“Anyone who credits (a design methodology) with ‘objectivity’ should realise that human judgement will colour and pre-select every seemingly objective assessment other than measurable fact reducible to number (and even here strange things can happen).”
Norman Potter, What is a Designer (London: Hyphen Press, 2006), 111
“I want the manifestation of my ideas to be life-sized, not only regarding their scale, but also in terms of their relevance to their situation or medium. Then they’re more like the ideas behind something. Art is just a manifestation, a Trojan Horse, for ideas.”
Ceal Floyer, on the occasion of her first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery, London, 2002
“We live in a time when we need to defend complexity and the right to be complex. That doesn’t mean being baroque or deliberately trying hard not to be understood. It simply means defending different perspectives, and respecting and accommodating people who are not like us.”
Tania Bruguera in Amandas Ong, “Tania Bruguera on transforming Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall,” Apollo, 2 October 2018
Project 2: Contemporary Modulor
Four weeks: final reviews Tues 3 Nov & Tues 10 Nov
Humans have historically used the body as a measuring tool. Feet are based on the human foot, inches on the width of the human thumb. As designers (and, well, as humans) we constantly measure things: by gauging and indexing units based on body proportions, an intuitive sense of scale can be developed. A kind of dimensional rule of thumb.
Le Corbusier’s Modulor (1950) took anthropometric logic to its possibly illogical conclusion: rather than units derived from parts of the body, the body itself became the unit. Modulor, as architecture and computer design scholar Michael J. Ostwald notes, “represents a curious turning point in architectural history. In one sense it represents a final brave attempt to provide a unifying rule for all architecture—in another it records the failure and limits of such an approach.”
Corbusier boldly claimed that his system, based rather problematically on a notional 5 ft 9 in Englishman from his beloved detective novels, could provide measurements for all aspects of design, from door handles to entire cities: a humanist expression forming the basis of human-scale architecture. For French journalist Marc Perelman, author of Le Corbusier: a Cold Vision of the World, “it’s exactly the opposite.” As he warns, there might well be something inhumane about modernist theories of human-scale: “It’s the mathematicization of the body, the standardization of the body, the rationalization of the body.”
For this assignment, you will design and produce a contemporary anthropometric graphic system informed by your own critical evaluations of historical precedents, legacy systems, and personal subjective circumstances at this point in the 21st century. This might get us into such considerations as body politics, identity, universality, heterogeneity, inclusivity, digital, ideas and meanings of “national,” “international,” &c. How personal or universal should a new system be, and what role can it play in wider society? Does the notion of a system relating to humanity in itself work entirely against humanist or inclusive ambitions? What might an anti-system look like, how might it work (or deliberately not work)?
Introductory Exercise: Calibrate Yourself
We will start with personal proprioceptive tests that explore the idea of our own body unit measurement index: the measurement of 26 different bodily parts, units, proportions, and ratios that have all historically informed various units of measurement in various cultures. In turn, you will develop a spatial sense for how your body, even just your presence in space, might work as a gauge, a tool, and provide perspective for—even a point of empathy with—fellow humans in your role as a designer. Consider this exercise as a provocative starting point for getting into this assignment.
Your measurements may end up evolving into a useable form to fold into your “Contemporary Modulor,” operating with the same objective universal utility of a stencil or measuring device, but with inevitably subjective personal characteristics. In one way you might see this first step as a kind of self-portrait. In another, it could be a commentary on the tension between one-size-fits-all homogeneity of universal systems, and a meditation on the subtle (and sometimes profound) multiplicities of scale, behaviour, and perspectives evident in humankind.
Process for Tues 13 Oct (or Tues 20 Oct)