What Kind of Design Institutes for India?

A decision by the Indian government set up four new National Institutes of Design [NIDs] in the country has sparked a lively debate about the kinds of design they should teach.

An influential group of design thought-leaders has launched a campaign called VisionFirst that calls for a “rigorous co-creation process to bring clarity to the models of design education that India should seek”.

VisionFirst applauds the new institutes as “a significant step towards leveraging design to enhance the country’s ability to innovate, and in using design to enhance the quality of life in the country”. But the group also expresses concern that the new institutes “will be a lost opportunity if we follow a predetermined route and end up replicating expired, limited and ineffective models of design”.

The VisionFirst group includes Uday Dandavate, co-founder of SonicRim; Ashish Deshpande, founder of Elephant Design; S Sundar, president of the Association of Indian Designers; the writer and blogger M P Ranjan; and the educator Jogi Panghaal, India Associate of Doors of Perception.

In a pamphlet launched yesterday VisonFirst propose a “nationwide and rigorous co-creation process” to stimulate fresh inquiry and bring clarity to the models of design education that India should seek.

This “grand open, global conversation about design education in India” could unfold on the internet and in print media, says the group; it could conclude with a international conference to share the insights and emerging directions in design education from around the world.

“To remain competitive in the global marketplace” argues VisionPlus, “industry must respond to new sets of challenges. Users are seeking more than usefulness and usability. They are looking for emotional connectedness, commitment to green values, transparency, and fair use of labour”.

The Indian government has published a Request for Proposal that invites consulting organizations to bid for finalisation of the model for setting up campuses for four new NIDs. This approach, warns VisonPlus “may exclude new and innovative ways to imagine new institutions”. The group is concerned that India’s government may “commit to building infrastructure for a pre-supposed form of a school, both in building and content that is actually in desperate need for re-imagination”.

Sam Pitroda, Advisor to the Prime Minister of India on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations, and recent chair of India’s Knowledge Commission, has told VisionFirst that he supports the creation of 40 innovation clusters indifferent parts of India to serve different sectors of the economy, and sees a need to have a 100 NID’s in India.

The debate in India coincides with the launch by Doors of Perception of a new project called Xskool.. [Declaration of interest: This writer is director of Doors of Perception].

The idea of Xskool is to set up a training platform that will help the next generation of design teachers and leaders “make a fundamental transition to a new kind of design – one that creates social value without destroying natural and human assets”.

More on Xskool shortly.

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The service ecology of a city

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Milan has approved a new Territorial Government Plan (Piano di Governo del Territorio] in which public services, and the way they are planned, are at the centre of the whole project.
Since 2008, Id-lab has worked alongside the City Administration to change the way Milan thinks about urban development. Each of the city’s 88 existing quarters, with its own characteristics and identity, is treated as a core element in the new approach. An ongoing conversation with citizens has elicited an understanding of which services are considered important for daily life – such as schools, kindergartens, libraries, health and social services.
From these 88 Environmental Atlase an understanding emerges of where service provision is failing. The new Plan does not fix which services will be activated in the future, nor where they will be placed. On the contrary, the idea is to enable a cyclical decision making process in which the identification of needs and action priorities is continuous. Unlike in traditional planning, the city never arrives at the moment in which its plan is finished. On the contrary: every six months a new process of reconnaissance, of “listening”, begins which updates the collective understanding of new needs and wants.
IdLab’s vision is that these dynamic service ecology maps will act as a trigger that encourages entrepreneurs to develop new services when these emerging needs, at an ultra-local level, become evident. The map below, for example, identifies areas within each neighbourhood that lack close connection to a public transport route; one idea is that these gaps are spotted by minivan operators who move in to close the connection and remove the necessity for people to use private cars.
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The same goes for maps which plot areas of the city where planting and food growing might be reintroduced. The role of the city here is not t grow food, but to highlight spatial opporunities and, down the line, to remove planning and regulatory blockages.
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A related project, Nutrire Milano [Feeding Milan] is also exploring the relationships between food systems, service innovation, and sustainable urban development. A project of the Slow Food Movement with Milan Polytechnic, Nutrire Milano also uses maps to highlight where there are gaps or blockages in the ways food is produced and distributed.
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Afghan culture museum

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A lifetime ago, during a six month journey in Afghanistan, I passed the spectacular site of Bamiyan, shown in this photograph, on my way into the Hindu Kush. This was long before the three enormous statues of Buddha, carved into the sides of cliffs, were destroyed by the Taliban on the grounds that they were an affront to Islam.
A two-day visit did not make this hippy-tourist an expert – but the impact of that site has lived with me ever since. The statues could only have been created by one of humanity’s most ancient civilizations – and yet that cultural and social legacy is hardly ever mentioned in contemporary media coverage of the country.
It is welcome news, therefore, that a project to create a virtual museum of Afghan culture has been launched in Paris by an independent producer, Pascale Bastide. The celebrated and visionary architect Yona Friedman has agreed to to design and “build” a virtual structure that will enable access to Afghan collections which are now physically scattered in many museums and private collections around the world. Every art object will have its own geographic, ethnological, and historic information; a panoramic table will situates these objects in the larger context of European, Mideastern, and Asian civilizations. There will be also a special pavilion offered to Afghan people to deposit their own archives.
“My fundamental idea about architecture is that we are overbuilding” comments Friedman; “earth is over occupied. A museum, from this point of view, doesn’t need to have a building”. Rather than attempt to fill the cavity left after the demolition of the giant statues with a new buillding, his idea is to use that space as a kind of grid, or promenade, to present the online exhibits.
Another collaborator in the project, Michael Barry, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, states that “several moments of mankind’s fate and creativity were sealed on what is today Afghan soil – and the world needs to see that”.

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Plan B “best architecture book of the year” in The Netherlands

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Totally thrilling news has reached me from the Netherlands: my book Plan B: Ontwerpen in een Complexe Wereld [Plan B: Designing In A Complex World] has been selected by the influential magazine de Architect as their best architecture book of the year. I would like to share this good fortune with you, too: if you forgot to send any of your Dutch-speaking friends a present this year send them Plan B as the perfect New Year’s gift. It will make my publishers, SUN, happy too.

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UnBox: Where next for design in India?

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UnBox, a three day festival in Delhi, in February, brings together creative collectives from around India. One of these groups, Clay Futures, will brainstorm scenarios to do with sustainable, medicinal, and air filtering bentonite – hence the picture above.
Doors of Perception’s role in UnBox is to pose a question: in an ideal design school, what values, skills and connections would inspire its teachers and students? We will weave this conversation into a number of UnBox events.
The idea of UnBox is to blend work and play across contexts and mediums. UnBox therefore involves workshops, debates, brainstorms, picnics, literary readings, and travel. And it’s not just for designers: a key theme will be how to develop productive collaborations with activists, entrepreneurs, artists, builders, and other dreamers and doers.
The UnBox festival will happen in parallel with Technodrome, an arts and music festival, and Beat Repeat, a literary festival. Events among the three festivals will be coordinated as to allow for unBox festival goers to experience and draw inspiration from culture, technology, movement, and words.
Before the event itself, small multi-disciplinary groups will take field trips to sites dealing with organic food, urban sanitation, safe water, clean energy, livelihoods in Kumaon, and Old Delhi. Participants’ rich media shot during the trips will be presented at the festival. You need to apply for these field trips by 10 January.
The festival, which runs February 24-27, involves picnics, literary readings, and art installations in an environment that will help us rethink and stretch design practice at the intersections of different disciplines. A conference each morning onference each morning is followed by a variety of afternoon activities. Among these:
– Lakshmi Murthy of Rajasthan’s Vikalp Design leads a workshop on the communication of complex health and life issues to non-literate and rural people.
– Aditi Ranjan, co-author of the spectacular book Handmade in India will explore issues to do with the documentation and dissemination of knowledge about crafts, traditions, techniques;
– Spoonge, an exploration of new experiences around food, and how chefs and designers can collaborate to create an experience that challenges culturally accepted norms;
– Make-a-thon, an all-day, all-night platform for hacking, tinkering, learning, creating, and playing. Already underway for example is I-Love- Small-Books for people who love hand-made books, comics and zines.
– a community-driven photographic event that will “bring photographers and viewers together in temporary encounters that leave no footprint”
Doors of Perception is a partner in UnBox with Quicksand; CoDesign; Basic Love of Things (BLOT); Blind Boys; MP Ranjan.
UnBox: A festival of action at the intersections, February 24-27, 2011, Alliance Francaise and Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi

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The unwatched swatch?

If it is true that the world’s information base is doubling in size every 11 hours then a lot of eco-design information, that could be valuable for professionals, presumably goes un-noticed, and thus unused.

In the past month alone, for example, I’ve come across two paper-based design tools that would seem to have great potential – but lack effective publicity and distribution.
In Kortrijk, Belgium, I learned about Ecolizer.
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The Public Waste Agency of Flanders [Ovam] has used something called the ‘ReCiPe method’ to collect and and synthesize a large amount of data on the environmental impact of materials and processes. Ovam decided to present the information as a physical swatch. As far as this non-expert can judge, Ecolizer contains high quality data. It was created in collaboration with the Flemish Institute for Technological Research [VITO]; Dutch institutions involved with ecodesign, who are also very thorough at this kind of thing, are also involved.

Why a swatch, and not a software programme? Ovam reason that since eco-design begins on the design table, the Ecolizer needs to be usable when designs are ‘still at the drawing stage’.

Then, at the Design Research Society symposium in Birmingham last week, I met Bernhard Dusch, a doctoral student at the Institute of Engineering at Cambridge University. Bernard, too, is developing a tool to support sustainable design – a card swatch which replicates product life cycles when opened.
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A series of indexes and marks make the strategies accessible in an intuitive, instant and playful way. There are illustrated examples on the back of each card. Dusch tells me that the Cambridge team is also developing a brainstorm tool for workshops based on the same knowledge base and content.

One can see, at a glance, that both swatches are the result of extensive and high quality research. But will they be used?

My first reaction was that these swatches have the potential to be a brilliant iPhone or iPad app. But the researchers are – well, researchers, not app developers, and not publishers. They would need new partners to make that happen. And besides, the argument that a physical artefact is more appropriate is persuasive. Are these ecodesign swatches therefore destined to remain obscure, and under-used?

One is reminded of the International International Traditional Knowledge World Bank (ITKI) that we wrote about in July.

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This, too, is an ambitious effort to collect and promote information that all designers need to know about – in this case, the re-use of traditional skills and inventions from all over the world. ITKI, too, contains well-considered lists and taxonomies; its site is filled with enticing graphic icons; and when you dig down for case studies, it is clear that many of the people involved are expert on different aspects of traditional knowledge.

But the fact that the project is “located in a prestigious Renaissance villa in Florence” does not fill one with confidence that this information will soon be out there where it’s needed. And at the time of writing, this amazing resource scores only 18,000 results when Googled – as compared to 1.2 million results for computer aided design.

Would a stronger push make a difference? After all, designers already have 1.2 million resources online to choose from. Is this a problem to be solved, or a predicament that we simply have to live with?

OVAM: Jan Verheye, jverheye@ovam.be
Bernhard Dusch can be contacted at: bd302@cam.ac.uk

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Has Venice cracked the bottled water conundrum?

Italians are the leading consumers of bottled water in the world. They drink more than 40 gallons per person annually. Among many ecocidal by-products: until recently, discarded plastic bottles littered canals all over Venice, a world heritage site.
Appeals to civic duty came to naught. Exhortation and public education proved ineffective in persuading people to use tap water to reduce plastic waste. Then city oficials had a brainwave: as reported hereby the New York Times, they created a brand name for Venice’s tap water — Acqua Veritas — and distributed free branded carafes to city households.
Tap water is often referred to as “the mayor’s water” in Italy – so an early ad featured Venice’s then mayor, philosopher Massimo Cacciari, stating that “I, too, drink the mayor’s water” as he pours a glass.
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Recently, by distributing discounted water carbonators, Venice enabled the The Mayor’s Water to be sparkling, too. I can vouch that the sparkling variety is delicious: my source for this story, Venetian residents Philip Tabor and Gillian Crampton Smith, served a me a carafe just this past weekend.
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[Modesty prevents me from claiming *all* the credit for this sublime scheme – but it cannot be denied that Venice’s fizzy water campaign dates almost to the day to the publication in Italian of In The Bubble]
Another startling innovation from Venice is Shiro Alga Carta. As I learned at last weekend’s fabulous sustainability festival in Treviso this paper is made from algae which would otherwise clog up the Venetian Lagoon. The algae, which are harvested annually, are used in partial substitution of pulp and are combined with FSC fibres.
Other aspects of green-ness in Italy are more – er – problematic. The latest cover of Corriera della Sera’s weekend magazine, for example, is followed by pages of ‘green’ gadgets to buy for Christmas:
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In Treviso. festival goers were too busy chatting in the streets to be distracted by Corriera’s witless cover.
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and here are my new best friends from Treviso:
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This is not an object

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and neither are these:
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Well I know they *look* like objects, but that’s because you have not read a new book called Nonobject about the design philosophy of Branko Lukic.
Branko’s collaborator on the book, Barry Katz, cites respected commentators in support of his proposition that although these images appear to depict objects, they do not. Among the experts called on are: Claude Debussy. Dieter Rams. Ettore Sottsass. Charles Eames. Philippe Starck. Louis Sullivan. Alvar Aalto. Antonio SaintElia. Filippo Marinetti. Pablo Picasso. Jorge Luis Borges. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. René Magritte. Alexander Rodchenko. Friedrich Nietzsche. Claude Lévi Strauss. Leonardo Da Vinci. Beethoven. James Joyce. Walter Benjamin. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Ludwig Wittgenstein. Plato. Michelangelo. Pablo Neruda. Ortega Y Gasset. John Donne. Le Corbusier. And Sosigenes of Alexandria.
Speaking of calendars [Sosigenes was a calendar designer] it’s now 22 years since I, too, did a book about design along the lines of Nonobject. Mine was called Design After Modernism: Beyond The Object. Now it’s not that I’m bitter and envious – Oh no – but back then, nobody compared my philosophy to Goethe, Wittgenstein, or Nietzsche. If the truth be told, the number of people who noticed the book at all was modest.
In retrospect, I made a strategic error. My book about design beyond the object contained words, but no gorgeous pictures of nonobjects. Perhaps if I had included more gorgeous images like this one
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people would have understood what I was getting at.

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In the air of Madrid

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Ever since we organised Doors of Perception 3 on the theme “info-eco” in 1995, we’ve been preoccupied by the dilemma of environmental data. Our world is awash in eco information, we concluded then, but starved of meaning.
In the worlds of science and policy, hundreds of organisations churn out a flood of reports, graphs, studies, punditry – and lists – but our collective behaviour does not seem to change at all.
What would it take, we asked, to monitor and measure our planet’s true condition – its vital signs – in real time.
Over the years since then, a variety of sometimes beautiful perceptual aids has been designed to help us understand the conditon of the invisible natural systems that surround us. The latest, In the Air, is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid´s air (gases, particles, pollen, diseases, etc), to see how they perform, react and interact with the rest of the city.
The Madrid team track five of the key pollutants that most detrimentally effect health and quality of life:
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) Carbon monoxide (CO) Nitrogen oxide (NO) Particulate PM10 and Ozone (03.
As well as the visualization, In The Air includes a prototype “diffuse façade” at in Medialab-Prado. There, water vapor diffusors inform passers how much of each component in the air.
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[The water vapour mildly cleans the air as and the the water dye/colorant is organic – so the installation does not add contaminants to the atmosphere].
The next step is to integrate the prototype into the entire facade of a building. At this scale multiple pollutants could be monitored and displayed at the same time, allowing for more complexity in the visualization. The building would become “a 24 hour active indicator of environmental conditions, blurring architecture with atmosphere, informing and mediating the bodies that come into contact with it”.
In the Air is on display at Medialab-Prado in Madrid through January 11th. Its creator is Nerea Calvillo “along with the best team possible”

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