Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Designing an archive

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2011 at 15:43

Having been a history student from Undergraduate to MA to PhD level since 2005, my research has taken me to a number of archives in Britain and Ireland- from the National archives in Dublin to the Emap archives in London College of Fashion. On this journey, I had become familiar and comfortable with the idea of what an archive is; a building (usually rather official) where boxes of material are held in a systemised and cataolgued form. You make an appointment, you travel there, you take some pictures, and you go back home to write about it. As a tool with which to analyse and engage with the past, it has rather moulded the way in which we view the past; distant, closed and systemised: it’s somewhere else.

Recently, my expectation of what an archive looks like was challenged by the arrival of 126 boxes of CSD material to London. Uncatalogued, non-codified, I began to see the concept of an archive in radically different light.

The work of Luciana Gunetti at the Politecnico di Milano, Department of Architectural Design, (DPA) has helped me re-think the idea of how we archive the past, specifically in a design context.In an article entitled ‘An atlas for a history, a theory and a criticism of Italian visual design’, Gunetti seeks to re-define the design archive as ‘an open space and to identify new forms for the enhancement and enjoyment of an archives contents concerning Communication Design, namely a specific interactive instrument aimed at a historical-critical knowledge to use and share, for research and study work, in a perspective whereby the ‘memory of the project’ is to be considered as the focal point of new design.’

What Gunetti is aiming towards here is an exciting new vision of how designers might use and engage with previous designers work, arguing that rather than closing archive material away in boxes, it might be arranged visually, mapped, or ‘atlased’. Using the internet as the archive ‘home’, she states that a ‘visual narration of thematic pathways’ is possible and preferable as a new means of ‘systemising’ the archive, so that there would be ‘no separation between history, theory and practice’.

It seems to me that design history is already challenging the wider field’s perceptions and notions of what an ‘archive’ is. It no longer has to be closed away in a building. The Design Archives in particular is already committed to the dissemination of archival material, in visual form, online. We should continue to think of new ways of maximising the web-archive as an ‘open cultural resource’ and in a design context specifically, something that can visually represented or mapped.


Mapping personal histories

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2011 at 12:30

“in the city of sharjah, united arab emirates, many people do not use maps to navigate.
instead, they rely on visual clues, word-of-mouth, and draw upon their own or their community’s
past experience to know where to go and what to do. maps are mostly used by tourists and by
professionals involved in producing and maintaining the built environment. so the new york based
artists alexis bhagat and lize mogel got involved in the ‘sharjah infocart’ project where they asked
residents of the region for their assistance in creating a map that is very different from the one
made for non-locals. the cart traveled to various public locations throughout the city in january
and will be compiled by and for residents of sharjah, adding a layer of personal history
and memory over a base map of the city.”

This project highlights some important issues about the social uses and connotations of mapping as an exercise. Where this project seeks to imbue the map with personal history and local testimony, the map I seek to draw is focused professional ties and the journeys people make in their working lives that are facilitated or obstructed by organisations and institutions.

Whilst it may be true in Sharjah specifically, I wonder if this distinction between professional and personal functions of mapping is a false one. One of the things I’m most interested i exploring, in the context of the design profession in Britain, is that there is always colour and personality to the data presented on maps. Connections and networks tell stories and it is my job to use research to bring these to life.


Misha Black Awards 2011

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2011 at 12:16

The Misha Black Awards were held last night at the RCA. First established in 1977, this years winners were

1) Award for Innovation in design education: University of the Arts London for Creative Research Into Sound Arts Practice (CRISAP).

2) Award for Distinguished Services to Design Education which was given to Professor Kumar Yvas.

Misha Black as a figure has been very present in my research so far, both at the Design Archives in Brighton where a great deal of his material is held, and in the archive of CSD where I have come across frequent reference to his importance to the society as a Fellow, winner of the Minerva Medal and a key figure in the progression of the idea of ‘professional design’, most visibly in his establishment of the Design Research Unit in the 1940s.

The ceremony itself was an interesting piece of research into the current practice of the design profession and the meaning behind these awards today.  One of the most interesting things for me came from a speech given by Joe Carr, from the University of the Arts London, who said that one of the nicest things about the Misha Black Awards was the fact that ‘nominations come from previous winners’. In other words, the awards continue to operate as a mechanism through which patrons of the profession can see that the values and principles of ‘good design practice and education’ can continue. These patrons, previous winners of the medal, were arranged on the wall of the lecture all and I noticed a significant presence of CSD past members among them. It’s becoming ever clearer to me, as I attend more ceremonies and events like these, that the networks instituted by societies such as the CSD , the RCA and the RSA, converge on many points. I’ll be interested to see how my map might be able to draw these points out.

As a final note, I could not help but notice the particular personality and character of the attendees of this ceremony. Having just come from a ‘dialogues in design’ postgrad student seminar upstairs in the RCA research centre, there was a very clear generational divide between the two groups. I wonder if there is any point at which these networks collide, or are they increasingly two very separate worlds?

Lots of Boxes

In Uncategorized on March 3, 2011 at 20:10

I started working my way through the 126 boxes of the CSD archive this week. I am now constantly covered in a layer of dust from the 1930s. I’ve also come across some really fascinating material in unexpected places… Some of it to follow soon on this blog.