Monthly Archives: November 2008

There’s no such thing as a ‘virtual’ world

Second Life architecture

Second Life architecture

I’ve just come across a fascinating article by Tyler Pace on the Design Philosophy Politics website: ‘Digital life identity crisis: tales of security and sustainability’.

While the issue of sustainability is a pressing one and is now solidly embedded in contemporary design thinking, it is still rare to find an article such as this one, which carries over the issues into what we are still calling the ‘virtual world’. Pace’s comments make it clear that we are using an incorrect, and misleading, terminology. There’s no such thing as a virtual world, there’s just the world. Here’s some food for thought:

Linden Labs, producers of the popular social virtual world Second Life, expressed their consumption problems in 2006.

“We’re running out of power for the square feet of rack space that we’ve got machines in. We can’t for example use [blade] servers right now because they would simply require more electricity than you could get for the floor space they occupy.”

Identity information in Second Life is more complex than a traditional web application as “residents” of Second Life own clothing, chairs, cars and pretty much anything else you can imagine. All of this accessory information becomes part of the identity maintained by the Second Life servers, thereby requiring vast amounts of electricity. Popular technology blogger Nicholar Carr calculated that Second Life avatars consume as much electricity as the average Brazilian citizen.

On a parallel tack, I’ve received a very interesting call for papers sent out by the online journal Design Philosophy Papers, on the need for design history to address sustainability as a historical and historiographical issue. Full details below.


Design History Futures – Sustaining What?

to be edited by Karin Jaschke, Paul Denison and Tara Andrews
in association with Anne-Marie Willis

Modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that a re-writing of design history seems inevitable.

Conversely, a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices.

How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?
What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?
What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?

Submit 200 word abstracts by 12 Dec 2008 to:
Anne-Marie Willis, Editor, Design Philosophy Papers

Design history has evolved over recent decades through engagement with matters of concern like class, gender and the postcolonial. In turn, critical design histories have contributed to new ways of understanding the world around us. Today, the matter of concern is sustainability: an issue that is almost too large in its implications to be grasped outright. It presents a challenge that is new in scope and kind. Design history cannot remain unaffected by this.

Design historians are well aware of the role design has played in making the modern world. Yet the modern lifestyles and material cultures made possible by design are now being seen as so deeply implicated in unsustainability that on these grounds alone a re-writing of design history seems inevitable. Modes of practice and thought, social and economic contexts, and the ideological premises of past design practice need to be addressed anew.

At the same time, this raises the question of design history’s own disciplinary past, present, and future. Design histories have used and perpetuated ways of thinking that have fed directly into current, unsustainable design practice, including notions of progress, newness, and obsolescence, ‘iconic design’, and the star-designer or ‘starchitect’. Historians of design thus need to consider the implications of their value-systems.

Climate change, resource depletion, and pollution will lead to major changes in modern lifestyles in the near future. Design has a major ethical and professional stake in this transition and the direction it will take.

We propose that a revitalised, critical design history could play a major role in providing an intellectual framework for new, redirective design practices. Thus we ask the following questions, and invite papers that address them:

•       How does awareness of sustainability and unsustainability affect design history?

•       What insights could be gained by re-reading design’s past through perspectives of sustainability and unsustainability?

•       Could design history contribute to a more developed understanding of sustainability and unsustainability?

•       Are there past writers who have already done this? Is their work relevant to today?

•       Have we overlooked historical subjects that are of importance to the sustainability debate?

•       What part has design history itself played in the development of unsustainability?

•       Do we need radically new ways of thinking to understand the role that design has played in bringing about the present unsustainable state of the world?

•       What does this mean for specific areas of research: histories of product design, architecture, fashion, graphics, material and visual cultures, etc.?

•       Is there an ethical imperative for historians to reconsider their disciplinary approach with view to sustainability? Does this imperative undercut notions of impartiality?

•       Where are the blind-spots in design historiography that may hinder a real rethinking of design history?

•       What methods and approaches from other disciplines or traditions of thinking could offer ways of understanding our unsustainable past that might be relevant to the historical study of design?

Abstracts (200 words) due by: 12 Dec 2008
Select and invite full papers by: 19 Dec
First drafts of papers due by: 13 March  2009
Papers refereed by: 3 April
Final drafts due by: 24 April
Publication online by: 22 May

Anne-Marie Willis
Editor, Design Philosophy Papers <;


Plaza Lesseps – a dizzying prospect

Pza. Lesseps, Barcelona. Under construction.

Pza. Lesseps, Barcelona. Under construction.

Will it ever look any better than this?

Update 23 November 2008:

An interview with Plaza Lesseps’ architect Albert Viaplana in EL PAIS of 18.11.08 (in Spanish).

Spanish design at Tokyo Design Week 08

spain emotion exhibition at the Spanish Embassy in Roppongi, Tokyo.

spain emotion exhibition at the Spanish Embassy in Roppongi, Tokyo.

Designboom offers images of a collection of furniture designed by ex-designer Martí Guixé for
Barcelona furniture label, ‘Mixing Media‘, on show at the Claska Hotel’s gallery as part of Tokyo Design Week 08.

The Spanish presence in Tokyo this year included Jaime Hayón‘s latest porcelain designs for Lladró, which (dis?)graced the boutique’s windows on Ginza. Around these and other presentations, a series of talks, rather stereotypically entitled spain-emotion, took place under the auspices of the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade, ICEX. Their centerpiece was the exhibition of the same name curated by Hector Serrano at the Spanish Embassy in Roppongi, showcasing the best of current Spanish design.

It was really great to see such a solid and well-represented Spanish presence in Japan. But my take on the best of Spanish design in Tokyo last week? The brash, wonderfully colourful appearance of our beloved Chupa-Chups, as shown in these pictures I took in Ginza:

Chupa-Chups sign in Ginza

Chupa-Chups dispenser, Ginza.

Barcelona Bicing, part of Europe’s shared-bike revolution

The International Herald Tribune has featured Barcelona’s shared-bike system, Bicing, as an example of a strong trend in major European cities to offer bicycles as an alternative method of public transport.

On my regular visits to Barcelona while I lived abroad, I noticed an increasing presence of bicycles on the streets, especially over the last four years or so. Since Bicing was launched in early 2007, they seem to have taken the town over. One reason, no doubt, is the increasing concern about sustainability and the urban environment (and Barcelona’s pleasant weather). But I suspect that another very strong asset of the system has to do with the flexibility it affords its subscribers to get hold of a bike at one end of town and leave it at the other. If you travel across the city from the Tibidabo mountain towards the sea, you’re on a lovely downhill ride. Trekking uphill the other way, however, is an entirely different matter. Luckily for Bicing-ers, the City Council has lots of trucks picking up bikes downtown and dropping them off again at the top of the hill. Woo-hoo!

In any case Bicing has been an extraordinary success, with 6,000 bikes on the road and heavy daily usage. It is supported by the latest technology which makes it extremely easy to use at the pick-up and drop-off points, and which offers real-time monitoring of existing bike stands and availability, allowing users to check online to see if there is a bike available at their nearest Bicing station.

And Bicing subscribers now have even more opportunities to be sustainable in the city, with special discounts and prices in the hybrid car-sharing venture Avancar.

Pecha Kucha Night Barcelona, Vol.3

Saturday 15 November 2008
7:30pm to 11pm
Ticket: 5 euros (includes drink)
IAAC (Institut d’arquitectura avançada de Catalunya)
C/Pujades 102 baixos, Poble Nou. 08005, Barcelona
Metro: Línea 4 (Bogatell ó Llacuna)

After the success of Vol.1 and Vol.2, Pecha Kucha Night Barcelona returns, this time taking place at the IAAC (Institut d’arquitectura avançada de Catalunya). Participants will include the design studio 2creativo, the architect Ethel Baraona, sustainable design consultant Leonora Oppenheim and graphic designer and illustrator Miguel Ángel Moya.

The first Pecha Kucha Night in Barcelona took place in July at the Edificio Fórum and was followed by a second evening in September at the Maremagnum.

The subtle politics of internet domains – .cat or .bcn?

The Barcelona City Council has recently announced that it will request the establishment of the .bcn domain for the city. Earlier this year,  the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)  voted to approve lifting restrictions on the classification of domain names, allowing for new customized Web addresses.

In 2006, ICANN approved the .cat domain, which was subsequently launched by the Catalan Regional Government (Generalitat de Catalunya) as a new domain for websites in the Catalan language. This domain therefore was not intended to represent a specific politically defined region or nation, but a cultural and linguistic group, and had therefore from the outset a strong ideological and national-linguistic component. As explained in the .cat domain charter:

The .cat TLD is intended to serve the needs of the Catalan Linguistic and Cultural Community on the Internet (the “Community”).

The Community consists of those who use the Catalan language for their online communications, and/or promote the different aspects of Catalan culture online, and/or want to specifically address their online communications to that Community.

The success of the .cat domain has encouraged numerous applications for other top level domains centered on creating an independent internet identity for linguistic and cultural communities.

Given the weight of local identity politics contained in the .cat domain, it is no surprise that the Generalitat has reacted angrily and is firmly opposed to Barcelona’s application to have its own domain. The Regional Government’s position is that .bcn will weaken the .cat domain, and will strengthen Barcelona’s approach to presenting itself as a ‘city-state’ with the rest of Catalunya as ‘part of the Barcelona metropolitan area’, rather than as being the capital of the Catalan nation.

In the words of Jordi Bosch, the Generalitat’s Secretary of Telecommunications and Information Society:

Barcelona perdrà l’oportunitat d’exercir com a capital del país i optarà de nou pel paper de ciutat estat que no beneficia el conjunt de Catalunya […] i es donarà un concepte erroni de la resta de Catalunya com a àrea metropolitana de Barcelona.

The Generalitat has further accused the City Council of trying to carry out a branding and marketing operation at the expense of Catalan national identity.

And so it goes.

La Vanguardia offers open online access to its archives


Instances of the word 'diseño' in La Vanguardia, 1881-2008

Barcelona’s major broadsheet newspaper, La Vanguardia, has opened up its archives (Hemeroteca) and now offers free online access. The full content ranges from 1881 onwards, can be searched by keyword, topic or date and downloaded as .pdf files.

As an interesting feature to note, the results interface offers a detailed interactive visual timeline of the number of occurences of the search word throughout La Vanguardia’s archives. A search for ‘diseño’ (design), for instance, reveals a striking development in the use of the word.

Its first noticeable appearances coincide with the 1920s / 1930s and the rise of Spanish modernism, and diseappear by 1936, at the start of the Civil War. The 1950s see a very slow, small but steady return of the word, whit its use growing noticeably from the mid 1960s. Between 1976, the start of the Spanish political transition, and 1989, the surge in the appearance of ‘design’ in the newspaper is extraordinary, from 1,194 instances in 1976, to 4,670 in 1989. After a short trough, usage peaks by the late 1990s, with 5,597 appearances in 1999.  Perhaps most surprisingly, there is a very sharp drop from 2000, and current levels of usage in 2008 are only equivalent to those of 1986, the height of the Barcelona design boom.

As I’ve suggested in La Barcelona del diseño, design and the city had a special relationship between the late 1970s and the late 1990s, which seems to have now lost some of its historical relevance.

And here is some eye candy from the archives:


Advertisement for clothes and underwear manufactured with synthetic fibers. May 1952.


Advertisement for Muebles Malda, one of Barcelona's furniture retailers. June 1966.


'We can't all use the same furniture'. Advertisement for Muebles La Favorita, one of Barcelona's furniture retailers. October 1973.


The FAD Industrial Design Delta Prizes of 1976. Images of designs by Miguel Mila, Jose Bonet and Studio Per.


January 1977. Barcelona Design Centre (BCD) moves to larger premises.


Colour supplement, July 1992: ‘The Games of the imagination. The Olympic project becomes the inspiration for the design of hundreds of objects’. In the main picture, Andre Ricard, designer of the olympic torch.