Form Axioms II: Design Strategies within the Oceans – Designing Proto Conditions

Instructors: FormAxioms Team (Eva Castro, Federico Ruberto, Daryl Ho, Jacob Chen, Youngbin Son)


This studio follows our previous Option Studios’s methodology taking on the challenging task of rethinking our relationship to the oceans, understanding particular geopolitical conditions and designing new material ecologies through the reconceptualization of large-scale infrastructures and localized-material assemblages. The agenda is intrinsic to the interests FormAxioms ( research lab is currently focusing and it is conducted as part of an endeavor to build a larger body of knowledge developed between education and research platforms together with industry partners.

We will seek areas of fragile ecologies, where the ocean’s rising levels are beyond a hypothetical threat in the long term, but already an ongoing reality and project possible -and unforeseen futures. This is a laboratory of ideas (narratives, stories and shapes) that try to give form to alternative modes of being-together on the planet. Designers in this course are strategists, conceptual writers and morphological explorers. Design in this laboratory is a tool for rethinking “nature”, challenging the ontological positions that take for granted a benevolent nature, the god-like, transcendent and unproblematic mother of all. We embrace the idea that there cannot be any naïve return, nor any total re-naturalization of earth, any of such regressive thought is nothing but forgetting that in order to live on this still blue-marble “we” necessitate a continuous process of discussion, invention, hybridisation, and so of artificialization.

The studio shall imagine and deploy aggregative strategies for a community to be self sustainable in time, to grow and shrink without loosing is constitutive principles, the principles that form its form and the processes of production and consumption shaping it (its metabolism). The goal is to define how such aggregation could be set in water to grow in time through patterns (various but correlated geometric rules), whilst maintaining valid its founding ethical principles (these will be defined in a short constitution by group). What type of property there will be in such community? What systems of production? What logics of redistribution? What logic of occupation? The “aggregation” shall happen through the definition of a logic of growth operating with families of discrete components. The communities shall serve the function of residing in the open sea, whilst it should be able to maintain its own metabolism.

To start thinking about how to devise strategies of co-operation and co-inhabitation in the oceans we need to shift from “design” taken as a process to deploy “objects”, to “design” as a process to fabricate processes —strategic/tactical, resilient in the short term and directed in the long run— we must start thinking the territory not as the material surface controlled by national sovereignties and private agents but as a re-combinable network of agents…thinking how differences and diversities of “earth” could/should be redistributed via the invention of new types of productions, of logistics, of inhabitation, by new models able to forwarding the idea of
different futures.

Terms central to our methodology are:

– Infrastructure
Rather than approach the question of infrastructure as a cosmetic problem –in need to be concealed, we treat it as an opportunity to engage with the machinic processes ranged across its sites. The critical role played by infrastructure in the organisation and management of the city’s complex systems of movement, communication and exchange is recognised as the basis from which its operation can be further developed and pushed beyond its tendency to fragment and divide toward other possibilities. We pursue the formal and material articulation of infrastructure, coordinating its operations with the territorial processes, forms and parameters identified in the site, developing its relation to the ground, and elaborating its architectural composition.

– Hybrid Strategies
Specifically we ask: what’s autonomy in nowadays multi-layered capital liquidity? How does one sustain its particular territorial “form of life”? Within this framework, and given it is a “design studio” the student is supposed to unfold the delicate knot: define the relationship between bottom up and top down strategies: “decide” how to design in a complex, vast multi-stratified territory that requires both interpolation of data and more defined —ideologically defined— interventions.

Studio Structure

  1. Indexing Territories: the studio understands mapping and diagramming as both exploratory and propositive, having an active and crucial role in the design process. Indexing records the constitution of a given territory. It registers its topographical, geological, environmental, demographic and socio-economic conditions as processes, forms and parameters. The aim is to develop the capacity to read information from fields and then decoding, synthesizing and systematically processing it into indexical models.
  2. Meshing: the studio will mediate bottom up readings and strategic decision-making concepts. The overall arrangement of the material components produced in the previous steps will be adjusted and further articulated to respond locally to specific conditions and globally to relational strategies.
  3. Scripting Prototypes: the studio will explore different scripting techniques as a means of creating flexible design tools that are capable of accommodating change and a degree of indeterminacy within the design process. In this stage we will generate variations of material components, linking them to a research on infrastructural, environmental and/or other spatial performance.

Speculative Approach

We will read the (in)tangible lines drawn by geology, energy (resources) and politics and map the invisible, describe the submerged, uncover the concealed … in doing so we will design a future.

Designers are in this course strategists, writers, conceptual and morphological explorers. Influences of the lab are the politically driven fictions (such as that of the Russian Cosmists, the Xeno-femminist, the Accelerationist), any “hyperstitional” narrative able to re-invent the present, by having the courage to reimagine-and-live right here and now, the possibility of an-Other future. To design in the course is to map and bring out layers of “controversies”, to form an alternative milieu whence a new reality could germinate. What emerges at the end of the course, we hope, are works that are politicized at core, designs that have the courage to look onto post-hyper-anthropocentric scenarios and that give now hopes to one primary mission: liberating thought from the enslaving forces that makes it a victim of its own incapacities, and with such liberation imaging new forms of living together on earth, and possibly in a future, in one of its distant horizons.

We move into the space of reconceptualization of the very core of nature by challenging philosophical positions that take for granted a benevolent nature, and that from such position move towards the representation of the environment and its naive re-naturalization forgetting that the environment is not to be joyfully used, but that in order to live on this blue marble, it is something to be redesigned. One has to loose the trivial gaze upon things and embrace that things, and that nature as the actual set of all things, is constructed by social and political, material and ideological forces —that are to be studied and in-taken at the beginning of each design venture. Fiction will by the studio be developed as ecologically driven abstraction, because as Reza Negarestani put it:

“terrestrial thought and creativity must essentially be associated with ecology, but an ecology which is based on the unilateral powers of cosmic contingencies such as climate changes, singularity drives, chemical eruptions and material disintegration. Any other mode of thought basking in the visual effects of Earth as a blue marble or the Sun as the exorbitant flame is but submission to heliocentric slavery”
(Reza Negarestani, “Solar Inferno”)

The studio aims at implementing “ecological infrastructures” as the main vehicle to introduce new narratives within the territory’s interstices, envisaging strategies that will dwell on issues of connectivity, political-geographical adjacencies and temporal conditions.

We craft para-consistent fictions by tweaking some of the constitutive elements of a specific/given reality that is selected as study case. This means not to take reality at a distance and so to swim in a comfortable and frictionless space, rather that any design must be forced into a given reality and that by fermenting and developing between the constrictive regimes of such reality, it forces a new reality out;
design is neither adherence to reality nor its radical denial but a rewriting of the inner mechanism of a specific reality. ‘A reality’ is taken and analyzed with political, environmental, social and physical-material lenses in order to reconstruct a model of its constitutive cores oftentimes hiding in plain sight – too complex to be fully captured by a plain gaze, or too intrinsically part of the phenomenological framework of each thought. Crafting tools for abstraction does the job of distancing thought from its “givens”, allowing it to construct, together with other thoughts (in a team, a commune, a society) new, and conceptually uncompromised futures.