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Business as Usual Words Oli Stratford
“Our house is on fire. I’m here to say our house is on fire.” Throughout this year’s Salone del Mobile, I wondered what climate activist Greta Thunberg might make of the world of design. Much as she did when she appeared at Davos in January, I suspect she’d point out that the house is on fire and ask why nobody is trying to put it out. In recent years, pockets of the design industry have made steps forward on sustainability. Furniture brands such as Swedese and Flokk have launched repair schemes for their products, while improvements have been made in prioritising materials and manufacturing processes that limit environmental impact. It doesn’t really matter though – the house is still on fire. Everybody knows why. We produce too much and we consume with abandon. Yet rather than work to reduce consumption, we speak of reform. We place our faith in innovations that will somehow render existing behaviour sustainable. Under this conception, the climate crisis is a problem like any other, and design has always fancied itself as good at problem solving. For one of the canonical expressions of this view, see the 1969 interview between Charles Eames and curator Yolande Amic at the Qu’est ce que le design? show at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs: Introduction
Amic: What are the boundaries of Design? Eames: What are the boundaries of problems? Forgive a sceptic, but I have limited patience with this idea. Year round, the design world debates sustainability at conferences and festivals, to which we professionals fly. Perhaps we grumble about the number of “novelties” on display (for those who don’t attend, yes, this is what brands call new launches) or we suggest biennial schedules are more sustainable (and God knows design loves a biennale), but no serious changes are attempted. Manufacturers continue to produce, consumers to consume and we in the media – Disegno included – oil the mechanism. The wheel keeps turning; the house is still on fire. “Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” said Thunberg in her speech at Davos. “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” This is the most cleareyed assessment I have heard. The climate crisis is not a problem to be tackled within an existing framework: you can’t put a fire out by bolting on a kitchen extension or knocking through to the dining room. Until our patterns of production and consumption are confronted, no progress can be made. You’re unlikely to solve a problem until you face up to what the problem actually is. 8
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Introduction Business as usual
Masthead The people behind Disegno
Timeline March to June 2019 in review
Photoessay My Mid-Century Survey, 1967: The Ford Foundation Building New York’s secret garden blooms again
Observation On the Surface Skins, wrappers and films
Comment Data Barons Can we get a little privacy?
Comment Our Lady’s Phallus The risks of a rapid erection for Notre Dame
Material Loose Strands The Polyfloss Factory arrives in Antananarivo
Comment The Shut-Up Button Silence on demand
Interview A Brick is Born Hella Jongerius’s year of weaving
Review Nature and Broken Nature Two triennali, so little time
Anatomy A Radical Reduction Form Us With Love reshapes soap
Review Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Tidy house, tidy mind?
Project Here is the House Carmody Groarke puts Charles Rennie Mackintosh in a box
Review Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale Finland’s addition to the international biennale circuit
Essay Don’t Cross the Streams Netflix knows what you did
Technology The Quantum Race A new kind of computer from IBM, Universal and Map
Review Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men How the gender data gap rigs the deck
Travelogue Gesamtkunsthandwerk in Coromandel Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper’s foray into clay
Poem Puﬃn Poem Goldsmiths’ Interaction Research Studio delights the internet
Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
Crossword Timewarp Win a Wallace Sewell cushion based on a re-editioned Bauhaus textile
Contributors Martin Adolfsson’s work lives somewhere in between photography, technology, and behaviour. p. 132
Dean Kaufman is a photographer based in New York. p. 22
Elizabeth Bisley is a curator who lives in Wellington. p. 145
Joe Lloyd almost succumbed to the allure of a Lego model of the Hill House but settled for a tea towel. p. 97
Felix Chabluk Smith is a fashion designer facing an existential crisis after speaking to Hella Jongerius. p. 65
Donald Milne enjoyed a plate of fish and chips at the Mackintosh-themed Wetherspoon in Helensburgh. p. 97
Fabian Frinzel prefers tea to coﬀee. Beyond photography, his hobby is baking cakes. p. 65
Nanjala Nyabola spends her spare time taking long walks and climbing mountains, and sometimes writes about it. p. 48
Teresa Giannico is an Italian artist based in Milan. She works with paper, photography and drawings. p. 36 Sam Hartnett specialises in architectural and fine-art documentation. p. 145 George Kafka is a writer and editor based in London. p. 81
Richard Osmond’s debut poetry collection, Useful Verses, won the Seamus Heaney First Collection Poetry prize. p. 161 Ugo la Pietra created La casa telematica back in 1983 and it still remains relevant today. p. 117 Rijasolo is a Franco-Malagasy documentary photographer based in Antananarivo. p. 48
Lemma Shehadi skived oﬀ a few physics lessons in secondary school and is now paying for it. p. 132 Meher Varma is a Delhi-based anthropologist and writer. p. 91 Leonhard Rothmoser works as one third of Klick Klack Publishing, together with Jonas Hirschmann and Roman Häbler. p. 45, 46, 62
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The Quarterly Journal of Design #23 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford email@example.com
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Cover The cover shows a woven work created by Hella Jongerius, shot in her studio in Berlin by Fabian Frinzel.
Thanks Many thanks to the Polyfloss team, Rubis Mécénat and everyone at the Ndao Hanavao project for sharing their work with us; to Siska Diddens for keeping everything running smoothly; to Corinne Timmis for putting up with a barrage of emails; to Form Us With Love for letting us in early; to Johanna Agerman Ross for her New Zealand contact book; to Terry Smith for seamlessly picking up where he left oﬀ; and to Francesca Gregson for keeping Disegno Works well in hand.
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.
Words by Johanna Agerman Ross, Elizabeth Bisley, Felix Chabluk Smith, Eleanor Hall, K-Doc, George Kafka, Dean Kaufman, Joe Lloyd, Nanjala Nyabola, Richard Osmond, Kristina Rapacki, Lemma Shehadi, Oli Stratford and Meher Varma. Images by Martin Adolfsson, Fabian Frinzel, Teresa Giannico, Sam Hartnett, Dean Kaufman, Donald Milne, Ugo la Pietra, Rijasolo and Leonhard Rothmoser. Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss 130gsm. The cover is printed on Century Cotton Wove Premium 280gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #23 possible. Not least Meatball the English bulldog, the kind-eyed, beefy boy of the Rose Lipman building.
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
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The spectacle receptacle
Images courtesy of Heatherwick Studio and Imogen Napper.
Robo-lions led by donkeys Pavilion pains
MAY Designed from scratch
A last hurrah
Images courtesy of Victor Orlewicz and Jaclyn Nash.
Lonnie G. Bunch III heads upÂ Smithsonian
I.M. Pei (1917-2019)
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Designed to rebel
Image courtesy of Extinction Rebellion, Tigerman McCurry Architects and Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen.
A new reign begins at the Stedelijk
My way or the Huawei
JUNE Stanley Tigerman (1930-2019)
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My Mid-Century Survey, 1967: The Ford Foundation Building Photographs and words Dean Kaufman
I’m riding in the back of a car in New York. It’s dawn. Rolling along somewhere between sleep and awake, we exit the FDR Drive, pass the United Nations building and head onto East 42nd street. We come to a mid-block halt in traﬃc and my eye locks onto a seriﬀed set of numbers on a wall opposite my window: 1967. I’ve worked with photography for most of my life. A large part of both my commissioned and personal work looks in some way at architecture and the built landscape. I’m not an architect, but I happen to be an architect’s son. The images in the following pages come from a larger series that I began thinking about and making in 2015 – two years before I turned 50. For this, I’ve been photographing buildings built in the year that I was born, 1967. I’ve been calling this project My Mid-Century Survey because the number 50 – along with much else that has filled these last few years of my life, including losing that father – contributed to me initiating this appraisal. This survey. A taking stock. I’ve photographed a good number of 1967 buildings by this point. Some, as you might expect, are in decent shape. Many are still active; some remain muscular, if not as brutal as they seemed at the time of their construction; some have been modified or re-purposed; some require physical supports like jacks; some are in need of better upkeep, showing their age around the corners and cracks; some are vacant or disused; and some I searched for but instead found newer, younger buildings in their place. Then there is this building, one which is fortunate enough to have emerged from a recent restoration. Loved and suitably financially endowed, it has been rejuvenated; its pipes blown clear. Life-threatening features (largely asbestos) have been removed, and the floor plan has been opened up and adjusted to let the light through
and break down existing hierarchies. Sprinklers have been re-sprinkled. Railings re-railed. Accessibility issues addressed. Fifty years’ worth of New York City grime has been removed from the saw-tooth glass ceiling, bringing in more light to the internal public gardens below. Beyond the coincidence of our birth years, my personal connection to the Ford Foundation building (recently re-opened and rechristened the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice) began when I was young. My father had spoken to me about it in passing. During much of my childhood, he worked for the architect Warren Platner in New Haven, Connecticut. Platner, prior to opening his own oﬃce in the late 1960s, worked as head of interior design at the firm of Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, the architects of the Ford Foundation building. Platner had been responsible for the interiors of the Ford, including designing much of its custom-made furniture, of which more than 1,500 pieces have been restored in the recent building-wide renovation carried out by the architectural firm Gensler. The Ford Foundation’s New York headquarters was built for what was then the country’s largest philanthropic organisation. Its mission was “to advance human welfare”, and Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates’ intention was to design a space that might enrich the lives of those who worked within. At that time, oﬃce buildings on 42nd street were being built around central cores that housed the building utilities. It meant, Roche once explained, that when one looked out of the window there were “no views, nothing to identify. It began to dawn on me that there ought to be this sense of community. It seemed possible to do a building which would have a courtyard in the centre. People should be able to see each other working, so that you see across the courtyard, you’re aware that
you’re part of this group of people with a common objective.” Roche’s enclosed, central courtyard concept was ultimately shifted to the south-east corner of the Ford Foundation building, allowing those inside the oﬃces to be aware of the outdoors at all times. “That idea developed into an opportunity to relate to the local community,” said Roche, “to be able to open up the building to the community outside and say, ‘You can come in.’” This giant indoor garden is 12-storeys high and open to the public. Occupying a third of an acre, it is a sky-lit terraced park that connects 42nd and 43rd street. Designed by Dan Kiley in 1967 and beloved by many, it has now been re-planted by Raymond Jungles. I first visited the building as a student, drawn in from the sidewalk by those gardens calling from behind the glass. It was shortly after entering that I connected the space to my father’s stories. Today, I’ve once more had the chance to stand on that sidewalk looking in; in that garden looking up; and, for the first time, gained access to the building’s deeper interior to see and assess some of its more private inner workings. It was an opportunity to ask, as I have of the other fellow travellers from 1967 I’m meeting on my mid-century survey, How are things?
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On the Surface A still-life series illuminating designâ€™s myriad uses of skins, films, screens and wrappers. Photographs Teresa Giannico 36
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Bel Paese by Sam Baron for Bitossi â€“ a tableware collection with prints drawn from vintage Italian orange wraps.
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Ooho! by Skipping Rocks Lab â€“ an edible water bottle made from a seaweed composite that biodegrades.
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Skin Stools by Studio 9191 â€“ a set of silicone stools designed to mimic the textures and tones of human skin.
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Sharp Pump by Celine â€“ a tiger-print shoe executed in hot pink and black calfskin.
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Darning Sampler by Scholten & Baijings for Maharam â€“ an upholstery textile mirroring 17th- and 18th-century samplers for repairing fabric using embroidery.
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Vitrine by Daniel Rybakken for Panasonic â€“ an OLED television concept with a screen that can become transparent to act as a display cabinet.
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Broom by Issey Miyake â€“ a jewellery collection that converts makeup brushes into decorative elements.
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Data Barons Words Oli Stratford Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
“I know that we don’t exactly have the strongest reputation on privacy,” began Mark Zuckerberg as he took to the stage at Facebook’s annual F8 conference in April 2019. You have to hand it to Zuckerberg – he gives good understatement. For instance, when Cambridge Analytica rinsed the social-media platform for the private data of more than 50 million people in 2014 in order to manipulate elections, Zuckerberg’s response displayed all the urgency of a slowly buﬀering Facebook video. Studiously avoiding the term “data breach”, he eventually pledged on CNN to be on better guard for “folks who have improperly accessed data”. Folks. Still, it’s an improvement on his previous terminology. In 2003, he described users who trusted him with their personal information as “dumb fucks”. Election-fraud folks aside, Silicon Valley is big on privacy right now. A few days after F8, Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai penned an op-ed for The New York Times in which he stated: “Privacy must be equally available to everyone in the world.” At present, Google controls 90 per cent of the internet search market, while Facebook has an almost 80 per cent share of social networks. By most standards this amounts to an oligopoly. It’s a point that Facebook’s co-founder Chris Hughes took up in The New York Times shortly after Pichai’s piece was published: “Mark [Zuckerberg’s] power is unprecedented. It is time to break up Facebook.” In 2017, Facebook and fellow tech giants Alphabet, Apple and Amazon spent $31.6bn on acquiring startups and competitors. A year later, Facebook bolstered this through an additional $12m or so spent on lobbying. “[Facebook and its ilk have] no credible competition or regulation,” write economists Jonathan Tepper and Denise Hearn in their 2019 book The Myth of Capitalism. “[They] have more information on their users’ likes, preferences, political beliefs, and personal relations than any government spying agency, and they track users across the web with a complete history of what people see and search for.” Could anybody defend such an idea? Step forward Nick Clegg, former British deputy prime minister and now Facebook’s vice president for global aﬀairs and communications! An air bag for hire, Clegg is presumably used to bearing the brunt of political car crashes, ballooning in front of the media to protect his paymasters. Taking to CNN, he stated that Facebook was “going to be considerably better prepared for[…] the 2020 US elections than we were for 2016”. One would certainly hope so. Or else Zuckerberg’s assessment of his platform’s users as “dumb fucks” may prove another classic understatement.
Our Lady’s Phallus Words Johanna Agerman Ross Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
On the evening of 15 April 2019, Notre Dame went up in flames. Hundreds of the 12thand 13th-century oak beams holding up the cathedral’s roof were destroyed, as was its landmark spire, erected by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1859 to reflect the building’s 13th-century original. While the fire itself was a painful spectacle – on repeat across 24-hour news channels, newspapers, Twitter and Instagram – the aftermath was more excruciating. Before the blaze had been extinguished, President Emmanuel Macron declared that Notre Dame would be rebuilt by 2024 to coincide with the Paris Olympics. Soon after, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a competition to replace Viollet-le-Duc’s spire, with the international architecture community subsequently falling over itself to post humorous responses on social media. The hubris was palpable. “The decision to hold a competition for the rebuilding of Notre Dame is to be applauded,” said Norman Foster, who duly suggested a glass and steel roof, complete with a crystal spire. French designer Mathieu Lehanneur, meanwhile, proposed a cartoon flame. “I love this idea of a frozen moment in the history that can remain for centuries,” he explained. Therein lies advice that architects and politicians would be wise to heed. Throughout Notre Dame’s 850-year existence, the cathedral has been shaped by the community using it. At nearly a millennium old, it deserves better than a hastily announced competition and brash promises to reopen in an accelerated timeframe. Indeed, Macron’s bullish announcement seemed to whip up sentiment, with the symbolism of the building granted priority over the realities at hand. To make matters worse, the largely male cohort of pitching architects seemed to spur each other on to reimagine the spire as an ever-more swaggering, macho structure. A literal phallus over the Paris skyline. Jorge Otero-Pailos, director of historic preservation at Columbia University, was one of the few members of the debate to speak any sense. “Heritage is a social process, not a product,” he said. The social process of dealing with the aftermath of the fire should look at the more than 13 million visitors that Notre Dame receives on an annual basis and the state of disrepair that the cathedral was already in prior to the blaze. Rather than focus on its symbolic value, design should engage with the realities of its present condition. Only then will Paris create a Notre Dame that will stand the further test of time.
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Loose Strands Words Nanjala Nyabolaâ€‚Photographs Rijasolo
You probably have a couple of kilograms of it in your house, plus a few more in your car or in your oďŹƒce. Or if you grew up in an African or Caribbean home, your mum kept a stash underneath the kitchen sink for quick runs to the shop. You are probably also eating lots of it. Countries in Africa are racing to ban it; US states and cities are vying to catch up. If the human experience in the 20th and 21st centuries could be captured in the addictive, constructive and destructive properties of a single material, that would probably be plastic. Nothing else quite captures the paradox of modernity, where humans are every day pushing the bounds of imagination and creativity, while condemning the environment towards increasingly inevitable collapse. Plastics lift us up from oblivion and simultaneously knock us down to the abyss.
Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar (above), is now host to the Polyfloss Factory, a project developed by Royal College of Art graduates Nick Paget, Audrey Gaulard, Emile De Visscher and Christophe Machet (left to right).
Gaulard and Nick Paget hit upon the idea of turning used polypropylene into a new material malleable enough to serve both industrial and aesthetic purposes. “Everyone was doing furniture, products or objects,” says Machet. “But we got super interested in recycling,” Building on this idea, the group decided to go beyond simply modifying existing plastic materials. “We didn’t want to do something that was general and good for everyone,” says Paget. “We just wanted to be subtle.” So they tinkered and toyed until they stumbled on what seemed like a crazy idea – what if they could make candyfloss from melted plastic? They called the resulting material “polyfloss”, a creative, versatile fibre that looks and feels a little like wool. So far, the Polyfloss team know that it can be spun into fibres and woven into ropes and threads, or melted and mixed to give the appearance of marble. Somewhere in a home in Devon, Polyfloss has already been stuﬀed between interior and exterior walls as insulation and, in Milan, the team used it to build furniture. Polyfloss is soft and flexible but can also be compounded into something firm and durable. The idea of working with plastic as opposed to other materials reflects the ethos of Polyfloss as an initiative and as a company. The project addresses a global problem beginning on the team’s doorstep. “We visited a number of local recycling initiatives,” says Paget. “We saw that [they] were getting a lot of waste from the local council and building new stuﬀ from the waste.” The Remakery in Brixton, London, where the team did a lot of research, said that it simply did not have the capacity to deal with plastic. “Textiles, wood and metal are easy,” Paget recalls, “but they didn’t know what to do with plastic.”
A recent study by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans by weight than fish. The carcasses of a startling range of marine animals – from humpback whales to seagulls and turtles – are showing up on the world’s beaches having choked on the stuﬀ. But we continue to manufacture plastic at alarming rates because humans are hooked on it. Sixty per cent of clothes produced in the world are made from synthetic fibres derived from plastics. Plastic bottles are the preferred method for dispensing drinks. In fact, figures published in 2017 showed that 1m plastic bottles are bought per minute globally. It is predicted that in 2020 an estimated half a trillion plastic bottles will be sold. But the same characteristics that make plastic so useful, such as durability or cheapness, also make it toxic to the natural environment. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), for instance, from which many plastic bottles are made, takes at least 400 years to decompose. The vast majority of those bottles will end up in landfill or in the ocean. In fact, at least 91 per cent of the plastic in the world will not be recycled and, by 2050, at least 12bn tonnes of landfill waste will be plastics. Small pieces of plastic fibre that
“Textiles, wood and metal are easy. But people didn’t know what to do with plastic.” —Nick Paget leech from clothes when washed will eventually end up in the stomachs of the fish we eat. This yin and yang of utility and toxicity underpins the conversation around what to do about this menace. Just outside Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo, in a one-room workshop framed by high ceilings and exposed brick walls, a small team of self-proclaimed tinkerers and builders is working with a group of local youths to suggest a possible way forward. Polyfloss is a hybrid art, design and social enterprise, begun in the Innovation Design Engineering (IDE) programme at London’s Royal College of Art as a final-year showcase project for this rag-tag group. In 2012, Christophe Machet, Emile De Visscher, Audrey
“If there’s a rare electronic part you need, you’ll find it at this market,” says Carine Ratovonarivo, the Polyfloss project’s coordinator in Antananarivo, escorting me through La Réunion Kely market in the city. We are walking alongside a putrid canal, choking with plastic bottles, and through rows of rinsed-out PET bottles and glass medicine containers to learn more about Madagascar’s unique place in the global plastics cycle. Ratovonarivo is an artist and a designer who is often inspired by neat clusters of discarded syringes, tubes and medicine bottles, washed in the filthy waters of the nearby canal. “The whole market is like a big curation project,” Ratovonarivo says.
“Every person sorts out their trash by categories before they clean it and display it. It inspires me to create and curate as well”. Despite the grimy appearance, there is an order or method here that is not only typical of the market, but of the spirit of Madagascar’s wider artisanal approach. Outsiders may only see chaos, but those who come to know the island find something curious, resilient and oddly eﬃcient lurking underneath. The same goes for Madagascar’s plastic paradox, which begins with the complexities of global recycling. The country’s plastic issues originate in the West, which consumes the vast majority of this material. As the quality of municipal water diminishes in cities around the world, residents turn to bottled water to fill the gap, which accounts for much of the world’s plastic waste. But the increasing use of plastic straws and plastic food packaging is also part of the problem. According to the Waste and Resources Action Programme, 3.7m tonnes of plastic was consumed in the UK in 2014. In 2017, the London Assembly environment committee published a report which showed that while London consumes more plastic bottled water than anywhere else in England – 7.7bn bottles a year – it has the worst recycling rate in the country (32 per cent compared to the national average of 43 per cent). Most Westerners, however, don’t realise that the bulk of the plastic they dutifully toss into the recycling bin isn’t processed domestically. With the exception of Scandinavian countries, Western nations mainly outsource their plastic problem to countries such as China or Malaysia. About two thirds of the plastic waste that is generated in the UK – or 2.7m tonnes – is sent overseas for recycling, primarily to China. In 2016, China imported 7.3m tonnes of plastic waste from countries such as the UK, US, Canada and Japan. When countries are unable to reuse this imported waste, it is added to landfill or ends up in the ocean. Destination countries like China use plastics as fuel in large factories or as the basis for new industrial materials, but the eﬃciency of this system depends greatly on Western nations investing in sorting facilities at home. “Almost all the plastic we say is recycled is actually post-industrial waste because it’s easy to know where it comes from and what’s in it,” says Gaulard. “Post-consumer plastic is much harder to distinguish and to properly recycle because it could quite literally be from anything.”
Sorting plastics properly is a major part of making recycling possible. In 2018, however, China tightened its rules on importing plastic to reduce the amount of waste it will receive moving forward. Chinese landfills were increasingly overwhelmed with lowgrade plastics that the nation’s industries could not
“Post-consumer plastic is hard to properly recycle because it could quite literally be from anything.” —Audrey Gaulard
absorb, and which were instead choking rivers and damaging the environment. Since then, countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have stepped in to breach the gap, but it has hithero proven too wide. Meanwhile, a lack of accountability in Western nations has made matters worse. In May 2019, Malaysia’s environment minister Yeo Bee Yin demanded that Australia take back up to 100 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste, which had been falsely declared as recyclable. This is where Madagascar comes in. The real heroes in the global recycling system are not the large industries that siphon up tonnes of pre-sorted plastic waste, but rather the millions of people around the world – such as 38-year-old Angeline Razafinzahary, also known as Zeline – who do the actual sorting that makes recycling possible. Madagascar has a large class of poor people willing to do this unglamorous but vital work of sorting through waste by hand. It’s a system that makes sourcing used plastics from the island nation more attractive, and sourcing from the West’s unsorted mishmash correspondingly less so. Today, China buys a significant amount of plastic from Madagascar because Razafinzahary and her colleagues dig through domestic and industrial waste – often barehanded – to create the neat categories that companies need. It’s a diﬃcult, dirty job, but Razafinzahary is unfazed. “I am proud of my work,” she says, speaking in her small two-room home close to the heart of Antananarivo. “I am not a thief and I am not a beggar. I am completely independent
From left: Niry and Heriniaina, two of the Polyfloss trainees; the Andavamamba area of the city; and the La RĂŠunion Kely market.
because of its relative distance from other countries, Madagascar still has an impressive concentration of artisans producing high-quality products. Beyond simply making the plastic floss, the project is training 10 young Malagasy to produce, use and therefore eﬀectively market Polyfloss as a raw material for these makers. “We want the Malagasy trainees to develop their own small businesses based on the wool,” says Juliette Le Bihan, an associate at the Rubis Mécénat Foundation. For the foundation, the Ndao Hanavao project is a departure from its traditional work of making art possible in challenging contexts. Here, it has challenged itself to create a social project and art intervention that could transform Madagascar. In addition to undergoing training around Polyfloss and its processes, the young volunteers also go through some form of personal transformation, receiving French classes, entrepreneurship and life-coaching sessions free of charge for the duration of the project, which is currently open-ended. Most of the participants are aware of the plastics problem in Madagascar, but now feel – for the first time – like they are in a position to do something about it. “There is lots of plastic where I live,” says 18-year old Sandra, who lives close to La Réunion Kely. “There is so much trash in the canal and it makes me sad. But now I feel like I can change that somehow, even a little.” This is the kind of sustainable thinking that Ndao Hanavao is building around the Polyfloss machine. Benjamin Loyauté, who brought the project to Rubis Mécénat, is an artist and curator interested in moving beyond Western tropes surrounding recycling. “There are real problems with plastics, so I proposed a project that goes beyond recycling,” he explains. By the time Loyauté conceived of the idea of doing more with plastic waste than a sterile recycling initiative, he had already spent time in Madagascar and exhibited the work of the Polyfloss team as part of his Hypervital exhibition during the 2015 Saint-Étienne Design Biennale. “There is so much garbage in Madagascar and people don’t have the tools to create things,” he says. “So we wanted to work with young people and this new material to create a cadre of designers.” Surrounded by barges of PET bottles floating in stagnating canal water and in the context of the global plastic bottle problem, it can be diﬃcult to understand why, out of all the plastics possible, the Polyfloss team chose to work with polypropylene – there are more
and this is better than a lot of other work that I could be doing.” Because of people like Razafinzahary, Madagascar occupies an interesting place in the global political economy. Here, a single-use PET bottle discarded by a middle-class family can easily get new life as a container for kerosene or cooking oil, or else be cut in half to hold combs, pens or cutlery. Partly as a result of this domestic plastic cycle, Madagascar produces the least amount of municipal waste in the world, at only 9kg per person per year. Much of the waste produced ends up being traded at La Réunion Kely market. This is a part of the explanation as to why Madagascar is an ideal location for Polyfloss. Thousands of kilometres away from Paris and in partnership with the Paris-based Rubis Mécénat foundation, Polyfloss has evolved into an ambitious attempt to use design to address the plastic menace. For years, Razafinzahary’s customers were mainly the resellers at this market, named for the nearby French island colony, but she also sells to intermediaries that she knows sell to Chinese importers. “I used to set up a stall at La Réunion Kely but now I don’t need to,” she says. “The moment I open my guni [large sack] I am surrounded by people who want to buy the
“The moment I open my guni I am surrounded by people who want to buy the plastic.” —Angeline Razafinzahary plastic.” Today, one of these buyers is Polyfloss, which has entered into a verbal agreement to buy used plastic from Razafinzahary at preferential prices. Twice a week, she delivers a guni filled with white plastic medicine bottles – the raw material for Polyfloss’ work in Antananarivo. In 2018, the Polyfloss team linked up with Rubis Mécénat under the Ndao Hanavao (“Let’s Innovate”) project, which is represented in Madagascar by a group of local volunteers and Vitogaz, the largest supplier of LPG gas cylinders in the country. Perhaps
Left: Fandresena, one of the Polyfloss trainees. Below: Samples of the Polyfloss material.
Below: Olivier (left), one of the Polyfloss trainees, photographed here with friends. Right: Modeste, Francky and Alpha sort polypropylene medicine bottles; a woman photographed on the banks of Lake Anosy in Antananarivo.
durable plastics that are easier to reuse, if not recycle. “We didn’t want to disrupt the existing streams of refuse,” oﬀers De Visscher. “We are not looking to disrupt and destroy,” adds Gaulard. “We wanted to pay attention to things that people ordinarily don’t reuse or recycle.” By selecting polypropylene, the team are targeting broken plastic basins or chairs, or empty medicine containers that are too small to hold anything useful. Although the team has not ruled out working with PET in the future, polypropylene lends itself better to the Polyfloss process. “It’s very flexible and not at all brittle, unlike PET which cracks quite easily,” says Gaulard as she shows me around the Polyfloss machines. The fundamental idea is quite simple. Waste plastic is melted and put through a small filter mounted on a spinning rotor. It is then extracted as microfibres – like candyfloss – which can be aggregated into what resembles a cluster of wool. The simplicity of the process, however, masks the complicated period of trial and error that preceded it. “We started out in our dorm rooms at IDE melting plastic in microwaves and saucepans,” says De Visscher. “Eventually, we got kicked out because the smell was too much for the other students.” But the team kept on experimenting and iterating, renting a studio from the nearby Imperial College where they finally perfected the basics of the machine. When spun into fibres, polypropylene behaves more like wool than fibreglass, which is important for the idea of using it as a craft material, rather than an industrial one. So far, the team has tried five diﬀerent processing methods, with weaving, fleecing and moulding emerging as the most exciting for the Malagasy team. On the day that I visit the factory, they are turning clumps of Polyfloss into ropes that are subsequently woven into baskets, as well as melted in a mould to turn the plastic into a new shape. The machine is still not producing major quantities, but the team isn’t worried. “I have spent so many hours watching this machine,” explains Gaulard. “Sometimes we are just playing with the parameters, trying to see how to make it work better”. In the Antananarivo factory, there are two whirring Polyfloss machines that represent iterations seven and eight of the contraption, named “Inferno” and “Raﬀaele” respectively. Raﬀaele, the smaller but faster of the two, produces about 250g of floss from 350g of plastic every 30 minutes. “You have to be
patient,” says Gaulard. “It’s not an exact science yet.” But what is produced is already yielding interesting results. Significantly, the Polyfloss team decided to rebuild their machine in Antananarivo using, as far as possible, only locally available materials. “We needed to link what we were doing to the materials available onsite so that if something breaks we can replace it,” says Paget. “So we built the machine from scratch in Antananarivo because the hardware was really hard
“We started out in dorm rooms melting plastic in microwaves and saucepans. We got kicked out because the smell was too much.” —Emile De Visscher
to find.” This led them back to the very markets from which their plastic waste would be bought – bike chains, plastic basins and other knick-knacks were tinkered and toyed with until the Madagascar machines were built. It was a time-consuming process, particularly as the members of the Polyfloss team were still based in Europe and working their day jobs. They squeezed this exploration into two research trips funded in part by Rubis Mécénat. “We went into markets where they dismantle pieces of cars and other materials, so it was a lot of trial and error,” Paget explains. “We ended up building a machine that was very diﬀerent from the one we had in France because we were adapting to the local context. It needed a lot of start and stop – everything was a bit like testing and trying.” But they believe that this process will be more successful in the long run, particularly as the Malagasy team has been at their side throughout – they know where to go and what to do if or when the machine breaks. This captures the modest ambitions of the Polyfloss team, who see Ndao Hanavao less as an opportunity to upend the contemporary recycling market, and more as a chance to introduce a new way of thinking about plastic waste in urban contexts.
Above: Inferno and Raffaele, the two machines constructed in Antananarivo. Left: Gaulard and De Visscher operating one of the Polyfloss machines.
Components of the Inferno machine in the Ndao Hanavao workshop in Antananarivo (above). The project is now exploring a collaboration with Malagasy artist JoĂŤl Andrianomearisoa (right).
“What is the raw material of cities?” Paget asks. “It’s waste. That’s what you can get the most easily. So, we considered waste as the resource of cities”. In Antananarivo there is no shortage of this raw material. The city was built on the slopes of seven hills and, while residents were historically forbidden from
“What’s the raw material of cities? It’s waste. That’s what you can get most easily.” —Nick Paget living in the basin, a number of poor communities have sprouted in the valley as rural-urban migration has skyrocketed. Every year, these communities are flooded when torrential rains run down the hills and collect on the valley floor. The plastic menace has only exacerbated the humanitarian crisis – the canals that are supposed to guide excess water to the ocean are instead choking in plastic waste. “There is plastic everywhere in my neighbourhood,” says Modeste, one of the Ndao Hanavao participants. “It blocks the canals and causes flooding. Wherever there is a canal, there is plastic. I would ban it if I could.” None of what Polyfloss is doing would be possible without the work of people like Razafinzahary, who are at the heart of the way in which plastic is recycled internationally, and who witness how the global plastics market is evolving. And Razafinzahary notes that these people are struggling to keep up with the pace at which plastic is being produced. “The amount of garbage has increased a lot,” she says of the three years she has spent sorting through Antananarivo’s refuse. “For the people who want to buy, there’s a lot of bottles.” In her own home, about 20 full guni are stacked high along one wall, even though she has already sold enough to meet her financial needs for the day. The pace at which plastic is being produced is quickly overwhelming simple frontline processes. But Madagascar finds itself in a strange place. It is not yet producing enough plastic waste for industrial-scale recycling as is done in China or in Malaysia, but it is producing enough to create a localised environmental disaster. This is a context in which projects like Polyfloss can make the
biggest diﬀerence. “We are not trying to build an industrial system of recycling,” says De Visscher. “At the moment we have to consider ourselves craftspeople of plastic, not industrial processors.” The goal is that, eventually, Madagascar’s craftspeople will see Polyfloss as a meaningful alternative to the natural fibres that are being depleted at astronomical rates and the raw plastic that only feeds into the garbage problem. While tinkering continues at the Polyfloss factory, in January 2015 the Malagasy government banned single-use plastic bags. City residents, including the Ndao Hanavao participants, responded with ambivalence. “I wasn’t happy about the plastic ban because we use plastic a lot on a daily basis,” says Alfa, one of the volunteers who passionately believes that the Polyfloss project should grow and spread, in a sentiment shared by all the other project participants. And therein lies the challenge. Even amongst the converted, addiction to plastics is much easier to identify than to cure. E N D
The Shut-Up Button Words Kristina Rapacki Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Would you pay extra for the option of muting your cab driver via an app? Uber hopes you might. On 15 May, it announced that users of its premium services Uber Black and Uber Black SUV will have a number of new features available, including the option to pre-book “help with luggage”, “temperature control” and, if you don’t wish to interact with the driver whatsoever, “quiet mode”. Uber Black and Uber Black SUV, which cost between two to four times as much as Uber’s cheaper oﬀerings, are not the only platforms on which mute buttons have been discussed. In a 2018 interview with The Verge, Lyft’s head of product for autonomous driving Taggart Matthiesen said the company had discussed introducing a similar “zen mode”. Whether there’s a real consumer appetite for this type of feature or whether it’s an extreme case of over-designing a service remains to be seen. Responses to Uber’s new roll-out in The Verge’s comment section ranged from “Uber just won the rideshare wars!” to “This sounds a tad dehumanizing.” It does sound dehumanising. After all, if you want to regulate the temperature in the car, require help with your luggage or wish for a quiet ride, you could just speak to your driver like a human being. Luggage and temperature are relatively uncontroversial topics. Respectfully telling someone you need some quiet time does, perhaps, require a modicum of social finesse. But, as one of The Verge commentators professes, “I have yet to meet an Uber/Lyft driver who would keep trying to talk with me if I was not keeping up the conversation.” On a platform where users and service providers rate each other – and where the driver’s rating directly aﬀects their ability to work – it is in drivers’ best interests to be sensitive to riders’ cues. Equally, riders have an incentive to communicate respectfully, as drivers can give them a low rating for, I don’t know, telling them to shut up. This mutual rating system goes out the window with Uber Black and Uber Black SUV. Here, you’re paying for a luxury service, which is to say you’re paying for the privilege to tell people to shut up with impunity. But how does this work in practice? What if the rider, having requested a quiet SUV ride, should need to ask a practical question? Or is suddenly overcome by the insurmountable loneliness of existence and needs to reach out to a fellow human being? “I used to drive for Uber, and frankly, I hated talking to 85 per cent of all my passengers,” writes one commentator. “I would have loved this.” Make the mute button available to drivers too, or not at all, I say.
BOB JOB Borselius & Bernstrand | 2O17 â€“ 2O19
A Brick is Born Introduction Felix Chabluk Smith Photographs Fabian Frinzel
Interlace, textile research wasn’t finished by the time of this interview. Neither was it finished on the opening night, nor when the first members of the public entered the gallery on the following day. It won’t be finished all summer and it probably won’t be finished in early September when it ends, which also may not be the end. What’s more, it isn’t exactly an exhibition, but it is exactly what Hella Jongerius wants it to be.
professionals, including Jongerius herself, all working on a TC2 digital jacquard loom, producing what they will and then displaying the results in an art schoolstyle show-and-tell along the opposite wall. The Seamless Loom occupies another level in every sense of the word. It is operated by two people working four manual looms to produce bricks of varying sizes in three dimensions. The machine itself is captivating, with the wooden looms jacked-up and actually looming, almost bearing down on the aluminium structure similar to the frame of a 3D printer in the centre. The bricks produced so far are ethereal and delicate, with mixed yarns and open structures that bring to mind insect cocoons or magnified plant cells, each one unique. By the end of the summer they may have evolved into something else entirely. It is the bulbous sinewy cords produced by the braiding machine, sometimes slashed open to swell and spill their innards, that form the final part of the show. Hanging from the roof of a central atrium, dominating the space, they are abstract at first. However, if you spend time looking, a huge sun-like sphere starts to emerge high up in the hanging skeins, picked out in a Morse code of fraying paper. A cube becomes vaguely discernible lower down, while the dots and dashes of a future ovoid form lie coiled and confused on the floor. Perhaps as an echo of its former life as a finde-siècle warehouse, Lafayette Anticipations is composed of floors that move like huge goods elevators, with almost 50 diﬀerent configurations. The building itself brings to mind some kind of weaving machine, with an open skeleton of horizontals and verticals combined with perfectly engineered sliding parts that allow a myriad of possibilities – a similarity not lost on Jongerius. Dropping the floors and opening up a huge void, she has created the four-storey vertical Space Loom, of which the braided cords, already planted with the slub-like seeds of future forms, are the warp. Industrially produced textiles, constructed of warp and weft threads, use the warp as a kind of basic structure, and it is the weft that carries the design. By designing both, and arranging the warp threads in a grid as opposed to a single row, huge three-dimensional forms can be achieved. It will be tended to throughout the run, the weft woven through the hanging warp. It is beautiful right now, monumental and slightly forbidding, a cross between Sheila Hicks and Louise
Throughout her career, Jongerius has been used to dealing with the definite. Work for Vitra, Artek, KLM, Maharam, Ikea and the UN1 (to name but a few) all resulted in definite projects with definite deadlines – products and spaces produced with definite processes that definitely work. Yet after 25 years in industry, Jongerius felt she knew too much and also not enough. Design decisions were being made almost automatically because an established process was certain to work. There was no time to experiment,
There was no time to ask “what if”. So Jongerius made time. She gave a firm no to all clients, took a year oﬀ and bought a loom. or make mistakes. So Jongerius made time. She gave a firm no to all clients, took a year oﬀ and bought a loom. The invigorating excitement of Interlace, textile research’s purposeful lack of clarity and definition is palpable as Jongerius walks around the space in Lafayette Anticipations, Paris. There are no objects, no “pieces”, but there are lots of things. The work on display is the process, rather than the product. A three-month exploration into the possibilities of weaving, beginning with multitudes of threads and strings; endearing scraps of woven cloth and abstract structures seemingly made from whatever was lying around; hacked looms making strange woven bricks; and a second-hand industrial rope-braiding machine being fed with shredded paper and spongy insulation, enveloping whatever it is given in a black polyester cocoon. Walking into Lafayette Anticipations this summer is like walking into a designer’s studio and watching them doodle, thoughtfully, on a grand scale. The show came about almost coincidentally. The curators of the gallery happened to be thinking about weaving, and Jongerius is always thinking about weaving. One level of the space is given over to the Weavers Werkstatt, a mixed school of industrial, textile and fashion designers, weaving professors and 1
See ‘UN North Delegates Lounge’, Disegno #5.
The photographs accompanying this interview were taken at Hella Jongeriusâ€™s studio in Berlin, a few weeks before the looms were installed at Parisâ€™s Lafayette Anticipations.
â€œIndustry is very restricted, but I wanted to unravel this idea of cloth without having any boundaries.â€?
â€œI know so much about industry that I had stopped looking outside of those very narrow parameters.â€?
Bourgeois. Yet, like everything Jongerius is doing in Paris this summer, after a quarter-century in the industry, it is only the beginning. Felix Chabluk Smith Why did you choose to focus on weaving for this project? Hella Jongerius I’m always weaving for clients in industry, so I’ve never had the chance to do it freely without any questions being asked of me. I’ve never been able to really look into the skills and the looms. Last year, however, I took a sabbatical and said no to all clients. I had planned it in my schedule for years, because otherwise I couldn’t do it. It was a total luxury, but I really had to liberate myself. Industry is very restricted, but I wanted to unravel this idea of cloth without having any boundaries. I know so much about industry – I know its restrictions so well – that I had stopped looking outside of those very narrow parameters. When the director of Lafayette Anticipations François Quintin came to visit me a year ago, the first thing he asked was, “Are you a weaver?” I said, “Yes, I weave”, and we immediately decided to focus on that. I thought how wonderful it would be to study weaving for a year, so I bought a digital jacquard loom and spent a whole year working with it. I felt liberated. I opened up my creativity and I opened myself up to the material and its possibilities. Felix As part of the work at Lafayette Anticipations, you’ve designed the Seamless Loom, which almost looks like a 3D printer with an X and Y axis. Hella It’s a system with which we can make 3D-woven bricks. We’re looking for a 3D eﬀect without any seams in the corners, so we will spend the whole summer weaving those. The process requires four people to operate and every three days we can make one brick. The brick is really a canvas for anything; I just wanted to have an archetypical, simple shape. Felix In the catalogue, the curator Anna Colin calls this an exhibition, but it doesn’t seem like one to me. How do you see it? Hella It’s research and the research is ongoing. It’s almost as if you are in my studio. We’ve been creating these elements over the past year and now we can keep on studying. It’s not a final thing. Felix It seems quite an unusual way of working with a team. The people working with you are not technicians, or even all industrial or product designers. You have a whole group of industry professionals, who are all either designers themselves, tutors or students.
You even have the guys from Bless working with you, who are from the world of fashion design. Hella There’s a team of Jongeriuslab designers working on the ongoing hands-on research and production on the Seamless Loom and Space Loom. Although it’s my initiative, they’re all quite free. I won’t be here every day, so they will have to make decisions without me. Another element is the Weavers Werkstatt. This is an ongoing initiative to stimulate skills and knowledge of weaving amongst designers. It’s temporarily based at Anticipations, and so we’ve invited designers like Bless to work on their individual weaving research here. Everyone has their own field and research, and they will all weave on the digital jacquard loom. The good thing is when I work in industry with
“You can recognise it when people only design from a computer. You’ll see there’s no tactility; no knowledge of the material.” jacquard looms, I always have another person standing there who knows the software – which I don’t. They are always interpreting my ideas. But with this specific loom, I can just do it myself with Photoshop. It’s direct. Felix Do you think people coming out of design and textile education today are more or less interested in being hands-on? Hella I think there is a generation who don’t want to work with their hands. But I think your hands are intuitive and if you work manually then surprises inevitably emerge. You can recognise it when people only design from a computer and when Google is their only inspiration – you can always tell. You’ll see there’s no tactility; no knowledge of the material. Felix You’ve talked before about the lack of tactility within fast fashion and how there’s a paucity of materials there. Do you see fashion as completely separate to other aspects of product or textile design? Hella I find that the fashion industry’s connection to the market – it is so close to capitalism and the money machine – kills creativity. I don’t like the speed of it, and the fashion and textile industry need to undergo
something like what happened in the food industry, which completely changed when consumers called for less sugar, salt and so forth. But it’s diﬃcult for consumers to learn about textiles. Who is teaching you? What should you upholster your sofa in? Nobody knows. You might know about what materials are good to wear – like linen – but for a sofa or curtains or bedsheets or carpets, everyone goes for the safe option because you will have those pieces for 20 years and they’re very expensive. You change your clothes every day, but your sofa is something you can’t change so readily – if we don’t talk about weaving or textiles, then nobody knows about it. That’s why I don’t want to only communicate with people via their wallets, but through a medium that’s more open like this project. You have to feed it from the bottom up. Felix Do you want to educate people about what a textile is? Hella What a textile is; what it could be; what weaving is; how slow it is; what an artform it is. Felix Weaving is a slow process, even with the highest speed industrial looms. When people look at clothes, I think they underestimate not just the design and cut of the garment but also that the designers are already working with a finished project – the textile. Even in the case of a switched-on consumer who would have knowledge of sweatshops, for instance, their knowledge usually starts from where the garment is being sewn. There is a whole other life of a textile before it enters the fashion industry. Hella The weaving is also just a small part of the whole process. There’s also making the yarns, spinning, twinning, twisting, dyeing – that already takes half a year. Then it comes to a weaver, who produces a half-fabricated product and only after that does fashion come in. But the power of the consumer is enormous. If we all turn our backs, companies change in a second and suddenly become flexible. So that’s why I think we have to communicate weaving and help inspire consumers. To empower people. Felix Do you find that enough people are interested in weaving and textiles within design education? When I went to college in Edinburgh, they were in the process of dismantling the ceramics and glass departments. Those departments were established in the 1960s and 70s and had very specialised equipment. Hella At Design Academy Eindhoven, they haven’t taught weaving for 15 years. You don’t learn weaving anymore, only styling. Mood boards, you know.
At the same time, I find it diﬃcult to embrace craft because there is a nostalgic element to it. I always like to see crafts and skills and knowledge in terms of where are we now. How can those things be used in industry? Felix What is relevant for now? Hella Why am I doing 3D weaving now? It’s because I believe we will all have flying cars given that cities are becoming so dense. We will need very light materials and textile composites to enable this. Textiles are the lightest material and why would we leave this to technicians? We could make beautiful, nicely woven cars. You could also use textiles as architectural elements, because weaving can create such a strong web. You can then use less stone, less cement, and you can build lighter. It’s really something that will have a great future, but it’s one of our oldest technologies. Textiles are not only potentially very long-lasting but also deeply cultural. It’s a production system you find in all the diﬀerent cultures. If we lose this, it’s really losing a big part of who we are as human beings. Felix It’s universal to all humans, I think. You’ve always been attracted to weaving. What was it initially? Hella I was a kid in the 1970s and all girls did back then was knit. We all had sewing machines and it was really the hobby of our generation – I think that’s where it started. My mother was a pattern-maker, so she was always sewing. We had a lot of textiles at home. Felix But do you think that would be possible now? Hella It’s not natural or easy, no. There is of course a DIY culture. You can look up anything; you can figure out, repair things or whatever. So there’s this crafty, digital path that is interesting to kids, but I have two daughters and they are not interested in doing anything with their hands. It may be a generational thing. I was weaving throughout the last year and every morning I went to this loom and I thought, “Today I’m going to make it.” I sat down, spent the whole day working and then came home frustrated. “Shit! I didn’t do anything today. It’s so slow! I’ve got something in mind and it’s not coming out of this machine!” But every morning I was fresh again and wanted to go. Felix In such a mechanised production society, spending time on something is really a luxury. Hella It’s the cliché of craft. Felix Would you say you dislike nostalgia? Hella I find it very conservative. I find it so important that objects have a zeitgeist, that they are particular to this moment. Or preferably five years ahead. E N D
Nature and Broken Nature Words George Kafka
Salvageable or damaged beyond repair? Two major design institutions grapple with the concept of Nature.
The Substitute, an artificial northern white rhino developed by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. The Substitute is being exhibited as part of Nature at the Cooper Hewitt.
Ore Streams, a project created by Formafantasma exploring the waste streams of consumer electronics. Ore Streams is being exhibited as part of Broken Nature at the Triennale di Milano.
There is a strangeness in thinking about “Nature” as a theme for design triennali, as though in another three years there might be another, more pressing topic towards which we will have turned our attention. The term itself – Nature – is near impossible to grapple with. It’s like naming an exhibition Philosophy, or just Design. So huge are its connotations, so varied its applications and so contested its politics, that it inevitably means everything and nothing simultaneously. And yet here we are – in strange, urgent times where Nature finds itself at the centre of the design zeitgeist. The triennali in question are the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, whose exhibition Nature: Collaborations in Design opened in New York on 10 May, and the Triennale di Milano, where Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival opened on 1 March. Both are necessarily broad in scope and feature new commissions, as well as design work from recent years. Unsurprisingly, there is an overlap in projects displayed across the two
exhibitions, which is treated more as an act of solidarity than any sort of intellectual custody battle. “It’s fantastic that we’re a network of diﬀerent museums, diﬀerent curators and diﬀerent creators working on the same topic,” as Paola Antonelli, curator of Broken Nature, puts it. However, the shows’ conceptual starting points diﬀer significantly, as is evident from their titles. Broken Nature is a brilliantly vivid and provocative name for an exhibition that unabashedly acknowledges some of the tough truths about our changing climate and its implications for human and non-human life – truths that Cooper Hewitt’s Nature sidesteps. “Those who say that we are not becoming extinct are delusional,” says Antonelli, the MoMA curator on loan to the Triennale for Broken Nature. Antonelli’s head-on confrontation of the specific extent of our environmental crises is refreshingly honest in the face of public political discourse which, in the UK at least, usually struggles to get past
plastic straws. The “Broken” in the exhibition’s title can be interpreted broadly, pointing to ideas of malfunction – changing behaviour in certain species as a result of warming or other climactic shifts – but also to a fraying of relations, or “threads” as Antonelli calls them, between humans and non-humans and, crucially, humans with other humans. Cooper Hewitt’s Nature is more veiled in its framing of environmental crisis and takes a more optimistic, if woolly, frame of reference. “There are new and incredible ways that designers, scientists, farmers, engineers and programmers are working with nature,” explains Andrea Lipps, one of Cooper Hewitt’s in-house curators alongside Caitlin Condell, Matilda McQuaid and Caroline O’Connell, who worked with Gène Bertrand, Hans Gubbels and Madeleine van Daele from the Cube design museum in the Netherlands to co-produce the show. “People are really trying, we’re trying in our own way and looking for solutions,” she continues.
Images courtesy of the Triennale di Milano and Cooper Hewitt.
Solutions to what, exactly, is at times unclear. In her introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue McQuaid makes references to “what is happening today”, “the urgency of climate change” and working together to “change the world”, as well as other vague allusions that add up to a frustrating reluctance to acknowledge the human-led decimation of life on earth. “Optimism is imperative to finding solutions that enable humans to coexist with nature and the biosphere,” she argues. It’s hard to read such reticence without thinking about the broader institutional dynamics at play. As a Smithsonian museum, Cooper Hewitt is a federally run organisation and was closed for 27 days in the triennial’s preparation during the government shutdown last January. More significantly, the environmental policies of the current administration seem to trickle directly into the curatorial approach of Cooper Hewitt, which accounts in no small part for its politically evasive take on the specific causes of climate change. “It’s not that every federal institution has to absorb and take on the policies of whatever government is in place at that particular time,” explains Lipps, “but I do feel a little bit more stunted in some of the things that I would like to express.” These divergent approaches to the framing of nature inevitably influence the projects and objects presented in the triennali, despite their thematic overlaps. For example, GeoMerce (2015) by Gionata Gatto and Giovanni Innella, and the Personal Food Computer by Caleb Harper and MIT Media Lab, on display in Milan and New York respectively, work with hydroponics and vegetal data to disrupt agriculture. GeoMerce is a “performance” featuring hyperaccumulator plants like rapeseed that extract pollutant metals, such as zinc or nickel, from the water solution in their hydroponic containers. The project is a speculation on the potential of these plants to clean the polluted soil of formerly industrial land, proposing a kind of mining in which a non-human agent participates in the extraction of materials. In this case, the material extraction is for ecological healing, rather than economic growth. Crucial here is GeoMerce’s reforming of human-vegetal relations, whereby the dichotomy between the two breaks down.
At Cooper Hewitt, the Personal Food Computer is an “open-source growth chamber”, a 30cm cube that resembles a 3D printer and is programmed with a “climate recipe” to produce the ideal size, flavour, yield and nutrient density for specific plants. Mainly a tool for use in schools or by hackers, the project taps into broader conversations about optimised indoor agriculture for a world of increasingly unpredictable and hostile outdoor environments. Considering the ease with which the recipes can be shared (via the open-source Open Agriculture Initiative), there is potential for this project to facilitate food growth in the areas feeling the eﬀects of global heating most keenly. That said, there’s an element of anthropocentric isolationism to the computer that eﬀectively results in climate becoming “decoupled from geography”, as Lipps puts it, at a time when we should surely be encouraging the opposite. There is similar discord between Ore Streams and Petrified River, projects that deal with deep time and excavation at
“It’s not that every federal institution has to absorb the policies of whatever government is in place, but I do feel more stunted in some of the things I would like to express.” —Andrea Lipps
Broken Nature and Nature respectively. Petrified River (2018-19) is a piece by Madrid-based architects Ensamble Studio. Located in the garden at Cooper Hewitt, it sees the natural topography of a hill, river and pond cast into a rugged 12m concrete sculpture. The piece is the latest in the practice’s Structures of Landscape series, which has previously seen Ensamble produce 1:1 scale casts of the dramatic landforms at the Tippet Rise Art Center in Montana, the results of which have been displayed in the place that inspired them. The sculptures act as meditations on the earth’s surface, and contain an awareness of the millennia over which their undulations took shape. Despite the muscular and rippling presence of these calcified hulks, there is a shallowness in their imitation of natural
topography. Like a taxidermy walrus displayed before gasping Victorians, the Petrified River speaks to a separation from, and dominance over, nature that is masked by the neutralising notion of “wonder” that it might evoke. We already know that natural landscapes can have a transcendent eﬀect. To cast them verbatim in concrete, of all things, seems at best pointless, and at worst a waste of materials. If anything, the structures betray more a sense of melancholia than “natural wonder”, in the words of Caitlin Condell. The striking sight of the Structures of Landscape pieces photographed on the Montana landscape and displayed at Cooper Hewitt are unexpectedly reminiscent of the “Spomenik” Second World War memorials that are dotted around former-Yugoslavia; in the same vein, Ensamble’s sculptures appear like memorials to natural worlds we are in the process of destroying. In Ore Streams, a project by Formafantasma commissioned first for the NGV Triennial in Melbourne in 2017 and developed as one of a handful of commissions for Broken Nature, we find another perspective on the relationship between raw materiality and deep time. Displayed in the triennale hall as a set of sleek oﬃce furniture, Ore Streams seems as contrasting an exhibit to one of Ensamble’s Structures of Landscape as it would be possible to imagine. However, the project actually oﬀers a deep dive into humans’ relationships with metals and minerals, and their extraction from the earth. A close look at the furniture pieces reveals they are made from recycled electronic waste: microwaves; washing machines; phones; computers. As a companion to the furniture, Formantasma has published extensive archival work online (represented in the triennale as videos) and Ore Streams covers everything from meteorite showers from 4bn years ago to YouTube unboxing videos. However, it ultimately homes in on the history of planned obsolescence, colonialism and the stream of electronic waste that now runs from the West to developing countries. The furniture is intended to represent the bureaucracies that dictate the flow of this global stream, but this seems somewhat lost in the context of the exhibition – perhaps owing to the fact that my visit coincided
with the annual Salone del Mobile, in which similarly sleek furniture is marketed and sold without much thought for material flows. The videos and wider archive are, however, well worth investigating; their indictment of waste-management systems feels fresh, despite the familiarity of the news that we’re bad at recycling and consume too much. “Consume” was purportedly one of the words that Antonelli banned her curatorial team from using in the process of making Broken Nature. “We want people to stop thinking of consuming and instead start to think of adopting objects, embracing objects, living with objects,” she says. This idea is undermined somewhat by her inclusion of the UltraBOOST Adidas shoe in Broken Nature. The trainer is made in collaboration with the environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans and is produced from 95 per cent ocean plastic and 5 per cent recycled polyester. The shoe is also on display at Cooper Hewitt, where Lipps explains Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch is “not interested in companies using [Parley] as a marketing ploy” and instead requires them to make structural changes to their production processes. However, with 5m pairs of the UltraBOOST shoes sold globally, it seems misplaced to include a consumption-based design solution to a problem caused, in large part, by consumption. Too often, material innovations such as these seem to oﬀer a way for us to proceed with our habits – or our “business as usual,” as London mayor Sadiq Khan disastrously put it when appealing for an end to the Extinction Rebellion protests in London – without forcing us to consider meaningful change. Adidas seems particularly out of place in Broken Nature, which is at its best when radically remoulding the “threads” between humans and nonhumans. A charmingly simple example is Ladybird Umbrella (2016) by 10-yearold Sophia Carr for Little Inventors, an initiative by British designer Dominic Wilcox that turns children’s drawings into real, functioning objects. Carr’s umbrella is a tiny glass structure designed to shelter bugs from the rain, and while far from the hydroponic acrobatics of GeoMerce or Formafantasma’s recycled
high-design, its custodial perspective on human–non-human relations has a poignant and valuable resonance. The incorporation of the human into Broken Nature’s broader conception of nature, not just as a consumer or admirer, is crucial to the show’s argument. Some
“We want people to stop thinking of consuming and instead start to think of adopting objects, embracing objects, living with objects.” —Paola Antonelli of its strongest exhibits are those dealing directly with social justice and the body: quality clothing for people in wheelchairs; a pregnancy test that can be flushed away (which is both ecological and ensures privacy for women in situations where pregnancy can be a contentious, even dangerous, thing); period-proof underwear; and The Crime of Rescue (2018), a work by Forensic Oceanography and Forensic Architecture that centres on NGO boats assisting refugees heading from Libya to the EU. These pieces argue that the diminished status of women, refugees and disabled people, among others, form a part of our broken nature. And if nature is indeed to be “fixed”, then a greater sense of empathy, understanding and equality among humans must form a part of that. As designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg explains in her essay ‘Better Nature’ for the Broken Nature catalogue, “the things we design can’t be separated from the social, political, economic and environmental contexts they operate in.” Ginsberg is an important presence in both exhibitions, but her project The Substitute for Nature at Cooper Hewitt is a show-stopping conclusion that should be experienced by as many people as possible. Responding to the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros in March 2018, Ginsberg worked with Google’s AI department DeepMind, animators The Mill, and rhino vocalisation expert Richard Policht to create an “artificial agent” – an entity that can learn from its environment – in the form of a 1:1 scale digital white rhino. Evolving before your eyes on a large screen, the rhino begins as a cube,
making a noise that sounds like a computer coughing. But the form becomes gradually less pixellated and its noises more sophisticated until you find yourself face-to-face with an intricately detailed animation of a rhino trapped in a white, digital box. “Uncanny” is overused, but it’s diﬃcult to describe the experience oﬀered by The Substitute in any other way. It is like encountering a species that is both familiar and alien, and it left me an emotional husk – feeling at once like David Attenborough, Amy Adams in Arrival and a destroyer of worlds. In the context of Cooper Hewitt’s institutional restraint, the project reads like a subtle message from Nature’s curators to its federal benefactors whose latest move to destroy the planet, at the time of writing, includes limiting climate forecasting to 2040, thereby enshrining short-sightedness in government policy. The Substitute demonstrates the capabilities of artificial intelligence, but in the rhino’s distress Ginsberg is clearly asking whether this is the progress for which we should be aiming. Leaving Nature, I reflected on what’s actually broken. If we’re smart enough to create an artificial rhino, why aren’t we smart enough to stop them from becoming extinct? Nature: Collaborations in Design runs at Cooper Hewitt in New York until 20 January 2020; Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival runs at the Triennale di Milano until 1 September 2019.
A Radical Reduction Words Kristina Rapacki
“It’s funny how, when you just make one small change, everything else starts to follow in really positive ways,” says Allon Libermann, a project manager at the Stockholm-based design studio Form Us With Love (FUWL). He’s holding a rectangular paper sachet. In the sachet is a small amount of powder, which, when mixed with water, turns into a foaming handwash.
This powder is the small change to which Libermann refers. “It already happens with your instant coﬀee,” he says. “Or instant hot chocolate. Or ramen.” Letting the end-consumer add water to a product is economical. It eliminates water bulk and weight in the logistics chain, and dramatically changes the types of materials that can be used for packaging. FUWL’s powder-to-liquid soap, which the studio has been developing under Libermann’s management for the last three years, is an attempt to harness these positive knock-on eﬀects. “By making it dry, all of a sudden we don’t have to use plastic,” explains Libermann. “And all of a sudden, this envelope can potentially hold 10 bottles’ worth of refills.” He holds up the prototype of an envelope, devised from a single A4 paper page. It can contain up to 10 sachets of powder and, when opened, also functions as a receipt. The powder-to-liquid soap is in its final stages of development when Disegno visits FUWL’s studio. Strewn across a wide meeting table are prototype sachets, envelope designs, powder samples from the lab and a recycled plastic bottle with a foam pump. It is, perhaps, an unexpected array for an industrial design studio whose output tends to cleave closer to furniture than to everyday household items. At one end of the room, a wall of display shelves showcases some of FUWL’s previous products and prototypes: the Plug Lamp for Ateljé Lyktan, for instance, a table light whose base features a power socket; Odger, a wood-polypropylene chair for Ikea that can be assembled with a click-lock mechanism;1 and Unfold, a colourful silicone rubber take on the industrial pendant light for the Danish furniture company Muuto. The soap project, however, is what FUWL cofounder Jonas Pettersson calls a “venture”, rather than client work. “Four days a week we work with clients on projects,” he explains. “And then once a week we have a day we call Venture Day, when we bring ideas to the table, test them and do things a bit diﬀerently.” The studio has already launched two such ventures as separate brands: the acoustic tile company Baux, and Tid, which makes timepieces. “But these things,” says Pettersson, gesturing towards the display wall, “you actually consume quite slowly compared to everyday objects like
soap or toothpaste.” Soap was a new kind of beast for FUWL, but its design flaws struck the studio as obvious. “It comes from this common frustration that you and probably everyone has,” says Libermann. “Why do I have so much trash every week?” From ancient times and to this day, soap – the salt of a rendered fatty substance such as tallow or vegetable oil – has been made in bars. In early-modern Europe, it was semi-industrially produced in centres such as Provence, Castile, and London, and typically cut up with cheese wire on demand by local grocers. In the 19th century, industrially manufactured and individually packaged soap bars became some of the world’s first mass consumer products. The corporate empires of Unilever and Procter & Gamble – two of the first multinationals – were built on the Sunlight and Ivory bars respectively, produced in the company villages of Port Sunlight and Ivorydale. But at the end of the 20th century, with the rise of throwaway plastics, liquid-gel soap in disposable containers began to surpass bar soaps in popularity. In 2001, Unilever made its last bar of soap at its Port Sunlight production line and market research company Mintel has reported a continual global drop in bar soap sales throughout the first decades of the current century.2 Bar soap has come to be considered fusty and unhygienic, with a 2016 CBS report attributing its slump in sales to the fact that “millennials believe bar soaps are covered in germs after they are used.” “Disposal culture is creating a lot of waste related to liquid soap and people don’t want to use hard soap,” says Libermann. “So how do you make a liquid soap that is as sustainable as you could make it?” The first step was to look at the formula. FUWL’s powder-to-liquid soap, developed by a laboratory in Canada, is composed of five organic ingredients, as opposed to the industry standard of approximately 12-20. These ingredients will make up a number of soaps, unscented and scented, and are derived largely from coconut oil. At the time of Disegno’s visit, Libermann was double-checking the specifics with the lab. “I was reading about palm oil being this huge deforestation issue,” he explains. “So I emailed the lab yesterday and was like, ‘Hey, are any of these derived from palm oil?’” 2
See ‘Risk Assessment’, Disegno #14, for an in-depth look at the Odger chair.
Although Mintel’s 2019 market assessment does show a small upturn in the popularity of soap bars, with consumer concerns about environmentally harmful packaging being a driving factor.
1 Members of the Form Us With Love (FUWL) team in the studio’s Stockholm space. (Photo courtesy of FUWL)
2 A display showcasing products and prototypes from FUWL’s previous projects. (Photo by Jonas Lindström)
Even if palm oil is technically a natural product, FUWL would want to eliminate it from the formula. According to the non-profit organisation Rainforest Rescue, palm oil is used in approximately half of all supermarket products – from frozen pizza and biscuits to cosmetics and, of course, soap – and is one of the main driving forces behind tropical deforestation. At each step of developing the soap, FUWL found that supposedly natural ingredients and materials, once examined closely, revealed similar surprises. Early on, the team considered metal for the refillable bottle that FUWL wants to provide as a one-oﬀ purchase along with the soap. But when they looked into research on aluminium and steel water bottles, it became apparent that making a bottle from such virgin materials is extremely resource-intensive. As The New York Times has reported, a 300g stainless steel bottle “requires seven times as much fossil fuel, releases 14 times more greenhouse gases, demands the extraction of hundreds of times more metal resources and causes hundreds of times more toxic risk to people and ecosystems than making a 32-gram plastic bottle.” Throughout, says Libermann, “a lot of what we assumed [about sustainability] was incorrect.” The bottle prototype on the table is a slightly cloudy plastic design. “This bottle is made from 50 per cent recycled post-consumer plastic,” Libermann explains. “That’s what gives it this kind of green-grey colour. We’ve been looking into making it in 100 per cent recycled plastic.” Ultimately, however, the studio has settled on glass. “It’s more communicative of a reusable bottle,” says Libermann. “Though we recognise sustainable challenges with both material approaches.” Then there is the foam pump. Foaming handwash is good because less water is used per wash, explains Libermann. “But the pump itself was a really interesting problem to solve, because it has a steel spring inside.” This makes it more complicated to recycle. “So we started questioning the suppliers and asking, ‘Can you make the spring out of plastic?’ We really want to have this work in a normal waste stream. No special exemptions.” FUWL’s mission to find the most holistically sustainable bottle and pump is ongoing, and the pump with a plastic spring is something it hopes will be available at some point in the future. Should the consumer wish to use their own container, however, that will remain an
3 Allon Liebermann and Noelani Rutz inspecting samples from the lab. (Photo courtesy of FUWL)
4 FUWL’s project seeks to reduce the transportation weight and bulk of liquid soap. (Photo by Jonas Nyffenegger)
5 Soap was traditionally produced in bars, but, with the advent of disposable plastics, liquid-gel soap began to take over in popularity. (Photo by Jonas Nyffenegger)
option. “You can use any regular foam pump,” says Pettersson. “It’s not like we’re trying to lock the customers into this.” In addition to navigating the labyrinthine intricacies of sustainable materials research, FUWL had to contend with another design challenge: the fact that the powder-to-liquid model departs considerably from the standard typology of soap. “I think the user experience is probably the most interesting [thing about the project] from a design perspective,” says Pettersson. “You don’t have to tell anyone how to use [this chair],” he continues, pointing to Odger. “But the soap is on another level, because it needs to encourage a completely new behaviour.” There are initiatives that go some way towards introducing new attitudes to everyday household items and waste – the Dutch chain Ekoplaza opened the world’s first plastic-free supermarket in Amsterdam last year, and in Oxford, high-end British supermarket Waitrose is currently trialling a packaging-free refill aisle that sees customers using their own containers. On the whole, however, such initiatives are few and far between. “We really want it to be convenient,” says Pettersson. “We would really be failing if we didn’t.” Currently FUWL sees online, rather than the supermarket aisle, as the most obvious retail environment for its soap, precisely because it needs to be both convenient and legible as soap. “It won’t sell itself in ICA [Sweden’s biggest supermarket chain] or that kind of store,” says Pettersson. And while supermarket chains are not yet forthcoming in embracing refillable options on a mass scale, the high-end luxury soap market is not one that FUWL is trying to disrupt either. The sustainability goals the team has set itself mean that all components will be produced in North America or Europe, which entails the exclusion of non-tropical scents. FUWL’s soap is not likely to compete with the Aēsops and Jo Malones of this world, then. “But that’s not the fight we want to [win],” says Pettersson. “We think soap is just supposed to make you clean.” E N D
6 By creating a powder-to-liquid soap formula, FUWL hopes to drastically reduce plastic waste associated with the consumption of household items. (Photo by Jonas Nyffenegger)
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Words Meher Varma
A hit Netflix show encourages us to declutter but fails to consider the root causes of Western societiesâ€™ pathological overconsumption.
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo visits eight US homes in order to help their residents declutter.
Kondo and her interpreter Marie Iida pictured with Kevin and Rachel Friend in the first episode, ‘Tidying with Toddlers’.
In mid-January, my friend Leela Gupta decided that the only way her chronic depression would improve was if she were to make big changes to her life. To gather ideas about what these changes might be, Gupta solicited suggestions on Facebook. While responses ranged from new haircuts to travel, the thread was largely dominated by advice to “Marie Kondo” her life. One friend promised to mail her Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, while another oﬀered to watch the new Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo with her. It quickly became clear that Marie Kondo was no longer simply a person but had become a verb that stood for working towards a more together life. Tidying consultant Marie Kondo launched her debut book The LifeChanging Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing in 2011, with an English translation following in 2014. To date, it has sold more than 10m copies and has now been joined by an eight-part Netflix series: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. In both the book and the series, Kondo advocates her eponymous KonMari Method – a form of tidying that involves removing useless objects from sight,
paring down, and organising belongings according to discrete categories (clothes, paper, miscellaneous and sentimental). At the end, a space should only contain objects that “spark joy”, so that you can “appreciate everything [you] have and live comfortably”, explains Kondo. Moreover, Kondo’s appearance on camera seems to reinforce the mantra: her perfectly trimmed fringe, delicate pink lipstick and demure knee-length skirts suggest that tidiness need not be limited to the home. Optimistic about the method’s potential, Gupta documented her progress on Instagram, sharing #tidyingup images with other Kondo fans who, in return, wished her #luck and #joy. Emotive captions such as #happywardrobes and #joyouspaces filled her feed. But, a few weeks later, something unexpected happened. Gupta reported feeling more depressed than ever. “I miss my mess,” read her Facebook status – a statement that was notably free of hashtags. Oﬄine, Gupta privately described experiencing a state of alienation; she felt “more lost and boxed up than before, even in [a] very organised house”. This disenchantment seemed to have little to do with being unable to pack away T-shirts the Kondo way (folding them
into small rectangles that can stand up on their own, ideally in a box or drawer crate). Instead, as her home was “de-cluttered”, Gupta described feeling that her history and particularities were becoming flattened and buried beneath her (newly cleaned) carpet. It is a point picked up by Ron Charles, a writer for The Washington Post and a critic of the KonMari Method. “That great jumble of fond memories, intellectual challenges and future delights doesn’t just spark [joy],” wrote Charles in his review of Tidying Up. “It warms the whole house.” To Charles and Gupta, the paring-down experiments revealed that joy is not a formulaic emotion that can be reliably triggered using a prescribed method. In spite of this, Kondo’s approach has been a tremendous success, in part because of its simplicity and the scale of what it promises for those who follow its steps. “Marie Kondo helps clients clear out the clutter – and choose joy,” reads the Netflix show description. Who wouldn’t be tempted by such a straightforward exchange? This directness is most visible on Instagram, which features hundreds of before-andafter photographs of homes across the world, or, as one user @rosanisiert put
In episode four, ‘Sparking Joy After a Loss’, Kondo encourages
Images courtesy of Netflix.
Margie Hodges to donate her late husband’s clothes to charity.
it, “tsunami” versus “KonMari” photographs. The clarity and legibility of these comparison shots is mirrored in the structure of Tidying Up. Each 35-48-minute episode is crafted to target a diﬀerent “type” of person, whose personalities are ostensibly mapped onto their homes. Margie is a middle-aged woman who has just lost her husband; Matt and Frank are a couple who want to prove their commitment to their families; Ron and Wendy are self-described empty nesters; and Suneeta and Alex are a racially diverse couple thinking of having a third child. Through this structure, diversity is simultaneously built up and erased: the cultural variation that the series presents is flattened by the method’s assumed universality. To quote Kondo: “Everyone around the world has the same struggles with tidying.” Within the confines of the show everyone seems to benefit from KonMari, leaving those like Gupta for whom it has failed to ponder whether the fault lies with them. This sense of disconnect is troubling and seems to have its roots in the method’s relationship to consumption. In many senses, Tidying Up’s message is
encouraging: it acknowledges that overconsumption produces messy homes, and Kondo’s emphasis on joy and appreciation is geared towards re-inscribing existing possessions with value such that participants may eventually consume less. “Keep only those things that speak to your heart,” writes Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle[…] People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.” Nevertheless, consumption remains central to Kondo’s method. Participants are encouraged to adjust or re-think their levels of consumption, but there is little prompt for them to consider why they consumed so much in the first place. The process treats the symptoms of consumption, rather than its causes – an issue that becomes apparent within KonMari’s first steps. At the beginning of each episode, after she has said a prayer to “greet the house”, Kondo asks the subject to tackle her first category: clothing. Each member of the family puts every garment they own on a bed or on the floor, so that
they are all visible at a single glance. Many participants describe their piles of clothes as “mountains” and most of the homes Kondo visits are drowning in excess, suggesting a capitalist drunkenness. “I can’t believe how many clothes I have!” becomes a repeated mantra throughout the series, with Kondo’s role being to dissipate whatever guilt her subjects (and, by proxy, her viewers) may feel about their excessive consumption. “In recent years, the United States has seen a rise in mass consumption and urbanization, leading to a ‘more is better’ mindset,” stated Kondo in an interview to mark Tidying Up’s launch on Netflix. “However, I believe that a shift toward mindfulness is occurring. We are beginning to give more attention to each item we own and determine the few things that truly matter. I think people’s interest in the KonMari Method coincides with these cultural changes in American society.” Yet the absurd accumulation of clothes that Kondo deals with never opens into discussion of mental or emotional health, even when participants on the show provide obvious cues. For example, when Wendy states that “retail therapy is something I am guilty of;
shopping is a diversion,” her hint is ignored and Kondo quickly resumes her step-by-step method, failing to address the causes of the speaker’s self-observed tendencies towards excessive accumulation. That Wendy describes shopping as a way to “hit [her husband] Ron where it hurts” passes without remark. With no trace of irony, the show presents the end of Wendy’s journey as being a wardrobe that looks remarkably similar to a retail display in a high-end store – an image that uniformly invokes happiness for the show’s participants. Wendy equates this to a divine experience of “seeing the light”. Similarly, participants are regularly rewarded with pats on the back when they discard things and typically end up getting rid of about 75 per cent of their possessions. In spite of this, there is often no deeper interrogation of the source of their compulsion to hoard. When Kondo observes how many bags Matt and Frank are ready to “let go of”, she congratulates them on a job “very well done”. By contrast, Frank’s admission that he has “never actually made [his] parents proud” is left unexamined. Even when Frank makes the link between these two aspects of his life, Kondo quickly proceeds to greeting the house. Tidying Up treats tidy homes as catalysts for a better life. As Kondo writes, “a dramatic reorganisation of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.” Moreover, dramatic reorganisation – from which life transformation ostensibly begins – is linked to how Kondo assigns value to objects. “Even if we remain unaware of it, our belongings really work hard for us, carrying out their respective roles each day to support our lives,” she writes. It is this process that she believes gives objects a “spirit” (a spirit that, famously, she asks her participants to thank if they choose to discard an item). One critique of the show, however, has come from bibliophiles, who have pointed out problems with the way in which KonMari imagines its subjects’ futures and the narrowness of Kondo’s presentation of utility. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo writes that “by tidying books, it will show what kind of information is important to you at this moment”. However, Guardian writer
Anakana Schofield has suggested that by treating books as objects to be tidied, Kondo’s method proves itself to be reflective of the “frantic, goal-obsessed and myopic” time that we live in because of the way it functionalises literature and other sentimental objects. This issue, however, is one to which Kondo seems alive. When Margie worries
Participants are rewarded when they discard things and typically end up getting rid of about 75 per cent of their possessions. In spite of this, there is often no deeper interrogation of the source of their compulsion to hoard. about erasing her ex-husband’s history by tidying his closet, Kondo reframes the debate by asking her to reflect on whether these objects are “something to take to the future”. While this dialectical move from joy to perceived future value may answer some of Kondo’s critics, it runs into other issues: the recalibrated formulation leaves little room for occasions on which someone may not possess the foresight to gauge something’s worth in years to come. Suneeta, for example, has trouble throwing out her collection of kids’ books that have lost their “function” because her potential third child may need them. “We are on very diﬀerent pages,” she says when forced to apply the method. For Kondo, however, a better life is primarily predicated upon organising things, rather than feelings. “No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past,” she says when speaking to Margie about the grief she is experiencing. “The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.” This leads her to do what she does best: encourage Margie to make space by letting tidiness and the reduction of stuﬀ take over. In so doing, KonMari retains consumption, rather than emotions, at the centre of the discourse. Kondo’s representation of joy is also troubling, insofar as it is tied to several assumptions, chiefly the idea that consumers are performing their own labour. In the case of folding T-shirts, for instance, joy is supposed to be
derived from giving the object “the aﬀection that comes out of your own hands”, and there are dozens of Instagram accounts such as @housefavor that feature videos of smiling women with perfectly manicured nails folding their newly laundered clothes the Kondo way. Interestingly, most of these videos are edited with fast-forward filters that allow audiences to consume another consumer’s “joyful” labour within seconds. However, in many countries domestic tasks (especially laundry) are outsourced to staﬀ. In more modest homes, housework may be divided among family members as chores – activities that it seems disingenuous to describe as a joyful. In Kondo’s show, however, tidying up is presented as something that everyone has time to take pleasure in. “Fold clothes with your heart,” she explains in a YouTube instructional video that, at the time of writing, has nearly 4.7m views. The popularity of the KonMari Method continues to grow, but it is worth remembering real-life users such as Gupta, whose depression it did little to lift. Given its broadly advertised simplicity, a failure to spark joy with it can feel puzzling. A closer look, however, reveals that as long as emotions themselves are left unexamined – leading to the symptoms rather than the causes of excessive consumption being addressed – tidying up is likely to enjoy a tenuous relationship to happiness. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is available on Netflix.
Associative Design ‘The Best of Portugal’ Global Showcases. Featuring an expertly curated mix of contemporary and luxury Portuguese design and innovation.
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Here is the House Words Joe Lloydâ€‚Photographs Donald Milne
Helensburgh is not the most immediately prepossessing of places. Lying on the Clyde estuary, some 40km northwest of Glasgow, it was laid out in the 18th century as a sea-bathing retreat. The low-lying town centre, planned on a grid system, is not unpleasant, but nor is it much else. Turn away from the waterside and head up the unrelenting incline, though, and you quickly enter a warren of grass-lined lanes, overhung with fruit trees.
Groarke, which will protect the house during the necessary restoration. The Hill House Box – a sort of architectural intensive-care unit – is itself an atypical project, though very diﬀerent to the structure it encloses. Both open possibilities for conservation, while raising questions about our attitudes towards the preservation of the past.
As industrial Glasgow mushroomed, Helenburgh’s steady slope became a dormitory for its wealthy merchants and industrialists, whose hillside houses and gardens became viewing platforms from which to watch their goods sail past en route to the Atlantic. One resident even built a lighthouse-like protrusion so as not to miss them. These residences form a riotous assemblage of the grab-bag architectural aesthetic known as the free style. There are turreted mock-castles, neo-classical shrines, arts and crafts cottages, and stuccoed townhouses that might have washed up from Brighton. Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, whose articles in The Studio between 1894 and 1900 did much to promote the holistically designed modern suburban residence in Britain and wider Europe, contributed a white-washed Jacobethan aﬀair midway up the hill, an early conception of modern living clothed in the raiment of a dozen pasts. The most forward-looking of these buildings is perched, as its name suggests, at the very top. The Hill House is one of the masterpieces of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scotland’s most celebrated architect. “Here is the house,” Mackintosh proclaimed upon its completion in 1904. “It is not an Italian Villa, an English Mansion House, a Swiss Châlet, or a Scotch Castle. It is a Dwelling House.” He had provided his client, the publisher Walter W. Blackie, with a home that, if not quite a machine for living, was built around the rhythms of modern family life, or at least that of a wealthy member of Glasgow society.1 It is not quite a gesamtkunstwerk: budgetary constraints meant that Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh were only able to decorate four rooms fully. But it stands as an example of what might be called total design, with the Mackintoshes’ imprint felt everywhere, from the window frames to the garden bench. Since 1982, it has been owned and operated by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). The Hill House is now in a parlous state. Decades of bombardment from the perennial Scottish downpours have colluded with some of Mackintosh’s own design decisions to wreak havoc. As of this June, the building has been enveloped in a vast steel shelter, courtesy of the Clerkenwell-based architecture studio Carmody 1
The Hill House turns an impassive facade to the estuary. From a distance it appears like a single flat plane, clothed almost entirely in pale grey. Though Mackintosh
You wouldn’t be able to call the Hill House brutal, but you could call it austere, pure, elemental. liberally borrowed from the Scottish baronial style first popularised in the 16th century – there is a turreted tower and pyramidical chimneys, characteristically irregularly sized windows, and a smooth cement harling that completely encloses the walls – it adapts this with simplicity of form that seems to flash forward towards the Vienna secession. You wouldn’t be able to call it brutal, but you could call it austere, pure, elemental. “I think if you look at his amalgamated style,” says Andy Groarke, co-founder and co-director at Carmody Groarke, “you can see figurative architecture beginning to be transfigured into the abstract.” With its plain features, the Hill House anticipated the elimination of ornament proposed by Adolf Loos in 1910, as well as the focus on structural embellishment of the German expressionists. The interiors represent the fullest expression of the Mackintoshes’ mature style in a residential structure and remain extraordinary.2 “You get the most incredible counterchanges of scale,” says Groarke, “techniques of asymmetry, of changes of level, of dramatic light and dark.” The entrance hall is ornately decorated with stencilled abstract designs beneath a wooden-beamed
Mackintosh made the unusual move of spending several days living with the Blackies to get these rhythms correct, and to work out exactly what size and shape of spaces would be needed; his plans were foiled somewhat by the arrival of a fifth Blackie child as the house was on the verge of completion.
Due to a paucity of documentation, the extent of Macdonald’s role in Mackintosh’s architecture has never been ascertained. In a letter to her in 1927, however, shortly before his death from cancer, he wrote that “you are half if not three-quarters in all my architectural work”.
Viewed from above, it becomes something of a giant dollâ€™s house, albeit one whose strange concatenation of volumes would frustrate any attempt at a cross-section.
Andy Groarke of Carmody Groarke, the architects who have designed the protective box in which the Hill House now sits.
roof, and illuminated by cube-shaped lanterns that cast a mauve glow. A custom-made clock stands on two dark wooden pinions, its golden pendulums dangling below. Everywhere there are flashes of Mackintosh’s characteristic chequered motif: on chair backrests, table legs and the internal doors, where the square apertures are filled in with softly coloured glass. By contrast to the penumbral warmth of the hall and its adjacent library, the sitting room and master bedroom are full of light. The motifs from the hall are flipped into a palette of magnolia and violet, reflecting Mackintosh’s belief that these were feminine spaces to be predominantly used by Blackie’s wife Anna. Mackintosh so discretely arranged the family’s rooms and servants’ quarters that Anna was reputed only to have crossed into the latter twice in her 50 years in the house. This could be read either as a gesture towards Louis Kahn’s clear division between served and servant spaces, or else a holdover from the class hierarchies of the just-ended century. For all its potential gestures towards modernity, the Hill House is a building of its time. “The white modernist masterpiece of complete abstraction is made from conventional materials,” says Groarke, “heavy, lumpy, dirty stuﬀ: sandstone and brick.” Mackintosh’s attempt to seal these innards in cement, to reconcile the old and the new, has gradually brought the house to the verge of ruin. According to Neil Oliver, president of the NTS, the Hill House is “dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water”. This is not quite true. Rather than attacking the building from without, the rain has permeated the cement harling, creating apertures through which the water can penetrate to the sandstone beneath. Harl has been a common shielding technique in Scottish architecture since the late Middle Ages, and traditionally saw the application of lime render to a wall before pressing stone slurry onto it. As lime is porous, the resulting mixture allows moisture to evaporate. Portland cement, which Mackintosh used instead, has very diﬀerent properties. “Cement render is very flexible,” explains Groarke. “In cold conditions it contracts, in warm conditions it expands. It cracks. It lets water in and doesn’t let water out.” Hill House has borne the brunt of these particularities. “The whole building,” Groarke continues, “has become an 115-year-old sandstone sponge.” Standing close to the building, the greying patches of rot become bracingly visible, especially on its southwestern, estuary-facing facade. There are smudges, fissures and dark rivulets where the rain has drippled
down. Mackintosh’s glistening white has become the colour of morning fog. The mouldering is evident inside, too: several rooms have peeling ceiling plaster as a result of the penetrating damp. The process began as soon as the house was built. Mackintosh was fastidious about which objects were allowed into his interiors. “Do you remember,” said Agnes, Blackie’s youngest daughter, “the fuss Mr Mackintosh made when my mother put yellow flowers in the hall?” By the time the Blackies sold the house in 1953, watercatching buckets had become a regular feature of the sitting room. To restore Hill House, the NTS will need to replace the harling, repair the sandstone and staunch the internal leaks, a process estimated to take at least 15 years. In anticipation of this, the charity ran a competition in 2017, seeking ways to protect the house during the conservation process while, crucially, allowing it to remain visible and visitable. “Some proposed a steel structure,” explains the NTS’s regional manager Richard Williams, who spearheaded the project, “and other people thought about more of a glass-and-box one.” In its winning entry, Carmody Groarke melded elements of the former with a singular innovation. Reasoning that scaﬀolding would occlude the house and dominate the gardens, and that the reflective qualities of glass would leave the building concealed, the architects hit instead on a novel concept: a light, stainless-steel mesh composed of linked loops, which moves almost like a textile. The Hill House Box, which opened in June after a six-month period of construction, comprises three components. One is a shed-like roof supported by crossbeams, all of galvanised steel, which grants the necessary protection from the rain above. “It’s a silvery, very unapologetically industrial presence,” Groarke says. Another is a series of walkways, in dark-painted metal, that zip around and over the house, providing visitors with elevated views of both the building and the surrounding landscape. Viewed from above, the structure’s formal peculiarities are clear. “No-one’s ever stood up and seen it from this angle,” says Williams. “There’s a whole series of slightly unusual features that you only really start to appreciate when you get up to this level.” Windows peek out of the roof at odd junctures and chimneystacks lean in bizarre directions. It becomes something of a giant doll’s house, albeit one whose strange concatenation of volumes would frustrate any attempt at a cross-section.
Lastly, the Hill House Box features an enormous sheet of mesh that somewhat resembles medieval chainmail. Hand-assembled by the German company Alphamesh – which, until a recent surge in design interest in its work, specialised in butcher’s gloves – it is the largest steel mesh ever produced, covering some 2,700sqm. According to one NTS representative, if the rings were laid out in a single strand, they could reach the moon eight times over. Although they don’t stave oﬀ every drop of rain, they will prevent the majority. When moisture hits the chainmail’s looped surface, it trickles down, while drops that get through the mesh lose their momentum. Not imprisoning the Hill House behind a solid wall also allows the building to eﬀectively remain outside and open to the environment. Close up, the mesh appears palpable; glimpsed from across the platforms, however, it dissipates in a diaphanous sheen, allowing largely uninterrupted views out to Helensburgh and the estuary.3 Viewed from the Blackie’s downhill lawn, it allows Hill House’s distinctive form to remain visible, while leaving the visitor in no doubt that the building is undergoing extensive repair. Groarke describes the box as a “field hospital”, but perhaps it would be more apposite to compare it to some surgical device, primed for an imminent operation. This conservation project recently acquired a new urgency. At around 11.15pm on 15 June last year, the Glasgow School of Art (1896-1909) caught fire. The building – Mackintosh’s most famous – was stripped to the bones, a spectacular tragedy greeted with stunned sorrow and horrified incredulity. “This time around I feel numb, like ice, legs like jelly,” said local resident and alumna of the school Jane Sutherland, interviewed in The Guardian. “The fire was immense. People were dodging fist-sized flaming embers.” The timing was ominous. The school had been four years deep into an elaborate restoration scheme, convened after a smaller conflagration ravaged its library in 2014. Just a week before, Glasgow had celebrated the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth with the triumphant restoration and reopening of the Willow Tearooms (1903), Mackintosh’s futurist miracle of a café. The bare walls of the school now sit awaiting their fate, incarcerated in an iron maiden of scaﬀolds. That it might never emerge again remains a possibility, although given Mackintosh’s present-day reputation it seems unlikely. 3
Whereas the school blazed out in an unpredictable calamity, the Hill House had carried the seeds of its destruction from the get-go. Mackintosh’s faith in the properties of an untested material led him to make a sequence of unfortunate decisions. Convinced that the harling would protect the house, he used low-quality sandstone and brick for the underlying structure, paying little attention to whether they were laid correctly. He declined to add stone margins around the windows or copes on the roof, both of which would have acted as shields at the cost of his design’s stringency. The opinion of one local plasterer was damning. “Mr Mackintosh,” he told Blackie, “did some things for the sake of architecture that were not good building practice.” Windyhill (1901), Mackintosh’s more modest surviving domestic property in nearby Kilmacolm, was built using the same techniques and has suﬀered from similar cracking, but as the house is in domestic ownership, it has been possible to forestall the worst of the issues through the application of modern heating techniques.4 This could be an option at the Hill House, but for purist conservationists it would represent an unacceptable change to Mackintosh’s scheme. Another possibility for improvement lies in the planned removal of the harling in order to repair the building below. “At some point,” says Groarke, “it’s going to be a naked pink sandstone object, with none of the meaning of its render.” More complex questions linger around what to do next. The NTS is a charity, funded by memberships and donations, but aiming to serve the wider Scottish community. “We have to have a conversation philosophically about what we should preserve at the Hill House,” says Williams. “Is it important that we put exactly the same render on the house? Is it important that we don’t alter any of the guttering or the roof structures if we know [they are] causing the problems? These may be important to the purist conservationist, but is that genuinely important to the people of Scotland?” These questions are particularly vital in that, with the Glasgow School of Art gone, the Hill House is the only publicly accessible surviving example of the Mackintoshes’ total design. The rest remain either piecemeal, such as The Lighthouse (1895) near Glasgow Central station, or reimagined, as with the nonetheless magnificent Willow Tearooms. Two others are caught in a curious dance between reality and replication. The House for an Art Lover in Glasgow’s South Side
On a clear day, I am told, you can see as far as Arran. On my visit, in more typically Scottish weather, there was no such luck.
It is, at the time of writing, listed for sale at £3m.
There is a tendency to think of conservation as an act of fixing structures to a particular past, but such an idea takes the story out of history, as if time only flows when one is present.
is a surreal venture: the posthumous realisation of a 1902 competition entry. Never intended to be erected in Scotland, it was built between 1989-1996 by a group of Mackintosh’s admirers; it is presently largely used as a wedding venue. Less surreal than absurdist is the destiny of the couple’s own home in the West End, fulsomely praised by the German architect Hermann Muthesius as so refined that “even a book with an unsuitable binding would disturb the atmosphere by lying on the table”. Demolished in the 1960s by the expanding University of Glasgow, its interiors were later reassembled, less than 100m away, at the university’s own Hunterian museum. None of which is to say that, in architecture or design, a simulacrum is necessarily inferior to an original. While works of art, despite recent tides in museological thought, are still conventionally seen to gain power from the singularity of their creators, architecture is an inherently collaborative endeavour, with the architect serving as just one of the links in a chain. At the Hill House it was Blackie, in his initial instructions to Mackintosh, who provided the blueprint for the most distinctive features. “I rather fancied grey roughcast for the walls and slate for the roof,” he wrote in his 1947 memoir, “and that any architectural eﬀect sought should be secured by the mass of the parts rather than by adventitious ornamentation.” If, as in the case of the House for an Art Lover, the link between Mackintosh and his constructers was delayed for almost a century, it does not necessarily make the project inauthentic or ersatz. The Hill House nevertheless has unique value as a repository of experience, where one can appreciate the imprint of not just the architect but the ways in which his house was used and lived in. There is a tendency to think of conservation as an act of arresting time, of fixing structures to a particular past, but such an idea takes the story out of history, as if time only flows when one is present. Williams takes a more sanguine view. “One of my former colleagues said to me once that conservation is essentially managing failure. Everything we look after will rot eventually. What we can do is slow that down to the absolute degree, so that people can enjoy, for as long as possible, the maximum of what was created and is significant.” The Hill House Box proposes this temporary stripping-down as an opportunity. “We can bring people into close visibility to the conservation processes, to almost make a spectacle of the conservation,” says
Groarke. “We can get people to discuss it, rather than being passive about it.” In a milieu that has come to favour novel experiences, Williams hopes that the box will also serve to raise the number of visitors, broadening the house’s appeal beyond the 28,500 or so architecturally engaged pilgrims who came in 2017. “There will always be some people who wish to worship at the shrine of Mackintosh,” he says, “and that’s great. But what I want is for more of the ladies and gentlemen of Glasgow and their families to come.” The Hill House will remain open to visitors while ensconced in the box. Between the harling and the mesh, Carmody Groarke has erected an elegant two-storey visitor centre adjacent to the house’s main entrance, which will serve as front desk, gift shop, café and entrance to the building. Built in similar dark wood to that within the house, its interior nods to Mackintosh without becoming pastiche. “We didn’t want to do Mockintosh,” jokes Williams. “It’s a 21st-first century visitor centre inside a 21st-century steel structure. But we wanted to borrow some stuﬀ.” The wooden beams resemble those of the house’s hallway and the lighting in the café draws on Mackintosh’s tearooms. It is a subtle, polite accompaniment to Mackintosh’s structure. For all the clarity of its appearance and construction, the Hill House Box possesses a sort of eccentricity. Temporary and subservient to the form it shelters, it is not quite a work of architecture. Groarke calls it “a pure piece of engineering”. It allows the house, as gracefully as possible, to be examined like a patient on the table, scrutinised for its failures as much as its successes. In so doing, it gives tangible expression to the aspects of heritage conservation more usually kept under wraps, pulling Mackintosh out of his dusty shrine and into the blinking light of day. And if it ruﬄes some conservation purists, all the better. E N D
Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale Words Johanna Agerman Ross
The Fair. The Festival. The Week. The Biennale. The Triennale. Platforms for the display and discussion of design have multiplied, but are we reaching any meaningful conclusions?
Julien Renault’s enamelled steel Seinä benches, designed for Jasper Morrison’s
Social Seating project at the Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale.
The Old Granary building in Fiskars, the site of the biennaleâ€™s
Beings With art exhibition, curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi.
It’s a beautiful spring day and the sun is beaming down on a group of international journalists and designers walking along the winding river in Fiskars, a picturesque Finnish village around 100km west of Helsinki. At the head of the group is the British designer Jasper Morrison. Wearing a straw hat and sunglasses, he could easily be mistaken for a tour guide leading the motley crew following behind. The river, of the same name as the village, is the main reason why the group is here, although this is not immediately obvious. Initially, guests were lured by
“The public bench belongs to no one and is available to all. It stands as a symbol of community and enhances the quality of everyday public life.”
Images courtesy of the Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale.
an invite to the opening of the inaugural Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale, but upon arrival it became clear that the river is the historical lifeline of the village. It was the river that gave rise to the industrial community established here in the early 1600s as an ironworks, processing iron and later copper from nearby mines. The industry was powered by the river, creating an industrial community of foundries crafting the raw material into products and giving rise to the Fiskars Corporation in 1649, the oldest privately-owned company in Finland. In the 1990s, when the last remnants of industrial manufacture moved from Fiskars to much farther afield, the town tried to make room for a budding creative community. Designers and artists were invited to use the 18th- and 19th-century industrial buildings and workers’ cottages as studios and places to live. On today’s tour, the river is a benign backdrop for one of the exhibits of the Biennale – Social Seating, curated by Morrison. Dotted along the river, positioned every 50m or so, are a number of benches. Each bench is unlike the next, the result of Morrison commissioning 18 diﬀerent designers to interpret his brief of creating a piece of communal furniture. “The public bench is rare in the spectrum of furniture types,”
writes Morrison of the commission. “It belongs to no one and is available to all; it stands as a symbol of community and enhances the quality of everyday public life.” Some of the benches were made locally by the wood workshop Nikari, such as Wataru Kumano’s portable fold-up version in Finnish pine. Others arrived ready-made, such as Maria Jeglinska’s electric blue take on a traditional cast-iron park bench. As well as providing well-considered seating for visitors to take in the local sights, the benches also mark the route between the two main exhibitions of the biennale: Beings With in the Threshing House and the Old Granary, curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi, and Factory in the Copper Smithy, curated by Anniina Koivu. The building names themselves serve as a vivid reminder of Fiskars’ past. Beings With is the art portion of the biennale and deals with the relationship between human and nature. It attempts to raise questions around our exploitation of natural resources and one another, and also examines how we live together. One of the works that perhaps best sums up the exhibition is Finnish artist Raimo Saarinen’s Skenaario. This series presents multiple “biotopes” – microenvironments of grass, plants, soil and rocks that have been sealed within air-tight jars and left to follow their natural course. Some environments thrive, while others look destitute and close to collapse. While Beings With loosely engages with the context of Fiskars and its symbiosis with and manipulation of nature, the design exhibition Factory deals more literally with the village’s industrial past. Through the work of more than 40 contemporary designers it asks questions around manufacturing, and its value in contemporary society – a question particularly poignant in Fiskars today. Factory was produced in collaboration with ONOMA, a local cooperative of artisans, designers and artists, set up in 1996 after the Fiskars Corporation moved out. Some of the work on display is by members of the 119-strong cooperative, such as the incredibly lightweight (2kg) Model chair by cabinetmaker Heikki Aska. Other works are by international designers, such as Hella Jongerius’s B-Set of tableware, in which each piece is unique
thanks to subversions of the industrial process, or Wieki Somers’s modular chimney stacks, where diﬀerent design outcomes are made possible based on how the chimney bricks are positioned. None of the projects are specially commissioned for the biennale, with Koivu having instead drawn on what already exists to inform her thesis. “Despite the ubiquity of factory-made products in our lives, the factory itself is unfamiliar to many. We often know little of what the factory space actually looks like,” says Koivu. “The village’s unique potential lies in the next step: could the village become a new kind of factory? How could a network of diﬀerent expert workshops function together as a kind of diﬀused factory?” While the foundries are now closed, Fiskars is still a manufacturing community of around 600 people. Instead of industrialscale manufacture, however, objects are
“We often know little of what the factory space actually looks like. The village’s unique potential lies in the next step: could the village become a new kind of factory?” —Anniina Koivu
produced on a small scale by a few skilled makers. The furniture brand Nikari is probably the largest of these, providing work and apprenticeship opportunities in its workshop, which is still powered by the river. However, the skills in Fiskars are highly streamlined and what Koivu is championing demands a diversification of skill. “For example, there is a lack of upholsterers, plywood steamers, and CNC specialists, as well as leatherworkers or metalsmiths,” she says. Factory becomes a conversation piece in order for Fiskars to look in on itself. But why does Fiskars have a biennale? In an era in which design fairs, festivals and biennales are expanding year on year, is another event really needed and what does it bring to the discourse? There are now nearly 250 art, design and architecture biennales operating globally according to the not-for-profit Biennial Foundation. This represents a five-fold increase over the last 10 years. Art biennales
are the most established format, while design and architecture biennales have only recently seen a corresponding upswing in numbers. Saint Etienne, Lisbon, Istanbul, Oslo and London now have their own versions of these events, all established in the last 20 years. “Design biennales oﬀer a chance to consider less commercial aspects of the subject,” writes Morrison in the introductory text to Social Seating, putting forward a valid argument for this biennale’s existence. “You might consider them to be an antidote to the endless design fairs and design weeks which have proliferated in recent years.” But while the biennale can be regarded as a space for critical reflection and much-needed discussion, the upswing in design biennales comes at a time when the more established concept and structure of the art biennale is coming under increasing critique and scrutiny. Earlier this year, Artnet published an analysis of the financial model behind many biennales. It found that artists are often not paid fair rates for exhibiting, while all-important costs such as shipping and insurance are left as the concern of the artists or their gallery. “What happens behind the scenes –
“Design biennales oﬀer a chance to consider less commercial aspects of the subject. You might consider them to be an antidote to the endless design fairs and design weeks.” —Jasper Morrison and who pays for it – could very well inform what we end up seeing at these prestigious events, which often help set the agenda for the art world, wrote Kate Brown and Javier Pes. “Some fear that those who can aﬀord to pay – top galleries and private collectors – have the potential to further shift biennials in a commercial direction. At the same time, those who many believe should pay – local governments, arts councils – are contending with smaller and smaller budgets and bigger and bigger ambitions.” Last autumn Apollo magazine asked “Is it time to call an end to biennials?”, with critic Ben Cranfield quoting many
recent issues surrounding art biennales such as questionable sponsorship, the environmental impact of global travel and the “inevitable contradictions facing the curator who attempts to act against the status quo while relying on the resources and structures of the system they are seeking to critique.” So while the curatorial thinking around a biennale might be devoid of commercial concerns, as Morrison argues, it is clear that the framework of the biennale is often not. Take Venice – arguably the proto-biennale as we know it today. When first established in 1895 in the Giardini as the International Art Exhibition, the biennale was intended to reposition Venice in the contemporary cultural landscape following the end of the vogue for the Grand Tour and the weakening influence of the Venetian school of painting. The biennale aimed to make Venice a destination again and to redevelop an area of the city that had long been neglected. Just like the World Fairs, established with the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, the Venice Biennale used national pavilions as its framework for display, with each permanent pavilion built and funded by the exhibiting country. As such, the Venice Biennale was not so much an exercise in critical thinking as it was opportunistic. While many architecture and design biennales now stay clear of the loaded concept of national pavilions (the London Design Biennale excluded) one nevertheless has to consider the strategic element of any new biennale – they are clear income generators for the locations in which they take place. Herein lies a conundrum for Fiskars. The village’s infrastructure could not deal with a heavy influx of visitors of the scale of, say, the Venice Biennale. The town’s two hotels and handful of restaurants would be seriously challenged in such an event, as would the experience of the village itself. But rather than considering this an impediment, it is an opportunity for Fiskars Village and the biennale organisers Luovi Productions to consider the possibility of a better biennale experience. An experience that isn’t focused on the glamorous opening days, but which instead looks to attract visitors over the course of the whole event; a biennale that engages with local concerns and amplifies them to a global
discussion; a biennale that considers the sustainability and environmental impact of hosting such an event. In his Apollo article, Cranfield writes: “Perhaps it is time to think about what each biennial, triennial, quinquennial
One has to consider the strategic element of any new biennale – they are clear income generators for the locations in which they take place. does in relation to the local systems of which each is inevitably a part and what the particular aﬀordances are of diﬀerent formats for diﬀerent moments and places.” This is where the Fiskars Art and Design Biennale has the opportunity to thrive. The inaugural event is already considering the unique position of Fiskars Village as a creative community for art and design. It gently asks, What’s next? The Fiskars Village Art and Design Biennale runs from 19 May to 15 September 2019.
Don’t Cross the Streams “The TV show will fire back. It will fire back. Score, or be hit. Do you understand?” Words Oli Stratford Photographs Ugo la Pietra Essay
The photographs accompanying this essay are taken from Ugo la Pietraâ€™s series La casa telematica (1983). The photographs were recently exhibited as part of Home Futures at Londonâ€™s Design Museum.
Not many readers are likely to be familiar with Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Prior to reading sociologist T.L. Taylor’s 2018 book Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, I certainly wasn’t. Having grown up in Yorkshire in the 1990s, my opportunities to travel back in time to watch a 1987 children’s TV show broadcast only in Canada and the US were limited. Captain Power is worth discovering, however. While the show’s plot trod familiar sci-fi archetypes (“Earth, 2147. The legacy of the Metal Wars, where man fought machines – and machines won”), its format was unusual. “[M]erging content and equipment, [Captain Power] oﬀered a special toy for engagement,” writes Taylor. “Children who had purchased the ‘Powerjet XT-7 Phoenix’ [light gun] were able to ‘fire’ at the TV and carry out live battles.” Captain Power wove the typical merchandising that surrounds children’s television into the act of viewing itself – you bought the toys and the toys fed the content. It won’t surprise you to learn that Captain Power was produced by Mattel. The Powerjet was designed to look like a spaceship and equipped with sensors which detected glowing markers that appeared on screen during battles in the show. Children shot at these markers and, in turn, the villains “fired back”. Get hit by enough of these blasts1 and the Powerjet’s auto-eject was triggered, launching a tragic figurine of Captain Power from its cockpit. “Are you going to help Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future™?” blared a poster campaign for the toy. “Or are you just going to stand there?” Captain Power was cancelled by its paymaster Mattel after a single season, in part because of the unrelenting crapness of the Powerjet XT-7 Phoenix.2 Nevertheless, after reading Taylor’s assessment of the programme, I became fixated on the idea behind its interactivity. A television show where input from the viewer shapes what you see on screen, I thought, settling down to a night of Netflix and chill.3 I wonder if anyone’s done anything with that since? In March 2019, Netflix UK began doing strange things 1
Bizarrely, the question of whether you had been hit was measured by your success in returning fire. “Score, or be hit. Do you understand?” “It was tough for players to shake the feeling that they had no real bearing on the outcome of the fight,” notes writer Drew Toal of the product’s failure. “Because they didn’t.” I use this term in its original form, with no sexual connotations – by which I mean drinking cans of Kronenbourg 1664 and trying to guess who will win the new series of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
with its pricing. While a standard subscription to the streaming platform was supposed to cost £7.99 per month, new visitors to the site started receiving a range of quotes that seemed entirely dependent upon the web browser they were using. A handful of Chrome users were quoted £8.99, while those on Internet Explorer were told the service would cost £9.99.4 Meanwhile, Netflix’s £9.99 premium subscription showed up as anywhere between £10.99 and £12.99. The really weird thing, however, was that
“Are you going to help Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. Or are you just going to stand there?” —Mattel whenever anyone actually did subscribe to Netflix, those rates dropped back to the standard fee at checkout. “We are testing slightly diﬀerent prices to better understand how members value Netflix,” a spokesperson for the company eventually explained. “Not everyone will see this test and we may never roll out these specific prices beyond this test.” Two months later, Netflix announced sweeping price hikes in the UK. It wasn’t a surprise. The company had already introduced the biggest price increase in its 21-year history in January 2019, with subscription costs climbing between 13 to 18 per cent across the US, Caribbean and Latin America. The UK increase ultimately fell within a similar range – standard subscriptions rose to £8.99 per month, while the premium plan went up to £11.99. “We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience,” explained a company spokesperson of the US increase. While Netflix was going to cost more, a UK spokesperson reassured customers, it would remain “great value for money compared to other options on oﬀer”. Except, that’s probably not true. In 2017, one of Netflix’s major content partners, Disney, revealed that it was pulling its programming from 4
Presumably an additional £1 fine for using the worst internet browser.
them that the Apple TV+ product should be one of them.” Apple has not announced costs for its platform as of yet, although rumours suggest it will be priced at the same $9.99 a month as the company’s existing Apple Music service.6 If this proves true, Apple TV+ will be $3 per month cheaper than the equivalent Netflix package. Between new rivals Apple and Disney (as well as existing streaming services such as Hulu, Showtime, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Amazon Prime Video and HBO Go), Netflix suddenly finds itself in heated competition for dominance of an industry that is expected to be worth $124.57bn by 2025. “Very few entities in this world can aﬀord to spend $200 million on a movie,” said Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, in Anita Elberse’s 2013 book Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, and the Big Business of Entertainment. “That is our competitive advantage.” Erm, has he seen how much money Apple has?
Netflix by 2019. Disney’s films and television shows had been featured prominently on the platform since the two companies struck a deal in 2012, a development that Netflix’s chief content oﬃcer Ted Sarandos labelled “a game changer”. Disney, however, had now decided to go it alone, with CEO Bob Iger announcing plans to build “a direct-to-consumer Disney service”. This platform, Disney+, was revealed in April 2019 and is scheduled to launch in the US on 12 November
“Very few entities in this world can aﬀord to spend $200 million on a movie. That is our competitive advantage.” —Alan Horn, Walt Disney Studios 2019. Disney+ will cost $6.99 a month, and become the online home for all of the studio’s films and television shows. Stocked with current productions from franchises and studios such as Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, the platform will supplement its existing content with freshly commissioned television series, as well as an ongoing eﬀort to digitise the entire Disney back-catalogue.5 “We are all-in,” announced Iger at the service’s launch, in which he emphasised the company’s “treasure trove of long-lasting, valuable content”, which “no other content or technology company can rival”. Not that that will stop them trying. Around the same time as the Disney+ announcement, Apple revealed its own plans to enter the subscription streaming market with Apple TV+, a service which will feature original content from Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams and Oprah Winfrey among others. While Apple argued that “this is not just another streaming service”, it absolutely is – and a sizeable one at that, with an estimated $2bn budget for creating original programming. “The TV+ product plays in a market where there’s a huge move from the cable bundle to over-the-top [streaming media oﬀered as a standalone product],” said Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. “We think that most users are going to get multiple over-the-top products and we’re going to do our best to convince
Whenever I click on Netflix, I head to the “Top Picks for Oliver” section,7 an area of the website in which the platform curates programming based on your past viewing habits. It’s always interesting to see what the service makes of you. When I logged on today, my eye was drawn to a new Top Pick – a small image of a disapproving woman in a large formal hat, emblazoned with the logo Sherlock Gnomes. Intrigued, I hovered over the image, which expanded into animated footage of garden gnomes investigating a crime scene. I couldn’t help but look closer. “After their friends disappear from gardens all over London, Gnomeo and Juliet team up with super sleuth Sherlock Gnomes to help find them.” I liked this synopsis, which stretched across the screen the moment I clicked aﬀectionately on the gnomes. An additional pop-up box further reassured me, providing information about the film’s cast, genre, and core description (“This film is: Exciting”). So, I started clicking through Sherlock Gnomes’s 1h26m running time. There were several sections I skipped; a handful I went back to for a second look;8 and some in which I hit pause so I could google 6
And given Disney’s March 2019 acquisition of 21st Century Fox for $71bn – a move that gives Disney an estimated 40 per cent share of all domestic box oﬃce – this back-catalogue is suddenly a lot larger than it was six months ago.
A link the company seems to pushing since announcing in June 2019 that it plans to disband iTunes and replace it with a triumvirate of platforms – Music, Podcasts and TV. Unless you‘re also called Oliver (Hello friend!), yours won’t be called this.
additional information about the movie (“Sherlock Gnomes is sadly, utterly stumped by the mystery of the reason for its own existence,” Rotten Tomatoes).
“Not everyone assigns the same values to the same movies, but in a large bundle the diﬀerences in the individual values average out.” —Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang
When I’d had enough, I closed the window, safe in the knowledge that I could return later if need be. I’ll always have “Resume”. Sherlock Gnomes was added to Netflix UK in February 2019, with the film’s streaming rights having been purchased from Paramount Pictures as part of Netflix’s estimated $15bn annual spend on developing and acquiring new content. This budget is allocated either towards the creation of original productions, or else funnelled towards external studios to acquire streaming rights to their pre-existing content – all of which is paid for by Netflix’s subscription fees and external investment. It’s a business model termed “bundling”, which is impractical for most physical goods given manufacturing costs, but which thrives when applied to digital products. “Digitisation makes it easier and more profitable for producers to sell entertainment goods in large bundles than what would be possible with physical goods, and bundling information in this way creates significant economies of scale,” write Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang in their book Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment. “The more products the seller has in a bundle (say, the 10,000 or so shows on Netflix), the better the seller can predict the average value of the bundle across consumers. Not everyone assigns the same values to the same movies, but in a large bundle the diﬀerences in the individual values average out.” For the record, it will take a hell of a lot of excellent content to balance out Sherlock Gnomes. Bundling seems to be working for Netflix – at least up to a point. While the company is reported to be anywhere between $8bn and $20bn in debt, 8
Sherlock Gnomes was chased by a pug in a park while disguised as a squirrel.
depending on which news source you listen to, it’s still the clear industry leader in terms of both exposure to the general public and ongoing annual investment. Netflix has more than 65 million subscribers worldwide (as well as additional viewers accessing the platform through friends, family and illegal proxies), and accounts for around one-third of North American internet traﬃc. These numbers are high, albeit commensurate with broader changes in the way society consumes content. A 2013 Harris Interactive study found that “nearly 80 percent of US adults with internet access watch TV through subscription on-demand services” like Netflix, and this percentage has continued to grow. Meanwhile, the average age of traditional television audiences is rising as younger viewers abandon the medium to source content from elsewhere.9 “One in four millennials is a ‘cord cutter’ [those who have cancelled subscriptions to cable television],” note Smith and Telang. “One in eight is a “cord never’ [those who have never paid for cable television].” As to where younger viewers are going instead, Smith and Telang are unequivocal: “Online.” Except, maybe we shouldn’t be calling them “viewers” any more. In his 2002 essay ‘Watching the Internet’, theorist and artist Dan Harries coined the portmanteau “viewser” to describe a new category of consumer who experiences content as a “hybrid mode of both viewing and using”. While Harries wasn’t specifically discussing subscription streaming, “viewsing” is as good a term as any to capture what happens on platforms such as Netflix. Within a streaming service, the subscriber is encouraged to think of themselves as active. “Watch TV on your schedule,” promises one of Netflix’s marketing campaigns; “Spend quality time together,” reads another, “with no interruptions.” Exploiting entrenched ideas of traditional viewers as passive receptacles for content,10 Netflix bills itself as returning agency to the audience. A subscriber is not simply a viewer, but also a user – able to click through the site to select the programme they want to watch, and then further interact with the platform as they determine the manner in which they want to watch it. There is no set schedule; no commercials; and, ever since 9
TV viewing among 18-24-year-olds in the US fell by 32 per cent between 2010 and 2015, but by only 1 per cent among 50-64-year-olds. 10 It’s not for nothing that television has picked up nicknames such as “idiot box” and “boob tube”.
the platform launched its post-play system in 2012 (in which credits are cut short to automatically commence the next episode of a series), no delays in programming. As the advert proudly boasts, “no interruptions”. Unless you fancy one. Bathroom break, anyone? At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings took to the stage in front of a packed auditorium. It was a triumphant moment for someone who had spent years being dismissed as a parvenu by traditional television networks and film studios. “It’s a little bit like, is the Albanian army going to take over the world?” quipped Time Warner’s CEO Jeﬀ Bewkes when asked about the threat posed by Netflix to existing media networks in 2010. “I don’t think so.” Speaking to The New Yorker writer Ken Auletta in 2014, Hastings revealed that he had been aware of Bewkes’s remarks. “For the next year, I wore Albanian Army dog tags around my neck,” he said. “It was my rosary beads of motivation.” On stage at CES, Hastings began pacing back and forth. “Entertainment and technology are continuing to transform each other, as they have been doing for over 100 years,” he told his audience. Behind him, a video screen started glowing with renders of national flags from across the world. “Today, right now, you are witnessing the birth of a global TV network,” Hastings proclaimed, announcing that Netflix had simultaneously launched in 130 new countries, taking its global total up to 190.11 In an act of considerable restraint, Hastings did not display the Albanian flag. “Whether you are in Sydney or St Petersburg, Singapore or Seoul, Santiago or Saskatoon, you now can be part of the internet TV revolution,” he said. “No more waiting. No more watching on a schedule that’s not your own. No more frustration. Just Netflix.” At least in its public pronouncements, Netflix paints itself as a company that is consciously redesigning television. In particular, it wants to take an axe to television “flow”, an idea developed by the cultural critic Raymond Williams in his 1974 book Television: Technology and Cultural Form. “In all developed broadcasting systems the characteristic organisation, and therefore the characteristic
experience, is one of sequence or flow,” wrote Williams. “It is evident that what is now called ‘an evening’s viewing’ is in some ways planned by providers and then by viewers as a whole; that it is in any event planned in discernible sequences which in this sense override particular program units.” Unpacked a little, Williams’s point is that traditional television is not consumed as discrete
“No more waiting. No more watching on a schedule that’s not your own. No more frustration. Just Netflix.” —Reed Hastings, Netflix programming, but rather as a succession of diﬀerent segments – including advertisements and news breaks – with this stream in its entirety amounting to the actual object of viewing. “Watching television,” observes Djoymi Baker in her essay ‘Terms of Excess: Binge-Viewing as Epic-Viewing in the Netflix Era’, “actually meant watching television flow, not watching a particular program.” The prevailing design principle behind Netflix and its ilk is to break this idea of flow, or else replace it with a new form of sequencing through the application of digital-media techniques. In some senses, this change is modest: the removal of adverts and a break to the hegemony of television scheduling does not represent a sea change to the nature of video in the way in which the user-generated content of YouTube does. Netflix’s programming remains traditional narrative-driven television and film, all of which is studio-produced or backed. “We are not a generic ‘video’ company that streams all types of video such as news, user-generated, sports, porn, music video, gaming, and reality,” reads the company’s ‘Long-Term View’ document. “We are a movie and TV series entertainment network.” This sense of focus, and the element of televisual tradition embedded in it, clouds the relationship between streaming and network broadcasting. “Other than being delivered via IP, Netflix had almost nothing to do with the conventions of digital media – in a sense it rejected them,” argues essayist Michael Wolﬀ in his 2017 book Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age. “It is not user generated, it is not
11 The service has not launched in Crimea, North Korea or Syria as a result of US government restrictions. It is also not available in China – “Where we[…] hope to be in the future,” added Hastings to a belly laugh from his audience.
social, it is not bite size, it is not free. It is in every way, except for its route into people’s homes[…] the same as television.” Audiences, however, don’t agree. “The distinction of the Netflix user experience is such that some younger viewers perceive the service as other than television, even if they watch Netflix on a television,” notes Emil Steiner in his essay ‘Binge-Watching in Practice: The Rituals, Motives, and Feelings of Streaming Video Viewers’. “Viewers’ ability to watch on multiple devices [and] their technological control of content[…] were identified as essential to the experience.” It’s a sensation of control that Netflix’s interface has been specifically designed to engender. “Until 2015, the Netflix desktop interface had a light-
intrepid viewser. Each reel is labelled with an oddly specific category (“Irreverent US TV Programmes”; “Binge-worthy Criminal Investigation TV Programmes”; “Way Out There”; “Raunchy TV Programmes”), which seem to have been designed to suggest an intimate knowledge of the viewser and their tastes that runs far beyond the capability of any traditional retail platform. It is, Sarah Arnold writes in her essay ‘Netflix and the Myth of Choice/Participation/Autonomy’, a “userfriendly interface that maintains the perception of choice but also directs the viewer toward content more likely to keep them engaged and subscribed”. Lobato, meanwhile, sees the design as an eﬀort to move “Netflix away from video-store and DVD culture – surely a fading memory for most of its users”, as well as to minimise its connections to television. “Interestingly, the iconography of television is nowhere to be found in Netflix’s interface design, despite the abundance of TV series available through Netflix,” he says. “There are no remote controls, advertisements, or schedules. Even though the idea of television is central to Netflix’s commercial ambitions[…] the television experience does not seem to be central to how Netflix wishes its users to imagine streaming.” This same conceptual distance aﬀects showrunners operating within the platform. In 2011, Netflix announced that it had secured a deal to license and distribute new episodes of Arrested Development, a cult sitcom that ran on Fox between 2003 and 2006. While the Fox iteration of the show followed a relatively traditional sitcom structure and focused on protagonist Michael Bluth’s eﬀorts to reunite his dysfunctional family, the Netflix relaunch shattered this unified narrative perspective. Rather than proceed in a linear fashion, each instalment of the 15-part Netflix series covered the same period of time and the same events, with the episodes creating diﬀerentiation by taking up the perspective of individual members of the cast. Grouped together, the 15 segments run contiguously but narrate circularly, gradually filling in gaps in the wider story. “Not only will the episodes be available at the same time on Netflix, but they also cover the same period of time in the characters’ lives,” show creator Mitch Hurwitz told pop culture website Vulture. “I pretty quickly realised everything here is about the order of telling the stories, that there will be shows where you find out a little bit of information and then later shows where you revisit the scene and you find out more information.”
“It is not user generated, it is not social, it is not bite size, it is not free. It is in every way, except for its route into people’s homes, the same as television.” —Michael Wolﬀ grey background,” observes Ramon Lobato in his 2019 book Netflix Nations: The Geography of Digital Distribution. “Video artwork was formatted in vertical, DVD-style boxes, so that the overall eﬀect was reminiscent of a video store.” Under the platform’s current design, however, the screen has been darkened, with imagery of its content now running horizontally – as if “suggesting frames on a celluloid filmstrip,” writes Lobato, who also detects a visual reference to the dark of movie theatres in the platform’s new black background. Certainly, Netflix’s decision to stud its image grid with autoplay trailers of headline films and series (inevitably those produced by Netflix itself) captures something of the theatre of cinema. “There’s a droid here,” hisses a tearful Hilary Swank, her A-list face beamed across my screen to promote the launch of Netflix’s new sci-fi film I Am Mother. Right on cue, an expensively CGId robot fills the screen, standing in the doorway with a kind of insouciant, Who? Me? Beneath these trailers, the platform’s celluloid reels invite you to cycle through content quickly and easily, with the site’s superabundance of free-flowing imagery suggesting a surfeit of programming for the 124
According to Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original content, this structural device was specifically developed for streaming and would have been diﬃcult within the constraints of traditional viewing. “Part of the conversation early on is thinking about it as a 13-hour movie,” explained Holland in Clare Joyce’s 2013 essay ‘The cord-cutters’. Whereas traditional sitcoms are structured around weekly television schedules, rigid runtimes, and regular advertising breaks, Netflix is free from such considerations. Instead, the platform bills itself as being “about the freedom of on-demand and the fun of binge viewing”, consciously targeting the 70 per cent of US viewers who regularly watch multiple episodes in a sitting. To enable this, Netflix has adopted a number of design tricks. It began launching television seasons in their entirety as opposed to sequentially – a now-common digital strategy that originated with Netflix’s House of Cards in 2013 – as well as encouraging writers and show runners to work with the platform and its constraints in mind. “We don’t need recaps,” summarised Holland. “We don’t need cliffhangers at the end. You can write diﬀerently knowing that in all likelihood the next episode is going to be viewed right away.” “I would say that in its purest form, a new medium requires a new format,” said Hurwitz of his decision to take Arrested Development to the platform. “You can’t do in a short story what you could do for a novel, in a novel. You can’t do in haiku what you would do in a long-form poem. In a perfect world, we would be making something that could be only on Netflix, just as in years prior, you could make something that could only be on HBO.”
of the platform itself? It would be great to put Netflix in a design context and very helpful to have someone who could discuss this authoritatively. A return email came a week later. “I’m sorry, but it’s not something I have anyone available for right now. Thanks”.13 Just to be clear, Netflix saying it doesn’t have anyone available to discuss the design of its platform is like McDonalds saying it doesn’t have anybody
“A new medium requires a new format. You can’t do in a short story what you could in a novel. In a perfect world, we would be making something that could be only on Netflix.” —Mitch Hurwitz
As research for this essay, I reached out to Netflix to ask whether anybody from the company might be able to speak to me about the platform and its design. “Hi Oli, Many thanks for getting in touch,” came a reply from the platform’s communications director. “I’m afraid that I don’t have anyone to put forward but this week’s interview with Ted Sarandos on the Media Show may be of interest as it covers some of these points. Thanks”.12 I listened to this interview and it was useless, so I tried again. Is there anybody on the team who might be able to speak to me about the design
available to discuss beef burgers or Shell not having anybody available to discuss oil – it’s not so much a lack of information, as a conscious decision to not share that information. I considered what might lie behind this reticence and came to a firm conclusion: Netflix has realised its staﬀ sound terrifying whenever they discuss how the platform actually operates. Consider this quote from Netflix’s engineering director Xavier Amatriain, given to Wired magazine in 2013: “We know what you played, searched for or rated, as well as the time, data, and device. We even track user interactions such as browsing or scrolling behaviour.” Presumably keen to distil Amatriain’s message into even more sinister form, Sarandos has helpfully paraphrased this idea: “We have the viewing data of everything.” Every action you take on Netflix is logged by the platform. The entire website has been designed as a data trap, such that any move you make triggers it. “Netflix doesn’t know merely what we’re watching, but when, where and with what kind of device we’re watching,” writes Andrew Leonard in his 2013 essay ‘How Netflix is Turning Viewers into Puppets’. “It keeps a record of every time we pause the action – or rewind, or fast-forward – and how many of us abandon a show entirely after watching for a few minutes.” Netflix
12 This interview can be listened to at bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/ m00051kw.
13 To give Netflix its due, Disney and YouTube didn’t respond to the same request, while an initially promising correspondence with Apple soon went dead.
knows that I watched Sherlock Gnomes for absolutely ages during working hours, for instance, and I fully expect an anonymous tip-oﬀ to Disegno’s publisher any day now. To quote Smith and Telang, “No movie or TV studio [has] ever been able to tap into so much detailed information about its individual consumers.”
has seen it emerge as “the definitive media company of the twenty-first century, perhaps best exemplifying the synergy and tension between Silicon Valley and Hollywood”. In his 1983 Hollywood exposé Adventures in the Screen Trade, the screenwriter William Goldman gave short shrift to Hollywood’s commissioning process. “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work,” he wrote. “Every time it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” His conclusion was clear: “Nobody knows anything.” Goldman’s observation still rings true today. Television networks test programme ideas by commissioning pilots: one-oﬀ episodes that introduce a season and provide an opportunity for executives to gather audience feedback. It’s a costly enterprise. Producing a pilot for a drama series can run to anywhere between $5m and $6m, with some industry estimates suggesting that $800m is spent annually on failed pilots alone – those which never lead to a series. To decide whether a pilot is worth making, networks rely on audience sampling provided by focus groups, as well as ratings data and aggregate statistics purchased from third-party consumer research companies.14 “In practical terms, this [meant that] the creative industries relied on ‘gut feel’,” explain Smith and Telang. “They could put together focus groups[…] but these were exceedingly rough measures based on tiny samples that were of questionable value when applied to the broader population. For the most part, the companies therefore had to rely on[…] people hired, optimistically, for their superior ‘instincts’.” As a result of this, traditional media outlets have limited direct interactions with their audiences. “We don’t have [a] direct interface with the American public,” admitted Sony’s CEO Michael Lynton in an interview given in 2014. “We need to go through an intermediary to do that.” It’s a system to which old-guard executives still cling. “Data can only tell you what people have liked before, not what they don’t know they are going to like in the future,” argued John Landgraf, the president of FX Networks, in a New York Times interview from 2013. “A good high-end programmer’s job is to find the white spaces in our collective psyche that aren’t filled by an
“No movie or TV studio has ever been able to tap into so much detailed information about its individual consumers.” —Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang
Netflix lives up to its promise of letting you watch what you want, how you want – in return, it just wants to know what that is, and how you do it. Unlike Google and Facebook, the data Netflix generates isn’t monetised through advertising. Rather, it is fed back into the platform in two chief directions: user orientation and content creation. In his 2016 CES talk, Hastings specified that the platform’s ultimate aim is to “show you exactly the right film or TV show for your mood when you turn on Netflix.” Enabling this vision of beatific technological succour requires those two data directions to work in tandem. If Netflix can’t direct you towards the perfect programme within its back-catalogue, then it wants to create a new show that can scratch that itch. The platform is a digital colonoscopy, busy probing your deepest data to see what it can winkle out. In 2013, Amazon’s vice president for digital music and video Bill Carr spoke to The Wall Street Journal about how exactly data shapes streaming. “We let the data drive what to put in front of customers,” he explained. “We don’t have tastemakers deciding what our customers should read, listen to, and watch.” It is this datafication of television and cinema that authors Kevin McDonald and Daniel Smith-Rowsey tackle in their book The Netflix Eﬀect. “If there is a singular Netflix eﬀect,” they write, “it may simply be that technology and entertainment are merging at an accelerating rate and seriously impacting the business and economics of mass media.” Smith-Rowsey takes the point further in his essay ‘Imaginative Indices and Deceptive Domains’, arguing that it is Netflix’s willingness to yolk digital data to creative content that
14 Cinema works similarly, except no pilots.
existing television show.” It’s a charming idea – human specialists holding out against faceless algorithms – but hopelessly outmoded. 15 In 2011, Mordecai Wiczyk and Asif Satchu of Media Right Capital began pitching their new show House of Cards around television networks. The pair had based their programme on the original BBC drama of the same name, and already had commitments from Kevin Spacey to star and David Fincher to direct. The show was shopped around HBO, Showtime and AMC, where it met with a lukewarm response – networks were wary of investing in a pilot for a political drama, a genre traditionally seen as not playing well with viewers. The response from Netflix – which Wiczyk and Satchu had met with to discuss streaming rights following an initial television run – was diﬀerent. Sarandos oﬀered $100m up front for a two-season run of 26 episodes. No pilot was necessary. The show would go on to air for seven series, picking up seven Emmys and two Golden Globes, and is widely attributed with heralding a boom era for streaming. Immediately prior to the show’s launch in 2013, Netflix reported quarterly sales of less than $1bn. For the first quarter of 2019, that figure stood at $4.52bn. “In many ways[…] the ‘risk’ of spending $100 million to create House of Cards was not a risk at all,” note Smith and Telang. The company’s oﬀer was based entirely upon analysis of the viewing data it had gleaned from its platform. Sarandos had statistics to show that there was an audience that liked the original BBC show; an audience that liked the films of David Fincher; and an audience that responded positively to Kevin Spacey.16 “Netflix argued that it didn’t have to go through the standard pilot process, because it already knew from its data that there was an audience for House of Cards – and that it had a way of targeting potential members of that audience as individuals,” explain Smith and Telang. The platform developed multiple trailers, each of which highlighted a diﬀerent aspect of the show and could be targeted towards the viewing habits of specific subscribers: those who 15 Although worth mentioning here is the growing popularity of Mubi, a boutique streaming service which operates like a repertory cinema. Mubi’s catalogue is limited to a daily rotation of 30 movies, all of which are chosen by its “curators”. Rather than the mass bundling of Netflix, Mubi styles itself as a considered platform whose products are selected by people, rather than algorithms. Its film descriptions make liberal use of the firstperson plural. 16 How times change.
liked Spacey got the Spacey trailer; those who liked “movies with strong female leads” got a version that went heavy on actors Robin Wright and Kate Mara; those who liked Fincher got footage showcasing the programme’s cinematic qualities. “As such, there was no gamble; the algorithms demonstrated that an audience existed for this program,” claim Smith and Telang. This has been the Netflix model ever since. “We don’t use data to influence creative at all,” Sarandos told the National Association of Television Program Executives in 2015. “Our data is mostly used to say ‘Wow, there’s a real there there for this show. All the elements are there for this to be a great big show, and therefore you invest heavily.” Early on in Netflix’s exploration of streaming, the company’s founder Hastings suggested that subscribers might respond well to a “digital shopping assistant” – an in-platform helper who would have “a personality and a photo and could point customers to movies they would like in Netflix’s library”. Readers who have used Netflix at any point in the past 12 years will notice that this helpful assistant is nowhere to be found. Instead, as media scholar Neta Alexander observes in ‘Catered to Your Future Self: Netflix’s “Predictive Personalization” and the Mathematics of Taste’, Netflix discovered that “a nameless algorithmic system turned out to be a much more lucrative solution.” So much for personality. Details of the current Netflix algorithm are kept vague, but it largely builds upon the company’s original recommendation algorithm, CineMatch. The basics of the system, at least, are clear. The content that a subscriber is presented with is determined by two chief factors:17 direct customer input gleaned from Netflix’s recommendation software, such as the taste preferences and show ratings that subscribers are invited to input; and user behaviour data drawn from observation of what people actually click on and watch. Within this system, not all data is equal. “The company distinguishes between user behaviour and user expression (of taste, interests and identity),” explains Arnold in ‘Netflix and the Myth of Choice/ Participation/Autonomy’. “It sees user expressions (via taste preferences and ratings) as poor data, as it doesn’t correlate as neatly with actual interactions 17 Although Alexander notes that “Netflix reserves the right to tweak its algorithm to promote the service’s original content without informing its customers.”
and behaviour. The context oﬀered by the user, namely the knowledge they produce about their personhood through wish lists and personalisation, is secondary to the knowledge produced by algorithms.” This isn’t something that the company shies away from talking about either. “[Most] of our personalisation right now is based on what [users] actually watch, and not what they say they like,” said Todd Yellin, the company’s vice-president of product innovation in a 2015 interview with The Verge. “[You] can give five stars to An Inconvenient Truth because it’s changing the world, but you might watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 three times in a few years… so what you actually want and what [you] say you want are very diﬀerent.” To Netflix, this is an essentially benevolent system, with datafication removing commissioning power from the subjective tastes of television executives,18 and instead rendering it responsive to the viewing habits of its audience. For the first time, television audiences are getting exactly what they want, rather than what they’re told they want – or so the argument runs. There is also a shift in the intended subject of television viewing. Whereas traditional television targeted audiences – amorphous groups made up of bands of characteristics, attributes and identities – streaming promises to target the individual. When a platform has more than 10,000 shows on oﬀer, it no longer needs to commission content that will hold a broad appeal for as large an audience as possible, but can instead target individual viewers with niche productions that respond specifically to their tastes. “Traditional television audience measurement was[…] somewhat speculative, ‘desperately seeking the audience’ but unable to locate or identify those outside of sample groups,” writes Arnold. “These new forms of measurement use data gleaned from online user interactions as a way of profiling and controlling the behaviour of every individual.” Hastings argues that such changes fundamentally alter the viewing experience. “Think of it as entertainment that’s more like books,” he notes, his analogy tying in with broader cultural eﬀorts to liken streaming platforms to the breadth of choice oﬀered by a library, as opposed to the linear functionality of network television. “You get to control and watch, and you 18 A group for which data seems to be curiously incomplete, but which anecdotal evidence suggests is about as lacking in diversity as you would imagine.
get to do all the chapters of a book at the same time, because you have all the episodes.” It’s a flattering comparison, and one with which media studies researcher Sudeep Sharma has rightly taken issue. “The service functions more like a newsstand [than a library, and] Netflix plays the role of ‘surrogate consumer’ for exhibitors,” he notes in ‘Netflix and the Documentary Boom’. “Rather than just simply providing access to texts, they
“These new forms of measurement use data gleaned from online user interactions as a way of profiling and controlling the behaviour of every individual.” —Sarah Arnold are engaged [in] an eﬀort to ‘push certain texts on consumers, rather than letting us pull what we want’.” That’s not how Netflix would like you to speak about it, though. “Netflix posits the use of data mining systems as beneficial for the consumer and suggests that such systems allow the company to better understand and respond to audience tastes through its recommendation system,” writes Arnold. “This represents a shift in audience measurement and interpretation from the notion of the depersonalised mass to the personalised, the individuated, and the autonomous.” Speaking in 2009, Yellin had a folksier way of making the same point: “We are rolling out several features to delight our members with a more personalised website.” Were any of you a bit weirded out earlier when I mentioned that Netflix’s House of Cards advertising campaign targeted viewers who liked programmes with “strong female leads”? Because, how could Netflix know it was the “strong female lead” that made you watch a show? And, how does Netflix know that you actually liked that show, even if you watched it all the way through to the end? People watch things they hate all the time. I finished Sherlock Gnomes, but that doesn’t mean I liked it. It doesn’t necessarily mean I like “strong gnome leads”.19 19 Although I do.
Given that Netflix’s entire philosophy is based around data, the company tends to give data-based answers to questions like these. While data gleaned from a single viewing experience might not tell the algorithm much, Netflix argues, the general pattern of a subscriber’s viewing data over time should begin to paint an accurate picture. “The more you use
Hoping to cast a little light on this, Smith-Rowsey spends a portion of ‘Imaginative Indices and Deceptive Domains’ mapping the categories by which Netflix orders its data. Searching through the platform, he lists 19 umbrella categories (things like ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Drama’ and ‘Comedy’), around 400 subcategories (‘Military Action & Adventure’, ‘Social Issue Dramas’ and ‘Slapstick Comedies’), and about 73,000 micro-genres, which is where Netflix gets creepily specific. “Visually Striking Father-Son Movies, Violent Nightmare-Vacation Movies, Understated Independent Workplace Movies, and Emotional Drug Documentaries,” he writes. “Once, [cinema theorist] Rick Altman asked [film critic] Leonard Maltin to settle the question: is Thelma and Louise ‘a chick-flick, a buddy film, a road movie or something else?’ For Netflix, it is none of these, because Netflix has none of those three categories[…] [The platform] in eﬀect privileges some films and shows and types of viewership, and to some degree re-constitutes what Netflix’s sixty million users think when they think of film and TV.” Once you know this, Netflix’s professions to be directly shaping its platform in response to individual viewsers start to become unstuck. “[The] promise of personalisation and autonomy is undone since Netflix simply shifts such demographic markers to genre tags,” observes Arnold. “Identity is displaced from the user to the content. In other words, the user does not bring their identity – along with the complexities that inform it – to the platform, rather the platform has determined what these mean.” Because the one thing Netflix definitely isn’t doing is responding to you. At best, it’s responding to your data trail, or what the academic John Cheney-Lippold has termed an “algorithmic identity” generated by our behaviour online. Cheney-Lippold’s algorithmic identity need have no real relevance to the person whose actions construct it. Its nature is simply a sum total of all behaviours within a set Netflix account (regardless of any real understanding of who has been using that account or, indeed, how many people have been using that account) as defined by the parameters set in place by Netflix’s metadata. “The knowledge produced via user digital interactions has no referent in the personhood of the user; their tastes, social values, or other non-digital behaviours and expressions,” notes Arnold. “[The] data mined by
“Netflix privileges some films and shows and types of viewership, re-constituting what its sixty million users think when they think of fIlm and TV.” —Daniel Smith-Rowsey Netflix, the more relevant your suggested content will be,” explains the company’s online Help Centre. The problem with this kind of explanation, however, is that it doesn’t actually answer the question. In Raw Data is an Oxymoron, Lisa Gitelman and Virginia Jackson set out the fact that all data has an in-built interpretative element: “Data need to be imagined as data to exist and function as such, and the imagination of data entails an interpretative base.” Even if you watched 10,000 movies with a “strong female lead”, there remains an act of interpretation that has gone on to establish that those 10,000 films are movies with a “strong female lead”. Without that interpretation, there’s no data. In Netflix’s case, these acts of interpretation are conducted by researchers working under the aegis of Yellin. “Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood,” writes journalist Alexis C. Madrigal in his 2014 The Atlantic essay ‘How Netflix Reverse-Engineered Hollywood’. “They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness. They capture dozens of diﬀerent movies’ attributes. They even rate the moral status of characters.” In other words, all of Netflix’s supposedly neutral data is based upon the judgment calls of teams of people trying to act in accordance with a 36-page corporate handbook. 130
Netflix is not used to infer anything about the human agent interacting with the service; instead it finds correlations between profiles and data interactions.” Neta Alexander’s essay ‘Catered to Your Future Self’ finds an even more tragic way of summing up the impoverished interpretation of personalisation oﬀered by Netflix: “[Subscribers] confuse the “You” in “Recommended for You” with a unique, complex individual rather than with a group of strangers who all happened to have made similar choices.” Exactly 30 years on from the demise of Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, Netflix finally closed the circle. Launched on the platform in December 2018, Bandersnatch is a choose-your-own-adventure television show from the creators of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones. Written by Brooker, the programme is a collection of some 250 segments that loosely tell the story of programmer Stefan Butler’s eﬀorts to design a video game, and his subsequent mental breakdown. The exact nature of the story, however, and what the viewser actually sees on screen, is entirely down to choices made during the show itself. As you watch, you’re asked to make decisions that shape Butler’s life. These range from the small (should Butler eat Sugar Puﬀs or Frosties; should he listen to the Thompson Twins or Now 2?) through to the life-changing. Should Butler throw himself to his death from the balcony of a council block, or should that fate fall to his mentor, the video-game designer and acid enthusiast Colin Ritman? On my first run through, I killed Ritman. I regretted it immediately. For someone so strung out on acid, Ritman spoke a lot of sense. “[It’s] a fucking nightmare world and the worst thing is it’s real and we live in it,” he told Butler at one point. “It’s all code.” Throughout Bandersnatch, that maxim is worth remembering. Prosaic choices that do little to shape its narrative are, in part, included within the programme’s runtime because they serve as training devices – picking a breakfast cereal amounts to an unimportant dry run to make sure the viewser is comfortable with the mechanics for when they eventually have to make a more significant decision. These trivial choices also add to the overall sense of control and freedom. You can even pick Butler’s breakfast! It’s a televisual sleight of hand, a trick designed to distract from the fact that every inch of Bandersnatch has been
painstakingly mapped out and fitted into a rigorous, pre-planned structure. “There were points where in working stuﬀ out, it got like trying to do a Rubik’s Cube in your head,” says Brooker of the writing process. “I literally had to get up from my desk and kind of walk around the house holding my head.” Few viewsers will ever see all of Bandersnatch’s segments (“There are some things that are really hard to find in it,” says Brooker. “I couldn’t tell you how to get to them”), but a common theme across the myriad routes through the show’s plot line is Butler’s growing awareness of being controlled. What he believed to be his own free actions are, in fact, pre-determined eventualities steering him down pathways shaped from without. “I’m being controlled by someone from the future,” he cries at one particularly desperate moment in proceedings, when the viewser begins communicating with him through his computer monitor. Thankfully, you’re presented with the option to be straight with him. You’re being controlled by someone on Netflix. E N D
The Quantum Race Earlier this year, IBM launched the IBM Q System One, the worldâ€™s first commercially available quantum computer.
Words Lemma Shehadiâ€‚Photographs Martin Adolfsson 132
Quantum computing research has been ongoing for more than 15 years. To date, its capabilities are mostly theoretical, and knowledge of the field is contained within a small circle of academics, scientists, engineers and theorists. “But the future of quantum computing is coming much faster than we think,” explains Bob Wisnieﬀ, chief technical oﬃcer of IBM Q, the branch of IBM Research that deals with quantum computing. “By designing the System One as an integrated system, we wanted to give people an intuitive grasp of what a quantum computer is and show that it is coming together as a technology.” The System One thus makes the leap from a theoretical laboratory experiment to a packaged commercial product. To achieve this, IBM Q enlisted London-based architects Universal Design Studios and industrial designers Map Project Oﬃce – both founded by industrial designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby – to design the System One’s casing and interface. For these collaborators, this was the opportunity to set the design for a revolutionary future technology. “We wanted to create an archetype that would capture the public’s imagination,” says Map’s director Will Howe. “It’s a technology that people have never seen before and we wanted to express the future possibilities of what it can achieve.” I meet Howe and Universal’s co-principal Jason Holley at their shared studios in Clerkenwell, London, where they talk me through their collaboration with IBM Research and their designs for the System One. “It can be a bit daunting knowing that you’re often working with Nobel Prize winners and nominees,” says Howe. “But it makes every day a victory for us,” adds Holley. The System One is a 3cbm glass vitrine, which highlights the distinctive hardware element required by quantum computing: the cryostat. The cryostat freezes atoms at around 10mK, a temperature colder than outer space, such that the computer can perform quantum calculations. The device hangs at the centre of the vitrine, encased in mirror-polished stainless-steel. “We wanted to give the cryostat a heightened presence. We’re drawing parallels with the priceless objects and artworks that you would see in a museum,” explains Holley, “It’s an object that you can look at, but can’t touch.” The glass panels were manufactured by Goppion, a Milanese manufacturer that has also produced glass displays for the Louvre. “When scientists talked to us about quantum computing,” adds Howe, “it was usually in terms of the acts of looking and observation, so the vitrine reflects this process.” While many people will have access to the System One over the cloud, few will actually see the machine. IBM’s earlier quantum computing devices – which lacked a definite physical form, and instead existed as discrete components scattered around a laboratory – were made accessible to the public through the cloud-based platform IBM Q Experience in 2016. This experimental platform with 5-qubit and 16-qubit hardware (as well as simulations of 32-qubit quantum computers done on classical computers) attracted more than 120,000 users, engendered over 10m experiments, and led to the publication of some 170 research papers in the fields of machine learning, optimisation, chemistry, and quantum games. The System One
Bob Wisnieff, chief technical officer of IBM Q, the branch of IBM Research dealing with quantum computing.
Previous page: Computer equipment kept within the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York.
is currently usable through the IBM Q Network, a cloud-based commercial service that gives corporate clients from Fortune 500 companies and research institutions access to 20-qubit quantum computers. But for visitors to IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York, where the computer is currently on display, the experience of the System One is immersive. The computer is bolted to the ground of a pitch-black room, where a light box on the casing’s ceiling illuminates the cryostat. “There is a bit of theatre to it. The machine lights the room, as opposed to the room lighting the machine,” says Howe. “Its sound is analogue and mechanical, almost steampunk-ish. When you’re in the pitch-black room on your own and all you hear is the sound, it’s mesmerising.” IBM is among the leaders in the global race to build performing quantum computers. The technology can solve complex calculations that are beyond the scope of classical computers, and could have a major impact on cybersecurity, calculations of financial risk and quantum chemistry, as well as other fields. Contenders include heavyweights such as Google, Microsoft, Intel and the Chinese government, as well as a host of startups. In December 2018, the United States passed the National Quantum Initiative Act, which pledges to invest $1.2bn in quantum-computing research over the next 10 years, joining the European Union’s pledge of $1bn in 2016. Quantum computing was developed to deal with mathematical calculations that cannot be solved by a classical computer. The latter relies on bits to store data, which can be in states of either 1 or 0. Some problems, such as the factorisation of very large numbers, would take a classical computer longer to work out than the age of the universe. Quantum computers may bridge this gap, however, due to a process called superposition. This allows quantum bits, or qubits, to occupy the two states of 0 and 1 at the same time. To put that in perspective, 50 qubits can represent more than one quadrillion data values simultaneously. This principle exponentially increases computational speed, so that calculations that are deemed ineﬀective on a classical computer could be resolved in a matter of days by a quantum machine. By drawing on quantum mechanics, quantum computers use the physical phenomena of nature to manipulate information. The theory is that this will enable scientists to accurately represent natural phenomena in simulation. For example, in 2017 IBM scientists simulated beryllium hydride with a quantum computer. While qubits are not made of beryllium hydride, they can be programmed to precisely measure and simulate the molecule. The computer’s potential to represent nature with such accuracy is reflected in the visual aspects of the design of the System One. “We used pure geometrical forms [a cube, circles and rectangles] to symbolise this relationship with nature,” says Howe, citing the golden ratio as one example of the theories used to achieve the design. But the wider impact of quantum computing on security and information processing is also a subject for debate. “The most lasting eﬀects of reliable quantum computers are not about the quality of your YouTube videos, but rather about money and power,” says Bryan Roberts, a philosopher of physics at the London School of Economics. “In the new
A communal area at the IBM research facility.
economy, money and power are mined from data. And, more valuable data is accessible to those with higher computational speeds. So, computational speed is a royal road to money and power.” The most notable of these eﬀects is the threat that quantum computers pose to encryption. In theory, powerful quantum computers could execute Shor’s algorithm, which deals with integer factorisation and underlies most global encryption methods. “Encrypted information can be recorded and stored, with the knowledge that it can be decrypted in 20 years when the technology becomes available,” says Joseph Rahamim, a PhD candidate in quantum computing at the University of Oxford. IBM is developing software in response to this threat, which would protect clients and governments from quantum computers in the future. In addition, global research into space-based quantum communication aims to guarantee security for satellite-to-ground and inter-satellite communications. “The useful advantages of quantum computers – machine learning, optimisation and chemistry – will come well before the machines can be used for cryptographic work,” Wisnieﬀ insists. “But I worry about what governments can do with quantum chemistry,” says Rahamim, highlighting its potential for the development of chemical weapons. As such, quantum computing research is as closely linked to defence as cybersecurity. This relationship between technology and defence is a longstanding one and echoes IBM’s work during the Cold War period. The company famously developed SAGE, the national air-defence system implemented by the United States to warn of and intercept airborne attacks during the Cold War. “Between 1952 and 1955, it generated 80 per cent of IBM’s revenues from computers, and by 1958, more than 7,000 IBMers were involved in the project,” the IBM website states. “Due to the indispensable role that IBM played, alongside many other large corporations, in wartime production, its top executives had unfettered access to the highest levels of U.S. military command and to the Truman administration,” writes architectural historian John Harwood in his book The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945-1976. Quantum computing may well prove part of a new Cold Warstyle race for information, when information means power. The casing for the System One represents the first visualisation of a quantum computer as a piece of commercial hardware. Although the design is huge, the System One is three times smaller than current laboratory-based quantum computers at IBM, and reduces servicing times by 10, according to IBM engineers. “It’s the first version of the technology that can be produced by regular engineers with no specialism in quantum computing,” explains Rahamim. But throughout the two-year project, the development process often brought the designers into conflict with the engineers. “There was an enormous amount of back and forth between the IBM team, Universal, Map and a wide range of physicists, engineers and scientists,” says IBM’s Wisnieﬀ, who likens the process to “hostage negotiations”. “From an engineering standpoint, when something works, the most risk-free solution is to keep it in its place,” he says. “Even basic things, like how
Developing the IBM Q System One.
to route the cables became major points of the design debate.” In the first year of development, nine major test models were released during internal meetings that took place almost monthly. The most radical change proposed at the start of the project by the designers was to remove the four-poster frame that originally supported the cryostat in the laboratory, and to use a cantilevered frame instead. “We wanted the cryostat to be the focal point of the machine and to hang as if it were floating,” says Holley. “The negotiations took almost five months,” says Wisnieﬀ. “The engineers worried that removing the frame would cause vibrations that would aﬀect the computer’s performance.” To everyone’s surprise, the new model performed better than the original and the cryostat was able to reach lower temperatures. “We didn’t know it would improve the performance,” concedes Howe. “It was a critical moment in our collaboration. It worked to make everyone feel comfortable,” Wisnieﬀ recalls. “Once we got the engineers’ commitment, it opened up discussions to all other design aspects.” One of the main challenges was creating the first ever public interface for a future technology whose functionalities are still unclear. “A quantum computer is not a consumer product like an iPhone and it won’t be anytime soon. It’s a technology the world has never seen,” says Scott Aaronson, a quantum computer theorist at the University of Texas. The focal point on the cryostat communicates what is distinct about the quantum computer in terms of engineering. “When we first went into the laboratory, we naturally gravitated to the cryostat, as it was the most unfamiliar object in the room,” says Howe, “so we knew that should be the focal point.” Holley shows me linear drawings of cubes and circles, in varying juxtapositions, which were drawn in the early stages of the design process. In their simplicity and emphasis on form, they echo constructivist paintings, but they also highlight the designers’ architectural approach to the design of the quantum computer. Howe describes the System One in contrast to the “literal and metaphorical ‘black box’ hiding the inner workings of a classical computer”. While classical computers today have an opaque casing, the transparent vitrine echoes early iterations of the IBM mainframe computers, in which the computers’ inner mechanisms were visible through glass. “[IBM] attempted to establish a visual and spatial relationship – an aesthetic relationship – between the user and the computer by removing the opaque panels and oﬀering the user a view (through a glass window) into the machine’s innards,” writes Harwood. But though the vitrine of the System One purports to reveal the inner workings of the machine, the cryostat’s mirror-polished stainless-steel casing reflects back onto the viewer. This language of mirroring, Howe argues, helps to visualise one of the most fundamental aspect of quantum mechanics. “It demonstrates a state in which particles can exist in two or more places at once.” But the vitrine also implies transparency in a technological race that is shrouded in corporate secrecy. “I don’t know what IBM’s qubit-chip looks like. They don’t show it to anyone!” says Howe. As well as establishing the look of the quantum computer itself, the designers created a modular casing so that existing technology can
The cryostat, which freezes atoms at around 10mK, is critical in enabling the computer to perform quantum calculations.
be replaced with new versions. “It was designed with upgradeability in mind,” says Wisnieﬀ. “The transition towards a commercial system means that it must be easy to maintain and that customers can make full use of it.” One of the main engineering challenges in quantum computing is scaling qubit chips. System One operates on a 20-qubit chip and the company projects that it will have 100-qubit chips in the next 10 years. Currently, the world’s largest qubit-chips are IBM Q’s 50-qubit chip (2017) and Google’s 72-qubit chip (2018). The System One casing was designed to adapt to 200-qubit hardware, giving it a projected lifespan of 10 to 15 years. “I’m really excited about how it will evolve as a design. This is going to progress over and over again. It might get bigger or smaller,” says Howe. “It could end up the size of a building,” adds Holley. Yet one of the main challenges to the design was bringing all the elements of the quantum computer together while keeping them in isolation. Qubits are incredibly delicate, and any vibrations, ambient noise or temperature changes cause them to lose their properties. “Quantum computers can only run for a very short time before they start to pick up so much noise that they become useless,” explains Roberts. “The distinctive phenomenon of quantum computing, called entanglement, diminishes rapidly when the entangled system interacts with its environment.” Engineers in quantum computing are working towards achieving longer “coherence times” – the period during which a quantum computer is able to perform its calculation before it picks up too much noise. The cryostat freezes the qubits, isolating them from any interference, and is therefore one of the key elements in the process. IBM is known to have achieved the longest coherence time to date: 132 microseconds. But to measure the overall performance, IBM scientists developed a metric known as “quantum volume”, which also takes into account diﬀerent measurements such as qubits, connectivity, coherence time and gate and measurement errors. The System One’s casing is designed to address these issues around decoherence. In its original laboratory setting, thousands of elements that make up the quantum computer are isolated from each other to reduce interference from the machinery’s ambient noise. “The machine is so sensitive that we had to make sure all the parts co-existed without touching,” explains Howe. Thus, the cryostat is attached to the raised floor using a cantilever frame; a hidden frame contains a helium pump for coolant and electronics; the vitrine isolates these frames without touching them. “These frames are bolted to the floor and dampened so that they absorb external vibrations,” says Howe, who adds that the vitrine also has an important functional role. “The vitrine had to be airtight to protect the cryostat from any external interference, but also serviceable.” The glass panels open easily, using a sliding mechanism encased at the bottom of the machine, which reduces servicing time. The launch of the System One is mostly symbolic: quantum computers are still weak and unreliable machines that do not yet satisfactorily outperform classical computers. Though corporate clients and institutions are accessing the technology through cloud-based services, it is unlikely that they will buy a quantum computer any time soon. “Quantum computers will be available in normal machine rooms in the future, but I have no idea
An auditorium at the IBM research facility.
when that would be,” says Wisnieﬀ. “Selling time on the cloud seems like the most probable model for now, as the machines are evolving yearly.” Decoherence continues to present challenges to the performance and reliability of quantum computers. “I placed a bet 15 years ago with my old college roommate (now a senior developer at Google) that this problem would not be overcome in the next 30 years,” says Roberts. “I’m still optimistic that I’ll win the bet.” As such, some researchers view the release of the System One as premature. “I don’t care about the casing – I care about the performance of what’s inside!” says Aaronson. “Let’s prove that it works, and that it outperforms classical computers at something, before worrying about the packaging or the user interface.” But IBM insists that its product launch was a necessary step in the race for quantum computers. “Quantum computing really exists; it isn’t just a theoretical construct,” says Wisnieﬀ, who views the System One as a timely expression of the advances in the field. “Today we can do algorithms of increasing complexity. By the time we get to a 100-qubit machine we will be able to do calculations that can’t possibly be done any other way. And that’s not that many years away.” Throughout the post-war decades, IBM pioneered the design of business machines whose opaque casings and simple geometrical shapes dominated the look of oﬃces globally. From the 1950s through to the mid-70s, IBM’s design director Eliot Noyes enlisted designers and architects such as Charles and Ray Eames, Paul Rand and Isamu Noguchi to work on the company’s products as well as its corporate environments. In The Interface, Harwood describes how IBM’s design strategy revolutionised corporate environments through its focus on hardware-interface design: the point of contact between human and machine and workspace. “The design programme at IBM[…] set standards of practice that quite literally changed the technics of corporate and architectural culture alike,” he writes. “In its own words, repeated through much of its promotional literature, IBM was a business whose business was how other businesses do business.” But today, the company is struggling to modernise. From 2012 to 2017, it suﬀered from an annual erosion of revenue. Its iconic formulation of the laptop computer, the Thinkpad designed by Richard Sapper, was spun oﬀ to Lenovo in 2005. In 2014, it sold its Intel x86 server line to the same company, shortly after losing a $600m bid to supply servers to the CIA. Amazon, with its big-data centres that dwarf IBM’s internal architecture, was awarded the deal. While IBM continues to produce mainframes and servers, it has shifted part of its focus to developing software and cloudbased services while funding its research into quantum computing and AI. Last year the company invested $5bn of its own funds into this research arm. The launch of the System One is part of a wider design strategy for IBM Q. “The aim is to showcase IBM’s innovations in research and to highlight the company’s dedication to open-source experimentation,” says Holley. Universal and Map will also be working with IBM on a public display room for the System One in Yorktown, and designing the test labs at the IBM Q Quantum Computation Center in Poughkeepsie, among other
Views of the IBM campus.
projects involving film and digital art. Under this programme, clients and visitors will be able to visit the labs on guided tours. “IBM have realised there’s great work going on inside closed doors,” says Holley. “It will be a great experience to open up these labs so you can observe people working. It’s part of their wider goal of opening up and inviting people to engage with them.” As such, while the System One purports to be a commercial product, it actually plays a much greater role in strategic positioning. Rather than inspiring business eﬃciency, the System One’s interface emphasises the potential of a future technology. In its geometric abstraction and theatrical use of lighting, the interface gestures towards a dream, rather than the quantum computer’s current functionalities. “The relationship between the glass vitrine and cryostat is one of unobtainable science,” says Howe. “Our motivation now is to try and push the performance of these systems as far and as fast as we can,” adds Wisnieﬀ. It evokes both the quest for knowledge and the absence of it. The System One is a response to a technological race that is mired in uncertainty. “Could quantum computing be impossible for some deep reason that nobody has figured out yet? In some sense that’s the most exciting possibility,” said Aaronson at TEDx Dresden in 2017. “The idea that eventually with enough money and eﬀort you could build a quantum computer as the theory said and give huge speed ups for certain things is the boring and conservative possibility.” The System One may be a transparent vitrine, but it sits nonetheless in a pitch-black room. E N D
MAP and Universal Design Studio’s case for the IBM Q System One.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men Words Kristina Rapacki
A new book revealing the extent and implications of the gender data gap makes for harrowing but crucial reading.
Caroline Criado-Perez, the author of Invisible Women.
The popular sleeping pill Ambien doesn’t work for women. Or more precisely, it doesn’t work as designed. Zolpidem, the active ingredient that forms the basis of Ambien, is metabolised more slowly by women than by men, meaning that women are usually still impaired by the drug after eight hours of sleep. As it turns out, Ambien was developed by testing on male mice in the lab and on men in clinical trials. This practice is remarkably common in medical research, as a recent Science article by Northeastern University’s Rebecca Shansky shows. Even when animals of both sexes are tested, researchers often work things out in males first and then repeat the experiment on
females. “It perpetuates the dated, sexist and scientifically inaccurate idea that male brains are a standard from which female brains deviate,” Shansky told The Guardian. Shansky’s article came out as I was finishing Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a new book by the journalist and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. To say that the Science findings resonated with Criado-Perez’s argument is an understatement. Towards the end of Invisible Women, a chapter titled ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ is a gruelling litany of all the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry is failing those of us who happen
to inhabit female bodies. It gets a lot worse than Ambien. Antipsychotics, antihistamines, antibiotics, heart medications, antidepressants: all, Criado-Perez explains, have been shown to exhibit “menstrual-cycle impacts”. This means that depending on where one is in one’s cycle, the prescribed dosage can be either too low, and therefore ineﬀective, or too high, and therefore sometimes downright dangerous. There are physiological diﬀerences between the sexes related to the heart, lungs, neurobiology and autoimmune system – in fact, to most tissues and organ systems in the human body. Although it is important not to overstate such diﬀerences – lest they get “weaponised by misogynists or used to justify and promote inequality,” as Shansky warns – the failure to acknowledge such diﬀerences has adverse eﬀects on women’s health. Women are consistently underrepresented in clinical trials, even for treatments of conditions that are female-prevalent, such as depression. This is, in part, because women are seen to have “atypical” hormones (rather than simply diﬀerent hormones to men), rendering them, writes Criado-Perez, “too complex, too variable, too costly to be tested on” in the eyes of a medical community conditioned to view the male body as the norm.1 And if you’re pregnant and fall ill? Forget it. The absence of pregnant women in clinical trials means we don’t have much data on how to treat you for, in Criado-Perez’s words, “pretty much anything”. 2 How did we get here? Invisible Women mounts a persuasive argument about the existence of an almighty “gender data gap” – an absence of information about women’s bodily experience that characterises everything from medical research and urban infrastructure to automotive design and pension schemes. It shows, again and again, that even where data about women’s lives could be available, it is rarely sex-disaggregated. Criado-Perez takes pains to stress that this data gap “is not generally malicious, or even deliberate”. Often, she observes on a recent broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, it’s just that “we are so used to thinking ‘man’ when we think of a human that we kind of forget to think about women unless
Images courtesy of Chatto & Windus.
we specifically mention them.” This bias is deeply embedded in language. Think of “man” in English and how it is taken for “humankind”. Or how, in most Romance languages, the generic masculine is used to describe groups of people whose genders are unknown, or which include a mix of genders. Thus, 100 female teachers would be “las profesoras” in Spanish, but “los profesores” as soon as you add one male teacher. “Such,” writes Criado-Perez, “is the power of the default male.” These things matter because representation in language has a direct impact on representation in life. For instance, Criado-Perez cites studies in which children are asked to draw a scientist. While the proportion of drawings of female scientists has gone up considerably since the same experiment was conducted in the early 1960s (it is up from 1 per cent in 1960 to 28 per cent today), the meta-data nevertheless shows an alarming trend: “When children start school they draw roughly equal percentages of male and female scientists, averaged out across boys and girls,” Criado-Perez writes. “By the time children are seven or eight, male scientists significantly outnumber female scientists. By the age of fourteen, children are drawing four times as many male scientists as female scientists.” These are biases that are learnt and internalised from a very young age, through schooling and socialisation. Is the woeful lack of representation later on in life – in certain careers and in positions of power – so surprising? In Invisible Women, Criado-Perez synthesises a staggering number of studies and interviews to show that, when representation is lacking in decision-making positions – be it in urban planning, medical research, or tech startups – we get urban plans, medicines and technology that fail to fully account or even to properly work for women. These include: mobile-phone handsets (too big), public toilets (too few), the standard piano keyboard (too wide), public transport (too unsafe), voice-recognition software (won’t register women’s voices as eﬃciently as men’s), pensions (won’t account for many women’s unpaid care burden), bulletproof vests (don’t account for breasts) and cars (too deadly).
Car safety is a particularly shocking example of gender bias in product development. Criado-Perez shows how, although men are more likely to be involved in a car crash, women are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured and 71 per cent more likely to be moderately injured than men if caught up in one. This is because the design of crash-test dummies dates
I’m sure you’re beginning to get the point. The gender data gap does not just create products and systems that are inconvenient for women. It renders the world deadlier for us. from the 1950s, and is based on the 50th-percentile male: a 1.77m, 76kg dummy that has “male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column”. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that “female” crash-test dummies started being used in the US, but even then, they were simply the standard male ones scaled down to match the female 50th-percentile height. They do not mimic female muscle-mass and spines. They do not have breasts. They are currently only used in the front passenger seat. Of course, it gets worse.3 Although a pregnant dummy was created in 1996, its use is still not mandated in either the US or EU automotive industries, despite the fact that car crashes are the main cause of foetal death related to maternal trauma. Criado-Perez also observes that we haven’t yet developed a seatbelt that works for pregnant women. In fact, even the standard three-point seatbelt isn’t great if you have breasts: “In an eﬀort to accommodate our breasts many of us are wearing seat belts ‘improperly’,” she explains. By this stage, I’m sure you’re beginning to get the point. The gender data gap does not just create products and systems that are inconvenient for women. It renders the world deadlier for us. In addition to the designs and systems that fail to account for women’s bodies and female hormones, CriadoPerez identifies two more areas in which the gender data gap makes itself
particularly felt. One revolves around women’s unpaid care burden. “Globally,” Criado-Perez writes, citing a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, “75 per cent of unpaid work is done by women, who spend between three and six hours per day on it compared to men’s average of thirty minutes to two hours.” Housework, childcare, elderly care – even in the countries that boast the highest metrics of gender equality, these tasks fall disproportionately on women, especially when we cohabit in heterosexual relationships. In eﬀect, many women in paid work perform an extra shift of unpaid work when they come home, which takes a toll on our mental and physical health. The invisibility of women’s unpaid care burden has long been a feminist issue. The International Wages for Housework campaign, for instance, originated in Italy in the 1970s, and sought to make domestic and care work – “reproductive labour”, in the movement’s term – visible as the very foundation of industrial work. “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work,” wrote Silvia Federici, a proponent of the campaign, in a 1975 text about the ways in which care work is naturalised as something women just like to do. Criado-Perez shows that we haven’t come very far since then. For example, GDP, the standard measure of a country’s economy, does not account for unpaid work in the home because, as one of Criado-Perez’s interviewees, economics professor Diane Coyle, explains, “this [is considered] too big a task in terms of collecting the data.” Current estimates, however, suggest that unpaid domestic and care work could account for up to 50 per cent of GDP in high-income countries, and 80 per cent in low-income ones. If it counted as productive labour, that is. Beyond GDP, there are the everyday systems and services designed without taking women’s unpaid work into account. Criado-Perez shows how urban planning and transportation often fails to consider the more complicated travel needs of women “encumbered” (the industry term, not mine) by care work. “A typical female travel pattern involves, for example, dropping children oﬀ at school [in London, women are three times more likely than men to take a child to school]
before going to work; taking an elderly relative to the doctor and doing the grocery shopping on the way home,” writes Criado-Perez. This is known as “trip-chaining” as opposed to travelling to and from work in a single-trip commute. Invisible Women sets out how everything from the design of housing projects to snow-clearing schedules privileges the motorised single-trip commute, a travel pattern that is much more likely to be the norm for “unencumbered” men. Lastly, the other area identified by Criado-Perez as being particularly aggravated by the gender data gap is men’s violence against women. The final two chapters of Invisible Women are dedicated to the failures of supposedly gender-neutral disaster relief and aid programmes to account for women’s safety, and make for harrowing reading. Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and abused – both within and outside of the domestic setting – when disaster strikes. Yet this is not reflected in the designs of shelters, whose poorly lit unisex facilities often leave women vulnerable. Criado-Perez cites “lurid stories of violence, of rapes and beatings” from Louisiana’s Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “They said things didn’t happen at the Superdome,” one witness recalls. “They happened. They happened. People were getting raped. You could hear people, women, screaming. Because there’s no lights, it’s so dark, you know.” When vulnerable women are put in contact with men in positions of power, abuse and sexual exploitation often result. This was evident in the scandal that shook the global UK charity Oxfam in 2018, when it emerged that a number of its staﬀ had patronised sex workers in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake in Haiti – something Oxfam subsequently tried to cover up. Criado-Perez points to this example as well as countless other instances of aid programmes, institutions and facilities meant to help, protect, or guard women that show that sexual harassment and abuse is endemic unless it is identified as a risk and mitigated by design. “Given the steady stream of abuse reports from around the world,” she writes, “perhaps it’s time to recognise that the assumption that male staﬀ can work in female facilities as they do in male facilities is another example of
where gender neutrality turns into gender discrimination.” So what is to be done? Criado-Perez accepts that “closing the data gender gap will not magically fix all the problems faced by women, whether or not they are displaced.” But she is a strong proponent of collecting more data and making sure it is sex-disaggregated. It’s hard not to
Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and abused when disaster strikes. Yet this is not reflected in the designs of shelters, whose poorly lit unisex facilities often leave women vulnerable.
we get pastel Bic pens “for her”, but no cure for endometriosis; expensive kick-scooters but no functioning car seatbelts. Let’s collect more data, yes. But let’s also make sure that identifying women’s needs is not just a shorthand for identifying more consumers. Invisible Women: Exploring Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez is published by Chatto & Windus, price £16.99. 1
agree, given the overwhelmingly powerful case Invisible Women makes. But there is also reason to pause and consider how this should best be done. If sexdisaggregated data about any number of aspects of women’s lives is lacking, then it is even more absent when it comes to the intersections of race, class, disability, and so on, within that data. In the instances where information is available, we see how important these intersectional metrics can be in identifying systemic injustices. In the US, for instance, African-American women have worse health outcomes, overall, than white women. But, as Criado-Perez points out, when it comes to pregnancy and childcare, the comparison becomes truly abysmal: in the US, African-American women are 243 per cent more likely than white women to die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. An intersectional approach to collecting data is crucial here. I had to read Invisible Women in short chunks. The panoply of injustices presented in the book begins to feel vertiginous if consumed too quickly. As a design journalist, I also felt acutely the cruel irony of what it usually means to “design” for women. As a 2016 report in The Times revealed, products that are needlessly branded for women cost 37 per cent more than those branded for men, whether that be a pink scooter (£5 more expensive) or Levi’s 501 jeans (46 per cent pricier than the men’s version). We live in a world where
The idea that females are more complicated, hormonally, than males, is not scientifically sound, Criado-Perez observes. She cites recent studies on mice that have shown a greater hormonal variability in males. “So who’s too complicated now?” Although Criado-Perez acknowledges that the thalidomide scandal played a role in establishing the convention of excluding pregnant women from studies, she makes the point that it was itself caused by the failure to consider pregnancy in trials. Even in situations where one could monitor the eﬀects of certain viruses - for example in the case of the 2002-4 Sars epidemic in China - this demographic is routinely ignored. Indeed, “It gets worse”, is the phrase that summarises my experience of reading the case studies cited in Invisible Women. See ‘Gendered Objects’ by Nina Power in Disegno #15 for a more in-depth discussion of the “sexist surcharge”.
Gesamtkunsthandwerk in Coromandel Words Elizabeth Bisleyâ€‚Photographs Sam Hartnett
Firing pots in a wood-fuelled kiln is a tricky business. There’s an art to building the kiln – designing a hollow structure that can withstand the extreme temperatures of the firing process (usually around 1,300°C at its hottest point) with a chamber that allows heat and air to circulate as evenly as possible. The pots need to be loaded carefully – packed in tightly between the shelves, with those most likely to withstand unpredictable, harsher temperature changes at the edges and those in need of easier, more consistent treatment in the middle. Once the fire has been lit, it has to be kept stoked for around 24 hours; wood must be added regularly to keep the temperature rise consistent until it reaches the point at which the glazes melt and meld. I saw part of this process in March 2019, when visiting the Driving Creek Railway and Potteries on New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula. I was there to meet designer Martino Gamper and artist Francis Upritchard, who were working with potters Laurie Steer and Jamie Jenkins for a few weeks of the New Zealand summer. They had two firings at the end of their stay, and I arrived at the tail end of the first. On reaching the potteries, I found that the bricks at the front of the kiln had been moved away – like a giant present being unwrapped – and a motley crew of mugs, bowls, sculptures, hooks, clay nails and pots were being pulled out and loaded onto waiting railway trolleys. As the pieces were unpacked, there was a gleeful excitement in seeing what the kiln had worked into them – the alchemical eﬀects of heat, smoke, glazes and soda on clay. Wood-fired kilns are notoriously unpredictable in terms of the results they produce on the material. “You almost don’t bother expecting anymore,” says Upritchard. Steer, who is a full-time potter and part-time surfer, compares the process to surfing a wave: “You have to get the feel of it, but it can’t be controlled.” It’s an exercise in experimentation and throwing caution to the wind, playing with fire in the hope that, as the potter Barry Brickell put it in 1972, “a little peril improves a good pot”. Driving Creek Railway and Potteries was founded by Brickell in the early 1960s on a large, steep hillside outside the small farming town of Coromandel. Having initially moved to the area for an ill-fated job as a teacher, Brickell changed direction within a few months and bought a tract of farmland, including a splintering, tumbledown villa, on which he planned
to set up his potteries. From this initial site, he moved to a much larger, neighbouring 60 acres in 1974. “I chose Coromandel as a place to live for several reasons,” he wrote in Art New Zealand in 1977. “First, it has a bit of wilderness to it – a wild backdrop. There’s a back-of-beyond to it. There are mountains, bush and a rugged environment in which there are still plenty of resources. Second, it was a short trip to Auckland direct by sea[…]. And third, the geology is such that there are plenty of potters’ materials.” Ambitious and diverse in his output, Brickell built a rich practice as a potter at the same time as he set about radically transforming the landscape of Driving Creek. Arriving on a site that had been almost completely cleared of trees (first by the 19th-century timber trade and then by farmers), he spent the next four decades cultivating seeds and replanting the land with dense native bush. A keen engineer and steam enthusiast, Brickell also slowly built a railway line that traversed the property and was initially designed to bring clay down from the steep surrounding hills. “We’re finding out that potters do have their problems here, but on the whole we have good clay and glazing bodies,” wrote Brickell. “It suits me to be out in the country. I can make smoke, play trains, and aforestate my way.” Brickell was a key figure in a burgeoning New Zealand pottery scene, and from its early days Driving Creek attracted rafts of visitors and artists (mostly young men) who came to learn about his craft, but also to provide manual labour for the trains, trees and kilns. The world that they made at Driving Creek is strange and beautiful – everywhere you look there are fragments, pots, mugs, bowls and sculptures growing out of clay banks. A jumble of houses and studios perches around the railway terminus, while walkways over the tracks lead to kilns and workshops. At the centre of it all is the railway, a huge and complicated engineering feat of zigzagging tracks that heads up the steep incline above the potteries, finishing at Brickell’s “Eyefull” tower – a rotunda on stilts, full of wasps and views out to the sea. The work that Upritchard and Gamper are producing in Coromandel is for two shows in Auckland galleries. Gamper’s exhibition, called Hookaloti, consists of dozens of hooks smattered around the walls of the room like raisins in a cake, with a table made from golden oﬀ-cuts of kauri wood sitting in the middle of it all. Upritchard’s show, Centaurs and Sea Creatures, 146
Previous page: A selection of ceramic works by Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper in the Driving Creek Potteries in Coromandel. This page: Upritchardâ€™s pots, and views over the landscape of Coromandel.
This spread: Gamper and Upritchard working at the Driving Creek Railwy and Potteries, a centre founded by the potter and steam enthusiast Barry Brickell in the 1960s. Next spread: Pots thrown by Upritchard during her time at Driving Creek for Centaurs
and Sea Creatures, an exhibition at Ivan Anthony Gallery in Auckland.
brings together an ethereal mix of watercolours, cast copper and silver works, glazed pots and bowls, mythical ceramic creatures, and a loose-limbed sculpture of a woman named Jessie. The exhibitions are not strictly linked, although they are thrown from the same materials and made in the same place with the same people. The two bodies of work wash up alongside one another on Auckland’s Karangahape Road. Upritchard and Gamper grew up in New Zealand and Italy respectively, and now share a studio in London. Gamper trained as a furniture designer and has a practice that encompasses furniture, and product and interior design, alongside more experimental projects such as 100 Chairs in 100 Days (2007), for which he used found objects and materials to build a chair a day for 100 days. Upritchard’s output is similarly diverse; involving a gigantic number of materials and mediums, her work ranges from figurative sculptures made from wild rubber, or metal and textiles, to sculptural installations, ceramics and paintings. On this trip, Upritchard and Gamper have been playing with an idea that has inflected much of their recent work. Dubbed “gesamtkunsthandwerk” by Gamper and the jeweller Karl Fritsch, this is an exploration of collaborative ways of working – one that is grounded in process and a shared interest in making. In choosing this title, Gamper and Fritsch slipped an extra “hand” into the more familiar 19th-century term “gesamtkunstwerk”, or “total work of art”. “‘Handwerk’ means craft in German[…] so for a German-speaking person it’s probably humorous,” says Gamper, “but the reason we chose that phrase is because it’s made by hand and I think that’s what connects the three of us – we make things by hand, regardless of the category that it’s labelled as: art, design or craft.” “As an artist, I always thought that the way that they make their work is exactly the same process as how I make mine,” adds Upritchard. “But it’s really separated [into art, craft and design] and we’re questioning why.” This connection with other designers and craftspeople is established quite practically, on one level, by working together on elements of a piece or an installation. “When I met Karl Fritsch,” Upritchard explains, “in maybe 2005 or 2004, I really loved his work and wanted to work with him. We pretty much immediately worked together when he made rings for some of my sloth creatures
[sculptures of sloth-like creatures with hugely elongated limbs].” In 2011, in a show at New Zealand’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery titled Gesamtkunsthandwerk, Gamper, Upritchard and Fritsch worked with weaver Lynne Mackay, potter Nicholas Brandon, bronze caster Jonathan Cambell, felter Pam Robinson, glass blower Jochen Holz and woodturners Jan Komarkowski and Peter Wales on an installation of furniture, sculpture, textiles and ceramics. Driving Creek was a particularly appropriate place for the latest iteration of this project, given that Brickell’s life was vividly structured around the importance and equality of making. One of the most remarkable aspects of the potter’s work was his even-handed interest in all of its diverse parts. Fascinated by engineering and steam engines, and deeply committed to conservation, Brickell saw the train, the bush and the pots as having equal significance – all pieces in the larger project of building something worthwhile. As with gesamtkunsthandwerk, the point for Brickell was making – of any kind and regardless of hierarchy or distinction. “I don’t want to be elevated,” he noted in his 2012 book Doggerel. “I want to be a workman. Whether pots, the railway, it’s all the same thing.” While in New Zealand, Upritchard and Gamper collaborated with friends around the country – exchanging ideas and techniques, trying out new processes and playing around with materials. Before travelling to Coromandel, they spent a week making work for the shows in Fritsch and the jeweller Lisa Walker’s Wellington studio. Here, Upritchard used lost-wax casting to make a series of small silver and copper pieces – mainly reliefs of faces – while Gamper sand cast copper and aluminium to make beautifully pitted and textured hooks. They describe this week as an exhilarating flurry of metal. “We were cutting up parts of his [Fritsch’s] old house; he had all these old copper pipes which we were cutting up to make my works,” says Upritchard. “We were also smelting metal, which was so exciting. Martino got so excited one night he said, ‘Do you think I’m OK?’ Karl said, ‘You’ve got casting fever. I’ve got it too. I didn’t sleep last night.’” In Coromandel, Upritchard and Gamper are working in the studio with Steer and Jenkins, and have been joined by other local potters such as Sam Ireland for the firings. Steer is in many ways the host – having learned to fire from Brickell in the late 2000s, he spent
the next 10 years visiting Driving Creek to make pots and help with the kilns. “I’d come through a whole system of people saying that there was no opportunity to be an artist in the world,” says Steer, “and Barry was the first person I met who demonstrated an alternative storyline. This was a guy who was totally free and did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and it was working really well for him. All my role models were
“All my role models were saying, ‘Get a mortgage’; this dude was saying, ‘Get nude, light a fire.’” —Laurie Steer saying, ‘Get a job, get a mortgage’; this dude was saying, ‘Get nude, light a fire.’” Brickell died in 2016, and Gamper and Upritchard’s visit was the first time that the kilns had been fired since then. Steer plans to invite more artists, potters, writers and engineers to the potteries over the next few years, hoping to make them “a place where creative people can come and have the freedom required to push forward their thinking”. His ideas about the future of Driving Creek are moulded around the kind of existence that Brickell believed in – self-determined, unconventional, and driven by active work. “I wanted to invite people that I knew were rock solid, and I knew that they’d fit in because they’re the hardest workers I know,” he says of Upritchard and Gamper. “I’d been up and met Barry before, with Francis, towards the end of his life. And she had a real respect for him and what he’d done. She had a respect for him as a creative monster, I suppose, as a guy that just did his own thing and didn’t give a fuck.” Another potter who is present at Driving Creek – although through his pots rather than his person – is Nicholas Brandon, a family friend of Upritchard’s. He is also a well-known New Zealand potter from the same generation as Brickell. Brandon loves to throw but doesn’t like to fire (“[Firing] is really fun,” explains Upritchard, “but it’s kind of exhausting”), and so gave Upritchard free reign on a stock of his unfired mugs, bowls and vases. She drove them to Coromandel and painted them with sea creatures and luminous glazes before firing for the exhibition. In all of these projects,
friendships and collaborations, the sharing of ideas, skills and space seems as important, in many ways, as the end result. “Nick is quite funny because he doesn’t care if the result is bad,” says Upritchard. “He may even say that he doesn’t like the result, but it won’t, in any way, annoy him or cross his mind that that’s a bad thing. It’s just like, ‘Nah, that’s not for me.’” Gamper seems similarly enlivened by working in such a process-focused way. “The rest of the year I’m in a studio, I’m working with commissions, I’m working for manufacturers – it’s a lot more paper-based and project-based,” he says. “The work I’ve done here was really free. And that’s very liberating: it’s very inspiring to have less pressure, to be able to try things out, be playful and meet other people who are interested in all kinds of processes. People in London probably think, ‘What do you do down there, why are you doing this strange pottery stuﬀ?’ But it usually materialises in something else later on: that experimental stage comes back in the work.” There is a beautiful circularity to these ideas when seen in the context of Driving Creek. Brickell’s concept of art was strongly focused around process. “[Art is] not confined to any thing: it’s not thing-bound,” he wrote in Art New Zealand. “Whatever is done by human beings and that motivates human beings has potential for art. It’s essentially an inter-people phenomenon... a language... a form of communication.” Although Driving Creek was emphatically not a commune (the writer David Craig notes in the 2013 book His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell that “hippies and hangers on who came to the rustic pottery expecting a counter-cultural[…] community[…] found something closer to a bush workcamp”), the potteries emerged during a larger moment of oﬀ-grid existence. Brickell’s extreme do-it-yourself-ness could be seen as a version of the ways of living encapsulated in late 1960s publications such as the Whole Earth Catalog (a kind of how-to guide for the back-to-the-earth movement, first published in the US in 1968), but it also fits into a particular local story of self-suﬃciency. The idea of living oﬀ the land, and of being in nature, has always held a romance for pakeha (white) New Zealanders, who have often idealised the idea of a hardy local type, described by Jane Staﬀord and Mark Williams in their book Maoriland as being “at home in the wilderness rather than the drawing room”. This idea went so far as to be institutionalised in the early 1970s, with a Labour government taking the 154
This page: Work and communal spaces at Driving Creek. Next spread: Hooks created by Gamper at Driving Creek for Hookaloti, an exhibition at Michael Lett Gallery in Auckland.
“I’ve become interested in alternative lifestyles. In Europe all that stuﬀ is strongly tainted.” —Martino Gamper
remarkable step of introducing a scheme of statesponsored communes, called “ohu”, that aimed to let “New Zealanders and their friends recapture the satisfaction based on cooperation, mutual assistance and communalism, which had been the force which motivated both the first Maori and the first European settlers of this land,” in the words of Matiu Rata, the then-minister of lands. A feeling for this period in the 1960s and 1970s, and for Brickell’s specific, alternative way of living, is etched into the physical environment at Driving Creek.
“New Zealand is one of those places that people came to to ‘step outside’ and start over.” —Martino Gamper It can be seen in the groups of kilns, in the collections of pots and textiles made by Brickell’s friends, and in the ad-hoc timber buildings that make up the house and studios – all seemingly stitched together from found materials and odd bits of wood, with more rooms added on as and when they were needed. “I think I’ve become particularly interested in alternative lifestyles by coming to New Zealand,” says Gamper. “In Europe all that stuﬀ is strongly tainted. To say to someone in New Zealand that they live like a hippy is a very diﬀerent thing than in Europe, where it’s kind of an insult. There’s a beautiful German word, “aussteigen”, which you use when you get oﬀ of a bus, or oﬀ a train, and it means to step outside. I think New Zealand is one of those places that people came to to really ‘step outside’ and start over.” Gesamtkunsthandwerk, and the collaborations that this group of friends worked on over the New Zealand summer, is a version of this stepping outside. It is a warm embrace for a more experimental practice; one that pushes things past their fashionable end point. Arguing that “the design world has become a bit like the fashion world”, Gamper and Upritchard say that they are instead interested in thinking about “how we live, how we work, in a diﬀerent way”. Perhaps because, as Upritchard puts it, “we’re both practical and our ideas come a bit through making”, this is something expressed most vividly through their
materials and process. Gamper’s hooks, in particular, are filled with the joyous, busy, messy traces of weeks spent playing around with diﬀerent techniques. The ceramic hooks range from long, skinny ones that seem to have been pushed through an icing bag and have the golden-brown roast and ridged surfaces of churros, to chunky, faceted ones carved from fat slabs of clay. There are blown-glass hooks with hollow rounded ends; hooks made from fortuitously curved bits of wood; cast-metal hooks and hooks made from found bits of pipe. “They are about fun and play,” says Gamper. “Not everything has to be perfect”. “Gesamtkunstwerk” – in its original form, without the added “hand” – is a word that was first used the 19th-century, most famously in relation to music. Describing a complete and harmonious unity, it evokes many elements written in relationship to each other, as part of a larger work. Both Upritchard and Gamper, in their diﬀerent projects, have played around with an idea of the whole, while also revelling in the complications and toothy snags of detail. There is always a strong feeling of storytelling in their work, intertwined with the sense of a group of things, gathered and categorised according to diﬀerent (and sometimes oblique) typologies. With Upritchard’s collection of centaurs and sea creatures, it’s impossible not to feel that this family of objects are tied together by some kind of narrative thread – they appear as fragments from, or records of, a particular place or time. The story that these works seem to tell is never quite graspable, but as individual objects, carefully grouped, they are deeply evocative of a larger world and a bigger web. The roomful of hooks, while on the face of it more quotidian, generates a similarly magical feeling of both the individual detail and the big picture. It is a jewel box of shapes, textures, colours and materials; and also a chronicling of types – an encyclopaedia of things. The whole that Gamper and Upritchard are creating in this work is much more than its physical, object-based parts. It’s a composite of friends, places, techniques – ways of making and ways of living. Akin to the wood-fired kiln, it’s a suggestion for messier, riskier and less predictable work – shaped by multiple hands and extending across many diﬀerent kinds of place, object and practice. E N D
Poem Richard Osmond Poem
Prototype 1 Dean Brown scatters out a few dozen shapes on the table in foam, metal, plastic, rubber. All are the same rough shape – the two-dimensional outline of a pair of blocky, simplified sunglasses. Almost 8-bit. Like sunglasses you might find on the face of a Lego motorcycle cop or Kanye West. “So these are the prototype puﬃn sunglasses. You can see we tried out diﬀerent materials. And to some we’ve made slight changes or adaptations based on the requirements of the team and the birds. This is one adaptation – we’ve added these bumps on each side for the researcher to hold them on the puﬃn’s face. “This prototype phase is really important, as you can see. And it’s so much easier, now that we have access to laser-cutting and other manufacturing technology right here – a few years ago it would have been time-consuming and very expensive to get prototypes made – we would have had to approach manufacturers and produce things on a much larger scale. Now we’re much freer – and that fits how we like to work. It’s important that we’re able to get up from our desks and walk into the next room and just start making something straight away. That’s the Makers Revolution – democratising that process. Shortening the distance between having an idea and making an object.”
Prototype 2 When I was commissioned to write a piece about a design team who make sunglasses for puﬃns, I was in two minds. I once tried to explain to my poetry editor that I couldn’t stand poems that are clearly written only as an excuse to share an unusual factoid the poet has come across. A bar in Canada serves a cocktail with a human toe in it. A man once rode a cart pulled by goats around every state in the continental USA. A team at Goldsmiths University is designing sunglasses for puﬃns. My editor said the bigger problem was that such facts and stories would soon be worthless anyway. Interesting things would no longer be interesting. We value improbable and un-usual things. To be conventionally interesting, facts or anecdotes must be unlikely. Or rather, they must deviate suﬃciently from trends set by our everyday experience. But the internet intelligently aggregates content from data sets so inhumanly large as to render probability, trend and deviation meaningless on a scale visible at human level. We are now statistically likely to come across unlikely things.
Prototype 3 Jamie Dunning is the man who discovered that puﬃns’ beaks glow under ultra-violet light. Acting on a hunch, and based on what we know of birds’ eyesight (that is, that many birds can see UV light) and the alreadyattention-seeking quality of puﬃns’ bills as they appear to we viewers of the human-visible spectrum, he took a frozen puﬃn out of the freezer and held it under a UV lamp. Its beak lit up with stripes of vivid white-blue light, like a hi-vis vest or the luminous trim on the costumes from the movie Tron. The question I keep coming back to is… how did Jamie come to test a puﬃn in the first place / in particular? In some accounts, he makes it sound as though he hypothesised ahead of time and his experiment simply confirmed what he already expected about puﬃns under blacklight. In others, though, it sounds more exploratory, or even arbitrary. As though he had a lot of other bird specimens in his freezer and was just testing all of them on the oﬀ-chance, one after the other. Sparrow, no. Penguin, no. Lesser-spotted woodpecker, no. I think of Dean and his prototypes. Yellow wagtail, no. Albatross, no. Puﬃn…
Prototype 4 The next step of the ongoing research is to find out why puﬃn beaks have developed this strange property. Does it help chicks to see their parents? Could it be used as a sexual signal? The only way to know for sure is to shine UV light on live puﬃns throughout the year. If, for example, a gradual brightening of the birds’ UV beak-stripes is observed in the run up to breeding season, researchers could assume that the markings play a role in mate selection. In that case, does a bright, flashy beak indicate a well-nourished, fertile puﬃn with good prospects? These are questions which can only be solved by further study: more UV light being shone on more puﬃns. And for this to happen, the puﬃns’ eyes must be protected. Jamie got in touch with Dean and the team to see if they could make “sunglasses for puﬃns”.
Prototype 5 When Dean talks about closing the gap between the idea and the making of it, about jumping straight up from his computer and moving quickly from concept to execution, my own work seems suddenly unbearably lacking. No matter how brilliant an idea for a poem is, there is nothing to make but the poem itself. Deanâ€™s breed of creativity is constantly on the verge of spilling into the material. Mine is the opposite. As a poet I donâ€™t have a workshop, but if I did it would be full of machines making objects disappear.
Prototype 6 The team who actually use the sunglasses in the field, the ones who fit the bendy sunshades snugly onto the bridge of the bird’s beak etc, and brandish the hi-powered blacklight torch or whatever it is they shine on the puﬃns, won’t let anybody see photos of their research being carried out. Perhaps this is sensible – the less the animals appear online the less chance there is of reprisals from the animal-rights community. But Dean and Jamie feel limited by their lack of imagery. This spring, the story went viral, but they weren’t able to provide the content needed to capitalise on their new-found fame. Fortunately, the internet stepped up and provided, as it always does. Soon, at the top of one news article, there was a puﬃn, complete with cyberpunk neon beak, photoshopped into the poster for Tron. A clickbait site had a puﬃn in a trenchcoat, wearing those little round sunglasses Keanu wore in The Matrix. My favourite though was the Brokeback-Mountain-meets-Marlboro-Man drawing: a shirtless cowboy of a puﬃn, its feathers ruﬄed into a convincing imitation of washboard abs, fashionable aviators visible under the brim of his ten-gallon hat…
Prototype 7 The internet is its own rank. A machine made to sort and aggregate itself. That’s what is so scary about a thing gone viral; that no individual makes it happen – the popularity of the viral puﬃn and its sunglasses are an emergent property of a network, the internet, which is like a giant brain, or a giant bee or ant nest, a collection of so many uncountable individuals that it takes on new sentience and life. What is more frightening? The fact that we can talk about the internet as taking on a new intelligence and life of its own, or that when we do its first visualisation, imagined scene and desire is a picture of a puﬃn in sunglasses?
PHOTOESSAY: MY MID-CENTURY SURVEY, 1967: THE FORD FOUNDATION BUILDING pp. 22-34
Beazley Group – beazley.com Boeing – boeing.com Design Holding – investindustrial.com Design Museum – designmuseum.org Extinction Rebellion – rebellion.earth Flos – flos.com Google – abc.xyz Heatherwick Studio – heatherwick.com Huawei – huawei.com Hudson Yards – hudsonyardsnewyork.com Junya Ishigami – jnyi.jp Pei Cobb Freed & Partners – pcf-p.com Serpentine Galleries – serpentinegalleries.org Smithsonian Institution – si.edu Stedelijk Museum – stedelijk.nl Tigerman McCurry Architects – tigerman-mccurry.com University of Cambridge – cambridge.ac.uk University of Plymouth – plymouth.ac.uk
TIMELINE pp. 17-20
Rubis Mécénat – rubismecenat.fr The Polyfloss Factory – thepolyflossfactory.com
Writer’s note: Despite all its challenges, Antananarivo is one of the most magical cities in the world. On my day oﬀ after researching the story, I was thrilled to take a familiar hike up to the Rova, the 17th-century castle at the city’s highest point. A fire has destroyed much of the building’s interior but its impressive frame still stands. And, for $3.50, you can get one of the most breathtaking views of the city. —Nanjala Nyabola
MATERIAL: LOOSE THREADS pp. 48-61
Editor’s note: It’s always a treat when a contributor’s work allows you to make erection puns in the journal’s contents page. —Oli Stratford
COMMENT: OUR LADY’S PHALLUS p. 46
Amazon – amazon.com Apple – apple.com Facebook – facebook.com Google – abc.xyz
Facebook. Expect your personal data’s protection to be fully weaponised as the tech giants continue to battle it out. —Oli Stratford
Netflix – netflix.com
Writer’s note: Not once while I was writing this piece was I tempted to Marie-Kondo my house. However, the other day when I was returning a borrowed gym T-shirt to a friend, I found myself folding it into a perfect Kondo square without instructions. —Meher Varma
REVIEW: TIDYING UP WITH MARIE KONDO pp. 91-94
Form Us With Love – fuwl.se
Writer’s note: When I visited Form Us With Love in their studio, I had the opportunity to mix my own soap using an early version of the formula. I was given a sachet, which I proceeded to tear open unthinkingly. “How was the tearing?” Allon Libermann asked with genuine interest. I hadn’t given the action any thought – the paper had given way with the exact degree of ease that I had expected it to, subconsciously. “I honestly didn’t think about it,” I said, which seemed to satisfy Libermann. A design element that doesn’t register as a design element is often a really well-designed design element. —Kristina Rapacki
ANATOMY: A RADICAL REDUCTION pp. 85-90
La Triennale – triennale.org Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum – cooperhewitt.org
Writer’s note: I’m grateful to have had the chance to speak with the curators of Nature and Broken Nature for this piece in the build-up to the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019, of which I am the assistant curator. Both projects have provided ample inspiration for the exhibition in Oslo, which I hope will build on their work. —George Kafka
REVIEW: NATURE AND BROKEN NATURE pp. 81-84
Writer’s note: At the time of writing this article, Apple had yet to announce “sign in with Apple” – a new login service that protects a user’s data by generating a fake email address. It’s a good initiative, but one that shows quite what a battlefield privacy is becoming in Silicon Valley; Apple’s service is very much intended as a shot across the bows of arch data fiends Google and
COMMENT: DATA BARONS p. 45
Bitossi – bitossi.it Celine – celine.com Daniel Rybakken – danielrybakken.com Issey Miyake – isseymiyake.com Maharam – maharam.com Ooho! – notpla.com Panasonic – panasonic.com Sam Baron – cargocollective.com/sambaron Scholten & Baijings – scholtenbaijings.com Studio 9191 – 9191.co.uk
Illustrator’s note: Finally, I had a new chance to work with still-life photography! For this series, I thought that if it’s the surface we’re talking about, then I should explicitly show the skin of the medium I work with – cardboard and prints. —Teresa Giannico
OBSERVATION: ON THE SURFACE pp. 36-43
Ford Foundation – fordfoundation.org
Photographer’s note: For the most recent addition to My Mid-Century Survey, 1967, I journeyed to photograph the scattered remains of my early childhood home in Sausalito, just outside San Francisco. In February of this year, a freak mud slide wiped it oﬀ its cantilevered foundation and sent it sliding down a steep ravine – crashing through the (fortunately unoccupied) home below in the middle of the night. The current occupant, who had been in bed asleep, was dug out, rescued alive and miraculously suﬀered only minor physical injuries. —Dean Kaufman
Writer’s note: While in Fiskars, I was fortunate to experience the best sauna I have ever had. As a Swede, I feel like I have been cheated for years. —Johanna Agerman Ross Fiskers Village Art and Design Biennale – fiskarsvillagebiennale.com
Hella Jongerius – jongeriuslab.com Lafayette Anticipations – lafayetteanticipations.com
REVIEW: FISKARS VILLAGE ART AND DESIGN BIENNALE pp. 113-116
Carmody Groarke – carmodygroarke.com The Hill House – nts.org.uk/visit/places/the-hill-house
Photographer’s note: I was disappointed with the light when I first visited Hill House, so decided to make another visit to Helensburgh. On this second trip, I took pictures at dawn on what would have been the architect’s 151st birthday. —Donald Milne
PROJECT: HERE IS THE HOUSE pp. 97-112
Writer’s note: As a pale and feeble Englishman living in France, this interview coincided with my annual forgetfulness that, unlike in England, the sun in mainland Europe does something. I’d spent all the previous day outside at Disneyland Paris, protected only by a positive attitude, and turned up to meet Hella Jongerius beetroot red. Remember everyone, wear sunscreen. —Felix Chabluk Smith
INTERVIEW: A BRICK IS BORN pp. 65-79
Uber – uber.com
Writer’s note: When researching this story, I found myself in a rather strange corner of Uber’s online press room. The Uber Black and Uber Black SUV page sports a series of videos promoting each of the new features – including “Quiet Mode” – starring none other than famed US lifestyle guru and criminal Martha Stewart. In one of these videos, Stewart is shown enjoying a quiet ride and simultaneously knitting a jumper whose front reads: “REQUEST A QUIET RIDE”. Weird flex but OK. —Kristina Rapacki
COMMENT: THE SHUT-UP BUTTON p. 62
IBM – ibm.com MAP – mapprojectoﬃce.com Universal Design Studio – universaldesignstudio.com
Writer’s note: To write this article, I initially focused on the designers’ claim that they had developed an “archetype” for quantum computers. But the notion turned out to be a red herring for a three-dimensional product in which most of the design considerations are not immediately visible. Instead, it made more sense to think of the System One’s interface in terms of strategic messaging. What does IBM want to tell us about quantum computing and what is it trying to conceal? The machine’s clear vitrine and its claim to transparency then became a lot more interesting. —Lemma Shehadi
TECHNOLOGY: THE QUANTUM RACE pp. 132-140
Aram – aram.co.uk p. 35 Artemide – artemide.com p. 1, inside front cover Associative Design – associativedesign.com p. 95 Blå Station – blastation.com p. 63 Brunner – brunner-uk.com p. 44 Celine – celine.com outside back cover Charlie Caﬀyn Furniture – charliecaﬀynfurniture.co.uk p. 96 Dare – darestudio.com p. 16 Duravit – duravit.co.uk p. 15 Elmo Leather – elmoleather.com p. 80 Flexform – flexform.it p. 11 Flokk – flokk.com p. 21 Kvadrat – kvadrat.dk pp. 2-3 Lammhults – lammhults.se p. 19 Laufen – laufen.com pp. 4-5 Royal Botania – royalbotania.com p. 13 Sunspel – sunspel.com p. 6 Technogym – technogym.com p. 177 USM – usm.com p. 9 Vola – vola.com p. 47 Zanat – zanat.org p. 64
Wallace Sewell – wallacesewell.com
Setter’s note: 9-Across rhymes with “dethrone”. —K-Doc
CROSSWORD: TIMEWARP pp. 175-176
Interaction Research Studio – gold.ac.uk/interaction
Editor’s note: Commissioning an extended poem about puﬃns wearing sunglasses was the easiest editorial call I’ve ever made. —Oli Stratford
Writer’s note: I watched so much Netflix for this essay. —Oli Stratford
Netflix – netflix.com
POETRY: PUFFIN POEM pp. 161-169
ESSAY: DON’T CROSS THE STREAMS pp. 117-131
Driving Creek Railway and Pottery – dcrail.nz/pottery Francis Upritchard – katemacgarry.com/artists/francis-upritchard Martino Gamper – martinogamper.com
Writer’s note: My one big regret is that I didn’t visit the Thames School of Mines and Mineralogical Museum while I was in Coromandel. Opened in 1885, the school taught subjects including ventilation and explosives, hauling and winding, pumping and pit-work, mineralogy and blowpipe analysis. There was also an Experimental Metallurgical Works on the site, which feels strangely relevant to this piece. —Elizabeth Bisley
TRAVELOGUE: GESAMTKUNSTHANDWERK IN COROMANDEL pp. 145-160
Chatto & Windus – penguin.co.uk
Writer’s note: “Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men,” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in her 1949 book The Second Sex. “They describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with absolute truth.” —Kristina Rapacki
REVIEW: INVISIBLE WOMEN pp. 141-144
The Quarterly Journal of Design
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Timewarp “It wasn’t drafted at the time,” says Emma Sewell, co-founder of the textile-design studio Wallace Sewell. “They probably didn’t stop to think about the sort of legacy it would come to have.” Sewell is referring to a woven rayon bedspread designed in 1926 by artist Gunta Stölzl (1897-1983) for the Prellerhaus student dormitories at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Stölzl, who became director of the weaving workshop in the same year, was instrumental in shaping the school’s textile teaching and production. To mark the Bauhaus centenary this year, Wallace Sewell has re-editioned the bedspread. This was no small feat. Although approximately 100 were woven in the 1920s, their whereabouts are not known and there is no documentation of the exact pattern. Sewell and studio co-founder, Harriet Wallace-Jones, had to work from photographs, archival material provided by Stölzl’s daughter, and a (rather inaccurate) 1990s re-edition. Sewell and Wallace-Jones have tried to re-create the Prellerhaus bedspread accurately, but found some changes necessary to chime with today’s sensibilities. Instead of regenerated rayon fibres, for example, they used wool. “Just like the Bauhaus was about creating things for modern society, we wanted to use materials that would bring the pattern up to date,” explains Sewell. Complete the crossword overleaf in order to enter the competition to win a cushion with a re-editioned Prellerhaus textile cover.
Image courtesy of Wallace Sewell.
Crossword by K-Doc
Send the completed solution to email@example.com to enter the draw to win a Wallace Sewell cushion based on a Bauhaus textile. ACROSS
01 ____ headquarters, prominent OMA-designed landmark in Beijing. (4)
01 Objects made from clay, then fired. (8)
03 Australian sheepskin footwear. (3,5)
02 Flying _____, Danish purveyor of inexpensive knick-knacks. (5)
09 Carbon offsetting sometimes takes the form of trees being _______. (7)
04 The subject of this issue’s book review. (5,4,3)
10 Yves _____ Laurent, 1936-2008. (5)
05 Bar _____, crowded haunt during Milan’s Salone del Mobile. (5)
11 _____ Bellini, designer of the 1972 Kar-a-sutra. (5)
06 The inspiration behind Issey Miyake’s 132 5 collection. (7)
12 Another term for a canvas tote. (3,3)
07 Oki ____, of Nendo. (4)
14 Complexity and _____________ in Architecture (1962) by Robert Venturi. (13) 08 Johannes Itten taught this at the Bauhaus and Ulm HfG. (6) 17 Typeface frequently used in memes. (6)
13 Typical clutch bag shape. (8)
19 _____ Roset, French furniture brand. (5)
15 The nature of Manifesta’s biannual locations. (7)
22 Eames-designed moulded plywood product from 1946, re-issued by Vitra. (5)
16 Alexander ______, maker of mobiles among other things. (6)
23 _______ Pesce, designer of the embattled Up chair. (7)
18 Public urban space in ancient Greece. (5)
24 The Castiglionis’ 1962 Arco and Marc Sadler’s Twiggy, for example. (3,5)
20 Country whose new cathedral will be designed by David Adjaye. (5)
25 Notre ____, subject of an unexpected design competition. (4)
21 ____ Boom, “Queen of Books”. (4)
A trip to the kilns of Coromandel in New Zealand with Francis Upritchard and Martino Gamper; a 50-year checkup on New York's Ford Foundation...