I am currently doing a study of design in the US through a research field trip. My area of focus is entered around the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle.
The East was simply breathtaking
This region has not occupied my interest in nearly 26 years – to be precise since 1991 when I worked in the design studios at Hitachi in Kokubunji in Tokyo, Japan. Its safe to say the years preceding and following my stint at Hitachi were filled with a deep passion for Japanese aesthetic production – from Literature, Cinema, Poetry, art and Design. I had encountered Penny Sparke’s Japanese Design in the 1980s, and I have had no reason to go back to that work in the past 3 decades. I was to changed quite significantly by my Japan exposure, and my deep immersion into the Japanese Design Ecosystem provided me with access to a practice that provided an alternative narrative to the functional-utilitarian discourse I was inculcated in at Design School in the early 1980s. I arrived in Japan with all my senses open and suspended – with an excessive passion for Kurosawa, Kawabata and Ozu. It was a territory I was owning for myself. It helped that I was surrounded by others equally passionate in the material culture of Japan. Japan however is not important in this post. What is significant is that the project to undertake an immersion and a scholarship of the material culture of a people changed both my approach to valuing design and to the ‘good looking’ in design. This immersion was a precursor to my engagement with design in Asia and to the diversity of contextual constructions of design.
That Old (Traditional) view of American Design
Before I had begun my preoccupation with the East I was fortunate to be exposed extensively to American designers and design projects. An exposure that lasted till the late 1980s. This exposure was the stuff of lore – Wright, Herman Miller, Saarinen, Eames and Propst. I even sat behind Paolo Soleri at a concert in Ahmedabad.
The bridge between matter and spirit is matter becoming spirit.
I knew people who had worked with Fuller and Kahn. I was of course of the generation of the 80s – The Whole Earth Catalog occupied us, I can recite verbatim from Fuller:
I have foreseen for one-third of a century, that the opportunity existed for a new professional architectural scientist to seize the initiative, independent of client prerogatives, in dealing anticipatory with the external organics of industrial man.
I have loved my well thumbed copy of Wholly Round by Rasa Gustaitis, and Cosmic Fishing by Applewhite. We were at this time taking the Stewart Brand Whole Earth Catalog to heart – and were focussed upon solving the worlds problems – in geodesic ways. I have built a few three frequency domes in my life, built solar cookers and have re-paired windmills. The repair opportunity arose as I was in conversation with Marjorie Sykes at Rasulia, the Quaker Farm I was volunteering at, and going on about VITA and the appropriate tech movement.
My continuing pursuit of american production was to be in the field of alternative education. Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society), Rules for Radicals (Saul Alinsky), John Holt, Neil Postman (Teaching as a subversive activity) and John Seeley Brown (Learning in the Digital Age) guided me as I developed my teaching practice.
American Design meant something completely different then. I had potentially been distancing myself from the designer who suffered from hubris – external organics of industrial man – and has shifted to a contemplative, and collaborative mode. Being immersed in the context and listening deeply to the words – and keeping what I was hearing local, pertinent to the context of the speaker, is giving me new insights.
Soon after I wrote the above line I was to spend time with a university science and technology academic. I heard a position articulated – that science in a famous university would produce the solution for a sustainable planet – and had a momentary exposure to the hubristic voice.
Design in the West Coast
So it is only this year that I have begun a program to research contemporary Design in the US of A. In the first instance I am looking closely at Design in the West Coast.I have begun to read Barry Katz’s book Make it now and am now gaining an appreciation of design in the west coast. A lot of what I have been hearing in my interviews, Stanford is an amazing laboratory of innovation, is now making sense.
My interest in Design in the West Coast is in three parts. My Research looks at:
- Contemporary crafts and art production. I have a set of links to Pinterest Boards to Furniture Designer-Makers listed at the end of this post.
- The history and development of contemporary design in the bay area.
- Design Institutions and Educational ecosystems.
- Entrepreneurship ecosystems in Design
This is the first in a series on Design in the West Coast.
The research program will produce some artefacts that I will post here: a narrative, some drawings, enumerations and a glossary.
Barry Katz, Make it New (Book), Link.
Richard Florida, America’s Leading Design Cities, Link.
Nathan Shedroff & Christopher Noessel, Make It So, Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction, Link.
Cosmic Fishing, by E.J. Applewhite, Link. This is a wondefull book about E.J Applewhite’s collaboration with Buckminster Fuller on Bucky’s epic “Synergetics” Applewhite writes about the process of intimately working with Fuller….the quirks,calamities, frustrations and ecstacies. I have bought it for friends as it is a good, concise guide to Bucky’s principles and way of thinking. As in “Synergetics” Applewhite gets to the basics. As he would say, “He confronts Fuller with himself” Applewhite shows himself to be a elegant writer and dry wit. I can see why he complimented Bucky so well.
Wholly Round by Rasa Gustaitis
The text of the Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is available, for those wishing to download the PDF, here.
John Seeley Brown’s text (PDF) Learning in the Digital Age here.