The Thing Tank is an exhibition of design fictions currently on display on the ground floor of Gund Hall at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. It was developed within the setting of a spring 2019 seminar/studio that I taught structured around a sequence of case studies of exemplary 20th century Italian artifacts devised to suit fundamental needs of modern life: sitting, drinking, lighting, walking, moving about, cooling, cooking, writing, calculating, and entertainment. Though the seminar was broadly concerned with intersections between design, engineering, society, and culture, each artifact was meticulously analyzed with respect to its materials, properties, and affordances, the broader family of objects to which it belongs, and the sociohistorical context in which it was produced and circulated. The final assignment for the course was to develop:
…a design project that creates a fictional past object—a design fiction—related to one of the 14 objects around which the course is built. Wedding historical research and analysis to speculative design thinking and practice, this assignment asks you to make an argument through and around a design that reflects critically upon the materials examined in the course of the semester. The project will ideally consist in: a) a set of presentation drawings or models of the object [format and materials of your choice]; b) a narrative that positions it with respect to the category of objects to which it belongs; and c) a set of materials –an imaginary press campaign or set of advertisements, for example—that imagine how this product could have been or might be communicated, and/or the actual social uses to which it could be put.
Eighteen designs were produced by the end of the semester and include a pair of special event Martini & Rossi cocktail glasses, a 1934 timepiece worn to the opening of La Scala in Milan, a scooter-stroller, and two Memphis-style lamps. The exhibition installation was designed by Mindy Seu with help from Chiara Fauda Pichet, both of whom served as teaching assistants for the seminar/studio:
At the far end of the installation are copies of the exhibition brochure (designed by Yue Chelsea Qui):
The following is a slide show of the final class projects:
The Thing Tank opened on May 28, 2019. It will remain on view until the end of the summer.