The designer in the middle: urban futures for public consumption
Roy Bendor (Delft University of Technology)
Paper short abstract:
This paper asks about the role designers play in envisioning and communicating urban futures to the public. It suggests that the designer's capacity to evoke, challenge, and shape the public imagination is conditioned by three interrelated factors.
Paper long abstract:
This paper asks about the role designers play in envisioning and communicating urban futures to the public. It suggests that the designer's capacity to evoke, challenge, and shape the public imagination is conditioned by three interrelated factors. The first factor, following C. Wright Mills (1958/1963), concerns the ideological positioning of design. Here, designers are squeezed between the pressures of late capitalism (mass production, consumerism, etc.), and the possibility of maintaining the values and practices associated with traditional craft. The second factor concerns the temporal orientation of design. On the one hand, design is essentially future-oriented (Fry, 2009), and designers are incessantly called upon to innovate and create novel future possibilities. In this sense, designers are deeply implicated in future-making (Yelavich & Adams, 2014) and worldmaking (Bendor, 2018). On the other hand, designers are firmly embedded in past traditions, heritage, and cultural memories, which they are wont to reinterpret and materialize. The third factor concerns the place design occupies vis-à-vis the emergence and extension of urban sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff, 2015). Here, designerly visions inhabit a liminal space: neither committed to reproduce top-down bureaucratic visions of the future (such as those produced by city planners), nor entirely free to animate untethered imprints of the public imagination. Based on these three factors, and exemplified with urban futures created in Rotterdam, designerly visions of urban futures appear as forms of mediation: quasi-public instantiations of the sociotechnical imaginary, equally reflective of technocratic demands, and of potentials for more radical, transformative urban futures.
The public imagination of the future