Design Roads to a One Planet Economy: Art Center lecture

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How do European, American and Asian approaches to green design differ – and what we should learn from each other? Will technology save us, or is a social revolution more important? I’m giving a lecture on this topic at Art Center, in Pasadena, on 5 June – and I’m told there will be a lively debate. My talk accompanies an exhibition (curated by Gloria Gerace with the support of Vitra) called Open House: Architecture and Technology for Intelligent Living. The picture above for a Seoul Commune designed by Mass Studies, is one of the show’s highlights. Before you make a joke about it, I will: The lecture takes place inside the Wind Tunnel. Windy or not, the event is free and is open to all, so do please come. Tuesday 5 June, 7.30pm, Art Center, California. For detrails phone +1.626.396.4254 or email

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How to teach no-product product design

In an excellent piece in Metropolis , Peter Hall argues that “design schools need to rethink how they teach product design.” The subject is booming, Hall writes, and yet the world is filled with terrible products: cars that kill two people every minute; airport X-ray machines that consume more time than Tardis, and designer trains that are less reliable than the ones thay replaced and cost four times as much to ride.
Hall observes that design schools are responding to the crisis in three ways. Some are positioning product design as “a business(week)-friendly, innovation-focused process (IIT and Stanford); others focus on research rather than form-making; a third group produce sexy imagery of objects that are often more hypothetical than manufacturable”. These conceptual products don’t guarantee an income, Hall concedes, but – like paper and digital architecture – can sometmes stimulate fresh thinking.
A fourth new approach to product design, for Hall, is “to shift gears to mapping those object-producing systems and using the data, arrayed in compelling visual form, to drive design change”. That approach is evident in the service design sector; “opportunity maps” (a term I believe was first used by E-Lab ten years ago) are becoming a powerul way to help multiple disciplines work together. Interestingly, many of the best service desgners began life as product designers: their instinct is to make services work well, not just look good.
The above illustraton to Hall’s piece, which I borrowed from Metropolis, is by Martin Lorenz. It’s beautfully done, but I don’t buy the way it puts designers at the centre of multiple systems and flows. Design thinking is key in the transition to a One Planet Life, but it won’t all be done by laptop-toting Designers.

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Beauty, mortality, presence.

I don’t know about you but I’m off mapping today (and hope to see many of you there ). While I’m away, here’s another of the Belsay projects, this one by Francesca Steele. Her work engages with beauty, mortality, and presence.

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Bluebells at Belsay

You missed a truly gorgeous day: The opening of Picture House at Belsay. Here is Dott’s Beckie Darlington playing with the installation by UVA, which (the image) I borrowed from Pixelsumo (Chris O’Shea) who has posted a ton more on Flickr. Uber-blogger Regine Debatty was there, too, so you don’t need any more from me. Regine’s pix are here. The Picture House team worked three years to make the event happen and usually they’d now have to start work again on the laborious task of disseminating results. But in the age of Flickr, publishing the results of an event has become easy as….. this.

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The point of it all

This is a big week for Dott. The Picture House exhibition at Belsay Hall Mansion opens with a Digital Dinner on Thursday. The exhibition features three projects curated for Dott by Juha Huuskonen / Pixelache: a new work from Golan Levin; Adam Somlai-Fischer & Bengt Sjölén; and UVA. Adam-Somlai Fischer and Bengt Sjölén have documented the making of their installation at Belsay, a kinetic reflection display system called Aleph. The name Aleph comes from a fictional point of singularity by Jorge Luis Borges, “a point in space” (explain the artists) “that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping or confusion”.

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Mapping the beauty of cows

Roam, meet, share, map. There’s only a week to go before a gorgeous array of teams assemble in Durham for Mapping The Necklace (5-7 May). One group is interested in mapping the most beautiful cows in the park. Other teams will do Audio Mapping (using ambient and verbal cues as waymarkers along the riverside); Busking (a map of performance spaces in the Park); Chaos Mapping (mapping of “chaos vs tranquillity” by award-winning Venezuelan multi-media artist Cipriano Martinez); Dog Tracks (to help you understand what your dog is thinking about on the journeys you take together); GeoScrooting (share your experience and memories of hidden gems in the Park through photos, art, sound, music, story, poetry… ); Gimme Shelter! (What is a shelter? something physical or psychological, natural or man-made?); Honey I ate the map! (investigating and eating the foods of the Necklace Park); Orimapping (a map of temporary origami sculptures); Tree Testimonials (the Durham Necklace Park has some beautiful and distinctive trees); Park-Parkour (Is it a sport? Is it dangerous? Do you need a special place to do it?); Vennel mapping (an architecturally-trained theatre producer is creating a sensory map of Durham’s vennels); Wild about food (mapping the edible Park bounty– whether it be garlic, elderflower or fungi). You can’t afford to miss this! Join us at Old Durham Gardens, Sunday 6 May. Details from:

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Environmental mapping

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Along, I suspect, with some of you, I failed to get into Ecologic studio’s blog (story below) but I did find this intriguing project for them by Slider Studio to “automate the process of mapping data from an environmental analysis software package to a three-dimensional grid.” This is part of a larger ambition to “insert environmental analysis seamlessly into the design process….to find a balance between a building’s environmental performance and appearance”. I wish them every success in this worthwhile if ambitious project, and would only comment that if they use as much Flash in their software for buildings as EcoLogic do in their website, the biosphere will burn while we wait for the solution to load….

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Water garden

This was the most interesting exhibit for me at the Milan Furniture Fair. Hidden away in a small courtyard, “Aqva Garden” functions as a distributed rain collector and water storage system. Unlike conventional recycling systems, which tend to be hidden away in clunky boxes, Aqva Garden’s unique branching system, which exploits the ways that water evaporates, is visibly present. And that – I cannot lie – is pretty much all I know about it; (the website is a Flash nightmare). But don’t you agree it looks amazing? The project is by ecoLogicStudio whose principals, Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto, work in Milan and London. They collaborated for this project with Francesco Brenta and Laura Micalizzi. They also have a blog, Tropical London.

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How to live well – but lighter

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For three years now Doors has been involved in a Europe-wide project called EMUDE (it stands for “Emerging User Demands for Sustainable Solutions”. That’s European research for you!). A network of design schools, acting as ‘antennas’, has collected examples of social innovation in a wide variety of contexts. Many of these seem to be more resource-efficient than conventional ways of organising daily life. The photograph above, for example, is community-supported agriculture in practice. Town dwellers don’t just buy direct from local producers; they also help with the planting and harvesting.
Yes, such examples are on the edge of the known world for many urbanites. Our propositon is that these fringe examples may be the harbinger of wider scale social transformation to come. You may judge for yourself how representative these signs are in Creative Communities, the book of Emude, that has just been published. Edited by Anna Meroni and a team at Milan Polytechnic, Creative Communities is available to download. (It’s a heavy file, but worth the wait).
Most of the people and institutions involved in EMUDE are also connected informally to an ongoing project called Sustainable Everyday. François Jégou was the co-producer with Ezio Manzini of an exhibition by the same name that has featured twice at Doors events in India.
The picture that emerges is of a ‘multi-local city…a city in the shape of a network of places endowed with totally new characteristics” – in particular, a tendency towards new models of sustainable urban living: “solidarity purchase groups”, “community based agriculture”, “urban vegetable gardens” and so on.

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