How do design historians deal with time and temporality? Recent research and debate across a number of disciplines has centred on global perspectives on time, the rhythms of work and the increasing speed of life and communication. But in what ways can the discipline of design history respond to these challenges? How can the past inform the present and the future in terms of design? How has time been designed? These are the themes tackled by a new book Design, History and Time: New Temporalities in a Digital Age edited by Zoë Hendon and Anne Massey, which will be published by Bloomsbury next spring.
The book developed out of the Design History Society's 2016 conference Design and Time held at Middlesex University in London. The conference brought together over a hundred delegates and speakers with a rich programme of papers from all over the world. Contributions to the book are similarly diverse, both in terms of the geographical locations of their authors and the topics they tackle. Chapters include Toke Riis Ebbessen on the design of the kindle, David Lawrence in the London Underground, and Sally-Anne Huxtable on the Arts and Crafts designer Phoebe Anna Traquair, amongst many others. What these seemingly disparate chapters have in common, however, is a concern for the ways in which ideas about time have shaped our (designed) world, and thus how we as historians might navigate notions of futurity, modernity, speed, and slow design.
We are particularly grateful for the ongoing support of the Design History Society in the form of a Research Publication Grant. This has enabled us to include some fantastic images to illustrate Claire McAndrew's chapter 'Dreams of The Fun Palace and Plug-In City — Architectural Modularism and Cybernetics in the 1960s'. Claire’s chapter focuses on the speculative visions of The Fun Palace conceived by Cedric Price in 1964 and Archigram's Plug-in City designed by Peter Cook in the same year. These architectural visions sought to reverse the assumed stability of the built environment, with collections of modular units that could be re-organised over time. Pinned on an idealistic hope for a better future, they projected systems of human activity that could control and modify spatial form.
Motivated by a restlessness with the permanence of built form against the ever-quickening pact of city life, Cook's Plug-In City continues to resonate as much today as it did in the mid-1960s. Claire's chapter uses these examples to shed light on the ways in which time has been conceived of being designed into the architectural fabric of cities, and how, through the examination of critical debates, we might find relevance for design history today and for the design of contemporary living in the digital age. Her chapter explores the themes of cybernetics, social theory and technology, suggesting that we need to furnish designs of the future with a more temporal, situated knowledge.
One of the main contributions of this chapter is not only how time has been conceived on being designed into our cities as a response to the unrelenting speed of life, but also what can be opened-up by contemplating our recent architectural past through the lens of 'time' - how it might illuminate and inform present and future thought. Such thinking is essential to the era we now find ourselves in where people and 'things' are feeding data across the city, shaping our engagement in a dynamically recursive manner. The inclusion of images (courtesy of the Canadian Centre of Architecture and The Archigram Archival Project) was important in illustrating the radical time-based ethic of these examples and how time was wrapped in their aesthetics. Whilst the 1960s was concerned with making these dynamic processes visible, the challenge today requires a different kind of visual engagement with citizens as technology becomes ubiquitous, and the algorithms orchestrating our cities more and more invisible.
The themes of the cybernetic, the digital, and the hyper-connected that are explored in Claire's chapter are picked up by other contributors, who ask what this means for the writing of history in general, and design hisory in particular. How can design historians use the lens of 'time' to make sense of our increasingly complex, high-speed world? Make a note on your calendars, set an alert on your phone, or tie a knot in your handkerchiefs to remind yourselves that the date of publication is spring 2019.
Design, History and Time: New Temporalities in a Digital Age, ed. Zoë Hendon and Anne Massey (Bloomsbury, forthcoming, 2019).