Questions of Scale: Economy and Ecology
Thursday Feb 10, 2022
12:00 pm – 5:00 pm

The Design Museum, London

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When it comes to innovation in design, success is often measured by scale. The perennial question is: how do you scale design up? Impact is counted in millions of units or the percentage of market share. But what if scale is a problematic metric? What if more is not necessarily better? Indeed, what if many of the environmental challenges we face are the result of processes and materials deployed at too large a scale? 
The first Future Observatory symposium focuses on design research that challenges our understanding of scale. From the economic to the bioregional to the planetary, it will enquire whether there are appropriate and inappropriate scales of production. What do we mean by ‘local’ and are there natural limits of growth beyond which ecosystems or human networks suffer? Are myriad small-scale solutions superior to standardised, globalised ones? This one-day event will bring together designers, researchers, policy-makers and businesspeople to explore the measures of success. 
Speakers include Christian Benimana (MASS Design Group), Jan Boelen (Atelier Luma), Karlijn Sibbel (Notpla), Summer Islam (Material Cultures), Nirav Patel (Framework) and Andrea Trimarchi (Formafantasma). 
The symposium will be held in the Design Museum’s main auditorium with a bespoke stage set designed by Material Cultures, commissioned to respond to the Questions of Scale symposium. Event tickets include entry to Waste Age: What Can Design Do? between 10am–6pm.


12.00 – 12.15: INTRODUCTION  

Tim Marlow, Director, Design Museum  

Justin McGuirk, Director, Future Observatory  


‘Local’ is a watchword of environmental thinking but the networks and materials required for effective localism are often unexplored. In response to planetary systems and crises, architects and designers are increasingly practising within bioregions, drawing on resources offered up by the surrounding landscapes and their communities.  

Christian Benimana, MASS Design Group (joining remotely) 

Summer Islam, Material Cultures  

Jan Boelen, Atelier Luma (joining remotely)   

Panel chaired by Stephanie Sherman, Central Saint Martins    

13.15 – 14.15 LUNCH   
14.15 – 15.15: SESSION TWO, TIMESCALES   

How is a time a factor in designing for the transition to carbon neutrality? Are designers thinking according to longer timescales – those determined by forestry growth, land stewardship or educational cycles – with future needs in mind? 

Helen Gordon, Author: Notes from Deep Time   

Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, Formafantasma (joining remotely) 

Andrew Waugh, Waugh Thistleton Architects  

Panel chaired by Justin McGuirk  


15.15 – 15.45: BREAK  


Ethical products and technologies have to compete against dominating multinationals and, at the same time, vast industries balk at the structural changes the climate crisis demands. Economies of scale are essential to societal impact and yet, beyond a certain point, become detrimental to change.  

Karlijn Sibbel, Notpla  

Nirav Patel, Framework (joining remotely)  

Rebecca Earley, Centre for Circular Design   

Panel chaired by Hettie O’Brien, the Guardian  





 Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin, Formafantasma  

Formafantasma is a research-based design studio investigating the ecological, historical, political and social forces shaping the discipline of design today. The studio was founded in 2009 by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin. The aim of the studio is to facilitate a deeper understanding of both our natural and built environments and to propose transformative interventions through design and its material, technical, social, and discursive possibilities.  


Andrew Waugh, Waugh Thistleton Architects  

Andrew is a Founding Director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, a practice dedicated to delivering buildings and places of the highest architectural quality that acknowledge their impact on the environment. He is a world renowned spokesperson for low impact materials and innovative delivery methods in architecture, and lobbies and lectures internationally, communicating the urgent need for change to mitigate the climate crisis. A pivotal player in the global shift towards renewable, bio-based materials, Andrew’s innovative approach to design has been acknowledged by a RIBA President’s Award for Research and a Stirling Prize nomination in 2018 for Bushey Cemetery which uses traditional rammed earth construction to create a sensitive, contextual architecture.  


Christian Benimana, MASS Design Group. 

Christian Benimana is a Senior Principal and Managing Directors of MASS Design Group, and is Director of the African Design Centre, a field-based apprenticeship set to empower leaders to design a more equitable, just, and sustainable world. Benimana has been listed among 10 architects and designers that are championing Afrofuturism and has taught at the Architecture School of the former Kigali Institute of Science and Technology with a goal to develop the next generation of African designers with socially-focused design principles. Before joining MASS, Benimana worked with LongiLat Architecture and Research in Shanghai assisting with the Porsche Center in Shanghai and the Netherlands Pavilion in the 2010 International Expo.  


Helen Gordon, Author 

Helen Gordon’s books include Notes from Deep Time (Profile), Landfall (Penguin) and, with Travis Elborough, Being a Writer (Frances Lincoln). She has written about nature, science, clothes and books for various newspapers and magazines including the Economist’s 1843 magazine, the Guardian and Wired UK. A former Granta magazine editor, she currently teaches creative writing at the University of Hertfordshire. 


Hettie O’Brien, The Guardian  

Hettie O’Brien is opinion editor at the Guardian and was previously a writer and editor at the New Statesman. Her reporting has been published in the Guardian, the New Statesman, Times Literary Supplement and elsewhere. Previously, Hettie worked as a reporter in Washington D.C. covering the federal trade commission and as a researcher at Rethinking Economics. 


Jan Boelen, Atelier Luma  

Jan Boelen is a curator of design, architecture, and contemporary art. He is rector at the Karlsruhe University of Art and Design (HfG) and artistic director of Atelier LUMA, an experimental laboratory for design in Arles, France. Boelen is the founder and former artistic director of Z33 – House for contemporary art in Hasselt, Belgium. He was curator of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial in Istanbul (2018) and initiated Manifesta 9 in Belgium (2012). Lastly, Boelen curated the Lithuanian Pavilion Planet of People in the Venice Architecture Biennial (2021). Boelen recently edited Social Matter, Social Design: For Good or Bad, all Design is Social (Valiz, 2020), and his writing addresses the implications of design in everyday life and how artistic practices shape the discipline.  


Nirav Patel, Framework   

Nirav Patel is Founder and CEO of Framework. Before starting Framework, he was part of the founding team of Oculus and led the hardware team through the first few years of growth and a handful of excellent VR headsets.  He left Oculus (and Facebook) in 2019 to fix the broken, inefficient, and wasteful consumer electronics industry by building great products that are designed to be upgradeable, customizable, and repairable. 


Rebecca Earley, Centre for Circular Design   

Rebecca is an award-winning designer and Professor of Sustainable Fashion Textile Design at the UAL. She is based at Chelsea College of Arts where she is Co-Founder and Director of Centre for Circular Design (CCD). Rebecca's practice and research encompass making materials and prototypes, exhibition curation and writing. She particularly enjoys the challenge of educating and inspiring audiences into more sustainable choices and actions towards circular futures. 


Karlijn Sibbel, Notpla  

Karlijn Sibbel is a designer, engineer, and inventor. She is the Design Director of Notpla, a London based start-up with the goal of making packaging disappear. By using seaweed and learning from nature, Notpla aims to replace single-use plastic. Karlijn received her Product Design degree from ArtEZ and studied Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College of London and Royal College of Art.


Stephanie Sherman, Central Saint Martins 

Stephanie Sherman is a design director, strategist, producer, and writer. Working across urbanism, technology, and culture, her projects repurpose outmoded systems as collaborative platforms. She currently directs the MA Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins, collaborates with Autonomy (a think tank on the future of work), and produces marathon radio broadcasts with  


Summer Islam, Material Cultures  

Summer Islam AADipl (hons) ARB is a founding Director of Material Cultures. She has extensive experience of leading prominent cultural and community projects from inception to completion. Her work is focussed on the holistic integration of construction technologies and design. Summer co-runs 'Construction in Detail' in the Spatial Studies department at the University of the Arts London. Summer has taught at the Bartlett, University College London, the London Metropolitan University, the Architectural Association and the University of Cambridge. She was previously an associate at award-winning design practice 6a architects in London. Summer co-founded architecture and design practice Studio Abroad with George Massoud in 2014.