The Design Museum has announced the new cohort of design researchers in residence who will spend the next year at the London institution working on projects responding to the climate emergency. The program is a new development of the museum’s Designers in Residence, which ran between 2007 and 2020, and was created to support emerging design thinkers working in response to the climate emergency.
Designed to support emerging design thinkers, the initiative is part of the Design Museum’s Future Observatory, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
“Welcoming a new group of design researchers in residence is always an exciting time, knowing that we can expect nine months of unconventional thinking and challenges to design as a practice,” says Justin McGuirk, director of the Future Observatory at the Design Museum.
Meet the Design Museum’s design researchers in residence
The 2023/24 Design Scholars in Residence are April Barrett, Eliza Collin, Jamie Irving and Freya Spencer-Wood, a cohort representing a variety of design specialisms. During their residencies, they will explore ‘solar’ across a wide range of themes, including the housing renovation programme, how plant scent changes under environmental stress, peatland restoration and heat lost produced by data centers.
The end of the program will be marked by a publication and a public exhibition at the Design Museum, scheduled for June 2024, where researchers will be able to present their approaches.
“A rapidly warming planet means we need to rethink our relationships with heat and light, and how we preciously use the energy associated with them,” said George Kafka, curator of the Future Observatory. “Whether it is architecture and community infrastructure for home heating, or the impact of atmospheric warming on carbon sinks and plant life, now is the time to research and reframe the role of solar energy in our lives.”
Originally from Canada, April Barrett has a background in the video game industry. Among her most recent research topics (which she developed as part of the Design for Change master’s program at the University of Edinburgh) are data centers, the facilities that house the IT infrastructure that organizations need. needed to store and process data. Her research led her to specifically examine “the colonial nature of data center expansion in Scotland and the tensions that arise when communities have their own views on land use”.
For her residency, Barrett will continue her research focusing on “the potentially damaging impact of data centers on the energy supplies available to local communities.” Such centers, she observes, “often compete with neighboring cities for the enormous amount of resources they need to operate”; his research will explore how waste heat generated by data centers can be harnessed and redistributed, while questioning the validity of “big tech’s growing entanglement with the future of renewable energy.”
A 2021 graduate of Central Saint Martins’ Material Futures MA, Eliza Collins’ research focuses on “building sustainable systems, with future prospects linked to materials, resources and the environment”. Collins has worked on water projects as part of the government’s Policy Lab design team, collaborated on a rainwater harvesting system for the BlueCity Rainwater Hackathon in Rotterdam, and co-developed recommendations in subject of urban planning and non-human policy for the Gemene Grond residence. Water is what we make it”, in Utrecht. More recently, she developed a project called “Wetlands” (developed with support from Fondazione Studio Rizoma), which explored the use and movement of water in Sicily, also proposing community design solutions to facilitate water community action in the future of water.
Through his residency, Collin plans to explore how the smell of plants has changed due to the climate emergency, a project that continues his collaboration with agroecologist Dr. Coline Jaworski. With her work, she will examine how this effect affects local ecosystems. “For example, changes in odor have detrimental effects on wild bees and their pollination, leading to disruptions in food systems and the presence of increasingly oily molecules in the air, which can contribute to ferocity forest fires.”
Architect, educator and co-founder of design and research firm Entropic Group, Jamie Irving teaches studio design and tectonics at the Kingston School of Art and his collaborations include the Architectural Association, University of Cambridge and ETH Zurich. His work focuses on “improving environments through an understanding and awareness of how cultural, ecological, and building systems come together.”
The project he hopes to complete during his residency will examine the role of the sun “in the renovation program as a means of establishing a more dynamic relationship between the interior and exterior.” His research will explore the potential of conservatories as insulating and warming spaces, underpinned by the idea that ‘reducing energy consumption in homes provides opportunities to reimagine the relationship between our built environment and climate’ .
Freya Spencer-Wood is an interdisciplinary designer and researcher working on scenography, land policy and queer identity. A 2019 graduate of TU Delft, she is a lecturer at the Royal College of Art and Central Saint Martins. Her previous experience includes the V&A design studio, We Made That, East and JA Projects, with whom she has collaborated on a wide range of exhibitions, public realm, community engagement, urban strategy and policy development projects.
His research at the Design Museum will explore Scotland’s lack of sunlight, wet climate and peatland restoration, seen as “an opportunity for effective climate action and fair land reform”. Recognizing “the inherent connection between spatial justice and climate justice,” she will study peatlands as queer spaces; often misunderstood, between landscapes, they become the starting point for research into the potential for greater intersectionality in landscape policies, “to broaden engagement in the face of the socio-spatial and political crisis of climate emergency”.