This was originally intended to be two short posts to introduce you guys to the blog, but…
…I got all kinds of serious about it, so here’s my not so brief part 1 about “Design” and the Design Blogosphere, of which we are a part. (Part 2 will be up on Tuesday and will be much shorter, I promise, but surely more controversial. Yay!) Bear with me, maybe you’ll be enlightened, or maybe you’ll get angry, or perhaps you’ll laugh and not care—you’ll at least get a little recent history of our field. Leave a response in the comments and let me know.
The Traditional Geography
In the past couple decades the traditional design-architecture discipline has become increasingly diverse. (I know I must have just shocked you with that surprise.) The formerly neat (-ish) Architectural discipline grew into a blurrier, messier area that could somehow accommodate the work of BIG, Peter Zumthor, Hernan Dias Alonso, IDEO, and the Festival d’Architecture Vivre in Montpellier, France, underneath a single, albeit stretchy, umbrella.
In lay terms, traditional architecture grew into a highly diverse—and continuously diversifying—field that celebrated its own unique and extreme fads, which, in turn, continued to push the expansion of the discipline. But this diversification ultimately precipitated the dissolution of the discipline’s traditional boundaries altogether, turning it instead into Design, a term appropriately familiar and vague. Under the auspices of Design, architecture-trained “designers” produced giant metallic balloons, air filtering systems that appear and act as organism, Zaha’s swarm, and a wall of proximity-activated fans, all in the spirit of “investigating” or “discovering” or “exploring the ideas” and possibilities the evolving field afforded.
Established notions of Architecture were joined by Strategies and Design Intelligence, and by big brand architects touting problem-solving methodologies that delivered the best possible solutions to a commission or competition (ehem, children of Rem Koolhaas). Meanwhile, Design’s most vanguard and diverse factions began incorporating elements of mechanical engineering, organic science, mechanical/digital production, environmental hyper-performance, new (ornamental) materials, new scripting technologies for ‘active’ architecture, and all manner of curiosities that furthered Design’s variform evolution. As new technologies were integrated into Design thinking, even more applications and possibilities for experimentation were born.
So we arrive at today (or, let’s say, the last 5-7 yrs), with the speed and extremities of Design’s evolved and hybrid form(s) being too high and numerous to count. This is, at least, the narrative for a Design descendant from Architecture, and is very much a part of [academic] Design thinking. But this is a traditional geography for a field that so tremendously outgrew its original limits long ago, a view that jealously guards the prestige of Architecture from the wider-ranging regions of Design.
Truly, Design’s rapid evolution continues to be a reality. For some, Design stops right around the area where “arts and crafts” draw near. Beyond this false boundary it seems less prestigious, less academic. But the reality is that the same energetic elements that brought the Architect’s skills to bare on external applications have gained more strength, more information, more material, and have evolved at breathtaking speed far beyond this academic distinction of Design. These elements have diversified beyond limitation and unified the adjacent but formerly separate worlds of art, interior design, industrial design, graphic design, textiles, printing, &c. The former liminal spaces between disciplines are now more crucially important than ever before, and are populated by multitudes of artist-designers borrowing, combining, and trading in elements and influences from different areas of Design at large.
Our Brave New World (and its map)
Fortunately I don’t have to describe the breadth of Design. Let me simply say that Design is the area marked out by the following four links: Archinect, Uppercase, Contemporist, and Co.DESIGN. Or, even more simply, a definition of Design can be gleaned from clicking over to our Prjkt Dump page. The fortune is that, parallel to the drastic, inclusive evolution of our field something else has evolved: the Design Blogosphere.
The Design Blogosphere is like the Borgesian map that is life size and extends beyond all the land and is simultaneously the land and the map at the same time (more posts on this fab topic later). It is the manifestation of the active, productive, changing world in which we partake, as artists or designers or what have you. What the blogosphere enables is the merging of the smaller, formerly distinct areas into a single, massive fabric. Now, more than ever, the different disciplines of art and architecture (and, yes, “craft”), of our visual and material culture (and our built environment) are increasingly informed by each other, are aware of each other, and are progressively blurring their edges into the in middle ground to create intersections full of fascinating possibility.
And if I were to put a definition of Design to words, let me say that it’s the unified incorporation of all the interconnecting sub-fields of art and architecture, and culture, and academia, and technology, and product design, and graphic design, and data visualization. Design is what happens in the liminal space where one field blurs into another; is the product of that intersection, aesthetically reformulated to partake in visual culture in a new way. Design is what happens when Gabriel Dawe is influenced by spatial installations , light studies, and textiles/fibers and produces her Plexus series, which in turn becomes an influence for others. Design is also Berndnaut Smilde’s Nimbus projects, and Sou Fujimoto’s 2013 Serpentine Pavilion.
The Design Blogosphere is the form, the layout of this inclusive mega-field. It is where new aesthetics and styles are defined, and where each new liminal area is identified by the projects that come out of it and are posted and shared across the internet. It is where artists-designers and their work enter the context of Design, where they partake in the fluid process of influence and further articulate shared ideas in different dialects and skills. The Design Blogosphere, then, forms the most inclusive body of design research/intelligence.
Even the fads that pushed architecture beyond its original boundary are now taking place laterally, across the whole Design spectrum. Not just fads in architecture—such as the sexy products of parametricism, which was itself incorporated from other fields of study and now takes many forms (urban plans, buildings, interior treatments, installations, furniture, public spaces)—or graphic fads—like hand lettering, or subway and urban maps applied to any array of objects (posters, Ts, quilts, plates, rugs)—but there the super fads like curated shopping (fab.com). There’s also the DIY movement, which has been a great part of influence spreading across the Design spectrum and which can claim at least partial parentage to an architecture master’s student’s studio project I’ve recently learned about: a DIY plywood Farnsworth House kit (life size).
I’m not trying to argue for a broader definition of Design or to make a case for the existence or value of the blogosphere. Design is simply widely inclusive because there is no limiting what it is drawing from and permanently incorporating into the interactions of collective memory and influence. Design will not be put back in an academic box. And the Design blogosphere exists because it is our medium for understanding and interacting with each other and our field, and because this is the 21st century. Its value comes in its ease, its accessibility, and its ability to fairly accurately portray how influence works by grouping together wildly different types of projects on the same site. Both are evolving with too much energy and too great a breadth for individuals to keep up—or almost anyway; I’ll still try.