Blueprints for the Unknown

Attractor: David Benqué

Recent advances in Synthetic Biology are making the design of new life forms an increasingly real possibility. Driven by an engineering approach to biology, the future scientist/designer is envisioned as an architect of life, creating blueprints for living systems and organisms from a library of standardised, and replicable parts. However, life differs in many ways from the industrial paradigm we feel comfortable with. Adaptation, mutation and symbiosis are amongst the processes which make living organisms unstable, random and highly influenced by the context they are in. The current discourse surrounding biotechnologies promises to control these phenomena, using constant comparisons with the digital revolution. This project aims to explore what would happen if we were to embrace mutation as a driving force for design, rather than trying to force-fit life into our existing view of engineering. Taking this exciting time as an opportunity to question and challenge, we will take a new look at the way we design, produce, and relate to the world around us. Design will be used as a tool for exploration, imagination and discussion around our needs, desires, intentions and culture, with an underlying interest in the concept of Nature and our relationship to it.

Methodology: This project is part of the Studiolab EU grant activities at the Design Interactions department of the Royal College of Art in London UK. Within the Synthetic Biology theme, we will be exploring the social and cultural implications of this field of science through speculative design projects that will aim to raise questions and engage the imagination of a wide audience. Ideas and scenarios will be developed through collaborations with scientists, discussions as well as workshops. The projects will be disseminated through publications and exhibitions, with the aim to trigger further debate with a wider public. Blueprints for the Unstable is split in three chapters over the course of the Studiolab grant. Each will be looking at the research from a slightly different angle. The first one of these chapters in entitled Mutant Products and will run until the summer of 2012. The initial direction is described as follows: Commercial products are currently the optimised and standardised outputs of global systems. The wider the market for a single, cheaply replicable item, the bigger the profits. As Synthetic Biology gets closer to delivering on its promises and infiltrates every day life, the characteristics of living organisms could dictate a radical shift in this thinking. What happens when products get ill, ripen, adapt to their environment or to the way they are handled? When specific replaces standardised, can global strategies still be applied? How does intellectual property, or liability play out when products with a ‘life of their own’ evolve over time and generations? What does the business plan look like? The work officially began in January 2012, so the designers are currently in the process of formulating their individual projects.

Biography: Stories are the way we grasp information and integrate it within the context of our lives. In a world where science is progressing at an exponential pace, my practice of design aims to craft subtle and engaging scenarios at the intersection between science and society. Using a wide variety of media from three-dimensional models to illustrations and video, and by collaborating with other disciplines, scientific and artistic, I aim to encourage the public to question and re-assess their relationships to science and technology. David holds a BA in graphic design from the Royal Academy in the Hague, the Netherlands, and an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art in London, United Kingdom. His work has recently been exhibited in venues such as the National Museum of China in Beijing, Glitch Fiction at Paris Design Week, St. Etienne Design Biennale and Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt, Belgium. He is a research associate (Studiolab EU grant) and visiting lecturer at the Design Interactions department of the Royal College of Art in London UK, as well as a consulting researcher for Microsoft Research in Cambridge UK. He has recently been a guest critic for the Architecture, Space and Objects BA at Central St. Martins as well as the Unknown Fields Division at the AA school of Architecture.