Inspired by both Futurama and Rem Koolhaas’ Eneropa in which Koolhaas re-imagines Europe as a network of renewable energy capable of reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, Dunne and Raby in their latest work describe an imaginary future governed by technology and centred around the car, posing a deeply philosophical question: What is the impact of design on ways of existence? And, to which extent does design take in consideration their consequences on the big picture (society, community, economy, etc.)?
This work entitled United Micro Kingdoms (UMK) uses the car to speculate on the future of our world and the power of design in affecting our very ways of living. The car represents not simply a vehicle for moving through space, but more precisely the object that carries out our psychology, our idea of freedom and speed. The work takes the UK as its canvas and divides its lands into 4 imaginary states ranging from the utopic to the dystopic, in this way alluding to the notion that utopia comes at a price and may have undesirable consequences.
At first glance it seemed as though this was yet another utopia initiative. Dunne and Raby started with a big idea and realised that “we knew nothing about government, or car making, etc.” so they went on to learn how to make these things possible by collaborating with engineers and scientists, in turn ensuring that these imaginary worlds are not simply imagined and inert afterthoughts, but possible and realistic new universes. It was weeks after the symposium that it dawned on me that this project was pushing the boundaries of the make-believe aesthetic.
These utopias shed light on the very power of design in shaping our worlds for better or worse. The Digitarian state represents the most dystopian world in which cars are moving living rooms varying in size according to the economic class system and using colours to distract from the idea that the city prioritises economics over everything else. The Anarcho-Evolutionist state is designed around the limits of engineering and genetic manipulation. That world places the human capital at the centre of everything, involving both notions of the individual/singular and the collective/plural community. The Anarcho-Evolutionist car is a social vehicle and varies in its sociability (i.e. multiple interlocked bikes with open hitchhikers seats for good conversationists). The Communi-Nuclearist state is a countryside styled state resting on the edges of civilisation. The Communi-Nuclearist car is the impossible vehicle within which society lives. It is a 7 foot 4 kilometres train in the form of a moving landscape operating as a nightclub door community: one in means one out. Finally, the Bio-Liberal state has bio-digesting cars made of delicate organic material representing a symbiosis with nature.
Dunne & Raby speculate and have given form to utopia(s) under the critical lens of societal ways of living and thinking. Their work considers the very economic distance phenomena taking place in civilised society. While it is important to raise the question of the majority of the world population living in accute poverty, it is quite often the poor communities within civilised societies, within our own neighbourhood even, that are neglected and suffer a lack of attention. UMK addresses that economic gap in a realistic and plausible manner. Granted much is left to be explored and perhaps intensionally so, allowing the audience to react and imagine possibilities. More precisely, the project raises a very important aspect of our ways of living and highlights the criterion whereby we project our very sense of privacy, status, and being through the tangible varied personas of the car.
What these concepts teach us is how to embody dilemmas within the larger contexts of our lives, how utopian ideas may have “complicated” pleasures engendering dystopia. It’s important to challenge our belief systems in order to push the boundaries of our reality and change what we know and incite new concepts and realities into the context of everyday life.
– Raby, Dunne. The Stuff Between Us: Designing Interactions Beyond the Object. “The Aesthetic of Unreality.” Design Symposium: At Zurich University of the Arts on October 4-5, 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland. http://www.zhdk.ch/?thestuffbetweenus