Written by Werner Lippert & Peter Wippermann, Curators of the Entryparadise exhibition (26/8 until 3/12, 2006, at Kohlenwäsche, Zollverein)
Design is about to undergo a paradigm shift - the extent to which new technologies have been intervening in the constructive, material, aesthetic and social practice of both architecture and design since the nineties is unprecedented. Today design starts at the level of the atom. We are drifting into the world of the invisible: virtual realities, nano and biotechnology are increasingly influencing our aesthetics and providing new construction kits for our reality. Information and communication design are ensuring the controllability of highly complex connections and giving rise to virtual social systems. Design is becoming immanent to being, and the experience of design will be both physical and metaphysical. Design is becoming invisible, and design is making things visible. Design promotes a better world and is based on the dream people have of themselves.
Design as a competitive factor
It is surprising that the German business world still underestimates the value of design. According to a 2002 survey by Ernst & Young, 93 percent of all German companies trust in the innovativeness of their products but only 13 percent see design as a product benefit for the consumer. The majority of German companies largely abstain from using design to increase their value.
The success of the Apple iPod is a good illustration of Germany's strengths and weaknesses as an economic and design location. The basis of its technology, the MP3 compression standard, was developed at the Fraunhofer Institute. The Ulm School of Design was the inspiration for the iPod's design. Yet it was American entrepreneur Steve Jobs and his company, Apple, that turned the assertive linking of technology and aesthetics into a competitive advantage. The creativity of the design consisted in presenting online databases and portable hard drives as a cultural game. Its success cannot be explained solely on the grounds of its technological innovation. The iPod became an international fashion statement, the fetish of an urban lifestyle. A product development geared towards consumer needs and the skills required to market it at global level are America's strengths. Germany's economic weakness is that it fails to market its own innovative technologies and cultural traditions together.
The product as starting point was yesterday. Tomorrow the consumer will be the focal point for enhancing value. The emerging knowledge economy relies on digital self-determination in real time. The individual linking of what consumers want with the solutions offered by the databases, from music downloads all the way to personal medication, will shape the economy of the 21st century.
In future, both designers and their clients will have to dissociate themselves from the task of styling isolated products and adopt a holistic approach to their work. It is worth bearing the origins of industrial design in mind. The Bauhaus movement wanted to use the structural change from agricultural economy to industrial society to design a better quality of life. Even then, designers wanted to use new industrial manufacturing technologies to create better living space. The new technological situation makes it essential to rediscover this holistic interpretation of design.
Now that industrial production processes have been re-engineered or outsourced to China and India and controlling has improved the latest quarterly results, engineers, managers, bookkeepers and lawyers are running out of ideas. Now it's designers' turn to help. The famous German founder Hasso Plattner, chairman of the supervisory board of German software giant SAP, was the first to recognise the opportunities and acted on his insight in October 2005. He donated 35 million dollars to Stanford University in Silicon Valley, which subsequently opened the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or "d.school", on its campus. It's motto: "We believe having designers in the mix is key to success in multidisciplinary collaboration and critical to uncovering unexplored areas of innovation."
Designers see, understand and network the world illogically, intuitively and creatively. They come up with solutions conceived with man as their starting point. Their imagination is not moulded by the technological and economic limitations. They are capable of giving concrete shape and form to their daydreams. Using their emotional skills, designers - in collaboration with scientists from computing, medicine and physics - will develop new, interdisciplinary fields of application for materials and processes, with the result that basic research can be used for future innovations far more quickly. These new alliances between design strategies and business will lead to enduring changes in the way the knowledge economy creates value.
In Great Britain, the London Business School has joined forces with the University of the Arts London to found the Centre for Creative Business. New Zealand, Finland and Korea have launched government programmes for promoting design so as to hold their own in the face of global competition. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research established that the 25 biggest economic powers are also the 25 best design nations. In Germany too, commerce and design will seek new ways of collaborating. The ENTRYPARADISE exhibition is an initial attempt to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks of this new approach to value creation.
ENTRYPARADISE will be presented on four storeys of the converted boiler house of the Zeche Zollverein coal mine. The boiler house is a monument to the way values are changing as we move from an industrial to a knowledge society. Architect Rem Koolhaas' redesign of the boiler house translates the radical changes in production and architecture into a sensory experience. The Zeche Zollverein, designed in 1927 by Fritz Schupp and Martin Kremmer, was the most modern industrial mining complex in the Ruhr. In close collaboration with the mining engineers, Schupp and Kremmer developed their idea of interaction between machine and architecture, translating the fundamental principle of modernism into practice by insisting that the function determined the form. The Zeche Zollverein was built in the tradition of New Realism. The architects drew up their plans from the perspective of optimised working life. This new quality in the organisation of the working world became a symbol in the architecture. The Zeche Zollverein's rededication as Essen's design location is a sign of the structural change currently in progress. Now a World Heritage Site, the Zeche Zollverein stands for a new way of thinking in architecture and design, for conversion, renaturisation and new forms of working and living.
Our environment is becoming totally designable: nanotechnology is shaping smells and tastes, biodesign is creating surfaces and prostheses, information design is solving complicated procedures in black boxes and creating social networks. But it is the fusion of various new technologies that can look forward to the brightest future. We might call this new mega-science BANG: it operates at the level of bits (computing), atoms (nanotechnology), neurons (cognitive neurosciences) and genes (gene technology) and in related areas functioning at atomic and molecular level. The integration of nano and biotechnology is referred to as "nanobiotechnology". It permits the fusion of living and non-living material and the construction of hybrid organisms and products.
Design in context with media - "creativity as symbol"
Today new information processing technologies are determining the development of design and computers are expanding its possibilities and forms. CAD (Computer Aided Design) gives designers unlimited creative freedom. Almost anything that can be drawn on a computer can be manufactured or built as well. The data set of the design has become the basis for production. Virtual crash tests have already proved their worth in aircraft and automobile construction. The viability of the design can be tested more effectively in the second reality of simulation than in the first reality of real things.
The paradox of this technological development is that the physical presence of the computer, the hardware, has provided no impulses for design at all. Thus the black box containing the software is supposed to be forgotten, which is why retro trends are determining today's design utopias. For designers and consumers alike, paradise lies in the past. Time islands are being settled. Whether it's the fifties, seventies or eighties doesn't really matter, for every style epoch has its own appeal. Deconstructivism as in the works of architect Zaha Hadid or Coop Himmelb(l)au, retrofuturism as in the designs of JÃ©rÃ´me Olivet or the visions of bionic architecture by Toyo Ito and Andrea Branzi are all enjoying major success.
But the ideas of the Bauhaus movement and the Ulm School of Design are experiencing a renaissance as well. Under computer conditions, however, the "form follows function" dogma is mutating into pure ornament. At this point it is helpful to reflect on the triumph of the Apple iPod again. Jonathan Ive designed the MP3 player in the spirit of Dieter Rams, the most prominent advocate of objectively functional design in the wake of the Ulm School of Design. The iPod unmistakably quotes Braun design's "simplicity equals beauty" formula from the sixties. When software determines the value of a product, function no longer has any significance for the design. It is the common memory that counts, for trust comes from familiarity. Quoting design ideas from the past is becoming a precondition for the future. The new technologies need the "old" culture in order to secure our trust.
Design in context with information technology - "intelligence as utopia"
The technological revolution is unstoppable, design has been assigned new tasks. Software programmes have meanwhile left virtual reality. The second reality of data is taking concrete shape and form. In the guise of mobile robots, data is beginning to interact with our world of the first reality, the world of biology and physics. What has come to be taken for granted in factory production still takes us by surprise in a private context. But the robots have long since left the factories and are in the process of conquering the household. They take on social functions. They become artificial family members, for the moment still in the guise of programmed pets. The first computer-controlled dog goes by the name of Aibo. He was presented by Sony in 1999; today third-generation models have entered the home. Aibos are mass-produced products with the ability to learn and, in the meantime, to communicate with the Internet. They have an MP3 player and audio e-mail and can adapt to their user's personal habits with ever-greater individuality. They are "born" without knowledge of their abilities and have to be "trained" by the owner.
The rationalisation of interpersonal affection by robots has already begun. The humanoid Q1 is an informative robot with a striking similarity to an East Asian woman. When Q1 answers questions, "her" chest rises and falls. The skin-like finish gives her a very human appearance. Today we are on the threshold of a new era of interaction between man and machine. Whilst the robots are becoming increasingly "natural", prostheses for people are becoming increasingly artificial. Microprocessors control the hydraulics of the synthetic body parts and increase their efficiency. At the same time, a hyperrealistic plastic skin enhances their cultural acceptance. In the everyday life of those affected, Hollywood's Cyborg fantasies embody the hope of a "normal" life. With its artificial naturalness, robotic life is a new challenge for design.
Design in context with bio and nanotechnology - "paradise of the creators"
Tomorrow designers will have to prepare to make a quantum leap. Designing bio and nanotechnology will no longer be the exclusive domain of biologists and physicists. Technology philosopher Günther Anders realised at an early stage that "yesterday, what was imaginable could not be realised. But tomorrow we will be able to accomplish things we cannot even imagine today." Headlines such as "healthy baby from embryo frozen 13 years ago" no longer cause a stir. In America these days, cloned pets only cost 32,000 US dollars. The animal-free production of meat, steak from regrown cells, will probably reach supermarket meat counters within the next twenty years. Biotechnology is turning meat, the substance we humans are made of, into a material of the future.
Nanotechnology is reorganising the natural laws of physics, chemistry or biology at atomic level. It is an umbrella term for a multitude of applications and products. Nanoparticles are so tiny that they are imperceptible to the naked eye. A human hair would have to be split 80,000 times to make it the same size as a nanometre. The bottom-up approach of nanotechnology involves building larger structures atom by atom and molecule by molecule or letting them grow as a result of self-organisation. Since nanoparticles have almost unlimited access to the human body, this technology will encounter a lack of trust. Neither the skin, the lungs nor the digestive tract are an obstacle to their mobility. Nor does the blood-brain barrier represent any major problem for the particles. Designers will be called upon to give this material a trustworthy shape and form. Tomorrow collaboration between biologists, electrical engineers and designers, a hitherto inconceivable proposition, will be something we take for granted.
It looks as if we are entering a magic garden that, while it amazes and enchants us, frightens and threatens us as well. We are in the process of redefining the notion of nature and have yet to design an appropriate symbolic form for the unknown things of this altered naturalness. The myth of creation is turning into a challenge. Will leaving our familiar environment lead to renewed expulsion or our return to paradise?
BANG - a fiction?
In Michel Houellebecq's novel "The Possibility of an Island", the clones are superhumans - in Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" we see reality through the eyes of a clone - neither of them are science fiction stories, Ishiguro's novel takes place in England towards the end of the 20th century. - Stelios Arcadiou has grown himself a third ear. It is a Â¼ scale replica of his left ear, grown from human cells in a bioreactor. Arcadiou calls himself Stelarc. - Eduardo Kac exhibits a green fluorescent rabbit. - Artist Paul McCarthy creates animated silicon pigs with quivering trotters and snouts. - In an exhibition of contemporary Chinese art at Bern Museum of Art, Xiao Yu presents Ruan, the head of a human foetus grafted onto an animal's body with the wings of a seagull.
What has hitherto populated science fiction scenarios in the form of mutants or paintings in the form of human-animal chimeras is leaving the realm of pure fantasy and becoming "real".
A new conception of design
A series of new terms is demonstrating the emergence of a new conception of design: Eugene Thacker entitles a book "Creative Biotechnology", and in "Biomedia" describes the merging of information sciences and molecular biology, which Thacker contemplates from the perspective of a "biotech hobbyist", "biologics" are customised biological products and stem cell researchers refer to their work as "creating stem cells", designer drugs are, in a very literal sense, already on everybody's lips, German researcher Günter von Kiedrowski has constructed the prototype of a nano-scale self-reproducing object made of biological material, and designers like Nikki Stott and Tobie Kerridge have bred human bone cells into a ring, thus creating a truly individual piece of jewellery. The world can be reconstructed atom by atom, soon we will be able to dispense entirely with raw materials and naturally grown foods, and even today the taste of many products is no longer determined by strawberries or apples but by synthetically produced flavourings.
However, this means the boundaries between "natural" and "artificial" that have determined our lives so far are disintegrating.
Natural foods are turning into artificial foods. What we have hitherto called nature is becoming an environment designed by architects, with plants genetically adapted to it, technology is becoming biological, human biology is becoming technological - thanks to information and biotechnology. The notion of culture, which also encompasses design, is thus losing its opposition to nature. "Next nature", as Koert van Mensvoort calls it, is becoming part of our culture.
Pat Mooney, winner of the "Alternative Nobel Prize", paints a striking scenario of an imminent BANG future: "For the first time in history, God has a competitor capable of creating new living things and new substances."
ENTRYPARADISE understands the striving of design and architecture as the striving for an ideal world, a new paradise. Society's willingness to take cultural risks is growing. The technological dimensions are increasingly assessed as controllable. The possibility of total control over our physical and biological environment is extolled as a return to paradise. The myth of creation is turning into a challenge. Life itself is increasingly becoming an aesthetic decision.
When human beings feel called upon as divine creators, the question as to design's responsibility will arise again. Society will have to decide how much "life design" it wants to permit - and must permit, in order to survive.
For the dynamics of the new, all-embracing design do not only lead to paradise, but into the consciousness of a real risk society as well. How much risk a society considers reasonable for itself could well be the new value which the winners or losers of the globalisation debate will be measured by.