Responding to the Design Museum’s 2015 Designers in Residence theme of Migration, the four practising designers selected for the residency by a panel including Blueprint editor Johnny Tucker, explain here their ideas and motivations. Their resulting work will be on show in a shared exhibition running at the museum from 9 September, ending on 31 March next year, when the museum itself migrates to its new home in the former Commonweath Institute, Holland Park. Johnny Tucker spoke to the residents
Chris Green (above)
As an architectural designer, I'm preoccupied by the stuff that goes on around buildings as much as the buildings themselves. For example, in recent years while working at MIT Senseable City Lab we were developing new urban applications for drones - perhaps not your typical architecture project!
Obviously drones are a hot topic right now, and I'm interested in how we can steer the conversation towards their positive and imaginative use in cities. The residency supports this kind of exploration into new design territory, but also offers a great platform to communicate these ideas to the wider public through the exhibition.
Because drones are so new to us, the possibilities for what we can do with them are endless, so part of the process is really about establishing the rules of the game. It has been about working at micro and macro scales simultaneously - designing not just the drones but the airspace around them. The exhibition presents drones, not as toys, but as a kind of living layer of urban infrastructure - fragments of the city constantly moving around - and invites visitors to see and explore what such a scenario would look like, and what it would mean for everyday life.
My exhibition will depict a possible future, but is one of many, so it's also about sparking the public imagination about how we want to live in cities. Drones are like a new pair of eyes and limbs - they enable us to see and interact with the world in new ways. The question is what to do with it and how to facilitate it - and do we even want it? We'll be holding events during the exhibition period that will more openly stir this public discussion.
If drone urbanism takes off then there'll be plenty to do! Drones are one of many technologies vying to make a significant impact on daily urban lives - so as stewards of the built environment we need to learn how to add this string of technologies to our bow, and engage with them as part of the process of designing future cities.
My key to the residency was the brief: migration challenges basic political concepts such as borders, while design can discuss the resulting cultural complexities. We tend to focus on the problems of globalisation and migration, and the Design Museum offers the opportunity to look at those topics from a different angle. I have been working on this project for a while now and to see it valued by an institution such as the Design Museum is a massive incentive. My working title is Culturing an inter-nation. I present four characters who live in an indivicracy - a fictional variation of democracy that I've made up. This government resembles a social network that 'follows around' as its citizens lead a migratory life, and neglects to fulfil the territorial manner of 'settled' statehoods. The exhibition will stage the national dance and dress and convey details about the history of this newly emerged statehood. These cultural elements describe unity, but I want visitors to join in and learn the national dances as part of an interactive installation - hence celebrating and imagining a life in motion.
I currently collaborate with a choreographer, dancers, a programmer and a filmmaker so I spend a lot of time adjusting and directing the project to fit the different media. Culture is ultimately an experience and I hope to create this by working in a holistic manner. However, I then have to hide in my studio from time to time to work on the physical pieces such as masks and other elements of their dress.
The overall aim is to challenge people's notion of nationality: the 'Greek' dance sirtaki was invented for the film Zorba the Greek and is a great example of how we invent and design national identities, so culturing the inter-nation aims to have a similar effect... I see this as a long-term project for which I will develop more and more details over time and who knows, maybe it will forge a real culture someday. For now, there is a graphic novel I am working on that might turn into a series, but my favourite idea is to see this piece performed live as a digital participatory opera.
Most of my recent work is connected to mobility and nomadism, so it seemed like a great coincidence that the Design Museum is also moving home at this time of my career and proposed the topic of Migration for this year's residence scheme. I find it quite intriguing to work towards a completely different target group as opposed to my usual work as an industrial designer where I work with manufacturers. Therefore this project was going to be much more research-based. When I finally received the nomination it was amazing to see a whole new world opening in front of me. It is great to collaborate closely with the curators, theorists, exhibition designers and to be able to see the museum's collection in full.
My reflection on the brief was very much a question of how recent changes in society and technology reflect our way of living. Our notion of personal space has changed. We can create our personal space on-the-go, but our identity really lies in our home. With this project I look at the home as a transitional space rather than a destination. With multiple things happening in one room today, the objects surrounding us should support this flexibility.
I feel like the design world now is missing an offer of objects that cleverly accompanies our lives. In the first period of my residency I had a close look at design history to be able to re-evaluate the importance of design. As an industrial designer I believe that in an ultramodern age we can still find authenticity in industrially produced materials. So I am trying to learn from the great designs of the 20th century and to apply new materials and technologies of the 21st century. The environment I aim to design for the exhibition will be a still life of objects that reflect this research and our new flexibility. The objects shouldn't be grand gestures but rather reveal the qualities of the everyday.
To me, model-making is sketching in three dimensions. At the moment I am experimenting with new materials, which is very exciting. Every material has its own properties and can be applied in so many different ways. It is important to get to know it better with your own hands. With this process I hope to be able to put my work into a wider context and define my own language.
Cosmic Colliery (Glofa'ar Gofod) will reveal the potential for abandoned coal mines in Wales to be used as astronaut training centres. This year's theme of Migration fitted to the direction I wanted to take with the project, because it finds a new use for an old industry, it embeds communities and cultures within a previously distant cosmic context, and explores social mobility through examining the effects of labour migrating away from such communities.
This opportunity is allowing me to understand my own practice and the work I want to be making. Nye Bevan - founder of the NHS - said: 'The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away.' I want to use this opportunity to empower communities, allowing them to realise their capacity to achieve something seemingly impossible through a collective communitarian effort.
The work I do has a strong social focus, and relies on developing relationships and artefacts with people, therefore I've been spending most of my days calling, emailing and meeting people while fitting in as much drawing and designing in between. This means my design process is informed by interactions, not predictions, and the conversations and the people I meet are directly influencing the work being produced.
It's quite difficult to call up strangers and explain that I would like to convert the coal mine in their town into an astronaut training centre! However the response I'm receiving is massively positive; I've had the honour of meeting some extraordinary people and I'm certain I will continue to.
It was very challenging to find a coal mine which still has the apparatus and hasn't been 'capped' - this is the process of sealing a coal mine shaft with concrete. However, after an intensive period of research and surreal phone calls explaining the astronaut training centre to various experts and local authorities, I have focused on the Penallta Colliery in the Rhymney Valley; a coal mine of great historical importance in Wales and one which now sits on a patch of land owned by a property developer with an enthusiasm for space travel and an advocacy for Cosmic Colliery.
I'm making monthly visits with my friend and filmmaker to meet with people in the towns surrounding the colliery, interviewing and collaborating with ex-miners, brass bands, choirs, Labour MPs, schools, mining surveyors, tradespeople, hairdressers, and many others. As a result, a network of connections formulated by Cosmic Colliery is growing, and it will hopefully envelop entire towns.
During this phase of the project I am getting to the roots of the towns surrounding the colliery, understanding its people, culture and infrastructure, then recontextualising this for the purpose of an astronaut training centre. After the residency, I will use the relationships I have founded and the work that has been made as a base to progress and move the astronaut training centre from a speculation to a realisation; establishing a new industry and getting people closer to the spectacle of space travel.