skip to main content

Essential coronavirus info
Your safety is our first priority.

Becoming Hybrid

Fish-eye photography of people in room
Becoming Hybrid

Betti Marenko, Reader in Design and Techno-Digital Futures and Contextual Studies Leader BA Product Design, Product, Ceramic and Industrial Design programme reports on a new partnership between Central Saint Martins and Tokyo Institute of Technology.

This colloquium on transdisciplinarity and collaboration was organised and chaired by Central Saint Martins’ Dr Betti Marenko and Dr Ulrike Oberlack (who are both also visiting professors at TokyoTech) together with Professor Kayoko Nohara, the colloquium was hosted by the Nohara’s lab on 14 May 2019. The first of its kind held at Tokyo Tech it brought together Tokyo Tech faculty from a wide variety of science and technology disciplines (see list below) together with Central Saint Martins' faculty (Betti Marenko, Ulrike Oberlack, Jeremy Till, Rachel Dickson, as well as Heather Barnett and Nathan Cohen via Skype). Its purpose was manifold. It was a celebration of the collaborative activities that have been taking place between the two institutions since May 2017 including a symposium on the nature of the experiment, teaching and research residencies, an intensive hack-a-thon, a science and philosophy café, workshops with postgraduate students and faculty and an expanding network. It succeeded in creating an informal platform for conversation and exchange concerning the shape of our future collaboration underpinned by a strong rationale of transdisciplinarity ethos.

We ran a vison-building workshop that saw mixed teams engaged in literally building their vision for collaboration using Lego. This workshop was significant for a number of reasons: first of all, under the theme “permission to play” it successfully mobilised the material imagination of all participants by focusing on non-verbal, playful and haptic engagement. The transnational language of Lego building and creativity triumphed beyond language and cultural barriers. Furthermore, it was an experiment on mixed remote facilitation as the workshop was run by Heather Barnett via Skype from London, and simultaneously translated by a Japanese team of interpreters. The Lego workshop showed a way forward for how remote collaboration can effectively take place in a consistent and enriching manner in spite of a 10,000 km and an 8-hour difference!

The Colloquium also saw the launch of the booklet Becoming Hybrid – Transdisciplinarity at the Crossover of Science and Technology and Art and Design, a document in English and Japanese jointly produced by Central Saint Martins and Tokyo Institute of Technology (Nohara Laboratory). Becoming Hybrid offers the rationale for the transdisciplinary ethos underpinning this exciting collaboration across art and design and science and technology, as well as offering a comprehensive description of our collaborative activities to date, accompanied by reflections, contextualisation and future recommendations.

Why Becoming Hybrid? The title suggests a process of heterogeneous components coming together to create something that did not exist prior to their encounter. The objective here is not to erase differences but rather to celebrate what each component has to offer. Becoming Hybrid is by definition a process that continues to cross boundaries – be them disciplinary, cultural or conceptual – and in so doing challenging established perspectives and subject-specific conventions.

In this sense Becoming Hybrid has to do with heterogeneity, novelty and change, including the challenge of not knowing exactly how things may turn out. A key idea is that this element of surprise (and risk) can be turned into an asset. To mobilise this space of uncertainty as a value we discussed ways of creating a “third space” where our different ways of making knowledge across science and technology and art and design can meet in unexpected and productive ways. In this encounter our two institutions are effectively testing the boundaries of Becoming Hybrid through action, which is the genuine marker of a transdisciplinary collaboration that aims to tackle real-world challenges, communicate better with non-specialist audiences and shape our collective futures.

Marenko, B., Barnett, H., Nohara, K., Oberlack, U., Tsuda, H. (2019) Becoming Hybrid. Transdisciplinarity at the Crossover of Science and Technology and Art and Design.Nohara Laboratory, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Printed in Tokyo. ISBN 978-4-9910296-1-5 (in both Japanese and English)

TokyoTech faculty in attendance:

Prof. Kurabayashi Daisuke – Department of Systems and Control Engineering, School of Engineering, Kurabayashi Lab., Intelligent Mechanics and Machine System/Bio-inspired Robotics

Prof. Nakayama Minoru – Department of Information and Communications Engineering, School of Engineering, Nakayama Lab., Educational Technology / electronics, AI

Prof. Hijikata Wataru – Department of Mechanical Engineering, School of Engineering, Okada and Hijikata Lab., Mechanical Design / Artificial Hearts, blood pumps

Prof. Nohara Kayoko – Department of Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering, School of Environment and Society, Nohara Lab., Translation Studies / Transdisciplinary Science / Science Communication

Prof. Susa Masahiro – Department of Material Science and Engineering, School of Materials and Chemical Technology, Susa and Kobayashi Lab., Metallic Production Engineering / Physical Properties Measurements / Physical Chemistry of Materials

Prof. Takada Junichi – Department of Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering, School of Environment and Society, Takada Lab., Measurement Engineering / Communication/Network Engineering / ICT and development VP International Affairs

Prof. Abe Naoya – Department of Transdisciplinary Science and Engineering,
School of Environment and Society, Abe Lab., Applied Economics / Environmental Influence Valuation/Environment Policy

Prof. Fujii Harujuki – Department of Architecture and Building Engineering, School of Environment and Society, Fujii Lab., Architectural environment/Equipment / City Planning/Architectural Planning / Design Science / Cognitive Science / Intelligent Informatics

Prof. Tsukamoto Yoshiharu - Department of Architecture and Building Engineering, School of Environment and Society, Tsukamoto Lab., Architectural Design

Susumu Yoneyama - University Research Administrator (URA) School of Environment and Society, Office of Research and Innovation.

Tsuda Hiroshi – Concent, Inc. Executive, Editor / Film Critique / Art Content Direction