4SEE Opinion - Design Beyond Borders, The Plus Pool in NYC



How design for the 21st century is shedding traditional disciplines to take a systemic, holistic approach to tackle grand global problems.

Over the past decade, there has been a movement within the design community to seek out what Design (with a capital D) really means within the complex fabric of today’s society. The value of understanding and considering design in this sense means to understand how design decisions affect the politics of personal and social liberation.

A large part of this journey is redefining design in a very broad sense. Design is now starting to encompass fields like agriculture, education, health, energy, transportation, and others that have not been typically associated with the discipline. It is looking at old problems, reframing them and creating new approaches to answer our human needs more appropriately. Because of the inclusion of such fields in this evolution of design, new methods, theories and techniques are being demanded to better address complex emerging problems.

This redefinition of design is asking designers to take on a systemic approach to problem solving using more collaborative processes. It is design that integrates the user as co-creator, a more human-focused approach, rather than just to meet market demands. It is requiring designers to see things differently, and to no longer view design in the material sense, but to see how design can be applied and how it can affect the immaterial and metaphysical realm.

So what does this mean for us and for our future? Where can we see examples of this being done well in “practical” life? Where are those examples of models, wild approaches and thinking that push the envelope of what is possible?

Let’s take the Sustainable Dance Floor project, for example. How much energy do you think can be produced during a night (or nights) out at Berghain by an individual? Of course, it might depend on the individual, but Studio Roosegaarde actually created an interactive dance floor in Rotterdam that generates electricity through the act of dancing. The solution produces up to 25 watts per module, which, in turn, creates energy to power the lighting and DJ booth. But it doesn’t just end up as some tacked on ideology, it enhances the experience itself, using interaction and light to drive more user involvement. The purpose-built space integrates the concept fully in their design. The original club concept also used rainwater-fed toilets and low-waste bars and it was developed using recycled material, and even the heat was partly supplied from the showcased bands’ amplifiers and other equipment.

A girl on a sustainable dance floor
4SEE Opinion – Design Beyond Borders // Photo by BERT SPANGEMACHER //
Dance floor photo by courtesy of Daan Roosegaarde // www.studioroosegaarde.net

The Plus Pool in New York City’s polluted East River, which came out of a casual discussion with friends and became a highly successful kick-starter campaign, takes the concept of system integration through design to a whole new level, providing recreation, public amenities, and giving back to the environment all at the same time. The concept proposes the creation of a 9,000-square-foot pool in four modules whose perimeter forms a “plus” sign. The floating swimming pool would actually purify the water as you swim. Still fighting the city for approval and final installation in the river, the project plans to uses a triple-membrane filtration system which will keep solids and bacteria out of the pool and make it safe for swimmers, while simultaneously improving water conditions in the East River.

The Plus Pool in NYC
4SEE Opinion – Design Beyond Borders // The Plus Pool in NYC // Rendering
By Family New York // Courtesy of Friends of + POOL
The Plus Pool in NYC
4SEE Opinion – Design Beyond Borders // The Plus Pool in NYC // Rendering
By Family New York // Courtesy of Friends of + POOL

The application of these new methods and thinking strategies like Sustainable Dance Floor or Plus Pool utilize tools from design, specifically relying on the distinct toolkit of a particular field of study within design, however, it is not limited by the toolkit or by the boundaries of this particular discipline, it amalgamates the tools with new concepts, consistently working with experts outside of design.

As we are bombarded with a world seeking the “newest innovations”, “future-facing technology”, “disruptors” it is easy to lose sight of what often is the simplicity of what we are here to do. Often all it takes is a look back and a look at what is around us to see those systems and structures that have been there all along, underpinning our existence. And to use these insights and observations to think strategically and solve problems.

The transformation in 21st-century design calls for more interdisciplinary collaboration. Lying at the foundation of this need for interdisciplinary is the disciplines, themselves, are ill-suited to address complex problems. Richard Buchanan says it best in his book Design Research and New Learning, “We possess great knowledge, but the knowledge is fragmented into so great an array of specializations that we cannot find connections and integrations that serve human beings either in their desire to know and understand the world or in their ability to act knowledgeably and responsibly in practical life.”

The intricate nature of the grand challenges of today requires us to step beyond the structures of past design practice—to conduct more comprehensive research which requires the knowledge of disciplines well outside Design. If Design wants to be qualified to address the concerns of the 21st century, concerns that are consistently complex, and even wicked, it is necessary that the discipline not just frivolously attempt to work with other fields of study intermittently, it must unequivocally reinvent the practice. Otherwise, what is the purpose of a design discipline that cannot address the most pressing design concerns of the day, today?

Author Bio

Jill Yoe Graves is a digital strategy specialist focusing solving sustainability challenges through design. She is currently the head of global design for Yara International, a leader in providing digital farming solutions, benefiting the farmer, while also positively impacting environmental efforts and the longer-term goal of feeding our future generations.

4SEE Opinion - Authentic Fashion Experiences // Photography Bert Spangemacher // Artwork Matthieu de Schepper



Daphne Mohajer va Pesaran, PhD is a designer and lecturer in fashion design at the prestigious RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests are nontraditional design methods, multispecies worlding, biotechnology and design, material identity, communitarianism, traditional craft, and ecological design.

Many questions need to be asked about fashion and authenticity. In a screen-mediated society in which images affect our sense of self, authentic connections—even between friends—can be difficult to maintain; authentic fashion experiences are even more difficult to pin down. While the facets of fashion that are seen as inauthentic are easily (and often!) isolated and criticized, we need to find ways of nurturing authenticity in the production of fashion. Authenticity in this case can be differentiated from originality, which is becoming increasingly difficult to establish in the melee of brands in the digital image market.

This could be because contemporary fashion design is a highly competitive game of referencing. Between the players of this game is an almost sportsmanlike understanding that we can ignore rules about originality and allow the experiences and products that are considered authentic fetch a higher value. But what is an authentic fashion experience? Is it the materiality of a product that bestows upon it authenticity, or is it the endorsement of the brand/designer through the construction of specific images? How does the brand or product contain or embody authenticity?

4SEE Opinion - Authentic Fashion Experiences // Photography Bert Spangemacher // Artwork Matthieu de Schepper
4SEE Opinion – Authentic Fashion Experience //
Photography Bert Spangemacher //
Artwork Matthieu de Schepper

I’d like to reflect on authenticity and fashion by introducing one very specific fashion phenomenon: paper clothing in Japan. In Japan there is a longstanding and secret culture of wearing paper clothing. I say “secret” because among the many globally popular traditional Japanese aesthetic traditions, very few people are aware of paper clothing. This could be because it has completely died, been resurrected, then died again. It just couldn’t stand up to its more functional replacements like cotton and nylon. Historically speaking, Japanese paper (washi) and paper clothing would have been used as an ersatz material to make rainwear, workwear, and even furniture and homewares, to name a few of its wide-ranging applications. Now, it’s use for clothing is in a single Buddhist temple in Kyoto once a year, for a ceremony involving fire and water.

But washi’s wider application, or appreciation, is in the process of being resurrected once again. The place where this life-death-life resuscitation is occurring is in a town many miles north of Tokyo called Shiroishi, so famous for papermaking that even Issey Miyake visited in the 1980s to learn how to make paper clothing. But there is only one papermaker in the town now: Abe has planted Paper Mulberry from bulbs pulled at the original plots, and makes his paper in the garage behind his family’s liquor shop. But is he making authentic Shiroishi paper? What makes his paper authentic? It could be argued that he is making Shiroishi paper because he is located there when making it, and is making it using raw materials from the area. Are tradition and place the only ingredients in authenticity? To quote from a 2018 article I wrote about place and fashion, I think the following passage is illustrative.

Mass-produced fashion is a uniquely placeless enterprise, where the local socio-material contingencies of production are intentionally obfuscated to promote brand messages. The global fast fashion system, built from rafts of disembodied symbols, exists as a fleet of placeless floating islands anchored to nowhere in particular. Despite this, a system of material production does exist that gives value to materials and objects that can only be made in a specific region because of the linkage between people and landscape—local material idiosyncrasies could manifest a sense a place in their expression of an intimate exchange of matter bound to a specific place. Predicated on the possibility of bodily exchange of matter with the landscape, a method for fashion design could be promoted that is aware that a region-specific sense of place—or terroir—exists within cloth in the same way locality can be identified in wine or cheese as an expression of the seasons, region, climate, and landscape.

4SEE Opinion - Authentic Fashion Experiences // Photography Bert Spangemacher // Artwork Matthieu de Schepper
4SEE Opinion – Authentic Fashion Experience //
Photography Bert Spangemacher //
Artwork Matthieu de Schepper

I think that one way authenticity can be achieved and expressed is through acts of transparency. If a brand’s heritage is traced back and made visible, from its beginnings—whether they be in a small town in Italy, a farmers field in Japan, or a basement apartment in Harlem—the story of the places and cultures from which it emerged is there. Transparency is also vital in expressing when, how, where, and of what a product is made, in order to tease out the vital question of why a product should be made in the first place.

4SEE Opinion - Authentic Fashion Experiences // Photography Bert Spangemacher // Artwork Matthieu de Schepper
4SEE Opinion – Authentic Fashion Experience //
Photography Bert Spangemacher //
Artwork Matthieu de Schepper

Daphne Mohajer va Pesaran, PhD
Lecturer Fashion Design (Honours + Masters) RMIT University, Melbourne Australia

Daphne is a fashion designer and researcher. She recently relocated to Melbourne after spending ten years at Tokyo’s Bunka Fashion School studying and teaching. Her PhD dissertation outlined a theoretical and conceptual framework for thinking through art and design proposals when species meet, and considered fashion design methods that might emerge at moments of ecological instability. While in Tokyo her design work was exhibited internationally; she also worked alongside Shoichi Aoki, the founder and editor of FRUiTS magazine, was a trend forecaster for Stylesight and WGSN, and contributed to A Magazine, MUSE Magazine, Dazed & Confused, FRUiTS, Tune, The Japan Times, and peer-reviewed academic journals. Working with Anika Kozlowski (Ryerson University, Toronto) she is probing and critiquing existing sustainability narratives in fashion, and exploring forms of dress and material culture that emerge during and after ecological crisis.

Eyes on the Future Mykita Eyewear



Shepherd Laughlin is a New York–based writer, researcher and strategist with a focus on technology, culture and consumer insight. He has worked as a trend forecaster for J. Walter Thompson Intelligence and the Future Laboratory, reporting on developments in consumer technologies from CES and SXSW.

By now it should be obvious that the future is coming for our eyes. Since long before anyone summoned their spectacles to life with a forced “Ok, Google,” Hollywood has shown us near-future versions of our friends and neighbors staring slack-jawed through digital lenses, eyes glazed over with implants. What will happen to our souls — much less our retinas — when technology brings us worlds so compelling and seductive that the real one simply can’t compete?
Augmented reality, or AR, has become such a sci-fi trope that it’s now almost synonymous with dystopia. Perhaps no franchise makes “glasses from hell” seem so inevitable as the British TV series Black Mirror, which returns to the theme frequently with a parade of worst-case scenarios.

As this decade nears its disturbing conclusion, we’ve seen the emergence of an alphabet soup of emerging tech —AR, VR, IoT (the “Internet of Things”), AI, wearables, and more. No one is quite sure how they’ll all work together, or what will happen when they do. Smartphones, after all, at first seemed like a cool toy, but now they feel like the start of a grand social experiment lacking a control group. As present-day political reality looks more and more like a hack TV script, with Twitter and Facebook implicated to varying degrees, it’s no surprise that our thoughts turn dark when we think about the arrival of even more technology.

An opposite perspective holds that whatever comes next, it’s insignificant compared to smartphones. There’s plenty of media hype around these newer technologies that fails to match the reality on the ground. In the case of VR headsets, early sales figures have been so disappointing that commentators are quick to declare that the whole thing was really just a fad destined for failure. But that would be too easy — in fact, it’s exactly what the pundits said after the first tech boom collapsed in an overheated IPO frenzy in the early 2000s. Look where we are now.

I’m reminded of a conference I went to at New York’s New Museum, hastily convened in the heady days of 2016 when Facebook’s Oculus Rift had just started shipping to consumers. Janet Murray, an old hand at prognostication and author of the classic 1990s digital storytelling text Hamlet on the Holodeck, predicted that a hype cycle would indeed unfold. “It’s very important not to pay attention to people saying it’s dead because they didn’t make money from it,” she said. “What you can see is the conjoining of a community of practice, and that lasts.” Art keeps things moving, long after commerce reveals its short attention span.

So, let’s return to augmented reality, and set a course midway between “it’s not happening” and outright hysteria. How does AR stand to impact our lives in the next decade?

Multiple AR glasses will arrive on the market soon, including Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 and the first head-mounted display from startup Magic Leap. Early versions are likely to be clunky and expensive, and it will take a while for the pipeline of creator content to catch up to the possibilities of the new devices. So, they won’t take off right away with consumers.

Instead, AR will start to show up anywhere our behavior is already somewhat gamified, especially in industrial settings. Take e-commerce and logistics. Today, thousands of “pickers” work in warehouses to pack the products we idly order on Amazon. The fastest way to do this isn’t always obvious, but AR could layer information over the real world to offer clearer instructions, improving efficiency. In fact, AR could offer real-time, real-world training for a range of occupations and hobbies requiring step-by-step procedures — from flying a plane to building a circuit board.

Eventually, AR will transform gaming, and the process has already started. Consider Merge Cube, a children’s toy that combines a simple plastic box with layered digital visuals viewed through a smartphone, either on its own or as part of an AR/VR headset. Depending on the app you choose, the cube can become a choose your own adventure story, a model of the solar system, or a puzzle to be solved. (If there’s one way to make sure a technology will be seen as unremarkable in 10 years, give it to children today).

As AR escapes into the real world, strange new behaviors will emerge, just as they did with the first AR application to become a mass phenomenon (police received a wave of trespassing reports when Pokémon Go sent people scrambling onto their neighbors’ lawns — gotta catch ‘em all!). As people manipulate virtual objects that only they can see, they’re bound to look silly to the rest of us, waving their hands in the air. This will be surprising at first, like the sight of people talking aloud to unseen Bluetooth ear pieces. With time, though, we’ll get used to it.

Tech writers like to point out that many of the first people to adopt a new technology end up using it to create and distribute — wait for it — porn. But what’s really exciting is the potential for AR to be used in all types of storytelling. The blending of the physical and virtual worlds that AR enables will mean we can transform any venue into a new setting. We’ll be able to re-skin the walls of our homes to become dense jungle foliage, or the panels of a spacecraft. When we combine AR with haptics, wearing clothing that helps us feel the touch of digital characters, we’ll get even closer to the fabled holodecks that geeks have been pining for all these decades. (There’s a porn angle here, too — Google “teledildonics” for an NSFW time).

We’ve long thought of “glasses” as a tool to correct defects in vision, but they’ll soon become much more — in the same way that a “phone” is no longer mostly a device that helps us have voice-based conversations, but instead a kind of all-purpose remote control that mediates our identities and offers instant access to the bulk of human knowledge. AR could mean that glasses offer a similar window onto information, with as-yet unknown augmented powers.
The hand-wringing over whether these technologies will ultimately wreak havoc may be understandable given the current news environment, which seems to puncture old myths about technology’s benevolence on a near-daily basis. The same mega-companies at the center of today’s controversies are also the ones that aim to shape the AR worlds of tomorrow. Facebook, even as it weathers the storm surrounding Cambridge Analytica and muddles through questions over its responsibility as a publisher, also owns Oculus, and certainly has designs on the AR space. Google is a primary investor in Magic Leap. And Amazon has launched a tool called Sumerian, which lets non-experts create content for VR, AR, and 3D applications — potentially opening the door to larger creator communities for these platforms in the near future.

But whatever else they may do, this wave of technologies will definitely have a lasting impact on storytelling. In the fashion and design space, stories are how you make an object come alive with meaning — so what could you do when you can make objects literally appear to come alive? For now, leave the dystopia to TV writers and start imagining how augmented reality could become part of your own story.


Imagine that You are Seeing Things for the First Time

There is no doubt that color is an integral part of beauty; we all have deep-seated color preferences that influence our affinity for objects and our emotions as well. For a new opinion section in 4SEE, we reached out to Friederike Tebbe, an expert in color theory and a color consultant for noted architecture projects, to ask her about her philosophy when it comes to perceiving color in the world around us.

Photography & Text Friederike Tebbe

“It is not what we observe that is critical. It is what we see.”

Our world is a colorful world. Colors create order, presentation and orientation. Almost all of us have a favorite color, and another color that we cannot stand. And yet we don’t really take color seriously and thus color is often the last aspect to be considered in design processes. We express lively and definite preferences, preconceptions and reservations. And yet we generally don’t know where they come from, or the reason; it is more a case of “gut feeling”.

Like smell and taste, color strongly influences our emotions. And yet, as a medium that constantly changes, it is difficult to grasp. Close examination is the most important precondition for confident understanding of color. But how does this process—of seeing, recognizing, understanding, and judging—function? Amid the sea of colors that surround us every day, which are seemingly so random and diverse, jumbled-together and confusing, alluring and incomprehensible, how can we create an overview? How can we refine our awareness of color, and cultivate our ability to discriminate?

Just as you can look at an object differently, it is also possible to observe the act of seeing. Self-observation quickly reveals how limited everyday seeing is. Do you see wide or long? Do you see ahead or behind? Do you see better standing up or sitting down? How well can you hear while you see?

By making a close examination and relying upon our observations, we can gain a great deal of experience of color and its context. Observe what you see, and also how you see and what you believe you are seeing. Create a kind of “album” of impressions and insights. Take photographs, take cuttings, use a brush—or, if you don’t have the time, just look around you attentively. Try to look at things without attaching meaning and value: this is, in itself, more difficult than one might initially think, and requires a certain distance. But once you do it, it changes the way you look at things. So, you must simply change your perspective. Look at your environment from above, or with the eyes of an extraterrestrial. Imagine that you are seeing things for the first time.

Friederike Tebbe is a color theorist and designer who works as a consultant for architecture and design projects. She has taught courses on color and design for the University of Arts (UdK) in Berlin and regularly gives workshops and lectures on the topic. She is the author of multiples books of photography and writing on the subject of color and perception in the world around us. Her most recent book, Hear Green, Think Yellow: Understanding Color was published in 2017 by Jovis Verlag.

Friederike Tebbe, Designer, Photographer, and Director of Studio Farbarchiv in Berlin


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