Week 4: On Speculative Design / by Valzorra

Speculative Design Workshop

The Friday of Week 4 was dedicated to a talk on Speculative Design by Jussi. I really appreciated this introduction to the topic as I was unfamiliar with the field up until the workshop. What I found interesting about the idea of Speculative Design is that to me it seemed to overlap quite a bit with various fields of Art, such as Sculpture or Installation Art. Design is typically all about solving a certain problem, improving the current state of affairs though good choices, and communicating clearly with the user. Speculative Design turns many of those notions on their heads in order to start an engaging conversation about the future and where we might end up based on the present. It’s about conveying ideas, making people question what appears to be natural behaviour, and oftentimes it takes it’s content to the extreme. The inherit desire of Speculative Design to ask questions rather than to provide answers brings it incredibly close to Fine Art. I thought this was quite interesting as usually the fields are considered fundamentally different, yet somehow there is overlap.

After the talk had concluded we were tasked to come up with an exciting concept relating to Speculative Design by taking inspiration from the Cooper Hewitt Collection. Richard, Fred, and I got in the same team and had a look through the massive collection, exploring a variety of artwork, models, and textiles. We ended up finding this elaborate Architectural Model for a Church or Baptistry. What struck me about that model was that although it was very well crafted it did not feature any windows at all. Thinking on Speculative Design, I thought it would be quite interesting to take that concept into the other extreme and to imagine a society which lives in buildings made of nothing but glass. This concept begged some interesting questions such as how would people behave at home, knowing that they could be watched at any given moment? How would any sort of privacy be managed? Would privacy even be an option at that point? What would be the difference between a society that was raised in those circumstances and one that was introduced to them coming from the life we know?

The image we generated the idea from: Church Architectural Model, 1782

The image we generated the idea from: Church Architectural Model, 1782

Additionally, the idea begs us to reconsider present day notions of transparency and the idea that everyone must be constantly visible and open, for example through social media. After we discussed the idea with Jussi, he have us a few interesting connections to this concept. Specifically, he mentioned that in glass architecture as a general rule, light and shadows are exceptionally important when it comes to visibility within the building itself. Additionally, we connected this hypothetical society with the idea of surveillance, self-surveillance, the Panopticon, and the Crystal Palace. After that discussion, the team and I started thinking of how we could turn this into an interesting game. At that point, Richard suggested that this would be a fantastic stealth based game. The main objective would be to use light and shadow to hide from unwanted eyes and to do a certain activity in private, for example taking a shower. Below I have attached the images the team and I presented to show the concept of what a house in this society might look like, and how the artistic style in-game could function.

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After the presentations, we got some pretty good feedback on the idea and most seemed to enjoy the concept and the game we had come up with. Adam suggested that we also have a look at The Circle, which ties into the themes of this concept brilliantly. It was also quite inspiring to hear what other people came up with, because all of the ideas seemed rather good and held potential. Overall, I really enjoyed the whole concept of imagining futures and societies based on the present, and taking certain ideas from modern day to the extreme. It’s a great thought experiment that holds the potential for fantastic idea generation, and crafting entire worlds based on a problem in the present.