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The Collector of Cracks Words Oli Stratford
Since assuming the editorship of Disegno in September 2016, I have spent a great deal of time wondering what the magazine ought to be – this seemed suitably editorial behaviour. Sadly, I have achieved next to no definite answers, although the exercise has led me to take an interest in the work of the Russian short-story writer Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950). I especially like one of his works: The Collector of Cracks. The story tells a fairy tale of a holy hermit who has “power over all the cracks, great and small, that are crannied into things”. Each night, the hermit calls the world’s cracks down from their homes, setting them “blundering through dense forest” or “wriggl[ing] out of the bone” and invites them into the glade in which he resides. There, he preaches to them: “It is wrong for God’s world not to be whole. You, cracks, have crannied into things and cloven them. Why? To nourish your crackist bodies, to tend and widen your twists.” I should not like Disegno to be quite as judgmental as Krzhizhanovsky’s hermit. If Disegno is to be anything, it ought to be a welcoming home for cracks: a space for the uncertain, the undecided and the unresolved. In this issue, we feature an exploration of the architectural Introduction
merit of refugee camps; a report into how physical manifestations of money reflect society’s notions of exchange and value; and a series of iPad illustrations that examine our perceptual apparatus. None of these projects achieve clean resolutions or set answers – which is why they were selected for publication. Since its inception, Disegno has tried to show that design has something valuable to say to spheres as diffuse and important as art, politics, science, technology, industry and commerce. These are not areas in which tidy responses are hugely productive. Or, at least they shouldn’t be. At the time of making this issue, Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the US off the back of a campaign that ignored any nuance in the issues facing the electorate in favour of serving up a demagogic gavage of false easy answers. Forgive me if I suggest that Disegno ought not ape this approach. The problems that design should be attempting to solve are complicated and untidy – we should expect a few cracks in the answers we reach.
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Contents 54 Observation Yellow Inflatable Jacket, S/S17 by Balenciaga Industrial manufacture repurposed for fashion
19 Timeline September to November 2016 in review
57 Observation Father, Son and Holy Spirit by Lars Frideen for Seeds Gallery The riddle of a plywood drinks cabinet
The Pacific Solution (166) Australia’s spatial politics of refusal
22 Photoessay Dionysos Natural and cultural landscape in an Athenian marble quarry
58 History A Childhood Utopia Alexander Girard’s wartime fantasy land
69 Comment The Unlifted Veil Decoding Google’s algorithms
9 Introduction The Collector of Cracks 14
16 Masthead The people behind Disegno
Observation Spit Guard Pro by KIT Design Designing for restraint
32 Observation Ernö by Michael Marriott for the National Trust A plastic hook by way of Goldfinger 34 Conversation Collisions Zowie Broach and Sam Jacob reflect on the challenges facing design education 43 Comment Changing Frameworks Papal, legal and environmental paradigms for climate change 44 Comment Periods and Spaces The public infrastructure of the menstrual cup 46 Process But is it a Beetle? Reporting from the US Supreme Court hearing of Apple v. Samsung 53 Observation YEV-104 by Yamaha Material choices for an electric violin
No Man’s Sky (162) A video game reveals the perils of limitless creation
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined (170) Uncovering the gendering at the root of vulgarity Death by Design (174) A documentary of horrors from the world of consumer electronics
70 Comment A few Chickens and a Parrot Legislation for drones
177 Project A History of Building The new Smithsonian museum tells the story of AfricanAmerican architecture
72 Report New Money Designing for digital in the age of dematerialised cash
193 Profile Machines for Noise Yuri Suzuki and the emergence of sound design
81 Travelogue A Capital in Exile Architectural field notes from the refugee camps of the Western Sahara
200 Anatomy 18th-Century Vernacular A history of the secretary desk, as interpreted by Michele De Lucchi
97 Project Contextual Illumination George Sowden’s plan to retire the lightbulb
204 Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
113 Special Project The Dream of Reality Laureline Galliot looks to A.A. Milne for new ways of seeing 129 Roundtable Somewhere Serious Making the new Design Museum 145 Portraits What Follows The impact of post-Brexit political rhetoric
208 Endnote Design Vocabulary: A Series of Interventions Linguistic confusion in Californian cityscapes
Contributors Iwan Baan was part of the team for the inaugural Western Sahara Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, for which he photographed the architecture of refugee camps. p. 81 Nicole Bachmann is based in London, loves furniture design, is interested in how people live, and shoots for W, Christie’s and Vitra, among others. p. 34 Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel are an artist and a photographer who have collaborated for two years, based on a shared outlook on their environment. p. 31, 32, 53, 54, 57
Max Creasy is working on a book with the British architect Hugh Strange. p. 129 Kevin Davies photographed more than 25 fashion designers in their studios earlier this year for a book due out in spring 2017. p. 145 Laureline Galliot is a French designer with a particular focus on 3D-printed objects and the new formal possibilities offered by digital tools. p. 113
Adrienne Brown is finishing a book on the early skyscraper and how it changed Americans’ view and experience of race. p. 177
Alexander Kori Girard and Aleishall Girard Maxon co-direct Girard Studio, which helped to create Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe, a retrospective now open at the Vitra Design Museum. p. 58
David Birkin is an artist based in New York and London. His work revolves around surveillance, censorship, and representations of war. p. 70
Manuel Herz is an architect interested in the urbanism of refugee camps. He curated the Western Sahara Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale. p. 81
David Burns is researching the intersections of refusal in Australian migration policy, Aboriginal land rights and resource extraction. p. 166
Dean Kaufman is reflecting on wandering the halls of the US Supreme Court on a quiet day in October and how much has changed since then. p. 177
Gaia Cambiaggi is a longtime digital refusenik with an analogue heart who prefers to shoot on film. p. 200
Delfino Sisto Legnani is a Milan-based photographer. His work spans reportage, architecture and still-lifes. p. 97
Colin Christie works in London and is mostly recovered from too many long work trips. He is a principal at the graphic-design practice Christiechristie. p. 208
Niki and Zoe Moskofoglou are curators of the Greek Pavilion at London’s 2016 Design Biennale. They run the marble atelier On Entropy. p. 22
Joshua Portway and Lise Autogena created Black Shoals, a stock market planetarium installation. p. 72 Vicky Richardson commissioned Home Economics for the British Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. p. 129 Tamar Shafrir is researching how design objects are categorised in past, present and future taxonomies. p. 72 Thomas Thwaites is a speculative designer who tried to become a goat. p. 174 Juan Trujillo Andrades’s work has taken him to Silverstone, the Tour de France, Mount Etna and Tel Aviv. p. 193 Nikolas Ventourakis is showing an installation as part of The MAC International shortlist exhibition in Belfast. p. 22 John L. Walters, the lapsed electro pioneer and jazz composer, is the editor of Pulp and the co-owner and editor of Eye magazine. p. 193 Will Wiles is the architecture and design editor of Port magazine, and the author of two novels, Care of Wooden Floors and The Way Inn. p. 162 Amber Winick is writing a book about fashion and feminism. p. 46
What began with a sparkâ€Ś
The Quarterly Journal of Design #13 Editor-in-chief Oli Stratford email@example.com
Founder and publication director Johanna Agerman Ross
Publisher and commercial director Chris Jones firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy editor Kristina Rapacki email@example.com
Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com
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Words by David Birkin, Adrienne Brown, David Burns, Colin Christie, Alexander Kori Girard, Aleishall Girard Maxon, Manuel Herz, Joe Lloyd, A.A. Milne, Niki Moskofoglou, Zoe Moskofoglou, Kristina Rapacki, Vicky Richardson, Tamar Shafrir, Oli Stratford, Thomas Thwaites, John L. Walters, Will Wiles and Amber Winick. Images by Lise Autogena, Iwan Baan, Nicole Bachmann, Ayzit Bostan, Gaia Cambiaggi, Max Creasy, Kevin Davies, Fabian Frinzel, Laureline Galliot, Dean Kaufman, Joshua Portway, Leonhard Rothmoser, Delfino Sisto Legnani, Juan Trujillo Andrades and Nikolas Ventourakis. Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Extra White 110gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss 115 gsm. The cover is printed on Constellation Snow E48 Intreccio 280gsm. All of the paper used in this issue is from Fedrigoni UK.
Thanks Thank you to Faye and Erica Toogood, Jan Rose, and the team at Studio Toogood for a wonderful collaboration; all of the contributors to ‘What Follows’ for their thoughtfulness and dignity; Veselin Iliev and Yordan Jeliazkov for their hospitality; Laureline Galliot for her beautiful and compelling illustrations; Zowie Broach for her sage advice; and Nathalie Assi, Ugne Paberzyte and Lars Frideen for their patience and dedication when under fire. We are very grateful to all our contributors, and for the help of everybody who has supported us and helped make Disegno #13 possible. Not least Noah, the beautiful white whippet who lives at our neighbours Studio Warm and who was kind enough to visit us in our office.
Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. Contact us Disegno, Tack Press Limited 7 Ability Plaza, Arbutus Street London E8 4DT +44 20 7249 1155 disegnodaily.com Tack Press Limited Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with men’s fashion magazine Jocks&Nerds and creative agency Tack Studio. tack-press.com tack-studio.com
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Installation view of the exhibition Bauhaus: 1919-1928, on view December 7 1938 to January 30 1939 at MoMA, photograph by Soichi Sunami; photograph courtesy of B&B Italia; Noto image courtesy of Monotype.
Andrea Bonomi promising to “make
successor ought to provoke no shortage
available the resources necessary
Martin Roth and Nicholas Serota step down
to allow B&B Italia to continue to
The announcement that Martin Roth was
grow”. This statement was vindicated
leaving his position as director of
in September 2016, when B&B became
the V&A – strongly rumoured to have
the majority stakeholder in kitchen
been prompted by Brexit – was followed
brand Arclinea. Lighting, furniture,
Hedi Slimane defends YSL record on Twitter
quickly by news that Nicholas Serota’s
kitchens – Investindustrial’s design
“IN CONCLUSION, IT IS ACCURATE TO SAY
near three-decade tenure as director
portfolio is steadily rounding out.
THAT THE YSL ICONIC INITIALS WERE IN
of Tate would end in 2017. Such
FACT CELEBRATED AND CHAMPIONED BY
vacancies present a golden opportunity
HEDI.” Thus ended the extraordinary
to break male hegemony in art-museum
series of 22 tweets that, at the
directorship. Of the world’s top 12
time of writing, comprise the entire
art museums as based on attendance,
Twitter output of Hedi Slimane, former
only one – Tate Modern – is led by
creative director of Saint Laurent, in
a woman: Frances Morris. Yet old
response to reports that he had tried
habits die hard. Whether the V&A or
to excise the Y in the YSL logo during
Tate is capable of moving away from
his tenure at the brand. The news was
the old boy’s club remains to be seen.
gossipy, but captured a major pressure on creative directors – to encourage new ideas, while rigidly adhering
MoMA plays itself
to a brand’s history. It’s a form
MoMA’s decision to release digitised
Basra Museum reopens
of doublethink – how do you pursue
material from its archives has made
Following a year in which Isis
new forms of expression in a context
it possible to piece together some
embarked upon widespread destruction
in which such expression is both
3,500 historical exhibitions through
of cultural heritage across the Middle
demanded and reviled?
more than 33,000 installation
East, the partial opening of the
photographs. The material chronicles
Basra Museum in Iraq was a much-needed
exhibitions that date from the present
counterforce. Based in Saddam Hussein's
Google and Monotype launch Noto
day back to the museum’s foundation
former palace, the museum has taken
The potential of Noto, a universal
in 1929 and should prove an invaluable
eight years to come together and will
typeface developed by Google and
resource for historians. The
provide a home for Iraqi antiquities
Monotype, is vast. Designed to
release also seems an exercise in
in a space whose most recent previous
encompass all written languages
institutional myth-building – like the
use was as a mess hall for British
and scripts (both dead and alive),
myriad cinematic representations of
troops in Iraq. The museum director
Noto is a work of astonishing digital
Los Angeles in Thom Anderson’s video
Qahtan al-Obaid’s statement that the
preservation. In 2015, Google’s
essay Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003),
choice of location would “replace
vice-president Vint Cerf had warned
the newly released material recasts
the themes of dictatorship and tyranny
of a “digital dark age” as the
MoMA as its own main character.
with civilization and humanity” could
formats used to store information
scarcely have been more pointed.
become obsolete, but Noto has taken a more optimistic view. By capturing languages that have never previously
Sharon Baurley leaves the RCA
had a digital alphabet – such as
The 2014 appointment of Sharon Baurley
Tibetan, Ogham and Fulani – Noto
as head of the Royal College of Art's
may one day stand as a repository
influential Design Products programme
of unprecedented cultural history.
became a lightning rod for wider dissatisfaction with the school’s governance. As Baurley is primarily an academic rather than a practicing designer, her appointment suggested a department committed to chasing
B&B Italia purchases Arclinea
governmental research funding in
For those who watch the Italian
place of fostering the type of
design industry, the private-equity
experimental design for which it had
fund Investindustrial has quietly made
become known. Whether Baurley’s newly
a name for itself. Having acquired
announced departure from the programme
Flos in 2014, it purchased B&B Italia
will signal a change of tack is
in 2015, with the fund’s senior partner
doubtful, but the identity of her
Art History A-Level axed
of the architectural value of either
Building upon the initiative of former
pavilion, the plans cast both councils
education secretary Michael Gove,
One-and-a-half years in prison, two
as trigger-happy: willing to construct
the UK’s Department of Education
suspended sentences and £2.5m in
without heed to the needs of the local
announced that art history will no
damages. This was the verdict reached
community and then prone to demolish
longer be available as an A-level
in a Swedish court case likely to
on a whim. Architecture ought to have
subject. The reform, which also sees
set a precedent for future prosecutions
a longer shelf life than this.
the axing of A-level subjects such
of design-copyright infringement.
as anthropology and archaeology,
The four Swedish entrepreneurs
was announced in 2013 to make way
behind the UK-based online retailer
for “more challenging, more ambitious
and more rigorous” specifications.
a loophole in European copyright
The discontinuation of Art History
law to sell Chinese-produced copies
in particular has proved symbolic of
of mid-century design to the Swedish
the general depletion of state funding
market. In most European countries,
for fields deemed “soft”, feeding
designs must be licensed until 70
into the general slash-and-burn arts
years after the author’s death, while
policy adopted by the UK government
in the UK this protection runs to
since 2010, which has already seen
25 years only. Or, it did until just
Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie opens to media
a 32 per cent cut in the Arts
after the EU referendum, when the
Hamburg residents have nicknamed their
UK surprisingly adopted the same law
new dockside concert hall “Elphi”
as its European neighbours. Loophole
– a touching diminutive given the
closed, counterfeits confiscated.
mammoth size of the Herzog and De
Richard Nicoll (1977-2016)
Meuron-designed building, which opened
The death of fashion designer Richard
to international press on 4 November.
It’s also an innocuous name for
has been made of Nicoll’s expertise
a project long dogged by controversy.
with colour and the sculptural quality
Donald Trump elected President of the US
Since computer renderings were first
of his garments, but less recognised
The 27th anniversary of the fall of
published 13 years ago, the building
is the sheer breadth of his work.
the Berlin Wall came on 9 November
has been the subject of complaints and
Alongside his own label, Nicoll worked
2016, which was also the day that the
lawsuits, as well as a parliamentary
with high-end maisons such as Louis
real-estate mogul and reality-TV star
inquiry into its galloping budget
Vuitton and Cerruti, and high-street
Donald Trump was elected president
(€77m to €789m). For most architects,
brands like Fred Perry and Jack Wills.
of the United States. Trump’s
such problems would have proven
His interest in sportswear was also
ludicrous plan to build a wall along
ruinous, but not Herzog and De Meuron.
about to come to the fore thanks to
the US-Mexican border and have the
This autumn alone, the practice
a new creative director role at Adidas,
neighbouring nation “pay for it” was
secured commissions for the extension
a job he was due to start in January
a key touchstone in a campaign mired
of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin
2017. The manner in which Nicoll
in division and vitriol. The 1989
and the new Battersea campus of
embraced all areas of fashion was
promise of a wall-less west appears
London’s RCA. Its ascendency seems
laudable; his death is a great loss
to have been a brief caesura. With
likely to continue unperturbed.
for the industry.
the rise of president-elect Trump and an increasingly fortified Europe, the border wall is back.
The AIA pledges to work with Trump It didn’t take long. Two days after Donald Trump’s election victory,
Redevelopment plans for pavilions designed
the US architecture scene fell into
by Tadao Ando and David Adjaye
bitter dispute when the American
The announcement that Manchester City
Institute of Architects (AIA) issued
Council in the UK was to demolish
a wildy ill-advised, conciliatory
Tadao Ando’s much-despised 2002
memo: “President-elect Trump called
Piccadilly Gardens pavilion –
for committing at least $500 billion
nicknamed “the Berlin Wall” by locals
to infrastructure spending over five
– to make way for greener landscaping,
years. We stand ready to work with
follows an announcement by Wakefield
him”. The backlash was understandable
Council that David Adjaye’s eight-
and days later Robert Ivy, the AIA’s
year-old Wakefield Market Hall will
CEO, admitted that the memo had been
have to be redeveloped because of
“tone-deaf”. The anger is unlikely
growing annual losses. Regardless
to go away.
Richard Nicoll portrait courtesy of The Communications Store; Wakefield Market Hall, photograph by Lyndon Douglas.
Nicoll felt particularly cruel. Much
Dionysos Words Niki and Zoe Moskofoglou (On Entropy) Photographs Nikolas Ventourakis
Pentelic marble is a clear, white metamorphic rock filigreed with faint grey and green streaks. It is sourced from quarries on the slopes of Mount Pentelicus, some 40km north-east of Athens. An ancient quarry is located on the mountain’s southern slopes, while a modern one is found on the northern side at Dionysos. The quarry at Dionysos consists of both open-mining areas, where an almost blinding sun reflects off the white marble surface (one can hardly work without sunglasses) and underground mining stoas or caves. These manmade caves increase the volume of extractable material and, in contrast to open-pit excavation, reduce the visual impact on the landscape. The stoas are narrow, but about 40m high, and moving into them from a bright open-excavation area induces feelings of awe and fear. These responses are gradually salved as the stoa invites you to explore its depths. Dionysos is an industrial quarry providing marble for modern structures such as the Lotus Temple in New Delhi and Renzo Piano’s Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens. It is also a part of Greece’s historical and cultural identity. Greece’s relationship with marble dates back to the midneolithic period (5,800-5,300 BCE), and it has gone on to become one of the country’s most prominent mediums for artistic expression, helping to transfer principles of ancient Greek philosophy and its cultural ideals to the western world. The Acropolis, for instance, is constructed from Pentelic marble. The Dionysos quarry is both a natural and cultural landscape. In early agrarian societies, when people were dependent on the land for survival, culture and landscape were integrated. As industrialisation and urbanisation set in, coupled with a steady aestheticisation
of nature, this appears to have changed. The commodification of land has prompted a situation in which humans have become observers of landscape rather than an integral part of it. A contemporary understanding of a cultural landscape is one centred upon combined works of nature and society – sites that reflect the historical, religious, artistic or even technological values that humans have placed on a particular plot of land. Dionysos is a prime example. We were brought up in close proximity to the Dionysos quarry and the manner in which it has shaped Mount Pentelicus is imprinted on our memories. Marble, however, has moved beyond the landscapes from which it was hewn. As far back as 2,800 BCE, marble was used on the prehistoric Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea to create a series of smoothly polished idols: the Cycladic figurines. These sculptures were made from Parian or Naxos marble, a rock native to the northern Cyclades that is geologically identical to Pentelic marble. Both marbles are extracted from a single seam that extends from Attica to the northern Cyclades. The only distinction between the two is commercial. The Cycladic figurines were produced in a restricted region of the Greek archipelago, but archaeologists have since unearthed them across the wider Aegean region. The materiality of these artefacts has thereby become a way to trace trade, travel and migration routes across the ancient world. Given Europe’s present influx of dispossessed peoples and the way in which this has unfolded across Greece, Pentelic marble serves as a useful metaphor for the shifting social and cultural patterns caused by contemporary migration. We founded the marble atelier On Entropy in 2009 with the aim of investigating the wider significance
of Pentelic marble today. Marble can serve as a heavy construction material, but it still retains an impression of fragility and translucence. It can be manipulated to create artefacts that reflect its inherent material contradiction, while also prompting reflections on its geopolitical origins. When marble is processed – whether it is CNC-cut, carved or sculpted – a degree of randomness enters into proceedings. Our atelier experiments with this notion of entropy – we want to be loyal to the material’s history, but reframe its potential for contemporary society. For us, marble remains a deeply meaningful material. Pentelic marble offers a bridge between the natural and the built world. It also occupies the paradoxical place of being perceived as an essentially Greek material, while its historical traces actually map the movements and seepages of people and artefacts out of what we today call Greece. Investigating its natural and cultural characteristics, as well as its site of origin, creates an embodied understanding of place that confronts ideas of identity and belonging. On Entropy presented Utopian Landscape, a research project and installation focused on Dionysos and Pentelic marble, as the Greek entry for the 2016 London Design Biennale.
The marble at Dionysos is extracted from the parent rock with a method similar to that used 2,000 years ago. The means may be different â€“ as timber wedges and manual labour are now replaced by wagon drills and diamond-wire saws â€“ but the principle of employing the direction of natural fissures and veins for a smooth extraction is the same.
Once extracted from the mountain, the marble volumes are squared, numbered according to quality and project, and transported to the cutting area. There, marble is sliced into slabs or cut to the desired volume, with water used to cool down the diamond cutters. This is the stage where any remaining unique features of the marble, such as fossils or other types of crystallisation, come to the surface.
It is a geological feature of all marble formed in the southern Mediterranean region that the veins run in an east to west direction. With this in mind, and to enable an easier extraction, vertical and horizontal holes are created at eachÂ level of the open quarry, through which the diamond wireÂ saws slice the rock. The marble bird, Num, is a design created by On Entropy using marble from Dionysos.
A R E VO LU T I O N A RY L I G H T W E I G H T C E R A M I C M AT E R I A Lâ€ƒ SA P H I R K E R A M I K , A H I G H -T E C H M AT E R I A L D R I V I N G I N N OVAT I V E D E S I G N . W I T H I T S P R E C I S E , T H I N -WA L L E D S U PE R- ST R O N G F O R M S A N D T I G H T- E D G E R A D I I , L AU F E N B R I N G S A N E W L A N G UAG E TO B AT H R O O M S. I T S S L E N D E R PR O F I L E R E N D E R S I T S PAC E SAV I N G A N D H E L P S TO R E D U C E 4 5 % O F I T S C E R A M I C W E I G H T. CO L L ECT I O N VA L , D E S I G N BY KO N STA N T I N G R C I C.
Spit Guard Pro Kit Design
The Spit Guard Pro is a restraint device that was destined for a London Metropolitan Police pilot scheme which was announced – and then swiftly halted – in early September 2016. As a design object, it occupies thorny ethical territory. Is it a good design? It fulfils its intended function to prevent detainees from biting or spitting at officers and transferring contagious diseases such as Hepatitis C. Moreover, it introduces safety features to remedy areas in which previous spit hoods have failed disastrously. Its thin mesh allows its (involuntary) wearer to see and hear, while the muzzle and neck elastic are, in principle, capacious enough to enable normal breathing. Assessing whether the device fulfils its function, however, seems the wrong yardstick. The numerous instances of spit hoods being used recklessly – sometimes with fatal consequences – and the abject terror induced by having one’s head forcibly covered have led laymen, human rights groups and politicians to castigate the Met’s proposal in no uncertain terms. Spit Guard Pro is a sombre reminder that we ought to think of design as much in terms of application as we do in terms of functionality. “Spit hoods,” asserts Martha Spurrier, the director of civil rights group Liberty, “belong in horror stories.” Words Kristina Rapacki
Photograph Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel.
Michael Marriott for the National Trust “I have a connection with Goldfinger and his method of thinking.” The designer Michael Marriott makes no secret of his admiration for the modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger (1902-1987), having created the 2011 exhibition Ernö Goldfinger V Groucho Marx with the artist Ryan Gander. Marriott’s most recent tribute to Goldfinger, however, is rather more oblique in its inspiration. Ernö is a plastic coat hook. Even blown up to the scale of Goldfinger’s Trellick Tower, the resemblance between it and the architect’s austere postwar housing blocks would be hard to detect. But Marriott’s homage to the modernist-turnedbrutalist is not solely about aesthetic correspondence: “What makes him stand out for me is what lots of people refer to as utilitarianism,” he says. The hook is certainly utilitarian. Made from injectionmoulded Zytel, a nylon-based polymer, Ernö is resistant to heat, scratches and blunt force, and enacts its single function well. For Marriott, whose furniture often stems from craft techniques and reclaimed materials, Ernö represents a departure from typical practice. A special series of the hooks has been produced in scarlet and installed in 2 Willow Road, the home that Goldfinger completed for himself in 1938, where their colouring matches the walls of the stairwell. The Willow Road house is an altogether warmer, more intimate space than the buildings for which Goldfinger became known after the war and in this Marriott sees an aesthetic parallel, comparing Ernö to the doorknobs Goldfinger created for his home. “The hook is tactile and sensitive to your clothes, like a fat thumb,” he says. “Like Goldfinger’s work, I think the hook is quite voluptuous, even sexy.” Words Joe Lloyd Interview Priya Khanchandani
Photograph Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel.
Collisions Introduction Oli Stratford Photographs Nicole Bachmann
“I would like to suggest we have this conversation without mentioning Brexit,” says Zowie Broach, co-founder of the eclectic design studio Boudicca and, since October 2014, the Head of Fashion at London’s Royal College of Art (RCA). “It only exacerbates existing problems.” In early November 2016, Disegno invited Broach to meet with the architect Sam Jacob – the founder of the Night School initiative at the Architectural Association (AA) – to discuss the state of education across design disciplines. 34
In August 2016, Jo Johnson, the Conservative Minister of State for Universities and Science, published an open letter to students. “University is a big investment – of time and money – and, like any big investment, you expect a good return,” he wrote. Present within this remark is a perception of education as a principally economic consideration – a financial transaction like any other. This viewpoint, however, is anathema to both Broach and Jacob. “Being a part of education means listening,” says Broach. “It is not about imposing something predetermined on students.” Broach founded Boudicca in 1997 with Brian Kirkby, and has worked since then with photography, film, sculpture, collage and choreography as part of a practice that prizes experimentation and deep research over disciplinary fidelity. Broach’s current position at the RCA follows previous teaching posts at the University of Westminster, Parsons The New School for Design, and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. As in her work with Boudicca, Broach has used her role at the RCA to challenge convention. The fashion department’s previously separated platforms – menswear, womenswear and accessories – now share a space, for instance, while her students’ final collections for the RCA’s 2016 graduate show were represented on the catwalk by one look: an effort to develop the ideas behind collections such that they could bear representation through a single expression. Jacob made his name with FAT, a practice that he co-founded in 1991 as a loose collective working across architecture, graphic design, film-making and photography. At FAT, Jacob and his collaborators deployed tropes such as collage and sampling to challenge the orthodoxy and reductivism of much mainstream architecture, as well as integrating new streams of culture into the discourse surrounding the profession. FAT closed in 2014, with Jacob going on to found Sam Jacob Studio as well as teaching at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Yale School of Architecture. In 2013 he founded Night School, a programme at the AA that encourages attendance from students, professionals and interested amateurs in order to reposition education as a lifelong activity. Broach and Jacob first met at a panel talk organised by Disegno in October 2016 that explored the boundaries between architecture and fashion. In their second meeting, hosted in Broach’s office within the fashion department at the RCA, the two resumed this conversation.
The Fashion department at the Royal College of Art in London.
Sam Jacob and Zowie Broach photographed in Broachâ€™s office at the RCA. The space sits off the main Fashion department and opens onto a courtyard.
What is the state of design education? Zowie Broach One of the problems that surfaces with
this question is the use of the word “education”. We ought to remove that word from the debate because “education” implies it’s just one stage of your life. Separating it off from everything else stops it from being something free and exploratory. I prefer to speak about design thinking. When you get to the level of a Master’s degree, it’s really just design thinking anyway, because you’ve already got the basic skills. The key question is whether we’re getting that design thinking right. Sam Jacob Where I teach, the AA, isn’t just a school – it’s also a cultural institute that runs exhibitions, a publishing house and so on. But even within that school so many amazing things happen which are not visible and accessible to a wider public. I founded Night School to look at what would happen if you eroded the boundary between what is thought of as happening in school and out of school. If you make that barrier more porous, then you get strange influences coming into the school and disrupting the politics and patterns of behaviour that these kinds of institutions typically fall into. It’s also about questioning what education is and why it’s useful. What is knowledge? How do you share knowledge? How do you create knowledge? Rather than sitting in a lecture about the history of public space, why not go on a 10km run through London where you viscerally feel that space as well as aspects such as distance and weather, which then become a part of the experience? I have nothing against an academic approach. But what happens if you think about these things in a completely nonacademic environment? Zowie It’s about looking at the same topics, but attacking them from different places. Education – or learning, design thinking, whatever you wish to call it – is an area where we have had certain patterns of behaviour and codes of learning for a long time. So you need to approach things differently, because otherwise the whole process becomes stagnant. What I love about the RCA is its cross-programming, because it lets you learn from people who have different ways of perceiving something. I still think of myself as a student,
for instance, even though fashion has a consistent cycle that keeps pushing you. Because of that cycle, we enforce ways of working at Boudicca that make us do things like play with plasticine or cardboard: finding ways to force you to break the patterns you fall into. That ties to the work I do at the RCA: why are the students here to be educated and in what? Because they’re not here to learn how to be fashion designers, that’s for sure. They are here to learn to master their sense of self and their opinions. Sam There are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about education. One model of education – the postwar idea of how education should be structured – is collapsing or has collapsed, and the pressure is now on universities and students to finance these courses. When I was a student, education was free and that was such an unbelievable luxury. Collectively, we might be thinking there are two options: either we go back to what education was or we continue with what it has become. Well, we can’t go back to what it was, but the current situation seems unviable too. We’re trying to keep the last vestiges of the old idea going, but that just creates tensions for institutions. Even the idea of what it is to study is changing. There’s a sense that there needs to be more of a product at the end because students might ask “What am I getting for all of this money that I have to pay?” We need to find a way to operate within that late-capitalist system, which is so pervasive in the way it organises and constructs both society and individuals, but which pretends to offer us limitless freedom and opportunity. How do you step outside of this quantified, algorithm-led, credit-scored form that human activity has been reduced to? Zowie It’s about how you contextualise it. I don’t want to be anywhere near the words “customer” or “client”. It’s a capitalist language that has infiltrated the creative language and which destroys the way we perceive things. If you allow that language to come in, you’re being forged by it. You mentioned that university was free when you studied, but it’s also worth remembering that rent wasn’t expensive either, and food and travel were also cheap – so the questions we’re talking about are not just to do with education, but the whole social landscape. We have to look at the political and consumer choices we’ve made as a society. It’s our job to be astute and ask deep questions because we don’t have to accept what’s in front of us – we really don’t. New systems need
“What I work on is trying
out how they work and what they are for, but the question they ought to grapple with is what they’re encouraging in the people who come out of them. My most formative experience was studying in Glasgow for my BA, where the architecture department was part of the art school, because there was a culture of just hanging out with lots of different people doing interesting stuff. I think that’s a valid model for both education today and wider life. We need to find ways of providing people with a space where they can begin to figure out what they might want to do. Zowie When I was in education in the late 1980s, there wasn’t anything in front of you. London was really barren, but that gave you space to build something: architecturally, aesthetically, clothes, theatre, dance. You could mark your own ground and we were fortunate in that respect. There were some amazing buildings and clothes at that time, but very little that joined up to form a cohesive whole. Today, however, you always have to try and clear space for students, because they’re faced with a very elaborately designed world. They have all this noise in terms of the architecture, fashion, art and music that they’re confronted with, so how do you find the space for them to break out from that? London today feels full, whereas it used to be a place where you could feel quite alien and curious in your own city. What I work on is trying to help decode students – sending little viruses to their brains that, even if just for a minute, help shift everything away from what feels understood and final. Sam In the era we’re talking abut, everybody went to art school to hang around in the toilets and form a band. There was this idea that there was a cultural purpose to education which was not necessarily printed above the door. Zowie Education was made democratic in the 90s, but nobody really worked out what would happen when it got to a critical mass. It was really positive in that it created such a big industry, but not everyone needs the same education. You could form a band in a squat if you want to – you don’t need to go to Central Saint Martins to do that. I love being at the RCA and I love doing this Master’s, but if somebody wanted to travel the world instead, that’s fine too. People need to know that they can do something like that which might be equally as important for their thinking as coming to an institution like this.
to help decode students – sending little viruses to their brains that, even if just for a minute, help shift everything.” —Zowie Broach to exist and they can exist. Really, this debate is about culture and it’s about capitalism: my favourite negative word. In the US, they have always paid for their education, whereas the change to a tuition-fee system in this country has been a harsh, steep learning curve. Whereas previously funding was spread among taxpayers, it now comes from the individual, which can feel poignant, pertinent or painful. I sometimes think that having to pay for education is no bad thing. Look at what it costs to be here at the RCA for one year – give or take £10,000. But for that you get a studio space in central London, all the equipment you need, mentoring, great lectures, technicians and facilities. The important thing, however, is to try and eliminate the financial issue for those who can’t afford it – I am realistic on that. I would never have gone to school if I had had to pay, for instance. So it really comes back to thinking about what education is and why we need it. I have always been frustrated that teachers are so badly paid and education is so poorly funded because it suggests we do not believe that these things are important for our future. Sam One thing that is interesting about these systems is that they’re now so powerful that – and this sounds very Adam Curtis – they are no longer controlled by the people who thought they controlled them. Look at what happened with Brexit and the situation in which politicians now find themselves. They are far more constrained than we are sitting here, but these are the people who are supposed to be reinventing the world. But an economic logic does seem to have colonised all of these different areas of society. The real value of education is that it allows you to construct something as a form of internal resistance to that. Universities are definitely struggling to figure
The Fashion department at the RCA. Until recently, individual platforms within the department worked in separate areas of the building. Upon becoming head of the department, Broach specified that they ought to share aÂ space to encourage the cross-pollination of ideas.
Sam We live in a world where everything is presented
in such a complete way. Arguments are complete, opinions are complete, products are complete, cities are complete. There is no room for doubt, which is partly why there is no actual debate: look at Clinton and Trump, for instance. One aspect that is important as part of this is to try and undo some of the certainties that people have about themselves as personalities. Identity is forged within society, so really the first thing that you have to design is yourself. We live in a world where individuality is prized and celebrated – it’s reinforced by every advertisement you see and every song you listen to. Ever since the baby boomers, we’ve had the cult of the individual. So we talk about being free and expressing ourselves, but everyone seems to end up expressing themselves in the same way. A fundamental thing that should happen in educational scenarios is to ask how you construct the figure of the designer. Another area is to look at the construction of disciplines. One of the characteristics of our age is that we recognise that everything is connected – we know the relationship between drinking a coffee in a paper cup, chucking it away and the massive dump that it will end up in. It is interesting to think of what “a discipline” might even mean in a world where we recognise these connections. I don’t necessarily think we should all abandon our stations and become generalists, because specific work is important – but it’s good for that to happen within a much wider context. Zowie I like the idea of abandoning all stations. I sometimes think that we might be better off if we all just stopped and actually took time to observe and debate. The idea of stillness fascinates me because I am not a naturally still person. Abandoning all stations is really quite a radical position and I think you need these kind of idealistic extremes, because they prompt people to form an opinion in response to them. They invite you to question them and pull them apart. History is built upon the wrong things being done the right way and the right things being done the wrong way – wonderful, serendipitous elements that have given us people like Einstein and Picasso. So interdisciplinary practice in design has been discussed for a long time – working in the in-between spaces – but personally I’m more interested in collisions. Why have an interior designer meet an architect and a fashion designer in order to design a store? Why not have the designer become
“Ever since the baby boomers, we’ve had the cult of the individual. But everyone seems to end up expressing themselves in the same way.” —Sam Jacob the architect and the architect become the interior designer? You need to keep things moving. I love the history of the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, for instance, because there was a collision of disciplines there. When you look at significant cultural moments, they don’t just come out of one person, but rather out of a community where people learnt from one another. That’s a way of working that feels natural to me because it’s what Boudicca has always felt like. It wasn’t a nine-to-five – it was the air we breathed; everything that we touched; everything that disturbed us aesthetically; everything we could build and create. Education is about commenting and creating debate, but it shouldn’t be a judgemental process. It needs to be a place where you have the freedom to work without fear. Education is the place to build paper houses. E N D
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Changing Frameworks Words Oli Stratford Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
What is likely to result when, in the course of just five days, scientists recommend the formal declaration of the anthropocene epoch; the Pope decries the destruction of the environment as a sin; and the UK government announces a law to ban plastic microbeads from cosmetics by the end of 2017? A new paradigm of course! The events of 29 August to 2 September 2016 should feel familiar to anyone au fait with the work of Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), a US physicist and philosopher of science whoese 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is the progenitor of the vogueishness surrounding any mention of “paradigm shifts”. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions advanced a radical interpretation of how science functions. According to Kuhn, “normal science” operates as puzzle-solving within a set paradigm. However, as time passes anomalies begin to appear within this framework – puzzles that are insoluble. Once a sufficient number of these have accumulated, an intellectual crisis emerges until the paradigm itself is overthrown, leading to a new worldview free of the difficulties of the old. Scientists, liberated by this new framework, return to puzzle-solving with order restored. Key to Kuhn’s system is the notion that these paradigms are incommensurable: the new system is not objectively better than the former, but rather offers a route out of the anomalies of the old. When a puzzle is no longer solvable, the argument runs, we should simply start playing by a new set of rules. Feel familiar? The anthropocene, a geological era defined by human intervention, has been discussed for decades. The effect of microbeads on marine environments (the UK releases 86 tonnes of microplastics per year into the environment from facial exfoliants alone) is similarly well-documented. The problems are known, but their solution is impossible against the current political, industrial and social backdrop. It’s high time for a paradigm shift. The institution of new frameworks within science, religion and law seems an encouraging place to start.
Periods and Spaces Words Kristina Rapacki Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Sanitary products have their own secret infrastructure. It operates through multiple instances of hiding. From the special mechanism by which used products magically disappear into bathrooms bins (“modesty tray” is the strait-laced industry term), to the general silence surrounding the environmental cost of industrial sanitary disposal, out of sight really is out of mind. This is true of tampons and pads, the most common products on the market for menstruating people. But in the last decade the menstrual cup has emerged as a viable alternative. A foldable bell-shaped container made from latex or silicone, the cup collects menstrual fluid rather than absorbing it. When using the product, the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), a potentially lethal condition associated with tampons, is practically zero. It’s reusable for up to 10 years, which means it’s cheaper and infinitely greener than its predecessors. Although first patented in 1932, the menstrual cup is only beginning to go mainstream. This seems, in part, to be unfolding online: woke young women on Instagram are proselytising its merits, while a Kickstarter campaign for the first smart menstrual cup (inelegantly titled LoonCup) has raised more than three times its target funding. What, then, is the infrastructure of the menstrual cup? It requires no bins: the cup is emptied into the toilet, rinsed and re-inserted. It does, however, require access to clean water and private space. While many users prefer to empty it at home (most cups can stay in for 12 hours), it’s worth noting that in public institutions, offices, restaurants and airports, toilets with a wash-basin in each cubicle are rare. For cup users on the go – and perhaps more importantly for users who have nowhere to go (many major brands have charitable initiatives for homeless people and communities in the developing world) – this stymies use of the product. There will be no overnight overhaul in how public bathrooms are laid out. But it might be expedient for architects, planners and legislators to ask if the way in which these spaces are designed promotes the use of expensive, hazardous and wasteful sanitary products over a design that has none of these drawbacks? If the answer is yes, then let’s begin to facilitate the better product.
But is it a Beetle? Words Amber Winick Photograph Dean Kaufman
On the morning of 11 October, my Uber sped through Washington D.C., its radio tuned to a local station. I was in town to hear oral arguments for ‘Samsung Electronics Co. v. Apple Inc.’, the first design-patent case heard in the US Supreme Court in over a century. “What’s up, Northeast!” the radio host exclaimed when a listener gave a shout-out to her home neighbourhood. As my cab pulled up to the court house, the caller’s voice was momentarily lost to static. “Are you calling from that Samsung Galaxy they told you to get off of?” the host teased, referring to the recent recall of the Galaxy Note 7, which has been found to overheat and explode. “Hell no,” the caller fired back. “I’m on an iPhone.” Even my ride to the US’s highest court seemed to vibrate with the great Apple/Samsung divide. 46
The relationship between tech giants Apple and Samsung has long been contentious, but in 2011 the stakes were raised when Apple filed an action in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that 19 Samsung smartphone models infringed Apple’s design patents. After a 13-day trial in 2012, the jury found that 11 of Samsung’s smartphones did infringe the iPhone design patents, and Apple was entitled to $1.05bn – Samsung’s entire profits from those models. While that figure was later reduced, Apple was still left with $548m of Samsung’s profits. If that felt like a victory, however, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear Samsung’s appeal has left Apple on shaky ground. A Supreme Court win could result in Samsung getting much of its money back. Under US law, litigants don’t have an automatic right to be heard by the Supreme Court, which limits the cases it accepts in order to prioritise those that raise significant and potentially precedent-changing issues of law. In the case of Apple and Samsung, the justices’ decision – due by late June or early July 2017 – will not only determine Apple’s reward, but will also influence the future of design patents, how designers use them and how they are enforced. Unlike utility patents, which protect the way a product functions, design patents have historically safeguarded the visual aspects of a product, including its shape, configuration and surface ornamentation. In 1902, under 35 U.S.C. § 171 (a), congress stipulated that “[w]hoever invents any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture may obtain a patent therefor”. The law mainly protected household items such as spoons, carpets and fireplace grates – typologies that received some of the earliest design patents – and the result of an infringement was simple: the infringer was required to turn over the entirety of its profits. Yet in the age of the smartphone, interpretation of the law is vague. A product can now include a variety of components, each protected by their own design patent, and design often bleeds into utility. As a result of the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, Apple obtained three design patents intended to protect various aspects of the device’s make‑up. Patents D’677 and D’087 cover the external portions of the phone: the rectangular, round-cornered face, the screen, aspect ratio, corner radii and “bezel”, the circular home button on the front. Design patent D’305, meanwhile, protects the iPhone’s graphical user interface (the grid of icons that appears on the screen’s display). The question before the Supreme Court is this: should a company that has infringed another brand’s design patent pay damages only for the component it used unlawfully, or should it be required to pay all of its profits on that product to the patent holder? In other words, the issue is no longer about whether Samsung copied Apple’s designs, but rather that Samsung wants to limit the amount of damages that a design infringer is required to pay. In its brief to the Supreme Court, Samsung argued that design patents are poorly suited to complex devices with many features, adding that they can give rise to disproportionate penalties. “This case presents the perfect vehicle for much-needed clarification by this court in an area of great importance to the national economy,” Samsung claimed. As soon as the oral argument began, it became clear that both sides would seize on a particular phrase from the 1902 statute: “article 48
An illustration from Patent D’087 representing the exterior design of the iPhone, May 2009.
of manufacture”. Samsung’s team argued that an “article of manufacture” could be a component of the whole, rather than the entire product sold to consumers. “A smartphone is smart because it contains hundreds of thousands of the technologies that make it work,” reasoned Kathleen Sullivan, Samsung’s lawyer. “A single design patent on a portion of the appearance of a phone should not entitle the design‑patent holder to all of the profit on the entire phone.” Sullivan went on to propose a test to determine what portion of profits can be attributable to a particular patented design. Samsung’s formula would require the patent holder to prove the entire profit on the product comes from a more narrowly defined article of manufacture protected by the design patent. This would be determined, she argued, by looking at production costs and commissioning expert testimony and consumer‑demand tests. The eight justices seemed amenable to limiting the award to profits attributable to the protected features, but also appeared to struggle with how to articulate the legal standard. “So we find out the production cost if [...] $1bn were spent on the inner parts and $100m was spent on the face, then it’s a 10:1 ratio,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy pondered. “That’s absolutely right, Your Honour,” replied Sullivan. Justice Kennedy continued, “Suppose you had a case where it’s a stroke of genius, the design.” He went on: “Suppose the Volkswagen Beetle design was done in three days, and it was a stroke of genius and it identified the car. Then it seems to me that that’s quite unfair to say: well, we give three days’ profit, but then it took 100,000 hours to develop the motor.” “If that’s so, it should be open to the patent-holder to prove the bulk of the profits come from the exterior of the car,” replied Sullivan. “It seems to me that the design is applied to the exterior case of the phone,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “It’s not applied to all the chips and wires.” He later suggested that “there shouldn’t be profits awarded based on the entire price of the phone.” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr questioned the idea that design might be the main driver of profit. “I can’t get over the thought that nobody buys a car, even a Beetle, just because they like the way it looks,” he said. “What if it cost $1,800 when it was first sold in the United States? What if it cost $18,000? What if it got two miles per gallon? What if it broke down every 50 miles?” Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested that jurors could be given examples. “You know, wallpaper, you get the whole thing,” he said, referring to the idea that if a company infringes upon an entire design, they would deserve the entire profit that the infringing firm earned. “A Rolls Royce thing on the hood? No, no, no. You don’t get all the profit from the car.” This difficulty in articulating a clear standard suggests the nuance involved in deciding what “article of manufacture” means in the context of a patentable design. Apple’s lawyer, Seth Waxman, took a holistic approach. “Design is not a component and the patented design is not the article of manufacture,” said Waxman. “The patented design is something that’s applied to an article of manufacture.” Process
Patent 2344092 of the design for the Volkswagen Beetle, July 1939.
“Nobody buys a car, even a Beetle, just because they like the way it looks.” —Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr
Several justices seemed to follow this line of thinking. Justice Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged that the design of a phone “might drive the sale”. Justice Elena Kagan, meanwhile, picked up on the Beetle metaphor. “Some engineer or graphic artist or whatever woke up one day and said, ‘I just have this great idea for an appearance.’ But that’s the principal reason why the product has been successful. I mean, the car has to run, and it has to do all the other things that cars do, but the principal reason why the car has been successful has to do with the particular appearance, the design.” The example of the Volkswagen Beetle was mentioned several times throughout the proceedings, and even Waxman used it to illustrate how infringers take advantage of innovative designs. “I think that a jury could very well conclude that because someone who sees the iconic shape of the VW Beetle and buys it thinks that they are buying the Beetle,” he said, “that is, after all the reason why the infringer copied it.” Justice Sotomayor continued: “That’s what a jury has to be told to do, to decide how much value the design is to the product being sold.” In his closing statement, Waxman reiterated Apple’s main disagreement with Samsung, articulating the point that “the article of manufacture is the thing to which the design is applied for purposes of sale, and to which it gives a distinctive and pleasing, attractive appearance. That’s all you’re trying to figure out.” Several leading technology companies, including Facebook, Google, Dell and Ebay filed a joint amicus (friend of the court) brief offering their opinion and why they support Samsung. They emphasised that where complex technological products are involved, design is only one factor that contributes to demand; function is often more important. The group warned “the availability of disproportionate profits from accused infringers of design patents would reduce innovation” and that the legal framework governing design patents was “out of step with modern technology”. Design, of course, is more than just aesthetics, a point that has been well illustrated by Samsung and its exploding Galaxy Note 7. “To the extent that making a device that doesn’t explode suggests design expertise, Apple is still ahead of Samsung,” Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times recently wrote. Explosions aside, good design is central to the Apple brand. Much of its corporate identity is built on the sense that it will continually deliver products that are ahead of the curve, but even design-venerated Apple has taken flak in recent months, especially since the release of the iPhone 7, which was criticised as introducing few innovations bar the widely reviled decision to remove the headphone jack. In October 2016, Apple reported its first decline in annual sales and profit in 15 years. “As competitors have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s best designs, what was iconic about the company’s phones, computers, tablets and other products has come to seem generic,” Manjoo lamented. Herein lies part of the conundrum: as others blatantly imitate its products, even Apple struggles to break out of the ubiquity and inevitability of its designs. A Supreme Court ruling in favour of Apple and strong design-patent protection may encourage new experimentation, which would certainly benefit companies that sell products with a distinctive look and feel. A number of companies, including Tiffany and Adidas, filed their own 50
Patent 48160 protects the design of the Coca-Cola bottle, November 1915.
“That’s what a jury has to be told to do, to decide how much value the design is to the product being sold.” —Justice Sonia Sotomayor
amicus brief supporting Apple. “The total profits rule,” it said, “helps to ensure that designers have the appropriate incentives and rewards to make investments in innovative designs.” The Industrial Designers Society of America, a group of industrialdesign and design-research professionals, wrote in another amicus brief that cognitive science proves that “a product’s visual design becomes the product itself in the minds of consumers.” They pointed to the example of the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, which was first patented in 1915 and helped the soft drink become the most widely distributed product on earth. A 1949 study showed that more than 99 per cent of Americans could identify a bottle of Coke by shape alone, and customers routinely report that Coke tastes better when consumed from the patented bottle. As the report suggests, “the impact of the contour bottle’s design on the company’s profits – and American culture – is difficult to overstate.” During the proceedings, the United States Department of Justice appeared before the Supreme Court to present the government’s position. It argued that total profit should not automatically be awarded in infringement cases. Instead, it proposed a four-part test and urged the Supreme Court to send the case back to the trial court, where a jury would first determine whether the “article of manufacture” is the whole product or a part of that product. From there, the government would have the jury assess damages. The practical effect of the government’s position is that juries will be tasked with sifting through a number of complex issues and expert opinions in future cases. Whether there will be a more clear understanding of the value of design may not be directly evident in the court’s final decision. After the hearing, each side issued statements. Samsung pointed to its own track record of holding more design patents than any other entity in the United States, yet argued that, “awarding all of the profits for a single patent devalues the contributions of the hundreds of thousands of other patents in a smartphone”. Apple naturally took a different approach, chastising Samsung for its infringements and stating that it “firmly believe[s] that strong design patent protection spurs creativity and innovation”. As I listened to some of the brightest legal minds in the country parse Apple and Samsung’s dispute, it became obvious that there is widespread misunderstanding about what the value of design is, especially when it comes to a device like a smartphone. The seamless interaction between the technologies hidden behind the screen, the software and the physical object are good design, and that is worth protecting – something that seems to get lost amid mainstream discussion of aesthetics and iconic shapes. The US Supreme Court’s decision as to whether design is applied to or is the “article of manufacture” will reverberate across the design and technology sectors in unprecedented ways, with both sides claiming a decision in their favour is the only way to protect creativity and innovation. One thing is certain: the decision will determine whether a design patent is worth more than the sum of its parts. E N D
Patent 8014760 pertains to the iPhone’s interface, September 2011.
Patent 8074172 safeguards technology developed by Apple around predictive texting, December 2011.
“Please look at the neck,” instructs Keizo Tatsumi, the designer of Yamaha’s YEV-104 electric violin. “Generally, the neck of an acoustic violin is shaved down from a wood block, but on this you will see five-ply construction – a technique that comes from guitar construction. This instrument is a fivelayer wooden Möbius strip.” The body of an acoustic violin operates as a resonance chamber, a space within which sound waves bounce back and forth to increase their intensity. Wood facilitates this. But in the case of the YEV-104, there is no resonance chamber. Instead, its sound is amplified by a piezoelectric pickup in the maple bridge. It begs a question: why does the YEV-104 need to be made from wood? “Although the YEV is an electric violin, it’s nonetheless an acoustic instrument,” explains Tatsumi, “so the sound still comes from the resonance of the body and strings. The wooden construction also lets the YEV stay almost the same weight as an acoustic violin because changes in weight affect playability.” The final consideration is the musician themself. “The YEV is designed for stage use for semi-professionals and professionals who don’t need any guide for bowing,” says Tatsumi. “Therefore, whilst you need to keep some general acoustic violin shapes for the chinrest, tailpiece and the shoulder line, you can afford to design an alternative shape for the remainder.” Amidst such change, a degree of familiarity is welcome and it is here that wood comes to the fore. “The touch and the beauty of wood correspond to traditional violin craftsmanship,” summarises Tatsumi. Words Oli Stratford
Photograph Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel.
Yellow Inflatable Jacket, S/S17 Balenciaga
The fashion historian Ingrid Loschek gives short shrift to inflatables in her 2009 book When Clothes Become Fashion: “Overforming in the shape of blow-ups or inflatables seldom goes further than an experimental stage or beyond the avantgarde pretension of sculpturalising.” Such ideas, Loschek claims, “are associated with certain elitism”. In support of her point, Loschek cites a small number of inflatable looks drawn from the oeuvres of Issey Miyake, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Michiko Koshino and Hussein Chalayan, labelling them “catwalk surprises” whose main function has been to pave the way for commercially viable garments and accessories such as down jackets and aircushioned shoes. The fashion world’s inflatables, Loschek notes, have never risen to become consumer goods in the manner of, for instance, inflatable seating in furniture design. The origins of Balenciaga’s yellow inflatable jacket, from its women’s spring/summer 2017 collection, provide an interesting counterpart to this emphasis on sculptural experimentation. Demna Gvasalia, the house’s creative director, made his name through his label Vetements’s prioritisation of product-orientated clothes over high-concept fashion. Yet his inflatable jacket seems to blur these ideas. The inflatable technology gestures towards the sculpturalising that Loschek described, but the garment was produced in a factory that manufactures life jackets – an origin suggestive of product design, which butts pleasingly against the level of finesse typically demanded in a fashion context. The Balenciaga yellow inflatable jacket may never advance beyond the status of catwalk surprise but, given its engagement with industrial production, nor does it seem a straightforward exercise in elitism. A summation of the effect of the jacket, fortunately, was offered in Balenciaga’s spring/summer 2017 show notes: “generic garments [...] submitted to extreme reexamination”.
Photograph Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel.
Words Oli Stratford
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The new Vitra Schaudepot Gerrit Rietveld 400 Key Pieces /200 Years /200 Designers Architects: Herzog & de of Meuron The Revolution Space
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Dieter Rams. Modular World 18.11.2016 â€“ 12.03.2017
Charles-Eames-Str. 2 Weil am Rhein / Basel www.design-museum.de
Vitra Design Museum
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Lars Frideen for Seeds London Gallery Designer Lars Frideen’s mini-bar, taken from his Father, Son and Holy Spirit series for Seeds Gallery in west London, is a closed-up magic box with no visible seam. A riddle of a cabinet, it offers a puzzle for the uninitiated: how to access the holy spirits within? Once solved, the box’s lid slides opens to reveal a turquoise interior fitted with mirrors that replicate the contents of the bar infinitely, mise en abyme-like. If the cabinet appears forbidding at first, it ultimately rewards its user with a vision of superabundance. It’s an object that conjures chimeras as well as tactile interaction; excess as well as restraint. One further illusion awaits. The mini-bar’s exterior is made from plywood that has been hand-cut to reveal the layers of veneer that form its studded body. The effect looks little like plywood, seeming instead as if the pattern has been carved from some precious decorative material. The end result resembles a more ancient casing – one intricately layered, perhaps, with inlaid ivory, walnut and beech. Words Kristina Rapacki
Photograph Ayzit Bostan and Fabian Frinzel.
A Childhood Utopia Words Aleishall Girard Maxon and Alexander Kori Girard (Girard Studio)
Images courtesy of the Vitra Design Museum.
When you look through the intricate watercolour maps, carefully designed trading cards, flags, code languages and games that comprise The Republic of Fife, it is difficult to believe that this was all created by an adolescent boy, away from his home in Florence at a boarding school in England during the First World War. Alexander Girardâ€™s childhood reverie, however, would become an incredible precursor for his later design career.
Alexander Girard (1907-1993) was one of the leading figures of postwar American design. Although known primarily for his textiles (he was head of the Herman Miller textile division for more than 20 years) he worked across architecture and interior, industrial and furniture design. Girard was also a seasoned collector, amassing what is still the largest collection of folk-art objects in the world. It eventually became The Girard Wing at The International Museum of Folk Art in New Mexico. He was also our grandfather and we knew him as a man of humour, kindness and mischief. Growing up just minutes from our grandparents in Santa Fe, New Mexico, we were frequently in their company. We would explore their endlessly captivating home, always discovering new objects and places to
Discovering The Republic of Fife years after our grandfather had passed away was like being transported back to those early years, when we had had free reign to explore his world. hide. On occasion, we were allowed into The Foundation, a 5,000sqft concrete room built to process and house our grandfather’s collections: aluminium foil models of churches from Poland; drawers full of perfectly flattened candy wrappers; jars of stones, shells, seed pods and dirt, organised by size and colour; hotel stickers from seemingly every country in the world; an extensive array of amulets, among many other things. Discovering The Republic of Fife after our grandfather had passed away was like being transported back to those early years, when we had had free reign to explore his world. The skilled execution, refined palette and playful imagery felt familiar, while the incredible focus and distillation of the idea is astounding when you consider the
complexity of the project. It spoke of his ability to see a task from every angle, addressing even the smallest of components, and his desire to use design as a means of communication. One could consider The Republic of Fife, begun in 1917, as the first comprehensive design project of our grandfather’s career. It included everything from planning and layout, to the composition of hundreds of documents and designs – flags, costumes, maps and banknotes – to support his vision for a make-believe world. Drawing on maps of Europe available at the time, our grandfather deployed his early childhood in Italy, as well as his nascent understanding of the geopolitical situation as the First World War approached – The Republic of Fife was his way of digesting the world at large. Young enough that he would not be drafted, but old enough to fear the looming danger, he sought to compose a utopia where he could affect everything from the territories to the postage stamps and all that lay between. The endeavour also connected him to his
Letters went back and forth in secret languages, demonstrating his family’s ability to honour and engage his imagination. relatives, who had remained in Florence. Letters went back and forth in secret languages, demonstrating his family’s ability to honour and engage his imagination. Enlisting all of his relations, especially his younger brother Giancarlo, our grandfather honed his skill of bringing people together through correspondence, colour, design and the human need for fantasy as a coping mechanism. The relationship between our grandfather and great-uncle Giancarlo, who became a ceramic sculptor, was a deep one. The brothers were born 10 years apart and The Republic of Fife is the earliest example of their visions coming together to create a complex and calculated visual language. Although Giancarlo was young at the inception of the project, he made a huge contribution as he grew older. Poring over the Republic’s extensive correspondence, city
Trying to decipher the exact meaning of The Republic of Fife is beyond our reach. It was a place that our grandfather created for himself.
plans, kingdoms, characters and cryptic symbols, it’s clear that the brothers found solace in their mystical world. This correspondence gave them the space to grow their relationship, despite the distance between them. We recently experienced a number of elements from The Republic of Fife again when we visited the Vitra Design Museum’s Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe retrospective. We went with Aleishall’s children (aged five and eight), who brought us back to a more youthful understanding of this early work. Children’s ability to suspend disbelief and fully absorb a narrative is a trait our grandfather understood well. For Aleishall’s children, this wasn’t a fantasy or a game, but a possibility of a time and space that exists within imagination – a realm which, for children, is not yet severed from everyday life and in which they can speak and dream freely without the influence of adults. Even now, trying to decipher the exact
Children’s ability to suspend disbelief and fully absorb a narrative is a trait our grandfather understood well. meaning of The Republic of Fife is beyond our reach. It was a place that our grandfather created for himself and it was not intended for public consumption. The Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition deals with only a portion of the project – the material produced between 1917 and 1924 – but the world and the languages that the Girard family developed to support it went on long after this. Much of The Republic of Fife remains a mystery for all bar those involved in its creation, but the project remains vital thanks to the beauty of its utopian impulse. Our grandfather made the seemingly unfamiliar something that we might recognise within ourselves. E N D Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe is on display at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, until 22 January 2017.
â€“ ÂŠ James Bort
Philippe Starck, world famous French creator, pioneer of Democratic Design
The Unlifted Veil Words Joe Lloyd Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Those who googled “fashion week” this September would have been met by a top-of-page carousel, presenting news, images and videos from more than 50 luxury fashion labels. Including brands such as Prada, Burberry and Hermès, the box of sliding entries was devised by Kate Lanphear, the former editor of Maxim. It professed to offer a ticket into the exclusive world of high-end fashion. The masses may be barred from the shows, but they would still have a chance to follow their revelations. What Google did not mention is that the curation of the carousel was overseen by the brands themselves. The impetus behind this move seems to be principally financial. According to a report by brand-advisory company L2, Instagram held around 97 per cent of social-media interaction during this autumn’s New York Fashion Week. If Google allows brands to control the carousels themselves, perhaps they will be tempted towards the search engine instead. It could claim to attract the “right” sort of consumers; in return the brands would advertise more and feed exclusive information through the platform, attracting even more users. You might say “that’s just business.” The overwhelming bulk of Google’s revenue comes from advertising, but the implications of ceding control to a third party spiral out in a more worrying direction. What if Google started to allow more sinister organisations to take control? What if, having shown the function works, Google starts furtively curating what people see to satisfy its own ends? There is already a degree of murkiness around Google’s result-ranking algorithms and the 200 or so factors on which they rely. These are a sort of digital equivalent to Colonel Sanders’ 11 herbs and spices: although they inspire curiosity, you’re not quite sure you want to know the full composition. Add a human element to this process and the engine’s appearance of objectivity dissipates. Such objectivity, of course, was never guaranteed. Instead, the search engine’s utility, ubiquity, straightforward design and apparent compendiousness project the illusion of impartiality. We’ve been conditioned to see Google as a simple tool, as opposed to a competing interest among the internet’s millions. It is time for that veil to be lifted.
A few Chickens and a Parrot Words David Birkin Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
In 1946, a year after the United States led the Allied invasion of Germany, a chicken farmer in North Carolina successfully sued the federal government for infringing his property rights. Thomas Causby’s complaint – that low-flying military aircraft were stressing his birds and preventing them from laying eggs – culminated in a Supreme Court ruling that has since become a benchmark of US law. In his judgment, Justice William Douglas struck an awkward balance, decreeing that a landowner owns “as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use”, while simultaneously overturning a medieval principle of Anglo-American law stating that property rights extend vertically “ad coelum et ad inferos” – literally, “to heaven and to hell”. Causby’s chickens are now coming home to roost, as a pending court ruling looks set to establish precedent regarding the flight of commercial and recreational drones. David Boggs, a roofer from Kentucky, filed a suit after his neighbour, William Merideth, blew his $1,800 drone out of the sky with a shotgun. Merideth claimed the camera-equipped device was hovering above his property – and his daughter. Despite charges of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief, a judge ruled last year that he had a right to act as he did, prompting Boggs to appeal. Irascible but not irrational, Merideth’s instinct to protect his family is understandable. What is indefensible, however, is the double standard by which it’s applied. Beneath the maverick bravura, Merideth’s self-styled “drone slayer” persona speaks to a widespread American hypocrisy: one that sees domestic property rights as sacrosanct, while upholding the government’s right to surveil and assail civilians abroad. The impact of drone warfare has been particularly pernicious in parts of Pakistan, where children are often afraid to play in the sunshine as the absence of cloud cover leaves them exposed to the aircrafts’ sensors. The Merideth case also symbolises a deeper desire to reassert frontierism, and a libidinous urge to reclaim the manliness of war – when battles smelt of cordite and death peered down a barrel, not a screen. In this age of cyber-warfare, vigilante justice is glorified and demagoguery back in style: firepower before stealth; Bush’s doctrine over Obama’s; an F-15 Eagle instead of a Parrot AR.
THE INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR FOR CONTEMPORARY OBJECTS 2â€“6.2.2017 SAATCHI GALLERY LONDON
Dalmore Plains Tanami by Pippin Drysdale, represented by Joanna Bird Contemporary Collections. Photography by Angela Moore. Styling by Despina Curtis.
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New Money Barriers between the materialisation and digitalisation of finances are softening, so what role do design strategies play in shaping societyâ€™s conceptions of value and transaction? Words Tamar Shafrirâ€‚Art Joshua Portway and Lise Autogena 72
On Tuesday 23 August 1994, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of the artist group The K Foundation burned £1m. The action, named K Foundation Burn a Million Quid, took place on the Isle of Jura in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, where it was filmed by their collaborator Gimpo (aka Alan Goodrick) and witnessed by freelance journalist Jim Reid. As Reid’s later article ‘Money to Burn’, published in The Observer, reported, “No one bank holds £1m in cash, so the K Foundation have hired a security firm to pick up the money from a NatWest bullion centre in Kent.” The money would be subsequently driven to the Redhill aerodrome, flown to the Inner Hebrides in a four-seater aeroplane, unpacked in a boathouse, lit on fire and destroyed over the course of two hours. “How would you watch £1m burn? With anger? With horror?” asked Reid. “I could tell you that you watch it at first with great guilt and then, after perhaps 10 minutes, boredom. And when the fire has gone out, you just feel cold.” This performance concluded a year-long process in which Cauty and Drummond debated how to best rid themselves of the money they had earned through music royalties from their earlier work as the electronica band The KLF: they toured the money around the USSR, gave some of it away and finally attempted to nail it to a board for a planned art exhibition called Money: A Major Body of Cash. Although no gallery agreed to stage the project, The K Foundation produced a preview catalogue that articulated its interest in the subject, asking questions like “How beautiful is money?” and speculating about the raw emotions inspired by its sight, sound and smell. At the same time, the Foundation acknowledged that it was dealing with a soon-to-be anachronism. As they later told Reid, “Money goes instantly around the world, we wanted to take it by hand, we were celebrating the end of cash.” It was a prescient farewell. Today, some 25 years on, more than 90 per cent of the world’s money exists only in electronic form. This shift towards non-materialised money has been momentous and throws up a host of questions, a number of them design-related. The physical form of coins and notes is responsible for many of our common conceptions around money: that it is finite, non-replicable, verifiable,
exchangeable and durable. These beliefs have become ingrained over 5,000 years of economic history, making money one of the main organising principles of human society. But as money grows less physical in a world governed by digital technologies, its behaviour no longer accords with our assumptions. The K Foundation’s burning of 20,000 £50 notes may have been shocking, but it was also easily achievable – at least in a physical sense. By contrast, eradicating £1m from a digital account – destroying it completely, with no trace and no recipient – is nearly impossible. Although non-physical money is easier to track than cash, it nonetheless requires a form of mediation or interaction to be accessed and spent, and these interactions are as much a question of design as of finance. As physical and virtual forms of currency continue to coexist, their designs influence one another, giving rise to increasingly hybrid manifestations. Almost all currencies in circulation today are fiat money: that is, currencies established by national governments. Before the 20th century, however, money took different forms. Commodity money, such as the barley used in Babylonia 4,000 years ago, had its own value as an object or material. Representative money, meanwhile, was a record of ownership for commodities held in store elsewhere, like a tally stick or gold certificate. Fiat money, by contrast, is only as valuable as governments and markets say it is. This value may be consciously manipulated through processes such as quantitative easing or changes in interest rates, while political events or governmental instability can also have unintended impacts on its worth. In either case, the form of money stays the same, even as its equivalent power to buy another product rises or falls. Despite this, coins and banknotes are designed to simulate intrinsic value in visual and material ways. Coins, for instance, imitate the shininess of precious metals, although they tend to be redesigned once their material value oversteps their nominal value. The British penny was minted from copper until 1970 and bronze until 1991, but since then it has been made from copper-plated steel to reduce the use of more valuable metals (at various points in the 2000s, the copper penny was worth more than 1p). Meanwhile, banknotes tend to increase in size to imply a corresponding increase in value: the €10 banknote is 7mm wider and 5mm taller than the
€5 banknote, and each subsequent denomination grows by similar increments. Banknotes also have a texture and strength unlike other papers we encounter in our daily lives. They are produced from unique textile fibres or polymers and printed with opalescent holograms, signatures, official symbols and numerical codes. A considerable amount of money is actually counterfeit – at least 3 per cent of all pound coins, for instance – but despite this our trust in the signs of authentic value projected by physical currency is not shaken. In his 2016 London Review of Books essay ‘When Bitcoin Grows Up’, the journalist and author John Lanchester ably summarised the form that most money now takes. “What it is instead [of cash] is entries on a ledger,” he wrote. “It’s numbers on your bank balance, the electronic records of debits and credits that are created every time we spend money.” Debit cards, credit cards, smart cards and online banking have become vital points of access to the flow of 24-hour digital transactions that govern the global economy, but the new financial reality seems to have affected cash too, with a growing tendency for even the physical appearance of currencies to
would seem, is adopting the visual language of the format which is likely to one day replace it. Less immediately graspable than this form of aesthetic homage, however, is the intersection between graphic design and the complex security features embedded in banknotes. With the increasing ubiquity of image-editing software and reproduction machines, sophisticated graphic elements have had to be introduced into banknote design in order to prevent their reproduction by counterfeiters. Such work is overseen by the Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group (CBCDG), an association of 32 central banks and note‑printing authorities that supports and deploys secret technologies to prevent the digital reproduction of currency. In 2002, Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge, discovered that the CBCDG was using a counterfeiting-prevention method that he called the “EURion constellation”, a specific arrangement of five coloured circles (now printed on almost all major currencies) that are automatically picked up by photocopiers. Once the constellation has been detected, the photocopier will not function. Two years later, Kuhn’s student Steven Murdoch investigated other detection methods, discovering a digital watermark that had been developed by the technology company Digimarc and embedded in banknotes. This watermark can be identified by image-editing software such as Photoshop, which is programmed not to open any file containing it. Such technologies show that one of the key design territories in physical currencies is actually invisible to the naked eye. Central to the functioning of both Kuhn’s constellation and Murdoch’s watermark is that they are so completely integrated into the design of the banknote as to only be reliably readable by machines. It’s a development that brings to mind the “New Aesthetic”, a phrase coined by designer James Bridle in 2011 to refer to the overlaps between the digital and physical realms. “For so long we’ve stared up at space in wonder,” wrote Bridle, “but with cheap satellite imagery and cameras on kites and RC helicopters, we’re looking at the ground with new eyes, to see structures and infrastructures.” Bridle was not writing about finance, but the general tendency that he observed also applies to the way in which we materialise money. In the spirit of the New Aesthetic, we are beginning to adopt and adapt the design of banknotes and coins to machine vision. This process is giving rise to curious
Physical money, it would seem, is adopting the visual language of the format which is likely to one day replace it. adopt a more virtual logic. While the detailed texture of banknotes once referred to the heavy paper of official documents and certificates, some currencies – such as the Romanian leu and the new British £5 note – now incorporate transparent windows reminiscent of digital screens. Other currencies allude to the digital more obliquely. The latest Norwegian kroner notes, to be released in 2017, feature traditional national symbols, insignia and signatures on their fronts, but the backs have been designed by the architecture studio Snøhetta and dispense with any figurative imagery in place of colourful, pixellated fields. “We wanted to play with the thought that maybe this would be the last banknote to be designed because of the coming of the digital age,” said Martin Gran, the managing director of Snøhetta’s brand design division in a 2014 interview with Disegno. Physical money, it
The imagery accompanying this article are computer simulations taken from Joshua Portway and Lise Autogenaâ€™s Black Shoals Stock Market
Planetarium (2001-ongoing). The Black Shoals project visualises the dynamics of the world stock markets as a night sky, with stellar activity dictated by real-time trading data.
artefacts: throwback skeuomorphs and mystifying icons of a virtual syntax that have no relationship to traditional insignia. While physical money is mimicking the digital, electronic currencies are conversely developing new physical incarnations. In the last half-century, electronic payment has undergone a dramatic transformation in terms of appearance, technology and associated behaviour. As bank-card design changed from the magnetic stripe to the integrated circuit of the microchip in the 1990s, then to the radio-frequency ID tag and antenna of the contactless smart card, the etiquette surrounding the act of payment also evolved. The eye contact and visual assessment necessitated by the act of signing a receipt gave way – first to the politely averted gaze of the cashier as a customer keyed in a PIN code and then to the minimal acknowledgment of the contactless card touch. As payment, like almost every interaction in contemporary life, moves from surrogate objects like the card to mobile phones – through device-specific interfaces (such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and
Venmo demands a new etiquette of usage that wraps the representation and exchange of money into a culture of oversharing, memes and emojis. Samsung Pay) or cross-platform services (like Paypal) – the act of payment seems both more public and less perceptible. This paradox has implications for the gestures and performance of transactions. In his research, the designer and ethnographer Nicolas Nova notes the changes in the banal choreography of daily life associated with a rise in digital interfaces and thresholds. His book Curious Rituals (2012) documents the development of moves like the “hip-bump” and the “bag swipe” based on the affordances of contactless cards, which don’t have to be taken out to register on a scanner: “They simple [sic] swing their wallet or handbag over the scanner, without bothering to take their cards out. Besides, who has the time? Commuters who do the walletor-handbag-swipe don’t even break their pace, they just learn to swipe in full stride.”
Behind this general dematerialisation of money is the rise of fintechs, or financial technology startups. Companies such as Braintree or Adyen process payments in almost any currency from any location, while others, such as Tramonex or Ripple, expedite transfers between financial institutions in different countries in pursuit of a global network of completely liquid and frictionless electronic assets – financial transactions that operate as seamlessly as data transfers, something that Ripple refers to as an “internet of value”. Speaking at the Bank Innovation 2015 conference, Ripple’s CEO Chris Larsen imagined a situation in which a person wishes to overtake a slow-moving car on a highway: “In the internet of value, you immediately pass him 1/100th of a penny to change lanes.” Larsen’s comment is telling. As the logic of the information economy begins to shape the financial transactions of the average consumer and personal data is increasingly commodified, immateriality no longer means invisibility – the most salient trend in consumer-orientated fintech startups is the evercloser intertwining of electronic money with other digital networks and activities. These companies are turning money into another building block in the personal digital profile generated through social media, including posts, likes, friends, follows, gameplay and advertisement views. Venmo, for instance, is a mobile payment service owned by Paypal that offers quick mobile payments between users, but which augments this digital wallet with a social network that reports every transaction to the users’ friends. As such, Venmo demands a new etiquette of usage that wraps the representation and exchange of money into a culture of oversharing, memes and emojis through an experimental form of conspicuous consumption. If a central concern around capitalism since Marx has been commodity fetishism – the tendency to understand social relationships in terms of financial value and the transaction of it – then Venmo seems to offer a hyper‑efficient platform for commodifying social exchange. Statistics, however, suggest that the end-game of Venmo and its ilk may be some way off. In spite of the rapid dematerialisation of money, more than half of the world’s financial exchanges are still made using cash: of the $34tn small- and medium-business transactions made in 2015, $19tn-worth were carried
out with cash or cheques. “Cash refuses to die, because it has some advantages that the digital world is not yet able to provide,” says Gadi Amit, the president of the San Francisco studio NewDealDesign. “Whether we like to admit it or not, almost everyone has some area of economic activity that they do not want tracked and analysed. Yet many digital companies don’t recognise that as a need. So there’s an opportunity to bridge the gap between high-speed, super-efficient electronic currencies that are completely registered and documented, and the more physical, more human, looser reality of small and medium business activity.” In September 2016, NewDealDesign revealed Scrip, a “universal cash device” designed to exchange electronic money in a more tactile way by separating it from a mobile phone and giving it a different physical envelope and interface. Scrip takes the form of a flat, pillshaped copper medallion that is covered with a pattern of raised diamonds. As the user’s thumb swipes over the surface, mimicking the action of counting banknotes, these diamonds are pressed down. The device, which remains at the concept stage, keeps no record of spending and aims to replicate the less traceable quality of notes and coins: “Even though the authorities like to claim that the anonymity of cash is a negative, for just about everyone, it is a useful tool.” Amit positions Scrip as part of the challenge to reduce the centrality of the mobile phone and reverse the dematerialisation triggered by cloud-based technology, arguing that both issues can be attributed to the way Silicon Valley offers “monolithic, all-encompassing, one-time solutions” rather than more flexible hybrids. “In future, we will have multiple personalised pieces of electronics around us that will either interact with, augment or replace the phone entirely,” he says. “These objects will provide us with more visceral and emotional experiences beyond utilitarian benefits or technical efficiency.” Scrip could be considered skeumorphic in its translation of physical banknotes into an electronic artefact, but it also pairs our desire for the ease of frictionless transactions with a deep‑seated anxiety over where the dematerialisation of financial transactions might leave us. While the effects of this dematerialisation on individual consumers are still unknown, they have already been absorbed into the financial activities of multinational companies and the super rich.
The liquidity of electronic money – its ability to be transferred and converted between different currencies instantaneously – allows wealth to be distributed in a particular geography of private and business accounts in order to minimise taxes. It is a situation that was brought to light earlier this year with the leak of the Panama Papers, a series of 11.5m documents detailing the transfer of global wealth around offshore tax havens through the corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca. The scale of such transfers is difficult to pin down – although in May 2015, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that governments lose up to $240bn (10 per cent) in global income tax revenues due to profit shifting by multinational companies – but the reasons behind them are more obvious. John Doe, the anonymous whistleblower who leaked the Panama Papers to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, subsequently issued a manifesto to the publication in which he argued that “democracy’s checks and balances have all failed, that the breakdown is systemic, and that severe instability could be just around the corner”.
“Whether we like to admit it or not, almost everyone has some area of economic activity that they do not want tracked and analysed. Yet many digital companies don’t recognise that as a need.” —Gadi Amit While Doe cited “massive, pervasive corruption” as the root of the transactions detailed in the papers, another dimension of the problem is arguably the format of money itself. The “financial secrecy” that Doe decried is far easier in an age where the commodity to be hidden is already dematerialised. The artist Femke Herregraven has devoted much of her career to the examination of global finance and its impact on geopolitics. Geographies of Avoidance (2011) was a book that mapped the multiple companies registered to each address in Amsterdam’s Zuidas financial district, while the video game Taxodus (2013) invites players to devise tax-avoidance strategies in the face
of real-world data detailing international capital and tax treaties. Common to both projects is the manner in which the immateriality of electronic money makes it almost invisible from the perspective of national governments. Unlike, however, the “invisible hand” portrayed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations (1776) as the unintended benefit to national economies by industrialists acting in their own interests (and thus “preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry”), today’s multinational companies have no unconscious loyalties in terms of where they invest their money. Google, Apple, Ikea, Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks and thousands of other corporations move profits between countries to take advantage of specific tax agreements or loopholes, building complex financial structures with names like the Dutch Sandwich, Double Irish or Bermuda Black Hole. While Herregraven’s work critiques the invisibility of money, she does not attempt to address its negative consequences by making a direct physical manifestation of money like a fiat currency. Instead, she argues that the movements of money must be visualised through diagrams and metaphors, rather than concrete quantities. “Finance mainly exists in a realm that humans cannot access,” says Herregraven. “My work is about capturing something extremely volatile into stillness, an extreme slowed-down detail of ephemeral financial events.” Herregraven has also developed new forms and images for the fluctuations of today’s money that trade precise quantification for more openended interpretation. Rogue Waves (2015) is a series of 2m aluminium bars cut with a water jet to graph high-frequency trading algorithms designed for “quote stuffing, spoofing gold prices and stock manipulation”, but whose forms reference the physical currency of tally sticks used in medieval Europe. Meanwhile, Subsecond Flocks (2016) portrays the momentary monetary collapses caused by unexpected interactions “between human panic and automated mathematical rituals”, in a closed system combining acrylic plates, hole-punched aluminium sheets, printed strips and black swan feathers. These materialisations of the logic of contemporary finance – and its production and manipulation of a decidedly alien form of money – have an ethical dimension, but Herregraven warns of the “false sense of control” generated by the strategies of visualisation. “For me, the urgency
for creating material and tactical works derives from a contradiction: an immense material world is necessary to create the illusion of an immaterial digital financial world. Although the interface that we interact with as humans is made with models, data and visualisations, eventually it derives from terrains, objects, materials, bodies and matter.” In the original exchange of cash, the hierarchy and shift of power was limited to the participants in the trade. With card payments, the banks themselves assumed a degree of agency in the transaction: by mediating the transfer, they could accrue authority and power. However, in entirely mobile methods of payment – especially with alternative platforms such as Paypal rather than traditional banks – the distribution of power is more diffuse. This could be used to the advantage of individuals and corporations aiming to evade regulation by governments, or it could be used by online platforms to gather information about the participants of the transaction as a form of value production. As this information becomes more useful for the algorithmic optimisation of the tools organising daily life, the process of payment may acquire greater nuances, but also more functions and meanings beyond the specific good or service being purchased. Will we begin to look at money not as a finite resource but as a more complex and more open-ended medium of interaction? One day, burning may no longer be the most radical thing to do with £1m. E N D
A Capital in Exile Words Manuel Herzâ€‚Photographs Iwan Baan
For close to a decade, the architect Manuel Herz has visited Algeriaâ€™s Sahrawi refugee camps. Home to the displaced people of Western Sahara, they make up a temporary semi-sovereign state. Here, Herz and the photographer Iwan Baan present their field notes about the architecture of the camps.
We left the Algerian city of Tindouf, located in the far southwest of the country in the early hours of the morning. The plane from Algiers had landed in this former garrison town in the middle of the night and we had to wait some time for the Algerian military escort to assemble before leaving the airport grounds. Driving out of the city, we pass the new university that was built to support the city’s growing civilian population, as well as the nearby Sahrawi refugee community. After some time we arrive at the location where the Algerian escort hands us over to its Sahrawi counterpart and we proceed to the refugee camps of Western Sahara. In late October 1975, several hundred thousand Moroccans assembled near the small southern town of Tarfaya, close to the Moroccan border with thenSpanish Sahara, and awaited a signal from King Hassan II of Morocco. Finally, on 6 November, Hassan indicated that the time had come and 350,000 men and women began to march south, crossing the border and initiating one of the largest civilian occupations in history, taking over Morocco’s southern neighbour, Western Sahara. Just days earlier, a United Nations commission had declared the right of the original population of that territory – the Sahrawis – to self-representation and that their desire for independence should be respected. This, in the Moroccan view, was detrimental to its aim of achieving a long-held dream for a Greater Morocco, a country that would include not only the territory of Western Sahara, but also large parts of Algeria, Mali and Mauritania. Beyond the fulfilment of these expansionist aspirations, the territory of Western Sahara also promised riches in the shape of some of the world’s largest phosphate deposits and the abundant fishing grounds off its coast that Morocco would later lease to the European Union. The Green March, the name given to the events of November 1975, was the first step towards this. More than 40 years on from the Green March, around 75 per cent of Western Sahara remains under the de facto control of Morocco – a portion of the country that is separated from the so-called liberated territories by a 2,500km-long mined wall or sand berm that runs through the desert. The United Nations does not accept the Moroccan occupation and sees Western Sahara as the last colony in Africa. A referendum that should resolve the situation and which was first planned for 1992 has been continuously delayed and foiled by Morocco. The Sahrawi Arab
Democratic Republic (SADR), whose independence was declared by the refugees in 1976, remains a nation without access to its territory. In 2016, however, Western Sahara exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Adopting the biennale’s typology of national pavilions, this presentation assumed – and demanded – full nationhood for Western Sahara.1 The pavilion exhibited a series of four carpets – weaving is one of the few crafts practised in the camps – that were executed by the National Union of Sahrawi Women working with groups of Sahrawi weavers. These carpets represent four major themes of the spatial and architectural history of Sahrawi life: a map of the region telling the story of the establishment of the camps; a depiction of the Sahrawi tradition of public buildings; a representation of daily life; and a carpet showing the camps as political spaces. Presented within the context of the Biennale, the Western Sahara Pavilion placed the Sahrawis in the centre of worldwide architectural discourse for the first time. Beyond simply advocating nationhood, the Western Sahara Pavilion also repositioned the architecture of the Sahrawi refugees. Rather than examples of emergency architecture, these structures are spatial forms that deserve to be taken seriously on their own terms. Present in the Sahrawi camps is an architecture for a nation yet to come. Entry to Camp Smara, one of the six Sahwari camps, is via a checkpoint. This is familiar in the global landscape of refugee camps, yet the Smara checkpoint differs in an important aspect from nearly all others worldwide: it is neither staffed by military personnel from the host nation – in this case Algeria – nor by representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as is elsewhere the case. Instead, it is run by the refugees themselves. The Sahrawi refugee camps in the southwestern region of Algeria are some of the few such places in the world where refugees control access to their own settlements. Not merely an administrative detail, this model points to a more significant, and also unique, phenomenon: the semi-sovereignty that the Sahrawi refugees have assumed and practice within the territory of their camps. 1 Editor’s note: Manuel Herz, the author of this article, curated the Western Sahara Pavilion in conjunction with the National Union of Sahrawi Women. Iwan Baan took the photographs featured in the pavilion.
Present in the Sahrawi camps is an architecture for a nation yet to come.
A Sahrawi guard sits in the shadow of the Camp Boujdour checkpoint. The entrance to the Seat of the President in the Sahrawi administrative centre Camp Rabuni (below) reveals a building whose architecture employs a distinct symbolism.
Even though the camps are located in one of the driest and hottest regions of the planet, torrential rain during the autumn of 2015 destroyed much of the housing, whose ruins are still visible today.
The goat barns located at the edge of the camps are constructed as a bricolage of found objects. The tents that are interspersed in between the residential compounds (below) signify the temporality of the settlement.
The tent â€“ signifying temporality â€“ is a form of resistance. It employs a building typology to signal that the situation is not settled.
In contrast to our notion of the camp as the spatialisation of a state of exception, everyday activities such as cleaning, washing, cooking and playing dominate the urban landscape.
The hundreds of thousands of Moroccans who entered the country on the Green March initially did not stay long, but a military occupation of Western Sahara soon followed, prompting a guerrilla war between the well-equipped Moroccan army and the poorly supplied Sahrawi soldiers. Simultaneously, Mauritania invaded from the south. Seeing their country being taken over, the non-fighting portion of the Sahrawi population fled across the border into western Algeria. As Morocco had also indicated an interest in Algerian territory, the Sahrawis seemed natural allies with Algeria, which supported the refugees in their attempts to set up camp infrastructure by providing them with resources and aid. From the beginning, the Sahrawi camps have been selfdetermining. The UNHCR was not involved in setting them up and still plays only a marginal role in their administration, mostly coordinating donations by the international community. Today, Camp Smara occupies an area of around 10sqkm and is inhabited by roughly 40,000 Sahrawi refugees. Once the other four residential refugee camps in Algeria are taken into consideration – Dakhla, El-Aaiún, Awserd and Boujdour – approximately 160,000 Sahrawi refugees have been living in Algeria for 40 years. Climbing one of the few hills in the mostly flat desert landscape, one can see Camp Smara stretching out to the horizon. There is a relatively dense fabric of buildings, huts and tents – all single-storey structures – interspersed with larger institutional facilities such as schools and administrations, and denser clusters of shops and small markets. The Sahrawi families have constructed residential compounds for themselves that often comprise a number of huts arranged around a small central open space. Constructed out of adobe bricks, they typically perform single functions: one for cooking, one for sleeping, one for drinking tea and receiving guests, and so on. Depending on the size and financial situation of each family, these compounds can consist of one or two huts, or grow to include up to seven or eight. Given the long history of the camps, the fact that improvisational architecture such as tents remains in place requires explanation. Primarily, there are functional considerations. In the heat of the summer, when temperatures top 50°C, tents provide a comfortable climate during the night, as they cool quickly and allow a breeze to enter. They also
reference the nomadic tradition of the Sahrawis, and hence allude to the time before their country was lost to Morocco. Beyond these questions of culture and comfort, another reason for using tents is symbolic: they serve as an architectural signifier of the fact that the Sahrawi refugees have not surrendered to living in exile, but are still struggling for a return to Western Sahara. The tent – signifying temporality – is another form of resistance, insofar as it employs a building typology to signal that the situation is not settled and expresses through architecture a political demand to return to the home country. It shows that the use of clay bricks employed in many Sahrawi structures, for instance, is not only a technical choice, but also an allusion to issues of permanence. Similarly, the fact that the interior decorations are composed of textiles such as tapestries is predicated on their movability. Every architectural element in the camps, every detail, has additional messages and meanings. They are never neutral, never innocent. Smara is subdivided into six villages, which in turn are split into four neighbourhoods. Even though the Sahrawi camps and villages are named after towns and cities in Western Sahara – thereby constructing something akin to a shared memory inscribed on the camp territories – the inhabitants of a specific camp do not come from the respective original city in their home country. The inhabitants can, and do, move to other villages or camps if they prefer. In addition, mobile phones, Facebook and WhatsApp mean that they can communicate with their relatives and friends living in different camps or elsewhere across the globe. As a consequence, original bonds based on a tribal structure have been replaced by a network that hybridises traditional structures and hierarchies. The Western Sahara camp population has thus transformed into a contemporary and relatively cosmopolitan society. This is a process similar to that described by the anthropologist Liisa H. Malkki in her book Purity and Exile, an account of Hutu refugees dispossessed during the 1972 Burundian genocide, who subsequently lived in a township in Tanzania as opposed to a traditional refugee camp setting: “Rather than defining themselves collectively as ‘the Hutu refugees’ […] they tended to seek ways of assimilating and of inhabiting multiple, shifting identities […] those in town were creating not a heroized national identity, but rather a lively cosmopolitanism”.
A barber shop next to Valencia School in Camp Smara, and a dentistâ€™s office. The Sahrawi camps exhibit a canny sense of spatial and graphical composition.
A well-stocked grocery store in Camp Smara.
Each village in Smara is served by a school, a community centre and market area where foodstuffs, clothing, tools and small appliances can be bought, and mobile phones topped up. Each of the Sahrawi camps also features a hospital and a maternity clinic. School attendance is compulsory and free for all children and young adults. The level of education is comparatively high, with literacy estimated at 90 per cent: by contrast, Unicef estimates that adult literacy in Morocco stands at just 67 per cent. In addition, the health system, managed and implemented by the Sahrawis themselves, is well developed. Conversations with local Sahrawi doctors point to a life expectancy higher than 70 years, which is the average in Morocco and Algeria. All the same, this does not mean that living in the camps is easy. Most families are dependent on food aid: the World Food Programme (WFP) provides 125,000 basic dry-food rations each month. Furthermore, heavy flooding in 2015 damaged 17,000 houses and 60 per cent of community infrastructure, which has to be painstakingly rebuilt. The camp’s schools, clinics and community centres do not only perform a utilitarian function, but have also developed into social spaces – meeting points where people come together to play, enjoy, talk and exchange. Their architecture is remarkable. Valencia School (named after the city that funded it)2 in Smara has an asymmetrical triangular floor plan with rounded corners. It is an unusual shape, but one that has the benefit of preventing sand from piling up along its sides. The school is a conglomeration of several buildings, consisting of classrooms, utility rooms and an open-air auditorium, all arranged around a central courtyard that is used for communal events, sport and recreation. A group of rooms at one of the rounded corners features domed ceilings, while the classrooms alongside the long edges of the triangle have a pitched roof. The architecture is surprisingly rich, with varying interior and exterior spaces that have their own distinct qualities. Together, they make a fascinating whole that is neither traditional nor generic modern, but is highly specific to the location. While Valencia School was
originally located off-centre from its camp neighbourhood, it has now attracted new family compounds that have been erected in its vicinity. This is a dynamic familiar from any contemporary city: good schools act as engines of urban development, drawing families to them. Through such transformations, the camps have become repositories for the Sahrawis’ efforts to carve out their own spaces in exile and to tell the story of how the refugees use the camps as spaces of emancipation. The French urban anthropologist Michel Agier’s seminal 2002 essay ‘Between War and City’ has had a substantial impact on the debate about the relationship between camps and towns. Agier describes the camp as a place that “even when stabilized […] remains a stunted city-tobe-made, by definition naked”. Asking himself why that transition to a polis as a political space is not complete, Agier describes the lack of political recognition and agency as the main cause. It is exactly here that the Sahrawi camps offer a paradigm that perhaps fulfils the transition to an urban space. Nowhere does this notion of using the camp spaces as a materialisation of (self-)governance become more evident than in the case of Rabuni, a camp 32km east of Smara that serves as the administrative centre for the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria. The camp’s infrastructure, however, does not initially suggest this significance. The centre of Rabuni is marked by a large parking lot-cum-bus stand, which is surrounded by myriad car-repair businesses, improvised petrol stations and shops selling everything from groceries to clothes to building materials. The service stations look as if they have accumulated the leftovers and spare parts of enough vehicles and other paraphernalia to begin to take on a life of their own. The vehicles, mostly ageing Land Rovers from the 1950s and 60s, have seen so many repairs that they seem like moving – or depending on their state of decay, immobile – bricolage. On top of this, the hot desert wind covers everything in a fine layer of sand. North of this area of Rabuni, however, lies a large compound enclosed with a giraffe-patterned wall – the Ministry of Defence of the Sahrawi government. This is not the only governmental institution in Rabuni. In fact the urban landscape is dotted with all the ministries that also make up any other national government of recognised nation states. As with the other structures in the camps, all of these institutions
2 Close to Valencia School is another institute which is similarly sponsored by the Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha. In general, ties between Spain and the Sahrawi camps are close. In his 2010 book Western Sahara: The Refugee Nation, the academic Pablo San Martín estimated that the Sahrawi community in Spain now stands at 10,000.
This is a dynamic familiar from any contemporary city: good schools act as engines of urban development, drawing families to them.
The giraffe-patterned wall enclosing the Ministry of Defense (below) is found next to the garage and repair shops of Camp Rabuni.
While out-patient treatment is afforded in each residential camp, the National Hospital in Rabuni provides the refugee population with a high level of medical care.
The Sahrawi Parliament outside of Camp Rabuni is a testament to selfgovernance, while the Sahrawi TV station (below) provides TV and radio programming to all the camps.
Instead of being another humanitarian space with a dominant NGO culture, Rabuni testifies to the Sahrawi refugeesâ€™ self-reliance.
Following the torrential rains of autumn 2015, several houses are being rebuilt using concrete and cement or stabilised with sculptural retaining walls.
are single-floor compounds, albeit built out of cement bricks and covered in cement plaster to withstand the very rare – but very heavy – rains and frequent sandstorms. Being single-storey, these buildings occupy large swathes of ground. Their low profile does not allow for grand symbolic gestures, and in general they are relatively unpretentious and functional. Nevertheless, a certain unconventionality marks their appearance. Further to the west, for instance, lies the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose cross-shaped floor plan looks like it was lifted directly from the Swiss flag. To the east is the large compound of the National Hospital, located next to the Ministry of Public Health. Just a few hundred metres further is the Ministry of Construction and Development, a building whose symmetrical layout is marked by four main corner rooms that are each roofed by prominent domes, giving it the feel of a wedding cake. The Sahrawi refugees are the only refugees worldwide who self-govern and who have achieved semi-sovereignty in their camps. They have built up their own system of administration and political representation, such that Rabuni can be understood as the capital of a nation in exile. It is here in this camp that the new curricula for schools are put together, decisions for public health are taken, cultural policies are devised and new codes of law are written. Instead of being another example of a humanitarian space with the typical presence of a dominant NGO culture, Rabuni testifies to the Sahrawi refugees’ self-reliance. They set their own rules. With Rabuni, the camps are consciously used by the Sahrawis as a political project and through them they are developing expertise in running a country. Though still in exile, they are using their time in the camps to prepare themselves for the nation to come. In this sense, the Sahrawi refugees add complexity to a distinction set up by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his 1993 text ‘Beyond Human Rights’, in which the figure of the refugee was deployed to argue that when we speak of human rights, we actually speak of citizens’ rights: “Precisely the figure that should have embodied human rights more than any other – namely, the refugee – mark[s] instead the radical crisis of the concept,” noted Agamben. “In the system of the nation-state,” he continued, “so-called sacred and inalienable human rights are revealed to be without any protection precisely when it is no longer possible to conceive of them as rights of the citizens of a state.” In Rabuni,
however, the categories of citizen and refugee seem to draw closer together. Beyond its political dimension, Rabuni introduces something we typically do not consider when thinking about refugee camps: everyday life. In the morning, hundreds of ministry employees arrive to work, having travelled the 10km or so from the residential camps such as Boujdour by either public bus or with one of the private taxis that offer their services for a few dinar. People work in their offices, go for lunch over midday and in the evening return home, again by bus or taxi. This ordinary routine, shared by billions worldwide, is significant precisely because it is quotidian. We imagine refugee camps to be places of extremes; settlements that are constructed to save lives; sites that are mainly about providing enough food and water to ensure survival and possibly prevent suffering; facilities intended to put dispossessed people out of the line of fire. In our imagination, the everyday has no place there. The exceptional quality of the camp is acknowledged by the UNHCR, whose 2014 ‘Policy on Alternatives to Camps’ states that camps are meant to be of temporary use and should only be employed as a measure of last resort. The philosopher Adi Ophir, however, shows in his 2011 essay ‘The Politics of Catastrophization’ that representing an exceptional situation solely within the frame of suffering and violence is not only one of personal bias, but carries a distinct agenda: “declaring a state of emergency has always presupposed some sense of catastrophization – false, imaginary, virtual, sincere or realistic – and should be understood in its context.” The Sahrawi camps, by contrast, show us not only that these mundane activities of everyday life exist in refugee settlements, but also how important they are. Refugee camps are regularly conceived of, and described as, spaces of exception. In Agamben’s 1995 book Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, he writes: “The camp is […] the structure in which the state of exception – the possibility of deciding on which founds sovereign power – is realised normally. […] This is why in the camp the quaestio iuris is, if we look carefully, no longer strictly distinguishable from the quaestio facti, and in this sense every question concerning the legality or illegality of what happened there simply makes no sense. The camp is a hybrid of law and fact in which the two terms have become indistinguishable.” Agamben is – at least initially – specifically discussing the concentration camps
of Nazi Germany, spaces that demonstrated their inmates’ reduction to bare life clearly and violently. However, he moves on to identify this logic of power in other spatial manifestations of control: “The camp as dislocating localization is the hidden matrix of the politics in which we are still living, and it is this structure of the camp that we must learn to recognize in all its metamorphoses into the zones d’attentes of our airports and certain outskirts of our cities.” Agamben’s argument has had a profound influence upon architectural and urbanistic discourse. Camps are seen as spaces of ultimate control, where the movement of people is restricted, where personal development and freedom of expression is restrained, and where political engagement by the population is prohibited. Camps are viewed as not only homogenous in their bareness, but homogenising in the way in which they reduce their inhabitants to their basic physical needs. Whereas the city is understood to be a cosmopolitan space of heterogeneity that uplifts, allows for a multitude of connections, enables political engagement, and lets its citizens create new and multiple identities, the camp is a space of waiting that reduces interactions and works against difference. Camps are seen as the antithesis of the city and of urban space. The problem with this position is that it has the nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It reduces refugees to passive recipients of aid and prevents spaces of emancipation or cosmopolitanism from developing in camps by permanently inscribing the notion of emergency into the camp fabric. ‘The Production of Space, Political Subjectivication and the Folding of Polarity: the Case of Dehisce Camp, Palestine,’ a 2012 essay by the architect Sandi Hilal and academic Nasser Abourahme, argues that the simple juxtaposition of the seeming polarities of “city” and “camp” fails to understand the potential of the camp as a space to speak politically and to confront a colonial occupation: “The point, then, is not to think of refugees as existing in a static in‑between, as stuck in liminal tension between antinomies or irreconcilable dichotomies but to recognize them as acting and speaking politically at a series of intersections between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.” In contrast to the dominant notion of the camp as the antithesis of the city, and in the spirit of Hilal and Abourahme’s argument, the case study of the Sahrawi settlements gives us evidence that
a completely different kind of settlement can exist: the Sahrawi camps are places in which inhabitants are in charge of their lives – at least to the extent possible during the occupation of their home country. They are spaces that have given rise to a novel system of administration and new social patterns; where nomadic traditions have transformed into modern concepts of family structures; and new identities have been created. In stark contrast to the common conception that refugee camps are not spaces where politics is desired, the Sahrawi camps both facilitate and promote politics. Not only is the Sahrawi population encouraged to engage in political matters, but the camps themselves are seen and used as political projects in their anticipation of the Sahrawi nation state of Western Sahara. The Sahrawi camps therefore give us proof of the camp as a form of urban space. At a time when areas of control and surveillance are multiplying in our cities, where gated communities and corporate compounds encroach more and more on public and political interaction, the opposition of the urban condition to camp spaces becomes less valid. Perhaps the Sahrawi camps might even represent a spatial quality that is more urban than many cities. E N D
Contextual Illumination George Sowdenâ€™s re-engineered LED light breaks from the failings of the traditional lightbulb. Words Oli Stratfordâ€‚Photographs Delfino Sisto Legnani Project
One of the most compelling
The section is told from the perspective of Byron the Bulb, a lightbulb manufactured by Tungsram in Budapest who, through a quirk of statistics, is immortal: he will never burn out. At the point in the story at which we enter, Byron is plotting for his compatriots across the continent to begin to strobe violently (“you can actually trigger an epileptic fit!”) or else “flame out in one grand burst instead of patiently waiting out their design hours”, as part of the emancipatory plan of Byron’s self-styled Guerrilla Strike Force. However… “Is Byron in for a rude awakening! There is already an organization, a human one, known as ‘Phoebus’, the international light-bulb cartel, headquartered in Switzerland […] Phoebus fixes the prices and determines the operational lives of all the bulbs in the world, from Brazil to Japan to Holland (although Philips in Holland is the mad dog of the cartel, apt at any time to cut loose and sow disaster throughout the great Combination). Given this state of general repression, there seems no place for a newborn Baby Bulb to start but at the bottom.” Pynchon’s history is broadly accurate. Between 1924 and 1940, the Phoebus cartel dominated the global incandescent lightbulb market. Led by companies such as International General Electric, Osram and Associated Electrical Industries, the cartel reengineered lightbulbs that were capable of 2,500-hour lifespans such that they reliably failed after 1,000. At the cartel’s peak, Phoebus companies sold 420.8m bulbs a year, meaning that the worldwide lighting industry spent 16 years designing purposefully inferior products in order to maximise profits on a mass scale. Phoebus was eventually killed off by World War Two and its resultant failure in effecting close coordination between the cartel’s constituent members (Osram was German, Associated Electrical Industries British, Tokyo Electric Japanese and so on), but it remains indicative of the malpractice that can emerge within an industry when a technology is in its infancy. Today’s lighting market, for instance, may not be rigged in the manner of Phoebus, but there are nevertheless few reasons to be optimistic – at least from a design perspective. “The lighting industry is a disaster,” summarises George Sowden, a Milanbased designer who has been working to redesign the lightbulb since September 2014. “We’re creating lightbulbs that cannot be recycled or disposed of; that require a vast amount of energy and resources to produce; and which are hugely inefficient to run.”
sections in Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow is an account of planned obsolesce in lightbulbs. Given that the book also includes a Pavlovianconditioned attack-dog octopus; a retelling of the ‘Hansel and Gretel’ story with SS officer Captain Blicero and his Kinderofen in place of the witch; and a plot hinged upon how the erections of Lt Tyrone Slothrop, agent of ACHTUNG, are causally connected to the strike zones of V-2 rockets across Europe, it is a remarkable achievement that a history of the lightbulb stands out as one of the book’s most bizarre elements. 98
George Sowden (left) and his colleague Cristian Loddo photographed in their studio in Milan. A Sowden Light prototype is suspended in the foreground.
The result of this two-year investigation is the Sowden Light, a new luminaire that is planned to launch in 2017 and which proposes root and branch change of the lighting industry. “The lightbulb is an iconic shape, but it has one foot in the past,” says Sowden. “The solution, therefore, is to simply get rid of it.” To understand what the Sowden Light is and why a new form of lighting might even be required, a little history is required. In 2005, beginning in Brazil and Venezuela, governments across the world began to phase out incandescent lightbulbs. “The European Union remains committed to achieving its objectives in the fight against climate change,” read a 2009 press release from the European Commission when it announced its own plans to abandon incandescents. “There is a four to five-fold difference between the energy consumption of the least efficient and the most efficient lighting technologies available on the market. Inefficient lamps […] will be phased out gradually from the EU market.” For “inefficient lamps” read “incandescent lamps”, the technology that precipitated the development of the lightbulb format by Joseph
Swan and Thomas Edison in the latter part of the 19th century. The reasons for the bulb were originally functional. Incandescent technology relies upon heating a filament until it glows, but the filament needs to be kept out of contact with oxygen or else it combusts – hence a protective bulb. The shape, however, quickly went beyond functionality and acquired sufficient cultural cachet to become inseparable from the notion of light itself. “So accustomed are we to electric lights,” lamented the philosopher Junichirō Tanizaki’s in his 1933 essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, “that the sight of a naked bulb beneath an ordinary mild glass shade seems simpler and more natural than any gratuitous attempt to hide it”. In spite of cultural familiarity, however, the form had considerable problems. In 2006, the International Energy Agency (IEA), issued statistics showing that artificial light accounts for almost one-fifth of the world's electricity consumption, as well as generating around 1.9bn tonnes of carbon a year, much of which can be attributed to the inefficiency of incandescents. A standard incandescent lightbulb requires around
Separate components from the Sowden Light. Essential to the designâ€™s ethos is the fact that each element is manufactured in Europe. The lightâ€™s plastic casing is produced in Italy, whereas its electrical components are engineered in Bulgaria.
A version of the Sowden Light fitted with a driver that allows it to be wired into the mains directly. A retrofit version that makes use of existing sockets has also been created.
60W of energy in order to produce 800 lumens (lm) of light – meaning that only 5 per cent of the energy input is actually converted into light.1 The remainder is lost as heat. The precise number of lightbulbs sold each year is unclear – some estimates run as high as 15bn – but few are recycled. “So, lightbulbs are an environmental disaster, a huge product mistake and an enormous waste of energy because they are engineered incorrectly,” summarises Sowden. “A disaster.” In 2008, the United States Department of Energy (DoE) militated against this situation with the launch of the L Prize, an international competition to create a design to replace the standard 60W incandescent in a bid to “spur lighting manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-efficiency solid-state lighting products to replace the common incandescent lightbulb”. The DoE offered $10m to the manufacturer of the first lightbulb that could deliver 910lm with an energy input of less than 10W, thereby transforming the L Prize into a kind of Millennium Prize for the lighting industry: a cash driver for rapid technological advance.2 In particular, the competition represented a potential springboard for LED lightbulbs, a technology that produces light by passing a voltage through a semiconductor to achieve electroluminescence. LED lightbulbs had been on the market since the early 2000s, but at the time of the L Prize the technology remained relatively niche and underdeveloped. “There were just a few LED bulbs on the market that could serve as a replacement for incandescents,” notes the DoE, “and most were 25-40W equivalents.” The only viable alternative to LEDs were (and remain) compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), which can produce around 800lm with an energy input of 15W, but which have to contain a small amount of toxic mercury in order to operate. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s advice should a CFL break in your home is stark: “Have people and pets leave the room.” In August 2011, the L Prize found its winner. Philips (Pynchon’s mad-dog disruptor) produced an LED bulb that could provide 910lm using only 9.7W, 1 A team at MIT are developing an incandescent that they hope will up this efficiency to 40 per cent. The device works by surrounding the filament with a crystal structure that bounces back the energy otherwise lost to the atmosphere as heat. 2 The Millennium Prize Problems are a series of seven mathematical problems stated by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. A correct solution to any of the problems results in a $1m prize. Only one of the seven – the Poincaré conjecture – has been solved to date.
“Edison didn’t make his light look like a candle; he made it look the way it needed to. The lightbulb shape is fundamentally wrong for an LED.” an achievement that the DoE boasted led to energy savings of $51.3m in the first two years after the bulb’s commercial launch in 2012. Philips’s device became the first LED lightbulb that could compete on a level playing field with incandescents and the problem seemed solved. “But what wasn’t discussed was that the Philips LED bulb weighed around 200g, meaning that it required a huge amount of material to make,”3 says Sowden, pointing to the heavy metal collar required to dissipate the heat generated by the bulb’s circuitry and LEDs. “So you’re absolutely saving energy if you use that bulb, but at the manufacturing end they’re using a lot more energy to convert that mass of materials into a product.” The Philips bulb and its descendants require heavy heat sinks4 because the heat generated through the operation of the LEDs makes the device act as a micro-greenhouse. “Which is insane,” says Sowden. “You leave yourself with an engineering problem created solely by the fact that you’re trying to make it look like a lightbulb, and end up with a Sorcerer’s Apprentice situation of multiplying insanity. Edison didn’t make his light look like a candle; he made it look the way it needed to. This is a big accusation to make, but the lightbulb shape is fundamentally wrong for an LED.”5 So enters the Sowden Light: the LED lightbulb that isn’t a lightbulb. The design breaks down into 3 The original Edison bulbs weighed around 25g to 30g. 4 Contemporary LED bulbs are lighter, but remain reasonably heavy. The Philips E27 Edison Screw LED lightbulb, for instance, weighs 100g. 5 The lengths that lighting brands will go to in order to ameliorate this are striking. When Flos created an LED version of Gino Sarfatti’s 1968 Model 1095 lamp in 2013 – a design intended to work with an incandescent bulb – the company resorted to engineering an elaborate water-cooling system to prevent the LEDs from overheating. Sowden’s comment about insanity seems applicable.
two parts. The first is the driver, a thin tube of plastic that contains the circuitry required to manage the power supply to the LEDs. In the case of the Sowden Light, this driver comes in two forms: a retrofit version that screws or slots into an existing lightbulb fitting and a version that is wired directly into the mains. In most other LED lightbulbs the driver is integrated into the bulb itself – the Sowden Light’s use of separation is unusual. “To use a fashionable term, we deconstructed the lightbulb,” says Sowden, who worked on the project’s engineering with Cristian Loddo, a designer in his studio. There are multiple reasons for this separation between driver and light source, the first of which is tied to the nature of LEDs themselves. “The Edison bulb has one functional feature which is interesting in that it gives off 360° of light, whereas LEDs only give you a cone of light which is around 120°,” says Sowden. “So if you want a sphere of light, you have to arrange the LEDs into a pattern.” As a result, Sowden placed the Sowden Light LEDs into a small plastic puck: a glowing halo that clips onto the driver. This ring construction positions the LEDs such that they combine to throw out 340° of light, while the separation from the driver exposes the halo’s large surface area to the air, cooling the LEDs without the need for a heat sink. The separation also aids disassembly of the light’s component parts for recycling. “An LED itself will more or less last forever,” says Sowden. “The thing that always breaks on LED bulbs is the driver, so it makes sense for those components to be separate such that they can be easily replaced.” The result is a light that produces 800lm from a power input of 6W and which weighs around 50g. “But you have to understand that it’s not a design project,” says Sowden. “It’s a political project, a technological project and an environmental project. And it has to be that because the current situation is a disaster.” “Disaster” is a theme that Sowden has returned to throughout his career. Born in Leeds in 1942, he studied architecture at Gloucestershire College of Art before relocating to Milan in 1970, a city in which he has worked ever since. In Milan, Sowden initially worked for Olivetti, designing early computers for the brand. It was there that Sowden first collaborated with the designer Ettore Sottsass, with whom he went on to achieve widespread acclaim as one of the founders of Memphis, the postmodernist design movement that launched at the 1981 Salone del
Mobile, uprooting a discipline previously locked into the dogmas of modernism. Memphis’s designs were gleefully patterned and coloured, filled with brazen forms that seemed drunk on op-art, American minimalist sculpture and pop. Sowden designed the group’s totemic Metropole clock, its teetering-towering D’Antibes cabinet and a series of kaleidoscopic textiles with his partner, the designer Nathalie Du Pasquier. It was a riotous body of work that, combined with the other Memphis objects, opened up new possibilities for understanding what design might be. The objects had a uniform aesthetic, but this was largely
“It’s not a design project. It’s a political, technological and environmental project. And it has to be that because the current situation is a disaster.” incidental. Memphis designs looked the way they did because they could. These were clownish objects, brazenly thumbing their nose at the status quo, and the point of the exercise was to show that the discipline was broader than the clinical aesthetic valorised by modernism. The Memphis aesthetic, in all its vulgarity, was presented as both an acceptable expression of design and a satire of the rigidity of any orthodoxy that denied its validity. “But of course, Memphis was a disaster,” says Sowden, whose subsequent career focused on more straightforward examples of industrial design, such as glass cookware for Pyrex, mobile phones for Swatch and a series of micro-filter coffee and teapots for his own Sowden brand. “It absolutely needed to happen because modernism had become totally irrelevant, but nobody understood what we were doing and everyone just thought it was an aesthetic. A total disaster.” Sowden’s use of “disaster” is notable insofar as it provides a link between two extremes of his career. It acts as a touchstone between the postmodernist frenzy of Memphis and the rigorous electrical engineering of the Sowden Light. Central to both 104
Sowden moved to Milan in 1970. In Italy, he worked as a designer for Olivetti, where he began to collaborate with the designer Ettore Sottsass.
projects is Sowden’s desire to understand them as responses to specific situations and to resist any effort to unyoke them from the problems to which they were calculated to respond. His position’s roots reach back to the collapse of modernism, prior to which critical assessment of objects was largely equated with the efficacy with which they accomplished their function: “the modernist misunderstanding about the equation of functionalism and design,” as the academic Alexandra Midal summarised in her 2011 essay ‘Design Wonder Stories: When Speech is Golden’. The arrival of postmodernism disrupted this, however, suggesting that rather than calibrating objects towards an ideal functionalism, designers instead practised as something more akin to authors: figures whose work, at least on some level, is subjective in value.6 “We’re
all postmodernists now because design today has become very much about a personal approach,” notes Sowden. “Everybody is judged by what they do in their own sense.” But with this notion of the design-author as the new background paradigm, the manner in which design is critiqued also changed. In 1967, Roland Barthes’ essay ‘The Death of the Author’ prompted extensive discussion of the relative importance of authorial intention and subjective interpretation in critical assessment of a text. With the advent of postmodernism, a parallel discussion became valid in design. What’s more important in analysing an object: the facts of its creation or its subsequent consumption? The general tenor of contemporary design skews closer to the latter option.7 The discipline’s discourse is dominated by discussions of open-source design,
6 Modernist designers no doubt did this too. The contrast is not with the way in which these designers worked or the results they achieved, but rather with what the design writer Michael Rock described as “the rationalist ideology” of modernism in his 1996 essay ‘The Designer as author’: modernism’s aspiration to an authority akin to scientific objectivity.
7 Although consumerism potentially runs in the opposite direction. Naomi Klein, author of No Logo (1999), noted in a 2010 article for the Guardian that one of the chief impetuses behind her book was the realisation that businesses were being driven by “a single idea – that corporations should produce brands, not products”. What matters is the commercial ideology behind a product.
The Sowden Light is engineered such that its light source is separated from the driver, which regulates power to its LEDs. The LEDs are contained within the disc form, which then clips onto the tubular driver.
The intention behind a design is essential, insofar as any critique of a design is impoverished without the ideas through which it was conceived.
Godech, Bulgaria, a small town northwest of the capital Sofia and close to the Serbian border. Godech sits on the Nishava river to the far west of the Stara Planina mountain range, a rural setting that belies the fact that it is home to Octa Light, the world’s only LED manufacturer with production based entirely in the EU. “We’re a vertically integrated company,” says Yordan Jeliazkov, Octa Light’s sales director. “So we go from production of LEDs and LED components, through to assembly of modules with mounted LEDs and luminaires for all kinds of illumination systems. We make everything in-house and everything can be custom-made.” The Octa Light factory, a laboratory of clinical white rooms filled with the infrastructure of industrial LED manufacture, bears Jeliazkov out. There are clicking die bonders and transfer stampers that attach semiconductors 0.2mm big to LED packages, as well as machines that use ultrasonic vibration to weld threads of gold wire 25 microns-thick into place. Moving through the laboratory, you come to the machines that fix 15,000 components an hour onto printed circuit boards, manned by technicians in lab coats and sterile elasticated shoe covers, as well as the reflow oven, which heats up to 260°C to solder the freshly seated LED components into place. Finally, there are the two automated assembly lines, which roll out 240,000 lightbulbs a month: “Probably the biggest robotic devices in a radius of 1,000km,” says Kiril Nikolov, Octa Light’s technical director. From its base in rural Godech, the Octa Light facility is a paean to high-tech manufacture. “But we do have a problem,” says Jeliazkov. “We ask clients using Samsung components, for instance, whether they would like to use something similar, but which we’ve customised for them. ‘OK, What’s the brand?’ Well, it’s Octa Light. ‘What’s that?’ We’re a Bulgarian LED manufacturer. ‘I think I’ll stick with Samsung.’” Octa Light was founded in 2010 as a joint venture between Monbat, a Bulgarian lead-acid battery manufacturer, and Octagon International, Octa Light’s parent company. “We founded the company because we saw the changes to the lighting industry that were going on in the EU,” says Veselin Iliev, Octa Light’s business development director. “We knew that LEDs were going to be a big deal.” Octa Light is in some senses treading familiar ground, however. Bulgaria has a tradition in microelectronics that stretches back to the 1970s when Todor Zhivkov, leader of the socialist People's Republic of Bulgaria
while an increasing number of practitioners draw inspiration from unauthored, everyday items. “The character of objects with no particular parentage is quite often more appealing than the character of ‘pedigree’ objects, where the creator’s ego may have replaced some of the object’s usefulness and even its ability to behave naturally in everyday surroundings,” wrote the designer Jasper Morrison in his 1996 essay ‘Immaculate Conception – Objects without Author’. In other words, the measure of a thing is found in our interactions with it. “In the real world,” Morrison concludes, “an object is just an object that depends on its long-term usefulness for survival.” Sowden, however, places the stress differently. Rather than focus on the object’s performance, he seems primarily interested in its provenance: what led to it being created in the first place? “I don’t like to refer to the Sowden Light as a design project, because it’s really an individualistic response to something very complicated,” he says. “A designer has to create their own place in the world and every time something happens within that world, you reposition yourself in accordance with it.” While neither Sowden nor Morrison are absolutists – Morrison is not negligent of the context in which a design arises, nor Sowden of its need to function – they nevertheless present different emphasises in their analyses. For Morrison, separation of a design from its creation is often illuminating, whereas for Sowden the intention and motivation behind a design is essential, insofar as any critique of a design is impoverished without the ideas through which it was conceived; to divorce an object from its context is to neuter it. “Design is always linked to how you make something and who makes it,” he says. In the case of the Sowden Light, this emphasis on production is essential. The light is manufactured in 108
The Sowden Light is intended to be flexible, with a number of variations and possible accessories such as lampshades factored into the design.
between 1954 and 1989, positioned the country as a supplier of electronics to the USSR’s Comecon economic network. Under Zhivkov, Bulgaria eventually produced around 40 per cent of all computers in the Eastern bloc, with the country’s electronics industry employing 300,000 workers and generating 8bn rubles a year ($13.3bn). Much of the production, however, was geared towards manufacturing devices such as the Pravetz Series 8, a clone of the Apple II, a strategy that meant that when the markets opened up after the collapse of Comecon, Bulgaria’s position in electronics faltered too. Today, its standing in the worldwide electronics industry is very different. “We come from Bulgaria and Bulgarians are not very well accepted in western Europe,” says Iliev. “So we produce all of our own LED components, but unfortunately nobody believes us. Everyone assumes we just import from China.” There are advantages to production in Bulgaria, however. “Bulgaria is the new China,” says Jeliazkov. “VAT is 20 per cent, returnable within 45 days. Corporate tax is also a flat tax of 10 per cent, which
is a great benefit, and being in the EU means fast delivery and no customs. Cost of utilities and raw materials is cheap and the cost of labour, unfortunately, is also comparable with China given that the median monthly salary in Bulgaria is around €350 to €400. So a high-quality product that comes out of China is not significantly cheaper than a highquality product made in Europe. We can’t compete with the lowest segment of Chinese manufacturing, for sure, but we’re not trying to. In the range we’re looking at, we’re competitive.” This form of manufacture is inextricably tied to the design of the Sowden Light. “When I first met Octa Light, the efficiency they were getting seemed insane,” says Sowden. “A lot of the bigger companies like Siemens or Philips claim about 80lm of light for every watt of energy, but these guys get close to 150lm for every watt because they’re manufacturing every element and producing on a smaller scale, so they have far more control. There are huge technological advantages by going to Bulgaria.” Alongside these technological virtues, there are also political benefits. 110
“Light is a very important thing that we should have in our own hands. We don’t have to be passive consumers. Producing this light in Europe is a political statement.” In July 2016, Osram sold its general lamps unit LEDvance to a Chinese consortium – which included the LED maker MLS – for around €400m. The news followed Philips’s announcement in January that a proposed $3bn sale of its Lumileds LED business to a group led by the Chinese investor Go Scale Capital had been blocked by the US government – Philips hopes that the company will now be sold before the end of 2016. “I don’t know who will buy the Philips business in the end, although it will 100 per cent be a Chinese company,” says Jeliazkov. “Ten or fifteen years ago, every manufacturer went to China because it was cheaper and they thought it would help them sell their products to the Chinese,” says Sowden. “But exactly the opposite happened. Instead, the Chinese manufacturers took on board the knowledge that was being brought over and used it. Too much know-how and technology was transferred and it’s very difficult to come back from that now. But I’d like to bring work back to Europe.” Alongside the electrical components for the Sowden Light that are being manufactured in Bulgaria, Visastamp – an Italian company based outside of Milan – is producing the plastic casing. “Part of the original tooling was done in China,” says Sowden, “but that has been moved back to Italy. Light is a very important thing and I think that we should have it in our own hands. We don’t have to be passive consumers and a project like this – producing in Europe – is a political statement. I don’t see why we can’t manufacture lightbulbs in the EU.” In this spirit, the Sowden Light accords with a report issued by the European Commission in 2013, setting out the EU’s longterm plan for its electronics industries. “Europe has no other choice but to engage in an ambitious industrial strategy for micro- and nanoelectronics,”
it read. “The global turnover of the sector alone was around €230bn in 2012 […] micro- and nanoelectronics is a Key Enabling Technology (KET) and is essential for growth and jobs in the European Union.” The success of Sowden’s response to this situation will depend upon many factors. To date, the Sowden Light prototypes have been produced as a partnership between Sowden and Octa Light – “we take care of everything that is not visible,” says Jeliazkov, “George takes care of everything visible” – but further partners are likely to be needed if the product is to have the impact to which it aspires. “It’s the kind of product you need to make millions or tens of millions of or else it doesn’t make sense,” admits Sowden, who is in early discussions with Enel, the Italian energy company, about backing the project. To further aid the light’s commercial viability, Sowden has designed a series of lampshades that connect directly to the light source. Alongside broadening the light’s product base, the shades play a role in familiarising a design that is otherwise radically different to existing lightbulbs: they are skeuomorphic visual clues that orientate the Sowden Light in relation to what has come before. Such clues may be essential to general perception. In an essay in his 1979 book, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, the American psychologist James J. Gibson set out the Theory of Affordances, the idea that we perceive our environments in terms of objects with which we might interact. These potential interactions are the titular affordances. “If a surface of support […] is also knee-high above the ground, it affords sitting on,” wrote Gibson. “We call it a seat in general, or a stool, bench, chair, and so on, in particular. It may be natural like a ledge or artificial like a couch. It may have various shapes, as long as its functional layout is that of a seat. […] if a surface is horizontal, flat, extended, rigid, and knee-high relative to a perceiver, it can in fact be sat upon. If it can be discriminated as having just these properties, it should look sit-on-able.” Not all affordances are perceivable,8 but when this is the case it is the job of the designer to put in place signifiers instead: guides as to how an object might be used. “In design, signifiers are more important than affordances, for they communicate how to use the design,” wrote Donald A. Norman in the revised 8 Gibson’s discussion of a seat takes an easy example. The affordances of something more complicated like an iPhone would not necessarily be perceivable.
2013 edition of his text The Design of Everyday Things. Creative designers incorporate the signifying part of the design into a cohesive experience.” So what happens when many of the familiar signifiers of a typology are stripped away, as in the case of the Sowden Light? “That’s an issue because we can’t even call it a lightbulb,” notes Jeliazkov. “Appearance-wise it has nothing to do with traditional LEDs or conventional bulbs, so will people actually like that or understand that? Well, when the first iPhone came out it had nothing to do with anything on the market. It was a phone but not a phone. I want to stay away from the idea of comparing the Sowden Light to the iPhone, but it’s certainly an appealing thought that you could maybe do something similar in lighting. Something radically different.” Here, Sowden is quick to point to his own history. “When I was working at Olivetti after arriving in Italy, the design department had the terrible problem of working out what computers actually were,” he says. “These things were new technology and across both the marketing and design departments nobody knew what to do. Then someone had this brilliant idea: a computer is really a typewriter, but instead of paper you have a screen. That, however, turned out to be an enormous mistake because you need to look to the future. We didn’t get anywhere until we moved away from that idea of a typewriter and saw computers as their own thing: when we began to deconstruct them as mono blocks and started to put the electronics underneath the desk, for instance. But this always happens in design. Motorcars were originally called horseless carriages and lightbulbs were originally sold in terms of candlepower. You always reach a point where a new technology has to be refined, move away from what’s come before and make a statement that is sufficiently relevant and convincing in order to be accepted. I think we’re now at that stage with LEDs.” The Sowden Light could look to Gravity’s Rainbow for more than a mere history of the lightbulb. When Pynchon published his novel in 1973, the reception was mixed. Few doubted the book’s virtues – Richard Locke, writing in The New York Times, praised it as “a work of paranoid genius, a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture” – but its postmodernist oddities were jarring. The problem, Locke’s review pointed out, was that in his encyclopaedic desire to “relate the history of Germany to that of America and indeed the entire
“Motorcars were originally called horseless carriages and lightbulbs were sold in terms of candlepower. You always reach a point where a new technology has to move away from what’s come before.” Western world”, Pynchon had created a work that was “bonecrushingly dense, compulsively elaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical, poetic”, but also “bloated, beached and blasted”. The Sowden Light will need to reckon with a form of the same problem: how do you parse a design project whose purview is as broad as environmentalism, politics and technology, and which proposes to resolve these issues through a radically new typology? Over time, Gravity’s Rainbow’s quirks faded as they were fully absorbed into the canon – to quote Sowden, “We’re all postmodernists now.” If the Sowden Light is to succeed, its innovations must one day feel similarly commonplace. E N D
The Dream of Reality Artworks Laureline Galliotâ€‚Poem A.A. Milneâ€‚Introduction Disegno
Poem reproduced courtesy of Curtis Brown and the estate of A.A. Milne.
One of the chairs is South America, One of the chairs is a ship at sea, One is a cage for a great big lion, And one is a chair for Me.
“Leonardo da Vinci saw
Behind its jocularity, the designer Bruno Munari’s 1966 essay ‘Two in One’ made profound comments about the manner in which we perceive the world around us. “Each of us sees only what he knows,” wrote Munari. A connected point had been voiced in the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s 1953 work Philosophical Investigations: “I observe a face, and then suddenly notice its likeness to another. I see that it has not changed; and yet I see it differently.” Wittgenstein’s idea began to tease out the phenomenon of “seeing as”, a form of perception in which an interpretative element is at play – images do not have a single sense, but can have plural meanings depending on the perspective from which one looks at them and who is doing the looking. Munari, in inimitable style, simplified things: “If, as often happens, a person is exclusively interested in food, then in the clouds at sunset he will see enormous dishes of spaghetti and tomato sauce (if he can raise his eyes from the table to look at the sunset).” This study of perception is a field in which the Paris-based designer Laureline Galliot has a keen interest. A graduate of Ensci – Les Ateliers in Paris and laureate of the prestigious Design Parade competition in Hyères, France, Galliot has built her career around encouraging new perspectives on the objects that surround us. Drawing on fine-art traditions, children’s literature and digital-design techniques, Galliot creates iPad drawings and 3D-printed objects that propose a new framework from within which industrial objects might be considered. For Disegno #13, Galliot was invited to investigate how this framework might be extended through consideration of fiction or poetry. In response, Galliot chose to examine ‘Nursery Chairs’, a 1924 poem by the author A.A. Milne (1882-1956) about a child’s imagination transforming their chair into a vehicle for intoxicating adventures and travel. “It shows the way that we have to look at objects to let them speak,” says Galliot. “The personal discoveries we make that are beyond what is obvious to everyone else.” Using illustrations executed on her iPad, Galliot proposed a schema in which imagination and seeingas become drivers for new forms of design. The resulting images blend elements of the thought of Munari and Wittgenstein, but filter them through the whimsy of Milne. “Looking beyond what is obvious, like a child, is a precious dynamic for design,” says Galliot. “It is a way to explore new meanings of an object.”
trees, towns, battles and a lot of other things in the stains he found on old walls. Shakespeare saw whales and camels in the clouds. Simple Simon looks at the clouds and just sees clouds. The stains on old walls simply look like stains to him. On old walls. Not everyone sees pictures in the fire, or in the clouds, and of those who do, not all see the same thing. It depends on what they are looking at, and on who is doing the looking.” —Bruno Munari
Disclaimer Neither Disegno nor Laureline Galliot condone the colonialist language present in the stanza on the opposite page. Milne was writing at the time of the British Empire, and the poem reflects this. Discussions were held as to whether this stanza ought to be excised in this republication, but it was deemed important not to attempt to disguise this aspect of the work. Readers must determine for themselves its effect on their overall appreciation of the poem.
The First Chair
When I go up the Amazon, I stop at night and fire a gun To call my faithful band. And Indians in twos and threes, Come silently between the trees, And wait for me to land. And if I do not want to play With any Indians today I simply wave my hand. And then they turn and go away â€“ They always understand.
The Second Chair
I’m a great big lion in my cage, And I often frighten Nanny with a roar. Then I hold her very tight, and Tell her not to be so frightened – And she doesn’t be so frightened any more.
The Third Chair
When I am in my ship, I see The other ships go sailing by. A sailor leans and calls to me As his ship goes sailing by. Across the sea he leans to me, Above the winds I hear him cry: “Is this the way to Round-the-World?” He calls as he goes by.
The Fourth Chair
Whenever I sit in a high chair For breakfast or dinner or tea, I try to pretend that itâ€™s my chair, And that I am a baby of three.
Shall I go off to South America? Shall I put in my ship to sea? Or get in my cage and be lions and tigers? Or â€“ shall I be only Me?
Somewhere Serious A roundtable with the Design Museumâ€™s Justin McGuirk, Morag Myerscough, John Pawson and Deyan Sudjic, chaired by Vicky Richardson.
Photographs Max Creasy Roundtable
The Commonwealth Institute, designed by RMJM in 1962. It has now been revamped by Allies and Morrison, OMA, and John Pawson, and reopens as the new Design Museum in November 2016.
London’s Design Museum has a new home three times the size of its previous building in Shad Thames, east London. The former Commonwealth Institute in Holland Park, a listed building designed in the 1960s by RMJM, has been transformed by the designer John Pawson, creating a space that the team behind it hopes will allow it to expand its remit within contemporary design. The museum has huge ambitions, not least in the number of visitors it needs to attract to generate income. Tasked with drawing visitors to the new site are its chief curator Justin McGuirk, as well as Morag Myerscough, the designer behind the exhibition display for the permanent collection. Vicky Richardson, the former director of architecture, design and fashion at the British Council, met with the museum’s director Deyan Sudjic, as well as McGuirk, Myerscough and Pawson, shortly before the opening to ask about the vision behind the institution and how its various departments have worked together to make it a reality. Also present at the table were four objects chosen for their significance to each participant’s thinking about the new Design Museum.
Vicky Richardson Why is it necessary to have a new Design Museum? Deyan Sudjic We wanted something that would provide us with the kind of facilities that would allow us to move from being on the edge of a conversation to being at the heart of it. When Habitat floated on the stock market in the early 1980s, our founder Terence Conran used some of that money to begin this crusade to remind Britain of the idea of design rooted in mass production. Initially he funded the Boilerhouse project inside the V&A, with Stephen Bayley as the first director, which was trying to remind the V&A that although it had become an exquisite museum of decorative arts, it began life as something else. I was appointed 10 years ago, when the trustees had already decided the time was right to do something on a larger scale. We wanted to move from 3,000sqm to about 10,000sqm. Morag Myerscough The old site was just too small. The spaces were limiting for exhibitions and you didn’t have the conditions that you’ve got in the new space, which ought to provide a lot more scope. I think that this building will take the exhibitions to another level, much as the Barbican’s galleries changed a lot when it was refurbished in the mid-2000s. Vicky With that in mind, how do you want to change the conversation about design in this country? Aren’t we already quite obsessed with it? Deyan Contemporary design and architecture are usually discussed in two ways. One is in peripheral organisations, in which small, specialist work is done. Alternatively, they are covered as a department in a general museum, where they have to fight for space. So our strategy is to try and move from being small but perfectly formed to something more mainstream. We want to move from 250,000 to 650,000 visitors a year, of whom we hope approximately half will buy tickets to our exhibitions. And we want to reverse the typical strategy of nationally funded museums, which is to have 75 per cent of their space dedicated to the collection and a quarter devoted to temporary exhibitions. We’re doing it the other way round. Justin McGuirk In its first incarnations, the Design Museum was very much about brands and people. Throughout the history of 20th-century design, the individual – the designer – was foremost and so the Design Museum has historically celebrated many individual geniuses, which it will continue to do. But there’s a sense now that design is not just about the
individual, but rather a collective process and that idea is starting to filter up to a museum level. The Design Museum has always played a role in making design a popular and accessible topic. The very first exhibition at the old Shad Thames site, Commerce and Culture, was at pains to point out that everyday industrially produced objects are indistinguishable from culture and that the culture of making things to sell is not that different from a form of art. That was a very 1980s, postmodern position, which removed the distinctions between high and low. Thirty years later, however, we have totally absorbed that idea. Ours is a society that already very much appreciates design, both culturally and commercially. So it’s time for a different conversation. Vicky With these considerations in mind, what brought you to the former Commonwealth Institute? There was quite a long period of exploring different sites, as well as a conversation with the Tate. Deyan And one with the V&A and one with Potters Fields and one with Kings Cross; Gordon Brown even suggested that if we wanted to go to Manchester there would be no obstacles in our path. But it was opportunism that brought us here. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said that it wanted to use the planning powers it had to bring the Commonwealth Institute back to life. I had known the building as a child, but when I first saw it again I wondered whether it was actually feasible to bring it back from the dead: there was a lake inside, the roof leaked and the walls were hopelessly inefficient. It was a listed building, so before taking it on we had to be confident that English Heritage would allow it to be adapted to make it work for our purposes. John Pawson Deyan and I walked in at the very beginning of the process, when the building was a damp, doom-like place, but you could still see the potential. Deyan The developer of the site, Chelsfield, had organised an architectural competition that was won by OMA, whose masterplan was very much about the geometry of the neighbouring apartment buildings that they have created. But planning consent was predicated on Chelsfield having a cultural partner on board, so we became linked to the project. That section in the agreement asks for affordable housing or another cultural good. There’s no affordable housing, but we are the cultural good and so we have a 300-year rent-free lease on the building. About
The grade II-listed building has aÂ hyperbolic paraboloid roof that has been restored as part of the renovation.
£20m of work was carried out by Chelsfield on this building before it was handed to us, which was basically making it fit-for-purpose in terms of keeping the rain out, energy efficiency, putting in new floors and constructing two levels in the basement. John But in spite of that I still couldn’t understand the building when we went there because there were no windows. You couldn’t look out and so you were immediately disorientated. To help, I got a model and as soon as I took the roof off I realised that the building was actually a simple square box. Everything I do is about designing things around the way people use a place or a building. I realised that being able to see the roof when you walked in was key – the whole design became about how to integrate that. This is my first public building, and my first building with free access. Architecture takes a long time and throughout you’re dealing with so many issues that you keep your head down. So it wasn’t until recently, when Terence Conran had his birthday in the atrium, that I realised that we’re now in the moment between all of the construction and the project actually being finished. It’s quite emotional. Deyan The first Monday after we moved into the new office there was a sense of wow. I think people thought that a Pawson interior might be something like a stylistic, off the peg solution, but it’s far from being that. There was a sense that people suddenly understood how the acoustics were going to work, how they could hang their coat, how the lights function. It had all been thought about, not in a stylistic way, but in a what’s-it-going-to-belike‑to‑work-here way. Justin What John has done is create a context in which anything can happen, which I find helpful to think about as an ethos rather than a style. We want the building to do several things and we want people to enjoy it as soon as they walk in. That moment of entering the atrium and looking up is spectacular. But in my specific role as curator, I am working with an 870sqm gallery which, with the best will in the world, could have been designed by any number of architects because it’s essentially a white box – the basis of exhibition making. But I appreciate the fact that it isn’t trying to be more than that. Many architects are now creating galleries that are highly expressive places, but those are actually quite difficult to work around, as you see the architecture and not the exhibits.
John Pawson selected a model of the building to illustrate his thinking around the renovation of its interior.
The 10 year-long project has been conceived as a collaboration between a number of partners, including Pawson and designer Morag Myerscough.
Vicky For me, the noticeable thing about the new museum is how orthogonal it is compared to the old Commonwealth Institute, which was all about curves and had a certain sort of playfulness with ramps and staircases connecting different platforms. John I always felt that the building’s interior was very disorientating and that it was confusing to have so many things off a central dial. Now, as soon as you walk inside, you see the soaring roof, but you can still orientate yourself very quickly because you have visual lines to the temporary exhibition spaces and to Morag’s permanent exhibition space at the top of the building. If you turn around, you can see the education spaces, the restaurant and the café – they are all very visible. The other thing that I did was to open the windows so that you can see Holland Park on two sides. Vicky But in order to access the museum, you either come through the park or, if you’re coming from the high street, you go through the portico of one of OMA’s
apartment buildings. That means that the museum’s main presence on the street is its shop, which is based in the OMA building. So how are you going to give the Design Museum visibility? John I suppose it’s a matter of opinion, but I think coming off of the high street and having that decompression of going through the OMA building and then coming out the other side is interesting. Of course, coming into it from the park is a very different experience. But you wouldn’t be able to build 10,000sqm in a park in any other central area of London. Morag I actually like the lead-in and the way it’s set back as if it’s its own environment. Justin Yes, I don’t see the context as a problem. This is how you can make a new museum – largely unfunded by government – in London in the 21st century: the museum is going to be occupying an extraordinary building that is three times the size of the original one, and that could only happen in this kind of context.
To secure planning permission for the Holland Park site, the developer Chelsfield needed a cultural partner.
“For me there’s something uniquely London about the context – a kind of secret passage to something rather special.” —Justin McGuirk In terms of it being in the old Commonwealth Institute, there’s also a resonance with the international ambitions of the museum. Regardless of its very rich and varied exhibition history, the Design Museum has always been associated with British design and the significance of being in this building is that we’ll have a more international profile. Also, if Britishness is an issue in the current context, then the fact that we’re having these conservations in London – even though the programme is global in its scope and quality – feels significant. Deyan I’ve given 10 years of my life to this project and I want it to work, but initially I did think about whether a museum in a park would have the right relationship to the city. Should it be on the street, regardless of this particular arrangement? But as I got to know the building and the park, it felt like a privilege. Justin For me there’s something uniquely London about the context – a kind of secret passage to something rather special, which is a very London experience. London is all about its hidden gardens and corners and mewses. And if you think about how you enter MoMA off 53rd Street in New York, that’s not a very special entrance. Here, there is an approach to the museum that’s been very much preserved, it’s an orchestrated promenade through landscaped gardens. The distance from the street is in some ways an asset, as it prepares you to enter a cultural moment. John People have asked me whether I wouldn’t have preferred to have built a new building, which of course I would have been happy to, but I’m also very happy to learn from this building. You can think about where your ideal museum location would be – east or west? Park or street? – and what other buildings you would like to be next to it, but this is what we’ve got and I think it’s pretty special. To have saved the building is, in itself, also nice. A 1960s hyperbolic paraboloid roof
Myerscough selected a mid-century stool to demonstrate
the construction principles behind the exhibition design for Designer Maker User.
wasn’t really my subject before this project, but it’s been rather amazing to work with. Vicky Morag, you worked on the installation of the permanent collection. What was your thinking behind that display? Morag I prefer calling it Designer Maker User rather than the permanent collection because it’s about how you interpret objects and design. There have been many challenges: how do you interpret various parts of the collection; how do you physically build an exhibition in a space where you can’t attach anything to the floors, walls or roof? And although it’s called a permanent exhibition, it’s actually only meant to last for seven years. After that it will be removed, with no mark left, so that something else can go in. Alongside this, we had to bring light into the space, because there’s not enough natural light to illuminate objects in an exhibition. To help with that we made prototypes of some of the structures to see if they could support lighting. I have always been obsessed with metal-frame furniture, because I like how fine the structures are and how they leave you with quite an open space. So we made these exhibition structures as fine as they could possibly be, such that you can still see the roof through them. We were hanging off them and had engineers coming in to check they were strong enough. Deyan We spent a long time looking at other installations in museums around the world, looking at how they use objects to tell the story of design. There are a lot of chronologies with mute objects starting with the Thonet bentwood chair and ending up with an Olivetti computer or a Philippe Starck chair. But they feel quite glum. For us who know a lot about some of these objects, it’s fascinating to see Hans Ledwinka’s prototype for the Volkswagen Beetle in Munich or to understand the first typewriter Marcello Nizzoli designed for Olivetti. It means a lot to us, but for a generation who don’t know what a typewriter is, those objects don’t communicate much. We wanted to do something different that wasn’t the greatest hits or a chronology, but which tried to tell a deeper story. Vicky Notably, you have included things like the motorway signage system, which is a key design icon from the second half of the 20th century. But why should anyone come to a museum to see that when you can see it everywhere around the UK? What are you telling people about that object or how are you
Sudjic has been director of the Design Museum since 2006 and oversaw the move to Holland Park. He selected his book on the Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata for the roundtable discussion.
Pawson’s blonde-wood interior has stripped down the complexities of the original building’s ramps and connecting stairs.
McGuirk looked to Man Transforms, the inaugural exhibition of New York’s Cooper Hewitt Museum in 1976, for inspiration when developing his curatorial vision.
framing it to make it worthwhile coming to the museum to see it? Deyan We’ve approached the subject by saying that design is everywhere – it’s all around us. We went through a crowd-sourcing route and the first thing you’ll see will be a wall of 200 objects selected by people who responded to our pitch asking: what do you think should be in a museum for design? Then we have 18ft-high, brightly coloured letters that Morag has designed, which will say “Designer Maker User” and will rotate. In a calm, quiet building, this is a deliberate insertion of something that’s not quite so calm and quiet. Vicky But then you’ve cited as an influence on your thinking around the museum a book about the Japanese architect and designer Shiro Kuramata, who hardly seems to fit with that view of design. He’s not known for the sort of things that surround us – motorway signage and so on. Deyan I don’t think design is just one thing. Design is about exquisite objects, and people who have a sense of connoisseurship and collect things at one end
of the spectrum, and it is about motorway-signage systems at the other. I don’t think the Design Museum is going to succeed if it’s only one of those things. I wrote that book about Shiro Kuramata, who was an extraordinarily gifted designer and whose career reflects the emergence of Japan after World War II. He was one of that small group of people who changed the perceptions of Japan from a place which in the 1970s was seen as responsible for cheap copies of western originals, to a country that was transmitting culture rather than absorbing it. Justin When the Design Museum started in 1989, creating exhibitions about brands and so on must have felt radical. But if you go back to 1976 you come to an exhibition that actually opened another design museum, the Cooper Hewitt in New York. It was called Man Transforms and was conceived by Hans Hollein. It was an attempt to reposition design and the way we think about it, and was quite radical at the time by offering a poetic and open conversation about what the discipline can be. Hollein simply invited 10 interesting characters, many of them legends like
Buckminster Fuller and Ettore Sottsass, to come and make an installation at the museum that in some way said something about design as a cultural activity, as opposed to just making commodities. So, for example, Sottsass exhibited his Metaphors project, a series of photographs of threads casting shadows that looked like furniture. Hollein also collected all the different breads that you could buy from the ethnic bakeries of New York and put them on a table, suggesting that those were design and that everything humans touch becomes design. That was a very mysterious show and I’m sure that audiences were scratching their heads, but it demonstrates that the idea that everything was design was a real position in 1976. Vicky But an exhibition programme is key in terms of fundraising for a museum. When the V&A is programming exhibitions focused around Pink Floyd and David Bowie – and clearly going down a pop‑music and fashion route in order to get numbers in – how will you position yourself in relation to that? And how do you stand alongside places like the Barbican and the Royal Academy, which are also now staging design exhibitions? Deyan We want to be populist and popular, but the V&A has a strategy which is based on very large numbers – they get about 3.2 million visitors per year. Luckily we don’t have to do that. I don’t think the fact that other places are doing design exhibitions is in any way a drawback, however. If anything, it’s widening the audience for such things and providing a sense of a dialogue. The key to getting people to come somewhere is to give them something they’ll actually enjoy that they can’t get elsewhere. We see one of our crucial ways of communicating with our audience as being a strong exhibitions programme, which is why Justin was appointed chief curator. That programme gives us a chance to start conservations that resonate in the world of design and architecture, but which also resonate beyond that and make design part of the cultural conversation. Justin We want to bring design to the biggest possible number of people and so there will be shows that reach out to a popular audience – about major brands and cars and so on – but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do that with every show. The other institutions that you mentioned might do a design show once every two years, whereas we will do five or six design shows a year. So the amount of ground that we can cover makes us supremely relevant as a
McGuirk has curated the opening exhibition,
Fear and Love, which focuses on the contexts around design rather than individual objects.
place to explore how design culture is happening and changing, which is a conversation that people are interested in. This is London: if you do something good, you’re going to get an audience. Deyan If you look at the questions that Fear and Love, Justin’s opening exhibition, is asking, you’ll see that they’re things that are not being asked elsewhere, but which are crucial to understanding what’s happening with us. It’s all very well to look at a smartphone in terms of how beautifully the edge is detailed and the scratch-proofness of the glass, but a more important question is whether it has abolished the idea of privacy. This is about scratching beneath the surface and seeing what things really mean and suggest. Justin The big opportunity around Fear and Love is to show a broad range of ideas that suggest the scope of thought that the museum wants to engage with over the coming years. So there’s an industrial robot that has been programmed to interact with you; an installation about the dating app Grindr that’s exploring how we find love and sex in the city in the 21st century; an installation about Mongolian nomads moving to cities, and how one rethinks an entire culture and lifestyle in an urban environment. These are questions that are not about a single object, but about a context. The biggest thing that this show tries to do is suggest that design is about thinking about the context in which we make things, and not just how we make things because there’s no doubt that design is now operating at deeper levels than just the shape and function of an object. It’s connecting to systems that are complex and global in their scale. That’s the level on which we want to have that conversation and in an ideal world people will remember Fear and Love as a show that tried to capture the spirit and ambition of design in 2016. We want it to challenge preconceptions of what design is. John Design has never been about the object for me. Of course, at one point you have to put a mark on paper – you have to design things – but you’re putting together those details so that something becomes a whole and then goes on to become an experience. For example, I wanted this building to be a place where people could go and hang out and collect themselves, even if it’s for a minute or for an hour. And then they could start to think about the ideas that are being put forward through the exhibitions and so on. I didn’t want it be a place for objects – a dry place.
“Design is about exquisite objects at one end of the spectrum and about motorway-signage systems on the other.” —Deyan Sudjic Justin The second major show in the main gallery will be about California and its influence on contemporary design culture. Just as “Made in Italy” was a globally understood concept in the 1970s and 1980s and positioned Milan as one of the centres of design, we could say that “Designed in California” is that same idea for the early 21st century. So much of design now happens at the level of software, communications, devices and user interface, and this is one way of getting into that story and doing justice to the influence of companies like Apple in contemporary design culture. But it’s not a show that is about beautiful product design. It’s about an idea of what design is and can be. It’s about the fact that we’re all Californians now. But the challenge for all of us here, and for everything we’ve talked about, is to make this museum an essential location in London’s cultural life. Morag If you look at the shop, which opened ahead of the museum, it’s already bringing different people to this area of London. You’re much more connected with the city’s other museums here than you were in Shad Thames, so you would expect a young-family audience. When you do something as ambitious as this, and which has a programme like this, it will become a new destination. That then filters out into the surroundings. Justin I think it’s a world-class institution now and the new building puts the Design Museum on a global stage. It was always one of the leading design museums in the world, but it now feels like it’s something special. Deyan When I got the job I got a postcard from the architect Phyllis Lambert saying: “Congratulations. Perhaps you can now turn a perfunctory institution into somewhere serious.” E N D
A totem of objects selected by the team behind the new Design Museum as influential to their thinking in its creation.
What Follows Post-Brexit, Disegno has collaborated with the designer Faye Toogood on a series of portraits reflecting the contribution of non-UK nationals to Londonâ€™s diverse creative industries. Introduction Disegnoâ€‚Photographs Kevin Davies Portraits
“Brexit means Brexit.” This mantra has been repeated by the British prime minister Theresa May ever since the UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016. The exact form that this disentanglement from the EU will take remains unclear. What Brexit has meant over the last five months, however, is a measurable increase in xenophobic hate crime, as well as a swift normalisation of nativist rhetoric in mainstream politics. Although later reversed, Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s announcement in early October that she planned to force companies to list foreign employees in order to “shame” the businesses who fail to employ enough British citizens seemed indicative of the current tone of political discourse.
The following pages display a series of portraits of non-UK nationals who work in London’s creative industries, photographed in their own spaces. Many of these practitioners operate internationally, but each is based out of London and each has been affected by the Brexit vote. Alongside each portrait is a short reflection from the sitter. What does the rhetoric of Brexit mean – practically and emotionally – for non-UK citizens working in London’s creative industries? How does the new political climate change how individuals think about their field of work? The gallery is an effort to engage with these questions. The project was developed in conjunction with Faye Toogood, a London-based designer whose work across furniture and interiors is currently the subject of Design Currents, a retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since 2013, Faye and her sister Erica, a pattern cutter and fashion designer, have also operated Toogood, a unisex brand whose garments are inspired by the workwear of traditional professions. To highlight the practice of the sitters rather than their nationality, Toogood created a series of garments in calico that represent the various trades in abstract terms. Emblazoned on each garment is the name of its wearer’s profession: The Architect, The Curator, The Explorer, The Painter, The Photographer, and The Printer. These garments are archetypes. They celebrate the knowledge, skills, and culture that non-UK citizens have brought to London’s creative industries, as well as acknowledging the absence their loss would precipitate. Their execution in plain calico is an act of dislocation: a means of moving perception away from nationality and onto a person’s contribution. Central to Toogood’s fashion design is a perception of a person’s work as a socially productive measure of identity and upon its launch, Toogood issued a manifesto in which it made explicit its interest in “transforming the idea of a uniform into a mark of individuality”. The images in this gallery express the dual urgency with which society must find new measures of identity, as well as celebrating those that remain socially productive. Toogood’s position was informed by the Small Trades portrait series: images of tradespeople photographed in their workwear that the fashion photographer Irving Penn (1917–2009) shot in Paris, London, and New York in 1950 and 1951. “It seemed to them the most logical thing in the world to be recorded in their work clothes,” Penn later
recalled. “They arrived at the studio, always on time, and presented themselves to the camera with […] seriousness and pride”. The portraits and accompanying statements were conceived and executed before the US presidential election, which situates the Brexit vote and its aftereffects within a broader political tendency in western democracies – one that veers towards nativist protectionism expressed primarily through xenophobic scapegoating. It remains unknown how these phenomena will impact cultural production at large. The statements that follow are not a campaign, but rather an attempt to make tangible anxieties and premonitions that are typically discussed in abstract terms, and instead locate them in the realities of everyday life and work.
Je Ahn was photographed outside Studio Weave in Hackney, east London. He wears the Architect shirt.
The Architect Je Ahn, co-founder of Studio Weave I’m sitting in the living room of a potential client – a busy professional couple with a young daughter and a tiny, wrinkly dog. They tell me about details of their lives. They describe how generic and neutral-looking their new flat is. They tell me it doesn’t represent who they are. They want their flat to have a unique personality. I meet many different people through my work. Whether they want new homes, a multimillion pound development or a city masterplan, the conversation always boils down to one thing once the budget and practicalities are out of the way. Distinctiveness – ways to set themselves apart from others. My personal life, too, seems filled with conversations about where we belong. Whether having a casual chat about being a cat person versus a dog person or exchanging political views over dinner, I can’t shake the feeling that we place ourselves and others into neatly categorised – and sometimes polarised – tribes. I strive to be distinctive, unique as an individual. But at the same time I find comfort in belonging to various groups: geographically, intellectually, politically and so on. They become extensions of myself. I can’t help but want my groups – my relationships, my neighbourhood, my city – to be distinctive and unique too. Today, I am due to meet a new acquaintance. Inevitably, one question will come up: “Where are you originally from?” I hope the conversation will continue beyond that and that we will find common ground: each of us is the summation of so many different things.
The Printer Wakako Kishimoto, co-founder of Eley Kishimoto The current situation makes me think of the old Eastern idiom “frog in the well”: a narrow-minded, short-sighted, and self-important frog who won’t go and see the ocean, as he claims his little world is just perfect. Better than anywhere else. When a common old teaching urges us not to be blinkered and to explore the bigger world, it is baffling to witness a modern society opting for a small dark well. I was fortunate to go through British art education in the late 1980s and early 1990s, during which time I was introduced to the freedom of the creative process. Coming from Japan, this was fresh and exciting to me. After graduating, I started a design business with my partner. The demands on us from the industry have been based on our creative abilities and professional delivery, not the colours of our passports. The same can be said for my British peers who lived and worked abroad. I hope the younger generation will get their hammers out to break down the walls of the well and swim out to the big ocean. A well can be destroyed by a drought or a flood. The ocean remains oceanic even though it goes through severe weather conditions from time to time. The world needs to be bigger, not smaller.
Wakako Kishimoto was photographed in her studio in Brixton, south London. She wears the Printer dress.
Nelly Ben Hayoun was photographed in her flat in Clapton, east London. She wears the Explorer coat.
The Explorer Nelly Ben Hayoun, founder of Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios To be honest, I can’t even pronounce it. When confronted with this vulgar word, “Brexit”, I prefer to think of the words and sounds that are unique to the UK, and which have a distinctly British pronunciation. I love the sound of “cocoon”, for example, and the way the British say it (“co-cooooon”), and “belly button”. There are myriad other unique pronunciations that my mother tongue – French – will never let me pronounce. In 2008 I went to see Laughing in a Foreign Language, an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Various artists gave their version of what laughter meant for them and their culture. “In a time of increasing globalisation,” the accompanying pamphlet read, “this international exhibition questions whether humour can only be appreciated by people with similar cultural, political or historical backgrounds and memories, or whether laughter can act as a catalyst for understanding that which is not familiar.” There was no doubt in my mind that laughing was a shared experience that transcends difference and language. It got me thinking so much that I made it my practice to be a designer of such experiences – those that involve humour, politics and theatre. Over my years in the UK developing this practice, I have shared laughs in Franglish, Spanglish, Swenglish and all the other glitch-glishes you can think of. And then suddenly I stopped laughing. Even the most optimistic person was hit by the results of 23 June. While the British summer was ongoing, I experienced a deep sad fog in which I could see nothing but utter foolishness. In 1969, George Perec wrote a book called A Void, in which he deleted the letter “e” from the entirety of the text. I aim to be as radical. I want to propose that we delete “Brexit” absolutely and completely from our vocabulary. It is most urgent. The coming generations will think of it as a word not great enough to be a part of the English language – one that should remain invisible for the decades to come.
The Curator Mariana Pestana, future design curator at the V&A The Portuguese democracy was celebrating its 10th anniversary when, in 1985, we signed the Treaty of Accession in Lisbon to enter the European Union. My generation grew up with the possibility of expressing a European identity, in contrast to the nationalist narrative that had dominated the long dictatorship of Salazar for around 40 years. My Europe represents a transnational ideal of union and unrestricted transit. Many of us got to travel freely in Europe, crossing borders that were no longer in use and which looked like obsolete ruins of an old order. The ease with which my generation moved, studied and worked in Europe gave us the illusion of a post-national world fuelled by a socialist ideology. I arrived in London in 2008. From the window of the DLR train I watched Goldman Sachs flaunt its excesses with the bright blue-lit facade of its building. But politicians in Europe convinced everyone that the banking crisis was, instead, a crisis of social welfare. Austerity policies were forced upon a group of countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain – they became known in political circles by the acronym PIGS) in the name of a Europe that was to be collectively achieved but felt increasingly divided. Since then, I have watched ultranationalist parties rise in the name of fear and security in a Europe increasingly concerned with closing borders and controlling migration. I landed back in London the day after the referendum to realise that maybe this was no longer Europe and maybe I was no longer welcome. The Europe that allowed me to be more than a national; the Europe that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for turning a territory of war into a territory of peace; the Europe of hospitality; my Europe seems to be fading.
Mariana Pestana was photographed onÂ the marble staircase leading to the architecture galleries at the V&A in South Kensington, west London. SheÂ wears the Curator top and Acrobat trousers.
Oliver Domeisen was photographed in the library of the Architectural Association in Fitzrovia, central London. He wears the Architect shirt and Sculptor trousers.
The Architect Oliver Domeisen, council member of the Architectural Association and lecturer in Advanced Architectural Studies at The Bartlett UCL It is 23 years since I left Switzerland to study at the Architectural Association. I remember with unease the period before the bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU in 2002, when I had to renew my visa every year. It is a humiliating and destabilising process, which makes long-term career and family planning very difficult – for the self-employed almost impossible. It makes no sense to me that young creative British people might now give up their right of free movement. To those who suppose that a reduction in EU immigration will generate an economic benefit worth sacrificing your freedom of movement for, I would point out the following: the population of Switzerland is over 23 per cent foreign citizens (17 per cent from the EU) compared to the UK’s 13 per cent (7 per cent EU), but the average income in Switzerland is double that of the UK. Having adopted free movement 14 years ago it is still, per capita, one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It should be clear that the responsibility for economic inequality rests firmly with a country’s government and not the minorities that are regularly being scapegoated to mask that government’s incompetence. But proving that xenophobia is never entirely an economically motivated phenomenon, Switzerland, cajoled by the far right, has also narrowly voted against free movement in a recent referendum, creating serious problems for its own government that have to be resolved with the EU by February 2017. What we already know is that the EU almost immediately excluded Swiss students and universities from the Erasmus Programme, from European Research Council Grants and sidelined them from the Horizon 2020 funding programme. The same fate may befall UK students and institutions. This academic year we’ve already seen a fall in student numbers, resulting in financial losses and cuts in spending; and Article 50 has not even been triggered. Higher education in the UK faces very difficult times if Theresa May continues to sabotage the sector by clamping down on student visas in order to attain lower net-migration numbers and score party-political points. Maybe the saddest aspect of this is that it was brought about unnecessarily and for the wrong reasons, by self-interested people with myopic goals. The practice and teaching of architecture have nothing to gain from leaving the EU.
The Painter Lothar Götz, represented by Domobaal Does Brexit affect colour? Does it affect line? Maybe not, but London is my home and when I came back to the city after the vote I felt very emotional. I cried on the plane. You can’t help personalising it. I understand the reasons and I don’t think that everyone who voted to leave is a racist or a xenophobe. I know there was an element of a protest vote, but that just shows the dangerous consequences of protest votes. There’s also been a mix-up between Europe and the EU. There are definite problems with the EU and I don’t agree with its drift towards becoming a super-state. What is great about Europe has always been its differences: in society, attitudes, styles, food, everything. It’s what makes it so rich. London remains one of the most tolerant cities in Europe. When I came here in the 1990s I went to the Royal College of Art, partly because it felt quite British – I liked that the London art world seemed different from the German one. It was maybe even a bit provincial. Now, however, with enormous galleries and Frieze, there is a perception that the international art market has become – and ought to be – globalised, translatable, free to move. But something has been lost. Brexit is a wake-up-call to think about what unites us, but also to appreciate the importance of allowing difference.
Lothar Götz was photographed in Domobaal Gallery in Bloomsbury, central London. He wears the Painter top.
Felix Friedmann was photographed in his shared studio in Dalston, east London. He wears the Photographer jacket.
The Photographer Felix Friedmann, Felix Friedmann Photography I have never felt that I was being treated as a foreigner in London – someone who, because of my status as a non-UK citizen, would be in any way underprivileged or disadvantaged. In fact, I have benefited greatly from the creatives who have come from all around the world to the UK. They helped me create who I am today. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was the biggest shock to the system since I and my partner Arlette Ess – an artist working across drawings, textiles and interiors – moved here almost 14 years ago. What’s next? The vote may have a domino effect, but equally Article 50 has not been invoked yet. The ice seems thin, but will it break? Nobody knows what will happen, but many have already left the country because they are scared and uncertain about the future. Arlette and I have always struggled to imagine another place to move to, and the vote to leave the EU has not helped us to find an answer. So far, divorce from our adopted home does not seem an option.
Reviews No Manâ€™s Sky Words Will Wiles The Pacific Solution Words David Burns The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined Words Kristina Rapacki Death By Design Words Thomas Thwaites
No Man’s Sky Words Will Wiles
The unveiling of No Man’s Sky resembled the end of act one in Jurassic Park. For the first time, the experts brought in to appraise John Hammond’s genetically engineered resort see the real live dinosaurs striding across the plains and their scepticism gives way to speechless awe. The awe is twofold: on the one hand at the unbelievable technical accomplishment and on the other at the astonishing beauty of the results. And so it was with No Man’s Sky, a space-exploration game released in August 2016. When footage from the game was first shown at tech-industry events in late 2013 and early 2014, it generated the same twofold awe. Firstly, it was extremely beautiful: bright, lush alien landscapes through which stalked charismatic megafauna. Secondly, it came with an unbelievable technical promise: using procedural generation, No Man’s Sky could take a player into a galaxy of 18.6 quintillion planets, each with its own distinctive climate, appearance, and wildlife. As the player hurtled down from orbit, they would know that every hill and vale beneath them was real and visitable, rather than one of the animations typically used in games to create the illusion of depth. Once they chose a spot to touch down and laid eyes on scenes like those shown in the teaser clips, they would be looking at something unique, never seen before by anyone else – and unlikely ever to be seen again. So vast was the in-game universe, all generated by clever algorithms, that it was doubtful that two players’ paths would cross. All these discoveries could be named and uploaded to a central database, so that
together the game’s many players would give shape and meaning to a galaxy that was, for practical purposes, infinite. Procedural generation is not new to video games – it is in fact very old. A game like the seminal dungeon explorer Rogue (1980), which creates its levels randomly according to a few preset rules, is an example of procedural generation. The standard-bearer for the technique today is Minecraft, which creates vast, varied and attractive landscapes by algorithm. No Man’s Sky promised a breakthrough in authenticity and experience, however: a naturalistic universe that was genuinely unlimited, an exploration simulator capable of rendering the scale of true exploration.
Remember that scene in Jurassic Park? It gets a callback in the sequel, when Jeff Goldblum’s character reflects: “Ooh, ahh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” A Magellanerator; the unbounded sublimity of space, in a box. Procedural generation has huge implications for all areas of design beyond computer games, but it’s in games that its capabilities (and limitations) are at present being rigorously put to the test. If No Man’s Sky could use it to generate untold worlds of wonder, then a threshold would be decisively passed. If a game procedure can design a practical everything, it can design practically anything. Remember that scene in Jurassic Park? It gets a callback in the sequel, when Jeff Goldblum’s character reflects:
“Ooh, ahh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” Few recent games have been as anticipated as No Man’s Sky; few recent games have been the cause of such rancour upon release. It is, generally speaking, poor form to let the reactions of other critics and the public intrude into a review. The work should speak for itself. But here it feels inescapable: when the time came to sit down and play the game, the storm that broke over its debut had a deep impact on my expectations and subsequent experiences. Professional critics gave the game a strongly mixed reception, ranging from qualified praise to mournful assassination. Meanwhile the gaming public erupted into a characteristic outburst of vitriol and melodrama. Steam, the video-game retail platform, rates the more than 75,000 user reviews the game has received overall as “mostly negative”, and the more than 3,000 most-recent reviews as “overwhelmingly negative”. Some of the accusations levelled at the game and its developers are histrionic to the point of absurdity – one of the most recent Steam reviews calls it “one of the worst scams of the 21st century”, and its pre-release publicity was reported to the Advertising Standards Authority. To euphemise the overall reaction into the mildest possible word, the feeling was that No Man’s Sky was a disappointment. It was widely accused of the cardinal sin of games: being boring. It certainly has a rocky start – quite literally. The player begins with a crashed ship in an alien landscape that’s colourful, but rather more murky than the limpid Miami Vice palette that appeared in the
Screenshots courtesy of Hello Games.
The procedurally generated No Man’s Sky was heralded as the video game that would introduce unprecedented wonder as a design strategy. But can you have too much of a good thing?
No Man’s Sky invites players to explore a procedurally generated universe of 8.6 quintillion planets.
promos. The opening hours of the game are a trudge: scraping together the resources to fix one’s ship and get into orbit, and then scraping together the resources to build a hyperdrive to get out of the starting system, and then scraping together the resources to refuel and do it again. Much of the early game involves painstaking juggling of the very resources you have laboriously collected. Eventually, however, you’re off, out into the black – or the green, as my starting planetary system had a rather gassy complexion. The amount of grinding diminishes and the proportion
There’s a certain macho appeal to the stout-Cortez fantasy of being first, of claiming and naming, but (like so much machismo) it’s fairly shallow and puerile. of exploring increases. But there’s still a terrible shortage of things to do. The universe strikes the wrong balance between populated and empty: the unexplored systems and planets all appear to have space stations and alien outposts, but still feel mostly sterile and quiet. The procedurally generated alien life is often convincingly weird: the first species I came across was a kind of floating earwig. The alien monuments one finds – pursuing the in-game objective to piece together three alien languages – are pleasingly mysterious, as alien monuments should be. You can trade, but a limited inventory
makes it tough to set up a mercantile operation while simultaneously pursuing the right upgrades. You can pick fights, which I found mostly resulted in my death, and sometimes someone picks a fight with you, which can be pretty exciting. Otherwise, you’re free to explore, or to embark on the lonely pilgrimage towards the galactic core that the game offers by way of a goal. After two hours, I was deep in the mire of disappointment and without the duty of this review there’s a strong possibility I might never have played it again. It isn’t that the game is bad – it’s slow with clunky elements – but had I found it without a peep of either hype or opprobrium to guide my impressions, I feel fairly sure I would have been impressed. However my abiding sense, like that of so many before me, was that it wasn’t exactly what was promised. Which raises the question: what, exactly, was I promised? There were certain technical features that the developers mentioned before release that did not appear in the launch version of the game, such as a multiplayer version. That, for me, wasn’t the problem and I suspect it wasn’t the underlying issue for the gnashing, wailing reviewers on Steam. Something else was amiss. As I said at the top of this review, what was promised was the thrill of exploration. But what’s so great about exploration? There’s a certain macho appeal to the stout-Cortez fantasy of being first, of claiming and naming,
but (like so much machismo) it’s fairly shallow and puerile. The initial time you stand atop Mount Wiles looking down into the Vale of Wiles and its majestic herds of Willbeasts tends to be the last occasion you feel the desire to run around symbolically peeing on simulated landmarks. Indeed, coming up with names quickly becomes a chore – trust me, I’m a novelist. But it wasn’t that which got the preview audiences excited, or which excited me when I saw those clips for myself soon after. Nor was it the promise of interacting with this galaxy by plundering its resources. What No Man’s Sky promised was unlimited wonder – the slack-jawed stop-in-yourtracks thrill that so bewitches Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park. Wonder is seductive, and even a twinkling of it can add tremendously to a game. However, it can be difficult to pin down exactly how it is created. A game set in a consciously designed environment, with a relatively linear narrative, can deliberately set up little doses of wonder for the player to enjoy along the way. The Bioshock games have textbook examples of scripted wonder-moments. The first two are set in an underwater city called Rapture, a libertarian utopia that has gone to seed. The player’s first proper look at their surroundings, a neon-spangled undersea skyline populated by shoals and sharks, is always choreographed with just the right note of ta-dah. It’s beautiful, and beautifully done, but it also clearly has been “done”, written,
The game’s worlds offer a mixture of megafauna, geological formations and built structures.
designed and set up to elicit particular responses at particular moments. Other forms of game-wonder are a little more subtle and elusive, and depend less on linear narrative. The Fallout games, for instance, are set in a designed environment – a post-apocalyptic wasteland crackling with radiation and infested with dangerous mutants – but it’s an “open world”, which the player can explore freely, pursuing mission objectives if they wish, or just walking from place to place. Fallout’s world is dangerous, but also varied, interesting and often quite weird or funny. In other words, it’s a rewarding, if difficult, space to explore. Once, while playing Fallout: New Vegas, I found myself standing in a shallow valley that served as a pass through a line of hills. There was nothing very interesting about my surroundings – they were the drab desert landscape that pervades the game. But ahead of me the ground rose and I couldn’t see what was on the far side of the pass. I discovered that I was feeling a thrill of anticipation. Such was my enjoyment of exploring this world that I was genuinely excited to find out what awaited me in this unvisited area. That moment from Fallout wasn’t intentional and it didn’t rely on striking visual effects – it wasn’t particularly beautiful or pretty, but nevertheless it was freighted with a sense of discovery and, yes, wonder. It emerged from the general experience of the game. Indeed, it can’t be over-emphasised that a game’s ability to generate a sense of discovery
and wonder has no relationship to its visual or technical sophistication. The video game Rogue’s visual palette was so limited that it was composed of nothing more than ASCII characters. A leprechaun was just a letter L, but it was still a shock when you got to a deep enough level for one to appear, steal something from you and then disappear – its unique party trick. This wasn’t all-out wonder, but it was unexpected enough to fire the imagination and make a mark in the memory. A basic formula for in-game wonder might be: novelty times difficulty times imaginative
The promise of No Man’s Sky was that it would serve as a wonder-generator, pumping out oodles of this quicksilver quality on demand. investment. It’s something new, which you had to work to find. But what about that last element? Examples of wonder in video games typically succeed in precise proportion to the extent to which the player feels involved in the game world. This is not quite the same as getting heavily invested in a novel or a film; it is not to follow a scripted story, however avidly. Instead, there is an element of role-play, an independent story unfolding in the player’s imagination. Grasping this is key to understanding how a game like Minecraft, which is basically story-less and makes a virtue of its graphical crudity, has become one
of the most successful games of all time: it is an excellent platform for players to tell their own stories. And that can include discovery and wonder. Most importantly, however, I didn’t buy any of the games I have mentioned in order to get a dose of awe. I bought them for entertainment. The promise of No Man’s Sky was that it would be a wonder-generator, pumping out oodles of this quicksilver quality on demand. That’s like trying to build a Sunday roast from gravy alone. After several hours, I began to appreciate No Man’s Sky for what it was rather than what I wanted it to be and slowed my pace, ending the hunt for wow. Its mysteries began to twinkle a little more. I even started to enjoy myself. No wonder. No Man’s Sky by Hello Games was released worldwide in August 2016. It is available for PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows.
The Pacific Solution Words David Burns
In August 2001, the Australian government was reeling. In the run up to the November federal elections, polls had revealed a slim lead for the opposition Labour candidates and John Howard, the prime minister and leader of the centre-right Liberal party, became desperate. As if on cue, on 24 August, an Indonesian fishing boat overloaded with people seeking asylum – the Palapa 1 – became stranded in the Indian Ocean, feeding concerns over border protection. The situation worsened following the September 11 attacks and the climate of fear and suspicion that spread throughout the west. Then, on 6 October, another boat, designated SIEV 4 (Suspected Irregular Entry Vehicle 4), appeared close to Australian waters. The Australian navy claimed the passengers on this ship were throwing children overboard to force passage to Australia. Howard had the ammunition he needed and hastily drafted a series of amendments to migration laws: strict punishment for those arriving by sea, retroactive immunity for the government’s actions and automatic mandatory detention in offshore camps. The Pacific Solution was enacted. While often misunderstood as the product of a single Australian government, the Pacific Solution – the nation’s policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention centres on island nations – was in fact the culmination of a series of increasingly restrictive policies by successive Australian governments that can be understood as a spatial politics of refusal. Australia was founded on refusal. It began with the hostile arrival of the British in 1788 and the negation of 50,000 years of Aboriginal history. This culture of silencing the
narratives of subjected groups continued in the 19th century, this timefocused on new labourers arriving from China during the gold rush. Subterfuge and innuendo gave way to overt racism in 1901 with the vote for federation and the implementation of the White Australia Policy, restricting immigration to those who could pass arbitrary language examinations. Australia’s progress has always been coupled with abject refusal. Understanding the various stages by which this came to fruition in the Pacific Solution is essential to an appreciation of its current reality. Deep in the desert north of Adelaide in southern Australia is Woomera Village, a site established in 1947 as part of
Australia was founded on refusal. It began with the hostile arrival of the British and the negation of 50,000 years of Aboriginal history. the Anglo-Australian Joint Project, a combined defence initiative of the Australian and British governments to research long-range weaponry. The site served as a hidden outpost for the Western Bloc’s war apparatus and featured two essential characteristics required in the growing Cold War and Space Race: remoteness and scale. From 1947 to 1980, Woomera Village evolved into a vast weapons testing facility and defence outpost known as the Woomera Rocket Range. At the height of its operation it encapsulated more than 200,000sqkm, an area nearly the size of Great Britain. This country within a country was restricted land. Through the decades this area has also been called the Woomera Test Facility and
the Long Range Weapons Establishment. Today, it is known as the RAAF Woomera Test Range. The site’s role has changed as often as its name. It has hosted scores of secret programmes, such as the United States Air Force’s Nurrungar and NASA’s Deep Space Station 41. Nurrungar, named after the Aboriginal word for “listen”, brought thousands of people to Woomera to monitor Russian missile launches and conduct surveillance using emerging space technologies. Deep Space Station 41, also known as the Island Lagoon Tracking Station, was integral for the NASA Gemini and Apollo programmes and played a critical role in the first moon landing. As the Cold War subsided, these facilities were dismantled, the equipment packed and the compound temporarily mothballed. The restrictions, however, remained. In the 1990s, modifications to migration policy created mandatory detention for all people that the government decided had entered the country illegally and opened the door to indefinite detention. The existing detention facilities quickly reached capacity, however, and in 1999 parts of the vast Woomera Rocket Range were transformed into the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre, a 400-person detention facility that soon housed more than 1,500 people seeking asylum. Despite its scale and importance, Woomera remained a closed city: a vast island in the centre of a presumably empty bush. Yet the place’s geographical exile was tested in 2000 with a series of well-publicised riots, protests, jailbreaks and civil disobedience. Hundreds of Australian protesters crashed the gates of Woomera, their collective patience for
All images courtesy of the Australian Department of Defence.
The Australian government’s transportation of asylum seekers to detention centres on island nations reveals not a one-off immigration policy, but rather the outcome of a long-term spatial politics of refusal.
The Border Protection Bill 2001 proposed that a ship entering Australian territorial waters could be detained by an Australian naval officer and taken “by reasonable means or force” outside of Australian territory.
the mainland territorial detention facilities waning. The next stage in the development of the Pacific Solution came in August 2001, when the aforementioned Palapa 1 foundered off the northern coast of Christmas Island, more than 1,500km from the mainland. The passengers were predominantly Afghan refugees and their goal was Australia, but the boat was overloaded and in peril. A call by the Rescue Coordination Centre Australia was answered by Arne Rinnan, master of the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa. Rinnan set an interception course to the sinking boat. Howard, however, had no patience for these “unauthorised boat arrivals”. Australian policy was disproportionately harsh to those arriving by boat and any tolerance here would be a show of political weakness that Howard could not survive. The government denied responsibility for the people and directed Rinnan to turn his ship towards Indonesia. Rinnan refused and a standoff began. After several days, the conditions on the deck of the Tampa worsened. On 29 August, Rinnan disobeyed orders from the Australian government and entered the territorial sea of Australia. His destination was Christmas Island. The Palapa 1 found itself in the centre of
a heated political battle around migration policy, given that Christmas Island was an external territory of the Commonwealth of Australia and a part of the Australian migration zone, exclusive economic zone, and Australian territorial waters. Landing there was the equivalent of docking in Sydney Harbour – the passengers could register as refugees and their cases would be heard in Australia. In response, the Howard government ordered that the ship be boarded by Australian Special Air Service Regiment officers. That same day Howard attempted to pass the Border Protection Bill 2001. The bill stated that if a ship enters Australian territorial waters “an ‘officer’ may detain the ship and take it or cause it to be taken, including by reasonable means or force, outside the territorial sea”. The bill easily passed in the House of Representatives, before being defeated in the Senate. But the legislation did not die. Instead of a single new piece of migration legislation, the Howard government chose to repackage the Border Protection Bill 2001 into a series of separate amendments to the Migration Act 1958. This 1958 act was the replacement for the highly restrictive and racist Immigration Restriction Act 1901 – the basis for the White Australia Policy. On 27 September
2001, the amendments to the Migration Act 1958 passed and in total became the Pacific Solution. Included in the package was the Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) Act 2001. This legislation excised thousands of Australian island territories from the official Australian migration zone, cutting off an ethical point of asylum and establishing the precedent for further excising in the future. Christmas Island was one of the newly excised islands, but it remained within Australia’s territorial waters and part of Australia’s exclusive economic zone. It meant that Christmas Island was still Australia, but also not – a crucial designation. Under earlier legislation, people who arrived in the Australian migration zone without a valid visa were subject to mandatory detention in an Australian facility. Excising Christmas Island and other territories from the migration zone, however, meant that this requirement of territorial detention could be circumvented. Landing on Christmas Island no longer guaranteed due process in the Australian courts. “Illegal maritime arrivals” were now sent directly to offshore detention facilities and were subject to the laws and processes of other countries.
The Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre is an example of restricted space in Australia. It is based on the RAAF Woomera Test Range.
This surrender of space was not complete however. In 2013, the Labour government under Prime Minister Julia Gillard took the extraordinary step of excising the entirety of the Australian mainland from the migration zone, meaning that all Australian territory is now excised from its own migration zone. This radical step was lauded by the conservative opposition and closed the final loophole in the move towards offshore detention. Now, no matter where a person seeking asylum lands in Australia, they will be immediately deported to an offshore facility for mandatory, and possibly indefinite, detention. This downward spiral of refusal has created a country that, despite its significant physical size (roughly equivalent to the 48 contiguous US states) and its relatively small population of 23 million, is now effectively invisible to people seeking asylum arriving by boat. The Pacific Solution ensured that there was only one destination for people seeking asylum: offshore. The government’s policy seems to be based on the idea that it is acceptable for one group of people to suffer if it potentially deters future groups from attempting to migrate to Australia. The conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott swept to power in 2013 with a campaign based on “stopping the boats”. The details of his policy were never articulated during the campaign and the candidate displayed wilful disregard to any journalist who dared to ask. However, once elected, the new government wasted no time in setting the tone. Within months, the Abbott government launched the anti-immigration video campaign No Way, featuring the newly appointed Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant General Angus John Campbell. Dressed inexplicably in jungle fatigues, Campbell looks squarely into the camera and tells people potentially seeking asylum that there is absolutely “No way you will call Australia home.” Despite the ridiculous appearance of the videos, Lieutenant General Campbell’s words were not idle threats. Armed with the original Pacific Solution laws and the expanded protocols defined in Abbott’s Operation Sovereign Borders, the military could now intercept a boat
anywhere within Australian territorial waters, board it and forcibly remove it to international waters without fear of legal action or reprisals. Further, the Abbott government announced in 2013 that it would no longer officially report the number of turnbacks – boats removed from Australian waters. The government boasted that reported incidents of successful boat arrivals plummeted from 301 in 2013-14 to 1 in 2014-15. The actual number of turnbacks will never be known – government figures are conspicuously minimal – but accounts of injury and death from turnbacks are accumulating. The murkiness of the “stop the boats” campaign translated into a conspicuous opacity in the reporting of data. The Nauru Regional Processing Centre, on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, was established in September 2001, only weeks after the Tampa Affair. Manus Regional Processing Centre in Papua New Guinea followed in October. These new offshore detention facilities literally distanced Australians from their country’s handling of those seeking asylum. Further, their creation established an insurmountable maritime barrier between the asylum-seeker and Australia. The facilities are opaque and travel to Nauru or Manus is extremely difficult. Each year the number of visas granted drops and the non-refundable cost of the application multiplies, such that humanitarian observation has become nearly impossible. The Guardian’s recent publication of the Nauru Files exposed the horrific realities of the daily lives of detainees under the Pacific Solution. The thousands of pages of incident reports chronicle abuse, self-harm and assaults on detainees. The islands of Nauru and Manus have become non-places in Australia’s expanding zone of refusal, while the nation’s spatial politics has reached a pinnacle in its treatment of offshore detainees. Such people are subjected to indefinite detention and are never given the possibility of settlement in Australia. If they happen to be successful in making a case for refugee status, their choices are few. If they fail, their only option is to be returned to their country of origin, the place they risked their life to escape. Their presence in the camps is hardly recognised by the government; the ability to discern the status or welfare of the
detainees is nearly impossible; and the government’s response to any criticism is to state that the boats have stopped. In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that the detention of people on Manus Island was unconstitutional and ordered the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to make arrangements for the dissolution of the camps. In October, Amnesty International issued a report titled ‘Island of Despair: Australia’s “Processing” of Refugees on Nauru’, which describes living conditions in Nauru that are tantamount to torture, including multiple accounts of attempted suicide and self-harm, and despair due to the lack of transparency regarding the applications for asylum. In a recent report card, the UN instructed Nauru to immediately investigate the welfare of children in the detention facility and criticised the access restrictions for media and watchdog groups.
The islands of Nauru and Manus have become non-places in Australia’s expanding zone of refusal, while the nation’s spatial politics has reached a pinnacle in its treatment of offshore detainees. The governments of Australia and Nauru have created an impenetrable space of deniability. The civil disobedience and presence of the protestors in Woomera in the early 2000s seems almost quaint when you consider the impossibility of ever having first-hand knowledge of the conditions offshore. The Australian government’s policies towards people seeking asylum has devolved to the point that the process from identification to detainment is so hidden from view, so remote, that the average Australian cannot begin to imagine themselves in the same scenario. It is not a tangible wall on the US/Mexico border – it is a maritime expanse, indeterminate and impassable.
The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined Words Kristina Rapacki
A fashion exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery explores many facets of the epithet “vulgar”. The term’s gendering, however, is not one of them. When you run an image search for “vulgar outfit”, Google throws up a gallery of female celebrities. There is Kim Kardashian clad in a sheer blouse and Miley Cyrus in minimal metallic bondage; Lady Gaga wearing beef and Cara Delevingne in a pizza-patterned onesie. Either too much or too little, it would seem, is the charge implied by the word “vulgar”, although of what exactly is unclear. What is obvious is the fixation on the female or feminised body. This much is evident, too, in The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined, an exhibition on view at London’s Barbican Art Gallery. Co-curated by fashion historian Judith Clark and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, it proffers a rich display of historic and contemporary fashion designs clustered around 11 speculative definitions of “the vulgar”. Penned by Phillips, these definitions are witty, illuminating and sometimes unexpected – one section, “Puritan”, stands as a form of counterdefinition, with its historical collection of demure falling-band collars displayed alongside a selection of pastiche 17th-century Dutch burgher outfits designed by John Galliano for Christian Dior. But none of these definitions – “Showing Off”, “Common” and “The New Baroque” among them – suggest what a Google search yields in an instant: vulgarity, especially when used to describe dress, is a deeply gendered term. That this dimension should be left unexamined is surprising given that, with a few notable exceptions, the garments featured in The Vulgar are all clothes made to be worn by women. Apart from this conspicuous absence, Clark and Phillips treat the term with imagination and intellectual curiosity. Their premise is simple, albeit complex in its implications: vulgarity has no preordained essence. Something once
deemed the height of fashion – the extreme proportions of crinolined mantuas worn in the court of Louis XIV – could soon be considered gaudy. The trompe l’oeil evening dress from Martin Margiela’s spring/summer 1996 collection, for instance, could be deemed vulgar when re-editioned at a lower price point for H&M in 2012. “Vulgar” is a word people use to identify that which they hope they are not (out-of-date, cheap), and as such it’s a key ingredient of social formation. Here, Clark and Phillips are on welltrodden territory: the role played by the judgement of taste in class positioning was extensively examined in 20th- and 21st-century sociology. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s quasi-empirical 1979 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, perhaps the most epoch-making of these studies, took the tastes of the French postwar bourgeoisie as its data set. Distinction also introduced to wider audiences terms such as “cultural”, “social” and “symbolic capital” to describe the ways in which lifestyle choices (what we choose to consume as much as what we reject) continually project our class positions. It is no coincidence, then, that The Vulgar affords special attention to garments made in or inspired by the late‑17th and 18th centuries, a period when western societies began transitioning to industrial capitalism and organised into the social strata still recognisable today. Among these exhibits are elaborately decorated rococo fans and encrusted court mules by Manolo Blahnik. There is also La mariée, a crinolined wedding dress accompanied by a voluminous headpiece that served as the final look from Galliano’s spring/summer 2005 couture collection for Christian Dior. Galliano,
too, seems to see the 18th century as a starting point for his understanding of fashion, as La mariée concluded the gradual reverse chronology that his collection had presented, with the first look being a plain black leotard. These pieces demonstrate or invoke the type of luxury items that were available to an increasingly affluent middle class thanks to international trade and the colonial enterprises of a handful of European countries – in short, an economic model that depended on slavery. But with the emergence of the European middle classes also came a pervasive social anxiety connected to luxury consumption: how best to distance oneself from those “below”? How to avoid signalling too blatantly one’s upward social ambition? It was in the 18th century that the word “vulgar” changed from its classical sense – that which pertains to or is used by the people – to the epithet we know today. It was also in this period that the judgement of taste became a hot topic in aesthetic philosophy. “Every voice is united in applauding elegance, propriety, simplicity [...] and in blaming fustian, affectation, coldness, and a false brilliancy,” wrote the philosopher David Hume in his 1757 essay ‘Of The Standard of Taste’. “But when critics come to particulars, this seeming unanimity vanishes; and it is found, that they had affixed a very different meaning to their expressions.” While Hume continued to address the relativity of taste, he and near-contemporaries such as Immanuel Kant (in his 1790 Critique of Judgement) tended to treat aesthetic judgement as a “pure” realm – one unsullied by commercial considerations. It was Bourdieu’s accomplishment, some two centuries later, to systematically hammer home the role played by taste, lifestyle
All images courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery, London. Photographs by Michael Bowles/Getty Images.
La mariée, the final look from John Galliano’s
S/S05 collection for Christian Dior.
Crinolined dresses displayed in Vulgar speak of the exhibition’s fascination with the 18th century and its role in shaping contemporary social strata.
and consumerism in the operation of social positioning: an approach he incidentally called, in Distinction, “a ‘vulgar’ critique of ‘pure’ critiques”. Obsessively identifying that which we consider socially “below” us is an aspect of the vulgar that is played out spectacularly in a collection to which Clark and Phillips give ample space: Chanel autumn/winter 2014-15, designed
The exhibition’s premise is simple, albeit complex in its implications: vulgarity has no preordained essence. by Karl Lagerfeld. The collection was originally presented in Paris’s Grand Palais, which had been painstakingly converted into a giant budget supermarket for the show, complete with discount posters and brightly coloured shopping trolleys. The garments in the collection exploited some of the crassest stereotypes about who might shop in such a store, at times producing a repulsive glamorisation of poverty – several models walked down the runway-come-aisle in tattered and ripped sweatpants, for instance.
Moreover, the discount posters touted wares marked up, not down, by 20 to 50 per cent. This was clearly the wealthy playing at looking poor. So what to make of such an ambivalent flirtation with “vulgarity”? Here, Phillips’s background in psychoanalysis sets up a helpful – and novel – framework. “Psychoanalysis is basically about what people do with the unacceptable in themselves and in others,” he says. “The vulgar is part of the vocabulary for the unacceptable. It seems to me that the so-called vulgar are the scapegoats of good taste. In other words, we’re constituting our good taste by mocking somebody else’s supposed bad taste.” That identifying vulgarity should be so key to constituting ourselves might account for the obsessional detail with which the faux budget supermarket was created in the Chanel show. It included more than 100,000 wares, at least 500 of these repackaged with jocular Chanel branding (for instance, garbage bags labelled “sac plus belle” instead of “sac poubelle”). The fact that these items were then marked up as luxury objects (that is, made inaccessible to many who shop in budget supermarkets) seems to speak of
the double operation, in psychoanalytic terms, of the vulgar: it must be clearly identified and made ridiculous in order to be rejected and cast off. “It’s entirely to do with dominating somebody, even if it’s secret,” says Phillips. “Because really it’s based on contempt.” This assertion marks the re-entry of the elephant in the room, because if vulgarity is predicated on class contempt, it is also predicated on misogyny. A glance around the section of the exhibition centred around the definition “Extreme bodies” intimates this, even if Phillips’s text leaves it unstated. Divided into two sub-sections – “Exposed Bodies” and “Exaggerated Bodies” – the room features a topless one-piece bathing suit by Rudi Gernreich, a buttock-skimming Courrèges minidress, a butt-enhancing 1996 “faux-cul” bustle bag by Vivienne Westwood for Louis Vuitton, and the much-copied punk Tits top by Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. These garments expose or exaggerate the features that generally make the female body “other” to the male body (breasts, fuller thighs, wider hips), and it is these features that are being policed when such outfits are labelled vulgar, or, to use
Four looks from Prada S/S14 featuring
Evening dresses on show in the exhibition’s
the bra as outerwear.
“Translating the Vulgar” section.
Phillips’s term, “unacceptable”. An oppressive cultural inheritance pervades this scene — you can look as far back as Aristotle to find descriptions of the female body as materially excessive (and providing raw “matter” for reproduction rather than the, supposedly superior, “form” given by the male) – and the legacy of such dichotomies has been vigorously upheld and given new formulations by the Christian church for centuries, as well as by writers of pseudo-scientific tracts such as Otto Weininger’s atrocious 1903 book Sex and Character. The exposure of “feminine attributes” continues to set off moral panic today, with breastfeeding, nipple slips and wardrobe malfunctions regularly lampooned by the tabloid press as somehow inherently shameful (or, to use one of Donald Trump’s favourite words, “disgusting”). “Vulgar” is another word we use for disciplining the female body. But like the double operation of obsessive fixation and class contempt identified in the Chanel show, the denigration of female or feminised attributes seems to pivot between disgust and fetishistic desire. “For some people vulgarity is the precondition for sexual excitement,” writes Phillips in the exhibition catalogue. One exhibit that could’ve brought home this ambivalence was the garment chosen to illustrate “mutton dressed up as lamb”. Instead, this was given over to one of the few items of men’s clothing in The Vulgar: Clark has chosen a suit from Electric Eye, Walter van Beirendonck’s spring/summer 2016 menswear collection, which is cut from a print of children’s drawings. The
implication is that a grown man wearing a childish print expresses the sentiment of the phrase. This seems a euphemism that purposefully evades the usage of “mutton dressed up as lamb”: it’s an epithet aimed at humiliating women who are judged to project, through dress and makeup, a sexual availability deemed unsuitable for their age. I ask Clark about this choice. “I couldn’t have that as a woman’s dress because” – she pauses and places her hand on her heart – “solidarity. I couldn’t stage women within that idea because it’s so awful and so humiliating.” It’s understandable:
Like the double operation of obsessive fixation and class contempt identified in the Chanel show, the denigration of female or feminised attributes seems to pivot between disgust and fetishistic desire. “mutton dressed up as lamb” is a term that whips up a perfect intersectional storm of class contempt, misogyny and ageism – all under the banner of male desire. This is where I feel I’ve had enough of the vulgar. Heading towards the exit, I pass through the opening display of the exhibition and pause. Here, a collection of classicising evening dresses are on show, all chiffons, folds, and drapes. There is an exquisite 1955 pleated jersey dress by Madame Grès (a pinnacle of taste, surely?) and immaculate Grecian smocks by Sophia Kokosalaki. The curators’ intention is to set the scene
by reflecting on the cyclical nature of fashion and the fact that no dress is truly classic or timeless. But I cannot help but think of these pieces as embodiments of the no-win situation set up by the charge of vulgarity. Even the simplest constituent elements of women’s dress – plain fabric draped over a feminised form – can be judged vulgar, because it is not the envelope that matters: it is the female body itself that is targeted, desired, and ultimately humiliated when the vulgar is invoked. The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined is at the Barbican Art Gallery until 5 February 2017.
Death By Design Words Thomas Thwaites
Sue Williams’s polemical documentary sets out the injustices of consumer electronics supply chains through an analysis of 1970s Silicon Valley and contemporary China. “The electronics industry is really a chemical-waste-handling industry,” says Ted Smith, founder of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, in Sue William’s documentary Death by Design. The processes involved in etching printed circuit boards (PCBs) – manufacturing individual components, soldering them into place – for even the most mundane of electronic products, require a multitude of acids, solvents and metals. These must be handled and disposed of with care for the sake of the people manning the production lines as well as the wider environment. Death by Design, however, is a film about the criminal lack of care shown by electronics companies in the supply chains of familiar brands such as Apple, IBM, Intel – and most others too, if the documentary is to be believed. The film targets the consumer-electronics industry as a whole, aiming to make explicit the environmental and human costs behind our sleek and shiny devices. But in choosing such a broad target, Death by Design faces a challenge. How to avoid triggering compassion fatigue in the viewer? By now, most of us know that the products we consume – be they clothes, cosmetics or electronics – frequently have inauspicious origins. The challenge is to informatively advocate for change without hectoring or falling into over-simplistic solutions. I’ve brushed up against this issue in my work as a designer. Some years ago I created the Toaster Project, which aimed to make an electric pop-up toaster from scratch, starting by digging up the raw materials. It took me nine months and at the end of this process of mining, smelting, refining and mostly failing, I had an object that resembled a strange
cargo-cult-prehistoric mutation. It was a ridiculous way to make a toaster, but I wanted to use humour to talk about consumerism and the idea that the environmental costs of cheap electrical goods aren’t priced in effectively. Death by Design overcomes this challenge in a different way. It tells the stories of people who are or were involved in various parts of the electronics industry’s supply chain, cutting between two different groups – those living with the legacy of the electronics manufacturing industry in 1970s America and those working within the same industry in present-day China. Santa Clara County, the small county also known as Silicon Valley, has the
By now, most of us know that the products we consume frequently have inauspicious origins. The challenge is to advocate for change without hectoring or falling into over‑simplistic solutions. highest number of Superfund sites of any county in the US – areas that the US Environmental Protection Agency has deemed so polluted that they require a complex long-term response in order to clear them of contaminants. The pollution at these sites, we’re told by Smith, is a result of inadequate chemical storage at PCB factories and microchip foundries in the 1970s and 1980s. These methods were common practice at the time, but are now understood to be inadequate and dangerous. The underground storage tanks constructed to contain the chemicals turned out to be vulnerable to solvents in the chemicals themselves,
which caused them to leak. The spread of this chemical waste into the ground is explained as being akin to a drop of ink in a bathtub – a small spill from a point source that has diffused out over a large volume of ground in low concentrations. All of us, especially those living in cities, face exposure to underlying toxic load from contaminants in the air and water. In Silicon Valley, however, the exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, even at concentrations of one molecule in a trillion, leads to higher rates of birth defects or miscarriages. The big names come up again – the plots of land on which Intel, IBM and Hewlett Packard built their factories in the 1970s are now Superfund sites, with some of the old industrial buildings having been replaced by residential neighbourhoods. The legacy of these spills is found in both the groundwater around Silicon Valley and the children of the people working in those factories decades ago. We’re introduced to Yvette Flores, who became pregnant while working at a firm called Spectra-Physics in the 1970s. A chemical that she jokingly called “green gunk” and which she used “all day every day” contained extremely high concentrations of lead – something she only later found out. Her son, now an adult, suffers from severe physical and mental disability, and requires roundthe-clock care. As Flores notes, “It was unnecessary.” Lead has been known to be harmful in pregnancy and to infants since the early 1900s – Flores just wasn’t told that it was in the chemicals she was using. Another couple explain how they noticed that cases of cancer were clustered in their neighbourhood – they then relate the failed treatments and eventual death of their own son from
Factory workers on an electronics production line in China. The situation of the Chinese workers is compared in the film to that of people working
Stills from Death by Design.
in Silicon Valley in the 1970s.
cancer. We hear similar stories from other families, as well as the lawyers who’ve been fighting in the courts for decades to force brands such as IBM and Intel to admit liability and provide compensation for the lives destroyed. This is all depressingly familiar – the individual versus the big corporation, trying to win justice for industry malpractice whose effects are only felt years later. It is a battle we have seen played out with tobacco, pharmaceuticals like Thalidomide, and leaded petrol, as well as in films such as Erin Brockovich (2000). The shift to contemporary China is expected, but no less disquieting when it arrives. If just one molecule in a trillion is considered dangerous in California, what of the channels of highly polluted water flowing from electronics factories and through towns and cities on the other side of the world? This is where the real power of the film lies – the middle-aged Californians telling their life story are the future of the young Chinese living it today. Brands such as Apple, IBM and Hewlett Packard, which argue that lax industrial practices are a thing of the past, nonetheless continue to benefit from cost-cutting because they outsource the manufacture of their products to Chinese companies such as Foxconn. Scott Nova, the executive
director of the Worker Rights Consortium, appears in the film to explain that one of the primary purposes for outsourcing is to disavow responsibility for people who would otherwise be working directly for your firm. “Apple doesn’t have to worry about what it means to workers if they insist on the tripling of the pace of iPhone production,” he notes. Meanwhile, the workers are left over a barrel – they are poor, usually have no education beyond high-school level and have few other options. Labour costs make up just 1 per cent of the price of an iPhone. Interviews with various industry insiders give the lie to the idea that environmental hazards from factories in the electronics supply chains aren’t known, or that as clients, these brands can’t demand improvements. “They set up these supply chains exactly the way they want them. They monitor them with exacting scrutiny,” says Mike Gray, a former microchip buyer for IBM. “Any good supply-chain manager knows what’s happening.” Again, Apple is the main focus. Here, the filmmakers give some of the Chinese workers secret cameras to film their working conditions inside the factories, and so we are shown imagery of Apple products on the production line: the aluminium stands of iMacs being polished by hand, for example. This is not the kind of imagery that is included
in the plush “making of” videos narrated by Jony Ive that Apple release to promote its products. But Death by Design is not just a litany of large American corporations taking advantage of lax Chinese regulations. Chinese corporations do it too. As an
If just one molecule in a trillion is considered dangerous in California, what of the channels of highly polluted water flowing from electronics factories on the other side of the world? anonymous Chinese factory worker explains, if the environmental bureau comes to test the factory outflow, “the boss puts tap water in the waste pipe”. Should a factory get caught cheating, it is cheaper to pay a bribe or the fine than invest in decent water-treatment facilities. One Chinese factory owner runs the outflow from his water treatment system through an ornamental pond of koi carp to show that the machinery is working sustainably. He explains that the Chinese clients who visit the factory are surprised that he is wasting money on treating the factory waste. This legwork – interviewing factory owners, giving workers secret cameras, following environmental
Yvette Flores with her son Mark, who suffers from severe
The film explores the human and environmental cost of the
disabilities caused by lead that Flores was exposed to
production of consumer electronics.
while working on an electronics production line.
campaigners, talking to bereaved families in the US – is impressive in showing the systemic problems within electronics manufacturing. Less confident is the film’s discussion of design, which seems surprisingly dated. The slogans of the various tech companies used in some of the graphics are years old – BT (formerly British Telecom) hasn’t claimed “It’s good to talk” for decades – while more recent efforts by designers to address the problem of disposable electronics are conspicuous in their absence. No mention is made of Project Ara, for
Sweeep, an electronics recycler in London, singles out wooden or bamboo computer cases as an example of exactly the kind of failure to think at a system-wide level that designers ought to avoid. instance, Google’s effort of the last few years to create a modular smartphone whose parts can be upgraded or replaced as needed. Even stranger is the absence of any mention of Fairphone, a Danish company founded in 2013 which has successfully launched two models of smartphone so far. Fairphone’s raison d’être is to address the failings that Death by Design highlights – auditing its suppliers and transparently holding them to account; encouraging repair of its products; and paying more to ensure that its electronics are made in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Even Apple, in 2016, unveiled a robot called Liam, which has been
designed to dismantle an iPhone to its bare parts in about five minutes, such that its components can be reused or recycled as single types of uncontaminated material. None of this is discussed in the film. We do, however, meet the entrepreneurs behind iFixit, a website that sells replacement parts and which provides the tools and information to install them. I have bought several replacement screens for shattered phones from this website, but Williams chooses to focus on an issue that iFixit publicised several years ago – that iPhones are designed without replaceable batteries. Today, this seems like a small concern. Apple has progressed from glued-in batteries to soldering every component of its new laptops to the mainboard, making what was formerly a fairly upgradeable and fixable computer into something that is neither. Bizarrely, another company that the filmmakers choose to highlight as an example of responsible design is a small computer shop in Ireland, which makes wooden cases for PCs. It’s a well-meaning but naive eco-design with a distinct 1990s feel – putting circuit boards in a wooden case doesn’t do anything to address how those circuit boards have been made. In fact, the effect may be pernicious. Sweeep, an electronics recycler in London, singles out wooden or bamboo computer cases as an example of exactly the kind of failure to think at a system-wide level that designers ought to avoid. An occasional wooden case will contaminate a recycling stream set up to handle plastics and metals.
Despite these failings, the parallel Death by Design draws between the industrial pollution of the tech industry decades ago in the west and the contemporary tech industry operating in China is captivating. It highlights activists on the ground in China with more force than we typically get from rare articles about e-waste in the Guardian. It brings to light the dirt behind technology, the increasing presence of which shows no sign of abating. Environmental awareness in China is growing – another parallel that can be drawn with 1970s America – and perhaps the perpetrators of some of the environmental crimes recorded in Death by Design may one day find themselves before regulators who have grown some teeth. Watching the film, one is left hoping that the saying commonly attributed to speculative novelist William Gibson – “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet” – applies as much to the conditions in which technology is manufactured, as it does to the spread of technology itself. Death by Design, written and directed by Sue Williams, was released in May 2016.
A History of Building Words Adrienne Brown Photographs Dean Kaufman
The routes leading to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. provoke meditations on the histories it serves before visitors step through the door. Upon arriving from the west and north, the Washington Monument rises up behind its new neighbour.
At first glance, these structures appear to be in stark opposition: the white marble of the vertical obelisk pierces the horizontal lines of the museum’s playful bronze coronas, three tiers of nested filigree cladding that change hue depending on the light. The symbolic juxtaposition is even more striking – the monument built to honour America’s slave-owning first president, George Washington, hovers over the museum, which in turn foregrounds the story of the enslaved and their descendants who were integral to the making of the United States and its first president.
The museum is surrounded by structures built by the enslaved. To the southeast sits the Smithsonian Castle. It was designed by James Renwick in the 1840s and was the first museum erected on the National Mall, a park that attracts some 25 million visitors each year and which is often described as “America’s front yard” owing to its green spaces, memorials and free museums. This inaugural Smithsonian, which now administers all 11 museums on the Mall, was built with sandstone quarried by enslaved persons. The White House, only a few blocks north of the NMAAHC, was similarly constructed in the 1790s. In this sense, architecture plays a peculiar role in mediating the history of slavery. As slavery’s most enduring material product, buildings serve as physical reminders of the practice. And yet members of the African-American community expressed a desire for this new building to recognise slavery while not being reducible to it. Finding a way to deliver such a structure on a site located in the shadow of the monument encapsulating America’s paradoxical origins in freedom and slavery was perhaps the most daunting task facing its designers, The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroupJJR. Although slavery is the first context that struck me when I saw the NMAAHC and the Washington Monument, greater scrutiny allows a view of these structures in which they seem less like adversaries and more like partners engaged in thoughtful conversation. The angle of the three coronas enveloping the museum’s rectangular glass core mirrors the angle of the Washington Monument’s pyramidal point, a choice the building’s lead designer David Adjaye refers to as an act of deference. But the museum also offers passers-by a new perspective on the Washington Monument, whose obelisk shape – often attributed to western classical tradition – actually originated in ancient Egypt. “People really thought Washington’s monument was a Greek column,” Adjaye explains, “but it was Egyptian.” Given that the NMAAHC’s distinctive coronas were modelled on Yoruban statuary, these adjacent structures share not just a shape but a heritage rooted in European, American and African precedents. It is a diasporic story that Adjaye was eager to underscore, using the museum’s design to showcase, he says, “circuits and relationships between forms that might seem different but which are actually interconnected through a mosaic-like understanding of human
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) occupies the last available building plot on Washington D.C.â€™s National Mall.
Three monumental coronas envelop the NMAAHCâ€™s upper galleries and take on different bronze hues depending on the light.
history.” And yet, even as the museum acknowledges the monument, an energetic tension persists between them. The angular tip of the Washington Monument points skyward, while the museum’s coronas slope down, gesturing not only to the five storeys of galleries below ground, but also the museum’s mission to reorientate visitors’ understanding of American history through the lens of the African-American experience. The approach from the east or south, although less overtly spectacular, proves just as evocative. The museum appears alongside its immediate neighbour to the east, the National Museum of American History, a McKim, Mead & White-designed building that opened in 1964. Injecting a touch of modernism into the neo-classicism so prominent on the Mall, this institution appears fortress-like, its unyielding exterior obscuring its reflective purpose. The more symbolic facade of the NMAAHC, by contrast, openly testifies to the history it contains. In addition to referencing Yoruban statuary, its monumental coronas evoke the ornate hats worn by black church-going women. Its intricate metalwork calls back to designs forged by 19th-century black artisans in the American South, and the elongated “porch” facing the Washington Monument gestures towards the ways this threshold space, with architectural roots in the Caribbean and Africa, has historically organised the rhythms of black life across the diaspora. While the conversation between the NMAAHC and the Washington Monument appears more assured, the exchange between the National Museum of American History and this deeply referential building feels unresolved – reflective of broader uncertainty as to whether these museums collectively tell one story or two. The emphasis on black design precedents visible in the museum’s exterior carries over to its holdings, which include objects ranging from a slave cabin to advertisements for black housing developments. But while the collection uses artefacts and testimony to foreground the material richness of African-American history, the building’s architecture carves out negative spaces and casts shadows evoking the absences that also constitute this history. The exterior coronas, for instance, function as a series of ornate screens that deflect as much as they reveal. Michelle Wilkinson, one of the museum’s curators, describes the perforated panels as giving visitors a feeling of being “constantly surrounded by both an exterior and an interior: when you’re in the building
and you see the way light plays in the space and the shadows that are created, a sort of duality emerges.” It is a duality Wilkinson connects to what the black thinker W.E.B. Du Bois famously described in 1901 as African Americans’ distinctive double consciousness – a sense of “twoness” emerging from seeing one’s self through the eyes of a hostile white world. The shadows cast by the coronas on the NMAAHC’s interior spaces fall upon visitors as they move through the higher galleries, unifying the experience of the upper and lower levels. Zena Howard, a principal architect for Perkins+Will – which merged with the Freelon Group in 2014 – and the museum’s project manager explains that “when you’re above ground”, the spectral shadows cast by the filigree “don’t let you forget about the depths below”, referring to the subterranean gallery space that contains some
The building’s attention to voids and shadows seems particularly fitting given the erasures that characterise black history. of the most harrowing artefacts in the collection, including shackles small enough for a child and a gnarled whip. The building’s attention to voids and shadows seems particularly fitting given the erasures that characterise black history. Before emancipation, we have few records relaying the individual stories of enslaved Africans and their descendants beyond names in ledger books. In the age of Jim Crow, moreover, white Southerners burned black bodies and buildings with the hope of leaving no trace. Despite the size of the museum’s collection, the building periodically ushers visitors into open spaces that allow them to leave its exhibits behind for a moment. As when approaching the site, the coronas encourage you to situate the displays in relation to the neighbouring national icons. Throughout the museum visitors will find what Howard refers to as lenses – viewing points carved out from the bronze metalwork – that frame views of the monument and the National Mall.
The NMAAHC features five gallery levels below ground and three above. The intricate filigree of the coronas occasionally makes way for viewing windows, from which visitors can seeÂ neighbouring monuments on the National Mall.
Above, a slave cabin from the Point ofÂ Pines plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina. Two floors up is aÂ watch tower (left) from the notorious Angola penitentiary in Louisiana. The prison remains operational and was built on plantation land in 1835.
A below-ground contemplative court encourages reflection on all that the exhibits have presented, and, perhaps, all they cannot. Water falling from the ceiling into a floor-level pool forms a transparent circular wall around the empty centre of the room. In reflecting on the design process, Adjaye foregrounds the attention paid to the negative spaces carved out by the building. “The job of the architecture,” he insists, is not to make forms but “to make powerful and compelling voids”. He describes his approach to this project as one of “excavating, making silence and making space. The building builds on physical facts and it is a physical frame,” he acknowledges. “But at the same time I’m spending a lot of time and energy to dissolve that frame. And to reframe what you think is the reality outside on the mall.” In contrast to what Adjaye calls “the forensic landscape of the mall” where the museum sits, he understands the building as akin to a vitrine – a vessel “transparent and available for all to see”. It was important that the building refer to material touchstones of the past, but “not in a literal way”, he says. “You come close and then it pulls away.” The design team took similar care with the distinctive exterior colouration. The changing hue of the bronze suggests the failure of any singular colour to represent the black experience. While the building has been described as dark, Howard points out the spectrum of colours it exudes depends on the conditions. “There are moments when the building appears dark,” Howard explains, just as “there are moments in history that are dark”. Alternatively, “there are days when the sun is blazing and the building is lit up and sparkling.” Avoiding a literal interpretation of blackness or a static impression of the history found inside was important to the designers. As Howard insists, “you’ll never see the building in the same way each time you come.” The journey that resulted in this gleaming bronze building on the National Mall was a long one. The initial push to build a structure in D.C. commemorating African-American contributions to the nation first emerged a hundred years prior. Black veterans of the civil war formed the National Memorial Association in 1915 to advocate the erection of “a permanent monument to the Negro Race” in the nation’s capital. The group called for “a beautiful building” representing “the Negro’s contribution to America in the military service, in art, literature, invention, science, industry, etc”. But the Association insisted that in addition to
serving as a repository of black history, the building should also cater to the needs of African Americans moving forward. “We are disposed toward the utilitarian rather than the exclusively aesthetic or reverential,” wrote the group, describing the need for the building to include not only a hall of fame and museum filled with statues and tablets, but also reading rooms, art and music rooms, and an auditorium. The building fulfilling these aspirations
The changing hue of the bronze suggests the failure of any singular colour to represent the black experience. a century later features a great deal of what the original Memorial Association envisaged, even if it ultimately tilts more towards the aesthetic and reverential than the utilitarian. As forecasted by the Association’s early design plan, the museum has left open spaces for telling stories that are still unfolding. When I visited, there was an unfinished gallery that will highlight the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as an interactive area where visitors can participate in polls about whether or not they would have rioted in response to historical injustices, or resisted arrest. The inaugural efforts of the National Memorial Association petered out with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Despite receiving approval from Congress to build a memorial to black servicemen in 1929, the project proved impossible to fund. It was revived in the 1960s and at various points afterwards until Congress finally authorised the NMAAHC in 2003. The historian and curator Lonnie Bunch was appointed its first director in 2005 and commenced the job with a staff of just two, no dedicated collections and an undetermined site. In the process of amassing the museum’s holdings – now totalling around 37,000 objects, largely donated by private citizens – Bunch and his staff went on the road to learn from some of the nearly 200 African-American museums and memorials already in existence across North America,
Cradle made by an enslaved person,
Ambrotype of Frederick Douglass,
Bill of sales for an enslaved girl
named Clary, 15 January 1806.
Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Society
Brick from the chimney at Whitehead
An anti-slavery cartoon by Thomas Nast
collection box, c. 1830s–1850s.
Plantation, c. 1800.
entitled Patience on a Monument,
Charleston slave badge for
An edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s
Enamelled container and lid with an
servant no. 689, 1815.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1852.
anti-slavery slogan, c. 1775-1791.
All images courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
8 October 1868.
Iron collar and key, 18th
Envelope with a depiction of Benjamin
Glass plate photographic â€œmagic
to mid-19th centuries.
Butler holding a slave owner at
lanturnâ€? slide of Gordon, a runaway
swordpoint, c. 1861-1865.
enslaved person, 1863.
Broadside for the sale of an enslaved
Gordy Records, The Great March
Basket for carrying cotton, early
boy named Ben, 11 July 1853.
on Washington, 1963.
Ambrotype of three women in dotted
Model of a slave ship, c. 1890-1950.
Frederick Douglass, Men of Color,
calico dresses, c. 1850-1870.
recruitment broadside, 1863.
and collected public opinions about what the mission of a national museum of African-American history ought to be in relation to these institutions. As Bunch was firming up the museum’s mission and assembling its collections, the National Mall site was chosen, a decision that read as both a sign of its belatedness but also a symbolic act of national reckoning. With the prestigious site came a host of building restrictions that The Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, Davis Brody Bond and SmithGroupJJR, whose collaborative proposal won a design competition featuring submissions from six teams, had to address. To preserve the sight lines on the National Mall,
and the 19th-century Underground Railroad leading enslaved peoples to freedom, to the mission of groups like the Black Panthers in the 1960s, which often had to operate from and for the fringes of American society – the significance of placing the history galleries in these sunken spaces is clear. Some of the bottommost galleries induce feelings of cramped disorientation. Howard, while insisting that the design team was careful not to “prescribe responses to the space”, explains that the slavery galleries were meant to impart a sense of the confusion and constraint accompanying the Middle Passage and other spaces of enslavement. This is balanced by these galleries’ juxtaposition with more open “limitless spaces”, as Howard calls them, that span the entire depth of the underground galleries and house some of the bigger pieces in the museum’s collection. The largest of these objects is a 77-tonne segregation-era railway car that enforced separate seating for white and black patrons. Due to its size, it was lowered into the museum by crane and the building was constructed around it. Upon exiting the history galleries, visitors ascend to the above-ground sections dedicated to themes of community and culture. At times this progression feels overly triumphalist. The physical experience of rising from dark to light threatens to overdetermine the African-American history as a tale of persistent progress. It is difficult, moreover, to move through the underground galleries in any other way than the prescribed linear route. During my visit I spent a good deal of time confusedly attempting to circle back to earlier galleries to take a second look at objects that I had failed to process in their entirety the first time around. The separation of history from culture also comes across as constraining. For instance, the joyously noisy and spectacular music gallery on the fourth floor buzzes with sound and light, in jarring contrast to the sections dedicated to slavery – even though we know that sites of enslavement, too, once pulsed with heat and song. I arrived at the museum with a sense that the building designed to house this history would have a historical story of its own to tell. Those suspicions were confirmed, but what came unexpectedly was the consistent attention within the collections to the history of African-American architecture and building, an aspect of the black experience in the US that is frequently overlooked by historians and
The experience of rising from dark to light threatens to overdetermine the history as a tale of persistent progress. the building had to be significantly lower than originally intended. The initial plan featured only one underground gallery, Howard explains, yet eventually 60 per cent of the 122,000sqm building would sit below ground level. These constraints ultimately helped to produce a layout reflecting some of the ways in which African-American history has been conceptualised. Above ground are galleries dedicated to community and culture, as well as educational spaces and staff offices. Below ground are the history galleries, winding upward from slavery to the present. Upon entering the museum’s expansive first floor, which Adjaye has referred to as an “urban room for the city”, visitors see light pouring in from all four sides. They are encouraged by staff to take the elevator to the lowest level, the home of the history gallery dedicated to slavery and emancipation. They then curve their way upward through three floors, culminating in A Changing America: 1968 and Beyond, after which they are greeted by natural light spilling down into the underground concourse. Given the significance of the underground to African-American history – from the cramped holds of ships sailing the Middle Passage slave trade route
On the right, a training aircraft used by the African-American Tuskegee Airmen during the Second World War. Below, aÂ 77-tonne segregation-era railway carriage, the largest exhibit in theÂ NMAAHC.
The sunken galleries of the NMAAHC remind visitors that underground spaces are significant to AfricanAmerican history. On the right are two post-emancipation structures, including the Freedom House, built by the formerly enslaved person Richard Jones in the late 19th century.
architects alike. Artefacts showcasing black building practices appear throughout the museum’s holdings. In the slavery galleries, visitors manoeuvre around the largest object on this level, a slave cabin originally built at the Point of Pines plantation on Edisto Island in South Carolina. Enslaved people not only lived in these cramped huts – commonly called slave pens in the antebellum period – but likely helped build them. The cabin’s interiors are utilitarian and worn, but the whitewash exteriors point to an attempt – either by its inhabitants or overseers – to make it look more like any other home. It offers proof, the curator of this exhibit, Nancy Bercaw, suggests, that despite our inclination to read this cabin in terms of its violent past, its “aesthetics mattered too”. Located one floor up, but still in close proximity to the Point of Pines cabin, sits what the museum’s
The material conditions of slavery continued to shape life after emancipation, even when African-American homes became property rather than mere pens. curators have called the Freedom House, a two-storey home built by the formerly enslaved Richard Jones in the late 19th century and continuously occupied until the 1970s. Although the Point of Pines cabin resides in the slavery section and the Freedom House belongs to the exhibit focusing on life after emancipation, the visual continuity between these two modest log structures obscures the distance between the status of their inhabitants. One marvels at how such formally similar structures can represent such different moments in American history. Their juxtaposition reminds visitors of the ways the material conditions of slavery continued to shape life after emancipation, even when African-American homes became property rather than mere pens.
On the level above the Freedom House sits a 6.4m guard tower from the infamous Angola prison, the Louisiana State penitentiary known as the “Alacatraz of the South” that was built on plantation land in 1835 and is still in operation today. The prison’s harsh conditions, particularly for African-Americans, became notorious in the 1930s, the period during which this tower was first built. Given the bluntness of its architecture and purpose, it invites less lingering than the slave cabin and Freedom House. In some ways, this seems to be the point. Reflecting on the museum’s efforts to collect structures, curator Paul Gardullo points to the ways artefacts like the Angola tower suggest that “displacement is as important as place” within African-American history. The tower implies that the historical relationship between African-Americans and the built environment is as much about the structures used to contain and surveil them as it is about the structures they built to shield themselves from surveillance. Taken together, these structures – the Point of Pines slave cabin, the Freedom House and the Angola guard tower – form a kind of triptych which, unlike the organisation of much of the rest of the museum, does not tell a triumphal story of ascent, but a more complicated one about confinement recurring throughout African-American history. It is another piece of architecture that produces one of the most powerful historical reorientations within the museum. Visit the history gallery focused on the Civil Rights Movement and you encounter a long plywood plank mural that was created in Resurrection City, the sprawling encampment built on the National Mall as part of the Poor People’s March on Washington in May to June 1968. Organised by Martin Luther King Jr, the march and occupation were led by Ralph Abernathy after King’s assassination a month prior. Although King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is one of the most indelible images of the Civil Rights Movement, the curators chose to showcase this lesser-known event, during which thousands of the nation’s impoverished citizens built a shantytown steps away from the site where the museum’s entrance now sits. Displays like these demonstrate that architecture was not just the setting for history and politics within the African-American experience, but integral to their unfolding. A focus on building and place emerges elsewhere. Not far from the Resurrection mural is a small
gallery dedicated to the dual mid-century stories of suburbanisation and intensification of the urban ghetto, a story punctuated by the display of a menacing industrial metal door from a public housing complex in Newark, New Jersey. The “Power of Place” exhibit, located in the above-ground gallery dedicated to community, tells the story of African-American history through six distinct environments that spatially mimic the spaces they conjure. A section dedicated to Oak Bluffs, where middle-class black Americans historically summered in Martha’s Vineyard, is decked out in cottage-style panelling and lacy wooden architectural details. The space celebrating hip-hop’s birth in the Bronx, by contrast, features mental fences upon which sits a map outlining the sites where this music first emerged. In the culture galleries, a small section dedicated to construction showcases artist Jacob Lawrence’s painting of black craftsmen, Builders: Stained Glass Window (2000), next to panels describing Project Row Houses in Houston, an organisation begun in 1993 by the activist Rick Lowe to restore shotgun houses – narrow rectangular homes popular in parts of the American South – turning them into artists’ studios and housing for the underserved. The designers and curators I spoke to all flagged the importance of showcasing practices of building and design given their underrepresentation in how society thinks about African-American history and culture. The architecture on display in the NMAAHC can be understood as examples of both history and culture, the aesthetic and the functional, setting and event. Both the building and the collections allow visitors to see, as Howard puts it, that “we were builders too” – one of the many aspects, she says, that make this project particularly personal for her as an African-American architect in a profession that has not always acknowledged the vibrancy of this tradition. In contrast to this, the museum’s collections demonstrate, as curator Michelle Wilkinson notes, that “building was always there” as part of the story of African-American life. When asked about the architectural artefacts, Adjaye remarks: “We forget at our peril that the container is relevant.” In designing a museum that has no fixed colour, weaves itself into its neo-classical context by both acknowledging and overturning the surrounding landscape’s claims to monumentality, and invites you inside only to force you down into
The ornate metalwork of the NMAAHC’s three exterior coronas deflects as much as it reveals.
its dark depths, Adjaye and his colleagues have conceived a building that does not assert itself as a triumphant monument to African-American progress. Instead, the building’s indeterminacy compels its beholders to question how and why we might draw lines between African-American, American, and African history and culture, underscoring just how much one’s understanding of the world depends on how those lines are drawn. As you leave the museum, after experiencing its abundance of artefacts that could be assembled to tell an almost endless number of stories, the museum’s facade offers itself up once more for assessment. Even as the exterior evokes distinct aspects of African-American history, it also conveys a scepticism about the very enterprise of history as leading to singular and definitive narratives. Walking away, the conversations between the building and its neo-classical neighbours continue to captivate, but it is the tension between the museum’s irreducible architecture and the pressure to interpret and place the objects within it that linger the longest. E N D
Machines for Noise Words John L. Walters Portraits Juan Trujillo Andrades
High in the eaves of a draughty former industrial space on Regent’s Canal in east London is a cramped studio packed with digital music detritus of the recent past. Spread throughout are repurposed record decks, keyboards, drum machines and miscellaneous circuit boards, some hooked up to contemporary computers, others to synthesizers. The vibe is that of a toymaker’s workshop, rather than a contemporary design atelier – a space fit for a hi‑tech Geppetto or a Dr Coppélius with a box of cyberpunk delights. Profile
Yuri Suzuki, photographed in his attic studio in Hackney, east London.
It is a studio well-suited to its owner, Yuri Suzuki. Whereas sound design has long been associated with theatre, film-making and computer games – not to mention websites, apps and other digital products – Suzuki’s career is largely without precedent in its introduction of sound as a central component in the fields of industrial and product design. In contrast to the work of designers such as Hugo Verweij, who developed the sound design for Apple’s iOS 7, Suzuki’s practice is predicated on the notion that sound design might function as more than an element of industrial design, and actually become a form of industrial design in and of itself. At a time when all genres of design are negotiating between physical and digital realms, his practice provides a touchstone for anyone trying to understand how the intangible might be made manifest. “One side of my priorities is importing physicality to sound,” he says. “Understanding the physical format of sound is important in terms of communication with a user, so that’s what leads to my interest: how do you physicalise an invisible element?” In 2014, the MIT Media Lab lecturer David L. Rose published Enchanted Objects, a book lamenting the failings of the current generation of networked items. “I remain disappointed that so few products succeed in enchanting us. Instead, they are difficult to understand, frustrating to use, overwrought with features. They diminish rather than empower us,” he wrote. “I want the future of our relationship with digital technology to look less like the cold slab of glass of my nightmare [screens] and more like my grandfather’s basement workshop – chock-full of beloved tools and artefacts imbued with stories.” It is here that Suzuki comes into view. From his attic studio he has crafted musical instruments that create sound by passing a current through their users, synthesizers that convert everday objects into instruments, and Tonka Truck-like toys that challenge traditional musical notation. Running through his projects is a desire to convert complex, nebulous and alienating technologies into something graspable, delightful and solid. In Suzuki’s words, his projects are simple: “They’re adventures in sound and music.” Gesturing towards the clutter of his desk, Suzuki points to a maquette for a toy car. It’s rough, but the starting point for a project that is likely to draw mainstream attention to his practice. This is Colour Chaser, a design that will launch in 2017 as a piece of commercial product design, seven years on from when its first iterations were made (the early, handmade models are now in the permanent collections of MoMA in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). Suzuki demonstrates the Colour Chaser by setting it trundling along a path created from magic-marker lines on white paper. Each time the vehicle rolls over a coloured mark, drawn at right angles across the road, it makes a sound whose pitch is determined by the colour, which is detected as RGB data. The paper road is effectively a graphic score that determines the pitch and rhythm of the melody the little vehicle plays as it runs along it. “In Japan, music is called ‘Ongaku’,” says Suzuki. “‘Ong’ means sound and ‘gak’ means playing, such that the meaning of music is ‘playing with sound’. I always related to that. With Colour Chaser, it’s about bringing the fun elements of a toy into notions of musical notation.” Profile
Colour Chaser, 2010.
“One side of my priorities is importing physicality to sound. How do you physicalise an invisible element?”
Colour Chaser has been picked up by Hexaproject, a Japanese nonprofit that plans to mass produce the design in collaboration with the toy manufacturer Cube-Works. “There’s something amazing about mass production in that it allows my work to reach people I might never have expected,” says Suzuki, who was born in 1980 and grew up at a time when computers were beginning to liberate music-making in both instrumental technique and musical knowledge, speeding the proliferation of new electronic genres, as well as instruments like the synthesizer. “Electronic instruments used to be expensive, but that was a transitional time for things becoming cheaper,” he says. “The second-hand market was taking off and you could discover so much in the music shops. I’m a designer, so I’m always looking at the aesthetic of equipment – that time saw so much movement between design, sound and interface.” It is fitting, then, that the experiments and prototypes in his studio have a charmingly old-school feel, held together as they are by crocodile clips and insulation tape. Dozens of projects are in train, with assistants and interns grafting away, hunched over computers. Suzuki picks up Qu’est-ce que c’est, a contraption made of multiple criss-crosssing wires that was commissioned by designer Tord Boontje for his 2016 exhibition Electro Craft, a show examining ways of producing consumer electronics away from the constraints of mass production. On closer examination you realise that Qu’est-ce que c’est is creating the illusion in a 3D outline of a mid-1980s portable cassette player – a method of highlighting the interior workings of the appliance, but also of representing such devices iconographically in a gesture towards their role in cultural history. Asked about it, Suzuki cites the ghetto-blaster that Talking Heads’s David Byrne carts on stage to perform ‘Psycho Killer’ at the opening of the concert movie Stop Making Sense (1984). “Ghetto blasters were not only playback equipment,” says Suzuki. “They really penetrated the culture and a big part of my practice is looking at the cultural context around sound. Sound is one of the most significant elements in most people’s daily lives, but we don’t typically consider that.” The abundance of visual noise in Suzuki’s studio is emblematic of its owner’s methodology. Suzuki moves between process and products, speculative design and practical outcomes, as part of a portfolio approach that is not dependent upon any one patent or device. “I feel quite Japanese in that respect,” he says. “I want to bite many different things. My mentality is like a bento box, with a lot of different elements that I want to experience within one practice.” Suzuki has built a client list that includes specialist companies such as the synthesizer brand Moog, as well as corporations like Google. “It’s important to be dedicated to a single project sometimes,” he says. “But my approach means that I can generate a lot of ideas and then have the space to take them in whatever direction I please.” AR Music Kit, an android app developed with Google’s Data Arts Team, began life as a consultancy project, before resulting in a series of patterned paper cards that can be attached to any object to form an impromptu musical instrument. The user plays notes by covering up the patterns, which are detected by a smartphone camera, enabling the phone to generate a corresponding sound in response. It’s an accessible invention that 196
A wire maquette for Qu’est-ce que c’est, developed for the 2016 Electro
Qu’est-ce que c’est, 2016.
AR Music Kit, 2016.
encourages emphatic air guitar strumming or furious drumming – a humanscale introduction to the possibilities of interactive technology. Central to Suzuki’s projects is an emphasis on simplicity and legibility. AR Music Kit blurs digital data and objects to create a piece of sophisticated augmented reality, but its use of sound and goofy physical engagement means that the outcome is immediately understandable. “My brain is structured such that it cannot think of anything complicated,” says Suzuki, “which is why my projects are easy and direct to understand. I always want to find clear definitions because I feel that systems shouldn’t be complicated. They have to be translated into something approximating a human language.” Here, again, Suzuki seems ahead of the curve, anticipating debates currently reserved for academic theory. In Enchanted Objects, for instance, Rose sets out a discussion around new digital technologies that has become a touchstone for thinking about networked objects. Rather than prioritise touch-screens, Rose argues for digital technology to be sensitively inserted into everyday items, with results that would mimic the magical objects that appear in fairy tales – crystal balls, flying carpets, bottomless purses. “Notice how many of these objects are transferable from one person to another,” he wrote. “They don’t provide any single person a superpower. These objects can be acquired, gifted, traded, and passed down through generations.” The power of Suzuki’s practice is to recognise that music is similar in nature to Rose’s enchanted objects. As in Rose’s argument, an emotional connection to objects is vital to Suzuki’s work. He retains an affection for the instruments that enabled the musical genres he grew up with – the Roland Tr-808 Rhythm Composer, the TB-303 synthesizer (“I’m quite geeky about the aesthetic of consoles and equipment”) – which have been largely replaced by software packages such as Ableton Live, Pro Tools and Logic. “But I think there’s now a reaction against that trend of digitisation, with a return to physical interfaces,” says Suzuki, whose own thinking on the matter was explored during a R&D relationship with Disney begun in 2011. During his work with the company, Suzuki joined a team developing Ishin-Den‑Shin, a proposal to turn audio into an inaudible signal relayed via the body. The project, named after a Japanese expression for silent communication, converts sound into a high-voltage, low-current (~300 Vpp, ~50 mA) inaudible signal. This can be transmitted from person to person via a modulated electrostatic field around the skin: one person’s finger and another’s ear together form a speaker that makes the signal audible again. “An interface should always be intriguing,” says Suzuki of Ishin-Den‑Shin, which is currently being developed into the Sonic Field, an instrument created in collaboration with the speculative designer James Auger. The current version of Sonic Field is shaped liked a gourd – allowing it to function as a resonance chamber – but is reminiscent of a theremin in the way in which it demands a player’s movement to operate. Whereas the thereminist controls their instrument’s whistling tone by moving their hands close to its antennae without touching them, the Sonic Field requires the performer to stroke different parts of its body, promptly rewarding them with a mild shock, similar to the high-voltage, Profile
A prototype for Sonic Field, a musical instrument developed in conjunction with the speculative designer James Auger.
“I want to bite many different things. My mentality is like a bento box, with a lot of different elements that I want to experience within one practice.”
low-current signal used in Ishin-Den-Shin – a low-level buzzing or tickling felt across the skin. “The Sonic Field technique worked well when Yuri first came with it to my office in London, but back then it was just some electronics and a modified acoustic guitar,” says Auger. “So we began sketching some shapes and thinking about materials. I wanted it to look somehow ‘musical’ – like a big resonating chamber.” Playing the Sonic Field is counterintuitive experience – a novel integration of electronic and acoustic vibrations, with the player’s body becoming one half of a resonating amplification system created by steadily shocking the user. “I think the new sensual experience is the product’s charm,” notes Auger. The unexpected seems to come naturally to Suzuki. In the early stage of his career, he was a part of Maywa Denki, a Japanese art collective founded by Masamichi and Novmichi Tosa in 1993. Maywa Denki’s work centres on sound, performance and music, and Suzuki started there as a production assistant in 1999, graduating to design, mechanical engineering, recording engineering and finally performing on stage, where he danced, sang and played instruments. There are few western equivalents to Maywa Denki. They perform in powder-blue workwear and their act makes them seem like a cross between the punk band Devo and The Muppet Show, with further nods to the electronic stylings of Yellow Magic Orchestra and Kraftwerk. Maywa Denki seems the perfect training ground for Suzuki’s current practice, giving him experience in making and fixing things, light-hearted creativity, and the communicative value of play. The sheer silliness of the group’s songs is infectious, as is the simplicity of the products they created, such as a plastic sax-like toy whose bell is shaped like the face of an anime whale. It’s a form of well-aimed playfulness that informs Suzuki’s practice to this day, and which can be traced back to kinetic artists such as Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely, as well as British eccentrics Bruce Lacey and Tim Hunkin. “The things that excite me are always things that a child might like,” says Suzuki. “I think I am a kind of kid myself and I certainly believe that one way of communicating something clearly is by creating a dramatic effect around it.” Suzuki grew up with a father who was a record collector and whose knowledge of music Suzuki describes as being an “almost Shazam experience”. Suzuki was given piano lessons as a child and he played trombone in a high-school ska band called Dallax. Combined with his work with Maywa Denki, this musical upbringing left Suzuki au fait with western culture, yet his experience of coming to the UK in 2004 to start the RCA’s Design Products MA course in 2006 was nevertheless transformative. “I experienced a great culture shock being in London,” he says. “Many cultures merge in this city and create movements. When I landed here grime was popular, which totally mixed music cultures: hip-hop and dub-influenced beat with Middle East melody and Chinese MC on top. I was totally shocked and excited about the music scene.” Alongside this fluidity in musical culture, Suzuki found himself on one of the most adventurous MA courses of its kind. “It was great to study in the old days of the Design Products department under Ron Arad,” says Suzuki, who flourished in an environment where Arad encouraged exploration in design 198
A specially adapted record deck with multiple pick-up arms installed in Suzuki’s studio.
“People focus on music or harmony instead, so how can we identify whether something is good sound design or not? What are the criteria? If we’re going to talk about sound design, we need to identify clear effects.”
education. Suzuki graduated in 2008, a contemporary of designers such as Peter Marigold, Raw Edges, Max Lamb, and Julia Lohmann, all of whom benefited from the eclectic mixture of teaching and practice delivered at the RCA from visiting lecturers such as Sam Hecht, Jurgen Bey, Daniel Charny, Roberto Feo and Tomoko Azumi. “It was the most intense and precious time for my career,” says Suzuki. It was during this period at the RCA that Suzuki discovered that he is dyslexic. “I have a lot of passion for making and playing music, but the biggest difficulty was always reading a musical score,” he says. “I’ve always thought about how musical notation doesn’t have any physicality, which makes it difficult for me.” In place of this, Suzuki’s practice has shifted towards finding more elemental forms of musical creation. Ototo, a 2013 electronic instrument that allows users to turn almost anything (from houseplants to soft toys) into a synthesizer controller, is an obvious precursor to the AR Music Kit. “To produce music, you used to need equipment and a studio, whereas now you can do everything in the computer,” says Suzuki, who developed the device with fellow creative technologist Mark McKeague under the company name Dentaku. “But in spite of that technological advance, there is still a human need for physicality.” There are myriad YouTube demonstrations of people using all kinds of objects to trigger the synth – Suzuki’s favourite is a wooden whisky box – and the device was coaxed into life by 915 Kickstarter backers, going on to sell more than 3,000 units. Its success seems rooted in Suzuki’s ideology of broadening discussion around sound and its impact on people. What happens when everything can be hacked to become a source of music? Suzuki’s answer to this question is predominantly social. “Sound is so immediate, which means that we don’t have a strong tendency to identify it as design,” says Suzuki. “People focus on music or harmony instead, so how can we identify whether something is good sound design or not? What are the criteria? If we’re going to talk about sound design, then we need to identify clear effects.” From the knockabout humour of electric gourds, wireframe ghetto blasters, and musical whisky boxes, Suzuki makes a serious point: if sound is part of our world, then we ought to treat it as worthy of serious study and as something that deserves to be designed. Projects such as Colour Chaser and Sonic Field raise awareness of the possibilities around sound design, drawing audiences in with their flamboyance and playfulness, but the next step in Suzuki’s practice is likely to be emphatically social. “One of the best examples of what sound design might achieve is the Dockland Light Railway in London,” he says, speculating as to where the discipline might head next. “Before each train annoucement they play a really strong beeping sound that I measured at 2,200hz. That frequency is not great for the human ear, because it aggressively vibrates your eardrum – it clearly shouldn’t be used for public sound design. Sound urgently needs to be investigated as a social good, but because it’s totally invisible, people don’t notice it or make it a priority. That’s what I want to change.” E N D
18th-Century Vernacular Words Kristina Rapacki Photographs Gaia Cambiaggi One of the most-watched videos of a single piece of furniture – with 13.5m views on YouTube – is of a secretary desk. It shows the mechanical complexity of Abraham and David Roentgen’s 18thcentury writing desk for Frederick William II of Prussia – a design that is all hidden compartments, automated switches and jack-in-the-box drawers popping out at unexpected angles. Situated at the threshold of public and private, writing desks have long served as both practical items of furniture and potential showpieces. This history is channelled by the designer Michele De Lucchi in the Secretello, a writing desk developed for Italian brand Molteni&C. The Secretello’s oak frame traces the form of a carrel desk, with two hinged front panels that allow the user to close and lock it. As such, it is a hybrid of the two most common forms of secretaries: the roll-top desk (whose cover slides down and across to connect with a fixed writing surface) and the fall-front desk (whose single panel folds down to form a writing surface). What is unusual about the Secretello, however, is that its panels are made from transparent glass. “The Secretello is made to keep secrets,” says De Lucchi. “But it’s also saying your personality is important. I think the evolution of the office will be focused on the personalities of the people working there.” De Lucchi has run his own design practice in Milan since 1990 and is well-versed in office typologies. He was, for instance, a design consultant and later director for the Italian electronics company Olivetti in the 1980s and 1990s, a period in which office furniture adapted swiftly to the demands of increasing computerisation. From 1991 to 1993, moreover, he participated in Vitra’s Citizen Office project with Andrea Branzi and Ettore Sottsass, a research platform aimed at modernising office culture. “I was a witness to a revolution in how offices are designed,” says De Lucchi. “In the early 1970s, there were no computers at all until the first personal computer came out of Steve Jobs’s garage in LA. Those were prehistorical times in terms of office lifestyle.” The secretary desk arguably belongs to that prehistory. The typology developed in 18th-century
1 Architect and designer Michele De Lucchi in his studio.
2 An abstract wooden sculpture, one of many De Lucchi constructs alongside his product design practice.
3 The Secretello desk.
4 An exterior view of De Lucchi’s studio.
“The evolution of the office will be focused on the personalities of the people working there.”
“Now we talk about the ‘non-territorial office’ or the ‘office without fixed working space’. This is the most up-to-date concept of the office.”
Europe alongside other variations of writing desks – the écritoire and the bureau, for example – and was named after a secretary, a confidante to whom one entrusted private letters and documents. Today, such things are stored in computers, protected not by key, but by encrypted passwords. “The topic of flexibility has become very important for offices,” says De Lucchi. “And now we talk about the ‘nonterritorial office’ or the ‘office without fixed working space’. This is the most up-to-date concept of the office.” An emphasis on flexibility renders most office desks as minimal as possible, optimised for a culture of hot-desking. In this context, the secretary desk seems a superannuated form resurfacing at a time when offices are rapidly delocalising. De Lucchi, however, is defiant. “If you think of an office as a free space, everybody is allowed to use their working time as they think is most efficient,” he says. “The Secretello creates a space to let everybody understand who you are.” De Lucchi believes that this cultivation of individual personalities will lead to flexible, productive and fulfilling work environments. “Ultimately, it allows everybody to participate in common life and give a singular contribution.” But the Secretello could just as well be interpreted as a refusal of the hyper-flexible “non‑territorial office”, in that it tethers individuals to personalised workstations. The mode of activity that it prompts is close study and sustained absorption, a vision of work as a form of cultivation that equally applies to settings other than the office. The glass used for the Secretello is the same as that used in museum vitrines – De Lucchi designed the showcases, pedestals and display boxes for Berlin’s renovated Neues Museum in 2009 – and the desk evokes the aesthetic of specimen cabinets. The implication is clear: close study and display are precious activities worth safeguarding. E N D
7 5 The Secretello invokes historical secretary desks as well as display vitrines.
6 De Lucchi founded his studio, Produzione Privata, in 1990.
7 A sketch of the Secretello.
8 The Secretello plays with notions of privacy and public display.
PHOTOESSAY: DIONYSOS pp. 22-29
Adjaye Associates – adjaye.com American Institute of Architects – aia.org Arclinea – arclinea.com B&B Italia – bebitalia.com Google – google.com Hedi Slimane – hedislimane.com Herzog & de Meuron – herzogdemeuron.com Investindustrial – investindustrial.com MoMA – moma.org Monotype – monotype.com Richard Nicoll – richardnicoll.com Royal College of Art – rca.ac.uk Saint Laurent – ysl.com Tadao Ando – tadao-ando.com Tate – tate.org.uk V&A – vam.ac.uk
TIMELINE pp. 19-20
Writer’s note: There’s nothing like listening to a room full of brilliant judges and lawyers trying to figure out exactly what design is. Is design the thing itself? An aspect of the thing? Does design do anything? Or is it just the way a thing looks? The legal framework for design patents is largely shaped by a 19th-century law intended to protect the designs of carpets, fireplace grates and ornamental spoons. Back then, the aesthetics of the design were at the heart of such products, so seizing most or all of the gains of a copycat was justified. Today, a product like a smartphone is a dense bundle of intellectual property, with more than
PROCESS: BUT IS IT A BEETLE? pp. 46-51
Writer’s note: This story came about when watching Viceland’s unusual fashion documentary States of Undress. In an episode focused on Venezuela, the presenter Hailey Gates finds herself in a predicament: she’s on her period but it’s impossible to get hold of sanitary products in Caracas – the Venezuelan economy is currently in free fall, leading to severe shortages in many basic household products. Here’s a place where menstrual cups could go a long way to making lives easier. —Kristina Rapacki
COMMENT: PERIODS AND SPACES p. 44
Writer’s note: When I wrote this article, I felt hopeful that a global consensus around climate change was forming. When I wrote this short index note, sources close to president-elect Trump were briefing that he planned to immediately exit the Paris climate agreement upon being sworn into office. I preferred the before state. —Oli Stratford
COMMENT: CHANGING FRAMEWORKS p. 43
Boudicca – platform13.com Royal College of Art – rca.ac.uk Sam Jacob Studio – samjacob.com
Writer’s note: Given the chickens and parrot already featured in this story, it is most ironic that in the fight
COMMENT: A FEW CHICKENS AND A PARROT p. 70
Google – google.com
Writer’s note: The luxury fashion market may have the prestige, but if Google wants to stand in sync with the interests of the wider public, it should perhaps adopt a different tact and pursue the internet’s love of animals. I eagerly await the carousel takeover for the 2017 iteration of Crufts. —Joe Lloyd
COMMENT: THE UNLIFTED VEIL p. 69
Alexander Girard – girardstudio.com Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de
Writers’ note: Trying to understand The Republic of Fife is like trying to pry into the imagination of its creator. There are certain ideas you can extract, but other parts are beyond the reach of anybody who was not a part of this private and fantastical world. For us it’s OK to have questions left unanswered. —Alexander Kori Girard and Aleishall Girard Maxon
HISTORY: A CHILDHOOD UTOPIA pp. 58-67
Editor’s note: The formation of this conversation was serendipitous. After seeing Zowie and Sam discuss their respective disciplines at an event that Disegno had organised, the opportunity to pair them again seemed too good to pass up. With any luck, the magazine will foster more such connections in future. —Oli Stratford
CONVERSATION: COLLISIONS pp. 34-41
Michael Marriott – michaelmarriott.com National Trust – nationaltrust.org.uk
Writer’s note: Due to 2 Willow Road’s protected status as a Grade II* listed building, Ernö was unable to be affixed to the house itself. Goldfinger, however, had no such compunctions about drilling holes in walls. As well as installing an art collection at 2 Willow Road that spans half a century from Marcel Duchamp to Bridget Riley, Goldfinger was always keen for a practical fix. Rather than installing bedside tables in his narrow bedroom, for instance, he screwed two Anglepoise lamps on either side of the bed. —Joe Lloyd
OBSERVATION: ERNÖ BY MICHAEL MARRIOTT FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST p. 32
KIT Design – kitdesignworks.co.uk
Writer’s note: This really was very unpleasant to try on. —Kristina Rapacki
OBSERVATION: SPIT GUARD PRO BY KITDESIGN p. 31
On Entropy – onentropy.co.uk
Photographer’s note: To Zoe and Niki, who accompanied me on the shoot, Dionysos was like a playground and a candy store in one. They truly loved being there and commented on the sounds, the smells, the reflections. I tried to implement their enthusiasm into my approach. —Nikolas Ventourakis
Seeds Gallery – seedslondon.com
Designer’s note: There are supposed to be three cabinets in the series, but so far I’ve only made two of these. My best guess is that the one featured in the magazine is The Father, but I won’t know until I’ve finished the third. —Lars Frideen
OBSERVATION: FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT BY LARS FRIDEEN FOR SEEDS GALLERY p. 57
Balenciaga – balenciaga.com
Writer’s note: Critically, it seemed wisest to focus this text on the history of inflatables within fashion. Personally, I just wanted to point out how jolly I find this jacket. It bears explicit statement: this is one of the cheeriest jackets I have seen.—Oli Stratford
OBSERVATION: YELLOW INFLATABLE JACKET, S/S17 BY BALENCIAGA p. 54
Yamaha – yamaha.com
Writer’s note: The YEV-104 looks nothing like a conventional violin, but it nonetheless confirmed a suspicion I have long held. Any glimpse of a violin – no matter how atypical it might be – is enough to trigger hideous spontaneous recollection of my school violin lessons and my abject failure to master any piece of music. Even the easy ones. —Oli Stratford
OBSERVATION: YEV-104 BY YAMAHA p. 53
Apple – apple.com Samsung – samsung.com US Supreme Court – supremecourt.gov
100,000 patents conceivably laying claim to some small aspect of the phones profits. So what is the value of design? —Amber Winick
TRAVELOGUE: A CAPITAL IN EXILE pp. 81-96
Adyen – adyen.com Black Shoals – blackshoals.net Braintree – braintreepayments.com Central Bank Counterfeit Deterrence Group – rulesforuse.org Femke Herregraven – femkeherregraven.net New Deal Design – newdealdesign.com Ripple – ripple.com Snøhetta – snohetta.com Tramonex – tramonex.com Venmo – venmo.com
Writer’s note: A few years ago, when entering the Schengen zone in Belgium, I was asked to show my bank cards (along with my US passport) as a proof of access to funds in order to justify my right to be there. Ironically, in the US, just having proof of identity may be enough to receive unsolicited, pre-approved credit cards in the mail – I wasn’t proving anything except an ability to generate thousands of dollars in international debt. Money has the power to short-circuit the Kafkaesque spiral of bureaucracy, but at what price? —Tamar Shafrir
REPORT: NEW MONEY pp. 72-80
against renegade drones, police in the Netherlands have turned to falconry – the hunter’s weapon of choice prior to the advent of firearms – as a low-tech solution to this most high-tech of problems. —David Birkin
Octa Light – octa-light.com George Sowden – sowdenathome.com
Writer’s note: The Octa Light facility in Godech is quite baffling at times. The level of technology and expertise on display is remarkable, and the effect is exaggerated by the fact that the company was founded only 10 years ago at a time when none of its founders had a background in LEDs. When I asked Veselin Ilinev how so much had been achieved so quickly, his answer was equivocal. “We’re fast learners. Making LEDs looks like rocket science, but for us, it’s something normal.” Somehow, I feel I never got to the bottom of this. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly pleasing to see such know-how in action. —Oli Stratford
Writer’s note: Recently, the Australian government has doubled down on its promise to punish wouldbe asylum seekers by proposing a new policy that would permanently ban all future travel to Australia for anyone previously detained on Nauru or Manus Island, backdated to 2013. —David Burns
REVIEW: THE PACIFIC SOLUTION pp. 166-169
No Man’s Sky – no-mans-sky.com
Writer’s note: Perhaps this is the influence of Minecraft, but one of the frustrating aspects of No Man’s Sky was the fact that I couldn’t build anything. Not so much as a rock cairn to mark that I had trod upon a peak. But you can dig holes, so I did enjoy blasting apertures through rocks to show “I was here”. —Will Wiles
REVIEW: NO MAN’S SKY pp. 162-165
Pavilion of the Western Sahara – western-saharapavilion.org Venice Architecture Biennale – labiennale.org/ architecture
PROJECT: CONTEXTUAL ILLUMINATION pp. 97-112
Domobaal – domobaal.com Eley Kishimoto – eleykishimoto.com Faye Toogood – fayetoogood.com Felix Friedmann – architecture.felixfriedmann.com Kate MacGarry Gallery – katemacgarry.com Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios – nellyben.com Studio Weave – studioweave.com Toogood – t-o-o-g-o-o-d.com V&A – vam.ac.uk
Writer’s note: The shape of the Pavillion of the Western Sahara was derived from the ubiquitous tents in the Sahrawi camps. Despite its appearance, it is not a tensile structure and thereby pushes the tent typology towards that of a pavilion. The outer skin is made of jute that is coated with silver polyurethane. With its curvature of folds that was designed to hover a few centimetres above the ground, the pavilion either seems like a light textile structure flowing in the wind, or a heavy, rigid, metallic sculpture. —Manuel Herz
ENDNOTE: p. 208
Michele de Lucchi Studio - amdl.it Molteni&C – molteni.it
Photographer’s note: Photographing the Secretello was an interesting challenge. The glass surface makes the space around the desk part of the design itself, so the studio isn’t simply a background for this piece of furniture. Ironically the are no secrets with this desk. —Gaia Cambiaggi
ANATOMY: 18TH-CENTURY VERNACULAR pp. 200-203
Yuri Suzuki – yurisuzuki.com
Photographer’s note: After being in Yuri’s studio for more than an hour, I realised that he makes a series of gestures and movements when he talks that couldn’t be replicated through a standard portrait. I started talking to him, waiting for these gestures to appear, and Yuri became a very animated and engaging character to photograph. It was important to capture them – they were quick gestures, but they illustrated complex thoughts and a very visual way of thinking. —Juan Trujillo Andrades
PROFILE: MACHINES FOR NOISE pp. 193-199
Adjaye Associates – adjaye.com Davis Brody Bond – davisbrody.com The Freelon Group – freelon.com The National Museum of African American History and Culture – nmaahc.si.edu SmithGroupJJR – smithgroupjjr.com
Photographer’s note: How refreshing it was to photograph such an interesting group of people of different nationalities and varied professions in unique environments all over London. —Kevin Davies
The Architectural Association – aaschool.ac.uk
PORTRAITS: WHAT FOLLOWS pp. 145-160
Writer’s note: Some of my favourite unexpected objects found on display at the NMAAHC include rapper Slick Rick’s birth certificate and eye patch; ParliamentFunkadelic’s spaceship; the black and white babydolls from the famous Clark experiment testing children’s responses to dolls of different races; Nat Turner’s bible; and costumes for the band Labelle. —Adrienne Brown
PROJECT: A HISTORY OF BUILDING pp. 177-192
Death by Design – deathbydesignfilm.com
Writer’s note: The pre-credits to Death by Design are dispiritingly cliched. Fade up to New York streets, and a voice off camera asks various young New Yorkers about their digital paraphernalia. It turns out they own a few different devices, and some upgrade their phones every few years. Then comes a solemn voiceover, a revelation from the director Sue Williams that she has discovered that the industry which produces these devices pollutes the environment. OMG emoji. —Thomas Thwaites
REVIEW: DEATH BY DESIGN pp. 174-176
Barbican – barbican.org.uk Chanel – chanel.com
Writer’s note: There’s one piece on display in The Vulgar that might’ve summed up my entire argument in the review. It’s Vivienne Westwood’s Eve Suit from her A/W88-89 Voyage to Cythera collection: a plain beige leotard with a perspex fig leaf hiding – and drawing attention to – the wearer’s sex. —Kristina Rapacki
REVIEW: THE VULGAR: FASHION REDEFINED pp. 170-173
The Design Museum – designmuseum.org John Pawson – johnpawson.com Morag Myerscough – supergrouplondon.co.uk
Photographer’s note: John Pawson struck me as delightfully casual – he wore sneakers with his suit and brought the architectural model of the building in his backpack. —Max Creasy
ROUNDTABLE: SOMEWHERE SERIOUS pp. 129-144
Laureline Galliot – wedrawproducts.com
Illustrator’s note: When I design objects, I like to think of them as portraits rather than things fulfilling specific functions. I try to capture emotions and stories. Children are very good at reminding us how to do this. —Laureline Galliot
SPECIAL PROJECT: THE DREAM OF REALITY pp. 113-128
Artemide – artemide.com outside back cover Bolon – bolon.com p. 18 Crafts Council – craftscouncil.org.uk p. 71 Creative France – creative.businessfrance.fr p. 68 De La Espada – delaespada.com p. 21 Design Miami – miami2016.designmiami.com p. 52 Emeco – emeco.net pp. 2-3 Gaggenau – gaggenau.com p. 15, 17 Herman Miller – hermanmiller.com p. 11 Hitch Mylius – hitchmylius.co.uk p. 45 James Burleigh – jamesburleigh.co.uk p. 55 Kvadrat – kvadratinterwoven.com p. 1, inside front cover Laufen – laufen.co.uk p. 30 Maison & Objet – maison-objet.com p. inside back cover Moooi – moooi.com pp. 4-5 Nichetto Studio – nichettostudio.com p. 33 Punkt – punkt.ch p. 8 USM – usm.com p. 12 Vitra Design Museum – design-museum.de p. 56 Vola – vola.com p. 42 YKK – ykklondonshowroom.com pp. 6-7
Writer’s note: In Tom Sachs’s YBCA exhibition, two power drills are displayed in a sculpture called Journeyman. One drill is hand-labelled Eazy E, the other, Mike Tyson. Nearby are also pliers named Usher and a tape measure called Lil B. —Colin Christie
ENDNOTE Design Vocabulary: A Series of Interventions Words Colin Christie So, you’re in Los Angeles, let’s say, for work. A client has flown you out to collaborate with their production people on a new project. They’re keen to involve your firm in an intervention at their Silicon Valley campus. Key words from their preliminary brief are “progress”, “inclusion” and “humanity”. To ease the jet lag, a day off is scheduled. A colleague suggests a drive around town. Days are longer here, the sun bright. There’s plenty of time to travel the city’s coiled on-ramps and stretched freeways. On your meandering route, you pass the videoscreen‑clad Samitaur Tower by Eric Owen Moss, a neighbourhood intervention. You drive through hipster DTLA and note the young creatives’ interventions – their studios, shops and cafés. And you take in the giant silver cluster of ballbearings that is Cradle by Ball-Nogues Studio, which intervenes precariously from the wall of a 1980s shopping mall. Let’s say you also stop near the site of the new LACMA building that Peter Zumthor has proposed will hover over Wilshire Boulevard. In the corner of the 99 Cents Only lot you lean on your parked car and look past Fairfax Avenue. With its recently released publicity renders, Zumthor’s project has superimposed itself onto people’s imaginations – an intervention floating over the Miracle Mile’s six busy lanes. Lunch is overpriced tacos in a sparse, metallic space. “Haute
cuisine intervenes on Mexicanlocal,” reads an online review. Around the table is excited chatter about tomorrow’s visit to the client’s high-security campus. You drift to the vague brief before you. There’s a gnawing concern: intervention? There’s nothing at the site upon which to intervene. They want a large one-room building that incorporates a bit of “inclusive” sculpture set in “human” park grounds. They have a bit of abandoned brownfield at the edge of their property. This isn’t to be an intervention, you ought to point out: it’s a shed on an empty lot.
the client’s campus. Watching along the expressway as the ageing, suburban, semi-industrial landscape from a half-century ago rolls past, your thoughts return to the client’s “intervention” – that’s what brought you to this puzzling world. The word worries you. Is there something you’re missing?
You decide to stay in that evening and watch films on the TV system. Let’s say you choose Pulp Fiction. You watch until the scene where Vince drives the comatose Mia to his friend Lance’s house. In the previous scene, Mia overdosed unintentionally by snorting heroin. The two men must intervene or Mia, lying on the floor between them, will die. Lance produces a vial of adrenaline and a syringe topped with a long needle. The two argue over who will intervene to administer the antidote.
In the afternoon, you stop at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The Tom Sachs exhibition Space Program: Europa is on, complete with its interventions of a plywood NASA logo on the roof and a campervan styled as the Mobile Quarantine Facility parked outside. Sachs’s work is most fun, you discover, when it intervenes in unexpected ways. And then, an unexpected intervention in the lobby. A dance troupe performs guerrilla-style, the dancers swarming suddenly in the open space, intervening in the unknowing visitors’ days. The show relates stories of the commodification of rundown parts of San Francisco and the subsequent gentrification process that pushed poor residents out. So: an intervention of interventions. Your head spins with it all.
“I ain’t givin’ her the shot.” “Well, I ain’t givin’ her the shot.” “I never done this before!” “Yeah, I ain’t ever done it before either, alright?” Jet lag wins. You fall into a heavy sleep, where no dreams intervene. The next day starts with an earlymorning flight to San Francisco, followed by a long minibus ride to
The morning meetings go well. The client feels positive, but you have a sense of gloom too because of their slavish sympathy for internal protocols. This bureaucratic tendency, you note, threatens to intervene and halt any progress.
A roundtable between Deyan Sudjic, Justin McGuirk, John Pawson, and Morag Myerscough about the making of London’s new Design Museum; Samsung...