Ingrid Halland won the DHS Essay Prize in the post-graduate category for her submission, "Designs on our Ultimate Environment: Gruppo 9999, Superstudio and the New Ontological Landscape". Here, DHS Teaching & Learning Officer, Maya Oppenheimer, speaks to Halland about her research.
Maya Oppenheimer (MO): It's been around seven months since you received the DHS Essay Prize in September 2016 for your entry, "Designs on our Ultimate Environment: Gruppo 9999, Superstudio and the New Ontological Landscape". What have you been up to since you received the prize?
Ingrid Halland (IH): In 2016-2017, I travelled to New York City as a visiting scholar in architecture history at Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. I have been conducting archival research at MoMA too, in addition to working on my PhD dissertation, which I will hand in later this year.
MO: Please tell us about the topic of your essay submission. What's your party-line pitch?
IH: In this speculative essay, I was trying to re-think two works by the two Italian neo avant-garde groups Superstudio and Gruppo 9999. I argue that the design project "Microenvironment" by Superstudio and "The Vegetable Garden House" by Gruppo 9999 made explicit—or materialised—a configuration of something not yet presently existent. The article observed that this configuration was the not yet established Anthropocene, that is, a new ontological landscape.
MO: You are currently working on a PhD, of which your winning essay was only a segment. Clearly this is an important topic for you in order to make it the focus of a large body of research and writing. What drew you to this topic?
IH: The essay is not a part of my PhD thesis as such, but the two are thematically related in two ways: first, the essay and my PhD deals with the same empirical material, the design and architecture exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, which took place at MoMA in 1972. More importantly, the essay and my PhD thesis are both part of a larger theoretical argument where I question the conventional methodology in architecture and design history in order to break away from the Kantian tone (or rather, "the Kantian catastrophe", as others have labelled this) that dominates the discipline. More specifically, this includes a breakaway from historical/biographical—or social constructivist—methodological approaches.
MO: Who is the audience for your work?
IH: I guess my work has a quite broad scope, but perhaps scholars with an interest in philosophy would be more open to thinking about architecture and design history in this way.
MO: Do you have plans to communicate the ideas in your essay further or continue writing about them outside the PhD?
IH: Absolutely! However, the essay has already encountered some challenges in peer-review processes. This mode of thinking falls into a grey area: it is difficult for editors and peer-reviewers to categorise this type of approach as "design history" or "architecture history". But I hope the essay will be published at some point!
MO: How do you feel about writing? Do you have any writing habits, needs or rituals that you'd like to share?
IH: The smart phone has profoundly changed the human mentality. Checking your phone whenever you are bored is a bad idea. Being bored is good for the imagination, so I try to stay away from constantly checking my phone. But some parts of the Internet are essential for my writing.
MO: What are you reading at the moment?
IH: Apart from books and articles related to my research, I read the comic book Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth and Michel Houllebeck's The Map and the Territory.
MO: What advice would you give to students interested in histories of design, or those concerned with design and the environment?
IH: Since the notion of "the environment" can be understood in several ways, the intersection between design history and the environment is a research field with numerous possibilities. The 2017 DHS Annual Conference Making and Unmaking the Environment, scheduled to take place in Oslo in September this year, will explore a wide range of topics in this direction. I hope this connection will foster new topics and approaches within design history.