2°C – Sam Baron


21 September 2015

Could design play a constructive role in the climate change debate?

This was the question that Disegno posed for 2°C, a new project that spreads across our latest magazine Disegno No.9 and into a corresponding exhibition at The Aram Gallery in London.

For 2°C, Disegno set 10 leading designers and architects a challenge: could they redesign the public communication of climate change? The intention was not to provide finished public campaigns or definite answers, but rather to provocate and probe. How might a change in the way we conceive of and talk about climate change affect the climate change movement itself?

In a series of printed proposals in the magazine and objects displayed in the exhibition, the contributing designers – Marjan van Aubel, Sam Baron, Maria Blaisse, Ilona Gaynor, Ross Lovegrove, Neri & Hu, Parsons & Charlesworth, PearsonLloyd, Universal Design Studio and Dominic Wilcox – responded in hugely diverse ways.

Below, we are delighted to highlight Sam Baron’s contribution. Baron is a designer and creative director of Fabrica design. His reflection on climate change is manifest as a glass, Miró-like mobile. The basic structure is a weather vane, with a candle balanced at one end and a young plant in a beaker of water at the other. The proposal invites reflection on the way in which energy consumption impacts upon the environment, the delicacy of the mobile suggesting a fundamental imbalance in current conditions.

Can you explain the thinking behind your residency project?

As it’s a communication subject, my idea was to create an enigmatic piece that could capture people’s attention. But, as a designer, my goal was also to do something functional, to create an object that responds to a need. I wanted to create different levels of reading an object, which is why it's a mobile. It’s suspended, so there’s a strange presence emanating from it and it's really interfering with the space. When you’re in a room with a mobile, you cannot not see it.

How did you develop that idea about climate change?

Climate change is about heating and changing the rules of the planet, so that’s why the candle is there and the flame. Then the plant is about growing and nature. The idea of the arrow was because the research I did showed that one of the phenomenons of heating of the planet is that the winds are affected and changed as a result. Hurricanes and so on are down to air movement. Then, the whole thing was made of glass because glass is fragile, but also quite captivating because it’s shiny and has a nice presence with light. I wanted to make it seem a little impossible, as mobiles are normally made of metal. I wanted a sense of fragility and grace.

It’s interesting you focused on an object. Can you tell me about the communicative power of objects?

Every object I design starts with a narrative. Any decision about shape is a way also to tell a story or drive people in a certain direction. Objects surround us and they’re not anonymous. The cup for our morning coffee, for instance: which cup is going to make our coffee ours? Every object is more than just visual interference, it’s something that our body interacts with, because objects have a weight and an aspect. There is something extra with objects, which is not just something your eye appreciates.

Why did that suit this project?

There is an extra exchange or an extra conversation possible with an object thanks to its functionality. This residency was an opportunity to place the object on a special level. The mobile is something that is in front of you. If you don’t want to see it, you need to turn your back to it. Your body is engaged, which is quite interesting. It’s not just switching your mind off because you don’t feel concerned by the questions around climate change. With objects it’s hard to lie, because we don’t have photoshop. With an object, if you hang it wrong then it’s going to crash. That’s it. No way to go back. I tried to think how I could do something that wasn’t too cheesy or in your face: “danger”, “be careful” blah, blah, blah. I wanted something that could seduce you and, thanks to that, provoke you to think twice. You think, “Wow, fuck I remember this weird mobile, candle stick.”

How was the research process?

Not easy. The issue is easy in the sense that we all know the two words “climate change”, but we don’t really know what they mean. I was interested in the winds, although I don’t know why. It led me to weather vanes and this kind of thing, because I think they’re objects we all know and which are a part of our landscapes. In terms of design they’re great, because they’re so simple and work by themselves. It’s a very simple mechanic. Maybe nowadays they can point at something different and much stronger.