Another project from the Design Interactions work in progress show!
This one is smart and thought-provoking and i'm looking forward to seeing how it will shape up for the graduation show.
Michail Vanis's project suggests that our romantic ideas and ideals regarding nature - a nature that has to be preserved exactly as it is- are holding us back from finding new ways to interact with the world surrounding us. Vanis' Neo-nature project invites us to reconsider our relationship to nature and adopt a more rational but also more daring and more techno-mediated approach to ecological thinking and to conservation.
The first chapter of the work, Animalia, deals with the animal kingdom and proposes three alternative ways to conserve coral reefs. In all three alternatives, the humans speed up the coral's evolution by genetically modifying it to adapt to the new environmental conditions that put the species in danger. The motivation behind why each coral is created illustrates how humans can donate, protect, or exploit.
The first scenario envisions a coral colony, a Stonehenge-like monument, that conservationists have generously financed and donated in order to save the species from extinction. The corals pass plankton efficiently between each other, creating a temple of nature, a celebration of marine life, and a spectacle for visitors to witness.
The second scenario sees a coral species seeded in areas where tsunamis might hit. In case of tsunami, the coral takes 70% of the impact. Most of the colony would die in the process but the humans would be saved.
The third scenario sees coral being exploited for the benefit of corporations. A hydrodynamic coral would be bio engineered to efficiently slipstream and merge water currents into powerful single streams. At the end of the coral colony, a convenient jet of water is exploited by the creators of the coral to harvest electricity.
I asked Michail (who, i should add, means the pandas no harm whatsoever) if he could tell us more about Neo-Nature:
Hi Michail! You wrote an essay that bears the cruel title of "Let the Pandas Die" to accompany or rather introduce the Neo-Nature project. In this text, you suggest that we might have to adopt alternative thinking in ecology and conservation. Could you briefly explain why traditionalist view of ecology and conservation might not be enough to save ourselves and the environment?
There is a lot of paradoxical thinking in ecology and conservation at the moment. Large sums of funding go towards programmes which aim to sustain organisms that are arguably at the end of their lifetime. We accept evolution and the cyclical nature of ecology, yet we try to halt nature from changing, from progressing. In a way, the nature that we are experiencing now is the perfect nature. Any other alternative seems to spoil the romantic, pure nature that we have created in our heads. Slavoj Zizek puts it very nicely: "[Ecology] is a balanced world which is disturbed through human hubris".
The ideology that we have created to define nature as human beings actually stops us ethically from experimenting with new technologies. For example, if we collectively agreed to save a species from extinction, maybe we could genetically modify it to survive the new conditions that we have introduced. This seems far from possible at the moment because you have two parallel schools of thought: the scientists and the romanticists. The scientists are prepared to take risks and talk openly about modifying organisms, the climate, the natural world. On the other hand, the romanticists protect the ideological, paradoxical nature that they believe in truly on ethical, emotional and guilt-driven grounds. This disagreement is a huge problem in conservation.
Has your research been inspired by existing scientific or commercial projects?
One big influence of mine is the Weather Modification Office in China. What I find fascinating is that China provides a cocoon of moral freedom in which scientists can experiment with controlling the weather. Officials regularly seed clouds to combat the draught in Beijing without worrying about the influence that their actions might have on the natural world. A lot of the time they get it right. But sometimes, they get it really really wrong. Recently they accidentally caused a snowstorm that covered Beijing in snow. And in a way, that's okay. They get it right 90% of the time, but when they get it wrong, it doesn't stop them from trying again. This is the kind of experimental practice that has inspired my project.
Another interesting scientific project is the modification of male mosquitoes to combat insect-borne diseases. When these newly modified mosquitoes try to reproduce, their offspring dies immediately. Doing this to insects is acceptable, but try to imagine if you had the same scenario with a more loved animal. It would be completely unethical! Deciding what is okay to modify and what isn't is completely subjective.
And more generally, have you talked to bioengineers and other scientists about the Neo-Nature scenarios?
I've been working with a fluids mechanic to actually shape the corals. He's been very interesting to work with because he doesn't treat the corals as an animal, but he treats it as a material. For the next chapter of Neo-Nature, I'm working with a climate scientist and a mechanical engineer to explore the domestication of weather control. I am also going to an interesting discussion in April, which is titled "The Future of Nature" and is organised by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Half of the audience are synthetic biologists and the other half are conservation scientists and policy makers. I think this project generates its full potential of discussion when it is debated with scientists as well as romanticists. I'm trying to make that collision happen with a series of debates and talks in the coming months.
Why did you chose to illustrate the project with corals? Is it because these marine animals are easier to manage and modify? Or because they are not 'cute' so we might be less concerned by their fate than by the one of the pandas?
The coral is a very fragile animal that is dying quickly, but there is a lot of opportunity to manipulate it. Corals are more important than other endangered animals because they provide a living environment for a plethora of marine life, yet they receive less funding. I also chose the coral because it's not as sacred as the panda. It's an animal that is usually compared to plants, not to other animals. This emotional distance makes it easier for people to consider the possibilities of modifying coral to fulfill human desire, but to also conserve it in a more artificial way.
You showed 3 models of modified corals at the WIP show. Are you planning to push the project further?
This chapter of Neo-Nature is almost complete. I wanted to suggest three new alternative strategies for saving the coral. I'm putting it in the background for now until the other chapters of the project are complete. I will be testing the coral models at the Imperial College wave tanks to test their shapes and record some videos of the water flowing through them. I'm now working on the next two chapters, which are arguably more megalomaniac! I don't want to reveal too much though...
Thank you Michail!
In my first post about the Design Interactions work in progress show, i was mentioning the wide scope covered by the project. From the most plausible to the utterly conceptual. My first article was about an alternative positioning system powered and controlled by the people. This new post is about an alternative world where bespoke sports events replace traditional warfare as a means of solving seemingly chronic conflicts.
Commoditised Warfare, by Yosuke Ushigome, envisions a series of UN PeaceKeeping Olympics games in which each sport has been carefully designed to reflect the cultural and geopolitical characteristics of participants of the opposing sides.
The first game opposes North Korea to South Korea + Japan + USA. Their dispute, triggered by a missile launch, is to be resolved through a game of Synchronised Baseball and hosted on a specially designed ship called "Dong-Gihwa". The floating stadium is sent to the middle of the Asian conflict area, beyond borders to better communicate the neutrality of the peace keeping intervention.
As its name suggests, synchronised baseball is a mixture of mass games and baseball: mass games such as Arirang Festival favoured by North Korea and baseball which is quite popular in the other countries (i had no idea that baseball was popular outside of the US but what do i know about sport?) This strange sport brought about an opportunity for people from each country to negotiate, mediate, and improvise through the process of developing this weird sport.
"HATHA-MILANA", which means handshaking in Hindi, is one of the most renowned models amongst UN's PKO Stadiums for its rigorous craftsmanship of decoration derived from its intervening area: India and Pakistan. Being inspired by the Wagah border closing 'lowering of the flags' ceremony, these two trucks are created to be a mobile stage of border-merging ceremony which can travel all over the border area between two countries.
Border-merging ceremony is designed to imitate the Wagah ceremony, but it is less aggressive and militant. Two local people perform a kind of Silly Walks show on the trucks' catwalk and advance towards the central circle where they shake hands. This ceremony creates so many laughter and peaceful moments on the border street that "HATHA-MILANA" is now on revival with limited hand-painted version.
All images courtesy of Yosuke Ushigome.
The Work in Progress show of the Design School at the Royal College of Art opened a couple of days ago. I went twice and haven't moved beyond the Design Interactions department yet but i'm hopeful i'll get to see the works of the other departments over the weekend as well.
The department is showing some 40 projects this year. The variety of interests, means to explore them and degrees of speculation is remarkable.
Philipp Ronnenberg's ongoing OpenPositioningSystem / openps.info is a very hands-on, concrete project that aims to offer an alternative to the dominant global positioning systems or other navigation systems which are controlled by governments, network companies or in the case of GPS by the U.S. military. These technologies are closed at the moment and can be shut down at any time.
OpenPositioningSystem, however, was developed in the same spirit as OpenStreetMap. It would be open, accessible to anyone and collaboratively run by citizens.
Here's how the system works:
At the current stage of this project the sensor can detect and collect different frequencies.
In this early stage, the project will still rely on GPS and maps. With the process of expanding the new network of seismic sources, it can be possible to build a stand alone positioning system.
The designer is hoping to gather interested people on the web platform openps.info and build a community which will help him develop the software, hardware and testing processes.
All images courtesy Philipp Ronnenberg.
The School of Design Work-in-Progress Show remains open until 3 February 2013 at RCA Kensington.
Last week, i went to RCA's research biennial. It was called Disruption, lasted a few days only and you shouldn't be too sad if you missed it. Many of the works lacked any kind of description or explanation so i wasn't really able to assess their quality. That said, a few pieces made it worth the trip to the College. First of all, the gigantic banner 'The Market Will Save Us' by Bill Balaskas hanging on the facade of RCA's Kensington building. The work is a comment on the impact of funding cuts on the cultural sector and the subsequent dependency on corporate sponsorship. Curbing artistic expression, and having to think about 'what you do and what you say' is effectively a form censorship, Balaskas explained.
The other work that saved the show for me was Austin Houldsworth's Crime Pays. The work explores one of your bank's most cherished dream: an entirely cashless society. Phone and card transactions might be on the rise right now but paper and coins will be difficult to replace. People are afraid of safety, fraud, breaches in privacy (electronic payments track and detail all our transactions and therefore define an outline of who we are as individuals. Even readers of the Daily Fail know that.) But the reason why governments would also like to see the end of cash is that it is the currency of the black economy which is estimated to have a total worldwide value of 1.82 trillion dollars. In Italy, for example, the black economy is thought to be 27pc of GDP. Although it is much lower in the UK, the government spends 20 to 40 billion per year combating organised crime and the black market in the UK is estimated to total 60 billion.
Austin managed to convince one of the organisers of a conference at the British Computer Society to present the fictional monetary system as if it were a real scheme. Dave Birch, director of Consult Hyperion played the part of Dr. Don Rogers.
The Crime Pays system is a completely electronic payment system, in which all financial transactions are open. Only paying for the privilege of privacy will ensure a transaction is hidden from public view. Which means that anyone has the opportunity to chose whether they want to make a transaction anonymously or openly. By default your spending will be open and all transactions will be tracked by your bank as they are now. If you'd rather keep the spending secret, then a small fee will be levied and it will go to the government, but you can decide to which budget (health, education, etc.) the money will be assigned to. Even if the tax is has high as 20% of the transaction, the amount will still be fairly low considering the costs already incurred by the government and taxpayer.
Is privacy within our finances a matter of personal liberty or simply the harbourer of criminality?
Hi Austin! Have you thought about what criminals would try and do to avoid paying for privacy?
Did someone tell the audience at the end of Dr. Don Rogers presentation that it was all a fake? Did they think that the scenario was plausible?
Also i was wondering who would control the scheme? Mostly the banks or the government?
This one might be the last project i'll blog from the Design Interactions graduation show.
Diego Trujillo had two interesting projects in the exhibition. The main one was The Generated Man, a software work that flips around the way Google usually creates a digital persona of web users based on their previous behaviour.
For some abstruse reason, i decided that i'd focus on his other project: the 300 Years Time Bomb. There's something both disquieting and strangely appealing about a bomb engineered to explode in exactly 300 years time. Even if none of us will be there to experience it.
The bomb's timer displays the years in seconds making us question what meaning such a large number holds and changing our dramatic relationship with countdown timers.
The explosive is found 100 years after countdown is initiated, by this time it has acquired historical importance and is put on display in a blast proof building. Several generations await for the moment when it finally goes off in this controlled and safe environment. Time and efficient electronics make the nature of the explosive change from an immediate threat to a spectacular display.
Extracts of a Q&A with Diego Trujillo:
300 Years Time Bomb sounds like an action movie to me. Not just the title but also the drama, the fact that it is found 100 years after countdown has started. hence two questions:
The project is in fact very influenced by film, specially the design of the bomb as an object. I realized that the image of a bomb most of us have comes from action film. Real explosives are reserved to such a small portion of the population that most of us don't know what they might look like. Hence, common concepts of a bomb rely on fiction.
After I choose a time bomb as an illustration to talk about time, my research focused on the many ways bombs and countdowns are shown on films. This research is broad enough to write a book on. Some of my favourite explosion countdown scenes are from Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage, the card countdown from Last Action Hero and the spherical bomb rolling down the stairs in The Shadow. However I decided for a more standard Die Hard style or 007 explosive, as they tend to be easier to read objects in which the detonation mechanism can be read on the design.
And Two: The project comes thus with the skeleton of a scenario. Do you want us to fill in the gaps and think about who created this bomb, to what purpose and why wait 300 years? Or did you elaborate a longer scenario?
Why wait 300 years was a question I answered quite thoroughly, but again it added many layers which were hard to fit in a gallery based installation. Several ideological and political stands are represented in architectural structures that do last hundreds of years. To a radical mind, many of these buildings would represent a threat to future generations. Another scenario would be manufacturing a perfect crime, if the explosive goes off after the maker has died and has been forgotten then there isn't even a suspect. Once more I felt that these two scenarios could be projects on their own and that there were enough elements for people to make up their own stories.
Sorry for the silly questions but is this a working prototype?
I suspect that as an interactions designer you're quite comfortable with working with electronics. But with this time bomb, you had to think extra long term. Pieces of electronics are usually not meant to last more than a few years or decades in some cases. So did you change anything in the way you worked, the materials you used, knowing it would have to last 300 years?
This was the thing I spent the most time with. I had to make electronics that would at least be perceived to last 300 years. The first thing I thought about was the battery (represented by a glass cylinder filled with black liquid). I found an experimental battery being developed at MIT called Cambridge Crude which is supposed to be efficient at storing and delivering electricity.
Then I thought about the display. This is where most of the attention would be as this is where the concept of the project is represented. I had to redesign the standard 7-segment display in a way that it would be read as energy efficient for my scenario to be plausible. I started designing a typeface based on it being energy efficient rather than readable or elegant.
When I started looking for materials to manufacture this, I came across organic LEDs (OLEDs) which are very energy efficient and can be printed in any shape. They are however still very experimental technology. By chance, I met with people from Polyphotonix, a U.K. based OLED company that sponsored and manufactured the display. They made all the individual panels for it by printing the OLED compounds onto conductive glass, this was particularly hard to connect as glass cannot be soldered and I had to come up with a mechanical way of getting electricity to the glass.
The nice thing about using custom made OLEDs is that they are very different from any existing display. Not being a standard part, no one really knows how long they'll last so the scenario becomes plausible as a result of looking at a new technology that people aren't used to seeing.
Your text says "The bomb's timer displays the years in seconds making us question what meaning such a large number holds and changing our dramatic relationship with countdown timers." could you explain in more details what you mean by that?
HMPark Life was triggered by the reaction to last Summer's England Riots: the public wanted to see the looters severely punished, courts were advised to hand out tough sentences, the Daily Mail suggested that incarceration might not be enough since -they wrote- prisons are little more than 'holiday camps' and the government stepped in with the proposal to subject inmates to 40-hour working weeks.
HMPark Life is a radically new type of prison that would be built in the middle of London. The project questions this drive to turn a prison population into a cheap labour force - one that works not just to provide skills to inmates in the name of 'rehabilitation' but forces offenders to be both visibly productive and punished to quench the public's ever-present blood thirst for justice.
The prison is modeled on the concentric circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno: the higher the offense, the harsher the punishment and the deeper within the Earth the sinner is sent.
At HMPark Life, the gradation of current UK prison security categories reflect this gradual increase in offense and need for security. The architecture of the prison pushes the analogy even further: it is built deep into the ground, with the most dangerous offenders finding themselves at the bottom of the structure. But the project also introduces an element of spectacle with the possibility for the public to come during their leisure time and gape at the prisoners.
With high security at the deepest point climbing up to an open prison at the surface of the offender-made canyon, this seeping of the prison into the well-healed high street of Herne Hill provides moments of inmate / outsider interaction in the form of a theatre, library and workshops. A public viewing platform perched on the prison main's circulation core provides an ideal point from which to survey the throng of productive inmates, leaving the public with the sense of satisfaction. This is the new panopticon.
I had to interview the young architect who brought Dante Alighieri and the Daily Mail in such close contact:
Hi Alexis! The project seems to be a reaction to last year's riots. Did any other event, piece of news, aspect of social or political life inspire the project?
While writing my dissertation, investigating the physical implications of Michel Foucault's 'Heterotopias', which are a series of principles that define the nature of what creates deviant/ synchronised/ paradoxical/ time based/ exclusive or inclusive and illusory spaces; I came across the essay Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard with the statement,
"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true."
As a Londoner, watching the riots unfold on the rolling news from the safety of my suburban family home. I was not only astonished at the randomness of the violence, but also the erratic reactions to it. Passers-by, "social commentators", politicians, all had their own over-simplified and unsurprising takes on the events blaming education, the benefits system, bankers' bonuses and the X Factor. But as statistics started to emerge that a majority of the perpetrators had previous criminal convictions, everybody knew there was going to be some kind of reactionary policy making by the Conservative lead coalition Government. I didn't have to wait long.
The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced less than a month after the events sweeping changes to the way offenders were to be reformed in Prisons. The phrases "providing skills", "rehabilitation through purposeful work" several weeks later turned into "offenders shall 'earn their keep'". Working a full 40hr week doing menial tasks like laundry or gluing light bulbs together and getting paid up to £10 per week.
This apparent confusion over the purpose of skilling-up offenders or work as punishment is what inspired me to create HMPark Life. Rehabilitation was no longer for the benefit of the offender, but was a tool for the state to either reassure the liberal section of society that offenders were being offered skills to better themselves and the more conservative amongst us that offenders were being put to work as punishment.
Could you describe exactly how HMPark Life works? Its structure/architecture? In particular Dante's Inferno and the circles of Hell.
Dante's Inferno, the first part to the epic poem 'The Divine Comedy' acted not just as an allegory for the horrors and turmoils of hell but also for its clear programatic and spatial organisation. Throughout history there have been many versions of diagrams explaining the descending rings of hell and all follow the poem's stepped, conical canyon description bellow the surface of the earth, with Lucifer and a frozen lake at its deepest point. The lower you descend the more heinous the sin one had committed. This logic seemed appropriate for a prison.
Dante's Inferno also worked as a way of planning the views to depict parts of the project. The poem is divided into 34 Cantos or chapters, each describing Dante's journey further into the depths. The Canto numbers on the views relate to the points within the poem that are identical to parts of the prison; for example Canto III describes the 'Lost forest' and the entrance to Hell, which in HMPark Life has become a woodland littered with trees disguising columns and the library/ visitor centre. Some of which function as light funnels for the prison workshops bellow and provide perches for CCTV cameras. Canto IX is the point at which Dante looks back at where he had come from, Canto V is where judgement of sins are passed deciding on the level of inferno, so here I show the public observation tower. Canto XXXIV is the lowest point depicting the worst sinners' accommodation with cells of category A.
Why did you locate the prison in Brockwell Park?
Brockwell Park is just south of Brixton, where some of the worst rioting occurred. It acts as a barrier between the affluent neighbourhood of Herne Hill to the East and a large council estate to the West and contains the must have pleasant park facilities such as a restored 1920's lido, an organic community garden and tennis courts. It is also half a mile from the existing HMP Brixton.
During my Research I discovered HMP Brixton to be the worst in terms of the Prison system's own ratings. No outdoor space, offenders spend up to 23hrs a day in their cells designed for one in the 19thC but now accommodating up to 4, unsanitary conditions, rat infested and the building is Grade II* listed so updating the facilities is bizarrely out of the question. By placing the prison in the park I'm merely following current legislation to its extreme.
"Prisons should be built within close proximity to communities in order to form close links and aid integrating offenders back into the community" planning guidelines state.
London's inner city prisons such as Pentonville and Brixton occur in the midst of residential areas, behind high walls barely sign posted they almost disappear into the urban fabric. It was important to the project that opportunities were borne out of program conflicts with the context: Pleasure/ Punishment, Play/ Work, Freedom/ Enclosure.
Finally with prisons being so over crowded, and London's prisons lacking in the legally required space then London's parks become an ideal site, especially since the prison is to be our prison and become part of our leisure time experience.
Also i was wondering about the kind of people who would want to watch the inmates working. I suspect, like you probably did, that among them we'd find mostly readers of the Daily Mail. In my view, most readers of the DM are far more dangerous than prisoners. So what would protect the inmates from the public?
I did draw a lot of inspiration from the Daily Mail. It is always useful to look at something so opposed to your own opinions in order to draw something out of yourself. The headline "Prison is a Holiday Camp" popped up a few times in the Daily Mail, citing inmates' ability to access TV (for a fee) and table football. Though if you asked the inmates of HMP Brixton i'm sure their opinions would differ.
There is a viewing platform for each level of security as you descend the tower. I imagined the more casual park passer by might take their children as a warning for misbehaving and perhaps the lower one goes you might come across characters like Jeremy Kyle, or a demonstration by 'Parents Against Pedophiles'. Now i'm thinking Gordon Ramsay would happily sit there with the Daily Mail crowd. I caught 5 minutes of his new series where he's getting some inmates of HMP Brixton to make fairy cakes, when I heard the tagline "Gordon Ramsay thinks it's time Britain's prisoners paid their way." I had to switch it off. For a man arrested for 'gross indecency' in a male public toilet you'd think he'd want to distance himself from this issue of public humiliation as a form of punishment, unless this is a long overdue part of his community service.
HMPark Life would host different categories of prisoners. Do they mirror the already existing categories?
The categories of prison exist already. But only in a few instances do prisons of differing categories occur on the same site and they never share facilities. For example, Belmarsh Prison (Category A) is the UK's highest security Prison where those charged (or not quite charged) of terrorism are held. But next door is a male juvenile detention centre.
Finally, i had a look into the publication that accompanied the exhibition at RCA. One of the chapter is "precedency study" and it features works by Herzog & de Meuron, Lina Bo Bardi's Sesc Pompeia, the prisons of Piranesi. Could you explain briefly how you draw inspiration from them?
References are important in trying to develop a language that informs the project whilst at the same time being sympathetic to the way I like to draw and depict. CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron was mainly a formal reference. The perforations and it's 'cragginess' being conducive in a way to design the caged exercise spaces of the inmates, with differing perforation densities in accordance to the level of punishment/ prison category. In Lina Bo Bardi's amazing Sesc Pompeia in Sao Paulo I was looking at the system of exposed circulation and the ruthlessly efficient series of walkways that jut between its two monolithic towers. The most immediately obvious precedence I drew from was Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione (imaginary prisons) etchings. HMPark Life's 4 'Cantos' used the same techniques of awkward angled view points and constricting the image inside the frame as well as a disorientating sense of scale. In Piranesi's etchings it is quite hard to judge how big this world is until he places a crumpled figure somewhere in the foreground.