Design and designers hold an ambiguous place in environmental discourse. They are either blamed for causing environmental problems, or hailed as possessing some of the competences that could help solving those problems. Despite this long-standing centrality of design to environmental discourse and vice versa, these interrelations remain under-explored in design historical scholarship.
Convenor: Kjetil Fallan Co-convenors: Ingrid Halland, Ida Kamilla Lie, Gabriele Oropallo, and Denise Hagströmer
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Simon Sadler – University of California, Davis
Jennifer Gabrys – Goldsmiths, University of London
Peder Anker – New York University & University of Oslo
Half a century ago, Leo Marx coined the phrase 'the machine in the garden' to describe a trope he identified as a prominent feature of 19th- and early 20th-century American literature, in which the pastoral ideal is seen as disturbed by the invasion of modern technology. Marx subsequently shifted perspective from this fascination with 'the technological sublime' to a deep concern for the environmental ramifications of technological progress. The question of how we as society deal with the allegorical machine in the proverbial garden is more relevant than ever.
Design is both making and unmaking the environment. Conversely, it might be argued that the environment is both making and unmaking design. This conference seeks to explore how these processes unfold, across timescapes and landscapes, thus opening a new agenda for the field of design history. Design thinkers from John Ruskin and William Morris to Richard Buckminster Fuller and Victor Papanek and beyond have grappled with the intricate and paradoxical relations between the natural environment and the designed environment. From Ghandi's India to Castro's Cuba, design policy has been enmeshed in concerns for its environmental ramifications. From prehistoric stone implements to contemporary nanotechnology, design has been key to shaping our environment.
In the age of the anthropocene, we can no longer talk about design (and) culture without also talking about design (and) nature. The conference theme is intended to stimulate new directions in design historical discourses that take seriously design's complex interrelations with nature and the environment. Not only does design feature prominently in the making and unmaking of the environment, but studying the history of these processes will also help reveal how the idea of the environment itself has been articulated over time. Engaging with issues of environmental controversies and sustainable development can move design history beyond its conventional societal significance, and may thus enable more resilient futures.