Urban Civilisation Nomands

Urban Civilisation Nomads. Aestheticisation Strategies for the Ascetic-Mobile in Low Budget Design

Jörg Seifert

Since the beginning of the 1990s it is possible to identify significant convergences between architecture, art, design and fashion in a series of developments and products that originally emerged from completely different contexts: numerous designs for mobile protective sheaths in the border area between building and clothing demonstrate a distinctively low budget aesthetic of the ephemeral: raincoats can be transformed into air mattresses, chairs (Moreno Ferrari, 2001) or tents (Lucy Orta, 1992). Nylon parkas are declared “wearable shelters” (Kosuke Tsumura, 1994), tent-like accommodation is hung from trees (Dré Wapenaar, 2005) or held in shape by the exhaust air from ventilation systems (Michael Rakowitz, 1997). Within the context of architecture competitions on the themes of “building in emergency situations” or “architecture as poverty prevention”, proposals for objects with flexible usage are regularly put forward in which either the technical sophistication or specific aesthetic statements are at the forefront. Foldaway boxes, modules with bellows and convertible tent constructions, which quite frequently remain at the prototype stage (cf. e.g. ARES 2006–8), are supposedly tailored to the precise needs of the proposed users – the homeless, civilisation nomads or the victims of natural disasters – although their appearance bears a striking resemblance to design and art objects directed at completely different target groups, and which are to be found in the exclusive circles of glossy magazines, art biennials, galleries and design trade fairs.

These convergences at the product level between critical-interactionist art, architectural designs for emergency accommodation as well as fashion and designer objects in the upmarket price segment raise questions concerning the intersections at the actor, process and discourse level. These (product-)projects are to be examined as the expression of a (re)interpretation of urban poverty and austerity which selects frugality as an aesthetic device. How is this “asceticisation” inscribed in low budget urbanity, which materialised identification potential does it generate through the design? In order to answer these questions this sub-project begins with the products and the associated design practices in order to reconstruct the actor networks involved and draw conclusions as to the social articulated within them and the representation of frugality and austerity.