Week #12: In the Eye of the Storm: Design Culture and the Coming Age of Unsettlement by Tony Fry

Presentation by: Christopher Miller & Andrew Tyson

Reading #1: ‘Designer as Redirective Practitioner: New Roles beyond Design’ in Tony Fry’s Design Futuring: Sustainability. Ethics and New Practice, Berg: Oxford and New York, 2008, pp.149-55

Reading #2: “Good Design,” Fry Tony, pp. 1-5. An edited version of paper given at the Brisbane Ideas Festival, March 2008, at http://www.griffith.edu.au/faculty/qca/design/programs/designfutures/preview.html

Reading #3: Matthew Calarco ‘Jamming the Anthropological Machine’ in Matthew Calarco and Steven DeCaroli (eds) Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty & Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007, pp. 163-79.


Janine Benyus: 12 Sustainable design ideas from nature. TED Talks: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/18

William McDonough: The Wisdom of designing Cradle to Cradle. TED Talks: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/104

Cameron Sinclair: TED Prize wish: Open-source architecture to house the world. TED Talks:  http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/18

Tony Fry’s week 12 readings focus on overarching principles of design and how they relate in todays environment.  In his essay “Designer as Redirective Practionioner: New Roles beyond Design” Fry focuses on how “redirective practice seeks to displace the defuturing character inherent in so many productivist practices like design.” (Fry 2008, 1).
Fry then explains that “By Default, we now live in a world that has been made unsustainable by design (although blame here obviously goes well beyond designers). Rather, than continuing to design without directional consequences being taken rigorously into account (which is exactly the situation that unrestrained pluralism will proliferate) it is vital to have a practice that is both corrective and redirective.” (Fry 2008, 3). He points out that design procedures and the overall market demands designers to create products and goods that are detrimental to society and the environment.  These designed objects need to be identified, sorted,  and questioned. “There has to be a practice that can ethically confront and answer two crucial, but currently unasked questions ‘what should and should not be imposed?’ And, ‘what should be created, redirected or eliminated?”(Fry 2008, 3).
A good example of this process can be seen in the auto industry.  Designers have begun to identify problems with the ways in which vehicles have been designed.  They have found that the current design of most vehicles are unsustainable at best and extremely harmful to the environment at worst.  Designers are now picking apart these problems and coming up with solutions. They are building fuel efficient hybrid engines, working with fuel cell technology, creating new materials that are lighter, stronger, easier to make, and can be reused and recycled.  These designers have not totally abandon the idea of vehicles but have redirected the idea of vehicles to become more sustainable and less of a liability.  As Fry points out  “Redirection is not, of course, dislocation. It does not mean total rupture from the status quo, rather it means disclosing how a practice is being determined and then uncoupling, modifying, remaking or reframing it.” (Fry 2008, 4) This process of taking apart, examining, fixing, and putting back together is essential in the design process. Designers rarely if ever get things right on the first attempt. Instead, they work, and re-work their designs until they are satisfied.  Many times they will revisit a design that has already been re-worked and re-designed and take it a step further. In the design world nothing stays the same for long. Forward progress is essential.
In conclusion Fry states that the “redirective practice, with its ambitious transformative agenda, is not a ‘stand alone activity’. Its focus is clearly on action to create that which sustains and destroys that which does not. So said, this does not mean that redirective practice can have definitive determinant qualities.” (Fry 2008, 11).

Such a characterisation turned on Platonic notions of ‘the good’ – an aesthetically ideal form which through its realisation becomes absolute truth (thereby acquiring a transcendental value uniting the thing with the cosmos). While this process of idealisation is ancient, it lives on, as does Greek thought in general. (Specifically, Greek thought is in fact inscribed in the western mind – we all think, in part, like the Greeks). Certainly we find Platonism resident in many influential modern thinkers and designers – Le Corbusier is a good example.

Le Corbusier most influential book Towards a New Architecture (first published in France in 1923) extols the machine – specifically, the ocean liner, the aeroplane, the automobile – as the ideal form of his age. This is the book in which he famously characterises the house as a machine for living. However, echoing the Greeks, and just prior to coming to this conclusion, he spent forty pages celebrating the Parthenon as the “pure creation of mind” and as a measure of ‘the good’. For Le Corbusier ‘the good’ was an exemplary object – one ruptured from time to serve as a universal measure.

His ambition was to transpose the essence of the ‘eternally good’ onto what was new, rational and functional. His ideal mass-produced house fused with the classical, as the ‘type-form’ for future housing. Thereafter, this housing could be regarded as the agency for the mass replication of the good. Such thinking of idealised form – a form disengaged from any material or social environment – extended well beyond Le Corbusier and architecture. It influenced the entire modern movement in all spheres of design practice. :(Tony Fry 2008)


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