On Saturday, July 18, 2015 Yestermorrow held a Design Colloquium as part of its 35th Anniversary celebration. Moderated by Yestermorrow founder John Connell, the panel included John Anderson, Sibyl Harwood, Sylvia Smith, and Ted Montgomery. The goal of the panel was to "create a vocabulary and/or grammar for people not professionally trained in design."
The following thoughts were written by John Anderson in response to the opening questions. A full video of the conversation will be made available in the future.
Yestermorrow Design Colloquium – July 18, 2015
Design is both a noun and a verb and even morphs into adjective and adverb. This suggests a latent power in the concept in contrast to words and activities that are more one-dimensional. So, Design is a very rich word with metaphorical aspects and many linguistic applications.
The question is: what distinguishes it from or connects it to all of the various courses and activities and goals that define Yestermorrow.
Design as a physical and mental activity is implied in “Blue Sky” and “Out-of-the-Box” thinking. Thus, Design can be thought of as an activity that is unconventional, innovative, unusual, new, surprising, radical, imaginative, etc.
Design may emerge from dreams, fantasies, meditations, and other alternative modes of thoughts or feelings or even an epiphany.
I would suggest that Design is a unique human trait. It is pure thought, a singular idea, an abstract or isolated concept and absolutely critical to our ongoing evolution. It has no ethical, moral or spiritual requirements. It is free space in which anything goes.
Design as a necessary human activity may separate us from all other life forms that we know of. In the abstract time and space of Design we pull things out of the void, out of the unknown, out of someplace that is just vast potential. In Design space one can think ahead to the future, behind to the past and in the vanishingly quick space of the present.
All Design is…is a thought emergent from mind—invisible, evanescent, bathed in light and brand new. Every single person has—can have—thoughts uniquely their own and totally original. “I think therefore I am….unique.”
Right off the bat, here’s a concept: there is no need or logical requirement to separate Design/Build and pure Design on moral, ethical, functional, pedagogical or other sustainable grounds. Design is free space that incorporates program input. That input can be anything. Design absorbs input and gives it context, juxtaposition and reason for being. Maybe Design makes House a Home.
Design and Keeper-of-the-Concept
The designer/architect/creative person has a very important and perhaps ancient role. That role is Keeper-of-the-Concept. The Design/Build process can be a sequence of unilateral decisions made by a menagerie of well meaning specialists. Each decision might be valuable in its own right, but the sum of the parts can result in a complex or even chaotic solution with no real soul. The Keeper-of-the-Concept makes sure that everything from doorknobs to master plan stays true to the concept, the result being holistic, whole and vibrating with a secret energy.
Design helps to guarantee a (built) result that is holistic and fractal (in that each part contains the spirit and shape of the whole), and that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
While it is certainly important that a Design/Build process is sustainable in the sense that it leads to a solution that is healthy for the client, the building, the landscape and by logic- our planet, it also should end up manifesting the most creative and idealistic potential of human thought. The human thought, here meaning Design, can stand on its own—no problem—or by absorbing program input (such as permaculture) it transforms into an external reality.
It is important to note that there is no discussion here of Aesthetics, or Beauty or Truth. Perhaps all these characteristics are expected in ideas like Plato’s pure forms that shaped his view of the cosmos or Maxwell’s equations. Here, they may or may not be the outcome of someone’s response to Design or Designer, but in emergent Design they don’t matter (and, can be a distraction and false door in the Design process).
We now all inhabit and are all connected by a world wide web of communication. Consider it a global mind. We have almost infinite access to information and possibilities. Molecules can be manipulated; photovoltaic paint is soon to be possible; even invisibility in cloaking materials is coming. There is no reason why as a single synapse in a global mind, anyone of us cannot create energy efficiency in the physical world and that global sustainability is achievable.
The web also serves up ideas and concepts that travel by light speed around the globe. Pure thoughts without relation to functionality fly freely. It may be that the highest purpose of our species is to think of new things that don’t exist now or may never exist. Free will and self-awareness lead to unbounded possibilities. Technology and solutions follow ideas and concepts. The Designer must keep dreaming, pulling concepts out of nothing, comfortable in that void where anything is possible.
And what does this description of Design and the Designer suggest…Art and Artists of all kinds: painters, sculptors, composers and choreographers. Architecture is a Fine Art and Architecture as Design/Build can be Fine Art/Build along with all the program input one cares to put into it.
My wish for Yestermorrow would be for it to be the most practical and sustainable Design/Build school on the planet, and the most creative and innovation center for pure conceptual and intellectually inspired Design. Both are necessary for our collective future.