GLOBAL Design | Elsewhere Envisioned

On June 10th, I attended part two of NYU’s GLOBAL DESIGN | ELSEWHERE ENVISIONED symposium (part one, which I wasn’t able to attend, took place on May 26th), conceived as part of an ongoing lecture series and exhibition of projects that illustrate the mission of new research group GLOBAL Design New York University (GDNYU). GLOBAL [Global Local Open Border Architecture and Landscape] seeks to bridge the gap between the global and the local, the innovative and the traditional, the rational and the emotional, and the social and the environmental in current debates within architecture, landscape architecture and urban design. Both the symposium and the exhibition were curated by GDNYU co-founders Peder Anker, Louise Harpman and Mitchell Joachim, and the student-based Gallatin Design Collective. Throughout this day of discussion, researchers influenced by design and designers motivated by research presented their work within the context of a call to arms made by the host: “We seek a Global yet still Local design that can Open the sociopolitical Borders that all too often separate Architecture from its Landscape.”

GDNYU curators Peder Anker, Louise Harpman, Mitchell Joachim in the Gallatin Gallery.
GDNYU curators Peder Anker, Louise Harpman and Mitchell Joachim in the Gallatin Gallery | Image courtesy GDNYU

Always educational and entertaining, keynote speaker Bjarke Ingels of BIG began the day by presenting ways his firm has used new technology to create environmentally conscious design, with a particular focus on how to create new typologies of public space by better weaving new buildings into the existing urban fabric. Ingels’ presentation set the tone of the day: “green” cannot be a driving design agenda; it must be part and parcel with a broader program in order to make both the building and its sustainability successful.

Bjarke Ingels of BIG giving the morning keynote | via GDNYU Facebook page
Bjarke Ingels of BIG giving the morning keynote | Image via the GDNYU Facebook page

The following panel, “Research by Design,” was populated by practitioners who straddle both approaches: those who incorporate research into their design practices (WORKac, Interboro Partners, and ARO) and those who incorporate design into their research practice (SIDL). Dan Wood of WORKac framed the firm’s built work within the context of their published work, showing excerpts from 49 Cities, their recent compendium of research presented as a series of maps that graphically contrast the physical attributes of 49 global cities. Interboro Partners’ Georgeen Theodore identified their research practice as having a “journalistic approach,” and presented a series of the firm’s self-initiated projects that have stemmed from that work. Overall, the discussion focused on the idea of “visionary pragmatism,” where we have come to another point in history when it is necessary to propose wholly unfeasible, if well-researched, design solutions to interminable problems in order to forward disciplinary conversation.

Research by Design panel. L-R: Adam Yarinsky and Steve Cassell of ARO, Dan Wood of WORKac, Laura Kurgan and Sarah Williams of SIDL, Georgeen Theodore of Interboro, and Alfredo Brillembourg of urban-think tank | Image via GDNYU Facebook page
Research by Design panel. L-R: Adam Yarinsky and Steve Cassell of ARO, Dan Wood of WORKac, Laura Kurgan and Sarah Williams of SIDL, Georgeen Theodore of Interboro, and Alfredo Brillembourg of urban-think tank | Image via the GDNYU Facebook page

In “Global History and Ideas,” Mark Jarzombek took UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) head-on. He made the case, quite convincingly, that the type of historic preservation UNESCO practices creates false design histories and enthrones them. In so doing, UNESCO sites have become tourist destinations rather than preservation sites. He argued that, in the pursuit of authenticity and preserving heritage, UNESCO has created a picturesque world history, creating a worldview that has permeated art historical practice. Using Art History department listings, he argued for a declassification of art historical research areas in order to assuage the “culture of rupture” that sets “modern” against “traditional.” These false national histories have completely influenced how art historians teach, how practitioners think about their history and how designers design for regional sites. Jeffrey Inaba’s presentation, in contrast, showcased the breadth of C-Lab’s research, emphasizing the non-linearity of a design/research practice: research does not bleed into design. At a certain point a designer has to make something, has to stop researching. The design may be well informed and the process can go back and forth, using design to influence research and then research to influence design, but design is not a result of research.

Mark Jarzombek and Jeffrey Inaba | Image via the GDNYU Facebook page
Mark Jarzombek and Jeffrey Inaba | Image via the GDNYU Facebook page

In “Critical Green Design,” historians of science and technology reframed the history of design’s relationship with their fields, citing the changing relationship between the terrestrial world and the marine, the use of solar technologies, and the evolution of the language of scientific categorization in design. According to Daniel Barber, solar technologies were used as design elements long before commonly thought. The “World Solar Energy Project” was launched in 1954 and the MIT Solar Houses began as early as the 1930s.

Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, was the highlight of the day with a fluid presentation that combined design with science, social ritual and rigorous observation. He played excerpts of his acoustic portraits of ice and presented portraits of himself as an explorer, one who carries his studio on his back. To DJ Spooky, everything is sampling. Citing the cultural sampling that came out of colonization, serious objects and rituals that have become games (Snakes and Ladders, bungee jumping), as well as more current examples of cultural sampling (bamboo bicycles), he placed his own work in a long line of “samplers.”

The “Super Green” panel also explored sampling, though more implicitly, capturing the integration and development of new technologies in design. Peter Yeadon of Decker Yeadon spoke about one of his firm’s projects, the Homeostatic Façade System, to exemplify this type of integration. The system reacts to sunlight and expands between two panes of glass to provide shade for the interiors based on heat and light. And Nina Edwards Anker shared her “Latitude Lamps,” a series of solar lamps designed to suit specific latitudes, directly informed by solar declination arcs. Fueled by solar panels, they can be configured as modules at the scale of a screen, they can exist as single lamps and they can be scaled to be habitable.

The day closed with a keynote address from Sanford Kwinter. As Kwinter himself noted, it seemed strange to end a symposium on design and the implementation of new technologies with an address from a theorist, but in many ways he tied the day together. In what he termed the “post-sustainable age,” he called for thinkers to rethink the possible, bringing to mind the morning panelists who had spoken of “visionary pragmatism,” designing what is impossible now in order to make it possible later. Inherent to the GLOBAL design initiative is its interdisciplinary nature, and the symposium reflected that, weaving together the discourses of climate change, globalization, localized design interventions and design education.

Sanford Kwinter giving the closing keynote | Image via GDNYU Facebook page
Sanford Kwinter giving the closing keynote | Image via GDNYU Facebook page

Jessica Cronstein is a designer and writer interested in the point at which the social, cultural and physical growth of a city intersect. She has just completed her M.Arch at Rice University and lives in New York City.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

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