Saturday, May 05, 2018

Can we?

Photo from Venice Biennale 2014 curated by OMA
Superstudio was an architecture firm, founded in 1966 in Florence, Italy by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia. The founders had gone to school at the University of Florence with Archizoom Associati founder Andrea Branzi and first showed their work in the Superarchitettura show in 1966.
Adolfo Natalini wrote in 1971 “...if design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of bourgeois model of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is merely the formalisation of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities...until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can live without architecture...”

Friday, May 04, 2018

Curation

For me the act of design constitutes actively engaging with all the tools at one’s disposal, sketching, model making, cad, 3d. Even while one is doing a completely banal task of drafting there are decisions being made of alignments, offsets, widths, heights, proportions. There is rationalisation that takes place of the sketch being turned into a cad plan, and while doing that there is a continuous sense of improvisation, an immersion in the design process. For me an apt metaphor to explain this process is a potter who sits at the wheel, the clay is fluid, it moves, and possibilities emerge in split second on the wheel where the potter engages with the combination of earth, water, air and gravity. This is possible only when the potter “gets his / her hands dirty” in exchange for knowledge of consistency of the clay, its fluidity, the speed of the wheel, gravity and other forces that converge on that wheel at that moment. Like construction lines in cad which may or may not be used but they record a potential that was surrendered for a better one.
When this is compared to the design profession and its hierarchy, there is an attempt to design not by engaging with the tools or the possibilities each tool provokes but through curation. An individual standing far away from the potter’s wheel trying to make pots through a set of potters! Coming from an architectural school that placed strong importance to process, I have come to believe this process is not about making an array of blue foam models by underpaid interns, but a genuine exploration by the designer and the design team. Where the lead designer if there should be one, too should actively engage with the design tools.
The design profession having split into specialisations that arrange the process of producing space into compartments and each compartment requiring a hierarchy to produce (faster+cheaper not better) efficiently, gives rise to a hierarchy which in turn creates this disjunction where the lead designer having more liability needs to split their time across 3- 4 projects, keep tabs on fee burn, alignment with the brief, scope creep, etc. In doing so despite having only say 15% of time to spare towards design process the position is consolidated through the lead having maximum say in the design process. The position is rationalised / consolidated through the design lead’s contribution in the process via curation!
No need to design, just curate design and become a designer!
When I hear people from the design profession exclaim, I do not have patience for Cad, or I am actually a “big ideas” person, or I am just so busy that I have no time for design, etc…I am alerted by this individuals genius that believes idea equals product…(ie. I just need a bunch of minions to realise my vision!)…and then I run for my life.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Thalassophile

For someone who has a natural tendency to sink and general angst towards beach holidays, I really loved reading two books on the sea, 
1) Un océan d'amour by  Wilfrid Lupano (Author), Grégory Panaccione (Illustrator) and 
2) Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Platypus

Dismantling through Platforms:
A recent trend of design jobs advertising “happy to work with individuals seeking flexible hours” or “position offers flexibility for individuals returning to the profession” sounds as if the profession has suddenly found its conscience for returning mothers or egalitarian duty towards part time students and young entrepreneurs! On the contrary this is Deliveroo-Uber, Pay-as-you-Go, No-strings-Attached employment at its best. The success of Deliveroo and Uber has only demonstrated that labour market can be fragmented further where through a platform, an employer can hire almost on an hourly or weekly basis with each individual in direct competition with the other. Obviously, this trend of dismantling existing laws is registered strongest in “civilised” world where there are necessary legal and constitutional mechanisms / processes to check and assert social justice, not so much in places where hire and fire is an accepted law of the land.
A Platform has become the new guillotine (Focault, Discipline and Punish), an invisible mechanism that shifts the locus of the act from the doer to the machine. A symbol that represents market justice and assists in management of guilt / liability / accountability.

Contradictions in Relevance:
Now unfortunately this trend has aligned with my own rather strategic decision to not comply with bullshit and become self-employed. So as I continue my social experiment of living the dream of borderline zero-hours employee, I am forced with every passing day to think of being relevant for my employers. But interestingly if I am part of this Deliveroo-Design it is absolutely essential that 
1) my employer is able to maintain me as dispensable / replaceable ie. Someone else should be able to pick where I left ie. My only contribution should ideally be restricted to time.
2) my employer is able to quantify my value purely based on time spent.
This is in contradiction to my inclination to make myself relevant through design and ingenuity, instead it places me and others like me in a position where we maintain relevance through hourly rate and speed.

Mitigation through Specialisations:
So to work around this, most people try to mitigate this erosion of hourly rate through specialisations. Specialisation through knowing tools or through knowing bureaucratic processes. Some invest time into accruing various alphabets after their names like Boy Scout Badges that will ensure the employer of their credentials. But believe it or not platforms catch-up and soon even if one can build a billion Revit families and have all the acronyms of professional excellence covered, someone will still be cheaper than you.
So when one of my employing practises started an enabling discussions on how “we” (their practise) could be more relevant, I brought up the possibility of specialisation and training the workforce to transition into more updated BIM tools.

Resistance through UnSpecialisation: 
But it was only a matter of time when the conversation leaned towards someone else out there being cheaper (offices charging lower fees) or faster or socially /politically connected to the client. At that point a close friend retorted, no! we don’t specialise. Another joined in saying we could diversify. Ofcourse this was a special group of people who have consolidated together in one such office. Me joining them has been a conscious decision, even if it means being part of the informal labour market. Back to the conversation, slowly a possibility was formulated…we become unique and NOT specialised. Meaning, if we specialise we will still be a part of a labour pool that sits in some vague classification that says knowledge of Revit, experience of Planning process in UK etc. So in case one such individual leaves the company, the product will still get delivered uninfluenced by his / her presence or absence (dispensability), whereas if someone who uniquely engages with design leaves the company the output is influenced. There is a conspicuous change in what will be produced…so we diversify, we become even more aggressive with design, we blur boundaries between departments of urban design, architecture, graphics and interior design…we pick tools of sketching, historical data, arts, music and everything that has been marginalised by the present market of production of space…we become Platypus.

P.S despite the grim picture I build of my self-employed experience, it certainly is not as financially taxing as someone who works for Deliveroo or Uber. The pressure to innovate and be relevant is certainly not as acute as, if I were a musician playing in the tube with a 3 second window to make my pitch and come with a new tune the next day. Day to day life is not filled with as much insecurities as someone at the shopping tills who feels the wave of automation. Ofcourse not a day passes by when I don't feel a peculiar hint of angst with regards to the immediate future but for now I am protected by my privileges.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Pixels of Development

 Not all ideas make it into the design. This was one of my early ideas for work I am currently doing. Looking at massing requested in the brief as a pixel of development (borrowed from the surrounding context) enabling addition and subtraction based on various conditions.
This has been done by various offices before and using far more sophisticated tools so certainly not an original idea, but as this is my first time with this, I was very excited by the possibilities.
Pixels are fun.