4.110
Design Across Scales and Disciplines

Enrollment: 
Limited
Required of: 
BSAD; restricted elective for Arch and Design minors
Preference Given to: 
BSAD, Course 4 minors

Additional work required of students taking the graduate version of the subject.

Today, designers are no longer exclusively creating autonomous objects, but are working—both individually and collectively—on everything from fabrication methods to transportation systems to clean energy sources. We are asked to interpret data, build networks, embed social frameworks, and consider what it means to be at all times mobile. We are tasked with producing sustainable products, with constructing resilient cities, and with imagining a future not yet seen.

We are asked to work across scales, between disciplines, and beyond expectations. That is the premise for this course.

Inspired by the 1977 Charles and Ray Eames’ film, Powers of Ten, we begin with the idea that scale is no longer merely a function of space, time, and distance, but has expanded to include physical, perceptual, and even performative dimensions that demand a closer look. Today, design is not a single discipline, but a function of multiple perspectives and practices that collectively help us better understand—and ideally address—some of the world’s greatest challenges.

All of this obliges us to ask serious questions about the things we put out into the world. Does data represent an exclusive form of cultural capital? Can energy be conceived of as a truly renewable resource? How can we better understand economies of scale, up-cycling and reuse, and progressive methods of manufacture while protecting and preserving local materials? How do we approach making things for people whose lives are shaped by conditions that predate—and all too often restrict—our participation? And what happens when the things we produce result in unintended consequences?

Now more than ever, these operational, cognitive, and creative challenges demand a truly interdisciplinary skill set, one that benefits from new voices and vocabularies, urging us to consider not only our own inventions but their impact on the people we serve. How can we reconcile need against greed, personal voice against public choice? How do we even begin to think about equitable access, environmental stewardship—in short, about soul across scale?

With a weekly class, visiting lecturers, and regular (weekly) group lab sessions, we will consider together how design works across a range of frequencies, from micro to macro, the atomic to the astronomical. We’ll look at cartography, and choreography; at color, and cultural dynamics; at agrarian ideas that reframe principles of land use; and at what it means to consider legibility as a spatial conceit. We’ll look at the body as a machine, at the machine as a tool, and at tools themselves as idioms for seeing, thinking, listening, sharing, building, and designing a better world for us all.