RADO TRUE THINLINE STUDS DESIGNED IN COLLABORATION WITH BRITISH DESIGNER BETHAN GRAY.
0,/ $12'(6,*1:((.̞ǫ$35,/ ǭ7( $752$56(1$/(
ALCOVA/19 /SALONE/ 9-14 APRIL
Visit us in Milan Fuorisalone 2019 Alcova is an experimental prototype for an itinerant cultural institution in development by Space Caviar and Studio VedĂ¨t. Currently operating as a roving platform for art and design across multiple sites in and around Milan, it activates forgotten locations and spaces of historical significance, temporarily recasting them as venues for performative activities. See our website for the full list of 2019 exhibitors.
ALCOVA Via Popoli Uniti, 11-13 Milan 9-14 APRIL 2019
ALCOVA SASSETTI Via F.Sassetti, 31 Milan 9-14 APRIL 2019
Diversity â€“ born out of a desire to celebrate what unites us. Our new flooring collection features three stunning designs. Explore Diversity and find your perspective at Pavilion 16, stand B:33 and bolon.com
Material Liberation Front Words Oli Stratford
Listen, I don’t get this truth to material stuﬀ. It’s weird. Take Louis Kahn’s famous teaching tool – the dialogue with Brick: “You say to a brick, ‘What do you want brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to brick, ‘Look, I want one too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say: ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.’” First of all, just because Brick is good at making an arch, doesn’t mean Brick likes an arch. For all we know, Brick likes a fine lace filigree and is distraught at being typecast. Why keep going on about the fact that Brick can make an arch? Why not mention Brick’s capacity to smash through a shop window, or Brick’s ability to hold dialogues with Louis Kahn? Both of these traits seem every bit as valid as contributions to Brick’s nature as archness. If you think about it, Kahn is little better than an overbearing spouse taking Brick for dinner, ordering the beef for two because that’s what they like and always have. Maybe Brick thinks: “God, I’d like to try the duck.” The point being, any claim to be designing according to a material’s nature requires a determination as to what that nature consists in, and Brick and its ilk aren’t the ones doing the determining. On this topic, I like Shuntarō Introduction
Tanikawa’s 1975 poem ‘Scissors’, translated by William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamur, which reflects on a pair of scissors on Tanikawa’s desk that he studiously refuses to pin down as anything more specific than a “thing”: “[This] thing keeps getting rustier, blunter and older[…] it’s not hard to imagine that it will finally return to its indeterminate destiny, moving back from its human formality to its original state[…] People manufactured this for practical purposes and yet it has inevitably come to exist here in this way before and apart from any practical purpose it might have.” Call me gaga for Tanikawa, but I like this. Sharp scissors may be better as scissors than Tanikawa’s blunt implements, but they’re no more truthful to the metal from which they’re made. A material holds myriad possibilities, each as valid as any other. In short, I think “truth to materials” is a misnomer and I’d like it quashed. The sole thing you could be more or less truthful to is form: rustiness is fine and dandy for metal, albeit not so good for scissors. It’s only when you get that old prig purpose involved that truth enters the equation. And for that matter, why “truth”? Why not “fidelity” or “chastity” or “sticktoitiveness”? Of course, I’m not sure any of this is significant. Basically, I just want Louis Kahn to lay oﬀ Brick. 8
Pierpaolo Ferrari, 2018
106 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NB Tel. 020 7631 5200 email@example.com
Contributors Carlos Álvarez Montero is a photographer and creative director based in Mexico City’s now-famous Roma neighbourhood. p. 113 Olaf Otto Becker specialises in landscape photography. He is interested in the visible traces that humankind leaves behind in nature. p. 45 Leyla Daybelge is an Irish-Turkish journalist and broadcaster based in London. p. 147 Corinna Dean enjoys exploring muddy landscapes for the second edition of her book project Slacklands. p. 101 Justin Donnelly is fully a furniture designer, three-quarters an architect, and one-half of the New York-based design practice, Jumbo. p. 65 Magnus Englund is a co-founder of Skandium, the director of the Isokon Gallery Trust, and the author of half a dozen books. p. 147 Albrecht Fuchs’s latest book of artists’ portraits has just come out with Koenig Books. p. 88
Jermaine Francis has been pondering how they were able to make Opal Fruits make your mouth water. p. 33
Mikael Olsson recently participated as an actor in Luca Guadagnino’s film Suspiria. p. 101
Giulio Ghirardi finds inspiration directly from everyday life and from the street. p. 81
Martha Pskowski is a journalist based in Mexico City. p. 113
Teresa Giannico is a Milan-based artist who works with paper, photography, and drawing. p. 65 James Graham likes a straight line just as much as he does a wobbly one. p. 142 Natalie Kane is curator of digital design at the V&A and one half of curatorial research project Haunted Machines. p. 130 Joe Lloyd has largely spent early spring watching videos of scuttling baby turtles. p. 142 Theresa Marx works between London and Berlin. p. 22 Tetsuo Mukai is the co-founder of Study O Portable and Workshop for Potential Design, and is celebrating his first contribution to Disegno. p. 43
Leonhard Rothmoser still loves doing drawings for Disegno. p. 43, 44, 62 Alexis Romano’s current interests include found photographs and the experience of dress. p. 138 Peter Smisek was grateful for the chance to interview the Bouroullecs in their Paris studio, as it meant he could do to do some last-minute Brexit stockpiling at Nicholas. p. 88
PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE TO DISCOVER OUR COLLECTION AND TO FIND YOUR ROYAL BOTANIA SPECIALIST: WWW.ROYALBOTANIA.COM
The Quarterly Journal of Design #22 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford firstname.lastname@example.org
Founder and publication director Johanna Agerman Ross
Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com
Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki firstname.lastname@example.org
Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com
Sales executive Farnaz Ari email@example.com
Acting project coordinator Francesca Gregson firstname.lastname@example.org
Designer Jonas Hirschmann email@example.com
Circulation and stockist enquiries Adam Long firstname.lastname@example.org
Subeditor Ann Morgan
Production assistant Audrey Anastasy
Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk
Editorial interns Elizabeth Gregory Rhys Thomas
Colour management Dave Sawyer Complete Creative Services completeltd.com
Words by Johanna Agerman Ross, Leyla Daybelge, Corinna Dean, Justin Donnelly, Magnus Englund, K-Doc, Natalie Kane, Joe Lloyd, Tetsuo Mukai, Martha Pskowski, Kristina Rapacki, Alexis Romano, Peter Smisek and Oli Stratford.
Thanks Many thanks to Ray G. Brown, Rubelli, and everyone at Oneroom for a wonderful collaboration; to Olaf Otto Becker for being so generous with his work; to Justin Donnelly for sharing a great idea; to Magnus Englund and Leyla Daybelge for their dedication to a fascinating story; to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for being so accommodating; and to Fernando Laposse and all the residents of Tonahuixtla for going so spectacularly above and beyond.
Images by Carlos Álvarez Montero, Olaf Otto Becker, Jermaine Francis, Albrecht Fuchs, Giulio Ghirardi, Teresa Giannico, James Graham, Theresa Marx, Mikael Olsson and Leonhard Rothmoser. Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm and 90gsm, and Symbol Freelife Gloss 130gsm. The cover is printed on Constellation Snow E33 Raster 240gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
This issue’s colour management was handled by the wonderful Dave Sawyer, covering for Disegno regular Terry Smith who will be back soon. We’ve missed you Terry! We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #22 possible. Not least Vince and Stella, the moggies of Lauriston Road, who kept Disegno’s deputy editor company during hard times.
Congratulations Finally, we are delighted to welcome Jude Dyke-Jones to the world. In him lies Disegno’s publishing future – we’re in safe hands for years to come. 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 2, The Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Road London N1 5SQ +44 20 7249 1155 Disegno Works Disegno also runs the new creative agency, Disegno Works. disegnoworks.com
427 Von collection
WE HAVE DESIGNS ON DOING THINGS DIFFERENTLY. Something new is in the air Products and solutions grounded in insight and understanding is what youâ€™ve come to expect from Bisley. Fresh thinking and bright ideas come naturally in an environment with creativity at its heart. Our next wave of innovations are designed to inspire imagination and productivity beyond the traditional workstation.
Helping you work better anywhere
Helping you work better anywhere
was at the company has it been led
could do worse than reading the
by one creative visionary.” A little
biography of Florence Knoll Bassett.
A time to be Frank
more than two years later, however,
A protégée of Eliel Saarinen and Mies
Back in Disegno #12, we visited
Simons announced his departure, with
van der Rohe, Knoll Bassett apprenticed
the 40th session of Unesco’s
the label having opted to take “a new
herself to Bauhaus designers Walter
World Heritage Committee in Istanbul.
brand direction different from [his]
Gropius and Marcel Breuer before
On the agenda were efforts to have
creative vision”. It seemed a mystifying
eventually forging her own design
Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright’s
volte-face until, in February 2019,
identity with Knoll, the company
buildings added to Unesco’s World
news broke that the brand has been
she built with her first husband Hans
Heritage List – a catalogue of
so disappointed with the financial
Knoll. Within this framework, Knoll
protected sites deemed to have
performance of its luxury collections
Bassett flourished, commissioning
“outstanding universal value”. While
that it was planning to shutter them
works from designers such as Harry
Corbu sailed through the proceedings,
in favour of focusing on more commercial
Bertoia and Eero Saarinen, as well as
Wright had a dicier time, with his
products, such as denim and underwear.
licensing existing creations from van
10 nominated buildings determined to
Turns out the “new brand direction”
der Rohe and Isamu Noguchi. Beyond her
“not [be] justified as a masterpiece”.
for Calvin Klein isn't so different
role as a commissioner par excellence,
Fast-forward three years, however,
from the old. Pants and jeans – the
Knoll Bassett was a talented designer
and the fight is on for a new listing
kind of business for which you probably
in her own right – her vision of
of eight of his buildings. The Frank
don't need a “creative visionary”.
open-plan office spaces filled with sleek, contemporary furniture and
Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy,
generous textiles remains dominant,
the body behind the nomination, professes to have “seriously
The United States of Amazon
even today. With her passing, the
consider[ed] [UNESCO’s earlier]
Is there anything Jeff Bezos
world has one fewer link to the heyday
comments and use[d] them to make
hasn't gotten his hooks into? In
of 20th-century modernism.
appropriate changes to the proposal”.
late December, a series of leaked
Will Wright see off his critics and
emails revealed that Amazon executive
ascend to universal value? Only time
Anne Rung had privately advised the
will tell – the next World Heritage
United States government about the
Committee meeting is due to take
launch of an e-commerce portal, with
place in Baku, Azerbaijan, in July.
this help coming, crucially, prior to the legislation that formally mandated its creation. Such corporate cosiness is serious, seeing as the portal will oversee the $53bn market for federal procurement of commercial products like paper clips and office chairs. Wait, aren’t those things that Amazon sells? But if the thought of national governments becoming reliant on Amazon Prime fills you with dread, take some solace in the subsequent news that the e-commerce giant has been forced to cancel its planned headquarters
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Knoll.
in Queens, New York, following fierce local opposition. The company had been
The ship is sinking, the rats have fled
due to receive $3bn in subsidies and
Not content with designing overpriced
tax breaks from the city – all this
hoovers and hand dryers, the British
for a business that is to corporation
designer and entrepreneur James Dyson
tax what Teflon is to water – but no
chose January to debut the first
A brief stint
doubt the prospect of $53bn in manila
product created by his company’s
Well, that didn’t last long. In August
folders and hole punches will provide
newly founded brass-neck division.
2016 Raf Simons was appointed creative
Dyson – an ardent Brexiteer who has previously announced that leaving
director of Calvin Klein, with a brief
the European Union will put the UK
to work across the brand’s disparate collections. "The arrival of Raf Simons
“in control of our destiny” and that the EU will “come to us” for a trade
as chief creative officer signifies a momentous new chapter for Calvin
Florence Knoll Bassett (1917-2019)
deal – announced plans to move his
Klein," said the brand’s CEO Steve
Students hoping to learn about
company's headquarters from Wiltshire
Shiffman. "Not since Mr Klein himself
the history of 20th-century design
to Singapore. The timing of the move
was entirely coincidental, Dyson
prove a careful custodian of the
director of Chanel since 1983
argued, and had “nothing to do with
archive, although it is undeniably
and Fendi since 1965 is a feat
Brexit”, but rather had everything
a little bittersweet to see an
of longevity unlikely to ever be
to do with “future-proofing” the
architectural treasure trove leave
repeated. Yet Lagerfeld’s death had
business. While fleeing the flaming
its home nation. Nevertheless, it was
the effect of diverting attention
wreckage of a nation state in economic
certainly refreshing to see Britain
from news of the passing of another
freefall does indeed seem like an act
for once on the opposite side of the
designer. Alessandro Mendini was
of “future-proofing”, Dyson’s gall
fence when it comes to debates about
one of the giants of 20th-century
is nonetheless hard to swallow. The
the loss of cultural artefacts of
industrial design and a figure whose
designer has previously stressed the
national value. Countries in glass
influence touched all areas of the
urgency of quitting the EU to avoid
houses shouldn’t throw stones.
discipline. The architect, designer,
visa rules favouring European workers
writer and theorist’s intellect meant
over those from other nations: “Why on
he played a formative role in the
earth would you chuck out researchers
experimentalism of the radical Studio
with that valuable technology which
Alchimia and its questioning of
they then take back to China or
modernism’s dogmas, while his joie de
Singapore and use against us?”
vivre and flair for aesthetics allowed
he railed. Erm.
him to produce highly successful commercial products for brands such as Alessi. Lagerfeld may have swept
The axis of diesel
the headlines, but it is in Mendini's
In a dynastic marriage of convenience
passing that the design world has lost
worthy of the Tudors, automotive
one of its greatest talents.
industry heavyweights Ford and Volkswagen announced plans to partner on the development of new products, as well as sharing technological resources on autonomous cars, mobility services and electric vehicles. The companies billed the alliance as a positive opportunity to “collaborate on shaping the next era of mobility”, but the whiff of desperation was difficult to ignore. Both companies are said to be deeply worried by the inroads being made into their industry by technology giants such as Google and Apple at a time when Ford has been forced to cut thousands of jobs in Europe and Volkswagen has scandal. Were either company operating
A flash of £1.8m and it was gone
from a position of strength, you
– the entire archive of 1960s avant-
suspect the forced bonhomie projected
garde British architecture group
by the partnership might be a touch
Bigotry, thy name is fashion
Archigram sold to the soon-to-open
If three's a trend, then the fashion
M+ museum in Hong Kong. The transaction
industry has reason to be alarmed.
marked the end of a decade-long search for a buyer, but it nevertheless met
In February, Gucci was forced to pull
a black turtleneck jumper from sale
last-minute opposition from the Arts
when it was pointed out that the
Council, which argued against the
A memorial to Mendini
exaggerated red lips knitted into the
export of works of art and objects
The death of Karl Lagerfeld in
garment's extra-high collar resembled
of cultural interest. Ultimately, the
February inevitably dominated the
racist sambo symbolism. Days later,
UK’s culture secretary Jeremy Wright
headlines and rightly so – while
Katy Perry’s fashion line issued
determined that an export licence
there may have been much to question
a similar recall for a pair of its
should be granted “on the basis that
in Lagerfeld’s self-mythologising (not
black-leather sandals that had been
the issue of overriding importance
to mention the odious pleasure he took
designed to resemble a face with
was that the archive should remain
in offending and belittling vulnerable
prominent red lips. Not to be outdone,
intact”. M+, one would hope, will
communities), his reign as creative
that same month Burberry sent a model
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, M+, and Fabian Frinzel.
to contend with the ongoing Dieselgate
Archigram hits Hong Kong
down the catwalk in a hoodie whose
then, for introducing a complementary
In like a shot came architect Adam
strings had been tied in the shape of
initiative so as to keep up interest.
Nathaniel Furman, a firm champion
a noose, evoking imagery of lynchings
Augmented Architecture is a new scheme
for liking what you like: “NOT this.”
and suicide. All of the brands quickly
for artists, designers and architects
Refusing to be swayed, Heathcote
put out statements about not realising
to suggest structures that could be
replied: “Ah, you’re the fan. Good
the implications of their designs,
experienced in augmented reality at
for you.” By this point, you might
but the regularity with which these
the gallery in summer 2019. It’s an
have been forgiven for wondering why
incidents occur is staggering. A lack
exciting move and one that promises
everybody was worked up about an
of diversity in design teams is the
to tap into the pavilion’s status as
87-year-old man being given a prize.
clear culprit, but there are also
one of the discipline’s crowd-pleasing
Not to be deterred, Furman delivered
issues with the gannet-like rapacity
outreach programmes – come for the
the coup de grace: “He won the bloody
with which fashion houses pick up
physical, stay for the digital.
Pritzker Edwin, I doubt Im [sic] literally THE ‘fan’.” Roll on 2020.
imagery they don't seem to fully understand. Diversity aside, it’s pathetic that anybody should need to be told that racist imagery isn't
The great art-washing
really suitable for a moodboard.
Dundee is the “drug death capital of Europe”, averaging one drug-related death per week in 2017 – a shocking
The sins of the cronies
figure for a city of just 148,000.
Who could have guessed that a firm
The Sackler Trust, meanwhile, is
called the “Crony Group” might not be
a foundation linked to the US opioid
ethically spotless? In February, three
crisis. Purdue Pharma, a company run
Bangladeshi garment manufacturers
by the Sackler family, sells the
– East West Industrial Park Ltd, Metro
highly addictive painkiller OxyContin. The optics weren’t great, then, when
Knitting & Dyeing Mills Ltd and Crony
it emerged that the V&A Dundee had accepted a £500,000 grant from the
off at least 7,580 workers across 27 factories in response to a series
A Pritzker palaver
Sackler Trust earlier this year.
of protests over poor wages. It’s
Leaving aside the fact that awards
In what has been labelled an act
dire news, particularly given the
are all a bit meaningless really and
of “art-washing”, the trust has
centrality of the textile industry
any recommendation they make is highly
given donations to countless arts
to Bangladesh’s economy: ready-made
subjective, the annual announcement
institutions across the US and UK
garments account for around 80 per
of the Pritzker prize never fails
in the last decades, including the
cent of the country’s exports. Shame
to prompt consternation. This year,
National Gallery, Tate, the Design
on Crony and their ilk, then, for
it went to Japanese architect Arata
Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of
responding to serious concerns
Isozaki, with the jury praising his
Art, and the Guggenheim. Prescription
surrounding workers’ pay with waves
“buildings of great quality that to
Addiction Intervention Now (PAIN),
of sackings. Sadly, however, the
this day defy categorisations”. It
a campaign led by US photographer Nan
clue is in the name – these companies
was something of a surprise – Isozaki
Goldin, has been calling on museums to
act as suppliers to international
does not have the profile of many past
distance themselves from the Sacklers
heavyweights such as H&M and Next.
winners, nor is he a break from the
for at least a year, but March sparked
Until their multinational masters
hegemony that lone, male maestri hold
a deepening of the backlash against
step into line, don’t expect the
over the award. Nevertheless, his
the trust when a number of Scottish
cronies of this world to change.
radical writings have been highly
politicians condemned the V&A Dundee
influential, and his built work
for accepting the grant. “Profiting
eclectic enough to encompass both Los
from addiction is never ethical,”
The Polygon pavilion
Angeles’s sunken sandstone-clad MOCA
Labour MSP Monica Lennon told The
There’s been little to complain
museum and the steel Art Tower in
Scotsman. Too true. V&A Dundee has
about when it comes to the Serpentine
Mito, Japan. Still, prize-giving is
become the current lighting rod for
pavilion of late. The annual programme
just a bit of fun, right? Variety is
the outrage surrounding the Sackler
seems to have shed its propensity
the spice of life? “Does anyone really
Trust, but it’s only one among dozens
towards starchitecture and is instead
like Isozaki’s work?” tweeted the
of museums and university departments
turning to talented, less starry
Financial Times’s architecture critic
benefiting from its money. Other
practitioners. The selection of Junya
Edwin Heathcote. “I mean really like
institutions should take heed.
Ishigama, formerly of Sanaa, looks
it? Sure the early stuff is cool. But
set to continue this tendency – it’s
how long can you get away with not
a choice almost so common-sensical as
being good before it begins to count
to be boring. God bless the Serpentine,
against you? #pritzkerprize2019.”
Image courtesy of Serpentine Galleries.
Group – were reported to have laid
Project: Arjaan De Fey ter Interior Architects
The original 111 One -handle built-in mixer in natural brass Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1968
VOLA UK Ltd.- Highfi eld House - 108 The Hawthorns - Flitwick MK45 1FN - Tel.: 01525 720 111 - email@example.com - www.vola.com VOLA International Studio - 32-36 Great Portland Street - London W1W 8QX - Tel: 020 7580 7722 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.vola.com
Amidst the Grids Photographs Theresa Marx
Rem Koolhaas loves a grid. In his 1978 book Delirious New York, the architect called the 1811 grid-plan for Manhattan “the most courageous act of prediction in western civilisation”. To Koolhaas, the design’s “two-dimensional discipline[…] creates undreamt-of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy”. Strict belt and braces, then, with a devilmay-care belly pouring out between the lines. A little bit of structure, the argument runs, is a fine basis for embellishment and subversion. You know who doesn’t love a grid, though? Art historian Rosalind Krauss, that’s who. In her 1979 essay ‘Grids’, Krauss cuts to the chase: “it is safe to say that no form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change[…] development is precisely what the grid resists.” Koolhaas v. Krauss – it’s a battle of titans and there’s no telling who will win. Over the following pages, seven contemporary designs step forward as foot soldiers in the fight. 22
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Revealing – A white metal wall-hanging, Chris Kabel’s Hidden Color Card is painted on its reverse with a brightly coloured dot. The strength of the dot’s hue is such that it reflects off the wall and back through the grid, creating a softly glowing coloured shadow. Hidden Color Card, Chris Kabel
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Decorating – Maxim Velcovský’s Muster cup series uses the texture of handblown glass as ornamentation, with the patterned form having a kaleidoscopic effect on light that passes through it. In this example, the cup’s patterning takes the form of a dimpled grid as a decorative flourish. Muster cup, Maxim Velcovský for Lasvit
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Organising â€“ A small-format version of Nils and Kajsa Strinningâ€™s 1949 String shelving, the String Pocket is a self-contained modular product that relies on the formality and regularity of the grid to provide an adaptable storage system. String Pocket, String
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Détourning – Sheets of blank graph paper provide the basis for Coralie Gourguechon’s Directions to Somewhere maps, a project intended to encourage free exploration of a new city. Inviting users to roll dice to determine random routes through a space, Gourguechon’s design subverts the restrictions of a grid in favour of free movement. Directions to Somewhere, Coralie Gourguechon
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Shimmering â€“ Modelled after chainmail, Paco Rabanneâ€™s Iconic Square 1969 bag is produced from interconnected metal panels. As the bag flexes, light catches the squares within the grid, prompting golden flashes that contrast with the functionalism that inspired it. Iconic Square 1969 bag, Paco Rabanne
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Concealing â€“ Produced by passing a hot nichrome wire through a composite of nylon powder and sand, the Random tableâ€™s rigid top conceals an understructure of tangled forms created by the process of the powder melting and bonding to loops of wire descending from the grid. Random table, Studio Ilio
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Powering – Developed at London’s Royal College of Art, Technichrome is a paintable digital display that aims to uncouple screens from their manufacturing processes. Produced by Carolyn Tam, it uses conductive “pixel paint” to create highly aesthetic grid-like shapes that reframe industrial technological objects into open forms of creative expression. Technichrome, Carolyn Tam
Balkrishna Doshi Architecture for the People 30.03. â€“ 08.09.2019
#VitraDesignMuseum #VDMDoshi www.design-museum.de
In cooperation with
Vitra Design Museum
The Good Neighbour Idea Introduction Oli Stratford!Photographs Jermaine Francis
Towards the end of my time at Studioilse in Bermondsey, the studio’s principal Ilse Crawford logs onto YouTube. “There’s a video I wanted to show you,” she explains, cycling through clips. “You can’t believe that he was president of the United States when he gave this talk.” Given contemporary politics, you might be forgiven for having a hunch as to where this is going.
for Spanish brand Nanimarquina, founded in 1987 by textile designer Nani Marquina. The Wellbeing collection is made from afghan wool, nettle, jute, linen, Tussar silk, and organic cotton, all of which were utilised according to four criteria set by the studio. The first criteria, local fibre, specified raw materials sourced from as close as possible to the brand’s production centres in Pakistan, India and Nepal. This criterion further ensures that the materials are traceable back through their supply chain. In addition to this emphasis on locality and provenance, three further criteria were specified: hand spun; no bleach; no dyes. Crawford identifies these as “pain points” – areas within the design process where the studio might make the greatest impact in terms of limiting abuses within the supply chain and cutting down on the environmental damage caused by chemical dyes entering the water system. All commonsensical design restrictions, then, but ones which are rarely taken as red lines within wider industry. The Wellbeing collection is intended as a manifesto for Crawford’s thinking around design, but she is keen to stress a continuity of approach and link it to earlier projects in the studio’s portfolio: the intricately carved Touch collection of wooden furniture for Bosnian brand Zanat, which deploys handcraft as a means of promoting economic opportunity; the Refettorio Felix community kitchen in London for non-profit Food for Soul, which aims to present soup kitchens as spaces for social cohesion rather than just sites of emergency; and the Sinnerlig furniture collection for Ikea, which prioritised the use of sustainable natural materials such as cork, seagrass and bamboo. All of these topics were on the table when Disegno met with Crawford to discuss wellbeing, something she describes as a “self-evident[…] starting point of all good design”. Joining her in conversation were Studioilse co-principal Oscar Peña, former global creative director of lighting at Philips Design and head of DAE’s BA Man and Activity department; and Mickaël Wiesengrün, a designer at Studioilse who worked on the Wellbeing collection and who is a former student of Crawford’s.
Fortunately, it’s not the present incumbent of the White House who shambles onto the screen. Rather, Crawford’s phone lights up with a black-and-white clip of Franklin D. Roosevelt, wearing a stiﬀ woollen suit and looking directly to camera as he records a radio broadcast for Brotherhood Day on 23 February, 1936. “I like to think of our country as one home in which the interests of each member are bound up with the happiness of all,” he intones. “We ought to know, by now, that the welfare of your family or mind cannot be bought at the sacrifice of our neighbour’s family; that our wellbeing depends, in the long run, on the wellbeing of our neighbours.” Eight years later, Roosevelt would attempt to enshrine these ideas with his Second Bill of Rights – a set of economic tenets that would work alongside the 1791 Bill of Rights in order to achieve “new goals of human happiness and wellbeing”. “It’s of its time,” says Crawford, “[but that bill] was going to embed wellbeing in the American Constitution.” Such ideas matter to Crawford, who, since 2000, has led the Man and Wellbeing BA department at Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) and whose practice describes its mission as being to place wellbeing “at the core of everything that we do”. It’s a striking idea, albeit one grounded in a term that Crawford herself acknowledges is open to ambiguity and misuse. “Rather like ‘design’, ‘wellbeing’ is a word that is often [mis]appropriated,” she says, “but I don’t want to abandon it because I think it has real meaning.” To explain, Crawford hands me a piece of paper printed with a mind-map. It’s a teaching resource from DAE that covers the 25 components that make up her definition of wellbeing. From a central circle stating “We are the system” a series of lines wriggles out, leading to subsections with titles such as “Cool head, warm heart”; “Data privacy”; “Design for economic nutrition”; and “Whole systems/materials, production, citizens”. From amongst this thicket of terminology, Crawford believes a working definition of “wellbeing” might be drawn out. “It means rigour,” she explains. “What’s great about being a designer is that you can realise and materialise values. In my case, I think that what you can do is bring together a product’s eﬀect on people [who buy it], and integrate that with the eﬀect it has on the people who make it – who the product sustains economically – and the eﬀect it has on the environment. That’s wellbeing.” These ideas have recently been materialised in a new collection of textiles that Studioilse has developed
Oli Stratford You say it’s self-evident that wellbeing
should be the starting point of all good design, but what do you mean by that? Ilse Crawford All design ultimately expresses the values embedded in it. For me, wellbeing is being conscious of the product’s impact on people: not just on the
Ilse Crawford, photographed in her studio in Bermondsey.
image by Albert Font.
Oscar Peña (left) is joined by Mickaël Wiesengrün (right) and Crawford for a meeting with Nani Marquina (centre) and Elisa Padrón Olivé, Nanimarquina’s head of design.
end-user, but also on the people who make it and on the environment. That’s how we’ve always approached design in my studio. If we start with the right criteria, the best outcome should follow. Mickaël Wiesengrün I studied on Ilse’s course and what’s nice about [her understanding of] wellbeing is that it can include sustainability, but it also makes a point of how people feel about design. It’s possible to be very sustainable, cradle-to-cradle, but for an end product to not necessarily make somebody feel good. Ilse We strive to make it work in both senses, and while that may seem self-evident to us, it just isn’t the way the system usually works right now, unless you can find partners who will go on that journey with you. There are a number of reasons for that: there’s a lack of transparency in the industry and a lack of people prepared to take a risk. There are also cost and time constraints. But people are usually very, very happy when it works. Oscar Peña If you ask any design studio, they would say that they’re always thinking about people. But wellbeing is about going into depth and really interrogating the topic. The first step we take on a new project is to go and see how the things are made. Is it automated? Is it handcrafted? What are the materials? How does it aﬀect the maker? The user? We want to understand how we can intervene because for us design is about making better connections. Ilse One example is [former Man and Wellbeing student] Agne Kucerenkaite, whose Ignorance is Bliss tile project used toxic metal waste to produce glazing that is beautiful and which also tackles the problem of metal waste. That’s a very “wellbeing” project because it’s connecting a familiar process to a contemporary problem. Design entails a lot of listening at the beginning of the process to understand what could actually work and what that connection can be. We don’t ever dive in and say, “This is what it’s going to look like.” Oli Tell me about the four criteria you identified for the Nanimarquina project: local fibre; hand-spun; no bleach; no dyes. How did you identify these four areas? Mickaël The four criteria were the outcome of talking to the team at Nanimarquina: how do you make a product that has the least negative impact possible? The textile industry is a major environmental polluter, so the first two criteria – no bleach and no dyes – were a clear starting point. From there we went into our third
criteria: sourcing fibres from as close as possible to the site of production. For example, the rug is made in Nepal where the nettle is grown; the wool for the cushions is sourced directly from shepherds in Afghanistan and then bought across the border with Pakistan to where it is spun. Our final criteria, hand spun, simply saves the use of machines and therefore energy. Ilse The Wellbeing collection is really a case study to see whether it is actually possible to do a project like this, and if it can work for the consumer market. It’s proof of concept in a way. The key was to work with a partner who is reputable and trustworthy and who would be interested in pushing the limits of the system. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without Nanimarquina’s in-depth knowledge and extensive infrastructure of local producers. Oscar Nani and her team showed us their archive, so we could say, “Oh this is very nice. What is it? Tell us about it.” We became interested in non-dyed wool for its almost animal quality. Many rugs on the market are made from New-Zealand wool, but we were keen to work with local sheep. We were also interested in a nettle rug Nanimarquina had made previously, which hadn’t worked commercially because the system that had been chosen made it very expensive and also quite hard to produce. But there was something wonderful about that sample, so they suggested they could do something with flat-weave or a combination of materials in order to make it less expensive and easier to manufacture. What we were able to do was to set a clear agenda and then orchestrate all the elements into a story that can be understood as a whole. Mickaël The nettle rug in the Wellbeing collection is designed such that the warp is jute and the weft is nettle. But there are diﬀerent seasons of jute, which change the appearance of the fibre. Summer jute is much lighter than the browner winter jutes, and we decided to show this in the rugs’ long fringes and be happy with the variation across pieces. That could be a problem for a consumer, but this is a conscious product and so it has natural implications. Oli What’s the significance of making values tangible within an object, and what happens to the communication of those ideas once you have materialised them? Ilse When you look at those ideas around wellbeing on the [DAE] mind-map, it’s overwhelming in a way. What’s great about making something is that you have
at the Design Academy about the production of Apple phones. People were really surprised by her findings and seeing how much handcraft actually went into what they had assumed was a technological object. People were shocked that these things were being assembled by people, which just goes to show that we have no idea how things are made and therefore we have no idea what the impact is. I think that distance from production means that people don’t feel accountable. Oscar People are always fascinated by those books about how things are constructed because they don’t have any idea how things are actually produced. Who has the chance to go to factories? We as designers do, because we work in this industry, but most people don’t get that opportunity. Ilse My dad was an economist with The Sunday Times and his thing was that every pound is a vote. Everything we do is a choice – it’s a design choice, a political choice, an economic choice, a social choice, an environmental choice. Oli You foreground emotional access to objects and the importance of that in generating a connection to a design. Do you feel that’s something that gets sidelined in the discussion around design and sustainability? Oscar People still have this idea that things labelled as “sustainable” are ugly. I always call it “the grey socks [eﬀect]”, because who wants grey socks? Today you can do very beautiful things by following good principles. Ilse It’s seen as sugar-coating an issue, but for something to make a diﬀerence it’s vital. Why shouldn’t attractiveness be embedded in everything? Why say it’s relevant for some things and not others? For example, when I’ve spoken about our Food for Soul project, I’ve very often gotten the response of “Isn’t it a waste of time to make a community kitchen beautiful, don’t the people just want food?” That’s simply not true and it’s kind of passive aggressive as an attitude because you’re saying that you can feed people without considering dignity. In fact, one of the guests at Refettorio Felix said what touched him most was the fact that it was beautiful – it showed that someone cared. I think we are confused about the idea that if something is good for you, ethically sound, it’s somehow wrong that it should be attractive. Mickaël We have an [interiors] project now coming to an end with the Anna Freud Centre, which deals with mental health for children and which works across therapy, teaching and research. This project is about
to nail it – it becomes embodied and it changes the discussion. It’s no longer an abstract idea, because it either works or it doesn’t. If you don’t materialise an idea, people have a tendency to just say “It’ll never work.” We’ve worked on so many things where people have said “It’ll never work.” Soho House in New York – it’ll never work. The Ett Hem hotel in Stockholm – it’ll never work. Ikea collection – it’ll never work. For most people, until it’s real you can’t have an honest discussion. Apparently, before Charles Darwin [set sail on the Beagle], his dad told him that it would never work and refused to give him any money. He had to go to his uncle who was a bit more fun. I think that’s what design must do – dream up and then create alternatives, bit by bit. Oscar I’m a great believer that design is about being in some way rigorous. Being rigorous about your values and being able to translate them into something you can put on the table, sit on, wear or whatever. Ilse People are so locked into the way systems are now that they get confused into thinking that that’s the only way. Rigour is what gives us the possibility to make something that can stand up on its own. You have to be able to knit diﬀerent values and diﬀerent silos together to create that new reality. A lot of what wellbeing talks about is actually just common sense, but it’s not easily done at the moment. You can talk about wellbeing design, but relatively few people commission it. Oli Why is that? Is it a matter of cost? Oscar It’s a lack of common sense. Ilse The commercial world is generally quite conservative and it tends to want a version of what has already sold. It waits for someone else to do something that challenges current practice, watches for it to work, and then [adopts] it. So the system relies on individuals to make something that challenges current practice and then the rest will move. You can’t change things from the centre. It always has to be people on the outside. Oli Is there a problem with what we conceive of as being the red lines around production? For instance, finding a viable cost is taken as absolute, but avoiding environmental damage or exploitative labour practices seems to be seen as little more than desirable. Ilse Externalities are not part of our way of costing things and there’s still a lack of visibility and transparency about the actual eﬀect that current practice has. A few years ago, [Man and Wellbeing alumni] Isabel Mager presented 5000times, a project
Image by Albert Font.
Elements from Studioilseâ€™s Wellbeing collection for Nanimarquina.
design accordingly because the drivers realised that given the materiality there was a danger that it would be damaged during transportation, so store managers might be put oﬀ ordering it. Ilse It’s about making the change where you can make the change, rather than going for something that won’t happen. I’d rather do the 60 per cent we can do, and actually make it happen, than aim for the 100 per cent that won’t stick. That’s always our strategy. Oscar We’re very conscious about what sort of company we want to partner with. Is it a company that really cares about things or is it a company that just wants to produce? We don’t work with companies that produce hundreds of thousands of things. Ilse Well, Ikea, but we were curious to see if we could work with them. Would it be possible to create an environmentally friendly collection? It’s a big company, but an interesting one. For example, it has a sustainability expert on the board and took a massive hit on its profits last year to invest in sustainable practices. They’re interested in the idea of leasing furniture and developing repairable furniture. Oscar Having a good partner is very important in this, because it’s a trip you take with them. Although businesses have to look at the end economics, they have to see that going on this journey can bring value to them. Ilse There’s a big diﬀerence between the commodification of stuﬀ and stuﬀ itself. We live in a physical world, and we still make stuﬀ. The key is the Dieter Rams “less, but better” philosophy – design stuﬀ that’s good for people, sustains people, and doesn’t damage the environment. Are we not citizens rather than just consumers? E N D
applying our analysis of how to make people feel better [in a space] but on a much smaller budget than we usually have. Much like the Nanimarquina project, we have had to prioritise, making the most of the budget and shifting funds towards the key things that will have the biggest impact and value. Ilse I think humans read objects incredibly well. We’re quite primal in that way and we read very quickly if something has been made carefully. That’s why if you’re in an airplane and the overhead locker is broken, you start to wonder about the pilot. It’s a language we understand instinctively. Mickaël One important part of the communication around the Wellbeing collection, however, is that each piece has a label that is printed with the design criteria. Ilse Look at the economic nutrition label that [Canadian entrepreneur] Zita Cobb created for the Fogo Island Inn [a social enterprise intended to generate capital to support the declining population of Fogo Island oﬀ Newfoundland, Canada]. People queried how expensive it was to stay in that inn, because it’s not a luxury experience in the conventional “five stars” sense. So Zita created the economic nutrition label that basically explained why it was the price it was: because we give x per cent of the cost to the local school; we pay more than the minimum wage; we don’t chuck sewage into the sea, and so on. The guests were then reassured because they knew where their money was going. I think all design should be labelled that way. Oli With the Nanimarquina project, a huge amount of work has gone into researching the supply chain, but do you have any say on distribution afterwards? That has a big eﬀect on a project’s sustainability. Ilse Nanimarquina works with multi-generational traditional skills which are found in villages, rather than factories. If you design better quality products, then there should be fewer journeys in the system, but the commodification of the world means that very often people don’t know where things have come from. Oscar Certainly in some projects we have to take a look and consider how a design is going to be sold. Is it flatpack; is it pre-assembled; is it transported in big boxes? With Ikea, for instance, we addressed this from the outset in the table – it was designed so you could fit eight pallets in a truck instead of seven. That’s quite fundamental. It’s still a generous table, but reducing its size meant that it’s saving money, oil, transportation. Then, at the very end of the process, we had to reduce the size of the table by another 2cm and adjust the
Furniture with a mission.
Font by Matti Klenell
Experience the Offecct collection in our brand new London showroom. Launching May 2019.
Flokk Showroom, 63 Central Street, London, EC1V 3AF. flokk.com Offecct, Sweden. offecct.com
What Are We All Dressed Up For? Words Tetsuo Mukai Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
The word “celebrate” is often used to describe the intention or reason behind a project. Maybe it’s never a bad idea to celebrate, but why are we doing so much of it? Certainly, celebration seems to be a prime mover behind many undertakings nowadays – from commercial furniture ranges to experimental student projects. A quick search for press releases in my inbox confirms we’ve recently had a number of things to celebrate in the contemporary-design landscape. I’ve been sent details of ventures that celebrate “multi-disciplinary, cross-generational creativity”; “ceramics”; “collaboration”; “drawing in all its diversity”; “plastic” (on multiple occasions); “the achievements of talented professional and amateur designers”; “legendary design visionaries”; “light and lightness in design”. And so on and so on. Practitioners such as Michael Marriott and Jasper Morrison have shown that there is considerable value in elucidating and championing the everyday, but the new tendency towards a catch-all, autotelic celebration of anything and everything seems to function as a passive defence against criticism: with the addition of the word “celebrate”, any little thing can be dressed up as a seemingly reasonable justification for a project. Even in the league of press-friendly phrases and energised one-liners, the word stands out as being imbued with inescapable positivity. After all, nobody wants to be the jerk who party-poops someone’s set of tea towels celebrating the history of the suﬀragettes. But what do such declarations of celebration really mean? Are they a response to an increasing demand – particularly within design education – for projects to have a “meaningful” origin (a new chair can’t just be a new chair)? Or perhaps they function as a device that lets us shelter ourselves from a simple but crucial question: what’s our motivation for making and consuming all these things? Either way, the ubiquity of the word has made it as much of an uncritical cliché as any other buzzword – step forward “collaborative”, “narrative” and “circular”. In a world full of sensationalism and bombast, it may be time to embrace more nuanced approaches to communicating our ideas.
Save Us From Beauty Words Kristina Rapacki Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
“A stranger is following me down a deserted street, but never mind: look at this beautiful row of multi-facade buildings!” said no woman ever. Consider this anecdote from the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister: “I was late for a dinner in Tokyo and I was rushing through an underpass. It was fairly dark and there was no-one around other than a woman walking in front of me. Now, I[...] wanted to overtake that woman, but I also knew that if I did, I was going to scare the shit out of her.” Pause. “If this would’ve happened in a neighbourhood where there were multi-facade buildings, neither me nor the woman would’ve given it any thought.” I was interviewing Sagmeister about Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty, an exhibition at Vienna’s MAK that he co-curated with his business partner Jessica Walsh, and which opened in autumn 2018. The show made some rather sweeping claims about the impact human-made beauty can have on behaviour. For instance, it proposed beauty as the reason New York’s High Line has seen no serious crimes since opening in 2009. Even alongside such claims, the Tokyo anecdote was baﬄing. Baﬄing, and indicative of a new conservative turn in thinking about architecture. In the last year or so, it’s as if the culture wars of the 1980s have been resuscitated. Architectural beauty – often defined as anything Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe would not have built – does social good in and of itself, certain commentators argue. According to this topsy-turvy logic, women do not fear strangers creeping up on them if the surrounding buildings are stylistically varied enough. Consider another example: the philosopher Roger Scruton speaking at a panel event in January of this year. “If it hadn’t been so ugly to begin with,” he said of London’s Grenfell Tower, “the whole problem would never have happened.” The “problem” was, of course, the catastrophic fire that engulfed the tower and was stoked by its flammable cladding in 2017, killing 72 people. What’s so ugly about these claims is the way they distract from important discussions. Why do women still feel unsafe in public? How was it possible to install flammable cladding on a high-rise building? Whatever’s at the root of these issues, it’s unlikely to be Mies and Corbu.
Even in the Face of Adversity Words Kristina Rapacki Photographs Olaf Otto Becker
Back in October 2017, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CTA) was on an outing in Napa Valley. The scenic north Californian wine county was the setting for the organisation’s triannual board meeting. On the agenda: the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (CES), one of the world’s largest tech fairs, which takes place in Las Vegas every January and is organised by the CTA. When the board members woke that morning, however, the power had gone out. “Most of us thought there was something wrong with our hotel rooms,” recalls Gary Shapiro, president of the CTA. But then the phone service died. “It turned out that the wildfires had really enveloped the area,” says Shapiro. Some from the group tried to get information on their car radios. Others ran into town. “We didn’t know whether to evacuate or not.”
In the end, they didn’t. The board went ahead with its meeting as one of the deadliest, costliest and most destructive firestorms in California’s history raged around them. No light, no phones, no Powerpoint presentations – and no coﬀee. “How do you do a meeting without coﬀee?” exclaims Shapiro, throwing up his hands. It’s a brief moment of levity. “For many of us it was a changing experience,” he says. “That in conjunction with climate change and all the disasters that seem to be occurring more frequently around the world. CES is about exposing our attendees and the industry to new things and new trends. It’s about innovation and making life improve in all areas. But you also have to have a life saved.” CES. You’ll know it, even if indirectly. It’s the annual week-long tech extravaganza which, since 1967, has supplied us with gadgets that we may or may not need. The first-ever home VCR player, produced by Philips, launched at CES in 1970. Apple’s failure-prone Newton was showcased there with much fanfare in 1992 and 93. In the last 20 years, CES has had its permanent home in Las Vegas, where it has grown into the mega-convention it is today, showcasing some 4,400 exhibitors and attracting almost 200,000 visitors from the US and abroad. It has also become something more than a consumer electronics showcase, with the latest speculative takes on driverless vehicles, AI, and robotics increasingly taking centre stage. Earlier this year, Wired’s Lauren Goode described CES well when she evoked its “blinking smart lights, liquid-looking displays, hovering drones, yogic phones, driver-free vehicles, newfangled wireless protocols, and intangible technologies that all come with the promise of making life better”. CES is a particularly concentrated encapsulation of 21st-century consumerism. The catastrophic 2017 board meeting in Napa Valley presaged further calamities. A few months later, CES 2018 kicked oﬀ with a freak downpour, ending a 116-day stretch without rain in Las Vegas with what became its wettest day on record. Flash floods choked the city’s streets, forcing outdoor booths such as Google’s “giant funhouse” to shut on the Tuesday, CES’s first day open to the public. Then, on the Wednesday, a major power outage threw the north and central halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center – one of CES’ main venues – into darkness for two hours. “All the flashlight vendors at CES are like, ‘Now it’s our time to shine!’” someone quipped on Twitter. Another attendee posted a video of a woman playing the violin at Intel’s booth
while visitors waited for power to be restored. “#CESblackout,” it read. “This is some titanic level shit,” a retweet shot back. It’s hard not to see the metaphor: CES as a behemoth too big to fail, beset by powers even greater than its kaleidoscopic arsenal of human-made ingenuities. For what use is a smart kitchen when it’s flooded? What’s a new VR headset in a wildfire? What can any of these things do for you, really, without power? Such questions seem to have prompted a press release issued by the CTA a few months later. “Resilience to be New Part of CES 2019,” it announced. The next iteration of CES, it said, would feature “a new conference program and exhibit area focused on Resilience and resilient technologies”. Resilient technologies are technologies that help “keep the world healthy, safe, warm, powered, fed and secure,” the statement explained. “Even in the face of adversity.” I’m hovering somewhere over the Grand Canyon, due to land in Las Vegas within the hour. Below, the darkness soon gives way to the first twinklings of the city’s famed neon lights. Some months earlier, I had convinced my editor that I should write a story about the new Resilience section at CES. I’d had some reservations initially. Resilience sounded an awful lot like a buzzword. The sheer breadth of its applications – healthcare, security, power, food distribution – seemed to void it of any concrete meaning. There was an irresistible circularity, however, to the sense of reckoning that accompanied CES’s announcement of its new section. The tech world was waking up to the realities of climate change, it appeared. Tech’s solution: to throw some more tech at the situation. Now, looking down at the approaching lights, my initial reservations flare up. The new section on Resilience remains maddeningly vague – the latest information I have from CES is that it will feature only 11 exhibitors (although “we are still growing the space,” a press oﬃcer has assured me). Some exhibitors, such as the US emergency communications network FirstNet, appear to fit what I understand the Resilience bill to be. Others seem wedged in. The conference programme looks more promising, with its panel discussions on resilient cities, crisis prevention, food and water shortages, and cyber security. I’ve been to enough such events, however, to know better than to pin my hopes for any kind of journalistic insight on talks called things like ‘Tech for Good: Driving Impact at Scale.’ I am, 46
The photographs accompanying this text are by Olaf Otto Becker. For more than 30 years, Becker has documented the effects of human overpopulation and activity on nature. “On all of my travels to the remotest places on earth, either on my own or as a participant in scientific expeditions, I observe and document the man-made changes to landscape,” says Becker. “As an eyewitness, I am worried by the consequence of our doings.”
frankly, a little worried that Resilience might only be so much hot air. Also, I think, wincing as we touch down, I’m the ass who has just taken a Boeing halfway across the globe to report on it.
Rebuild by Design might be called a typical Resilience project. Run for the first time in 2014, two years after Hurricane Sandy and its storm surge caused major devastation along the US’s eastern seaboard, the competition called for new designs that would “holistically examine and address [the] interconnected physical, social, and ecological vulnerabilities [of the New York and New Jersey shoreline] to respond to the region’s complex needs”. The first contest yielded ten finalists, six of which are on track to be built: these include an oﬀshore barrier island chain for New York Harbor; a system of levees for Hunts Point, a south Bronx peninsula that serves as a hub for the region’s food supplies; and a sea berm by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) that will protect Wall Street. Rebuild by Design is a private-public partnership between the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Rockefeller Foundation, and a host of other companies and organisations. Since its inaugural competition, it has continued to oversee a number of resilience-oriented projects around the country. Rebuild by Design ought to be applauded for its wide-ranging eﬀorts to undertake serious adaptive measures in the face of climate change. But it has also drawn criticism. BIG’s sea berm, which has been given the on-brand name of BIG U, for instance, poses a number of gnarly questions. “Berms such as those that form the backbone of BIG U are famously problematic in that they keep some communities dry while displacing water to surrounding communities,” Dawson points out in Extreme Cities. “Where will the water that the BIG U turns aside go to?” It is likely, he argues, to cause greater damage to poorer adjacent areas, such as Brooklyn’s Red Hook. While BIG initially looked into flood defences for Red Hook as part of its research, these did not make it into the final proposal. “It should not be particularly surprising that defence of Wall Street garnered more attention and funding,” notes Dawson. “With any initiative that promises greater resilience, it is wise to ask whose resilience we are talking about.” Then there is the charge of short-term-solutionism. In the present proposal, the BIG U will be built to the height of 5m, which corresponds to the sea level rise currently projected for the year 2050. That’s only three decades away. Then what happens? As several reports from the International Energy Agency in the last decade have suggested, we may well be underestimating the speed and severity of the climate crisis, with 6°C of warming – rather than the upper 2°C limit set out by
In the last decade or so, Resilience has become a popular term within academic, public and private bodies working in the field of disaster preparation and response. It is the purview of new research departments such as the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute at the University of Illinois and the Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.
The idea that design could help protect communities from the most immediate eﬀects of climate change is appealing. It is what initiatives such as the World Bank’s City Resilience Program, the US National Disaster Resilience Competition and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities aim to foster. Rebuild by Design, a competition for urban infrastructure launched in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, mentions Resilience three times in the ‘About’ blurb on its website. “The power of the term resilience lies in the sheen of hope it oﬀers,” writes academic Ashley Dawson in his 2017 book Extreme Cities. “In addition, resilience is no doubt attractive because of the many meanings that can be attached to [it].” Resiliency initiatives are responding to a terrifying world in which unchecked global warming means that extreme weather events will continue to devastate cities, coastlines, island nations, arable farmlands and water supplies around the world with increasing frequency and intensity. International eﬀorts to curb carbon emissions are proving catastrophically ineﬀectual: as a recent report from the Global Carbon Project showed, global emissions were on course to hit a record high of 37.1bn tonnes at the end of 2018 rather than showing signs of abating. “Its message is more brutal than ever,” climate scientist David Reay said of the report. “We are deep in the red and heading still deeper.” The idea that there might be design solutions that could, at the very least, help protect communities from the most immediate eﬀects of climate changerelated disasters is certainly appealing. 50
the 2015 Paris Agreement – looking increasingly likely by the end of the century. This means that sea levels could rise significantly faster than currently anticipated. The BIG U could, therefore, result in communities being put at even greater risk. “As the sea level rises, you need ever smaller storms to overcome [the berm],” climate scientist Klaus Jacob has pointed out. “It’s exactly New Orleans’s problem during Katrina [in 2005]. People think, ‘We have this Big U, we’re safe.’ But you’re building up risk behind the U until it becomes dysfunctional.” These criticisms might be taken as indicators of the wider problems associated with Resilience as a concept. Deriving from the Latin for “rebounding”, the term seems to imply that, with enough technical ingenuity, cities, communities and individuals will be able to bounce back and keep on, well, keeping on, much as before. As a short-term solution, this is reassuring – at least for those who have, historically, been considered worthy of protection. In the long term, Resilience might be more akin to a Band-Aid for a flesh wound; a mop for a deluge; a garden hose for a wildfire. Or, if you will, a Paris Agreement for catastrophic environmental breakdown. It’s a crisp January morning in the desert and CES 2019 is about to open to the public. No firestorms, no floods and, if Twitter is to be trusted, no power outages. I’m on the Monorail, Las Vegas’s diminutive public transit, which zooms up and down an elevated four-mile stretch, connecting the city’s many mega-resorts, casinos and convention halls. The train is packed with bleary-eyed CES attendees wearing lime-green Sony lanyards. I’m wearing one myself. “Hey Google, how tall is the Las Vegas High Roller?” a chirpy woman’s voice pipes into the carriage as we pass the world’s largest Ferris wheel near Harrah’s/The Linq station. The Monorail’s Tannoy ad space has been bought by Google for the duration of CES and the company is aggressively plugging its voice-activated Google Assistant, a rival of Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. An exchange about the High Roller commences between the woman and the android as we shudder along the track. It’s 550ft, apparently. “Wow!!” says the woman in the ad. Most people file out of the carriage when we get to the Las Vegas Convention Center, one of the central hubs of CES. (There are three: ‘Tech East’, ‘Tech West’, and ‘Tech South’, each a cluster of convention centres and resorts.) I get oﬀ at the following stop, Westgate, which is where the Resilience conference will take place
over the next two days. As the Monorail swooshes oﬀ, I see that it is plastered with a big “Hey Google” decal. In the Westgate conference room, an audience has gathered for the first Resilience panels. Among the speakers this morning are Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities, the initiative launched by the Rockefeller Foundation around the same time as the inaugural Rebuild by Design competition; Martin Powell, an environmental consultant who used to advise Boris Johnson when he was London mayor, and who now works for Siemens; and three entrepreneurs who will speak about ‘Building Companies out of Resilient Technologies’. Berkowitz, the moderator, asks for a show of hands. “Who here is from government?” One hand.1 “Industry?” An overwhelming number. “NGOs?” One. “What does [Resilience] really mean?” Berkowitz opens by asking. “Quite simply, it’s a capacity that an individual, a community, a system, a city, [or] a nation has that allows them to survive and thrive in the face of uncertainty and disaster.” Resilience responds to immediate threats, “whether that’s Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, or a refugee crisis.” It also aims to tackle “slow burning” stresses, such as unemployment and social inequality. “We know that equitable cities have higher levels of resilience,” explains Berkowitz. Further qualities that make communities resilient include their being “reflective, robust, resourceful, inclusive, and integrated”. So far, so general. Talk of “megatrends” follows. Urbanisation is one: “Right now, 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities,” says Berkowitz. “By the middle of the century, that’s going to be 70 to 75 per cent. Cities are going to need $2tn of infrastructure [investment] per year to keep up with this, according to the World Bank. We’re talking about a massive opportunity.” Another megatrend, Powell argues, is figuring out what to do with overladen grids and other central distribution systems. In the next 30 to 40 years, he says, we will be running 10 times the current energy load through our grids. “As we’re going to have an increasing amount of extreme events, this grid needs to be able to respond before, during and after an event.” Connected to this megatrend is data. Linking critical infrastructures such as water, power and wifi into responsive networks, says Powell, CES prides itself on being an interlocutor between the tech industry and the US government. In 2018, however, Ajit Pai, who is chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), did not attend, as he had reportedly received death threats following the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality. This year, Pai is also missing in action, along with a handful of colleagues – this time because of the partial government shutdown.
is going to be the next step forward: “It’s now very easy to do. You can lift the data onto a common platform and understand how you can improve each underlying piece of infrastructure.” The “you” in this sentence, I realise, refers to the tech entrepreneurs and investors who largely make up the audience. The introduction has been heavy on praiseworthy ambition and light on specifics, but I soon begin to get a clearer sense of what types of investment opportunities the speakers are talking about. There are independent community grids, for example, such as Oakland’s EcoBlock and Brooklyn’s peer-to-peer Microgrid, in which participants don’t have to sell the excess energy generated by their solar panels to the central grid but can instead trade with each other using blockchain technology. “It’s a fantastic way of thinking of the future,” says Powell, “especially as you begin to put more electric buses, cars, trains and planes [on the grid].” Another example is Zero Mass Water, an extraordinary technique developed by the scientist and entrepreneur Cody Friesen. Like energy, water is a resource that relies on ageing and ineﬃcient distribution systems. Because of this, global freshwater supplies have been dwindling at approximately 1 per cent per capita annually in the last 20 years. Friesen’s solution consists of solar hydropanels that pull potable water out of thin air, even in extremely arid locations such as Dubai. It’s all about “leapfrogging infrastructure”, Friesen explains. This seems to be a recurring motif in the morning’s panels. The critical infrastructures on which we rely – many of which were originally publicly funded – are old, ineﬃcient and crumbling under chronic stresses. Rather than attend to bolstering these infrastructures, it’s tempting to bypass them entirely. But does this approach actually address the causes of those stresses? As if in response to this question, one of the speakers, Jay Iyengar from the multinational water-technology company Xylem, oﬀers some figures. “We’re overdrawn on our freshwater credit card,” she says. Around 70 per cent goes into the agriculture sector but, at 20 per cent, tech and manufacturing also swallow up a substantial amount. “To make one microchip is about 10 gallons of water,” says Iyengar. “If you’re looking at a plant which makes about 20m microchips a month, you’re looking at 200m gallons of water being used on a monthly basis.” That seems an awful lot, I think, but no-one on the panel comments. The obvious follow-on question seems to be: might we not just be producing too many microchips?
During lunch, I wander into the Las Vegas Convention Center next door. I stop at a booth and look on as an exceedingly enthusiastic man explains that, while he’s preparing chicken on his smart hob, the device can communicate with his smart fridge and tell him which of his wine bottles will best suit his meal. I move on to a stand that showcases VRFoetus, a technology enabling you to experience your unborn baby in virtual reality. “Baby faces from various diﬀerent angles live,” boasts the display. Further inside the central hall is the robotics section, where I queue up to play ping-pong with an Omron robot that looks like a giant mechanised Louise Bourgeois spider. It knocks me out in a sequence of terrifyingly precise moves. I scribble “fridge sommelier; VR foetus; ping-pong robot” in my notebook. I think about all the microchips and all the gallons of water. Back at Westgate, the conference continues. The afternoon is a spectacle of rousing promotional videos and panel discussions. I learn about Freight Farms, a company that has developed a compact container farm, or GreeneryTM, where communities can grow produce on a subsistence scale regardless of access to arable farmland. I learn about a collaboration between the World Bank and Amazon that has resulted in an AI tool that can help governments predict where and when famines might happen. I learn about Google’s Loon blimps, which provide wifi without reliance on grounded routers. In the final segment, I discover PledgeLA, an alliance between the city of Los Angeles and its venture-capital community. Participants promise to “improve equity, diversity, and inclusion at all levels of our organizations and in our investment decisions”, but, as one of them professes during the session, her motivation as a venture capitalist is primarily to get “really, really rich”. The audience chuckles appreciatively at the sentiment. It’s been a long day and the eight-hour time diﬀerence suddenly hits me like a smack in the face. I mull over the day’s events while heading back to my hotel on the Monorail. “Hey Google,” the woman in the ad interrupts. “How tall is the Las Vegas High Roller?” I feel a little closer to understanding the concept of Resilience, I think as I try to shut out the familiar prattling. However, I’m still not entirely sure what the tech industry intends to do with it. “Get really, really rich” is still ringing in my ears. “Wow!!” the Tannoy says. 54
A brief note on the modern history of the term “resilience”, courtesy (mostly) of Ashley Dawson.
eﬀorts that sought to protect threatened ecosystems by eliminating predators. Such an approach, Holling argued, could unintentionally undermine the resilience of the ecosystem in question. Drawing a neat parallel from ecology to economy, Hayek insisted that any external interventions to markets – the practice of bolstering failing sectors, for instance – were bound to have a crippling long-term eﬀect on the economy as a whole. “Today,” writes Dawson, “these arguments, once considered marginal, are central to neoliberal discussions of resilience, where the role of the state is to create optimal conditions for individuals and companies to operate, rather than trying to achieve centralised control.”
The current use of the term can be traced back to the 1970s, when the ecologist C.S. Holling published an influential paper titled ‘Resilience and stability of ecological systems’ in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics. In it, Holling broke with the thendominant view that natural ecosystems exist in a state of equilibrium, to which they can return after repairing themselves following occasional disruptions. Instead, argued Holling, nature is resilient because it assimilates to interferences, morphing and adapting along the way. Resilience “is the capacity of a system to absorb and utilise or even benefit from perturbations and changes that attain it”, he wrote. Tannoy contains the word annoy, I muse. I’m on my According to Dawson, who is a critic of Holling, way to the second and final session of the CES 2019 this notion of resilience was swiftly put in the service Resilience conference, learning about the High Roller of industry. “Researchers like Holling were interested again. It’s never quiet in Las Vegas. in finding ways to sustain yield from ecosystems that If yesterday was about leapfrogging infrastructure, were experiencing conditions of extreme instability,” these final sessions delve into the role of tech in improving writes Dawson, “like the Atlantic northwest cod fishery.” existing systems. “Most of the infrastructure that we’re Decimating fish stocks could be justified by a theory riding on today was built before most of the people positing that ecosystems are capable of enduring – even gaining from – extreme forms of disruption, “The tech community needs such as commercial overfishing. Holling’s theory of to re-learn humility; no-one will ecological resilience quickly took hold. Enter Friedrich von Hayek, the Anglo-Austrian share data that’s going to save economist sometimes called the “father of neoliberalism”. In 1974, he won the Nobel Prize in lives without trust.” —Chris Rezendes economic sciences for his “penetrating analysis of the in this room were born,” says Chris Rezendes from interdependence of economic, social and institutional Spherical Analytics. “Whether it’s energy or wastewater phenomena”. In what was to become the economic or transportation, this layer of infrastructure[…] might dogma for the next four decades, Hayek argued that be the oldest, the weakest, the most brittle. It’s a scary central planning and predictions of the movements thing to uncover.” Where tech can make a diﬀerence, of the market are useless: to him, the most eﬃcient Rezendes says, is in the “cyber physical” realm: the and sustainable economic model was free-market monitoring and control systems that undergird physical capitalism. Hayek dismissed the idea that this set infrastructure. The ways to make these infrastructures us on course towards the ultimate depletion of more Resilient, according to many of the speakers, Earth’s finite resources. We simply can’t know, let is to loop them into responsive networks, such that data alone control or mitigate, such potentialities, was collected from the sensors in, say, local flood defences, his argument. “The curious task of economics,” Hayek can communicate with smart homes and their alarm once wrote, “is to demonstrate to men how little they systems. There’s only one hitch: after 2018, a year in really know about what they imagine they can design.” which analytics scandals and data-privacy breeches At this stage of his career, Hayek’s method drew have dominated the news, consumers and lawmakers widely and impressively on fields such as neuroscience, Monimalz’s digital interface. are sceptical of tech’s data-aggregation practices. psychology and biology. In the latter discipline, he took particular note of the work of Holling, who, “I think we in the tech community need to re-learn by this time, had begun to argue against preservation humility,” says Rezendes. “Because no-one in their Technology
right mind [will] share the data that’s going to save lives if they don’t trust that the fire department, the local insurance agencies, or the other stakeholders aren’t going to try to lever [that data] the way too many technology companies have levered [it] by capturing all [of it], putting it behind walls and using it for their own ends.” This mea culpa strikes me as interesting. CES is still, largely, a convention for tech hardware, but as the gadgets presented become increasingly smart – i.e. connected – questions of data privacy and cyber security have become more urgent. “I’ve been coming to CES for over a decade now,” says one panellist, Suzanne Spaulding from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “[Previously] I would go up to the exhibitors: ‘Has anybody asked you about cyber security of this wonderful networked home in the last three days that you’ve been here?’ And [I’d] get blank stares. No idea what I was talking about.” But in the last year or so, she says, “that has gotten better”. Clearly, then, there are problems associated with companies operating resilient technologies for profit. The idea that such initiatives should mainly be driven by private interests is, however, never challenged. As soon as Rezendes acknowledges the erosion of consumer confidence in tech, he anxiously overstates his position: he’s not suggesting we return to “the tyranny of the commons”, he assures the audience – twice. He wants “new marketplaces where data is traded” because today, “data is more valuable than gold or oil.” What he’s suggesting is “not socialism, not communism”. Not, he concludes, in a flourish that would give Mary Poppins a run for her money, “free-loving-spotted-owl-tonguekissing-pinko-tree-hugging liberal[ism]”.
FirstNet is the product of a piece of legislation passed in the US Congress in 2012. The bill established a public-private partnership between AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications provider, and the US government. “Since March 2017, AT&T have been building additional towers to provide additional airwaves,” says Ward. Now, it’s beginning to become possible for individual states to opt in. “[The 2012] legislation set aside $6bn, which is not enough to build out a nationwide network. So AT&T are bringing resources to the table.” FirstNet benefits AT&T as it actually helps expand its own commercial network. “Because it’s a joint venture, AT&T consumers are on our airways. But if public safety needs it, it’s theirs,” says Ward. This seems to be the state of Resilience as presented at CES 2019: the ideal model proposed is one in which government provides the conditions for private enterprise. FirstNet is a successful example that oﬀers mutual benefits for AT&T and for first responders. Other initiatives presented at the conference, however, seem more concerned with tipping that balance in favour of tech companies. In the end, CES is a strange place to go in search of technologies aimed at mitigating catastrophes that are, to a great extent, caused by humanity’s overconsumption of technology. The small scope of the exhibition area – of actual concrete initiatives presented – should come as no surprise. On the shop floor, the lofty claims and ambitions of the conference seem to have evaporated, replaced by something much less committal. “Resilience?” says one exhibitor. “I don’t know about Resilience. I thought we were in Smart Cities.” E N D
My final day at CES is spent speaking to exhibitors in the new Resilience section of the trade fair itself. There aren’t many and, as expected, the emergency communications network FirstNet seems to be the only one out of eleven that fully responds to the topics raised in the conference. “Resilience means many things to diﬀerent people,” says April Ward, a spokesperson I meet at FirstNet’s booth. To FirstNet, it means giving first responders access to a special mobile spectrum that operates separately from regular commercial networks. “Say you’re at a soccer game,” says Ward, “your phone’s buﬀering, [but] a first responder on FirstNet wouldn’t buﬀer because they’d be on our network.” This is crucial during emergencies, when commercial networks get heavily congested.
Disegno was invited to CES 2019 as part of the CTA’s International Scholarship Journalist Program. The CTA paid for the writer’s trip to Las Vegas.
ginger armchair designed by Yonoh ES
first introduced at Salone del Mobile Hall 12, Stand B09 C14
Hysterical Paroxysms Words Johanna Agerman Ross Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
The micro-robotic vibrator Osé by new tech company Lora DiCarlo was recently selected as an “Innovation Awards Honoree” in the robotics and drone category by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in the US. With this honour came a coveted space at the annual Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas. A month later, however, the accolade and invitation were revoked, with CTA insisting that the product didn’t fit any of CES’s product categories. In addition, it quoted a clause about disqualifying material deemed “immoral, obscene, indecent”. Many commentators pointed out CES’s double standards – the fair has previously allowed exhibitors showing both female sex robots and VR porn – and there is still little clarity as to what happened. A closer look suggests that events may have come down to a single and rather central aspect of the vibrator: the term “orgasm”. The vibrator was developed in the mid-19th century as a labour-saving device. It was largely used to automate the manual work of the physician in the treatment of the all-encompassing female ailment labelled “hysteria”. Technology brought about the “desired outcome” (orgasm) faster than before, but the terminology around this act was cloaked in medical jargon, such as “hysterical paroxysm”. As the fashion for labelling women hysterics faded in the early 1900s, vibrators moved from the doctor’s oﬃce to the recreational pages of mail-order catalogues. However, they were never sold as sexual aids. Even when reduced in size to become battery-powered phallic wands in the 1960s, vibrators were not mentioned by name. Instead, “personal massage” became the catch-all description. In stark contrast, Lora DiCarlo puts the orgasm – and more importantly the female orgasm – at the forefront of its description of the Osé vibrator. “Blended orgasms are the holy grail of orgasms,” reads its website copy, leaving you in no doubt as to the device’s purpose. Even in 2019, this is a stunningly frank statement. Many contemporary vibrator brands still opt for euphemisms such as “personal pleasure” instead. And herein lies the irony – while vibrators are at the cutting-edge of micro robotics, it still seems we can’t bring ourselves to discuss what they are actually for.
* GLOBE lamp by That Place // CORK BOWL by Granorte AzuLEjO cavaquinho by Malabar // DEFROST lamp by Creativemary KIM chair by Ottiu // FuGO table by DeFontes COLETTE stool by Ottiu
Associative Design ‘The Best of Portugal’ Global Showcases. Featuring an expertly curated mix of contemporary and luxury Portuguese design and innovation.
A Neotenic State of Mind Words Justin Donnellyâ€‚Images Teresa Giannico
Human beings are subconsciously moved by big eyes, round heads, chubby cheeks and pudgy extremities. It is widely believed that when we see them, a dark recess in our brains – the amygdala – initiates a surge of nurturing aﬀection, telling us that we are encountering a child and should conduct ourselves accordingly. Only, the amygdala is evolutionarily quite old and easily fooled. We experience similar sensations whether we are looking at baby humans, baby animals, cute cartoons, or even inanimate objects such as tables or chairs. My first encounter with this phenomenon took place a few years ago on the streets of Brooklyn.
The imperative to nurture our young is so deeply coded in our biology that it is inescapable, even when misapplied to objects. A friend and I walked by a parked Volkswagen Beetle with vinyl decals resembling human eyelashes above the headlights. My first reaction was one of disdain – decorating a car to resemble a face felt tasteless to me. But when I looked at my friend, she was squatting in front of the vehicle, entranced. In her words, the car was “adorable.” And that’s precisely what VW intended when it undertook to redesign the vehicle in 1994. Knowing full well that people see faces in automobiles, VW increased the relative size of the greenhouse (which we read as a cranium) and the headlights (which we read as eyes) in the New Beetle (1997-2011). These exaggerations reflect proportions in juvenile animals, which typically have large heads and eyes in relation to body size. It turns out that what my friend was responding to was not a tacky decal, but an abundance of childlike forms – something that touched her on an emotional level. Scientists have known about this phenomenon for a long time. In 1872, Charles Darwin speculated that the aﬀection we feel for infants might be due in part to “inherited habit”. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin wrote: “Although the emotion of love, for instance that of a mother for her
infant, is one of the strongest of which the mind is capable, it can hardly be said to have any proper or peculiar means of expression; and this is intelligible, as it has not habitually led to any special line of action. No doubt, as aﬀection is a pleasurable sensation, it generally causes a gentle smile and some brightening of the eyes. A strong desire to touch the beloved person is commonly felt; and love is expressed by this means more plainly than by any other. Hence we long to clasp in our arms those whom we tenderly love. We probably owe this desire to inherited habit, in association with the nursing and tending of our children, and with the mutual caresses of lovers.” In 1949, the Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz built on this idea, theorising that juvenile features were “innate releasing mechanisms” to elicit nurturing and aﬀection in the viewer. After cataloguing the morphological diﬀerences between juveniles and adults of diﬀerent animal species, Lorenz postulated a “kinderschema” that included “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements”. He went on to theorise that our response to these traits is transferrable between forms – we feel an involuntary sense of disarming tenderness whether we see a human baby, a seal pup, or even a particularly anthropomorphic rock scree. Lorenz concluded that the imperative to nurture our young is so deeply coded in our biology that it is inescapable, even when misapplied to animals or objects. “Neoteny” is the word that science has used to describe the prolongation or retention of these childlike features. It was coined in 1885 to describe the (now critically endangered) Mexican axolotl salamander. Unlike most amphibians, the axolotl does not undergo metamorphosis; rather than shedding its juvenile gills and moving to the land, it retains them and keeps to the water. The word was bandied about in evolutionary biology circles during the 20th century and peaked in usage during the 1980s, when the academic and pop scientist Stephen Jay Gould used neoteny to explain everything from cartoon characters to the humanisation of our species (bigger brains, flatter faces). In 1981, he wrote: “If humans evolved, as I believe, by neoteny[…] then we are, in a more than metaphorical sense, permanent children.” It is now believed that Gould overstated his case.
Neoteny is probably not the driving force in human evolution, but the past decade of clinical trials has lent considerable support to Lorenz’s theory that neoteny’s eﬀects on the brain are both subliminal and transferrable. A 2005 study conducted at Emory University in Atlanta used MRI technology to catalogue brain activity while subjects were shown photographs of baby animals. According to the findings, the images stimulated rapid-response activity in the middle area of the orbital frontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with pleasure and positive emotions. The speed at which this took place suggested that the response preceded cognition. If, as these findings suggest, neoteny’s eﬀects truly are both subliminal and transferrable, it might be a profitable lens through which to view contemporary design. Unlike broader terms such as “cute” or “kawaii” – which include aspects of size, colour, helplessness and nostalgia – neoteny is strictly confined to childlike morphology. In other words, it deals exclusively with those juvenile features with the potential to aﬀect us neurochemically. And while contemporary designers are more likely to describe their work in terms of material expression or machine processes, emotional eﬀect has begun to creep into the discourse as the stoicism of 20th-century cool yields ground to the empathy of 21st-century cute. Stockholm-based studio Front, for instance, recently launched its Resting Animals collection for Vitra, a set of animal forms executed as furniture or ceramics that probe at the emotional impact figurative objects can have. “The education in
“The sensible part of us says, ‘I’m not supposed to like this,’ but the emotion associated with objects is so strong.” —Sofia Lagerkvist taste that we get as designers takes us away from the figurative or childlike,” explains studio co-founder Sofia Lagerkvist. “The sensible part of our brain says, ‘I’m not supposed to like this,’ but the emotion associated with figurative objects is so strong[…] We
wanted to create something that was on the fine line between sculpture and something that provokes a softening of the heart.” From a historical perspective, the animation industry was probably the first design discipline to employ neotenic design strategies in a concerted manner. At Walt Disney Studios, neotenic techniques were evident in animators’ work as early as the 1920s. Thanks to Gould, we know that various artists drew characters such as Mickey Mouse progressively “younger” with each successive film appearance, exaggerating the size of his head, eyes and cranial vault. “The Disney artists transformed Mickey in clever silence, often using suggestive devices that mimic nature’s own changes by diﬀerent routes,” wrote Gould. “To give him the shorter and pudgier legs of youth, they lowered his pants line and covered his spindly legs with a baggy outfit[…] The length of Mickey’s snout has not altered but decreasing protrusion is more subtly suggested by a pronounced thickening. Mickey’s eyes have grown in two modes: first, by a major, discontinuous evolutionary shift as the entire eye of ancestral Mickey became the pupil of his descendants, and second, by gradual increase thereafter.” Since the early days of animation, neotenic design techniques have been used to shape everything from Alessi toiletries to Prada keychains. Most recently, neotenic forms have been made manifest in furniture and lighting design. The past decade has seen a proliferation of dumpy tables, chubby chairs and stocky light forms. And while very few of the designers responsible for these objects will concede that they set out to produce a childlike design, the resulting forms conjure juvenile associations that elicit an emotional response. So what are the key features of neotenic furniture design? Obviously, we have to see personhood in the object in order to recognise childlike shapes. Zoomorphism, then, is a prerequisite, although not a suﬃcient one. Front’s Animal Thing collection for Moooi (2006) – a selection of lifelike animal sculptures converted to serve as furniture – is a good example. Although they are zoomorphic, the animal forms are mature and do not incorporate any childlike qualities. There are three features that are common to neotenic furniture design objects, however: thickened forms; soft or rounded terminations; and monomaterials. At its most basic, a pudgier version of a familiar form will read as a baby version of that form. When
as a “springy elastic consistency”. When the cord is coloured to match the rubber sleeve, the light appears as if it were made of one material growing from the ceiling, an organic gesture that gives the creation a juvenile quality. Occasionally, we can read a childlike face in an industrial design object. Not only is this the case with the VW New Beetle, but also with Konstantin Grcic’s Sam Son chair for Magis (2015). Grcic set out to create a “big volume in a very light way”. The studio experimented with zodiac boat construction methods, hoping to create an inflatable armrest. When the material proved unsuitable from an industrial manufacturing perspective, Grcic substituted moulded plastic for the PVC tube and retained the sausage-shaped armrest. “I thought if we used a very soft plastic and moulded it, we would come close to the zodiac sausage concept,” says Grcic. “There was this soft, suspended seat hanging beneath the sausage armrest [but] in the end, the chair is made from one material, one process, and is perceived as one thing. The more it was one thing, the more I began to see a character in the object: a face, two large eyes in the armrest, a friendly smile in the seat.” Not only does Grcic’s explanation of Sam Son suggest Lorenz’s “large and low-lying eyes”, but it also touches on perhaps the most important quality of neotenic design – the potential of form to elicit empathy or pathos. Grcic named the chair accordingly. “There is something of a misfit in [a] cartoon character and the name ‘Sam Son’ reflects that as well,” he says. “I couldn’t call it ‘Joe’ or something like that. ‘Joe’ is a nice name, but this creature came from another world. Sam Son is nice and easy to say, to pronounce, and it triggers a sort of sympathy[…] The naming came later in the process. It came from looking at the computer screen. It became this cartoon that we could animate. That made it very strongly become a cartoon instead of a piece of furniture.” Grcic is not alone in his interest in cartoons. Not only did Big Game and Sylvain Willenz share a studio space in Brussels from 2005 to 2008, but both firms independently cite the Ligne claire cartooning style pioneered by Hergé, the author of The Adventures of Tintin, as a formative influence. Big Game goes so far as to credit Hergé with achieving the “maximum expression with the minimum line”. Perhaps, then, neotenic form is not so much an intentional design
Swiss studio Big Game set out to develop its Bold chair for Moustache (2009), the practice started by looking at tubular steel chairs from the Bauhaus. According to
“The more it was one thing, the more I began to see a character: two eyes in the armrest, a friendly smile in the seat.”—Konstantin Grcic Elric Petit, Grégoire Jeanmonod and Augustin Scott de Martinville, the trio behind Big Game, “all the tube chairs from the Bauhaus include a piece of wood or plastic”. The studio sought to reduce the archetype to its most basic expression by eliminating the non-tube parts. In order to dispense with wood seats and plastic backrests, Big Game increased the thickness of the tube form by encasing the steel in cast-foam and sheathing the resulting composite in knit fabric. The resulting chair is pudgier than its predecessors – possessing what Lorenz might have considered “short and thick extremities”. Due to the termination detail of the knit, which is stuﬀed between the steel tube and the encasing foam, the feet of the Bold chair appear to be filleted or rounded. Finally, although constructed from several diﬀerent materials, Bold appears as if it were made of one single material – one single thought or idea. While typological precedent was not as much of a guiding influence, a similar interest in reduction drove Sylvain Willenz to develop the Torch light for Established & Sons (2008). According to Willenz, “Torch is made up of the least possible components. A body, diﬀuser, electrical bits and a cable[…] No screws.” In Torch, all of the “guts” are encased in a single, flexible, cast-rubber sleeve. This slightly textured wrapper helps to foster the idea of the object as zoomorphic – as if it were sheathed in a skin. The encapsulation also has a secondary eﬀect: it makes the lamp appear sausage-like, especially where its body meets the cord and where the cord meets the ceiling canopy. This rounding and softening of the transitions conjures up childlike shapes and gives the object what Lorenz might have referred to
decision as a by-product of an abiding fascination with caricature. To reduce an industrial design object to its essential form, it seems that contemporary designers are using bolder strokes, rounded forms and fewer materials. The fact that we can now see juvenile form as mature design might have something to do with the artist Takashi Murakami’s Superflat concept (2000) – the idea that the explosion of Japanese anime and manga culture has helped to collapse preexisting distinctions between mass-market consumer goods and fine art. Murakami postulates that his nation’s Second World War defeat and subsequent occupation by the US turned his compatriots into perpetual children. In his 2005 essay ‘Earth in My Window’, parts of which read as if Gould himself had penned them, he writes: “Whatever true intentions underlie “Little Boy,” the nickname for Hiroshima’s atomic bomb, we Japanese are truly, deeply, pampered children.” If the proliferation of anime and manga culture has elevated the cartoon to the level of fine art, then design need no longer be cool or sophisticated to elicit our attention – it can look cute and maintain some degree of cultural gravitas. The preponderance of the cartoon might also explain why we might recognise pudgy and anthropomorphic forms as childlike, when we might have considered them
can cause us to release aﬀective energies away from the object and towards ourselves. The researchers find that “cuteness is as much an elicitor of play as it is of care. It is as likely to trigger a childlike state as a parental one.” They go on to state that “regardless of whether the cuteness response originally arose to increase the welfare of one’s own oﬀspring, it is not best characterised as a direct releaser of caretaking behaviours, but rather as a direct releaser of human sociality.” This means that we may be self-limiting our higher brain functions in the presence of childlike or cartoonish things, easing back on adult judgement and anxiety. If such forms do in fact increase play and “aﬃliative” tendencies, then neotenic design might become one of 21st century’s best strategies for connecting people to the objects around them on an emotional level. E N D
The preponderance of the cartoon might also explain why we might recognise pudgy, anthropomorphic forms as childlike. “abstract” in the 1940s, “pop” in the 1960s and 1970s, “postmodern” in the 1980s and 1990s, or “blobby” in the early 2000s. If, like my friend in Brooklyn, you have found yourself making cooing sounds in the presence of an object, you may have experienced the emotional eﬀects of neoteny firsthand. Research conducted at the University of Virginia suggests these joyful noises are evidence that an abundance of juvenile sweetness
From left: the Chubby chair (2018) by Jack Rabbit Studio; and Terracotta furniture (2016) by Chris Wolston.
From left: Bold chair (2009) by Big-Game for Moustache; Torch suspension (2008) by Sylvain Willenz for Established & Sons; Set No. 5 cocktail table (2018) by Müsing–Sellés; Vima floor lamp (2016) by Haha; and Olo light (2016) by Jean-Baptite Fastrez for Moustache.
From left: Concrete lamp by Jonas Wagell for Menu; Baby Bear armchair (2016) by Pierre Yovanovitch; Roly Poly chair (2014) by Faye Toogood for Driade; and Aballs table lamp (2013) by Jaime Hayon for Parachilna.
From left: Sam Son easy chair (2015) by Konstantin Grcic for Magis; 7m chair (2016) by Ara Thorose; Neotenic light (2018) by Jumbo.
From left: /‘º^º’\ (2017) by Dowel Jones and Local Design for Kvadrat and Maharam; and Dot table lamp (2016) by Sylvain Willenz.
A Home for Italian Design Words Johanna Agerman Rossâ€‚Photographs Giulio Ghirardi
Since 1933, the Palazzo dellâ€™Arte by Giovanni Muzio, which stands at the edge of Parco Sempione in Milan, has been the headquarters of celebrated design exhibition La Triennale di Milano. In 2007, however, this exhibition became a museum in its own right.
collection, which – unlike the holdings of many other design museums – will retain an unashamedly local flavour.
Last year, architect Stefano Boeri was announced as the Triennale’s president and with him came changes to the museum’s structure. Under Boeri, the Triennale is questioning its position in both Milan and globally. “The aim is to change the definition of what it is to be a cultural centre, instead of a staid institution that has no connection to modern society,” says Boeri. The first iteration of this change came about earlier this year with the 22nd Triennale di Milano exhibition, Broken Nature, curated by Paola Antonelli of MoMA in New York.1 The next step is the opening of a new permanent exhibition of design from the Triennale’s collection, curated by Joseph Grima, the museum’s newly appointed chief curator for design, fashion and craft. As part of this process, Grima is working in concert with a host of special advisers who are engrained in Milan’s design culture: Antonelli, Andrea Branzi, Mario Bellini, Antonio Citterio, Michele De Lucchi, Piero Lissoni, Claudio Luti, Fabio Novembre, and Patricia Urquiola. Grima manages this role at the Triennale alongside his other commitments as creative director of Design Academy Eindhoven; artistic director of Matera European Capital of Culture 2019; and co-founder of his own curatorial initiative Space Caviar. “I’ve always resisted taking on a single role or a single form of practice,” says Grima. “I’m interested in the crosscontamination between diﬀerent approaches, and what it means to talk about design and architecture today without subscribing to a single language or a single position or point of view.” This multifaceted approach is one Grima has applied to the curation of the collection, in which he has interwoven material from the Triennale’s rich archives with interviews with the featured designers, and texts intended to connect design to global events. “What I find to be the most interesting and stimulating approach to thinking about the role of the cultural institution – whether it be academic or museological – is to think of them as design projects in themselves or as urban projects that overflow and spread out into the city,” says Grima. “In many ways the degree to which they are capable of having an impact on activating the city beyond the walls of their specific containers is very much a measure of their success.” In the following interview, Grima speaks about his new role at the Triennale and the future of its 1
Johanna Agerman Ross In your new role, you have had the extraordinary task of curating the Triennale collection and archives. Unlike your other curatorial projects, this is quite diﬀerent as you are working with a collection assembled over time. In that sense, you rely on the people who came before you and what they deemed significant. How do you approach dealing with this historical material while keeping it relevant to today? Joseph Grima It’s an unusual task and a bit of an outlier with respect to the curatorial work that I’ve done in the past. This material is not really the sort of thing I normally deal with, even though I’ve lived and breathed design and architecture for all of my professional life. So I’m not a newcomer, but I would also say that I’m not the world’s premier expert on Italian design. That’s not really what I bring to the table. As you pointed out, there is a pre-existing collection, but it’s not particularly large. It is just over 1,000 pieces, all of Italian design or manufacture. Historically, there were no particular rules or any particular approaches to the collecting, so I’m working with what’s available. There are a few unique pieces, but the objects themselves don’t necessarily tell a complete story. However, what the Triennale does have is an extensive archive: an extraordinary body of contextual material and documents of various kinds from all the previous exhibitions. A lot of the objects in other design collections around the world were presented for the first time at the Triennale and we have all of the documentation around this. There are letters talking about how they should be presented, photographs of the pieces, and a lot of original models and prototypes that were built to present the work. So paradoxically, the Triennale collection is not so much about the objects themselves but about all of the things around the objects that are quite unique. That’s what I’m trying to work with to bring it to life. Johanna Why is that important? Joseph I’ve never really been so interested in design or even architecture itself. What I am interested in is the people and the way these objects and buildings can tell the stories of the people who made them, or the stories of the people who inhabit them or pass them every day – the ways they can modify the human
See Antonelli’s interview, ‘Consider the Garment’, Disegno #16.
“I am interested in the way objects and buildings can tell the stories of people.”
The building housing the Triennale was designed by Giovanni Muzio and built in the 1930s.
The museum is located in the Parco Sempione in Milan, the city’s main public park.
Chairs held in storage as part of the Triennale’s archive of Italian design.
Grima’s research for the new display at the Triennale.
“The Triennale is an emblem of Milan. It’s really Milan’s living room, in a way.” A set of Plia folding chairs (1970), designed by Giancarlo Piretti for Castelli, positioned beneath Panton chairs (1959-60) by Verner Panton.
condition. And that is the key objective here, to tell the story of people, rather than to tell the story of objects. Johanna In the context of a permanent exhibition, how will you enliven or embody the archive when the actual people aren’t there anymore? Joseph One thing we’ve done is to record interviews with the authors and designers who are still alive, asking them to tell us about the influences, ideas and conditions around the birth of their objects. I’m reminded of something Vico Magistretti told me when I interviewed him for Domus. For him, an object qualifies as a successful design if you’re able to call up the manufacturer and describe it over the telephone without providing any drawings and the manufacturer is able to put it into production on the basis of this description. Of course, Magistretti is no longer around, but we wanted to pay homage to him by calling up designers and getting them to talk about their designs over the telephone. So that’s one of the strategies we’re using. It’s about trying to evoke the spirit of the times and the contexts of how these objects were born. We also want to find a way for people to contribute their own stories, because many of the people who will be coming through the exhibition will have worked in the factories that produced the objects on display. Something that sets Italian design apart is that it was very democratic. These objects were designed for everyday use, unlike the collectable design trends of today. Therefore, lots of these objects, especially within Italy, are really familiar. They are the sort of things that people grew up with, had in their homes, and will be able to relate to, even if they have become collectible designs. Johanna So who do you envisage as the visitor? Is the audience primarily Italian or are you also trying to engage international visitors with the display? Joseph The Triennale is an emblem of Milan. It’s really Milan’s living room, in a way. It’s a place that people from the design and architecture community visit frequently, so that’s certainly a core audience. But in fact, this exhibition is the first step towards the construction and the opening of an expansion of the Triennale which will be a major international design museum: a new wing of the building that is fully devoted to the collection. The collection will need to grow over the coming years. In that sense, the long-term objective is to reinforce the Triennale’s position as an international destination for anyone interested in design and Italian design in particular.
Johanna At one time the Triennale was the place where you could see contemporary design in action, but for the last few decades those stages have diversified and Milan’s position as a capital of design has been challenged. Is this an attempt to regain it? Joseph Absolutely. It’s one of those weird paradoxes that Milan, of all cities, should have no design museum. It is so central to Milan’s identity that it is almost overwhelmingly challenging for anyone to try setting up a museum of design. It becomes this psychological dilemma: it’s so crucial for the city that nobody dares to do it. But when this project is complete and it does succeed in opening a major museum, the content of that museum will be absolutely unique and above the level of any other – at least in terms of Italian design. Johanna It’s a bold strategy to go for a local focus, because many design museums nowadays strive for a much more global perspective. Weirdly, as a result, they often have the same content. Joseph That’s the thing. We’re trying to tell the story of a very specific region, not just about the city of Milan. It’s about the designers and the entire productive ecosystem of the whole area around Milan, which has the most incredible craftsmanship and extremely specialised knowledge. That’s what really made the whole thing lift oﬀ. It wasn’t just the designers themselves. Johanna You have a board of specialists working with you on the acquisitions and exhibition display. Tell me about that set-up and how you work together. Joseph It’s an advisory board constituted mostly of designers and notable figures from the Milanese design scene. We haven’t actually formalised the acquisitions committee yet. At the moment, we’ve suspended all acquisitions until the museum opens in April; after that we’ll begin questioning how to add new exhibits. The board advises on how to structure a convincing exhibition; about which pieces to include and which are the crucial pieces of given designers. Many have work of their own in the collection. It’s been an ongoing conversation with them and they’re all intimately involved in the history of Italian design. It’s been a group eﬀort, I would say, putting together this exhibition. Johanna Can you describe the structure and set-up of the exhibition? Joseph It’s a chronological display. We didn’t organise it typologically, because that didn’t seem
digitisation and leveraging the power of new database technologies. That way, we can put the objects and archives in relation to one another, and try to extract new interpretations, perspectives, and histories. It’s incredibly exciting. Some of the most interesting and revolutionary things within computer science in the last 10 or 15 years have unquestionably been happening in database technology. That’s something I’m excited to apply to our world. E N D
like the most interesting way. We’ll be in the “Curva” which looks a little like a racetrack. It’s a very long, curved and narrow space that lends itself to a linear organisation of the exhibition. It will be presented as a timeline, with each object given a certain amount of contextual information that makes it possible to read it within its historical moment. We also wanted to take the work out of the vacuum of design and place it in relation to events within a larger conception of everyday life. So we’ve created a timeline of key events that to some extent also influenced the pieces on display. Johanna And how did you decide to design the display? Joseph Well, interestingly, one of the first things I did when I started at the Triennale was to set up a technical oﬃce as I’m somewhat exhausted by design exhibitions with overwhelming exhibition designs. So the technical oﬃce is able to execute very minimal, straightforward display strategies that don’t overpower the exhibits. It’s a sort of non-designed display, aiming to make the design on show as legible as possible. Johanna You said that the collection has grown without a specific policy, so in terms of adding to the timeline, what do you look to acquire moving forward? Joseph One of the strategies I’ve been talking and thinking about is the archive of archives.2 I’m very interested in the acquisition of entire archives rather than single objects, because I think those are the things that really set Italian design apart and are the work of the great maestri of design. Some designers have already passed away and others are very elderly. A lot of the work that made Italian design great, and a lot of the archives of people who made Italian design great, have a very uncertain future, so we’re trying to present a credible guarantee that the Triennale will oﬀer these archives a good home where they will be accessible and visible, studied and archived in a structured way. Johanna You talk about these maestri and their archives, but what is the future of this kind of institution in the digital age? What are the challenges and the possibilities of the position of Italy as a design culture today? Joseph To a large extent, it rests upon making these bodies of work accessible and legible to as abroad an audience as possible. This, in turn, is likely to cultivate a greater appreciation and understanding of design. Obviously, that goes hand in hand with eﬀorts of
The new display will be installed in the 2
Curva gallery in the Triennale.
See ‘Comment of Comments’, Disegno #19.
“I’m somewhat exhausted by design exhibitions with overwhelming exhibition designs. Ours is a sort of nondesigned display, aiming to make the design on show as legible as possible.”
Gio Ponti’s 1933 panoramic tower looms over the Triennale site.
The new permanent display opens to the public in spring 2019.
Public Crystal Words Peter Smisek Photographs Albrecht Fuchs
“He’s more interested in electronics these days,” says Ronan Bouroullec matter-of-factly of his brother Erwan, as he runs up the stairs of the workshop building across from their main studio in Paris’s Belleville. He’s keen to show oﬀ an elegant, life-size mock-up of one of the aluminium-bronze joints that the pair has developed for six new crystal fountains designed for Paris’s most famous street, the Champs-Élysées. Although both of them have overseen the project from conception, Ronan was more involved with the detailed design. These fountains, each 13m tall, will spin at a speed of half a rotation per minute, using a clockwork mechanism and illumination from above to create a moving spectacle of dancing water.
“After 20 years as a designer, I am starting to think about the city,” says Ronan. That Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s interests have begun to diverge after two decades of close collaboration is perhaps not surprising. Their eight-person outfit has taken on a widening range of ambitious projects, now spanning public spaces and wayfinding, interior design, furniture and, indeed, electronics. This is not the studio’s first foray into designing for public space and, judging by a series of still-confidential proposals in one corner of their oﬃce, it won’t be their last. By 2016, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec had amassed enough of these spatial designs – both practical and theoretical – to mount their travelling Rêveries Urbaines exhibition, which comprised follies, canopies and other imaginative spatial embellishments that were designed to modulate, break up, scale down, and otherwise humanise the Haussmannian monumentality of French cities.1 Such interests have continuity with the brothers’ previous work, both in the many installations they have presented at design shows, and in their projects for French authorities and institutions, including a crystal chandelier for the Palace of Versailles. Other publicspace installations by the designers include their 2017 Nuage pergola in Miami, the models of which feature prominently in Rêveries Urbaines. The Bouroullecs based Nuage on their 2002 modular Cloud shelving system for Cappellini, which was also reimagined on the micro scale in 2016 as a series of aluminium vases for Vitra. It is unsurprising, then, that many of the brothers’ urban works hark back to their early 2000s designs for dividers and break-out spaces, which sought to soften the monotony of open-plan oﬃces. Despite his studio’s near ubiquity in French design – both commercially and institutionally – Ronan is not satisfied with the breadth of its projects. “There was a certain frustration that our work is accessible to a small group of people,” he says. “For the first time, I have the feeling that I’m doing something that’s for everybody.” To date, the practice’s output has been more likely to find a home in high-end oﬃces or apartments than on the streets of Paris. Even a more mainstream design, such as the Serif, a 2015 television for Samsung that was updated this year, retails at upwards of around £1,500 – more than three times the price of more pedestrian models. “We’re interested in reaching a more mass audience,” says Ronan. In that sense, the location 1
of the brothers’ new fountains could not be more fitting. They will sit on the rond-point des ChampsÉlysées, above the entrance to the Franklin D. Roosevelt metro station in the heart of Paris’s famed eighth arrondissement, a spot passed by some 300,000 people a day and notable for the roar of passing traﬃc. Despite now being fully subsumed into the city’s 19th-century fabric, the rond-point des Champs-Élysées has a history that stretches back almost two centuries.
“Our work is accessible to a small group of people. Now we’re doing something for everybody.” The 164m-diameter roundabout was originally laid out by Louis XIV’s court landscape architect André Le Nôtre in 1670 as the end of the la grande allée du Roule, an avenue which began at the Tuileries Palace and continued in a north-westerly direction into the surrounding countryside. In 1709, the grand avenue became known as the Champs-Élysées, named after the Elysian Fields, the mythical resting place of Greek heroes. A year later, a row of elm trees was extended toward where the Arc de Triomphe stands today, completing the avenue’s full 1.9km length. Following the French Revolution, France’s new government, the National Convention, ordered the erection of a statue dedicated to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the middle of the square where the roundabout now sits, but the project never materialised and a mound commemorating the assassination of revolutionary writer and politician Jean-Paul Marat was built in its stead. In 1817 the roundabout received its first fountain, designed by Jacques Ignace Hittorﬀ. This was swept away during the subsequent modernisation of Paris under Baron Haussmann, as it formed an obstacle to the increasing volume of traﬃc. In 1854, the civil engineer and landscape architect Alphonse Alphand came up with a solution to create six smaller basins on the roundabout’s perimeter, a layout which has remained the same ever since. The fountains were given a facelift in 1935 by glassmaker René Lalique, but the densely packed crystal fronds that he designed to surround the water jets proved too fragile and were
Rêveries Urbaines was reviewed in Disegno #11.
Image by Morgane Le Gall.
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s fountains on the Champs-Élysées were unveiled in March 2019.
The commission, which is funded by the Fonds Pour Paris, is the Bouroullecsâ€™ first public commission of this scale.
Image courtesy of Studio Bouroullec.
Each of the six fountains comprises an elaborate crystal-clad aluminium-broze framework.
replaced in 1958 by Max Ingrand’s sturdier design. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long either; it was soon replaced by a more durable plastic replica of the original. But just like the enthusiasm for all things plastic fantastic, the fountains deteriorated and, by 1998, were out of order again – a result of leaking basins and faulty hydraulics, as well as the intense revelry that swept the capital following the French victory in the FIFA World Cup that same year. A period of neglect followed. “The fountains completely disappeared during the last few years,” says Ronan, who notes that the lawns on which they had stood were overgrown, while the now-dry basins had essentially become invisible. Removing the shrubs and small trees that had taken root was the first step towards overhauling the site. “When I visited for the first time, there were still remnants of Ingrand’s design, which is extraordinary given the amount of foot traﬃc,” says Ronan, adding that preservationists and authorities never suggested that the fountains be restored to their previous state. Not only were the landmarks not listed, but the relative novelty of the last iteration meant they had not become a part of Parisians’ collective memory. The invitation to create a new proposal came from Fonds Pour Paris, a charity set up by the socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo in May 2015. The foundation allows wealthy donors from across 16 European Union countries (including France) to give towards new cultural monuments in the city, while also enabling them to write oﬀ almost 90 per cent of their donations against tax. This style of philanthropy, common in the United States, feels unusual in continental Europe, where public spaces have typically been paid for using public funds. Indeed, the organisation also has an American branch, the Paris Foundation, which raises money on behalf of the city from US donors. Impressed by Rêveries Urbaines, some of the charity’s more design-conscious board members invited the Bouroullecs to submit a proposal. When they did so, it met with unanimous approval. While the city of Paris keeps a firm grip on the foundation’s activities – including approving its projects every year and appointing its board – it would be easy to raise accusations of elitism against its members, who include Guillaume Houzé, the communications director of Galeries Lafayette, Nathalie Bellon-Szabo, the director of catering giant Sodexo, and Philippe Journo, the founder of development firm Compagnie de Phalsbourg and major donor to the French Ministry for Culture. In this vein however, it’s interesting to
note that the oﬃcial name of the roundabout where the fountains are located is rond-point des ChampsÉlysées-Marcel-Dassault, named after the famous French industrialist and politician who bought a mansion facing the fountains in 1952, a building which now serves as an auction house. Nevertheless, this is a big moment for the Fonds Pour Paris. The fountains on the Champs-Élysées will be the first project completed on its behalf. Other designs in the works include a new lighting scheme for the Arc De Triomphe by Olafur Eliasson, as well as a controversial sculpture commemorating the Bataclan terrorist attack by Jeﬀ Koons. And although the city and the Fonds are keen to highlight the unique funding model and heap praise on the donors, Ronan is adamant that the manufacturers, engineers and contractors should receive as much praise. “All the companies
“This type of project is more suited to an architecture studio. Public-space projects are a lot more complex.” that worked on the project spent an enormous quantity of time on it, especially compared to the amount they’ve been paid,” he says, praising the “collective intelligence” of all involved. Although the studio collaborated with the Nantes-based Atelier Blam, their trusted engineering and design consultant, overseeing the fountains’ design and production stretched the brothers’ practice to its limits. “This type of project is more suited to an architecture studio,” says Ronan. “It’s diﬀerent to working as a designer. If a company wants to work with you, they organise a whole team around you – it’s very easy. Public space projects are a lot more complex.” A more hierarchical, larger oﬃce might have made it easier to focus, although the advantage of the current set-up is that it allows both brothers to be involved in each piece of work. “I want to draw every day and work on everything. If we continue in this direction – because I like working on this scale – we will need to organise the oﬃce diﬀerently,” says Ronan. The total budget for the fountains is relatively modest: €6.3m for six fountains, half of which was spent on repairing the damaged basins and installing
The fountainsâ€™ delicate branches were designed to evoke abstract trees.
the complex water-delivery system, onto which the Bouroullecs’ finely crafted, crystal-clad aluminiumbronze frameworks can be grafted. “Two hundred and fifty people worked on it and provided work to small companies, many of which are struggling in the current economic climate in France,” says Ronan. Despite the project’s private financing, it is sited in a public space, which is there for all to see and enjoy. Judging by the array of models and samples in the brother’s studio, their attention to detail has been extraordinary. The Fonds Pour Paris is equally keen to emphasise that the fountains will not be named after any of the donors, with only a plaque on the side listing the benefactors. The fountains seem like esoteric clockwork instruments, but they have been designed to resemble abstract trees. Initial mock-ups made more than three years ago were well over 20m tall and featured five branches, but these were deemed too overbearing and cluttered so the Bouroullecs reduced the number of branches to three. In addition, the early iterations would not have fit onto flatbed trucks. Water gushes from the fountains’ fronds, which are encased in collars of Swarovski crystals emanating from the top downward and illuminated at night by rows of LEDs. “The choice of material was clear for us,” says Ronan. “Glass is important in Paris, from [Hector] Guimard’s métropolitain entrances to Jean-Michel Othoniel’s Palais Royal metro entrance from glass baubles.” These are references to the elegant art nouveau pavilions that adorn some Parisian metro stations, and feature translucent panes of glass and crimson droplet-like street lamps, as well as the more contemporary entryway designs that include coloured glass baubles. The brothers’ take on these is more aesthetically restrained and delicate, but technically more elaborate. The crystal pieces – essentially two halves of a short tube – are attached to an underlying stainless-steel structure. Their inner side is coated in a reflective material, which means that on an overcast day the fronds will blend into the surrounding city, while, at other times, the cut crystal will refract the light, creating a delicate shimmering apparition. “It can almost disappear during some parts of the day and appear transparent, while at other times the light disperses,” adds Ronan. What’s more, each fountain rotates on its axis once every two minutes, a speed that is just about noticeable
to passing pedestrians. The eﬀect will be a subtle spectacle, with the vast water sculptures spinning slowly, like pirouetting ballet dancers beside the fast-moving traﬃc. “We’re working on the scale of public space but with the precision of an iPhone,” says Ronan. The stem of the fountain had to be custom-milled from specially cast aluminium-bronze cylinders. The studio also
“Two hundred and fifty people worked on it and provided work to small companies. We’re working on the scale of public space but with the precision of an iPhone.” designed a number of connections, the most ingenious of which is a detail that links the crystal elements, the stainless-steel rods underneath, and the strip of LED lights that runs down the side, which the Bouroullecs and Swarovski have patented. Even if the glass were to crack, either due to the weather or vandalism, it would not fall oﬀ. “[The city of lights] is a cliché, but I don’t like all of Paris’s light,” says Ronan. “It can be too harsh and not very delicate.” The LEDs that will be used in the fountains are less than 3,000 Kelvin. “It’s very yellow in a kind of romantic aspect. It’s extremely warm.” Evocative as they may be, the fountains will also double as functional street lighting. Their detailed design certainly seems to have benefited from a prolonged gestation – the studio started working on this project three and a half years ago – but the fact that no similar fountains exist, and that there are therefore no specific standards or precedents that the designers could fall back on or set themselves against, also helped. If the finished product sounds rather complicated, Ronan is clear that there is an overarching reason for this: the elaborate design is meant to give the creations a visual presence during the oﬀ-season. Fountains in Paris are switched oﬀ for six months a year during winter, when they exist as little more than vast basins, collecting leaves, rainwater and cigarette butts. As it turns out, he needn’t have worried about his creations being dry for long periods: two days before our interview, Hidalgo announced that these particular fountains will be kept operational 98
Image by Claire Lavabre.
The fountains have been installed at a time when Paris has seen widespread popular unrest on its streets, with the Champs-Ă‰lysĂŠes being a particular hotspot for protests.
throughout the year. But the original thought – to create a spectacle even without the flow of water – is there should the city’s next administration prove less generous after elections in 2020. The location of the fountains comes with contradictions and complexities. “The Champs-Élysées is a very specific place in which you find every type of person, from the ultra rich to the very poorest,” says Ronan. “It’s a symbolic place for the French: where they come when they have to cry; when they want to fight; to celebrate everything from the end of the Second World War to the victory in the World Cup. I don’t think there is a more symbolic place in France for extreme joy and pleasure to extreme violence.” This violence has historical resonances in Paris, the city whose remodelling between 1853 and 1870 was not just about creating a dignified, eﬃcient and hygienic metropolis worthy of its capital status but also about displacing the poor and creating a series of straight, wide thoroughfares through which the army and police could march to quell popular uprisings.
of rising fuel prices and taxes. “The transformation of Paris is, at this point, a big fight between the mayor and the motorists,” says Ronan. “People like me, who live in Paris, want fewer cars, but people who live in the suburbs need the car to access Paris, so it’s a fight between diﬀerent users of the city. I have no idea how our work will be accepted and considered in this context.” Paris’s intra-muros may be well served by the metro but venture beyond the Boulevard Périphérique and options are suddenly more limited. Grand Paris Express, an infrastructure project consisting of a new orbital line around the city, as well as new radial lines, is under construction; though it is scheduled for completion in 2030, it couldn’t come soon enough. Hidalgo has already closed oﬀ the arterial road running along the right bank of the Seine after weekend trials in 2016. In 2018, the courts upheld Hildalgo’s decision following a challenge from motorist organisations. That same year, she announced plans to pedestrianise the city’s first four arrondissements if re-elected. The Champs-Élysées is also closed to traﬃc, though only on the first Sunday of every month. The car-free days began in 2016, and there are whispers that the emboldened mayor may increase their frequency. By February 2019, public support for the gilets jaunes had begun to wane after a series of antisemitic and nativist incidents, as well as the destruction of private and public property, left many bewildered about the aims of the group. In Paris, the yellow-vest demonstrations have taken place on the ChampsÉlysées itself. According to Ronan, the protestors have even used some of the fences from the fountains’ construction site to barricade themselves against the police. Anticipating a hostile urban environment, the fountains’ crystal elements are suspended well out of reach of pedestrians and are impossible to chip away. As to the risk, Ronan is circumspect: “This is the first time during my career I’ve had to respond to authorities about political crisis management.” E N D
“The transformation of Paris is, at this point, a big fight between the mayor and the motorists. I have no idea how our work will be considered in this context.” The most recent of these, the protests staged by the gilets jaunes (yellow vests), has been under way since November 2018. The demonstrations, taking place every Saturday, started as a protest against rising petrol prices and an increase in fuel duty, and have since morphed into demands to end tax cuts for the wealthy, and lessen the tax burden for everyone else. Higher minimum wage and higher pensions – except for public-sector workers – have also been key goals. The yellow vest is not a class signifier as such and the movement unites the far-left supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the far-right supporters of Marine Le Pen, both of whom have voiced their support. The protesters’ signature garment is universal because of a French law that requires every car owner to carry a high-vis vest in their boot in case of an emergency. Indeed, car owners find themselves feeling increasingly marginalised – and it’s not just because 100
Building in the Anthropocene Words Corinna Deanâ€‚Photographs Mikael Olsson
The photographs accompanying this article were taken in and around the Weston Building, designed by Feilden Fowles, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in February 2019.
a theme he also took up in a body of writing that critically engages with the American southwestern desert and the decaying infrastructure of postindustrial urban areas. These texts sought to situate our understanding of the earth’s structure within prehistoric “deep-time”, with Smithson using his 1968 essay ‘A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects’ to coin the term “abstract geology” to describe his earthworks. “In order to read the rocks we must become conscious of geologic time and of the layers of prehistoric material that is embedded in the Earth’s crust,” he wrote. “When one scans the ruined sites of pre-history one sees a heap of wrecked maps that upsets our present art historical limits.” If the Anthropocene is defined in terms of how human activity is scored into the stratigraphic layers of the earth, Smithson’s methods and works are as relevant today as they were at the time of their execution. With this in mind, one recent piece of architecture may act as a modest marker for a turn in the discipline and prompt a reconsideration of architecture’s impact on its surrounding environment. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s (YSP) Weston building in the north of England is a new visitor centre and gallery designed by the London-based architects Feilden Fowles. The Weston, which opens in spring 2019, is the latest in a series of exhibition spaces created since the YSP opened in 1977, including the 2002 visitors’ centre designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley and the Longside Gallery, a cattle shed remodelled by Tony Fretton in 2001. Feilden Fowles’s Weston sits on the site of a disused quarry, which provided the stone used in an ornamental dam that is part of the park’s original 18th-century landscaping. The quarry has long been grassed over. Nevertheless, the site inspired the architects Edmund Fowles and Fergus Feilden to take its “geological story” as a starting point for their design and “to look at the geology of the site and the strata”. The remains of the quarry are evident in the marked dip in the contours of the land upon which the building sits, with the gallery embedded within banked earth formed from the remains of the spoil. Wrapping around it, meanwhile, are 1.5m-thick walls made from rammed concrete, formed by a method of pouring through which the concrete is built up and allowed to dry layer by layer, creating an appearance of stratification. The architects researched the bedrock of the site, sourcing local aggregates from gravel pits, as well as limestone chippings and crushed pink granite to create the walls,
In recent decades, proposals have been made by natural and social scientists to classify our current geological epoch as the Anthropocene – the period in which human activity is the major influence on the earth’s depleted ecosystems. While the classification is still awaiting verification from the International Commission on Stratigraphy, it already has considerable cachet, with theorist Donna Haraway describing it as
“When one scans the ruined sites of pre-history one sees a heap of wrecked maps that upsets our present art historical limits.” —Robert Smithson “not-yet-oﬃcial but increasingly indispensable” and near “mandatory” in the humanities, arts and science. So how do we address the impact our existence is having on the earth and climate change? In the last few decades, artists, writers and scientists have been grappling with this question, but what ought architecture’s response to be? The work of American artist Robert Smithson (1938-73), a practitioner best known for his land art or “earthworks”, could oﬀer one route into the issue. In 1969, Smithson created Asphalt Rundown, an artwork that even today oﬀers a powerful indicator of how we might expand our architectural thinking. Captured in a documentary video, Asphalt Rundown sees a dump-truck arrive at a disused open quarry on the outskirts of Rome and begin to pour asphalt, a material with its origins in oil and carbon, down one of the slopes. As the asphalt spreads, it fills the crevices from which other materials have long since been extracted. Showing an artificial layer of material poured over the already disrupted earth, the work brings together erosion, gravity and the physical properties of landscape and industrial materials to create a highly designed space, the meaning of which is embedded in the multiple time frames that created it. Smithson made a clear connection between industrialised materials and their geological make-up,
which were then cast with varying retardants to arrest the setting times. Pulverised fly ash, a by-product of the iron smelting process, was also used to lessen the percentage of cement in the mixture and therefore reduce carbon emissions. As a result, passing through the walls creates the impression of being drawn through a rent in the earth, an eﬀect made more pronounced by the layering of the concrete that was designed, in Fowles’s words, “to form the appearance of sedimentary rock”. The concept for the Weston was informed by the work of Smithson as well as that of his contemporary, the American artist Michael Heizer. In particular, Heizer’s use of negative space was influential, as seen in the artist’s Double Negative earthwork: two trenches that were cut into the Mormon Mesa, northwest of Overton, Nevada, in 1969-70. “The potential of this rich seam of work to influence and challenge the approaches of architects was clear,” says Fowles. “It must have been very powerful for the architects of the time.” Indeed, in a discussion between Heizer, Smithson and fellow practitioner Dennis Oppenheim, published in Smithson’s Collected Writings, the artists talk of their interest in the “indoor-outdoor dialectic”, with Heizer acknowledging that his fascination with the outside was driven by the opportunity to create on a scale limited by the indoors: “I work outside because it’s the only place where I can displace mass.” Feilden Fowles’s structure is similarly interested in this flow between interior and exterior. “We wanted the
“We envisaged the structure’s existence long outlasting the building’s useful life, like the remnants of a dry-stone wall.”—Edmund Fowles building to have an ambiguity between sculpture and architecture,” explains Fowles. “We contemplated a building hewn from the sedimentary rock and the strata beneath, and we were trying to allow the existing topography to determine a tectonic and material
experience over a more traditional figure-ground relationship, where a functioning plan is conceived and set down on the ground.” The soft curve of the southwest-facing walls, for example, see the building’s material palette move from rammed concrete to timber and glass, with the placement of the glazed facade intended to create a proscenium from which to view the YSP. In this way, Feilden Fowles foster a more picturesque relationship with the exterior. Indeed, the architects talk of a two-way conversation between the building and the landscape. “We had the opportunity to move away from the ‘white box’ gallery experience and instead have a connection to the outdoors, and with the sculpture in the park,” explains Fowles. These two opposing building techniques – the rammed concrete as an extension of the landscape, contrasted against the timber pavilion structure with its glazed walls – set up a temporal relation for the site. “We envisaged its existence long outlasting the building’s useful life, like the remnants of a drystone wall,” says Fowles of the decision to work with rammed concrete, which will weather at an altogether diﬀerent rate to the timber structure. To my mind, this approach finds its echo in the fascination with the entanglement of the earth and time evident in Smithson’s work. “The strata of the earth is a jumbled museum,” he wrote in ‘A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects’. “Embedded in the sediment is a text that contains limits and boundaries which evade rational order, and social structures.” Within Smithson’s “jumbled museum” a kind of parity is achieved – every disruption to the landscape, be it climactic or human in origin, is a signifier of activity. Feilden Fowles, albeit less directly, also use a narrative of disrupting the site – their building is an intervention punctuating what Smithson would have termed the “distant extremes of time” that it embodies. Smithson’s work involved extreme contrasts between diﬀerent time periods, and the Weston, although modest in standing, uses a similar typology of rearranging and shifting earth to reveal the process of making as a response to the site. Within its design is an acknowledgment of the need to value the geological and the diﬀerent time scales it contains. By situating our behaviour within this deeper analysis of time, a degree of humility in how we build in relation to this epoch has the possibility to emerge. E N D
Dispatches How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth by Herman Miller
Herman Millerâ€™s store in New York.
Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford email@example.com Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki firstname.lastname@example.org Subeditor Ann Morgan Creative directors Florian Böhm, Annahita Kamali akfb.com Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com Sales executive Farnaz Ari firstname.lastname@example.org
Contents In autumn 2014, Disegno published the inaugural edition of Dispatches, a supplement examining the development of Herman Miller’s Living Oﬃce, an in-depth research project and design approach geared towards changing our relationship with the spaces in which we work. Five years later, Disegno is delighted to revisit Dispatches with a new focus. Earlier this year, Herman Miller published ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’, a white paper examining the outcomes of the Living Oﬃce approach. This paper provided the company with quantifiable data, showing how workplace design factors into the happiness and eﬃcacy of the people within an organisation. Over the following pages, Disegno explores the implications of this white paper, and how it’s shaping Herman Miller moving forward. The ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’ white paper is available to view at hermanmiller.com/research.
Photographers Dean Kaufman and Matthew Williams Writers Shantel Blakely, Aileen Kwun and Oli Stratford Contact Disegno Studio 2, The Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Road London N1 5SQ +44 20 7249 1155
Herman Miller: Dispatches
Outside the Box Words Aileen Kwun
For nearly 80 years, the American furniture manufacturer Herman Miller has anticipated and shaped the evolution of the modern-day oﬃce, guided by a philosophy that research-based design decisions will yield measurable results. From the scenes of films such as Mike Judge’s Oﬃce Space to Jacques Tati’s Playtime, and the long-running comic strip Dilbert, the oﬃce cubicle is a common trope of white-collar work comedies. Here, tight, narrow corridors and cubes structured by movable walls – just tall enough to conceal the dweller when seated – act as nine-to-five cages for a deskbound workforce. Across high art and popular culture, it’s a stark caricature of a familiar and dominating work setting, though in truth, the plight of the oﬃce worker has never been so singular nor so static. Today’s worker faces any number of scenarios: from large-scale open-plan layouts, to fragmented micro-oﬃces, and even remote and completely individualised home oﬃces. As technology becomes increasingly mobile and compact, it’s constantly redefining the nature of work, where it happens, and how much it can vary across companies and individuals. Many credit the origins of the oﬃce-cubicle concept to the American furniture company Herman Miller, manufacturer of some of the world’s most ubiquitous and high-performing oﬃce furniture (such as the highly adjustable and ergonomic Aeron, “America’s best-selling chair,” according to Bloomberg), as well as a trove of mid-century modern designs by figures such as Isamu Noguchi and Charles and Ray Eames, among others. While associating the company with the origins of the cubicle farm would be misguided, however, it certainly speaks to the instrumental role that Herman Miller has played in shaping our ideas about the changing workplace. The company’s research-based design approach Living Oﬃce was introduced in 2014 as a modular
kit-of-parts solution. Named to reflect the evermercurial, evolving workplace, Living Oﬃce takes into account the many variables and problems facing people working in contemporary oﬃces. “It responds to typologies of work activities, with a typology of settings made to create environments that are designed to support those diﬀerent types of activities,” explains Joseph White, Herman Miller’s director of workplace strategy. In Living Oﬃce, a tailored combination of workstations – such as individual desks through to informal meeting stations, standing areas and larger conference areas – can work to support an organisation’s needs for a happy, collaborative, and productive oﬃce. In a new, landmark research project released this spring as a white paper titled ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’, Herman Miller’s research team drilled down into the eﬃcacy of Living Oﬃce when they conducted an experiment with 13 global organisations. The company consulted with each team to identify key goals and priorities for their business, and thereafter implemented a redesign of their working space using Living Oﬃce principles. Surveying more than 1,500 respondents on factors that ranged from comfort, eﬃciency, and personal engagement, through to purpose, collaboration and belonging, the survey was an attempt to capture within data the tangible eﬀects of oﬃce design. Herman Miller compared these findings with data from the global benchmarking service Leesman, which carries the largest collection of workplace eﬀectiveness data in the world – including data from more than 340,000 people working in 2,649 oﬃces in 69 countries. Across each variable, Herman
Herman Millerâ€™s AO-II system was developed by Robert Propst
Images courtesy of Herman Miller.
and launched in 1968, focusing around portable office walls.
The Action Office suite of office furniture, introduced in 1964.
Herman Miller: Dispatches
Miller’s dataset performed above the benchmark by an average margin of more than 10 points. While this research project represents the latest development in Herman Miller’s approach to design, the company’s wider modular, systems-based approach to furniture isn’t new. In fact, the company’s human-centric design strategy is part of a larger project that has been in place for nearly eight decades. “Herman Miller’s long history with oﬃce furniture, or at least thinking about how furniture can help people in the oﬃce space, goes all the way back to Gilbert Rohde, who introduced the Executive Oﬃce Group in 1942,” says Amy Auscherman, the company’s in-house archivist and de facto historian. Rohde, a New York–based industrial designer, had been appointed director of design by Herman Miller founder D.J. De Pree in 1932 as the company moved into the Great Depression and looked for new ways to stay afloat. Among the first American designers to visit the Bauhaus school in Dessau, Rohde had observed how teachers such as Marcel Breuer were using spare, industrial parts such as tubular steel to make compact furnishings that could be mass-produced with material eﬃciency and a minimalist elegance. Along with the Art Deco influences he had picked up on travels to France, he was on a personal mission to bring modernism to the American mass market. As such, he persuaded De Pree to leave behind the company’s catalogue of bedroom suites and ornamental reproductions, and instead transition to modern design. With Rohde’s foresights into modular design and systems thinking, the company transitioned to a modern era and, with the Executive Oﬃce Group (EOG), began to anticipate changes in corporate oﬃce culture and the American white-collar workforce. This represented a leap forward from early 20th-century oﬃces that had been modelled on the Taylorist factory floor, with workers aligned elbow-to-elbow in a hierarchical maze of long, conveyor belt-like rows of desks. Years before business visionary Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker” in his 1959 book The Landmarks of Tomorrow, Rohde sensed a change in the modern oﬃce that necessitated a diﬀerent paradigm of eﬃciency and productivity. “This furniture has no escape complex, it looks like what it is, and proclaims the clear-thinking executive who will have no cobwebs in his business,” said Rohde of EOG’s pioneering, utilitarian approach.
Ahead of its time, the collection’s selling points, in fact, were not unlike what we hear today in the wider marketplace for oﬃce furniture. Copy in EOG sales brochures was shaped to appeal to diﬀerent types of white-collar workers, along with suggestions as to what setup might best suit their particular needs. A 1942 oﬃce executive, for example, might not need an especially large desk, as they would likely be away from it and in meetings for much of the day; while an art director at an advertising agency, on the other hand, would likely require an extra-large surface for sketching and jiggering layouts throughout the day. The solution for the best work environment, EOG underlined, was not uniform but rather shaped by context and preference – it was left to the agency of the individual and the organisation. There was no
“How do we learn enough to inform our next steps? Evidence-based design is a learning process.” —Joseph White single perfect desk or chair for everyone, but rather a set of modular solutions that could be combined to a desired outcome. While Rohde’s EOG ultimately fell short as a stalled attempt – a result of US involvement in the Second World War, as well as his own death in 1944 – the collection would set the framework and a core tenet for Herman Miller’s research-driven, systems-based, and human-centred approach to cracking the contract furniture industry. This design philosophy was defined and redefined under the company’s new design leader, George Nelson, who continued Rohde’s EOG line with the addition of new introductions, including an L-shaped desk that responded to the dominance of emerging technologies – such as typewriters – that required dual work surfaces. The Eameses began designing for the company in 1946, bringing their innovative technologies in bent plywood manufacturing to create elegant yet “workmanlike” designs suitable for both the home and oﬃce (as a 1952 catalogue details). By the late 1950s, De Pree felt the company had begun to sate appetites for postwar residential furnishings and so began to pursue new directions.
De Pree tasked a new consultant, Robert Propst, to help diversify and “find problems outside of the furniture industry and to conceive solutions for them.” Propst, an innovative design thinker and inventor with a knack for disruptive business ideas, brought an insatiably curious eye to a wide cast of everyday problems that could potentially be solved or addressed through design. As president of the newly minted Herman Miller Research Division, Propst created systems-based inventions that included a vertical timber harvester and an electronic tagging system for livestock. True to De Pree’s brief, there were also investigations that moved far and away from the realm of furniture design. Noting that sanitary towels were clogging pipes, for example, Propst reimagined the menstrual pad as something that could break into smaller parts when disposed of – a hilariously well-meaning yet misplaced application of Rohde’s ethos for modular design. Eventually Propst, feeling stifled by his own work settings at the Research Division oﬃces in Ann Arbor, Michigan, turned his attention to improving workplaces. Working with George Nelson, Propst introduced the Action Oﬃce suite of furniture in 1964. The world’s first open-plan oﬃce system, Action Oﬃce had freestanding furniture that could be arranged to serve as partitions and structure various workstations. Importantly, it liberated the desk-bound worker with a variety of settings to keep them active, collaborative, and eﬃcient. “Seeing these designs, one wonders why oﬃce workers have put up with their incompatible, unproductive, uncomfortable environment for so long,” marvelled Industrial Design magazine. While lauded for its concept, however, sales for the Action Oﬃce flopped, as units proved too expensive, and, despite its handsome and modular design, too heavy and unwieldy to rearrange with ease. It was the second iteration of Action Oﬃce, which followed in 1968, that truly took Herman Miller into the business of systems-based oﬃce furniture. Hugh De Pree, one of the company heirs, had visited a Chicago symposium on oﬃce landscaping the year prior, and learned of Bürolandschaft, a German movement in open-plan oﬃce space planning that had been based loosely on early US examples. Its growth convinced De Pree that Propst’s foresights into systems thinking was worth revisiting and pushing into the American market. In its reimagining – this time without Nelson, whose ideas diverged from
Propst’s – the second generation of the Action Oﬃce system, or AO-II, was born. This time, the system centred around the concept of interlocking, portable walls: lightweight, standardised partitions that were easily installed and interchangeable so as to modify the space for the “human performer” as needed. An accompanying manifesto and overview of Propst’s research-driven approach, ‘The Oﬃce, a Facility Based on Change’, was published as part of the AO-II launch, and served to proselytise businesses, employers, and workers to this new mode of thinking. “Herman Miller has always gone beyond just selling products by selling solutions and ideas as well, and I think that’s definitely how and why the concept of Action Oﬃce was able to proliferate,” says Auscherman. “Unfortunately, part of how the system works is that it allowed employers to exploit the use of cubicles to fit as many people on the floor plate as part of a cost-cutting measure, even though that was kind of the antithesis of the system.” As sales of AO-II surged, raking in tens of millions of dollars within years of its launch, its popularity gave rise to competitors, who reductively proliferated the system, giving rise to an era of cubicle farms and dismantling of Propst’s vision. The Action Oﬃce, which was designed as a way to “give knowledge workers a more flexible, fluid environment than the rat-maze boxes of oﬃce,” had been reduced to a crass application that emphasised only the cost-eﬀective use of real estate. As Propst later bemoaned to the New York Times, “The cubiclizing of people in modern corporations is monolithic insanity.” Nevertheless, Propst’s thinking has had lasting power – not least in Living Oﬃce. “There’s this notion of moving from the era of industry, on to the era of information, then to the era of ideas,” says White. “In analysing all of this data that we collected as part of ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’, we realised that this notion of eras doesn’t fit anymore, and we need to become comfortable moving into this state of constant gradual evolution.” While the report validates the company’s legacy of design, White is adamant that the work of designing better work is never fully completed. “This report gave us a lot of practice in making us ask ourselves, how do we learn enough to inform our next steps?” he says. “Evidencebased design is a constant learning process.” END
Herman Miller: Dispatches
Q&A with Ben Watson Words Oli Stratford Photographs Matthew Williams
Beginning an in-depth research study in 2012, Herman Miller set out to create a new design approach with Living Oﬃce. Now, Herman Miller’s executive creative director Ben Watson reflects on the programme’s ongoing influence, as well as the importance of quantifying its ethos with data.
Oli Stratford Seven years on from its launch, which
aspects of Living Oﬃce still ring true? Ben Watson Hindsight is always the best vision, and our recent research – as we outline in the ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’ white paper – supports our ongoing trajectory of creating human-centred places of work. Decades ago, we began working on how to make great workplaces based on the people that work there, and our recent research is a continuation of that idea, which we believe to be universal and true. It’s a trajectory that’s continuing because we’re constantly learning how to be better and how to better serve the clients we partner with. Oli If you look back, the ideas expressed throughout Herman Miller’s history are reasonably consistent in terms of the ideology they expound. You have George Nelson speaking about oﬃces needing to be more like living rooms, for instance, and Robert Propst citing flexibility and serving people as key motivations behind the Action Oﬃce system. Ideologically, neither is dissimilar from Living Oﬃce. Ben Precisely. When you go back and read Propst and his deep attention to what was universally human – the caveman instinct to not let anyone surprise you from behind, for example – you find something that you respond to immediately and viscerally because it’s part of our DNA. What we’ve now learnt from the recent research report is that the more data we can
gather, rather than simply relying on subjective observation, the better our decisions will inform our ongoing work. Our clients can attest to that. In my mind, it gives us the opportunity to improve and fine-tune the insights that we deliver to them. As in any data science, the more information you have, the more likely it is that your findings are accurate. We don’t ever imply that there’s a one-sizefits-all solution, but data can start to point to certain truths, as is the case with any scientific research. Oli Living Oﬃce and ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’ are not entirely product-centred, but rather reframe Herman Miller as working in more of a consultancy role. How does Herman Miller position itself today? Ben Instead of designing generically planned spaces outfitted with commodity products, the best architects and interior designers are embracing data-informed insights. Examples include: measuring happiness; testing an organisation’s ability to attract and retain talent; and ensuring that a space reflects the working culture of an organisation. These are the kinds of things that are increasingly being prioritised, rather than solely financial considerations around how many people can fit into one square foot. So we’re making a very intentional and significant shift away from thinking of each of our product lines as discrete bundles. Today, we realise that’s outmoded thinking.
Herman Miller: Dispatches
Herman Miller’s headquarters in New York.
In fact, our entire suite of solutions has to be made up of siblings that live together in a happy family. Sometimes that’s very straightforward – it can be a question of simply streamlining colours and materials – but the whole working space should reflect one culture. Increasingly we have realised that any given application of our products is unique to the organisation and an architect may need to pull together things from across many platforms. So we’re thinking much more about our entire oﬀer as a toolkit, rather than just individual products. That’s one big change from where we were a while ago. Oli In the 20th century, one of the important things about an oﬃce was that it was a single place that contained all the equipment that enabled work. Today, with mobile technology, that’s no longer the case. So what’s the relevance of a physical space now? Ben We firmly believe that the most important task of the workplace is to support and enable the people who occupy it. At one point, it was about enabling the equipment, whereas today the reason to have the physical space is to enable the power of co-creation. Technology allows individual work to happen anywhere, but the power of a network is only accelerated when people can connect in physical
space. Being face-to-face gives you the opportunity to share an unpremeditated idea and to build something really quickly. Oli Companies are often resistant towards breaking with precedent. How do you convince organisations that reframing their spaces around their employees is something that’s safe to embrace? Ben It’s human to be afraid of change and we all take comfort in knowing that we’re not alone. So when we’re able to show an organisation that there are, say, eight other organisations that have undergone a revision process of their workplace recently, that’s reassuring. It doesn’t mean that your culture is exactly like theirs, but we like to learn from those around us and to capture good ideas. ‘How to Catalyze the Workplace for Growth’ is us being able to oﬀer the knowledge that comes from aggregating research and data, and the insights from that – those are the things that can give comfort to an organisation that’s approaching these ideas for the first time. END
The Making of MASS Words Shantel Blakely Photographs Dean Kaufman
MASS Design Group’s Boston oﬃce is located in a fourth-floor suite on a main thoroughfare adjacent to the Back Bay neighbourhood and Boston Public Garden. When the firm moved into the building in 2016, the principals found themselves with more space than they were accustomed to. Unsure of how to make the best use of it, they connected with Herman Miller to design their workplace using the company’s Living Oﬃce approach.
Patricia Gruits and Michael Murphy of MASS Design Group.
To appreciate what this oﬃce design has done for the company, it helps to understand the firm’s origin. MASS Design Group was co-founded in 2008 by two of its current principals, Michael Murphy and Alan Ricks, in response to a specific project: the Butaro District Hospital in the Northern province of Rwanda. Since then, MASS has worked on multiple projects in Africa, including housing for doctors and an outpatient centre for cancer treatment on the Butaro Hospital campus, as well as several school buildings in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. No two MASS projects look alike, but there are characteristics that recur throughout their body of work: the use of local materials, as well as encouraging community engagement throughout the building process. In addition to its Boston oﬃce, MASS now has an oﬃce in Rwanda, with a staﬀ of 60, and a team of 10 in Poughkeepsie, where a food hall and arts centre are works in progress. Linking all of these disparate areas and projects is the studio’s basic methodology. MASS is incorporated as a 501(3)(c) organisation, which means that it supports a specific mission, rather than operating for profit. “To make architecture improve lives, each architectural project must achieve a simple, legible, and transmissible idea,” the firm declares on its website. “We call this ‘The Mission’ and all architecture has one.” As part of this mission, which to date has been focused primarily around healthcare and education, MASS uses data to characterise design problems and their solutions. Its principals, for instance, have worked with scientists to publish papers connected to their work: an article on user satisfaction with the studio’s Maternity Waiting Village in Malawi, was published in peer-reviewed journal Midwifery, with principals Patricia Gruits and Amie Shao among its co-authors. But Murphy, Gruits and Shao are quick to dismiss any strict distinctions between “numbers” and aesthetic qualities, such as the value of a room brightened by colour. “These paintings on the wall are called ‘Imigongo’ paintings,” says Murphy, who invites me to sit down at a wood-topped table that nearly fills the spacious, white-painted conference room near the entrance of the Boston oﬃce. The Eames chairs that support us have steel-braced wooden legs and fabric-covered plywood seats. Behind Murphy, two potted fiddleleaf fig trees frame a row of north-facing windows
and a padded bench with a row of cushions made from colourfully printed Rwandan fabric. Murphy gestures toward a set of square panels arranged to form a grid on the wall above a mantel, explaining that the paintings, which are traditionally used as wall finishes, are made of cow dung, mud and water. “It’s a mix that creates a sort of ridge, this textured surface.” Indeed, each 2cm-thick panel is scored by parallel, white-painted grooves the width of a finger, the ridges between them painted black. The tiles are the same size, but each pattern is diﬀerent from the next. On one, the lines undulate in shallow curves; on another they form an angular zigzag. These cushions and paintings are emblems of MASS Design Group’s connection to Rwanda, the landlocked, equatorial East African country of 15,000 villages and a population of some 12 million occupying an area comparable to Wales or Maryland. After years of civil war in the 1990s that left millions dead or displaced, a new government imposed a development plan in 2000 that made public health a priority, with benchmarks for eradicating childhood malnutrition and bringing HIV and tuberculosis under control by 2020. MASS arrived in Rwanda by way of Partners In Health, an NGO based in the US and headed by Paul Farmer. It was at Harvard that Murphy, a first-year architecture student, initially met Farmer, a medical anthropologist, physician, and Harvard professor. Murphy and Ricks went to Rwanda as volunteers and, not long after, Farmer took the extraordinary step of hiring them, along with a group of fellow students, to design a hospital for Rwanda’s Burera district in the Northern province. The Butaro District Hospital was a test ground for MASS. The team quickly grasped that creating a functioning healthcare facility in the remote region would entail the careful and thorough use of the limited means and materials available for construction. To fight the spread of airborne pathogens, they incorporated a solar chimney for ventilation, with strategically placed germicidal UV lights and backup systems in case of power outages. Their design also placed plumbing and conduits in the low central wall of a patient ward, leaving space for large windows in the exterior walls, and built comfortable seating on outdoor terraces to make the most of air-clearing breezes. Determined to ensure the durability of their design as a working amenity, as well as the care
MASS Design Groupâ€™s Boston office.
The space was designed in consultancy with Herman Miller using the Living Office approach.
Herman Miller: Dispatches
The office redesign prioritised medium-sized conference rooms to suit the practice’s changing needs.
and ownership of local community members, MASS engaged local artisans in the construction of the building and landscape, and provided training in masonry to nearby residents. This has now become standard practice. “We think about where materials are coming from,” says Patricia Gruits. “We prioritise those which are regional. We think about who makes them [and about] the people who could benefit not just from providing their skills, but from growing their skills on [the] project.” The Imigongo painting is “not just creating a surface; it’s telling a deeper story about [the makers’] environment,” Murphy suggests, and this turns out to be a useful allegory for understanding the nature of MASS’s projects. Like the artwork, the typical MASS venture reflects many facets of the place where it was made and the values of its “makers”– at Butaro, these included the government, Partners In Health and local residents, along with the architects. The concept of the mission is essential and the studio’s principals look for one in all of the projects they take on. “We’re not just trying to understand [the] needs of an organisation but trying to understand their mission and trying to use our design skills
and the built environment to amplify that mission for them,” says Gruits. Healthcare remains a major area of activity and among MASS’s American projects is a series of collaborations with Herman Miller focused around this field. One of these, led by Shao, is an inquiry into the meaning and design objectives of “places of care” – a project seeking alternatives to baggage-laden words such as “facility” – while another is looking at workplace design within the constraints of spaces of treatment. As part of this ongoing relationship, it made sense for MASS to turn to Herman Miller when redesigning its Boston oﬃce. For a visitor to the workplace, its design can be understood as a picture of the firm’s activities. The overall suite is divided into four main sections, each running the width of the building. The first is a narrow strip containing reception and a conference area. The last, at the far end, is the design department, which occupies one full bay, from street facade to alley. Tables with workstations fan out around a cushioned bench on one wall. As part of the Living Oﬃce programme, Herman Miller and MASS embarked upon a series of conversations and surveys that helped to set priorities, identify next steps and
evaluate outcomes. This has proven to be a means for the firm to assess itself and make adjustments. Nearest to reception, for instance, is the room for the studio’s “department of narrative” – a space that is nearly as large as the designers’ suite. This department, headed by senior director Regina Yang, was formed in 2018 to add a communications focus, and is concerned with how MASS is characterised in the press, speaking engagements, and on social media. It merged with an existing team that handled the studio’s philanthropic development, managing grant reports and applications. The presence and size of this department is striking but understandable given that any new projects must be vetted and approved not only by the firm’s 11 principals but also by a multidisciplinary board of directors. Just 50 per cent of the company’s running costs are covered by fees and the rest comes by application to foundations and other grant-giving entities. It all adds up to a lot of storytelling. The narrative and design departments are separated by the large kitchen, a central island with stools and a row of high work tables that takes advantage of the abundant daylight from the northfacing windows. The entire team gathers in this room for meetings that take place weekly and sometimes engage the practice’s other oﬃces as well. A screen in the corner, equipped with a forward-facing camera, hints at the virtual space in which all the MASS teams periodically come together. “KIGALI TIME,” reads the sticky label on a flip clock that perches on a bookshelf. It is not just details like the paintings, cushions and other textiles that characterise the MASS Boston oﬃce but also its small spaces, often defined by their arrangements of furniture. The Living Oﬃce approach focuses on furniture groupings that define distinct spaces in the oﬃce, each of which is associated with certain kinds of activity: the “hive” has workstations for regular long-term work; the “clubhouse” mixes workstations with tables and chairs for small teams in long-term collaboration; the “jump space,” has places for brief stints of work between other activities. These and similar options were oﬀered to MASS and got the team thinking about which configurations might work for them. “We had the desks, but then we asked ourselves if we really have some of the other spaces [Herman Miller] prioritises,” remembers Murphy. After Herman Miller’s detailed analysis, the oﬃce was configured with six types, including
the “cove”, “plaza”, “landing”, “haven”, “hive”, and additional meeting spaces. Surveys of MASS’s employees before and after the redesign showed a stronger perception that the oﬃce now better supports creative collaboration and informal social interactions. Since the 2016 redesign, MASS has gone through several kinds of change, including growth from 75 to 100 employees. This is managed in part by principals who circulate among the various oﬃces. “We end up being a bit more mobile and needing to come back and collaborate,” says Gruits. On one recent morning in the Boston oﬃce, conference calls were taking place in three small rooms at either the street side or alley side of the space. In fact, the multiplication of rooms of this size is possibly the most significant change in the oﬃce. “Moving things to create more dedicated, four-to-five-person conference or meeting spaces has been one of our transitions over time,” notes Gruits. The proliferation of these medium-sized conference room seems to particularly address the firm’s needs. The four-to-five-person rooms are not
“Since MASS has grown, we’ve ended up being a bit more mobile and collaborative.” —Patricia Gruits just used for conference calls, for instance. “People kind of camp out if there aren’t meetings,” says senior architect Caroline Alsup, who joined the firm just before the renovation. The presence of this room type visibly displays the prominence of convening and conversing in the work culture – a signal and reminder both to visitors and oﬃce members. “The fact that we did this three years ago,” says Gruits, “and have grown over that time and still feel like we’re well-supported by the space is a success.” END
Herman Miller: Dispatches
Design for Rural Mexico Words Martha Pskowskiâ€‚Photographs Carlos Ă lvarez Montero
The oxen are giving Heladio Ramírez a hard time. He deftly manoeuvres to tie the yoke over their horns, occasionally shouting in a guttural tone. “That’s how we communicate,” he laughs. Delfino Martínez Gil looks on as the sun rises over his most fertile plot of land in Santo Domingo Tonahuixtla, Puebla, a small town five hours outside Mexico City. Fernando Laposse, a London-based Mexican designer, confers with him. Once Ramírez secures the yoke, he leads the oxen into the field to begin ploughing. This late January morning marks the first corn planting of the year. Today, they are sowing two varieties of native corn, interspersed with squash. The corn will be harvested in June. The cobs will be eaten or saved for seeds. The husks will be fashioned into lamps, wall installations and vases for Totomoxtle, a design project that Laposse began developing in 2015, and which has sold around the world. But today, the farmers are focused on getting the planting just right. Noé León García follows the plough, counting his paces to space out the seeds. His family has saved heirloom seeds for generations.
Designer Fernando Laposse leading the Totomoxtle workshop in Tonahuixtla, a small town five hours from Mexico City.
A few years ago, almost all the farmers in Tonahuixtla had stopped planting native corn varieties. They had instead opted for hybrids peddled by transnational companies and subsidised by the government. It’s a story repeated across rural Mexico, where economic and political factors have converged to push smallscale farmers into dependence on agro-industry. Now this region is reviving native corn varieties and creating local jobs. In a town decimated by out-migration, multiple generations are discovering that corn could be the key to rejuvenating their rural community. “I wanted to create something of substance,” says Laposse. “I wanted to solve some of the problems facing Mexico, even if at a tiny scale.” Tonahuixtla is in the Mixteca, a mountainous region of south-eastern Mexico spanning parts of the states of Puebla, Oaxaca, and Guerrero. The people of Tonahuixtla are indigenous Mixtec, a civilisation that flourished in the 11th century. While few people in the town still speak Mixteco, vestiges of the ancient culture remain: recently two Mixtec stone carvings
were found in a field. During colonisation, the Spanish robbed the Mixtec of their native lands and founded haciendas throughout the region. It wasn’t until after the Mexican Revolution that the indigenous people recovered their lands. Tonahuixtla was founded as an ejido in the municipality of San Jerónimo Xayacatlán in 1942. Ejidos are towns where land is owned communally, a part of the agrarian reform implemented after the revolution. A colonial-era church sits at the centre and the residents number 700. Agriculture, on which Tonahuixtla relies, involves hard and unreliable work on the town’s steep hillsides, where rain is scarce. “Here in Tonahuixtla, you can grow almost anything,” says Lucía Dimas Herrera. “The problem is, there is barely any water. With water, this would be a paradise.” Dimas became ejido president last November and is one of the first women to hold the position. Like many Tonahuixtla residents, she boasts about the dozens of edible plants and crops that grow on the land: cactus fruit, squash blossoms, cherries,
“Here in Tonahuixtla, you can grow almost anything. The problem is, there is barely any water. With water, this would be a paradise.” —Lucía Dimas Herrera
Clockwise from top left: Nicolas Reyes and SaĂşl Peralta in the cultivating fields; Delfino MartĂnez Gil; a husk of newly reintroduced native corn from the 2018 season; goats crossing the road.
“I went to the city because there wasn’t a way to make a living anymore.” —Delfino Martínez Gil
Clockwise from top left: a Totomoxtle marquetry vase; a corn husk veneer that owes its vibrant colouring to the native corn from which it is produced; Anaís Martínez ironing corn husks in preparation for the cutting process.
native olives, dates, coconut, mango, soursop and an edible seed called huaje. Despite this bounty, agriculture in Tonahuixtla has become more diﬃcult. Erosion and desertification were set in motion in the Mixteca centuries ago when the Spanish introduced intensive agricultural techniques, and goats and cattle that degraded the land. In the summer, heavy rains wash down the hillsides and wipe away vegetation. Without reliable irrigation or precipitation, crop yields are low and, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, Mexico loses an average of 870 square miles of arable land every year to desertification. In the 1970s, people began to leave Tonahuixtla. Martínez was one of them. “I have always worked the land,” he says. “But in 1979 I went to the city, because there wasn’t a way to make a living anymore.” Martínez found work in Mexico City, but stayed deeply involved in his community. As an ejidatario, or rights-holding member of the ejido, he attended monthly assemblies and contributed to projects. “I always kept up with my responsibilities and helped out in the faena [communal workdays].” In Mexico City, Martínez met Laposse’s father, a baker, who employed both him and his wife Maria Martínez. One summer in the 1990s, Laposse’s father agreed to send him and his sister to Tonahuixtla to get away from Mexico City, which was highly polluted and going through a crime wave. Today, Tonahuixtla still does not have mobile or internet service. But in the 1990s it felt even more remote. Families boiled water over wood-fired stoves and hunted for sustenance. Tortillas made by hand from native corn accompanied every meal. Laposse visited Tonahuixtla over several summers. But when he was a teenager, his family moved to France and he went on to study in London at Central Saint Martins. A decade went by without him going to the town. Meanwhile, agriculture in Tonahuixtla was undergoing rapid changes. During the 1990s and 2000s, many farmers stopped planting native corn varieties and began buying non-indigenous seeds, a process that had begun decades earlier. The Green Revolution, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, began in Mexico in the 1940s and became a worldwide movement to promote high-yield crops dependent on ample fertiliser use. It promoted hybrid seeds to increase food production, in place of traditional heirloom varieties. Falling into step, the Mexican
government adopted subsidies that favoured hybrid over native seeds. Hybrid seeds are bred to grow bigger and hardier plants, but they have downsides. They can only be used for one year, so a new batch must be purchased the following season; heirloom or native varieties are open-pollinated, meaning farmers can save seeds and re-plant every year. Hybrids also require heavy pesticide and fertiliser use. As a result, farmers became dependent on costly seeds and fertilisers and many went into debt. The already over-taxed lands of the Mixteca were drained of nutrients. Economic changes in the 1990s, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), accelerated the shift to hybrid crops. Enacted in 1994, NAFTA devastated Mexican corn farmers, who suddenly faced direct competition from producers in the US Midwest that operated with significant subsidies and technological advantages. Corn imports from the US increased four-fold after NAFTA, according to ‘Subsidizing Inequality: Mexican Corn Policy Since NAFTA’, a 2010 study from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Mexican diet changed dramatically. Cheap imports flooded the market, replacing homemade corn-based dishes with processed foods. Rates of diabetes and obesity soared. Meanwhile, farmers who couldn’t compete with American agro-industry were often forced to abandon their small towns. Many rural, indigenous Mexicans displaced from the agricultural regions decided to head north. Migration to the United States rose 79 per cent from 1994 to 2000. Puebla is one of the Mexican states with the highest rates of migration to the US. People from Tonahuixtla have migrated to New York, California and other states in search of work. Two of Dimas’s sons live in Los Angeles. “People see opportunities elsewhere, so they forget their homeland,” says Martínez. “That’s why so much land has been abandoned.” Genetically modified organism (GMO) crops are the next frontier, with the US agro-chemical corporation Monsanto being their biggest proponent in Mexico. Unlike hybrid varieties, GMO seeds combine material from plants that cannot traditionally be bred together. As such, they require splicing genes in a laboratory. When Laposse attended an artists’ residency at the Centre for the Arts of San Agustin (CASA) in Oaxaca in 2015, GMOs were on the tip of everyone’s tongue.
Noted Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo founded CASA in 2006 and was at the heart of the GMO debate that coursed through communities in the region. At around the time it became particularly intense, Laposse began a project focused on maize and rural Mexico. This was before January 2017, when a Mexican court held up a ruling that Monsanto could not pilot genetically modified corn in Mexico, due to its
“People see opportunities elsewhere, so they forget their homeland.” —Delfino Martínez Gil environmental impacts. Since then, both agricultural and scientific experts named to the new federal administration that took oﬃce in December 2018 have spoken against GMO crops. The evolutionary developmental biologist Elena Álvarez-Buylla, for example, has been appointed the new director of the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) and has been vocal in her fears that genetically modified corn could spoil Mexico’s agricultural biodiversity. “I’m not a Luddite who is scared of technology,” she told Science in October 2018. “If a transgene is inserted in one part of [a plant’s] genome, it can be silenced and have no eﬀect. If it’s inserted in another part, it can lead to a tremendous change.” Instead of just delivering an artistic statement about corn and genetic diversity, Laposse wanted his design project to make a diﬀerence in the lives of farmers. The rich blues, yellows and reds of native corn husks caught his eye. Hybrid corn is bred to be uniform, whereas the indigenous plant varies from town to town. “That’s when it clicked for me,” he says. “There’s a huge potential in presenting the husks in an elevated way that would give corn added value for farmers.” Remembering the vibrant corn of his childhood, Laposse planned to visit Tonahuixtla and explored whether he could work with the farmers there to make objects from corn husks. Martínez had moved back to Tonahuixtla for good, so his old friend went to find him. “When I went back, it was a shock,” says Laposse.
“They didn’t have the corn I remembered anymore – they were planting hybrids. Most of the kids I had known had grown up and gone to the United States.” His timing was fortunate, however. Martínez was working with León to encourage organic practices, including worm compost, and reforest an area of communal land with cacti and maguey. Out-migration had taken its toll on the community, but they thought that reinvigorating agriculture might oﬀer a way forward. “Around 2013, we started planting with more organic methods, and making our own worm compost to use on the pitaya [cactus fruit], lime and mangos,” says Martínez. “In 2015, Fernando came back and started talking to us about Totomoxtle.” Martínez and León were receptive to Laposse’s proposal. The London-based designer and the Puebla farmers began to work together. Totomoxtle, which means corn husk in the Mexican indigenous language Nahuatl, was born. Since studying product design at Central Saint Martins, Laposse had been fascinated by natural materials. But it was outside the classroom that this interest flourished. An apprenticeship with the British designer Faye Toogood in 2012 cemented his love of handmade materials derived from the natural world. In his first independent projects, he experimented with making glassware from sugar and later, turning fat trimmings from London butchers into soaps. “Through those projects I identified the problem of waste,” says Laposse. “And the fact that all these old techniques have been lost.” Working with Bethan Laura Wood, another London-based designer, from 2011 to 2012, Laposse learned the craft of marquetry. These elements of his practice converged in Totomoxtle. Laposse found that corn husk shares many characteristics with wood: it retains its colour after it is cut from the plant and, due to its fibre structure, it can be flattened or bent. But for the project to be a success, the first challenge was procuring colourful corn husks. For that task, León’s expertise was instrumental. His family is one of the few in Tonahuixtla that preserved their indigenous seeds through decades of upheaval. He had inherited native corn, bean and squash seeds from his parents. “My father liked his corn, because it yields a lot of dough and is very resilient,” León explains. “It survives hot weather and droughts.” These traits are the result of centuries of careful selection. “I’ve seen that hybrid 120
Clockwise from top: young women assembling corn pieces into a marquetry pattern; Laposse photographed in Tonahuixtla; local Pepitilla corn, an extremely drought-resistant variety.
seeds don’t survive when there is little rainfall,” he says. “People actually come from other towns to buy my native seeds.” Although suited to the dry climate of Tonahuixtla, León’s seeds were not plentiful enough to supply Totomoxtle. The farmers experimented with other varieties, but the project’s first corn harvests were insuﬃcient. Laposse scrambled to find enough husks for the early rounds of production. That’s where Denise Costich came in. Costich is the head of the Maize Genetic Resources Center
“When people see that there is an added value to their crop they start doing better.” —Denise Costich at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Texcoco, Mexico. When she heard of Totomoxtle, she contacted Laposse immediately. “I was really excited when I heard about Totomoxtle, because I knew it could directly benefit small farmers,” she says. “And it’s a fantastic use of maize diversity.” CIMMYT has 28,000 samples of corn seeds from 83 countries. The collection began in the 1940s and has been housed in Texcoco, a mid-sized city outside Mexico City, since 1966. CIMMYT was, in fact, the main proponent of the Green Revolution in Mexico. Today, however, the maize germplasm bank seeks to reconnect small-scale farmers with native corn varieties and preserve genetic diversity. Mexican corn is divided into 59 landraces, which are genetically distinct types of corn. There are then countless variations on these landraces, created by seed saving and selection. After contacting Laposse, Costich and her staﬀ identified seeds from areas like Tonahuixtla: sub-tropical, midaltitude. For the staﬀ of the maize bank, exploring corn-husk shades was a novel experiment. “There are husks of all diﬀerent colours, but we weren’t collecting data on that before,” says Costich. Now CIMMYT has begun to gather information on cornhusk characteristics. Costich says Totomoxtle is a model for how communities can maintain genetic biodiversity
in their corn crops. By creating alternative income streams based on corn, farmers have an incentive to grow native varieties. “Native corn doesn’t have the same support and subsidies that hybrids do, but when people see that there is an added value to their crop they start doing better,” says Costich, who adds that the broad participation in Tonahuixtla, which includes everybody from teenagers to septuagenarians, bodes well. “We’re at a critical moment. The landrace farmers are mostly old,” she says. “In terms of biodiversity we’re still doing okay. But the intergenerational shift will be crucial.” The seeds from CIMMYT were first planted in 2018, with impressive results. There was finally a steady supply of yellow, purple, red and blue corn husks for Totomoxtle. Of more than a dozen varieties planted in 2018, the farmers in Tonahuixtla have selected four to use in 2019. The farmers and Laposse had to consider a number of characteristics. Varieties with colourful leaves that cover the full length of the cob are best. They also kept in mind the corn’s quality for food. “The important thing is that the corn stays in the community to eat,” says Laposse. “Totomoxtle uses what would otherwise be waste.” As Totomoxtle began to bear fruit, more townspeople joined the eﬀort. Laposse travels back and forth from London to monitor the process and bring back completed objects for sale. Communication is challenging – Tonahuixtla has only a few land-line phones and no mobile coverage. Despite these diﬃculties, however, Dimas, the ejido’s president, says that reviving native corn will have multiple benefits. “We’re recovering a lot of things that were lost in our community,” she says, sitting outside the ejido’s meeting house. “Now, people eat a lot of junk food. We’re trying to motivate our community to return to healthier habits.” Dimas adds she has always preferred making her own tortillas, even as she raised four children singlehandedly. “With all the resources we have here, how is it possible that we’re eating foods that harm us?” she asks. But there are still significant barriers to adopting native corn. For one, many businesses have grown accustomed to hybrid varieties. Middlemen from tortilla shops come to Tonahuixtla to buy up corn. These “tortilleros”, as they are known, prefer homogenous white varieties grown with hybrid seeds. León García says that when he has tried to sell native corn to them,
Previous spread: Lucía Dimas Herrera, the current community leader of the Tonahuixtla ejido. This spread, clockwise from top left: Noé León García with his share of the 2018 season harvest; a Totomoxtle marquetry lamp made from corn husks, Mexican encino wood and brass; a jar containing selected seeds from the 2018 season; a donkey transporting dry corn leaves and stalks, which are typically used for animal feed; Laposse assembling the polygonal tile system.
they balk at its range of colours, shapes and sizes. Now the town is exploring other buyers, such as a restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, which recently bought native corn from Tonahuixtla. Such businesses pay a better rate than the local tortilleros. But the land in Tonahuixtla is still dry and diﬃcult to cultivate. Since 2013, Martínez and León have been
“I want to go for quantity, with the condition that the employment stays in the community.” —Fernando Laposse making worm compost to use on the exhausted soil. The project has restored nutrients and improved yields. Even so, erosion is chipping away at the land. As a result, ejidatarios have banded together to begin reforesting an area of communal land known as El Limón. The project received funding in 2017 from Mexico’s forestry commission. León and Martínez led a group of ejidatarios to dig contour ditches, which capture rainfall. They also planted maguey to prevent erosion. Walking through El Limón, jagged rocks jut out of the ground and the thin soil cover is parched, with months until the rainy season will begin. “Instead of trees growing, we have rocks growing here,” jokes Martínez. It is slow work, but through reforestation and organic agriculture, Tonahuixtla residents are gradually restoring fertility to their arid farmland. Growing the corn is just the first step in creating functional design objects for Totomoxtle. The production process is painstaking. In the afternoon, after the planting, a team of seven gets to work in the ejido meeting house. They iron the corn husks, paste together the pieces to create veneer, press the husks onto cork backing and snip delicate shapes of diﬀerent colours. It’s a process that Laposse has refined through trial and error, prioritising the participation of local residents. Constant tinkering led to a method that highlights the natural colours of the corn husks, while creating durable and attractive design objects. “Now, we’re trying to scale up with the material,”
he says. “I want to go for quantity, with the condition that the employment stays in the community.” Starting out, he would assemble pieces in London when he received a commission. But it’s time-consuming work that he would rather employ people in Tonahuixtla to do: “Now, once the pieces leave Tonahuixtla, they are almost entirely fabricated.” Eﬃciency is sacrificed for ethical congruency. Reducing waste takes on new significance in Tonahuixtla, where there is no public refuse collection and rubbish is usually buried or burned. Laposse says that they were originally using a glue which came in plastic bottles, but when these bottles piled up, the workshop employees asked him to reconsider. He found a new heat-based adhesive that produced less waste. The only part of the process that requires electricity is one of the initial steps: ironing the husks. Even so, Laposse says they sometimes blow out the electricity at the workshop with this simple task. “There are all sorts of challenges to [keeping production local], but for me it’s a question of principle,” he says. “There is such a frustrating social and economic gap in Mexican society and that gap needs to be closed.” The young men and women who make Totomoxtle objects now have reliable, well-paid employment. “I like working on the project because you see part of our culture that we don’t take advantage of,” says Fany Arllec León Ramos, one of the townspeople. “We’re showing other people our Mixtec culture.” Laposse prefers to share the design and production methods so that they can be widely adopted, instead of guarding them as his intellectual property. To truly socialise the process in Tonahuixtla, he says he disregards the usual timeframes that designers work with. “I want to design in systems, to build the whole process from planting to harvesting. Too many designers are caught up in the rush of new things. But to really be sustainable you have to respect the cycles of nature and slow down.” Totomoxtle has already received accolades, including the Future Food Design Award at the 2017 Dutch Design Week. Laposse put the prize money towards expanding the agricultural project in Tonahuixtla. Two weeks after the corn planting, Laposse is at the Archivo de Diseño y Arquitectura (Archive of Design and Architecture) to inaugurate his first solo exhibition in Mexico City, Transmutations. Martínez 126
Previous page: eroded fields in Tonahuixtla, the rocks in which were covered by fertile soil just 20 years ago. This page: Ariadna Guadalupe Reyes assembling Totomoxtle marquetry.
and his wife Maria are among the Tonahuixtla residents who travelled to the capital to see the work fashioned from their town’s corn on display. Guests sip mezcal cocktails in Archivo’s courtyard, filled with lush ferns and trees, until they are ushered into the gallery space. Laposse, Martínez and Costich take the floor. Martínez, a practised public speaker from his time as Tonahuixtla’s community president, graciously greets the audience. “I’m here to talk about the countryside,” he says. “Our countryside has been abandoned in Mexico[…] but last year we harvested our own native corn. And most importantly, we have the coloured husks for Totomoxtle.” The exhibition displayed not only the elegant objects of Totomoxtle, but the years-long process to reach this point, so that a corn farmer could stand alongside a designer at one of Mexico City’s most important galleries. As Mexico City’s art and design continues to attract global attention, Totomoxtle turns the gaze towards the nation’s small, rural communities, which are so often overlooked. Tonahuixtla represents
the story of rural Mexico: how entire generations of farmers were forced to give up their traditional practices and seek work far afield. Now, Totomoxtle seeks to reverse the trend. Laposse uses design to bridge the gap between urban and rural, rich and poor, creating both new forms of art and preserving his country’s rich heritage. “What’s at stake is our identity,” he says. “Mexico is amazing because it has so much diversity of people, lifestyles and traditions. There are so many Mexicos in Mexico. But they’re at risk of disappearing.” E N D
Reviews Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech Natalie Kane Tetris EďŹ€ect Oli Stratford The Value of Good Design Alexis Romano
Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech Words Natalie Kane
A new book oﬀers sound advice for how we might live with the eﬀects of emerging technology, but does its pragmatism ascribe an overly rational motivation to all-too-human subjects? I finished Future Politics, author and barrister Jamie Susskind’s new book about the predicted impact of technology on society, and found myself not quite sure what to make of it. It wasn’t that I hated it, or loved it, or was incensed or riled up by anything in particular. It just seemed to be rational, solid advice. It’s increasingly hard to write about the future, mostly due to its plural, consistently amorphous nature. The best we can do is to come up with a well-informed guess or speculative invention. Hypothetical scenarios can help us plan for events that could happen if the conditions are right, but there’s a strong argument for not speculating too far or adopting too radical a political imagination – sometimes extreme dystopias and utopias don’t help address the now. Future Politics falls in the dead centre in terms of the possible world it describes. There are no flying cars in Susskind’s wranglings, and they’re all the better for it. There’s plenty of subtle, pervasive advocacy of blockchain – which I won’t go into for fear of publicly hand-wringing about this contemporary emperor’s new clothes – but, in general, the text reads as deeply rational and measured, oﬀering careful advice on how to view emerging technological anxieties. In confronting the power that tech firms are rapidly accumulating, for instance, Susskind calls for two kinds of regulation: structural (“ensuring the technologies of power don’t become too concentrated in the hands of a small number of firms and individuals”) and transparent, which compels tech firms
to prioritise legibility and simplicity in how data and algorithms are used. Problems with technological consent and access are clearly broken down (“necessary consent is not really consent at all”) and our inability to remove ourselves from abusive systems is made clear: “I didn’t choose to be the subject of surveillance[…] I’m given no choice but to engage with [surveillance] technology.”
Reading Future Politics is like going on a really good, but not spectacular, date. You have decent conversation, your companion is pleasant, but you don’t quite get that spark. You’d recommend them to a friend, however. Recent years have seen publishers bring out a number of books on technology and politics – from James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future (Verso, 2018), and Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Verso, 2015), to Adam Greenfield’s Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life (Verso, 2017) and Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (Bodley Head, 2018). It’s hard not to see a common denominator here, and it’s not just Verso Books. But Susskind’s work is something of an anomaly amongst this profusion. It doesn’t make any particularly bold or inflammatory statements, such as Lanier’s claim that “We’re all lab animals
now”, and it doesn’t put forward a revolutionary perspective that promises to unbutton all we have ever known about capitalism, politics and society (“fully automated luxury communism” anyone?). What Susskind oﬀers instead is good common sense. I hesitate to say common sense as if it’s something ultimately objective, because that presupposes that there’s a constancy or continuity in knowledge around these matters – which there isn’t, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many books. Reading Future Politics is like going on a really good, but not spectacular, date. You have decent conversation, your companion is pleasant and has good table manners (or politics, in Susskind’s case), but you don’t quite get that spark. You’d highly recommend them to a friend, however. The way Susskind unfolds arguments comes from a clear understanding of the law and political theory, as well as a familiarity with the myriad ideas around emerging technologies that are starting to haunt our everyday encounters with these structures. Susskind leads the reader through often complex issues, such as prejudice and bias in technology, emphasising, for example, the role that “data-based injustice” has to play, where “no matter how smart an algorithm is, if it is fed a partial or misleading view of the world it will treat unjustly those who have been hidden from view or presented in an unfair light.” Previous claims of data having an inherent neutrality are refuted (something Susskind calls “the neutrality fallacy”) and the author is
Image courtesy of Oxford University Press.
Future Politics by Jamie Susskind, published by Oxford University Press.
also explicit and fair in directing attention to those aﬀected by particular shifts in power between technology producers and state entities, both positively (the tech giants and their shareholders) and negatively (those from marginalised groups). Each idea, concept or theory is rationally explored, and laid out with patience and care.
Perhaps the issue is that we have convinced ourselves of the need for radical alternatives to our contemporary political reality – of positions to place ourselves behind and directions to aspire to. But we also need sound advice. So why does this feel so unremarkable? Perhaps the issue is that we have convinced ourselves of the need for radical alternatives to our contemporary political reality – of positions to place ourselves behind and directions to aspire to. But we also need sound, solid advice that is orientated towards dealing with what is immediately in front of us. What is so uninspiring about practical advice when it’s perhaps what we most need? The law is complex and open to interpretation and exploitation; the same is even more true of political theory. Susskind’s clarity in explaining these concepts is astounding, but his book nevertheless lacks an acknowledgement that humans don’t do particularly well with the rational. From the socio-political (examples include flat-earth conspiracy theorists and the internet manhunt of Sunil Tripathi, falsely accused of being the Boston Marathon bomber) to the personal (knowing you shouldn’t give that guy a second chance), being sensible is a matter of opinion. I have my own rationality threshold that diﬀers from everyone else’s, and how I feel about something may depend on a number of factors – from major news events, grief or heartbreak, through to whether I’ve had a coﬀee or not. It’s safe to say that rationality carries a heavy degree of nuance and subjectivity. Our decision-making is often driven by something messier. Frequently, we are guided more by emotion and perception
than by logical conclusion. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with this – in its most positive incarnation, it is what gives us the conviction to think beyond what is currently possible – but in its worst manifestations this form of motivation stokes the violent discourse that has led to the recent resurgence of xenophobia and aggravated nationalism around the world. Logically, for instance, migration is not a nationwide cause for alarm in the UK. As reported by the Oﬃce for National Statistics, in the year 2017-2018 net long-term international migration to the UK rose to 273,000, less than 0.5 per cent of the total population. But to those who feel that their livelihoods or nationhood are at risk, there’s nonetheless cause to find trouble in expert (and therefore elite) opinion. As Susskind draws out, perception-control is a key form of exerting power over people – “to control what they know, what they think, and what they are prepared to say about the world”. The presentation of facts and figures – of data – is arguably one of the most contested battlegrounds of the last 50 years, with data visualisation showing how the same information can often be presented in conflicting ways. For a resonant example, see how infographics designer Simon Scarr and data analyst Andy Cotgreave were able to use the same facts and figures to produce infographics respectively titled ‘Iraq’s Bloody Toll’ and ‘Iraq: Deaths on the Decline’. Data itself, as Susskind and many others who study the subject will attest, has always been an important means to control, judge and influence. As Lisa
Data is not a priori knowledge and it does not exist as an ultimate, objective truth. The conclusions we find in data are contextual and have to work within a system that has assigned truths that may conflict with our own. Gitelman and Virginia Jackson write in their introduction to “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron, “Data need to be imagined as data to exist and function as such.” Essentially, we decide what data is,
and we make a subject of it. Data is not a priori knowledge and it does not exist as an ultimate, objective truth. The conclusions we find in data are entirely contextual and have to work within a system that has assigned truths that may conflict with our own. Susskind puts it this way: “Anyone who has ever dealt with the tax authorities, the educational system or any other complex bureaucracy knows that the truth hardly matters. What’s written on your form is far more important.” Data is subjective and experiential, but although intangible, it is certainly embodied. Sun-ha Hong, in his 2015 essay ‘Presence or the Sense of BeingThere and Being-With in the New Media Society’, writes: “I am told my personal data is being exploited, but I do not quite ‘feel’ it.” In our dealings with information, Hong puts forward the conception of a trace-body – a “phenomenological connection” between the visceral and the digital, “composed entirely of data”, which can also be seen as the “data double” or “data doppelgänger”. In French, it is “ombre numérique”, your digital shadow. The trace-body has social and economic value, although you are not clear what that value is until it is systematically exploited. But a tracebody is not felt, as Hong continues: “the life and usage of the trace-body remains severed from our aﬀective processes.” In spite of this, it may now be important to think about bodies with and alongside technology a little diﬀerently. Our sense of embodiment has shifted in the digital age and is (mostly) detached from the immediately corporeal: we are not slapped or pinched by data, but rather it is transformed into something tied to our lived experience of the world, in the places where bodies can or cannot go due to a misalignment of information. In 2012, the statistician Andrew Pole told New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg about how his work at department store Target had extended to using data to determining whether customers were pregnant: “We knew that if we could identify them in their second trimester, there’s a good chance we could capture them for years,” said Pole. “As soon as we get them buying diapers from us, they’re going to start buying everything else too.” The brand’s subsequent use of
targeted advertising and coupons for baby products, however, ended up inadvertently revealing the pregnancy of a teenage girl to her father, severely limiting her autonomy. Her search terms for advice had become subject to the opaque recommendation algorithms to which Target submits its users’ data. Similarly, people of colour, whose faces are not “read” with the same accuracy by facial recognition software as white people’s – due to the fact that many of the training databases utilised by the technology (along with those who programme it) are not very diverse – still feel the eﬀects of data when facial recognition is used to identify supposed oﬀenders. For instance, during the 2017 Notting Hill Carnival one person was incorrectly detained as a result of the technology – an incident where misidentification led to real, physical invasion. We still feel horror when information about us is abused, or denies us what we think we deserve – from insurance inequalities resulting from where you live, through to access to social services and support. As Susskind mentions throughout Future Politics, a version of you has already been written into code: “our actions, utterances, movements, relationships, emotions and beliefs will leave a permanent or semi-permanent digital mark.” But what the book does not explore to any great degree is the individual, or even collective, emotional response to the way data aﬀects us, which drives so much of our political vitriol. I was recently teaching a group of students who told me about the feeling of “shoeburyness” (as coined by the writer Douglas Adams): the uncomfortable feeling of sitting on a chair (or toilet seat) previously warmed by someone else. I like to think of that feeling when thinking about our lives with data and our deeply textured, irrational (although frequently selfrepresented as rational) responses to its misappropriation. That discomfort and sense of abstracted presence may be key to understanding our reactions to these changes – a necessary response to a perpetual condition of uncertainty and not knowing what will come next. Each misperceived data point – read in error or applied irresponsibly – has a person attached to it. Technological
eﬃciency and application, when not properly thought through or naively applied, can have serious consequences. As Safiya Umoja Noble writes in her brilliant Algorithms of Oppression: “The implications of such marginalisation are profound. The insights about sexist and racist biases[…] are important because
Discomfort and a sense of abstracted presence may be key to understanding our reactions to these changes – a necessary response to a perpetual condition of uncertainty and not knowing what will come next. information organizations, from libraries to schools and universities to governmental agencies, are increasingly reliant on being displaced by a variety of webbased ‘tools’ as if there are no political, social, or economic consequences of doing so.” Susskind’s work is useful in understanding what potential theoretical frameworks we might consider in order to help prepare for exponential change in technology and politics, with the introduction of concepts such as data democracy, under which some decisions are taken “on the basis of data rather than votes”. But while he does clearly outline who will most be aﬀected by such changes, we still need a more embodied view. Rationality is diﬃcult to accept when rationales have not been very kind to you. One of the most interesting recent arguments against making technology less prejudiced is that technologies such as facial recognition are often used as a means of exercising power against people of colour. There is a form of safety in illegibility within the current biased technologies, the thinking goes, which protects communities from more eﬃcient violence being enacted upon them. Why facilitate the stop and search of black teenagers when the police and other state forces have shown distinct, observable, racial bias? To be seen, in this instance, is not to be recognised, but to become a better target. Future Politics gives recommendations, rather than manifestos, and is clear in underlining that it will take a long
time before we see real change. It refreshingly veers away from the kind of alarmist rhetoric (think Lanier’s lab-rat comparison) that often stymies the nuanced understanding of complex matters. But while Susskind’s book shows sobriety and restraint in the face of chaos, this is perhaps why it failed to resonate with me. A turn towards emotional and embodied reactions, consequences, and the possibility of changing entrenched power dynamics could give us a greater steer on what to prioritise when it comes to thinking about the future. The personal is political, as feminist Carol Hanisch once wrote, and this will not change as technology becomes ever more embedded in our daily lives. Whoever has the power will decide what constitutes a person to be governed, and what constitutes a body to be digitised very much depends on where you are standing. Future Politics: Living Together in a World Transformed by Tech by Jamie Susskind is published by Oxford University Press, price £20.
Tetris Eﬀect Words Oli Stratford
Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s synaesthetic reformulation of Tetris sets out to visualise a decades-old question – what happens to your brain when you start fitting blocks together? In 1994, the writer Jeﬀrey Goldsmith penned ‘This is Your Brain on Tetris’, an article for Wired magazine that has enjoyed a degree of celebrity ever since. I was four at the time, and, 25 years on, I remain absolutely furious with him.1 To understand my anger, you have to appreciate that Goldsmith’s article was really excellent, such that writing about Tetris in its wake feels onerous. Most immediately, its legacy was to coin “the Tetris eﬀect”, a now widespread term that refers to the game’s addictive quality, but also to the manner in which Tetris can actively reshape your thought patterns so that you begin to see the world around you in terms of tetromino blocks. If you’ve ever played the game and subsequently imagined loading a dishwasher as an intricate performance of slotting together pots, pans and cutlery, for instance, you’ve likely experienced the Tetris eﬀect. “Tetris slyly manages to interface with the neural net in the human skull” wrote Goldsmith. “[…] The Tetris eﬀect is a biochemical, reductionistic metaphor, if you will, for curiosity, invention, the creative urge. To fit shapes together is to organize, to build, to make deals, to fix, to understand, to fold sheets.” This isn’t just pop science either. Goldmith’s term may have begun life in the tech press, but it was quickly picked up by neuroscience to describe the psychological process through which forms of repetitive, pattern-based activity can reorder your mental functions. Any kind of pattern play can prompt this eﬀect, but Tetris seems particularly triggering – a quality explained in journalist Dan Ackerman’s 2016 book The Tetris Eﬀect as resulting from the game’s ability to imprint itself “as both
procedural memory, which guides frequent repetition of action, and as spatial memory, which deals with our understanding of 2D and 3D shapes and how they interact”. Tetris, Ackerman notes, is the video game par excellence of “spatial relations and improvised architecture”. Nowhere is this addictive cocktail of procedural and spatial dimensions more apparent than in Goldsmith’s article,
I’ve played Tetris all my life, so the whole debacle feels personal. I actively agree with the Chicago Tribune’s 1988 assessment that Tetris is “so good that you won’t be able to say nyet to it”. which was fortunate enough to draw upon the feature writer’s Holy Grail: deep personal experience with its subject matter. In 1990, Goldsmith lost six weeks of his life to playing Tetris on his Gameboy while staying with a friend in Japan. “Days, I sat on a lavender suede sofa and played Tetris furiously,” he wrote. “During rare jaunts from the house, I visually fit cars and trees and people together[…] My friend, an economist, threatened a battery deprivation, but he knew my habit ran deep, knew that I could always tilt, blinded by sunlight, to a convenience store. To save face, I would buy a box of tiny chocolate-filled bears, as if AA power cells were an afterthought, not the meaning of my wretched life.” Goldsmith fully submitted to the game’s pharmatronic2 spell and his resultant
travails make for terrific copy. As a result, I hate him. You may be wondering what my problem is.3 Well, the important thing to know is that I’ve played Tetris all my life, so the whole debacle feels personal. To date, Tetris has appeared on more than 65 gaming platforms and I’ve played it on at least three. I once unlocked the game’s notoriously diﬃcult-to-achieve animation of a space shuttle blasting oﬀ a launchpad, which is Tetris’s Cold War-inflected reward for excellent play. I figuratively punched the air when curator Paola Antonelli added the game to MoMA’s permanent design collection in 2012, elevating a previously dismissed mode of cultural expression to something worthy of critical attention.4 I actively agree with the Chicago Tribune’s 1988 assessment that Tetris is “a game so good that you won’t be able to say nyet to it”. In spite of this, I have never been reduced to wandering Tokyo like a digital smackhead, an experience of glorious pharmatronic desperation that Tetris’s original designer Alexey Pajitnov, when Goldsmith told him of his opinion of the game’s addictive qualities, charmingly reframed as a “song which you sing and sing inside yourself and can’t stop”. My sense of insecurity about these matters is worsened by the fact that it is precisely Tetris’s pharmatronic qualities that form the basis of the most recent entry to the canon: Tetris Eﬀect, a Playstation 4 game developed by designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi and his team at California-based developer Enhance. “We’ve done a lot of thinking about how the mechanics need to be so that anyone who has played Tetris before, no matter where they’re from, can pick this up and
Tetris Effect, designed by California-based developer Enhance,
Images courtesy of Enhance.
plays with the original puzzle game’s pharmatronic effects.
think ‘this is Tetris’,” explained Mizuguchi in a 2018 interview with video-game website VentureBeat. “In addition to making the experience feel good, we were also motivated to find a way to introduce storytelling into the mix.” That’s a little gnomic as descriptions go, but the creation’s premise is equally slippery – Tetris Eﬀect is both a game of Tetris and a game about playing Tetris. Its basic gameplay has changed little from the original iterations of the 1980s,5 but the additions that Mizuguchi has made around this core represent a shift in the format. Tetris Eﬀect is a piece of design that tries to make tangible the answer to the question that Goldsmith set out to explore 25 years ago: what happens to your brain when you play Tetris? In 2000, Robert Stickgold of the Harvard Medical School led a research project into the eﬀects of dreaming on learning, the results of which formed ‘Replaying the Game: Hypnagogic Images in Normals and Amnesics’, a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Science. As part of Stickgold’s research, 27 test subjects (including five amnesiacs with severely impaired
short-term memory) were invited to play Tetris over the course of three days. Stickgold and his team found that 17 of these subjects subsequently dreamt of Tetris blocks falling through space and slotting together to form lines. Amongst the dreamers were three of the five amnesiacs, whose dreams were shaped by the game despite them having no recollection of playing it, “demonstrating that remote memories can influence the images from recent waking experience”. Stickgold’s findings were not, however, the first neuroscientific investigations into Tetris. In 1992, the psychologist Richard Haier at the University of California, Irvine, established the “Tetris learning eﬀect”, a process through which the brain uses less energy to play the game the more adept at Tetris a player becomes. As the game grows more taxing, increasing familiarity with its systems shapes the brain such that it becomes more eﬃcient and economical in how it responds. It’s not simply that the player becomes better at Tetris the more they play (although that happens too), but rather that their brain approaches the challenge diﬀerently. Haier followed up on this research in 2009 with further
findings about the eﬀect of Tetris on the cerebral cortex, which deals with memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness. “What we found was a change in the brain after playing Tetris,” Haier told the BBC. “The thickness of the cerebral cortex actually increased, by less than half a millimetre.” Playing Tetris, it emerges, can be literally mind-altering. Mizuguchi’s game is concerned with visualising these neurological eﬀects and, in so doing, providing a commentary on Tetris’s enduring appeal. “One of the first formal studies of the phenomenon was at Harvard Medical School in the year 2000,” intones the game’s trailer, revealed at the E3 trade show in June 2018. As the voice speaks, the black screen fills with tiny lights that sparkle and throb in time to trance music. “Participants played the game for seven hours each, spread over the course of three days. Remarkably, 63 per cent of the participants, almost two thirds, reported seeing imagery from the game hours after they finished playing.” The lights start clustering into physical forms, assembling and disassembling to create glittering humpback whales and manta
Accompanying the basic Tetris gameplay are visual and sonic effects that are synched to the movement of the blocks.
rays. The music swells and the sea creatures roll across the screen, bursting in and out of resolution as they flip their fins and crash down around the game grid, their bodies exploding to create the waves that swallow up their previous selves. Amidst this stardust and mysticism, geometric shapes appear in the centre of the screen, pulsing in time to the music’s beat. “Blocks. They all saw blocks.” That trailer broadly sums up Tetris Eﬀect. A traditional game of Tetris runs in the centre of the screen, while graphics around its periphery complement the gameplay. Each level has a diﬀerent theme. There are stages set underwater, where lights assemble into marine life; levels amongst forests and hot-air balloons; others built around pulsing drums, twirling umbrellas and dancing Chinese lanterns; and yet others that feature horse riders in canyons,
bioluminescent mermaids and orbiting space stations. It’s spectacularly beautiful and, as you play, the graphics map to your actions and resolve themselves according to your success. Clear multiple lines in one move and a condor might surge into the air; a prayer circle break into frantic worship; or a desert caravan flip into exploration of a lunar surface. Working in concert with these visuals are sonic elements. Each level is soundtracked with music unique to that stage, with additional notes marking every rotation and movement of the falling blocks. As you progress, you begin to play in time to the beat, dropping pieces to ensure that the sounds harmonise with the backing track, which in turn drags the graphics into alignment with everything else. The result is a sound and light show on a grand scale – a synchronised synaesthesia controlled by the rhythmic
falling of blocks. “Our goal was to make the experience of playing Tetris feel better than it ever has before,” Mizuguchi told VentureBeat, “and I think everything – visuals, music, and stage concepts – is firing on all cylinders on that front.” Mizuguchi’s description of his creation as “introduc[ing] storytelling” to Tetris undersells the experience, however. Tetris Eﬀect is unchained from both linear narrative and in-game progression. Levels speed up and grow harder as the game advances, but most players will likely select stages based upon the experiences they evoke, rather than the challenge they present. Instead of storytelling in any traditional sense, Tetris Eﬀect’s core purpose is inducing a trance-like state in its players, with Mizuguchi’s mesmeric synaesthetics drawing parallels to the pharmatronic qualities of the series’ gameplay. “At its simplest, what we hope is that when you’re playing it, you’re not thinking about anything – you forget about your troubles and your cares and whatever,” said Enhance Games’s Mark MacDonald in an interview with technology website TechRadar. “It’s a cool, magical feeling but normally you’d need to be really good at the game, or you’d have to play the game for a really long time to experience that. We wanted to lower the barrier to entry so that anybody playing it, even if they’re not that good at Tetris, they could have that feeling.” Tetris Eﬀect, then, is a Tetris-eﬀect generator – a vehicle designed to enable psychological chufties without the need for Goldsmithian devotion. A splendid democratisation of the pharmatronic supply chain this idea may be, but there are downsides. In order to achieve the desired eﬀect, Mizuguchi and his team have had to lean heavily on visuals and music designed to evoke spiritual transcendence – a visual shorthand for psychological ecstasy that is undeniably eﬀective, but which inevitably slips into cliché. The game’s signature track ‘The Deep: Connected (Yours Forever)’, for instance, contains lyrics that gesture towards soaring significance, but which ultimately prove fatuous: “I’m yours forever / There is no end in sight for us / Nothing could measure / The kind of strength inside our hearts / It’s all connected / We’re all together in this life.” That’s a lyric that would make for
some seriously vapid holistic woo at the best of times, but which is further undermined by the fact it plays out alongside graphics showing the rear end of a whale flashing alarmingly pink and exploding backwards as if suﬀering from a diarrhetic krill episode. Depending on your feelings about hollow bullshit evacuation, this may not be an issue, but other aspects of Tetris Eﬀect prove more troubling. The game seeks to tie itself to its namesake psychological eﬀect by presenting graphics that encourage the player to perceive the entirety of nature and human history in connection to falling blocks. When the visuals stick to realms such as ecosystems, geometric patterning and the abstracted horizons of interstellar exploration, the approach works to a tee, capturing the sense of trance that devotees experience during play. Yet the designer’s decision to supplement this sweeping overview of life on earth with religious iconography (temples, figures in the lotus position, shaman-esque fire worshipers) is uncomfortable. The deployment of visuals that are suggestive of actual belief systems – and, depressingly, belief systems whose representations in-game are largely non-specific other than being vaguely “Eastern” – is not only reductive, but also has the corollary of implying that these religions are somehow “primal” in the same fashion as the game’s other visual source material. It is an exoticising and primitivising trope,6 and one in which Enhance has past form. In Mizuguchi’s 2016 game Rez Infinite, the protagonist changes form in accordance with the quality of your play. Beginning as a prostrate figure, the character becomes a holy man in the lotus position before ultimately achieving “nirvana” and transforming into an orb of disembodied energy. Given that Rez’s story is about purging a computer system of viruses, the link to religious practice seems, at best, forced. The eﬃcacy of Norton Antivirus does not a Buddha make. And yet this kind of stereotyping and cultural appropriation to evoke a sense of mesmeric dislocation has long been a part of the Tetris story, beginning with the earliest eﬀorts to commercialise the game in the 1980s. When Tetris was introduced to the US, its publisher Spectrum Holobyte bolstered the
creation’s pharmatronic eﬀect with reference to the perceived mystique of its having been developed in the USSR. Spectrum soundtracked the game with Russian folk music; backdropped its gameplay with artwork depicting life in the Soviet Union; and packaged the oﬀering in a red box with Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral on the cover. “For the Spectrum partners, this seemed like the single greatest marketing gimmick they could ask for,” writes Ackerman in The Tetris Eﬀect. “The game’s rigid logic and sharp-cornered architecture already mirrored the common Western view of the Soviet Union[…] There might be room to position a Russian game as something more like a stolen view of an alien culture than a totem of a political and military enemy.” Unsurprisingly, when the game launched at a 1988 industry event in San Francisco, the city’s Russian consulate complained about Tetris’s imagery. “You have to understand,” Ackerman reports Spectrum director Phil Adam as responding, “most people view communism and the people in Russia as very lacking in personality[…] This gives the American people some sense that there is some kind of personality behind the Soviet citizen.” Blatant xenophobia aside, Adam’s suggestion founders in its mistaken desire for Tetris to expose or express anything beyond its own rhythmic cascade of blocks. As Goldsmith realised early on, any meaning in Tetris – any profundity or value to be gleaned from it – is not found within its presentation, but rather in its core spatial patterns and the psychological impact they have on the brain that shapes them. Initial test versions – replete with their rudimentary graphics and absence of sound – proved every bit as addictive as their successors, regardless of their lack of symbolism. In the early 1980s, a version of the game was disseminated through the Moscow Medical Institute by clinical psychology researcher Vladimir Pokhilko, a friend of the game’s designer Pajitnov. The centre’s entire workforce quickly became addicted. “I can’t live with your Tetris anymore,” Pokhilko told Pajitnov, before secretly remaining in the oﬃce after hours to destroy every copy of the game before his staﬀ could realise the jig was up and take measures to protect their stash.7 Faced with this level of pharmatronic
addiction, Mizuguchi’s kaleidoscopic synaesthesia (and, to a lesser extent, Spectrum Holobyte’s commercialised Russophilia-cum-phobia) can only ever be a sideshow: visual metaphors for the sense of rapture already engendered by the game. Pajitnov, of course, knew this from the beginning, as revealed in the interview he gave Goldsmith about realising the extent of the eﬀect his design could have on a player. “You can’t imagine,” said Pajitnov. “I couldn’t finish the prototype! I started to play and never had time to finish the code.” Even today, 25 years on, Goldsmith’s response to this idea remains my personal gold standard for any assessment of the game’s impact: “Tetris enslaved my brain.” Tetris Eﬀect is published by Enhance Games, price £34.99. 1
A keen reader may be wondering whether a four-year-old Oli Stratford really could have read ‘This is Your Brain on Tetris’ and been angered by its impact on an essay he would write 25 years in the future. To this reader, I would say, I think I know my own life better than you. A piece of technology that exerts a similar addictive eﬀect to a drug. Another term Goldsmith coined. Thanks a lot, Goldsmith. And, Christ, I hope Jeﬀrey Goldsmith never reads this, as I suspect he would definitely wonder what my problem is. I particularly liked Antonelli’s blogpost announcing the acquisition, in which she responded to the inevitable question of “Are video games art?” with a cheery “They sure are” and left it at that. And “original” is important here. Early versions of the game ranged across multiple platforms, with the nature of 1980s computer hardware meaning that each version had to be more or less coded from scratch. As such, Pajitnov’s Tetris could be interpreted as the theme upon which all subsequent Tetrises have been variations. Which is little ameliorated by the inclusion of a Jazz-Age New Yorkinspired level – an outlier amongst the game’s larger visual landscape. Later versions solved this issue with the introduction of a “boss button”. If, mid-game, an employee were in danger of being caught playing by their employer, they could press the Escape key to switch the computer monitor to a display of a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet.
The Value of Good Design Words Alexis Romano
MoMA’s musings on the value of good design reinforce the taste-making role it has enjoyed for at least half a century, but is it time for the museum’s understanding of design to be reframed? “Good Design is not a label or a price tag. Good Design is international both in origin and appeal. Good Design is a statement and not a gadget. Good Design need not be costly. Good Design is neither a book of etiquette nor a social register. Good Design is one that achieves integrity. Good Design depends on the harmony established between the form of an object and its use.” The above manifesto probably strikes a familiar tone: the notion of “good design” it describes is thoroughly ingrained in our collective memory and experience, even if many might struggle to trace the origins or rationale behind its tenets. The manifesto features in a new exhibition at MoMA in New York, The Value of Good Design, which attempts to trace this development: it considers good design as it was conceived in the inter- and postwar periods in various global centres, but largely bases its narrative around the museum’s own eﬀorts to codify and disseminate this vision. Exhibition curators Juliet Kinchin and Andrew Gardner have drawn heavily on the museum’s vast collection, and filled the gallery with a panoply of domestic furnishings and appliances, textile and graphic designs, transport designs, sporting goods, ceramics, glass, toys and electronics, spanning the mundane and familiar to the singular and eye-catching. Not many exhibitions succeed in juxtaposing objects as varied as an ordinary broomstick – a model manufactured by Stanley Home Products in 1955 – and the Cinquecento, or “500F
city car”, designed by Dante Giacosa in 1957, but by placing focus on the “democratizing potential of design”, as an introductory wall text explains, Kinchin and Gardner have strived to assess these objects’ value in social and economic frameworks. Aided by archival documentation, photographs and videos, visitors are meant to question their definition of good design and scrutinise their own functional and aesthetic relationships to it. Since the inception of MoMA’s industrial design department in 1934, the museum has tested the line between art and commerce in formulating its definition of good design. Essentially, good design is functional, cost-eﬀective and aesthetically pleasing. This dual consideration of form and function exposes, among other things, the Bauhaus connection of Eliot Noyes, an industrial designer who served as the first director of the department having previously worked under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. In 1946, Noyes left the museum and was replaced by Edgar Kaufmann Jr, whose background was as an architect and department-store merchandiser. Quickly, the department merged exhibiting and collecting with activities providing a platform for contemporary design, manufacture and retailing. Competition-based shows, such as Organic Design in Home Furnishings (1940-41), brought together designers and manufacturers, while exhibitions such as Useful Household Objects (1938-48), the museum’s annual pre-Christmas show, partnered with retailers and doubled as a shopping guide for consumers. The museum’s Good Design series (1950-55), meanwhile,
was co-organised with the Chicago-based wholesaler Merchandise Mart. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and Second World War, consumerism under MoMA’s watch increasingly assumed a moral and patriotic dimension, as the public was encouraged to purchase domestic objects based on values like practicality, honesty and simplicity. These ideas shifted in the context of the Cold War, as design became fraught with other symbols of American identity, from the domestic comforts of suburbia and the centrality of the nuclear family, to democracy and capitalism. On the international stage, good design became a tool of cultural diplomacy, showcased in international exhibitions and Marshall Plan initiatives, and was used to spread US values to counter Soviet ideals. These programmes fuelled US-international relations, from the 1945 creation of the government Oﬃce of International Information and Cultural Aﬀairs to MoMA’s 1955 Europe-destined exhibition, 50 Years of American Art, which featured mass-produced industrial design items alongside painting, sculpture, architecture, photography, typography, and film. Of the latter, art historian Gay McDonald has written that the US government and MoMA “came to view such wares as a vital means of quelling French fears of American cultural homogenization and of building support for the American way of life”. These narratives have since been internalised, spread in part by MoMA’s exhibitions, as well as its Design Store, which continues to sell historical items. The new exhibition introduces visitors to MoMA’s above-mentioned historical initiatives, casting the museum as a central
Images courtesy of MoMA.
A silkscreen showing Hiroshi Ochiâ€™s Mitsubishi sewing machine (c. 1950s), exhibited as part of The Value of Good Design at MoMA.
From left: Saara Hopea’s 1951 stacking glasses from the Nuutajärvi Glass Works; Dante Giacosa’s 1957 500f Fiat city car.
player in the story of good design. It begins with sections devoted to exhibitions and competitions, notably the Useful Household Objects and Good Design series. A quote by Kaufmann Jr, included in the wall text, explains his belief that museums had “the responsibility of guiding the consumer toward those qualities which make an object beloved for generations”. Such transparency in relation to the museum’s messaging connects this show directly to Kinchin’s 2009 exhibition What was Good Design? MoMA’s Message, 1944-56, although the latter portion of the current exhibition, ‘International Good Design’, widens the geographic scope by highlighting “good design” from other countries, displayed by means of the following pairings: Italy and the UK, Scandinavia and Japan, France and Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe. Oddly, no clear rationale for these couplings is oﬀered. As in the first section, objects here are largely presented as part of an institutional and creative hierarchy – products by designers and manufacturers executed through programmes backed by governments, museums and international design councils, and involving expositions such as Britain Can Make It (1946), Formes Utiles (1949-50), Design in Scandinavia (1954-57), Die Gute Form (1949) and the Milan Triennale. The idea that design was “a vital tool of economic reconstruction, technological advancement and political persuasion” is expressed directly in the wall text. It is also taken up in Glimpses of the USA, a 1959 colour 16mm film about
“a day in the life of the United States” that was created by Charles and Ray Eames and comprises seven screens showing scenes from agriculture and industry, through to cities and crowds of people. An expression of movement and modernity, the film is an example of how US sociopolitical values were propagated through design. Commissioned by the United States Information Agency to be displayed at the entrance of the American National Exhibition held in Moscow in 1959 (the scene of Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon’s famous “kitchen debate”), the film was originally projected across seven 6x9m screens inside a geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller. This imposing display of audio-visual technology would have served as a powerful propaganda tool. Kinchin and Gardner set the aesthetic tone in the exhibition’s first section, introducing viewers to accepted forms and materials by way of an example of “bad” design: an image of an “Overstuﬀed ‘Gorilla’ Armchair”. Taken by Noyes, this photograph was initially displayed in the 1940-41 exhibition Organic Design in Home Furnishings. According to Noyes, who curated it, the chair does not demonstrate the “harmonious organization of the parts within the whole, according to the structure, material, and purpose [and instead embraces] vain ornamentation or superfluity”. The furniture and other domestic objects displayed in the current show serve as a visual counterpoint to the bulging, messy and old-fashioned Gorilla armchair, and connect the streamlined
minimalism of good design to notions of futurity and technological progress that underpinned 20th-century modernism. The exhibition’s most obvious comparison is Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s High-Back armchair, whose plywood frame with foam rubber and woven upholstery by Marli Ehrman contrasts against the heavy construction of the Gorilla armchair, and ties unadorned visual simplicity to bodily comfort and support. The importance of materials as they relate to responsible, low-cost consumption is underlined in examples from MoMA’s exhibition Useful Objects of American Design under $10 (1939-40) and Useful Items in Wartime (1942), in which plywood furniture designs by Eames and Saarinen took centre stage. The creation of “progressive” materials was partly down to economic restrictions placed on consumers during the Great Depression, which later informed wartime production. The exhibition highlights the example of Magnalite, a patented aluminium alloy that was used for a tea kettle by John G. Rideout from 1936. Conversely, the exhibition showcases examples of cheaper, locally produced materials, such as the furniture designs of Xavier Guerrero and Clara Porset in pine with ixtle webbing, a material produced from a Mexican plant fibre. All of these connect in various ways to contemporary issues – whether fair-trade manufacturing processes or problems of pollution – although none of these resonances are oﬀered as points of reflection for visitors to the exhibition.
From left: Vera Lisková’s 1947 crystal bowl for Lobmeyr; Charlotte Perriand’s 1940 bamboo Low chair, manufactured in 1946.
Indeed, deeper questioning of the wider significances of form and material choice is largely left to the viewing public. What does the look and notion of stackable design, seen for instance in Sori Yanagi’s 1954 Elephant Stool (manufactured by the Kotobuki Seating Company), say about users’ experience of space? And what of the connection between “good design” and non-representational motifs and abstraction, illustrated by the textile designs of Lucienne Day, Eszter Haraszty, Astrid Sampe and Ettore Sottsass, and the range of graphic design examples on display? How can one material be invested with multiple symbolisms? Taking plastic as an example, how does the technological progress behind William H. Miller Jr’s futuristic Inflatable chair (c. 1944) – in Vinylite with a plywood frame, aluminium legs and string netting – relate to Earl S. Tupper’s polyethylene Tupperware (1946-54), perhaps the ultimate symbol of mid-century suburban domestic life? The tension between design and morality could also be unpacked, from the promotion of “honest” designs that don’t mask their function, including Raymond Loewy’s Communications Receiver (1947), to the extreme reduction of form, such as that shown in the “optimal objects” of Kaj Franck, exemplified in the exhibition by his glazed earthenware Kilta tableware (1948), produced in monochromatic colours with no handles or other “unnecessary” elements. In recent years, however, scholarship in design history and material culture studies has flourished around social
history and personal narratives, fields that bring consumer reception and experience (as well as entirely new actors) into accounts that have been typically design- and designer-led. Such shifts, exhibited in the work of Judy Attfield and Sophie Woodward for instance, are allowing hierarchies of cultural production to be rethought. While visitors to The Value of Good Design are expected to forge personal connections to the objects on display, this might have been better mediated by framing the displayed designs not solely as products of creation, but also as products of use. Instead, the exhibition falls back on a traditional gallery format, grouping objects mutely on platforms. While the curators are to be commended for finding space for work by unknown makers – such as a collapsible salad basket (French, c. 1953) in tinned steel and a set of 1930s bath mitts in hemp twine that were sold at Liggett drug stores – what is missing are meanings drawn from lived experience. The Werra1 35mm film camera (c. 1955-60) is a prime example. Manufactured by Zeiss-Werk for the mass market, its ergonomic, compact, easy-to-use form changed image-making processes. Space might have been devoted to a consideration of the social and physical person who once used, saved, or passed down this object. Positioning the user as a creative agent and actor in the narrative of “good design” would perhaps help exhibition visitors build connections to their historical forebears and bring this layer of reflection to the present.
The exhibition’s final section, the ‘Good Design Lab’, was conceived to amend this limitation. Here, visitors are invited to touch and try out objects that were designed to be used, all of which are also on display in the gallery. According to the wall text, this part encourages viewers to question what “Good Design might mean today, and whether values from mid-century can be translated and redefined for a 21st-century audience[…] by trying out a few ‘good design’ classics still in production”. They can play with a Slinky, designed by Richard and Betty James in 1945, or simulate pouring hot liquid from the glass, wood and leather Chemex coﬀee maker (1941) by Peter Schlumbohm. In this final section, MoMA’s role as a contemporary design incubator is acknowledged, reinforcing the museum’s historical role as a tastemaker and value creator as expressed throughout the exhibition. Thanks to MoMA, the legacy of “good design” is far-reaching today – whether in designers’ minimalist proclivities, the antiques market for mid-century modernism, or collective mentalities that privilege simplified spaces and lifestyles. But the basis for such outcomes is worth considering further. The manifesto that opened this review is aﬃxed to a wall with no provenance information that tells viewers who is doing the talking, or when – and therein lies the problem. The Value of Good Design is at MoMA in New York until 15 June 2019.
Awards Season Words Joe Lloyd Illustrations James Graham
In 2012, as it approached its 10th anniversary, the British architecture and design magazine Icon decided to set up a jury-adjudicated award scheme. “It was part of an idea to make Icon more of a brand, rather than just the print magazine itself,” recounts former senior editor Riya Patel. “And it had been a while since we had run an event.” The initiative was limited initially to projects and products that had featured in the magazine over the past year. “It was a chance to celebrate the architects and designers we had written about,” says Patel, “and, of course, a chance to have a party.”
The Icon Awards came to an end in 2014 and that might have been that. Yet looking back half a decade later, the scheme appears to have been something of a pioneer. Around the time of the Icon Awards’ demise, the architecture and design bimonthly Blueprint launched its own awards scheme, which this October celebrates its sixth year. The Architects’ Journal, which had previously run a set of specific honours, threw its hat into the ring in 2017. And 2018 saw two new contenders entering the field, run by online platform Dezeen and the Amsterdam-based interior-design magazine Frame. Design – like almost every sphere from Hollywood to canine acting, scientific research to kebab-making – did not previously lack for awards.1 There are schemes run by public institutions and professional associations, by charities and foundations, by museums and academic establishments, and by design weeks and fairs. They come in all shapes and sizes, with a bewildering array of systems and entry criteria. Type “design award” into Google and you’ll likely run into a cluster of blandly named companies like the Good Design Awards and the iF (International Forum Awards). These initiatives, the oldest of which date back to the 1950s, give out an enormous swathe of prizes annually and function as a sort of industryrecognised seal of honour. One recent arrival, the Como-based A’ Design Award, handed out 7,614 accolades in its first decade. The new cohort of publication-based design awards, by contrast, operates a model familiar from such long-established extravaganzas as the Booker Prize. A longlist is drawn up and then whittled down to a shortlist, from which a jury that is generally composed of prominent figures from relevant fields debates a winner. There are invariably sponsors, supporting either the entire ceremony or a particular award. In some cases – such as that of Frame, which runs a People’s Choice award parallel to the jury’s selection – an element of public voting is included, opening up participation to the readership. Though the exact focus diﬀers in line with each publication’s editorial remit, there is some overlap. One of last year’s big winners, for instance, was Heatherwick Studio’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, which was nominated by Frame, Blueprint For those interested, canine actors are honoured in the Palm Dog Award, while the UK’s kebab industry is onto the seventh iteration of the British Kebab Awards.
and Dezeen. In the event, it took home both the Frame and Blueprint gongs, but lost out on a Dezeen award to the Thai practice Chiangmai Life Architects’ Bamboo Sports Hall. This balance of winners, captured by the distance between an internationally renowned star-designer and a little-known Thai studio, is one of the defining commonalities of these schemes. Blueprint’s 2018 winners feature a range of high-profile architects and designers – Heatherwick, Oki Sato of Nendo, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, and Foster & Partners – along with several others, such as Portugal’s Tiago do Vale architects and London architect and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman, who have yet to achieve such prominence or exhibit the same financial clout. This inclusivity defines the new breed against what could be called traditional design awards, which tend to be known for exclusivity. This is enacted in their fees. Take Germany’s Red Dot Award, one of the most prominent of the old guard. Entrants must pay between €300 and €510 to submit an entry, depending on timing, with a further €500 fee for “outsized” products, as well as permanently donating a copy of their chosen item. That’s it for the losers, but winners must then stump up €3,950 (for a standard award or honourable mention) or €5,995 (for products decreed “Best of the Best”) to receive their prize. “They make the entry processes diﬃcult and expensive, so that it becomes exclusive, and then they make the event expensive so that becomes exclusive,” explains Dezeen’s founder and editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs. “If you’re in that world it becomes something of a virtuous circle; if you’re not it becomes a vicious one.” Submissions to the Blueprint Awards cost a comparatively slim £130 plus VAT, while the Dezeen Awards charge between £150 and £200 plus VAT, with halved rates for entrants with 10 or fewer employees. “We analysed all the other award programmes that had some kind of meaning, some kind of importance, and we put our price at the bottom of that bracket,” explains Fairs. “We wanted all the small studios, the international studios and people from across the world to feel it was right for them.” Frame, which averages €300 a submission, is slightly more expensive, although that cost takes into account a live judging session and a ticket to Frame Lab, a two-day programme of talks and exhibitions. “The Frame Awards,” says founder and director Robert Thiemann,
“is the answer we felt needed to be given to traditional awards shows, which only recognise big-budget work with big-name clients.” These loftier motivations sit in dialogue with a rather less exalted one. Much ink has been spilled on the ongoing contraction of print media owing to the interlinked triad of decreasing circulation, declining advertising revenues and increasing costs – eﬀects predominantly driven by the growth of the internet. In turn, online advertising has transitioned towards the data-farming models of Google and Facebook, meaning that what may have felt like the way forward a decade ago has given way to what Thiemann describes as “an increasingly impoverished landscape”. Although award schemes can demand a significant outlay – building a platform for entrants, convening juries, commissioning trophies, arranging ceremonies and perhaps even (as with Dezeen) hiring additional staﬀ – they can also go some way to providing an alternative source of revenue. In the tumult of the present-day magazine industry, awards represent one way in which a title can test out models for the future – something Johnny Tucker, editor of Blueprint, succinctly calls “brand extension”. The decline of print has forced many journalists and editors to reassess the nature of their publications. For Frame, this has involved a transformation into something more nebulous. “Like many of our competitors,” Thiemann explains, “Frame has had to evolve from perceiving itself as a print-first publisher with a website to more of a ‘platform’ that places equal emphasis across all our channels, be they digital, live or the magazine that you see on the newsstand.” Award schemes are a natural way for magazines to commence this evolution. The format has proven appeal: the appetite for awards is enormous. The present edition of Gale’s Awards, Honors and Prizes, a 1,492-page catalogue collating awards from across the world, lists some 24,000 honours. “Everyone,” says Fairs, “wants to win an award. Everyone wants to win something.” For specialist publications – a medium nominally built upon trust in an ability to discover, select and report the most worthwhile things in the relevant industries – the process of evaluation might appear a common thread. The boundaries between editorial practice running alongside award adjudication are more ambiguous. Design publications are generally reactive, reflecting from the sidelines; award schemes represent a leap
onto the main stage. Some publications welcome the chance. “[We aim] to be less merely descriptive of the industries we cover,” says Thiemann, “and more prescriptive. We don’t think there is much mileage left for publishing brands who aren’t willing to put a stake in the ground and make their opinions clear.” Although juries take the ultimate decisions away from editorial hands, writers and editors often have a role in choosing what the judges see. The Dezeen editorial team, for instance, are involved in long-listing. “There’s an editorial
“They make the entry processes diﬃcult and expensive. It becomes a vicious circle.” —Marcus Fairs eye that needs to be passed over things in order to get the quality of shortlists and winners that meet the mark,” says Fairs. “None of our winners were shit.” The Icon Awards began accepting free submissions in its last year, but quality control saw few reach the selection stage. “Many of the entrants were secondrate,” says former deputy editor John Jervis, who joined the magazine just before the awards’ final year. “There were a lot of second-rate British furniture companies.” A prize scheme can also prompt self-reflection. The Blueprint Awards has served as something of a reader audit. “A magazine is a static thing,” says Tucker. “They get so little feedback. You finish them and send them out into the wilderness.” After the inaugural edition of the Blueprint Awards, Tucker was surprised by the volume of responses from Asia and Latin America, and with the quality and quantity of residential entrants. The latter of these prompted further coverage of such small projects. “It was certainly eye-opening,” says Tucker. “It gave me insights into the magazine I would be unable to access otherwise.” Brand extension, of course, can work in ways that are not directly commercial. Since launching its awards, Blueprint has inaugurated two further schemes: the Blueprint Architecture Photography Awards (2017-) and Blueprint for the Future (2018-), a competition for Part II students
at British architecture schools held in Clerkenwell showrooms. With a background in photography, Tucker sees the former as a passion project. “It’s not for money,” he says. “It’s only £10 to enter for amateurs, £30 for professionals. And we wanted to do something creative.” The latter, although it does speak to the magazine’s readership within the educational sector, is also non-commercial. “It’s satisfying to see the cross-pollination between
“[We aim] to be less merely descriptive of the industries we cover and more prescriptive.” —Robert Thiemann groups, classes and diﬀerent schools,” says Tucker. “I’d like it to feel like a focal point for the end of the academic year.” It is important not to underestimate how the impulse behind an award ceremony may stem from a desire to bolster the strength of the design industry. When Thiemann launched Frame in 1997, it was explicitly to shore up a then-denigrated field. “At the end of the 20th century,” he says, “interior design was seen as a second-rate profession.” The Frame Awards, and indeed the conference-like Frame Lab within which they are couched, simulate the apparatus that was long ago built up around more traditionally valued fields. One way of doing this, of course, is to draw people together. “When we think about the Dezeen Awards,” says Fairs, “we think about how to make them meaningful, how to make them successful and how to make people feel part of the community.” This formulation – one eye on the publication’s success, the other on inculcating an aura of inclusion – is diﬃcult to dispute. Yet still to be settled is whether, in reducing the distance between the design industry and the press, publications might be ceding their ability to be independent observers that – nominally at least – oﬀer evaluation. When everyone is brought inside, who is left to scrutinise from without? Awards may or may not signal the collapse of this compact, but they might prove another stone thrown in its direction. E N D
Aalto vs. Breuer Words Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund
The 1930s legal wrangling over the plywood designs of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer shows that the control of intellectual property is not a new concern for designers.
On 8 November 1933, the upmarket London department store Fortnum & Mason opened Wood Only, an exhibition of Alvar Aalto’s furniture organised by journalist Philip Morton Shand and Architectural Review magazine. It was a landmark event, which first showcased to British consumers and designers the aesthetic potential of plywood, a material previously dismissed for its cheapness. The following year, Shand and his fellow architectural writer Geoﬀrey Boumphrey founded Finmar, a company with exclusive rights to import Aalto’s furniture into Britain. That same year, 1934, Shand was instrumental in helping the Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius flee Nazi Germany and set up home in London, in the newly opened Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead. This, Britain’s first modernist apartment building, was designed by Canadian architect Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard, a young couple who had drawn up the brief for a community of small “Minimal flats” aimed at young, middle-class professionals. The initial residents were drawn from the Pritchards’ social circle of artists, writers, scientists and academics. Within months, Gropius was joined by two other Bauhäuslers fleeing Nazi persecution: László Moholy-Nagy, who had run the school’s influential preliminary course, and Marcel Breuer, who had been master of the furniture workshop. Jack Pritchard was employed by the EstonianBritish plywood company Venesta (a portmanteau of “veneer Estonia”) to seek out and develop new markets
for its products. In August 1935, he and Shand travelled to Finland where they met the latter’s new business partner, Aalto. Aalto showed them around the Korhonen furniture factory in Turku and his Paimio Sanatorium, where they saw his pioneering plywood furniture designs in their intended context. The experience made a great impression on Pritchard and within two months of his return to London, he launched the Isokon Furniture Company to make and sell plywood furniture. Pritchard had researched Finmar’s turnover, which was then running at just over £350 per week, and estimated that with his
Pritchard had researched Finmar’s turnover and estimated that he should be able to double it within three years. own experience and by working with progressive furniture stores across the country he should be able to double that within three years. Pritchard calculated that he needed £3,000 to set up the business, £1,000 of which he put up himself. He pitched to Graham Reid, director of Venesta, to fund the rest, claiming it would
create a new market for Venesta’s plywood and that they could learn much from the “mistakes” of others, including Finmar. Although Reid eventually declined, the letter provides insight into the competitive edge Pritchard felt Isokon would have: “Here furniture made entirely of plywood has been designed and made in Finland. A good deal of this furniture is questionable as to comfort, but we can profit from their experience. We should begin aiming for the ‘better class market’. Finmar did very well in starting at Fortnum & Mason’s [sic] with an exhibition and a great deal of palaver. During this time the product would be sold at a relatively high price and as the demand and production increased the price could be progressively lowered. This was the plan followed when the Chrysler firm was introduced to the snob market, after which it was readily lapped up in the cheaper markets when the price was reduced. The Finmar experience is worth recording here.” Pritchard had visited the Dessau Bauhaus in March 1931 and had been deeply impressed by the art-school buildings. He appointed Walter Gropius as the Isokon Furniture Company’s controller of design, MoholyNagy as its graphics designer, and, in January 1936, Marcel Breuer as chief designer. He was well aware of the prestige these three giants of the modern movement would bestow on his fledgling operation. Breuer’s first project for Pritchard was a new version of the aluminium reclining chair he had designed for Embru in Zurich, but this time executed in plywood. On 9 June 1936, Pritchard filed UK patent 812856 for the Isokon Long Chair (BC1) and for a shorter version, known as BC2. The chair’s seat was formed from a single sheet of bent birch plywood, attached to four sinuous supports. The elements of the chair were stabilised by a crosspiece beneath the seat, which completed the frame. Breuer outlined his construction method thus: “Instead of building up a structure which is complete in itself, so far as the load carrying members are concerned[,] and then applying a seat to it, I now use the frame members which only become a complete structure when parts of them are spanned by the seat.” Breuer refined the Long Chair’s design over the next few months and production began in 1937. The seats were produced and bent at the A.M. Luther factory in Tallinn, the mother company of Venesta and the European leader in bending plywood at the time, while the frames were made in London by
carpenters Mansell & Pfeifer, in a workshop set up next to the Lawn Road Flats. The final version was oﬀered in natural birch, walnut or zebrano with a full-length cushion. On 3 April 1937, Pritchard received a letter from Andrews & Byrne, patent agents for Aalto, that read: “A leaflet describing your Long Chair has been sent to us by Finmar Ltd., and it looks very much from the illustration as if this may be made in accordance with Mr Aalto’s patent No. 431563. From the illustration it
“A good deal of this furniture is questionable as to comfort, but we can profit from their experience.” —Jack Pritchard is, of course, not possible for us to say whether any of the resident parts are constructed of bent layers glued together and arranged so that their curvature is increased by loading, but the U-shaped members forming the front and back supports (especially the former) look very much as if they are.” Such accusations of plagiarism were embarrassing for Pritchard. Shand was a good friend and his wife Sibyl was now managing the Lawn Road Flats. Moholy-Nagy was close to Alvar and Aino Aalto and, after visiting them in Finland in 1930, had named his daughter Hattula after a Finnish village. Marcel Breuer angrily denied any similarity between the two designs. “I do not see any reason for stopping the manufacture of my design,” he retorted. Breuer had experienced a long-running copyright battle in Germany with Mart Stam and Anton Lorenz over a tubular steel cantilevered chair and did not want to engage in a similar conflict again. Jack Pritchard contacted his solicitors Gill, Jennings & Every-Clayton: “We want to keep on friendly terms with the Finmar people. And if they have any leg to stand on at all – even though it might be a very slender one – we might consider taking a licence, for a nominal fee of £1 a year.” His solicitors responded: “Finmar haven’t a leg to stand on[…] and Byrne who is a highly ingenious and rather eccentric Irishman, must know it. His letter is
Images courtesy of the Pritchard Papers and the Isokon Trust archive at the University of East Anglia.
Images courtesy of ArkDes.
really brilliant[…] The point briefly is that the whole of the Aalto patent is restricted to furniture made by first bending individual plies or sheets and then gluing them together. Plywood bent after being made is not within the patent.” Pritchard also sought advice from Henry Rutherford, his boss at Venesta, who suggested he search through old Thonet patents for early bentwood furniture. He needed to find evidence of the prior publication or use in Britain of a piece of furniture constructed in such a way that when a load is applied to it, the curvature of the springy parts of the member is increased, thus predating and invalidating Aalto’s patent. Over the next few months, Pritchard painstakingly checked through patents and scoured old publications. At last he found what he was searching for in the August 1933 edition of Shand’s Architects’ Journal. It was an image of Alvar Aalto’s Armchair 42, or Small Paimio, designed for the Paimio Sanitorium. The seat and back were created from one piece of form-pressed plywood. The patent had been filed on 8 November 1933, the same day that the exhibition at Fortnum & Mason opened but three months after the chair had appeared in the UK press. Pritchard’s lawyer informed him: “I have seen Byrne and left the Architects’ Journal with him. He had not seen this before, and was, I think[,] a little shaken[…] and Mr Byrne agreed in present mood
the appearance of thinking Aalto’s patent good. Further the licence should specify that each party should keep oﬀ the designs of the other whether those designs are registered or not.” The one point on which agreement could not be reached was whether any payment should be made. Isokon stated it was “willing to pay a truly nominal sum, of say £1 a year”. But the agreement was never signed. Instead, the Isokon Furniture Company and Aalto’s newly formed furniture firm Artek simply agreed to “keep oﬀ the designs of the other”. At the end of 1937, Breuer left Britain to follow Gropius to the US and Harvard, where he would go on to focus more on architecture than industrial design. The initial acrimony of the legal actions between Aalto and Pritchard seems short-lived. In December 1939, after the Soviet Union invaded Finland, Pritchard wrote to Aalto expressing his horror, telling him: “If you get out and wish to come to live in this country, you will get the best welcome that we can give you.” The following year, Molly Pritchard, who had escaped the Blitz and moved in with Walter and Ise Gropius in Lincoln, Massachusetts, lunched with Aalto and wrote to her husband that Aalto was most charming and could perhaps teach them more about the plywoodfurniture business. Pritchard had his final encounter with Aalto at the H55 exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden in 1955. By 1975, a year before Aalto died, Pritchard wrote to his own solicitors to ask if the agreement with Aalto was ever signed: he simply could not remember. E N D
The patent had been filed on the same day that the exhibition opened but three months after the chair appeared in the UK press. of the courts it would be extremely diﬃcult for him to succeed.” On 23 June 1937 an agreement was drafted by lawyers on both sides, stating that Isokon should: “take a licence and should mark their chairs with Aalto’s patent number and that they should tell competitors[,] or customers if necessary, that they are working under Aalto’s patent and generally give
OBSERVATION: AMIDST THE GRIDS pp. 22-31
Writer’s note: I haven’t come up with anything worth printing. Is it still an option to pass on the index? —Tetsuo Mukai
Amazon – amazon.com Burberry – burberry.com Calvin Klein – calvinklein.com Chanel – chanel.com Crony Group – cronygroupbd.com Dyson – dyson.com Fendi – fendi.com Ford – ford.com Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy – savewright.org Gucci – gucci.com H&M – hm.com Katie Perry Collections – katyperrycollections.com Knoll – knolleurope.com M+ – westkowloon.hk/mplus Next – next.co.uk Serpentine Galleries – serpentinegalleries.org Volkswagen – vw.com
100 Resilient Cities – 100resilientcities.org AT&T – att.com CES – ces.tech CTA – cta.tech FirstNet – firstnet.com Google – google.com Rebuild by Design – rebuildbydesign.org Rockefeller Foundation – rockefellerfoundation.org
Writer’s note: Something about the radical artificiality of Las Vegas – the pleasure city in the desert – made it a perfect setting to think about the topic of Resilience. This sense of artificiality was heightened by the fact that I stayed in a King Arthur-themed mega-resort, complete with fake fairy-tale turrets and a jousting course. —Kristina Rapacki
TECHNOLOGY: EVEN IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY pp. 45-60
Sagmeister & Walsh – sagmeisterwalsh.com Roger Scruton – roger-scruton.com
Writer’s note: It you want to see arguments about architectural beauty get really ugly, pay a visit to white-supremacist architecture Twitter. There’s a good, googleable article by Sarah Manavis in the New Statesman that describes this community. —Kristina Rapacki
COMMENT: SAVE US FROM BEAUTY p. 44
COMMENT: WHAT ARE WE ALL DRESSED UP FOR? p. 43
TIMELINE pp. 17-20
La Triennale di Milano – triennale.org
Photographer’s note: Being an architect and design enthusiast, I was very impressed to see the list of pieces from the permanent collection that will be exhibited in the curved aisle of the Triennale. The famous Proust chair by Alessandro Mendini, now that the well-known designer has left us, particularly impressed me, along with its first prototypes that I saw stored in the warehouse. —Giulio Ghirardi
INTERVIEW: A HOME FOR ITALIAN DESIGN pp. 81-87
Ana Thorose – anathorose.com Andreas Lund – andreaslund.dk Big Game – big-game.ch Chris Wolston – chriswolston.com Disney – disney.com Dowel Jones – doweljones.com Driade – driade.com Established & Sons – establishedandsons.com Faye Toogood – t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com Front Design – frontdesign.se Jack Rabbit Studio – jackrabbit.studio Jaime Hayon – hayonstudio.com Jean-Baptiste Fastrez – jeanbaptistefastrez.com Jonas Wagell – jwda.se Jumbo – jumbo.nyc Konstantin Grcic – konstantin-grcic.com Kvadrat – kvadrat.dk Magis – magisdesign.com Maharam – maharam.com Matter – mattermatters.com Menu – menu.as Moroso – moroso.it Moustache – moustache.fr Müsing-Sellés – musing-selles.com Parachilna – parachilna.eu Pierre Yovanovitch – pierreyovanovitch.com Softline – softline.dk Sylvain Willenz – sylvainwillenz.com Vitra – vitra.com
Ikea – ikea.com Nanimarquina – nanimarquina.com Studioilse – studioilse.com
Interviewer’s note: For those interested, the YouTube Roosevelt clip is well worth watching. The sharp comparison between Roosevelt’s compassionate, considered tone and that of the figure currently in the role – who, at the time of writing, has just revealed that he thinks the CEO of Apple’s name is “Tim Apple” – is striking. —Oli Stratford
ROUNDTABLE: THE GOOD NEIGHBOUR IDEA pp. 33-40
Chris Kabel – chriskabel.com Coralie Gourguechon – coraliegourguechon.fr Lasvit – lasvit.com Maxim Velčovský – qubus.cz Paco Rabanne – pacorabanne.com String – string.se Studio Ilio – studio-ilio.com
Shoot coordinator’s note: Despite the collage aesthetic of the finished shoot, each item in this issue’s ‘Observation’ was in fact individually photographed. In the car park of Disegno’s oﬃces, no less. —Francesca Gregson
Writer’s note: Can serious furniture be childlike? A few years ago, I would have said no. But after curating an exhibition of neotenic furniture design at A/D/O, my thinking has changed. While some of these pieces may appear juvenile at first glance, further consideration reveals signs of mature design thinking. —Justin Donnelly
GALLERY: A NEOTENIC STATE OF MIND pp. 65-79
CES – ces.tech Lora DiCarlo – loradicarlo.com
Illustrator’s note: I found this sketch from my brainstorming of the vibrator story. It shows the process of how ideas are made, or how thoughts are put to paper. —Leonhard Rothmoser
COMMENT: HYSTERICAL PAROXYSMS p. 62
Feilden Fowles – feildenfowles.co.uk Yorkshire Sculpture Park – ysp.org.uk
Photographer’s note: Wonderful walk in the park enjoying the art. —Mikael Olsson
PHOTOESSAY: BUILDING IN THE ANTHROPOCENE pp. 101-112
Fonds Pour Paris – fonds.paris Ronan & Erwin Bouroullec Design – bouroullec.com
Writer’s note: I’ve been pretty systematic in my research this time, but was slightly disappointed that I didn’t need to consult my copy of the encyclopaedic Paris Haussmann by LAN Architecture – one of the most thoroughly argued celebrations of the 19th-century remodelling of Paris. —Peter Smisek
PROJECT: PUBLIC CRYSTAL pp. 88-100
Writer’s note: I’m glad I got to use “shoeburyness” in this review. It was coined by Douglas Adams in The Meaning of Liﬀ to mean: “The vague uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.” It’s also a town in England, in the borough of Southend-on-Sea, and I’m not sure how they feel about its re-appropriation. —Natalie Kane
REVIEW: FUTURE POLITICS: LIVING TOGETHER IN A WORLD TRANSFORMED BY TECH pp. 130-133
Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura – archivo.design Fernando Laposse – fernandolaposse.com CIMMYT – cimmyt.org
Photographer’s note: The first sign that we were about to arrive in Santo Domingo Tonahuixtla was the lack of mobile-phone signal. It was very nice to be able to focus on our surroundings without any distractions, but the most significant thing for me was to be forced to experience life without the option of being in many places at the same time. —Carlos Álvarez Montero
TRAVELOGUE: DESIGN FOR RURAL MEXICO pp. 113-128
Setter’s note: The answer to 7-Down is as obvious as it seems. —K-Doc
CROSSWORD: CONCENTRATE TO IRRIGATE pp. 159-160
Artek – artek.fi Isokon Gallery – isokongallery.co.uk
Writer’s note: What really pulled me into the Isokon story wasn’t just the building or the furniture, but how international its network of people was in an age before emails and cheap flights. The Pritchards knew absolutely everyone I have ever been fascinated by: not just the Bauhäuslers, but also Frank Lloyd Wright, Charlotte Perriand, Alvar Aalto, Sigfried Giedion, Ernö Goldfinger, Gregor Poulsson, the Eameses, Robin and Lucienne Day, Alison and Peter Smithson, Nanna Ditzel, David Mellor, James Stirling, and about a thousand other designers, architects, scientists, politicians, artists, and thinkers. —Magnus Englund
HISTORY: AALTO VS. BREUER pp. 147-153
Blueprint – blueprintmagazine.co.uk Dezeen – dezeen.com Frame – frameweb.com Icon – iconeye.com Red Dot Award – red-dot.org The Architects’ Journal – architectsjournal.co.uk
Writer’s note: Enough with the “thank yous”! As 2019’s batch of design awards come around, awardees should look to the example of the novelist Thomas Bernhard, who used his victory speeches to excoriate society. “We have nothing to report,” he said on receipt of the Austrian State Prize for Literature, “except that we are pitiful, brought down by all the imaginative powers of an amalgam of philosophical, economic, and machine-driven monotony.” His words almost caused a riot. —Joe Lloyd
REPORT: AWARDS SEASON pp. 142-146
MoMA – moma.org
Writer’s note: While visiting the exhibition, I learned that MoMA would be closing for four months from June to October 2019, to expand and rearrange its collections to reflect a more inclusive and diverse definition of modern art. This gave me food for thought on the show’s inclusivity as I reclined in the Eames’s chaise longue – in all its mid-century plastic glory – in the ‘Good Design Lab’. —Alexis Romano
REVIEW: THE VALUE OF GOOD DESIGN pp. 138-141
Enhance – enhance-experience.com PlayStation – playstation.com
Writer’s note: I played the game with my cat Edward sat on my lap. He didn’t seem at all fussed by it, which leads me to believe that cats may be immune to the Tetris eﬀect. —Oli Stratford
REVIEW: TETRIS EFFECT pp. 134-137 Alcova – alcova.xyz pp. 4-5 Artemide – artemide.com p. 9 Associative Design – associativedesign.com p. 63 Bisley – bisley.com p. 16 Bolon – bolon.com p. 6 Celine – celine.com outside back cover Elmo Leather – elmoleather.com p. 80 Ercol – ercol.com p. 15 Flexform – flexform.it p. 11 Flokk – flokk.com p. 41 Helen Yardley – helenyardley.com p. 64 Kalevala Gin – kalevalagin.com p. 42 Lammhults – lammhults.se inside back cover Laufen – laufen.com pp. 2-3 Rado – rado.com p. 1, inside front cover Rubberband – rubberbandproducts.com p. 158 Sunspel – sunspel.com p. 19 Ton – ton.eu p. 61 Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de p. 32 Vola – vola.com p. 21
The Quarterly Journal of Design
Subscription Offer For a limited period, all new Disegno subscribers receive a complimentary pen and ruler designed by Selek Design for Rubberband. disegnodaily.com/journal
Concentrate to Irrigate A coffee table doubling as a bookshelf; a heritage teapot re-engineered for contemporary use. Disegno’s previous crossword prizes have evoked cosily edifying activities.1 Cosily edifying – just like crosswords. This issue’s giveaway is no exception. Grab is a watering can designed by Stine Aas for Norwegian manufacturer Northern. At a compact 23cm height, Grab is geared towards indoor and urban gardening. What, after all, is more cosily edifying than gardening? “Grab is almost naive in its simple expression,” says Aas of the design, the simple structure of which derives from two interconnected cylinders meeting at the base of the spout. Its slim form can be filled quickly and is easy to grab hold of, eliminating the need for a handle. Hence the name Grab – get it? “The product’s character lies in the slim base, which makes the spout seem somewhat oversized,” says Aas. “It is ideal for watering herbs and other plants in your home.” On the following page is a crossword made up of clues all relating to design, architecture, fashion and technology. To enter the draw, send an image of the completed crossword to email@example.com. The winner will be announced in the summer and will win a Grab in their colour of choice: dark green, light yellow, or deep plum.
Image courtesy of Stine Aas and Northern.
Crossword by K-Doc
For those who need reminding, Matteo Fogale’s Cruz del Sur table in Disegno
#20 and Ian McIntyre’s re-engineered Brown Betty teapot in Disegno #21.
Send the completed solution to firstname.lastname@example.org to enter the draw to win a Grab watering can by Stine Aas for Northern. ACROSS
05 At the centre of Alvar Aalto and Marcel Breuer’s 1930s legal tussle (9)
01 US state home to Ponti and Libeskind-designed museum (8)
08 Aleph ____, practice awarded the 2018 RIBA International Prize (4)
02 Home to famous Jørn Utzon building (6)
09 The ascot, bow, clip-on and cravat are all ________ (8)
03 John Shaffner did the set design, purple walls and all,
10 The Samsung that proved explosive (6)
for a 1990s mega-hit in the ______ genre (6)
11 So-called diamond fibre from the Angora goat (6)
04 Sharpen tool (4)
13 Butterfly and Artek 60, for example (6)
06 First name of Wrong designer (9)
15 What’s on the back cover? (6)
07 Folk typically featured in Disegno (9)
16 Desirable material for flooring, for instance (8)
12 Unusual lighting collection from Wästberg featuring
18 The crop at the heart of Fernando Laposse’s project in this issue’s Travelogue (4) 19 Famous Danish coastal museum dedicated to modern art and architecture (9)
no electric or electronic light sources (8) 14 Architectural elements nicked from elsewhere (6) 15 ______ Price, of Fun Palace fame (6) 17 Progenitor of the New Look (4)
A roundtable with Ilse Crawford about the value of wellbeing; an exploration of the potential of native corn for Mexican communities, led by...