Design in society: A lab for sustainable cooperation
In the enchanted courtyard of Engerthstrasse 124, an association called Design in Gesellschaft (which plays on dual meaning of “Gesellschaft” as both “society” and “company”) is transforming a former cabinetmaker’s workshop into a “future workshop”. Its aim is to demonstrate how design can help to develop more liveable futures. The workshop also helps creative workers forge new connections while providing a venue for both “messy work” and exhibitions. The project was recognised in the Creatives for Vienna competition 2021. In this interview, the association’s chair Johanna Pichlbauer tells us about the team’s journeys so far.
What impact do you hope your “Design in Gesellschaft” project, which was recognised in the Creatives for Vienna competition, will have on future communities in Vienna?
We – that is, 11 industrial design graduates from the University of Applied Arts Vienna – have resolved to work together on design projects that can take us forward as a society. We founded an association and found a space where we can experiment with different forms of collaboration, with exhibitions, residency formats and workshops. We want to show what design can contribute when it has the opportunity to expand, when collectives can form and dissolve spontaneously, when the neighbourhood can get involved – a lab for sustainable cooperation.
In your project, you are creating a space at Engerthstrasse 124, in Vienna’s 20th district, that serves both as a workshop and as a venue for exhibitions and networking. What exactly does this look like? And how did you decide on the location?
From the multi-purpose hall for exhibitions, talks and workshops to the secluded courtyard, there’s space and opportunities to exchange ideas in both informal and professional settings. Our various ways of working and topic areas mean that we will be able to present and display the spaces in many different ways, which will benefit us all.
Uli Fries and the team at Kreative Räume Wien helped us with location scouting and legal issues – so thank you to them! There’s a lot going on in the 20th district at the moment. It’s a joy to cycle through the district to our courtyard every day, seeing innovative new forms of collaboration and neighbourhood communities – plus, the Danube is also nearby if we ever want to cool off. We’re so lucky!
You’re developing your project in a collective made up of members from different backgrounds. What are the benefits and challenges of this approach?
Everyone brings their own ideas and expectations with them to this new space. The benefits are obvious: 11 designers generate more ideas than one designer alone, and a team of 11 can paint an old cabinetmaker’s shop quickly, too. The challenge, of course, is ensuring that everyone has a chance to speak in the creative process, taking all vetoes seriously and still making progress. We see our various areas of interest as a huge opportunity. Together, they expand our shared portfolio of possibilities and demonstrate the various ways in which design can be relevant to society.
How important is fostering a sense of community to your work as an industrial designer, and why?
The last year-and-a-half has provided an emphatic demonstration of how dependent we are on each other on a global scale. As designers who usually design for a community – whether that’s a city, an apartment or a market – avoiding isolation in our day-to-day work can only benefit us. Exposing ourselves to criticism, inspiring and challenging one another and confronting new ideas – honing our craft in the collective.
What aspects of your work have changed since the start of the pandemic?
It was almost impossible to work together. For those of us who need workshops, intensive discussions with like-minded people, museum visits, audiences and participation, it was an isolating time. However, it also led to new methods, helped us to learn new skills and produced projects free from the pressure of deadlines.
How can design help to strengthen our communities? And how – against the backdrop of the pandemic – should we develop our society in future?
We need to acknowledge that the way of life we have come to know is not sustainable for this planet – that something is changing and this change is already well underway. The loss of familiar habits and practices can lead to great uncertainty; it can be difficult to picture what a ‘new normal’ might look like. We see it as our task to counter these fears with ideas, working in a way that speaks to all our senses – and with a diversity that makes it clear that the solution lies in the collective. Increasingly, we hear the question of who these ideas belong to. We need to effect a shift, from patents, competition and monopolies to commons, collectives and the simultaneous existence of different approaches.
Design in Gesellschaft brings together 11 industrial design graduates from the University of Applied Arts, Vienna:
Franz Ehn Sophie Falkeis Stephanie Kneissl Philipp Loidolt-Shen Mia Meusburger Peter Paulhart Kerstin Pfleger Johanna Pichlbauer Isabel Prade Julia Schwarz Christoph Wimmer-Ruelland