Closer Looks at Beyond Change: Supporting Structures
by Anja Neidhardt

From 8 to 10 March 2018 the FHNW Art and Design Academy in Basel hosted the design conference Beyond Change, organised by the Swiss Design Network and interested in the impact of design within current social and political landscapes. Here, Depatriarchise Design co-created the space Building Platforms together with Decolonising Design and Precarity Pilot. We publish a series of co-written reviews to share memories, impressions and thoughts from the conference with you. We opened the series with Accessibility and the Demographics by Maya Ober, followed by What Can a Design Conference Do? Part 1 and Part 2 by Benedetta Crippa.

SDN Beyond Change 2018
The scaffolding of Building Platform, and behind it the curtain made out of safety blankets. Photograph © SDN, Samuel Hanselmann.

A heart pumps blood through the veins of a body to provide all of its cells with oxygen. Building Platforms was intended as the heart of Beyond Change. The discourses that we raised in our conversations at Building Platforms can be described as the oxygen for the conference, they kept – and still keep – it alive.

It was here, in the foyer of the conference building, where members of the three platforms Decolonising Design, Precarity Pilot and Depatriarchise Design physically met for the first time (besides from a dinner on the day before the conference started). Building Platforms was imagined as  a safe and welcoming space in which everyone, with or without a conference ticket, could participate in the and conversations or just meet up and have informal discussions with friends, colleagues and members of the platforms, rest on a sofa while having coffee and cake or browse through the library that had been collaboratively curated by all three groups.

A simple scaffolding functioned as a symbol for the process of building the three platforms and their collaboration. At the same time this supporting structure offered food and drinks, as well as the collection of books and magazines on the ground and deckchairs on top, to enable people to float above the heads of everyone else. The scaffolding was complemented by corner sofas with cushions. In contrast to the chairs in the auditorium and the other official conference rooms, the stools at Building Platforms could be moved around and be arranged freely, just as needed. There was no stage. During workshops the speakers and moderators were sitting among everyone else, even on the floor. By removing these physical and spatial hierarchies the space encouraged a greater exchange. The audience was invited to actively participate, to not only comment and ask questions, but to share their experience, knowledge and opinions to learn with and from one another.

SDN Beyond Change 2018
One of the sessions at Building Platforms. Photograph © SDN, Samuel Hanselmann.

Before new structures can be built, those existing ones that do not work need to be analysed and carefully deconstructed. While the Decolonising Design group created a space to disentangle and understand the political complexities of design as both a product and a producer of colonialism and coloniality, Precarity Pilot addressed in their conversations the working conditions of designers within a capitalist economy. Depatriarchise Design initiated discussions that focused on deconstructing two systems – design education and “innovative design” – followed by a re-thinking and attempts to re-formulate them through a feminist perspective.Due to restrictions like the design of the auditorium and comparable presentation rooms (chairs have to be aligned and need to face the stage), the great amount of people in the audiences and fixed time slots, the keynote lectures and the main program of Beyond Change took a different shape than the conversations in the foyer. Even though similar topics were addressed, our sessions were done with other methods. The structures were more hierarchical, with speakers and moderators on stage, a focus on presentations and some time at the end for comments and questions from the audience. Since people needed a conference ticket to sit in the audience of the main program, these audiences also looked different than the ones at Building Platforms.

Like the scaffolding, a curtain made out of space blankets did not only function as a symbol for safety and warmth and a design that supports people in regaining strength and energy. It also separated the area of Building Platforms from the rest of the foyer and shielded it from the busyness of the conference. It allowed for the creation of a safe haven in which people could reflect on everything that happened on the outside.

Space blankets are made of heat-reflective thin plastic sheeting and are normally used on the exterior surfaces of spacecraft for thermal control as well as by people. But next to reducing the heat loss of a person’s body, the metallic surface of space blankets also flashes in the sun. This means it can also be used as an improvised distress beacon for searchers and as a method of signalling over long distances to other people. We are convinced that Building Platforms was only the beginning of enriching and rewarding collaborations between the platforms and their members. Even though the spatial representation of Building Platforms existed only temporally, its signal has the strength to travel long distances and to allow new allies to find and join us.

Anja Neidhardt is a Berlin based design curator and writer. Since January 2018 she is co-creating Depatriarchise Design together with Maya Ober. Besides from also being a member of the editorial team of the German magazine ROM, she writes for different international design publications and teaches Design History and Theory at the Academy of Visual Arts in Frankfurt/Main.

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