The exhibition has long provided a platform for emerging designers to showcase their talents with now-established practitioners such as Yuri Suzuki, Simon Hasan, Tomás Alonso and Bethan Laura Wood all having come through the programme. Each designer selected for a residency develops a series of work over a four-month period in response to a theme chosen by the museum.
This year’s theme – disruption – is vague, but no more so than those chosen for previous years (which have been based around identity or thrift, for instance) and this flexibility seems to provide the participating designers with sufficient freedom to experiment with varying interpretations. Below, Disegno introduces the four projects created by this year’s designers in residence: James Christian, Ilona Gaynor, Torsten Sherwood and Patrick Stevenson-Keating.
Disrupting Housing: James Christian
Architect James Christian is a graduate of the Royal College of Art (RCA) and co-founder of research collective Projects Office. His residency is a response to the current housing shortage in Britain; in London alone 14,400 more homes a year are needed to meet demand than are currently planned for by the Greater London Authority.
Christian took his inspiration from London’s historic architectural landscape and, as he says, “borrows ideas from housing of the past and gives them new interpretations”. His interest in dense housing and communities living in close proximity led him to study the Victorian Rookeries - a series of self-built slums erected around central courtyards which he acknowledges as “awful” but which he nonetheless believes possessed an admirable “sense of intimacy”.
A further research topic was London Bridge in the 17th-century, which housed shops and homes within its structure. Christian's resulting project is a contemporary reinterpretation of these historical housing models, using redundant spaces such as rooftops and car parks to create close-knit, space-saving communities. The project consists of intricately designed maquettes alongside an array of comic book-style illustrations.
Disrupting Law: Ilona Gaynor
Former RCA student Ilona Gaynor’s project reimagines courtrooms through the eyes of a filmmaker – repositioning contemporary law courts as literal demonstrations of legal theatre.
It is familiar territory for Gaynor. A graduate of the RCA’s Design Interactions MA, her earlier project Under Black Carpets explored ways in which scenarios and objects are presented within the courts and her work has consistently played with the tropes of cinema and their potential as a design tool. Through her practice The Department of No, Gaynor frequently uses plot constructions and narratives to elucidate and question areas such as international finance, politics and the legal system.
Presented as a series of models, photographs and graphics, Gaynor’s residency draws comparisons between court and film set, judge and director, and jury and audience. Her project is disruptive of deeply embedded legal traditions, all told through a fictionalised case in which a televised National Lottery draw is fixed. The project exposes the way in which legal constructs can be manipulated by the manner in which evidence is received and delivered to the court. “It's using design as a material to exaggerate the criticisms of court,” says Gaynor.
Disrupting Play: Torsten Sherwood
Torsten Sherwood’s design explores the disruption of play. With a background in architecture (he completed his Part 1 at the University of Bath), Sherwood has used his project to create a simple cardboard disc module that can be joined with others to create elaborate structures for children’s play.
“It’s a homage to Lego but also a disruption of Lego”, says Sherwood. Disruption enters the project in virtue of the fact that the discs do not neatly tesselate into rigid structures. Instead, they overlap to create spontaneous constructions. The discs also have a central hinge that allows them to either serve as edges or flat surfaces. “Any combination is possible, and because you’re not trying to find the solution to a pre-set problem defined by a particular geometry it feels more intuitive, curious and basically, playful,” he says.
Sherwood’s project, despite his architectural background, is the most obviously influenced by product design of the four residencies on display. While his construction module offers a research perspective into play (for instance, the use of cardboard was inspired by the way in which young children often play with the box a toy is packaged in before they do the toy itself; “So…why wouldn’t a designer mimic the qualities of the box?”) it has a more immediate material outcome than many past Designers in Residence projects, with the programme having shifted in recent years to incorporate more speculative and conceptual residencies.
Disrupting Finance: Patrick Stevenson-Keating
In designer Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s view, objects associated with finance are typically banal and fuel the continuation of an often passive and divorced relationship with money. It is a provocative viewpoint of the type that has marked much of Stevenson-Keating’s past work. As founder of Studio PSK, he has previously created a device that professes to let users glimpse into their lives in parallel universes, as well as tea-making machines that purposefully procrastinate in critique of society’s resistance towards idle time.
Stevenson-Keating’s residency invites viewers to reconsider the mundane financial processes that have become second nature through a series of “economic objects". There is a functioning cash machine that, when a card is swiped through it, displays the owner’s most recent purchases for all to see. Displayed alongside this is a currency that changes value according to location. While there is an element of playfulness to the objects ("It would certainly make me think twice about the fast food I consume,” says Stevenson-Keating of his cash machine), they all encourage greater thoughtfulness about money.
Behind much of the project’s research is a questioning of basing an economy on ideals such as efficiency or profitability. Instead, it proposes more human characteristics such as ethics as alternative foundations (Citibank being reimagined as Reciprociti Bank in the exhibition’s signage). In essence, Stevenson-Keating’s residency is a social experiment; one that raises the question as to how the design of the financial objects we surround ourselves with might alter a person’s relationship with spending and the economy.