Third project i discovered at the RCA Summer Show. This one was developed at Platform 13, part of the Design Products Department and mentored by Onkar Kular and Sebastien Noel.

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Platform 13 is by far the most interesting of all Design Products platforms for me. Hopefully, the projects i'm going to blog in the next few days will demonstrate why i find their work so relevant and surprising. Here's the blurb from their website: Platform 13 starts from the premise that our current global society, with its prevailing techno-political system, faces challenges of an unprecedented scale. We are asking ourselves how Design can contribute to alternative models of living and production by engaging with, commenting on, and addressing issues currently beyond the usual scope of design - political, social, technological or ecological.

Before i proceed with the text about Benjamin Newland's Nomadic Sound Systems, i'll invite you to watch the video of the performance:

The wireless wearable sound system frees electronic music from the restraints of immovable equipment, opening up possibilities for mobile performance and new forms of audience participation.

The NSS enables musicians to fully engage with the space and experiment with human analogue surround sound, moving speakers around the audience, setting up surprises in the halls and corridors and creating site specific musical journeys in the process.

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What i found most generous and smart in Benjamin's approach is that he doesn't see himself as the ultimate performer and controller of the NSS. He's rather put it in the hands of talented and creative musicians who would make the most of the possibilities offered by his project.

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Benjamin gave me more details about his plans when we met at RCA and during a more recent online conversation:

I see the project as having 3 key directions which can be pushed it further.

The first is in terms of performance. I would like to work with musicians and DJs who can make use of the new set of possibilities provided by the system, to make specific music and performances. The NSS puts a human in control of each element of the sound system and allows them to move individually or as a group so you can use choreography to mix sound spatially and travel through space. Currently, sound is broadcast from a single band leader and participants have control over their location and volume, but in future we will be able to let them shape the sound they are producing, and if we can network the system with MIDI control, they could play each component like an instrument.

The second direction is about spontaneity and flexibility. The NSS can be used for unplanned and impromptu events which opens up the possibility to use the psychological and emotional influence of sound and music, to change behaviour.

Lastly, I think the wireless speakers can be used informally to socialise the consumption of music, outside ipods and club culture. Several of designs are suitable as open source designs where people can download them, adapt, and make them for themselves. It would be great to create a culture of sound system modification and display, much like modified car culture.

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View of the exhibition space

Are you planning to do more performances in London or elsewhere? Are there places where you would dream to see the NSS perform?

As for forthcoming events, I haven't yet confirmed any, but I would really like to see it at community events and celebrations. My favourite events are Lewes bonfire night which has an amazing archaic anarchy about it it, and and the joyous Hanover day in Brighton. I would like to see the project become a set of tools for for people to create events like those, but relating to their own unique contemporary street cultures, formalising them with pageantry and social display. Obviously this already happens at events like Notting Hill carnival but I think it is good to enable more people to do it in more ways.

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The track used on the video is I.R.L. by Girl Unit (real name Philip Gamble), who has kindly given his permission for it to be uploaded online.

The video was shot in a void space under the Westway (M40), on Wood Lane, White City, in London.

Thanks for your time and answers Benjamin!

All images courtesy of the designer.

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Back to my visit at the Royal College of Art graduate exhibition
Post graduates of the Architectural Design Studio 4 (ADS4) at the Royal College of Art have been exploring the concept of immortality with a series of projects that speculate on the consequences of a society increasingly obsessed with youth and beauty, and denial of death. How will this desire for immortality manifest itself in an architecture that resonates far into the future?

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One of the projects of ADS4, A Crime of Passion - Synthetic Murder in our Midst, knits together a scenario made of gene therapy, criminality, love and lurid gossips for tabloids. The twisted and compelling project designed by Rachel Harding revolves around the question: In a Future Dominated by Gene Therapy, How Might Criminal DNA Mend Britain's Breaking Hearts?

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View of the entrance

The answer to the question lies somewhere at the intersection between two facts that might otherwise seem to be poles apart:

1. In 2003, the British Food and Drug Administration eased the ban on gene therapy trials using retroviral vectors in blood stem cells. Scientists could potentially correct the genes responsible for a life-threatening condition by "smuggling" functional copies into the cells. It is hoped that one day gene therapy studies might be able to find a cure for cancer and hereditary diseases. The therapy doesn't come without problems and a high cost. However, it is estimated that the cost of decoding a person's genome is likely to fall from $50,000 to $100 by 2015.

2. Crime groupies or prison groupies who profess their love to notorious criminals. Some even manage to marry them. Ted Bundy, a serial killer who confessed to over 30 murders, is said to have received 200 love letters a day after his conviction. Josef Fritzl seems to attract an equal amount of amorous passion.

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In 2030, the detritus of crime scenes has become a romantic commodity. A health-obsessed public are turning to genetic miracles to cure their many ills. To maintain their medical regimes, each patient requires the regular donation of hundreds of genes from a singular donor, but as our genetic blueprint has become increasingly vital to our lives, so has our aversion to donation. Studies have shown that some 30% of the public surveyed would not accept to donate an organ, and that 89% people would refuse to give their genes for therapies.

Criminal DNA is therefore used to meet public demand for genes. As treatments progress, donor and patient become increasingly homozygous, and peculiar romances begin to form.

This idea of a romance comes from a phenomenon called genetic attraction, in which people with similar genetic codes feel attracted towards each other. It is believed to affect half of the adopted siblings who first meet as adults. The next step according to Harding's scenario would see women who have undergone gene therapy fall in love with the criminals who have donated their genes to medicine.

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Rapid prototype of 3d lace structure. The hospital is constructed from lace patterns that have been grotesquely extruded to create a fairy-tale castle of treatment rooms and watch towers

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Elevation

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Exterior perspective

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One of the models exhibited at the show

The love would bloom in a series of buildings and structures where patients can receive gene therapies  in a hospital of bullet proof mirror glass whilst enjoying romantic but high-security rendezvous with their criminal donors. The convicts would be kept in locked concrete structures whilst the housewives enjoy their genetic honeymoon. Both would be able to date at a distance at specially-designed film theaters and parks. That's what Harding calls a love resort providing a medical honeymoon of genetic perfection.

In an attempt to revive readership, media group News International would fund Gunpowder Park (that's the name of the charming resort.) This glorious union of violence and romance creates a sensational community filling red-tops with exclusive juicy crimes and intriguing love affairs to grip the British public.


Photographer: Hitomi Kai Yoda

I'm going to spend the whole week in blogger inferno (meaning no wifi at all, just apathetic connection using a phone network somewhere in Wallonia where people don't appear to be keen on getting decent mobile phone coverage), i might therefore be a bit slow with the updates and reviews.

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Installation of Andrew Friend's works in the exhibition space

A few days ago i was in London to visit the Royal College of Art Summer show. I'll kick off with the Design Interactions department but expect stories from Architecture and Design Product as well in the coming days.

Back in September when i came to see the work in progress show, i was very intrigued by Andrew Friend's exploration of the fantastic. He was showing a long mast designed to attract lightening strike and brand/burn the skin of your upper arm with a lightening logo, as a souvenir of this one-in-a-lifetime experience.

Friend's project has evolved over the past few months. It is now made of a series of three prototypes that act as a compelling antidote to a society that would have us live an increasingly safe, bland and surprise-free existence. This is specially true in England i guess where the infamous Health and Safety Authority seems to dictate how one can use an escalator, roll a cheese or walk in order not to be defeated by the treacherously slippery leaves that paves your way in Autumn.

The designers project, simply titled Fantastics, fully embraces the unexpected, the confusing and the extraordinary. The fantastic has the power to engage the imagination, initiate dreams and trigger desires, excite, manipulate and confuse. The projects explore how one can, through the production of objects and services located in specific contexts, enable these fantasies.

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Photographer: Hitomi Kai Yoda

The first prototype is the Device for Experiencing Lightning strike, a long, light and foldable mast which increases the user's likelihood of getting struck by lightning. Energy from the strike is transferred to heat, used to brand the user (yes, like cattle) and scar him or her as a memory of the event. The device questions the dissemination of this experience, from the life threatening, to simple story, the transition from the fantastic to the banal.

Friend tested the device in the Peak District a few weeks ago. He was not lucky enough to be hit by lightening. The fact that the fantastic might or might not happen is actually part of the whole experience.

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The prototype i found most interesting (in spite of my fierce claustrophobia) is the Device for Disappearing (at sea) which offers the individual opportunity for a safe, temporary disappearance, experiencing an isolation seldom found on land. The candidate for this isolating experience goes down a rope to the bottom of a floating well located in the middle of a lake or quiet sea, disappearing from view beneath the water's surface. The device examines the relationship between the known above, and the unknown/ imagined world below sea level.

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The device for disappearing at sea is made of fiberglass. It stays afloat thanks to inflatable buoyancy bags, and it is ballasted to pull it down to the desired level. As Andrew explained me, "In order to achieve the correct balance the volume of air in the buoyancy bags is adjusted to float the device just below the water's surface, with only the rim of the hole above."

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Experiencing the invisible, RAF Flyingdales Ballistic Missile Early Warning Station, N.Yorks. Photo by Hitomi Kai Yoda

Finally, there is the Device for Experiencing the Invisible, a parabolic dish that places its wearer at the center of any invisible energy passing around. For optimum and most extraordinary results, the wearer must go to sites of increased radio, paranormal, or electrical activity. Could the device lead to mutation, possible harm, or uncover new, previously unseen landscapes and instances? How much risk / danger will individuals put themselves under in order to experience this invisible fantastic?

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Drawing of the device

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Close up image of the Device for Experiencing the Invisible during testing

Photos and drawing courtesy of Andrew Friend. Credit photo for the Lightning strike & Invisible devices: Hitomi Kai Yoda.

Previously: Salone del Mobile: It's lamp time, everybody!

The one exhibition not to miss at the Ventura Lambrate area is Hotel RCA. I wish i were not writing so often about RCA but why should i resist when they keep on churning out some of the best projects around.

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Valentin Vodev's Biquattro and Kieren Jones' Community Commerce

Their exhibition for the Salone del Mobile is called Hotel RCA because it fulfills the functions of a hotel as an organizational structure to exhibit a broad selection of new designs. There's a reception, a bar, a breakfast room and all kinds of service areas. Hotel RCA was built inside a disused warehouse by the Design Products department, a two-year postgraduate masters course including diverse design approaches -called Platforms- that range from the quirky to the practical and innovative, from the speculative to experiments with materials and techniques. The new Head of the Department, Tord Boontje, has invited alumni to present either the projects they had exhibited at the Summer exhibition last year or the new projects they developed since they had left the College. Damn it was good!

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Merel Karhof, Wind Knitting Factory, 2009

Merel Karhof's Wind Knitting Factory harnesses the power of the wind to activate a knitting machine, right from a free, natural element to a finished product. The machine visualizes directly what you can produce with the present amount of urban wind. Along the façade, the knitwear moves slowly through the window into the building as a long scarf, going faster at high wind speed. Every now and then, the wool is harvested and rounded off in individual labeled scarves. The time to knit one is related to its length, and people will protect their neck from the element that has actually conceived the scarf. Each scarf comes with a label that tells you in how much time it has been knitted and on which date.

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Shu-Chun Hsiao, Emf Chime, 2010

I probably walked by Shu-Chun Hsiao's Emf Chime without paying much attention to it. It's only now that i'm back home and clicking all over the Hotel RCA website that i'm discovering it. The suspended chimes play sound when sensing the electromagnetic field in the air. Movements are made by the invisible force and respond with a harmony sound. Any visitor making a call may trigger the chime, actually feeling the invisible existence of EM fields.

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Benjamin Newland, Wearable Sound Systems, 2010

Wearable Sound Systems are part of Benjamin Newland's reseach on how mobile infrastructures of sound reproduction can open up new ways to perform, and engage with surroundings and the people within them.

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Jen-Hui Liao, How to Train a Man to be a Father, 2010

Jen-Hui Liao is not only showing his blockbuster Self-Portrait Machine but also the tongue-in-cheek How to Train a Man to be a Father. During the mother's pregnancy, a Pavlov's Dog training principle is applied to help the male partner create an instant response to the baby's crying in his mind. The machine is radio-linked with a baby doll and wired to a home entertainment system like a TV or PS3. When the doll simulates crying, the trainee must hold and cradle it correctly. Depending on the correctness and reaction time, he will receive levels of rewards as positive reinforcement (they range from one pound coin to a voucher of great sex.) If the trainee ignores the baby's crying, the machine will shut off the power to the linked TV or PS3 as a negative reinforcement..

Once the baby has been born, the father will be able to react to it correctly.

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Georgi Manassiev, Washing Machine, 2009

Georgi Manassiev's washing machine doesn't just wash clothes, it also aims to bring people together outdoors, by relocating the public laundry in the park. The concept is based on the classical playground seesaw where more than one person is required for it to work. The washing machine uses rainwater and no electricity at all.


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Hwang Kim, CCTV Chandelier, 2008 - Ongoing

CCTV chandelier - Virtual Doppelganger Simulator, by Hwang Kim, has a dozen CCTV cameras distributed around the viewer's face and engineering their experience to show their Virtual Doppelganger in the connected TVs. The system allows the participant to see his/her own body or the surrounding environment from a third person's perspective. Therefore, the viewer and visitor is displayed as an object in the gallery.

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Sarah Colson, Fungi Furnature / Distortion, 2009/2010

Sarah Colson, Fungi Furnature / Distortion was utterly repulsive to me. Yet, fascinating: Dowel soaked in a mushroom spawn solution, usually intended in domestic cultivation, has been a catalyst for inspirations within this project. The intention is for spawned dowels to be used in furniture construction lending themselves to domestic objects. Due to the nature of cultivating mushrooms the objects will be made from green timber in order for the fungi to have the optimum conditions to grow as it would naturally. Over a period of six months the mushrooms will flourish and the wood will distort, debilitating the object's initial purpose, but regenerating a new function fit for human consumption. The final transformation will be when the nutrients that the fungi needs are absorbed and its life will cease to flourish. The object will then be given back to nature providing further nourishment for the continued life cycle of future objects.

"Current medical advances in the area of infertility medicine and neonatology have made total ectogenesis (the gestation of a human being entirely outside the body of a human female) less a figment of the imagination of science fiction writers ... and more a realistic possibility for those living in the not so distant future."

S Gelfand, and J R Shook, Ectogenesis - Artificial Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproduction, New York: Editions Rodopi B. V., 2006, p2

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A few weeks ago, Adam Smith presented at the RCA architecture interim show in London a project called Golden Orb Spider Farm which speculates on a plausible near future where we become reliant on synthetic organs to replace body parts, in particular the womb.

The project is based on research into how spider silk might become a material of choice for prototyping scaffolds on which to grow human tissue. Research in tissue engineering has indeed found that silk is a better substance than polymeric materials to construct such 'scaffolds'. Fully functioning hearts and wombs have already been grown artificially on silk scaffolds. For example, Canadian company Nexus Biotechnologies is manufacturing Biosteel(TM), a high-strength synthetic spider silk from the milk of genetically modified goats. The fiber material is allowing for the development of new products in a wide range of fields - from bulletproof vests to scaffolds for artificial human organs - including wombs.

Advances in reproductive science and medicine would enable the complete gestation of a human embryo outside a woman's body, within the next 5-10 years. In the ethically complex scenario where humans are brought to life in artificial wombs, one can imagine that mother would want to demonstrate maximum love and commitment by providing the the finest and most luxurious womb they could afford. Rather than the synthetic unglamorous Biosteel, mothers might look for rarer, naturally produced alternatives. Golden Orb spider silk, the most precious silk in the world, might answer their wishes.

Last year already, a large and rare textile was made entirely of Madagascan Golden Orb spiders silk - demonstrating its inherent strength, beauty and value.

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Golden Orb spider farm speculates that employers may want to persuade their high calibre employees to delay having children in return for hi-tech fertility insurance. Female employees would receive glass Gold Orb spider farms in which to house and breed spiders. The women would feed spiders with flies every day. Once a month, a silking machine would extract several metres from each spider in the farm. In due course this gift is passed on to the child that emerges from the silky womb. Once used, this object might take on a new role of a family heirloom.

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Golden Orb Spider Farm is part of a wider architectural project entitled Genatorium - Breeding Ground for the Risk Averse. The project explores societies' tendency to implement anything that makes things safer and more egalitarian - sometimes with unintended consequences. It is based on a wide amount of research encompassing fertility technologies, the gender pay gap, health-and-safety culture and social disparity in London.

Adam Smith is a final year MA architecture student at the Architectural Design Studio 4 of the Royal College of Art in London. Tutored by Gerrard O'Carroll, Nicola Koller and Rosy Head, ADS4 researches emerging social trends and technologies to create scenarios which allow for critique and speculation.

All images courtesy Adam Smith.

Acoustic Botany, by David Benqué, extracts Synthetic Biology and Genetic Engineering from the usual context of health care, food and environment and examines instead the role they could play in the sphere of culture and entertainment.

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Acoustic Botany, the project for a "genetically engineered sound garden", seeks to find new ways of imagining the nature of tomorrow (will we still call it 'nature'?), where engineered species of plants, insects and animals interact within a composed ecosystem and create a new form of musical performance.

Benqué visited the Plant Sciences department in Cambridge, and researched botany in his own to find existing species from which to extrapolate, and the ideas for this work in progress developed from there. A few examples:

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String Nut Tree

String Nut contains inside a fibrous pulp, which is eaten away by bugs engineered to chew in rhythm. They enter the fruit by the holes in the shell and remain inside until they have eating everything but the few stronger fibers. Left standing inside an empty shell, the fibers are like resonating strings. It should take a couple of days until the remaining strings finally snap and release the nut to the ground, where the seed can sprout.

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Giant Speaker Lilly

Giant Speaker Lily is inspired by an actual species. The flower at the center of the 3 meter leaf captures bugs to coat them in pollen for 24 hours before it dies. During that time, the plant amplifies the vibrations of the bug through a membrane tensed over the leaf, becoming a giant monotone speaker.

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Popping Pod Fruit

The Popping Pod Fruit is made from little capsules which fill with air and bacteria as they mature. When ready, the seed is dispersed by the explosion of the capsule. The popping season could be a carefully orchestrated over 2 months with periods of activity more intense than others.

I discovered Acoustic Botany at the Design Interactions work in progress show, Royal College of Art, London. I'm looking forward to see how his ideas will grow until the Summer show at the RCA: "This is indeed one of the projects I will be developing for the final show," explains Benqué. "I aim to make it more of an experience, with sound and bigger models, to engage the audience more directly. I would also like to have a small book with diagrams and illustrations, going into more detail about the different species, as well as the ecosystem that ties them together."

The designer imagines that the soundtrack would be more composed and harmonic than the nature sounds we know, but it wouldn't be as controlled as 'music' either because of the unknown factors that plant growth almost inevitably brings.

All images courtesy David Benqué.

Also part of the show were The Gesundheit Radio and Crowbot Jenny.

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