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Tacchini Italia Forniture 19, v. Domodossola, 20822 Baruccana di Seveso email@example.com â€” www.tacchini.it
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MASTER OF MATERIALS
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L AU FE N 1892 | SW I T ZE R L AND
My Pretty Peacock Words Oli Stratford
I am delighted to announce the completion of a major public work at Disegno – a plastic peacock head on a spring that I have wedged into the port of a rotary desk fan. I will not be making the plans open-source. I do not want the idea stolen. The creation of Endowed as a Peacock was fortuitous. It was a brilliant sunny day, London basking in a 40°C Mediterranean nightmare, when I spied a peacock head discarded on the steps outside Disegno’s back door. Well, I can only assume that the previous owner had been the victim of a terrible misfortune and/or murder, because there’s no way you would give up a treasure like that lightly. I pocketed it immediately. My peacock is a beautiful thing: shiny and wee with chipped acrylic paint, he is crowned with a glorious blue crest and flutters a set of crudely drawn eyelashes that are lovely and coquettish. When wedged into the fan’s port, he sits at a slight list, as if tooty from too many fermented berries in the orchard. He’s quite the rogue. But the real magic kicks in when the fan is switched on. Its rotation sets the peacock’s head bobbing in a circle. The movement is neither too fast nor too slow, giving the impression that the creature is luxuriating in the soft, Introduction
automatic breeze riﬄing through his feathers. He’s a jaunty lad and no mistake. I am presently drafting a press release explaining that my installation is a prescient commentary on climate collapse – a synthetic peacock trying to escape unnatural heat by means of a synthetic breeze. I hope to sell it to the Tate for £850,000, providing a bidding war isn’t initiated in order to inflate prices further. I’m looking at you, Centre Pompidou. At this point you may be expecting this editor’s letter to segue into a neat link to the content of this issue, or else unexpectedly bridge into a wider reflection on contemporary design. No. This is a sales pitch for Endowed as a Peacock, which I’m publishing in case the press release isn’t suﬃcient. I’m sorry if this disappoints anyone, but that’s really just the nature of things. We’ve all got vested interests and we all have a particular slant from which we approach a topic. In fact, it’s probably worthwhile reflecting on what that slant may be before you buy into an enterprise too wholeheartedly. After all, can you imagine how awful it would be if you let yourself be drawn into something that had an ulterior motive? And just for the record – so there’s no room for doubt – both my explicit and ulterior motives align in the form of selling a culturally significant peacock artwork. 14
73V 73V by Omer Arbel Standard fixtures and bespoke installations
Report Murals for Madaniya The graphic art of the Sudanese protests
Travelogue After the Revolution Nationalism and craft in contemporary Ukraine
Profile A Company Voyage Set sail for adventure
Interview Nested Betters Heterotopias with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg
Review McDonald’s Times Square Cut the kitsch, keep the chips
Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
Crossword Rack ’Em Up Win a Magazine Holder by Paul McCobb, reissued by Fritz Hansen
Introduction My Pretty Peacock
Masthead The people behind Disegno
Timeline June to August 2019 in review
Photoessay Barrio 31 The future of Buenos Aires’s contested settlement
Observation Into the Woods Forms for flora and fauna
109 Technology The Robotics of Modern Parenting Do you Snoo?
Comment Ive Gotta Go Upsetting the Apple cart
Review FABULOSA! Palare the carny?
Comment Meagre Defence Yana Peel exits the Serpentine
Process Life After Niemeyer Revitalisation plans for the Tripoli fair
Project Big Panda Energy The diplomatic power of cuddly bears
Review Ceramic Block by Virgil Abloh for Vitra Exactly as it sounds
100 Comment The Opposite of Inclusivity is Exclusivity Fashion does diversity 103
Review FaceApp Does my face look old in this?
Contributors Karen Paulina Biswell spent the tail-end of this issue’s production stuck in China. p. 125 Felix Chabluk Smith assumes that a discount on an Eames chair isn’t likely after that review. p. 133 Brendan Cormier can’t decide what kind of design curator he really wants to be. p. 103 Lavinia Fasano collects magazines but has nowhere to store them. p. 175 Anthony Gerace lives in Hackney with his partner and their plants. p. 40 Juho Huttunen enjoys the emotions and experiences hidden in shapes. p. 83
Joe Lloyd was so impressed by Ukraine’s Putin-branded toilet paper that he’s planning to print and market Boris Johnson loo roll in time for Halloween. p. 137 Michael David Mitchell has only very recently discovered the joy of cultivating grapes in Ticino. p. 109 Nanjala Nyabola writes books and essays about politics, technology and human behaviour. p. 68 Cristóbal Palma tends to struggle with deadlines, which makes him feel rather guilty. p. 28 María Ramos Bravo is an illustrator and author who primarily makes picture books. p. 109
George Isleden badly needed the money for this comment after maxing out his Apple Card. p. 49
Leonhard Rothmoser works as one third of Klick Klack Publishing, together with Jonas Hirschmann and Roman Häbler. p. 49, 50, 100
Charlie Lee-Potter loves walking in geometric shapes and would like to find a square sweet that looks round. p. 121
Muhammad Salah went to Khartoum’s former sit-in area when it was full of RSF paramilitaries. p. 68
Lemma Shehadi is on her way to the Caucasus for a reporting project. p. 125 Elena Subach spent the last six months in Poland, so came back to Lviv with a clear view of the city. p. 137 Kay Sunden recommends Helen DeWitt’s novel Lightning Rods on the topic of corporate crisis management. p. 100 Belinda Tato can often be found sharing inspiration with students from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. p. 28 Kate Wagner is the creator of the blog McMansion Hell, which thoroughly examines the phenomenon that is the McMansion. p. 165 Alastair Philip Wiper is currently working on a project about sex robots and has just joined a tennis club. p. 52
The Quarterly Journal of Design #24 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford firstname.lastname@example.org
Founder and publication director Johanna Agerman Ross
Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com
Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki firstname.lastname@example.org
Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com
Commercial partnerships manager Jess Tully email@example.com
Creative producer Evi Hall firstname.lastname@example.org
Designer Jonas Hirschmann email@example.com
Commercial executive Farnaz Ari firstname.lastname@example.org
Subeditor Ann Morgan
Colour management Terry Smith Complete Creative Services completeltd.com
Circulation and stockist enquiries Adam Long email@example.com
Editorial interns Lavinia Fasano Gareth Thomas Rio Yamaguchi
Cover The cover shows an artwork by Anthony Gerace that depicts the Halo and Hecate lamps by Barber & Osgerby for Hermès. Words by Felix Chabluk Smith, Brendan Cormier, Lavinia Fasano, Evi Hall, George Isleden, K-Doc, Charlie Lee-Potter, Joe Lloyd, Michael David Mitchell, Nanjala Nyabola, Kristina Rapacki, Lemma Shehadi, Oli Stratford, Kay Sunden, Belinda Tato and Kate Wagner. Images by Karen Paulina Biswell, Anthony Gerace, Juho Huttunen, Cristóbal Palma, María Ramos Bravo, Leonhard Rothmoser, Muhammad Salah, Elena Subach and Alastair Philip Wiper. Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm. The cover is printed on Freelife Vellum Premium White 320gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk
Thanks Many thanks to Faina for welcoming Disegno to Ukraine; to the Cubitts team for hosting an excellent event; to Michael David Mitchell for being flexible over timescales; to Klaus Thymann for an excellent Copenhagen recommendation; to Rio Yamaguchi for a great panda idea; to Tacchini for a wonderful collaboration; to Aliénor De Chambrier for being so helpful; to Fritz Hansen for its generous sponsorship of the crossword; and to Zetteler for helping us launch the Disegno Book Club. We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #24 possible. Not least Mao Sun, Xing Er and Yaya for graciously welcoming us to their lovely homes.
Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Disegno Publications Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. Contact us Studio 2, The Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Road London N1 5SQ +44 20 7249 1155 Disegno Works Disegno also runs the creative agency Disegno Works. disegnoworks.com
©2019 Steelcase Inc. All rights reserved. Trademarks used herein are the property of Steelcase Inc. or of their respective owners.
DYNAMIC TEAM NEIGHBORHOODS MADE POSSIBLE BY STEELCASE® FLEX COLLECTION Designed to empower hyper-collaborative teams to adapt their space on demand. steelcase.com/flex
every single proposal contained within
towards retirement. Here’s hoping
its pages. Oh well. Perhaps when Brexit
that Whalley makes a success of it and
From Cupertino with love
comes and the country no longer has
shows there can still be life in these
It’s tempting to analyse the reasons
sufficient energy reserves to heat its
practices when the doyens finally call
behind the sudden departure of Jony
homes, Britons can warm themselves on
it a day. Failing that, maybe it will
Ive from Apple (and you’ll be relieved
the vast bonfires of lightly used H&M
be a chance for smaller, less heralded
to learn that Disegno has succumbed
hoodies and Gap stretch pants.
firms to get a bite of the cherry.
to this temptation on p.49), but equally worthy of comment is Ive’s new venture, LoveFrom. So far, details
are scarce. We know that Ive’s friend
In June, the Canadian government
Marc Newson is involved; that it will
announced that it will “ban harmful
likely work in wearable tech; that
single-use plastics as early as 2021”.
it will be based in California; and
The country currently throws away
that it has a truly terrible name.
3m tonnes of the material annually,
Despite Ive’s claims to feel “a moral
of which only 10 per cent gets
obligation to be useful”, it seems
recycled. Citing the European Union’s
a safe bet that LoveFrom will embrace
2018 ban as inspiration for the move,
the world of luxury. Away from Apple,
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau
Ive and Newson’s joint ventures to
said: “We owe it to our kids to
date have included a ring cut from
keep the environment clean and safe
a single diamond; a one-off Leica
for generations to come.” Awww, what
camera; and a Christmas tree for
a wholesome sentiment. Now let’s
Claridge's hotel. Fingers crossed,
talk about the Trans Mountain
then, that the moral obligation
oil pipeline, the controversial
kicks in early. In terms of his
infrastructure project that Trudeau’s
widespread impact, Ive has been the
government bought for C$4.5bn (£2.6bn)
most significant designer of the last
last year. Around the time of the
30 years. His talents deserve a more
plastics ban announcement, Trans
Stella McCartney’s conglomerate
expansive canvas than gewgaws.
Mountain was given a definite go-ahead,
having been opposed in a federal
In March 2018, fashion designer
court and heavily criticised by
Stella McCartney ended a 17-year
environmentalist campaigners. The
partnership with fashion conglomerate
pipeline will triple the capacity
Kering when she bought back the
of Canada’s internal oil-carrying
group’s 50 per cent stake in her
infrastructure from 300,000 to 890,000
eponymous brand. “It is the right
barrels per day. All revenues earned
moment to acquire the full control
by the federal government will fund
of the company bearing my name,”
a “transition to a green economy”,
said McCartney in a statement.
according to Trudeau.
“This opportunity represents a crucial
patrimonial decision for me.” In July
Images courtesy of Apple and RIBA.
2019, McCartney announced that she
Nixing fixing fashion
had sold a minority stake in her brand
Given that around 300,000 tonnes of
After close to 40 years at the tiller,
to LVMH, declaring herself “hugely
clothing are buried or burned in the
Nicholas Grimshaw announced in June
excited” by the “chance to realise
UK every year, the ‘Fixing Fashion’
that he would be stepping down as
and accelerate the full potential of
report issued in February by the
chair of his self-titled architecture
the brand”. She does know that LVMH
government's Environmental Audit
practice. A pioneer of the high-tech
and Kering are basically the same
Committee seemed a step in the right
movement, Grimshaw has been replaced
direction. The document called for
by his long-serving deputy Andrew
a 1p charge on every garment sold
Whalley, who said he was “thrilled to
in the UK to raise funds for better
be fostering another generation of the
Cristiano Toraldo di Francia (1941-2019)
clothing collection and sorting;
Grimshaw practice”. Meanwhile, Grimshaw
Farewell then to Cristiano Toraldo
proposed a ban on incinerating or
himself pledged to "continue to make
di Francia, one of the co-founders
landfilling unsold clothes that could
available my experience”, but his step
of Superstudio (1966-1978), an
be reused or recycled; and recommended
back seemed significant nevertheless:
architecture group whose outsized
mandatory environmental targets for
of the current ruling elite of British
influence on Italy's radical design
retailers with turnovers of more than
architects (Foster, Rogers, Farrell
movement resonates to this day.
£36m. In June, parliament rejected
et al), Grimshaw is the first to move
Superstudio’s criticisms of the
intellectually moribund state of
similar treatment of Siri recordings
creating films and exhibitions such
modernism in the 1960s and 70s were
containing “private discussions
as The Happy Film and Beauty, in which
deliciously needling and invigorating,
between doctors and patients, business
Sagmeister's personality often took
as were its willingness to ridicule
deals, seemingly criminal dealings,
centre stage. These projects appealed
preservation for preservation's sake
sexual encounters and so on”. Well,
to audiences, but with critics...
(see the group’s 1972 proposal to
thank God they're both taking privacy
not so much. "Sagmeister isn't nearly
submerge Florence such that only
seriously, then. Just think how fucked
as charming as he seems to think he
its cathedral spire was exposed as
we’d be if they weren’t.
is," complained the Hollywood Reporter in its review of The Happy Film, "which
a tourist attraction), and its interest in Marxist and environmentalist
limits our interest in whether he's
thought. Perhaps the greatest tribute
They got it Wright this time
happy or not." Walsh's new practice,
one can pay to Toraldo di Francia
Second time proved the charm for Frank
&Walsh, will retain Sagmeister &
is that Superstudio’s Il Monumento
Lloyd Wright, as a meeting of Unesco's
Walsh's 25-strong design team, most
Continuo project, an endless
World Heritage Committee in Baku voted
of its existing clients, and its
architectural framework that would
to inscribe eight of his buildings on
offices on Broadway. Sagmeister
cover the entire world, feels as
its World Heritage List. The decision
will continue with experimental,
laser-sharp a critique of contemporary
sees structures such as Wright’s
self-initiated projects. “All of
urban planning and globalisation as
Taliesen and Taliesen West studios,
the commercial work will be placed
it did at the time of its creation
Fallingwater house, and the Guggenheim
on Jessica’s capable shoulders,” said
in 1969. He won’t soon be forgotten.
Museum in New York acknowledged as
Sagmeister. “I feel I have done my
being of “outstanding universal value”
fair share of commercial work.” He
– only three years on from their
makes client work sound like a chore,
having been denied the same honour
but Disegno knows who'll likely be
during the committee’s previous
laughing all the way to the bank.
meeting in Istanbul (covered in ‘When Genius Isn't Enough’ in Disegno #12). The quality of Wright’s architecture has never been in question, with the discrepancy in the two votes instead highlighting the need to play by Unesco’s rules. “The outstanding universal value of this work is obvious but the problem lies in defining what makes it so,” explained Three years later, it seems that
Fireworks on the Fourth of July
a definition was finally found.
“It’s a good thing @Nike only wants to sell sneakers to people who hate the American flag,” roared Senator Ted Cruz on Twitter. The source of Cruz’s rage was Nike’s decision to withdraw from sale an edition of Air Max 1
Go ahead, we’re listening
trainers that the company had planned
Fewer than two months on from Google
to release on 4 July. The cancelled
declaring that “privacy must be
trainers had been emblazoned with the
equally available to everyone in the
“Betsy Ross flag”, an early US flag
world” and Apple painting itself as
associated with the Revolutionary War
“moving privacy protections forward”,
that features a circle of 13 stars. The decision to cancel the design
the two companies were caught in the compromising position of having
Division of labour
followed criticism from activist Colin
enabled external contractors to listen
Following Jony Ive's departure from
Kaepernick, who is reported to have
to recordings of confidential user
Apple, the split of Stefan Sagmeister
pointed out that the Betsy Ross flag
information. The Belgian broadcaster
and Jessica Walsh in July was the next
has been co-opted by groups espousing
VRT found that audio recordings made
design breakup on everyone's lips.
racist ideologies. Just to be clear
by Google Assistant, which contained
Walsh had joined Sagmeister's studio
for the sake of Cruz, regardless of
addresses and personal information,
in 2010, becoming partner in 2012 aged
its undoubted historical significance,
had been passed to contractors for
only 25. In the years that followed,
the Betsy Ross flag is not the
analysis, while a whistleblower
the studio worked with a string of
American flag. Being angry with
speaking to The Guardian revealed
high-profile clients, as well as
Nike for not selling a design that
Images courtesy of Archive Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and &Walsh.
one member of the Istanbul committee.
GR AND PUBL IC
WE WILL ALWAYS BE MODERN, OUR DESIGN ALWAYS ESSENTIAL
NEW SHOWROOM IN LONDON
DESIGN JOHANNES FOERSOM & PETER HIORT-LORENZEN, 2015
DESIGN GUNILLA ALLARD, 2016
3 Albemarle Way Clerkenwell London, EC1V 4JB
features its image is like being angry
and Klauser are likely to make
to tackle climate collapse, but there
with Le Coq Sportif for not offering
a good fist of it. VG&P has been
are perhaps reasons to be hopeful
tennis shoes printed with the crest
a major success story, while Isokon
about the “Fashion Pact” nonetheless.
Plus – a brand that grew out of
Led by Kering chief executive
Jack Pritchard’s original Bauhaus-
François-Henri Pinault (whose own
influenced 1931 Isokon company – has
spokesperson was the one to pour cold
an enviable back catalogue of designs
water on the initiative a few lines
from the likes of Marcel Breuer,
back), the pact has been signed by
All that is solid melts into PR
Ernest Race and Barber & Osgerby.
32 companies, representing roughly
Earlier this year, the UK’s
Here’s hoping that lightning strikes
150 brands, as part of a commitment
Advertising Standards Authority
twice for Carpenter and Klauser, and
to mitigate fashion’s impact on the
(ASA) announced that it would ban any
that they’re able to turn an economic
climate. The agreement is somewhat
advertisements that perpetuate gender
sow’s ear into design’s silk purse.
hazy as to what form that mitigation
stereotypes: men struggling to care
will take, but Pinault still presented
for children; women blithely doing
it to world leaders at the G7 summit
housework; that kind of thing. Then,
in Biarritz, France, and its list
in August, two TV ads were the first
of signatories is impressive (albeit
to be banned under the new guidelines:
somewhat lacking in manufacturers):
a Philadelphia commercial showing two
Chanel, Hermès, Versace, Calvin
men so distracted by cream cheese that
Klein, Adidas, Nike, H&M and so on.
they fail to look out for their babies’
Conspicuous by its absence, however,
safety (“Let's not tell mum!” is the
was LVMH, the world’s largest luxury
unfunny punchline) and a Volkswagen
group. Pinault was tasked with
eGolf ad showing, among other things,
bringing the coalition together
a woman with a pram with the slogan,
by French President Emmanuel Macron,
“When we learn to adapt we can
and is supposed to have worked to a punishing timescale in order
achieve anything.” Some (Philadelphia, Volkswagen) have complained ASA's
A Planetary food poisoning
to be ready for the G7. “François-
rulings are far too draconian. Here
The food industry is fucked. According
Henri Pinault got his shirt wet,”
at Disegno, however, we welcome any
to a new report by Norwegian think-
said a Kering spokesperson. Disegno
opportunity to discuss the politics
tank Eat and medical journal The
doesn’t really understand what this
of ads. If anything, doesn’t close
Lancet, it is “the largest source
means, but gathers we may take it
scrutiny reveal something fundamentally
of environmental degradation”. What’s
as read that LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault
absurd about how brands try to attach
more, it currently leaves more than
is sitting pretty in a freshly
vague “values” to their products?
2 billion people micronutrient
Like, what does being a new parent
deficient, 1 billion hungry and
have to do with cream cheese? Or
2.1 billion adults overweight or
with electric cars? That’s right:
obese. “Unhealthy diets,” says the
absolutely flippin’ nothing.
report, “now pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than unsafe combined.” It is surprising, then,
“The timing this summer with Brexit
that this 2019 publication is the
looming, you could argue it's not
first ever effort to devise global
great, but when is the right time?”
dietary guidelines that are “win-win”
Disegno sometimes wonders whether
– environmentally sustainable as well
Ed Carpenter and André Klauser feel
as healthy for individuals. While the
that they’re in Groundhog Day – every
take-home message is just bloody stop
business decision they make seems
eating meat already, the report does
to coincide with the collapse
not quite decree vegetarianism. With
of Britain’s economy. When the pair
a daily red meat allowance of 7g, you’d
founded their London-based furniture
be hard pressed to eat it more often
brand Very Good & Proper (VG&P) in
than once a month. As it should be.
2008, the world was adrift in the financial crash. Eleven years later, the pair announced the acquisition
of heritage brand Isokon Plus, just
“It’s not perfect.” Not necessarily
as Britain stands on the cusp of
the description you’d hope for of
Brexit ruin. Nevertheless, Carpenter
the fashion industry’s new initiative
Image courtesy of Isokon Plus.
sex, alcohol, drug and tobacco use
A very good and proper acquisition
Barrio 31 Words Belinda Tato Photographs Cristóbal Palma
A stroll through Barrio 31 in Buenos Aires shows what a spontaneous public space this neighbourhood is. Known as Villa 31, an informal settlement in the city’s Retiro district, Barrio 31 is now the subject of a $250m development plan by the city council. The move aims to integrate the neighbourhood into the capital’s service infrastructure, and brings with it the drawing-up of property titles, the introduction of paid-for utilities and the enforced relocation of a number of the neighbourhood’s 40,000 or so residents to 1,200 “improved” homes. While the area has had long-running issues with poverty, violence and crime, the plan is nevertheless highly controversial. First settled in the 1930s, Barrio 31 is an atypical example of an informal settlement in the heart of a modern metropolis. It is free of bureaucracy but full of shared knowledge, with its own culture and identity. A mixture of experimentation, genius loci and collective creativity has led to unique and profoundly identitarian results – the ground floors of many of its buildings open up to the street; external spiral staircases provide access to the upper levels; and the housing units have acquired similar appearances, height and construction techniques, despite the lack of formal knowledge or adherence to building codes. Informal settlements are conceived, moulded and materialised by people, establishing a strong bond between the inhabitants and their environment – a sense of belonging, pride and connection that makes such neighbourhoods human and personal. There are stories and memories around every corner. Barrio 31 expresses itself in multiple ways – colour, spirituality, spontaneity, gastronomy – as shown in the photographs of Cristóbal Palma, who has been documenting the neighbourhood ahead of its transformation. It is a palimpsest
that shows the accumulation of time, materials and personal contributions to the neighbourhood’s appearance. The Barrio is home to an active and resilient community: people who have been in charge of their own lives and future; and who are used to managing their own public space and dealing with its conflicts. They are a participatory group, with more than 100 associations running in the neighbourhood, and have been collectively designing and deciding their own rules and protocols. The result is an urban environment based on citizen initiatives, rather than institutional power. It is interesting to see and experience the vitality of Barrio 31’s streets. The neighbourhood, although lacking any formal planning, has characteristics that would now be considered good practice within wider urban design: ecological urbanism, environmental sustainability, participatory processes and shared management. Barrio 31’s streets are full of commerce and social interaction, and exhibit a density and mixture of uses. There is a predominance of pedestrianised areas instead of infrastructure to support private transport, and the streets have been configured to promote entrepreneurship, with the ground floors of many buildings given over to commercial or food spaces. Barrio 31 is open, fresh and welcoming, but it is about to be transformed. Many questions remain unanswered. Can it retain its spontaneity when subsumed into the formal city? Can it preserve its values and identity? Will the transformation normalise the relationship between Barrio 31 and the rest of Buenos Aires? And how will these changes impact the community? The future of Barrio 31 must balance the creation of a new urban order and logic with the need to maintain and value
the intrinsic qualities that the neighbourhood has had historically – and which are still reflected in its streets.
Into the Woods Seven collages interpret objects that owe their aesthetic to the flora and fauna of forests and woodland. Collages Anthony Gerace 40
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The Uncanny Animist by Hilda Hellström – a stoneware, fossil, fleetwood and jesmonite sculpture from The Science of Imaginary
Solutions, an exhibition at Copenhagen’s Etage Projects.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Look 34 by Richard Quinn, autumn/winter 2019 â€“ a full floral covering drawn from the designerâ€™s Fearless Glamour collection.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Halo and Hecate by Barber & Osgerby for HermĂ¨s â€“ a set of white-porcelain and machined black-granite lamps in shapes that recall plump toadstools.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Butterfly by Lucian Randolph Ercolani for Ercol â€“ a 1956 Windsorinspired chair with curved bent-ply seats mimicking the wings of a butterfly.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
BP by Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska for The Breakfast Pavilion â€“ a wooden stool with a form reminiscent of a bird box.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Snake by Jean-Baptiste Fastrez for Galerie Kreo â€“ a mosaic and aluminium mirror that makes use of zoomorphism in its pythonic appearance.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Boss by Tuva Rivedal Tjugen for Lammhults â€“ a bin with an overlapping surface structure that draws on pine cones and flaking tree bark.
Introducing Colour 28, Matt white Bringing colour to life since 1968 Top left: 060 round head shower. Bottom left: 590H basin mixer. Right: 5471R built-in shower mixer with hand shower.
VOLA UK Ltd. Highfield House 108 The Hawthorns Flitwick MK45 1FN Tel.: 01525 720 111 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.vola.com
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Ive Gotta Go Words George Isleden Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
It was the most conscious of uncouplings. In June 2019, after 27 years of service, industrial designer Jony Ive announced that he was leaving Apple. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, quickly praised Ive as “one of a kind”, while Ive described his decision to launch his own design practice, LoveFrom, as “natural and gentle”. Amidst this wellmeaning corporate frottage, it probably helped matters that LoveFrom had already revealed its first client: Apple. “I can’t imagine a better result,” said Cook. Plus ça change? Perhaps, but there was nonetheless something noteworthy in Ive stepping outside Apple’s formal structures. Most obviously, the subcontracting of a portion of Apple’s design seems to contradict Ive’s preferred form of practice. Not long after the completion of the company’s Apple Park headquarters in 2017, Ive declared himself “absurdly excited” about bringing together the company’s “physically really disconnected design studios”. What’s more, he has made little secret of his admiration for Dieter Rams, a resolute company man whose output was largely channelled through an in-house position at Braun (and a long-term relationship with furniture maker Vitsœ). “I have always observed that good design can normally only emerge if there is a strong relationship between an entrepreneur and the head of design,” Rams wrote in 2011. It’s pointless speculating on Ive’s reasons for leaving, but a recent shift in the company’s MO is worth comment. Despite Cook’s assessment that Apple’s design team is “the strongest it’s ever been”, there have been clear changes. Apple’s recent hardware output has largely been restricted to iterations of existing products, with the company’s more left-field work emerging within the territory of service design. Apple is entering the content-creation market with Apple TV+; is debuting a gaming service with Apple Arcade; and recently issued Apple Card, a titanium credit card “Built on Simplicity, Transparency and Privacy.” All of Apple’s new services are complex design projects in their own right (OK, the credit card is debatable), but not ones that fall within the natural purview of an industrial designer. Apple is no longer a straightforward technology company but is rapidly becoming a services provider too. And while this nebulisation of focus is no bad thing, it is a shift from the heyday of Ive’s tenure at the company. “[Rams] defined how it was supposed to be,” Ive wrote in 2011. “When you think of Braun, you immediately think of the products, not some abstract mission statement or charter.” A penny for Ive’s thoughts on “Simplicity, Transparency and Privacy”?
Meagre Defence Words Evi Hall Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
“I welcome debate and discussion about the realities of life in the digital age. There is a place for these debates, but they should be constructive, fair and factual – not based upon toxic personal attacks.” So said Yana Peel, when forced to step down from her role as CEO of the Serpentine Galleries. Peel owns a third of private-equity firm Novalpina Capital, which holds a majority stake in NSO technologies, a cyber-securities company. NSO has been criticised for its Pegasus software, which infects mobile phones to allow access to contacts, location data, phone calls and microphones. To date, Pegasus has been discovered to have been used by the governments of Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE – all countries with abysmal human-rights records. The criticism was loud and consistent enough to compel Peel to leave the South Kensington art gallery, although not without a parting shot. Her statement on her departure made three main claims: the allegations against Novalpina and NSO were inaccurate; society needed to have a debate “about the realities of life in the digital age”; and “[if] campaigns of this type continue, the treasures of the art community[…] risk an erosion of private support. That will be a great loss for everyone.” A defiant statement, but was it fair? Well, the final comment certainly wasn’t, landing as a petulant and patronising threat: don’t make those with disposable wealth feel uncomfortable or you won’t get nice things. The second claim was intriguing, however, and it’s just a shame that Peel floated an open debate that she simultaneously backed out of. Come on Peel, don’t tease us. Let’s have it out. It’s not just her suggestion that the arts could be legitimately funded by products intertwined with warfare that makes for controversial discussion but also her idea that spyware itself could be morally justified. Many (I) would disagree, but I’d still like to hear her arguments. I’ve posed some questions that should start oﬀ us nicely: In what way are cyber-weapons and weapons similar and dissimilar? Do heads of public institutions have a right to privacy over their personal financial investments? Do individuals have a right to privacy over their personal devices? Does an individual’s phone lie in the private or public sphere? What about an individual’s social-media activity, location-app data or search history? And, given that art galleries and museums are open to public scrutiny over their funding, should those same criticisms be levied at the private investments of museum and gallery leaders? Further questions welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Big Panda Energy BIGâ€™s enclosure at Copenhagen Zoo prompts reflections on the political power of the panda. Words Kristina Rapackiâ€‚Photographs Alastair Philip Wiper 52
In 2006, biology student Nathan Yaussy launched a blog dedicated to “endangered ugly things”. It was an eﬀort, he wrote, to “promote awareness of endangered species that wouldn’t otherwise get noticed due to appearance or obscurity”. Endangered Ugly Things featured humorous and informative posts about creatures such as the Ohio lamprey, a blood-sucking eel with a gaping, multi-toothed maw for a head,1 and the biological ingenuities of the old world sucker-footed bat, purple burrowing frog and legless skink. Then, in 2010, Yaussy added the giant panda to the list. This was an unexpected nomination. The giant panda is perhaps the most charismatic of “Charismatic megafauna”, the unoﬃcial category for large animals that hold particular symbolic power in human culture. The panda has adorned the logo of the World Wildlife Fund since the 1960s, and has been the subject of such concerted breeding and re-wilding programmes that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared it was no longer endangered in 2016.2 The People’s Republic of China, the only country in which giant pandas appear in the wild, has used the animals as diplomatic pawns since the late 1950s, oﬀering them to nations with which it wants to establish friendly relations. (Two of the most famous among these were Hsing-Hsing and Ling-Ling, the pandas gifted to the United States following Richard Nixon’s state visit in 1972.) The giant panda is far from obscure. It also can’t be described as ugly. Yaussy’s argument, however, was that this overexposure has made us oblivious to the creature’s plight. The panda is a wild animal and although its diet consists largely of bamboo, it is technically an omnivorous scavenger. “All creatures have behaviors that humans aren’t fond of,” Yaussy wrote, “but we can’t expect them to act like giant teddy bears.” Cue links to ugly video footage of pandas attacking people and gnawing on fly-encrusted carrion. At the time of the panda post, Endangered Ugly Things sold merchandise encouraging people to “Forget the panda, save the Ohio lamprey.” Even so, Yaussy
Do you remember the mouth of the sarlacc, Jabba the Hutt’s hideous desert monster from The Return of the Jedi? That, but on an eel. The giant panda is still considered “vulnerable” to extinction by IUCN, with climate change and shrinking habitats posing the greatest threats.
was adamant: “Turning an animal into a symbol makes you forget that it’s an animal.” I knew about Yaussy’s blog, as well as his stance on the giant panda, when I visited Copenhagen Zoo’s new panda enclosure this summer. I also knew about the complex’s diplomatic implications. Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and backed at government level, it was oﬃcially opened by Queen Margrethe II on 10 April 2019. The enclosure had taken five years to design, and cost 160m Danish kroner ($24m). Denmark’s acquisition of the pandas themselves – Mao Sun, a five-year-old female,
“Turning an animal into a symbol makes you forget that it’s an animal.” —Nathan Yaussy and Xing Er, a six-year-old male – had taken the best part of a decade, and makes Denmark the latest addition to a relatively small group of countries (21 as of 2019) to host pandas from the People’s Republic. At the opening, the Chinese ambassador to Denmark, Deng Ying, made the pandas’ political import clear. “The comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Denmark has continued to deepen,” she said, “and is moving towards a higher level in the new decade.” When the panda loan was oﬃcially confirmed during Queen Margrethe’s state visit to China in 2014, it was accompanied by 40 new trade deals between the two countries. This has become the norm with panda loans: Edinburgh Zoo was oﬀered two pandas in 2011, and the Scottish government signed an estimated £2.6bn-worth of trade deals for salmon, renewable energy and Land Rover vehicles with China shortly thereafter. China’s previous salmon provider, Norway, consequently lost its trade deal, which critics suggest was China’s response to Norway having awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010. It is diﬃcult to quantify the exact role pandas play in China’s trade policy, but Oxford researcher Kathleen Carmel Buckingham, lead author of a 2013 Environmental Practice article on the topic, has suggested that “the panda can be used to seal the deal and signify a bid for a long and prosperous relationship [with host
nations].” They help exercise a form of “soft, cuddly power,” as the title of the paper has it. Equipped with this information, and Yaussy’s warnings against the teddification of the giant panda, I approached the enclosure feeling galvanised in my cynicism. The specially built Panda Shop, also by BIG, was the first structure I encountered. It touts panda slippers, panda toys, panda mugs, panda tea, panda posters, panda crystal balls, panda ice-cream, and even panda-themed wireless speakers (“Be the loudest panda in the living room”). Then, past a bamboo-clad bamboo storage shed, was the circular 2,450sqm
Get a grip, I thought, stepping down to compose myself. This was neoteny at work. enclosure itself. Largely composed of concrete, corten steel, glass and lush greenery masterminded by Schønherr Landscape Architects, it had been sunk some 3m into the ground. Given that pandas are solitary creatures that prefer not to meet outside of the three to five days a year during which the female is in heat, it had also been divided into two equal parts. First up, as I entered the area, was Mao Sun’s pen. I was not prepared to be so charmed. Mao had found a shaded spot under the swooping concrete arch which also serves as a pavement for visitors circumnavigating the enclosure. As I arrived, she climbed a small timber platform, flopped onto her back and set about devouring a sheaf of bamboo leaves. Soon her hind legs were wiggling indulgently in the air, like those of a tickled toddler. My jaw tightened at the sudden onset of cute aggression. Must get closer. On either side of the raised pavements were routes leading down and around the enclosure, occasionally opening up onto glazed views of the pandas at panda-level. I stopped at one such aperture but was disappointed – the glass had been scumbled with white paint to slightly above eye level. Perching awkwardly on a rock feature, I managed to peer into the pen. From there, I saw Mao from behind, close, sitting up now but still munching. Temples churning and ears twitching with every bite, she held onto the bamboo stems, adorably, with a fuzzy paw. Get a grip, I thought, stepping down to compose myself. This was neoteny at work. Features common
to young mammals – large round heads, pudgy limbs, and bumbling movements – tend to elicit powerful feelings of aﬀection in humans.3 The eﬀect is intensified by the fact that bears are particularly easy to anthropomorphise, their proportions being roughly akin to ours. This is the irresistible appeal of the giant panda – it’s what renders it such an economic boon to zoos, and such an eﬀective conduit for positive feelings towards China. “The political power of the panda,” writes E. Elena Songster in her 2018 book Panda Nation, “[is] its innate ability to exude an apolitical image.” I continued along the lower circuit towards Xing Er’s pen, which was flanked not by an overpainted window, but by Panpan, an upscale Sino-French restaurant with a capacity of 150 people. Its low-lit interior had dark furniture and fittings, making the panoramic view onto Xing’s pen especially striking. Xing himself seemed unruﬄed by the presence of diners seated only metres from him and the large group of onlookers peering down from the upper circuit. He had propped himself against the gentle incline rising to one side of his pen and was placidly making his way through a large bouquet of bamboo. This went on for a while. Momentarily, Xing made as if to move, and the diners looked up from their plates – but he was only repositioning himself to reach more leaves. Pandas, a sign outside the restaurant read, “typically spend 16 hours a day eating up to 40kg of bamboo. For the remainder of the day, they rest.” The enclosure and its ancillary structures are more thoroughly designed than most other buildings in the zoo.4 The concrete edifice has a rusticated eﬀect, achieved by free-pouring cement into moulds made from bamboo rods. Similarly, stylised casts of bamboo rods in corten steel make up fencing between Mao and Xing’s enclosures, as well as decorative railings throughout the site. The plantings mimic the natural habitats of pandas in the wild, with two types of biotope – “foggy mountains” and “bamboo forest” according to Schønherr – represented. At points, images of pandas can be found embedded in the architecture. Examples include the corten-steel panel near the restaurant that sports what looks like a pinpression of a life-size animal and the enormous
See ‘A Neotenic State of Mind’, Disegno #20. With the exception, perhaps, of Foster + Partners’ impressive 2008 elephant centre, which is adjacent to the panda enclosure.
black and white mosaic that greeted me as I entered the ladies’ toilet. From above, BIG has explained in its promotional material, the entire structure is meant to look like a yin-yang symbol, with the male and female pens looping around each other. Thankfully, this emblem does not register when navigating the site on the ground. It might’ve been one symbol too many in a project already awash in symbolism. “The first male panda we were oﬀered had only one testicle,” says Pernille Andersen, “so they swapped, and we got Xing Er instead.” Andersen is one of
“Today, we’re left with many pandas who find it very diﬃcult to reproduce naturally.” —Mads Frost Bertelsen the three zookeepers appointed to look after Mao and Xing and has, along with 40 or so other zoo professionals, been an active participant in BIG’s design workshops over the past three years. The testicles matter because, as I soon find out, the entire site is designed to facilitate the production of panda cubs. The two pens have a common area, somewhat disrupting the neatness of the aerial yin-yang shape. “They take turns accessing this, leaving a scent trace,” explains BIG partner David Zahle, who is the lead designer on the project. “Then the zookeepers will observe how they react to each others’ scents.” In March, when Mao will enter her brief oestrus, all involved hope that she and Xing will want to mate. Any resultant cubs, however, will automatically be the property of the People’s Republic because Mao and Xing are technically only on loan. As part of her training, Andersen has visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in China’s Sichuan province five times. Chengdu Panda Base, one of the two main panda conservation centres in China, was established in 1987 and is, as of this year, in a formal partnership with Copenhagen Zoo, which makes an annual donation of 6.5m Danish kroner ($1m). “We’ve mainly gone there in either the breeding season or when they had cubs,” says Andersen. “They like to hand-rear the cubs – so half with the keeper and half with the mother. We had to learn how to do that.” Conservationists disagree on what is best. In nature, female pandas often birth twins but tend not
to be able to care for both. Consequently, one cub is rejected and dies. Hand-rearing has meant that the survival rate for panda cubs at Chengdu is at 90-100 per cent compared to only 30 per cent in the wild. But it also means that cubs aren’t fully socialised by the mother and, according to Copenhagen Zoo vet Mads Frost Bertelsen, “miss the opportunity to learn what it is to be a panda”. Later on, mating becomes more diﬃcult. “Most captive-bred pandas seem to have lost the knowledge of how to get in the right position,” as David Attenborough once explained. “To put it bluntly,” writes Bertelsen in Panda, a publication from Copenhagen Zoo, “we’ve managed to save this species from extinction, but perhaps we’ve gone too fast. Today, we’re left with many pandas who find it very diﬃcult to reproduce naturally.” “If it were up to Copenhagen Zoo, we wouldn’t hand-rear,” says Andersen. “We prefer everything to be natural.” Last winter, when the zoo’s female polar bear gave birth to two cubs, one died because it was rejected by the mother – the zoo did not step in. With the pandas, it will be diﬀerent. “We have to look at the Chinese partnership,” Andersen explains. “They might want us to hand-rear and then we probably would have to do it.” For similar reasons, Bertelsen won’t forgo the option of artificial insemination. “The biggest challenge with the pandas will be to balance Copenhagen Zoo’s ‘natural’ view of nature with the international pressure to minimise risk,” he writes. These considerations are expressed architecturally in BIG’s structure. Within the interior of the complex (oﬀ-limits to the public), there is a specially designed cub cage that is currently vacant. “If we are lucky enough to get cubs, they need to be monitored 24 hours a day,” says Zahle. “During that time, you need staﬀ to be there constantly, even at night. So [BIG] made sure there is the possibility to have a coﬀee machine and a small kitchenette in that area.” There are also indoor cages for Mao and Xing, where they can withdraw from the gaze of the crowds. “We always keep the stalls open so they can go inside if they need to get away,” explains Andersen. Indoors, she and other staﬀ have started training the pandas to accept having blood samples taken, and a special workout regime has been developed for Xing to train his hind legs. All the sitting and eating has given Xing a “weak posterior,” says one of the keepers in a YouTube video posted by the zoo. He needs the extra strength to successfully mount Mao when the time comes.
The panoramic window in Panpan that opens onto Xing’s pen does not seem to bother the animal. Andersen explains that Xing has come from a zoo in Shanghai and is used to the attention: “He’s very comfortable. He has the whole restaurant looking at him and that’s not an issue at all.” But Mao is taking longer to adapt to the presence of humans. “She’s never been to any other place than Chengdu,” Andersen explains. “So she didn’t like glass. She didn’t like seeing people – or her own reflection.” The makeshift frosting I noticed on my visit was
Somewhat at odds with these functions is the demand to make the pandas as visible to the public as possible. The media interest in Denmark’s new panda pair has been overwhelming – bordering, perhaps, on mania. Andersen remembers escorting the animals from China in April: “Just arriving at the airport with all the press… it was crazy. We had to arrive, get the pandas settled, and at the same time we knew there was going to be an opening with the queen soon after.” During the oﬃcial opening, the monarch dined with her guests at Panpan, where a movement from a specially commissioned symphonic Panda Suite (Zhang Shuai, 2019) was premiered. The Danish media ran a steady stream of panda coverage, alternating between excited news reports (‘Now the Chinese pandas have arrived, and they are eating bamboo to their hearts’ content’ ran a headline in centre-right Jyllands-Posten) and think-pieces on panda diplomacy (‘The world’s cutest form of power’, in left-wing daily Information). At centre-left daily Politiken, some ventured that the 1m Danish kroner ($150,000) bill for the Panda Suite was perhaps a bit steep, and that it signalled an excessive willingness to pander to the People’s Republic. “It was a crazy week,” says Andersen. Zahle’s team at BIG have had to contend with the heightened attention on the pandas in their design. “We wanted to make the barrier between animal and spectator as minimal and as transparent as possible,” he explains. “We tried to design the entire restaurant almost like a movie theatre, where everything inside is black, and the thing that stands out is all the greenery within the pen – and the animal itself.” This departs somewhat from the philosophy behind BIG’s other zoo project, the proposed re-design of Denmark’s Givskud Zoo, which the practice has named Zootopia. Here, BIG has opted to “integrate and hide the buildings as much as possible in the landscape” while the animals roam freely, consciously moving away from the cage trope. Zootopia also marks a more general shift in zoo architecture. When Michael Kozdon’s Tiger Territory opened at London Zoo in 2013, for instance, the architect remarked to The Guardian that he had tried to make the structure “fade into the background[…] our aim [was] to disappear.” This hasn’t been a feasible approach at Copenhagen Zoo. “In Zootopia,” says Zahle, “people are enclosed within moving vehicles or pods, and so it’s more like a safari park. That’s not possible in a normal zoo – there needs to be a barrier.”
Some ventured that the bill for the Panda Suite signalled an excessive willingness to pander to China. put in place to make Mao more comfortable. The zoo is currently waiting for a more permanent solution, a type of frosting through which the public can see but Mao can’t. “And then I think we’re going to do something on the other side, so that the public is not going to be standing against the window, knocking.” I remember myself balancing to catch a glimpse of Mao at this very spot. Ugh, people. What are we like? “As a representative of Denmark, it would be nice if [Bjarke Ingels] came out in favour of human rights,” Cecilie Sita told the Danish news channel DR when the enclosure opened in April. Sita, a young student, was protesting outside the zoo with her friend Christina Kalesh, dressed in panda costumes. Other protesters in the small group waved Tibetan flags. They were disappointed by the political measures that had been taken to get the pandas to Copenhagen and BIG’s decision to design the enclosure. In 2009, the relationship between Denmark and the People’s Republic was strained. Then-prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen had met with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader and a figure whom Beijing views as a dangerous separatist. The status of Tibet, an autonomous region under Chinese rule since 1965, has been contested for the best part of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Rasmussen’s meeting with the Dalai Lama had been a private one, but Chinese authorities swiftly notified the Danish government that it had jeopardised relations between the two
countries. Shortly afterwards, Rasmussen issued an apology, and the Danish parliament declared that it would actively work against Tibetan independence. A few years later, during a Chinese state visit to Denmark in 2012, Danish police cleared the streets of demonstrators drawing attention to the question of Tibetan independence – in breach of the freedom of assembly enshrined in the Danish constitution. Such acts have been instrumental in securing the loan of the pandas, critics argue. “Denmark gets the pandas because we have dropped our criticism of the Chinese repression of Tibet and because Chinese human-rights violations aren’t being criticised so much,” Danish MP Eva Flyvholm told DR. “That’s a sorry background to be receiving them against.” It’s not an unwarranted critique. When Barack Obama met with the Dalai Lama in 2010 despite Chinese warnings that it would “severely impair China-US relations”, Beijing responded by recalling US-born giant panda Tai Shan from the National Zoo in Washington, DC. China giveth giant pandas, and China taketh them away again if you don’t subscribe to the One-China policy. The picture is made even murkier by an exposé that broke shortly after I visited Copenhagen Zoo. It turned out that the zoo had changed a map detailing the areas in which giant pandas appear in the wild. Initially, the chart had marked out the island of Taiwan – another disputed Chinese territory – as a separate country, featuring it in white while the rest of mainland China was represented by the colour green. When a Chinese delegation inspected the enclosure in March, shortly before the opening, it declared the map inaccurate. It was subsequently changed such that it now only shows a zoomed-in map of mainland China. “This way, we avoid taking a stance,” said a spokesperson from Copenhagen Zoo. Of course, such a change represents a stance in itself, as does the zoo’s openness to artificial insemination and to hand-rearing cubs despite a previous policy not to do so. The People’s Republic presents giant pandas as tokens of friendship, but as sociologist Marcel Mauss argued in his 1924 essay ‘The Gift’, there is no such thing as a “pure” exchange. “In theory,” he wrote, gifts are voluntarily received, but “in reality they are[…] reciprocated obligatorily.” Since the 1980s, with China’s economic reform under Deng Xiaoping, the country began renting out the giant pandas it had previously given away as diplomatic
gifts. Contracts are now drawn up detailing the exact cost and terms of the giant panda loans. Yet some parameters remain nebulous, dictated by the obscure obligations inherent to any gift. When Beijing recalled the US-born panda in 2010, the oﬃcial reason was that the animal was there on an extended contract anyway, and the original loan deal had already expired. The extension just happened to be cancelled two days after Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama. “The fact is, we all collaborate with China – just look at the phone in your pocket,” Ingels said when The New York Times asked him about the small group of protesters outside Copenhagen Zoo at the opening. It’s obviously a flippant remark – few of us make $24m out of “collaborating” with China – but the reference to Chinese-made electronics does speak to some of the intricacies at hand. Many Danish consumers will benefit from the trade deals struck between Denmark and China in the wake of the panda exchange. Many governments hunger for cosy ties with the world’s burgeoning superpower, and the exchange of products and natural resources that such relations entail. It is simply a bizarre contradiction of international diplomacy that the giant panda, whose symbol is used to further global-trade networks, is itself seeing its natural habitats diminish because of the unchecked resource extraction brought about by that selfsame economic growth. It is almost as if we’ve forgotten it’s an animal. E N D
Murals for Madaniya One night in April 2019, Galal Yousif gathered some of his closest friends and headed to the Sudanese military headquarters on Nile Street. Words Nanjala Nyabolaâ€‚Photographs Muhammad Salah 68
This page: Murals around the military headquarters, where the Khartoum sit-in took place from 6 April to 3 June 2019. Next page: Feminist activist and artist Alaa Satir, whose work was removed from the walls of the headquarters.
Curving along the Blue Nile towards Khartoum’s sister city of Omdurman, this road marches past the University of Khartoum. After the onset of widespread protest in December 2018, thousands gathered there in an impressive and sustained ad hoc act of civil disobedience calling for political change. Indeed, millions of people across Sudan gathered every day and night on the streets and avenues of Africa’s third-largest country to demand madaniya – civilian rule – after nearly 30 years of misrule under Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted on 11 April 2019 in a military coup d’état. Yousif and his friends, all painters and visual artists, sat out the first few phases of the protests. In 2013, similar demonstrations had resulted in the deaths of thousands of young people in the capital with barely a peep from rest of the world. But after two months, the guerrilla painters realised that this time it would be diﬀerent. This time it was madaniya or bust and they had to be a part of it. The decision to paint a mural was not one that Yousif (@galalgoly on social media) took lightly. Art is hardly an exalted profession in Sudan and there was no guarantee that the risk would yield any reward. He also knew that he would be placing himself in the sights of an
Fans would tune in to Instagram stories of Yousif creating sketches inspired by the rage of the revolution. increasingly belligerent military state. “I was scared because there were weird questions from weird people even while we were painting,” he says. “I knew they were investigating and I knew that maybe it would get me in trouble.” But the sit-in was calling and Yousif knew that he would never forgive himself if he didn’t put his skills towards helping tell the story of madaniya. “I wanted to make art publicly because I knew I could make a change.” Thus, the idea for the guerrilla mural was born. Yousif and his friends first created a blank canvas by painting the walls white. Over an eight-hour period, they added silhouettes and a multicoloured background to depict the throngs gathered in Khartoum and in
numerous other Sudanese towns. As they worked, hundreds of protesters gathered to watch and to oﬀer moral support. Someone brought out a guitar and belted out some Bob Marley to which Yousif and his friends hummed. Over time, the mural became a focal point for sympathisers and a lightning rod for photographers and videographers documenting Sudan’s political transition. As with other artists in the country, Yousif’s professional survival is due entirely to his being able to combine the old and new. He studied sculpture at the Sudan University for Science and Technology, and prior to the revolution had been slowly building a national and international reputation for pastoral portraits of Sudanese people in traditional white dress against exuberant, colourful backgrounds. Social media was a big part of his simmering success. “I sell my art mostly through Instagram,” he says. This allows him to circumvent the sanctions that have kept Sudan out of the global financial system ever since the country was labelled an “oﬃcial state sponsor of terror” in 1993 by the US State department. It also meant that Yousif already had a base that helped amplify his political collaborations. During the protests, fans from around the world would tune in to Instagram live stories of him creating sketches and paintings inspired by the rage of the revolution. Over time, other murals began to pop up in diﬀerent parts of Khartoum, each expressing a diﬀerent dimension of the situation. “A woman’s place is in the resistance” declared an expressionist mural from Alaa Satir (@alaa_satir), a young painter whose representations of women in the revolution have captured international attention. This mural was also painted under the cover of dark while looking out for military or police. An untagged mural inspired by Eugène Delacroix’s 1830 painting Liberty Leading the People called The Revolution Will Go On popped up on one wall. There were stencils of “Wanted” posters with Bashir’s face on them appearing on buildings and trees across the city. As in the French Revolution, visual art emerged as a frontier for the demand for political transformation. There was also a burst of creativity online. Nearly every day graphic artists produced new images capturing the various developments and adding to the pressure against the regime. Some were caricatures of Bashir, who is known to mask his brutality behind stiﬀ dancing and a love for metaphors. Others captured the
using its historical oil-export system until South Sudan developed its own infrastructure. Unfortunately, in 2013 South Sudan itself plunged into a devastating civil war that continues to this day. At least 400,000 people have died so far: sexual violence is rife; and millions have been displaced.
aspirations of madaniya – declarations of solidarity through images of Sudanese people united in protest. From mid-April of this year, the Transitional Military Council (TMC), which took over after Bashir was deposed, began to force foreign journalists to leave Sudan in order to reduce international attention on the crisis, and on 3 June the internet was shut down across the country. This made the work of the Sudanese diaspora online even more important, as drawings inspired by information smuggled out of the country over Thuraya satellite phones and VPN connections became a major means of keeping the country connected to the outside world. Madaniya may not have been televised, but it was thoroughly documented through a strategic combination of traditional visual arts and creative use of the internet.
It is impossible to send money to Sudanese artists through platforms such as PayPal – the nation was barred from receiving funds.
Street protests in Sudan began in December 2018 when the government arbitrarily trebled the price of bread, the national staple, but tension had been simmering for more than a decade. Sudan’s political instability also has its origins in the decades-long, racialised conflict between the predominantly Muslim north and the primarily Christian south, as well as the racism of the Arabised elite against pretty much everyone else. The north-south conflict eventually culminated in the independence of South Sudan in 2011. During its course, the predominantly Muslim northern region fashioned itself as a safe haven for religious extremists from the Middle East, triggering one of the most intense sanctions regimes in history. In 1993, the US government declared Khartoum a “state sponsor of terrorism” and the UN prohibited any kind of non-essential trade with the country. This is why it is impossible to send money to Sudanese artists through platforms such as Western Union or PayPal – for a while, the nation was barred from receiving funds from abroad except in the form of donations. From 2004, the sanctions regime in Sudan was slowly undone to provide for the eventual independence of South Sudan. When Africa’s then-largest country was divided into two in 2011, Khartoum’s financial problems were compounded. For one, much of the oil on which the economy relied was in the south – now an independent country. Partly because the new nation is landlocked, but also to ensure that Sudan’s economy would not be completely destroyed, the independence agreement allowed Khartoum to charge hefty fees for the new country to continue
For the north, this has meant a severe disruption in oil supply – if no oil is flowing, then there is no income from delivering it. Meanwhile, the three southern states of Sudan have also been at war with the central government since 2013 and the long-running conflict in Darfur in western Sudan has continued. The nation has essentially been at war with itself since its independence from AngloEgyptian rule in 1956. By the time the bread protests broke out in Atbara, the regime was already struggling to make its perpetual war economy make sense. For Sudanese artists, sanctions have meant a struggle to show and sell work outside the country’s small market. Social media has been revolutionary in its capacity to connect with international audiences and buyers. Yousif and others are particularly active on Instagram, which not only encourages conversations between artists and their audiences but also allows them to connect with galleries outside Sudan, making international travel possible. “For Sudanese [artists], social media is more important because there aren’t that many galleries and there is no market for art or professional art shows. That’s why we’re on social media,” says Yousif. These connections can be powerful. In February for instance, Yousif was invited to Kigali, Rwanda, to paint a mural for a school in collaboration with Rwandese artists he had met on Instagram. “All good art is political,” declared the late Toni Morrison. “And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status
This page: During the four-week long internet blackout, TV was Khartoumâ€™s main medium for news. Next spread: Crowds at the sit-in, which was dispersed with extreme force by the RSF paramilitary group.
Murals around Khartoumâ€™s military headquarters.
quo.’” This captures the quandary Sudanese artists faced when trying to decide if they should participate in the revolution – to either acquiesce to the status quo or take a dangerous leap of faith and defend the revolution even while uncertain of its outcomes. For many, the choice was made easier because being an artist in Sudan is already a political decision. “People in Sudan don’t think art is important,” says Yousif. “It’s hard to get them to see the value of what we do.” This explains why embracing visual arts as part of the revolution has been transformative for the artists and the societies they come from. The Sudanese artist is finally being brought in from the social wilderness. The dialectic of madaniya and the art it inspires simultaneously face both the past and future. Madaniya is a demand for a return to purity and the myth of an idealistic Sudan before the rise of the Bashir regime, alongside an idealised, youth-focused future in which technology features prominently. Its emerging philosophy is a combination of old techniques and new platforms, using images of what Sudan was to shape ideas of what Sudan could be. Thus, although the internet has figured prominently in the way Sudanese protesters have operated – with examples including international viral campaigns such as #BlueForSudan, which inspired millions of people
“I paint murals because they can make a change. It is about building the Sudan we want to live in.” —Galal Yousif around the world to make their profile pictures blue in support of the protests – traditional oﬄine methods of organising based on neighbourhood committees and meetings have played a crucial role. This meant that even when the TMC switched oﬀ the internet, the Sudanese Professionals Association – an amorphous group that at least nominally leads the protests – was still able to mobilise more than one million people to protest in Khartoum alone. This conversation between past and future is also evident in the art of madaniya, with imagery of people in traditional dress looking towards the future figuring prominently. At the same time, Sudanese artists have
had to rely on a combination of digital and analogue methods to get their work out into the world. This perhaps explains why murals have emerged as a major platform. More than canvasses or digital art, they allow people with no regular access to the internet to experience the artwork, but they can still be photographed or documented for digital distribution. “I paint murals because they can make a change,” says Yousif. “I want to make art public for people to see, so people don’t have to pay to see or own art.” Sudan’s revolutionary art is helping domestic and international audiences understand the more emotive and elusive aspects of a complex process. Much as Delacroix’s enormous paintings captured the vastness of the French Revolution, Sudan’s murals are testament to the enormous scale of the protesters’ ambitions – not just a change in military leadership but a complete transformation of their society. “It is about freedom,” says Yousif. “It is about building the Sudan we want to live in.” The first role of the Sudanese artist has been to document and share snippets of the country’s 63-year history in striking artworks that unpack what outside observers had already began misidentifying as a “bread protest”. Public art is a big part of the demand for a complete structural overhaul of Sudanese public and political life; and it is made more pointed when you consider how hard the military regime has worked to marginalise arts and popular culture. Major art programmes like the one Yousif attended have been underfunded and there is little public support for them, while people who practice as artists are often criticised. Resistance translates in stylistic terms in subtle ways. One example is the representation of the human form. Strict interpretations of Islam – which the military regime has been trying to impose in place of the country’s liberal, Sufi tradition – prohibit painting of human beings, hence the rich tradition of Islamic calligraphy. But Sudanese visual artists have always resisted this injunction and in the spirit of madaniya, the visual arts have been dominated by representations of Sudanese people. As such, they demand a remaking of Sudan in the image of the people, rather than the military regime. Similarly, the 30-year Bashir reign was characterised by racially divisive language that dehumanised darker-skinned southerners and westerners in order to justify government brutality
option to withdraw completely from public life or the connections or status to push back against the state. Working as an artist in this context has been particularly diﬃcult for women, to say the least. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this, Sudanese women have a long history of participating in resistance. One of the most striking images of 2019 was of Alaa Salah, a young architecture student dressed in the toub, standing on the hood of a car,
against them. Undoing Bashir’s racist rhetoric and urging inter-ethnic unity has been a major theme in many of the works produced during the revolution, and composite images often feature a multi-ethnic Sudan. The artwork of madaniya also features darkerskinned subjects, or mixtures of people in various types of traditional wear, symbolising the diversity of the large country. Reasserting Sudan’s African identity, which had been sidelined in favour of Arabism, has been a key element in the demand for madaniya. The idea of a return to the past as a move towards the future is also seen in the use of Sudan’s pre-revolution flag. The current red, black, white and green flag is barely distinguishable from the flags of Egypt, Yemen, Syria or Iraq. For many Sudanese people, the current flag symbolises the pivot towards conservative Islam and away from Sudan’s historically liberal and less dogmatic Sufism and syncretism. “The revival of the old Sudanese flag on social media is such a strong symbolic factor of this revolution,” tweeted Yasmin (@YesssitsYas). “We’ll never be free under that Arab legion themed flag.” As a result, many protesters have called for the return of the original tricolour in yellow, blue and green that symbolised the desert, the Nile and the lush fields of southern Sudan. At a Sudan solidarity event in Nairobi in June, Sudanese artists in exile draped themselves in the tricolour, as do many protesters in Khartoum. In several of the paintings that have emerged since December 2018, this tricolour has been a recurring theme. Sketch artist Rahiem Abdu Shadad’s (@Abdu_Shadad) viral drawing of a woman in a red toub, a traditional dress consisting of a long piece of lightweight fabric wrapped around the waist and then over the head, sewing a tricolour flag back together is widely interpreted as the desire to rebuild a unified Sudan after the fall of this regime. At the same time, women are also reasserting their presence through art. As Sudan has gone from being one of Africa’s most liberal societies to one of its most conservative, women have endured the worst of the military’s excesses. Before the revolution, the dreaded Public Order Police – the morality police – patrolled the country’s urban spaces with the power to publicly whip any woman they deemed to be indecently dressed. Many of these punishments were inflicted on working-class women who either did not have the
Reasserting Sudan’s African identity, which had been sidelined in favour of Arabism, has been a key element in the demand for madaniya. leading thousands of protesters in a chant against the military regime. The rhythmic shouts were reminiscent of traditional Sudanese poetry styles and quickly caught on domestically. Eventually, Haitian musician Wyclef Jean would turn them into a rap song, ‘Nubian Queen’. But the chants also got significant traction overseas because the image of a veiled woman leading a revolution flew in the face of what people thought was the role of women in Sudanese society. Subsequently, stills from the video were turned into graphic art that went viral across all major social-media platforms and the world was reintroduced to the concept of kandaka. The word “kandaka” has its roots in the Kushitic kingdom in present-day central Sudan, where hundreds of pyramids that predate the pyramids of Giza sit lonely and all but abandoned. Kushitic women were allowed to inherit kingdoms and rule, and these queens were known as kandake. Today, the word is used to refer to strong Sudanese women in public life and particularly to women who have been part of the resistance. The popularity of the Salah video thus triggered a sense of frustration that the uniquely Sudanese tradition of women’s political strength and resistance as kandake was being subsumed into Western stereotypes of Muslim women’s subservience.
Previous page: A protester with a T-shirt that says “Just fall” (“Tasgot Bas”) in handwritten letters. This page: An aerial view of Khartoum.
“Sudanese women have always been part of the revolution,” insists Satir. For women in Sudan’s visual-arts community, the revolution has therefore also provided an opportunity to reclaim the idea of kandaka from history, and to re-centre women’s experiences in the moment. But
“The art is for the people and the artist must be responsible to their community.” —Galal Yousif kandaka has also emerged in the way Sudanese women artists have entered the limelight. Assil Diab (@sudalove), who already had a significant profile in Khartoum as a street artist, started a project with a group of friends to memorialise the hundreds of protesters who have been killed by the military since the violent dispersal of the sit-in on 3 June. The group paints large commemorative murals of the martyrs’ faces on walls in Khartoum, refusing to let them die anonymously. Satir uses her murals to remind the world of the role of Sudanese women in the revolution and the violence that they have endured as a consequence of their protests. “I was really scared,” the young artist says of the first night that she and her friends set out to paint. “I didn’t know if we would get arrested or something.” Not only were they not arrested, but the mural – A Woman’s Place is in the Resistance – has become a powerful symbol. Painting has been the most visible medium in Sudan, but across social media and other platforms artists specialising in diﬀerent materials are part of this decentralised movement. Established cartoonists such as Copenhagen-based Khalid Albaih (on Twitter as @khalidalbaih) built on work that they had previously been doing. Albaih’s 2017 illustration of NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racism not only went viral but has also been embraced by the former quarterback’s fans as a definitive symbol of the athlete’s resistance. Albaih has produced new work nearly every week throughout the revolution and, in July, presented a show in New York featuring pieces from political cartoonists and artists in the Sudanese
diaspora. Doha-based Abu’Obayda Mohamed (who tweets as @oxdamoe) was one of the first to share his work supporting the Sudanese revolution online. His most famous pieces are bright-coloured pastiches that feature pastoral scenes of Sudanese people in traditional dress looking towards hopeful futures framed by outlines of the country’s boundaries. But within Sudan itself, murals remain the best way of bridging online and oﬄine communities of protesters. “The art is for the people,” says Yousif, “and the artist must be responsible to [their] community.” On 3 June 2019, the Sudanese TMC decided that it had had enough of the sit-in. Late at night, while hundreds were gathered in tents and around plastic tables, heavily armed units in the distinct uniform of the janjaweed militia – the same unit that had been terrorising Darfur since 2003 – tore through the camp and ripped apart the commune. The government confirmed that 61 people died as a result. Many people remain unaccounted for and bodies have been retrieved from the nearby Nile river. It is a testament to the power of the murals that one of the first things the military regime did when breaking up the sit-in was to paint over several of them. But if the army’s goal was to demoralise the protesters, they completely missed the mark. Not only are the artworks well documented and still present on social media, but many fresh creations emerge every day across Sudan. Yousif has already painted a new mural in his old one’s place. For Sudanese artists, it remains madaniya or bust. “They can paint over the murals, but they can’t paint over our hearts,” says Yousif. E N D
K I N â€” W E LC O M E TO T H E FA M I LY By surprising yourself, unsurprisingly, creative flair will strike you in every day life. This is Allermuir.
KIN BY PEARSONLLOYD
A Company Voyage Words Oli Stratford Studio photographs Juho Huttunen
In Helsinki’s Laivurinkatu 10, Yaya the shiba is dozing in the window. Her back legs are spatchcocked and her sesame fur flares flecked ginger in the sunlight. Yaya can be forgiven for taking it easy – her co-proprietors are busy planning their next journey.
“We’re very excited about the Stans,” says Aamu Song, leaning eagerly across the desk that fills the room. “The former Soviets,” adds her partner Johan Olin. “Uzbekistan; Kyrgyzstan,” Song rattles oﬀ. “The actual Silk Road and the axis of all Europe and Asia! And did you know that in Uzbekistan they wear their eyebrows as monobrows?” “Frida Kahlo style,” says Olin. “I love that,” concludes Song. “Not following others.” All around her, the shelves are sporadically stacked with white cardboard tubes of every circumference imaginable, piled high to the ceiling like old sea charts. Each tube is marked with a sticky label that depicts its contents with a drawing and one-line description. “Tree & Girl Cherry”, “Onion Matryoshka”, “Polar Boy”, “Mama Bird”, “Moss Moss Man”, “Very Small Face”. The white print on the wooden door is neat and stark: “Company Work X Shop Salakauppa Wed Sat 14 18 Closed irregularly.”
There’s a commotion outside; a group of passers-by are pointing at Yaya. “We’re used to it,” says Olin, his voice deep and precise. “I’m totally transparent nowadays when I walk with her in the street, and we don’t put anything in the window because she’s there – it’s extremely hot, but she likes it.” “We learned about shibas when we were studying in northern Japan,” adds Song. “There was an 11-yearold shiba slowly walking a grandfather.” “The grandfather was tied around the waist to the shiba, and he had his eyes closed as she walked him around,” explains Olin. “That’s when we learned what a shiba was.” “Now Yaya’s our boss,” says Song conspiratorially, a smile breaking across her face. “Tradition, craft? No, let’s go out!” At three years old, Yaya is a parvenu director, but Song and Olin are somewhat more established. Song trained as an industrial designer at the Seoul National University, before moving to Helsinki in 1998 to study furniture design at Aalto University (then known as TaiK). It was here that she met Olin, a graphic designer studying a master’s in spatial design, and the couple began formally working together in 2000. “Mostly one of us starts with an idea and the other person’s
At the moment, those irregularities aren’t so regular. For the past few months Song and Olin have been Helsinki-based, busy with the opening of a retrospective of their work at the city’s Designmuseo. The exhibition opened on 5 April, and its posters, designed by Tuukka Koivisto and James Zambra from Kobra Agency, are still on display throughout the city. Staring pierrots, assembled from thick colour blocks of ochre, mustard, ice-grey and black, beckon: Secret Universe. “It’s so lovely to have an exhibition in your hometown with all of your friends and family,” says Olin, picking a strawberry from the punnet Song has delivered to the table. “Helsinki doesn’t have this kind of design scene or art scene – it’s just normal people,” adds Song. “The opening was so amazing, full of normal people who’d just come from their work. And our favourite human, our previous president [Tarja Halonen], gave a beautiful opening speech.” Not being au fait with Finnish politics, I ask what makes Halonen their favourite human. The answer comes in unison: “She’s fantastic.” “We once found a doll-maker in Finnish Lapland – a one-woman factory who makes retirement gifts,” 84
Exhibition imges by Paavo Lehtonen, courtesy of Designmuseo.
explains Olin. “If you work in a traditional profession like a bus driver or a doctor, she makes a miniature [replica] uniform and dresses your doll in it. So we asked permission to make a series of dolls of Tarja Halonen. She commented that they looked exactly like her and then bought them so the profits could go to a cat charity.” “And she goes to shop by herself in the market – even when she was president,” adds Song. “She’s got a bodyguard who she makes wait outside so he won’t bother people. She’s Moominmamma; her nickname is Moominmamma.” I’m delighted – this being Finland, I had hoped for Moomins. Sure enough, I spot one peeping out from one of the shelves in the studio. It’s a little Russian doll – a matryoshka – carved into the shape of Moomin himself. “A prototype,” explains Olin, produced for the Moomin Museum in Tampere, Finland. Sadly, he explains, it never reached the market. There was a dispute over the lack of snouts.
“Helsinki doesn’t have this kind of design scene or art scene – it’s just normal people. The opening was so amazing, full of normal people.” —Aamu Song
mission is to support and comment on it,” says Olin. “I often show Jusso a drawing and ask him, ‘Do you like it?’” explains Song. “No. Well, do you like this instead? Maybe.” Song pauses a beat. “It’s nice being each other’s audience.” So that’s the story of how Company, the industry’s great advocates for design as a form of adventure and voyage, came to be. “But for me, ‘design’ is a word I don’t like,” says Song – as if consciously trying to derail this article. ‘Design has a really long history, back to [society’s] beginnings with tools. Of course we had to kill and eat [with those tools], but they had such a romantic, human part too – there was so much surprise and happiness [in the objects]. But now design doesn’t contain that kind of imaginative feeling. It’s just…” She pulls a face and opens her eyes wide, making a noise that I will later transcribe – not entirely confidently – as “bum”. “It’s used so much to describe everything that it loses something,” adds Olin, and my mind begins to swarm with questions. What happens to your dog when you go away? Unstop one of Company’s white cardboard tubes, tip it up and out tumbles a jewel. There are wooden matryoshka dolls slick with lacquer, which have been turned on the lathe into every shape imaginable. Some of the tubes nestle matryoshka pine cones and apples; others Barbies and bears; still more, planets and eggs; and one set contains a whale that swallowed a seal that swallowed a penguin, that swallowed a fish that swallowed a squid that swallowed a sea cucumber that swallowed a plankter. “Well that came from eating sushi in Russia,” says Song. “Very hip in Russia, sushi,” says Olin sagely. “Even the tiniest village would have a sushi restaurant.” “And maybe because they’re not near the sea, these restaurants all have [television] monitors showing the sea while you eat raw fish,” says Song. “But the sea is not peaceful – all the creatures are always eating each other. So we realised that the food chain was like a matryoshka. Since then, everything has started to look like a matryoshka.” Other gems emerge from the tubes. Spinning tops from Japan, turned to resemble grinning heads that spool out on a strand of white cotton hair; papier-
mâché balloons on sticks, painted with toothpaste swirls and electric polka dots; Finnish diamonds, carved out of Kuru grey and Pohjolan leimu granite. One wall, however, doesn’t have any tubes stacked against it. Instead, it’s given over to wooden shelves like swiftlet nests, each bearing a curio. There are wooden stools styled as toadstools; the crown of a traditional Amish straw hat that has been aﬃxed to the brim of cap, as if Major League Baseball had an excitingly orthodox new team; a trio of nesting seats in the shape of jolly terriers; and a pair of delicate red felt boots, atop which sit a smaller pair of booties facing in the opposite direction – a design to let children dance with their parents while standing on their feet. Laivurinkatu 10 is like stumbling into a fairy-tale workshop staﬀed by a benevolent dog and her two enthusiastic helpers. It’s wonderful. A little tin hut catches my attention. It gleams with candy aniline paints and is surrounded by a group of tin people pressing around its open window. “A small ice-cream kiosk,” says Olin proudly, before drawing my attention to a clay statue of a man and a woman riding a sesame dog that looks suspiciously like Yaya. “That’s based on the traditional Mexican tree of life,” he says. “They’re made by the Matamoros family in Mexico, who collect their own clay and then prepare it. We suggested some new trees of life following their traditions and logic.” Nearby, another tree sees the same characters stacked on one another’s shoulders to form a celestial tower. “Marching to the heavens!” says Song excitedly. Catch Company on the right day – remember, they’re closed irregularly – and all these things are for sale. “I adore shop shelves, with all the price tags, so much,” explains Song. “For me, a bookshop or a flower shop is like a museum. I want to be a part of my community and this is how I become that – with a shelf and price tag.” Away from Laivurinkatu 10, Song and Olin are the proprietors of the Salakauppa – Helsinki’s secret shop. To find it, head to the city’s central train station, a monolithic 1919 structure designed by Eliel Saarinen. The station is spectacular – a glowering hulk of pink granite from the top of which erupts an oxidised copper-topped clock tower, and whose front doors are flanked by four granite colossi bearing lanterns. By comparison, its friendly next-door neighbour Salakauppa is modest – a converted newspaper
kiosk with a steel box structure and wide glass windows. In place of burning colossi, Company have settled for a neon “Salakauppa” that snakes around one corner of the roof. “We wanted to make a statement that we could do this and could take care of everything, so we renovated our own shop,” says Olin, laughing a little. “A nightmare, but quite an enjoyable nightmare.” The Salakauppa has been installed in its current premises since 2012, with the format having previously appeared in events and exhibitions in Milan, Reykjavík, Oslo and Berlin. One of the earliest appearances of the Salakauppa was in the 2007 Suomen Salat/Top Secrets of Finland exhibition at Helsinki’s Kiasma contemporary-art museum. “We were sitting there selling some of the stuﬀ,” says Olin. “We had museum staﬀ coming up to us: Exhibits are missing! It will cause alarm!” This kind of performative playacting is common across Company’s work – something the curator Carlos Mínguez Carrasco described as serving as “a critical originator and enabler of their work” in his essay ‘An Ancestral Dance to Come, Performance in the Work of Company’. In support of his argument, Mínguez Carrasco cited a pair of early works. Redress (2004) is an installation in which an opera singer stands in the centre of a room and performs wearing a beautiful crimson gown. The catch is that the dress has been sewn to include 20m-wide skirts, which fan out in all directions to create sack-like pockets for an audience to clamber into and enjoy the show. Head Friend (2007), meanwhile, is a fleecy pillow friend which wraps its arms around your neck to give you a kiss on the cheek when you cuddle into it. “[Company] designs are emotional, loving, transitional objects for a rainy day,” wrote Mínguez Carrasco, “persuasive encounters designed to appeal; shaping an action to come.” As to who is originating or enabling what, I don’t know, but Company certainly takes pleasure in those areas of design that sit aside from the remote business of designing. In all aspects of their work, their predominant interest seems to be in engaging with an audience or a community. I ask if they enjoy their lives as shopkeepers. “Yes!” responds Song instantly. “At first we were standing there in the kiosk every day, wondering if anyone was going to come. If someone came in, I would say, ‘Oh! You want to buy this?’” “She’s the worst shopkeeper,” says Olin. “She sends people back home: If you see it in your dream
tonight, come back tomorrow. I might sell it to you then.” “Why did you call yourself Company?” There is a pause while the pair look at one another. “I think you wanted to call us a detective agency, but I opposed,” says Olin slowly. “I wanted Etsivätoimisto, which is ‘detective agency’ in Finnish,” says Song quickly. “Or Mustikoita ja Vadelmia, which is ‘blueberries and raspberries’. But Jusso said no, no, no.” “I was young and stupid,” Olin chuckles. “I think that would have been a perfect name.” I forget to ask why Mustikoita ja Vadelmia was up for consideration, but the legacy of Etsivätoimisto is clearly visible on Company’s website. “They work as artists and designers – often more like detectives,” reads the studio’s bio, while the project that has consumed the studio’s practice since 2007 is thoroughly gumshoe: Secrets. Secrets is an act of design as anthropology. Every one to two years, the studio packs its bags and decamps to a diﬀerent country. To date, Belgium, Russia, Mexico, Vietnam, Estonia, Japan and the USA – as well as the studio’s native Finland and South Korea – have all hosted Secrets, a programme intended to unravel a country’s national identity by grappling with its craft traditions and small-scale manufacturing. Initially, Song and Olin research their chosen country from the comforts of Helsinki, tracking down whatever information they can lay their hands on. “For Russia, I grabbed a 1960s travel book from a Greek writer who visited Russia in the 1930s,” says Song. “So we started researching every town that they mentioned and we travelled Russia through a 1930s book.” “We do a bit of research and then try to find makers who still practise some of the older traditions that we’re interested in,” adds Olin. “We listen to a lot of local music and we try to cook some food or recipes to get into it – it just takes a lot of work.” Not all of this work is arduous, which seems to be the point. A picture from the Secrets of Vietnam series sees Song sticking her tongue out, surrounded by collaborators and empty bottles of beer. “Best beer,” reads the accompanying caption: “1. Saigon; 2. Tiger; 3. San Miquel [sic].” Elsewhere, Company provide a series of “Secret Recipes” – the food and drink that the studio has been preparing and eating during its travels. “Russkie Konjak,” reads one entry, a recipe 90
“We find simple means to communicate. So they come to trust us. And we don’t look like industrial spies, which probably helps.” —Johan Olin
from the Semyonovskaya Rospis matryoshka factory in Russia. “Place an acorn inside a bottle of vodka/ moonshine. Wait until colour turns light brown (does not take long). Serve.” Another entry is more prosaic: “BELGIUM. During our travels in Belgium we ate mainly schnitzels, and spaghetti Bolognaise [sic]. And mayonnaise. And Belgian waﬄes.” “We’re not rich and we don’t come in a limousine [when we visit these places],” says Song. “We use public transport, and in the winter time [when we arrive at the factories] we come in with our very red cheeks and big backpacks. [The people in the factory] immediately realise, ‘Oh, these guys are the same kind of people as us.’” Song warms to her theme – after all, it’s this kind of fieldwork that nearly saw them christened Etsivätoimisto. “When you say ‘detective oﬃce’ you can imagine that there are a lot of small finds and gathering evidence,” she says, getting up from her chair and moving across to one of the shelves stacked with cardboard tubes. She rummages around and pulls out a hamper-sized woven box that sits on the floor – one of many. “All these boxes,” she says, “are full of the treasure.” “These are our teachers,” says Olin, gesturing at the objects appearing on the table as Song busily unpacks the woven box into its constituent souvenirs, bibelots and bagatelles. Two little chaps sit on swings suspended from a wooden frame painted with rich florals; a felt puppet holds a spoon that descends into a cooking pot, with a concealed string that lets you make her stir the mash; and a candle holder flowers into a starburst of shocking aniline-pink petals. “A lot of treasures,” says Olin. Each object is a memento of Company’s travels – a masterpiece gleaned from one of the craftspeople with whom the practice has worked or hopes to work, and whose production Song and Olin subsequently try to honour in their own output. “We find these pieces in museums, markets, or old books,” says Song. “And when we find the factories [that produced them], we fall in love with the makers and techniques,” says Olin. “We come to them as a touristy, student thing, so it’s diﬃcult to explain who we are to the masters in Mexico or in Japan,” explains Song. “‘Design’ is not a common word there and they never work with designers – they don’t need to.” “Sometimes it’s almost beneficial not to share the same language, because things are then kept on
a really basic level,” adds Olin. “We find simple means to communicate and drawing becomes handy too. We can draw plans to show them – ‘OK, that looks nice, maybe let’s do something together.’ So they come to trust us.” He pauses for a moment. “And we don’t look like industrial spies, which probably helps.” Each of Company’s objects is produced in concert with one of these masters – a mixture of independent craftspeople and highly skilled factory workers. Company study their techniques and methodologies, and then propose riﬀs that might make best use of these. Rather than a traditional matryoshka of a Russian woman wearing a sarafan, have they considered a snake who ate a vole and a mouse, who in turn each ate a beetle (Snake Matyroshka, 2017; Semyonov, Russia)? In the spirit of a tree of life, what about a tree whose every branch is a shouting dog’s face (Tree of Alebrije, 2019; San Felipe Tejalapam, Mexico)? Instead of plain wool-silk underwear, imagine the possibilities of underwear that doubles up as penguin cosplay (Pingu Wear, 2007; Kangasala, Finland)! “One master told us, ‘We’ve never seen things like the drawings you do, but it seems like they belong to us;” says Song. “A huge compliment,” adds Olin. There is a wit and levity across all of Company’s objects – “We’re not making big quantities, so we try to build up the plan so it’s enjoyable to make, which often manifests in something quite fun-looking as a result,” suggests Olin in explanation – but each is primarily the result of the individual character and skills of its maker. The Nagano Apple, for instance, is a little birch apple pot, the top of which appears to have been peeled in a display of carving expertise by Master Sunohara of Japan’s Nagano region. Meanwhile, the same subject matter is utilised in the Sumka Apple from Russia’s Semyonovskaya Rospis factory, but the execution is radically diﬀerent. A lacquered linden apple – with a leather strap in place of a stalk such that it can be used as a bag – the object features no intricate surface carving, but instead displays shiny streaks of red paint that evoke the lustre of the fruit’s skin. “The painting masters told us not to try to express yourself,” says Song. “That’s what artists do but if you just try to dance your hands [across the surface], they become products.” “That was a really powerful lesson,” adds Olin. “That meditative repetition is what lets it start to
become a real item, whereas if you try to think about what you’re doing it doesn’t really work. It’s a diﬀerent set of skills to what we have as designers, and this kind of thing became our religion somehow. We are on this pilgrimage of meeting amazing masters.” Song picks up the aniline candle holder and begins turning it over in her hands. “We are not so intelligent, so we don’t know how to make a car or engineer a heavy structure,” she says. “Even a candle holder is very high-tech for us. But we had to meet the people who make these amazing things. Who are they? We wanted to meet them and learn how we could be like them. So Secrets was a big excuse to be friends with them, and [in order] to spend more time with them, we had to make something. That’s the best way.” The next day, a familiar face is staﬃng the reception desk at Designmuseo. Yaya is spreadeagled on the floor while guests to the museum head upstairs to Secret Universe. No doubt she’s worn out from the brisk business she’s done in ticket sales – after all, she’s not used to the hard work of the Secrets programme. “She’s a bit big to travel with us, so we would have to put her through check-in when we fly and that’s a bit harsh,” explains Olin. “In all of our expeditions in Finland she comes along, but otherwise she stays here at my parents’ place.” The receptionists keep looking at her – they probably can’t believe that the director herself is mucking in with the mundane business of looking after the desk. Secret Universe is Company’s peon to the localised handcraft and light manufacture that the Secrets series has spent the past 12 years charting. Working with curator Suvi Saloniemi and exhibition architect Linda Bergroth, Song and Olin have consolidated the display into seven discrete areas. Ever the shopkeepers, Company have structured Secret Universe around ‘The Bazar’, a corridor stocked with candy kiosks displaying their various wares, with a ceiling hung with garlands of papel picado (“pecked paper”) from Huixcolotla, Mexico. As you move through the space, the papel picado form a canopy of dangling skulls, factories and buses, all punched out from sheets of paper in shades of lime, lemon and orange. ‘The Journey’, meanwhile, displays crates that cradle the artefacts Company has gathered on its travels, densely packed with wood shavings for protection, and ‘The Communication’ traces dialogue between the studio and the masters they have met along the way. “Dear
friends, Johan & Aamu,” begins a handwritten letter from Saville King, an Amish belt maker with whom Company created the Story Belt (2017), a leather strap embossed with stamps from King’s collection. “About 1/4 of the way down the belt from the buckle end [in the plans] there was a stamp that looked like a hummingbird. I don’t have any stamps like that. The nearest I could find to match was a small pheasant.” In ‘Masters and the Workshop’, one wall of the space is given over to 10 devotional alcoves, each containing a video screen that shows one of Company’s masters at work. “We wanted to express the masters as icon paintings,” explains Song. In one film, Quirino Santiago from La Union brandishes a machete, deftly carving copal wood from beneath his huge white Stetson. Alongside him, Igor Napylov from Semyonov sends thick curls of sawdust flicking out into the air as he hollows out a matryoshka on a lathe, while Igarashi Yoshiyuki from Tsuruoka draws lustrous sheets of blue paint up the body of the wooden kokeshi doll on which he is working, as if wrapping it in silk. The fruits of these labours become apparent in ‘The Collection’ a repository for 200 of Company’s works that is styled as if a fairy-tale general store, while ‘The Archive’ is a room in which every wall is blanketed with the preliminary paintings and drawings for Company’s products. Rows of trees swirl with constellations of fruit that form out of thick ink washes; plump winter coats swaddle small wooden people against the cold; and sheet after sheet of candy-pop rockets cascade down the walls, all pinned up with a jumble of magnetic tacks – an evidence room for Company’s findings. “‘Design oﬃce’ sounds a bit clean and makes you think of a computer,” says Song when I ask her about the oﬃce’s preferred nomenclature. “We don’t use a computer here.” “And we don’t carry computers with us when we travel,” adds Olin. “Just lots of paper and we buy local art supplies.” “We have only one stationery shop in Helsinki,” says Song. “And one fabric shop,” finishes Olin. “A nightmare for designers.” They must get wanderlust when back in Helsinki, I suggest. “She does maybe?” says Olin. “You don’t?” comes the reply. “No, I do too, but usually after the trips we’re quite busy for quite some time and we try to paint as much as we can,” responds Olin. “It’s such a luxury to just be
here and be able to paint. We travel a bit too much, so we enjoy being here.” Clearly – it’s late July and Company have invited members of their extended family to see the exhibition for the first time. At one point, I spot them lining all eight members of the family up against a wall in the exhibition, busy arranging them according to height. The next day, the picture shows up on my Instagram. feed “Family matyroshka,” reads the short caption. “ #yayamissing.” Well somebody’s got to sell tickets, I suppose.
a Japanese kokeshi master from Kuroishi; wrapped in a turned wood body from Semyonov; dressed in rainbow tin raiments from Xochimilco; and protected in a coat of blown Finnish glass from Nuutajärvi. “We were so scared that the elements wouldn’t fit each other,” explains Song. “But we only had to remake one mould for the glass. Not a big deal.” “We’ve kind of built up this theory that all items have a spirit, a bit like in the animistic tradition, and the good items have a good spirit,” says Olin. “When you find a really nice item, there are usually really nice people behind making it. There seems to be something in it – or at least we’ve been following that path and it’s been good for us.” “The masters have a way of making that has some kind of tickling parts,” says Song. “Their way of choosing colours; or their way of using the brush or the knife. It brings out old stories and that’s why we get crazy about some objects. We have to find out who made them and then go to meet them. They’re the best humans.”
The heart of Secret Universe, and the heart of Company’s wider practice, is ‘The Holy Factory’ – a devotional space devised to draw attention to what the exhibition’s curator Saloniemi terms “the sanctity of handicraft skills”. Here, the walls are painted with murals that read as a benevolent reimagining of the aesthetics of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – brightly coloured utopian factories in which artisans work diligently at their tasks. It’s a far cry from the realities of any factory I’ve ever been to, but then Company’s fabulism is supposed to be transporting – a glimpse into modes of production that may not be achievable, but which are delicious to spend a little time with nevertheless. “[A] new parallel universe,” reads the studio’s introduction to the exhibition. “[Our] own utopia manufactured with Masters of the world.” Within this pocket universe, the space itself is built around a series of tall alcoves, which use forced perspective to create the impression of assembly lines moving down towards the viewer. Graphics of blownglass bulbs, ceramics and wooden dolls proceed downwards, before gradually giving way to the real physical products, which are also displayed in the space. “When we designed the exhibition we wanted to make a temple,” explains Song. “These masters from Mexico, Russia, Finland and Japan are all making things together in the temple. And that’s how the Universal Spirit was born.” The Universal Spirits are Company’s master[s] pieces – two dolls created using components made by masters from four diﬀerent countries. It’s the Universal Spirits that are depicted as smiling pierrots on Secret Universe’s posters and the Universal Spirits that stand as the fulfilment of Company’s approach to design. They are an embodiment of communicable, local craft technique that can speak on an international stage. Each doll is formed from a head and core made by
Back at Laivurinkatu 10, it’s time to answer that question: if not Etsivätoimisto, and if not Mustikoita ja Vadelmia, then why Company? “Company means “Com” – together – and “Pany” – bread,” explains Song. “When we make something with a master, we work together and we share bread. That’s the image of our company for me.” “And maybe we knew from the beginning that we liked to have it as a secret,” adds Olin. “Because it’s impossible to Google. There’s millions of hits.” “I like that it’s impossible,” says Song. “Totally hidden,” concludes Olin. Up in the shop window, Yaya the shiba is still dozing. Her back legs are spatchcocked, perhaps a little stiﬀ by now, and her sesame fur is still glowing ginger in the sunlight. Yaya can be forgiven for taking it easy – her co-proprietors are busy planning the next journey. “We’re been looking into Peru,” says Aamu Song, leaning eagerly across the desk that fills the room. E N D
The Opposite of Inclusivity is Exclusivity Words Kay Sunden Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Chanel has hired a global head of diversity and inclusion, and it’s not even part of a crisis-management strategy. You’ll excuse the jibe. The thing is, the luxury-fashion industry has thrown up some appallingly insensitive designs in the last year or so. Consider Gucci: its autumn/ winter 2018 collection included a black balaclava polo neck with thick red lips reminiscent of blackface imagery. Or Prada, whose Pradamalia keyring figurines included a Sambo-esque monkey. Burberry, too, caused uproar when it sent a model down the London Fashion Week 2019 catwalk wearing a hangman’s noose. “It leaves one flabbergasted,” commented Valerie Steele, the director of New York’s Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “How do these things even get greenlighted?” The consensus among critics is that they get a pass at the drawing board because of the dearth of diverse representation in the fashion industry. In response, luxury brands have scrambled to establish various diversity and inclusion programmes, departments and posts. Gucci launched “Changemakers” in March 2019, a $5m fund to aid communities of colour and a $1.5m US scholarship programme, and a “Changemakers Council” headed by African-American designer Dapper Dan. (Yet this did not stop the brand selling an $800 “Indy full turban” until the Sikh community spoke up in May.) Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and artist Theaster Gates were appointed to co-chair Prada’s new Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, and Burberry announced a series of diversity and inclusion initiatives in February. Chanel, it seems, is taking precautionary measures with its new hire, Fiona Pargeter from UBS. But what does such an oﬃcer actually do and does it work? Diversity and inclusion oﬃcers tend to cover HR and recruitment, designing strategies to attract and retain staﬀ from minority groups. This is commendable. They also design and implement anti-bias training, which is unfortunately not the silver bullet companies believe it to be. In fact, as sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev showed in a 2018 Anthropology Now article, such training can even backfire, making staﬀ display “even more animosity” towards other groups and companies more complacent about bias once the training is completed. According to Dobbin and Kalev, eﬀective initiatives often promote people from marginalised groups into decision-making positions. In light of this, and given that so many recent scandals have revolved around race, it is surprising that Chanel’s new hire is a white person who spent the last 20 years working for a Swiss bank.
CLOISTER OF THE MONASTERY OF SERRA DO PILAR, PORTO, PORTUGAL
Associative Design ‘The Best of Portugal’ Global Showcases. Featuring an expertly curated mix of contemporary and luxury Portuguese design and innovation.
* DIANA sofa by Ottiu // RICHARD center table by Wood Tailors // CARAVELA lounge chair by Wewood hand-tufted RUG by Ferreira de Sá // PLANTS by Fiu - Jardins Suspensos
w w w.brunner-uk . com
FaceApp Words Brendan Cormier
An app serves up the beauty of picture-perfect ageing for a society that may not live to see itself grow old.
Disegnoâ€™s editor-in-chief Oli Stratford ages dramatically during the course of a phone call.
“I have seen my death,” Anna Bertha Ludwig proclaimed, staring at an x-ray of her hand. It was 22 December 1895, and hers was the first x-ray ever to be made. It was taken by her husband Wilhelm Röntgen, who, just one month prior, had managed to harness the translucent power of electromagnetic radiation. Putting it to the test, he reached for the hand of his wife, held it still over a photographic plate, and exposed it to the mysterious rays. The resulting “death image” was essentially a bony hand, robbed of flesh and muscle, with only the dark blotch of a wedding ring pointing to the identity of its owner. Knowing what we know now about x-ray technology – many early adopters succumbed to cancers of various forms – such an action may seem cavalier. Nevertheless, a small sensation ensued. Hand x-rays became all the rage among a select elite at the close of the 19th century. I first stumbled across Anna’s image in late July this year. At the same time, a new death-seeing technology was having its moment: FaceApp. For about two weeks it was everywhere. With the same curiosity-killed-the-cat recklessness of x-ray pioneers Anna and Wilhelm, millions of people around the world were rushing to download and try it out. Questions would come later. FaceApp was not really new. It had launched in January 2017 as a photo editor that modified facial images in gimmicky and mostly forgettable ways. It featured the kind of not-so-funny filters that get thrown up on SnapChat and Instagram stories, and don’t disappear fast enough. In its first year, it suﬀered a minor controversy when users pointed out that its “hot” filter was deliberately whitening the skin of people with darker complexions. The algorithms were racist, it turned out. Two years later, FaceApp rebounded with a major hit – an ageing filter that is impressively convincing. Using neural networks that pick over millions of images at a time to determine what ageing really looks like, the app can create an older version of you. The easy modifications are there: greying, thinning hair, wrinkling skin, liver spots and overall sag. But the app also adds minor alterations to surprising eﬀect. As Gizmodo points out, one of the most eﬀective and subtle
modifications is to the eyes – they narrow and become dull, and the skin around them grows paler. The results were fascinating. Celebrities started posting their selfies with the hashtag #faceappchallenge. Everyone else followed suit. According to SensorTower, in July alone FaceApp was downloaded 63m times and brought in $7m dollars in revenue. In a way, FaceApp was peak 2019. Everything that followed went like clockwork. News sites ran puﬀ pieces
An especially unsettling example came when the swimsuit-clad portraits of the cast of Love Island were run through the app. The heads that were reliably aged but the bodies remaining as buﬀ and perky as the show’s ratings. on the viral trend, famous people competed for the most popular post, pundits debated who had “won” the challenge, spoof versions and parody memes appeared. And then, almost immediately, came the backlash – perfectly summarising our contemporary fears and paranoia. The trigger word of course was “Russia” – the bogeyman of manipulated elections and referenda, the retro bad guys in Stranger Things 3, and now the hackers in your smartphone. People gasped: “My photos were taken, my phone hacked, my identity stolen!” Cue a slew of articles that shamed individual users for being so gullible, for having fallen for yet another online scam; articles about how we are all doomed, that privacy is dead, that democracy is over and it’s all your fault because you downloaded a stupid app! Almost simultaneously, a wave of rebuttals surged: that it’s actually OK; that FaceApp servers are in the US, not in Russia; that they only keep the photo you submit; that they don’t actually break any rules. And so the panic ended, as it normally does, in ambivalence and cynicism. A Wired article dutifully pointed out that Facebook regularly applies facial recognition to the photos of its 2.5 billion users. You could also point to MeiTu, another wildly popular facial-modification
app, which has access to users’ GPS location, cell-carrier information, wifi-connection data, and sim-card information. In London, there are more than 500,000 CCTV cameras recording the average Londoner 300 times a day. We spend an increasing amount of time looking into screens waiting for things to happen: to turn a phone on, to get through a security gate. Might we not at least get something fun in return, like a glimpse into the future? The world gave a great ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. So, privacy turned out to be a nonstarter. Instead, FaceApp had me thinking about death. In the museum I work at, I’m surrounded by all kinds of it: memento mori; Japanese netsuke in the form of ghoulish skeletons; a toothpick in the shape of Father Time’s sickle; a Schiaparelli dress covered in skulls. They are strangely comforting objects, usually diminutive in size, as if meant to catch one by surprise. Mary, Queen of Scots had a particularly good one: a watch in the form of a silver skull with a line from Horace inscribed on it: “Pale death knocks with the same tempo upon the huts of the poor and the towers of Kings.” What forms and expressions of memento mori might exist today? There’s the repetitive rehearsing of death that we experience in video games. Or the almost inexplicable success and allure of the Final Destination series, where the main characters, having escaped death once, are killed oﬀ one-by-one through an uncanny sequence of improbable moving objects and bad timing. (The only thing that doesn’t die is the franchise itself.) Now, perhaps, we can add FaceApp to the mix – a kind of globally performed memento mori, mediated through an app and delivered via neural networks, that came and went in the span of two weeks. Some publications picked up on this idea of coming to terms with death. Forbes published an article titled ‘What the FaceApp trend can teach you about saving for retirement’. Vanity Fair’s take was ‘Great, FaceApp Helps Us Confront Our Mortal Coils in Two Easy Steps’. But even as a means of visualising old age and, by extension, our eventual death, FaceApp falls short. The most glaring problem is what it does to our bodies, which is nothing at all. An especially unsettling example came when the
Disegno’s publisher Chris Jones embraces
Images are Disegno’s own, taken using FaceApp.
old age with a snow-white beard.
full-body swimsuit-clad portraits of the cast of Love Island were run through the app. The results were heads that were reliably aged but the bodies remained as buﬀ and perky as the show’s ratings. Even more standard FaceApp-aged headshots contain an uncanny virility; the youngerlooking shoulders, neck and chest belie a real image of ageing. More problematic however, is what the app implies in its very construction. When you run your face through the filter, it gives you just one outcome. It suggests that we change in a particular and predeterminable way, instead of ageing being the consequence of a long sequence of chance experiences. As much as people might groan in horror upon witnessing their older self, the image is quite forgiving. We haven’t been scarred, lost an eye or our teeth. We haven’t gained an egregious amount of weight or lost so much that we look
weak and frail. We are usually smiling, sometimes with a loved one next to us, who has also aged remarkably well. Indeed, to see how wildly wrong FaceApp can be, you simply need to use its reverse
When you run your face through the filter, it gives you just one outcome. It suggests that we change in a predeterminable way, instead of ageing being the consequence of a long sequence of chance experiences. tool, which makes you look younger. Compared to real images of your youth, the FaceApp version looks artificial and clichéd – almost as if a computer did it… FaceApp confuses what it is – a fun fantasy based on interpretation and
supposition – with what it sells itself as being, a verisimilitude of future you. And it does so by producing a convincing enough image coupled with voodooistic incantations of terms like “neural networks”. This fudging of science and desire happens a lot. My favourite story concerns Normman and Norma, two life-size statues made in the 1940s by the artist Abram Belskie and obstetriciangynaecologist Robert Latou Dickinson. The mannequins’ proportions were determined by large datasets consisting of the measurements of thousands of American men and women; they were meant to represent the absolute average. And they were strangely beautiful. When they went on display in museums in New York and Cleveland, they were a public sensation. The US fell in love with these two middle-of-the-road Americans. A local newspaper put out a call to find the woman who most closely matched
Disegno’s deputy editor Kristina Rapacki sees the years mount up.
Norma’s measurements. The winner, Martha Skidmore, was photographed standing next to Norma, but the public were dismayed. Martha couldn’t match Norma’s beauty. The deception, of course, was in the level of interpretation needed. The sculptor, having only abstract measurements to go on, gave himself licence to make Norma her best possible self. That meant toned abs, a perky butt and an attractive symmetrical face. Normman was the same: well-endowed, muscular and handsome. No wonder the public loved them. Average was beautiful. FaceApp gives us a similarly rose-tinted image of ageing and death. It makes Normas and Normmans of us all by skewing the outcome. But there’s another nagging, and actually far more depressing, thought that I can’t quite shake. The last two weeks of July, when FaceApp downloads spiked, featured
some of the hottest days on record. The image of Extinction Rebellion taking over public spaces across London was still fresh in the mind, and the notion of a climate emergency was gaining traction. There was a growing acceptance that we might already be royally fucked, that we might not live to old age at all, and that the ensuing years would be marked by incredible tragedy. Therein might be FaceApp’s real legacy. It speaks to a future we think might not exist. By way of wrinkles and grey hairs, nebulous software developers and AI, a 24-hour news cycle and hashtags, it was a perfect emollient. It arrived at just the right time to whisper sweetly, “In 50 years everything might just be alright.” FaceApp is available to download from the Apple App Store and on Google Play. It features in-app purchases.
YOUR EYES ARE MAGNIFICENT. DRESS THEM ACCORDINGLY.
The Robotics of Modern Parenting “Did you know that some regimes use the sound of crying babies as a form of torture?”
Words Michael David Mitchell Illustrations María Ramos Bravo
That was one of the questions designer Yves Béhar asked me when I interviewed him about the Snoo – a robotic bassinet he designed in 2016 that reacts to a baby’s cries with increasingly vigorous microshaking and swooshing white noise until its occupant falls back asleep. This augmented crib, co-created with paediatrician Harvey Karp, is marketed to Americans who are increasingly without family support and need to go back to work quickly. It’s for parents who need speedy relief in a country that does not guarantee any form of parental leave. According to Karp and Béhar’s data, and supported by many testimonials on the web, babies in a Snoo not only drop oﬀ more easily, but also often slumber for up to six hours within the first months of use. As a parent myself, who knows what it is like to barely sleep with a newborn, an easy bedtime routine and six hours of uninterrupted shut-eye seem as welcome and restful as a month-long vacation on a Greek island. The eﬃciency of the bassinet, and the society that demands it, puts me in an intellectual bind, however. Even as I squirm at the idea of delegating an essential parenting role to a robot, I recall our own child-soothing diﬃculties and recognise that there are few modern societies that retain or innovate support structures for parents of young children. “It is not another baby bed,” says Karp, “but more like a robot, or an additional member of the family there to help when you need it most, available 24/7.” As creepy as that sounds, any help parents can get in those trying first months should be welcomed, but with caution. The Snoo first entered my life in 2018, when I made a trip to San Francisco to visit my friends Len and Andrea and their two-month-old baby boy. At first, I thought that the beautiful bassinet was just another well-designed object in their craftsman-style house in Berkeley. The dark-wood finish of the basket and the elegant lines of its Eames-inspired wire legs fitted their home. It did not appear techy or over-designed, with the cloth mesh that envelops the upper twothirds of the bassinet giving a clear line of sight to the baby. Even without the Snoo’s technological enhancements, it would make for a nice object. Len and Andrea work in tech, have plenty of disposable income and are under pressure to put in long hours – they are Snoo’s target consumers par excellence. Len was excited to explain to me how the crib, which they bought second-hand for considerably
less than the $1,200 retail price, was less a piece of furniture and more akin to the internet-connected speaker-microphones and cameras dispersed throughout their home. When their infant began to cry, they swaddled him in a “Snoo Sack” and velcroed him into the bassinet, hitting the single button to activate it. “I know it looks wrong,” Len told me as we leant over the crib and watched it gently shake their baby boy to the accompaniment of white noise coming from its integrated speakers, the whole ensemble conjuring
“As the program goes to level four, it looks like the crib is shaking the hell out of your baby. But it’s safe and it works.” —Len, parent and Snoo user images of futuristic hospital incubators. “This is nothing, though. As the program goes to level four, it kind of looks like the crib is shaking the hell out of your baby. But it’s safe and it works. Microphones pick up the baby’s cries to initiate the rocking motion, and if it doesn’t put him to sleep after three minutes, we get a message on our phones telling us to go check in on him because he needs feeding or changing or perhaps simply some human love.” While it may seem unsavoury, the Snoo’s swaddling, white noise and micro-shakes are part of a highly researched design. The Snoo is aimed at replicating the conditions of the womb where, according to Karp, babies develop the “calming reflex”. This operates as an “oﬀ-switch” for crying babies and finding it involves putting into action Karp’s “5 S’s” methodology for soothing babies: Swaddle, Side-Stomach Position, Shush, Swing and Suck. “The underlying premise is that human babies are essentially born too early in their development, so they need a postpartum ‘fourth trimester’ to adjust to the outside world,” says Karp. The 5 S’s technique and its automated, mechanical implementation by the Snoo are supposed to fill in for this missed fourth trimester. “The rhythmic and repetitive swooning sounds, the perpetual kind of movement that the body creates when the mother moves, are all deep experiential moments that we based the prototypes on,” says Béhar. As a parent, this theory makes sense. I have intuitively discovered many of these techniques
myself through trial and error, as well as being coached on others by experienced grandparents. Child-soothing methods vary across cultures – from slinging the baby in a shawl and carrying them on a mother’s back, to warmly wrapping them in blankets and animal skins to nap next to a window or even outside in the cold – but all reproduce the conditions of the womb to some extent. What’s novel about Karp’s technique and bassinet is the way that the science is packaged
parents, which include exhaustion and depression, can be devastating.” As such, Karp believes it’s through alleviating sleep deprivation that the Snoo can make a diﬀerence in people’s lives. It’s with this in mind that an increasing number of companies whose employees decide to procreate – disturbing their capacity to produce value for employers – are now oﬀering the bassinet as a contractual benefit. Béhar’s design and consultancy firm Fuseproject is one of them. “I had a first-hand experience with it – it was so amazing,” Béhar says. “We’ve been giving them to the whole team ever since. Our CFO just went on maternity leave and she told me that it definitely convinced them to have a second child.” Facebook, Google, Snap, Activision, Weight Watchers, Button, Hulu, Qualcomm and Newscorp are among the more than 30 US corporations that arrange for a loaned Snoo for employees when they get home with their newborn. These mostly West Coast tech companies communicate their benefit scheme online and internally as a form of benevolent paternalism: patting employees on the back by giving them a tool to make it through diﬃcult parenting moments. But by oﬀering the Snoo as an employee benefit they are also making a hardline, return-on-investment calculation that their employees will return to work sooner, better-rested, happier and, above all, more eﬃcient. “For these companies, the return on investment is immediate,” says Karp. “These returns include higher employee retention and productivity, as well as reduced errors, accidents and absenteeism.” Rahab Hammad, the benefits manager at Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, says that “we’ve been told by our employees that the Snoo is by far the best benefit we’ve ever oﬀered.” She adds that supporting parents “is part of the company’s DNA”, pointing to a trend in US start-up culture that seeks to fill the void created by the government’s lack of parental leave policy. As it stands, the US is one of only eight countries that do not mandate some form of paid parental leave.1 On the East Coast, the NYC-based software company Button has been particularly vocal on social media about oﬀering the Snoo to its employees, going as far as creating a media campaign based around employee and recent father Dan Lee. Happy pictures shared on LinkedIn and the Snoo website show Lee’s
“The psychological and physiological eﬀects of sleep deprivation on parents can be devastating.” —Harvey Karp and explained to US parents as a solution to a set of contradictory conditions: little to no paid leave; stringent paediatric recommendations that are nearly impossible to follow to the letter; social pressure to be the perfect parent; and increasing geographical distance from family members who might otherwise help. All of these factors collide to make for an anxietyfilled parenting experience that is exacerbated every time a barely post-foetal human’s screams pierce the eardrums and torture the soul. Len and Andrea’s child went from crying to sleeping in less than two minutes. I was impressed, all the while wondering if I would be able to delegate an essential parenting task to a piece of robotic furniture. My intuition was that I had learned an awful lot in those diﬃcult first months, creating a bond with my child by learning to listen to her cries in the middle of the night and working with her to find ways out of these crises. During the best of these moments, as the moonlight came through the window to light up her little face at 3am, I was eternally thankful for both the trials and joys of early parenting. During the worst, I had dark thoughts about throwing her out that very same window. Karp is aware of the situation in which parents find themselves. “We are currently living [through] one of the largest mass experiments in history, where parents are raising their children for the first time far from the help of grandparents and communities, and often both are working full-time,” he says. “The psychological and physiological eﬀects of sleep deprivation on the
The others are Papua New Guinea, Suriname, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Tonga.
well-slept family in their home – a telling example of the continual blurring of the lines between work life and private life, of which the Snoo as an employee perk is only one example. “Snoo has helped me maintain a certain degree of consistency with quality of work,” Lee says in a blogpost, adding that the “Snoo is another thing to help keep me sharp and focused.” The post itself and its associated hashtags #companyculture and #worklifebalance show how companies are seeking to attract talent by oﬀering alluring family benefits. But it also illustrates how market-based solutions only emerge when having children is seen as being an obstacle to employee eﬃciency, instead of a social and economic good in itself. “One of Button’s guiding principles is ‘Family first’,” says Button’s co-founder Stephen Milbank. “We work to make building a family the best experience possible for our employees because we recognise that our people must be happy at home to be able to provide their full contributions to Button.” The paternalistic sleight of hand lurking behind “Family first”, however, helps hide the fact that the majority of US workers who have children are expected to bear the costs of childcare and maintain the home economy without social services to mitigate the economic risks of raising children. The burden of producing the next generation of workers is placed entirely on the shoulders of parents. Even if there is an uptick in companies
oﬀering decent paid leave and benefits such as the Snoo, the spectre of economic recession and company downsizing will continue to haunt young families until a non-market-based solution is firmly established. Having grown up in the United States but raised my children in my wife’s native Switzerland (which has the least progressive social plan for new parents in Western Europe, with one day of paternity leave and a meagre 14 weeks of maternity leave), I often wonder what family life would be like in a country that guarantees a year to both parents, free childcare from ages nought to seven, and which structures society around the perception of raising children as a social good instead of a hindrance to career advancement. In the absence of comprehensive, state-guaranteed childcare and progressive parental-leave policies, we feel forced to sacrifice to ensure our children’s upbringing and feel punished for contributing to the population of our tiny alpine country. In the US, if you are not lucky enough to have the Snoo provided by your employer, you can now rent one from Karp’s company, Happiest Baby. Priced from $3.50 per day, the rental Snoo is described by Karp as “the daily price of a cup of coﬀee you’d buy to stay awake anyway”. Happiest Baby initially tried out the rental scheme with companies local to its Santa Monica headquarters, making sure the refurbished Snoos
were safe on a small scale before oﬀering the service to the general population. But at $112 a month for five to six months, the product is beyond the budget of
taken in isolation. Béhar advocates a dual approach, but what happens when one half of that duality seems unlikely to arrive in the foreseeable future? While the creators of the Snoo may have the best of intentions, a social product should be examined through its eﬀects and eﬀectiveness in the world. From a policy standpoint, creating an eﬃcient robot helper to ease the pains of the first months of childcare – help only previously accessible to those who could aﬀord a night nanny or who lived near willing grandparents – may produce the unintended consequence of the privileged losing sight of the travails of the most at-risk populations, further weakening the tenuous solidarity between social classes. This could translate into less political pressure to transform US child-care policies, leaving children in poverty even further excluded from basic necessities. Béhar likes to argue that design has the power to change society, but in a society as stratified as the United States, one must ask the question: which society do we want to change and for the benefit of whom?
Isn’t the Snoo, then, an expensive band-aid for a deeply ill society that only the privileged can aﬀord, or that the less wealthy have to overextend for? many US parents. While one could argue that marketbased solutions like this can help to soothe the woes of early parenting, those who work in the service industry, for instance, and other impoverished parents working multiple jobs pay cheque to pay cheque, are not likely to be reached by this kind of approach. “My goal is to get it into 100 per cent of homes with children,” says Karp, who is hopeful that governments and insurance companies will subsidise the Snoo for parents who cannot aﬀord it, “not only as a way to treat sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, but as a preventative measure as well.” But there is still a significant portion of parents who fall between the two categories of “those who can aﬀord it, and those who cannot aﬀord to not buy one,” as Karp puts it, referring to those parents who are so desperate they pay the price no matter how high. Isn’t the Snoo, then, an expensive band-aid for a deeply ill society that only the privileged can aﬀord, or that the less wealthy have to overextend for? Is it yet another example of the growing divide between the privileged tech industry and the rest of the country, like Facebook’s private shuttles for workers’ commutes, or the rising costs and increased homelessness in San Francisco and Silicon Valley? And would the Snoo be as successful in a country like Denmark, where new parents are legally guaranteed 52 weeks of paid leave? When I bring up this line of questioning with Béhar, he bristles. “Both progressive child-care policies and new tools are needed; it’s not an either-or situation. I think progressive policies are crucial and I do think that tools such as the Snoo are important, and education is key as well.” But this combination of private and public solutions has historically failed the most vulnerable in the US, and it’s hard to see how a technological patch like the Snoo is a long-term and viable answer when
In my conversations with Karp and Béhar, both seem genuinely concerned about the plight of modern parents, while being acutely aware of the business opportunity this aﬀords. “When we were testing prototypes on grad students, before they tried it, we asked them how much they were willing to pay for this type of bassinet,” says Karp. “They said, ‘Perhaps $200 or $300.’ When we came back two weeks later, they were willing to give us $5,000 to keep it.” While there is no inherent contradiction here – but instead a keen and perhaps healthy entrepreneurial opportunism – I cannot shake the uneasy feeling that Karp and Béhar have gone somewhere they should not have. They have ventured into the sacred territory of the parent-child relationship to interject a foreign object between beings who are at the very beginning of the long road of trying to understand each other. My intuitions about the potential developmental risks of Snooing are reinforced when I speak to developmental child psychologist Maureen O’Brien, who is based in New York state and often consults on baby-tech products. “A baby’s first couple of months are essential to their development,” she says. “We used to think that not much learning was going on during this period, but now we know that babies’ brains are in a state of hyper excitement, growing at 116
an exceptional and unique rate in human development – the most meaningful relationships are built in their first year of life, it is how they create the meaning of their world.” O’Brien assures me that she has great respect for Karp and that his work has helped countless parents. “But the Snoo is an object, not a person. This must surely have some eﬀect on the parent-child relationship over the long term.” For her, the big question is: “Are we going to use technology for quick fixes to problems when raising children, or are we going to work with baby to find a solution together, until that relationship is fully developed?” When I ask Béhar about this, he is keen to draw distinctions: “You can’t just discount all technology wholesale, as all being the same thing.” Béhar tells me that he has been a vocal critic of the socially disruptive potential of some inventions and is adamant that his aim is to create robots to help those who are most in need. “Dr Karp’s techniques are extremely eﬀective, the 5 S’s are very teachable and learnable technique – any parent can be proficient,” he says. “But late at night, your ability to deliver the technique is not optimal. People lose patience, feel defeated, all the way to postpartum depression.” This is where, for Béhar and Karp, robots can help the most. In a culture where people are no longer surrounded by a community to support their eﬀorts, and there is no governmental structure in place to help, robotics can solve some of these specific needs. “Yes, the Snoo is a technological object, but so is the average baby crib that was developed in the Middle Ages. It’s just a smarter and safer baby swing,” argues Karp. Focusing on the “robotness” of the product, however, would neglect the design eﬀort involved in creating something that does not look or feel like a robot. “We wanted to turn Harvey [Karp]’s technique for calming babies to sleep into a robot for parents in need, but what should that robot look and feel like?” asks Béhar. “Yes, the Snoo is a technological object, but it needs to be integrated into the home and childhood in ways that provide a service but do not communicate its robotic self.” Seen from this perspective, Béhar’s design is extremely successful. People who purchase, rent or are loaned the Snoo most likely do not consider it a robot at all, given that it is designed with fabrics, wood and metal – much like a piece of furniture with extra capabilities. When I reach out to Andrea and Len to see how they are getting along with their boy, who just celebrated his first birthday,
they recoil in mock horror at the idea that the Snoo is a robot-helper. “It’s a terrible idea to call it a robot,” says Andrea. “I didn’t see it as a robot at all but as the future of bassinets. As in: this is the way all bassinets are going to be in the future.” Len is more categorical: “No parent wants to call it a robot.” Andrea and Len explain that parents are already under a lot of pressure to do everything perfectly and
“The Snoo needs to be integrated into the home in ways that provide a service but do not communicate its robotic self.” —Yves Béhar by themselves: pressure to breastfeed and not use formula; cook healthy meals and not resort to canned food; make sure the baby is developing on all levels by buying the right books and toys; ensure that the stroller, car seat and all the other parenting paraphernalia is the best and safest; and much more. According to them, any focus on the “robotic self” of the Snoo would increase parental guilt about delegating essential nurturing responsibilities to an automaton. “It’d be an especially bad idea in this moment when there is a lot of pushback on all of the smart-home, Internet-of-Things trends,” says Andrea. “An idea is really taking hold that we are losing the essential warmth of our house by interjecting these objects between ourselves and our living spaces.” While companies and policymakers around the world increasingly sing the praises of artificial intelligence and hyperconnectivity, some on the West Coast who have lived this reality for the past 10 years are already wary. But what to make of my friends’ apparent cognitive dissonance? The Snoo is a robot, a connected thing doing some of the work of parenting for you, crunching algorithms instead of relying on human intelligence. It fits into the growing category of hyper-connected monitors, as the quantified baby becomes a reality in many households. Is Béhar’s design so triumphant that it masks a nefarious societal hubris, or is the Snoo so ahead of the curve as to avoid the pitfalls of less elegant connected products? The answer might lie in how much we accept as truth or bluster what Béhar calls his ‘10 Principles for Design in the Age of AI’. The three he mentioned in 118
our conversation were: 1) Design solves an important human problem; 3) Design enhances human ability (without replacing the human); and 7) Good design brings about products and services that build longterm relationships (but don’t create emotional dependency). Looking closely at each one, I can only partially agree in regards to the Snoo. Yes, the Snoo solves an important human problem, but perhaps people consider waking up several times a night to take care of their child a problem because we live in a society that expects parents to be both devoted caregivers and eﬃcient workers. Yes, it enhances human abilities without replacing them, given that the crib does turn oﬀ after three minutes, but have we thought enough about what it means to have an
“The Snoo has really transformed the experience for parents, making having children easier, better. It’s received once-in-a-career, universal praise.” —Yves Béhar object put our baby to sleep for us? And, no, it does not create emotional dependency – because parents are forewarned that the crib is a six-month fix and much eﬀort has gone into educating users on how to wean their baby into a regular bed – but what is the use of removing the emotional attachment to an intermediary object when emotions are the keystone to developing a healthy relationship with a newborn? While the aesthetic design of the robotic Snoo does not evoke dystopian nightmares of humanoid machines enslaving humanity, the type of society it springs from and ultimately enables seems a more subtle type of dystopia. Béhar, however, remains positive in the face of my criticisms – perhaps a testament to his years in California, where the ideology of Silicon Valley remains optimistic at heart. His positivity may also be down to his own experiences with parenting and the reactions to the product that he’s received. “The reality is parents are mostly handling their baby by themselves,” he says. “My personal experience was one of exhaustion, having to get up between feedings at night and the baby not going right back to sleep – it’s the hardest part of having a newborn. The Snoo is game-changing.”
Béhar points me to the hours of positive testimony on the web and social media about how transformative his creation has been for tens of thousands of people. “Sleep deprivation is torture,” reads a case study from Kate in Minnesota on the Happiest Baby website. “Snoo is so worth it.” Jill from California concurs: “People said we’d never sleep with triplets, they didn’t have Snoo!” I both agree and disagree, stuck in the same intellectual bind that has gripped me since I first encountered the little robot I have come to love and hate, and which I secretly covet while still deploring the society that makes it so covetable. Towards the end of our conversation, Béhar brushes oﬀ my criticisms emphatically. “The Snoo has really transformed the experience for parents, making having children easier, better,” he says. “They are happier and able to provide a happier first few months to their children, partner and baby. It’s [received] once-in-a-career, universal praise.” Still, even if the Snoo is a triumph of design, it is a triumph that has little to say about the social ills that aﬄict the vast majority of parents in the US. It is the ultimate design-techno-parenting solution for those who can aﬀord it, or whose employers deem it an attractive employee benefit. But I worry about its contribution to the solution-based mode of parenting that risks supplanting deeply rooted parent-child relationship-building with technological quick-fixes. Maybe it’s a good thing that the first months of raising a child are hard. When I look back at that time, it seems to have gone by too quickly. And while sometimes unpleasant, it was a period of extreme growth for me as a parent and individual. That said, Len and Andrea seem to be doing fine after their experience with the Snoo. Having survived the first months with much fewer torturous nights than my wife and I endured, they seem to be well-adjusted, aware parents who know how to listen to their boy’s needs even if he can’t yet express them verbally. In the end, we all fuck up our children, as our parents did us, just in very diﬀerent ways – it’s what gives them their personality and fodder for years of therapy. Who knows how my kids or their kids will turn out? The only way to tell will be in a couple of decades, as they ask themselves the questions we all ask ourselves at some point: why the hell did my parents make the decisions they did while they were raising me? By then, the Snoo will be just another parental anecdote from a time they will never recall. E N D
FABULOSA! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language by Paul Baker Words Charlie Lee-Potter
How bona to vada dally screeving about the palare of the omee-palones.
A Gay News Fighting Fund badge, created after the anti-social-liberalism campaigner Mary Whitehouse brought a 1977 case against the fortnightly newspaper Gay News for publishing James Kirkup’s poem ‘The Love That Dares To Speak Its Name’.
Typesetters and designers have used what’s called a fleuron for centuries: a small printed flower to denote a division between sections of text. It’s more formal than a paragraph transition but less hefty than a chapter break. As I read FABULOSA!, Paul Baker’s erudite and witty chronicle of the language Polari – devised by gay British men in the first half of the 20th-century so they could communicate in secret – my eyes slithered straight past the fleurons at first. They were just wonky flower stems, I thought. But towards the end I suddenly saw the fleuron for what it really is: a teeny tiny moustache. Turning to the back cover to look at the author’s photograph it made me laugh to see that the one used repeatedly in the book is an exact replica of Baker’s own, right down to the length and angle of incline. Text, language, words and typography are artefacts just as much as kettles or bicycles, and that tiny moustache reinforces the point. Add to that the camp, capitalised title with its perky exclamation mark and the picture is complete – text is design. Polari was designed for camouflage when homosexuality was still a crime, and FABULOSA!’s aﬀectionate tribute to it makes for gripping social history. Baker plays the part of the warm yet occasionally stern uncle, honouring those who used Polari to communicate in secret, while sometimes telling them oﬀ for the acidity of their wit. He has a particular worry about the use of pronouns. “When gay men use she on themselves and their friends, are they parodying women in a way that borders on oﬀensive? Are they simply complicit in their own oppression by adopting language and labels that are used in homophobic ways?” he asks. Having said that, Baker relishes the fact that so many terms for the police in Polari are feminising: “Betty Bracelets, Hilda Handcuﬀs, Jennifer Justice, orderly daughters, Lily Law.” Yet for all Polari’s problems and limitations – estimates suggest it has only 500 words and 40 phrases – Baker pays touching tribute to it at the end of the book. He’s researched it, taught it and sought out speakers of it for 20 years. But, as he admits, “what I didn’t realize when I started out is that they’d help me to find my own voice.” No-one knows more about Polari than Baker does. He’s preserved it, yet he in turn has been nourished by it. He’s been
built by a language that was constructed to enable its users to avoid the police, the courts and the censor – Polari is both crafted and crafty. Polari has roots in many centuries and places. It’s a wild blend of Italian, Yiddish, Cockney rhyming slang and back slang – those backwards words so beloved by Victorian street sellers. In Polari, hair is “riah”, a nose is an “esong” and a knife an “efink”. Baker has collated impressive evidence tracing Polari back to Cant, used by criminals in the 16th to the 18th centuries. Polari also has a sprinkling of words used by Mollies in the early-18th century – men who dressed up in women’s clothing and met in Molly
Polari wasn’t made for nuance but for a clandestine discussion about the fundamentals: what does someone look like; how camp are they; and are there any police oﬃcers in the vicinity? houses for sex. As Baker explains, Mollies had any number of words for cruising for partners and sex between men: “strolling and caterwauling, bit a blow, put the bite” and “the pleasant deed, do the story, swive, indorse”. Polari also gathered up scraps of vocabulary from the Italianate language of Parlyaree, which was first used by circus people and later by music hall performers. A picture starts to emerge that Polari is more than just a performative, hybrid tongue. It’s an assembled, constructed one too. Until homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, gay men were routinely persecuted, punished and imprisoned. They created the language of Polari both as a shield and a weapon and, in doing so, added plenty of poisonous wit and high-camp comedy. How could you not love drag queen Lily Savage’s phrase “get that bona jarrie down the screech”? So much more interesting than “eat this delicious food.” Baker has done more than anyone to research Polari. He’s even collaborated with the artist Joseph Richardson to design a Polari app. Shake your phone and the app generates a Polari word at random. I shook out seven words in a row to see if I could build a sentence. (I immediately
discovered one of the language’s limitations: there are way more nouns than verbs.) But this is what I created from the seven words and phrases the app spat out: “Kenza Jennifer justices with nanti pots in the cupboard, fat luppers and long ogle riahs batt in sling backs.” It’s a sentence, but rather than being transparent it’s opaque – a series of odd marks on the page that, although they’re designed, deliberately conceal meaning. Even if you stare at it, it’s unlikely its message will emerge, although shape and rhythm do. What it actually says is: “Twelve policemen with no teeth, fat fingers and long eyelashes dance on stage in high heels.” You get the idea – Polari wasn’t made for nuance, but for a clandestine discussion about the fundamentals: what does someone look like; how camp are they; and are there any police oﬃcers in the vicinity? But it’s still a design project with a function, a purpose and even a linguistic aesthetic. Baker argues that Polari is not so much a language as an “anti language”, created to “present a hostile front” to outsiders. Not that the language barrier always worked. He recounts a story about two men in an Italian shoe shop secretly discussing the appeal of their attractive male sales assistant: “The Polari words that they used were so similar to Italian that the object of their desire looked up and said, ‘Thank you’. It transpired that everyone in the shop had understood the Polari and they all started laughing.” Outsiders have sometimes pinched some of the language’s material too. Perhaps none was so unlikely as Princess Anne, who nicked the Polari word “naﬀ” to ward oﬀ reporters when she fell oﬀ her horse during the Badminton Horse Trials in 1982. And if you happened to be hiding behind the sofa in 1973 watching Doctor Who, you would have heard aliens speaking Polari: Shirna: Palare the carny? Doctor: I beg your pardon? Vorg: Varda the bona palone? Doctor: I’m sorry? Erm. Vorg: Nanti dinarli round here yer gills. Ha ha ha! Doctor: I must apologise. I’m afraid I do not understand your language. The aliens insisted they were speaking something called Tellurian Carnival Lingo,
Paul O’Grady, who performs as the drag act
Images courtesy of Reaktion Books.
Lily Savage, is a proficient Polari speaker.
which added to the joke that Polari is an anti-language designed to hide itself from view. But whether it is borrowed for comic eﬀect, stolen unknowingly, or simply deciphered by Italian shoe salesmen, Polari is, as Baker puts it, “deeper than just a set of words”. The fact that it lacks formal linguistic scaﬀolding such as conjunctions and prepositions hardly matters. Interestingly, Baker likens Polari phrases to constructed but truncated telegrams or telegraph messages. “As the cost of such messages was often calculated by the number of words, people tended to remove small words like conjunctions and prepositions since they could often be inferred due to the context.” Perhaps the contemporary equivalent of such word economy is the emoji, which is, after all, simply another form of designed, crafted
language that trumpets what it is without the usual intricacies and subtleties of conventional words. It’s important to remember that all language is designed to express what’s needed at a particular time. Run the word “trauma”, for example, through Google Books’s Ngram Viewer (a search engine that charts the frequency with which set words and phrases have been used throughout history) and you’ll see that it simply didn’t appear before the 20th century. It increases in use after the First and Second World Wars, and then soars steadily until the present day. Polari, too, was designed for a purpose and it declined in use after homosexuality was decriminalised in the 60s. Baker attributes this to a number of factors: the beginnings of the gay-liberation movement; Polari’s mainstream popularisation through
comedians Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams’s use of the language in the 1960s radio programme Round the Horne; the deaths of earlier generations of Polari speakers; and the increasing influence of the US gay scene. “Polari, useful in a more repressive time,” writes Baker, “was a casualty of this social change.” Polari was declared an “endangered language” by Cambridge University in 2010, recalling, as Baker says, “species of wildlife that are being hunted out of existence”. In linguistics there’s what he calls a “sub-field around the notion of language death, a concept that evokes the idea of a language as a living being”. Languages are not, after all, simply made up of lists of words with direct equivalents in French or English or Spanish. A lexicon is a formal code in which culture, time and experience are embedded too. The word artist Barbara Leoﬀ Burge, understanding the importance of language as design, paid touching tribute to the Chinese linguist Yang Huanyi in a work called None of Your Damn Business (2009). Yang died in 2004 in her nineties, the last speaker and writer of the female-only language of Nüshu. Leoﬀ Burge’s book has been written entirely in stenographers’ shorthand, making it inaccessible to readers, just as Nüshu is. The result is exquisite as design, if deliberately impenetrable as text. Polari is a greedy language, plundering vocabulary and idioms across centuries and countries. It has heaped up its spoils in flamboyant piles, adding a sparkly adjective here and an outrageous sexual pun there. (Although it has always seemed political in intent, despite the glitter.) In assessing Polari as a communal design project, it’s easy to assume that a language, in order to evolve, must always add more and more to its stockpiles, with users refashioning phrases and inventing new ones. But that’s to ignore language’s alternative design trajectory – the deliberate removal of words and the conscious paring down of forms of expression. After all, to limit can be just as powerful. The poet Philip Metres, in his collection abu ghraib arias (2011), redacts his own verse, scoring out slabs of text in black ink as a military censor would do. The idea that text is a form of political design is made even more striking by the material that forms the
Polari featured in the passenger ships of the 1950s and 60s, which Baker describes as “places of mass festivity with a holiday atmosphere”.
cover of the book. It’s called “Combat Paper” and was created by the US army veteran Chris Arendt who served at Guantanamo Bay. Made from army uniforms beaten to a pulp by traumatised ex-soldiers, it gives the collection meaning as object as well as subject. Polari isn’t a redacted language, but like Metres’s verse it’s designed to obscure and conceal. Amidst all the frivolity and glamour, we shouldn’t forget that its joyous exuberance was a defence against suﬀering, prejudice and persecution. Baker’s aﬀection for it is profound, although he’s willing to point out its – and his own – flaws. And how appropriate that he makes fun of his and his fellow academics’ own use of language. As a scholar he knows only too well that academics often obscure rather than reveal meaning through their choice of words. This isn’t the kind of fruitful opacity produced by Leoﬀ Burge in her impenetrable work about Nüshu. It’s the kind of obfuscation fostered by those who use long words to show oﬀ. Baker mocks his own PhD thesis about Polari, which
later became the 2003 book Polari: The Lost Language of Gay Men, in which he used phrases such as “cultural economy, performativity theory, sociolinguistic coding orientation and vari-directional double-voicing”. But part of what’s so charming about FABULOSA!, and about Baker as a writer, is that he punctures his own pretensions, inserting a wry, self-mocking “yes, me neither” at the end of this self-quotation. Baker ends FABULOSA! with the word “larlou”. I looked it up in the glossary at the back and discovered it means “amen”. It seems such an unlikely word to end with that it strikes me as another embedded joke, much like the teeny tiny moustache. Earlier, Baker transcribes a prayer spoken by Sister Muriel of London, a member of one of the British orders of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity and protest group of gay men founded in San Francisco in 1979. As Baker explains, the Sisters placed an “overtly gay twist on religion – mocking and questioning the intolerance of mainstream religion while simultaneously creating a religious arena
for gay men”. Some of the Sisters, dressed as flamboyant nuns, canonised Derek Jarman in a camp seaside ceremony on the beach at Dungeness, an event that the filmmaker described as one of the happiest of his life. The prayer ends suggestively: May Perpetual Indulgence always be our aim, and may the blessings of this beloved Celtic house be upon you and your happy parts now and forever. Ahhhhh-men! Not since the TV ad for “Ahhhhh Bisto” has so much ravenous – and, in this case, salacious – appetite been crafted into the syllable “Ahhhhh”. And there’s enough double-entendre in Ahhhhh-men! to satisfy even the most outrageous speaker of Polari. Right there, in just one word, is the proof – text is design. FABULOSA! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language by Paul Baker is published by Reaktion Books, price £15.99.
Life After Niemeyer Words Lemma Shehadiâ€‚Photographs Karen Paulina Biswell
The wild reeds surrounding the fairâ€™s canopy are overgrown. The ceilings are crumbling and the floor is covered in rubble. Creeping stains on the bare concrete surface reveal its decay. A strong coastal wind sweeps through the unwalled building. The grounds beyond the canopy, facing the city, are punctuated by a series of low concrete structures: a dome, a thin arch, a star-shaped cone, a pavilion with pointed arches, and a circular landing pad that appears to be floating.
Previous page: The Grand Arch leading up to the open-air theatre, which is pictured below on this page.
Such large-scale corporate development risks destroying important modern architectural heritage. Opponents do not have to look far to build their case.
The Tripoli fair, or more oﬃcially, the Rachid Karami International Fair, was designed as a permanent expo site by Oscar Niemeyer in the 1960s. Today, it stands as a reminder of how Lebanon embraced international modernism, and of what many view as the country’s golden age before its descent into civil war. But it is also a symbol of national failings. Since construction halted with the start of the war in the 1970s, the space has never been revived. The Syrian army, which occupied parts of Lebanon during the conflict, used it as a base. Since their departure in the 1990s, plans to resume development have stalled due to Tripoli’s political and economic instability. “Most people remember it as a base for the Syrian occupation,” says Wassim Naghi, a Tripoli-based architect and a leading campaigner for the fair’s preservation. “It has never lived up to its potential.” Recently, however, events have signalled the fair’s possible revival. Firstly, in 2018, the site was placed on Unesco’s Tentative List, marking it as a candidate for World Heritage nomination. Secondly, part of the fair’s unbuilt grounds, as well as two of its buildings were leased to the Tripoli Special Economic Zone (TSEZ), an initiative launched in 2008 by the government to attract foreign investment to Lebanon. As part of this, two of the structures, a customs house and the administrative building, are to be rehabilitated. The TSEZ plans centre around developing the land into a technological and business hub, named the Knowledge and Innovation Centre (KIC), with oﬃces for start-ups and small-to-medium enterprises, as well as educational programmes. The hub would benefit from the fast internet connection provided by the I-ME-WE submarine fibre-optic cable, a communications system between India and France that connected to Tripoli in 2011. Its satellite tower on the coastal edge of the city is visible from the fair. The proposed development of 60,000sqm would include oﬃce spaces and a data centre, as well as a car park, service and utility buildings and housing units. It would be divided into two phases, of 35,000sqm and 25,000sqm respectively, with the second phase implemented according to demand. But such large-scale corporate development risks destroying important modern architectural heritage. Opponents do not have to look far to build their case. They point to the fair’s social-housing unit, modelled on Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, which was converted into a chain hotel in the early 2000s. “We lost a jewel,” says Naghi. Today, this hotel presents
one of the main challenges to the fair’s World Heritage application. In order to ensure that the new development did not damage the site’s integrity, the TSEZ announced it would launch an international tender for proposals in September last year, in collaboration with the Union of International Architects. “The new proposal must optimise the area but also meet our developmental and environmental standards. We hope it can
“The future of the field will be how we re-think these buildings. This is where we’ll see innovations.” —Amale Andraos
contribute towards reactivating the fair,” says Raya El Hassan, who was the TSEZ’s chair until she was appointed Lebanon’s minister of interior and municipalities in January this year. For architects, the contest presented the challenge of introducing a new building into an existing cultural heritage site. “The tension between preservation and development was a fundamental question throughout,” says Amale Andraos, who took over from El Hassan as jury chair and is dean of Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Contemporary adaptations of existing heritage buildings, such as David Chipperfield’s restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin or Bernard Tschumi’s New Acropolis Museum in Athens, are becoming more common. “The future of the field will be how we re-think these historic buildings. This is where we will see the most architectural innovations,” says Andraos. Such was the popularity of the competition that it attracted 900 registrations from all over the world, and 112 final proposals were submitted. The winning proposal was selected by a jury over two days of deliberation in June 2019 and received a cash prize of $60,000. Second and third prizes were also awarded, and the jury made three special mentions. Tripoli was once a major Levantine port serving cities from Aleppo to Baghdad. It has the largest existing concentration of 14th-century Mamluk buildings and the recent destruction of Aleppo has made it the biggest
living medieval city in the Middle East. But when the borders of Lebanon were drawn by the French colonial powers following the end of the First World War, the city was cut oﬀ. Under French mandate, Beirut was named the new nation’s capital and Tripoli fell into decline. In the decades after Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), the city suﬀered from a local conflict between two warring suburbs, which was compounded by the fallout from the war in neighbouring Syria. Today, the densely populated city of more than 400,000 people suﬀers from 9 per
at the time. “Architecture would be simpler, disciplined,” wrote Niemeyer of this decision. This was complemented by a series of smaller structures to “enrich the conjunct”, including a domed experimental theatre, an open-air theatre, a unit for staﬀ housing and a helipad. The fair’s masterplan was modelled on Brasília, but the pavilion featured pointed arches as a nod to regional architecture. A second phase of the design, which was never built, included an extension of the city. “I played on the site as a child while it was still in construction,” says Naghi. “Its geometry was attractive because it had nothing to do with the other buildings.” As well as Niemeyer’s conceptual innovations, the fair’s engineering and construction presented important breakthroughs for the time. “The curved structures were built on the principle of thin plates and shells,” explains Nazih Taleb, the site’s original design consultant who worked with Niemeyer. “The plates at the top of the dome are mere centimetres in thickness.” Through his consultancy Dar Al Handasah Nazih Taleb & Partners, Taleb was behind key urban development projects in the Middle East, including the expansion of Saudi Arabia’s highway network to Mecca. Now in his late eighties, Taleb keeps a photo of the dome in construction on the wall of his oﬃce in Beirut, and continues to read mathematical papers relating to thin plates and shells. Ambitious as it was, the project took a toll on its surroundings. The construction contributed, in part, to the loss of an important aspect of Tripoli’s identity: its fragrant orange blossom. Part of the fair was built on the orange orchards and banana plantations that once surrounded the city. Niemeyer acknowledged this by including an almond-shape opening in the grand canopy, which echoes the form of an orange leaf. Recently, the city of Tripoli replanted orange trees along the streets in an attempt to restore this heritage. The fair’s decline is tangible in all of its 15 existing structures. For example, Niemeyer designed a spaceexploration museum beneath the helipad, which could have been among the first of its kind in the world. But until recently, the underground exhibition room was used to store plastic chairs, which were melted in a fire around a decade ago; the debris was only cleared last year. Lebanon has no rules protecting modern architecture, which, in part, has driven the Unesco application. The Getty Conservation Institute has also begun work on a conservation management plan for the site. But with the concept of a permanent international
“The site’s geometry was attractive because it had nothing to do with the other buildings.” —Wassim Naghi
cent unemployment and accommodates more than 64,000 Syrian refugees. “Tripoli does not have the infrastructure to host an international fair,” says Naghi. “Until recently, the security situation was a deterrent and the city received no economic or political support from Beirut.” Today, plans to revive the city as a regional hub are under way. The port has been reactivated and expanded with local and foreign investment – its natural bay is able to attract larger numbers and sizes of ships than Beirut, which has become congested. The city is being prepped as a logistics hub that may contribute to the reconstruction eﬀorts in Iraq and Syria. “Nonetheless, serious issues around poverty and unemployment remain,” cautions El Hassan. While local investment has been the TSEZ’s main source of funding, many hope that the zone will attract more foreign investment once it is operational. The Tripoli fair was designed as a permanent expo site that would attract in excess of two million visitors a year. It was commissioned by then-president Fouad Chehab as part of a policy that promoted a better balance of development between Beirut and the rest of the country. This was Niemeyer’s first project outside the Americas. He was in his fifties and had just finished working on the planned city of Brasília. He travelled twice to Tripoli, spending a month on his first visit. Niemeyer envisioned a 717m-long, boomerangshaped canopy for the exhibition presentations, as opposed to the independent pavilions that were popular 128
The fair was built with the universalising, context-less philosophy of international modernism. Yet it is a space that is deeply connected to the city of Tripoli and its political struggles.
Above: The Lebanon pavilion. Below: The experimental theatre.
fair now obsolete, the question of how best to implement conservation through adaptive reuse remains challenging. “The Lebanese government took land from Tripolitans to build an international fair,” explains Naghi. “Those contracts could present legal problems if it were used in another way.” The KIC may oﬀer a solution, but campaigners are adamant about maintaining a variety of uses on the site. “I hope it will be one of many projects that will help reactivate the fair,” said jury member Farès el-Dahdah of Rice University, who is also on the board of the Fundação Oscar Niemeyer. In addition, there is the question of how the fair can contribute to Tripoli. Last year, Minjara, an EU-funded workspace for Tripoli’s carpenters, launched in the fair’s former guesthouse. Minjara held its first furniture fair in early July. But public access to the site is presently restricted by a protective wall that surrounds the grounds. Thus the complex’s uncertain future is due partly to the fact that it oscillates between two concepts. As an international fair, it was built with the universalising, context-less philosophy of international modernism. Its potential as a World Heritage site also implies a global, public ownership. Yet it is a space that is deeply connected to the city of Tripoli and its political struggles. These challenges and questions formed part of the jury deliberations for the KIC’s architectural competition. I arrived to observe on the second morning. The jury of seven architects and heritage specialists, all independent from the TSEZ, included representatives from Unesco, the Fundaçaõ Oscar Niemeyer, the Union of International Architects, and two architectural and engineering industry bodies for Tripoli and Lebanon. The TSEZ’s collaboration with the UIA was intended to ensure the selection process remained transparent. However, I was asked not to quote from the deliberations and additional interviews with the jury were conducted afterwards. The final entries were kept anonymous to avoid bias. The challenge was to maintain Niemeyer’s original language while coming up with an architectural expression for the new development. “The fair is subtly organised according to distinct sectors, with clear fronts and backs,” explains el-Dahdah. “It was important to make sure that the proposed projects did not alter the integrity of this spatial grammar.” This parameter included keeping the fair’s diﬀerent buildings visible from beneath the canopy and respecting the proportions of the existing structures. These considerations gave the jury clear criteria. “One alternative was to go underground, another was
to occupy the periphery in what could become a buﬀer zone between the fair and the city, and yet another alternative was to reject the given programme and occupy an area elsewhere on the site that could easily accommodate the required square footage,” says el-Dahdah. The competition also considered the
One practice created a masterplan for a fair located in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. rehabilitation of the customs house and administrative oﬃce under the proposed lease. The two buildings are low-ceilinged, curved bungalows that have been severely damaged by decades of neglect. At times, the temptation to uncover the proposals’ authors was almost overwhelming. One practice created a masterplan for an international fair located in Tripoli, the capital of Libya (spelt “Lybia” in the concept note). It included a monument for “Wars, Martyrs and Heroes”, alongside a “Piazza of the Flags” and an adjacent “Kiosk for Sodas, Coﬀee and Popcorns etc…”. Other renders appeared to have the Emirates in mind. One of these showed a man walking through a lively retail space in a white dishdasha (robe) and keﬃyeh (cotton headscarf), the traditional clothing of Gulf countries. Other slightly more informed proposals drew on pastiches of Lebanese cultural history. One included two oval-shaped towers resembling pine cones, in reference to the native stone pine tree. Another recalled the shape of a phoenix, the mythical bird from which the ancient Phoenicians of Lebanon derived their name. The winning proposal was an underground scheme that featured 10 square oﬃce blocks with central courtyards, two storeys in depth, allowing natural light to penetrate the floors below. It was created by MDDM, a Beirut-based practice that has designed corporate and residential buildings, as well as landscape architecture, in Lebanon, and projects in Ghana and Saudi Arabia. The two existing buildings will be revamped with minimal intervention. “We’ll use thin transparent glass panels that reveal the concrete and the ceilings, while also giving continued visibility to the other structures,” says MDDM’s co-founder Imad Aoun. MDDM also
proposes turning a portion of the two buildings into spaces for wider public use: the customs house will serve as a lecture hall and meeting room, and the administrative building will include retail spaces. “We will try to use concrete and steel as much as possible, which we believe can be done within the existing budget,” says Aoun. The aim of the subterranean scheme was to minimise the visibility of the intervention. On the surface, the scheme will present six long rows of concrete surrounded by gardens. “We wanted to keep Niemeyer’s project
existing buildings with glass walls and timber frames. This allowed for panoramic views of both ends of the fair, while adding lightness and warmth to the cold, concrete structure. “It evoked Mies van der Rohe,” says Tabet. “It showed us how both of these giants could co-exist in one building.” However, the jury also advised on changes to the KIC plans. The “60,000sqm requirements of the competition would impose an excessive densification of the proposed area,” said the jury statement, advising that the second phase be re-examined. As such, one of the three special mentions was awarded to the Beirutbased practice Unit 44, which envisaged building the KIC within the grand canopy, although it had not been leased to the TSEZ. A week later, the results of the competition were announced at a special televised ceremony held in the very same structure. The competition’s international jury had flown back home, leaving behind only their decision and a promotional teaser video. All entries were printed and on display along white plastic panels, and crowds and cameras huddled in front of the one showing the winner, the second and third prizes and special mentions. As it was when Niemeyer last visited, the fair was once again in the hands of politicians, Tripoli’s civil society and the local media. The event drew more than 500 people to the fair’s grounds. In the guesthouse nearby, the Minjara project held its first exhibition of local woodwork and other crafts from Tripoli. The combined activity of the event and the furniture fair gave a glimpse of what could be achieved should the entire fair eventually be brought into use. The speeches gave a sense of a city on the cusp of change – a place with tremendous geographic potential that is often stymied by its political and economic struggles. The competition succeeded in gaining support for a large-scale intervention that could potentially revive the Tripoli fair. “There was agreement all around, from the jury, the city and the TSEZ,” says Andraos. Nevertheless, it also highlights the challenges of preserving modern iconic buildings. Namely, how to reconcile the contextual spaces that such sites inhabit; and how to enter into contemporary dialogue with revered modern architects. While an underground architectural scheme may protect Tripoli’s fair’s integrity, it also suggests that architectural history ends with Niemeyer. E N D
“Entering into dialogue with Niemeyer was diﬃcult. It was easier to erase, to make it invisible.” —Amale Andraos
intact and develop the KIC as a landscape,” says Aoun. “We did not need another icon at the fair,” says jury member Jad Tabet, head of the Lebanese Federation of Engineers and Architects. “Niemeyer is the icon.” The second prize was awarded to Beirut-based practice Dagher Hanna & Partners, which put forward another underground scheme. Dubbed, as a nod to Le Corbusier, “The Subterranean City”, it borrows elements from Niemeyer’s structures: the orange leaf-shaped slit is repeated on a shading panel above the main corridor. But while such schemes protect the fair from any intrusive interventions, they raise other questions. “It’s an invisible architecture that suggests that nothing new can be built alongside Niemeyer’s work,” says Naghi. Such concerns were echoed by the jury. “Entering into dialogue with Niemeyer was diﬃcult. It was easier to erase, to make it invisible,” says Andraos. I couldn’t help but wonder what the construction engineers might find when they dig beneath the site. Tripoli’s first settlements are 3,400 years old. The ruins of an ancient city were unearthed during the reconstruction of the nearby Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, which had been destroyed after a month-long war in 2007 between the Lebanese army and an armed Islamist group. The discovery lead to delays and serious divisions. In the case of the Tripoli fair, questions around the value of modern and ancient heritage would be seriously tested. Arquivos Architects, a Madrid-based practice, was awarded third prize for its proposal to rehabilitate the 132
Ceramic Block by Virgil Abloh for Vitra Words Felix Chabluk Smith
The Virgil Abloh c/o Vitra collection includes new versions of Jean Prouvé’s Anthony chair and Petit Potence lamp, as well as the Ceramic Block.
I’d already written about 900 words of this review when I had to stop and calm down. I hadn’t even mentioned what I should have been reviewing. Instead, I’d got hung up about a fur coat I’d seen for sale at the Louis Vuitton menswear pop-up at Printemps in Paris, part of Virgil Abloh’s second collection for the brand. I’d assumed it was fake fur, but it was real mink. It cost €39,000. The year was 2019, the month was July
and the temperature outside was over 30°C. I got very angry about that coat and listed about 15 reasons why it shouldn’t exist, but then I realised it wasn’t worth it. I work as a designer in the fashion industry; it’s a small world and LVMH owns a large part of it. I didn’t want to burn any bridges before they had even been built. So, Virgil and M. Arnault, if you’re reading this, I’d be happy to come
and talk to you about that coat and any lucrative employment opportunities you may have for someone who can help you do better. Deep breaths: it’s only a coat. “I now have a platform to change the industry,” Abloh said of his Vuitton appointment in a 2018 GQ interview, “so I should.” And so he should, but a mink coat isn’t the way to do it. The Earth is on fire; the bees are dying; Johnson is in Number 10; Trump is in the White House. There are other things more deserving of anger, but it just seemed so out of touch – a 1980s idea of irrelevant, obscene luxury, especially from a designer who is generally known to have his finger firmly on the pulse. Trained as a civil engineer and architect, Abloh started designing T-shirts and sweatshirts under the label Pyrex Vision in 2012, maybe because they’re easier than designing bridges and opera houses. The market is certainly bigger. I’ve bought a few T-shirts this year, but I haven’t even considered buying a bridge, let alone an opera house. Pyrex Vision lasted a year before relaunching as Oﬀ-White in 2013. Defined by Abloh as “the grey area between black and white as the color Oﬀ-White”, the brand produces pretty much everything from huge winter coats and red-carpet dresses through to flip-flops, but is defined by its high-end streetwear. (For some reason “streetwear” has become a loaded word. Several designers are very uncomfortable with it, finding it belittling or pejorative. I can see where they’re coming from, but at this stage of the 21st century I think we need to pick our battles – Earth on fire, bees. And anyway, a man in a hoodie might take your wallet, but it’s the men in suits who will destroy us all.) I was struggling to define Abloh’s design signatures, until I realised he doesn’t really have any, not in the traditional sense, at least. There are currently 29 Oﬀ-White shows archived on Vogue.com and each could be from a diﬀerent designer. Take that as a negative if you want – I used to think of it that way myself – but unless you’re the most fanatical Rick Owens health goth, your wardrobe probably doesn’t have much of a theme either. There are no consistencies, no overarching concerns, no silhouettes or fabrics or colours that Abloh has made his own, but he does love a quote. It’s his
use of quotation marks on pretty much everything – along with spare graphic placements, Renaissance paintings (sounds odd, I know, but they’re in the public domain) and overlaid industrial typography on hoodies and T-shirts – that has become
Images courtesy of Vitra.
Judging by the amount of fake Oﬀ-White I see on the streets of Paris, let alone the real stuﬀ, Abloh is doing something very, very right. iconic and made Oﬀ-White instantly recognisable. A handbag is printed with “SCULPTURE”, knee-high boots have “FOR WALKING” down the side, a collaboration with Nike has “LOGO” above the Swoosh, “AIR” on his version of its Air Force 1, and “KEEP OFF” on a rug as part of an Ikea collection, always in block-capital Helvetica. The strict typography, Old Master artwork and dryly ironic labelling suggest an intellectual rigour, but there isn’t any. There doesn’t need to be. There isn’t even any consistency in how the quotations are used, but it doesn’t matter. It looks interesting and it’s easy to wear, and that’s enough. Oﬀ-White sells. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; in fashion, if it’s worthwhile for someone to knock oﬀ your designs, then you know you’re doing something right. Judging by the amount of fake Oﬀ-White I see on the streets of Paris, let alone the real stuﬀ, Abloh is doing something very, very right. It also doesn’t hurt having Kanye West as your best friend. Abloh was appointed artistic director of Louis Vuitton menswear in 2018, and despite runway collections at such a large brand never being that profitable (the heavy lifting at Vuitton is done by the classic leather goods and accessories) by all accounts he’s doing his thing there too. In April, Vuitton CFO Jean-Jacques Guiony revealed a 20 per cent growth in leather goods and ready-to-wear in the previous quarter, and confirmed that “[ready-towear] is not a major business altogether for us at Vuitton, but it’s worth pointing out, as this is obviously a traﬃc generator for many stores and we are very happy to
see that this business is doing particularly well.” Abloh, with his connections, his collaborations and his side-job as a DJ, generates a lot of press coverage, socialmedia noise and excitement for the brand, but apparently the clothes are selling too. I can see why. There are design flourishes in Abloh’s work for Vuitton – like below-the-knee inverted knifepleats on tailored trousers or half-jackets held on with harnesses – that I know from experience are fun to spend time on but aren’t always successful or necessary, in as much as fashion is ever really necessary. A creative director with a stronger personal aesthetic would probably have reined these in. Nevertheless, they give the collections an endearing air of studenty experimentation and fun, executed with Vuitton precision. It’s very luxurious but without the alienating perfection and rigidity that is such a turn-oﬀ with other brands at this level. Although I still think that coat is a big mistake. The quotation marks have stayed firmly planted at Oﬀ-White, but in Abloh’s work the clothes themselves seem to be citations – sometimes they’re the clothes themselves. Diet Prada had a field-day after the last Vuitton show and, sure, that jacket does look like Comme des Garçons, or that look is uncannily similar to a Celine look, or a Raf Simons look, or a Craig Green look. His work for Oﬀ-White has been similarly tarred and feathered, and even the “typical” chair he designed for Ikea was pointed out to be a barely altered Paul McCobb bestseller from the 1950s. In defence of Abloh, and knowing the general design-studio dynamic, I don’t think these things are always his fault, if ever. When teams present research and inspiration imagery to a creative director, original authorship is easily lost and it’s up to the individuals to push their designs beyond their initial input and flag up any potential issues before there’s a problem. A creative director can’t know every single reference and doesn’t have time to check, and anyway, the call-out culture that thrives on Instagram can become so cattily know-it-all and self-righteous as to be exhausting. If you want to buy the Comme jacket, then buy it. If you want the Vuitton jacket, buy that instead. Honestly, if you’re the kind of person who can drop €2,500 on a jacket that will make people
stare at you on the street, buy both. As I said before, there are more urgent things requiring our anger these days. Soon it’ll be too hot to wear any of these clothes, but if you tie a knot in the end of your Vuitton jacket sleeve, you’ll have a rudimentary water filter when the End Days come. This will only remove particulates such as dirt and twigs, not bacteria or viruses, so you should boil the water too, just to be sure. Writing in The Observer, Tim Lewis recently claimed Abloh is “tremendously desirable for established companies looking for a jab of Botox”. The Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra is ageing well (staying hydrated, exfoliating regularly, washing its face before bed), but it has apparently looked in the mirror and seen some fine lines it doesn’t like because it’s
Soon it’ll be too hot to wear any of these clothes, but if you tie a knot in the end of your Vuitton jacket sleeve, you’ll have a rudimentary water filter when the End Days come. invited Abloh to mess around with the classics, giving the parched world what we were crying out for all these years – Virgil Abloh c/o Vitra. Along with pieces created just for the Twentythirtyfive exhibition at the Vitra HQ in Switzerland – like a great DIY seesaw made from a length of steel girder with two Eames seats bolted on, which sadly wasn’t put into production – Abloh was allowed to make his mark on two Jean Prouvé designs: the Anthony chair’s (1954) moulded-plywood seat has been replaced with a curved slab of clear plexiglass and his Petite Potence lamp (1947) has been given an industrial cage over the bulb. The metallic elements on both pieces are lacquered in neon orange. Lewis says Abloh sees the project “as an opportunity to reach and inspire a young person – in his head, aged 14 to 17 – who has never heard of Prouvé and probably has no interest in design,” but I’m not convinced. Honestly, I’m not sure the designer-furniture market skews that young. If there are 14-year-old kids
who either want or need to buy their own furniture, then there’s been some serious lapse in parenting and they won’t get much for their pocket money at Vitra prices. The plexiglass seat of Abloh’s Anthony chair is noticeably thicker than Prouvé’s plywood original, so despite being transparent it makes the whole piece seem heavier and less springily
The wall bracket, wire strut and tubular frame of the first version are industrial enough; the Day-Glo paint job and the cage make it look like something from the Cyberdog home collection. agile. The addition of the cage to the Petite Potence makes you realise what a deft touch Prouvé himself was. The wall bracket, wire strut and tubular frame of the first version are industrial enough; the Day-Glo paint job and the cage make it look like something from the Cyberdog home collection (which, excitingly, actually exists). Personally, I prefer the originals, but you might like Abloh’s versions, and that’s OK too. As in the fashion industry, Abloh’s approach to furniture will definitely annoy the purists, but it’s just furniture. I doubt Prouvé would have approved of what Abloh has done, but he’s dead and soon we will be too, so let’s just have a nice time while we can. Also, why not have fun with the archives? It would be great to see this as the first in an ongoing series of collaborations where Vitra opens up its enviable catalogue of 20th-century icons to 21st-century designers and artists. How about Alessandro Michele upholstering Antonio Citterio in rococo brocade, or Rachel Whiteread casting concrete around the Eames back-catalogue? And so to the final part of the Virgil Abloh c/o Vitra trinity, the vaguest part, the inexplicable Holy Ghost of expensive 21st-century nonsense: the brick. Deep breaths, Felix: it’s only a brick. Except it’s not, because Supreme already did a really nice house brick in 2016. Instead, drawing on its 70-year manufacturing expertise, Vitra has made a cinder block, almost. Slip-cast from ceramic, each one of the 999 bricks produced has a huge individual serial number in Helvetica
down one side and… that’s it. No one seems to know what it is, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s a reference to makeshift bookshelves made from bricks and scaﬀolding planks, though it’s definitely meant to be a stand-alone unit. Vitra says it’s a sculpture, or storage. Abloh calls it “a ceramic household accessory” or a paperweight, because apparently people still have papers that need weighing down. To be honest, it’s quite diﬃcult to review an undefined object, which is almost but not exactly like a diﬀerent but very specific object. The Vitra block is not as strong or as easy to get hold of as a real cinder block, nor as cheap. But on the other hand, it’s lighter than a real cinder block and less dusty. You could probably kill someone with it as you could with a real cinder block, but per-blow it would inflict less cranial damage. However, being glazed, you could wash it oﬀ more easily afterwards. It might smash during the frenzy, but you could use a piece to plug the drainage hole of a terracotta pot when repotting a plant. So, swings and roundabouts. However, in all seriousness, or as much as is appropriate given the circumstances, it’s not as well made as a real cinder block, nor as nice to look at. I’m not against pointless objects; my apartment is full of them. It’s just that this one could have been so much better. The block has been sitting on my
table for a while now and it hasn’t melted or floated away, so, in as much as its function is to simply exist, I suppose it’s OK. But do we expect Vitra to be just OK? I’ve been told that the block I was sent is a prototype and not part of the final production run, so I’ll lay oﬀ some of its individual flaws. It just shouldn’t have been made from slip-cast ceramic; it’s a strange choice that doesn’t work physically or conceptually. It isn’t even the same orange as the reworked Prouvés, but a deep, sickly coral. Sure, there are technical limitations with ceramic glazes and a neon orange is probably impossible, but then why make it in ceramic at all? It could have been made from compressed recycled plastic, or an orange-dyed moulded aggregate of waste products from the Vitra factory. Alternatively, why not do as Supreme did and make an actual branded cinder block? It’s clearly meant to have been a pop Duchampian readymade, but it’s been through so many processes and transformations that it has lost any sense of humour and immediacy. I’m not sure everyone would even recognise it for what it’s meant to be. If you’re telling a joke, delivery is everything, and we could all do with a laugh. TwentyThirtyfive ran at the Fire Station on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein from 12 June to 31 July 2019.
After the Revolution Words Joe Lloyd Photographs Elena Subach
During the dissolution of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991, there were some who thought that the world had reached what the political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously called “the end of history”. Liberal democracy would triumph, gradually erasing civic upheaval and armed conflict. For the people of Ukraine, a country that only gained its independence from the USSR in 1991, it would be fair to say that a new history had just begun.
The story of the independent Ukraine is characterised by economic volatility and rampant corruption. The 2018 Transparency Worldwide Corruption Perceptions Index places it 120th out of 180 in the world. Meanwhile, a series of political scandals since 2004’s Orange Revolution forced a revote after an ostensibly rigged election have seen no president serve more than a single term.1 Many of the tensions animating the country came to a head in 2014. In February, the Euromaidan movement – a wave of demonstrations that had begun the previous winter in protest at President Viktor Yanukovych’s rejection of an EU association agreement – escalated dramatically. As many as 800,000 protestors took to Kyiv’s central square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) and streets to demand the president’s resignation, in events now known as the Revolution of Dignity. Nearly 130 people were killed in the resulting clashes, largely by secret service snipers.2 Yanukovych fled to exile in Russia, denouncing the “coup” and asking Vladimir Putin for decisive action. After the Russian parliament approved Putin’s request for intervention, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.3 Meanwhile, pro-Russian insurgents in the eastern Donbass region, aided by the Russian military, occupied the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and their surrounding oblasts, where they remain today. Ukraine is thus engaged in armed conflict with both its gargantuan neighbour and a section of its own populace. For the Kyiv-based designer Victoriya Yakusha, the events of this tumultuous year changed everything. Yakusha had studied at the Dnipropetrovsk Academy of Construction and Architecture and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in Strasbourg, before opening her minimalism-inclined architecture and interiors studio Yakusha Design in 2006 . After the revolution and the subsequent conflicts, however, she decided to embark on another course. “Twenty-fourteen was the beginning of the revival of national memory in Ukraine,” says Yakusha. “When the Revolution of Dignity started, I wanted to contribute somehow and, as an architect and designer, I decided to make a furniture and decor 1
collection that would popularise our culture and put Ukraine on the world’s design map. At that moment it was vital to spread the voice of Ukraine.” This might sound like a grandiose claim, but it is one with numerous precedents. European nationalism has often led to adaptations of folk traditions, from Finland’s craggy national romantic architecture to the Celtic-style jewellery of Ireland’s Arts and Crafts movement. Yakusha’s particular response in 2014 was to establish the design brand Faina, which has since exhibited at Milan, Stockholm, Paris and London design weeks. Named for a western
“I wanted to contribute as an architect and designer. It was vital to spread the voice of Ukraine.” —Victoriya Yakusha
Ukrainian term meaning something simultaneously visually pleasing and morally good, Faina creates contemporary furnishings that utilise the techniques of traditional Ukrainian crafts. At the brand’s Ya Vsevit headquarters (Ukrainian for “I am all”) in Kyiv – a studio, showroom and event hall that Yakusha designed and opened last winter – there are wall-mounted tapestries made of sheep’s wool, pendant lamps woven from wicker and striated wooden tabletops supported by trunk-like clay legs. There is nothing doggedly traditional about these objects but their forms and materials echo those found in the country’s rural extremities. A series of ceramic vases, for instance, resembles indigenous instruments: the 3m-long trembita horn and the lute-esque bandura. “When we exhibited them at Milan people were trying to guess what they were,” says Yakusha. “Most of them had never seen a bandura. But many people said one thing: ‘It feels familiar and it’s something from our past.’” Yakusha recounts how one such visitor, originally from Ukraine but resident in Switzerland for two decades, saw the vase in the room and rushed over: “She was very surprised, and thrilled at the same time, to see something from her childhood memories here at design’s epicentre.” This summer, Faina mounted a “Design Expedition” across Ukraine, beginning in the western city of Lviv, travelling through the Carpathian Mountains and ending up in the capital. The purpose was to witness the crafts
Earlier this year, the country elected the anti-corruption populist Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor famous for playing a fictional president in a long-running TV satire, as real-life president. His predecessor, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko, was nicknamed “Chocolate King” for his confectionary empire. The exact cause of all the fatalities has yet to be determined. This region, almost completely surrounded by the Black Sea, was granted to Ukraine by Russia in 1954, as a symbolic gesture of thanks for 300 years of partial then complete subjugation to Moscow. Henry Kissinger later claimed that Khrushchev had signed it away while drunk.
The images accompanying this article are a series by Elena Subach, a Ukrainian photographer whom Disegno invited to present an interpretation of her home city of Lviv.
of the region and to understand something of Ukraine’s artisan cultures, many of which are under threat. Nomenclature is important in Ukraine. Since 1995, its capital, long known internationally as Kiev, has been oﬃcially denominated as Kyiv. The more common appellation in English, still used by many publications, is a transliteration from Russian.4 In the country’s east, the second city Kharkov has become Kharkiv, and in 2016 a decommunisation law transformed industrial
Lviv is a warren of bulbous baroque churches encrusted with gilded putti, and motley-toned guild halls. Dnipropetrovsk into the most concise Dnipro. During its 69-year period as the second largest republic in the Soviet Union, it was often referred to as “the Ukraine”, the definite article denuding it of the autonomy of a nation and instead casting it as a region. “Ukraine” itself can be etymologically traced to the Polish “ukraina”, meaning “borderland”. One border, invisible to visitors without an understanding of Cyrillic script, lies in language. Kyiv has a slight Russianspeaking majority, while in the southern seaport of Odessa, 78 per cent of citizens speak Russian at home, many in a distinctive dialect with Yiddish and Ukrainian influences. Lviv, on the other hand, by far the largest city in Ukraine’s west, is dominated by the Ukrainian tongue, and as such is often figured as the country’s ethnic heartland. Even here, however, more tangible borders have made their mark. Situated less than 50 miles from Poland, Lviv was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia before Sovietisation. Founded as Lwihorod, it has successively been known as the Polish Lwów, the German Lemberg and the Russian Lvov, before arriving at its present-day Ukrainian cognomen. The face Lviv presents to the world belies this past, while clearly linking it to its erstwhile overlords. Architecturally it seems arrested in 1914. Its urban core is a warren of bulbous baroque churches encrusted
with gilded putti, and motley-toned Polish mannerist guild halls supported by atlantes and caryatids. Grand boulevards break through the maze, themselves lined with the sort of spectacular neo-renaissance institutional buildings and art nouveau apartment blocks that characterise Vienna and Budapest. At times, Lviv can feel like a (not unpleasant) open-air heritage museum, riddled with themed eateries. There is a coﬀee house, purporting to be Europe’s oldest, sitting above what is ostensibly a coﬀee mine, with beams stuck to the walls. Inside, baristas in welders’ masks caramelise sugar with industrial-grade blowtorches. There is a restaurant devoted to oil, decorated with hundreds of oil lamps, as well as street entertainers dressed in everything from traditional dress to vampire costumes and even a bar themed after local author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, who lent his name to masochism.5 Inside, customers can be whipped as they drink. It is only from a higher vantage point – the castle hill, or the tower of the town hall – that one can see the tranches of 1960s and 1970s mass housing projects that surround the inner cityscape. But within that nucleus, there are abundant signs that speak to contemporary Ukrainian concerns. The country’s azure-and-yellow flag is omnipresent, flown outside shops and flats (less common, but still widespread, is the deeper blue-and-yellow of the EU). Posters in café windows depict Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the country’s most popular rock star and a future pro-EU candidate for president. Perhaps the clearest sign that you are on the fringes of the West is a set of stands outside the renaissance city hall that attempt to explain the benefits of NATO membership to passing locals.6 The city’s creative scene is very much orientated around local production; one of the aims of Dzyga, for instance, the oldest contemporary art centre in the country, is to promote Ukrainian art at home and abroad. It was here, in 2004, that the Vienna-based historian Harald Binder founded the Center for Urban History of East Central Europe, a not-for-profit initiative that aims to “contribute to Lviv becoming a central site for intellectual, academic and cultural life not only in Ukraine but in Europe”. 5
Some scholars claim that “Kyiv” is also closer to the name favoured by its East Slavic founders.
He was also a socialist, an early advocate of women’s rights and a campaigner against anti-Semitism – aspects often ignored in favour of his salacious preferences. During a particularly frantic cab ride in Kyiv, I glimpsed a floral clock with the letters NATO spelt out in flowerbeds but subsequent attempts to locate it have failed.
Lviv’s economy – which comprises banks, electronics, machine-building and a burgeoning information-technology centre – is modern, but it remains the capital of a region still transitioning from an agricultural past. In the mornings, elderly countrywomen crouch on the pavement selling heaps of home-grown herbs and vegetables, featuring a profusion of spindly dill and prickly cucumbers. The neat streets
the remainder of the present-day country, bar Galicia, ended up in Russian hands. And in 1922 its entirety became part of the Soviet Union. Shunted back and forth between surrounding powers, Ukraine had little chance to develop the sort of national consciousness that raged across Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Russia did its best to quash nationalism. Under the Russian Empire, the poet and artist Taras Shevchenko,7 regarded as pivotal to the development Ukrainian literary culture, was imprisoned and shuttled around the empire’s territory, dying aged 47 from the strain. As part of the Soviet Union it was subjected to the Holodomor (literally “to kill by starvation”), an artificially stimulated famine that killed somewhere between 3.3 and 7.5 million Ukrainians in 1932-33. It is considered by Ukraine’s government to be an act of genocide, planned so as to forestall any potential challenge to Moscow. In this context, the eruptions of 2014 read like a new volume in a prolonged saga.
“There was no such thing as ‘Ukrainian contemporary design’, nobody could describe it.” —Victoriya Yakusha
of the outer residential districts are punctuated with shrines, a sign that religion – Lviv is 57 per cent Catholic and 32 per cent Orthodox Christian – retains a hold. Outside the city, in the hamlet of Havaretsky Hutir, I visited a farm specialising in gavarestska, a type of ceramic created from natural clay gathered from the surrounding woods. Thrown on a foot-operated wheel, the ceramics have a smooth black surface that gives them a curious atemporality – somewhere between museum artefacts and minimalist design. There were around 70 potters in the district in the 1930s, but now only a handful follow the tradition. It is at severe risk of dying out within a generation. Lviv’s borderland feeling – between urban and rural, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, West and East – is a distillation of that of the wider country. “One of the key peculiarities of Ukrainian culture,” explains Natalia Kryvda, professor of Ukrainian culture at the Taras Shevchenko National University, “is that it’s been formed, and still is being formed, on the splinters of various empires.” Its ancient history is one of diﬃcultto-pin-down Nomadic tribes such as the Scythians. If it had a golden era of self-definition, it came between the 9th and 11th centuries, when it was the centre of the Kyivan Rus’, a highly literate, curiously liberal federation of Slavic peoples regarded by Belarus, Russia and Ukraine as their ancestor state. The area fell to the Mongols in the 13th century. Then came several centuries of rule by Poland, Lithuania (from 1569, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) and Russia. When the Commonwealth was itself partitioned in 1772,
With the nation having experienced such a fragmented past – a nightmare from which present-day Ukraine is trying to awake – discovering a solely Ukrainian cultural identity is not easy. Before the events of 2014, some designers had little impetus to do so. “I think that we were all in search of an identity,” says Yakusha. “There was no such thing as ‘Ukrainian contemporary design’, nobody could describe or name it. And it was the same in fashion, cinema, visual art.”8 Not everyone concurs, however. “Fifteen years ago,” says Sergey Makhno, one of the country’s most established architects and designers, “we stated at the very start that Sergey Makhno Architects was a Ukrainian company. Our uniqueness began with Ukrainian traditions.” But Makhno, too, was aﬀected by the annexation. “I am trying hard to be apolitical,” he says, “but it is impossible to shield yourself from the war in your country; it is impossible not to see it, not to hear, not to feel.” His current projects include the Ukrainian Museum of Ceramics, which he describes as his “longcherished dream”. 7
One of central Lviv’s few modern monuments is a phantasmagorical bronze memorial to Shevchenko, erected in 1992, soon after independence, which was donated to the city by Argentina’s several-hundred-thousand-strong Ukrainian diaspora. It should not be forgotten that several major figures of the 20th-century avant-garde often categorised as Russian – among them Kazimir Malevich, Vladimir Tatlin and Sonia Delaunay – were Ukrainian.
For others, the revolution provided an incentive to remain in the country. In 2013, Masha Reva, a young artist and designer whose works to date include paintings, garments, jewellery and body arts, was studying for an MA in Fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. She decided to spend a deferred year in Kyiv, which coincided with Euromaidan. “I took part in demonstrations and sensed the change,” she recounts. “Suddenly Kyiv attracted my attention as a chaotic – but really close to my heart – place to live. I feel inspired working here. The fact that I witnessed the revolution itself and the transformation of national awareness in our society has definitely helped to better identify myself as Ukrainian and to be proud of that.” Reva’s practice is not integrally linked to traditional craft, but it draws from her experience of her country’s cities. “I do get inspired by it,” she says, “but more by the environment I live in, the chaos and imperfection of Kyiv and Odessa. I like to see beauty in not-so-obvious things.” Nevertheless, Reva has turned to a traditional medium. In 2018, she collaborated on a ceramic collection with the young Ukrainian brand Nadiia. The result was a series of plates and vases hand-painted with fluid black lines and patches of colour; they have since been exhibited in Milan and Eindhoven. “I learnt all the traditional potting techniques,” Reva explains. “It was interesting to look at the craft as a tool we can use to produce a modern product.” In the perceived absence of a strongly defined national culture, design or otherwise, artisanship has provided the imprimatur of authenticity. Faina’s Design Expedition ranged into the Carpathian Mountains, which pass through Ukraine’s westernmost flank. Less heavily industrialised than the east, it is a region saturated with local craft traditions, although, as with gavarestska ceramics, many are at risk of abandonment by younger Ukrainians. Driving south from Lviv, one quickly reaches immense planes, almost featureless but for the foothills rising in the distance. Golden flashes betoken churches – onion-domed mounds of indeterminate age. I tried to count them but gave up after reaching the mid-40s in barely half an hour. As you rise up into the Carpathian foothills, the gilded domes give way to squatter structures clad in elaborately scored aluminium. The people here – many of whom belong to the Hutsul ethnicity,9 an East Slavic group alleged to have moved to the mountains to escape the Mongol invasion – often live in traditional wooden dwellings
fringed with numerous outbuildings and encircled by a fence. In the evenings, the burning of household waste leaves the sky streaked with pale smoke. Many houses are guarded by fearsome dogs, encased in wooden cages. The precaution is necessary: there are wolves here. And bears. Around the town of Kosiv there is wooden vesselmaking and hand-drawn ceramic tiles, a Hutsul tradition given to exuberant religious scenes and floral patterning. Further up in the mountains I meet Mykhailo, both a musician and a maker of the instruments that inspired Faina’s cases. His house is one of many that, since 2014,
“I get inspired by the chaos and imperfection. I like to see beauty in not-soobvious things.” —Masha Reva
have been painted with the colours of the Ukrainian flag. When he sings apocryphal tales of Christ, accompanying himself on a hurdy-gurdy, his conviction in the continuing relevance of this heritage is stirring. Craft, faith and politics are tightly bound. The Pysanka Museum in Kolomyia, a small city almost 200km south-east of Lviv, is the only institution in the world devoted to the collection and study of patterned Easter eggs (pysanky), which are decorated using melted wax and colouring dye. It contains more than 10,000 of them, housed within an egg-shaped structure.10 Though some examples are preserved from the 19th century, many collections were destroyed during the Soviet years, when the practice of painting eggs was banned. In independent Ukraine it has become customary for presidents to sign their own eggs at the museum. A less historically charged product is the lizhnyk: thick blankets made from sheep’s wool, which are used as decorative tapestries and enclosing bedspreads. In winter they can even be wrapped around the body like a cloak. The Kopilchuk family, in the village of 9
Hutsul culture has long inspired Ukrainian artists and writers. In the Soviet era, they were often cast as mystics, a view propagated by Sergei Parajanov’s extraordinary 1965 film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. 10 But for two unfolding wings, it would be a perfect Venturi-Scott Brown duck.
Yaroriv, weave these bushy textiles on hand looms. The stylistic variety is astonishing, from simple blue and grey to eye-searing psychedelic patterns that resemble the paintings of Hilma af Klint; over the years the family has adapted their practice to suit contemporary aesthetics. Unlike pysanky, lizhnyky were encouraged by the Soviets. Technological advances in the 1920s lent themselves to mass production and lizhnyky were exhibited across the world and made in factories of up to 1,000 weavers. After the fall, interest faded, although there are still around 70 weavers, many of whom use looms that were requisitioned from the factories. Of all the many practices in the region, this one has a fighting chance. The Kopilchuks have appeared in international news media, and their young son speaks English, and takes orders online and by phone. There are now socially responsible package tours taking well-heeled foreign travellers to Yaroviv, where they can weave their own blankets over a week. Not all artisans are so willing, or able, to adapt to the present day. “At the beginning, it was really hard,” says Yakusha. “We went with our unusual ideas – to make a table with durable ceramic feet, or sliding doors for a sideboard made out of clay – and they were not ready to take a risk with us.” Yakusha had to seek out those who would. But as the region’s craft expertise dwindles, such risks may prove imperative.
of those events; the crowds have been replaced by shoppers, hawkers and street entertainers.11 On the eastern end, however, around the Independence Monument, there is an open-air exhibition explaining the “Facebook Revolution” on boards that simulate the social-media platform’s windows. Tucked away around the side are a series of makeshift shrines for some of the Heavenly Hundred, those killed during the demonstrations. There is little sign, however, that this is a country engaged in civil war. Kyiv instead feels like it is tenuously enjoying a boom. Recent years have seen the opening of a spate of restaurants, hotels and bars, fuelling an
There are tenements with makeshift extensions, bulging like pustulous growths on a wrinkled face. incipient interiors sector. To the south, near Faina’s Ya Vsevit studio, there is a vast new residential development resembling those the world over. More alarmingly, just to the north of the centre, there is a new-minted estate of uncannily accurate art nouveau flats. The ground floor hosts burger bars, hair salons and a prodigious number of Hackney-esque coﬀee shops. Since 2016, Ukraine’s economy has been growing cautiously, after the war with Russia caused a localised recession that saw the national currency, the hryvnia, lose around 70 per cent to the dollar. This uptick has been beneficial to designers, though it is not the only factor in design’s rise in popularity. “Our people began to travel, listen and talk about the way they understand contemporary design,” says Makhno, “and supporters of the classics switched to modern solutions that they wouldn’t have before.” Makhno has seen a dramatic change from when he began in 2004. “At that time there was no market. When I came to a client and said that I was an interior designer, I heard the answer ‘What? We can arrange the furniture by ourselves.’”
For all the charms of western Ukraine, Kyiv is the epicentre of the county’s contemporary design scene. It feels another world entirely from the placid villages of the mountains. A city of almost three million – although the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of Donbass has reputedly added another unrecorded two – it has a messy splendour, characterised by magniloquent historicism, though one does not have to stray far to stumble into mass-housing schemes. There are tenements with makeshift extensions, bulging like pustulous growths on a wrinkled face. Kyiv’s greatest glories – a series of Orthodox churches from the time of the Kyivan Rus’ – contain mosaics that more closely resemble the eastern-influenced Ravenna or Palermo than the Russian iconostasis. Its commercial heart, the Khreshchatyk boulevard, combines East and West in a diﬀerent way, with Nike and Zara stores occupying a suite of Stalinist hulks. Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central site of the 2013-2014 protests, initially seems to bear little trace
11 A shopping arcade beneath contains perhaps the most jocular expression of Ukrainian nationalism I encountered: rolls of toilet paper printed with the smirking visage of Vladimir Putin.
The war has also led to an increase in cultural promotion, both externally and internally. The Ukrainian Cultural Foundation for instance, a grant-awarding public body that supported the Design Expedition, was established in 2017. “For the first time in history, we have a support from government for creative initiatives,” says Yakusha. “We have a demand from an audience for made-in-Ukraine products, services and concepts.” There are still many challenges, of course. On both institutional and private levels, a robust infrastructure has yet to develop. Education is limited,
towering Motherland Monument: a 62m-tall statue of a sword-bearing goddess of victory, completed in 1981 as a belated memorial to the Great Patriotic War. It brandishes across the River Dnieper a shield that still bears the emblem of the USSR. To residents of the prefabricated khrushchyovka on the other side, it is visible every day – a relic of the most recent episode in a history of subjugation. It will take a lot to escape its shadow. That Kyiv’s designers are rising to the challenge, though, oﬀers some hope. E N D
“We’re educating the market by showing them new opportunities and pushing boundaries.” —Victoriya Yakusha
with only the Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design oﬀering a fully fledged design course. There is one awards programme, but it relegates product design to a single category amidst numerous digital, television and graphic honours. “There is a positive dynamic,” says Reva, “but compared to Europe, the art and design market is still extremely poor. And there’s still a lack of independent galleries and cultural spaces.” There are several significant barriers to improving the situation. As in several other post-communist societies, Ukrainian designers have trouble convincing manufacturers used to working on lower-value products to switch to their schemes. The web of globalisation is gradually creeping over, bringing with it the allure of international brands. And the recent economic upturn does not erase the country’s status as the poorest in Europe. But Yakusha is hopeful. “We are educating the market by showing them new opportunities and pushing the boundaries,” she says. “The process will take some time, but we are going to get there.” The Herculean diﬃculty of teaching a not entirely Russified Ukraine to be proud of its culture is everywhere apparent. A short walk from the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a bewitching religious complex that retains a powerful hold over the national imagination,12 stands the 12 To experience this, climb up its 96.5m bell tower at the right time, and you’ll see young and old alike standing beneath its deafening bells for almost half an hour, in order to receive their blessings.
Nested Betters “Don’t look at the folder called fake tits.”
Introduction Oli Stratford
Well, you can just imagine the first thing I wanted to look at after a statement like that. One hour into my interview with designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg in her London studio, we’re perched delicately between two schools of tits – real and fake. “It’s going to be called Machine Auguries,” says Ginsberg, clicking on her computer to play the sound of great tits chirruping and warbling. “We’re looking to bring attention to the eﬀects of urbanisation on the dawn chorus. Birds are singing higher, louder, earlier and for longer, which aﬀects their ability to find mates and dictate territory.” Real tits dealt with, it’s now time to fire up the fake ones. They sound like Megatron screaming. Machine Auguries is a sound installation commissioned for 24/7, an exhibition that will open at Somerset House in London in October 2019. Created with support from Faculty and the Adonyeva Foundation, and commissioned by Somerset House and A/D/O, Ginsberg’s installation will bathe visitors in the sounds of competing choruses, real and synthetic, with the latter employing machine learning to gradually improve the quality of its simulation. “You’ll have this call and response between the birds and the machines,” says Ginsberg. “In the end, the machines will take over but they’ll sound increasingly lifelike so, hopefully, it will still be beautiful. And that’s the catch – you’ll be sucked and in and think it sounds incredible, until you realise, ‘No, wait, I’m meant to be thinking about how sad I am about birds dying.’” Upon its release this autumn, Machine Auguries will complete an annus mirabilis for Ginsberg – a year in which she has launched four major projects in exhibitions at the Cooper Hewitt, Centre Pompidou, Triennale di Milano, London’s Design Museum and the Royal Academy, as well as staging a solo exhibition, Better Nature, at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery. It is a prodigious output, and one that positions Ginsberg as a heavyweight voice within contemporary art and design’s engagement with science, technology, and the looming threat of climate collapse. “As someone who has a roof over my head, living in London, I have the luxury of not having to focus on my urgent survival needs in the here and now,” she says. “A good use of the privilege of making artworks is to make stuﬀ about these issues and get more people thinking about them.” The quadrilogy of projects of which Machine Auguries will prove the culmination engages with this territory. The Wilding of Mars is a digital simulation that generates alternative versions of the red planet given over to nature – a game of Civilisation in which civilisation is conspicuous by its absence in a neat reversal of the well-trodden sci-fi trope of colonising Mars. Resurrecting the Sublime, meanwhile, uses genetic engineering to identify the fragrance-producing enzymes of extinct plants. The resultant smells, reconstructed by artist Sissel Tolaas, are subsequently piped into glass vitrines in which they are free to mix in diﬀerent concentrations to create variations upon the plant’s original scent – a fragrance that remains fundamentally unknowable. Finally, The Substitute explores the 2018 death of Sudan, the last-known male northern white rhinoceros. Working with visual eﬀects studio The Mill, using archive material from rhinoceros vocalisation expert Richard Policht and research from the DeepMind AI lab, Ginsberg developed a digital projection of a northern white rhino that seems to pace and snort around the gallery space in which it is installed.
Diagrams demonstrating different conceptions of “better”. The upper diagram shows a “Herbert Simon” vision of better, in which existing situations are changed to preferred ones. The lower shows multiple ideas of better influencing the past, present and future.
“In the end, the machines will take over but they’ll sound increasingly lifelike so, hopefully, it will still be beautiful. And that’s the catch.”
Ginsberg’s rhinoceros flickers in and out of pixellation as it struggles to resolve itself, eventually manifesting in eerie photorealism to make fleeting, tragic contact with its audience. “These four projects are bigger in terms of scale from what I’ve done before,” says Ginsberg. “They’re also thematically broadening out from what I’ve done previously.’” After graduating from Cambridge University’s architecture programme (2001-04) and the Royal College of Art’s prestigious Design Interactions MA (2007-09), Ginsberg was rightly celebrated for her early work’s prescient engagement with the emerging field of synthetic biology. Projects such as Designing for the Sixth Extinction (2013) posited a series of synthetic organisms that might fill or otherwise support ecological niches left by extinct or endangered creatures; E. chromi (2009), executed in conjunction with James King and Cambridge University’s iGEM team, imagined a medical future in which genetically engineered bacteria could secrete coded pigments into human faeces as an early-warning system for disease prevention; and Seasons of the Void (2013), with Sascha Pohflepp and Andrew Stellitano, tackled the GM food debate through a series of conjectural fruits that might be grown in space through electrosynthesis. These projects were all couched in the language and methodology of synthetic biology, establishing Ginsberg as a kind of in-house conscience for the utopian aspirations of that burgeoning field – a Cassandra posing questions as to the values behind the fervid aspirations of bio-engineering. Between 2013 and 2017, however, Ginsberg began moving her practice into broader territory with the development of her PhD project, ‘Better: Navigating Imaginaries in Design and Synthetic Biology to Question “Better”’. While still rooted in synthetic biology and design, Ginsberg lifted her focus to address a more general question: with designers, marketers, engineers, scientists and politicians all continually promising that their work will
Resurrecting the Sublime, a project created with Christina Agapakis, biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks, and smell researcher and artist Sissel Tolaas.
create a better future, what precisely do we mean by “better”? Better for whom; better in what way; and who serves as the arbiter of what that better may or may not be? “I became very interested in how this little word can take on very diﬀerent meanings and manifest in diﬀerent kinds of designs and things,” explains Ginsberg. “I wanted to do the PhD to look beyond synthetic biology, and I ended up doing these four projects at once because I wanted to test the ideas that I wrote about. They’re really all written with this question of ‘What is better?’” As Machine Auguries neared completion, and with the recently opened Better Nature at Vitra marking the debut of The Wilding of Mars, Disegno met Ginsberg to better understand the recent shifts in her practice. Oli Stratford I was intrigued by your PhD and the idea of “better” – it anchors
an awful lot of your work. What got you interested in better? Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg The starting point was my “failed” TED Talk [from
2011]. I was speaking between Malcolm Gladwell and Neil McGregor, who are epic storytellers, but I didn’t really understand TED until I got there. I knew I wanted to talk critically about synthetic biology, and the role that art and design could have in asking questions about a technology and its ethics, but I think they wanted me to talk about how synthetic biology could make the world better. I was not sophisticated enough to find a way around that; I didn’t have the language or the tools. I talked about the work I had done in Synthetic Aesthetics, which was an international research project where we brought artists and designers into synthetic biology labs and put the scientists and engineers into artists’ and designers’ studios. It was this amazing opportunity to get those making the technology to ask, “What does it mean to design life or nature or biology and how do you do it? How do you design it well?” That’s what I was trying to explain in my talk, but I soon realised that I was in a room full of people who really wanted me to talk about how I was going to solve problems. Oli You saw that as your failure? Daisy To some extent. All I could do was ask questions and explain that’s what this kind of practice can do – it’s not solving problems, but using design to open up new areas. My TED talk never went online. A couple of years later I was due to do a talk for Design Indaba, and this time I worked with a speaking coach! I knew that what I do is useful – critique has utility – but I just couldn’t communicate it to that audience. That was a real learning curve, and it helped me to identify this problem of better and explain my role. Admittedly, my role is confusing and complicated because I come from a design background and designers typically want to make better things. That’s the Herbert Simon definition of design; he described design as a process to change an existing situation to a preferred one. But that opens up lots of questions about preference, and whose preference we’re talking about. So, in that session with Lloyd [Bracey], my speaking coach, I remember picking up a plastic bottle in desperation and asking, “How is this better?” Oli Why a plastic bottle? Daisy It’s the most basic, everyday object, so it’s such a good way into the problem. The PET bottle was created to solve a problem around carbonated
Resurrecting the Sublime “recreates” the scents of the extinct plants Hibiscadelphus wilderianus, Orbexilum stipulatum, and Leucadendron grandiflorum.
drinks. There wasn’t a plastic bottle that could hold fizzy drinks that contain fruit juices because the acidity would melt the plastic. Engineers at DuPont solved this by inventing PET. Now, that PET bottle clearly fulfils a brief and it has created a whole new industry, but did those engineers imagine there would be billions of single-use water bottles sold as a result? Probably not, but these are unintended consequences that the original brief didn’t take into account because it only concentrated on the design object. My argument is that if you’re operating within that system, there’s no single “better”. You could say that the PET bottle is better for the water industry and plastic-bottle manufacturers, and it’s better if you want to be hydrated, but it’s terrible for everything else. So the bottle is a good way of showing that there are multiple betters that coexist. I gave that talk at Design Indaba using the plastic bottle as a way of saying, “This is a design object that fulfils a brief. It’s better than the bottle it replaced, but it’s also terrible [ecologically]. So how can a thing that is both better and worse be ‘better’? How can this be a good product of design? How do we deal with this?” I wrote my PhD proposal from there. That started my obsession with better. Oli Do you think society struggles with the idea that something can be better in some respects, but by another metric immeasurably worse? There seems to be a consistent desire for neatness and simplicity. Daisy That’s what’s so weird. In 2014, one year into my PhD, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party both had election slogans that promised a better future. How can such diﬀerent values be attached to one word? Meanwhile, Design Indaba’s logo is, “A better world through creativity”, and it’s the same approach with TED and all of these organisations that are interested in what design or technology can do. The whole idea is that designers are going to save the world or make the world better. Or, in synthetic biology, synthetic biologists are going to make the world better; or Silicon Valley is going to make a better world. How can this word be so powerful? The more I looked into the PhD, the more I began to understand that there is no one better and, crucially, better is diﬀerent to progress. Whether you believe in the myth of progress or not, progress promises to uplift all of humanity through advancing knowledge. Better, by contrast, doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a piece of elastic between two points which you define. Oli Could you not make a similar argument with “progress”? Progress depends upon what you define it as progressing towards and from. Daisy I think progress is a myth; I’m not in the Steven Pinker school of thought that we are absolutely evolving towards becoming a better species. I think that we’re about to discover how much worse science and technology potentially make things as the climate breaks down. But better is a much slipperier endeavour because it really doesn’t mean anything. While progress has a set of values attached to it, better can mean anything. It doesn’t have a fixed meaning; it doesn’t have a fixed measure. Oli One of the contexts in which better seems to operate particularly successfully is marketing, which links in with your work’s use of speculation. Marketing is interested in imaginaries, hypotheticals and thought experiments – imagine what your life would be like if you had a pizza from Papa John’s, or a subscription to Sky TV.
Imagery from Designing for
the Sixth Extinction.
Daisy I began to look at better as a form of social imaginary. It’s really powerful
and all of this dismantling of “better” is not to say that it doesn’t exist. I can think the world is terrible, and still believe it could be otherwise, which comes back to humans as hopeful animals – crucially, we are able to imagine that things can be otherwise. But social imaginaries are interesting because a lot of our society functions around the idea of social fictions – the nation, the idea of money and so on. The social imaginary is a useful way to talk about how we buy into a fiction and these things are not just about futures – they can be about histories too. So “Make America Great Again” or “Take Back Control” are really nice examples of how powerful social imaginaries of golden ages are. Whether America was greater before or not doesn’t matter – the whole thing is a fiction that people buy into. Oli How do you employ that in your work because to an extent you’re also in the business of putting forward imaginaries and ideas of better? Daisy Within this language of imaginaries, I’ve begun to propose something called the “critical imaginary”, which is a way of reconciling some of my problems with speculative design. For me, “speculative design” is not quite the right way of looking at things because it feels too much that it’s looking at various futures. I’m much more interested in the present and how we use these projects to eﬀect change in the present. Rather than utopias or dystopias, the critical imaginary focuses on the idea of heterotopias from [Michel] Foucault – spaces that are diﬀerent, not better. These heterotopias are “other” places, and they are spaces to reflect back on those that we currently occupy. Foucault wrote lists of spaces that could be considered heterotopias: cemeteries, cruise ships, Persian rugs, mirrors, brothels. It’s a really weird list, but they all have this common idea of being a space where you can reflect back on where you are. I thought that was a nice way of talking about these kinds of projects that create other worlds. They’re not propositions for better worlds – they’re spaces to come back here from. Oli I’m curious as to how you maintain that attitude, or encourage that interpretation. Whenever people see a possible world or diﬀerent space, the temptation seems to be to read it as a utopia or a dystopia. Daisy I’m enamoured with [Jorge Luis] Borges and his story ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’. It’s became a really useful reference for me in that it oﬀers the idea of multiple possible worlds in parallel. The story is of a garden that exists in time rather than space, and in which you can get to the same place from diﬀerent locations. It’s an interesting way of thinking about contingency and it that has influenced my project The Wilding of Mars project. I was asked by the Design Museum to come up with something for its Moving to Mars exhibition and I really, really wanted to challenge the colonial narrative of the Mars story as it stands. Why would we want to go to Mars? Everyone would have a terrible time because we haven’t evolved to live there. We already have a really nice planet, and the rhetoric that we can trash the Earth and go somewhere else is dangerous. There is no backup to Earth, and we’re not going to suddenly become better people and behave diﬀerently when we leave Earth. Instead, I proposed to seed a wilderness on Mars – the entire premise being to send Earth life to Mars, just not humans. We would allow life to create a wilderness such that the planet becomes a repository for the mechanism of life. Maybe people will think I’m
A Mobile Bioremediation Unit from
Designing for the Sixth Extinction, designed to neutralise high soil acid levels caused by pollution.
“For me, ‘speculative design’ feels too much that it’s looking into various futures. I’m much more interested in the present.”
proposing this as a real idea, but I’m not. The point is to ask, “Why do we think we deserve Mars over other species?” There’s undoubtedly still a colonial aspect of taking on another planet, but I’m interested in the proposition that it’s not for human benefit. Is not exploiting something the most unnatural act we can imagine? Coming back to the critical imaginary and its potential for multiple timelines and generating “otherness”, I wanted to replicate that structure from ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’, so The Wilding of Mars will always show at least two simulations simultaneously in an exhibition. There are always diﬀerent ways that the world can go. You’re inhabiting two worlds at the same time, but which is better? Neither? Maybe one is better? By what measures could one be better? Then you get into the business of having to define your values. Oli You’ve mentioned the importance of a neutral presentation, but there seems a clear strain of melancholy to your recent work. The Substitute has such a mournful quality, while Resurrecting the Sublime positions a lost portion of our world as being tantalisingly close to resurrection but still out of reach. It’s got a real element of tragedy. Daisy Some people will look at Resurrecting the Sublime and think, “Ah! Look what humans can do!” but we very purposefully framed it around a poetic melancholy. I’m not depressed! But Designing the Sixth Extinction, for instance, is a melancholic project. Synthetic biologists are utopian and that project was a direct response to conversations in synthetic biology as to whether we could engineer species to help save them. But that project still wasn’t overt enough for me [in its criticisms]. One of the reasons I’ve now stepped outside of synthetic biology is that I want to look more broadly at issues of nature, ecology, biodiversity and loss. We’re fucking up this planet and I’m not hopeful that we will stop. Oli A lot of discussions about climate crisis from campaigners such as Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg have focused on exasperation with the fact that we already know what the solution is, but we refuse to act upon it. One of the emerging tendencies is an irritation with continual reflection and speculation at the expense of direct action in the here and now. How do you situate your notion of the critical imaginary in light of that? Daisy I would be much better oﬀ joining Extinction Rebellion and/or becoming a politician. There are lots of ways I could contribute more and I’m not saying that any of my work is contributing to solving the issue – shipping artwork is not green either. But there is something potentially useful about getting these stories out there and creating an emotional connection with an audience, bringing attention to the issues, and making sure that people are saturated with them. There are diﬀerent arguments as to whether we should be in panic mode or not, but I suspect that everything is ultimately useful. Oli There seems to be a growing sophistication and directness about your communication within these projects. The Substitute, for instance, is heart-breaking and you seem to be cultivating an interesting tension between the physical and the digital. There’s something very seductive about the digital, but a rhinoceros is almost supremely physical – nature documentaries always comment on their heft. There’s something traumatic about something so physical now only existing as a digital trace.
Renders of plants taken from The Wilding of Mars.
“You’re inhabiting two worlds at the same time, but which is better? Neither? Maybe one is better? By what measures could one be better?”
Daisy I can’t watch rhinos on TV anymore because it makes me too sad.
For The Substitute, we got 23 hours of rhino footage from Richard Policht, a scientist in the Czech Republic who worked with the last herds of northern white rhinos. Watching 23 hours of these rhinos – who were in a quite depressing Czech zoo – snuﬄing about and failing to mate was the closest I’ve ever been to spending time with northern whites. It’s this precious, precious archive of footage that’s the only connection I will ever have to their physicality. We used those videos as references for the animators at The Mill, who actually adapted a pre-existing model of a southern white rhino from an energy drinks commercial. For a project called The Substitute it’s interesting that our rhino is an actor we’ve repurposed. We changed his features, but he’s not a perfect northern white – and he has no balls, because I couldn’t face adding that budget line. So he’s a reproduction shipped digitally from LA, whose behaviour is based upon tapes shipped from the Czech Republic. We’ve ended up with an archival copy that’s imperfect, but the best approximation that we can have. Oli Do you see the work as confrontational? The digital sphere tends to prioritise the visual, whereas a lot of your work confronts the audience with information from their other senses – sound in the case of The Substitute and Machine Auguries, and scent in Resurrecting the Sublime. Daisy That’s what I’m testing for – how do we create these moments of connection? How do you play with this thing of complete artifice? The Substitute is a flat projection and there’s no interactivity in the video work, so how do you make an emotional response? Sound helps and we’ve designed the animation to try to force the illusion. We’ve worked to orchestrate these moments where he looks at you, which is all taken from the real footage of rhinos behind bars looking at the scientist filming them. The brief for the animators was to give the audience goosebumps. Oli That direct, emotional quality hasn’t been so prominent in your work in the past. A few of the earlier projects seemed to generate confusion as to what exactly was being put forward, some of which seemed to be down to their being couched in the language of synthetic biology. Has there been a purposeful move to make your work more legible? Daisy That makes me happy to hear because I understand them better now as well. One of the things that has been really good about working on the show at Vitra with Viviane Stappmanns [the curator] was having to return to some of these old captions and make sense of this stuﬀ in light of my move away from synthetic biology itself. The same threads have always been there in my work – the interest in nature and the construct of nature – and all of this new work is still about designing life. But the earlier work was purposefully couched in a neutrality, whereas to me those projects don’t feel neutral. I was so deeply embedded in the field of synthetic biology that the earlier work was very much aimed at the scientists as the audience. So there’s an impetus for me to reword some of that stuﬀ. A lot of the work has been about the notion of fiction and all of these things – models, fictions, simulations – really fascinate me. How do you make work about fiction within a design context, where we’re not used to seeing fictions in those ways? E N D
The Substitute, created in conjunction with The Mill, and based on research from Richard Policht and DeepMind.
McDonald’s Times Square Words Kate Wagner
The kitsch and clown statues may have been stripped out, but the latest round of McDonald’s renovations have left the signs intact.
The flagship McDonald’s in Times Square, New York.
The redesign of McDonald’s has removed the elements of kitsch traditionally associated with the chain’s architecture and instead created a series of airspaces.
I still remember when they came for our local McDonald’s. It was 2006 and I was entering the seventh grade at Southern Middle School in Aberdeen, North Carolina. The McDonald’s was on the way to school and, overnight, things started to disappear. First it was the Playplace, which lay disassembled in a cautiontaped parking lot. Then the red double-mansard roof complete with French-fry lighting came oﬀ in pieces, revealing the naked brick box underneath. Finally, the red bricks themselves were pasted over with quoined EIFS – fake stucco. The metamorphosis took a month at most. When my family and I visited ol’ Mickey D’s, we were surprised to find its dingy brown floors and sunfaded pink-and-blue vinyl seating replaced by handsome grey tiles
and an impressive variety of pleasantly modern seating options. The large-scale transformation of fast-food restaurants across the US has been a quiet one, occurring under cover of night and glimpsed in blink-ofan-eye moments from passing cars. In May 2019, this transformation, decades in the making, was capstoned by a new, 1,021sqm flagship in Times Square, designed by Landini Associates. The modern McDonald’s is glass-clad and grey-tiled; filled to the brim with ads for Uber Eats, touchscreen kiosks and knock-oﬀ Eames chairs. The death of the old is further signified by the demolition of the eighth kitsch wonder of the world, the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s in Chicago, which included a museum of rock ‘n’ roll and McDonald’s memorabilia. All around the country, other companies such as Burger King and Wendy’s are racing to
catch up, replacing their mansards and play areas with glass and painted-brick modernist boxes. In a way, there’s something both less and more honest about the new McDonald’s flagships and remodels. A cool, classy gentrification-grey facade filled with mid-century modern furniture doesn’t fool anyone – McDonald’s is still McDonald’s. It’s still the low-paying, environmentally unfriendly, bad-foryou fast-food place, it just has trendy furniture in it now. It is but one of millions of examples of what the critic Kyle Chayka calls “AirSpace” – the ubiquitous, techdriven minimalist aesthetic spread throughout the world, which, in its own way, makes our McModern era more honest. McDonald’s and company have given up trying to portray that they are fun and family-friendly. The firm’s new stores tell the truth: it’s a big, cold,
Touchscreens and “mid-century modern” furniture
Images by Andrew Meredith.
are common across the redesigned McDonald’s spaces.
faceless corporation with branches in Aberdeen, North Carolina and Times Square that look exactly as cold and faceless as its headquarters in Chicago. However, this is nothing new. In fact, this all happened back in the late 60s – we’ve simply forgotten. Back before the previously hegemonic McDonald’s design (the red doublemansard complete with illuminated ribs) McDonald’s was googier, with the golden arches still serving as part of the architecture. According to the out-of-print book Orange Roofs, Golden Arches by Philip Langdon, McDonald’s brought in changes for three reasons: 1) so it could copyright the roof design to prevent imitations; 2) because local municipalities didn’t want the loud golden-arch architecture in their cute small towns; 3) because the mansard roof allowed for the
heating and ventilation equipment to be concealed. After McDonald’s slimmed down its architecture, other fast-food restaurants followed suit. Burger King’s 1970s restaurants were all mansardised, as were Wendy’s and Denny’s. The colour of choice was not contractor grey as it is now, but brown. So much so, in fact, that Langdon called it the “browning of America”, connecting it to Charles A. Reich’s famous 1970 book about environmentalism and our collective consciousness, The Greening of America. Late modernism made its mark on fast-food restaurants, making them moth-brown establishments with cedar shingles and shed roofs. The browning of America was a short-lived phenomenon, however – a side note of tasteful remorse that lasted less than a decade. The next dominant architectural movement,
postmodernism, brought kitsch back for the world to celebrate. When Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and their graduate students went to Las Vegas, they came back with a pseudo-populist manifesto, encouraging architects to learn from the everyday commercial landscape of the sunset strip. The book they co-authored with Steven Izenour and published in 1972, Learning from Las Vegas, changed architecture forever. One commonly overlooked part describes the way in which the scale of how we view the world has switched from that of the human to that of the automobile: “A driver 30 years ago could maintain a sense of orientation in space[…] When the crossroads becomes a cloverleaf, one must turn right to turn left[…] But the driver has no time to ponder paradoxical subtleties within a dangerous,
sinuous maze. He or she relies on signs for guidance – enormous signs in vast spaces at high speeds.” In order to compensate for this change of scale, commercial buildings had to do radical things to draw attention. This is where Venturi and Scott Brown’s duck and decorated shed dichotomy – later applied to modernism and postmodernism – originated. You could either dress up your building to be something – like the Big Duck on Long Island – or you could just have a box with some tickey-tackey thrown on it, advertised by a big sign. Fast-food restaurants tended to lean toward the latter. The argument for the decorated shed was that it made communication easier. Communicating a certain meaning or purpose was more easily achieved through using a kind of architectural semiotics: church = steeple; house = dormer; restaurant = big hamburger sign. Architects throughout history have used ornament to indicate what a building is used for. (Take, for instance, the big lyre motifs that accompany most classically styled concert halls.) But modernism, with its abolition of ornament, muddied the waters of architectural perception, making buildings hard to read for everyday people – or so said Venturi, Scott Brown and their postmodern comrades. This wholesale reinvigoration of architectural ornament as communicative sign was welcomed with relief by fast-food restaurants, who in some cases (such as Burger King’s) took it as a cue to paint their buildings with brighter colours, and in others, such as those of Wendy’s and Bob Evans, began ornamenting their stores with such details as copper fascia and Chippendale pediments in order to signpost their folksiness. Fast-food restaurants gained playgrounds, communicating to children that these were not only eateries but somewhere to have fun too. Ronald McDonald and his weird, acid-trip cohort were etched into modular play structures – cast-enamel statues watching a new generation of children becoming initiated into the fast-food way of life. You could have your birthday party at McDonald’s and every time you ate there you got a free toy. By the 80s and 90s, McDonald’s and many of its competitors sat alongside toy corporations as the bugbear of anti-advertising-to-children campaigns. When Eric Schlosser published Fast Food
Nation in 2001, 96 per cent of US children could recognise Ronald McDonald. These generations of McDonald’s restaurants were perhaps the greatest protégés of postmodernism, as well as a staggering exercise in architectural-sign-making. Until relatively recently, we lived our American lives in branded spaces. Fast-food restaurants, as well as hotels
Ronald McDonald and his weird, acid-trip cohort were etched into modular play structures – cast-enamel statues watching a new generation of children becoming initiated into the fast-food way of life. and shopping centres, took the brand from an advertising technique and grocery-storeshelf consideration, and made architecture out of it. We sincerely forget how many of the buildings we entered were designed to be experienced as brands. For all the discourse around having a personal brand, our spaces over the last 10 years have become increasingly brandless. McDonald’s is now McModern; hotels have got rid of their kitschy orange roofs and turned into interchangeable modernist boxes painted in the same colours; the mall, with all of its colourful, sugar-coated advertising, is dying. If you asked me to tell you the diﬀerence between the interior of a Safeway versus a Harris Teeter, I don’t think I’d be able to. Somehow every mall-based clothing store – an architectural typology once known for its colourful and eccentric diversity, across income scales ranging from H&M to J. Crew – looks the same. Something tangible has been lost with the mass debranding of space. Brands have worked for decades, using everything from Instagram influencers to remodelling, to alienate themselves from kitsch. Now kitsch itself – once ubiquitous – is becoming a rarity in the American landscape. Kitsch is un-self-conscious – it laughs in the face of good taste and it acknowledges itself for what it is. Kitsch and fast food went so well together because they shared a common conception of being both lowbrow and popular – universally consumed. McDonald’s is good. It tastes good.
How a franchise that popularised itself by means of characters like the Hamburglar and Grimace quietly abolishes its past and tries to make itself into what it is not is a story I want to hear. The answer McDonald’s gives for why it has remade its flagship in the Instagram image is technology itself. These are technological upgrades – Uber Eats, touchscreen kiosks, patterned seating that is perfectly at home with a hashtag. But the firm has forgotten that people don’t go to McDonald’s to take pictures, they go there to get food and leave. It has misunderstood the app and its culture. Instagram prides itself on sniﬃng out new trends and hyping from the bottom up, not the top down. A big corporation recreating itself to suit the platform is, like, so lame. At least when McDonald’s had ball pits and clown statues it was memorable. To write this story, I have had to keep switching to the tab with the picture of the new flagship store because I’m constantly forgetting what it looks like. Venturi and Scott Brown’s ideal, even today, cannot be entirely squashed. Even as these tacky places are muted or replaced, one thing that rarely gets axed – no matter how modern and Airspace-y the remodelled restaurants become – is the sign. Recently they revamped one of the last remaining old-school McDonald’s in Baltimore, the one on Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street. It’s now a grey box with wireframe furniture and hip gallery walls. But outside the McDonald’s sign, complete with glowing golden arches and crooked letters that spell “Try a McFlurry”, is still there. The flagship in Times Square is half glass-box restaurant and half enormous LED billboard announcing that it is a McDonald’s. Travelling on the highway, those arches still loom from impossible heights, occasionally annotated with the price of gasoline. Architectural semiotics vis-à-vis mansardFrench-fry ornament may have been abandoned, but the sign, and the homogenous consumption experience it communicates, remain the same. In the words of Learning from Las Vegas: “If you take the signs away, there is no place.” McDonald’s Times Square is at the intersection of 45th and Broadway, New York City.
by Jean-Marie Massaud
Zanat at London Design Festival: The Ilse Crawford Pop-up
Waste not, Want not
14 & 16-21 September 2019. George Smith 587-589 Kingâ€™s Road, London SW6 2E
14 & 16-21 September 2019. Viaduct Furniture 1-10 Summers Street, London EC1 R5BD
Zanat is a designer furniture and accessories brand founded upon a century-old family tradition of making heirloom quality hand-carved furniture and accessories with UNESCO world heritage woodcarving technique. Our mission is to protect and promote cultural heritage, support sustainable socio-economic development and to create fulfilling jobs, all while making beautiful, timeless and functional objects that trigger positive emotions. To fulfill our mission we partner with distinguished and like-minded designers and other craftsman. Indexinformation, please visit our website: www.zanat.org For dealer
Photographer’s note: I have been visiting Buenos Aires regularly for the past 10 years. Most times, when travelling from downtown to the airport, I have taken the highway that passes over Barrio 31 and always
PHOTOESSAY: BARRIO 31 pp. 28-39
Advertising Standards Authority – asa.org.uk Apple – apple.com Cristiano Toraldo di Francia – cristianotoraldodifrancia.it Eat – eatforum.org Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation – franklloydwright.org Google – abc.xyz Grimshaw Architects – grimshaw.global Isokon Plus – isokonplus.com Kering – kering.com The Lancet – thelancet.com LVMH – lvmh.com Nike – nike.com Philadelphia – philadelphia.co.uk Stella McCartney – stellamccartney.com Unesco – unesco.org Very Good & Proper – verygoodandproper.co.uk Volkswagen – volkswagen.com &Walsh – andwalsh.com
TIMELINE pp. 23-26
Photographer’s note: Shattered glass, burned tents, dead bodies. Visiting the sit-in site in Khartoum, I couldn’t photograph any of these things from the protests – only the traces that had been left behind. —Muhammad Salah
REPORT: MURALS FOR MADANIYA pp. 68-81
BIG – big.dk Copenhagen Zoo – zoo.dk Endangered Ugly Things – endangered-ugly.blogspot.com Schønherr – schonherr.dk
Photographer’s note: There has been a lot of fuss over the arrival of the pandas in Denmark, and I’ve been struggling to understand what the big deal is if you are more than 12-years-old. I have mixed feelings about zoos in general, but when the crowds dispersed at closing time, I was left alone with a panda who stared at me while munching bamboo as the sun set in the background. It is safe to say we shared “a moment”. —Alastair Philip Wiper
PROJECT: BIG PANDA ENERGY pp. 52-67
Writer’s note: I admire the perky, comedic nature of Polari. This despite the seriousness of its original purpose in allowing gay men to speak to each other in code. The vocabulary is florid, polysyllabic and full of
REVIEW: FABULOSA! pp. 121-124
Button – usebutton.com Fuseproject – fuseproject.com Happiest Baby – happiestbaby.com Snap – snap.com
Writer’s note: I am fascinated by how a single object can provide a vantage point from which an entire culture may be revealed. Diving into the Snoo has uncovered the optimistic, techno-utopic view that a robot nanny can revolutionise not only parenting, but society at large. And nothing is more American, more Californian, than that! —Michael David Mitchell
REPORT: THE ROBOTICS OF MODERN PARENTING pp. 109-120
FaceApp – faceapp.com
Writer’s note: I have made my entire oﬃce use FaceApp. Most people react with mild horror; some have tried to take diﬀerent pictures to get better results. But I’ve genuinely fallen in love with my older image. I am delusional enough to believe this app has George Clooneyed me, and I’ll take what I can get. —Brendan Cormier
REVIEW: FACEAPP pp. 103-106
Chanel – chanel.com Gucci – gucci.com Prada – prada.com
stereotypes it aims to dismantle. Asking people to suppress stereotypes only makes those stereotypes “more cognitively accessible to people”, the researchers write. “Try not thinking about elephants.” —Kay Sunden
NSO Group – nsogroup.com Serpentine Galleries – serpentinegalleries.org
Writer’s note: In researching what exactly the Peels give money to in the art world, I came across the V&A Design Fund. Founded by Yana Peel and chaired by Francis Sultana, this acquisition programme seems less a collection fund and more the start of a rather good fruit cake. —Evi Hall
REVIEW: CERAMIC BLOCK BY VIRGIL ABLOH FOR VITRA pp. 133-136 Writer’s note: When writing the review, I was going to reference the address of the White House, but I’d forgotten the street number. I checked online (1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20500, USA
Writer’s note: That Dobbin and Kalev article held some pretty depressing insights that didn’t make it into this short comment story. One risk with inclusivity and diversity training is that it can actually reinforce the
Dagher Hanna and Partners – architecturedhp.com Fundaçaõ Niemeyer – niemeyer.org.br MDDM – mddm-studio.com Minjara – minjara.com Tripoli Special Economic Zone – tsez.gov.lb
Writer’s note: The revival of the city of Tripoli and the debates around Oscar Niemeyer’s fair are an important case study at a time when many major Middle Eastern cities and their cultural heritage have been destroyed by conflict. —Lemma Shehadi
PROCESS: LIFE AFTER NIEMEYER pp. 125-132
Reaktion Books – reaktionbooks.co.uk
show-oﬀ imagery. A telephone is the “polari pipes” and TV is “vadavision”. And Polari has pluckily kept up with the times, even though its heyday may have passed – a mobile phone is a “vacaya,” which simply means “something which makes a noise”. —Charlie Lee-Potter
COMMENT: THE OPPOSITE OF INCLUSIVITY IS EXCLUSIVITY p. 100
Company – com-pa-ny.com Designmuseo – designmuseum.fi
COMMENT: MEAGRE DEFENCE p. 50
Apple – apple.com
Writer’s note: Why on Earth would he call his company “LoveFrom”? Do you think it’s self-sabotage? —George Isleden
PROFILE: A COMPANY VOYAGE pp. 83-99
Abu’Obayda Mohamed – twitter.com/oxdamoe Alaa Satir – twitter.com/alaa_satir Assil Diab – instagram.com/sudalove Galal Yousif – twitter.com/galalgoly Khalid Albaih – twitter.com/khalidalbaih Raheem Abdu Shadad– twitter.com/abdu_shadad
Photographer’s note: When I entered Company’s studio, I was feeling guilty about a scheduling mistake, while an infection had left me one-eyed. I was definitely not as focused as I would have liked. Luckily, the calm atmosphere of the working space and the presence of the designers instantly set me on the right path. I loved the big empty table with all the essentials exactly where they needed to be – including the relaxing shiba. —Juho Huttunen
COMMENT: IVE GOTTA GO p. 49
Barber & Osgerby – barberosgerby.com Ercol – ercol.com Etage Projects – etageprojects.com Galerie Kreo – galeriekreo.com Hermès – hermes.com Hilda Hellström – hildahellstrom.se Jean-Baptiste Fastrez – jeanbaptistefastrez.com Lammhults – lammhults.se Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska – mariajeglinska.com Richard Quinn – richardquinn.london Tuva Rivedal Tjugen – tuvarivedal.no
Editor’s note: The lynchpin for this still-life series was finding a bin shaped like a pinecone. What were the chances!? After that, everything fell into place splendidly. —Oli Stratford
OBSERVATION: INTO THE WOODS pp. 40-47
wondered what it would be like to go in. Now I finally know. —Cristóbal Palma
Photographer’s note: I work with things that don’t usually attract anyone’s attention – small and discreet things, so-called quiet topics. Photography gives me the ability to give importance to these topics. I can give them a voice and point a spotlight on them to help people pay attention to these small, unseen things – like the everyday life of ordinary people in Ukraine. I like the fact that art can be a magnifying glass. —Elena Subach
TRAVELOGUE: AFTER THE REVOLUTION pp. 137-154
Louis Vuitton – louisvuitton.com Oﬀ-White – oﬀ---white.com Vitra – vitra.com
– but I think they screen for ricin and dog poo) and was reminded of how much I love to see iconic institutions and symbols of our shared humanity given a Google rating, as if they’re a local restaurant or dry cleaners. I first noticed this when checking for directions to the Palace of Versailles, which has a solid 4.5 stars, tied with Stonehenge and Auschwitz. They’re both just beaten by the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Eiﬀel Tower (4.6 stars), while Christ the Redeemer has an impressive 4.8. The White House and Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant both have 4.1 but only one has been encased in an impenetrable concrete sarcophagus to limit toxicity. —Felix Chabluk Smith
Allermuir – allermuir.com p. 82 Armani/Casa – armani.com p. 1, inside front cover Associative Design – associativedesign.com p. 101 Bocci – bocci.ca p. 15 Brunner – brunner-uk.com p. 102 Celine – celine.com outside back cover Cubitts – cubitts.com p. 108 Dare – darestudio.com p. 107 Dinesen – dinesen.com p. 51 Elmo Leather – elmoleather.com p. 27 Ercol – ercol.com p. 22 Flexform – flexform.it p. 19
Fritz Hansen – fritzhansen.com
Setter’s note: The answer to 1-Down rhymes with “flytrap”. —K-Doc
CROSSWORD: RACK ’EM UP pp. 175-176
McDonald’s – mcdonalds.com
Writer’s note: There is something about the landscape of chain stores and retail that has captivated me for years. I wanted to share four of my favourite websites written by people who catalogue this built environment that I have come across over the years: labelscar.com; deadmalls.com; orangeroof.org; and kmartworld.com. —Kate Wagner
REVIEW: MCDONALD’S TIMES SQUARE pp. 165-168
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg – daisyginsberg.com Centre Pompidou – centrepompidou.fr Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum – cooperhewitt.org Design Museum – designmuseum.org Royal Academy of Arts – royalacademy.org.uk Somerset House – somersethouse.org.uk Triennale di Milano – triennale.org Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de
Writer’s note: I did this interview at Daisy’s oﬃce, part of the Somerset House Studios complex, and she was kind enough to give me a tour of the building beforehand. I really enjoyed the snooker rooms but found the Navy rifle range (exactly what it sounds like) terrifying. As my dad is a keen marksman, I look forward to being disinherited for putting this in print. —Oli Stratford
INTERVIEW: NESTED BETTERS pp. 155-164
Faina – faina.design Masha Reva – mashareva.com Nadiia – nadiia.com.ua Sergey Makhno Architects – mahno.com.ua Yakusha Design – yakusha.com.ua Kvadrat – kvadrat.dk pp. 6-7 Lammhults – lammhults.se p. 25 Laufen – laufen.com pp. 10-11 Ligne Roset – ligne-roset.com pp. 8-9 Rado – rado.com pp. 4-5 Roca – roca.com p. 17 Steelcase – steelcase.com p. 21 Sunspel – sunspel.com p. 12 Tacchini – tacchini.it pp. 2-3 Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de inside back cover Vola – vola.com p. 48 Zanat – zanat.org p. 169
The Quarterly Journal of Design
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Rack’Em Up If you were to google “magazine rack”, with the intention of buying one, you’d quickly realise that your options were fairly limited. You’d scroll past the sponsored ads and notice that the usual suspects, Ikea and Habitat, don’t offer one. This would reinforce your suspicion that the magazine rack has become a rare and extravagant object, uncommon in our digital age. But if you are reading this, you are almost certainly holding a printed publication and may therefore appreciate print-based storage solutions. If so, Paul McCobb’s magazine rack from the 1950s, which has recently been reissued by Fritz Hansen, could be of interest. With its slender frame and dapper folds, the rack demonstrates the economy of form for which US designer McCobb (1917-1969) was known. Completely self-taught, McCobb is often remembered for his Planner Group series from the early 1950s, a range of low-cost furniture in natural materials that brought middle-class Americans up to speed with the maxims of modernism. “A chair is seen from all angles like a piece of sculpture,” McCobb once said. “It should be light and open, to increase the feeling of scale and psychological effect of more space.” Now, Disegno readers have an opportunity to store their journals according to such principles. Try your hand at the crossword on the following page and send an image of the completed puzzle to email@example.com for a chance to win the magazine rack.
Image courtesy of Fritz Hansen.
Words Lavinia Fasano Crossword K-Doc
Its absence on the Designs of the Year list was famously,
Endangered feature of both north and south poles. (6)
according to Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, a “howling error”. (6)
____-___ trainers. (4-3)
Peter Thiel is the co-founder of this online payment platform. (6)
_____ Dame still has an uncertain future. (5)
Number of corners on an octagon. (5)
Design _______ Eindhoven. (7)
Disegno is Italian for what? (7)
Phoebe _____, fashion designer. (5)
10. Home of famous Six. (7)
A covered exterior gallery, common in Italian architecture. (6)
11. Subject of Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s E. chromi project. (5)
After 22-Across, the subject of this issue’s Project story. (9)
12. An early or experimental version of a design. (9)
13. Design podcast 99% Invisible is produced in “beautiful,
17. The Pontiac _____, notoriously ugly car, criticised for its “design by committee”. (5)
downtown _______, California”. (7) 14. Saint-_______, home of a long-running design biennial. (7)
19. Phillips, an _______ house. (7)
15. One who cuts and constructs jackets and trousers. (6)
21. Oodi, Finland’s new national _______. (7)
16. Design ______, annual conference run by Interactive Africa. (6)
22. Before 9-Down, the subject of this issue’s Project story. (5)
18. Marcel Breuer’s Cesca MB15 is constructed mainly
23. Inhabit. (6) 24. Secret ______, creators of immersive film experiences. (6)
from steel _____. (5) 20. Site of the 1937 Villa Malaparte. (5)
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