Essay Prize Winners and Nominees

1 October 2019 -

Jess Majekodunmi won the Student DHS Essay Prize in the post-graduate category for her submission, ‘What a Load of Bollards: The Bollards of Dublin's Thomas Street’. Here, DHS Student Officer, Tai Cossich, speaks to Jess about her essay.

Tai Cossich (TC): It's been a few weeks since you received the DHS Essay Prize in September 2019, during the DHS Annual Conference ‘The Cost of Design’. What have you been up to since receiving the prize?

Jess Majekodunmi (JM): The biggest news since receiving the prize is that I've submitted my master's thesis! It was titled ‘Robots That Suck’. In my research, I identified almost 30 examples of vacuuming robots from 1927 to 2002, which I traced through a role as mascots of electrification, to labour saving machines, to cohabiting objects. My thesis explores the phenomenon of vacuuming robots in their historic and contemporary context to uncover how they have materialised within ideas of technology and domesticity.

On the surface it seems as there is no link between bollards and vacuuming robots. And yet there is in my mind — I am intrigued by everyday objects that are often overlooked but tell us a lot about our experience in the world. Both street furniture and vacuum cleaners fall into that category.

TC: Please tell us about the topic of your essay submission. What drew your interest to bollards?

JM: Bollards are seemingly mundane objects, and my essay demonstrates how a design historical approach can bring about a greater understanding of urban environments.

It started with a silver cast iron bollard in the entrance to an alleyway off a street in Dublin. It fascinated me. Why did it look so out of place and yet overlooked? Where did it come from? Who made it? How did it end up here?

What I uncovered was how the bollards of Thomas Street present a portrait of the street itself. Thomas Street is one of the oldest streets in Dublin and the high street of an area called The Liberties. It is a vernacular space and as such, Thomas Street can only be grasped through its curated environment, the urban ordinary.

TC: What are you reading at the moment?

JM: ‘Kindred’, by Octavia Butler. Next up on my reading list is ‘Make It New: A History of Silicon Valley Design’, by Barry Katz. I like to alternate between fact and fiction.

TC: You have recently been awarded a MA in Design History and Material Culture from the National College of Art & Design (NCAD), Dublin. What advice would you give to students interested in Design History?

JM: To students who have a specialised area already in mind, I say congratulations and I'm jealous. To students who, like me, didn't have a specialised area starting the course in Design History, my advice would be to follow their gut as to what objects they study. Don't overthink it. I never thought I'd end up writing an essay on bollards or a thesis on vacuuming robots. Stay open and curious, you'll never know where it brings you!

TC: How do you feel about writing? And how do you feel about writing about Design History? Do you have any writing habits you would like to share?

JM: For me, writing is the best part about studying. At NCAD, we were really encouraged to experiment, to discover our own writing style and to think about how we write can add to what we want to say. For ‘What a Load of Bollards’, each case study is written in a style that evokes my experiential encounter with bollards in that location.

I can write anywhere and at any time — early morning on a bus, at a desk, with hip hop in the background or in total silence late at night. Once I start — usually with pen and paper — I'm off and it is hard to get me to stop!

To learn more on the DHS Student Essay Prize please click here.


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