How my ideas around design as distributed agency have developed.

Originally my assumptions of distributed agency within design were that it led to a more bureaucratic, slow and tedious design process with limiting faculties. I believed this as it is common practise in architecture to distribute design, to structural engineers, landscapers, kitchen designers the list is near endless and I believe it is this saturation within the design process and the dumbing down of the profession as a whole has led to its disillusionment in modern society. To some extent I still believe this; however I do see many benefits in sharing the design process as it can raise new approaches and interesting perspectives towards design. To critique a project that has clearly benefitted from distributed agency I need look no further than the MoMA Ps1 Hy-fi project which I have referenced previously as it plays a key role within my scenario and current thinking. This project was born by the distributed agency of Ecovative (a renewables orientated packaging company that grows it’s products from mycelium replacing it’s fossil fuel based counterparts), The living (an architectural firm based in New York with strong environmental principles), ARUP structural engineers (no description needed here) and the museum of modern art in New York as well as multiple local artist, college students, local professionals and community garden projects. leading to one of the most innovative pavilions seen in modern times, one that is grown then composted when no longer required, leading to new growth. No starchitect, no multimillionaire and no political agenda required to create it.quotequote2

However all silver linings have grey clouds, distribution on large scales can lead to inefficiency and in the modern design process inefficient design collaborations often fail due to: high expense, time constraints and lack of focus (not all projects can afford these luxuries). We live in a world where the individual is king we just call it celebrity culture, this is evident in architecture as the starchitect is praised and valued more highly than the cooperative. I’ll give you a rhetorical question; in the architectural and popular press who is more revered and gets the most credit, the works of Zaha Hadid or the dedicated and environmentally advanced designs coming from architype?

Maxxi or St luke’s? which do you know best? both are products of distributed agency to varying extents but one has a starchitect.

In conclusion my ideas around design as distributed agency are still forming, the question I often struggle with is how distributed can we take the design process before it stops being design? Instead being just another bland product of a system. Obviously that idea comes from the extremes of the distributed agency ideology, in moderation I believe it to be the natural evolution of the design process but until we as a society realise that by glorifying the individual and not the group we undermine the products of the collaborative design ethos.

an interesting look on collaborative design/ design as distributed agency:



2 responses to “How my ideas around design as distributed agency have developed.

  1. This is great: I’m not an architect but I’m interested, working in marketing with micro businesses. When you think about representation in the professions surrounding the built environment even though you could say Zaha Hadid was a starchitect, she was also a woman in a very male environment who produced wonderful feminine forms but had to act like a very tough man to get anything done? Distributed agency is possibly a way of fast tracking ideas and people who don’t usually get a shot within a complex environment which traditionally hasn’t really felt it needed to be accountable?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To me the idea of building is that it’s about what is possible but really, like a product that I might market or sell I want to reach more people, more of the time and also to find out from people who use my product what it’s like to use it and improve it. Often though, now in product marketing and development, as you say, things have become very corporate and bland. I think this is because the active part of marketing, the research to find out has been replaced by a complacent attitude that they don’t really want or care about the new customer or even want to question what or whom the ideal customer is. Meaning that they don’t want new customers. So could design as distributed agency mean that architecture is still as young and keen as a knowing discipline should be about the one person who might say: “NO, this isn’t a perfect product, this isn’t what I want to be part of, to live in” Is design as distributed agency a tool to move beyond conformity and a questionable consensus into a really new and exciting ground that is about representing more people, more ideas and resources more of the time?

    Liked by 1 person

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