Designing the Future — Strategic design

One of the breakthroughs in Strategic Design was bringing the invisible ‘dark matter’ to light. As Dan Hill points out the ‘dark matter’ are the conditions that envelope design. And it’s much more than just the building codes and regulations. It includes all kinds of structures, institutions and ideologies, but also more complex social phenomenon (behaviour which influences or is influenced by and responds to one another) — such as cultural conventions and meanings, social norms etc. These are much harder to identify and locate, much less change. 
In the Studio Activity we’ve asked you to look for something in your neighbourhood that you could consider redesigning whilst also identifying the dark matter surrounding your design challenge. This is an especially good activity for someone like me, who is more experienced at writing than drawing for example!

As an ethnographer, we spend much of our time trying to figure out and understand the multiple layers (or structures) that surround particular issues/or groups of individuals — the temporal, spatial, ideational, institutional, social, cultural, and political to name a few. But we go beyond merely making sense of and reporting these layers. Specifically, we want to understand the “webs of meaning” (Geertz) that these structures create as a whole. We want to understand how these layers interact and interconnect to produce the complex social environments in which we live.

Dan shows that the construction of buildings like the timber high rise are surrounded by ‘webs of meaning’ that need to be interpreted and understood as a whole. These can include local and national politics and policies, government institutions, different interest groups — groups who resist it, groups who are for it, churches and community groups etc — all intersecting, interacting and agitating from their own perspective and in instances for their own position.

Do not feel defeated by the weight and density of dark matter. What’s interesting and indeed exciting is that small interventions can have an impact. This is especially the case if they are done with imagination, and with the consultation and backing of the people who are most implicated in the intervention. 
Recently, a new Mosque was designed and built in Melbourne ('s-west/7702524?pfmredir=sm). Working with the local community, the architect, Glenn Murcatt, understood and acknowledged the community’s need for more openness and transparency surrounding their religious activities and spaces due to an ongoing broader climate of anti-Islamic sentiment.

In response, he designed a building that has Australian characteristics — light and simplicity to integrate it into the local environment. Instead of the traditional minaret towers, the building has a glass front allowing the general public to see straight into the prayer hall.

Designers, in collaboration with others are now in a position to work with, factor in and in some cases work against regulations but also to influence and shape more invisible ‘dark matter’ such as tackling embedded social prejudices.