By Linna Griffin
Last week the class gathered to listen to Professor Cameron Tonkinwise give a guest lecture. As lecturers go, Professor Tonkinwise is very good at engaging the audience when he is speaking. When he speaks in front of a crowd of designers, he draws to give his words a bit more structure. In this circumstance, he began to draw the cycles of academia he was listing. For this reason, I believe the class was very lucky to have him come and talk to us to give a bit of perspective on the framing of the field Speculative Critical Design outside of the class. It was a delight to hear him speak, in a manner I can only describe as unhinged, and her his (brutally honest) opinions about the various design fields with respect to academia. This was my chance to buy into the structure of design that Tonkinwise teaches because of how personally he takes this subject and now I have the privilege of any audience member to critique him. With that in mind, I will give my response to some of his points in a manner of personal interpretation and response.
With concern to his statements about “…design as the force field of the future,” I tend to agree. When giving this assertion, he was able to graph out the cycle of academia and how it promotes new acceptable standards of producing and serving within the world corporate enterprise. Before this statement, my base understanding of the role of academia was one of preparing the latest crop of graduates to enter the job market while developing the field with respect to education. It had never occurred to me that design academia, the school of design in particular, can be used as a to correct the irresponsible musings of certain professionals within and around the field of design.
After listening so intently to his assertions that universities have a responsibility to create a space for discourse, I was then surprised when he began to critique the field of Green Design Futures. Setting aside my own ideological design future as a sustainable designer, Professor Tonkinwise was using Green Design movement as an example of a practice that needs to be reevaluated by design academia.
To his credit though, it’s not hard to see why either especially considering the new practice of envisioning what ‘green cities’ of the not too distant future.
The first few pictures that show up when I enter ‘future green cities’ in the google search bar are delightfully optimistic at best, but come across as naïve design fiction rather than design futures at worst. If we truly are to believe that people will one day live in these strange living homunculi of machined metal and organic plant matter, then we have to stop glorifying them as shining examples of future human capabilities. We must accept that these new cities will likely replace what already exists there and that transition will not be handled well unless green designers begin to have a discourse that will give agency to their cause.
It is with Tonkinwise’s lecture in mind that I believe that design academia can and will provide its own system of checks and balances to itself. Call it optimistic, but the design fields of transition and sustainability that are emerging from academia can reign in what it means to be a ‘green’ designer. We have done the fun part of imagining and dreaming these new and fantastic worlds that we should live in, now it is time to think about how we could live in them and use our design skills to implement them.