silo’s expertise is largely at play, but hearing the participants speak, it’s clear they feel genuinely invested in the product too. To pull oﬀ the trick that the Arnold Circus stool managed – making the leg ﬁt the dual purpose of local and consumer interest – is not an easy feat. “We want the furniture to be iconic, beautiful and stand-out,” says Lessing. “Something that’s accepted by as many people as possible but acknowledged by the design community as well.” If you knew nothing about the Wealdstone Leg, it would hold up as a good piece of design – it does an eﬀective job of being seen, but has a surprising velvety touch too, thanks to its paper ﬁbres. As a product, it’s light and playful – not just because of its pop colours, but because of encouraging self-creativity and playing with the rules of what furniture should be. Wealdstone may get its icon when the square opens, but a few of its young people now have the opportunity to go on producing. The funding for the workshop has ended, but it still owns the die and a day in the factory is enough time to produce legs. “The risk is out of the project now, so it
should be very easy for the council or Mayor of London to ﬁnd the cash to do more,” says Weston. He adds that furniture for the town hall, due to complete in , is another potential commission. What’s more, the experience has changed its participants. Most got involved because they want to go on to study a design discipline. They’ve enjoyed an unrivalled taster in the fundamentals of research, structure, aesthetics, materials and economics – and in a form that hasn’t been oversimpliﬁed. There have been other beneﬁts too. “I think this project is a big step for Wealdstone,” says Dinu. “We actually showed that it is possible. Students around here are able to create this kind of stuﬀ. And they don’t need a huge amount of money.” Speaking to the group, it’s clear that they are motivated. They’re bright and curious and it’s hard to imagine them getting caught up in the same headlines as others their age. The chemistry of this cohort has made the workshop a success; it’s problematic to think that scaling the model would improve more lives. The workshop was conceived as a response to a speciﬁc set of problems based on local research and engagement. A one-size-ﬁts-all approach to other troubled areas wouldn’t necessarily have the same eﬀect. Weston says the aim was to change perceptions and inspire belief where there was little. “Right now, we’ve done what we needed to do and it’s created a new narrative for those young people. This is an idea that was created in response to Wealdstone. We haven’t got the intention to start setting up youth workshops all over London.” Wealdstone Youth Workshop is a positive story in a sea of bad news. But to task the project with solving the uncomfortable issues London has with crime, inequality and regeneration would be impossible. It’s in a design context that the initiative can oﬀer greater lessons. After its community-led precedents, Wealdstone has proved furniture design can be a tool for inspiring local enterprise. For all its theory, design can operate as a practical base on which to build a common language. Everyone knows what a chair is. This project gives new meaning to what it can do. E N D
All pigment images courtesy of Kvadrat.
Eventually Everything Connects Nineteen textiles, sixteen pigments, twelve stories, one project – a series of extracts about Jonathan Olivares’s design process. Words Oli Stratford Portraits and vegetation images Ramak Fazel Pigment descriptions Painting Materials: A Short Encyclopaedia by Rutherford J. Gettens and George L. Stout Project
CLAY HAEMATITE “[Haematite has] had such continuous use in all periods of painting and in all parts of the world that it is unnecessary to go into details concerning [its] history and occurrence in paintings”
Bottles, pots, pitchers and tubes with cork stoppers / tinctures from Glyco and plaster lime Florence / pasted with labels and fine twists of string / these are a few of the pigmented things. And that’s just the apparatus.1 If you want to see the really good stuff in the Forbes Pigment Collection, you need to unstop those bottles and tubes. “We have dragon’s blood, which is from the rotang plant,” says curator Narayan Khandekar, a softly spoken art historian with wire glasses, thick black hair and a mandarin collar. “Indian lac from cochineal beetles; Indian yellow from the urine of cows fed only on mango leaves; Tyrian purple, which comes from a mollusc and was used by Roman senators. We also have a bit of mummy from Roberson [the 19th-century British artists’ supply firm].” Julie Andrews’s whiskers on kittens pale in comparison. The Forbes Pigment Collection was founded in 1910 by Edward Waldo Forbes, the art historian who initiated the field of technical art history and its study of artworks through material properties. Today, the collection is housed at Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and contains some 3,000 pigment samples, variously derived from animals, minerals, plants and synthetic chemicals. From medieval lapis lazuli, to Anish Kapoor’s nanotube-packed Vantablack, the collection is a material resource for understanding the pigments and techniques used by artists throughout history. “We use our pigments as a standard,” says Khandekar. “The collection is our reference library and we use it to understand what materials an artist used, how they used them, and how those materials change over time.” Over the course of its 108 years, the archive has swollen with synthetic additions and with further natural pigments collected during field expeditions. “There is a pigment called clay haematite that I collected in deep Outback Australia,” says Khandekar. “We dodged crocodiles – and I’m not kidding about that – to bring back a sample. It’s a light clay with a slightly blueish tone, and then there are red [haematite] particles inside that. The red and the blue combine to create a purple-ish tone.” Despite Khandekar’s derring-doo, however, the collection is primarily an academic resource, as well as a pedagogical tool. “When I talk to people about the pigments, I point out that everything in this building has been coloured in some way,” he says. “Somebody has made a choice of colour, which is something people don’t necessarily think about.” In 2018, however, the collection began to stretch this research remit by participating in its first design project – a series of textiles created by the Los Angeles designer Jonathan Olivares for fabric brand Kvadrat, each of which owes its hue to one of 16 pigments drawn from the Forbes archive. “This was a brand-new experience,” says Khandekar. “It was something that Edward Forbes would never have predicted.”
Well, bar the Glyco and plaster lime Florence, admittedly. But I couldn’t get the line to scan without
them, so they had to stay. I mean, just try and write a version of ‘My Favourite Things’ about a pigment collection and not use plaster lime Florence – can’t be done.
COPPER “Freshly worked copper has a lustre and takes a bright polish, but it is soon tarnished when exposed to the air” Copper is a highly reactive material. It alloys with other metals to create materials such as brass (when combined with zinc), bronze (tin) and rose gold (gold), and reacts easily to form richly coloured minerals like blue azurite and green malachite. In anthropomorphised design parlance, then, copper is a natural collaborator – a metal ever-ready to slip its elemental chemistry and enter into new partnerships. In this sense, Jonathan Olivares seems to have a soupçon of copper within his Platonic soul. “Every project that I do, I think of as a triangle of partnerships,” he says. “It can’t just be me and a client. It has to be me, a client and some other entity. Whether that’s an architect, a specialised factory, or whatever, there has to be some learning going on. I think that trifecta is really powerful as a tool, because it ends up with results I could never get on my own.” Olivares has, he explains, always sought out opportunities to expand his knowledge. Having grown up in Boston in the 1980s and 1990s, in the early 2000s he attempted a liberal arts education at his native city’s Boston College and New York’s Parsons, The New School, before realising that something was amiss. “I felt that literature and philosophy were just…” he muses. “Well, I needed to get my hands dirty.” While studying at Parsons, a chance meeting with the Brooklyn-based designer Stephen Burks introduced Olivares to the work of Charles and Ray Eames, which served as a kind of mid-century modern metanoia. “I had no idea what design was [before then],” he says. “But once I knew, it was pretty immediate[…]: that’s what I wanted to do.” Olivares left Parsons and joined the industrial design programme at New York’s Pratt Institute. “They were old school,” he says laughing, and when Olivares laughs it is pleasingly deep and chugging, like a motor turning over. “You were just drafting, prototyping, welding and making in the workshop. Most of the classes you’d take were like, ‘Make a vacuum cleaner.’” Post-graduation, Olivares broadened his practice in 2006 when he accepted an eight-month apprenticeship at designer Konstantin Grcic’s Munich studio, where his interest in collaboration began to pupate. Grcic runs each of his projects as a partnership with an apprentice in his studio and credits them as such. It is an environment that militates against the prevailing vision of a designer as a lone genius and instead acknowledges the variety of inputs that shape a final outcome. “You couldn’t be there if you were working for him,” says Olivares. “You could only be there and help him if you were working for yourself. He was genuinely looking for you to instigate and react.” This methodology, extrapolated out of the studio and shifted into the world of external collaborators, has become Olivares’s modus operandi. “I go to factories or institutes; I meet with architects or producers, and then I start connecting the dots,” he says. “I really view my work as a dot connector and I want to get fed by a process, because in terms of design I don’t sketch and I don’t just sit down and start drawing up ideas. Like, you couldn’t get me to subjectively choose 18 colours out of nowhere.
It just wouldn’t happen.”
GREEN EARTH “It occurs rather widely but that which is suitable for a pigment is found only in restricted areas”
Anders Byriel, CEO of Kvadrat, enters. He is ready and willing to make Jonathan Olivares choose 18 colours out of nowhere. ANDERS
We see maybe only one to two out of every ten designers who are good at colour. People are good
at designing, but colour is a unique competence to be extraordinary on. INTERVIEWER What’s difficult about it? ANDERS You need to bring an idea of where colour could go – a personal vision or individual inspirations. For example, we worked with Nanna Ditzel in the 1960s, Finn Sködt in the 1980s, and Giulio Ridolfo when he introduced intertones in the 2000s. Those were designers who were good with colour.
The interviewer nods. He wants to hide the fact that he doesn’t know what intertones are. INTERVIEWER Sure. ANDERS They’ve been very influential. INTERVIEWER (Trying to change the subject) So what personal approach does Jonathan bring to colour? ANDERS Well, you could say Jonathan is not going for a walk in the forest to find inspiration. We see him as one of the designers who could define his generation because he’s always thinking about how to build something and considering things on a very industrial level. He’s refreshing because I don’t think we have ever seen his kind of scientific approach to colour. He’s very old school; very how it should be. INTERVIEWER But to date, all of Jonathan’s design work has been monochrome. ANDERS Yeah, but in fact it was him who came to us with the idea of a collection exploring colour! We were actually a little worried for him.
The interviewer nods sympathetically. He hopes it will all be OK.
CHROMITE “[From the metal] chromium[…] are derived more pigments and a greater colour range than from any other single element” Olivares’s suggestion for the collection of colours developed from his first contact with the Forbes Pigment Collection. This came through a friendship with the art historian Thomas Lentz who served as director of the Harvard Art Museums between 2003 and 2015. “He introduced me, and my first visit to the collection was totally overwhelming,” says Olivares. “I’d always documented my work in white or black, so when I saw this I was like, ‘I need literature. I can’t engage.’” That kind of reaction to the Forbes Collection is typical. The archive is stored in a series of glass-fronted apothecary cabinets on the fourth floor of the museum, with the pigments huddled inside and arranged as a chromatic scale. Mapico iron oxides; mosaic gold and alizarin green; bone ash, Pompeian blue and Mars orange; burnt umber from Winsor & Newton, yellow beeswax and white manilla – the cabinets offer a record of the methods by which humans have coloured the world around them from antiquity onwards. “Our cabinets used to be wood-fronted, but in 2014 we wanted to arrange the pigments so they made visual sense and so we put them in a glass-fronted cabinet that was visible to the gallery-visiting public,” says Khandekar. “All of a sudden we got so much attention.” While the collection has long been a resource for visiting artists, the approach from Olivares was the first time that a designer had made contact. “Tom [Lentz] knew that Jonathan was working on a project for Kvadrat and that he wanted to know about pigments,” says Khandekar. “Normally we don’t embark on commercial ventures, but I trust Tom, and Jonathan’s research-based approach made us feel much more comfortable about entering into a collaboration. So, I invited Jonathan to come and have a look at the pigments, and we moved forward from there.” “Narayan suggested some very expensive, scholarly volumes [about pigments], which I ordered from Amazon,” says Olivares, “one of which still hasn’t arrived. I haven’t yet had time to check to see whether I was charged for that.”
MALACHITE “It was used much in trees and foliage” Books and research have been ever-present in Olivares’s practice. For the purposes of documenting this article, the photographer Ramak Fazel was dispatched to Olivares’s house in Los Angeles with a brief to take the designer’s portrait. Olivares and Fazel are friends, but the shoot was complicated by the fact that Olivares had given himself a black eye while skateboarding. “I collided with another skater coming around a bend at a skate plaza,” emailed Olivares. “Didn’t hurt at all really, just a very black eye! Looks very professional ;-)” The pair decided that sunglasses would provide a suitable cover-up and so shot outside. A few days later, Fazel sent an email detailing his reflections on the shoot: “It was just
the two of us shuffling between the balcony and street front of his house on a hill. The conversation turned to plants [and maybe] Jonathan is at a juncture in his practice as a designer where his developing maturity directs his gaze towards less plastic forms. His interest in the botanical life pressing against the contours of his house was refreshing.[…] He was simply curious as though admitting to
himself for the
first time that he could learn as much from a jade tree or a bottle bush as he could from a monograph of [a] designer’s work.” The irony is that Olivares, of all contemporary designers, seems to value words and writing as a design tool more than most. To date he has produced four books – 2011’s research project A Taxonomy of
Office Chairs; a 2016 monograph of the designer Richard Sapper; 2015’s Source Material; and 2017’s Jonathan Olivares Selected Works – as well as a series of articles and essays for Domus, Metropolis, Abitare, Ultra Journal and Verities. In fact, Olivares’s written output is more familiar to many than his objects. Since founding his practice in 2006, Olivares’s output of industrial design has been comparatively slight: the Smith table-caddy-cum-cart for Danese, which won a Compasso d’Oro in 2011; the Territorio seating platform for the same company; the aluminium Olivares chair for Knoll; and a customisable aluminium extrusion bench for Zahner, are chief amongst his objects. “It’s probably to do with the fact I’m working in the United States,” he says. “There aren’t 20 cool companies wanting to make things here and I can only spend so much time on an airplane.” Olivares’s writings, however, have established him as a design critic and thinker par excellence, with notable texts including his gloriously experimental ‘Impressions from Walmart’ poem (“If the body replaces all of its fat cells every ten years / then how long does it take to sell everything in this store?”) and his state of the union-esque 2007 report on American manufacture, ‘The US Furniture Industry’. “But I’m not a writer,” says Olivares. “In fact, I hate it when people say ‘designer and writer’. You would never say that Rem Koolhaas is a writer because he wrote Delirious New York. I’ve always found it really offensive that people don’t imagine that these things are a part of [my design work], because I think of my texts as a part of the design process.” On one reading, this distinction might be seen a matter of semantics and personal preference – a decision to parcel off writing rather than award it the same primacy as design. Another view, however, is that Olivares’s literary reticence says something about the manner in which he conceives of the design process. Olivares has a tendency to theorise his projects. The Smith cart, which can be wheeled around and then suspended from a table, is not just a table caddy, for instance, but an effort to “set a new behaviour around office carts, which are quite mundane[…] and sprinkle some action into the [typology]”. The Zahner bench, meanwhile, is an elegantly serviceable practical design, but also positioned as a continuation of “America’s legacy of cast-iron seating for railway cars and steel cabinets that were fireproof” because of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. Olivares’s objects rarely operate on a purely aesthetic or functional level, but are instead geared towards (and explicitly communicated as) expressing a set narrative – be it industrial or cultural, or some combination of the two. “The problem is I get bored easily,” he explains, “and the opportunity to pass on knowledge through my work is exciting.” In this respect, Olivares’s understanding of industrial design is essentially outward-looking: an effort to connect manufacture and mass-produced forms with aspects of the wider world. With this in mind, writing’s facility for expressing ideas becomes an essential component of his design practice. “I approach an essay and the design of an object or space in largely the same way,” writes Olivares in Selected Works. “[There] is a thesis, a subject matter, a material or format, and, finally, the development of these ideas and forms through the editing process.”
GRAPHITE “A crystalline form of carbon” Beyond committed Freud and Jung fetishists, few people buy daybeds anymore. “You never get a commission for a daybed,” confirms Olivares. “In fact, I remember having conversations with Knoll and Vitra about daybeds: ‘Daybeds? Yeaaah, we don’t really sell daybeds.’” Regardless, here’s the tale of how Jonathan Olivares defied contemporary taste and designed a daybed that later gave birth to a pigment range. Our story begins in the 1940s. In 1942, the modernist architect Philip Johnson completed his first built work, a house at 9 Ash Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Johnson submitted the structure as his thesis project to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), and the building came to serve as a kind of dry run for Johnson’s later Mies van der Rohe-inflected Glass House in New Haven, Connecticut. Nine Ash Street has a glass-fronted facade, and a rectangular, open-plan structure that leads out onto a courtyard whose perimeter fence is the same height as the house’s walls, thereby shielding the property from the street. The structure itself is supported by a series of caramel-coloured wooden columns produced by New England mast-makers, steel having been at a premium during the war years. Following a string of private owners, the house was acquired by the GSD in 2010, which soon sought to restore and refurbish it, Johnson having donated all of its original furniture to MoMA. Given that Olivares had previously lectured at the GSD, he was asked to contribute a piece as part of this replenishment. “It was a pretty open project,” he says. “I looked at photos of how Johnson had originally laid out the house. The biggest piece of furniture was a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona daybed and what I found really compelling when I visited were the masts being used as columns [in the house]. So, I got the idea that we should do a daybed and I contacted [Hall Composites] a mast-making outfit in New England [to help make it]. But today, masts are no longer made in wood. They’re made in carbon fibre. So that’s when I thought a) That’s going to be a really expensive bed and b) We’re going to need a cushion.”
ORPIMENT “It sometimes appears to have a fibrous structure” Whereas van der Rohe’s 1929 leather Barcelona daybed is stately and sumptuous – a field of tufted leather whose clubhouse richness is redolent of its creator’s Dunhill cigar habit – Olivares’s 2016 Twill Weave daybed is a somewhat lighter affair. The bed is produced from a set of narrow carbon-fibre legs and crossbeams, which are manufactured using mast-making mandrels. A flat, flexible sheet of carbon fibre then hooks on top to form the bed’s surface. In this sense, the design is chimerical. It is rigid and structural (“You could park a car on this and it would be fine,” says Olivares, twanging his hand up and down on it),1 but its mass is formed from a material that is, to all intents and purposes, a textile. “Carbon fibre is woven, so the whole object is cloth,” says Olivares. The daybed’s fibres are bound with an epoxy that eschews the usual high gloss of carbon fibre in favour of a matt finish that rasps to the touch. “It’s [achieved through] a product called Peel Ply, which they apply to the carbon before heating it,” he explains. “If you put butter in a pan, melt it, then let it dry, that glossiness is what normal epoxy looks like. This, by contrast, is like if you were to put butter in a pan, put cheesecloth on top, and then let it dry – you’re going to be left with the texture of the cheesecloth.” To complement this structure, Olivares contacted Kvadrat about developing a textile that might be used to upholster the piece’s cushion. “As I got to know the twill weave of the carbon fibre, I began to realise that textiles are structure,” he says. “Actually, textiles are probably more ‘architecture’ than a steel-tube coffee table, which is what I love about them.” Subsequently, Olivares worked with Kvadrat to produce a woollen fabric that mimicked both the colouration of carbon, and the diagonal twill knit of the fibre. “What’s great is for people to put that Twill Weave fabric up against the carbon fibre and see the similarity, because the cloth-like nature of the carbon fibre is what made the project make sense,” says Olivares. “But of course, they don’t have to. That would be a bit fascist if I said otherwise.”
Although good luck getting it past security at 9 Ash Street. The GSD has it locked down like Fort Knox.
GOLD “Gold was used quite freely in panel paintings where brilliance and luminosity were demanded”
The narrative structure behind the emergence of a textile collection, as told by Jonathan Olivares. EXPOSITION Twill Weave daybeds are not cheap. There’s not a lot of mechanisation around carbon fibre, and carbon itself is not cheap. So if you multiply an expensive material by expensive labour, you end up with a pretty expensive outcome. Kvadrat graciously sponsored the daybed for the Johnson house, but the manufacturer’s minimum order was six pieces. So there are only six daybeds. RISING ACTION When you produce something that is widely distributed, you really touch the world, which is what draws me to mass production. America, in particular, is a raw country. There’s not a safety net for a lot of people and in that landscape, a piece of design that touches people and is generous is pretty cool. I always get excited when I receive my royalty statements from past projects and think, “Oh, that’s another thousand asses going to touch my chair every day.” If there can be [a piece of design] that is comfortable and gracious and well-thought-of in that environment, that’s a way of passing on some care. CLIMAX We knew that we wanted to commercialise the Twill Weave textile, but I had to produce colours and, honestly, I was at a total loss. I’ve never had to choose colours before because companies usually do that for you. So, what do you do? Get some magazines and go shopping for some colours? That’s so boring: I don’t ever want to have to look at stuff and think, “Hmm, what’s nice?” I’d rather be skateboarding. FALLING ACTION The realisation came that if I were going to choose more colours, there needed to be a connection to carbon, which comes from the earth’s crust. I started to realise that the colours I have always avoided in my monochromatic practice were actually products designed by other designers, whereas this could be a way of finding colours that have very few areas of human intervention. DÉNOUMENT I spent about six months procrastinating and buying myself time with various excuses, and then I found the Forbes Pigment Collection.
AZURITE “It has long since ceased to be of importance in Western painting, and is rarely used today” In 1947, the industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss raised a question: “Is California, where youthful thinking and new ideals are encouraged and fostered, destined to become the world’s new design centre?” Certainly, the number of leading designers and architects working in Los Angeles at that time seemed to bear Dreyfuss out: Charles and Ray Eames, Rudolph Schindler, John Lautner, Raphael Soriano, Richard Neutra, Harry Bertoia and Rudi Gernreich, to name just a few. Today, while architecture in Los Angeles remains relatively healthy, the city’s stock of designers has dwindled. “There’s no designer in Los Angeles [today] apart from Don Chadwick,” says Olivares, who has based himself in the city since 2012. “But what we do have is excellent manufacturing – you can get everything from state-of-the-art precision milling to sloppy fibreglass. Greater Los Angeles is the largest industrial hub in the United States; you can make anything quickly, cheaply and with a smile.” Which is one reason why a designer might set up shop there. For Olivares, another lure is the aura of anonymity afforded by the city. “LA is a city with no history, and I felt it was as far away from Europe as you could get before you hit Asia,” he says. “It’s free from tradition and culturally lawless: You can walk around in flip-flops, with a tank-top, drinking a Slurpee, listening to Metallica and nobody will judge you.” Which is something of a man-on-the-street restatement of the critic Reyner Banham’s 1960s assessment of the city: “The unique value of Los Angeles – what excites, intrigues and sometimes repels me – is that it offers radical alternatives to almost every urban concept in unquestioned currency.” Most vitally to Olivares, the city has afforded a radically different kind of space into which his practice might grow. “When I started my studio, I had assistants for the first five or six years like Konstantin’s office, because that was what I thought a thriving practice looked like,” he explains. “It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I shed that way of thinking. For a few years now, my practice has just been me – no staff, no physical office. It’s lean and mean, and if I want to build a mock-up I can just rent a garage for two months and close it afterwards. It lets me be a designer in the world, rather than a designer in the studio.” One model for this approach, Olivares explains, is Hollywood film and prop – a world in which products are assembled by disparate groups brought together on a project-by-project basis. “That’s a multibilliondollar industry producing art,” he says, “and it could be argued that that same description applies to design. I really believe that the economy is heading towards project teams in every industry. Look at Frank Gehry’s [Cross Check] chair for Knoll, which I love. That wasn’t made in Gehry’s office – they rented a studio, hired a shop technician, and had a couple of other guys working full-time on it for two years. Richard Sapper was the design director for IBM for 20 years. He did all of his meetings sat on his lawn by Lake Como. That freedom is something I like. Now I have no studio, I can work wherever I want. If I’m going to do colour, then I might as well work at one of the world’s best research institutes on colour.”
INDIGO “The synthetic product has almost entirely replaced the natural” “In many ways it’s a fool’s errand to try and describe visual art with words,” says Khandekar. “Colour is something you look at and then try to describe, but the words aren’t there.” As such, the development of the Twill Weave textile collection had to operate as a predominantly visual affair. “Narayan became my guide in that world,” says Olivares, “because saying that I’m going to design colours based on a pigment collection is highly subjective. It is so, so esoteric but also, I hope, very poetic and instinctual.” Initially, Olivares made a selection of some 50 to 70 pigments from the collection’s archive, before narrowing it down to a final 16.1 These were photographed and printed as colour chips. “One of the things that is amazing about textiles is that they’re very three-dimensional, and minerals are also very threedimensional, both in terms of their form and how light reflects off them,” says Olivares. Through studying these points of light reflection, Olivares and Khandekar were able to select high values and low values from each of their chosen minerals, which might then be mapped to warp and weft threads. Through the combination of two tones per mineral, the intention was that each textile’s threads would blend to create an overall colour balance reflective of the mineral that had inspired it. “Jonathan produced a series of colour chips and came back three or four times to ensure he was staying on track and what he was producing actually looked like the pigment and served as a representation of what he was seeing,” says Khandekar. “We just kept going until we had chips which we felt were a good representation of the mineral,” adds Olivares. “Then those chips got sent to the dye house. What’s ironic is that we went to such an effort to find natural colours, and then the dye house’s job is to figure out how to reproduce them using a bunch of chemicals.” In 1704, Prussian blue, the world’s first synthetic pigment, was produced. It quickly replaced natural blue pigments such as indigo, while the industrial revolution soon synthesised similar dyes for other colours. “In 1856 William Perkin created an aniline dye for mauve,” says Khandekar, “and this process picked up speed towards the end of the 19th century with the emergence of the first synthetic dyes.” In this respect, the Twill Weave collection is mournful – textiles serving as the phantom limbs of natural pigments long since replaced by synthetic counterparts. Olivares, however, offers an alternative, more hopeful interpretation. “The textiles are representations of the natural pigments, but those natural pigments are representations themselves,” he says. “Historically, they were used to represent real life. These pigments were not being used when Rothko was painting, they were around 300 or 400 years ago with the Dutch masters, and [so, in the history of art] they are inherently representational – none of them were used to be themselves.”
The level of colour variation across azurite and malachite meant that these minerals produced two and three textiles respectively.
REALGAR “It was confused by the ancients with red lead because it resembles it in colour” This kind of play with representation as the rationale underpinning Olivares’s designs for Kvadrat has been there since the beginnings of the Twill Weave textiles. From the creation of the carbon-fibre daybed onwards, Twill Weave was intended not only as a commercial collection, but also as a series of reflections surrounding ideas of material mimesis and representation, and a comment on a particular moment in design history. “If you look at the history of furniture, [Charles] Eames and Eero Saarinen are the gold standard of what you might call furniture designers in the United States,” says Olivares. In the late 1930s, while both were based at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, Saarinen and Eames collaborated on a research project looking at moulded plywood in furniture production, a process that culminated with the presentation of their Organic chair in 1940. “But then [their partnership] split,” says Olivares, “and the cause of that rift was that Saarinen wanted to achieve total objects.” When Saarinen began developing his Tulip seat system for Knoll in the 1950s, for instance, he admitted that one of his goals was “to clear up the slum of legs” and “make the chair all one thing again”. While the Tulip’s base was made in aluminium and its seat in fibreglass, both parts were presented in the same shade of white, such that the chair manifested as a single sculptural object. Eames, by contrast, adhered to an Arts and Crafts inspired dictum of truth to materials. “Let’s celebrate the differences and let wood be wood, metal be metal, and plastic be plastic,” summarises Olivares. “They’re separate and so they look different.” The Twill Weave project is Olivares’s attempt for furniture design to land somewhere between these duelling horns of Eames and Saarinen. “What got me excited with the daybed was that I realised we were getting to this moment where both Eames and Saarinen would be right,” says Olivares. “You celebrate the differences of the material – the carbon fibre is the carbon fibre, the textile is the textile – but you’re not faking anything. You’re just engineering those materials in a way that they’re visually homogenous. You get the total object coming out of Saarinen’s idea, and the difference of materials coming out of the Eames project. I think we’re solving the argument, which is the kind of thing I like to entertain myself with.”
INDIAN LAC “A natural organic red dyestuff” Amongst the 16 minerals that made it through to Olivares’s final collection, there is, however, an outlier. “It’s the fly in the ointment,” says Olivares. “The beetle in the ointment.” Indian Lac is a deep-red colourant extracted from the secretions of the lac-insect, which develop inside of a resinous cocoon of their own excretion. These outflowings, once suitably refined, are also the source of the material shellac. Needless to say, neither shellac, nor Indian lac, nor lac insects, are minerals. Not by a long stretch. “I thought it looked good, so I just ended up taking it through to the end,” says Olivares. “It wasn’t until I read Narayan’s description of it that I realised. Narayan!!!” “He said it was such a nice colour that he had to use it,” says Khandekar. “He weakened.”
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São Paulo Words Clara Meliande Photographs André Penteado
A ramshackle, rusty Volkswagen Brasília – launched in to celebrate the inauguration of Brazil’s federal capital – rotates slowly on a platform. Next to it is a now-defunct magazine, Manchete, which carries an advertisement from the same period: “Brasília: no better idea yet.”
It’s surprising to see this artwork, Brasília by Bruno Farias (2018), displayed in the context of an art fair. In 1956, when Brazil’s then-president Juscelino Kubitschek ordered the construction of the nation’s modernist capital city as part of his “fifty years of prosperity in five” plan, its principal architect Oscar Niemeyer characterised his proposed design as “a simple city, a rational one”. It was a utopian principle, matched 14 years later when Volkswagen decided to begin work on the Brasília – its first car designed and produced in Brazil, and a project intended to reflect the potency and boldness of the nation’s new capital. Forty-eight years on, however, the presence of the remnants of the car in Farias’s artwork seems a sign that Brazil’s one-time utopianism can no longer mask its current social and political realities. The nation’s former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached in 2016 on contested charges of criminal administrative misconduct; her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption; the country experienced its longestever recession between 2014 and 2017, with its economy shrinking by almost 8 per cent; and the nationwide corruption scandal, which the criminal investigation Operation Car Wash has been working to expose since 2014, has now extended to current president Michel Temer and implicated politicians of all parties. This sense of endemic failure is well represented in Farias’s scrapped car, shown by Galeria Periscópio as part of São Paulo’s SP-Arte, the biggest art fair in South America, with an annual attendance of 34,000 visitors over five days. “I’m an optimist,” says SP-Arte’s director and founder Fernanda Feitosa about the political scandals engulfing the nation. “The thing that is important is that legal and cultural institutions be preserved and come out of this process stronger.” SP-Arte, however, is not immune to politics. Hosted each April, the event takes place in Oscar Niemeyer’s Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion in São Paulo’s Parque Ibirapuera, a 1.58sqkm urban park in the centre of the city. Opened in 1954, Parque Ibirapuera is São Paulo’s largest park and receives 14 million visitors annually, as well as hosting most of the main cultural events, such as art biennials and fashion weeks. But its future is unclear. In the week before the 2018 iteration of SP-Arte opened, the city’s mayor João Doria resigned in order to run for the state governorship, after only one year and three months in his post. Yet in the course of his short
A view from the rooftop of São Paulo’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo. Parque Ibirapuera is visible to the left, including Oscar Niemeyer’s rectilinear Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion.
administration, Doria created a Municipal Secretary of Privatisation, with the first stage in this operation being the privatisation of six municipal parks, chief among them Parque Ibirapuera. The contract for the park’s operation, which is currently out for tender, will last for 35 years. In a city already riven with economic inequality, it seems vital to the future of São Paulo that its main public spaces be retained as places of inclusion, rather than being subdivided for the extraction of profit. To avoid this, “the City Hall should approve a new masterplan for the park before making the concession,” says Thobias Furtado, president of Parque Ibirapuera Conservação, the non-profit organisation that manages the park and will do so until the privatisation process is complete. “Nowhere else in the world is the contract for urban parks given to private companies. When they are not run by the state, public parks should be administered by
non-profit organisations.” It is not yet known who will operate the park in the long-run, but Doria has already estimated that the first stage of the process will bring R$1.6bn (£330m) to the city over the course of the 35-year contract. Furtado, however, is afraid that the absence of clear rules of occupation will unduly benefit the private sector: “The main focus of a private company is always to increase its own profits, while the organisation that runs the parks should concentrate on the public’s needs.” It remains unclear why the six parks were chosen to be privatised. Throughout the process, there has been a resounding lack of effective public consultation and transparency. The next step for the Municipal Secretary of Privatisation is to put out for tender services and places such as Anhembi, São Paulo’s main exhibition and convention centre; the Interlagos motorsport circuit; Pacaembu football stadium; 15 public markets; bus terminals; public
“We created the Favela chair a long time ago. Now we are coming back and doing this as an act of repair, rather than doing something that was inspired by the slums, but not conscious of them.” —Humberto Campana
A series of views from in and around Parque Ibirapuera, including the domed Oca pavilion and its series of ramps (right); Avenida Quarto Centenário just outside of the park; and design studio Ovo’s Campo concrete sofa, which is installed just outside of the Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion.
Humberto Campana (above) runs his design studio with his brother Fernando from the neighbourhood of Santa CecĂlia. To the right, a member of the studio, Cristina Aparecida de Souza, works on one of the Campanasâ€™ furry Bolotas armchairs.
street lighting; and even cemeteries and funeral services. São Paulo is a huge city – if it were a country, it would be among the 50 largest economies in the world – and the municipal budget for 2017 was R$54.7bn (£11.25bn). Doria and his successor Bruno Covas have argued that privatisation is justified by population growth, which means that the city needs to focus on expanding and improving essential services, but given the scale of the sums involved, the key issue seems to be one of how public resources are managed, rather than budgetary constraints. In a city going through the rapid and seemingly unnecessary privatisation of its public spaces, the shadow of elitism seems always to be lurking just around the corner. However, some design initiatives have begun to emerge as interesting responses to the status quo. Whether they are democratising creative practices, returning long abandoned spaces to the citizenry, or suggesting new forms of interaction, members of São Paulo’s design community are beginning to react against the political realities presented by their city. Eight kilometres away from Ibirapuera Park, next to the city centre in the neighbourhood of Santa Cecília, lies São Paulo’s most-celebrated design studio – that of Fernando and Humberto Campana. Behind a roll-up door with no sign or other form of identification, the two brothers work from a former bus garage. The Campanas began their career in the 1980s, assembling ordinary objects into astonishing furniture configurations as a means of bringing preciousness to mundane materials. “In São Paulo you need to build beauty to keep your sanity intact,” says Humberto. The studio’s 1991 Favela chair, an early example of which is housed in the permanent collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a striking demonstration of this ethos. Created in homage to the resourcefulness with which residents of the city’s favelas make use of materials at hand, it consists of strips of wood glued and nailed together seemingly at random. Yet today the Favela chair is produced by the Italian furniture company Edra – at a price point which stands as an affront to the community from which the chair got its name – and many Brazilians have come to perceive the brothers as alien to the city in which they work. Humberto sums up a question he and his brother are typically asked by local costumers: “Are you based in Italy?” A few initiatives may change this situation, however. In 2009, the brothers created Instituto
Campana, an organisation focused on social transformation through design that has been leading workshops for community groups that address social vulnerability. “We created the Favela chair a long time ago,” says Humberto. “Now we are coming back and doing this as an act of repair, rather than doing something that was inspired by the slums, but not conscious of them.” Partnerships with artisans are also part of the Campana Institute’s work, with the possibility that the artisans who attend its workshops may eventually become part of the production team. In order to further democratise the studio’s design practice – which in the past has often been manifested as products for luxury brands such as Lasvit or editioned work for galleries such as Friedman Benda – in 2017 the brothers launched Assimétrica, a collection of eight pieces for Tok&Stok, a São Paulo-based ready-to-assemble furniture retailer that has 55 shops in Brazil, of which 15 are in the city of São Paulo, and which professes to launch 10 products a day. Made of lacquered MDF, the Assimétrica has proved popular, with several pieces having already sold out. The collection contains chairs, benches, sideboards, desks, shelves and tables, all inspired by furniture manufactured using wood waste from the construction industry. “We have always had the desire to democratise our work in Brazil without leaving aside the concept and the quality that we believe in,” says Humberto. “We finally achieved this through this partnership.” IBGE, the Brazilian public institute responsible for statistical data, reports that in the first decade of the 21st century, more than 35 million people have joined Brazil’s lower-middle class. In Brazil, a family with an income of £206 per capita per month is considered middle class, although this definition is controversial: in a country of continental size and with huge regional disparities, it is impossible to compare what you can buy with the same amount of money in São Paulo and in the poor regions in the northeast. Certainly, however, the expansion of credit and the increasing income levels seen during Lula’s presidency have been responsible for a new army of Brazilian consumers, principally focused around smartphones and household appliances. Online shops have also bolstered sales of low-price, massmarket furniture. Besides Tok&Stok, design retailers such as Oppa, Orb and Muma have emerged to target middle-class consumers. Oppa and Orb have an
in-house design team, but Oppa additionally keeps a permanent open call for new product ideas on its website. Muma, an online platform, produces its own range of furniture, but also serves as a curated platform through which independent designers can connect directly to consumers. At the moment, around 116 studios from Brazil and abroad are represented. Oppa and Muma both started as e-commerce brands in 2011 and 2014 respectively, but soon realised the challenges of selling furniture without a physical space for customers to try their
“Brazil had a strong modernist period which has dominated the design language.” —Fernanda Feitosa products. They have been investing in real-world showroom displays that can be linked to e-commerce and delivery platforms. Although Ikea has had an office in Brazil since 2012, it has yet to begin operating. Tok&Stok has been trading since 1978 and is only now facing competition with the arrival of the new brands. Although Orb is limited to online sales, it is a spin-off of Lojas Americanas, a department store that is one of Brazil’s biggest online retailers. The furniture industry is beginning to understand design as a tool for strengthening the internal market, opening up space for a new generation of designers. One of the youngest to benefit from this process is Humberto da Mata, an architect from Brasília, who is now based in São Paulo. Having graduated from Universidade de Brasília in 2010, da Mata says that he decided to become a designer after completing a workshop with the Campana Brothers at the Domaine de Boisbuchet, a bucolic castle in France from which the Vitra Design Museum has long run a series of summer workshops. Later, da Mata worked briefly in the Campanas’ studio. “The first piece I designed was inspired by the ready-made; taking something that already exists and changing its function,” says da Mata. “The idea of assemblage has always interested me.” Da Mata currently sells his work
through Muma; he was also invited to show at SP-Arte, for which he saw an opportunity to produce pieces that broadened his practice. “I chose to design a ceramic vase collection in a limited edition of four,” he says. “I wanted to limit the time spent on the production process, consider this as an experiment, and then move onto the next project.” The Morphus collection is executed by hand and the pieces are formed out of different geometric elements, such as circles, cones, tubes and arches. Even though these pieces were produced by a pottery manufacturer, da Mata assembled their constituent parts. The process included finishing the works with a low-temperature enamel embedded with coloured glass particles. When heated, these particles melt and fuse to the surfaces, creating an unexpected dotted effect. “It was an enigmatic but liberating process,” he says. “The clay can crack or shrink and the final result is only discovered when the oven is opened.” Da Mata’s suppliers are all from São Paulo and this, he explains, is important to him: he is sensitive to what he sees as the threat of cheap, imported goods from China and similar manufacturing hubs. “China[…] turned the Bauhaus dream into a reality,” says da Mata. “It is producing good industrial design at an affordable price, but at what cost to labour, the environment and society? The next stage in this development of design is a more conscious consumer who wants to know how and where the design piece was produced and appreciates local design and a fair production chain.” While São Paulo’s public spaces may be becoming less democratic, da Mata sees utilisation of the city and its resources as essential to his vision of a progressive design scene. Another workshop at Boisbuchet, this one with the dutch designer Maarten Baas, proved the inspiration for the Brasília-born architect Ricardo Innecco and product designer Mariana Ramos to start collaborating in São Paulo under the title Rain. Working initially with installations, their design practice is now built on re-contextualising everyday objects by creating utilitarian products and art projects that use humour to engender a sense of displacement. A series of oversized stainless-steel chains, for instance, has a strongly sculptural quality and no concrete function, butting up against the typical utilitarian qualities of chains to generate a feeling of uncanniness. The studio’s Mesa Piscinas – swimming pool-shaped tables – meanwhile, are
Fernando Campana (right) oversees the creation of works such as swirling textile elements (below) for the studioâ€™s 2002 Sushi collection of chairs, benches, tables and cabinets.
Below: Humberto da Mata (left) and Mariana Ramos and Ricardo Innecco of Rain (right) share a studio space in SĂŁo Paulo. They are part of an emerging generation of designers responding to and hoping to move beyond the cityâ€™s strong modernist legacy.
accompanied by tiny pool ladders that can be removed and repositioned. They possess a strong geometrical frame, clearly influenced by Brazil’s tradition of modernist architecture, and are covered by a layer of glass made to look like water. The results are clean, postmodern pieces that remove swimming pools from their original environment and give them new and irreverent uses indoors. Prior to starting Rain, Ramos worked at Ovo, a leading Brazilian design brand founded in 1991. Like Rain, Ovo’s designers play with perception,
“The design scene is now in a very vibrant moment and it’s more mature.” —Gerson de Oliveira flexibility of forms and uses. Also showing in 2018 as part of SP-Arte, they presented two new sets of furniture. The first launch, Check, is a group of wooden side tables based on chess pieces. King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook and Pawn are shown stripped of their original use and displaced from the chess set to the living room. The second one, Writing, is a group of carbon-steel coat hangers that explore the graphical qualities of the alphabet. Gerson de Oliveira, who launched the brand with Luciana Martins, says that São Paulo’s design scene has changed dramatically. “The design scene is now in a very vibrant moment and it’s more mature,” he says. “We have a much closer relationship between industry and designers than 10 or 15 years ago.” De Oliveira puts this down to a change in mentality on the part of manufacturers which “enables us to design pieces with a certain level of complexity”. In Ibirapuera Park, it is possible to interact with one of Ovo’s most famous pieces, Campo: a modular sofa made of pigmented concrete blocks that can be arranged in multiple ways to allow user participation. “People love having it in the park to sit on and jump over,” says de Oliveira. These emerging designers both incorporate and critique aspects of São Paulo’s urban fabric in their work, experimenting freely with the form to bring humour and lightness to their objects. Creations like
this, however, have been comparatively rare in the past. “Brazil had a strong modernist period, which has kind of overshadowed and dominated the design language,” says Feitosa, who, in her work as director of SP-Arte, is attempting to balance this out with the presentation of newer forms of practice. “Although [the modernist tradition] is still an influence, we do now have a number of contemporary designers that are showing up.” The country’s modernist movement officially started in São Paulo in 1922 with the Semana de Arte Moderna festival, but its first modernist furniture designers were mainly immigrants: the Polish Jorge Zalszupin, the Ukrainian Gregori Warchavchik, the Portuguese Joaquim Tenreiro and the Italian Lina Bo Bardi. Under the influence of international avant-garde movements, many of these designers left behind a Europe devastated by two world wars for a preindustrial city in South America, where they enjoyed considerable success. “The 1950s in Brazil were the golden age,” says Lissa Carmona, director of Etel, a São Paulo furniture-design brand that combines historical and contemporary pieces, and which also trains woodworkers. Founded in 1993, it has contributed to the promotion and recovery of a generation of Brazilian modernist designers, producing furniture re-editions of internationally known practitioners such as Oscar Niemeyer and Lasar Segall, but also less famous figures like Paulo Werneck, Oswaldo Bratke and Giuseppe Scapinelli. “That was a time when Brazilian design was produced by artisans and the original pieces were really well made,” says Carmona. “They played with techniques of wood craftsmanship that are still very difficult to produce today.” This desire to continue to work with and employ Brazil’s history is also visible within São Paulo’s architecture. Since the city’s foundation by Jesuits in the 16th century, São Paulo’s heart has been its downtown, but the area went through a period of decay after the state government headquarters decamped to Morumbi in 1964 and companies moved to other areas of the city, such as Avenida Paulista. The central Sé, República and Bom Retiro districts are now largely occupied by poor families with little access to basic services and the consumer market; security problems, informal commerce and drug consumption are on the rise. In spite of these issues, however, the city centre has continued to function
São Paulo’s cityscape includes a number of significant modernist structures, including Lina Bo Bardi’s MASP museum (above and left). Bo Bardi also designed the SESC Pompéia leisure centre (above right), whose stark use of concrete contrasts to the red brick of the city’s oldest art museum, the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (right) in downtown São Paulo.
as an important economic axis, particularly following a revival started around the turn of the 21st century, when a joint effort between public power, private initiative and third-sector entities began to renovate a series of São Paulo’s historic landmarks. This period saw the restoration of the early 20th-century Pinacoteca de São Paulo museum of visual arts by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, which was completed in 1998; the 1930s Municipal Market in 2004; the creation of Sala São Paulo concert hall in the former Julio Prestes railway station in 1998; and the Portuguese Language Museum in the Estação da Luz railway station in 2006. One element involved in the revival of São Paulo’s historic landmarks is Pivô. Founded in 2012, this arts space is based in a labyrinthine 3,500sqm area within Oscar Niemeyer’s Copan, a portion of the building that had been abandoned for 20 years. “This place was never meant to have a public use. It was a residual space,” says Fernanda Brenner, Pivô’s founder and artistic director. Pivô started as a temporary artistic intervention in the empty space inside Copan. After its completion, the space’s owner proposed that if Brenner took over the monthly expenses, she be granted a 20-year lease to use the site. “I don’t have a business mind, but I said yes anyway,” says Brenner. “We had to become an institution and create ways to make money to keep the place. São Paulo has a very non-healthy art scene in a way. Because of the strong market, some institutions are more or less established, but we don’t have anything like a Kunsthalle model or artist-run spaces.” She describes Pivô as “a place that artists make; it’s not an exhibition venue where we just bring things and show them”. Pivô harbours a prolific artisticresidency programme, and the space is supported by a network of private institutions, strategic partnerships, membership programmes, direct donations and annual auctions. “Nowadays we are almost selfsufficient in installing and producing shows, which means that everything here can keep going regardless of how complex the financial situation is.” “The construction of Copan began at the start of the 1950s and it took 10 years for it be built,” says Brenner. “The construction company went bankrupt and then the construction site itself was abandoned for five years.” That was the moment at which Niemeyer was invited to build Brasília, and an exclusivity clause in his contract meant that he had to leave behind his other construction projects around the city. Bradesco, a major Brazilian Bank,
bought the construction site in 1957 and completely changed the interiors. “Niemeyer’s concept was based on Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation model, albeit in a very Brazilian version of it,” says Brenner. “That version of the project never went through, but in the end the concept worked because the building is fully occupied with people from all sorts of backgrounds.” Today, Copan holds a commercial gallery, with additional services such as hairdressers, restaurants and other things for residents. “We are in the transitional floor between the commercial gallery and the apartments,” says Brenner. “The owner bought the space for a very low price. He bought it for speculation in the 1980s when Copan itself was almost a squat. This part of the city was super dangerous.” This area of central São Paulo is now going through a complex process of real-estate speculation and gentrification. Prices per square metre are increasing, but because Copan is so huge, it has managed to survive. “My thesis is that people who can afford a place like this don’t want a place like this,” says Brenner when asked why the space now occupied by Pivô remained abandoned for such a long period. “They want to live in big classy buildings in Faria Lima [the wealthy area of the city].” Brenner is aware of Pivô’s role in the ongoing gentrification of this part of the city and is trying to mitigate against this. The space has worked to establish partnerships with initiatives such as Fundo Fica, a fund managed by the non-profit Association for Communal Property, which aims to guarantee affordable housing in big cities, preventing the expulsion of the poorest from the central regions, as well as experimenting with new models of property ownership. Together with Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam and movements such as Nove de Julho and Hotel Cambridge which took part during the 11th São Paulo Architecture Biennial in 2017, the association has promoted workshops and activities centred around appropriation and occupation. This partnership invites the public to experience the work carried out by activist organisations and to examine architecture’s social potential. This is an urgent issue. According to São Paulo’s governor Márcio França, there are currently 150 irregularly occupied buildings in the city’s downtown district and the city requires an additional 358,000 homes. In the 1950s, São Paulo was the richest state in Brazil due to its coffee production; it was also the
The Copan building (top and right) was designed by Oscar Niemeyer. Construction was interrupted when Niemeyer began work on the nation’s Brasília project, but eventually completed in the 1960s. Today, a long-abandoned space within the building has been taken over by Pivô (top right), an arts organisation.
A view out over the centre of São Paulo, taken from the rooftop of the city’s Edifício Itália skyscraper.
reducing the housing gap – seems to have forgotten the modernist lessons that are really worth preserving. Instead of transforming abandoned spaces and making them available for a broad range of users, government housing programmes are increasingly forcing people to the city’s peripheries, where infrastructure, leisure centres and other local amenities are scarce. Compounded by daily traffic jams, exorbitant living costs and, more recently, the plans to privatise public spaces, it is difficult not to find São Paulo a hostile site. In the face of the complex set of challenges faced by the inhabitants of the city, architecture, art and design can be small tools of resistance. Whether it is an old modernist building experiencing a revival of its original ethos, or a push for well-designed products that a larger number of people can afford, contemporary design practitioners in São Paulo are attempting to transform it into a more humane place. E N D
largest and housed the country’s biggest port. In addition, it was on the verge of fully fledged industrialisation. The modernist movement benefitted from those conditions. The buildings that were erected throughout the city also offered proposals of how to live together, despite differences of socio-economic standing. Copan, one of the most iconic constructions of this time, exemplifies this ethos: with its range of housing configurations (apartments with one, two and three bedrooms), it allowed people of different economic means to live on the same site, and continues to do so today. In the 1960s and 70s, however, when the city began to receive large waves of immigration, mainly from the northwest of the country, real-estate speculation expelled the poorest people from São Paulo’s centre. More than 2,000 slum areas have developed since then. A city in which the modernist project was so important – whose public policy was once aimed at
Precarious by Design Words Kristina Rapacki Illustrations Cat Bluemke
A notiﬁcation: “Meal, min away.” My phone is beeping and ﬂashing, urging me to accept the opportunity with the help of a -second countdown bar. “Hurry up!” the indicator seems to say. “There are plenty of others poised to take on this gig.”
It’s my second weekend of cycling as a delivery partner with UberEATS in London and I’m beginning to get the hang of the Uber Driver app, a piece of interface design that mediates every dimension of the job. That job, I should declare, is not what I do for a living. I am on a full-time contract with the publication you’re holding and a beneficiary of the existential securities that come with employee status in the United Kingdom. The reason I’ve signed up with UberEATS, which offers very few protections, is to understand the role played by interface design in the ballooning on-demand economy. And while my day job may appear secure, I am acutely aware of the increasing gigification of my line of work, with setups such as Fiverr and TaskRabbit now offering copywriting, editing and translation services for enduser rates as low as $5 per job. This new economic model affects me and it will almost certainly affect you. My most immediate concern right now, however, is my flashing phone: the countdown bar is ticking; above it a map indicates a two-minute route I can take to the restaurant. It’s just around the corner, so I tap the screen to accept the job and set off. UberEATS is a branch of Uber, the global enterprise that launched as UberCab in San Francisco in 2009. In 2011, the company dropped its “Cab” suffix after complaints from San Francisco taxi operators. “Cab” implied that Uber was a cab service, the authorities reasonably argued, and this meant it should comply with local taxi regulations. Uber didn’t and still doesn’t. Since dropping the suffix, Uber has described itself as a tech company rather than a transportation or delivery service: it simply provides a platform, it claims, on which independent contractors can solicit jobs. For use of this platform, the company extracts what it argues is a reasonable cut: between 25 and 35 per cent per job. The platform for both Uber and UberEATS consists of the Driver app (which is what I am using), the end-user apps (which are the interfaces through which you book either a car or some food) and the inscrutable cocktail of algorithms that link the two together. It is because of the company’s role in pioneering this form of business model that Uber has become known as poster child of the gig economy. On this weekend in May 2018, I am using a Driver app that has been subject to numerous accumulative redesigns since 2010. Only a month ago, however, on 10 April, Uber announced that it had designed a brand-new Driver app entirely from scratch. Most driver and delivery partners haven’t been notified of
the design overhaul yet, but it is set to be slowly rolled out across the hundreds of cities that Uber operates in over the coming three or four months, and more than 3 million people will potentially use it. Now seems the right time to assess the affordances of the current Driver app and what the redesign professes to achieve. My pick-up point is a pizzeria. I secure my bike, make myself known to the staff, and show them the order number on my phone. I’ve been advised in a chirpy instruction video (“Getting started with UberEATS” on Vimeo, my only formal training for the job) to separate hot and cold foods in my box backpack and always to double-check the order, the complete details of which I can view in the app (“Incomplete orders are very frustrating to the eater,” the video’s narrator warns).1 It is only once I’ve verified these and swiped “Start trip”, that my drop-off address is revealed. This bears repeating because it comes as a surprise to many Uber end-users: cyclists and drivers have no idea what their final destination is when they accept a job, or what the fare will be for that matter. This is known as “blind driving” and is integral to Uber’s strategy – it means there’s no destination-based bias on the part of the driver or cyclist, and that passengers and “eaters” can always rely on securing the service with a few taps of their thumb. This structural feature will remain the same in the new Driver app, says Uber spokesperson Michael Amodeo: “We want to make sure that people can get a ride from wherever they are to wherever they want to go. That’s an important principle for us in terms of expanding access.” Blind driving is good for the end-user, but it can have unwelcome consequences for drivers, as Alex Rosenblat and Luke Stark found in a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Communication. “You’re driving around blind,” says one of Rosenblat and Stark’s interviewees. “When it does ping, you might drive 15 minutes to drive someone half a mile. There’s no money in it at that point, especially in my SUV.” The UberPOOL feature, whereby several passengers going in the same direction are linked on the platform and given a cheaper rate by sharing a trip, is notoriously unprofitable for drivers (“UberPOOR they call it,” says an interviewee in journalist James Bloodworth’s 2018 book Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain).2 Turning down trips, however, In this world, your customer is not your customer but your eater. I will return to the significance of this nomenclature.
by letting the timer run out or tapping an X labelled “No thanks”, eventually leads to being bumped off the app. If a driver consistently rejects UberPOOL trips, for instance, the app will either log them out for period of time, or, it would appear, implement other punitive tactics: “So it looks like Uber has put me in some sort of time-out, ever since I started turning down every single pool ride for the past month,” writes a Seattlebased driver in the forum uberpeople.net. “The lowquality rides I’m getting from Uber now is noticeable.” As a driver or cyclist partnering with Uber, you are supposedly self-employed. According to gov.uk, this means you should be able to “decide what work [you] do and when, where or how to do it”. But blind driving means you’re in no position to see, let alone negotiate, the terms of the jobs you take on. What’s more, you are penalised for acting on the small amount of wiggle room allowed by the architecture of the app. “The fact that you have blind routes within an app is an indicating factor that the person [using it] is not running this relationship as a business,” says Emma Wilkinson, an employment law specialist at the charity Citizens Advice. “The problem is, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. It’s an indicating factor rather than the indicating factor.” Wilkinson says the picture is complicated by a legal precedent which classifies black cab drivers as independent contractors. Under the taxi rank rule, black cab drivers are technically not allowed to turn down a fare, provided it is “reasonable”. “The taxi rank rule,” says Wilkinson, “could equate to this blind driver.” Blind driving seems to sit in somewhat of a legal grey area in terms of employment status. To Ron, one of Rosenblat and Stark’s interviewees, however, it is the main sticking point: “Show the destination before. If we’re independent contractors, we should have the right to refuse.” My drop-off address is just under two miles away. This seems to be the average distance that the Driver app will send me; eaters can only order from restaurants within a certain radius of their location, which means that orders can be delivered by bike in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a little different for drivers, who have no restrictions as to how far the app can ask them to go. Last year, Uber introduced a “Long trip” notice, allowing drivers to see the distance, but not the direction or destination of a job, before accepting Passengers get 10 to 15 per cent off the price and Uber takes a 35 per cent cut rather than the usual 25.
it. I ponder this as I pedal towards the drop-off, remembering an Uber cab ride I had taken from Gatwick airport to my home in London a few weeks earlier. Immediately after accepting the trip, the driver rang me; the interface allows for encrypted in-app calls once a trip is active. “I just wanna check you’re not headed for Brighton,” he explained. Brighton and London are, of course, equidistant from Gatwick but in opposite directions. The airport driver may have used up his quota of a rationed in-app “Set for destination” feature, which was introduced by Uber in 2015. This allows drivers to set the general direction of travel twice a day (typically for heading out and then home again). Last year, after the departure of Uber’s scandal-swept founder and CEO Travis Kalanick, the company attempted to woo its US and Canadian drivers with a campaign titled “180 Days of Change”. One of its concessions was to allow drivers to use the “Set for destination” button up to six times a day. They loved it, and used the feature so much that it ended up changing the overall market conditions. The company swiftly retracted the move, leaving drivers not a little miffed. As I delve into a residential area in south London, and calculate that I’m about 40 minutes from home, I find myself wishing there was a “Set for destination” feature enabled in my cyclist’s setting on the Driver app. My next ping could quite easily propel me further away still, and then I’d
the car, which could run many thousands of dollars,” journalists Eric Newcomer and Olivia Zaleski explained in a 2016 report for Bloomberg. (Maybe “the worst part”?) One driver in their investigation reported that the $183 weekly payments he made for his Xchange-leased 2015 Toyota Prius alone would amount to $28,98 by the end of the three years, while the automotive research company Kelley Blue Book values the fair purchase price of a 2015 Prius at $21,985. (Nope, found a worse part.) From mid-2015 and onwards, once hundreds of thousands of drivers were already locked into leases, Uber began slashing base rates, forcing drivers to work longer hours in order to keep up their weekly autodeducted payments. (Bloody hell, a worse part still?) In the autumn of 201, Uber began to dismantle its car-lending services and in January this year, it announced that it had sold off Xchange Leasing. Despite skinning drivers, it turns out that the twoyear-old subsidiary was wildly unprofitable, losing an average of $9,000 per vehicle.4 Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO of Uber last summer following Kalanick’s resignation, is currently attempting to “shift gears”, in the words of a chummy 2018 New Yorker profile, and transform Uber from a not-so-nice band of “brilliant jerks” (as a play by Joseph Charlton describes Uber) into a nice “traditional company”. Shutting down Xchange Leasing, I assume, was part of this change-of-gears, as was the aforementioned “180 Days of Change” campaign. In Europe, Uber has just announced it will partner with the insurer AXA to provide accident cover and parental pay. The new driver app, too, was announced with something of a personal apology from Khosrowshahi: “Drivers are the heart of our service. But along the way, we lost sight of that. We focused too much on growth and not enough on the people who made that growth possible.” The new app, Khosrowshahi promises, is one measure among many that Uber is taking to “improve the driving experience”. I’ve arrived at my destination and consult the app on my phone. I want to find the address details and check whether my eater has left any specific instructions but am interrupted by a fresh ping: “Meal, 8 min away.” I have yet to complete my current job but the Driver app has a forward-dispatch algorithm activated by default. This means the app sends through new opportunities in much the same way that Netflix
be looking at an hour-long bike ride back; time and physical effort for which I’m not paid. As Bloodworth writes in Hired about his experience of driving for Uber, it is, all in all, “a peculiar sort of freedom”. A cyclist wearing Deliveroo’s teal-and-white outfit swooshes past me and I feel a pang of impostor’s guilt when he gives me a hard-set, comradely nod. I’m emblazoned with UberEATS’s neon green, but there’s no company loyalty in this world. Why would there be? We’re not technically employees. My gear, which consists of a branded thermal-box backpack and a waterproof handlebar mount for my smartphone, was offered to me after my background check was cleared. Since I’m not classed as an employee, the equipment isn’t enforced as official livery. I would have been fully within my rights to buy or rent an unbranded box backpack, but found that UberEATS provided an irresistibly convenient deal for acquiring the necessary gear: a bag, insulated box backpack, phone holder and phone charger would be sent to me immediately, if I agreed that the £120 deposit would be deducted in-app from my pay in weekly £20 instalments once I started riding. Having only been UberEATSing sporadically, I find the balance currently displayed under the “Earnings” tab in my app shows a negative sum. This deposit notwithstanding, Uber does have past form in exploitative lending. In 2015, it set up the Delaware-based subsidiary Xchange Leasing, a car rental division offering subprime leases to Uber drivers who were cleared to drive but had such poor credit ratings that they couldn’t buy or lease a new car (Uber demands that drivers’ vehicles are no more than eight years old).3 The conditions of these leases were well within loan-shark territory: after a $250 down payment, drivers were required to pay up to $200 in weekly instalments for 36 months. “The best part?” said a promotional video: “Payments are automatically deducted from your Uber earnings.” At the end of the three-year lease, Uber would release drivers from the agreement but retain the $250 deposit. Should the driver then wish to buy the car in question, they would need “to fork over the residual value of 3
Yes, subprime loans. No lessons learned from 2008, then.
Lesson from 2008 learned.
and YouTube encourage viewers to stay on their platforms by automatically previewing and counting down to new content at the end of current episodes and clips. The latter, known as “post play”, is widely believed to encourage binge watching. Many drivers and cyclists enjoy forward dispatch, as it cuts down idling time and increases earnings by providing back-to-back jobs. I find it just a little stressful, though, and, because I’d initially brought up the
My current eater must be wondering what I’m doing standing on their doorstep for several minutes. app to access my eater’s details, I begin to fumble. The “accept” field occupies roughly a third of my screen (in contrast to the much smaller “No thanks” button in the upper left-hand corner), so I accidentally take on “Meal, 8 min away” when I try to swipe the ping off. No, no, cancel! My thumb furiously flits across the screen. This will affect my cancellation rate, which is displayed on my profile. In the meantime my current eater, who is able to track my whereabouts on their interface, must be wondering what I’m doing standing on their doorstep for several minutes. I decide to cancel, only to be taken to a multiple-choice screen asking me to explain why. None of the options say, “You’ve purposely designed the app so that it’s easier to accept than to reject a ping,” so I tick “Other.” Another screen. Argh. “Please specify.” With trembling fingers, I type out “Accident”. I’m back at the page with the eater’s details. Forward dispatch will remain a key feature in the new Driver app. In fact, it will be augmented, explains Zack Gottlieb, a member of Uber’s design team working on the project: “We’ve just made it easier to see when something’s coming up. It’s part of the whole redesign experience[…] it’s just more apparent.” Notifications will also be presented and stored in an inbox of sorts, rather than shown fleetingly in the feed that takes up much of the landing screen. “Earnings is one of the top things that drivers care about, but this information [is] spread all over the place in the [current] app,” says Bryant Jow, the latest app’s lead designer. “In the new app, we’ve put earnings front and centre. At the
top, [there will be] this earnings tracker that updates after every trip.” I’ve no doubt that the decluttering and clarification of the app’s features will improve the user experience, but these changes also point to the increasing gamification of the interface, a development that has been going on for some time. In an in-depth report for the The New York Times last year, Noam Scheiber accounted for the ways in which, with the help of “hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and non-cash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder”. Forward dispatch was one of the algorithms Scheiber discussed, alongside other psychological inducements, such as suggesting earnings goals that drivers have not set themselves. “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go oﬄine?” a typical push notification could read, Scheiber reported. “Go oﬄine” and “Keep driving” are the options given, with the latter already highlighted. “Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and 90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp,” Scheiber explained. It’s a phenomenon that Natasha Schüll, the anthropologist and author of Addiction by Design (2014), has called the “ludic loop”. Uber’s argument, as laid out by Amodeo in the The New York Times’s report, is that “any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button – the decision whether or not to drive is 100 per cent theirs.” But in light of Uber’s heavy investment in gaming techniques and psychological incitements, one could argue this is a little bit like telling an internet addict just to log off Facebook, or a gambler to leave the casino. Eli Solomon, described in the article as a “veteran Uber and Lyft driver”, said: “The whole thing is like a video game.” I wonder what he’ll make of the new driver app, with its Super Mario-like coin counter. The eater comes downstairs to meet me (“we strongly recommend that you do not go into the eater’s home,” the instruction video has warned), carefully avoiding eye contact as they take their food – an interaction I’ve become accustomed to
when UberEATSing. After they disappear, I bring up the app, swipe to confirm the delivery, and formally end the job. I take a swig of water while the app is calculating the fare and check my profile to see if the eater has left an in-app star rating, compliment or badge for me. Uber’s feedback system allows for written complaints and issue reports from end-users, as well as entirely non-essential badges signifying compliments such as “Excellent Service” (represented by a sparkling diamond) or “Great Route Choice” (a red pin on a map). In his report, Scheiber interviewed a driver whose earnings working with Uber were so low he had to apply regularly for payday loans. Still, when asked about the badges he’d accrued, the driver “practically gushed”: “I’ve got currently 12 excellentservice and nine great-conversation badges.” I have no badges. My rating is a solid five stars, though, and this is because all profiles start out with a full five-star rating. Fall below 4.5 and you risk being deactivated. The app’s feedback system, then, not only adds to the gamification of the work, but also plays a managerial role. “Passengers are empowered to act as middle managers over drivers, whose ratings directly impact their employment eligibility,” note Rosenblat and Stark in their paper. “This redistribution of managerial oversight and power away from formalized middle management and toward consumers is part of a broader trend in flexible labor.” The term that’s increasingly being used by academics to describe this phenomenon is “algorithmic management” – a setup that owes much to pre-New Deal Taylorist management models, the chief difference being that “the app is both the factory and the boss”, as journalist Alexis Madrigal summarises in The Atlantic. “We’re not setting the price, the market is setting the price, and we have algorithms that determine what that market is,” Kalanick told Wired in 2013, when asked about Uber’s surge-pricing tactics. It’s a quote that attempts to pass off the platform as a neutral conduit of existing market forces, and it is only within such an understanding of algorithmic management that drivers and couriers can be considered to be independent agents. When one takes into account what Rosenblat and Stark call the “information asymmetry” present in the technology, however, the picture becomes much more complex. This asymmetry is tilted in Uber’s favour, from blind driving to the perennial fluctuation of base fares, which drivers must accept if they want to keep on using the app. It affects the end-user too. Consider
the landing screen in Uber’s passenger app, where a number of cars will typically be shown circling your location. In 2015, an Uber Help staffer explained to a passenger that this shouldn’t be taken as a literal representation of cars in your area. “I know this seems misleading to you,” they wrote, “but it is meant as more of a visual effect more than an accurate location of drivers in the area. It would be better of you to think of this as a screen saver on a computer.” Yet, this is the page which, viewed at a glance, will often determine whether a passenger decides to book a car or not. On the driver side, glitches in the app appear to nudge them to go on for longer: “For the past 4-5 days,” writes one on uberpeople.net, “my last ride button [which temporarily pauses forward dispatch] has been playing hide ’n’ seek by blinking off and making it hard to engage.” Another driver comments: “Yes, Uber’s shady tactic to keep you online. Simply toggle the online on/ off button and you’re good to go.” This exchange recalls an account from an earlier era of unfettered capitalist enterprise, James Myles’s 1850 book Chapters in the Life of a Dundee Factory Boy: “In reality there were no regular hours, [as] masters and managers did with it as they liked. The clocks at the factories were often put forward in the morning and back at night, and instead of being instruments for the measurement of time, they were used as cloaks for cheaters and oppression. Though this was known amongst the hands, all were afraid to speak, and a workman then was afraid to carry a watch, as it was no uncommon event to dismiss anyone who presumed too much about the science of horology.” A technology, be it a clock or an app, is not neutral if the tools that allow for its manipulation lie entirely in the hands of one party. The app has calculated my pay for the job I’ve just completed: a little over £5. From ping to completion, it’s taken me just under half an hour. Ten pounds per hour is not the sort of earnings I’d expect for someone with the word “partner” in their job title. But across the on-demand economy, such euphemistic nomenclature is the norm. Cyclists and drivers on Uber’s platform are called delivery and driver “partners”; the lowwage pickers in Amazon’s warehouses are “associates”; warehouses are not warehouses but “fulfilment centres”. And when you’re dismissed, reports Bloodworth, who spent a few months working as a picker in Amazon’s Rugeley warehouse, you’re not sacked or fired but “released”. “Almost everything that had a name,” he writes, “was given a euphemism.” 118
Once you get past the Orwellian overtones of this language, it becomes clear that it serves a very specific purpose. Just as algorithmic management collapses a host of functions previously held by human beings into a single interface, this nomenclature folds the structurally antagonistic notions of worker, supervisor and boss into one undifferentiated soup. “Jeff Bezos [Amazon’s CEO] is an associate and so are all of you,” Bloodworth recalls being told on his first day in Rugeley. When I ask Wilkinson about this type of language in the on-demand economy, she describes it as “smoke and mirrors”: “It’s key to remember that the only legal tests around the employment status relationship are to define ‘employee’ and ‘worker’. The reality is open to interpretation. ‘Self-employed’ status exists, but it’s got no statutory definition.” I decide to call it a day, and start pedalling home. I’ve not made much money, but neither, it would appear, has Uber. The strangeness of the whole setup is that Uber, despite being valued at a staggering $2bn in February this year, is not a profitable company. In fact, it’s nowhere near breaking even: a loss of $60m was reported in 2014, $1.5bn in 2015, $2.8bn in 2016, and $4.5bn last year. It has, however, raised more money from private investors before going public than any other technology firm, and this lets it subsidise its competitive low fares. Such is the brave new logic of late-capitalist enterprise: expand aggressively by burning through stupefying amounts of investors’ cash and then, once competitors have been driven
out of business, begin to hike up fares. Uber’s backers aren’t worried: “The trend is good,” said the political consultant and Uber investor Bradley Tusk last year, perhaps mindful that Bezos’s Amazon was unprofitable for its first two decades. The picture looks a little different for the drivers and couriers providing services through such platforms as Uber, however. As demonstrated by Deliveroo’s recent decision to grant £10m worth of company shares to its employees, but nothing to its self-employed fleet of cycle couriers, much of what is “good” about “the trend” hinges on employment status. A sleek new app will go some way towards improving the driving experience for Uber’s partners, but unless some of the interface’s information asymmetries are levelled, the gesture will remain cosmetic. E N D The trip described by the writer is an evocation of cycling with UberEATS that combines approximate ﬁgures and details from a number of trips made. It should not be read as an accurate account of a speciﬁc job. The information provided by the writer about the Driver app was either supplied directly to the writer by an Uber representative, or available in the public domain. The earnings made by the writer from cycling with UberEATS have been donated to Citizens Advice.
Change of Direction Introduction Ian Volner Photographs Dean Kaufman
There is no shame in admitting that I don’t remember when I ﬁrst met Eva Franch i Gilabert: no one in New York seems to. The director of Storefront for Art and Architecture since and associate professor at Cooper Union, she has become such an omnipresence that it is all but impossible to imagine the city existing without her.
Eva Franch i Gilabert was the director of Storefront for Art and Architecture, where all the images accompanying this article were shot.
Yet that is what is about to happen. Having been selected last winter as the next director of the Architectural Association (AA), Franch, who was born in Catalonia, and trained in Barcelona, the Netherlands and the US, will shortly move to the UK. What she brings to her new position – what presumably persuaded 6 per cent of the students and faculty of the AA to vote her into the job – is a capacious intellect that seems to take everything into its compass and then weave it into fantastical, sometimes bewildering patterns. Franch is unfailingly generous, doling out ideas and alternate versions of the past and future in lavish quantities. That intellectual profligacy makes it rather difficult to say what precisely she is likely to do as the head of the storied London architecture school. At Storefront, the programming ranged from transforming the space into a surreal comedy club (in collaboration with artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe), to stuffing it with letters from architects to the mayors of their respective cities (a series that has now travelled to more than 15 countries), to an ongoing itinerary of events connected
with Franch’s curatorship of the 2014 US Pavilion for the Venice Biennale. That project, “OfficeUS”, has spawned a mini-cottage industry that now includes several volumes from publisher Lars Müller, purporting, in their totality, to do nothing less than track the production of buildings and work spaces by and for the American design trade over the last century. Franch is not given to making small plans; indeed she scarcely makes any plans at all. She just makes things, and makes them large. One thing that the AA can be sure of is her dedication to a unique institutional vision. In previous interviews, the incoming director has spoken about the possibility of an “anti-institutional institution”, a kind of cultural apparatus in a constant state of flux, capable of critiquing not only the architecture world at large but itself as well. This is as much to say that the AA under Franch will not, in all probability, espouse a specific school of thought, much less a particular mode or style of practice. It may be something more like a clearinghouse for different strategies, or a kind of permanent pedagogical revolution, throwing off new possibilities and new directions as a whetstone throws off sparks. I met up with Franch in Lower Manhattan, where we found ourselves chased out of a crowded bar and then off a cold, windy balcony, before settling at last in her apartment. There was a Catalan Easter bread in the kitchen and tea in a cup with no handle. The conversation lurched all over the map; even though I was the one asking the questions, there was little doubt who was driving. Ian Volner Storefront for Art and Architecture occupies
a fascinating niche. It has the most interesting and varied programme of any architectural institution in the city. Eva Franch i Gilabert Today, before you came, I had an emotional afternoon writing my last appeal for people to come to the Spring Benefit. I realised that I could not summarise what I have done or what has happened over the last seven and a half years, in the same way that a historian needs critical distance to talk about history. But I could talk about it in terms of what I intended to do: I don’t think that there are many institutions around the world that think of architecture as a discipline of critical practice. Ian Not many architects either. Eva No. But there are some architects who do and they’re not necessarily received within the field
of architecture, the art world or other fields. Storefront offers that space for artists who similarly do not feel that the art world supports their practice. I think Storefront occupies a very specific niche beyond disciplinary labels and that’s why it’s very difficult to maintain financially. Over the last seven and a half years, I’ve tried to ask the questions that no-one wanted to ask, and to produce spaces of discussions and debate. Because the issues were so obvious – sustainability and environmental issues, borders and geopolitics – they were impossible to face head-on. One had to find other ways to talk about these issues and understand that they are symptomatic of global issues within the discipline. What has happened, I think, over the last seven and a half years, is that we have moved on from a time in which architects were being talked about as “starchitects”. Everyone now is talking very clearly about much more common-sense and collective aspects of architectural practice. Ian That’s been the major shift that Storefront has tracked and in ways encouraged? Eva I have tried to avoid solo shows. I have done issue-oriented and collective shows, such as Letters to the Mayor. It’s a very simple idea that asked architects to change their perspective in terms of what their duties and responsibilities to society are.
forms of economic control or capital, so we ran competitions for competitions. There was another exhibition we ran called Pop: Protocols, Obsessions, Positions and that was about understanding that as architects, we all learn to use particular protocols; that we all, as individuals, have particular obsessions; and that what we need to do is to identify a position in the cultural, political and economic fields. Those shows, for me, were pedagogical exercises that I was doing, not with a class but with an entire architectural community. Ian What made you want to seek the position at the AA? Eva I really imagine that anyone who has a sense of responsibility about architectural culture, practice and education thought about that position. The idea of “experimentation” has been used and abused, but it is true that the AA has been a hotbed for that historically. I was not looking for it, but the search committee approached me and I said I was happily married to an institution and teaching at Cooper Union. But I realised that, in a very challenging time for the institution, maybe I could contribute. Ian The AA evidently faces a number of challenges, financially and otherwise. What’s your outlook on those and do you have any particular scheme in mind, both for the administrative side and for the direction of the pedagogy? Eva When I presented to the school in February, I said that the only way in which I could take the direction of a school like the AA is by being a director of directors. There are many people there who have proved that they have important agendas, which I want to reinforce and empower. And yet, at the same time, while it has been a hotbed of experimentation, the school as a whole needs to be redefined. What I would like to do is take all the different research hubs at the AA, reinforce them and find their operative point. So it’s actually just an act of curation: curating all those different agendas in relationship to society. With regards to the financial challenges, it’s not only about the school, but also about the British and European contexts. The AA, like many other independent schools, is funded by tuition fees. And at the same time, the AA, unlike many other schools, has a much broader public remit. It has an exhibition venue, a publishing house, a bookstore, and one of the largest public programmes of architectural lectures in the world. They do these things for free, and they’re open to everyone. I don’t have the solution [to the financial
“The only thing I do is ask questions. The answers are already there, I just think that sometimes people aren’t given the space to think and reflect.” The idea was to make architects realise that they are all working together for a society that does not always come with a pay cheque or a competition brief. [Another] project that was very important to me was the Competition of Competitions. I was seeing that architectural competitions had become political instruments and were exacerbating particular 122
issues] and I’m not bringing a chart or a map, but I do come with an attitude and a lot of expertise. The first thing that I’m going to be doing is talking and listening and reaching out to not only the students, professors and the staff, but also the different communities and constituencies in London and in Europe that I think are already part of the AA, even if they don’t know it. I also want to make sure that the AA can become that nexus between different educational institutions. One of the things that has emerged out of the educationas-a-business model is that each institution wants to compete against each other. I have no interest in that. Ian But you have found, in your time at Storefront, that by engaging with the discipline you are able to draw in people, and that that in itself produces a degree of institutional support that keeps the operation afloat. Eva What I try to do is to bring people together who have never been together before. The way in which technocracy has made everyone an expert in a particular field has produced a very atomised and divided notion of what it is we ultimately do as architects. I like to bring people together, not only from the field of architecture, but also from different disciplinary and geographical contexts. The AA’s Visiting School programme has workshops and schools in more than 50 places around the world, so that gives you a very international perspective. At the same time, the use of the words “international” and “global” is exhausting. In fact, what we are talking about is a kind of multi-locality that I think needs to be looked at with different eyes. How do we allow for different forms of knowledge production that do not belong to Western standards? And that’s something that I’ve tried to address, for instance, with the launch of the 2018 New York Architecture Book Fair and the Global Survey. The Global Survey went out recently to 1,600 people around the world: heads of schools of architecture and theory departments, but also curators, critics and historians from different cultural contexts. We asked them to nominate five books, because I was interested in figuring out what the books were that we should learn from, but which are not yet part of our Western canon. I would say that I’m a midwife. The only thing I do is ask questions. The answers are already there, I just think that sometimes people aren’t given the space to think and reflect on them. Ian It strikes me that you come to the AA with a strong conviction that architecture can have meaning even in an environment where it seems like almost nothing
does. But it isn’t as though you claim architecture has a messianic power to transform the civic sphere. There’s never been anything so naive about your curatorial initiatives at Storefront. The searching, highly analytical, critical kind of programmes that you’ve been in charge of, and which you seem likewise to want to bring to the AA, are not of that stripe. You’re not a true believer in that sense. But you are a believer in something: that that mission, that critical searching mission, in itself has an important social value.
An image of the rotating panels that cover the facade of Storefront’s Kenmare Street gallery, designed by Vito Acconci and Steven Holl in 1993.
Eva When I was at the AA in February, one of the
students [2018 Mark Fisher Scholar Bodo Neuss] arranged a funeral for Common Land in Bedford Square, which is part of the Bedford Estate and which is the location of the AA. The project was about the idea of ownership, who has the right to ownership, and who is benefitting from it. That act, which was a very symbolic one, carried a real reflection and critical understanding of very difficult political issues. At the end of the day, I would say I’m very naive. I do hope that we can
change things that sometimes seem to be based on immovable principles. One of the seminars that I used to teach was called ‘Architecture as Doubt’. Not ‘Architecture as a Dream’, but architecture as a critical practice that puts certain things into question. And that was a seminar which simply taught the history of utopia. Utopia is a term that we cannot use anymore because it’s filled with naiveté, but it is in fact the only
“Utopia is a term we cannot use anymore because it’s ﬁlled with naiveté, but it is in fact the only tool that we have to try to imagine a diﬀerent future.” tool that we have, as architects and designers, to try to imagine a different future. I’m sure you remember that conversation between Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky on human nature? Ian I think I’m familiar. Eva So it screened in 191 on Dutch television. You have Noam Chomsky who is very young, very nice and very naive. He says “there are some things [that] we all share as humans that constitute collective aspiration, and that is something that we need to strive [towards] and that we need to look for.” He believes in the idea of goodness and so on. And Foucault, of course, in a very nicely staged dialectical opposition, says, “even that very notion or construction of ‘good’ or ‘human nature’ is a cultural construct, and the only task that I have as a philosopher is to put those ideas in doubt.” And so, when we design, we have the ability to put those questions into built form, and to materialise some of those ideas as spaces of critique. Take Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, built in 1929 for the World Fair exhibition. How have historians typically described that building? Ian I think, usually, it is described as a building that affords spaces of limitless possibility – unplanned space in which one can float. It’s the promise of a free plan. Eva True: the building has been talked about in material, spatial and structural terms. Yet the way I like to read
it is in political terms. Mies says that “architecture is the translation of the spirit of the time into built form.” That building was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII of Spain and there are photographs that document the moment when the king arrived at the Mies pavilion: one sees the king totally mesmerised by a building he probably didn’t even know how to enter in the first place, because, if you remember, the stairs are positioned tangentially to the datum. So first, the king has to enter that space tangentially and find the pool of reflecting water. Then he turns right and sees a building – or maybe it is a roof? – and entered. And he knows that there is a throne that Mies has designed for him – the iconic Barcelona chair. And so he is going around looking for it, not recognising the Barcelona chair as a throne, and as he goes further inside, he suddenly finds himself outside again, where there is another pool and Georg Kolbe’s sculpture of a woman covering herself from the sun. But in fact, I would say, she’s covering herself from the shame of the king looking at her and asking “Where is my throne?” She’s like: “Keep on looking.” The king keeps on going around and then finds Mies. There’s this wonderful picture of the king with his top hat looking at Mies, and it’s as if he’s saying: “Mies, where’s my throne?” And Mies, who is smoking a cigar, looks at him [as if] saying: “Throne? This is the architecture of democracy, and everyone here is the king of their own freedom.” If one were to have decapitated a king in the 20th century, I think one would have done it with a building, not a guillotine. Ian We can say of a 20th-century architect that he can decapitate a king with a building. In the 21st century, it seems unlikely to me that you’d be gratified by a building that claimed to contain its politics so simply within a given formal solution. Eva Yes, but let me just disagree for a second there. What I’m really interested in is the power of form, and in the power of architecture. When I say that, it’s because I believe that form and space shape us and have an immediate effect on our bodies. Research through form and form-finding for me is very interesting and very important, because aesthetics carries politics. Many years ago, when I was at Princeton, I worked on a paper that I started and I never finished. I was interested in the idea of goosebumps. There are different types of goosebumps: ones you get from feeling fear, pleasure, or just cold. But you can also get them from aesthetic pleasure. What happens
when you enter a space that makes you feel defenceless? There are things we can do in terms of producing aesthetic pleasures that are also very important: aesthetics and pleasure also have a kind of politics. And of course that’s not the only way in which one can exist as an architect, but I think one needs to be able to address all those different issues in some way. Ian So much of what you bring to the AA is this critical process, even though you also hope to arrive at goosebump-forming moments of formal uncanniness. I suppose it might be useful for the incoming classes to know what precisely would be in the toolbox and who they might read up on. You’ve only just recently canvassed the entire architecture world for a list of the most important books. After doing that, what’s on your list? Eva Where do I start? When I was younger and had more time, I liked to get books and cover them with
paper, then put them in a pile, so that at some point I’d just forget about the author and I’d read the book without really caring who wrote it. I think it’s important to be able to have that conversation historically, but also to care less about the lineages of power and the transmission of ideas, and to understand more of what is actually being said. I am a good borrower in the sense that, from Michel Foucault, to Ludwig Wittgenstein, to Friedrich Nietzsche, to Immanuel Kant, philosophy has one shelf in my way of thinking about the world. For me, books are tools. Every time I talk to one of my students about their thesis, different books show up. And I think of them, regardless of whether they are architectural, literature or politics. I think that, as the director of a school, one needs to be very tolerant, while at the same time being able to ask the difficult questions. I’ll probably enjoy doing both very much. E N D
Models in Elemental’s studio in Santiago.
Notes Concerning a Studio on SchillerstraĂ&#x;e 40, Munich
Introduction and interviews Johanna Agerman Rossâ€ƒPhotographs Fabian Frinzel Gallery
a cornerstone for a number of online and printed media, a short-hand for considered and “behind-thescenes” reportage. But it seems that while this media is busy framing the studio, it is also steering it towards Buren’s tongue-in-cheek ivory tower, rather than the banal realism of Perec. As such, we regularly consume the image of the studio, rather than its actual reality. The studio is never the actual event; it simply becomes a convenient accessory for a finished object, adding a sense of authenticity in a sector that is hungry for narrative and meaning. When Konstantin Grcic announced the closure of his Munich-studio at Schillerstraße 40 after 18 years, it prompted Disegno to reflect on its position as an agent in the production of the studio’s work and its function in framing the daily practice of the near to 40 people who were part of the office at some point over the last two decades. When Grcic moved in with one assistant in 2000 it was too big, but little by little the expanding team transformed the space into an office, workshop and archive with a distinct character and clear daily routines. The office has not only been the breeding ground for some of contemporary design’s most recognisable objects, but also served as a first platform for a number of designers who now are part of, or run their own, successful practices. Upon the studio’s closure, there were seven people working there,1 while the practice had also taken on a new floor in the building to function as a workshop and storage space for prototypes and samples. What are their memories and reflections on the space that housed them? Over the last few months of Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design’s (KGID) operation in Schillerstraße 40, photographer Fabian Frinzel visited the studio a number of times in order to capture the process of packing up and winding down the Munich operation. In a series of interviews conducted over the same period of time, Grcic spoke about the practicalities of finding and setting up an office, and his thinking around the decision to move to Berlin, without his team. Former team members were also asked to share their memories of the office and its routines. The amalgamated images and notes on Schillerstraße 40 created during this period can can be found in the pages that follow.
“I tidy my work-table quite frequently. This consists of putting all the objects somewhere else and replacing them one by one. I wipe the glass table with a duster (sometimes soaked in a special product) and do the same with each object.” —George Perec, 196 The banal tasks of the everyday are rarely discussed in the arts. Instead it is the final results of the daily grind that are examined, contemplated, celebrated or criticised. That’s why French writer George Perec’s ‘Notes Concerning the Objects that are on my Worktable’ from 196 is such a trippy read. Here, the finished product is a meditation on the everyday that generates the words in front of you. In minute and engaging detail, Perec describes the function and look of the trinkets, papers, pens and pencils that inhabit his glass-topped trestle-table. In a similar vein, the French artist Daniel Buren prompted the art world to consider the artist’s studio as being of equal importance as a museum or gallery. “The importance of the studio should by now be apparent; it is the first frame, the first limit, upon which all subsequent frames/limits will depend,” Buren wrote in ‘The Function of the Studio’ from 191, while providing a simple guide to the tasks it performs: 1. It is the place where the work originates. 2. It is generally a private place, an ivory tower perhaps. 3. It is a stationary place where portable objects are produced. While Buren’s observations concern the studio of an artist, most of these functions also apply to the designer’s studio. Even though the actual production of a serially manufactured object tends to be carried out by a third party, the form and prototype of the “portable object” often originates in the “stationary” studio of the designer. Almost 50 years after Buren urged us to consider the space of the studio as playing an active part in the production and framing of the finished work, we now have a plethora of sources through which we can easily view the studio of a designer, artist or architect. The image of the studio has become an object in itself,
1 Sami Ayadi, Alexandra Fürstenhagen, Jan Heinzelmann, Olivia Herms, Tilman Meyer, Caroline Perret and Charlotte Talbot.
The following notes are based on a series of interviews conducted with Konstantin Grcic in January, April and May 2018 In the first few years of my practice, my office moved through quite a number of different locations. It was a slow evolution, but one that suited me fine. It enabled me to adjust the space to my developing needs, but my needs also adapted to what these spaces offered. At one point, I moved into a place that, within just a few days, I realised wasn’t right. It was an apartment that had four rooms connected by a corridor. A friend of mine had a similar office in a beautiful building in Milan, and their idea had inspired me. But apartments in Munich can be very different from those in Milan, and something about my new place felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable. This experience of the wrong place made me understand what I was really looking for. I was determined to get out as quickly as possible, and so frantically started looking for somewhere new: an open-plan office space in a more industrial context. When I first visited Schillerstraße 40, I worried that the space was bigger than what I could afford, but Ascan Mergenthaler, who was my assistant, encouraged me to go for it. I am so glad that I did. It had such a good energy and the extra rent was quickly amortised by that beautiful space. After moving so much during the first eight years of my practice, it was finally the right time to settle in a more permanent location. I ended up staying there for the next 18 years. Schillerstraße is a semi-industrial, postwar building, located in the busy, multicultural neighbourhood around Munich’s main train station. My office was tucked away behind two courtyards and based on the second floor. The space was an almost perfect square, measuring 10 x 11m, with large windowfronts on opposite sides of the room. The ceiling was exactly 3m high. I interiorised the particular proportions of the space in such a strong way that it became the ultimate spatial reference for a lot of my projects. The place was in a sorry state when I first moved in, so I did a lot of work. Even though my renovations were carried out on a small budget, I managed to get a few elementary things right, or at least better than they were. I made things the way I wanted them: a grey epoxy floor, fluorescent lighting, surface-mounted electricity conduits. There were other creative people in the building – a designer, architects, a recording studio – but also
offices belonging to the medical faculty of the Ludwig Maximilian University, and training facilities for the city’s electrical guild. It was an office where people went to work. There was no romanticisation about it. When I first visited the space, the main room had a small, shed-like annex used for storage. It was clad with asbestos panels, which I really needed to remove. Just by taking that cladding off, the shed transformed into a beautiful little terrace. An office with a terrace – I would have never thought of that, nor about how important an outdoor space could be for my office. The terrace was where we had our 11 o’clock tea break every single day, no matter whether it was summer or winter, burning heat, hailing, thunder, or freezing cold. The terrace was used as a workshop area for anything making noise or dirt. On warm days it was turned into an extended studio space or a retreat for anyone who needed to make phone calls that required privacy. In design school, my generation wasn’t taught anything about running a studio and, except for a brief stint at Jasper Morrison’s office, I had no experience of working in any real office. I had no idea what a design studio was like, or how it worked. My first offices were very simple – spaces big enough to set up a drawing board, a telephone and fax machine. Ideally there would be a small corner for model-making. Developing the idea of on office was a slow process of learning by doing. I guess I always followed my instinct, which gave the office a personal signature. I was building my office. I didn’t distinguish between things that were personal to me and those that were “office” things. I sometimes wondered what it must have felt like for my employees to work in such a personal environment. At the same time, I feel that everyone who worked for me, and certainly those who stayed longer, left their marks on the space. Klaus Hackl was my first assistant, and after him came Ascan Mergenthaler, who then stayed with me (on and off) for nearly three years. Clemens Weishaar started just as I was moving into Schillerstraße in 2000. After a few years he passed the baton to Stefan Diez, and from there on the office started to grow in numbers. Nitzan Cohen came on board as an intern while still at Design Academy Eindhoven, and I then recruited him after his graduation. Sami Ayadi joined the team and became my longest and most loyal employee. Alex Löhr, Benoit Steenackers, Jan Heinzelmann, Pauline Deltour, Jonathan Olivares, Friederike Daumliller, Olivia Herms, Charlotte Talbot,
“I was impressed by the speed and precision with which every task in the office was performed. Every single item there, from the self-retracting measuring tape to the kitchen scissors, had been selected with immense care and helped to optimise the working processes. And yet there was no impression of rigid control or sterility. Instead, the atmosphere was imbued with careful and affectionate attention to detail.” —Friederike Daumiller
Caroline Perret and Tilman Meyer all formed part of the self-titled “KGID dream team”. And Alexandra Fürstenhagen, of course, who was my personal assistant for almost a decade, tying up all the loose ends of the office. We always stayed a small team – between six to seven people was what seemed to work best for me and the space. That was big enough to allow for a variety of projects, while small enough such that I could stay involved in every single project. A big change came with a contract to work with Krups on a series of domestic appliances (2002-2005). Krups paid straight fees, which meant that I was suddenly earning much more money than what I was used to on my usual royalty contracts. It was money I could (and needed to) invest into upgrading the technical infrastructure of the office. I was able to buy new software, computers and printers, and set up a proper back-up system for our data. It also allowed me to employ people, something I always thought was the fairest commitment to my team. In those years, the office went through an important shift that made the office progress from a small self-made studio to a much more professional practice. When I first moved into the studio I put my desk in the far-right corner by the window and things grew from there. I never had a plan or strategy for furnishing the space in any particular way. When we needed it, we got more desks and put them where there was space. At one point I bought four Pallas tables from ClassiCon, which we put in a certain layout that we kept for many years. One of these Pallas tables, a long one which could seat two people, was positioned such that whoever sat at it complained of a terrible draft coming from the terrace door behind them. I didn’t do anything about it until a few years ago when some people in the office insisted we change it. So we did. I left it to my team to design the new layout while I was away on my summer holiday. When I came back, they had completely renovated the space and rearranged everything. It felt so refreshing and positive. It was the best thing that could have happened to the office at that time. The new set-up was a lot more efficient and reclaimed space that we didn’t think we had. My team decided to move their desks to one side of the office and put mine on the opposite side near the workshop area (because I was away so much). This way, I ended up sitting on one side, while the rest of the team sat on the other. I would have never thought of that myself, but when I saw it I loved it straight away.
New people always started on a Monday and the running joke was that I was never there on those occasions. I was travelling a lot, which meant that people’s introduction to the office was rarely through me, but through others in the team. It did probably help people feel more comfortable; the relationship with your boss can be intimidating at first, whereas the relationship between colleagues is easier. There were basic rules about how the studio was organised – from work hours (9am to 7pm), to how and where you saved a file. I felt the need to establish certain daily routines and ideas of what we did and didn’t do. Overall, I believe that these fixed rules allowed for a much greater freedom around those rules. The decision to leave Munich and relocate to Berlin was because of personal circumstances. My family life has been in Berlin for years, but I held on to the office in Munich because my team there felt like my “other” family. For almost seven years I have been commuting between the two places, with every second week spent in each place. Having two places in two different cities was a setup I found attractive, but constant traveling and the fact that I was never in one place for long became more and more unsustainable. In May 2017, I decided to give up Munich in order to bring life and work together in one place. In June, I told my staff that I would close the office at the end of April 2018. The date was set to just after the Salone del Mobile in Milan, the culmination of our productive year. At the end of last year I found a new office space in Berlin. I hadn’t actively started looking, but I had put the word out and an opportunity came up that was too good to turn down. I knew it was right. Rebuilding the office will take some time and it requires a lot of discipline to take things slowly. It is a unique opportunity which I want to make the most of, and will allow for changes that, without relocating the office, would not have been possible. It will be a process of rethinking my office and I don’t know where that will take me. I know I can’t reinvent myself – I am who I am – but I can make adjustments to the structure I work in. The moment my things arrived in the new studio, it seemed to recreate what I had moved away from. Even if I arrange the things in a different way, it’s still the same stuff. There is so much history attached to these things and so much of who I am. The irony is that the new office space is almost the same as the old one: it measures 10 x 12m with a ceiling height of 3m. There are two windowfronts – but without the terrace. E N D 134
“One night after I finished work I got an SMS from Konstantin. It said: ‘Please come to the office tomorrow with the camouﬂage jacket and silly shoes [vintage Adidas Adimeds].’ His plan was to put me on the cover of DAMn° magazine.” —Yuya Ushida
“When I started at KGID there were three things on my desk. A computer, a calliper and a measuring tape. Every designer in the office had these items, and I quickly realised that everyone always had the calliper and measuring tape close to hand. After a while, I found out that even if all those callipers and measuring tapes looked the same, somehow everyone knew which one was theirs. Everyone had some little detail, like a dent or a speck of colour, which made it unique. They were like holy items that you better not take or exchange by accident.” —Olivia Herms
“So I am standing for the first time in front of the doorbell panel of Schillerstraße 40, looking for the right button to press, and then I read ‘Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design’ next to one of them. The word ‘Industrial’ made me uncomfortable. It was 2001 and I was coming from the Design Academy in Eindhoven, where Droog was still in the air, and it was all about craft and making things in small series. It seemed the opposite of that word on the doorbell. But in the days and years to come, I learned that this word was much more a state of mind, a frame of thought, and a way to see and to do, rather than describing the actual field of work – a definition and a wish at the same time.” —Nitzan Cohen
“When I recall my time at Schillerstraße 40, I always think of one special part of the office, or rather an extension to it: the large terrace with its transparent roof made out of corrugated sheeting. It faces a grey backyard, without any trees or plants, surrounded by interchangeable office facades from the 1950s and 60s. Yet, despite, or maybe precisely because of these austere surroundings, the terrace had a unique charm. The terrace was the one place in the office where you could meet and discuss things with Konstantin in private. It was both part of, and somewhat detached from, the rest of the office. A place for meetings, discussions and announcements, but most of all to get together.” —Caroline Perret
“I started at Schillerstraße on the last day of February. Charlotte was pregnant at that time and so I started by working at her sunny, yellow desk. During that year’s Salone, Olivia told me that she was expecting a child as well. After Charlotte’s return I moved to Olivia´s workplace, which was a very long, black desk. At first I shared this desk with Caroline, but during the summer Caroline told me that she was expecting a child too. After Olivia´s return, I shared the black desk with her and when Caroline was back, she and Olivia alternated places. I enjoyed both my desk-partners. Olivia once said that she felt comfortable working between me and the radiator. And I felt comfortable working in such a family-friendly office.” —Tilman Meyer
“Yellow. Sun. This is how I will remember where I worked at Schillerstraße. Almost seven years in that room and five spent working on that same bright, yellow Pallas table. It was near the eastwardfacing windows and I liked sitting there on a sunny morning seeing the sun rise and illuminating my desk, the yellow table seemingly becoming a sun itself.” —Charlotte Talbot
“When I think of my years at KGID, the one thing that always comes to my mind is the team experience. We travelled together and we shared apartments in Milan for Salone and on many sites for exhibition openings and so on. The most memorable experience was probably when we set up the exhibition at the German pavilion in Venice for the Architecture Biennale in 2012. On that occasion we were particularly visible as a team. People we met often said: ‘When you guys showed up it was always like, Here comes
the Grcic team.’ I feel like KGID became part of everyone on the team’s ID.” —Alexandra Fürstenhagen
“Cycling played a big role during my time at the KGID office. The location of Schillerstraße 40 doesn’t leave many options, as it is impossible to park a car for free anywhere near there and the nearest subway station is a bit of a walk away. At one point Konstantin curated a small exhibition with a focus on folding bikes, most of them from Japan. We took them on a test ride around a lake outside the city and it was around that time we started to call ourselves the KGIDs: like a band where each of us was playing a different yet significant role in the office.” —Alexander Löhr
Reviews Singaporeâ€™s Design Policy Words Debika Ray The Vluchtmaat Words George Kafka The Zad and NoTAV Words Crystal Bennes
Singapore’s Design Policy Words Debika Ray
“It’s not an issue of aesthetics; it’s an issue of survival,” says Agnes Kwek. “We firmly believe that design is going to be the number-one skillset our workforce will need in order to pivot into the future.” It’s mid-March and Kwek, who directs the state-run Design Singapore Council (DSC), is addressing a group of journalists gathered in the city to attend its fifth annual design week. A civil servant and former head of the Corporate Transformation and Futures division at Singapore’s Land Transport Authority, Kwek will soon take up her new role as a Paris-based international ambassador for Singaporean design. For now, though, she is based at Singapore’s National Design Centre, a 139-year-old former convent building which houses the agency’s headquarters. It’s rare to hear design spoken about in terms of life and death at a commercial design week, but the Singapore government has recently been approaching the sector with the seriousness that other countries reserve for infrastructure, health or education policy. The body that Kwek heads was set up in 2003 to help develop the nation’s design sector, following a government economic review that identified it as an industry that could generate economic growth and social progress. The DSC will not reveal how much it has spent on promoting and nurturing design, but a 200 report by the Canadian Design Research Network (CDRN) suggested that 10m Singapore dollars (£5.6m) were being invested annually in the sector for a period of five years, with another five-year plan due to follow. Over 10 years, that adds up to around a third of the £150m lump sum that the
UK – with a population roughly 13 times that of Singapore – recently announced it would spend on the creative industries as a whole. It also excludes additional indirect investment happening through government bodies such as the Economic Development Board, Singapore’s trade board, the Standards, Productivity and Innovation Board, Singapore Tourism Board, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, all of which are now placing an emphasis on design. Generally, it’s very hard to compare exact governmental figures and levels of commitment. Government investment in creative industries varies hugely from country to country, while the design industry is hopelessly entangled with other sectors. However, the CDRN report observed that Singapore’s approach to design stands out for its breadth of focus. “While design strategies in most countries have a strongly supply driven design policy,” it said, “Singapore places equal emphasis on developing a local market for good design. As the figure below shows their programming is wide, ranging from establishing design testbeds to facilitating the use of design by business, hosting and participating in international design festivals, and educating the public.” In early 2016, the DSC published a report setting out how Singapore could become an “innovation-driven economy and loveable city” by 2025. Its recommendations included infusing design into the national skillset, the business sector, public services and communities, and developing the “Singapore design brand”. The report describes the aspiration using corporateutopian language that suggests that the
state views design as being at least as much a tool for image-building and PR as it is a practical policy: “Our people will have an appreciation for the value of design beyond aesthetics. Our community will embrace the use of design and co-create a better living environment; and in so doing, develop a stronger sense of belonging and ownership. Services will be peoplecentred, delivering better experiences for all. Design will take the Singapore brand to the next level and contribute to our national identity.” To reach these ends, efforts are seemingly being targeted at every level. There are financial awards to help mid-career professionals develop design skills, scholarships for designrelated degrees, grants for businesses to fund design consultancy and innovation, as well as funding provision for events such as Singapore Design Week. “I know that the level of design and technical education at secondary schools and institutes, and the number of schools that offer that, have improved and I think the awareness of design – what it is and how it can add value – has certainly reached the mainstream consciousness,” says Singapore- and New York-based furniture designer Gabriel Tan, who has worked with brands such as The Conran Shop and Ishinomaki Lab, and exhibited around the world. “I have benefitted from the greater awareness and receptivity towards design, as well as grants to help me reach the international market during my earlier years.” Edmund Zhang, who was awarded the title of Next Generation Singapore Designer by Wallpaper* magazine last year, agrees: “Recently, the government has stepped up efforts,
Photographs courtesy of Singapore Design Week.
A nation-state investing heavily in design, Singapore offers insights into how other countries might deal with emerging global challenges. But does its design strategy move beyond being a PR exercise?
Singapore is a small island nation whose response to emerging issues surrounding technology may prove instructive to countries the world over.
initiatives and scholarships to proactively support local designers.” For those based in countries like the United Kingdom, where public funding for the creative industries is being slashed, it might seem an enviable set of circumstances. Like many countries, Singapore is facing the prospect of technology destroying existing jobs
and creating demand for new skills. As a particularly concentrated version of a globalised economy (with its diverse, international population and concentration of multinational companies, it’s ranked among the most open economies in the world), Singapore and its response to these problems could offer lessons for us all.
In February, the government’s Committee on the Future Economy – a group of private- and public-sector individuals established in 2015 to make policy recommendations to assist in Singapore’s growth – laid out a vision that hinted at a quasi-religious faith in design as a national saviour: “In the future economy, our people should
Design Singapore Council has invested heavily in Singapore’s design community, and has hopes that the discipline’s approach might benefit other fields.
have deep skills and be inspired to learn throughout their lives; our businesses should be innovative and nimble; our city vibrant, connected to the world, and continually renewing itself; our Government coordinated, inclusive and responsive.” Reinforcing this message, in April 2018 the prime minister Lee Hsien Loong visited the Singapore University of Technology and Design and called for its students to “reimagine and rebuild” Singapore, emphasising that the country had a history of “design thinking” – as seen in the efforts by successive generations to attract foreign investments, house the population and create the flourishing economy the nation has today. Application of the term “design thinking” in this context by the prime minister is revealing. In recent times, this has become a buzzword – used to describe the application of the methodology employed by designers to identify and solve problems in the corporate and governmental sphere. While many have welcomed the inclusion of creativity in these fields, critics have pointed out the malleability and vacuousness of the term itself – and the inherent flaw in packaging what is an open-ended and exploratory approach as a fixed, goal-orientated
process. To apply it, as the prime minister has done, to the context of nation-building seems to validate this critique. Regardless, there is some truth to the claim that Singapore – since its independence in 1965 – has had to think creatively and that its economic, social and urban condition demonstrates an efficient approach to problem-solving. As a compact island nation with few natural resources, Singapore has long been reliant on human capital. Its economy has been driven primarily by services, which account for 1.3 per cent of its GDP and employ 3. per cent of its population, according to a 201 government survey. Architecture has also thrived. The city itself could be seen as one large design experiment. More than 5.5 million people live on less than 50sqkm of land and, to meet the needs of its population, more than 80 per cent of housing is public. Decentralised urban hubs, well-planned public transport and landscaping mean that Singapore usually ranks high on lists of the world’s most liveable cities. Since the 1960s, its GDP per capita has grown from about US$500 to almost $53,000. Singapore’s ability to adapt and make large-scale changes is no doubt also a function of a political system
often described as “soft authoritarianism”, which means that, what the government wants, the government gets. The same authoritarian political system that allows the government to implement large-scale change relatively easily also has a tempering effect – some designers interviewed for this article told me that political constraints, such as curbs on free speech, have created an inherent culture of caution and an absence of radicalism that manifests itself in a safe approach to art and design. There are other challenges too. Singapore has little room for a manufacturing sector and few natural resources, both of which have been crucial to the success of design industries in places such as Scandinavia and Italy – product and furniture designers in Singapore need to look abroad to get things made. The city itself is also hamstrung by its own efficiency. There is little affordable space for young creatives (the title of the Singapore pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale is “No More Free Space”); this means that the metropolis is seeking to grow its creative sector at a stage when its urban realm already resembles cities such as London and New York, which are losing their creative communities to cheaper
places. Dutch designer Matthijs Rikken, who co-founded Studio Dam with his Singaporean partner Debby Yu, works out of a studio in their home in the city. “In Eindhoven, when we were students, we were renting space in an empty school building for next to nothing,” he says. “Whereas here, space is super expensive, so creating hubs of creative people [in cheaper parts of the city] is nearly impossible.” There are signs too that the overt focus on the commercial application of design – the result of the explicit link here between design and economic policy – comes at the expense of more experimental work. “There is always this urge or rush to find a way to create something that can be applied to the market and this environment lends itself to designers being very project-driven, rather than thinking more long-term,” says design writer Justin Zhang. In the context of Singapore Design Week, this is illustrated by Singaplural, the main showcase of design installations, which is billed as showing “the best design elements from the multi-faceted creative spectrum” but, in reality, has a heavy emphasis on branded products with commercial potential, and is described by Kwek as being primarily concerned with “IP [intellectual property] creation”. Singapore’s design sector is shaped by all these conditions and constraints; yet in its use of “design” as a catch-all term for innovation, reinvention and experimentation in any field, there is a sense of vagueness about what “design” actually is and what specifically it can offer. This problem is not unique to Singapore, but it seems critical at a time when the city-state is positioning design as a central part of its public policy and a “matter of survival”. “I am mainly cautious that ‘design’ does not end up a buzzword, or worse, a fad,” product designer Olivia Lee says. “As more people get excited about the ‘promise of design’, if we fail to deliver on that promise, it could induce cynicism. This would leave the long-time design practitioners in a worse-off position.” The DSC’s refusal to divulge the amount of money it has invested and its heavily stage-managed approach to Singapore Design Week – where journalists were continuously supervised and provided little opportunity to speak informally
to designers or policy-makers or explore events independently – only serves to reinforce the impression of design as PR, rather than substance. Amid this vagueness, what’s clear is that the Singaporean government sees design as a strategic device to be deployed for economic purposes. “So far, design has acted as a supporter. Now, it has come to the forefront of [the state’s] thinking,” says Zhang. “It’s not so different from other countries, where design is associated with innovation, but in Singapore they have really drunk the Kool-Aid – top government officials are very much tuned into design’s potential to change the economy.” This attitude has prompted a conscious move away from traditional product design and towards “design thinking” in business, education and the public services. It is manifested in the form of more attention to fields such as service design and the employment of designers in nontraditional contexts. The DSC sees its role as expanding the image of design away from craft and image-making towards a viable form of thinking for everyone from doctors to businesspeople. “We’re looking at design as a horizontal process that’s relevant to any industry – a tool for transformation in banks, healthcare, the public sector to transform government services for citizens,” says Kwek. Meanwhile, designers are being deployed at all levels of the public sector to rethink health services, transport and other amenities. “All the groundwork that was laid five years ago has really borne fruit – in 2013, 12 per cent of businesses in Singapore had designers in senior management [positions]. Today that figure is 32 per cent. Companies are starting to think of design as a strategic function,” says Kwek. Design is also being infused into the education sector. Later this year, the DSC is launching a programme to integrate what Kwek describes as “the basic tools, language and mindset” of design into the traditional school curriculum – not as a distinct field of study but as an added layer to subjects such as science, maths or civics. Edmund Zhang has seen a shift at the level of higher education too: “I graduated last year and, over the four years, there was a gradual shift
from product designs to fields like user experience and user interface design. The whole design education climate is subtly moving in that direction.” Alongside this move towards the intangible there is a simultaneous shift towards the idea of design as brand. “We have started seeing design dovetail with Singapore’s desire to be a global city of arts and culture, and a creative city,” says Justin Zhang. “There is now a hint of, ‘We should use design because it makes us look good.’” As part of its 50th year of independence celebrations in 2015, the Singapore Tourist Board took a large-scale exhibition around the world to showcase creative talent. The DSC has also started funding a series of community initiatives as part of Singapore Design Week – this year, it launched a “district activation” in the aﬄuent Chip Bee Gardens neighbourhood, where a series of empty properties hosted pop-up exhibitions by emerging brands and creative individuals. The nation’s exhibition at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale had a similar focus – on public housing projects and efforts by community groups and NGOs to shape their environment. Justin Zhang says that, for a long time, there was “really no space for ground-up initiatives” but believes more are now emerging, pointing to an exhibition hosted during Singapore Design Week at Yishun, an outer-city neighbourhood with a bad reputation, in which local artists, designers and musicians organised a series of events to help change the area’s image, engage local residents and demonstrate that design happens in everyday life. “But a lot of these ground-up initiatives get co-opted very quickly,” says Zhang. “That means they get replicated on a larger scale. But often they are very specific to the context and sometimes it becomes a bit forced if you try to replicate solutions so quickly. [We seem to be] caught up with this idea: designers are the ones who should come up with solutions and citizens should just receive those solutions, when it could be much more empowering if everyone was a designer to some extent.” The ﬁfth edition of Singapore Design Week ran from - March .
The Vluchtmaat Words George Kafka
Perhaps the most radical act in the early days of the Vluchtmaat, a legalised squat on the outskirts of Amsterdam, was the installation of curtains. Soft and easily transportable, indicative of comfort but also privacy, curtains are a quintessentially domestic object. In this context, they signalled the evolution of an office building into a home. Located just outside Amsterdam’s A10 ring road in the shadow of Rem Koolhaas’s muscular G-Star RAW headquarters, the Vluchtmaat is a 1980s two-storey concrete slab roughly 60m across. Where once it contained a constellation of offices for Bouwmaat, a Dutch construction-materials company, since autumn 2015 it has housed a shifting group of undocumented migrants and small businesses. The residents of the Vluchtmaat – a contraction of “vlucht”, short for vluchtelingen (refugees), and “maat”, short for Bouwmaat – are 40 Ethiopian and Eritrean undocumented migrants who have been denied residence in the Netherlands but are unable to return to their countries of origin, often for political reasons. As in other parts of western Europe, Dutch asylum policy requires applicants to prove the risks they would face should they go back. This can involve the harrowing, and at times ridiculous, stipulation that they provide specific evidence, such as a warrant, that might lead an oppressive regime to target them. In Ethiopia, for example, arbitrary arrests and torture of the Oromo people under the ruling administration were reported by Amnesty International in 2014. Gaining proof of this persecution on an individual basis, which would have to be provided by the administration itself, is clearly absurd. These residents form part of a larger
collective of asylum seekers who have grown to national prominence under the banner of Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here). “The purpose of the collective is to fight for human rights,” explains Bushra Hussein, a spokesperson for the group. “We don’t have basic human needs, we don’t have shelter, we don’t have medicine rights, so we just want to come together and to support one another.” Since its foundation in 2012, We Are Here has co-ordinated residential occupations, ensuring temporary shelter for more than 300 undocumented migrants across Amsterdam, including the highprofile occupation of a Brutalist church – dubbed the Vluchtkerk – over the Christmas period in 2012. “They use all the protocols of Dutch squatting practice,” explains René Boer, curator of Architecture of Appropriation, an exhibition on squatting and architecture, which featured the Vluchtmaat and was held at Rotterdam’s Nieuwe Instituut in 201. “Like regular squatting actions, they assemble at least 40 people and then collectively occupy the building. They are very open with the press and the police. It’s interesting how it continues a movement that has existed for decades.” The office that would become the Vluchtmaat had only been empty for a month when its new occupants changed the locks and installed curtains in November 2015. The building’s previous incarnation made it relatively easy for the new residents to adapt it. Carpets, small kitchens and sealed windows meant little structural intervention was required to make the space habitable. In keeping with Dutch squatting protocol, the new residents and Here To Support, a group of volunteers working with We Are Here,
contacted the owner of the building, Bouwmaat, to inform them of the situation. Where another proprietor might have begun proceedings to remove the squatters, the Bouwmaat director took a different approach. As Elke Uitentuis, an artist and supporter of the Vluchtmaat explains, “He said, ‘I don’t want to give up my rights as an owner, so I don’t want to leave the squatted situation as it is. But I would like to help out because the building is empty and I don’t think I’m going to be able to rent it out.’” The resulting compromise, and central innovation of the Vluchtmaat, would allow the group to stay for a fixed period, provided the costs of the building were covered. To do so, the Vluchtmaat building would be divided into spaces for living and working, and a simple financial agreement would allow it to survive autonomously, avoiding an unsustainable reliance on donations or state funding, as is the case for many other shelters. The workspaces would be let out to small businesses that would pay a relatively low monthly rent, a rarity in increasingly expensive Amsterdam. This income would be used to cover the essential costs – shelter, water, insurance, basic maintenance – without the landlord drawing a profit. In order to sign a contract with the Bouwmaat, a non-profit foundation named Stichting Noodzaak was set up to collect rent, pay the bills and manage internal difficulties. Soon after the curtains were put up and the contract with the owners signed, residents and volunteers codesigned a new layout. The office building had previously consisted of four openplan wings across two floors separated by a central core. Using simple and
Photographs courtesy of the Vluchtmaat.
Three years into its existence and with its operation recently extended, Amsterdam’s Vluchtmaat squat presents a new model for housing and supporting undocumented migrants. What lessons does it hold?
One initiative organised in the Vluchtmaat building is a monthly restaurant evening serving Ethiopian food, hosted in the space’s dining room.
cheap materials funded by donations, the Vluchtmaat team divided it into rooms with wooden frames and plasterboard. Three of the wings would be used as residential space and the fourth would house the offices. The arrangement is the same today. Each resident has their own room, unless they prefer to share with a partner or friend, and one room, which sleeps five, is used for new arrivals. As well as the bedrooms, there are three communal spaces, one of which is used as a dining room and hosts a monthly restaurant evening serving Ethiopian food. There are 13 offices, some of which are shared. Current tenants include a photographer, a fair-trade coffee company and a small media company, among others. The front door is always open. The first contract with Bouwmaat gave the residents a guaranteed six months of shelter. This has been extended by increments of six months ever since and the current residents can count on a place
at the Vluchtmaat until the end of 2018. In the context of many We Are Here members’ experience of being evicted from squats every two to three months, this security marks a major shift. Mahmud Mamma, who arrived in the Netherlands from Ethiopia following his involvement in anti-government demonstrations in 2014, had lived in four different We Are Here squats before arriving at the Vluchtmaat a year ago. “Life is better here than in the other groups where I’ve been: it’s a stable place,” he explains. There remains, of course, a profound precariousness that comes from living undocumented in the Netherlands. The Vluchtmaat is by no means a panacea. The residents have gone through the process of seeking refugee status and, once rejected, are nearly entirely isolated from the social infrastructure. As Yonas Berhanu, an accountant originally from Ethiopia and a Vluchtmaat resident for the last two years, says, “it is really difficult because
we don’t have any source to live. We don’t have a chance to go to school. If you want to get some medical treatment it is really difficult.” Nonetheless, the value of stability goes beyond the simple fact of a roof over residents’ heads. “Three of the residents got married, which you might think is not a wise thing to do because you don’t have any certainty or anything,” says Uitentuis, who pays €290 per month for a 21sqm workspace at the Vluchtmaat. “But I think the feeling that you have a little bit more time for yourself and less time being in the situation that you need to survive day-to-day makes it possible for people to make steps towards the future.” Applying for residency is one such step which the stability of the Vluchtmaat has facilitated; 15 residents have gained legal status while living there. The layout of the building, with shared living rooms, kitchen and open access into and through the building, has also seemingly facilitated a communal
One of the bedrooms. Each resident has their
The project aims to offfer stability for its residents,
own space, unless they prefer to share.
many of whom have previously moved every few months.
way of living and a close-knit community. “There is a tolerant atmosphere here that comes by sharing and respecting each other, by living together,” says Mamma, who recently received his residency status but continues to live at the Vluchtmaat while waiting for a government home. The coexistence of the residents and the renting businesses is, however, clearly the linchpin. Day to day, the relationship between the Vluchtmaat’s residents and renters is neat and functional without excessive sentimentality. Interactions are largely pragmatic and efforts by the foundation to manufacture a false sense of community are, thankfully, avoided. This is not to say the environment is cold or unfriendly, however. There is a visible ease and familiarity between the two groups, albeit more akin to the interaction between colleagues than cohabiters. However, the truth remains that the residents rely on the renters more than the other way around – the need for
shelter, warmth and solidarity trumps the requirement for an affordable workspace. As Boer points out, “There is a clear imbalance in power and privilege between the residents, who are hyperprecarious, and the renters, who are comfortably incorporated into Dutch society.” Or as Berhanu puts it, “If the renters are not here, we are not here.” Yet, by the same token, it is this setup that has made the Vluchtmaat a success: first, in its ability to survive; second, in its provision of a platform for individuals to feel more human in a fundamentally dehumanising immigration system. It’s also what gives the Vluchtmaat model the potential to travel beyond the postindustrial periphery. When it was nominated for a Dutch Design Award in 201, alongside internationally recognised architects such as MVRDV and NL Architects, the judges praised the Vluchtmaat’s independent economic model as a “prototype of a social design for an inclusive society”.
The Vluchtmaat “prototype” has also garnered interest from other Dutch organisations working with undocumented migrants who face a constant struggle to win pockets of funding from churches or the state. What’s more, it’s unique on a European level. Its closest equivalent, the City Plaza squat in Athens, has led a much more fraught existence, being targeted for closure by the neighbours, the police and even right-wing extremists. Admirably, it continues to house 400 refugees, undocumented migrants and other precarious individuals while relying on crowdfunding. There may be as many as 100,000 undocumented individuals lacking secure shelter and basic social infrastructure in the Netherlands, and so the need for more shelters following the Vluchtmaat model is clear. Yet the most significant barriers to replicating the set-up are the owners of Amsterdam’s empty buildings. The Dutch legal system may have a fairly
The space houses three communal areas for residents, as
Residents at the Vluchtmaat can currently count on
well as 13 offices rented out to small businesses.
accommodation in the building until the end of 2018.
relaxed attitude to squatting, especially in comparison to the UK, but the rights of landowners are still virtually sacred. Thus the chances of creating a new Vluchtmaat rely on stumbling across another proprietor who “is willing to give away his property, in a sense, for such an extended period of time”, as Boer puts it. This is made all the more unlikely by the fact that housing capacity struggles mean prices in the capital have risen to pre-2008 levels. The city’s expansion bears this out. Although the Vluchtmaat exists on its outskirts, it is a stone’s throw from a new .5ha development that involves the conversion of a former prison and luxury residential zone by OMA. Clearly in this economy, finding landowners willing to forgo profit for social good will be a challenge. There is room for hope, however, following the municipal elections held in March 2018. Amsterdam voted for a significant shift to the left and the
GroenLinks (Green Left) party is now forming a coalition with the Socialist and Labour parties, as well as the centrist D66 party. Most importantly for the residents of the Vluchtmaat, We Are Here has begun to establish connections with GroenLinks and is lobbying for the provision of 24-hour shelters for undocumented migrants. These would essentially provide the same relatively stable shelter as the Vluchtmaat with support from the state, alongside guidance on obtaining a resident’s permit or support on returning to one’s country of origin. Should these shelters, which would probably occupy decommissioned municipal properties such as schools, go ahead, the Vluchtmaat may well cease to exist. Somewhat paradoxically, this should surely be its ultimate aim. While the success of the structure, the foundation and its residents is laudable – even inspirational – the provision of support from the state and the legal
recognition that comes with this should be the goal. Indeed, the Vluchtmaat as a lasting entity, no matter how successful, could never be an end in itself. That said, as the urban-housing scholar Alex Vasudevan argued in his essay ‘Squatting the city’, squatting provides “an alternative vision of the city and a robust defence of housing in both its lived social dimension and in its ‘identity as home’”. The Vluchtmaat offers a similar vision of cooperation and an alternative way of doing housing in the contemporary city, which can be considered further and in separation from the context of the precariousness of its residents’ existences. What’s more, the Vluchtmaat, from curtains to Ethiopian kitchen, provides a valuable expansion of preconceptions surrounding the “identity of home”. Amsterdam’s Vluchtmaat was established in .
The Zad and NoTAV Words Crystal Bennes
On 1 January 2018, French prime minister Édouard Philippe announced the cancellation of the proposed Grand Ouest Airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a small village near Nantes in northwestern France. In the 50 years since the €580m project was first mooted in the 1960s, it had been met with support, hostility, endless consultations and political indecision until it was finally abandoned by President Emmanuel Macron. Across the French border in northern Italy lies the Susa Valley, site of another anti-infrastructure battle. Here, spread across a much larger territory, residents have opposed plans for a high-speed train (TAV) network between Lyon and Turin since the 1990s. Both struggles are the subject of a new book by the writing group Mauvaise Troupe Collective, recently published in English translation by Kristin Ross, following original publication in French in 2016. Publishing – and book publishing in particular – is a slow business. For fiction, the problem of time is not so pressing. But for contemporary history or social commentary, there’s occasionally a danger that a book may already be a relic of events passed by the time it finally appears on bookshop shelves. With translations, the problem is even more acute. Two years is not a long time in the arc of human history, but in stories of territorial struggle and resistance, entire histories can be written and rewritten in a matter of days. Yet, The Zad and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence does not aim to keep abreast of current affairs. Instead, it aspires to document the history of political struggle in the words of the
protagonists as those struggles occur. Despite the fact that construction of the TAV base tunnel is expected to begin later this year and the Grand Ouest Airport has been abandoned, this is not a book with a sell-by date. If at first glance, the book’s choice to combine the Zad – officially ‘zone d’eménagement différée’ (zone for future development) and ‘zone à defendre’ (zone to defend) for resisters – and the NoTAV seems arbitrary, the juxtaposition proves instructive. As the authors highlight, although both movements emerged in opposition to new infrastructure projects in rural territories, they are marked by substantial differences. In France, the contested site is much smaller – comprising some 16.5sqkm and a few hundred people – than the vast swathes of land and towns comprised by the Susa Valley in Italy. The context of anti-airport resistance in Nantes is also informed by the area’s rich history of political opposition. The Loire-Atlantique region was the birthplace of a new agrarian left that had its origins in the Farmer/Worker movement of the late 1960s and 190s and was inspired by the 190 book, Les paysans dans la lutte des classes (The Farmers in the Class Struggle) by Bernard Lambert. The Susa Valley by contrast, has been a place of crossing and passing-through for centuries. It was traversed by Hannibal and his elephants during the Second Punic War in 218 BCE; by Augustus’s troops after an alliance with Gaul saw the Via Domitia constructed through the valley; and by Italian Resistance fighters during the Second World War. Since industrialisation, it has become home to what NoTAVers describe as “big, useless, and imposed
projects” on which vast amounts of public money are spent. However, the scale of land needed by each of the projects has contributed to what is perhaps the most marked difference. At Zad, the site of the future airport has been occupied by farmers, squatters, activists and ecologists since a 2009 call for inhabitants. These occupiers have constructed temporary (and then permanent) accommodation, a bakery and a dairy. They have also experimented with communal agriculture and set up a pirate radio station. Here, the resisters are careful not to refer to their movement as a popular struggle. In Italy, by contrast, because the TAV’s land requirements are far more substantial – the project will intersect many towns and disrupt dozens more with the years of construction required to build the railway lines – the NoTAV movement describes itself as one of popular concern. Throughout the valley can be found, the authors report, signs reading: “The NoTAV struggle is a popular struggle.” The book’s interest in the contrast between the two campaigns and the importance of precision in how one describes each context – for example, as popular in Italy, but localised in France – is indicative of its careful approach to language throughout. But the principal expression of such care is undoubtedly the collective framework in which the book has been written. In fact, this collective framework is doubled: the group, Mauvaise Troupe Collective, have “written” the book, but they have done so using the words of hundreds of individuals. There is hardly a page that does not feature a substantial excerpt from an interview with an individual involved in one
Image courtesy of Verso.
A book on two movements opposing large-scale infrastructure developments in France and Italy sheds light on the motivations that can unite people under one banner and the philosophy of struggle.
The Zad and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence aspires to document the history of political struggle as those struggles occur.
of the two movements. The plurality of these views and voices gradually builds to something approaching a coherent representation of each situation without ever attempting to provide a comprehensive or “official” take. I cannot recall reading a similarly structured book, but what results from this decision is a highly successful, conceptually satisfying marriage of form and content. The generosity of the book’s format links unmistakably to a recurring theme – that of diversity. Here, diversity is less a celebration of identity politics than it is a basic fact of existence in struggle. When such a variety of people and concerns are brought together –
even if loosely united by a shared cause – differences must be accommodated. “Divergences are normal in a movement that federates so broadly,” as one of the French farmers concludes, reflecting on the contrasting tactics of his fellow resisters. The authors refer to this difference as ‘composition’ and, in the case of the Zad, recognise that, “the daily drama of unexpected encounters, of co-existing, sharing space, coordinating, recognising difference, undergoing existential overhaul, and, above all, learning to avoid the temptation of trying to convert others to the superiority of one’s practices” is as much a key
element of the struggle as opposition to the state-imposed projects. In addition to the challenges of composition, another key point of difference is that between the rural and the urban. Rem Koolhaas’s observation in a 2014 article for Icon magazine that, “the countryside is now the frontline of transformation. A world formerly dictated by the seasons and the organisation of agriculture is now a toxic mix of[…] massive subsidies, incidental inhabitation, tax incentives, investment, political turmoil, in other words more volatile than the most accelerated city,” makes one imagine that occupations and protests like the Zad and the NoTAV
may have provided one frame of reference. As with HS2 in the UK and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Canada, the official state view often reflects a vision of the countryside as a transit zone through which capital should flow unimpeded from one metropolis to another. New infrastructure that traverses these areas is often proposed and justified in purely economic terms – as with the airport and the high-speed Lyon-Turin train – and local resistors are classified as either nimbys or saboteurs of progress. “In this context,” write the Mauvaise Troupe Collective, “the term metropolis should not be mistaken to mean a big city; it designates, rather, a worldwide fabric in which one tries to integrate more and more parcels of territory (including the countryside).” But how to secure the interest of the metropolis in struggles that take place in the non-place of the invisible rural, particularly in the self-described non-picturesque locations of NotreDame-des-Landes and the Susa Valley? As a member of the late-2000s CNCA (Nantes Collective Against the Airport) activist group recounts, the early militant networks against the Grand Ouest Airport prioritised bringing the struggle to the cities, where decisions are made and power is concentrated. “The question of the loss of agricultural land is not necessarily relevant to city people, but these were the people we wanted to reach,” he says. “We wanted to get them to understand that the logic of the airport didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s connected to a whole process of the extension of the urban fabric and the concentration of powers – ‘metropolitization’ that touches our neighbourhoods as well as our daily life.” Following the official cancellation of the airport in January, the French government ordered the eviction of the Zad’s approximately 300 long-term occupiers, many of whom have lived on-site for nearly 10 years. Now that the airport has been axed, the official line holds, the anger of the resistance is no longer legitimate. According to President Macron, the Zad was a “project of chaos[…] illegally occupying public lands”. The site must be returned to its proper function as private property. Shortly after the cancellation announcement, a delegation from the Zad entered into
negotiations with the state in an attempt to establish a collective legal land structure, rather than return the 16.5sqkm to private property or agrobusiness. Although precedent existed in France – in the form of a similar legal structure in Larzac in the south after a successful campaign against expanding a nearby military base – the proposal was refused. A few days later, 2,500 police arrived to bulldoze many of the Zad’s homes and collective structures – some of which were demolished illegally – and to teargas the occupying resisters. Some responded by throwing mud, some threw stones and others constructed barricades of burning cars – the diversity of tactics corresponding to the diversity of views on violence and resistance. Indeed, one of the most striking aspects of the book is its philosophy on violence, particularly that of citizen violence against the state. While the participants in the NoTAV movement in Italy reflect to varying degrees on the role of physical force in resistance, many acknowledge the lack of a broader philosophical framework to underpin the movement’s activities. It’s a mass struggle with broad support against an unwanted project across a large territory. By contrast, the French resisters at Zad are as preoccupied with a theoretical argument for their actions as they are with the actions themselves. Their meditations draw on a rich tradition of French thought on political disobedience dating back to 16th century philosopher Étienne de la Boétie. In particular, a wonderful passage on Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2015 reaction to the shirts being torn off the backs of Air France management executives by striking workers – “We are not in 193!” – is worth quoting in full: “The extreme nature of the comparisons shows the hypersensitivity of an era that has made comfort its highest value, as much as it attempts to invalidate the very possibility of conflict by designating it an unacceptable excess of violence. The operation is initially instigated at the level of language: new synonyms appear that seem at first absurd, but that soon become integrated into common sense through repeated use. A strike becomes a hostage-taking of consumers, a lively demonstration becomes pillaging, while sabotage becomes once again terrorism like in the time of the occupation. The scandal
is performative and established the limits of what is acceptable.[…] In this framework, each condemnation for ‘violence’ is not just a reaction to events, but a pre-emptive act upon the future, which delimits the field of the possible for the struggles to come.” As the authors emphasise elsewhere, the French republican abstraction of “the people” means that it inevitably becomes easier to invoke the “fable of popular unity as the foundation of the nation” in an anti-terrorist Je suis Charlie context than that of a citizen struggle against those who claim to represent the people. Macron, discussing the Zad evictions in a televised interview of 14 April, repeated the phrase “we have restored republican order” again and again. Although the fight against the construction of the airport has ostensibly been won, in their resistance, the Zad occupiers have created an alternative society on the land that they are unwilling to relinquish. From the outset, the battle was never simply against the infrastructure project, but against the whole process of “metropolitization” and the encroachment of neoliberal urbanisation on the countryside. But it is also inevitable that the priorities and goals of a 10-year-old movement that is inextricably linked to one particular location will have shifted. In 2016, the resisters publicly declared that they would care for the lands they were saving from the certain death of the airport. Following the government’s refusal to grant collective ownership and the eviction attempts in April, the movement recently decided to abide by the state’s suggestion of filing individual applications for land contracts across the Zad. At present, these applications are under consideration and the occupiers await decisions in a comparatively serene, if uncertain, atmosphere. On a recent blog post by one of the Zad occupiers, the author writes of receiving a letter from an older friend, someone who experienced the uprisings of 1968. The missive read, “the Zad will never end, it will simply change shape.” The Zad and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence by Mauvaise Troupe Collective, translated by Kristin Ross, is published by Verso Books, price £..
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Blue is the Warmest Colour Words Sheila Chiamaka Chukwulozie Photographs Fatoumata Tioye Coulibaly and Fatoumata Diabaté
“Are you famous?” I ask him. A prickly question like that might make someone a little uncomfortable, so I’m relieved when he laughs. “Well, I’m not Naomi Campbell,” he says, dropping his eyes to the ground. Looking down from behind black-rimmed glasses, he brieﬂy considers the two perspectives on fame present in the room – mine and his. Eventually, he looks back up at me. “I don’t think I am.”
For more than years, Aboubakar Fofana has worked to master indigo dyeing, operating out of his studio in Bamako, Mali. As we speak about his work, he starts to clean up the frayed edges of some plain pieces of fabric that are soon to be transformed into indigo shawls. His focus on the eggshell cloth lying on his work table is almost surgical: perhaps the eﬀect of the scissors, or the stillness of his body contrasted to the industry of his hands and wrists. “Once,” he says, “a woman came to tell me how beautiful she found my work, particularly the ﬁnishing stitches. She didn’t know it was hand-stitched. When I told her, she looked at me and said, ‘You, sir, must be diﬃcult to live with.’” We both laugh. Is Fofana a perfectionist? “Maybe,” he says. “If I am, it’s only because I have standards, and is that so bad?” “Naomi Campbell,” I scoﬀ. It’s not that Campbell isn’t great, just that I have no way to consider Fofana and Campbell within the context of a comparison. In the night air of Fofana’s studio, I catch the ellipsis in the silence between us; the invisible question mark that suﬃxes his last point. Beside Fofana’s , followers on Instagram, Campbell’s . million might make his comparison somewhat reasonable, but we quickly agree that it’s a product or a person that tends to become famous, rather a process. And it is process that interests Fofana. Each indigo textile and artwork he creates is the result of a complex chain that can take anywhere from four months to a year to complete. It begins with the planting of indigo leaves and cotton. Next comes the harvesting of these crops; the extraction of the colour and spinning of the cotton threads; the weaving of the cloth and the stitching of resists to create patterns; all the while preparing vats and keeping the bacteria they contain happy; and then the dyeing and re-dyeing of cotton. The ﬁnal stage is the unstitching of the resists to display the pattern. Yet each step is an ode to the overarching process, rather than slavish activities in thrall to the product that emerges at the end. The soul of Fofana’s work lies in the singularity of each moment – each stage exists uniquely as a ﬁngerprint does. In a little fold of Mali, aligned to the grandeur of the sandcoloured stones called the Mont Mandé Mountains, Fofana is walking across a tract of farmland he purchased three years ago. He heads over to his blue-eyed, white horse Garance, and starts to stroke her hair. “There used to be two of them,” he explains, “but the other horse died recently.” I hear him whispering to Garance, assuring her that in time, she will get the partner she needs – “à bientôt” he repeats. This kind of reverence for nature is essential to Fofana’s craft. Natural indigo is a family of blue dyes that are typically produced from the roughly species or so of the world’s
indigo-bearing plants, of which more than species can today be found in Africa, nearly in Asia, about in America, and to in Australia. Indigo is often discussed in terms of “Indigofera”, one common genus of indigo-bearing plants, but Fofana believes that the appropriate context for capturing the magic of indigo is best expressed through the Bambara (Mali’s lingua franca) words for it – the “gala yiri (lonchocarpus cyanescens) and “gala yirini” (indigofera arrecta) that he knew in his childhood. “We were told by
“Most Europeans believed indigo was a mineral because they only ever received it as dry cakes of blue stuﬀ.” the elderly people that if you get a cut or a scrape, you can just take this gala plant and rub it into the wound,” he says. “But we could never take more than what we needed. For everything we took from nature, we had to [ask for] permission from nature.” As we stroll across the farm, which Fofana has planted with gala yiri and gala yirini, he stops me. “Look at this,” he says, smiling. It’s a green leaf with an apex that had been chewed oﬀ by an insect or a bird. The elements of air, water and light have already swirled into it, oxidising the exposed ﬂesh into a dark blue that gives the broken leaf a unique accent. Depending on the species, tender indigo leaves are harvested either just before the plant ﬂowers, or throughout the year, after which they are crushed in a mortar in order to concentrate the leaf matter and the pigment contained therein. Diﬀerent leaves have diﬀerent pigment contents – the Japanese persicaria tinctoria plant, for instance, is comparatively low in pigment, whereas those which Fofana uses contain so much that their colouring leaches over your hand when crushed. “Most Europeans believed indigo was a mineral because they only ever received it as dry cakes of blue stuﬀ,” says Fofana, and this knowledge gap between the truth of the plant and the myth of the colour is what led him to create one of his most popular installations, Les arbres à bleus (Blue Trees). Although usually exhibited indoors, Fofana’s favourite iteration of this work was an ephemeral installation on the River Niger: layers of cotton dyed into various shades of indigo, all swirled around tall vertical
sticks that stand proud on the sands of the River Niger, which are coloured with hues somewhere between red and brown. Together, the sand and indigo cotton basked in the sun and moved with the wind blowing beside the blue river. “I wanted people to see, and know that this magic was coming from a plant,” he explains. After indigo leaves have been pounded, the resultant crushed leaves are rolled into balls which can be stored for many years or transported. In order to be used to dye fabric, however, the pigment in these balls must ﬁrst be released to make a dyestuﬀ. Through the fermentation process and the action of bacteria which grow in the ferment, oxygen is removed from the vat. The absence of oxygen forces the insoluble indigo pigment to be reduced into a soluble form, known as indoxyl, or white indigo. It is only in its indoxyl form that indigo will bind to ﬁbre. Ash lye is the most environmentally friendly option for this process, but not the only one available. Sodium hydrosulﬁte is often used as a cheaper substitute, although it is a toxic chemical that degrades the environment, poisons workers, and even kills or paralyses animals which eat their food oﬀ the same ﬂoor where such waste is deposited. “It not only destroys the environment, it interferes with the integrity of the craft,” says Fofana. “To make kg of dried balls of indigo, you need [at least] kg of fresh leaves. I used to drive ,km going back and forth to get these balls from a small market, and sometimes they would just mix synthetic dye in with the natural.” Depending on the conditions, it takes a number of days before the bacteria in the liquid will allow the vat to be ready to use. Every day, the health of the bacteria in the vat are assessed, and they are sometimes fed with wheat bran. Once the vat reaches a certain stage, the dyer knows it is time for the vat to be used. The fabric appears yellowish in the vat liquid – it is only when it is removed and exposed to oxygen that the soluble indoxyl oxidises back into blue indigo, creating a chemical bond with the fabric ﬁbre as it does so. “The blue colour is the imprint of the bacteria.” What, however, is the “certain stage” at which indigo is ready? At some point in our conversation, my curiosity for the details behind the process surpasses my maturity, and I begin asking Fofana for speciﬁcations: “How many days?” “How many hours?” “What time of the month?” Such quantiﬁcations are useless in a vocation like Fofana’s, an idea encapsulated by the sociologist William Bruce Cameron’s famous dictum: “Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.” Fofana judges the needs of his bacteria by smelling the vat, looking at the colour of the liquid, examining the
colour of the foam after stirring the vat, and tasting the liquid itself. There is no mathematics behind the cultivation of a successful bacterial life – only careful, trained perception will allow a dyer to gauge what the bacteria need to ﬂourish. “Sometimes, the bacteria will be energised and ready, and you don’t use them at that time, so they become frustrated that you’ve wasted their time,” says Fofana. “Eventually, when you want to dye with them, they give you a colour you don’t want.” Fofana can produce diﬀerent colours from a single dye vat, and the vats themselves change over time and with use. A fresh vat produces a strong blue colour, and the more times a fabric is dipped into it, the stronger the chemical bonds with the fabric become. The best indigo-dyed cloth will be dipped multiple times to build up layers upon layers of colour, while as a vat ages the colour it produces gradually becomes lighter. A skilled indigo dyer will cycle through vats as they build up a colour, starting from the oldest and proceeding forwards in order to create rich, deep, layered colours. Even the lightest blues may have actually been dipped multiple times in a vat that is about to reach the end of its life-cycle, so as to achieve the complexity of colour that the bacteria is capable of. I ask Fofana whether, out of all the colours of indigo he is capable of producing, he has a favourite. After a little hesitation, he pulls up a picture on his MacBook – it shows a man stood with the sky behind him, wearing a headscarf the colour of lightness. “Bagafu, the blue of nothingness,” he says. “It’s the colour that the bacteria give you when they are on their last breath. Every time I am able to create this colour, I feel so grateful that I could enable these bacteria to live through their full life cycle. For me, it is such a gift. When I see this blue, I think of a place we will always desire but can never reach. If I ﬁnd this spot, this place, I will know that I am no longer alive. And I will be happy then because I do not want to ﬁnd it while I am still alive. I enjoy this surface of the unknown because it is a question that keeps on giving.” Fofana’s practice is rooted in the Malian tradition of indigo – a school of dyeing techniques which have been heavily elided and largely lost over the course of the th and st centuries. Little documentation exists for this loss, however, and, as a result, a sense of dislocation has grown up around indigo in Mali. While indigo has been present in West Africa for thousands of years, the traditions surrounding its preparation and dyeing techniques seem to have gradually died a death of a thousand cuts. The reasons for the loss of Mali’s indigo tradition are manifold and complicated, and what follows is a partial account based upon Fofana’s personal research into the decline, but three factors seem to have been particularly
Natural indigo is a blue dye produced from around 800 species of plant worldwide. Aboubakar Fofana largely works with two species: gala yiri (lonchocarpus cyanescens) and gala yirini (indigofera arrecta).
important. First and foremost amongst these is the complexity of the process practiced by Fofana and his forebears. The vats of dye created by indigo dyers are living entities that require considerable expertise and experience to maintain and use.
“Bagafu, the blue of nothingness – it’s the colour the bacteria give you when on their last breath.” With the emergence of synthetic indigo in by the chemist Adolf von Baeyer, however, what was perceived as a shortcut emerged – something that might have taken three weeks to make and cost the equivalent of several thousand dollars in materials and labour could now be produced in half an hour. This rapidity of production was alluring for cultural as well as production reasons. In Mali, the darkest shades of indigo such as lomassa, which is nearly black, had traditionally been reserved for royalty and required multiple dips in multiple vats in order to achieve the necessary depth of colour – a work of considerable physical labour. As such, part of the colour’s status was owed to the manner in which the colour denoted the costs of production. With the arrival of synthetic indigo, and the ease this aﬀorded, this link was broken. Second is the heavy global commercialisation of indigo under the aegis of colonial rule. Modes of production of indigo vary worldwide, as dependent upon the availability of diﬀerent plant species and variations in methodology. Broadly speaking, however, methods of indigo production break down into two main camps, with a range of variants that then fall between the two. The ﬁrst type, of which traditions in West Africa and Japan are examples, are fully-fermented techniques, in which the entire leaf matter is used to make a compost which grows bacteria, which in turn help to make the pigment accessible and remove the oxygen from the vat to begin the dyeing process. The other camp, which has been associated with regions of India and is used extensively throughout the subcontinent, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, uses a shorter maceration and fermentation process, after which the leftover vegetable matter is discarded and the resultant indigo paste collected and formed into a pigment. While the two methodologies and their variants grew up in response to material constraints determined by the regions in which they were developed, colonial powers took a particular interest in this second production method for the reason that it lent
itself more readily to exploitation and transportation. While both techniques are complicated and require skill to master, the latter is more portable and can be scaled up for industrial production: once indigo is in pigment form, it is measurable, transportable and its use as a dye can be readily taught. A pigment is a more tradable commodity than balls of indigo vegetable matter, for instance, and so while one tradition expanded under duress of exploitation, Mali’s fully-fermented methodology began to recede. Colonial exploitation further exacerbated the decline of the Malian technique with the unprecedented loss of people and expertise caused ﬁrst by the Transatlantic slave trade, and later by involuntary conscription to the French army during the World Wars. The third reason for the decline of Malian indigo is its inextricable connection to the country’s history of cotton production. “We used to be the ﬁrst producers of cotton in Africa, but can you imagine that more than per cent of that cotton is now exported to be transformed?” says Fofana. “And do you know how we receive that elsewhere transformed cotton back? Second-hand clothes.” Mali’s indigo tradition grew up in tandem with its production of cotton, and the two’s fortunes cannot be meaningfully divided. Historically, for instance, Mali produced a range of cottons, none of which were mass manufactured, but rather were hand-spun and hand-woven. Of these cottons, only shortstaple variants (those with a shorter ﬁbre length) are suitable for indigo dyeing. When Mali came under French colonial rule in the late th century, the colonisers took an interest in the nation’s cotton – along with cotton produced in other colonies in Africa and Asia – which they began to export to France as a luxury item; Malian cotton was used heavily for the production of clothing worn by France’s emerging middle classes, and provided a soft, warm fabric that was not as rigid as the linens which were otherwise used. This trade, however, prioritised long-staple cottons, thereby rupturing the symbiosis which had developed between indigo dyeing and cotton production. The trade favoured growing cottons which could be ginned, milled and spun by machine, thereby breaking the industry of the hand-spinners and weavers – as well as those farmers whose cottons were not long-staple – and causing the extinction of many strains of cotton in the process. This rupture proved a major break in West African indigo. The way in which Malian society functioned was broken by colonisation on numerous levels, and indigo was not exempt from this. Fifty-eight years on from Mali’s independence, the nation’s indigo tradition has yet to recover. “I can say I’m a Franco-Malian,” says Fofana, “but much of what I use in my work is from Mali, most of my raw materials
Mali’s lost indigo tradition. Here, Fofana is working to establish a permanent research centre devoted to indigo and Malian traditions of dyeing. “The soil here is hard and dry[…] and there are better places for planting, with earthier soil,” he says. So why did he choose to build a farm on land he was told wouldn’t yield fruit? “You see that seedbed,” he says to me, pointing at a n’tjankara tree sprouting from a small patch of soil held together by a conference of stones. “Those are made out of rocks that the women piled for an entire year.” The women he mentions are indigenes of Tabou, the town closest to the farm. The farm, Fofana hopes, will serve as a resource for people who wish to learn about the material traditions of their region, as well as participate in the creation of a permaculture farm that will provide food, education and community engagement. “We will use the rest of the rocks to build the other infrastructure we want[…] buildings and such,” he explains. “They thought the land was useless because of this rock, but it has become design material for this land.” The grass around the farm is blonde and beautifully dry and, when we arrived, we were greeted by the site manager Sounkalo Keïta, who had just pulled a few bright red beetroots from the ground. As Keïta held them up, he began to smile: “C’est magniﬁque, non?” To counter the commoditisation of export crops such as indigo, Fofana is planting a diverse roster of food crops – carrots, oranges, custard apples, hibiscus ﬂowers, baobab, paw paws, and gourd plants amongst them – which will be made available to the community. “My hope is to encourage people to eat the same way that they grow, and to diversify what they bring to their table each night,” he says. I ask what he wants his farm to eventually achieve and he explains that “to build up the infrastructure, we need to be able to host artists in a textile chain from all over the world to share their knowledge with us and we, share our knowledge with them. There’s also the idea of a small museum that we are working towards. Right now we are working on fundraising and we already have two architects. I want to have all the diﬀerent aspects of the textile chain and to be able to host guests on artist residences.” Fofana hope that the farm will become a kind of cultural centre dedicated to indigo artisanship and craftsmanship. “This whole project is going to be the art piece of my life.” In Fofana’s practice, the creation of indigo is inseparable from the socio-economic and political forces that have shaped Mali – the ﬁnal result cannot be meaningfully divided from the process that generated it. When invited to show his work as part of the Documenta exhibition in Athens in , Fofana showed Ka touba Farafina yé (Africa Blessing), an artwork engaging with Africa’s diaspora, as well as the migration crises
come from there, the climate I need is there. I source heavily from those traditions, and a huge part of my motivation comes from trying to keep those traditions alive.” Fofana’s introduction to indigo initially came as a portal through which to immerse himself in a personal search for a sense of self. Having been born in Mali, he moved to Paris at the age of . Thereafter, it became diﬃcult for him to reconcile the Malian and French strands to his identity. Fofana’s time in France, he explains, was made particularly heavy by the many residues of slavery apparent in popular misperceptions made about Africa and Africans. “I was told that Africans never give anything to the world, the world just gives and gives and gives and all we do is take,” he says. “It made me feel not so great about that part of my identity.” It is a prejudice that the philosopher Achille Mbembe diagnosed in his book On the Postcolony when he wrote, “Africa is never seen as possessing things and attributes properly part of ‘human nature’. Or, when it is, its things and attributes are generally of lesser value, little importance, and poor quality.” This misconception is validated not by the absence of African technology, but by a refusal to even call African innovations “technology”. Prior to moving to Paris, Fofana had lived between Mali and neighbouring Guinea, where he spent long days being sent out to lead sheep through open ﬁelds. He would stay in the forests all day. “Everything we needed, we had to ﬁnd from nature,” he says. “And we always found what we needed.” It was in remembering these experiences that Fofana recalled the role of indigo in his childhood, and he subsequently sought further knowledge about its history and properties. “Indigo is not just a plant that produces a colour, it is also an antiseptic and an anti-inﬂammatory,” he says. “The indigo colour is a symbol of its protection.” This process of self-discovery, however, was diﬃcult. Faced with a lack of ﬁrst-hand knowledge and no available tutelage, Fofana was forced to rely upon trial and error in putting vats together, training himself through his experiments as well as drawing on fragments discovered within library books in Paris containing pre-independence accounts of daily life in West Africa. Fofana’s work therefore took on the qualities of archaeology, piecing together and revitalising a tradition that largely existed only in the form of scattered memories and partial accounts. “I found indigo when I was looking for myself,” he explains. “They thought this [land] was dead,” says Fofana, leading me around the ha tract of farmland that constitutes the next step in his practice, and which is intended to stand as the culmination of his work in rebuilding something of
Indigo can be stored for years in dried balls of sediment, but must be made soluble in order to fasten to materials.
that has wrought terrible suﬀering on Africans leaving their countries in search of “greener pastures”. Fifty-four sheep, one for each African country, were dyed various shades of blue and left to wander a specially prepared area of the campus of the Agricultural University of Athens. In pictures, the sheep appear aloof and unmoved – Fofana says that they didn’t mind the dyeing, but objected to being shampooed. “They weren’t happy about the water,” he says. While in Athens, however, his temporary studio was vandalised by a group of animalrights activists protesting against his use of live sheep and a group of students protested Fofana’s lectures. “I asked them to come in and ask their questions,” remembers Fofana. “When the ﬁrst person said to me, ‘Did the sheep give you consent to dye them?’ I replied, ‘Did the sheep give you consent to speak on their behalf?’ Indigo is a celestial colour of protection, I don’t wear gloves when I put my hand in the vat because it is per cent natural. It will never harm me. What I do with the micro-organisms in indigo is just as sensitive as what I do with sheep.” And that captures something essential about Fofana’s practice, which at its root concerns networks and exploring the interconnections between processes and living beings. “My work is the process,” he explains. “I see the beauty in the eﬀect time has on things. For example, I love rust. I am really crazy about rust; the colour, the texture. It’s all a matter of an object’s exposure to time. Why did I choose to work with natural indigo, the organic living plant, when I could have simply poured a synthetic powder and stirred? Many reasons, environmental reasons, personal reasons, but one of them is also because the notion of time is important. When I work with living vats, I have to care about how healthy they are. If there is no more life, there is no more colour. I care more about this life.” Rather than simple artworks, Fofana’s indigo pieces are more like journal entries, stitched and dyed with a multitude of signs and symbols. Through the process of making indigo, Fofana wants to immerse himself in the world. “When we were growing up we were taught: Nin bèè nin,” he says. “All life is equal.” E N D
A Folder of Sketches Words Frida Melin
“Sketches ETH (seminar table + chairs)”. This is scribbled in red ink across a brown archival folder lying on my desk at ArkDes, Sweden’s National Centre for Architecture and Design. It takes me a moment to grasp what I have in front of me.
Thea Leonhard spent the final years of the 1960s sketching and developing the design solution for the ETH seminar chair.
These are sketches pertaining to the designer Thea Leonhard’s final project, a thoroughly researched furniture solution for the auditoria at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), developed over the course of the late 1960s. Born in Finland in 1924, but active primarily in Sweden and Switzerland in the postwar period, Leonhard was an exceptionally talented designer who was greatly admired in her day. Since her tragic suicide in Zurich in 1972, however, she has been almost entirely forgotten. The folder on my desk, which has found its way to ArkDes by chance, is some of the only archival material to have surfaced following her premature death. I am not the only person to have taken an interest in Leonhard. In a 2014 edition of the Swedish journal Arkitektur, the design journalist Ingrid Sommar wrote that “the puzzle about Thea Leonhard’s life and work is becoming more and more difficult to piece together. Time is running out.” And she was right: most of the people who knew Leonhard are no longer alive, making it difficult to pin down any information about her, let alone the whereabouts of her archives. Reportedly, Leonhard amassed a much more complete archive of sketches throughout her career. It ended up with her family after her death, and later, according to Sommar, at “a German institution”. It has yet to be located. Let us consider what we do know. Leonhard came to Sweden from Finland in the 1940s. She was educated at the University of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack) in Stockholm, where she stood out as one of the most talented students. “She was a bit peculiar but always participated in the many parties held at the school,” says Hans Kempe, a contemporary of Leonhard at Konstfack. Both Kempe and Leonhard became part of the design collective HI-Gruppen (the HI Group), which advocated quality and craftsmanship over standardisation and mass production. The student gender balance was relatively even at Konstfack during this time, but few of its female graduates ended up making a career in the design industry. A notable exception was one of Leonhard’s tutors, the interior designer Lena Larsson, whose ideas about practical and child-friendly home environments had a great impact on the ways in which Swedish families furnished their homes in the postwar years. Larsson recognised Leonhard’s considerable potential and recommended her for several commissions after she completed her degree.
It is clear from Leonhard’s sketches that she tested a great number of variations and functions before finding the right design solution.
The degree of flexibility exhibited by much of the furniture at Renhornet was a characteristic that would go on to reappear in much of Leonhard’s later work. The shelving system in the living-room area, for instance, has folding tables attached, which were used by visitors’ children for games. The sofa in the same room is adjustable depending on how many people wish to sit on it. The constellations of lamps hung at different levels would also recur in many of Leonhard’s later interiors. Furthermore, elegantly executed and occasionally humorous symbols hint at what is behind each door. A little cockerel is found on the toilet door, for instance – the Finnish word for cockerel is slang for “loo”. Elinder still diligently cares for this environment, preserving it as it was left by Leonhard. He says that the interior has hardly aged, with very few elements having needed to be replaced. Elinder’s father was so pleased with Leonhard’s work on Renhornet’s interior that he later commissioned her to create furniture for the family home in Stockholm. During her time in Sweden, Leonhard worked with a number of leading architects. In the middle of the 1950s, she collaborated with AOS (Magnus Ahlgren, Torbjörn Olsson and Sven Silow), one of Sweden’s most prolific architectural practices in the second half of the 20th century. The practice is known for designing the Sparbank house in Stockholm (1962-3) and was behind the acclaimed extension of the Swedish parliament
Shortly after graduating from Konstfack in 1949, Leonhard met Léonie Geisendorf, one of the few prominent female architects in Sweden at the time, and who was, like Leonhard, an immigrant who had come to Sweden during the Second World War. Geisendorf had just established a practice with her partner, Charles-Edouard Geisendorf, and a villa in Stockholm’s Ranängen neighbourhood was one of their first projects. The couple hired the young Leonhard as the interior designer on the brief. The encounter with the Geisendorfs was to be a fateful one for Leonhard’s career, eventually taking her to Switzerland. Following Villa Ranängen, Leonhard acquired a new project through her former Konstfack teacher, Larsson. In 1953, the entrepreneur Erik Elinder required an interior designer for his Renhornet mountain lodge in northern Sweden, and Larsson recommended that he commission Leonhard for the project. Elinder’s idea was that Renhornet would serve as a recreational centre for businesses, their employees and their employees’ families. Elinder’s son Björn Elinder, who runs the lodge today, remembers Leonhard as being shy and withdrawn – just as so many others do. But at the same time, she was quick, firm and skilful in her execution of the project. Björn Elinder was deeply impressed by the highly resolved “total interior” produced by Leonhard, who was still a relatively inexperienced practitioner at that point.
Images courtesy of ArkDes.
in 1983. Leonhard worked with AOS on an exclusive showroom for the Gustavsberg porcelain factory in 1955, one of Sweden’s most distinguished porcelain manufacturers. In AOS’s collections, I have previously found a folder of sketches signed by Leonhard which detail the showroom’s simple but elegant furnishings, with numerous perspectival pencil drawings showing different parts of the room. There are also drawings with technical specifications that would have served as instructions for the builders. In the summer of 1955, the southern Swedish town of Helsingborg hosted an international architecture and design exposition. In Sweden, the show became known as H55, and Leonhard participated with her Flamingo chair. This was a trim, Windsor-style piece, which was critically lauded and eventually bought by Sweden’s National Museum. The chair was produced by Nässjö Stolfabrik and seems to have been taken on by a US manufacturer too, where it went by the name of “American”. In 1960, the Vocational School for Domestic Education and Sewing (Yrkesskolan) was inaugurated in Stockholm. The building was designed by Léonie and Charles-Edouard Geisendorf, who had created a brutalist structure which has since been loathed and revered in approximately equal measure by locals. Leonhard was responsible for the building’s interior and populated the rooms with furniture by some of
Scandinavia’s finest designers, with Alvar Aalto, Carl Malmsten, Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner among those represented. Leonhard also designed some of the furniture herself. Her work was praised in a 1965 edition of the US magazine Interiors where, under the headline ‘Trade school with jubilant interiors’, the building and its furnishings were lauded in the following terms: “Marvellously handled wood trim and furniture contribute warmth and an appropriate, reassuring sense of quality”. The journalist and author Gunilla Lundahl, who worked for the Swedish design magazine Form for many years, remembers her first contact with Leonhard. “I was fascinated by her,” says Lundahl. “She had something matter-of-fact about her, a form of knowledge that seemed located in her hands.” During the 1960s, Leonhard would become the only female member of Sweden’s HI Group. “Leonhard was in a vulnerable position in the HI Group,” Lundahl says. “She had to fight hard to retain her place.” At this time, she was also spending a lot of her time in Switzerland, and so only designed a few select pieces for the group. Among these was a children’s chair that can be stood upside down once the child grows out of it (such that it becomes a larger variant of the same chair), a revolving book shelf and a collapsible double bed. At some point in the mid-1960s, Leonhard moved to Zurich. According to some of the people I have been able to speak to about Leonhard’s life, she was in love
was fortunate: at the time she wrote her article, many of the key people in Leonhard’s life were still alive. One of the people Sommar spoke to was Elina Morales, an interior architect and close friend of Leonhard. Morales told Sommar about a telephone conversation between her and Leonhard only a week before she killed herself. Leonhard said that she felt despondent about being unable to patent the design solution she had developed for the ETH chair. Her colleagues had excluded her from the project, Morales reported her as saying, and taken credit for her idea. “I have the sense that Leonhard was very isolated in Zurich,” Sommar explains. “She did not seem to socialise and at ETH there was no-one who seemed to know her name, even though she had been there for many years and worked with Grandjean and Geisendorf – teachers with whom the students were familiar.” In a 1969 edition of the German journal Das Werk, several pages are devoted to the ETH auditoria project. Leonhard is name-checked as the interior designer behind the project and seen working on a prototype in an accompanying photograph. The starting point of the project had been a symposium about ergonomic sitting, organised by Grandjean in 1968 which brought together experts from all over the world. Leonhard’s task was to replace ETH’s uncomfortable chairs with a more functional, flexible and ergonomic seminar chair. She began by testing the existing seating systems
with Charles-Elouard Geisendorf, but whether this was the reason for her move is uncertain. At any rate, Leonhard worked with the Geisendorfs on the interior for Geneva’s Unesco building, as well as on a residential project outside of Zurich. Meanwhile, Charles-Edouard was a a professor at ETH in Zurich and worked there on
“She had something matter-of-fact about her, a form of knowledge that seemed located in her hands.” —Gunilla Lundahl the renovation of the school’s auditoria. In connection with this renovation project, Leonhard was invited to develop a seminar table and accompanying chair for ETH. She was one in a research group of five, which included ergonomics professors Etienne Grandjean and Ulrich Burandt, as well as Günter Wotzka and Horst Kretzschmar from ETH’s ergonomics institute. Like many others, I’ve attempted to find more information about Leonhard’s time in Zurich and the project which was to become her last. Ingrid Sommar
Sketches are living documents of sorts. The person who produced them leaves unique traces, such as notes, strikethroughs, and coffee stains.
available on the market, but did not find anything she felt was satisfactory for ETH. She proceeded to conduct painstaking studies of students’ patterns of movement while they attended lectures and, in parallel with this work, collaborated closely with Grandjean. From this thorough groundwork, she began developing a number of prototypes where durability, function and materials were tested in the lecture theatres themselves. In a 1969 article published in Schweizerische Bauzeitung, the newly renovated auditoria at ETH are mentioned. Charles-Edouard Geisendorf provides an account of the project and mentions Leonhard, who he describes as having worked “according to professor Etienne Grandjean’s guidelines”. The newly discovered sketches feel like they may be an important piece in the puzzle of Leonhard’s life. They are concrete and living proof of her painstaking working process. Beyond the sketches, however, little further information exists about Leonhard’s final years. ETH’s architecture department has confirmed that the project was completed and that the school still has the chairs. But nobody there has heard of Leonhard. What happened in those final weeks in 1972 before Leonhard took her life? Here, there is to date a gap in my research. What happened between the completion of the project in 1969 and in 1972, when she expressed her despair to her friend Elina Morales? Leonhard only lived to the age of 48. Why she took her own life is ultimately
a matter of speculation, but the drawings taken on by ArkDes bear witness to a designer of great technical prowess. Sommar, who studied the newly uncovered sketches with me, is struck by how clearly Leonhard’s expertise comes to light in them. “Construction-wise, they are so interesting,” says Sommar. “She had great technical expertise but at the same time she had a confident eye for form.” It is fair to assume that Leonhard had to work harder than her male colleagues to forge her career. Throughout her professional life, she was usually the only woman in male-dominated groups and contexts, from the HI Group to her final project at ETH. Sadly, her rational approach, technical adroitness and strong sense of form may have stood out and provoked her colleagues, Sommar suggests, rather than prompted their admiration. Many of my questions surrounding Leonhard and the seminar chairs remain unanswered. But the folder of sketches that has found its way to ArkDes can hopefully provide Leonhard with just a little more of the recognition she deserves. E N D Translated by Kristina Rapacki.
Barber & Osgerby – barberosgerby.com Josée Bienvenu Gallery – joseebienvenugallery.com
Designers’ note: Typically our work as designers deals with precision and repetition, with little room for serendipity. Working in this way with ceramics has given us an opportunity to work in a fast and imprecise way. —Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
PHOTOESSAY: ONE BY ONE pp. 22-30
aLL Design – all-worldwide.com Architectural Association – aaschool.ac.uk Forensic Architecture – forensic-architecture.org German Lost Art Foundation – kulturgutverluste.de Greenpeace – greenpeace.org Kvadrat – kvadrat.dk Mattel – mattel.com Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp – antwerpacademy.be V&A – vam.ac.uk Venice Architecture Biennale – labiennale.org Volkswagen – volkswagen.com
TIMELINE pp. 16-20
Writer’s note: Just imagine it. Writing this piece, I had a vision of Trump and Kanye stood atop the US-Mexico border wall at its grand opening ceremony, each man spaghetti-slurping opposite ends of Trump’s vast red tie à la Lady and the Tramp, eventually meeting in the
COMMENT: DRAGON ENERGY DESIGN p. 56
AirBnB – airbnb.com De Allegri & Fogale – deallegrifogale.com Bethan Laura Wood – bethanlaurawood.com Big Game – big-game.ch Bocci – bocci.ca Emeco – emeco.net Glithero – glithero.com Hay – hay.dk Jasper Morrison – jaspermorrison.com Liliana Ovalle – lilianaovalle.com Omer Arbel – omerarbel.com Paula Knorr – paulaknorr.uk Räthel & Wolf – rathelwolf.com Sebastian Bergne – sebastianbergne.com Seeds Gallery – seedslondon.com
Editor’s note: The set designer Céline Corbineau arrived to London on the Eurostar from Paris early that morning. In a huge suitcase she had packed everything from strands of fake hair and old books, to dried dates and Chinese rubber gloves. Despite having only a microwave at her disposal, Céline bravely managed to boil pasta and decanter it – together with cheap tomato sauce – into a tall clip lid glass jar and served it to our imagined alchemist. It wasn’t quite transmutation, but Disegno’s editorial team enjoyed sharing desk space with the props and felt, for a short while, transported from laptops and emails into the mystical world of set design. —Paula Wik
OBSERVATION: THE ALCHEMIST’S STUDY pp. 46-55
4th Istanbul Design Biennial – aschoolofschools.iksv.org Storefront for Art and Architecture – storefrontnews.org Architectural Association – aaschools.ac.uk
TRAVELOGUE: SÃO PAULO pp. 9-112
Harvard Art Museums – harvardartmuseums.org Jonathan Olivares – jonathanolivares.com Kvadrat – kvadrat.dk
Photographer’s note: The 90-minute morning stop-andgo crawl from Claremont to Hollywood is dominated by a long drive along Interstate 10. Along “The Ten”, the glinting light and parched soil are ever-present reminders of the expanding Sonoran Desert. Without aggressive irrigation, the sparse green you see would quickly turn to dust. The Hollywood Hills, where water bills are a point of collective contention, surrounding Jonathan’s delightful house are neither dusty nor barren. —Ramak Fazel
PROJECT: EVENTUALLY EVERYTHING CONNECTS pp. 83-95
Writer’s note: I was really pleased when our subeditor Ann Morgan emailed me with a fact-checking question for this piece, and titled the thread “Query of Queries”. Leave it to the Subeditor of Subeditors to make make sure we don’t make the Error of Errors – all while staying stylistically true to the text. —Kristina Rapacki
COMMENT: COMMENT OF COMMENTS p. 45
MAD Paris – madparis.fr Maison Margiela – maisonmargiela.com MoMu – momu.be Palais Galliera – palaisgalliera.paris.fr
Moderator’s note: I interned for the MoMu exhibition Maison Martin Margiela ‘’ The Exhibition in 2008. Everything started there. I never painted so much white and grey (the floor) in my life. And I almost killed the MoMu’s library director. —Marco Pecorari
CONVERSATION: MAKING MARGIELA pp. 32-43
Silo Studio – silostudio.net
Writer’s note: Writing this piece made me think of myself at 1. I wasn’t arty; I knew nothing about design; I was curious but not yet critical. Looking to London from suburbia, the gap between my life and the excitement of the city seemed impossibly large. —Riya Patel
ANATOMY: A CIVIC LEG pp. 4-82
Rockwell Group – rockwellgroup.com
Photographer’s note: David Rockwell, who seemingly had a vast amount of work on his plate, and a gaggle of people looking to have a word in his ear that morning, stopped and took a long pause when I thanked him for his time. “I have all the time in the world for you,” he said. —Matthew Williams
PROFILE: CITIES OF SPECTACLE pp. 61-2
Balenciaga – balenciaga.com Louis Vuitton – louisvuitton.com
Writer’s note: The biggest giveaway as to the phoniness of the Balenciaga graffiti? The complete absence of even a solitary crudely-drawn cock and balls. Amateurish. —George Isleden
COMMENT: SPORTS LUXE GIVE NO FUCKS p. 59
Yeezy Supply – yeezysupply.com
middle to kiss, at which point country singer Toby Keith strikes up the band and begins to croon the first bars of ‘America the Beautiful’, Keith only having been booked because the sole other person willing to play was Kanye West, but by this point his gag reflex from Trump’s tie has kicked in and so he is otherwise indisposed. —Jay Prynne
Deliveroo – deliveroo.co.uk Uber – uber.com UberEATS – ubereats.com
Writer’s note: While I was in the process of researching this story, the website Open Democracy revealed that London’s Evening Stardard had agreed to a £3m deal whereby six businesses, Uber included, would receive favourable coverage without the content in question being marked as paid-for. If it wasn’t already clear from my piece, I can assure Disegno’s readers that we have no such agreement in place with Uber. —Kristina Rapacki
REPORT: PRECARIOUS BY DESIGN pp. 113-119
Campana Brothers – campanas.com.br Humberto da Mata – humbertodamata.com Muma – muma.com.br Oppa – oppa.com.br Ovo – ovo.art.br Pivô – pivo.org.br Rain – estudiorain.com SP-Arte – sp-arte.com Tok&Stok – tokstok.com.br
Photographer’s note: Walking around my home town for this assignment and looking for modernist buildings, I was once again astonished by the contrast of what was meant to be a modernist dream and the chaos that this enormous, ugly, dirty and exciting city became. —André Penteado
Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design – konstantin-grcic.com
Photographer’s note: Schillerstraße 40 is only a short walk from my office and I really enjoyed the walk there. I found myself on a busy narrow street with Turkish supermarkets, Arabic fast food, kiosks, cheap hairdressers, drug addicts, and topless bars. Once you step into the KGID office, it’s a different world. —Fabian Frinzel
GALLERY: NOTES CONCERNING A STUDIO ON SCHILLERSTRAßE 40, MUNICH pp. 12-144
Architectural Association – aaschool.ac.uk Storefront for Art and Architecture – storefrontnews.org
Editors’ note: The writer has informed us she has nothing further to say on the topic. —Kristina Rapacki and Oli Stratford
Interviewer’s note: This was the first time I had ever formally interviewed Eva, despite a friendship of many years standing. There’s a bit of code-switching that goes on in a conversation like that: sometimes you’re speaking to your friend, sometimes you’re speaking to your architectural colleague, and sometimes there’s a little bit of both. —Ian Volner
Writer’s note: This folder of sketches had made its way to ArkDes by chance. It was found in a drawer containing
HISTORY: A FOLDER OF SKETCHES pp. 10-15
Aboubakar Fofana – aboubakarfofana.com
Writer’s note: Blue is inevitable, always relevant, and universally spoken. It’s the colour of beginnings without end; the planet from space; it’s where Moby Dick became Moby Dick; the colour of drowning; of being so lost you might never get back. How is it both nowhere and everywhere? —Sheila Chiamaka Chukwulozie
MATERIAL: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR pp. 158-169
Verso Books – versobooks.com
REVIEW: THE ZAD AND NOTAV pp. 154-156
INTERVIEW: CHANGE OF DIRECTION pp. 120-126
The Vluchtmaat – vluchtmaat.nl
Writer’s note: This piece came off the back of a workshop held at the Vluchtmaat and organised by Failed Architecture and TU Delft’s Design as Politics group in December 201. I’m extremely grateful to René Boer and Mike Emmerik for inviting me to attend the workshop, and to the residents of the Vluchtmaat for allowing us to share some of their space during these days. —George Kafka
REVIEW: THE VLUCHTMAAT pp. 150-153
Design Singapore Council – designsingapore.org Edmund Zhang – edmundzhang.work Gabriel Tan Studio – gabriel-tan.com Olivia Lee – olivia-lee.com Singaplural – singaplural.com Studio Dam – studio-dam.com
Writer’s note: As a Londoner visiting Singapore, I was envious of the enthusiasm with which the public sector seemed to be embracing and talking up the creative industries, but my experience living in one of the most expensive cities in the world makes me worry about how creative communities can be nurtured in a context that is already so developed. —Debika Ray
REVIEW: SINGAPORE DESIGN POLICY pp. 146-149
Artemide - artemide.com p. Axor - axor-design.com p. Bette - bette.de p. Cersaie - cersaie.it p. Dornbracht - dornbracht.com p. Elmo Leather - elmoleather.com p. Emeco - emeco.net p. , inside front cover Ercol - ercol.com p. Flexform - ﬂexform.it pp. - Homo Faber - michelangelofoundation.org p. Laufen - laufen.com pp. - Maharam - maharam.com outside back cover Maison & Objet - maison-objet.com inside back cover Miyazaki Chair Factory - miyazakichair.com p. Moooi - moooi.com p. Orgatec - orgatec.com p. Steelcase - steelcase.com p. Sunbrella - sunbrella.com p. Temple Tiles - templetiles.com p. Vola - vola.com p.
Designer’s note: It is difficult to make your name as a designer when your work is original: the support of your loved ones is crucial to carry you through times of doubt. —Paul Lukas
ENDNOTE: MODERNITY p. 180
ArkDes – arkdes.se
various sketches in the office of the late Swedish architect Hans Johansson, with whom Leonhard had shared a space in Stockholm during a period of time. How the drawings from her final project in Zurich came to be in Johansson’s drawer is something I haven’t been able to establish. —Frida Melin
Modernity Words and image Paul Lukas
— Is that for me? — Yes! — What is it? — Well it’s a lamp. — Oh. — Look, there’s a switch under the soft bit. It made me think of your designs, so I bought it! I thought you’d like it. — Thank you, but it was you who asked me for a bedside light. I’ve got loads from all my trial designs. Did you get one for yourself as well? — Oh no, not for myself! It’s not really my style. Too modern. — Is that how you see my work? You hate it! — Not at all. I was really disappointed that your triple eggcup didn’t happen – I would have taken a dozen. — What for? You’re allergic to eggs! — Yes, but I thought they’d be perfect for sowing seeds. So much prettier than those little plastic pots. Not quite as practical, but much prettier. Or for organising my pills: morning, midday, evening. Are you turning the lamp on? Well? Do you like it? — Don’t you find it a bit medical? — Medical? — It looks like a bag. An infusion bag. — That’s why I thought you’d like
it. You’ve always liked slightly odd things. — But it looks like a bladder! It’s yellow and translucent. Look, it looks like the giant blister I got from running the half-marathon yesterday. — Don’t be disgusting. It’s like those things you made when you were a student. That trembling ball you brought home. — But that was nearly 10 years ago. That was a test was from the silicone moulding workshop! — There you are, then! Just like the lamp! And it’s in silicone! — Yes. — And didn’t it look a lot like this lamp? — Yes, but that was just a moulding exercise. — There you are, then! I asked the shop for the designer’s name – Robert somebody. You should meet him, you have the same areas of interest. He has a very well-stocked website, look, bobblowsbubbles. com or bubblesbybob.com or buybobbysbubbles.com. Something with lots of bs in it, anyway. — Bobsbadbubbles? — His work is in production. All his pieces are manufactured! You can click on any of the bubbles to order immediately. Perhaps you could team up: it must be easier if there 180
are two of you. Then your work could be produced too, as you do the same things. — Mum, why would you want me to get in touch with a guy who makes electrified cysts? — He’ll give you advice! He’s obviously doing well for himself. You’re not getting anywhere with your plugs. — But his things are hideous! Do you want me to make hideous things? You didn’t even buy his lamp for yourself! — Yes, but I’m from a diﬀerent generation. — So what? — Well, I like pretty things. — So do I! We’re just the same! So do you want the little bedside light prototype or not? — Me? — I’ve got about 20 different versions. Look, this one has a higher stand; or this one with a rendered cubic or cylindrical base; and the reflector in either natural leather or black. Which do you like best? — I don’t know. Do you have any other ones? — Other ones? — It’s much bigger than I remembered. — Bigger? But… don’t you want one? — They are all too modern for me.
Carolien Niebling's food design philosophy; soft power in the Vatican's plans for cultural outreach; a masquerade of nine designs for preten...
Published on Jun 25, 2018
Carolien Niebling's food design philosophy; soft power in the Vatican's plans for cultural outreach; a masquerade of nine designs for preten...