MARCH 4, 2024
Jotte de Koning | TU Delft
Peter Jones | OCADU | Tec de Monterrey
Praveen Nahar | National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
Lorraine Randell | OCADU
Birger Sevaldson | Oslo School of Architecture and Design
Sahil Thappa | National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad
Evan Barba | Georgetown University, DC
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RSD12 continues with a mapping series on Mondays from February 26 to May 6. I called the series Whoa RSD12 because mapping almost fell off the map. Here is a roundup of what happened, what is happening, and why the series includes the emergence roundtable to discuss mapping in systemic design.
First, some background: this was the fifth RSD I’ve been involved in organising and the fourth in a row. This year, RSD12 chair Evan Barba put forward Entangled in Emergence, suggesting, “This space between positions, like the ends of string tied into a knot, is the space we want to move into” (Barba, 2022), and we framed contributions as entanglements rather than topics or themes. Scanning backwards, RSD11 raised Possibilities & Practices in systemic design after a few years of complexity themes and a couple of breaks for well-being (RSD9) and flourishing (RSD6). Emergence and entanglement helped me see systemic design as an evolutionary (not revolutionary) movement. I’ve been involved in hundreds of initiatives supporting movements that I’d describe as evolutionary—fusing action and community to open up ways to approach unpredictability and dynamic interactions. Examples from my work are upcycling (70s), social theatre (80s), eco parenting (90s), information access and personal privacy (00s), diversity, equity, and inclusion (10s), and systemic design (20s). I can attest that these evolutionary movements are a long game, consistently seeking leverage points, depending on co-design, and using futuring techniques to become socially performative. However, listening to the system is always challenging as there is so much activity—and so much noise.
This year, we were overwhelmed with submissions (over 350) and carried by the incredible buzz of 13 hubs across 15 days of programming. Something had to go, and maps and exhibits were the path of least resistance. Although the number of maps submitted has increased over the years, we had a significant bump from the highs of 24 RSD9 submissions and 26 RSD11 submissions to 64 for RSD12. Since these articles include images and other assets, posting them is time-intensive, so I have to admit I pushed them off to the side. On returning to the proceedings, I was sorry to notice that I never finished properly posting the RSD11 maps. For context, I’m currently the only person who posts articles on RSDsymposium.org, which means we have a squeaky-wheel policy, and people don’t nudge me on maps and exhibits. On the other hand, papers get a lot of action, as many universities acknowledge RSD proceedings papers, and authors are anxious to add them to their publication lists.
There’s also a black box when it comes to systemic design mapping. Who is using it? Teaching it? I’ve only managed to track three documented approaches to mapping as taught in systemic design. Predominant is gigamapping, out of the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Gigamaps are considered “devices for design inquiry rather than an analytical tool like those used in systems engineering or hard systems models” (Sevaldson, 2018, p. 244). Synthesis maps from OCAD University “seek to illuminate design understanding and inform proposals reflected in the visual narrative” (Jones & Bowes, 2017, p. 233), and the insightful and expertly realised metaphor maps coming out of the National Institute of Design represent the relationships between products, systems, and people (Ranjan, 2005). At TU Delft, mapping is integrated into the Designing Sustainability Transitions minor, taking a whole systems approach that goes beyond resource-efficient products and services. The University of Brighton’s Radical Methodologies (RaM) group explores counter-conventional approaches, creating a possibility space for mapping as method, and Victor Martinez (2022) contributed an omnibus of work from the Wilson School of Design. In 2019, Carnegie Mellon University School of Design contributed a collection of exquisitely rendered metaphor-style maps, but none have followed.
Several things stand out in the 2023 contributions. The National Institute of Design continues to lead in the number of maps contributed yearly, and NID researchers exhibit enthusiasm for presenting and discussing this aspect of their work. (I would probably not be writing this without inquiries from a few NID students about the RSD12 exhibition.) AHO is represented by the systems oriented design implementation framework, a crystal clear framework map, but perhaps not a gigamap (Almaas et al., 2023). AHO-affiliated Marie Davidová consistently exemplifies gigamapping, no less this year with BioDiveIn (2023), and continues integrating mapping in the Cluster of Excellence IntCDC work at the University of Stuttgart. Unusual was that no OCADU students submitted maps. However, the OCADU-affiliated contributions are representative of praxis: an installation (Hossian & Rawlings Quintero), a municipal project (Lopoukhine, 2023), a bioregional learning centre (Jones & Kumar, 2023), and Peter Stoyko’s extended project, SystemViz, in which he suggests that “multi-media maps are overtaking static ones” (Stoyko, 2023). I must agree that what stands out most this year is that different expressions of mapping—installations, material representations, and embodiment are in evidence, which brings us back to Barba’s spaces between the knots in a string. Interstitial approaches are emergent. These include conceptualising ecotones, ecological transitional zones where two or more distinct ecosystems or ecological communities meet and interact (Muljono, 2023; Narayan & Agrawal, 2023), and mapping as a method to steer transitions in intermediary spaces (Mateu, 2023; May 2022; Sayedahmed, 2023). These call to mind Birger Sevaldson’s Library of Systemic Relations (originally set out in 2011), an outstanding navigation tool for interstitial spaces, which he calls the “relations in mapping.” Regrettably, it doesn’t get enough attention in the systemic design literature.
With all of this in mind, I checked in with the people who contributed maps and exhibits to see if there was still interest in an exhibition. The response was immediate and affirmative, and Mapping Mondays became a reality. Of the original submissions, some people didn’t respond or replied that they would not go ahead with their article, resulting in a final count of 40+ contributions, with over half committed to online studio-style presentations. There was one other, seemingly trivial bit of emergence that kept poking at me: while still exhibiting the quality of metaphor, several NID maps referred to their maps as gigamaps. I asked Birger Sevaldson, who originated the gigamap at AHO, what he thought about this. His response was magnanimous—the gigamap tent could include many diverse forms. This made me even more curious about mapping in systemic design, and it was time to get the band back together. With that, I am pleased to announce that Birger, Peter Jones, Praveen Nahar, Jonathan Rhomm, and Sahil Thappa have confirmed they will be part of the Emergence Roundtable on March 4—and Evan Barba will facilitate the spaces between the knots. It’s a big table so you can pull up a chair as a participant or a listener. If you’d like a formal placeholder, please drop me a line, and I will add you to the roster. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is based on my personal impressions and may contain errors or omissions. Please reach out to correct these.