Goodbye Old Baby New Year Words Oli Stratford
Ever since I was little, I have loved Baby New Year, the cartoon bab who appears in newspapers around the world throughout December and January. Baby New Year is wonderful. It’s normally depicted as a baby boy in a top hat, who also wears a sash branded with the new year he represents. Baby New Year looks like a bizarre junior mayor – a Bugsy Malone of town-hall politics, born into a life of entitlement and nepotism. What’s more, he’s normally represented alongside his predecessor, who has aged into a terrible old man. Old Baby New Year peers bitterly at his successor, giving oﬀ the vibe that he was toppled from mayoral responsibility in a scandal that hardly bears thinking about. Between them, they seem an accurate representation of how power works. This issue of Disegno comes out at a time when most eyes are fixed firmly on Baby New Year – a new year is coming, and with it a chance to forget the disgraces of the past and focus instead on an optimistic future. Well, for one thing, this neglects an important part of Baby New Year: he’s wearing a diaper. As angelic as he appears now, eventually he’s going to shit himself. Happy 2020! 2
That’s why Disegno #25 is focused on Old Baby New Year instead. This issue of the journal is intended to serve as something of a year in review, of which one part is a gallery curated by Disegno’s creative directors, Studio AKFB. Bringing together the work of artists from around the world, this project is a labyrinth – a landscape whose highways and byways open up fresh thematic and visual connections between its constituents with every turn. Then we arrive at the essays. Whether considering the environment and climate crisis; diversity and inclusivity; or disruptive digital technologies, these texts pick through the past year, desperately trying to answer one simple question: whatever happened to Old Baby New Year? The topics covered in this issue are not exhaustive. They are neither a best, nor a rogue’s gallery, of 2019. Instead, they can be thought of as canapés – a selection of reflections and critiques to help prepare you for whatever main course 2020 is cooking up in his EasyBake Oven. So welcome Baby New Year 2020! If you’re going to do better than your predecessor, you’d best start studying what it was they actually did.
L AUFE N 1892 | SW I T ZE R L AND
Hello, this is me
I am an institution called the Canadian Centre for Architecture. I’ve come to fully realize that THE MUSEUM IS NOT ENOUGH
Photo © Stefano Graziani
To reflect on institutions, architecture, and how and why I relate to the world — and to confront others with these reflections — I started assembling some material to share with you.
The result is a collective publication structured around nine lines of thinking, compiled by Giovanna Borasi, Albert Ferré, Francesco Garutti, Jayne Kelley, and Mirko Zardini. I co-published it with Sternberg Press. cca.qc.ca
Introduction Goodbye Old Baby New Year
Masthead The people behind Disegno
Photography 2019 in images
Rigorous Self-Referentiality MoMA plays itself
A Purchase on the Horizon Peter Strickland invokes the horrors of retail
What is the Purpose of a Graduate Show? Can an old format learn new tricks?
Asks for a Hit of Your Juul Design in the pocket of Big Vape
McModernism, USA New golden arches for Times Square
Unpaid and Encumbered Caroline Criado-Perez’s exposé of the gender data gap
108 You Are Dancing with Death The enduring enchantments of the nightclub 113
A Lovecraftian Monster Zaha Hadid’s final project for Beijing
Sustained Assault Tech conquers the marathon
A Herculean Task The Vitra Design Museum’s Atlas of Furniture Design
Peak 2019 How FaceApp reassured us it’ll all be OK
Not Too Anodyne, Not Too Hippy Designing Extinction Rebellion
If Services Stopped Working as Normal What would you do in the event of a crisis?
Blocks, Each Exactly One Cubic Metre Minecraft breaks out of the digital cage
Personalised Insights and Core Functionalities The data extraction of period tracking
There’s Only So Far You Can Go Reproducing the works of Charlotte Perriand
The Paths that Lead Us to Each Other The sexytecture of the Cruising Pavilion
In the 20 Years That I Have Been Eating Here Farewell to the American Hot Beyond Bauhaus (mini publication) RIBA’s archival exploration of modernism in the UK
The Quarterly Journal of Design #25 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 Distribution Logical Connections Distribution logicalconnections.co.uk
Cover The cover shows ‘Blast #3’ (2001) by Geert Goiris. Words by Glenn Adamson, Andrew Ayers, Crystal Bennes, Katarina Bonnevier, Brendan Cormier, Natalie Kane, Kieran Long, Nina Power, Kristina Rapacki, Johanna Agerman Ross, Catharine Rossi, Vera Sacchetti, Tamar Shafrir, Oli Stratford, Deyan Sudjic, Lauren Teixeira, Kristian Volsing and Kate Wagner. Images by Murray Ballard, Olaf Otto Becker, Florian Böhm, Monika Brandmeier, Jim Campers, Sima Dehgani, Martin Fengel, Felix Friedmann, Robert Funke, Geert Goiris, Roman Häbler, Jörg Koopmann, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, Max Pinckers, Mimi Plumb, Giles Price, Barbara Probst, Elena Subach and Alastair Philip Wiper.
Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Milk 85gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss 130gsm. The cover is printed on Symbol Freelife Gloss 250g. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK. Thanks A great wave of gratitude to Tim Clark and the Armani team for a wonderful evening; to Barry Curtis and Flokk for a Halloween treat; to Pete Collard, Marie Bak Mortensen and RIBA for a wonderful trip through the archives; to Silke Wirth, Ollie Rose, Cherelle Byfield, and all the Nike team for their marathon aid; to Luke Worthington for helping Disegno shape up; and to Jana Scholze, the British Council and NID for being Disegno’s podcasting partners in crime. We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #25 possible. Not least to Francis, the brave border collie who loves the Bowhaus.
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
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Contributors Photography MURRAY BALLARD THE PROSPECT OF IMMORTALITY Between 2006 and 2016, Murray Ballard examined the practice of cryonics – the process of freezing a human body after death in the hope that scientific advances will later be able to return it to life. Documenting cryogenic facilities around the world, as well as the people engaged in the practice, Ballard’s project leaves it open to the viewer to evaluate the process’s ethical and technological ramifications. p. 79: ‘Patient care bay’ (2006) p. 80: ‘Patient storage demonstration’ (2009) OLAF OTTO BECKER UNDER THE NORDIC LIGHT Interested in the manner in which landscapes transform over time, Olaf Otto Becker documented Iceland over a period of 12 years. In his comparative photographs, Becker confronts the viewer with both humandriven climate change, as well as evidence of the transformations that occur in landscapes left untouched. p. 30: ‘Car in front of garage, Mosfellsbær development area’ (2011) p. 75: ‘Concrete spillway chute, Kárahnjúkar Dam’ (2010) FLORIAN BÖHM UNTITLED (U) Florian Böhm’s series examines the connections between surface and reality, probing at the impact of photography, digitalisation and commercialisation on representations of the real. Pictured is a fake habitat at the Zoológico de Chapultepec in Mexico City. STOREFRONT (S) The Storefront series documents a range of hole-in-the-wall stores in Mexico City that serve their local
communities. Faced with rapid gentrification, these stores are a dying breed which express the wider social changes transpiring around them. Pictured is an engine and water pump repair store in Obrera. p. 28: ‘Untitled’ (2015; U) p. 57: ‘Storefront #16’ (2015; S) MONIKA BRANDMEIER ASSORTED Belying her background as a sculptor, Monika Brandmeier’s images display a precise arrangement of elements, presenting everyday objects in strong graphic compositions. p. 62: ‘Two Glass Cylinders’ (1999) p. 63: ‘Door and Broom’ (2014) JIM CAMPERS FORWARD ESCAPE INTO THE PAST Jim Campers’ Forward Escape into the Past combines his two most recent projects, which sit somewhere between nostalgia and utopia, suggesting an alternative future for humanity. The images propose a scenario in which technology grows distant from people, who instead seek to make meaningful connections with the past and nature. p. 20: ‘Untitled’ (2015) p. 42: ‘Storage Matrix’ (2013) p. 48: ‘Untitled’ (2017) p. 52: ‘Salvation Mountain’ (2014) SIMA DEHGANI IRAN’S SILK CARPETS: LUXURY IN A CRISIS COUNTRY Working with author Lena Späth, Sima Dehgani photographed Mohammad, Reza and Ali Ashkiyoun, three Persian brothers who are the last producers of luxury silk carpets in Qom, Iran. Utilising carpet production as a lens through which to look at economic disparity within Iran, Dehgani’s
project illustrates the carpets’ craft techniques, as well as the socioeconomic issues embodied by their production, sale and export. p. 39: ‘Untitled’ (2018) MARTIN FENGEL WE ARE POSTERS, SOMETIMES WE JUST GET CRUMPLED Martin Fengel’s image series was created after a visit to a motorsports event – an occasion dedicated to racing as well as crashing into other cars. Fengel became fascinated by the cars, which were extravagantly painted like Formula I vehicles, but which were also heavily scratched and dented. The resultant photoseries was later turned into posters that might become as crumpled as the machines they depict. p. 54: ‘Untitled’ (2009) FELIX FRIEDMANN THE CARAVANS (TC) Since 2006, The Caravans series has examined the architectural value of mobile homes and explored them as ready-mades within our environment. Stripped of the romanticism of life on the open road, Felix Friedmann’s photographs of static caravans open up questions about who might live in these structures and what they might contain. THE WOODEN CHAPEL (TWC) In 2019, Felix Friedmann travelled to Unterliezheim, Germany, to document a chapel designed by architect John Pawson. Positioned on the threshold between woodland and open ground, the chapel alternately appears like a pile of logs stacked up to dry, and a piece of sculpture that emerges from the forest. p. 34: ‘Untitled’ (2019; TC) p. 41: ‘Untitled’ (2019; TWC)
ROBERT FUNKE RAUSCH Robert Funke’s Rausch series looks at the spiritual, therapeutic and hedonic usage of drugs, with a particular focus on the spatial and emotional contexts which surround a person before, during and after use. Funke’s lens acknowledges drugs as a social reality, as well as one that takes numerous forms. In the selected image, Funke photographs his subject Pepa tapping poppy capsules, extracting morphine that he will later inject. p. 73: ‘Untitled’ (2019) GEERT GOIRIS LYING AWAKE (LA) A series of estranged images that remove the subjects they depict from documentary realism, stripping them from the here and now and instead directing them towards fiction. WORLD WITHOUT US (WWU) Images representing ideas of the end of the world, World Without Us captures a mutated, paranoid perception of living at the end of an era. ACTIVIST (A) A work in progress, Activist expresses a “traumatic realism”: a moment when the mundane cracks open to reveal a sublime illumination. PROLIFERATION (PF) Images depicting labyrinthine trees, strange rock formations, contemplative figures, and humanmade objects intended to invoke a primal longing for the environments they represent. PROPHET (P) Serving as premonitions of what is yet to come, the Prophet images play with a photograph’s fluctuation between presence and absence. PEAK OIL (PO) A depiction of contemporary oil culture, Peak Oil was shot in industrial sites in Europe, spaces which are shielded from view and heavily
guarded. The images show the physical and psychological changes to landscapes caused by the fossil fuel industry. pp. 24-5: ‘Trope’ (2013; PF) p. 26: ‘Blast #6’ (2001; A) p. 27: ‘Support’ (2017; WWU) p. 31: ‘Fool’s Gold’ (2007; LA) p. 32: ‘Blast #3’ (2001; A) p. 33: ‘Air Raid’ (2009; A) p. 47: ‘Erta Ale’ (2018; WWU) p. 49: ‘Sound Melt’ (2016; MOE) p. 50: ‘Beam’ (2015; P) p. 51 ‘Melting’ (2005; A) p. 53: ‘Fragment #03’ (2011; A) p. 67: ‘Prairie’ (2015; WWU) p. 76: ‘Peak Oil #15 Dunkerque’ (2017; PO) p. 77: ‘Toijska’ (2001; A) ROMAN HÄBLER ALMOST, AS USUAL (AAU) Roman Häbler’s images of turtles examine ideas of individuality and collective movement. When floating alone, Häbler’s turtles become representatives of an individual’s inner drive; together, their choreography in the water captures the complexity of relationships. BETWIXT (B) Created in conjunction with Lars-Ole Bastar, Betwixt explores transitional-, inter- and non-spaces within society. Focused on water, as in the pictured sluice gate, the series examines this resource’s economic, social and political implications for communities. p. 29: ‘Untitled’ (2017; AAU) p. 59: ‘Untitled’ (2018; B) JÖRG KOOPMANN SHOOTING TOWARDS PERFECT LIBERTY When shooting in Tondabayashi, Japan, Jörg Koopmann became interested in the town’s monumental tower, the Dai Heiwa Kinen Tō. Designed by Tokuchika Miki and built in 1970, the “second founder” of the Church of Perfect Liberty, the tower
was built as a cenotaph to commemorate all victims of war. The tower was designed to resemble a skyward pointing hand, and is said to contain a golden box holding a microfilm list of every person ever killed in a war. p. 64: ‘Untitled’ (2014) TAIYO ONORATO AND NICO KREBS FUTURE PERFECT Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs examine cultural perceptions of the future in their Future Perfect series. Acknowledging that, for many, the future no longer represents a source of optimism and excitement, the series attempts to find a new visual representation of futurity that is rooted in our present era of climate change and mass extinction, but which admits of the possibility of hope. p. 60: ‘Untitled’ (2019) p. 61: ‘Untitled’ (2019) MAX PINCKERS MARGINS OF EXCESS (MOE) Max Pincker’s Margins of Excess series examines the era of post-truth, intertwining fiction and reality in its exploration of real-life figures such as Herman Rosenblat and Rachel Doležal, who have been accused of fraudulent behaviour in the US mass media. Blending these stories with images of religious apparitions, fake terrorist plots, and suspect vehicles, Margins of Excess follows an associative logic intended to capture the hysteria of the 24-hour news cycle. LOTUS (L) Shot in collaboration with Quinten De Bruyn, Lotus documents Thailand’s trans community. Critiquing the notion of a documentary photographer as a fly on the wall, Pinckers and De Bruyn acknowledge their role in shaping the reality of the images they capture,
feeding into the photographs’ exploration of the formation of personal identity. p. 23: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 38: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 44: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 45: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 55: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 68: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 69: ‘Untitled’ (2018; MOE) p. 70: ‘Untitled’ (2011; L)
shot simultaneously from diﬀerent viewpoints. Together, the diﬀerent views represented by the images combine to create a landscape in the mind of the viewer – a mixture of nude and still-life photography that remains tantalisingly incomplete. p. 37: ‘Exposure #140: Munich, Nederlingerstrasse 68, 09.07.18, 5:13 p.m.’ (2018) (courtesy of Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin)
LANDFALL Mimi Plumb’s Landfall series draws together her work from the 1980s, creating a portrait of the United States that is dystopian and anxiety-driven, capturing the precariousness Plumb detected around her at the time. Mixing portraiture with images of refuse and human-made scars on the landscape, Plumb’s images are infused with her own fears of living in the nuclear age.
GRANDMOTHERS ON THE EDGE OF HEAVEN Built around portraits captured on religious holidays in Ukraine, Elena Subach’s series examines the increasing gap between generations, particularly in relation to religious belief. Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven features a series of Ukranian grandmothers represented within landscapes suggestive of the heaven in which they believe.
p. 46: ‘Hamilton Air Force Base’ (1987)
p. 40: ‘Untitled’ (2018)
ALASTAIR PHILIP WIPER
TOKYO DENCITY Shot from a helicopter, Giles Prices’s Tokyo Dencity captures the sprawl and density of Japan’s capital. While it is part of a broader practice in which Price documents cities from the air, Tokyo Dencity diﬀers from the rest of the photographer’s work in terms of the altitude at which it was shot. Because of Tokyo’s scale, it is possible to fly over and document it from greater heights than almost any other city in the world.
NUCLEAR IS NOT A DIRTY WORD (NNDW) Documentation of the DTU Nutech Center for Nuclear Technologies in Risø, Denmark – a centre whose mission “is to develop and utilise knowledge concerning radioactivity and ionising radiation for the benefit of society.” THE FUTURE CONSUMER LAB (FCL) A photoessay exploring the University of Copenhagen’s Future Consumer Lab, a research centre devoted to understanding the intersections between food and technology. BUILDING THE LARGEST SHIP IN THE WORLD (BLSW) Photographs from the Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering shipyard in South Korea. The series captures the construction of a Maersk Triple E, the largest ship on the planet. THE TEST FACILITIES OF THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY (TFESA)
p. 72: ‘The Sumida City area of the Tokyo Metropolis’ (2017) BARBARA PROBST EXPOSURE Barbara Probst’s Exposure series documents the same setting through multiple photographs that are
An image series capturing the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, the European Space Agency’s main development and test centre for spacecraft and space technology. FROM TOMATO KING TO CANNABIS KAISER (FTKCK) Documentation of Aurora Nordic, a cannabis grow house near Odense, Denmark, that is Europe’s largest medicinal cannabis farm. LUNDBECK PHARMACEUTICAL (LP) Images depicting production at the Copenhagen-based pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, which produces remedies for psychiatric and neurological disorders. PLEASURE POINTS (PP) A project examining California’s adult entertainment industry, and the way in which technology is shaping the field – from sex toys and robots through to VR pornography. All of Wiper’s projects are featured in his upcoming book Unintended Beauty, published 1 February 2020 by Hatje Cantz. p. 21: ‘Untitled’ (2014; TFESA) p. 22: ‘Untitled’ (2014; BLSW) p. 35: ‘Untitled’ (2018; FCL) p. 43: ‘Untitled’ (2019; NNDW) p. 65: ‘Untitled’ (2019; PP) p. 71: ‘Untitled’ (2017; LP) p. 74: ‘Untitled’ (2018; FTKCK) Disegno is now accepting photography submissions for 2020. To propose your work for publication in the journal, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributors Reviews Glenn Adamson is a curator and writer specialising in design history, craft and contemporary art. He is currently senior scholar at the Yale Center for British Art. p. 82 Andrew Ayers is an author, educator and architectural journalist based in Paris. p. 149 Crystal Bennes is an Edinburgh-based artist, writer and researcher exploring topics from science to architecture. p. 132
Natalie Kane is curator of digital design at the Victoria & Albert Museum. p. 94
Tamar Shafrir is a writer and researcher specialising in design, visual culture and technology. p. 145
Kieran Long is the director of ArkDes, Swedenâ€™s centre for architecture and design. p. 137
Deyan Sudjic is director of the Design Museum in London. p. 159
Nina Power is a philosopher, author and former senior lecturer at Roehampton University. p. 86
Katarina Bonnevier is the author of Behind Straight Curtains: Towards a Queer Feminist Theory of Architecture. p. 155
Cat Rossi is a design historian and senior lecturer at Kingston University. In 2018, she co-curated Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960 to Today at the Vitra Design Museum. p. 108
Brendan Cormier is senior design curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. p. 129
Vera Sacchetti is a design writer and critic, and managing editor at the BarragĂĄn Foundation. p. 89
Lauren Teixeira is a writer based in Chengdu whose work focuses on Chinese popular culture, subcultures and urbanism. p. 113 Kristian Volsing is a project curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. He worked on the 2018-2019 exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. p. 142 Kate Wagner is an architecture and cultural critic, and the founder of the McMansion Hell blog. p. 98
28 New stem series with 28 by Omer Arbel Standard fixtures and bespoke installations
DESIGN ANYA SEBTON, 2018
DESIGN ANYA SEBTON, 2015
LAMMHULTS.SE PART OF LAMMHULTS DESIGN GROUP
Photography A sequence of images, curated by Annahita Kamali and Florian Bรถhm
Reviews Essays on and around design in 2019
Rigorous Self-Referentiality Words Glenn Adamson
strange, serpentine forms of Vincent Van Gogh and the twisting, tortured ceramics of George E. Ohr, the so-called “Mad Potter of Biloxi”. The potential to present craft and design in this way, as genuinely equal to fine art, has existed at MoMA since the 1930s. Now – praise be to those on high – it has finally come to pass.
The helicopter is still in place. There it hangs, the Bell-47D1, right in its traditional spot, overlooking the Museum of Modern Art’s multi-tiered sculpture garden, which is still just as Philip Johnson designed it in 1953. The garden has had a thorough gussying-up, to be sure, and a few new works are on view. But visitors seeking out Picasso’s She-Goat will still find it waiting for them. More generally, any expectation that MoMA’s latest expansion would entail an overhaul of its institutional personality has proven to be misplaced. Those who feared chaotic, cross-cultural virtue signalling should be relieved. Those who wanted to see the canon displaced are likely to be disappointed. Those who come without such preconceptions, though, will find one of the world’s greatest museums bigger and better than ever. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s handling of the site is vastly more successful than the previous redesign in 2004, by Yoshio Taniguchi, which made the place seem impersonal and vacant, like the corporate headquarters of the art world. The new MoMA is much more generous, nuanced and transparent. Exhibition space has been increased by a third and visitor circulation greatly improved. One gallery feels like a VIP lounge for the general public, thanks to its provision of seating and commanding view over the sculpture garden. Cordonedoﬀ departmental galleries have been abandoned, too, in favour of a fully integrated storyline. Thus, the very first space – chronologically speaking – oﬀers an inspired juxtaposition between the
According to chief curator of painting and sculpture Ann Temkin, the curatorial ethos for MoMA’s reconfiguration has been to achieve something “familiar, but provocative”, so that iconic masterpieces jostle with the unexpected. This means that the museum is now constantly doing two things at once. It continues to provide the traditional modernist narrative, the bible of a secular religion that holds the succession of discrete avant-garde movements – cubism, abstraction, surrealism, abstract expressionism, minimalism, conceptualism – to be something like the stations of the cross. But now it also has the space (and the impetus) to provide a running commentary on that established narrative. It’s a little like watching an old movie with a newly commissioned voiceover. For a long time – since the 1970s, arguably, and the rise of the postmodern – the question of contemporary relevance has hung over MoMA like a cloud. Now, it is making a new and persuasive case: that its own institutional legacy is so immense, and so far-reaching, that coping with it is a full-time occupation and one that concerns us all. A good example of this approach is a gallery devoted to postwar “Architecture Systems”. In the middle of the room stands an impressive fragment of the United Nations Secretariat Building, designed by Le Corbusier and a team of other architects in 1952. Despite its size, the slab of curtain wall feels like a precious relic – not too diﬀerent, materially, from the pieces of the World Trade Center displayed downtown at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The fragment’s steel joints, corroded and scraped, bear witness to the length of the building’s history, a reminder of just how long modernism has been the oﬃcial idiom of power. And, of course, one couldn’t find a better exemplar of the international style than the UN. Yet, visible
right through the framed windows is a film that sends a very diﬀerent message: a sequence from Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), in which his hapless alter ego Monsieur Hulot becomes bewilderingly lost in a modernist skyscraper. At one point, Hulot accidentally breaks into a highpowered board meeting – a phalanx of white guys
Pablo Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) comes under curatorial scrutiny in the new MoMA.
in suits. He then stumbles to an interior window, through which he gazes down in awe on a floor of innumerable secretarial cubicles. They look an awful lot like Donald Judd boxes. This dehumanising aspect of modernism is also addressed in an earlier gallery, devoted to the “Vertical City”. The curators’ wall text underlines the anxiety that people felt when first encountering skyscrapers: “What if oﬃces towered over churches?” Of course, that is exactly what they now do, in Manhattan and countless other cities. One gallery over, the curators (a team including Martino Stierli, Juliet Kinchin, and Paola Antonelli) fill out the message with a section on modernism as applied to real oﬃce spaces, including an absorbing selection of corporate stationery designed by luminaries such as László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, and Jan Tschichold. You get the point: from the beginning, this progressive style was also the style of bureaucracy.
The curators are fulfilling the promise of MoMA’s recent programming that led up to this reinstallation, featuring shows such as The Value of Good Design (on view earlier in 2019),1 which similarly interrogated one of the museum’s most well-known historic initiatives – the influential Good Design home furnishings exhibition series (1950-55). This contrapuntal approach, in which modernism is simultaneously summoned and critiqued, occurs again and again. The most striking example is the positioning of American People Series #20: Die, a violent race-riot scene painted by Faith Ringgold in 1967, which is in breathtakingly close proximity to MoMA’s Most Important Painting, Picasso’s 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It’s a thunderous piece of curatorial clap-back, an indictment of the sexual violence implicit in Picasso’s canvas. Another pairing, subtler but equally powerful, presents documentation of a Fluxus sidewalk performance, in which a violin player is tied up with string, alongside a gorgeous, lumpen sculpture of found objects and yarn by the visionary artist Judith Scott, who suﬀered from severe Down’s syndrome. You almost wince to see self-conscious avantgardism so thoroughly overwhelmed by the potency of her work. Modernism is even called to account in the museum café, through a treatment by the Dutch graphics firm Experimental Jetset, which is inspired by the De Stijl artist Theo Van Doesburg’s Café Aubette (completed in Strasbourg in 1928, and created with the assistance of Sophie TaeuberArp and Jean Arp). The designers did what they could to turn this heavily traﬃcked space at the MoMA into a “total environment”. In practice, this means a set of paper placemats and wall graphics that feature angular configurations of modernist terminology (prismatic, transient, elementary, and so on); and a series of brightly coloured wall panels, which simultaneously allude to the floating planes of the Aubette and the windows of Philip Johnson’s 1964 MoMA extension, and which also look a lot like giant iPhones. I couldn’t quite decide whether this was intended to be deadly serious or deadpan hilarious – maybe a little of 1
Reviewed in Disegno #22.
The exhibition demonstrates convincingly that designers in this part of the world – like the architect Lina Bo Bardi, for example – were not simply copying European precedents but developing their own distinctive ideas about the movement. They also found correspondences in vernacular culture. One quiet but powerful object in Sur Moderno is a bowl-shaped bark basket by the Hiwi-Guahibo people, who live in the Orinoco basin of the Amazon; it is of a type that inspired the Venezuelan abstractionist Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt). Here MoMA is exploring similar territory to curator Zoe Ryan’s recent exhibition In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair at the Art Institute of Chicago, which looked at Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks and others who were working at the interface of the folk and the modern in mid-century Mexico. In fact, Hicks has a huge work upstairs in Surrounds – a majestic column of polychrome threads, which falls to the floor like an upside-down geyser– while Albers is central to another of the current temporary exhibitions, Take a Thread for a Walk, which reflects on MoMA’s early involvement in textiles. That story began in the 1930s, when the museum was first developing its design programme. It all but ended in 1968, with an important show called Wall Hangings, which (despite its prosaic title) recorded the increasingly sculptural ambitions of the fibreart movement. After that, the door slammed shut – maybe weaving had got too close to fine art for the museum’s comfort? So MoMA’s decision to mount this new exhibition can be considered a rapprochement of sorts. Even the title seems to signal the curators’ willingness to pick up where their predecessors left oﬀ. The show could perhaps be criticised for overeagerness: it compresses several decades’ worth of material into a smallish space, and ranges from Albers and her Bauhaus peers, to commissioned tapestry (Le Corbusier again) to fully developed fibre art by the likes of Aurèlia Muñoz and Magdalena Abakanowicz. It’s a bit of a hectic dash through the medium’s possibilities – the show could easily be 10 times the size and cover similar ground. But you know what? I’ll take it. The curators are to be congratulated
each. But when even placemats are recruited to rigorous self-referentiality, you know the institution is on a mission. If the current suite of temporary exhibitions is any guide, this self-critical approach will also now animate that aspect of the museum’s programming. The most crowdpleasing of the new shows, in the museum’s spacious top-floor galleries, is Surrounds: 11 Installations, which gathers together large-scale works acquired by the museum over the past two decades. Design is again an equal partner in the proceedings, both as a methodology and raw material. Architect Sou Fujimoto contributes a room of tiny elevated platforms, each with a simple arrangement of objects and a beguiling proposition about the built environment. A pile of potato chips is captioned: “layering hills is architecture.” A textured sponge: “people live in nooks and crannies.” A pinecone: “if you think about it, this form has been a friend of architecture for thousands of years.” Another installation, Work of Days, originally created by the Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander, is a room entirely lined in adhesive vinyl. As visitors walk through it, the space gradually gathers dust, becoming an archive of its own transient inhabitation. Design also plays an important role in Sur Moderno: Journeys of Abstraction, which is built around gifts from the collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. It is hard to think of another patron who has had a comparable impact on a major museum’s collecting priorities. Almost single-handedly, she has used her philanthropic resources – both artworks and money – to pry MoMA open to Latin American art and design, which in turn has led it to begin exploring other parts of the globe more vigorously. (In this respect, MoMA has emulated Tate Modern’s ambitiously global acquisition strategy, though it is operating from a much stronger base collection.) Sur Moderno, the largest of the temporary exhibitions mounted for the re-opening, includes a gallery on intersections between fine art and design, showing how abstraction “became synonymous with modernity in South America, spilling over from artworks into the everyday – to tablecloths, chairs, and even cities”.
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institution itself has done more harm than good. These are the right questions, and they come not a moment too soon.
for giving a platform like this to a previously marginalised discipline. As it happens, the quintessential artwork of the new MoMA is also woven: a newly commissioned tapestry by the Polish-born, UK-based artist Goshka Macuga. Titled Exhibition M, it is closely based on a 1954 photograph of André Malraux. In the original image, the famous arbiter of postwar French culture surveys hundreds of pictures, laid out for his inspection as he assembles one of his books. Macuga restages this with herself in the leading role, but replaces the photos with a personal pantheon from MoMA’s collection and archives. Pride of place goes to a Guerrilla Girls mask; Nan Goldin, Martha Rosler, Robert Mapplethorpe, Howardena Pindell, Elizabeth Catlett and many other activist, female and/or queer artists are also featured. It’s a powerful reminder that, while Picasso, Corb and the rest of the boys still front the MoMA brand, the institution also contains all the constituent elements of today’s woke culture. Macuga’s choice of medium is terrifically smart. Tapestry was, historically, the most elite of art forms, available only to the aristocracy; and, of course, it is still expensive today, despite advances in Jacquard loom technology. So her use of it here, at a grand scale, alludes to MoMA’s own unavoidable, unassailable position as a fortress of culture. Yet the way Macuga has constructed the image – it was shot in her London studio and then enhanced by dropping digital versions of the depicted works into place – calls to mind the frictionless glide of an online image search, which is how most of MoMA’s enormous collection is accessed by the public today. Macuga’s tapestry will reportedly stay on display for five years, but I can’t quite imagine the new building without it. Tara Keny, a curator who worked on the installation with the artist, remarked to me, somewhat offhandedly, that the work helped “avoid a bank-lobby experience”. She could not have been more right. Last time it expanded, in 2004, MoMA arrogated to itself an air of unquestioned, oﬀ-putting dominance. Now, though it’s even larger, it has lost that overconfidence. The museum is interrogating its own past, considering the broader implications of modernism, perhaps even asking where the
MoMA reopened to the public on 20 October 2019.
A Purchase on the Horizon Words Nina Power Fashion always depends on the manipulation and creation of desire: the desire to fit in or stand out; the desire to look good or look unusual; the desire to be desired. Consumer capitalism, meanwhile, creates a strange fusion of the desire for objects, the desire to be an object and the desire to be a subject participating in this carnival of longing. The perfect object – the perfect dress, let’s say; the one that will make you feel like a million dollars – is a kind of promise: participate in me and this will be your reward. Walter Benjamin, in his 1921 fragment ‘Capitalism as Religion’, states that “capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the purest there ever was”. It works by proliferating – infinitely – fetishes to worship. Into this heady swirl of fashion, desire, faith, false idols and, ultimately, horror, director Peter Strickland drops his new film, In Fabric. The work is an eerie, creepy-comic exploration of the 86
allure of, on the face of it, a nice red dress. The garment, however, in classic spooky fashion, is cursed, causing suﬀering to whichever hapless woman (or man, in one instance) chooses – or is chosen by – it. The film is set in a perpetual 1970s, where fashion catalogues, department stores, tubes for sending receipts, weird oﬃce work and personal ads in the back of newspapers reign supreme. It is both an homage to Euro-horror films of that era – their ecstatic use of colour, as well as their oﬀ-kilter electronic soundtracks (In Fabric’s is supplied by Cavern of AntiMatter) – and a contemporary comment on the high costs of fashion, such as slave labour, obsession and love aﬃxed to objects rather than people. Costume designer Jo Thompson does great work here.
a dumb-waiter to one of the lower rooms, and engaging in rituals with a shop-room dummy in order to pleasure the transcendentally creepy department-store boss, who does a great job of making masturbation look like the devil’s work. Narrowly avoiding freaking her clients out (although not always), Miss Luckmoore circulates the dress amongst customers. Strangely, it always fits whoever tries it on, despite oﬃcially being
The red dress, which is advertised on television and of which there is only one, catches the eye of Sheila (excellently played by Marianne JeanBaptiste). Sheila is a harried single mother working in a bank whose bizarre owners (Julian Barratt and Steve Oram) engage in something called “conceptual billing” and are constantly hassling her over her job. Sheila wants more from life than making dinner for her mildly ungrateful son Vince (Jaygann Ayeh), who is infatuated with his stroppy goth girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie), and starts to look for love in the personal ads. What does a proper 70s awkward date require? A fancy dress. The department store, Dentley & Soper, is the hellmouth out of which spills a whole host of slickly packaged longing and ritual. Sales assistant Miss Luckmoore, played by Fatma Mohamed, is a mannequin speaking in riddles: “A purchase on the horizon, a panoply of temptation, the hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the recesses of the spheres of retail.” In fact, she perhaps really is a kind of mannequin, removing her wig after hours, sending herself down in
Sheila is a harried single mother whose life is changed by the acquisition of a cursed red dress.
several sizes too small. A Latin inscription on the label says something like “You will wear”, and, to be honest, the dress looks pretty good on most people. Its colour, according to the catalogue, is “artery”. It is a dress of blood, lust and horror. As Jean Baudrillard points out in his 1968 book, The System of Objects, “If you wear a red suit, you are more than naked – you become a pure object with no inward reality. The fact that women’s tailored suits tend to be in bright colours is a reflection of the social status of women as objects.” Sheila, whose story dominates the film, becomes a kind of object, although she is always uncomfortable in this role, being too human to become either more mannequin-like or a sex worshipper. The dress gives everyone who wears it a rash, although they often put this down to an allergy to their washing powder. In this way, Strickland’s work echoes contemporary horror films such as David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) in understanding that the more menacing terrors of our age are less explicit
long half lying down, half reading, half watching, half listening. In a sense, you can read In Fabric as a plea for the recognition and memorialisation of the reality of a certain kind of consumerism that orbited around clothes catalogues, department stores, sales clerks and the feel of fabric hugging a mannequin. How many teenage boys no longer need to tear out the underwear page of the Debenham’s catalogue? How much excitement has been removed from going to the shops when you can buy everything by clicking a mouse? ASMR videos are an attempt to restore some of the fetishistic quality to the experience of buying – to bring value back to the cult of capitalism, as Walter Benjamin might have it. While Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism should not be confused with fetishism in the psychoanalytic sense – Marx describes the way in which relationships between people become obscured as relationships between things, whereas Freud describes the process whereby objects take on a sexual power in response to the fear of the mother’s genitals – there is nevertheless in Strickland’s film a presentation of both senses of the term. We perpetually find ourselves unwilling congregants in one of the many branches of the capitalist church: the church of fashion, the church of white goods, the church of technology. Why wouldn’t the pornography that accompanies these rituals sound like a woman describing the opening of the box of a new mobile phone? Is Strickland’s In Fabric a morality tale? In a way. The final scene presents a kind of multilayered dark Satanic mill, in which the production of desirable fashion objects is revealed to be a hellish, slave-like proliferation of labour – which it, of course, is. This points to a cost beyond the price of consumerism itself: what if, under its false promise of glamour and daily attempts to glom onto our self-image, fashion desires only destruction? Using comedy and horror to alert us to the fact that visual fields such as cinema are themselves plague-pits and graveyards of fetishes is perhaps more eﬀective than leftie finger-wagging about consumerism and poor working conditions. It tells us something else; something bleak and inescapable about the malleability of human desire. What if a red dress
corridors of blood and violence than things we cannot see, or which get on or under our skin: viruses, infections, sexually transmitted disease, eruptions of somatic undercurrents. The dress must somehow be passed from person to person, latching onto their desires – for love, for a better life, for excitement – but it cannot be taken out of circulation. At various points in the film, it disappears; is mauled by a dog; is destroyed. But it always re-emerges fully restored to cause yet more havoc – rattling washing machines, shaking wardrobes. It is whatever is in our closet that brings us closest to madness. Strickland walks a strange line in terms of the narrative. He induces great aﬀection in the audience for his lead character Shelia as she finds love, before bringing the full weight of the cursed dress down upon her. By contrast, the latter part of the film is lighter and weirder, and feels slightly uneven in this respect. The second main victim, Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) – a dull washing-machine repairman who nevertheless possesses the curious ability to drive men and women sexually wild with his mantra-like recitations of spare washing-machine parts and diagnoses of technical problems – is less aﬀecting. Speaks’s stag night involves the ritual humiliation of wearing a dress. Handily, his male buddy has quickly grabbed a red one from a charity shop and, oddly enough, it fits Reg quite well. Strickland might be making a point here about the unnecessary gendering of clothes – why shouldn’t a man wear a dress if he wants to? – but as with the film as a whole, the atmosphere is one of fetishism. It was revealing that before the film screened during the BFI London Film Festival, Strickland introduced it by describing his obsession with ASMR YouTube videos. ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) is that strange tingling, goosebump sensation you might get from stroking a particular fabric; whispering; the screech of nails on rubber balloons; the unwrapping of consumer goods as someone describes what lies inside. ASMR oscillates between soothing and arousing, a perfect state for the sensuality induced by activities such as shopping online in a state of drowsiness. It’s the listless sexuality that miasmically surrounds bodies that spend too
could make us feel fulfilled? How many of us would refuse the perfect outfit, even at the cost of our soul? In Fabric, directed by Peter Strickland, went on general release in the UK on 28 June 2019. This essay first appeared in Disegno #21.
What is the Purpose of a Graduate Show? Words Vera Sacchetti The design world’s obsession with the new is inextricably linked to the discipline’s industrial roots and its consumerist upbringing. The media and the industry are complicit in this, too. What designer Hella Jongerius and educator Louise Schouwenberg lamented as “the one and only, inherently desirable quality of commodities” in their 2015 manifesto Beyond the New is what helps reinforce the design media’s relentless logic of clicks and shares; what drives the mindless scrolling through design blogs in the hopes of
keeping oneself updated; what sustains the many hours spent scouring design festivals and design weeks in search of next year’s trends; and what motivates the thousands of entries to design competitions and awards programmes that run every year around the world. A particularly significant part of this well-oiled newness machine lies within the format of the graduate show. Usually organised by design schools, the graduate show exhibits end-of-the-year work by departing students at both bachelor’s and master’s levels. In the last two decades, it has evolved from a gettogether for students’ friends and family into something that resembles a fully formed temporary exhibition, visited by representatives from the design industry, journalists and curators, all searching for the newest and freshest talent. Every October, the Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) organises a graduate show that coincides with Dutch Design Week. The school says that its exhibition attracts more than 55,000 visitors over 10 days. In late June, the Royal College of Art in London exhibits more than 800 projects by the same number of graduates, divided between several venues around the city. Not all graduate-show locations attract high footfall, however. As a result, some schools turn to platforms such as Milan Design Week, where institutions that can aﬀord the investment exhibit selected graduate work in locations ranging from small, central palazzos (such as ÉCAL’s exhibition in Via dell’Orso), to larger group shows like Ventura Future, which this year included work from 18 European and North American schools, ranging from the Rhode
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Island School of Design’s Department of Furniture Design in Providence, US, to the Krabbesholm Højskole in Denmark. It remains to be seen if the presence of schools at major design events of this ilk attests to the quality of the work being produced, but the validation that comes with that move (and the possibility of being seen by the media and industry, as well as prospective students) seems apparent. In October this year, during Berlin Design Week, a new initiative focused solely on graduate work took oﬀ: the German Design Graduates (GDG). A brainchild of Berlin-based Dutch designer Ineke Hans, alongside German designers and professors Hermann August Weizenegger and Mark Braun, the GDG is a graduate show on steroids. It gathers work by students of 12 schools from around the country, and proposes to give an overview of young and contemporary German design with a web platform and an exhibition at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin. Alongside the show, which ran for one month, the GDG also bestowed a variety of awards and so-called “green cards” to participating students. These included the possibility to present work in a dedicated booth at the IMM Cologne furniture and interiors fair; a one-year mentoring programme with the Bosch Siemens group; and a PR coaching session with freelance journalist Jasmin Jouhar. Hans moved to Berlin two years ago to become a professor at the University of the Arts Berlin and was amazed to find a lack of compelling graduate shows in Germany. “If schools have a show at the end of the year,” she explains, “it’s very often an open day where the first and the second years are also showing, so the quality is really poor. Still, Germany has a big history in design and this was one of the reasons why I thought something should happen.” After contacting GDG’s co-initiators Weizenegger and Braun, “we basically came to the concept of the GDG. We wanted to have a central place where lots of schools would show; and we wanted to get good schools on board.” Putting together the inaugural edition of GDG took about two years, throughout which the initiators conducted a large awareness campaign. “We wanted to get all kind of ambassadors who
could oﬀer something for these young graduates,” says Hans. The GDG secured funding and interest from a variety of partners in the cultural realm, industry and even the German Design Council, which is the main supporter of the first three editions of the GDG, oﬀering financial assistance but more importantly credibility. The initiators also mobilised students from the 12 participating schools who graduated in the last year to submit their work to the GDG’s website. This collection of projects, available online at all times, is the first step in what Hans hopes will become an archive that evolves and begins to show an overall picture of the young German design scene. Alongside this online archive, Hans and her co-initiators put together a jury to select some of the submitted projects for an exhibition staged during the 2019 Berlin Design Week. For this occasion, the GDG also organised an opening event and talks on contemporary design themes, with awards and distinctions bestowed in a ceremony. The selection was mainly product- and home-furnishings-focused, with some explorations into the digital and analogue divide. “It was very important that this [the GDG] happened in Germany,” says Annika Frye, professor of design science and design research at one of the participating schools, the Muthesius Kunsthochschule in Kiel. For her, the potential for exchange between design students and professionals is one of the most positive aspects of the graduate show – something she says rarely happens in the country. “We [representatives of German design schools] always meet at the German Society for Design Theory and Research,” she says, “but we don’t have that in the practical side of academia.” “I was astonished that the exhibition wasn’t very daring,” says Tulga Beyerle, director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum for Arts and Crafts) Hamburg and one of the professional ambassadors of the GDG. She attributes this to the fact that “German design education is very product-based and quite traditional in many ways.” While the outcome of the first GDG does not reflect the broadness of the international design field, Beyerle notes that raising the visibility of young German design is a positive thing. “These platforms are important
until 2001, it was done in Amsterdam, because nobody would come out to Eindhoven,” says Joseph Grima, artistic director of DAE. “Then Li Edelkoort [who led DAE between 1999 and 2008] made what was seen as a slightly crazy choice to bring it to Eindhoven, and in the same year Dutch Design Week (DDW) began. Dutch Design Week has done very well. It is now – I think – the only serious contender with Milan Design Week. The graduate show played an important role in this; that’s a consequence of the very early choice on the part of the Academy to partner with the Dutch Design Foundation [the main organiser of DDW].” When Grima began his tenure at DAE in 2017, he changed the location of the exhibition from the school, where it was traditionally held, to Campina, a former milk factory building that is a three-minute bike ride away. In 2019, he further pushed the format by creating thematic divisions among projects, rather than sticking to the traditional organisation by bachelor’s and master’s programmes. “We really believe that this is a crucial moment for the graduates to make connections,” says Grima, pointing out that “the new location allows us to expand the possibilities of the show, making it into a place where you can really spend time pleasantly.” One should return to the DAE exhibition several times over the course of the 10-day DDW – the 2019 show featured no fewer than 61 master’s and 120 bachelor’s projects, most of which (unlike those featured in GDG) were heavily conceptual, research-based, and mostly performative or tending towards immateriality. This trend is not unique – many design schools are seeing more and more work that is progressively more complex, doesn’t translate into objects, and, as Matt Ward, senior lecturer at the Department of Design at Goldsmiths, University of London, puts it, is “moving away from pedestals”. “What is the purpose of a graduate show? Is it to get a job?” asks Ward. “Maybe so 25 years ago, but it’s not the way the design industry works anymore.” He argues that the graduate show is a “rite of passage”, a milestone and celebration for students and their families. “For a lot of students, it’s the only time hundreds of people will come to look at their work,” says Ward, noting the additional, empowering sense of community
for students to present their work to a professional audience,” she says, while giving visitors “a chance to see what is going on in the students’ minds”.
The inaugural edition of the German Design Graduates show, launched in Berlin in 2019.
As an aggregator, the first edition of GDG oﬀers an initial survey of the state of German design education, but it will need to grow to become truly representative. Hans is currently entertaining the idea of making the exhibition travel, or staging the GDG in diﬀerent German cities in diﬀerent years, a move that could benefit the initiative by raising its visibility and impact in such a large country. With a curatorial approach that handpicks a limited number of projects from a wider database, its thematic clusters – such as ‘Everyday life’, ‘Transport’ and ‘Leisure and travel’ – and its presentation in a traditional exhibition setting inside a design museum, the GDG is somewhat aligned with the formats of contemporary graduate shows. The model that seems to have inspired this approach, at least in part, is DAE’s graduation show, one of the most influential exhibitions of young design talent in Europe. “The story of the graduation show is that,
that is created when students and alumni come together at the end of the year. But as design changes and veers towards immateriality, Ward and his colleagues have tried to push other ideas, such as smaller clusters of students with project aﬃnities exhibiting together in diﬀerent formats and platforms. So far, they have been largely unsuccessful. On one hand, the traditional graduate-show format is well established and apparently successful – educational institutions, by virtue of their scale and complexity, usually tend towards risk-aversion. On the other, with limited resources and additional time
The German Design Graduates show displays work from 12 different schools from around Germany.
and work having to be put into rethinking established structures, experimental ideas tend to be dropped once the deadline for putting the show together looms. It may be that the graduate show can only be revamped when design education is rethought to reflect the realities of contemporary practice. Conversely, it may be that we have to change graduate shows in order to change education itself. For Jan Boelen, who was recently appointed rector of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, graduate shows are about “the art of balance – they have to support the students using that platform; and the students are there to support the school and to promote themselves.” A discussion on the format is certainly overdue: for Boelen, we should question the obsession with a concrete student output at the moment of graduation – which
generates unnecessary competition – and perhaps focus on diﬀerent moments throughout the year in which the design community can experience student work. “It’s not just about organising the graduation show, it is about organising a moment in the year when you look to the work of students,” he says, “and that also could happen by not just presenting the work itself, but focusing on the distance from the moment in time and the school where the project was made.” Boelen believes graduate shows must go beyond mere project display and should contribute to design discourse by oﬀering proposals and treading new ground. A possible alternative can be found in the Middle East. “A lot of [graduate] work is prototypical, but the impulse behind it is really understandable,” says Brendan McGetrick, creative director of the Museum of the Future in Dubai. “And then if you can speak to the authors about it, you can understand where they’re coming from.” McGetrick is the former director and current adviser of the Global Grad Show, which launched at Dubai Design Week in 2015 as an ambitious global survey of graduate work in design. In the first edition, the scheme comprised 10 schools and 35 projects; the most recent edition, which took place in November 2019, has grown to include more than 150 projects from 43 countries and more than 100 schools. As the venture expanded, “the main impetus was to really make it global, really put in the work to develop [it], particularly here in the region, but also Africa, South Asia, South America,” says McGetrick. “[We wanted to] make sure that places that really get ignored in the design press – and design conversations in general – are actively welcomed and approached.” The projects are organised in clusters under broad themes – ‘Gender & equality’, ‘Healthcare’, ‘Sustainability’ – allowing schools to blend alongside each other, moving away from any kind of competitive edge. Because the show takes place in Dubai, a place where most passports are welcome and there are few visa restrictions, it is possible to fly all participants in. “That’s a unifying experience,” says McGetrick. “And I do very much feel that, particularly as we more and more come to understand that the West has kind of run out of ideas, it’s really important that we create spaces outside of the West for
perhaps, blame an older girl called Kate, who I thought was too cool to turn down a Mayfair Superking from. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking-related diseases kill up to 8 million people a year. Clearly, then, we’re in need of tools to help pull ourselves away from cigarettes, which is why the last decade has seen a boom in devices designed to wean us oﬀ tobacco. Between 2011 and 2018, the number of vape users worldwide has risen from 7 million to 41 million. Emerging in a triumphant puﬀ of sickly-sweet mango-ice-cherryade vapour, the global e-cigarette market is now estimated to be worth £15.5bn. My first e-cigarette was the Vype, a design that was manufactured in 2013 by CN Creative, a division of British American Tobacco. The Vype masqueraded unconvincingly as a cigarette, with a dim electronic amber glow throbbing on its tip with each puﬀ. It was unbearably uncool and I stopped using it as soon as someone pointed out how ridiculous I looked, which was almost certainly the first time I dared bring it to the pub. Other options at the time included Smok’s huge, lumbering machines with chimney-level vapour plumes, or Kandypens’s far more petite pen models, designed to appeal to women who supposedly didn’t fancy carrying anything so hyper-masculine. American model and actor Amber Rose brought out her own champagne-leather and goldtrimmed edition for Kandypens in 2018: “I want it to feel like a celebration when they inhale.” None of these felt right for me. Enter Juul, a vaping device first launched in June 2015. Created by Pax Labs co-founders Adam Bowen and James
people to come together.” The Global Grad Show plants seeds for a design community connected through ideas and ways of making, rather than by nationality or school. It does not propose a competition among peers but seeks to connect lines of thought, oﬀering inspiration and new proposals on how to think about contemporary issues. It displays objects, but, most importantly, it is full of ideas. And as with all other graduate shows, it brings people together, explores their similarities and diﬀerences, and does it all in a celebratory mood. Particularly in the “dark times” that we live in, McGetrick tells me, he finds reassurance in seeing young students come together. “You realise that we’re not out of ideas; we just have massive systemic problems getting those ideas to be taken seriously and be implemented.” He’s hopeful about the potential of this multi-national encounter of young people. “The way that young designers are being encouraged to think,” he concludes, “ultimately could lead to something much better.” The inaugural German Design Graduates exhibition ran from 11 October to 10 November 2019 at the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Berlin.
Asks For a Hit of Your Juul Words Natalie Kane I started smoking at 15, which, retrospectively, was probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. But I can’t be blamed for a decision that so many make under the power of peer pressure – anything that is taboo, and gives the slight promise of status and social capital, is catnip to teenagers. Although I do, 94
Monsees, this small, sleek, seamless device was the furthest deviation possible from the blunt industrial aesthetic of previous e-cigarettes. Everything needed to activate Juul’s proprietary, single-use e-liquid pods is contained within its brushed-metal case. No need to play with voltage, coils, or ratios of nicotine to glycerine liquid – Juul just works. Aesthetically, it mimics the type of product we’ve learned to covet, with journalist Ben Radding calling it the “iPhone of e-cigs” in 2017. It looks good. Full disclosure: I am a Juul user and it terrifies me just how smitten I was initially by the design. From the moment it went to market in 2015, with a mission to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers”, Juul has seen its sales rocket, despite the considerable cost of using it. As of October 2019, you’ll have to pay Juul £10.99 for 2.7ml of e-liquid (compared to approximately £4-6 for 10ml from other, refillable brands). Total sales are projected to reach $3bn in 2019, almost triple those of 2018. Founders Monsees and Bowen are currently worth $1.1bn each and the company controls close to 75 per cent of the US e-cigarette market. “Within our small subset [of the industry], we are the pinnacle,” summarised Monsees in a 2018 interview with The Mercury News. With this dominance has come criticism. Juul has been blamed for fuelling the rising “youth vaping epidemic”, where teenagers who may never have touched a cigarette have suddenly become heavily addicted to nicotine. A study published in October 2018 by researchers at the Schroeder Institute in Washington revealed that 9.5 per cent of teenagers and 11 per cent of young adults use Juul, and that teenagers aged 15-17 are 16 times more likely to be Juul users than 25-34-year-olds. In September
2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced enforcement action against retailers and other companies that continued to target youngsters in this way. Part of Juul’s appeal to younger users seems to be its design. Pre-2015, no one had played up the product design of an e-cigarette in the way that Juul has, with its predecessors prioritising the device’s function as a nicotine dispenser in determining what it should look like. Within the
E-liquid pods form a central part of the plug and play appeal of Juul’s design.
first year of production, Juul won a number of design awards, including the IF Design Award, San Francisco Design Award and the IDA Design Award gold medal for product design. It didn’t garner these accolades on aesthetics alone, either. Managing to squash the “e” part of the design into its 15mm by 95mm case is impressive. A curious friend of mine took hers apart to confirm that, yes, it contains a tiny microphone pressure sensor that detects when you take a puﬀ and lights up to let you know the remaining charge of its lithium battery. There’s even a secret “party mode” that makes the front-facing light emit a rainbow if you shake your Juul hard enough – or, in my experience, if your Juul pod leaks. One of Juul’s overarching design features is its unapologetic inaccessibility, a volte-face
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
for the community of vaping enthusiasts who have long compared handmade coils and custom builds. 1 Maybe the Juul is cool because of current attitudes towards modded (customised) devices. In spite of the vogueishness of hacking culture and opensource, many would still choose the MacBook over a hand-built, high-graphics Linux set-up, regardless of the trade-oﬀ in performance or ability to fix it without an excruciating visit to a Genius bar. In his 2018 essay ‘A fundamental critique of seamless design’, designer Gauthier Roussilhe notes that “any friction is considered negative in essence” in product design. “We must not confront the user with a troubling, strange or even complex situation.” The downside of this seamlessness is that potentially everything – from pods to chargers, cables and batteries – becomes proprietary, making users dependant on the complete system. Regardless of the root of its appeal to younger audiences, Juul has become a lifestyle and the subject of a multitude of memes, from “asks for a hit of your juul, takes 12” to the more macabre “when you pull out the plug on your dying grandpa to charge your juul”. In the weirder corners of the internet, videos such as ‘ASMR SEXPERIENCE WITH JUUL (V DANK)’ have garnered 1.2m views. Here, YouTuber Trevor Wallace rigs a microphone to the tip of his Juul to make sure you don’t miss a single crackle (the latest iteration of Juul pods have been fitted with an improved, longer, “wick” that guarantees a crackle almost every time). At one point, Wallace apologises for his cough interrupting the experience, a result, he says, of the nearby California wildfires. Another ASMR video, by YouTuber Cloveress, simulates being caught with a Juul in the bathroom at high school. At the time of writing, it has had 1.3m views. The /r/juul subreddit is a trove of opinions, memes, personalised Juuls with printed skins and diamond-etching. It also contains advice for anything from broken devices to running checks on fake pods that suddenly appear in gas stations or online. Most recently, redditors have been sharing their final, desperate hauls of flavoured Juul pods – a spate of panic-buying prompted by Donald Trump’s call to ban flavoured nicotine1
See reddit.com/r/coilporn. No, really.
infused e-liquids following the deaths of six young people from knock-oﬀ THC (the principle psychoactive chemical present in marijuana). At first glance, it seems odd that Juul has reached so many young people, so quickly.
Juul has been heavily criticised for targeting young people in its advertising campaigns.
Legislative controls on its use are, on the face of it, robust. To buy pods online in the US, users have to give websites their social security number in order to create an account; in the UK, it’s age verification via credit check and showing a photo ID when signing for your parcel. However, there are obvious flaws in these plans. If teenagers want to get hold of Juul pods, they can just ask older friends to buy them (as with cigarettes in the past), and many vape shops and rip-oﬀ manufacturers will happily take anyone’s money. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has argued that unregulated websites such as Dank Vapes have allowed shady cartridges and black-market liquids to be sold by anyone: “At this time, we do not believe consumers can tell what’s in the product, and there is not suﬃcient enough information on labels to know anyway.” In July 2019, a House of Representatives panel in the US revealed that Juul had directly targeted teenagers as potential customers as early as 2015. Alongside Juul’s brightly coloured, youth-focused advertising campaigns, Forbes found that the company’s internal communications revealed Juul had employed PR strategies to recruit social-media influencers
with at least 30,000 followers to “establish a network of creatives to leverage as loyalists”. This drive was aimed primarily at 25-34-year-olds, who were, in turn, followed by younger users who idolised them. As Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, testified: “There’s nothing more powerful than a young person marketing to young people.” The campaign was strategic and eﬀective. Influencers such as Christina Zayas were paid $1,000 for an Instagram and blog post, while exclusive launch parties (complete with giveaways) invited the most visible influencers to “experience the brand”. Combined with sweet flavours and a marked increase in social activity, Juul became a viral sensation. At the House of Representatives hearing, California rep. Mark DeSaulnier reserved special condemnation for Monsees: “You, Sir, are an example to me of the worst of the Bay Area. You don’t ask for permission; you ask for forgiveness. You’re nothing but a marketer of a poison and your target is young people.” In response, in a move sitting uneasily somewhere between innovation and attempted redemption, Juul created the C1. The C1 is a connected device packed full of features that seem hell-bent on answering the concerns of the FDA, parents and vapers alike. In short, it tries to solve an almost entirely sociocultural problem through technology. Currently only available on Android, the C1 is lockable by the registered user should it fall into the wrong (younger) hands or wander out of range of the smartphone it is paired with. It can be located by its last-known location, should a young person decide to take it for a joyride. Limits can be placed on the amount of puﬀs a (legal) user can take per day, to reassure the outside world that Juul is very serious about nicotine addiction. Finally, each device is individually trackable from manufacturing plant to store. In an act of necessary friction, users must undergo rigorous security checks before making use of all the C1’s new app-based features. In the US, you’ll need to send Juul images of both the front and back of your social security ID (which are compared against a third-party database) and a selfie to unlock your account. This creates a user database that directly pinpoints each device – should a store sell a Juul to a minor, the manufacturer
will technically know exactly where and when it happened. It’s even been suggested by Juul that future versions will use geofencing to stop the device working in locations where it could be used by young people, such as schools. There’s a problem, however. You don’t need the C1’s app to use, charge, or refill the device, so Juul’s eﬀorts seem largely pointless. As it stands, all of Juul’s next-level verification hurdles only come into play if you want to enable the C1’s addon, in-app features. If you just want to vape, there’s nothing stopping you. There’s also the matter of data. The C1 will generate a hell of a lot of useful information that is potentially being fed back into market research, regardless of Juul’s claims that users cannot be identified. Viewed cynically, the C1 is a big song and dance by Juul to prove that it is doing something – anything – to undo a situation that it has almost single-handedly orchestrated. At the time of writing, Juul devices are still not FDA approved. The Juul C1 was released in the UK on 29 July 2019, price £24.99.
McModernism, USA Words Kate Wagner 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 caution-taped 98
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 sun-faded pinkand-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-of-an-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. 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-for-you 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, tech-driven 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 familyfriendly. The firm’s new stores tell the truth: it’s a big, cold, 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 double-mansard complete with illuminated ribs) McDonald’s was googier, with the golden arches still serving as part of the architecture. According to the out-ofprint 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-
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 and shopping centres, took the brand from an advertising technique and grocery-store-shelf consideration,
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 new flagship McDonald’s in Times Square, New York, designed by Landini Associates.
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
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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 mansard-French-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.”
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
McDonald’s Times Square opened on 30 May 2019. This essay first appeared in Disegno #24.
Encumbered and Unpaid Words Kristina Rapacki The popular sleeping pill Ambien doesn’t work for women. Or more precisely, it doesn’t work as designed. Zolpidem, the active ingredient that forms the basis of Ambien, is metabolised more slowly by women than by men, meaning that women are usually still impaired by the drug after eight hours of sleep. As it turns out, Ambien was developed by testing on male mice in the lab and on men in clinical trials. This practice is remarkably common in medical research, as a recent Science article by Northeastern University’s Rebecca Shansky shows. Even when animals of both sexes are tested, researchers often work things out in males first and then repeat the experiment on females. “It perpetuates the dated, sexist and scientifically inaccurate idea that male brains are a standard from which female brains deviate,” Shansky told The Guardian. Shansky’s article came out as I was finishing Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, a new book by the journalist and campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez. To say that the Science findings resonated with CriadoPerez’s argument is an understatement. Towards the end of Invisible Women, a chapter titled ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ is a gruelling litany of all the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry is failing those of us who happen to inhabit female bodies. It gets a lot worse than Ambien. Antipsychotics, antihistamines, antibiotics, heart medications, antidepressants: all, CriadoPerez explains, have been shown to exhibit “menstrual-cycle impacts”. This means that depending on where one is in one’s cycle, the prescribed dosage can be either too low, and therefore ineﬀective, or too high, and therefore sometimes downright dangerous.
There are physiological diﬀerences between the sexes related to the heart, lungs, neurobiology and autoimmune system – in fact, to most tissues and organ systems in the human body. Although it is important not to overstate such diﬀerences – lest they get “weaponised by misogynists or used to justify and promote inequality,” as Shansky warns – the failure to acknowledge such diﬀerences has adverse eﬀects on women’s health. Women are consistently underrepresented in clinical trials, even for treatments of conditions that are female-prevalent, such as depression. This is, in part, because women are seen to have “atypical” hormones (rather than simply diﬀerent hormones to men), rendering them, writes Criado-Perez, “too complex, too variable, too costly to be tested on” in the eyes of a medical community conditioned to view the male body as the norm.1 And if you’re pregnant and fall ill? Forget it. The absence of pregnant women in clinical trials means we don’t have much data on how to treat you for, in Criado-Perez’s words, “pretty much anything”.2 How did we get here? Invisible Women mounts a persuasive argument about the existence of an almighty “gender data gap” – an absence of information about women’s bodily experience that characterises everything from medical research and urban infrastructure to automotive design and pension schemes. It shows, again and again, that even where data about women’s lives could be available, it is rarely sex-disaggregated. CriadoPerez takes pains to stress that this data gap “is not generally malicious, or even deliberate”. Often, she observes on a recent broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, it’s just that “we are so used to thinking ‘man’ when we think of a human 1
The idea that females are more complicated, hormonally, than males, is not scientifically sound, Criado-Perez observes. She cites recent studies on mice that have shown a greater hormonal variability in males. “So who’s too complicated now?” Although Criado-Perez acknowledges that the thalidomide scandal played a role in establishing the convention of excluding pregnant women from studies, she makes the point that it was itself caused by the failure to consider pregnancy in trials. Even in situations where one could monitor the eﬀects of certain viruses – for example in the case of the 2002-4 Sars epidemic in China – this demographic is routinely ignored.
proof vests (don’t account for breasts) and cars (too deadly). Car safety is a particularly shocking example of gender bias in product development. Criado-Perez shows how, although men are more likely to be involved in a car crash, women are 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured and 71 per cent more likely to be moderately injured than men if caught up in one. This is because the design of crash-test dummies dates from the
that we kind of forget to think about women unless we specifically mention them.” This bias is deeply embedded in language. Think of “man” in English and how it is taken for “humankind”. Or how, in most Romance languages, the generic masculine is used to describe groups of people whose genders are unknown, or which include a mix of genders. Thus, 100 female teachers would be “las profesoras” in Spanish, but “los profesores” as soon as you add one male teacher. “Such,” writes Criado-Perez, “is the power of the default male.” These things matter because representation in language has a direct impact on representation in life. For instance, CriadoPerez cites studies in which children are asked to draw a scientist. While the proportion of drawings of female scientists has gone up considerably since the same experiment was conducted in the early 1960s (it is up from 1 per cent in 1960 to 28 per cent today), the meta-data nevertheless shows an alarming trend: “When children start school they draw roughly equal percentages of male and female scientists, averaged out across boys and girls,” Criado-Perez writes. “By the time children are seven or eight, male scientists significantly outnumber female scientists. By the age of fourteen, children are drawing four times as many male scientists as female scientists.” These are biases that are learnt and internalised from a very young age, through schooling and socialisation. Is the woeful lack of representation later on in life – in certain careers and in positions of power – so surprising? In Invisible Women, Criado-Perez synthesises a staggering number of studies and interviews to show that, when representation is lacking in decision-making positions – be it in urban planning, medical research, or tech startups – we get urban plans, medicines and technology that fail to fully account or even to properly work for women. These include: mobilephone handsets (too big), public toilets (too few), the standard piano keyboard (too wide), public transport (too unsafe), voice-recognition software (won’t register women’s voices as eﬃciently as men’s), pensions (won’t account for many women’s unpaid care burden), bullet-
Invisible Women won the Royal Society Science Book Prize in September 2019.
1950s, and is based on the 50th-percentile male: a 1.77m, 76kg dummy that has “male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column”. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that “female” crash-test dummies started being used in the US, but even then, they were simply the standard male ones scaled down to match the female 50th-percentile
height. They do not mimic female muscle-mass and spines. They do not have breasts. They are currently only used in the front passenger seat. Of course, it gets worse.3 Although a pregnant dummy was created in 1996, its use is still not mandated in either the US or EU automotive industries, despite the fact that car crashes are the main cause of foetal death related to maternal trauma. Criado-Perez also observes that we haven’t yet developed a seatbelt that works for pregnant women. In fact, even the standard three-point seatbelt isn’t great if you have breasts: “In an eﬀort to accommodate our breasts many of us are wearing seat belts ‘improperly’,” she explains. By this stage, I’m sure you’re beginning to get the point. The gender data gap does not just create products and systems that are inconvenient for women. It renders the world deadlier for us. In addition to the designs and systems that fail to account for women’s bodies and female hormones, Criado-Perez identifies two more areas in which the gender data gap makes itself particularly felt. One revolves around women’s unpaid care burden. “Globally,” Criado-Perez writes, citing a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, “75 per cent of unpaid work is done by women, who spend between three and six hours per day on it compared to men’s average of thirty minutes to two hours.” Housework, childcare, elderly care – even in the countries that boast the highest metrics of gender equality, these tasks fall disproportionately on women, especially when we cohabit in heterosexual relationships. In eﬀect, many women in paid work perform an extra shift of unpaid work when they come home, which takes a toll on our mental and physical health. The invisibility of women’s unpaid care burden has long been a feminist issue. The International Wages for Housework campaign, for instance, originated in Italy in the 1970s, and sought to make domestic and care work – “reproductive labour”, in the movement’s term – visible as the very foundation of industrial work. “They say it is love. We say it is unwaged work,” wrote Silvia Federici, a proponent of the campaign, in a 1975 text about the ways in which care work is 3
Indeed, “It gets worse”, is the phrase that summarises my experience of reading the case studies cited in Invisible Women.
naturalised as something women just like to do. Criado-Perez shows that we haven’t come very far since then. For example, GDP, the standard measure of a country’s economy, does not account for unpaid work in the home because, as one of Criado-Perez’s interviewees, economics professor Diane Coyle, explains, “this [is considered] too big a task in terms of collecting the data.” Current estimates, however, suggest that unpaid domestic and care work could account for up to 50 per cent of GDP in high-income countries, and 80 per cent in low-income ones. If it counted as productive labour, that is. Beyond GDP, there are the everyday systems and services designed without taking women’s unpaid work into account. Criado-Perez shows how urban planning and transportation often fails to consider the more complicated travel needs of women “encumbered” (the industry term, not mine) by care work. “A typical female travel pattern involves, for example, dropping children oﬀ at school [in London, women are three times more likely than men to take a child to school] before going to work; taking an elderly relative to the doctor and doing the grocery shopping on the way home,” writes Criado-Perez. This is known as “trip-chaining” as opposed to travelling to and from work in a single trip commute. Invisible Women sets out how everything from the design of housing projects to snow clearing schedules privileges the motorised single-trip commute, a travel pattern that is much more likely to be the norm for “unencumbered” men. Lastly, the other area identified by CriadoPerez as being particularly aggravated by the gender data gap is men’s violence against women. The final two chapters of Invisible Women are dedicated to the failures of supposedly genderneutral disaster relief and aid programmes to account for women’s safety, and make for harrowing reading. Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and abused – both within and outside of the domestic setting – when disaster strikes. Yet this is not reflected in the designs of shelters, whose poorly lit unisex facilities often leave women vulnerable. Criado-Perez cites “lurid stories of violence, of rapes and beatings” from Louisiana’s Superdome in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “They said things didn’t happen
at the Superdome,” one witness recalls. “They happened. They happened. People were getting raped. You could hear people, women, screaming. Because there’s no lights, it’s so dark, you know.” When vulnerable women are put in contact with men in positions of power, abuse and sexual exploitation often result. This was evident in the scandal that shook the global UK charity Oxfam in 2018, when it emerged that a number of its staﬀ had patronised sex workers in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake in Haiti – something Oxfam subsequently tried to cover up. Criado-Perez points to this example as well as countless other instances of aid programmes, institutions and facilities meant to help, protect, or guard women that show that sexual harassment and abuse is endemic unless it is identified as a risk and mitigated by design. “Given the steady stream of abuse reports from around the world,” she writes, “perhaps it’s time to recognise that the assumption that male staﬀ can work in female facilities as they do in male facilities is another example of where gender neutrality turns into gender discrimination.” So what is to be done? Criado-Perez accepts that “closing the data gender gap will not magically fix all the problems faced by women, whether or not they are displaced.” But she is a strong proponent of collecting more data and making sure it is sex-disaggregated. It’s hard not to agree, given the overwhelmingly powerful case Invisible Women makes. But there is also reason to pause and consider how this should best be done. If sex- disaggregated data about any number of aspects of women’s lives is lacking, then it is even more absent when it comes to the intersections of race, class, disability, and so on, within that data. In the instances where information is available, we see how important these intersectional metrics can be in identifying systemic inequalities. In the US, for instance, African-American women have worse health outcomes, overall, than white women. But, as Criado-Perez points out, when it comes to pregnancy and childcare, the comparison becomes truly abysmal: in the 4
US, African-American women are 243 per cent more likely than white women to die from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. What other injustices could be lurking within the data set of “women”? The thought is staggering. An intersectional approach to collecting data is crucial here, although this point sometimes goes missing amid CriadoPerez’s campaigning rhetoric. I had to read Invisible Women in short chunks. The panoply of injustices presented in the book begins to feel vertiginous if consumed too quickly. As a design journalist, I also felt acutely the cruel irony of what it usually means to “design” for women. As a 2016 report in The Times revealed, products that are needlessly branded for women cost 37 per cent more than those branded for men, whether that be a pink scooter (£5 more expensive) or Levi’s 501 jeans (46 per cent pricier than the men’s version).4 We live in a world where we get pastel Bic pens “for her”, but no cure for endometriosis; expensive kick-scooters, but no functioning car seatbelts. Let’s collect more data, yes. But let’s also make sure that identifying women’s needs is not just a shorthand for identifying more consumers. Invisible Women: Exploring Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez is published by Chatto & Windus, price £16.99. In September 2019, it won the Royal Society Science Book Prize. This essay first appeared in Disegno #23.
See ‘Gendered Objects’ by Nina Power in Disegno #15 for a more in-depth discussion of the “sexist surcharge”.
You Are Dancing With Death Words Catharine Rossi
Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art, an exhibition opened in late 2019 at London’s Barbican Art Gallery. Curated by Florence Ostende, it examines cabarets, clubs, cafés and bars from the 1880s to the 1960s in 12 cities across the world, including Berlin, Mexico City, Osogbo and Rome. It is a story bookended by the 1881 opening of the nearmythical Chat Noir in Paris, widely understood to mark the beginnings of artistic cabaret, and the 1966 establishment of Rasht 29 in Tehran, a centre for the saqqakhaneh art movement, which combined international modernism with local traditions. The exhibition’s global reach, unusual subject matter, and combination of familiar and lesser-known schools and spaces reflect the Barbican’s aim to provide an alternative art history, one that looks at what Ostende calls “transcultural networks of modernist art and the production of critical spaces at a global scale”. Designed by architects Caruso St John and graphic designers John Morgan Studio, who have provided a rich if sombre palette including blue, brown, green and black, Into the Night is spread over the two floors of the Barbican gallery. It starts on the upper level, where each venue is examined separately using historical material – mostly artworks, documents, furnishings and photographs. Intriguingly, however, while the catalogue is in chronological order, the exhibition is not. Ostende has rejected the currently unfashionable possibility of creating a canonical, hierarchical story in favour of a more distributed, decentred approach. Among other things, this shows the international links evident in the way that artists carried their Cabaret Voltaire experiences into other projects, a prominent example being Café Aubette (1928) in Strasbourg, which Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp designed with artist Theo Van Doesburg. While this approach makes the visitor work hard, it creates interesting juxtapositions and connections. The exhibition opens with Cabaret Fledermaus, established in 1907 by the Wiener Werkstätte collective. Almost entirely designed by architect Josef Hoﬀman, the basement venue featured a bar lined with thousands of multicoloured tiles and an auditorium that often showcased progressive
Open on Zurich’s Spiegelgasse from February to July 1916, Cabaret Voltaire was a key centre for dadaism, the movement that positioned the absurd and the irrational as the only response to the war raging beyond Switzerland’s borders. Unassumingly located in the backroom of a basement restaurant, Cabaret Voltaire hosted artworks by the likes of Jean (Hans) Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Pablo Picasso on its blue-painted walls, while its tiny stage provided a platform for oftenimpromptu sound-poetry performances, music recitals and readings of texts by Russian painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky and French symbolist writer Alfred Jarry. Cabaret Voltaire was a subterranean safe haven for avant-garde activity, and its imprint on the history of modern art far outweighs its short life and small dimensions. Following decades of disrepair, the venue re-opened in 2004 as a bar, exhibition and performance space. While the physical building still stands, however, all that remains of its historical activities and original interior is a scant mix of artworks, photographs (the veracity of which is debated) and a postcard of a (lost) painting of the action-filled interior by artist and architect Marcel Janco, depicting himself and other dada artists performing onstage amidst the Cabaret’s packed crowd with one of Janco’s skull-like masks hovering over their heads. Cabaret Voltaire’s creative past and its nearimmaterial heritage encapsulate the curatorial opportunities and challenges facing Into the Night:
female singers and dancers such as Marya Delvard and Miss Macara. A link can be made to 1920s and 1930s Berlin, discussed later in the show, where this same creative freedom was aﬀorded to the straight, gay and transgender women and men who frequented the capital’s rapidly growing number of avant-garde venues. The city’s embrace of such permissive hedonism wasn’t entirely welcomed; it caused the government to plaster advertising kiosks with posters that exhorted, “Berlin, stop and think, you are dancing with death.” From Vienna, Into the Night moves to 1920s Mexico City and the Café de Nadie (Nobody’s Café). The figure behind this venue was the poet Manuel Maples Arce, a leading member of the estridentismo (stridentism) movement, which championed art and literature that expressed the contemporary urban condition. In this vein, Maples Arce published a manifesto condemning “Chopin to the electric chair!” This anti-conservatism was given full throat in the café, where the radical group debated, published and put on exhibitions. Their activities are represented in the Barbican through publications as well as artworks including masks and woodcuts, the latter of which we are told were exhibited in a subsequent iteration of the Café de Nadie, a huge travelling tent called the Carpa Amaro. Into the Night is not only impressive for its geographical reach but also for its originality: Ostende has eﬀectively built this subject area from scratch given that cabarets and clubs have largely been overlooked in histories of art, architecture and design, despite the rich creativity that they represent. This is part of a broader omission of the creative significance of nocturnal leisure spaces in the 20th and 21st centuries, although Into the Night also exemplifies a growing focus on these spaces, particularly in the realm of exhibitions. In 2019 London welcomed both Sweet Harmony: Rave Today at the Saatchi Gallery and Queer Spaces: London, 1980s-Today at the Whitechapel Gallery, which included an examination of the role of clubs, bars and cabarets as LGBTQI+ social spaces. Next year sees Studio 54: Night Magic at Brooklyn Museum and the arrival of Night Fever: Designing Club Culture 1960 to Today at Designmuseum Danmark, which first opened at Vitra Design Museum in March 2018. This is where I confess
I co-curated Night Fever, alongside Jochen Eisenbrand and Nina Serulus, an experience that has left me with an ongoing interest in club creativity and its curatorial treatment. While these exhibitions vary in their scope and size, each highlights the creative, social, political and economic significance of nocturnal creativity. The Queer Spaces press
Bertolt Löffler’s 1907 poster for the Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna.
release describes how venues such as Soho’s Black Cap and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern have provided a “vital place for LGBTQ+ people to find community, socialise, and explore identities outside the mainstream”. Writing in the Sweet Harmony catalogue, former The Face editor Sheryl Garratt describes “the biggest legacy” of the 1980s and 1990s rave scene as “the creativity it unleashed”, one that spanned from designing
including changing social behaviours (such as reduced alcohol and drug consumption, and the rise of the wellbeing trend); competition provided by the rise of dating apps and festivals; and gentrification, which forces out venues due to high rents and hostile licensing legislation. On a more positive note, new spaces have been opening, among them the Bussey Building, Oval Space and Printworks, all in south London. These are reinventing the idea of the contemporary nightclub in ways that link back to its earlier history by hosting events, exhibitions and even co-working spaces. Printworks has gained huge popularity through its daytime raves, but the 6,000-capacity venue exemplifies how vulnerable the club scene is today. Printworks is a temporary club, as are other new ventures such as the Drumsheds in Tottenham and Mayfield Depot in Manchester. It is an example of what is generally termed a “meanwhile” space; the building is owned by developers who are eﬀectively mobilising club culture to scope and prepare areas for regeneration, a phenomenon journalist Jessica Mairs branded “clubwashing” in Icon magazine. What these series of exhibitions indicate is that when clubs close, or their authenticity and sustainability is threatened, we lose a vital space of creative and social freedom. This makes it even more crucial that such events clearly communicate the importance of this culture past and present. This is where we arrive at the challenge facing curators working in this realm. In the catalogue for Into the Night, Ostende describes how there are scant physical remnants of Cabaret Voltaire and what remains is largely paper-based. It is insuﬃcient material for bringing the story alive. However, the real issue is whether any amount of objects could ever truly communicate the history of spaces that were as much about ambience and the ephemeral as they were physical artefacts and structures. Caldini called the architecture of Space Electronic “nonexistent” because of its construction by light and sound, and bodies and atmosphere, rather than bricks and mortar; Schrager similarly describes the interior design of Studio 54 and the later Palladium (1985) as based on magic, “elevated experience” and sensory stimulation. Ostende seems all too aware of the resulting curatorial diﬃculties. As she states
clothes, flyers and club interiors to putting on parties and exhibitions. Night Fever included clubs such as Florence’s Space Electronic (1969), co-owned and designed by Gruppo 9999 of the Radical Design movement. The architects celebrated the nightclub as a new spatial typology unfettered by commodification or architectural convention. 9999 architect Carlo Caldini described Space Electronic as a “pluri-disco” for its multiplicity of activities: its stage and dance floors hosted live music, poetry, nude theatre, and even an architectural festival, for which 9999 grew vegetables on one dance floor and turned another into a temporary lake, complete with plants and stepping stones. The show also included Studio 54 (1977). While often thought of as a celebrity haunt, the Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell-owned venue was also a creative incubator: the opening night featured a performance by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Issey Miyake conceived the club’s first birthday party; and it had a huge influence on partygoers Michael Kors and Rick Owens, just two of many fashion designers whose careers were shaped by club culture. It is easy to trace a lineage from these spaces to the present day through designer Charles Jeﬀrey, whose east London Loverboy club night later developed into a fashion label. “When I started doing a party it was an excuse for me to do work that wasn’t under the constraints of my [fashion] MA and all the pressures of that,” Jeﬀrey told Disegno in 2017. “It was a really good way for me to cut loose and do something that felt normal and natural.”1 Despite the multifaceted significance of club culture, Into the Night, Night Fever and Queer Spaces have all been motivated by concerns around the field’s contemporary condition and what Ostende describes as questions of “how we occupy public space today”. Between 2005 and 2016 the number of nightclubs in the UK nearly halved, falling from slightly more than 3,000 to 1,700. The number of clubs in London fell by a third and the city’s LGBTQI+ venues faced disproportionally high levels of closure. This drop is attributed to a number of factors, 1
See ‘Club Catharsis’ in Disegno #16 for a full interview with Jeﬀrey.
w w w. brun n er-uk . co m
what it was to be in the cabaret, because you would ultimately fail.” Too true. But as Caldini and Schrager attest, atmosphere was a key part of the design of such spaces and central to the creativity they fostered. Without this aspect, the recreations feel too illustrative, denying the experiential dimension the exhibition format aﬀords, and which this subject requires. Ostende and the exhibition designers did consider other options, including integrating the historical material located upstairs in these installations, but it was decided that this would prove too distracting. I tend to agree, although it was notable that these recreations were interspersed with, and followed by, examples of the more conventional curatorial treatments of the spaces found upstairs: the room exploring Cabaret Voltaire was sandwiched between the Fledermaus and Mbari club recreations, and the latter is followed by the last four sections of the show, which examine London’s Cave of the Golden Calf (1912), New York’s Harlem in the 1920s and 1940s, and Tehran’s Rasht 29. This slightly confused juxtaposition raises the question of whether there could have been a greater proximity between the historical and installation-based treatments of the four spotlit venues – an intention perhaps frustrated by the Barbican’s quite prescriptive gallery layout. This is not to say that other shows on nocturnal creativity have got it right – there is no clear solution to this curatorial conundrum. Rather, it is to acknowledge the challenge facing Into the Night and other exhibitions examining art, architecture and design as lived, embodied and situated experiences. How can they tread the fine line between education and entertainment, between experience and information, between real and reconstructed? How can curators tackle the intangible and ephemeral qualities of art, design and architecture? And how can they communicate the exhilaration and excitement of time spent in clubs, cabarets and other spaces for nocturnal escapism? Ultimately, perhaps what is most interesting about Into the Night is not the history it tells but how it tells it.
in the catalogue, “any attempt to evoke the exhilarating life of the Cabaret Voltaire in the present seems doomed to fail.” Diﬀerent exhibitions have addressed this in a variety of ways. Sweet Harmony presented a combination of art installations and period photography from the likes of Conrad Shawcross and Vinca Petersen. The latter’s contributions included a handwritten autobiographical diary of the rave scene that ran the length of a gallery wall, and a bouncy castle that she takes to orphanages and schools across the world – a legacy of the lifefulfilling collective joy she found in the rave scene. However, the sign requesting visitors not to jump on the bouncy castle exemplified the problem of making an exhibition about experiences that you can’t let people access. For Night Fever, designer Konstantin Grcic drew on the material culture of clubbing, including neon, scaﬀolding and flight cases, to create the exhibition design. He also collaborated with club lighting designer Matthias Singer and music consultant Steﬀen Irlinger to create an audio-visual installation that was intended to help visitors not only see but feel and hear club culture, in at least one part of the show. Ostende has gone even further for Into the Night, staging recreations of four venues that are also examined elsewhere in the exhibition: a shadow-puppet theatre that was the star attraction of Chat Noir, complete with a soundtrack by Claude Debussy and Erik Satie; the Hoﬀman-designed bar at the Fledermaus, including the 7,000 multicoloured and patterned tiles of the original interior, made at the University of Applied Arts Vienna; a section of the Van Doesburg-designed multicoloured ciné-dancing room at L’Aubette, which screens Hans Richter’s 1921 film Rhythmus 21 (Van Doesburg was a fan of the German artist); and, lastly, a composite of two outdoor Mbari clubs from 1960s Nigeria, showing contemporary documentaries of the spaces. Encountered as you enter the gallery’s ground floor, these feel separate from the more archival treatments of the spaces on the floor above. Notwithstanding the huge eﬀort that has gone into these recreations, they didn’t quite do it for me. Speaking to me after I had seen the show, Ostende explained that “the idea was not to replicate the atmosphere of the club or replicate
Into the Night: Cabarets & Clubs in Modern Art runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 19 January 2020.
A Lovecraftian Monster Words Lauren Teixeira It’s hard to imagine a city on which the late Zaha Hadid left a deeper imprint than Beijing. During the building binge of the late aughts and early teens, Hadid’s firm designed two monumental projects: Wangjing Soho and Galaxy Soho, both commissioned by real estate developers Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi of Soho group. Today, these buildings are unmistakable features of the Beijing cityscape. Their gargantuan camel humps and swooping cowlicks jump out at you, sometimes quite jarringly, as you navigate the city – usually from within a vehicle chugging down some eight-lane arterial road. Beijing has long since ceased to be a city navigable by foot. Hadid’s designs were perfect for the new Beijing: shiny, triumphant and completely indiﬀerent to the city’s existing social fabric. The new Beijing, birthed in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics, was obsessed with face. The idea that buildings ought to be functional and in harmony with their environment came a distant second to the demand that they be big and impressive. It was, in short, a showcase rather than a place where people lived. Needless to say, neither Galaxy nor Wangjing are loved by locals. This year, an independent Chinese media company published a post describing the energy of Wangjing Soho as “noxious” and “heartpiercing”; through many explicit diagrams, it compared the trio of hump-shaped buildings to pig’s kidneys. The blogger also criticised the building’s poor feng shui and suggested that this might be why all of the businesses that have taken oﬃces there
have failed. A Chinese court subsequently fined the media company 30,000RMB (£3,320) for this post, citing “superstitious” behaviour. This wasn’t actually out of concern for dispelling superstition, of course (the government continues to promote traditional Chinese medicine relentlessly): Wangjing is a crucial landmark of the new Beijing and anyone who dares to poke holes in its glistening facade must be punished. You’d think these issues would be less salient when it comes to Hadid’s third and final Beijing building: Beijing Daxing International Airport, which the architect designed before she died in 2016, and which was completed and opened for business last month. Airports are, almost by definition, not supposed to be human-scale. If any type of building has licence to be indiﬀerent to its environment, it should be the airport. Yet not even this most placeless of spaces is built in a vacuum. In November of 2017, two years before Daxing airport landed, tens of thousands of migrant workers – a group considered “low end” by the Chinese state – were forcibly evicted from the shantytown “urban villages” in far south Beijing. The proximate cause for this action was a tragic house fire that took at least 19 lives, possibly more. But most long-standing residents suspected that fire safety was being used as an excuse to clear out an area that the city government hoped would soon be filled with more “high quality” people in light of the new airport. In all, at least 11 villages have been demolished and upwards of 20,000 people have been relocated, sometimes with compensation and sometimes without. It’s not even clear if Hadid’s project, which has cost 120bn RMB (£13.3bn), as well as the livelihoods of so many people, was necessary in the first place. Norman Foster’s Beijing Capital International Airport opened a little more than 10 years ago in northeast Beijing, and in 2017 was the second-busiest airport in the world, handling more than 100 million passengers a year. But as a recent New York Times article points out, Beijing Capital is severely constricted because
morbid addiction to big infrastructure investment. In the face of slowing growth, the first and sometimes only solution for China’s planners is more infrastructure spending. That is why the country is filled with unnecessary airports, dams and high-speed rail lines, such as a $6m refurbishment of an airport on the small island of Dachangshan, just oﬀ the coast of northeast China, which welcomes no more than 10 passengers a day. Or an expensive high-speed rail line connecting the cities of Lanzhou and Urumqi in the sparsely populated Gobi desert across harsh terrain. Authorities hope the new airport, which is 46km from central Beijing, will stimulate economic development of the Beijing-TianjinHebei (Jing-Jin-Ji) “megalopolis”, a long-time dream of growth-obsessed oﬃcials in this part of China. It should be clear at this point that I was not predisposed to like Beijing Daxing International Airport when I flew in from Chengdu one Monday morning this autumn, not long after it had opened. My plane landed at the very tip of one of the five flight piers that radiate out from its central atrium. It took me maybe five minutes, not counting time taken to snap pictures, to walk from that pier to the central atrium and then through to Arrivals. This radial design saves travellers from the pain of inter-terminal shuttles and monorails. It is indeed eﬃcient and Hadid’s firm says the longest trip for customers from security to their plane will be eight minutes. Unfortunately, this floor plan is the only sensible thing about the airport. The structure, which seemed reasonable at first, started getting more and more ludicrous as I walked toward the central atrium, which Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) says was inspired by “principles within traditional Chinese architecture, which organise interconnected spaces around a central courtyard”. I suppose that if you go by this loose definition of “stuﬀ around some open space”, it is Chinese-influenced, much like sticking a house in the middle of an open yard might be said to be influenced by principles from within traditional Western architecture. Of course, even this diluted definition of traditional Chinese architecture doesn’t hold up, since the five tendrils of the airport are not really interconnected: you must
of China’s defence policy. The Chinese military currently controls more than 70 per cent of the nation’s airspace, while the figure in the US is only
Daxing International Airport is Zaha Hadid’s final project in Beijing.
20 per cent. “The congestion takes place in the sky because the military only allows for a certain number of tunnels,” Guo Yufeng, chief executive of aviation advisory firm Q&A Consulting told The New York Times. “If that doesn’t change, the ground infrastructure needs to be expanded.” Although Beijing Capital is the second-busiest airport in the world, it only rates fifth in terms of take-oﬀs and landings because flights are frequently cancelled. It’s perfectly possible it could have accommodated the needs of the Beijing metro area if the military had allowed more pathways for commercial flights. This possibility was not explored, partly because of the obstinacy of the Chinese military and partly because of the Chinese government’s
go down to the atrium and back up if you wish to access a gate in a diﬀerent flight pier. You cannot circulate through the structure as you might in a courtyard home enclosed on four sides by buildings that face one another. Even more oﬀensive is the suggestion that the atrium (which is what it is), a soaring and blindingly white multi-storey phantasmagoria of luxury stores criss-crossed by sky bridges, can be reasonably likened to a Chinese courtyard, or that it was a painstakingly proportioned swathe of negative space that builders took great care to make sure was in harmony with the wings surrounding it. As if fearing the “Chineseness” of this atrium would be lost on travellers, more literal courtyards have been installed inside each of the five prongs. The courtyard inside my prong was closed at the time I visited, but I noticed it was peppered with a number of perfunctory grey “Chinese-y” pavilions and spirit walls. No display, unfortunately, of the skeletons from the Qing Dynasty graveyard that were reportedly discovered during excavation for the airport. Beijing has always liked to keep things ahistorical. The opposite of an intimate and enclosed Chinese courtyard, the central atrium is ostentatious, neck-craningly huge and, as we
Villages were cleared and thousands relocated ahead of the construction of the new airport.
should expect of a Hadid, relentlessly curvilinear. There is an obligatory undulating roof, supported by an intricate spiderweb-like lattice of curved
beams, in between which have been installed glass skylights, themselves criss-crossed by a triangular lattice. It is interesting and then exhausting to look at. On the morning I was there, grainy Beijing sunlight poured through and made the already psychotically polished white floors and staircases even more blinding. Immediately surrounding the atrium are a number of massive flowing vertical shapes that reminded me of the cross-section of a tulip; these are capped with domed skylights, also overlaid with a triangular lattice. These project a high-definition grid pattern onto the white floor at all times of day, making the atrium doubly draining. ZHA is promoting the line that the airport looks like a “starfish” (a starfish with a Chinese courtyard), but from a bird’s-eye view, between the incessant webbing and massive, tulip-dome skylights resembling so many insect eyes, I thought it looked more like a Lovecraftian monster. A starfish-shaped Lovecraftian monster. The concern for natural light demonstrated by the proliferation of skylights is reasonable in buildings where people live and spend a lot of time, often in cramped areas surrounded by other structures. It makes less sense in the context of an airport, a place people mostly move through rather than linger in, especially in the case of one set in the moonscape of southern Daxing. What are all of these skylights and glass-panelled walls supposed to expose us to? Daxing is not like Hong Kong or San Francisco. There is no spectacular landscape upon which the visitor can immediately look out and feel welcome and relaxed. There is only endless bulldozed flatness. This surfeit of light and glass exposure actually makes the airport more agoraphobic than anything – and agoraphobia, I should know by now, is endemic to Chinese infrastructure projects. Before I could develop snow blindness, I left the shimmering atrium and passed into the comparatively serene Arrivals. With a long open facade and exposed columns of elevators, it basically resembles a bigger Beijing Capital, an airport through which I have flown many times and found to be perfectly fine. This brief moment of peace, however, is soon shattered by the fact of having to get into downtown Beijing. The sixth leg of the starfish is a much-vaunted inter-city transport centre that oﬀers subway and express
train connections. Unfortunately, neither of these will take you into the city in less than an hour and a half. The Daxing Airport Express will take you all the way to Caoqiao subway, but that’s outside Beijing’s fourth ring road and requires another hour of subway transfers to get downtown. My Chinese navigation app suggested that it would actually be faster to take an express bus that would drop me oﬀ at a relatively close-in subway, so I ditched the transport centre for the bus station, which turned out to be a few dozen waiting chairs and a ticket kiosk plopped at the far end of Arrivals. Outside, a man chain-smoked as he waited for enough people to fill up his van. I was the last and got to ride shotgun as we chugged down the slow lane on a 20-lane highway with no other cars in sight. Out of the window, farms and orchards turned into light industrial parks. One day – sooner than we can imagine – all of it will be gone. It will be replaced by more high-quality people and high-quality industries, the growth engines of the Jing-Jin-Ji megalopolis. At the centre of that megalopolis will be the webbed eye of Beijing Daxing International Airport. Beijing Daxing International Airport opened to the public on 26 September 2019.
Sustained Assault Words Oli Stratford I can’t remember at which point in the race I saw the rat, although it must have been close to the start because my face had not yet become a death mask of my own salts. If I run for any extended distance, the salt in my sweat crystallises into a whorl pattern across my face. By the end of a race I am a salty Pict, tattooed
with a tracery of excretion that serves as a history of my own endeavour. To alleviate the exhaustion of long-distance races, I will sometimes nervously run my tongue across this endeavour, lapping like a gnu going at a mineral lick that is also its own body. So given no facial salts, the rat must have been early in the race. It’s diﬃcult to say for sure though – throughout a marathon, you’re more or less doing the same thing. You shamble incessantly, surrounded by a rotating cast of largely interchangeable fellow runners. You see the same fluorescent vests and T-shirts; the same cosseting lycra and barely-there shorts; the same high-tech trainers; the same vest-chafed nipples weeping blood like the Madonna; the same looks of elation and pride giving way to yawning horror at the realisation of how much further there is to run on legs that have already flooded themselves with lactic acid. Something like a rat stands out. I’d likely just come out of the Tiergarten, the central park that makes up the first few kilometres of the Berlin marathon. So I would have been fresh, buoyed from the parkland, when I happened upon the carcass. The rat was right there in the middle of the road, prostrate. Eyes closed and mouth agape, its teeth were bared over wee paws curved like Mr Burns’s hands. Down its belly, the fur had torn apart, leaving a wet opening from which spilled thick, clotted innards. I like to think it died in service of the marathon – burst, perhaps, under the tread of the eventual winner of the men’s race, Kenyan marathoner Kenenisa Bekele (2:01:41). Bekele finished two seconds slower than the world record, a time set
on the same course in 2018 by Eliud Kipchoge (2:01:39). Had Bekele not been slowed by wading through rat oﬀal,1 perhaps he would have broken it. That rat bothered me for the rest of the marathon. Split open and spilling onto the tarmac, it felt like an omen for my own race. And at this stage in proceedings, barely out of the blocks, I couldn’t even lick my own face for comfort.
running is big business for Nike. In 2019, the brand reported wholesale equivalent revenue of $4.488bn from its running division, while recent years have seen the company’s technological developments help to lead a sustained assault upon the long-distance running records overseen by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Within the past 13 months, the five fastest oﬃcial men’s marathons of all time have been recorded: two by Kipchoge (his second took place at the 2019 London marathon in a time of 2:02:37); one by Bekele; one by Birhanu Legese (2:02:48; Berlin 2019); and one by Mosinet Geremew (2:02:55; London 2019). Meanwhile, Brigid Kosgei has broken the women’s record, finishing the 2019 Chicago marathon in a time of 2:14:04. All five of these athletes raced in Nike shoes as per their sponsorship deals. While rivals such as Adidas and Brooks also sponsor athletes, Nike currently has such a stranglehold on the upper echelons of the sport that the top 10 finishers in the men’s race at the 2019 Chicago marathon all wore the company’s shoes. American athlete Jacob Riley finished the race in ninth with a time of 2:10:36. Presently unsponsored, Riley is therefore free to run in whatever brand he chooses. “I bought into the hype,” he said after the race. Riley competed in a pair of Nikes he later compared to “running on trampolines”. I still can’t tell whether this was meant as praise or criticism. Until as late as December 1967, when Derek Clayton ran the Fukuoka marathon in 2:09:36, Riley’s ninth-place time would have secured the world record. This is not surprising. The marathon has undergone rapid progression in recent years, such that historical finishing times barely stand comparison to those achieved by contemporary athletes. The first marathon run at the event’s current 42.195km distance took place at the 1908 London Olympics, where American athlete Johnny Hayes made it around the course in a winning time of 2:55:18. Pictures of Hayes completing the race are remarkable. Crossing the line in white gym kit and leather shoes, the 5’4” Hayes looks like the reanimated corpse of a schoolboy cross-country runner, raised from the dead by a necromantic gym teacher. Exhausted, Hayes had actually entered the final leg of the race (a lap of London’s White City stadium) in second place.
This year I have run two marathons – one in Berlin, one in London – both at the invitation of the American sportswear giant Nike. It was a generous, privileged opportunity for an amateur runner, but also daunting. While I enjoy running, I had never covered any distance beyond a half marathon, and never competed in an organised race. “We know you like to run a little, so we wanted to oﬀer you the chance to run the London marathon next year!” came an email from Nike’s PR team in December 2018. Not wanting to look cowardly by admitting that I worried this invitation was basically equivalent to saying “We know you like to cook a little, so we wanted to oﬀer you the chance to cater a banquet for 800 people!” I signed up. For both races, Nike provided me with a place on the starting block; kit and shoes; and a regimen of training provided by the fitness coach Luke Worthington.2 I was now a marathoner, part of an exalted lineage stretching back to Pheidippides, the legendary first marathoner, who ran to Athens from the Battle of Marathon in 490BCE to report the city’s victory. “Joy to you, we’ve won,” Pheidippides cried out, before dying from exhaustion in what is undoubtedly the worst foundation myth in all sport. It is akin to learning that the first football match culminated in the players all being kicked to death. As has been the case since the company’s inception as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, 1 2
Allegedly. Luke is an elite trainer who works with a number of professional athletes. In spite of this, he greeted my inability to do a pull-up with quiet stoicism and bonhomie, and I couldn’t have done it without his support (figuratively – the race; literally – the pull ups). All my race are belong to him.
He was more than 10 minutes behind his closest competitor, the Italian Dorando Pietri. “Out of the dark archway there staggered a little man, with red running-drawers, a tiny boy-like creature,” wrote the novelist Arthur Conan Doyle, reporting on Pietri’s race for the Daily Mail. “He reeled as he entered and faced the roar of the applause[…] Suddenly the whole group stopped. There were wild gesticulations. Men stooped and rose again. Good heavens, he has fainted; is it possible that even at this last moment the prize may slip through his fingers?” Pietri was eventually helped over the line by race oﬃcials in a time of 2:54:46, for which he was disqualified by race oﬃcials on account of having received outside assistance from race oﬃcials. Go figure. The record belonged to Hayes, although Pietri nevertheless deserves an honourable mention for having run the entire distance wearing a handkerchief doused in balsamic vinegar from which he occasionally sucked for refreshment. In the following 111 years, a total of 53 minutes and 5 seconds have been slashed from the men’s marathon, while the women’s record has dropped by 1 hour 26 minutes and 18 seconds, the inaugural time set by Violet Piercy in 1926 (3:40:22) giving way to the current best by Kosgei. There are numerous reasons for this improvement. Nutrition has advanced dramatically,3 such that athletes are no longer sustained by vinegar kerchiefs; race management is more developed, with modern events typically employing professional pacers to aid athletes; and training has become highly professionalised and specialised, meaning that athletes prepare for and approach races in a radically diﬀerent fashion from their forebears. This has not necessarily been entirely for the better. In October 2019, Nike announced that it was closing its Oregon Project, a wildly successful 3
The current zenith in in-race nutrition is a gel produced by the Swedish brand Maurten, which contains fructose, glucose and caﬀeine. Prior to running the Berlin marathon, I was cautioned by two separate doctors specialising in sports medicine that without careful regulation of my internal chemistry, which gels like Maurten purport to provide, I risked shitting myself mid-race. Well, I’m pleased to report that I didn’t take them, and I didn’t shit myself. Not even once!
training group founded in 2001 that shook up the sport with its heavy use of technologies such as cryotherapy, underwater treadmills, high-altitude training camps and an “altitude house” whose artificial climate boosted athletes’ haemoglobin levels. The Oregon Project changed the way many athletes trained but ultimately collapsed in scandal. The group’s head coach Alberto Salazar is presently serving a four-year ban from athletics for doping oﬀences, while a former member of the team, the young middle-distance runner Mary Cain, reported how pressure from the group’s all-male staﬀ for her to “get thinner, and thinner, and thinner” led to her period stopping for three years and caused five fractures as a result of osteoporosis. “I joined Nike because I wanted to be the best female athlete ever,” Cain told The New York Times. “Instead I was emotionally and physically abused by a system designed by Alberto and endorsed by Nike[…] I wasn’t even trying to make the Olympics any more, I was trying to survive.” Cain’s experience is extreme and, one would hope, atypical, but it gestures towards a wider intensification of training methodologies. “First of all, the athletes out-trained the [marathon] distance years ago,” blogs American race commentator Toni Reavis. “No longer a spirit draining test of endurance, today the marathon has been reduced to just another speed event contested over a longish distance.” When Kipchoge broke the record in Berlin, for instance, he ran at an average pace of 13mph, which is the equivalent of completing a 100m race in 17.2 seconds, around 422 times in a row. Alternatively, a quick search of Wikipedia reveals that it is the equivalent of going toe to toe with a Komodo dragon running at top speed. And Komodo dragons, Wikipedia notes, are “speedy reptiles”. To achieve a result like this, the training (even when removed from the controversies of groups like the Oregon Project) is brutal. In his 2015 book Two Hours: The Quest to Run the Impossible Marathon, journalist Ed Caesar charts the training regimen of Geoﬀrey Mutai, who set an unoﬃcial world record of 2:03:02 at the 2011 Boston marathon.4 “In the four or five months of specific training he undertakes before each major marathon, he runs around 125 miles a week,” writes Caesar.
Olympic marathon, speaking the day after the 2019 Berlin race. “I think I will see two hours broken in my lifetime, but I’m not sure I’ll see two fifteen broken in my lifetime.” Yet less than a month later, Kosgei finished the Chicago course in 2:14:04 – an
“His total mileage in that period is the equivalent of running in a straight line from New York City to Los Angeles. Moreover, the training is savage – up and down hills, at altitude, at alternating speeds, on rough roads. Many sessions, he says, are much harder than a race.” Having once spent a significant portion of a 32km training run crying as I stumbled along the hard shoulder of an A-road, unable to find an exit, I can confirm that this is true. A critical reason for the improvement in marathon times, however, and certainly the driver behind the explosion of records broken in the past two years, is technological. Today’s athletes are better equipped than their predecessors, thereby enabling other improving factors to flower correspondingly. The retired long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie set world records at both the 2007 and 2008 Berlin marathon, and is clear as to what he feels has led progression in the event. “All sport is helped by technology,” Gebrselassie told Caesar. “If someone said to me it’s not technology, it’s the ability of the athletes, no, no[…] I’ve been running the last twenty-two years. I know the shoes in the late eighties, early nineties. Every year, the shoes that we have completely change. And now I’m thinking what will be in the future.” Of those five fastest oﬃcial men’s marathons recorded since 2018, as well as Kosgei’s 2019 women’s record, all came from athletes wearing a version of the Vaporfly, Nike’s elite marathon shoe. Of these races, Kosgei’s is probably the most significant. Her race in Chicago broke the longest-standing marathon world record – men’s or women’s – in the postwar era: a 2:15:25 time set by Paula Radcliﬀe at the 2003 London Marathon. “We always knew the time would come when the record would be broken,” said Radcliﬀe in the aftermath of Kosgei’s accomplishment, but for many this didn’t capture the magnitude of the race. “I think [the record] will fall at some point, but I think men will break two hours before women break Paula’s time,” said Joan Benoit, the winner of the 1984 Los Angeles 4
Eliud Kipchoge is the current men’s record holder for the marathon, with an official time of 2:01:39.
81 second improvement on a record that had long seemed unassailable. “I’m happy and I feel good,” said Kosgei afterwards. “I ran here last year so I knew it was a good course.” Well, clearly. For Kosgei and the men who have clocked up record times in the last two years, technology has been crucial. For much of the 20th century, ideas around the design of marathon shoes hinged upon the reduction of weight. “Weight that is far out on the limbs is called ‘distal weight,’ and the less of it a distance runner has, the better,” writes David Epstein in his book The Sports Gene, describing an idea that shaped manufacturers’
The reason the record is unoﬃcial is that it was set on the Boston course. The reason the Boston course is ineligible for record consideration is largely technical and somewhat tedious.
approach to footwear design. In the mid 2010s, however, this approach collapsed as athletes began to adopt a more aggressive, physically punishing method of tackling the marathon. “Originally, our position was that [athletes] wanted something that’s basically like running barefoot,” Adidas footwear designer Andy Barr told Caesar in Two Hours. “Less than a hundred grams, not a lot of cushioning. And what the athletes [actually] wanted was almost the exact opposite. What the guys said to us was that the way the marathon’s being run now, they need to get to twenty miles with as minimal fatigue as possible. They described to us what they needed: almost like a trainer up until twenty miles, and then when the hammer goes down at twenty, twentyone, twenty-two miles, they want something that’s a pure racing flat.” Marathon shoes began to get bigger and more cushioned, moving away from the previous design archetype – a timeworn form that the American runner and journalist Amby Burfoot characterised as “thin slabs of rubber”. First introduced in 2016, the Vaporfly is the most successful of this new breed of racing shoes. It is built around a lightweight midsole foam, Pebax, which is supposed to deliver 30 per cent more energy return than traditional foams – in other words, less energy is wasted each time the foot hits the ground. In addition, the Vaporfly has a carbon-fibre plate in its midsole, which also increases energy return by acting like a spring, as well as bringing stability to the ankle joint, leading to better overall eﬃciency. It’s been a revolutionary design,5 with Nike’s marketing billing various versions of the shoes as improving a runner’s performance by 4 per cent. This statistic has been codified into the brand’s messaging to the degree that one version of the Vaporfly literally has it printed on its sole: “4%: Measured in the lab. Verified with medals & records.” Nor does this braggadocio seem to be just empty marketing speak. A 2018 study in the peer-reviewed journal Sports Medicine, ‘A Comparison of the Energetic Cost of Running in Marathon Racing Shoes’, subjected the Vaporfly’s claims to scrutiny. “We showed that these newly developed running shoes reduce the energetic cost of running by an average 5
of 4% compared with established marathon racing shoes,” wrote the study’s authors. “We predict that with these shoes, top athletes can run substantially faster and achieve the first sub-2-hour marathon.”6 Then, in autumn 2019, two things happened. On 12 October, Eliud Kipchoge completed the Ineos 1:59 Challenge in Vienna’s Prater park, a non-IAAF-sanctioned event dedicated to breaking the two-hour mark for a marathon. Wearing an experimental version of the Vaporfly which looks like something from Barbarella, Kipchoge completed the race in a time of 1:59:40.7 This is comfortably the greatest sporting achievement I have seen – an act of endurance and talent that stands beyond compare. “Today we went to the Moon and came back to earth!” Kipchoge tweeted in the aftermath of his accomplishment. “This shows no-one is limited.” Meanwhile, two weeks earlier and wearing a massproduced version of that same record-breaking shoe, journalist Oli Stratford made it around the Berlin marathon in a time of 3:25:33, despite stopping mere kilometres from the end for quite an extended wee. “I think I saw a rat!” Stratford explained in the aftermath of his accomplishment. In 1831, the American lawyer Timothy Walker penned ‘Defense of Mechanical Philosophy’, an essay extolling the potentials of mechanisation, and as utopian an account of technology’s capacity to shape society as I have come across. “The horse is to be unharnessed, because he is too weak,” Walker wrote. “Machines are to perform the drudgery of man, while he is to look on in self-complacent ease.” Today, Walker’s unremitting faith in technology is still alive and well within performance wear, an area of design that believes firmly in its capacity to enhance human activity. Vaporfly may not be intended to allow for “self-complacent ease”,
And a heavily patented one too – one of the reasons Nike has become so dominant in the sport.
It’s probably worth noting that while most of the study’s authors belonged to the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, two were from the Nike Sport Research Lab. Not being a shoe scientist, I don’t know whether this information shapes the findings. Let’s just say they’re good shoes and leave it at that. The Ineos 1:59 Challenge happened the day before the Chicago marathon and Kosgei’s record-breaking run, so Joan Benoit was technically correct – and in spectacular fashion! She was wrong to think she’d be dead though.
a new world record of 2:15:16. “That was barefoot. The cleanest.” Bikila’s race was extraordinary, a Boys’ Own adventure into the peaks of what the human body is capable of unaided; it’s hardly surprising that, now, there’s no shortage of interest in seeing what that same body might be able to do aided. In 1991, for instance, the physiologist Michael Joyner published an influential paper in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Physiology. ‘Modeling: Optimal Marathon Performance on the Basis of Physiological Factors’ examined the limiting physiological factors on human performance. Exploring ideas such as oxygen uptake and lactate thresholds, Joyner concluded that it was “‘physiologically’ possible” that the ideal runner, in ideal circumstances, could complete a marathon in a time of 1:57:58. The point, of course, is that such ideals are not practicable, particularly in a sport like the marathon which takes place on a city’s streets, with all their in-built variability and imperfections. “[If] you really wanted to see what was possible in the marathon,” writes Caesar, “you’d find a way to move the world’s best runners oﬀ the asphalt” and onto a purpose-built track “perfectly tuned for marathoners”. This is where performance wear makes hay. The day before running the Berlin marathon, I took part in a Nike-organised warm-up run around the Tiergarten. One of the trainers ran proceedings enthusiastically, dancing around the group and encouraging runners to participate in a series of exercises like “High knee butt kick!”, which she roared as if it were a finishing move in Mortal Kombat. She concluded the session by leading the group in a chanted mantra: “GO BEYOND! GO BE-YOND! GO BE-YOND! S-----WOOSH!” That final swoosh, rich in branding, was drawn out into an extended whoop. “Go Beyond Yourself”, “Go Beyond Limits” – both phrases feature heavily in Nike’s marketing, and both get at the core of the story that performance wear tells about itself. Technology can allow an athlete to accomplish what is physiologically already within their capabilities, but which is not actually possible; a sleight of hand intended to make any resultant success wholly that of the athlete but simultaneously that of the technology too. The
but it is premised on the idea that technological supplements are required if athletes are to achieve their full potential. “[Kipchoge] is an otherworldly talent who has beaten the best in the world in last-generation shoes,” Burfoot
Kipchoge supplied feedback to Nike’s designers to aid in the creation of the Vaporflys.
wrote when Kipchoge completed the Ineos marathon. “There probably isn’t another marathoner who could break two hours in the shoes he wore last weekend.” Perhaps not, but the flip-side of Burfoot’s argument is that Kipchoge himself couldn’t have broken two hours without those same shoes. “Now I’ve done it, I am expecting more people to do it after me,” Kipchoge predicted following the race, but he is also up-front about the role that technology has played in his achievements. The Vaporfly initially grew out of Breaking2, a 2017 Nike research project that culminated in Kipchoge setting an unoﬃcial marathon time of 2:00:25. In the run-up to this race, Kipchoge was asked by Wired about the impact of technology on his sport, and what would represent the “cleanest” possible marathon time, devoid of technological influence. “You ask me, clean?” No technology, no help?” he replied. “That is what Abebe Bikila ran in 1960.” At the Rome Olympics, Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila won the marathon by running barefoot, setting
ginger armchair designed by Yonoh ES
largely based on the idea that advanced apparel may operate as technological doping. “The one thing that has really, really changed over the last few years has been the technology in the sport,” said swimmer Michael Phelps in 2009, speaking after he had lost his 200m freestyle world record to Paul Biedermann. Biedermann had raced in a polyurethane Arena X-Glide suit, part of a generation of “tech-suits” that compressed muscle, tautened the surface of the skin, reduced drag and added buoyancy. These suits were so eﬀective that former Olympian Steve Furniss likened the diﬀerence between them and a traditional suit as being akin to that “between a barge and a racing boat”. “It’s changed the sport completely,” lamented Phelps. “Now it’s not swimming. The headlines are always who is wearing what suit.” Phelps was seemingly vindicated when, six months later, swimming’s governing body FINA banned the suits, instituting a rule that any “material used for swimsuits can be only ‘Textile Fabric(s)’.” Those who have taken umbrage with Vaporfly are calling for similar action. Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Geoﬀrey T. Burns and Nicholas Tam have suggested “a single standard in competition running shoes: regulate the shoe midsole thickness”. This method, Burns and Tam have argued, “would regulate running shoes on their fundamental mechanical function – as springs” and would thereby “provide a transparent standard that supersedes the band-aid approach of litigating every new development”. It is, they say, the best way to regulate any design that “blurs the line between physiological and technological performance”. Burns and Tam’s suggestion seems a sensible way of introducing clarity to the IAAF’s rules, but whether it will resolve the status of the line between “physiological and technological performance” is debatable – when you get to down to finer margins, there’s no such line to be found. As the authors note, “running shoes are inevitably a blend of materials: midsole foams of diﬀerent densities, rubber outsoles of varying configurations, and rigid pieces embedded in distinct architectures.” In other words, all athletics shoes are composites of diﬀerent materials, engineered to function together
fact that it’s true – that Vaporfly actually lives up to its billing – is where things start to become somewhat contentious.
The Nike Vaporfly Next%, the current mass-market iteration of the series.
In October 2019, the Italian athletics agent Gianni Demadonna revealed that a group of his predominantly Adidas-sponsored athletes had complained to the IAAF and the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) about the Vaporfly. “Understandably they are troubled by what is happening in their sport because the times being run are so fast,” Demadonna told The Times. In response, the IAAF released a statement. “Recent advances in technology mean that the concept of ‘assistance’ to athletes[…] has been the subject of much debate in the athletics world,” it read. “The IAAF has established a working group to consider the issues.” No significant change is expected to come from this group, particularly given that as recently as June 2018 the organisation softened its rules on footwear to remove its ban on “the incorporation of any technology”. At present, the only constraint within the rules is that shoes “must not be constructed so as to give athletes any unfair assistance or advantage”. There is no specific metric as to how you’re meant to interpret or measure this, meaning that it’s about as useful a rule as just stating that “all footwear must not be constructed so as to not be fine.” There is precedent for regulating performance wear in other sports, however,
in ways that support the runner’s endeavour. If that’s not technology, what is? Outside of extreme cases like Bikila – or the yin to Bikila’s yang, Fred Lorz, a marathoner who felt tired during the 1904 St Louis Olympic marathon so asked his trainer to give him a lift in his car for 17.7km of the course’s 39.99km, before eventually reemerging to win8 – examples of clear-cut physiological and clear-cut technological triumphs are hard to find. Running in the final stretches of the Berlin marathon – once my legs had given way, my spirit had broken, and my face had crusted up like a bust of Lot’s wife – it all seemed so obvious: regardless of how technologically tooled up you are, marathons are fucking awful while you’re running them. Vaporflys are remarkable shoes and a triumph of design. They feel unlike anything I’ve ever run in, with huge soles that scoop upwards in a deep curve to rock you forward and propel you onwards. It is like running in two great soup ladles, forever dipping down for another bowl of soup, which in this case is tarmac because I’ve lost control of the simile. Yet for all this technological power, I still felt dead on my feet for the final miles of the Berlin marathon. While the technology was willing, the physiology was not. Despite the advantages provided by Vaporflys, they’re no cureall. By the end of the race, I felt as ground into the road as the rat that Kenenisa Bekele killed on his way to victory.9 The Nike Vaporfly Next% was released in the UK on 25 April 2019, price £239.99.
Lorz got as far as having his winner’s portrait taken with Alice Roosevelt, daughter of then-US President Theodore Roosevelt, before his deception was revealed. He is my favourite marathoner of all time. Allegedly.
A Herculean Task Words Johanna Agerman Ross In Greek mythology, Atlas is the Titan who has to carry the heavens on his shoulders as punishment for challenging the Olympians. “This my monstrous burden,” laments Atlas in Jeanette Winterson’s retelling of the myth, Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles. “The boundary of what I am.” Atlas’s is an unenviable task; one you wouldn’t choose. To publish a book with a title such as Atlas of Furniture Design is, therefore, a bold move. Simultaneously heroic and self-flagellating. While a traditional atlas provides a comprehensive depiction of a geographical area’s roads and topography, this one examines the landscape of furniture design and manufacture over the last 200 years. Published by the Vitra Design Museum, and based on that institution’s collection, it focuses primarily on Western examples of furniture, designed and produced in North America and Europe. Even within such a constrained, region-specific field, the work is not exhaustive. The Vitra collection holds around 20,000 pieces; the book features just 1,740. In geographical terms, this is the tip of the iceberg. The cover by Kobi Benezri Studio, which also designed the rest of the book, shows that the hero of this publication is the chair. It features four distinct silhouettes: a Thonet chair; an MR cantilever chair by Mies van der Rohe; a Ray and Charles Eames dining chair with a wire base; and Konstantin Grcic’s Chair_One. “They are always the same, yet always diﬀerent, with each period in history having built its own distinct
chairs,” writes Rolf Fehlbaum, the founder of the Vitra Design Museum, in his introduction. Ranging from 1859 to 2006, the four cover models sum up the date range of the atlas fairly accurately. Sadly, they also sum up its race and gender spread, of which more later.
collection. These aspects of furniture design and manufacture are often obscure to the layperson, so this provides a useful starting point for anyone with an appetite to learn more. At times it oﬀers some intriguingly detailed insights, such as
Atlas of Furniture Design is a surprisingly addictive read. Short and concise furniture biographies are moreish, with the impulse to read “just one more” easily satisfied with in excess of 1,000 pages to leaf through. Each section of the four-part book, which is organised chronologically, is introduced by an extensive essay. While these are well-researched contributions by design historians such as Jane Pavitt and Sabine Wieber, and oﬀer a muchneeded setting for the decontextualised furniture entries, the approach is not unlike many other textbooks on the history of design. Rather, it is the infographic sections, by Kobi Benezri together with Thomas Porostocky, Fran Motta and Andrew Argue, whi feel specific to this book, with visualisations of subjects such as ‘Structural Materials 1800-1940’ and ‘The Cantilever Chair: Evolution and Types’. In particular, the ‘Glossary of Materials and Production Techniques’ and ‘Manufacturer Glossary’ are a rich resource for any student or enthusiast of furniture design. To be presented with the specific properties of everything from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, via cellulose nitrate, to polyvinyl chloride is refreshingly enlightening. Elsewhere, these varied materials tend to be presented simply as “plastic”. The structure of each furniture entry displays a welcome rigour. Details of first and later productions of each design are included – key pieces of information in an age where re-editions are increasingly common. This is the kind of data of which it is often diﬃcult to get a full overview: accounts tend to shift depending on who stands to benefit. That Atlas of Furniture Design presents this level of detail in a simple and matter-offact fashion is extremely helpful. The entries also highlight changes in materials between editions and give specific information about the corresponding piece in the Vitra Design Museum
Vitra Design Museum’s Atlas of Furniture Design is the culmination of two decades of research.
the fact that the 90cm shelf width of the Billy bookcase by Gillis Lundgren for Ikea was reduced to 80cm nine years after its launch. There were problems with the Billy’s shelves buckling under heavy loads and the original’s package did not fit on Ikea’s pallets. The real boon, of course, is that all this information is contained in one place. Not unlike an actual atlas, the Atlas of Furniture Design aids navigation in a sometimes confusing field. As such, it stands in stark contrast to the present realities of furniture design. Increasingly, the discipline feels like the private playground of stylists who ramp up consumption by pushing new colours or finishes (an example pulled from a recent email: “the range features lush materials – bronze, silk, brocade, and velvet – as well as abundant attention to detail and extravagant colour schemes”), thereby nudging furniture design ever deeper into the world of fickle trends. Meanwhile, endless interior-lifestyle magazines and blogs stage Identikit shoots in tasteful, desaturated tones, the results of which pop up ad nauseam on Instagram. It is now easy to confuse furniture with pure surface; a field
rendered meaningless by ever-faster moving fashions, and a tone-deaf approach to sustainable and considered consumption. To get a sense of just how vapid the industry’s engagement with these issues can be, consider the fact that a recent interior-design show proudly exhibited a room design for “a five-year-old eco warrior, demonstrating that caring for the environment doesn’t need to look dull”. Concurrently, manufacturers’ fears of drowning in an ever-widening pool of competitors has prompted the rapid formation of design conglomerates. The lighting brand Luceplan was acquired this autumn by the private-equity firm Alpha, which also owns furniture store Calligaris. Similarly, since 2014 the Italian conglomerate Investindustrial has acquired furniture producer B&B Italia and lighting manufacturers Louis Poulsen and Flos, corralling the three under the umbrella of a new company, Design Holding. On an even grander scale, the American oﬃcefurniture giant Haworth has acquired furniture brands Cappellini, Poltrona Frau and Cassina, creating one of the world’s largest companies dedicated to furniture design. Atlas of Furniture Design captures the 200 years that have led up to this point, painstakingly untangling the strands that comprise the industry’s complex present realities. But the book also highlights the research, craft and intellectual endeavour that is intrinsic to the development of a piece of furniture, and how any design reflects societal and political shifts. As such, it insists that this is not a field that can be dismissed as Sunday supplement fodder – furniture has deep cultural significance. While there is much to commend about the educational value of Atlas of Furniture Design, one aspect is worryingly outdated – its limited inclusion of women and people of colour. In part, this is a corollary of the book’s origins in the Vitra Design Museum collection, which has been painstakingly built over a period of 30 years and therefore displays all of the strengths, as well as the curatorial blindspots and biases, of the design world throughout that period. A museum collection is a big and cumbersome responsibility, which is hard to steer suddenly in a new direction – any shift in approach requires investment and further research that can take many years. But
considering that the debate around diversity has been prominent within design for, at the very least, the past decade, it seems a missed opportunity for Atlas of Furniture Design not to address the historical imbalance in whom has been deemed worthy of representation. A book as comprehensive as this, and one positioned to be something of a road map, must surely reflect an awareness of how it presents and influences the narrative it records. There is no shortage of current research into women’s contributions to the field of furniture design, for instance. In late 2018, Dresden’s Kunstgewerbemuseum staged the exhibition Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938, which presented 19 women who worked in the context of the Dresden-based company in the early 20th century. Meanwhile, a central concern of 2019’s centenary celebrations of the Bauhaus was to highlight the many forgotten women of that school. Examples include Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler‘s book Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective and Rössler’s Bauhausmadels. A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists. Elsewhere, writer Vera Sacchetti (a contributor to Atlas of Furniture Design) partnered with curator Matylda Krzykowski to highlight the underrepresentation of women in the design field through their yearlong ‘A Woman’s Work’ programme, presented via seminars and exhibitions. Yet the ‘Designer Biographies’ section of Atlas of Furniture Design features only 25 women compared to almost 300 men. Surprisingly, designers such as Patricia Urquiola, Kazuyo Sejima, Sara Mellone and Christien Meindertsma, whose work is included in both the collection and in the pages of the book, are not given biographical entries. In regards to geographical diversity, the introduction acknowledges that “a large part of our collection stems from cultures in Europe and America, mainly from the United States, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia”. Nevertheless, the Vitra Design Museum has been at the forefront of staging exhibitions that look outside this Western perspective, such as African Seats (1995), Living under the Crescent Moon: Domestic Cultures in the Arab World (2003) and Making Africa
Hand knotted rug 3.9 x 3.3m
Helen Yardley Studio A-Z Studios 3-5 Hardwidge Street London SE1 3SY T: 020 7403 7114 galler firstname.lastname@example.org
– A Continent of Contemporary Design (2015). That such rich shows have not contributed to a more diverse collection seems at odds with the museum’s mission to lead in the field of a diverse design discourse. There is only one black designer featured in Atlas of Furniture Design’s ‘Designer Biographies’ section. Considering that the readership of this book will likely be largely made up of students of design and design history accessing it through university libraries (it retails at £140), it seems short-sighted not to have made more of this. While printed atlases of maps became outdated with the arrival of Google Earth, Atlas of Furniture Design has a clear advantage over any online search engine in that its level of concentrated information is simply not accessible anywhere else. But as well as being a book that sums up what has been within design, it also attempts to oﬀer a perspective on what will be. “New research on the design histories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America is being undertaken, and will be vital to our understanding of the forces that have shaped how we produce and consume objects around the world,” write Sacchetti and Avinash Rajagopal in their essay ‘Opening New Doors of Possibility: Postmodernism and the Digital Age’. As such, it feels even more baﬄing that some of this has not been included in a book that presents itself as a product of 20 years of research. Atlas of Furniture Design has taken on a herculean task, at which it both succeeds and fails. It rectifies the current paucity of analysis and detailed study of the discipline of furniture design and manufacture, but it also falls into the same story of design that has been told many times before and which is currently undergoing urgent redress. In part, these mixed fortunes are the result of taking on the impossible challenge of creating an “atlas” on this topic. As Atlas himself admitted, it is a monstrous burden. Atlas of Furniture Design is published by Vitra Design Museum, price £140.
Peak 2019 Words Brendan Cormier “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 – 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.
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
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 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
An algorithmically aged Brendan Cormier, the author of this essay.
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 full-body swimsuitclad 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 younger-looking 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 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 obstetrician-gynaecologist 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 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,
Not Too Anodyne, Not Too Hippy Words Crystal Bennes
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.”
In the short space of time between This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook dropping through my letter box and filing this review, the activities of Extinction Rebellion (XR) have made headline news nearly every day. Following two weeks of Londonbased climate change protests, in which more than 1,400 arrests were made for non-violent action, the Metropolitan Police took the extraordinary step of banning all XR protests from the city. Shortly after, a widely shared video of an altercation between XR protestors and morning rush-hour commuters, which took place during an action to disrupt London Underground trains, prompted widespread condemnation on social media as well as within the XR movement. Critics pointed out that targeting public transport in a largely working-class area of London was a tactical misstep, and the results of an internal poll of XR members showed that 72 per cent had opposed the action before it took place. Next came a story in which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner claimed the XR protests had cost the force £37m in 2019. And then, just before I submitted my text, the UK Parliament announced that it had begun to convene a citizens’ assembly on climate change – one of XR’s core demands – while High Court judges ruled that the police ban had been unlawful. As a movement, XR can be hard to keep up with. Oﬃcially launched in the UK in late 2018, XR came to public notice through its first major protest action in London.
FaceApp is available to download from the Apple App Store and on Google Play. It features in-app purchases. This essay first appeared in Disegno #24.
On “Rebellion Day” (Saturday 17 November, 2018), around 6,000 people blocked the city’s five main bridges for several hours as part of the movement’s maiden campaign of mass civil disobedience. Protestors carried signs reading “rebel for life” or “tell the truth”, marching with brightly coloured banners emblazoned with XR’s stylised hourglass symbol (created in 2011 by the UK street artist ESP) to signify their warning that time is running out. By mid-afternoon, some 85 people had been arrested, demonstrating one of XR’s chief organising principles – actively courting arrest through nonviolent civil disobedience. Media savvy since its inception, the movement has advocated for non-violent mass disruption through lawbreaking because it “creates the social tension and the public drama which are vital to create change”. Breaking the rules, XR’s instigators have claimed, “gets attention and shows the public and the elite that you are serious and unafraid”. This attention, the group argues, is essential if it is to achieve its three key demands, outlined at its oﬃcial launch: 1) the government must “tell the truth” and declare a climate emergency, 2) the UK must “act now” and legally commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and 3) a citizens’ assembly must be formed to “oversee the changes”. Given its widespread media attention, XR has proven to be one of the most successful, eﬀective and well-organised social-protest movements in recent years. Although some of that success can be attributed to germane timing and useful groundwork laid by others (including Occupy and Greta Thunberg’s school strike for the climate), it also stems from XR’s shrewd
understanding of the media, its memorable visual identity, and the fact that its decentralised organisational structure encourages a wide variety of people to come together under a number of smaller, autonomous sub-groups. This latter trait,
Examples of XR’s graphic identity being installed in the V&A’s Rapid Response galleries.
however, does not mean the group has no centre. XR has been founded, led and designed by a small number of people, many of whom regularly speak on its behalf. In the short space of time since its foundation, the organisation has forced climate change into mainstream awareness and helped to pressure the UK parliament into declaring a climate emergency and adopting legally binding targets for net-zero emissions by 2050. This is Not a Drill is pitched by XR and publisher Penguin as a “practical guide for rebels which talks about the grave truth about the Climate and Ecological Crisis and how we can all take action to combat it”. It would, however, be better described as an eﬀort to preserve a permanent record of XR’s activities amidst the rapidly changing news and social media landscape. Rushed into print in June following XR’s week of action in April (it was originally planned for late 2019) the handbook is organised around two of the group’s three demands. The contributions in the first half are brought together under the heading ‘Tell the Truth’. Here, pithy texts exhort readers to “redesign human societies based on love, justice and planetary boundaries so that no person or
society is left to face devastating consequences” (environmental lawyer and climate change policy expert, Farhana Yamin) and to remain “pragmatic”, “non-judgemental”, “user-friendly and relevant” while adopting a “harm-reduction strategy [towards] an economy addicted to fossil fuels” (writer and musician JS Rafaeli with former undercover drugs cop Neil Woods). A short piece by psychotherapist Susie Orbach encouraging XR rebels to “accept our own feelings of grief and fear and[…] provoke conversations that touch the hearts of others” sits alongside a piece by writer Dougald Hine on how to “[negotiate] the surrender of our whole way of living”. The book’s second half, ‘Act Now’, brings together wide-ranging contributions – albeit less diverse and drawn primarily from the UK – that explore topics such as getting arrested, how to mass cater for protest actions, and how to develop arts factories and media strategies for protest movements. Rather than a straightforward how-to guide, most of these essays read as personal reflections from those who have lived the experience. XR protestor Jay Griﬃths, for example, recounts a personal story of “the selfsacrificial idea of arrest at the core of Extinction Rebellion’s strategy” and food co-ordinator Momo Haque explains that a key principle of XR’s catering strategy is to feed the city, passers-by, homeless people and the police, as well as rebels. In so doing, she writes, “we showed that the society we need to build is possible.” Earlier this year, William Skeaping, one of This is Not A Drill’s four editors, told The Guardian that the book had originally been envisaged as a manifesto. Ultimately, however, a handbook for activists was deemed a format more appropriate for capturing the movement, “which is far more emotional and personal and still being developed”. “We wanted not just to be speaking platitudes,” said Skeaping, “but to have lived the experience.” One of the book’s more interesting contributions comes from Roger Hallam, a 53-year-old Welsh farmer and co-founder of XR. In ‘The Civil Resistance Model’, Hallam breaks down the research, reasoning and planning behind the creation of XR to help him answer a pair of self-posed questions:
“Why have we failed so miserably to stop climate change? And how the hell are we going to stop it?” Although Hallam’s almost step-by-step account of how a small group of academics and activists studied “decades of work looking at organisational
This is Not a Drill was published in June 2019, following XR’s week of action in April.
systems, collaborative working styles, momentum-driven organising and direct-action campaigning” is presumably meant to reassure the reader that XR’s strategies are founded on solid social science, it occasionally comes across as condescending or dismissive of the work carried out by previous environmental protest groups. Hallam reinforces this when he writes that XR was born from a belief that “conventional campaigning does not work. Sending emails, giving money to NGOs, going on A-to-B marches. Many wonderful people have dedicated years of their lives to all
INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR FOR MODERN CRAFT AND DESIGN 27 FEB â€” 1 MAR 2020 SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON WWW.COLLECT2020.ORG.UK #COLLECT2020 Fulgurator by John Shea. Represented at Collect by Officine Saffi, Italy. Photo Tian Khee Siong. Crafts Council Registered Charity Number 280956
to Dezeen, Russell outlined the motivation for certain design decisions. “We needed to create a movement that looks radically diﬀerent to all eco movements previously because they failed,” he said. “They were too anodyne or too hippy. We needed a movement that was both angry and non-violent, that reflects the fact that this is an existential threat.” Further insight on XR’s eﬀorts to diﬀerentiate itself visually comes from a section on another of the movement’s noteworthy tropes: namely, the woodblock prints of skulls, eyes, butterflies and bees that feature heavily on its protest posters and throughout the pages of This is Not a Drill. There’s an interesting process of design translation at play with the woodblock illustrations. The butterfly, for example, could have been lifted straight from the pages of a Victorian natural-history book, but its parsing through woodblock gives it a diﬀerent feel; a weight and solidity, as if it had been handdrawn with a thick black marker. Interestingly, XR’s design guidelines present these processes as timeless rather than deeply contextual. “Our movement looks timeless even if we are nearly out of time,” the guidelines state. “The wood block prints are a key reason for this.” Among other things, the design guidelines provide a clear explanation of the logic underpinning the particular aesthetic qualities of XR. They shed light on how this contemporary protest movement intentionally cultivated a “timeless” aesthetic, where “timelessness” has been conceived as a considered combination of 1960s riot graphics, a palette of bright colours inspired by artist Eduardo Paolozzi and folksy wood-block prints. And they articulate that a unified visual identity is as much a defining characteristic of XR as its three demands. It is therefore hardly surprising that XR’s visual language has been noted by institutions and brands – despite XR’s insistence that it is a “movement without merchandise”. The proceeds from the Penguin book, unarguably a piece of merchandise, will be used to support Green & Black Cross, an organisation set up in 2010 to provide legal support for protests against the government’s spending cuts. Alongside the interest from Penguin, which approached the protestors about a book
this, but it’s time to be honest. Conventional campaigning has failed to bring about the necessary change.” Given that emissions have increased by 60 per cent in the last 30 years, he may have a point, but I imagine it must be galling – perhaps even alienating – for those involved in environmental and climate campaigning prior to XR’s existence to read Hallam declaring their work in that period an “appalling failure”. A similar narrative – that the people behind XR have studied and learned from mistakes made by previous protest movements – permeates XR’s 50-page design guidelines, a document available on the group’s website. While the handbook’s intended audience is broad, the design guidelines are an internal document that have been conceived with a specific audience in mind. In fulfilling its function of communicating to the rebels of XR how they should present the actions of the group, it reveals how the movement sees itself and how it wants to be seen by others. Take, for example, XR’s attention to typography. Most of the cover of the Penguin book is taken up by its title, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, printed all caps in bold black. The typeface in question, called Fucxed, was created for XR by Clive Russell, a member of XR’s Art Group and also design director of This Ain’t Rock’n’Roll (a studio that has previously worked on activist projects including the Brixton Pound and Stop Killing Londoners). Based on Futura Condensed and originally hand-printed on wood-type blocks, the sans-serif typeface was, the group says, influenced by the graphics of the 1968 Paris protests and the Situationist International artist collective. Inside the book, all body copy is set in Crimson, XR’s other main font. “Typography is a really simple way to maintain consistency across the movement, visually allowing us to talk with one voice,” read the guidelines. “The visual tone of XR holds a special place at the heart of the movement[…] By following just a few key guidelines, we can be seen to be amazingly diverse at the same time as being understood as a single movement.” Elsewhere, the design guidelines echo Hallam’s implication that XR has purposefully set itself apart from previous climate-related activist groups, but here the emphasis is on the movement’s aesthetic choices. Speaking
deal, XR has also been recognised by the Victoria & Albert Museum and London’s Design Museum. Yet, as XR’s response to its nomination for the Design Museum’s 2019 Beazley Designs of the Year exhibition demonstrates, recognition hits both ways. When its graphic-design identity was shortlisted, XR refused to participate, asserting that the show’s sponsor Beazley, a specialist insurer that provides cover against political, environmental and cyber risks, “runs counter to our movement’s values”. As Farrell clarified in an XR press release at the time, the nomination was “yet another example of a major cultural institution attempting to Artwash the unacceptable behaviours of its financial backers”. By contrast, the V&A’s acquisition and display in July this year of a collection of XR objects – including protest banners, posters, patches, wooden printing blocks, printed pamphlets and digital artwork and typeface files – was welcomed by XR Art Group members, seemingly overlooking the V&A’s own funding links to organisations such as The Sackler Trust. Clearly aware of XR’s place in the history of protest movements, Russell said the movement was “pleased our work and practice can be seen for free at the V&A, a collection that includes work by William Morris and other design activists from the past”. Corinna Gardner, senior curator of design and digital at the V&A, justified the acquisition by pointing not only to the “singular visual character and identity” of XR’s acts of rebellion but also to the fact that the movement’s attentiveness to design was in the broader service of inciting public interest in the climate emergency. “They have created a visual identity that those of us who are experiencing it will remember,” she said. “It will remain in our consciousness, just as other protest movements of the past have done.” This is Not a Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook is published by Penguin, price £7.99.
If Services Stopped Working as Normal Words Kieran Long “The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions. He got up and went to the window. What is it? she said. He didn’t answer. He went into the bathroom and threw the lightswitch but the power was already gone. A dull rose glow in the windowglass. He dropped to one knee and raised the lever to stop the tub and then turned on both taps as far as they would go. She was standing in the doorway in her nightwear, clutching the jamb, cradling her belly in one hand. What is it? she said. What is happening? I don’t know. Why are you taking a bath? I’m not.” The Road, Cormac McCarthy The short extract above is the most terrifying thing I have ever read about how your mind might work in the instant you realise that a devastating, comprehensive crisis is about to hit. In Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road, most of the pages are taken up with depicting the consequences of a complete breakdown in human society after an unspecified nuclear holocaust. No technology, no food, no rule of law, no authorities left. The book is full of more obviously violent and gruesome moments of rape, cannibalism, brutality and death. But this paragraph always scared me the most because the narrator still has a certain presence of mind. The bomb drops. He fills the bath with water, knowing that those few litres could save him and his pregnant wife, at least for a few days. But this act of filling the bath, of using this piece of technology while it still works, is also an admission: we are not ready. We are
image that appears to depict ominous, dark clouds gathering. There was, in 1961, a pretty gung-ho belief in Sweden’s ability to defend itself. The first double-page spread has a wonderful illustration of two supersonic Saab Draken aircraft racing to engage a squadron of shadowy enemies, accompanied by the words “Sweden wants to defend itself, can defend itself and will defend itself!” in large point size and italics. A version of this sentence was in the 1943 leaflet too, but the illustration of Sweden’s finest aircraft added patriotic and technological confidence. By the 1980s, the mood had changed and, by the evidence of the third edition of ‘Om kriget kommer’, released in 1987, the standard of publicsector graphic design and illustration had declined. Badly drawn, faux-Otl Aicher stick men hide in ditches, lie on the ground and cower in basements in gas masks. While in 1987 the emphasis was on how to gain a modicum of safety, the sense of Sweden’s own strength was still present – according to the text, the country then had the potential to mobilise 850,000 people, including 110,000 volunteer soldiers, in the event of war. “Tänk igenom hur du och personer i din närhet kan klara en situation när samhällets normala service och tjänster inte fungerar som vanligt./Think through how you and people near you would manage a situation where society’s normal services do not work as normal.” The reason for the publication of a new version in 2018 is not entirely clear, but it hardly takes a genius to imagine what it may be responding to given worsening geopolitical and environmental outlooks. The reason provided by the Swedish authorities is simply that “it was about time”, and that previous guidance is out of date and required refreshing. The decision was made in parliament in 2016 and the government gave the role of informing the public about how to be prepared to the Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB). In response, MSB has for the last two years run something called “Crisis preparedness week” (with its inevitable hashtag #Krisberedskapsveckan), during which schoolchildren and adults participate in seminars and events about how to ready themselves for the worst. This year, the publication of ‘Om krisen
not prepared. How could we be for the kinds of disasters that might befall us in the 21st century? The Road is probably the greatest literary example of an apocalyptic genre that dominates popular culture today. I thought of it again in May 2018 when the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency’s information leaflet ‘Om krisen eller kriget kommer’ (If Crisis or War Comes) dropped through my letter box. It is a 20-page information pamphlet that raises the question of what you would do should Sweden experience a systemic crisis or existential threat – either military or civil – and gives some practical advice about how to prepare. It is, in a sense, like Cormac McCarthy’s novel, dystopian futurism, but with a very diﬀerent emphasis and intent. “Om du är förberedd bidrar du till att hela landet bättre kommer att klara en svår påfrestning./If you are prepared, you will contribute to the whole country better overcoming a major crisis.” The leaflet is the fifth time the Swedish government has issued advice about how to survive the worst. In 1943, the government issued the first edition of ‘Om kriget kommer’ (17 pages) at a time when neutral Sweden was watching from the sidelines as Europe consumed itself in the Second World War. It was dry and completely without illustrations, with no apparent thought for design beyond the heraldic symbol of Sweden that lends a bureaucratic authority to the front cover. The content was overwhelmingly focused on how a country might function when at war: resistance, the avoidance of being captured, measures to prevent spying and your rights under the rules of the Hague convention. There followed a 33-page version in 1952 and then in 1961, with the Cold War just beginning, the document was further updated and extended. That edition ran to 40 pages, with detailed descriptions of how to stay safe in conventional, biological and nuclear war. It was beautifully illustrated, with informative diagrams about nuclear fallout and photographs of the food you would need to get ready if you were required to leave your home. There was also much more propaganda value. The front cover was a beautiful, abstract
eller kriget kommer’ was the key event of the week. It was distributed to 4.8m households in Sweden (more or less all of them) and advertised widely. There are similarities between 2018’s leaflet and those of previous years but there are
The latest iteration of the pamphlet focuses on ordinary people and their responses to crisis.
a couple of striking diﬀerences. The biggest is that this year’s leaflet is not just about war, but evokes more general crises for which we need to prepare, whether they be floods, fires or other environmental disasters. It became particularly timely in its first summer, when Sweden experienced a profound heatwave that led to widespread forest fires as far north as the Arctic Circle. The broader scope of the 2018 leaflet means that it does not include very much practical advice about how to escape nuclear or biological weapons (as previous versions did). The tone in general is more constructive than that of earlier versions and somehow softer – less interested in describing a specific enemy or threat. Instead, the text asks citizens to think about what they would do if services stopped working as normal. To that end, the centre spread is a handy, tickable checklist that has a list of items you should have at home in readiness. It is lengthy and predictable: canned food, candles, water containers, batteries, transistor radio, warm clothes. The list is almost cosy, more suggestive of preparations for a camping trip than for the apocalypse. As the brochure progresses, there is a shift of focus from civil to military crises. This is the bit that raises some fear. Most significantly, there is a frank admission about Sweden’s readiness for war that could be seen as a startling attempt
to justify increased defence spending. “For many years, preparations for war and war have been very limited in Sweden,” says one special boxed-out section. “[…] Therefore, planning for Sweden’s defence will be resumed. It will take time to develop all the aspects of this.” Also, there is a bullet list of threats that raises the prospect of terrorist attacks on nuclear-power stations, fake-news campaigns, food crises and even “robot attacks”. Graphically, the front cover sets the colour scheme of orange and red that represents diﬀerent levels of seriousness. Orange is used throughout the leaflet to denote civil emergencies; red, military ones. On the cover, we see an illustration of a mixed-race family preparing the things they might need to get them through a couple of days. In red-tinted counterpoint, a collage of three illustrations at the bottom of the page shows a bridge collapsing, a flood and the army advancing through a pine forest. “Du som privatperson har också ett ansvar./You as an individual also have a responsibility.” The illustrations printed throughout the pamphlet are by Arvid Steen, a Swedish illustrator and animator. The pictures are easy to relate to, with an emphasis on a diversity of ordinary people, rather than the heroic, square-jawed soldiers one might expect to be represented as the potential saviours of the nation. Although they were produced digitally, their hand-drawn appearance – a function of Steen’s distinctive, pencil-sketch style – is part of the reason they are so eﬀective. Steen describes this commission as “my proudest achievement in my working life so far” and he has clearly thought carefully about the tone of the imagery. For me, his approach makes most sense when seen in relation to recent video games and graphic novels. The mix of depicting older technology, ordinary domestic settings and a diversity in gender, race and age evokes The Last Of Us, the Naughty Dog-designed video game from 2013 that is one of the great recent depictions of a post-apocalyptic world. Steen’s illustrations similarly resist the temptation to depict catastrophies, sticking instead to human relationships.
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The illustrations provide a powerful narrative and emotional arc to accompany descriptions of scenarios that, for most, are very diﬃcult to imagine. We see a kindly but serious grandfather considering his granddaughter’s questions as they listen to the radio, one arm wrapped protectively around her back. We see a woman with a clipboard shepherding people down a staircase and into a safe room. And we see a similar woman helping a limping and semiconscious man away from a burning building. In each of them, a gesture or an expression gives you a sense of your own responsibility to those in your immediate vicinity and the emotions you might experience in that situation. The illustrations are humane and convey the strong impression that kindness and solidarity will be our most reliable assets in the event of catastrophe. Steen’s approach was to make things look as real as possible. “I have done a lot of things for games companies where the objective is to create an impact and eﬀect, but here I was as naturalistic as I could be,” he says. “I was really careful not to make the soldiers look badass. They are real people, as real as I could make.” One of the illustrations shows soldiers advancing through a typically Swedish forest and coastal landscape. There is less gung-ho nationalism in this image than in the ones from the 1961 document but the aeroplanes still have the just-detectable silhouette of Saab fighters. Accompanying this image, in a red box, is the only sentence that has barely changed in all four editions of the pamphlet: “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up. All information about resistance ending is untrue.” “Om du hör signalen: gå inomhus, stäng fönster, dörrar och ventilation och lyssna på Sveriges Radio P4 som har i uppdrag att ge samhällsinformation./If you hear the warning, go indoors, close the windows, doors and ventilation, and listen to Radio P4 which has the mission to give the community information.” It is very diﬃcult to measure the eﬀectiveness of a publication like this. Its publisher, MSB, did some research that suggests that 80 per cent of people who received the leaflet have kept it, and that half have read it in some detail. Thirty-four per cent of people
said they would make some preparations at home, and about the same percentage reported that the leaflet had worried them. I wonder if these two groups are the same people. I suspect it will encourage a few preppers in their endeavours. For the rest of us, it gives the feeling that there is something we can do should the worst happen. Nowhere in all the information around the leaflet is there mention of where potential threats are coming from – no mention of Russia, radical religious terrorism, large-scale arctic-ice melt, Trump or anything else – and I cannot escape the feeling that there might be a very diﬀerent draft of this leaflet somewhere, ready for the moment when one of these theoretical threats becomes a reality. In the blasted landscapes of The Road, the lead character is constantly hunting for food, water and shelter, but it is his sometimesobsessive love for his son that keeps him going. ‘Om krisen eller kriget kommer’ is a less extreme reminder of this. It is a bold and uncynical statement about individual responsibility and collective care, even if it euphemistically avoids describing the worst that could happen as a result of climate change, terrorism or war. I have not yet started stockpiling energy bars and rosehip soup, but I have thought more carefully about those who would be in my care in the future and what I might need to do for them. In September 2019, the ideas embodied in ‘Om krisen eller kriget kommer’ spread to a new country, when Scotland launched its grab-andgo-bag awareness scheme. On 8 September, Police Scotland tweeted: “September is preparedness month. Emergencies can happen at any time and it’s recommended to have a #GrabBag ready containing essential items including medication, copies of important documents, food/water, torch, radio and other personal items.” This essay first appeared in Disegno #20.
Blocks, Each Exactly One Cubic Metre Words Kristian Volsing
to help us navigate our relationships with cities. In May 2019, the game’s publisher Microsoft announced that Minecraft has sold more than 176m copies since its oﬃcial release in November 2011 (having been in public beta testing since 2009), with a further 200 million users registered to the game’s free-to-play version in China. Unlike other videogame franchises, whose lasting successes are often built on myriad sequels and memorable characters, Minecraft’s popularity is based on small, incremental reiterations – such as the addition of materials like redstone – that nevertheless lead to huge new experiences. While there is technically a way of playing Minecraft that includes enemies and the more traditional goal of final boss battles, it oﬀers countless forms of gameplay that move away from familiar videogame structures and towards the territory of the sandbox.
For the last 10 years, children around the globe have been building and exploring Minecraft’s pixellated world, all while watching hours of YouTube videos dedicated to exploring it even further. Minecraft is ripe for exploration: a shared virtual space, procedurally generated when loaded and played mostly from a first-person perspective. Within the confines of its 3D grid, players can build with blocks representing various materials, and enter into and engage with worlds created by other players. The shorthand often used to describe the experience is “virtual Lego” with an unlimited set of bricks. This physicalisation, however, does not do the game and its player base justice. Minecraft allows children and adults to form guilds whose membership stretches across continents, resulting in spectacular built environments beyond most people’s imaginations. Players have even built virtual computers using “redstone”, a digital material introduced to the game in 2013, which enables the production of electrical circuits. There has never been another platform like Minecraft, nor (judging by the YouTube videos) one that has given rise to such a committed group of explorers. Now, after 10 years, developer Mojang has added a new dimension. Using augmented reality (AR), smartphones and the broader principles of pervasive gaming, Minecraft Earth, which is currently available in a closed-group beta version, brings architectural spaces into the real world. The scope and accessibility of Minecraft means that it is well-placed
Minecraft taps into our deep need for construction. From early in our lives, we are all fascinated by the possibilities opened up by building blocks. From the ground-breaking blockbased educational system of Fröbel gifts, created by the 19th-century pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel as part of his development of the kindergarten concept, to the Lego bricks that have followed children through the 20th and 21st centuries, block construction has long been present in child development and play. Nevertheless, while some can directly trace their adult careers to these early engagements (think architects), most do not engage with building materials in this same way once they have left childhood behind. Minecraft presents an opportunity to redress this: it oﬀers players a digital world constructed entirely from blocks, each measuring exactly 1 cubic metre whether they are made of grass, tree trunks and leaves, stone, lava, glass, wool, metal or explosives. The procedurally generated steppes, mountains,
rivers and caves, as well as the pigs, cows, cats, sheep and squid that populate them, are also constructed the same way. This is childhood block play elevated to the status of world building, with all of Minecraft’s materials thrown open to the player to do with as they see fit. Mainstream awareness of the possibilities aﬀorded by Minecraft are centred on the game’s Creative mode, thanks in large part to a YouTube video posted by player Joshua “Halkun” Walker in September 2010. ‘Building Megaobjects in Minecraft’ saw Walker reveal a 1:1 virtual scale model of the USS Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation, built using fan-created blueprints that had been authorised by IP owners Paramount. The construction is enormous, more than 1,000 blocks long (equivalent to 1km), and exhibited the scale of projects that could
Minecraft Earth superimposes its virtual gameplay on real-world scenarios.
be produced. Players suddenly woke up to the excitement of creating immersive, full-scale 3D worlds. Halkun, in an interview with website Ars Technica, said, “good computer art is not
billions and billions of polygons, but how good you can make something look with the limited tools and resources at your disposal.” As writer Alex Wiltshire sets out in his essay for the V&A’s 2018 publication Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, “Minecraft’s low-resolution nature wasn’t a hindrance, it was an asset, making 3D design and space-making both accessible and desirable.” It is this realisation that has since inspired millions of creations shared over the internet, from the Danish government commissioning a 1:1 scale Denmark, to a guild of fans that have built the continent of Westeros from Game of Thrones; as well as projects that seek to use Minecraft as a tool for the real world. UN-Habitat is a United Nations programme inaugurated in 1978, with a mandate to ensure adequate shelter and the development of sustainable human settlements in an urbanising world. In 2012, Pontus Westerberg, digital projects oﬃcer for UN-Habitat, approached Mojang about using its game in its work to engage young people in developing communities with real-world urban design. Thus, the Block by Block project was born, in which recreations of real-world spaces are set up on a Minecraft server so that community members can iterate on ideas they will use in real life. In Haiti, the programme has been used to redesign the central spaces of Bon Repos, a community that saw mass settlement of displaced people following the earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince in 2010. A series of workshops in 2016 saw the community use Minecraft to tackle traﬃc, sanitation and flooding problems, using the programme to help planning teams improve the public spaces and quality of life. Programmes have since taken place in such varied locations as Palestine, Vietnam and Kenya. “The magic of Minecraft in this case is how it changes some of the power relationships between experts and ordinary people,” Westerberg explained to Freedom magazine in 2019. These experiments in real-world building have paved the way to Minecraft Earth. At 2015’s E3 technology show, Microsoft demonstrated its new HoloLens augmented-reality visor, which it put to use on Minecraft, having acquired both the game and Mojang for $2.5bn in 2014. The demonstration showed how the HoloLens
the use of AR, it is also worth noting how stunted the functionality oﬀered by both Pokémon Go and Wizards Unite is. Niantic’s games are premised on the location-based collecting of franchise characters, rather than any deeper investigation of what actually happens when these characters are viewed through a mixed-reality filter. Minecraft Earth seeks to address this disconnect, allowing exploration of player-built architectural spaces in the real world, thereby raising the bar. Like Niantic and Google, the team behind Minecraft Earth will provide Microsoft with vast amounts of data about its players’ movements. “As [players move around cities] we’re uploading the shape of the world around us so that we create an anchor,” says Jesse Merriam, the game’s executive producer. “When multiple people come in, everyone’s in the same spot [in] the park and everybody sees the exact same place.” Nevertheless, this is at least being used to oﬀer connected environments for players to experience together globally. Once a building has been placed in the world, it can be shared by the builder with their contacts or the public, who can visit – and even enter – through their phone in the real world. There are clearly real-world applications for bringing architectural models and urban planning out of the studio here. As seen through the success of the work of UN-Habitat, this tool could oﬀer individuals the opportunity to encounter virtual proposals in public spaces. It provides the ability for users to apply their own adjustments to virtual environments and to see how these might play out in real time. The AR element of Minecraft Earth has the potential to create a new level of deeper engagement with public space. Yet as Zuboﬀ articulates, the collation of data by the corporations that produce these apps potentially enables them to manipulate our movements. Players could be drawn to businesses that pay developers to entice them there, while data about the socio-economic backgrounds of players could also be exploited by commercial forces. Even when you play an innocent game, information is leaking out. My own experience with Minecraft Earth has so far been confined to the drizzly October streets of Bethnal Green and Hackney. I’ve collected virtual pigs and ducks, as well as
visor could project 3D virtual imagery into the real world, creating digital Minecraft constructions in front of a user’s face. This caused considerable excitement (“Amazing,” reported Polygon; “Stunning,” said Kotaku), but with no commercially available iterations of HoloLens on the horizon, it seemed as if it would remain a pipe dream. Microsoft developers understood, however, that while they could not achieve the same fully encompassing holographic eﬀect as the HoloLens, smartphones could oﬀer something akin to the experience of transporting Minecraft architecture into the real world. Only a few years later, developments in technology have given us unparalleled mapping, cloud computing and lightning-fast 5G internet on smartphones. All of these opportunities for data gathering have been combined with the development of Microsoft’s Azure Spatial Anchors, a technology that pinpoints a user’s location to a digital twin of our own world with a precision of as little as 3cm. Thus, Minecraft Earth began to take form. Attempts to utilise AR in games have so far been limited, with most attention falling on the success stories of phone games Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Both of these games were developed by Niantic, a company that started within Google but which split from its parent in 2015. Pokémon Go was released in July 2016 and has already been downloaded 1bn times, with 147 million active users counted in May 2018. The game sends people out into the world to catch and battle Pokémon using Google Maps technology. This may be charming, but as the social psychologist Shosanna Zuboﬀ notes in her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the game actually allows Google to control the movements of people through cities, rather than developing creative opportunities. “At its zenith in the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go was a surveillance capitalist’s dream come true, fusing scale, scope and actuation,” writes Zuboﬀ. “It provided a living laboratory for telestimulation at scale as the game’s owners learned how to automatically condition and herd collective behavior, directing it toward real-time constellations of behavioral futures markets, with all this accomplished just beyond the rim of individual awareness.” Alongside these socio-political concerns about
treasure chests filled with all sorts of minerals. I’ve anchored a virtual treehouse to Homerton station. But I’ve yet to experience how others engage with my buildings due to the game’s initial, closed-group release. It is this social aspect that has driven the phenomenal engagement of games such as Pokémon Go and when Minecraft Earth launches to the public, I expect there to be similar scenes of massed players waving their phones around our cities. But I also can’t wait (read: I am fascinated and terrified) to see how architects and urban planners, artists and governments, advertisers and corporations will embrace this new layer of virtuality in a world that is already reeling from the eﬀects of digital technology. Minecraft Earth is currently in early-access.
Personalised Insights and Core Functionalities Words Tamar Shafrir The rise of the app-based period tracker seems to take something relatively simple – counting the days of a menstrual cycle, an average total of 28 varying from person to person – and turn it into something emotionally fraught, personally invasive and inexplicably costly. When applied to the female reproductive cycle, networked digital technology does not change the phenomenon at hand, but it does turn it from an embodied process that society still encourages us to experience as
squeamishly private to a source of data extraction. Such harvesting could very well violate ethical as well as legal boundaries, and have far-reaching social consequences. Of course, period trackers predate the smartphone and the internet. Prehistoric human artefacts such as the Lebombo bone, a baboon fibula with 29 notches carved more than 43,000 years ago, have been described as possible lunar-calendar trackers, although that temporal phase could have many other biological and cultural meanings attached to it. Closer analogies to today’s apps can be documented in the few dozen patents for period trackers – designed as calendar wheels, mechanical devices or electronic gadgets – that were submitted from the 1930s until the early 2000s. Similarly to contemporary options, these trackers grappled with issues of privacy, accuracy and purpose. Most assumed, however, that the user was interested in bringing on pregnancy rather than avoiding it. It was not until 1961, in Wilbur Dickinson’s Menstrual Cycle Indicator patent, that the focus on fertility expanded to include the aims of personal convenience: “birth control may be eﬀectively practiced, vacations may be properly scheduled, etc.” Most patents also assumed that such information would embarrass the user if it were publicly broadcast: John Cwiekalo’s 1941 Computing Device hid the words “Fertile“ and “Sterile” under a disc discreetly labelled “‘Menstruation’ only”, while Emil Josef Biggel’s 1993 Menstrual Cycle Meter was the first to oﬀer password protection and was “outwardly designed to look like an ordinary calendar and timer in order not to invoke any embarrassment”. The only other people who could be privy to the user’s readings were their doctors or husbands, which brings us to a third assumption: that users of the trackers could only be cisgendered, heterosexual women who were sexually active solely within the boundaries of marriage. These issues are obviously entangled with design. Take something as basic as colour. Red, green, yellow, blue, pink, maroon, purple, grey – these all have complex associations with both bodily discharge, conception, pregnancy, risk
and safety. In William Rahn’s 1938 patent for a Cycle Calendar, coloured cellophane was used to indicate the fertility period in green and the menstruation period in red, but Martin Lichter’s 1945 Calculating Device made the interval of possible conception “advantageously conspicuously marked by being colored red”. Other patents used more neutral symbols. Joseph Jackson’s 1998 Personal Fertility Predictor used a star for the menstrual cycle, a plus sign for ovulation, a triangle for decreased fertility and a square for increased fertility. If today’s apps have diﬀerent aesthetic properties – attractive colour palettes, minimalist layouts, universal abstract iconographies – this is not indicative of any real improvement in the underlying mechanism. Rather, it seems that the assumed user – a cis woman between adolescence and menopause – is being reconstituted more clearly as a consumer: someone to entertain and flatter as much as to inform, and someone to entice into buying premium services. Apps such as Flo, Period Tracker, Clue, Eve, Natural Cycles, Spot On and Femometer use pink, red, or maroon in their icons but tend to avoid design decisions – such as the traditional green and red system – that might suggest a value judgement on menstruation, fertility or inability to conceive. To indicate calendar phases, they stylise dates more subtly with circled numbers, boldface type or colour fills in grey or turquoise. Their logos often incorporate flowers, circles, or both, invoking notions of cyclical time or the finite linearity of living creatures – birth and “blossoming” anticipating inevitable mortality. Inside the apps, symbols such as drops, hearts, suns, smiley faces, babies and animals are used to refer not only to periods and pregnancies, but also to lifestyle choices and body statistics, including physical pain, psychological changes, sleep patterns, exercise, sexual activity, nutrition, hormones, birth control, medication and more. One outlier to this standard schema is Cube, an app made by Flask, a studio founded in 2013 by the Japanese software engineer Hideko Ogawa and product designer Takako Horiuchi. With its three-dimensional pixels and singlecolour themes – blue is the default, but other colour options can be purchased – Cube looks
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food cravings; my ethnicity, education level and my mother’s education level. While providing such information to Flo, I was oﬀered in-app dieting advice and dubious trivia (such as the unverified claim that “cycle and period length[…] are unique for women of each ethnicity”), but when I sought information about cramps – the only thing about periods that really bothers me – I received surprisingly little useful feedback. Less than half of the apps oﬀered advice about the range of cheap, over-thecounter medication that can quickly eliminate such pain, from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to hyoscine butylbromide (Buscopan). Instead, they suggested hot baths (I don’t have a bath) or orgasm for pain relief (not the most pragmatic option for those at work, taking care of children or the elderly, or in transit). When I reported to one app’s chatbot that I experience moderate pain from cramps, it responded: “It’s great that the discomfort that you experience doesn’t really aﬀect your life.” It only gave me one option to reply: a winking emoji. Period-tracker apps are thus faced with a paradoxical challenge: to extract as much personal data as possible without breaching regulations on medical practice, personal rights and privacy. This leads to some bizarre formulations in their terms and conditions. First, most insist that they should not be used for contraceptive, diagnostic or other medical purposes and claim no responsibility for personal injury or damages that could result from their use. Femometer “does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any content” it provides. Glow demands that the user be a resident of the United States and a patient of a healthcare provider that oﬀers GlowCare – requirements that seem too important to bury in the fine print. Second, most trackers prohibit users from using the in-app community services to advertise for commercial activities (which the app itself may be engaged in) or, in the case of Cycles, “contribute to propaganda, religious and/or political views”, which seem impossible to extricate from any dealings with pregnancy, infertility, contraception and abortion. Cycles allows you to share information about the phases of your menstrual cycle with a partner, though
identifying a pregnant woman has equivalent value to knowing the age, sex and location of as many as 200 people in the eyes of online advertisers. Presumably, women trying to conceive and women trying not to get pregnant are also valuable financial assets. Often, the details these apps request from users have only the most tenuous connection to fertility. In the course of researching this article,
Natural Cycles is one of a new breed of app-based fertility trackers.
I have volunteered personal information about my sex drive, masturbation, condom usage, how easy it is for me to achieve orgasm and whether I am sexually active during my period. I have provided data on my weight, acne, breast tenderness, cramping and digestive condition; my feelings of guilt or depression, stress levels and obsessive thoughts; the texture and colour of my vaginal discharge; the height, openness and firmness of my cervix; my travel patterns, alcohol intake and
it implies a framework of monogamy: “You can invite as many people as you like, but only connect with one person” – let’s hope the right one responds. Similarly, Femometer invites users to log information about assisted reproductive technology (ART) used to address infertility, but refers to this as “Artificial Insemination of Husband”. (The app, made by the Hangzhou-based company Bangtang Network Technology, may reflect standard requirements for ART in China’s national medical system.) Third, most apps prohibit children under the age of 16, in some cases 18, from using them. Flo has particularly Byzantine requirements: users must be at least 13 years old to use the app, but in the EU they must be over 16 (a consequence of GDPR), and the online courses are only for those 18 years and over. Inexplicably, some apps nevertheless encourage users to input the names and ages of their newborn children or log the development of their foetuses. They still collect data about the very young while excluding adolescents – some of whom get their period as early as age 10, and are the very people who often need the most advice on their periods and for whom the awareness of pregnancy risk is most crucial. In other words, these age restrictions shut out those for whom the service might be most useful. Even worse, some apps, such as Cycles, encourage parents or guardians of under16s or under-18s to contact the developer if they suspect their children have used them. For over-18 users, the terms of service make divulging personal information unavoidable. “By using Cycles,” for example, “you agree that all of the personal data provided by you is accurate and up to date.” While they claim such information is not publicly accessible, they also explain, “we aggregate and de-identify certain information about our users to use for business purposes.” Natural Cycles claims that personal data will be held for three years and asserts ownership of user information as possible transferred assets in any future business acquisitions or mergers. In some apps, users can also opt in to community features to compare their cycles and symptoms to those of other users anonymously, or consent to provide their data for “academic and clinical research purposes”. Information is shared
“where necessary in the public interest, such as most common symptoms related to menstrual cycles,” as well as for the “legitimate interest” of the app developers and their business partners. “We do this to understand your needs, improve Cycles, deliver personalised insights and other core functionality.” Information such as the frequency of app usage or symptom reporting, IP and email addresses, devices and more is combined with external data connected to the user profile obtained from the company’s other apps or third-party suppliers. “If you disagree with the collection and processing of this data you should stop using Cycles, delete your account and uninstall the application.” The apps discussed in this essay are available to download from the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Some contain in-app purchases.
There’s Only So Far You Can Go Words Andrew Ayers “When you enter the Salon d’Automne of 1929, it’s almost as though you’re stepping into your own place, you could imagine living there,” exclaims Jacques Barsac, co-curator of Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World, an enormous retrospective that recently opened at Paris’s Fondation Louis Vuitton to mark the 20th anniversary of the designer’s death. He’s referring to one of the show’s highlights: a meticulous recreation of the mythical modernist interior that Le Corbusier, Perriand
modernity, since it was made deliberately photogenic for glossy magazines. “You could say it was Instagrammable before Instagram,” jokes Sébastien Cherruet, another of the show’s co-curators.
and Pierre Jeanneret showed at the annual Parisian art event that year. Le Corbusier was actually absent at the time – he’d departed in September 1929 for a tour of Latin America – leaving Perriand and Jeanneret to build the stand in just three months. Titled Interior Equipment of a Dwelling, the Salon d’Automne installation was a manifesto demonstration of living in the Esprit Nouveau, Le Corbusier’s vision for domestic design in the machine-age city. An idealised open-plan apartment, the stand was kitted out with the tubular-steel furniture the trio had designed for the Villa Church (1927-29) (the first time these pieces, which included the now-iconic Chaise longue basculante, were publicly exhibited). In place of walls, it featured a series of specially made metal storage units that separated the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom from the main living space. Not only was the floor of the apartment in glass, but so too was much of the external wall, which comprised one of Le Corbusier’s trademark ribbon windows set above a parapet of Saint-Gobain Nevada glass bricks. Furthermore, the windowless bedroom, bathroom and kitchen were lit by a luminous opaline ceiling. Everywhere the eye roamed it settled on sparkling chrome, nickel, porcelain and glass, tempered only by the various pelts and hides adorning the furnishings. The shock of the new must have been acute for those lucky few who visited the stand, which existed for a mere 12 days. Le Corbusier himself returned to Paris too late to see it and it’s only known today thanks to the countless photographs that were taken of it – a further indicator of its
Allowing visitors to experience something of that shock was among the aims of the Louis Vuitton exhibition – like the salon-goers of 1929, you can walk into Interior Equipment of a Dwelling and try out the furniture. But this is merely one of the most spectacular in a range of recreations on display at the show. Running the gamut of possibilities, they include a scale model of Perriand’s never-built 1929 Travail et sport scheme (which until now existed only in the form of drawings); a recreation of her dining room as shown at the 1928 Salon d’Automne; a restitution of the Maison du jeune homme (House for a Young Man) that she, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret exhibited at the 1935 Exposition Universelle et Internationale in Brussels; one of her and Jeanneret’s Tonneau mountain refuges (a 1938 design never produced in her lifetime – the example at Vuitton was made by furniture brand Cassina in 2012); and, outside in the Fondation’s water feature, her Maison au bord de l’eau (House by the Water), designed in 1934 but only realised
The reconstruction of Charlotte Perriand’s L’atelier de Saint-Sulpice (1927-1928).
79 years later by Louis Vuitton and first shown at Design Miami in 2013. Lost furniture has also
been recreated for the show: the 1937 Manifesto table and 1938 Boomerang desk, for example, both designed for the newspaper editor Jean-Richard Bloch, as well as some of the giant photomontages she displayed at Paris’s 1936 Salon des Arts Ménagers and 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques. “Eighty per cent of Charlotte’s work has disappeared,” declares Barsac. “Our goal is to show originals. But what do you do when you don’t have them?” For Barsac and his wife Pernette Perriand – Charlotte Perriand’s daughter and another co-curator – the designer’s work cannot be fully comprehended without some notion of its initial context. “We wanted people to understand how small her Place Saint-Sulpice atelier was,” continues Barsac, referring to the space for which the dining room she exhibited at the 1928 Salon d’Automne was created. “Why did she make that extensible dining table? Because space was at such a premium. Exhibited on its own the table seems like just a clever design object, but shown in situ its full purpose becomes evident.” Then there was the fact that the curators had 4,000sqm to play with – the entirety of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, which has for the first time been given over to a monographic design show. This is twice the size of, say, a Centre Pompidou temporary exhibition. As a result, there was an awful lot of space to fill and the challenge of choosing exhibits that wouldn’t exhaust visitors. Given the Fondation’s generous budgets, recreating lost interiors seemed an excellent way to communicate all the force of Perriand’s design world. Furthermore, this approach is arguably akin to Perriand’s own modus operandi, since she frequently used simulacra of idealised living as a way of promoting her work and making it palpable. In this she was following a tradition that stretched back to the emergence of the ensembliers-décorateurs in the late-19th century, all of whom exhibited at the various Parisian salons – not to mention the department stores that hired them to create new furniture lines to display in simulated interiors on their premises. Indeed, one of Perriand’s teachers at the École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs was none other than Maurice Dufrêne, a renowned ensemblier-décorateur who founded the Atelier
de la Maîtrise at Galeries Lafayette. The mockups and restitutions at the Louis Vuitton show perfectly illustrate the power of such simulations to whet consumer desire: “When people come out of the Maison au bord de l’eau,” recounts Barsac, “they all say, ‘I want to live in a house like that!’” “What interests me in architecture and design is above all the space between objects,” explains Cherruet. “When you touch a table in metal, it’s not at all the same thing as wood. These questions of space, touch and texture are omnipresent in Charlotte Perriand’s work, so it was important to reproduce the materials and textures of these objects and to make palpable the spaces they occupied.” But how far do you go? And what about the inevitable accusations of inauthenticity? For Barsac, reproducing furniture by Perriand is legitimate to the extent that nine times out ten she designed with serial production in mind, be it industrial mass production or more limited artisanal fabrication. Remaking the lost Bloch pieces was not only a way of illustrating the organic sensuality of her designs at a key moment in the evolution of her thinking: it also gives physical form to Perriand’s left-wing politics. Close to the communists, she was a member of AEAR, the Association des écrivains et artistes révolutionnaires; Bloch was the editor of Ce Soir, a communist daily that actively supported the Republicans in the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, and the Manifesto table she designed for him featured zinc etchings of, among others, Pablo Picasso’s Songe et mensonge de Franco (Dream and Lie of Franco). So yes, this was a one-oﬀ piece, but the curators felt it was an important demonstration of Perriand’s lifelong ideal of achieving a synthesis of the arts, where fine art would be taken down from its pedestal and made an integral part of daily life. But how valid is such a reconstitution in the case of a unique table like this? Especially since the original 1930s zincetching technique has been lost and a modern approximation had to be found. For Cherruet, “it’s a question of atmosphere,” the justification residing in the communication of the visual and material culture of Perriand’s world. When recreating whole interiors, questions of accuracy and authenticity become yet more numerous and thorny. At the Brussels Maison
Photo: Florian Bรถhm
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du jeune homme, Perriand included large expanses of Nevada glass bricks, those emblems of hygienist modernity that Pierre Chareau so famously used at the Maison de verre and which Le Corbusier also employed at the Cité de refuge and the Immeuble Clarté. Although Saint-Gobain stopped manufacturing them in the 1960s, reproductions are now available, but the problem with modern reproductions is their composition, which results in a very white, transparent glass quite unlike the green-tinged product of the 1930s. Even were you able to recreate the original composition (the specifications for which have been lost), the chances are you couldn’t use it in a public space because it wouldn’t have gone through the EU health-and-safety approval process. While reproduction Nevadas were used to recreate the 1929 Salon d’Automne, at the Maison du jeune homme the curators came up against a further problem – those heavy blocks of glass were suspended 2m up in the air. Building a structure to support them turned out to be prohibitively expensive, so the decision was taken to evoke them using ink on backlit paper. “I now think it was a mistake,” says Pernette Perriand. “We should have faked them for 29 and used the real ones for Brussels.” Barsac disagrees: “It would have been too expensive. There’s only so far you can go. And we decided we’d invest more in 29.” For Arthur Rüegg, the specialist who helped the curators recreate the lost interiors, reproducing Nevada glass bricks at the Maison du jeune homme was far less important than tracking down and borrowing Fernand Léger’s 1935 canvas La Salle de culture physique – Le sport, a stylised gym in primary colours that adorned the real gym in the young man’s idealised hygienist dwelling. Rüegg’s relationship with Perriand dates back to the 1980s, when he met the designer in order to produce accurate plans of the 1929 Salon d’Automne – none of the originals had survived, only sketches, photographs and certain measurements that Perriand had noted in her logbook. Measured plans were one thing; recreating that interior 90 years later turned out to be a minefield of approximations and vexations. “Take opaline,” says Rüegg, “the opaque glass used in the storage units. It was readily available until the 1970s, but now it’s impossible to find.
Opaline was coloured throughout its thickness; we couldn’t do that, so we used frosted glass to achieve a similar eﬀect but had to etch the edges as well to ensure it looked authentic.” Then there was the fact that nickelled copper, which was commonly used in the 1920s, has since been banned on the grounds it emits a toxic gas. It took months to find a suitable equivalent, the team eventually settling for a slightly golden chrome. While the glass floor tiles could be reproduced, it was far too expensive to use them for the entire surface, so they have only been laid in the bedroom – which is out of bounds to the public both because of how small it is and because it doesn’t conform to today’s dimensions for wheelchair access. The living space is in linoleum instead of glass, which is also preferable from a health-and-safety perspective. The next problem was the countersunk handles in the storage units. What were their dimensions? Were they welded or not? Even once their dimensions had been “guestimated”, there was the fact that tools of the right size didn’t exist to make them and had to be specially fabricated. Where the moveable furniture was concerned, exact copies of the originals had already been made by Rüegg in partnership with Cassina, but these can’t be used in a publicly accessible display since they haven’t gone through the EU approval process – instead, visitors get to try out standard-issue Cassina reproduction pieces. And last but not least, there was the question of all the pelts and furs present in 1929. Some of them, says Rüegg, were cat and calf skin – “‘alley cats,’ as they put it at the time, while to get the very soft calf skin you probably had to kill the mother and take the calf from the womb”. Such products are still available from China, but would have been morally unacceptable in France today. The curators could have used vintage fur, but in a museum environment it has to be constantly treated and controlled for pests and fungus. Instead, a team member spent two months sourcing fake fur that appeared suﬃciently convincing. “There’s only so far you can go,” repeats Barsac. “Questions of budget and practicalities will always guide your choices.” Rather than attempt to reproduce all the bathroom fittings in porcelain, which again would have cost an arm
But for this third tea house, the conditions were a little diﬀerent: while the first had stayed up just two weeks outdoors, this one had to last four months indoors. “The minute you come inside, you have a humidity problem – it’s much drier,” explains Perriand. “There was a risk that in a drier atmosphere, over that length of time, the curved bamboo branches holding up the awning would snap. So, to avoid any problems, we made curved wooden lasts onto which we bent each bamboo branch for three months to make sure they wouldn’t budge for the duration of the exhibition.” And what about the tatamis, which are given summer and winter configurations in Japan? Pernette Perriand’s initial instinct was to arrange them for winter, the season when the tea house is being shown, but Perriand’s original was unveiled in summer, so, for greater fidelity to the original, a summer arrangement has been used. The dilemmas encountered by the Charlotte Perriand curators are exactly the kind facing the restorers of Notre-Dame: what are the rules of the game when exact reproduction is impossible due to gaps in our knowledge, lost technologies, or modern health, safety and accessibility regulations? Some would say that any attempt at recreation is foolhardy and that only a strict interpretation of the 1964 ‘Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites’ – which calls for a visible distinction between old and new fabric – should be observed. But in France, where Eugène Violletle-Duc – author of a number of controversial restorations, including Notre-Dame itself – is still hugely influential, recreation, even if it results in historical inauthenticity, is the preferred option. “To restore an edifice means neither to maintain it, nor to repair it, nor to rebuild; it means to reestablish it in a finished state, which may in fact never have existed in any given time. Both the word and the meaning are modern,” Viollet-leDuc wrote in his 1854 Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française. While the end result may contravene all the rules of the ‘Venice Charter’, the journey there can be rich in lessons, not only with respect to materials and techniques, but also in terms of increasing our knowledge about the design phase of a project. And we’re not talking about a building here, but an exhibition
and a leg, the curators faked them in lacquered wood. Since the washbasin was the same model used at the Villa Savoye, its form could be copied faithfully; the bathtub, however, is an invention, the photographic record being too meagre to know exactly how it looked. While in the kitchen the fridge has a mocked-up front, the Table tube d’avion in the main living space has a real glass top that attempts to reproduce the colour and texture of the original. Though Rüegg has spent years working with Cassina on this, he still isn’t satisfied with the result. As a simulacrum of a simulacrum, the 1929 Salon d’Automne is an impressive and photogenic fake, even if – without knowing all the problems it posed – one senses it isn’t quite right. But there were some instances where the curators gave themselves a much easier time of it, the most extreme example being their “evocation” of the Galerie Louise Leiris in Paris (Leiris was the daughter of the great Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), which Perriand remodelled in 1989. In a gallery of similar dimensions at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Picasso canvasses exhibited by Leiris hang on the white walls and four Grand Confort armchairs sit in the centre of the room. And that’s it. “Charlotte’s work at the gallery produced a very pure, minimalist space, which is basically what we already had at the Fondation Louis Vuitton,” explains Cherruet. “There didn’t seem much point in going to all the trouble and expense of reproducing fake ventilation grills or any of the other detailing she designed.” To which Barsac adds: “What was important? The artworks and the visitor who observes them from the 1928 armchairs she had chosen. With that and the Fondation’s white walls, we had the essentials.” Notwithstanding this infallible logic, one can’t help feeling that, despite the presence of real Picassos, there’s something terribly emperor’s new clothes about this. What should, in theory, have been the easiest reconstruction turned out to be just as much a minefield as all the others. Perriand designed her ephemeral Japanese tea house in 1993 for the grounds of the Unesco headquarters in Paris – her daughter Pernette Perriand remembers it well, because she worked with her mother on the project and has already recreated it once before.
where the impact on non-specialist audiences must be taken into account. Not in the habit of peering at archival documents, they are generally much more immediately drawn in by full-size reconstructions, whether of furniture, interiors or even graphic works. Some of Perriand’s giant photomontages – accomplished exercises in propaganda that had all been lost – have been remade for the show. Among them is La grande misère de Paris, created for the 1936 Salon des Arts Ménagers, which Barsac has reproduced from the original glass plates at 80 per cent of the initial size to fit into the available space. In his shoes, Perriand would surely have done the same – after all, nobody in the 1920s and 30s had the slightest qualms about doctoring photographs to present buildings, interiors and movie stars in an idealised light. Indeed, one might legitimately argue that the curatorial choices at this exhibition are an act of homage to her genius for creating a compelling image of her ideals. Charlotte Perriand: Inventing a New World runs at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris until 24 February 2020.
The Paths That Lead us to Each Other Words Katarina Bonnevier It is a late October afternoon in Stockholm. Next to the city’s Nationalmuseum, we pass a tiny park, devoid of people and newly trimmed. It used to be a gay cruising ground nicknamed the “Milk Park”. The homoerotic sculpture of two wrestling men is still there, but there are no longer the bushes with small paths leading into
secluded spaces. As we walk, we reflect on how cruising parks might be discussed in city planning oﬃces. Surely city planners also go cruising? Knowing that bodies respond diﬀerently to the spaces that surround them and that it’s crucial to relate to spaces together with others, I had asked my chosen brother Joakim Rindå to join me in seeing Cruising Pavilion: Architecture, Gay Sex and Cruising Culture at ArkDes, the Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design. In 2016, I participated in Joakim’s audio walk Stigarna (Swedish for “the paths”), a project he had created on Långholmen, one of Stockholm’s green islands known for its long history of cruising. With headphones on, I walked around Långholmen’s shrubs, cliﬀs and paths. It was oﬀ-season, in weather when actual cruising would most likely not be taking place. That’s how Joakim sought to solve the dilemma of inviting someone with little or no cruising experience into the culture of gay sexual practices, while avoiding creating a freak show. This is an issue I have also been thinking about while I write this text. “People are cooler than we think,” Joakim says. The exhibition’s eponymous Cruising Pavilion is installed in a temporary-exhibition space at ArkDes called Boxen. It is a double-height free-standing metallic structure inside the former drill hall of the 19th-century naval building that houses the centre. Red lights and Khia’s mega hit ‘My Neck, My Back (Lick it)’ leak through the plastic ribbon curtain that covers the entrance. We step through and find ourselves in a representation of a bar. It feels empty and the blank, painted boards that make up the walls are too present. I’m disappointed, although perhaps the bareness of the space is compatible with a bar outside of opening hours. The first object that catches my attention is a liquid dispenser on the wall, as you might find in any bathroom. I immediately recall my sister’s visit to a darkroom in Amsterdam, a dimly lit space at the back of a club that is specifically dedicated to sex. This one was in the basement underneath a bar. She was curious but also disconcerted. It was too untidy for her liking, so to regain some boundaries
Continental Baths, for example, was an epic “sexual power plant” from the 1970s that could accommodate 1,000 men. The “towel only” dress code was part of the organisers’ aim of “breaking social hierarchies in order to generate unplanned
between her body and the space around her, she reached for the wall-mounted hand sanitiser and pumped out some liquid, only to realise that her hand was now full of lubricant. The dispenser at ArkDes contains disinfectant. It is a functioning ready-made by the artist Puppies Puppies that brings out the charged question of dirtiness. Cleanliness can signal safety and thus be a prerequisite for pleasure, but these liquid containers also represent a more distressing relationship between sex and hygiene, one burdened by beliefs tying together sinfulness, promiscuity and filth. These ties can be violently homophobic, misogynist and racist. History has taught us that dirt leads to diseases and needs to be cleared away – a form of reasoning that has motivated oppression and persecution, and contributed to the ongoing pathologising of people in the queer community. Two more exhibition spaces follow the bar: the central one borrows its aesthetic from a labyrinth darkroom, while the last looks like a budget hotel room. Together, the spaces allude to three of the most important backdrops to cruising culture. All three are forms of architecture openly devoted to bodies doing intimate things together. As we move through the maze, we contemplate the choices made to represent the spaces. Condoms strewn on the floor and stains on the walls mimic the activities of the darkroom. As my eyes adjust slowly to the lack of light, my fingertips find sgraﬃti etched into the walls. In a cubicle within the labyrinth, I discover a series of perspective drawings of illusory spaces with cascading flights of stairs and columns. They send my imagination oﬀ to a sauna club I have always wanted to visit in Athens. Gay saunas are like living rooms in the public realm – multifunctional facilities where you work, meet your friends, rest, eat, bathe and have sex. After a club night you might sleep there for an hour or so before the public transport starts again in the morning. I illuminate the drawings with my smartphone and find that they describe a development project for Colmegna Spa, a “politico-sexual-laboratory” in Buenos Aires. Throughout, Cruising Pavilion presents pictures and plans of amazing architectures, both historical as well as speculative. Manhattan’s
The sexytecture of the Cruising Pavilion, installed in the Boxen space at ArkDes.
collisions between bodies”. Designed in an ancient Roman style, the cavernous basement space in the Ansonia Hotel contained a dancefloor, sauna rooms, a pool, bunk beds in common areas, tiny separate rooms, a sexual health clinic and a cabaret lounge. Joakim tells me that Bette Middler developed her stage skills here. To keep her audience’s attention, she had to compete with the prospect of a sexual encounter next door. “Bathhouse Betty” was both Middler’s nickname and the title of her 1998 album – her career at the Continental Baths a direct example of how these spaces were driving forces of cultural production. What’s more, it’s a reminder that they are surprisingly mainstream – it is a mistake to think they represent a “deviant” periphery. On the way into the bedroom portion of the exhibition a flyer tacked to the wall reads: “Every hole is a goal”. Fifteen years ago, when I was a student at Stockholm University, a series of carved openings between cubicles in the toilets appeared, prompting intense debate. They were instances of vandalism but also proof of cruising – hands-on reprogramming that collided with others’ wish to use the facility peacefully.
However, those glory holes only brought out what various TV series and films have repeatedly shown us: the sexual charge of private spaces devoted to bodily needs in the public domain. In Cruising Pavilion there is an opening in the partition wall of the darkroom the size and the height of a glory hole and, in the final wall of the exhibition, the visitors meet what I interpreted as an oversized homage to this charged architectural detail: a huge circular window with signal-red opaque glass, positioned over a large bed. It was only later that I realised that the circular window is part of the permanent structure of Boxen. The themes of Cruising Pavilion go beyond heteronormative sexual practices, and reach further than simply invoking spaces and designs that concern men who have sex with men: cyborgsex, female self-satisfaction and polyamory are all addressed via film screens, computer games and drawings. There are signs informing visitors about explicit works of a sexual nature within; the exhibition is not recommended for people under the age of 15; and a host waits by the entrance to handle any questions or queries. This is all part of negotiating how to present cruising culture to a wider public, but it feeds into a sense that the exhibition risks presenting these spaces as peripheral. However, there is also a parallel here to certain cruising grounds themselves, and their agreements and codes of conduct to ensure consent. In a club, there may be textile policies or dress codes, and a host welcoming you to explain the situation and acceptable behaviours for any newcomers. Such signs and stewardship contribute to creating the sexytecture of cruising spaces. “Sexytecture” is a term my colleagues and I in the architecture and design collective Mycket have invented to describe a fundamental drive in design. It articulates the relationship between desire and aesthetic expression, which is one of the most central and generative forces in play when humans shape the world around them. Embodied experience, touch and emotions often slip out of architectural discourse, both when discussing the aﬃrmative aspects of the built environment and also its heartbreaking sides: discrimination, abuse and hate crime. Design for overtly sexual purposes is an extremely
important subject, but it is also an exceedingly diﬃcult one to discuss, given how it is intertwined with political and private matters. Architecture and design play a role in the normalisation of certain bodies and behaviours at the expense of others, but because of this topic’s absence within discourse, architects and designers risk failing in their ability to care for all sorts of bodies and functions. Society’s fears surrounding touch, intimacy and sexual practices are multiplied and reinforced by the built environment. The design of Cruising Pavilion tries to strike a balance between the representation and the enactment of cruising culture: it serves visitors who wish to get to know and to sample it, as well as those who may recall their own experiences. In this way, the exhibition design attempts to encourage the visitors into this absent discussion. You can move around Boxen by means of a ramp that snakes up the wall and then look into the Cruising Pavilion from up high. From a window above the bedroom, and another in the bar, you get an overview of the spaces and can see other visitors. Immediately, this creates a tension between the ground and the “peephole” position upstairs. Downstairs, you may experience someone watching you while you look at the sexually explicit material or wander through the darkroom labyrinth. Upstairs, fully lit, you are extremely visible. How do you invite others to look into a culture which is not their own? This staged gaze is an architectural play on the procedure of the pick-up, of being spotted and approached. It is a non-intrusive way of providing a hint of the experience of cruising. The cheap finishing of the exhibition and its empty wall space disturb me, however. The grey carpet in the bedroom is sloppy and frayed at the edges; electrical cords dangle haphazardly; and the tape on the partition walls is peeling oﬀ. My fantasy world of cruising is so abundant and sexy that I am almost always disappointed by the cheap and ill-executed material world of the reality. When I finally got my act together and went to Lash – a women’s fetish club in Stockholm that once a week borrows the venue usually used by Swedish Leather Men (SLM) – I found myself surrounded by black plastic, coarse wooden panelling and mesh for concrete reinforcement.
the sun could reach all parts of my body. After bathing and hanging out for a while, we decided to explore the cruising area on the western part of the island. We climbed the bare cliﬀs by the water and discovered the most beautiful pleasure garden I have ever experienced. The landscape was covered in bushes of rosemary, with narrow, lingering footpaths in between. I recognised this kind of path from cruising parks in Stockholm, Umeå and Copenhagen. These are desire paths and you will see them if you look. They lead into the shrubs; behind a tree; over a hill. “They are the paths that lead us to each other,” says Joakim. The theorist and academic Sara Ahmed has developed a queer spatial theory out of these desire paths. Bodies create paths in directions they desire to go, which may diﬀer and deviate from those planned for us. A path shows not only how we create the habitual world around us but also how we are constructed by our surroundings. If we wish to dismantle social hierarchies and create societies where there is room for all of us, then we need to understand and potentially challenge our own preferences. “Queer is to disturb the order of things”, writes Ahmed. Queer possesses a transformative power. Boxen at ArkDes has never made more sense to me – the Cruising Pavilion brings out the queerness of its architecture. The temporary installation, with all its material shortcomings, makes the shiny, metal space come alive, while it becomes amusingly clear quite how far removed its style is from the neat wooden architecture scale models on display in ArkDes’s permanent collection at the other end of the drill hall. This is what I like about the exhibition – it brings out the centrality of queer culture, sexual pleasure and desire for architecture and design. It does not matter if the architects of Boxen knew they were creating a luxury version of a gay fetish club when they proposed its raw metal; its silver-painted wall boards and chainlinks; its ramped path that caresses the outside of the box; its motif of the grand glory hole at the centre of its facade. It’s as if Boxen has come out of the closet.
I had imagined deep shining lacquer, timber softened by wear and tear, and firmly placed handles for good grip. (In fairness, the premises probably looked unusually boring at that time since SLM had taken all its chains and swings to a large international event.) To some extent, I can interpret the cheap finish of the Cruising Pavilion as a homage to these kind of designs. But, there is also a nagging feeling, since we are in Sweden’s major design institution, that some of it is the result of carelessness. And we cannot aﬀord that. When I discuss my reaction with my lover, she gets annoyed. “Why does it have to be sloppy?” she says. “When bodies are in focus, we disregard the architecture; when architecture is in focus, bodies are left behind. As if they are impossible to combine.” All architecture schools should oﬀer a fundamental course in sexytecture – spaces designed for sexual pleasure. In such places, the social, erotic and political are intertwined with design, and the insights gained from them will aﬀect other kinds of design projects. Everyone is forced to situate themselves in relation to sexytecture – not only students who deviate from societal norms in relation to sexuality and gender – and it can become a way to study architecture across diﬀerences. This was not the advice I was given as a PhD student, however. One professor warned me: “Do not ruin your career by being sexually explicit. It will stain your research.” I guess I took it as a challenge to do the contrary. My research, which considers the intimate and reciprocal relationship between bodies and spaces, has a stained patina created by bodily fluids and lubricants – it was always the wetlands that attracted me. Perhaps I am just more of an outdoor person. Open-air cruising grounds always make me happier than indoor establishments. One summer, my lover and I were on vacation with a couple of friends in Croatia. A queer travel guide had recommended a trip to the island of Jerolim – not only were there nudist-bathing possibilities, but there was also a great cruising area. A small boat took us across and we disembarked onto a landing that jutted out from the pale-yellow rock. We found a path lined with tree-sized geraniums that led to the nudist cliﬀs and beaches where
Cruising Pavilion: Architecture, Gay Sex and Cruising Culture ran at ArkDes, Stockholm until 10 November 2019.
In the 20 Years That I Have Been Eating Here Words Deyan Sudjic Growing up in London in the 1960s as I did, if you were aiming to eat out, there was fish and chips, fried twice nightly, served not in newspaper but wrapped in kitchen paper. Or there was the Wimpy Bar, an American import rendered thoroughly bland by its British franchisee. Then, in 1965, something remarkable happened: Peter Boizot acquired his first pizza oven and established Pizza Express. Boizot was a remarkably successful entrepreneur, with a highly unusual commitment to doing things well. He bought art by Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi to hang in that first restaurant in Soho. There was jazz in the evenings, and when Venice suﬀered in the floods of 1966, he invited his customers to contribute to the Venice in Peril Fund by ordering a Veneziana pizza. Boizot was an avuncular-looking snappy dresser, switching between plaid trousers teamed with leather jackets and bold-patterned ties, and Savile Row suits. As important as the idea of putting authentic pizza on the menu – exotic for the time – was the restaurant itself. Boizot oﬀered good food at a budget price in restaurants that looked expensive – he hired the artist Enzo Apicella to design them. Pizza Express started in Soho’s Wardour Street, then opened in an old dairy in Bloomsbury and then on Fulham Road. I remember ordering my first American Hot in the Richmond Branch, which had a blood-red interior and a juke
box playing Frijid Pink’s version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’. Later, as the company grew, it had an impressive record of working with talented architects to design a series of interesting interiors. These moved on from Apicella’s original pop art-inspired approach but still made eating a £10 pizza feel like an event. I was working in Glasgow in 1999, where Malcolm Fraser designed the Sauchiehall Street Pizza Express, injecting a touch of metropolitan sophistication into the franchise. In 2010, long after Boizot had sold his stake, Ab Rogers was commissioned to bring some of Apicella’s adventurous flavour into the Richmond branch, followed by Brent Cross, Fulham and Nottingham. In retrospect, Pizza Express not only changed how and where we eat: it was also the model for the explosion of restaurant chains that have dominated the British high street since the 1990s, and their subsequent implosion. It has been a rollercoaster ride, fuelled first by the passions of chefs and later by private-equity money. For much of the first decades of the 21st century, investors viewed the boom in casual-dining chains as a reliable route to guaranteed returns. Today, it is a model that the debt-burdened plight of Pizza Express has shown to be untenable. After Boizot sold his stake, Luke Johnson – the entrepreneur now best known for the Patisserie Valerie catastrophe, which saw the company enter administration in January 2019 – floated Pizza Express on the stock market in 1993. The company then went through a bewildering sequence of financial transactions. It was acquired by, among others, Gondola (which for a while also owned Ask, Zizzi and Byron) and Cinven. With its business model based on constant expansion and the need for rivers of cash from customers to service the
things have been changing. According to Uber’s figures, UberEats’s gross merchandise value for the year ending 2018 was $7.9bn. With the exception of McDonald’s, Uber charges its partner restaurants up to 30 per cent per delivery, while insisting that they sell meals for the same price as they do in their outlets. This food is increasingly not even made in a restaurant, but in one of the so-called dark kitchens springing up in industrial parks on the fringes of big cities – prefabricated structures that allow restaurants to expand without opening high-street premises, and which Deliveroo bills as “Deliveroo Editions”. Since 30 per cent is substantially more than most restaurants’ profit margin, it appears to be an unsustainable business model for the service-provider. In addition to this, Uber and its competitors also charge the end-user a booking fee. Small wonder, then, that Amazon’s emergence as the lead investor in a $575m funding round in Deliveroo has prompted consternation from rivals and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. Uber had hoped for a valuation of $120bn through its IPO, although it is presently worth only around $45bn. The company reported a $1bn loss for the third quarter of 2019, largely driven by the costs of its taxi business; food delivery perhaps looks more lucrative. I sit in the Camden Town branch of Pizza Express watching the delivery riders come and go. I notice that the restaurant has just undergone its fourth facelift in the 20 years that I have been eating here. I wonder why all the chairs but two are folded tubular steel of the kind you would find in a wedding marquee. The other two look more as if they belong in the Pizza Express of the early days and seem to have been imported from a Danish manufacturer. Are they the samples from yet another revamp that had to be cancelled on cost grounds? Eating my Chinese-owned American Hot is not exactly the trigger for a Proustian reverie.
debts taken on for growth, the chain-restaurant bubble unsurprisingly proved unsustainable and burst. Owned by a Chinese investment company since 2014, and struggling to deal with more than £1bn in debt, Pizza Express still has some 620 outlets in Britain, Europe and Asia. It is now desperately trying to raise cash and to cut its lossmaking restaurants. It’s not just the finances that have gone wrong. The same disruptive technologies that have already changed how we move around the city, meet each other and conduct our politics are also changing how, where and what we eat. The rise of app-driven food delivery from companies such as Just Eat, UberEats, and
The interior of the Pizza Express at Langham Place, Oxford Circus.
Deliveroo is a threat to large chunks of the industry, partially collapsing the diﬀerence between home and restaurant food. In May 2019, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant chain went into administration, for example. Compared to a year earlier, 5m fewer trips to full-service restaurants were made in the 12 weeks leading up to 24 March 2019 – a trend partly attributable to the rise in takeaway apps. “The current trading environment for companies across the casual-dining sector is as tough as I’ve ever seen,” said Will Wright, an administrator brought in to deal with the fallout from the collapse of Oliver’s restaurant empire. When Uber embarked on its Initial Public Oﬀering in April 2019, it was the company’s impact on how we eat that demonstrated how quickly
The American Hot is available from Pizza Express, price £14.50.
Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford firstname.lastname@example.org
As we approach the end of 2019, we can look back at a year of rich Bauhaus centenary celebrations across the globe. Today, 86 years on from its closure, the German design school’s legacy continues to permeate a broad range of artistic fields. Within this context, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has staged a free exhibition that explores the birth of modernism in Britain. Anchored around the short period when three Bauhaus émigrés, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy, lived and worked in the UK, it traces the lineage of modernist influences by situating their built work within an expanded field of architecture by both well-known and overlooked British architects. Drawing on the RIBA’s collections, and curated by Valeria Carullo and Pete Collard, Beyond Bauhaus – Modernism in Britain 1933–66, demonstrates the enduring impact of the Bauhaus, from unique interior designs to large-scale utopian visions. Any display spanning three decades is inevitably confined by limitations. This publication in conjunction with Disegno, therefore, is an opportunity to expand upon the exhibition’s themes and to publish unseen collection material and research. Our hope is that this special edition will exist beyond the physical display, oﬀering fresh opportunities to reassess the ideas of the Bauhaus, some of which seem as radical today as they might have been perceived a hundred years ago.
Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki email@example.com Creative producer Evi Hall firstname.lastname@example.org Subeditor Ann Morgan Creative directors Florian Böhm, Annahita Kamali akfb.com Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com Commercial partnerships manager Jess Tully firstname.lastname@example.org Photography The front and back covers show Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s painting 10807191645.
Alan Vallance, CEO, Royal Institute of British Architects To find out more about Beyond Bauhaus – Modernism in Britain 1933–66 visit architecture.com/beyondbauhaus.
Photography RIBA Collections and Edmund Sumner Texts Pete Collard Paper and print This special edition is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm. The paper used in this publication is from Fedrigoni UK. Contact Disegno Studio 2, The Rose Lipman Building 43 De Beauvoir Road London N1 5SQ +44 20 7249 1155
An Interior Without Walls Installation images Edmund Sumnerâ€‚Archive image RIBA Collections
RIBA speaks to art and architecture studio Pezo von Ellrichshausen about their exhibition design for Beyond Bauhaus â€“ Modernism in Britain 1933-66, and the influence of monochrome photography and colour on modernist architecture.
Beyond Bauhaus â€“ Modernism in Britain 1933-66 at RIBA, featuring exhibition design by Pezo von Ellrichshausen.
The Torilla house in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, designed by F.R.S. Yorke and built in 1934 (photograph: Dell & Wainwright; Architectural Press Archive).
RIBA We always intend our exhibitions to challenge
the traditional format of an architectural display and to contest the notion of archival or process materials, which are sometimes incorrectly elevated to the status of artwork. So we spent the beginning of this project thinking about exhibitions like that staged by the MARS Group in 1938, and the MoMA Bauhaus show in the same year, considering how those displays would have been perceived as a modern form of communication framing a modern form of architecture. But how, today, can exhibition design compensate for the absence of physical architecture within a show, while still communicating something of its curatorial themes? Sofia von Ellrichshausen I think that an architectural exhibition can aspire, at most, to convey some experience of the documents that inform a building. Perhaps the curse of architectural exhibitions is that there’s no way to really compensate for the absence of the building itself. The experience of a building is too complex for that. RIBA Most of our research took place in the RIBA archives, which includes the files of individual architects, but also photography collections like those of the Architectural Press. So the collection comprises a lot of quite stark, black and white images – what were your initial thoughts when studying that fairly restricted exhibit list for the first time? Sofia We quickly realised that the exhibition mostly consisted of two-dimensional documents and materials. That kind of discrete flatness suggested a fundamental spatial problem, which is endemic to any photography-based exhibition: how do you extend the intimacy of the pictures into a collective experience without losing their individuality? Our response was rather literal: a field of columns that would fill the gallery space, and which would display the works through apertures cut into them. Visitors could meander through those columns, discovering the content of the exhibition in diﬀerent moments, while retaining a sense of intimacy. RIBA Through the viewing holes in the columns? Sofia Yes. So the models, drawings and photographs became precious items, almost “floating” in a series of small, decontextualised white rooms within the columns. Despite the open plan of the gallery, which lacked a predefined route, the collective experience would always be mediated by a one-to-one relationship to the individual exhibits.
And in opposition to the neutral, austere historical landscape of the exhibits, the space itself became a dense chromatic experience. RIBA Colour is an important theme within the Bauhaus and its teachings, and something we studied in detail. We found that some of the buildings we researched, such as High Cross House at Dartington in Devon, made bold use of coloured surfaces, but it was largely absent from the materials we wanted to exhibit. How did you approach this element of the exhibition design? Mauricio Pezo We selected orange, green and purple for the columns, which oﬀer both a sensual experience but also an intellectual one, since they’re the only three colours that seem to have nothing to do with the Bauhaus aesthetic. We’re interested in unstable forms of perception and understanding, and those three colours are the so-called secondary colours. Since orange, green and purple are the overlap between the primary colours, we read them as being of a more complex – almost mongrel – nature than those used by the Bauhaus. It was a palette that implies the notion of influence and of our relative distance to the Bauhaus. One might even read those colours as a form of ideological “decay”, which was, of course, also the case with the Bauhaus émigrés in Britain. They were transferring their lessons to a new, foreign context. RIBA How does colour feature usually in your practice? Mauricio We tend to associate colour with a particular material presence, so it’s a consequence of other factors. When we develop an idea, we normally start with the articulation of the programme within its context, which is then translated into a spatial proposition. Afterwards, we develop that composition by analysing potential modes of production: materials, construction systems, available labour and so on. So we actually consider the material resolution of a building, including colour, to be something rather fragile, circumstantial and malleable. Sofia We have a parallel approach to colour in our paintings, where we tend to be more daring, and use more saturated and contrasting colours. In our buildings, we’re more discreet and let the natural expression of materials tint the spaces over time. But our practice constantly oscillates between the production of buildings and the production of paintings. The translation from one domain to the other has become a continuous movement. RIBA How do you mean? Does your painting feed into your architecture?
Mauricio The main distinction is how time and
as possible, diluting a more personal point of view. In our understanding, the documentation of a building should be less extensive and more intensive. RIBA The Architectural Review published an essay by the artist Michael Rosenstein in 1946, in which he discusses the idea of a feedback loop between photography and the new architecture. During the first years of modernism, the two seemed to feed on one another, exploiting the monochrome to exaggerate the functionalism on display in the architecture, as in the work of Dell & Wainwright. How much do you feel that black and white photography has shaped our perceptions of historic architecture? Mauricio I would read black and white photography as a historical filter. It’s a result of the technology available at the time, but it also oﬀers a reductive portrait of architecture. I don’t mean “reductive” with any negative connotations – rather, it’s an open, and perhaps more honest, way to represent the un-representable. Architecture in a black and white picture conveys a sense of gravity, silence and detachment. It turns a building into a more transcendental reality; the photography becomes a filter that transfigures the everyday into a sublime moment. Sofia We don’t use black and white photography to document our own work, although we do tend to use it for making personal portraits – perhaps it’s a romantic approach to our own inevitable ageing. But we like the colour of real buildings – of things populating rooms and of landscapes framed by windows. I would read this as the opposite of the modernist ethos: a way of celebrating, or elevating, the timeless quality of architectonic space within the colourful expression of life. END
movement aﬀects one or the other. A painting is an abstracted world, which, thanks to the display conventions of art institutions, is seen at a certain distance, in a certain position. In the case of architecture, everything happens at once without distinction. We move through buildings at diﬀerent times of the day; in diﬀerent seasons; in diﬀerent moods; and with things and people further populating our impressions. So we prefer to be as neutral as possible in our architecture to allow for those diﬀerent chromatic nuances to come out. Sofia Over time we have moved from doing rather monochrome paintings to using a wide range of tints, shades and tones. Our buildings have followed a similar path. We began by being extremely careful in reducing the tonal impression of the rooms, whereas now we are incorporating more variations – perhaps to make more explicit the sensual impact of art on life. RIBA Many of the photographs in the exhibition were taken for the Architectural Press by the photographers Dell & Wainwright, whose approach deliberately highlighted some of the dynamic qualities of modernism. But the archives also revealed that the architects Leslie Martin and Sadie Speight returned to and photographed their own projects, which gives an altogether diﬀerent reading of the building. That’s something that you do as well – what does documenting your buildings add to your practice? Sofia At the beginning of our careers, we commissioned a photographer, but we weren’t totally satisfied with their view of our work. We saw that photography was an art form with enormous potential, so we purchased professional equipment and began documenting every one of our buildings. Over time, this has almost become a tradition: we visit the building right after the workers have left and right before the inhabitants move in. We read it as a form of celebration – a personal ritual in which we capture significant aspects of the building. There is a sense of gravity – a special rest and silence – that we definitely enjoy. Mauricio Something we appreciate about older architectural photography is that it’s possible to read a degree of intentionality on the part of the photographer. That stands in contrast to contemporary practice, where the digital format has allowed for a large and almost un-filtered proliferation of images. Contemporary photographers seem to capture as many angles and moments
The Life and Times of an Architectural Model Words Pete Collard Images RIBA Collections
In 1936, more than half a million people travelled from across the United Kingdom to visit the Daily Mail Ideal Home Show at London’s Olympia. This popularity reflected the marked increase in home ownership during the decade, while the rapid suburbanisation of the British countryside, matched with easier access to mortgages, led to a rising interest in interior design and decoration. The Ideal Home Show was an entertaining way to keep up with the latest fashions, as well as aﬀording opportunities to catch a glimpse of film stars such as Gracie Fields and Leonora Corbett, in attendance to make promotional appearances. As a survey of contemporary trends, the exhibits shown in 1936 suggest that modernism had yet to make significant inroads into mainstream British tastes. Among the “12 acres of enchantment” on display at Olympia were full-size demonstration homes oﬀering either tradition (the Tudor House with oak-lined gables and leaded windows) or economy (the Timber Development Association’s “£350 Timber House”, built from red cedar wood and Douglas fir). One exhibit, however, oﬀered a more ambitious vision. Shown by the Cement & Concrete Association, A Garden City of the Future was a “shock demonstration” of the principles of modern city planning, giving the public a glimpse of a Britain that might yet arrive. Designed by the former Bauhaus tutor Marcel Breuer and his new partner, the British architect F.R.S. Yorke, the exhibit was smaller in size than many of its rivals but far bolder in vision. It would go on to have a significant architectural legacy. The 1:20 scale model displayed a city built on an imaginary site that oﬀered 700m of south-facing river frontage, into which Breuer and Yorke placed rows of oﬃce buildings and high-rise apartment blocks; a theatre; school; parks; riverside cafés; and a stepped shopping centre, built alongside a road junction. The individual elements were laid out with strict
segregation of land-use: work, housing, leisure, retail. It was a geometrically regular scheme beyond anything previously seen in Britain. Breuer had moved to London the previous year following a nomadic period working in Berlin, Zurich and Budapest, interspersed with extended travels by car through southern France, Spain, Morocco and Greece. The Hungarian had studied at the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius, later accepting an invitation from his mentor to become a faculty director at the school’s new campus in Dessau. By contrast, his partner Yorke was taught according to beaux-arts principles in the more prosaic surroundings of the Birmingham School of Architecture and moved straight to London upon graduation in 1930. A Garden City of the Future was one of the partnership’s first commissions. The brief was simple and open – design an urban environment that could demonstrate concrete’s ability to provide solutions to a number of modern construction and planning problems. For the Cement & Concrete Association, the pair was likely to oﬀer a safe return on its investment; Breuer was an international name with clear modernist credentials, while Yorke was an emerging British talent and a regular contributor to The Architects’ Journal. Studies of the project drawings that are now held in the RIBA archives show the level of detail to which the proposal was executed, while also clearly demonstrating that nearly all of its buildings can be linked to other – often much later – designs by Breuer. The theatre is a more refined and pragmatic version of a proposal submitted for a competition in Ukraine; the main apartment blocks are variations on concepts first exhibited at the Paris Werkbund Exhibition of 1930. At the centre of the plan, the bold ziggurat profile of the shopping complex is a reworking of a design for
A working drawing for Marcel Breuer and F.R.S. Yorkeâ€™s 1934 Garden City of the Future (image: Architectural Press Archive).
The Garden City of the Future (photograph: Dell & Wainwright; Architectural Press Archive).
a hospital in Elberfeld, Germany, albeit now built using the sponsor’s concrete, instead of the original steel framework. Brought together in a single scheme, the works give a vivid demonstration of Breuer’s confidence, ambition and clarity of architectural vision – all despite, or perhaps because of, his comparatively young age of 34. Yet although A Garden City of the Future draws primarily on a portfolio of work that he had completed prior to his arrival in London, there are some details and ideas that show a deliberate attempt to engage with traditional British architectural forms, as championed by his partner Yorke. The 12-storey apartment blocks were originally derived from Breuer’s unrealised plans for the Siemensstadt estate in Berlin and laid out according to the Zeilenbau (row house) principle of north-northwest to south-south-east alignment, which was designed to maximise sunlight for residents. However, one block on the model was noticeably diﬀerent, arranged in a crescent on an east-west axis. Elsewhere, the rows of oﬃce blocks to the east of the site were developed from the same design principles as the apartments. They provided air, light and unobstructed outlooks for the workers, “because it is here that a man spends a large proportion of his waking hours,” explained
Breuer, but they also featured a gentle curvature at each end, creating a double Y-shaped plan. Such experiments with curves, largely absent from Breuer’s previous work, can be attributed to a surprising reference: British Regency architecture. When later speaking about the Garden City project to the American press, Breuer called the Royal Crescent in Bath, which lays out an entire street in a standardised form but constructed as if it were a single building, the “best example of modern planning”. His interest in the subject can be traced to his partner Yorke, who viewed modern domestic architecture as part of a natural lineage, albeit one that had ruptured abruptly in the Victorian era. Writing in The Architectural Review, Yorke described the resemblance between Regency and modernist architecture as “the direct result of architects of two epochs attempting the rationalised solution of a very similar problem, and evolving at the same time a similar aesthetic vocabulary”. The architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner agreed, declaring that modernism “harmonises to perfection with the English tradition”. Such ideas demonstrate the growing plurality of modernism in Britain at that time, with many debates centring around the Modern Architecture Research (MARS) Group. Yorke was a founder member and Breuer also joined soon after his arrival in Britain.
The UNESCO building in Paris (1952), designed by Marcel Breuer, Pier Luigi Nervi and Bernard Zehrfuss (photograph: RIBA Collections).
In the 1960s, Breuer’s career was at its peak. By now based in New York, Breuer and his oﬃce worked on projects around the world, the firm having achieved renown for its inventiveness and dynamic use of materials. Yet several of these works would continue to display architectural motifs and ideas first seen in his model British city. The Garden City’s cloverleaf pavilion was built twice, first as a beach restaurant in Argentina and then reinvented again as a more angular variation for a temporary oﬃce in Rotterdam. The Y-plan oﬃces were finally completed, becoming an assortment of important international landmarks: the UNESCO building in Paris, designed with Bernard Zehrfuss and Pier Luigi Nervi; two IBM research centres in France and Florida; and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. Reflecting on the project in 1961, Breuer acknowledged that the commission for the Cement & Concrete Association was a “turning point” in his career, a chance to consider in detail the technical possibilities of concrete but also the moment when his architectural relationship with the material developed “more toward plastic form”. Even the monumental nature of his later works – the inverted ziggurat of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (now the Met Breuer), for instance – can be seen in the model, although the later building is projected outwards at a volume and scale that demonstrate Breuer’s increased confidence with form and material. In this way, we can perhaps consider A Garden City of the Future as being like a child’s kaleidoscope: patterns and forms emerge and reshape, adding vernacular elements or historic details and references, before being transformed and changed once more. END
The MARS Group later exhibited the Garden City model, now called The Concrete City, at an exhibition in 1938 and it was through this organisation that Breuer developed a close friendship with the architect Leslie Martin. The pair subsequently corresponded in detail about Breuer’s Ukrainian State Theatre, ahead of its inclusion in Martin’s modern arts publication Circle, with the Hungarian reflecting critically on his own design: “the programme asked for a theatre to seat 4,000 which is a mistake because it is impossible to seat 4,000 well.” The conversations oﬀer the first demonstrable example of the model’s influence on British architecture. Martin was later appointed as the lead architect on the Royal Festival Hall, the centrepiece of the 1951 Festival of Britain and the first major example of civic architecture built in Britain after the war. Constructed on the South Bank in London, Martin’s design contains several elements of Breuer’s original Ukrainian scheme and its Garden City variation. As in the latter, Martin’s hall occupies a riverside site, with light-filled communal foyer stairs and internal bridges that overlook the Thames through the metal and glass facade (with seating for nearly 3,000 visitors). Other British architects borrowed more liberally from Breuer’s vision, often from a significant temporal distance. Completed almost 30 years later, James Stirling’s Florey Building for Queen’s College, Oxford presents a near-identical design to the model’s ziggurat shopping centre, but with an inward profile supported by angular concrete trestles. Built around the same time, the sculptural forms of Denys Lasdun’s sprawling University of East Anglia campus owe a similar debt to both the Garden City shopping centre and Breuer’s original scheme for Elberfeld hospital, with raised concrete decks and walkways crossing the sloping parkland below. Breuer’s stay in Britain was brief. Within two years he had left to take a teaching position at Harvard University, but took photographs of A Garden City of the Future with him. In 1938, the images were featured in an exhibition of his work at Harvard, but now titled Civic Centre of the Future, perhaps in acknowledgement of the new context in which they were being seen. Among the resulting press coverage, the Boston Herald featured the project in detail, declaring “What Cities of the Future Will Look Like”, demonstrating to Americans what Breuer would build, if given the chance.
James Stirling’s 1967 Florey building for Queen’s College, Oxford (photograph: Alastair Hunter).
Construction on Denys Lasdun’s 1966 University of East Anglia, Norwich (photograph: Edward Leigh; Lasdun Archive).
The Architectural Road Trip Words Pete Collard Images RIBA Collections
The road trip holds an important place in the culture of architectural practice and education. Generations of architects, young and old, have sought inspiration in travel. Through it, they have sought to gain better understanding of how buildings work – rather than how they look on the page – by studying them in the context of the society that built them.
community in Britain by its more senior counterpart on the continent. The congress took place on board the S.S. Patris II with more than 80 architects in attendance, including Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto and Ernö Goldfinger, each giving lectures and presenting case studies as the boat sailed eastwards from Marseilles to Athens. The British delegates were already seasoned travellers. Yorke had made a number of self-initiated visits to Czechoslovakia to see newly completed functionalist architecture, including the General Pension Institute in Prague by Josef Havlíček and Karel Honzík which was, in 1931, the highest building in the city. Coates, meanwhile, had visited Germany twice with his erstwhile partner Jack Pritchard, as they sought to agree on plans for a site at Lawn Road in North London. Coates finally submitted drawings to a quantity surveyor for the scheme – now known as the Isokon Building – in the same month he left for the CIAM conference. Pritchard’s original brief had been for a single private dwelling for his family. In April 1930 he travelled with Coates to the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart, a housing estate designed and built as a public exhibition by 17 modernist architects, including Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. The work of the latter influenced the first set of designs by Coates, by now a proposal for a pair of linked
John Soane provides perhaps the best-known and first example. As a young man, Soane travelled on a Royal Academy scholarship to Italy in 1778, returning home after three years laden with drawings, artefacts and annotated guidebooks. It is possible to see references to these sketchbooks in many late-18th-century buildings in Britain, as a new interpretation of classicism swept through Georgian architecture. Similarly, the drawings and watercolours produced during John Ruskin’s first sojourns in Italy, which took place some 50 years later, helped revive gothic tendencies among the Victorians. The interwar period was diﬀerent, however. Rather than reflecting on antiquity, it revealed a new architectural language evolving at pace; with few buildings of note emerging on home soil, to be a modernist in Britain meant being a traveller. As a consequence, the design of some of the most significant British buildings from the period can be linked directly to journeys made by their architects. It’s even arguable that British modernism was launched on the road, or to be more accurate, at sea. The participation of the UK delegates Wells Coates, F.R.S. Yorke and Godfrey Samuel at the fourth annual Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) in July 1933, marked the first acknowledgement of the fledgling modernist
The General Institute of Pensions in Prague (1930), designed by Josef Havlíček and Karel Honzík (photograph: Atelier de Sandalo).
Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Paradiset restaurant for the 1930
Stockholmsutställningen (photograph: Carl Gustaf Rosenberg; Architectural Press Archive).
Erich Mendelsohn’s 1930 Schocken department store in Chemnitz, Germany (photograph: RIBA Collections).
Chermayeﬀ’s account of the trip was published in The Architectural Review. His words describe not only the excitement the group felt at the new forms of architecture, but also the joy of travel and of experiencing new places. Arriving into the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof at dawn onboard the Orient Express, Chermayeﬀ deemed the recently completed station “vast and magnificent, already filling with workers”. Later, the group drove eastwards “through the Württemberg towards Bavaria, the Alps gradually visible through the heat haze,” before arriving in Chemnitz to see Mendelsohn’s department store, “a real breath of sea air in this city of stuﬀy architectural horrors of the 19th century”. At a distance of 80 years, it is perhaps hard to imagine the thrill of seeing such “new” architecture for the first time. The proliferation of images in the digital era means that any moment of arrival is diluted by our perceived pre-existing familiarity and understanding of a building or place. Perhaps for this reason, the field trip remains a fundamental component of any architecture syllabus, essential to
houses, yet the project quickly stalled amid a terse exchange of views. “It now looks as if we ought to have been franker with each other,” wrote Pritchard. “It takes a very much longer time than you think to do the actual drawing,” replied Coates. Rapprochement was achieved and, guided by pragmatic financial concerns, the pair began to consider a block of serviced apartments instead. A return to Germany helped give clarity to the project. The second visit in March 1931, this time in the company of architect Serge Chermayeﬀ, took inspiration from housing projects including Bruno Taut’s Hufeisensiedlung (Horseshoe Estate) and Walter Gropius’s Siemensstadt apartments in Berlin. In Chemnitz, they saw Erich Mendelsohn’s Schocken department store, a bold assertion of modernism executed in curved bands of metal, glass and concrete, and later met with the architect in Berlin. Coates’s subsequent designs for the Isokon Building acknowledge the facade of Mendelsohn’s store, but it is referenced more significantly in his design for Embassy Court in Brighton, showing the oceanliner eﬀect of the German’s architecture in full.
demonstrate to new students the role that experience plays when learning about buildings. The Architectural Association (AA) in London established the annual tradition of a field trip in 1870. Among the many overseas excursions undertaken as part of this programme, the field trip of 1930 stands out for its role in shaping modernism in Britain but also for its significance both for the participants and the school itself. Ninety-five students left St Pancras station that July, catching the boat from Harwich to Sweden and then on to Denmark. Under the supervision of AA Secretary F.R. Yerbury, the group saw Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint’s Grundtvig Church in Copenhagen – then still under construction – as well as the new City Hall in Stockholm as part of a tour led by its architect Ragnar Östberg. It was the city’s Stockholmsutställningen or Stockholm Exhibition, however, that had the biggest impact on the group. The display featured works by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz, among others, and was dedicated to introducing functionalism to Swedish society with its tagline of “Accept!” The architect Mary Crowley (later Medd), a member of the AA visiting school, dated her conversion to modernism to the trip that summer and, in particular, to the visit to the Stockholmsutställningen. “What appealed was the simplicity and straightforwardness,” she later commented. “That influence goes right through architecture even to the washing-up bowl and that influence went right through me.” Crowley was one of the first generation of women architects to be taught at the AA, alongside Margaret Justin Blanco White, Jane Drew and Judith Ledeboer. Post-graduation, Crowley and Ledeboer travelled together to the Netherlands and Germany in the summer of 1933, taking in new housing schemes in Essen and Frankfurt, and raising eyebrows as they drove through the Rhineland in Ledeboer’s two-seater Austin car. The trip further cemented a love of travel in Crowley, with subsequent visits to Scandinavia influencing the design of the school buildings with which she would make her name. In 1958, with her architect husband David, she completed a remarkable coast-to-coast trip across the US, visiting more than 130 educational establishments as part of her role at the British Ministry of Education. In time, educational field trips would evolve beyond the format pioneered by the AA into the idea
of the “research unit”, a form of didactic travel that is aided by advances in technology to allow for a more detailed documentation and study of a local area. Perhaps the most significant example from the (post) modern era took place in Las Vegas in 1968, when 13 students from Yale University, led by tutors Steven Izenour, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, used film and photography to document Route 91’s passage through the city as “the archetype of the commercial strip”. The resulting publication, Learning From Las Vegas, is a seminal account of field research in architectural history and still the gold standard that many seek to achieve. Yet with increased documentation comes an increased separation of architectural images from their context and creation. Social media now oﬀers an immediate platform for distribution, such that the concept of the road trip risks becoming a form of cultural exhibitionism. The Bauhaus campus in Dessau, now awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, is a popular modernist tourist destination today, for instance. The minimal studio apartments where Marianne Brandt, Anni Albers, and Hannes Meyer once lived as students, are available to book for overnight stays, with breakfast served in the student canteen, complete with Marcel Breuer furniture and a restored interior colour scheme by Hinnerk Scheper. The aesthetic remains – expanded even – but without the purpose for which it was designed. Back in March 1931, the British trio of modernists Pritchard, Coates and Chermayeﬀ arrived in Dessau to find a very diﬀerent scene. With Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer dismissed by the city council and local-government elections returning a significant shift to the right, the feted school’s time in the city was nearing an end. Pritchard reported the campus to be virtually deserted but lingered to look around the buildings despite the odd atmosphere, noting that “the Bauhaus looked fine amid the unkempt grass”. Today the buildings are the same, but the significance of their creation (and subsequent closure) has been diluted – or even lost. Perhaps the real purpose of the road trip is to document the passing of time, rather than the architecture. END
Disegno #25: A Year in Review includes: An artist's gallery curated by Annahita Kamali and Florian Böhm of Studio AKFB; Eighteen essays abou...