Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The engineering of modification

I apologise again for not having posted yesterday - class is leaving little time to write.

I want to add on to previous posts on objects and materials (here, here, here, here, here). In my last post, I wrote about the modification of engineering. One thing that current design, engineering and building education don't really address is what can be called modularity. We think of objects as single use, and they are built for single purposes. Vast amounts of energy and materials are invested in such objects, and significant ecological harm comes from the manufacturing. When one thing becomes "obsolete," (here, too) there is very little chance that the same components will be reused to make another object. Now, I have written many times that the most significant steps towards decreased ecological harm will come through behavioural and ethical changes, not newer objects. Yet, I understand that we have created objects and structures that surround our lives, and become part of them; I can appreciate that. Modularity, or adaptability is a better word, may help us design objects to be taken apart easily, put back together in a different manner, and still provide the change that is needed. Several issues arise from this, that I will address.

If we do create objects and spaces, how might they be modular? One interesting idea I came across the other day was at the art opening of Andy Kem (who we found out about on a random trip to Russell Industrial - a space for artists and craftspeople). His designs feature interlocking pieces, not pieces that are solidly put together. This means that you can take them apart easily, and put them back together, without tools. Here's an example of a rocking chair.

Now, of course, many things we have, like furniture, are built in this way. But many things are not, including the spaces we inhabit. Laura Smith mentioned how interior design is additive. In design, most time designs are not meant to be taken apart to conform to changing wants/needs. Therefore, we need to make things from virgin materials. But I wonder if we built simple, basic things in a modular way, whether we would be happy with what those objects can provide. For example, if we have an object that is placed one way, would we be able to change our perspective and bring some freshness to it by placing it another way? Maybe just tipped over? I know I might be sounding like some artist here, which I am not, and I am not compelled to always be surrounded by new objects, but many people are.

One issue that may arise in this is that it is difficult to design something for a purpose if we can't envision what that purpose may be. This I have addressed in some posts about limits of the human mind. But I do think that given all the physical things we have, we must conform our wants to fit the limitations and capabilities of these objects.

Ecological degradation stems from the way in which we physically modify the environment, violently extracting materials and killing trees, driven by ideologies and ethics that dictate such behaviour. But in the end, we are making the choices to physically modify the environment in destructive ways. If we just thought of such destruction, and didn't act on the thoughts, much of nature would still be intact.

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