This Design Dialogue looked critically at the role of locality in the context of design, bringing together practitioners who are based outside of their city of origin and thus have the opportunity to analyse their designer identity as a construct traversing national borders, cultures and histories. With artist/designer Silvio Lorusso, architect/researcher Mohamed Elshahed and designer Rachel Jenkins.
In the era of the laptop studio, designers have to appear as fluid, as accessible and as available as possible to clients or opportunities all over the world. The image of the designer as a cosmopolitan nomad stands in stark contrast with the conscious cultivation of national design cultures over the past 150 years through national romantic and modern movements. Today, attempting to frame or define a designer’s style by their ethnicity or place of residence seems anachronistic at best (considering how much and how quickly we share references, images and software) and at worst veers towards ethnocentric nationalism. At the same time, it is obvious that many conditions of place – working cultures, markets for design, funding opportunities, respect for design as a practice, and the availability of materials, tools and skills – wield an incredibly strong influence on a designer’s profile, aesthetic and choices. Can we consider the somewhat arbitrary matter of where a designer is ‘based’ as an immaterial component of the design products made today? And if so, how should we critically engage with the subject? The moderator was Tamar Shafrir (Het Nieuwe Instituut).
Silvio Lorusso is a Rotterdam-based artist, designer and researcher. He’s currently investigating the relationship between entrepreneurship and precarity – the ‘entreprecariat’. He is an affiliated researcher at the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam and works as a mentor at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences’ PublishingLab. He holds a PhD in Design Sciences from the School of Doctorate Studies, Iuav University of Venice. His work was presented at, among other places, MaXXI (IT), Transmediale (DE), Impakt (NL) and Sight & Sound (CA).
Mohamed Elshahed is a Cairo-based architect, independent researcher and writer. He is the curator of the British Museum’s Modern Egypt Project and teaches architecture history at the American University in Cairo. In 2011, he founded the online platform ‘Cairo Observer’ as a focal point of architectural and urban discourse in Egypt. Elshahed is currently preparing the manuscript for his book Revolutionary Modernism? Architecture and the Politics of Transition in Egypt, 1936-1967, which focuses on architecture and urban planning in Egypt during the period of political transition around the 1952 coup d’état. He holds a Master’s degree in Architecture Studies from MIT.
Rachel Stella Jenkins is the Creative Director and founder of genuinefake. genuinefake is engaged curiously and critically with ongoing processes making up new urban landscapes that are rapidly evolving in response to the tides of migration and increased connectivity; forging new parallels and new possibilities. Her projects and collaborations have included visually documenting, mapping, writing, curating, exhibiting and debating. Recently Jenkins co-founded Ka'ssa - a London based collective of urban professionals from diverse backgrounds critically engaged with ongoing processes making up the 'African' city.
A diverse series of dialogues with makers, designers, journalists and critics on design. The discussions take a close look at the designer’s process from raw material to final object, exploring issues of aesthetic and technological change, ethical positions, sustainable cycles, and innovation in how objects perform and interact. In a culture saturated with design and mediated by digital technologies, these dialogues explore how the traditional sense of meaning, value, and materiality are being reinvented.