A Critical Design of London’s West end theatresQueen’s theatre, is it an affirmative design?
“Chairs made of second-hand clothes from homeless people: Cowpatties in an installation with a PH designer lamp in the home of apoor African family: A bench in the silhouette of a swastika. A sofawith an electromagnetic shield adopted by an average family: And asoft drink to improve the lives of guarana growers in Brazil.”Critical design has many faces and often finds itself in theborder land between art and design.
Reading 1: Critique
The primary mode of practicing theory has evolvedinto critique. Primary melancholic persistence affects much ofcontemporary theory and derives recognition from this inability ofcritique to fulfill its transformative processes. The architect plea,as a public intellectual is to seek for an optimistic critique, a newtheory perhaps, that projects alternatives with a desire for thereal. Why is critical design taking shape now? The world as we knowgrows complex every day, our social interactions and relations,desires, fantasies, hopes and fears are extremely varied from thoseof the 20thcentury yet many key ideas informing mainstream design stem from theearly 20thcentury. Society has therefore progressed and moved on as designremains stagnant not taking into account the change over the years.As Dunne & Raby state critical design is one of the manymutations design is undergoing in an effort to remain relevant to thecomplex technological political economic and social changes we areexperiencing in the 21stcentury.
Critical design also has significant roles and oneis to question the limited image of emotional and psychologicalexperiences offered through designed products. What does the designof Queens’s theatre significantly portray? As Dunne and Raby state,designed has been assumed to only make things nice and it’s asthough the designers did take an unspoken Hippocratic oath thatlimits them and prevents full engagement to explore all thecomplexities of life. Life too revolves around unpleasant moments andthus design should also account for that in essence referred to asthe positive use of negativity. The focus is not being on negativity,but to draw attention to a scary possibility in the form of acautionary tale.
What role does humour play in critical design Dunne says Humour isimportant but often misused. Satire is the goal. But often onlyparody and pastiche are achieved. These reduce the effectiveness in anumber of ways. They are lazy and borrow existing formats, and theysignal too clearly that it is ironic and so relieve some burden fromthe viewer. The viewer should experience a dilemma, is it serious ornot? Real or not? For Critical design to be successful they need tomake up their own mind. Also, it would be very easy to preach, askilful use of satire and irony can engage the audience in a moreconstructive away by appealing to its imagination as well as engagingthe intellect. Good political comedians achieve this well.Straight-faced and black humour work best
Critical Design as depicted by Antony D. and FionaR. is a naming technique that makes this activity more useful andopen to debate. Furthermore critical design uses speculative designsproposals to challenge narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givensabout the role products play every day.
Interpretation, collaboration, and critique arefundamental to critical design as put forward by Dunne (2006). Thecontextual environment which critical design occurs is an activeforce in design. Designers usually design things not intended for theworld as it is today, thus according to Dunne context plays asignificant and dual role. He depicts the imagined context and theencountered context. He argues that today’s deigns derive theircultural value and meaning from the “narratives of production”focusing on how it was made, what materials and processes did thedesigner use that eventually resulted in the encountered context. Thenarrative of most objects end with the encountered context, but withcritical design the story begins there, “narratives ofconsumption”. How does the interaction of the London’s west endQueens Theatre design affect users? Does the design criticallyaddress the societal changes? Or does it directly propagate socialstratification and group users according to their economic standing?Does the design cater for all gender without parity? Several inherentcritical questions can be asked about its design.
What is the future of critical design? According to Dunne the dangerof critical design is that it may end up as a form of sophisticateddesign entertainment comprising of 90% humour and 10% critique. Toavoid such scenario and situations we need to identify and engagewith complex challenging issues he further states that areas likeFuture Forecasting would benefit from its more gritty-witty view ofhuman nature and ability to make abstract issues challenging. Hereiterates that critical design could also be significant and playrole in public debates about the social cultural and ethical impacton everyday life of emerging future technologies. Other scholars tooshared their risks in regard to critical design. Andreas Rumpfhuber,an architect and design researcher based in Vienna, Austria Argues“The tricky part is that you can’t control creativity. In orderto be critical, you have to take yourself out of the box. Wheninternational corporations use hackers to check their security, thenwho’s serving whom? It’s the same thing with critical design:When every company around the globe is asking designers to take acritical look at their product to maximise their turnover – who isserving whom? The moment that critical design turns mainstream, itloses its soul," Andreas Rumpfhuber argues.
Dunne refers to four elements that critical designmust balance, namely rigor, imagination, tangibility and relevance.Rigor being achieved by that constant questioning and doubting ofwhat we are doing, as we search incompleteness, weakness andcontradictions to name a few. We seek unusual outcomes in criticaldesign, thus we have to exercise imagination and creativity to itslimit to meander through imaginative combinations of theory methodsinteractions among others as said by Dunne. Tangibility is importantfor it makes count when the design is achieved and not end up as purethoughts, they should get to the encountered context and forminteractions with its intended users. For instance, a critical designby Dutch designer Richard Hutten’s “S(h)it on it” (abench in the shape of a swastika) was designed as a statement againstfascism. People sit on it with their backs towards another. (Seefigure below)
Figure1: The Dutch designer Richard Hutten’s (photo: ReneKoster)(retrieved fromhttp://www.dcdr.dk/uk/Menu/Update/Webzine/Articles/Critical+Design+as+%C2%ADConstructive+Provocation)
Dunne (2006) in his interview further emphasizes on the importance ofcollaboration which in turn adds to the richness of any criticaldesign. He acknowledges collaboration is inevitable when a projectrequires skills of which they don’t have for example programmingelectronics, graphics, photography, music and video.
There are several misconceptions that should be cleared out as towhat critical design is. Many say it is negative and anti-everything.It is only commentary and cannot change anything. As quoted earlier,critical design should serve to offer positive provocation that wouldelicit change. People claim it’s jokey and it is not concerned withaesthetics which can’t be further from the truth, it’s alsomisconceived be against mas production and it’s pessimistic. Inaddition to not being real and that it is art!
Critical design can work in such a way that it can serve as ameaningful provocation without being over-determined. Ambiguity andopenness are the keys. We don’t view the piece as a transmitter ofmeaning to be deciphered by a viewer, but as a prompt, a thing to beengaged with. We think about the experience of physicallyencountering the work: its size, scale, materiality, degrees ofperfection, mass, relationship to the body, etc., and how these mightmake a person feel and what associations they might trigger. Then wespend quite a lot of time seeking out wrongness. Things have to benot-quite-right this awkwardness is a way into the object, aninvitation to explain why it is the way it is, why it’s not quiteright. If it was too correct and as expected, they would glance onceand move on. If the object is too open-ended in terms ofsignificance, then it can seem empty. One thing that we have noticedover time is that compared to artworks, our idea of provocation ispretty mild. I think this is because if we make things too wild theyalienate and end up being categorised as whacky and irrelevant. Dunnehopes that people believe our pieces could be part of this world, andthat their subtle strangeness intrigues rather than repels.
Dunne talks on user friendliness in design as being of importance anda very valid goal for deign though restricted in highly functionalsituations. He reiterates that if u are designing controls be userfriendly or be it an everyday product where we need minimal know howto go about it. As far as critical design is concerned to dunethough, user-centeredness takes least precedence: Resonance andRelevance are far more interesting to his perspective.
In the Placebo project, one of the founders of the conceptof critical design, Professor Anthony Dunne of the Royal College ofArt in London, offered a critical comment on the vast amounts oftechnology we surround ourselves with in everyday life by creating aseries of furniture with "special features", including atable with a built-in compass and a sofa with a shield againstelectromagnetic fields. Dunne had ordinary families live with thefurniture for a while, and afterward he interviewed them about theexperience. The purpose of the experiment was to take conceptualdesign out of the galleries and into everyday life in order to makepeople reflect, in particular, on the invisible electromagnetic wavesfrom the technology we bring into our life.
In the project What if, which was on display in 2009 at TheScience Gallery in Dublin, Ireland, design student Thomas Thwaitesset out to build an ordinary toaster from scratch. The resultingtoaster, says Tau Ulv Lenskjold, resembled something that was made ofplay-dough and stopped worked after about 10 minutes. His point wasto demonstrate how complex even everyday products are today. Seefigure below
"Critical design points to things in contemporary society thatwe otherwise tend to have a blind spot for,"
Detailed analysis of the Queens theatre, London West End
The specific focus in this essay is Critical Design. “Dunne (2006)describes critical design as an approach that demands the social,ideological and other considerations to also informdesign. Design ought to do more than just simplify the world.More reason why critical design has taken onrenewed relevance over the past 10-15 years. According to Tau UlvLenskjold a design PhD student at the Danish center for designresearch, is that there is presently a strong broad emphasis ondesign. Design is often expected to provide solutions and helpsimplify the world in order to make it more rational, as this is seenas favorable in itself. "In a Danish context, the functional andrational always take precedent. But in my opinion, that is adiscourse that critical design ought to challenge," says Tau UlvLenskjold.
What design does the Queens theatre portray? Conservative?Culturally appealing?
The important question would be is the design a critical design orits direct opposite, an affirmative design.
Critically looking at the sitting arrangement design, the Queen’s theatre has a story to tell. Who seat in secluded vantage points as depicted in figures 2 and 3? Who sits with the masses in the centre?
Assumptions could be drawn that the design proposes the status quo of grouping persons on how much they can afford perhaps.
How has technological advancements influenced the developmental changes in design for queens theatre?
Looking at all the perspectives it can be said technology is influencing the design standards and appearance of the queens theatre. A clear contrast as seen in the pictures above as they try to capture both the historical perspective and cultural angle of the theatres design.
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