Masked up, isolated and confined in cramped spaces all day — life under lockdown feels very much like living in outer space. A deep dive into (or out towards?) Space Settlements (2019) by Fred Scharmen reveals the many parallels between constructing space habitats and on Earth. Examining a 1975 NASA study led by physicist Gerard O’Neil to design a space settlement, Scharmen reveals how the seemingly fantastical sci-fi endeavour was shaped by similar methods, concerns and solutions of 1970s modern architecture on planet earth. What is the spaceship but ”just an elevator with a higher top floor”? And the idea of “megastrucutres” advocated by Metabolists as flexible frames to construct cities were useful for space which had no ground. In fact, the empty slate of space only made apparent how much we take for granted when designing environments on Earth. Only by stepping out of home, can we see it that much clearer.
#ADesignLibrary spotlights lesser known design books, and invites public access to my personal collection of titles that focuses on Singapore architecture and design, Asian design, everyday design, critical and speculative design as well as design theory and philosophy. I welcome enquiries and physical loans.
Design solves problems is one reason the field is so attractive. It was a reason I started studying it too. But I vividly recall the 2007 GOOD magazine cover where an AK-47 gun confronted me with the fact that “good” design could be “bad”. Such a contrary view is the subject of Design and Violence (2015), a print record of an originally online platform started by Paola Antonelli and Jamer Hunt. In 2013, they began uploading designs related to violence—defined as “a manifestation of the power to alter the circumstances around us, against the will of others and to their detriment”—and inviting commentators from a wide variety of disciplines to reflect on each. Online public discussions were encouraged too. Besides the expected, such as weapons and prisons, the project investigates lesser known ways of violent design. For instance, a ramp for killing cattle in a “humane” manner, genetically-modified rice that has strained ecosystems and applying design thinking in war. While the project focuses on facilitating discussion rather than making a stand, it is a painful reminder that design is good… for violent ends too.
#ADesignLibrary spotlights lesser known design books, and invites public access to my personal collection of titles that focuses on Singapore architecture and design, Asian design, everyday design, critical and speculative design as well as design theory and philosophy. I welcome inquiries and physical loans.
Everyone knows what design should aspire to: good design. It’s a catch-all phrase that rolls easy on the tongue and sounds pleasing to the ear. No wonder this has become the profession’s holy grail for all, from the consumer to the client, and even the critic. An industry of design awards have been created around it; Some even have it in their names.
But what exactly is “good design”? Probe deeper and it doesn’t sit so comfortably after all. What may be good design for a business may not be good for the environment. What looks good to you may not be to others. “Good design” turns out to be loaded with subjective values. No surprise then that what we consider “good” today emerged from a post-war movement led by New York City’s Museum of Modern Art to equate all things “modernist” as “Good Design”.
➜ Read the full column in CUBES #86 (June/July 2017)