MDes Open Project: Revisiting the Space of Appearance, the Implication of the “Self”

In considering the social dimension of space, the designer, (architect, landscape architect, urban designer, artist) is called to engage reality in all its messiness, indeterminacy and complexity, not only as a sensible response to the challenges of continuing to live our contemporary notion of the “good life”, but as an essential premise of action in the world. This messy, complex reality IS the public realm, where people – distinct and equal – exist together.

The Open Project “Revisiting the Space of Appearance and the implication of the Self” represents an homage to the intellectual contributions of George Baird’s The Space of Appearance published in 1995, which builds on Hannah Arendt´s conception of the public realm as the space where “I appear to others as others appear to me.” The performative demand posed by this spatial stage calls on each individual to conjure up their most precious ethical enactment.

As we face the mounting threats to human livelihood posed by climate change and escalating inequality, an ethical insurrection appears to be essential. Disquietingly neutralized by justifications of “the good life”, economic development and even the exercise of freedom, responsibility for these threats is deflected toward abstract concepts including technology, economy, politics, consumption, pleasure-seeking etc. The implication of the self – our own personal agency – remains comfortably at bay.

In this sense, facilitating the enactment of spaces of appearance becomes ever more critical. Baird suggests this would require a different form of practice. He argues that it will not be an altogether conscious commitment, forms will emerge reconstituted in new ways from previous models, as a concatenation of pluralistic heterogeneous public positions. Perforce, projects will surface from existing social and economic energies, with the potential to voice passionate symbolic interpretations, the social meaning of which we will not be able to determine ourselves. No protégé will claim authenticity. “We may say that as architects, we will not be able to see altogether clearly the consequences of these efforts on our own but will be able to rest confident that they will appear clearly and unmistakably to others.” The designer (architect, landscape architect, urban designer, artist) unlearns existing inherited dynamics and becomes an interpreter, someone that enables critical processes “appearing in space”, rather than defining outcomes a priori.

The pertinence of this way of understanding the role of the designer is justified in its potential to encourage people to change their lives. Appearing in an inclusive public space, exercises the “self”. In time he or she becomes a virtuoso in the art of living together, of conviviality, and respect – for their own community, otherness, the environment, the non-human world etc.

This Open Project may interest candidates in all disciplinary backgrounds and MDes domains who are keen on developing alternative practices. The co-curation of an exhibition that unpacks the implications of George Baird´s The Space of Appearance, will serve as a guide for inquiries. Students will present a mock-up of this collective exhibition at the final review and are invited to continue their involvement into its final development and execution.

Please see the MDes Open Project Website for more information.