; ; 29 Mar 2017

Thinking Through Tools

A comment on the impact of automated tools on furniture craft theory and history at the end of the twentieth century by Florence Maschietto

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Design by Marcus Cole

The categorical boundaries between British craft, design, artisanal and automated have been contested in design history since the 1990s and remain a topical argument amongst craft historians. However, in todays’ post-digital climate, these definitions seem to overlap under the overarching umbrella term ‘design’, challenging what it was that drove these divisions firsthand and how these developing narratives can be written in contemporary design history. ‘Craft and technology: thinking through tools’ aims to comment on the existing body of literature that addresses the impact of automation on British craft furniture and studio practice from the 1980s to the early 2000s. What drives the argument of this essay is interpreting the literature on digital craft theory and application, via a history of tools and the role of technology and society. Drawn from the work of Malcolm McCullough, David Pye and Glenn Adamson, definitions of craft, the digital and workmanship are approached in a historiographical format. This thesis is divided into two sections, each appertaining to a time period pre or post the theoretical turn on the 1980s. Finally notions of digital craft are placed in the contemporary via a critical object based analysis of the work of British designer Gareth Neal and his approach to craft making. This experimental layout reflects the flexuous nature of craft itself and the complications when placing it in a contemporary design history framework.

The purpose of the rhino rendering of a modern filing cabinet, a collaboration between an architect and a design historian, was to not only come to grips with the use of CAD as a tool for designing, but to combine hand drawn ideation with automated design skills. The mechanisms and manufacturing of the object itself reflected a hand driven technology, that of opening the rotary ply cover, and the CNC manufactured plywood elements and steel frame, thus embodying digital and  hand made approaches to furniture design.

Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.
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