Design practice and theory are linked across an evolutionary history.
The last century alone has provided the weightiness of modernism’s social agenda; the optimism of the atomic age; the rejection of the institutional role of design in the 60’s and 70’s; the ascendency of critical theory in the 1980’s; the reemergence of pragmatic considerations in the 1990’s; and most recently design’s commodification and use as an instrument of branding and capital in the early 21st century. The last decade in particular has seen seismic environmental, political, social and economic shifts that have fundamentally challenged design’s traditional opportunities for shaping the built environment and participating in the formatting of settlement. These most recent events suggest the urgent need for a critical reconsideration of the orientation and trajectory of 21st century design praxis. As such, we believe this is a seminal moment of opportunity to reflect upon and recalibrate design’s broader cultural role and potency for impact.
Twentieth century-based approaches to design education and practice have emphasized reactive modes of operation where clients, agencies, politicians and the general public among other entities largely define, control and influence the trajectory of design initiatives. As a result, designers have found themselves in the habit of responding rather than leading – posing solutions to the questions of others rather than leveraging design’s innate capacity to elucidate new opportunities or strategies for intervention. However, there is emerging momentum within contemporary design praxis that is challenging this client-service based relationship in favor of more nimble, savvy, resilient and aggressive modes of operation that enhance and expand the cultural potency and agency of design. We perceive a groundswell of critical, inventive approaches to praxis that are expanding territories for design proliferation, influence, and business success.
A decade ago, practices like these were called non-traditional, while others were coined social practices. These endeavors were held-up as unique because of their more inclusive view of design; their tendency towards multi-disciplinary collaboration; and their voluntarily contamination by political, economic, and environmental concerns, amongst other pragmatic influences. Today, the range and diversity of practice models precludes such tidy, benign descriptions, and suggests such models of praxis are not exceptions, but rather represent a new mainstream. Our interest is in a deeper investigation of this situation by curating and staging an interchange between these expanded practices in order to frame new agendas; articulate new strategies; establish new priorities; and orient new connectivities capable of generating new, catalytic platforms for design.
We employ the term platform to frame these considerations as projective. What links these seemingly disparate practice models together is a departure from solely design-oriented concerns (formal, material, programmatic, ecological), to an emphasis on positioning design’s influence within a broader context – expanding the usefulness and legibility of design considerations. Such positioning encourages radical new channels of influence and moves design away from focusing solely on providing basic professional service and toward a more ambitious role of cultural thought leadership regarding the built environment.