Assembly and Coherence in Design

Assembly and Coherence in Design

Laura Belik on the Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA | Public (Re)Assembly talk series
We must conjure our Gods before we obey them with Michael Rock, November 6, 2017

As an architect myself, I could hear the buzz amongst the students from the College of Environmental Design about that Monday’s lecture. Michael Rock’s reputation in the design community is very high, and the slideshow presentation in itself was already causing excitement. Rock’s current work as a creative director clearly builds on from his background as a designer, as he explains: “being a creative director – and no one really knows what that is- is taking different things and making them work together […] Creative directors structure stories”. Thus, they assemble.

Rock explains how his work is all about creating a world out of pieces, and trying to make it understandable; cohesive. Coherence, he states, is different than creating something new. The assembly here is understood as organizational process. “Branding”, he continues, “became one of the major organizational ways of the world. And it is also a way to think about assemblage, by putting the pieces together and trying to create coherent entities”. His reflections on assembly and coherence were then divided and presented as a list of “ten different thoughts of coherence in design”, that very humorously would both acknowledge and criticize the way we see and organize our world.

For starters, Rock talks about “unaturalism” and the artificial space we live in. “We don’t have nature anymore. Real nature only exists because we allow it to exist. We live in a world in which everything is design”. A key point here lies in the necessity of designers to categorize and divide the world into systems, thus creating symbols – that often can be political acts. The form in which designers plan the space or objects we interact with gives them agency. Rock exemplifies his point with bathroom doors. By adding a door to a determinate “kind” of people, one is making a political statement. The story the designer creates is system-making. Rock’s first statement here can be true for the rest of his examples as well.

The lecture continues, now talking about maps and graphic artifacts. Representing a surface of the world as well as giving names to spaces and things is in itself creating an edge, a perimeter that tells people how to look and understand the world. On mapping, Rock reminds us: “The map itself is built into the world – not found in the world. We understand the world through the thing we made.” Images, as he describes, creates self-evidence. The need for uniformity can also be perceived through typography. But anything that allows us to join the others simply by joining the system they are a part of also can make divisions- and exclusions. The work of the creative director is to create a cohesive story, but there are several ways to do so. “We live in a city of signs”, he concludes. The sign being the most basic unit of spatial coherence has an enormous social and political power. “It is a graphic to control the landscape. Controlling people’s path also controls order and the narratives people live by”. The work of the creative director, therefore, is to choose a path for the story they will tell, accordingly to a coherent narrative. The director will create the signs, but the coherent system will always be based on a shared belief.

Laura Belik (PhD Student, Architecture) reviewed the November 6, 2017 talk, We must conjure our Gods before we obey them, the ninth lecture in the Fall 2017 Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA series. To learn more about the series, see below:

What is the role of public assembly in our current moment? And to what degree are new models necessary to respond artistically and technologically to our political climate? After a highly successful launch of Arts + Design Mondays @ BAMPFA in Spring 2017, Berkeley Arts + Design is pleased to present a new suite of exciting lectures that explore the theme of “public (re) assembly” from a variety of perspectives. The word assembly carries a range of associations. It challenges us to think about the democratic right to assemble; it recalls the artistic history of assemblage. It provokes us to imagine new systems of arrangement that respond to a digital age. It asks to consider how UC Berkeley might re-imagine the “school assembly” as a site of social transformation.

Learn more here.