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Design Interactions Alumni Produce Blueprints for the Unknown

The Royal College of Art has become synonymous with the speculative and critical approaches that have completely revolutionised how we think about the relationships between science, technology, art and design.

Blueprints for the Unknown is the latest instalment in this story. Both a project and a publication, it captures the Design Interactions programme at the RCA’s contribution to the major Europe-wide initiative, Studiolab.

The name points to the initiative's intention – ‘studio’ plus ‘lab’ – and the project’s imperative to create hybrid spaces, physically and conceptually, that encourage greater interaction between art and science.

Over a three-year period, 13 partners, including the RCA, Le Laboratoire (Paris), Science Gallery (Trinity College, Dublin), Ars Electronica (Linz) and MediaLab Prado (Madrid), received funding as part of a European Commission (EC) scheme designed to support three core research themes: Future of Water, Future of Social Interaction and Synthetic Biology, with the RCA’s contribution falling within the latter.

David Benqué, Research Associate on the RCA project, and editor of its eponymous publication, explains, ‘Blueprints for the Unknown offered an umbrella under which graduates, including myself, produced work exploring the possible impacts of synthetic biology on society’.

Notably, each of the seven individual projects within the RCA’s offering were led by recent alumni of the RCA’s Design Interactions MA, attesting to the world-leading creativity and innovation nurtured by the programme and its head, Professor Anthony Dunne.

As Benqué elaborates, ‘Each work looked specifically at an existing area or system, ranging from bonsai ‘grooming’ to the NHS and green politics, to explore the implications of recent advances in synthetic biology'.

Using narratives to give body to what might seem like fantastical scenarios, Blueprints for the Unknown, both as a project and publication, presents a version of the world that, although markedly different from our own, is not beyond the realms of the imagination.

It proposes a world where microbes have become an alternative to monetary currency; phosphate, a key element in biological life, underpins the economic system, and humans and plants can be locked into mutually destructive co-dependent relationships.

In doing so, these timely investigations take scientific hypothesis out of the lab and into the world to create provocative articulations of what it means to design new life forms.

Significantly, each twist on reality also acts out an important tension: between what is possible and what society is willing to accept: between those ideas that are possible in theory – genetically modified crops, say – and the much wider social, cultural, political and economic networks that are imperative for the bedding in of any new scientific or technological discovery.

Blueprints for the Unknown frames questions and opens up enquiries that will continue to influence debates around science and technology, both in the RCA and in the wider world, for many years to come.

Blueprints for the Unknown documents works by David Benqué, Superflux (Anab Jain and Jon Ardern), Studio Nand (Steffen Fiedler and Jonas Loh), Koby Barhad, Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen, Raphael Kim and Tobias Revell.

More information about the project and publication can be found here.