To hell with good intentions

Makoko Floating School
The collapsed Makoko Floating School by NLE Works. Photo Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters, first seen at the Guardian.

I hardly ever rant on social media, but when I visited the recent Social Design exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, I couldn’t help myself. Here was another noble attempt at celebrating a nascent field for design, but once again, falling short for a number of reasons – which I listed online.
I was thrilled when Gabrielle Kennedy, the editor in chief of DAMN magazine, asked me to turn my post into a proper op-ed piece for the magazine, which was published in their April 2019 issue. What an honor! Thank you for the invitation and for the opportunity to once again revisit the fundamental need to do away with good intentions if we ever want social design to become all it can be. Below a small excerpt of my piece:

When design steps outside of its silo to engage with other disciplines and contexts, the stakes are much, much higher. We’re not just making chairs and lamps, and therefore social design needs better research and assessment, a willingness to listen and embrace complexity, time to develop, mature, test solutions – away from media cycles and yearly product launch calendars. Ultimately, social design is a brave new world. And it needs to do away with the structures that inspired and modelled it in the first place. You want to engage with social design? Then you need to do better. Social design has to be about more than good intentions. It is political, complex, and not easily digestible in feel-good blurbs. It deserves critical analysis and rigorous evaluation. To hell with good intentions – social design deserves better, much better than what we’ve given it so far.

Looking back on BIO

bio past and present
Curators of BIO editions past and present. Photograph courtesy MAO.

This Salone marked an opportunity to gather curators of BIO editions of the recent years, and discussed lessons learned and perspectives for the future. It was a pleasure to reminisce on the work I developed with Jan Boelen for BIO 50, the 24th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, alongside the event’s stellar team and curators from the last three editions. We also discussed the upcoming BIO 16 – Common Knowledge, which will open doors to the public in November this year.

Scratching the Surface

Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 3.02.23 PM

I had a great time talking to Jarrett Fuller in the latest episode of his Scratching the Surface podcast, which has just been released. We discussed career paths, our shared love of graphic design, criticism and education, how we made the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and ended talking about how design can evolve and change as a discipline. You can listen to the whole episode here! 

School Fundamental at the Bauhaus Dessau

Festival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / OstkreuzFestival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / Ostkreuz

At the end of March, the Bauhaus Dessau welcomed an extraordinary festival. Titled School Fundamental, it transformed the historic building into a temporary school, a “testing location” of design learning experiments. The festival brought together several educational experiments taking place all over the globe, and featured an impressive roster of speakers and participants. I was happy to take part and to present, alongside Jan Boelen and Deniz Ova, the work we developed for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

A School of Schools was born out of an examination of contemporary design education, and informed by an attitude of critical reflection towards the past and present of design education with an appreciation of the singular contexts and spaces in which it happens. The curatorial team sought to transcend the traditional spaces of design education and explored design practices that have learning at their core.

Ultimately, the biennial’s many dimensions acted as a starting point, illuminating how the much-needed shift in the field of design and design education is already underway. This shift appears in many shapes and colours, and opens several doors towards possible futures. It calls for greater responsibility and greater agency. It demands visibility and creates spaces for the opinions of others. It pushes design out of its silo and into the spaces where it connects with other disciplines. It insists on learning as a permanent, embodied attitude, one that transcends the formal, spatial and temporal boundaries of the school, and overflows into the world and life itself.

Dear gatekeepers

Dear Gatekeepers by Foreign Legion
“Dear gatekeepers”, in Icon Magazine, March 2019 

Right after our A Woman’s Work symposium, Matylda Krzykowski and I were thrilled to be able to take the conversation on design and gender politics further, as we jointly authored an op-ed in the March 2019 issue of Icon magazine, titled “Dear Gatekeepers”.  The op-ed can be read in the Foreign Legion website, below an excerpt:

On 18 January this year, we made our first attempt to dismantle such structures, organising a collaborative conversation at the Museum of Applied Arts in Dresden. Titled A Woman’s Work, the event gathered voices from the discipline of design to discuss the roles and influence of female practitioners. The symposium took place alongside the exhibition Against Invisibility, which rewrote a fraction of modern design history by rescuing the nearly-forgotten stories of female designers working in the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in the early decades of the 20th century.

What are the differences between them and us? As design critic Alice Rawsthorn pointed out in the symposium, “we need to build on [past achievements] with a dynamic and critical discourse … While many skirmishes have been won, others await.’

We must ensure that our stories won’t get lost like theirs. We must create spaces for their – and our – voices to be heard once the present generation is long gone. We must ensure that the current enthusiasm doesn’t get lost, and after an object designed by a woman is sold, exhibited, commissioned and exchanged for inflated sums of money, women – and their stories – will remain.

It is the responsibility of the gatekeepers – who write, who teach, who collect, who curate, who sell, who promote, who advocate – to open the gates for the dismantling of past and present conditions, in order to make women’s work, contributions and visibility a permanent condition.

The birth of Foreign Legion

Foreign Legion Website
A screenshot of the Foreign Legion website, designed by AnnerPerrin.

This year helped materialize the outcome of many months of conversations and discussions between Matylda Krzykowski and myself, and shaped into Foreign Legion, a new curatorial initiative we launched with the A Woman’s Work symposium. The Foreign Legion website documents our work on design, gender politics and other themes, and the several experimental formats we have developed and will continue to develop. You can also follow the initiative over on Instagram.

A Woman’s Work

Social-Media-Text-Blocks-v2
The visual identity of the symposium, developed by Andrea Anner.

On the occasion of the exhibition “Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938”, currently on view at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden, Matylda Krzykowski and I were invited to organize a symposium focusing on female practitioners in design. We organized it under the moniker of Foreign Legion, and called it A Woman’s Work, a symposium on the roles, influence and visibility of female practitioners today.

Taking the exhibition as a starting point, A Woman’s Work examines the contemporary, in order to shed light on the invisibility of the female practitioner as it continues to exist today.

Structured in three parts – ‘Advocates of History’, ‘Enablers of Visibility’ and ‘Dismantlers of Existing Conditions’ – the symposium brings together a wide range of practitioners, scholars, writers, critics and curators based in different parts of Europe, aiming to offer transversal, multigenerational and diverse perspectives on the present and the future of female practice.

Throughout the course of one day – 18 January 2019 –, conversations will take place in a variety of formats, creating platforms for exchange and connection. A Woman’s Work aims to bring women in and around design, art and architecture to the fore, advocating for their visibility to become a permanent condition. We hope to see you in Dresden, and that you will join us in conversation!

Steps Towards the Yin Revolution

A Woman's Work Catalogue Essay Sacchetti Krzykowski
View of the essay “A Woman’s Work, or Steps Towards the Yin Revolution” in the catalogue of the “Against Invisibility” exhibition.

I co-wrote with Matylda Krzykowski an essay and manifesto for the catalogue of the excellent “Against Invisibility” exhibition at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. The exhibition focuses on the forgotten stories of the female designers of the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau. Our essay focused on the present condition of the female practitioner, and outlines some steps towards what we are calling (after Ursula K. LeGuin) “the Yin Revolution”.

The essay (now published in English in Domusweb) is one of the ways in which we are contributing to the program of the exhibition – the other is a symposium on 18 January 2019, called “A Woman’s Work“. Thank you to Tulga Beyerle for inviting us to contribute!

Mediated Meaning

judith-seng-disegno
An aspect of Judith Seng’s Acting Things VII: School of Fluid Measures at the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo by Ekin Özbiçer.

During the closing weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, Judith Seng’s installation at the Scales School, in the Pera Museum, hosted a special roundtable. International guests – a sociologist, a curator, a philosopher and game theorist, and a theatre director – discussed the project from different angles, offering surprising views on the process and the interactions that Seng’s installation determined. The discussion, which I moderated, centered on the fluidity of standards, and on the possibility to create a notation system for fluid values. The result was published in Disegno #21, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

The Politics of Design

papanek
Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, the accompanying publication to the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition. 

I contributed to the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition, Victor Papanek: The Politics of Designwith not one but two pieces. One, an interview with Critical Making and Disobedient Electronics author Garnet Hertz, and another, an essay co-written with Jan Boelen on how the spirit of Papanek lives on in the work of several contemporary designers. The publication is impressive and gathers the voices of many luminaries and experts on Papanek and his significance. I’m happy to be among such incredible authors! You can find out more about the book in the e-shop here.

Convivial Tools

illich-event

I was thrilled to be part of the Design Museum’s Convivial Tools symposium, which re-examined the legacy and work of the late Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, focusing particularly on his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality. Illich argued that the nature of modern ‘tools’, from machines to schools, had the effect of making people dependent and undermined their own natural abilities. What he called “convivial tools” were those that encouraged people to think for themselves and be more socially engaged.

Convivial Tools was a programme of talks, debates and workshops exploring new strategies for a more cooperative society. Using Ivan Illich’s concept of “conviviality”, it brought together designers, artists, media theorists, curators, and social thinkers from diverse fields to examine current tools and technologies that encourage alternative modes of production and social relations.

I was happy to discuss the “de-schooling” facets of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, and to take part in a day of incredible discussions and insights.

Making the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial

It was a pleasure and an honor to go back to my alma mater, SVA’s D-Crit department, to kick-off this year’s Fall lecture series and talk about my work in the past years, with a focus on the making of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. All my thanks go to Program Chair Molly Heintz and all the D-Crit students, alumni and family. Always such a joy to be back in my New York home.

Design as Learning

offshore_istanbul_reader01
Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader, designed by Offshore Studio and published by Valiz. Image by Offshore Studio.

On the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I edited the accompanying publication, Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader. The volume was beautifully designed by Zurich-based Offshore Studio (as was the striking visual identity of the whole biennial, explored here in detail) and is published jointly by IKSV and Valiz. The Reader seeks to expand on the many narratives of the biennial and offers a series of critical reflections on the past and present of design education, with contributions by Danah Abdulla, Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha, Corinne Gisel, João Ferreira, Naho Kubota, Nina Paim and myself. Additionally, the book features interviews with Zeynep Celik Alexander, Claudia Mareis, Peter Land and Nelly Ben Hayoun, contextualizing issues on the past and present states of design education. And finally, a series of conversations with participants in the biennial looks at ways to approach design education today. Interviewees include Åbäke, FABB (Burcu Biçer Saner, Efe Gözen), Navine G. Kahn-Dossos, Ebru Kurbak, Mae-ling Lokko, Studio Folder, SulSolSal (Hannes Bernard and Guido Giglio), and Pinar Yoldaş. Below the back cover blurb:

Why do design? What is design for? These are forward-looking questions for a creative discipline that seems more slippery to define than ever. In a world of dwindling natural resources, exhausted social and political systems, and an overload of information there are many urgent reasons to reimagine the design discipline, and there is a growing need to look at design education. Learning and unlearning should become part of an on-going educational practice. We need new proposals for how to organise society, how to structure our governments, how to live with, not against, the planet, how to sift fact from fiction, how to relate to each other, and frankly, how to simply survive.
The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and this publication Design as Learning ask: can design and design education provide these critical ideas and strategies?

Spaces of Exception and other formats

x_6
Can Altay presenting at the Spaces of Exception roundtables during the opening weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

I was thrilled to be able to curate the public program of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, as part of my role as a member of the biennial’s curatorial team. As a crucial part of our understanding of the “expanded” character we wanted to give the biennial, the public program was an active and intense part of the biennial’s effort, testing a variety of formats and experimenting with elements of duration, complexity and materialization. Taking place across the six venues of the biennial, the public program was also a way to involve a large local audience and bring several international practitioners to Istanbul, including some international schools who became temporary residents of the exhibition spaces, adding to the show and creating new work while there. In this way, the public program sought to expand and amplify the discussions started by A School of Schools.

Continue reading Spaces of Exception and other formats

A School of Schools is now open

_IEY8005
Performance by Vivien Tauchmann during the press conference of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo Ilgin Erarslan Yanmaz.

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, has officially opened its doors to the public. The Orientation Days on 20 and 21 September – open to professionals and other accredited visitors – kicked-off an intense series of events and formats, complementing the main biennial exhibition, which extended over six venues in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. From 22 September to 4 November, A School of Schools will be free and open to the public.

The biennial brings together projects from more than 100 interdisciplinary practitioners from across the globe. Six of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions in the Beyoğlu district—Akbank Sanat, Yapı Kredi Culture Centre, Arter, Pera Museum, SALT Galata, Studio-X Istanbul—will transform into “schools” where new ideas in relation to expanded notions of design and its role in contemporary culture are explored.

Continue reading A School of Schools is now open

F for Film

37925478.8bbe609d.640
A still from an educational film.

For the latest edition of the Abecedarium, a format developed by Alexandra Midal, I was invited to intervene discussing the idea of educational films. At the event, which took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and focused mostly on the interactions between design and film, I chose to talk about some of the ways in which film and education are entangled, and focused on the rich material provided by the so-called “social guidance films” developed in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

My talk advocated that we should ask more from film as a learning space. We should ask for film as an enabler of learning spaces that are open and ambiguous, that open doors and not just close them; that open world-views and not just demand them. Of course, the Abecedarium is in itself this kind of space. Thank you to Alexandra and Sébastien Quequet for the invitation, it was fantastic to be part of this format!

One Woman Show

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 4.00.19 PM
Participants of the One Woman Show talk at the Swiss Design Awards 2018. 

I was honored to moderate the One Woman Show talk which took place at the Swiss Design Awards exhibition during Art Basel week. Organized by the Bundesamt für Kultur with the Zurich chapter of Ladies, Wine and Design, the event sought to explore how women work independently as designers and creative practitioners. Discussion topics circled around business and creative leadership, working independently, courage in creativity, work ethics and how to go from fear to freedom. We were lucky enough to be able to hear insights from multiple generations, with participants including Rosmarie Tissi, Cécile Feilchenfeldt, and several of the designers exhibiting as part of the Swiss Design Awards exhibition of this year. The conversation provided an interesting space for the sharing of many different stories, and it was fascinating to see how many of the challenges faced by previous generations are the same – albeit in different scales – as those of the practitioners of today. I am thankful for this opportunity, which was an incredible learning experience.

Towards expanded notions of design

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 5.43.44 PM
Talking about Marcelo Rosenbaum’s A Gente Transforma at the “Design Positions” lecture.

I was extremely happy to be invited to lecture as part of the “Design Positions” lecture series, organized by students of the Public Interest Design masters program at the Bergischen Universität Wuppertal. Taking place in public spaces around the city of Wuppertal, the lecture series seeks to create connections with the city and its inhabitants. The recently founded Public Interest Design program has high ambitions and it was fantastic to get to know some of the students and faculty. I took the chance to lecture about some of my recent projects and what I see as interesting directions for the design practice in the 21st century. Thanks for having me!

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2018

_DSC9042An impression of the atelier of Cécile Feilchenfeldt in Paris. Photo Marc Asekhame.

In May we presented the results of the latest volume developed for the Swiss Grand Award for Design series. The 2018 laureates of this award, given annually by the Swiss Confederation and the Federal Office of Culture, are Cécile Feilchenfeldt, Rosmarie Tissi and Felco. Once more I had the pleasure to interview all these wonderful practitioners and help make the book that celebrates their professional achievements. This year, the photos were by Marc Asekhame, and the graphic design by Krispin Hée.

A School of Schools at Milan Design Week

IDB at Alcova
Overview of ALCOVA just before the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial presentation

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, was present during Milan Design Week with a public presentation that took place at ALCOVA, amidst the School of Time installation by Z33. The director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Deniz Ova, introduced the ambitions for the event, and the curatorial team – Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha and myself – anticipated some details of the biennial, which will open next 22 September in Istanbul. Additionally, we also announced a collaboration with Z33, who will bring School of Time to Istanbul as part of the biennial. We are looking forward to seeing you all in Istanbul in the Fall!

Atelier LUMA at Palazzo Clerici

atelier-luma-brochure
The Atelier LUMA brochure, distributed this year during Milan Design Week at the Palazzo Clerici.

During the 2018 Milan Design Week, Atelier LUMA took over the courtyard of Palazzo Clerici, where, in four different studiolo structures, it presented recent outcomes of the material exploration and research they are actively conducting in Arles, in the South of France. I was happy to have worked on the project’s brochure, which was presented in Milan for the first time, and with a wonderful design by Andrea Anner, will continue to serve as a fantastic visual and conceptual introduction to the large-scale intervention that is taking shape in Arles. If you don’t follow the journey of Atelier LUMA, I warmly invite you to find out more on their website.

A School of Schools at Beyond Change

SDN Beyond Change 2018
A School of Schools, Part 1: Historical Perspectives at the Swiss Design Network’s Beyond Change conference. Photo Samuel Hanselmann, IXDM.

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, was present at the 2018 Swiss Design Network’s Beyond Change conference in the form of a double session exploring historical and contemporary design education alternatives in order to reflect on the role of design, knowledge, and global connectedness in our contemporary context. The sessions explored the complexities of past and present educational initiatives. The first session, titled Historical Perspectives, included presentations by James Langdon (speaking in the image above), Livia Rezende, and Zara Arshad. It focused on alternative design education initiatives taking place in South America, Western Europe and South Asia. Presentations explored diverse pedagogical positions and their spaces of agency, and reflected on what we can learn from them in our current times.

The second session, titled Contemporary Alternatives, included presentations by Prem Krishnamurthy, Merve Bedir and Benjamin Foerster-Baldenius, transdisciplinary practitioners whose approach is reinforced and permeated by learning. We looked at a research institute that doubles as a community action center and laboratory of learning; a site-specific offshore laboratory and educational experiment that engages multiple educational institutions; and a year-long initiative for a space for production, presentation, and potential pedagogy. These practices create new knowledge, search for alternatives to implemented systems, and, with radical diversity, push the boundaries of design.

The sessions were moderated by Jan Boelen and myself, and sought to make public part of the research that will lead to the biennial opening later this year in Istanbul. Thank you to the organizers, and especially Nina Paim and Claudia Mareis, for the opportunity to bring the discussion surrounding A School of Schools to Basel!

 

HKB study trip: Taking a closer look at Porto and Lisbon

Visiting the Home Project
HKB MA Design students visiting The Home Project studio in Lisbon. Photo HKB.

I was organizing and leading this year’s Study Trip for students of the MA Design of the University of the Arts Bern. We visited Lisbon and Porto, looking for insights on the many facets of these cities’ creative lives. Students got a glimpse of what young architects and designers are doing in the post-recession economy, and ideas about the resourcefulness and inventiveness in these contexts. The trip also allowed to tour a few museums, which are important and contribute to the shaping of the Portuguese cultural scene. Furthermore, we also were able to see two different educational contexts, in Porto and in Lisbon, and to understand the how applied design research and entrepreneurship is currently thriving in Portugal, whether through service design applied to government structures, digital design education, academic and independent research, or the making of the new Porto Design Biennale.
It was a pleasure to revisit my home country in the company of this great group of students, and to be able to visit a fantastic crop of practitioners in both Porto and Lisbon!

Beyond Change

BC_instagram_short-questions_5-4

I’m honored to have been working as a program consultant for the upcoming Beyond Change conference, organized by the Swiss Design Network. It will take place in Basel from 8-10 March, and will focus on socially and politically motivated design, fostering feminist, queer and decolonized perspectives. Within the star-studded and very ambitious program, the conference will include a double session curated in collaboration with the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, focusing on alternative design pedagogies in the past and today.  I will be moderating those debates alongside Jan Boelen.
It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with the conference organization team, Claudia Mareis, Nina Paim and Sarah Haug, and I’m very much looking forward to attending Beyond Change! Tickets are available here should you wish to do the same.

On the legacy of the UABB: A panel in Shenzhen

25498472_10155781804106826_4986438912659861256_nView of the panel discussion at the 7th UABB in Nantou Old Town, Shenzhen.

As part of a research trip for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, the biennial director Deniz Ova and I participated in a panel discussion at the opening weekend of the 7th UABB – Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-city Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism. Gathering Doreen Heng Liu, Ou Ning, Meng Yan, Liu Xiaodu, Hou Hanru, Jeffrey Johnson, Deniz Ova and myself, and moderated by Ole Bouman, the discussion centered on the vision behind the 7th UABB, titled “Cities Grow in Difference”, as well as how the format has changed and evolved throughout the previous editions. As international guests, we commented on how the UABB connects to other similar events and how the biennial format has changed in the past decade. It was an honor to sit among all these luminaries, and a very pleasant surprise to visit the UABB for the first time!