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John Thackara | Essays

Doors 9 on "Juice" Call for Projects [July 2006]

This free monthly newsletter starts conversations on issues to do with design for resilience — and thereby reveals opportunities for action. It also brings you news of Doors of Perception events and encounters. Back issues are now archived on Design Observer. To subscribe to future newletters by John Thackara click here.

Food continuously circulates through the landscape into our homes and bodies. It thereby organizes our calorific, symbolic and social energies. Juice, the essence of food, can also mean credit, electricity, access, flavor and love. The topic of food, as product as well as service, as metaphor as well as material, as energy as well as connectedness, will preoccupy us at Doors of Perception 9. The conference will be held in New Delhi from 28 February to 4 March 2007.

Doors 9 begins with a two-day Project Leaders Round Table. This might involve you if your project is concerned with:
- Innovative ways to share, prepare, cook and eat food;
- Urban farming, new links between producer and consumer;
- Practices that transform urban-countryside interactions;
- Sustainable packaging and distribution scenarios;
- Effective uses of new technologies in relation to food.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is Friday 8 September 2006. Projects should be informed by a real location or situation through multiple disciplines and dimensions. Hypothetical, conceptual, and unrealizable proposals are NOT encouraged. Proposals will be reviewed in September based on a concise project description.

Send us an email (Subject header: "juice project") on these five points:
a) title of your project
b) 10 word description
c) 100 word description
d) name(s) of author(s)
e) URL

Your proposals will be reviewed by:
Aditya Dev Sood, Centre for Knowledge Societies (CKS);
Debra Solomon,;
Juha Huuskonen, PixelAche;
Amy Franseschini, futurefarmers;
John Thackara, Doors of Perception.

Notification of finalists will be by Friday 22 September. If invited, you will need to pay for your travel to India, but we will cover your accommodation, food, and basic event costs, as well as your registration fees for Doors 9. Send your project description to:
[email protected]

If you are a design or architecture student, we have teamed up with the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and Designs of the time (Dott07) to offer travel-included scholarships to Doors 9 for the winners of this year's RSA Design Directions competition. The two themes we have set are on food information systems, and sustainable tourism. Here are advance details; the competition opens formally later in the summer.

Allan Chochinov, editor of Core77, draws my attention to a remarkably cheap - in fact, free - way to increase patient satisfaction in hospitals. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, patients perceive that a doctor who sits down during a five-minute visit to their bed is present for longer than a doctor who stands for the same amount of time. This correlates with the finding that time (time spent waiting, and time in their presence) is a key indicator of patient satisfaction during encounters with health professionals. And it's true: If someone just listens for five minutes, it makes most people that I know feel better. Now clinicians get very worked up on this topic: they argue that perceptions of care quality do not necessarily correspond with actual care quality. This may be true, but I'm confused: Does it matter?

At the Aspen Design Summit, 150 concerned designer-citizens explored ways that they might contribute to socially useful projects. Grass roots project leaders from the South Bronx, New Orleans - and as far away as Myanmar and Nepal - helped ensure a degree of sensitivity to context in our discussions. The dilemma we faced in Aspen is that seventy percent of designers are in the representation business - but designing a poster about an issue, or launching a media campaign about it, is not the same as helping real people, in real places, change an aspect of material reality. Read more at:

The Young Foundation has published a manifesto for social innovation. Written by Geoff Mulgan and colleagues, Social Silicon Valleys compares the vast investments made each year in scientific R&D (nearly 12 billion euros of public spending on R&D in the UK alone) with the piecemeal and marginal investment made in social innovation. The pamphlet warns that addressing the most important challenges of this century - including climate change, ageing and chronic disease, and the transition to a sustainable form of economy - will depend as much on social innovation as on new technologies. The publication is published in preparation for an international conference in China to be held in Beijing in October.

What would it mean, in practical design terms, to make one just one household, in a real place, carbon neutral? We'll discuss this scenario at the next Designs of the Time Explorers Club on 11 July. Many of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from residential households could be reduced if we made our houses more efficient, generated our own energy, switched suppliers, or simply switched off devices. But cumulative energy use is invisible, and alternative energy solutions tend to be offered by multiple, fragmented suppliers. They are therefore hard to procure. The evening will explore the design components of a whole systems solution to this challenge. Leading the discussion will be Chris Vanstone from RED at the Design Council, and Stephen Dormer from the Eaga Group. The event is at the Robert Stephenson Centre in Newcastle, UK. Tickets are free but you need to reserve by emailing Beckie Darlington:
[email protected]

Feedback requested: Do you get it? Anything you miss?

A new product is launched every three-and-a-bit minutes. Yes, we'll all go to hell in a handbasket. But the winners of this year's Industrial Design Excellence Awards, just published by Business Week, are an excellent distraction. As a jury member, I am wholly complicit in this flagrant whipping up of product frenzy - which I cannot deny was an enjoyable thing to do.

Media coverage of architecture is preoccupied with the banal excess of Shanghai and Dubai. More interesting architectural projects concern buildings abandoned when old industry disappears. A spectacular exhibition called Entry at a vast coal washing plant at the Zeche Zollverein - a Bauhaus masterpiece now designated as a world heritage site - is about what curator Francesca Ferguson, of the Berlin-based organisation Urban Drift, calls "re-activating existing structures" in ways that can inspire business and urban agencies. A new publication, Talking Cities, focuses on this "Architecture on the Edge". Read more at:

"Planning is part science and part art". This intriguing conference in October, in Denver, addresses many practical issues of relevance outside the US. One session is about the siting of coal and gas facilities and wind turbines. Another is about online voting, wikis, keypad polling and other communications technologies that are changing the way people engage civic issues and make decisions about the future of their communities. 19-21 October, Denver.

ZeroOne San Jose is billed as a "global festival of art on the edge". Incorporating the International Symposium for Electronic Arts (ISEA2006), ZeroOne has four themes: Transvergence, Interactive City, Community Domain, and Pacific Rim. Among the 70 papers, artists presentations and posters are keynotes by Lawrence Lessig, Saskia Sassen and Raqs Media Collective.

If a client offers you a budget of $1,500 per person to design a large event for thousands of people, do you refuse? I don't think so.The environmental impact of large trade shows and conferences might be damaging - and the experience for those attending may be grim - but the event design industry is flourishing. Are the alternatives to today's mainstream of trade shows and events? Read more at:

Jobs | September 22