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Space Design for the new millennium

Spatial design Jury President Kaz Yoneda draws historical parallels of a world in transition

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Born in Seattle and raised in California, 2022 Jury President for Spatial Design Kaz Yoneda is the founding director of Bureau0-1 in Tokyo. He previously served as an inaugural director of space design for Takram from 2011 to 2014, and ran Harvard GSD’s Tokyo Abroad Studio with Toyo Ito.

Equally committed to practice, research and education, Yoneda is currently Adjunct Studio Professor at Waseda, Adjunct Lecturer at Keio University, Adjunct Professor at Hosei, and Lecturer at Japan Women’s University. Previously he taught at various institutions, including Harvard GSD, Cornell, Tokyo University, Nihon University College of Fine Arts and UCLA.

Here, as he looks ahead to judging the spatial design category at D&AD Awards 2022, Yoneda traces the purpose of design from the Industrial Revolution to today, where he sees parallels with society’s yearning for better design informed by collectivism. 

The West, in the midst of transition from the 19th to 20th Century, was obsessed with the idea of “Fin de Siècle.” Literally meaning the “end of century”, this term subsumed myriad social issues and cultural degeneration, including those arising from the first Industrial Revolution, and the hope that the new century will bring about a better future. It was never a solidified, ideologically monolithic movement per se, but an amalgam of sentiments, attitudes, and general ethos that permeated the cultural sphere of many European countries. This period also marked predominant eclecticism in all levels of design from furniture to architecture. The diversity of design was incredible, and gave us quite frankly some moments of fabulous extravagance like Art Deco or Nouveau, but it also can be seen as decadent, and as setting a stage for the rise of austere Modernism. While in Japan, the “Meiji Restoration'' was under way; a tumultuous transitional period from the over-250-year-old feudal system rapidly modernizing into – paradoxically – a form of imperial reinstatement, albeit in the Western mold. Again, the term only represented manifold complex polylithic movements, but nonetheless society-at-large was longing for a better future. Here too, eclecticism prevailed, but one in which traditional and Western architectural tropes enmeshed into chimerical creations of uncanny effects. So much flourish, optimism, and explorations.

“Technology and services did make the world closer, faster, and more connected, but the result was not the advent of a single equilibrious humanity, but an opposite counterforce that would partition the world according to individual hubris or oligarchic interests.”

Now, here we are in the early 21st Century, and though it has only been two decades, a lot has happened in the world: 9/11, global financial crisis, 3/11, Brexit, Trumpism, the Covid pandemic, and the looming threat of the global environmental crisis. I cannot help but to see a parallel in the world in transition and yearning for a better future. Technology and services did make the world closer, faster, and more connected, but the result was not the advent of a single equilibrious humanity, but an opposite counterforce that would partition the world according to individual hubris or oligarchic interests. Dreams of pan-isms and utopian one-worldisms have seemingly dissipated into various sectionalisms; isolationism, sectarian, partisan, ultranationalism, and on we can go… If the “Fin de Siècle” was a European phenomenon, the “Fin de Millénaire” is the global equivalent unravelling today, whereby the entire humanity is disconcerted by the various malaise and longing for a better future. We can easily criticise the materialism, technocratic rationalism or limitations of democracy as such, and run towards irrationalism, subjectivism, or disengagement. Quickly we realize those actions do not solve anything, and in fact makes things worse.

“I cannot help but to see a parallel in the world in transition and yearning for a better future.”

Design is to imagine, to act upon it, to create, and to impact in such a context we face today. So how can we design solutions in this newfound millenia of discontent? I cannot offer definitive answers (or else I’d be rich!), but rather can only ruminate on some possible keywords that may guide us.

Maxine Naylor and Ralph Ball’s axiom “form follows Idea” stands out among all the interminable axioms related to form as through and through contemporary. As the word “form” can be found in many incarnations – information, transformation, formality (ie protocols), formula (ie indexical) – the design of it can cover all areas ranging from data to objects, intangible to tactile, invisible to audible, even spatial to ephemeral. What is of primary importance, then, is the strength of an underlying idea, the vision projected onto reality.

“Design is to imagine, to act upon it, to create, and to impact in such a context we face today.”

Another important theme for me is how to deal with the dual-existence of humanity and nature as well as that of humility and hubris, paradoxically unavoidable twins. We can collectively sense an increasing interest in how to achieve a kind of symbiosis devoid of human hubris, particularly in the age of the Anthropocene. Ironically, though, if nature is left alone, it can thrive just fine; it is much more resilient than we think it is, much more capable of recuperating according to its own agency. It is where human actions have caused global environmental crises that human interventions are most necessary, and not in terms of nature itself, but in terms of regulating human conduct. No sooner do we claim to improve nature rather than damaging it, than we realise that this declaration too is a remarkable act of commodification. And yet, we must act, and therein lies the problem. However imminent the global environmental crisis, there is not a single silver bullet that will solve everything. In this case, a design that embodies “Critical Localization, Global Instantiation” can be a singularly impotent but collectively powerful way to deal with issues of global scale. What becomes imperative, here, is the coordination of these efforts, to maximise the results.

All these concerns, at the end of the day, need to be addressed and compressed into aesthetically pleasant and intellectually provocative designs. I hope that I too can practice towards figuring out what can exist beyond the trepidations of “Fin de Millénaire”. I look forward to seeing the various works with open eyes and an open mind, such that perhaps a fragment of a better future may be sutured together into a better, brighter whole.

D&AD Awards 2022 is now open for entries​. Learn more and download the Entry Kit here to prepare your entries.

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