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“We are experiencing a climate and ecological emergency” – Dean of Design Dr Nicky Ryan discusses new exhibition EMERGENCE


Written by
Jake May
Published date
03 September 2019

London College of Communication's Design School is a dynamic and inclusive multidisciplinary community of internationally recognised educators, researchers and practitioners – with a powerful manifesto setting out its vision.

This year for its annual public showcase, and as part of London Design Festival 2019, the Design School presents EMERGENCE – an exhibition and events programme exploring what design can do to achieve goals of sustainable production and consumption, biodiversity, inclusiveness, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

With a focus on design projects for services, social innovation and sustainability, EMERGENCE will celebrate the launch of our new MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures course and showcase the College’s work in bringing sustainability and responsible design practices to the heart of everything we do.

Featuring workshops and tours, performances and screenings, talks and discussions, installations and displays presented by staff, students and collaborative partners, EMERGENCE – which runs from 14 September to 16 October 2019 – is our call to action for positive change.

We caught up with Dr Nicky Ryan, Dean of Design at London College of Communication, to find out more about EMERGENCE...

What can visitors expect from EMERGENCE?

The name EMERGENCE was chosen by staff through a voting process. It was selected to represent the overall theme of the Design School Public Programme – social innovation and sustainable futures – because it is simple and evocative. EMERGENCE suggests a process of becoming, something significant taking shape; and references emergence theory which describes the potential of individual parts of a system to work together to give rise to diverse and dramatic behaviours.

The sub-title ‘service/social/sustainable design’ describes the content of the projects and events featured, which have been created by staff, students and collaborative partners. As with all Design School shows it is an inclusive and democratic exhibition and series of events where all colleagues were invited to participate through an open call for proposals.

The Design School Manifesto, which we launched last year, and our Responsible Design Framework, which provides guidance for embedding environmental and social design approaches and principles within the curriculum, are featured as key elements that underpin the ethos of the show.

Visitors can expect to be challenged, entertained, engaged and enlightened by a variety of workshops, symposia, talks, tours, displays and performances.

Green painting with geometric patterns and visible brush strokes.
Charley Peters, OOTO \ GAL / XO (2019), acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 150cm x 150cm

How is the Design School at London College of Communication able to impact the issues that are being explored in the exhibition?

We are experiencing a climate and ecological emergency and as a School and College we have committed to bringing responsible social and environmental sustainable practices to the heart of everything we do.

The Design School is currently implementing a plan of action to embed the principles of the Responsible Design Framework [PDF - 125kb] throughout all our assignment briefs and course handbooks. This means that all student learning will be informed by an understanding of issues around the climate crisis and be supported with practical skills, critical and strategic thinking to research, enact and envision alternative and sustainable futures.

We are a Design School staffed by colleagues who are passionate about these issues, with many working for years through research, practice and pedagogy to design for positive change. We now need to scale this up, amplify and intensify the best practice already evident across the School and College.

EMERGENCE highlights some of our work to date and acknowledges that there is still much to be done. We recognise the urgency of the current climate and ecological crisis and understand that this necessitates a reframing of everything we do.

Why have we decided to explore these issues, and why now?

This is an emergency and it is our responsibility as educators to use our position of influence to model the change we seek.

As academics we are citizens who enjoy the huge privilege of being able to educate and inspire future generations through our teaching and research. As such we each have a duty to explore how we can change the networks, organisations and institutions in which we are embedded to bring about a more equitable and sustainable society.

The climate crisis is a systems crisis and as an art and design institution we are well placed to critique/consider possible alternative paradigms for the future.

What do you hope people take away from visiting the exhibition or attending an event as part of EMERGENCE?

I hope that visitors will recognise the power and potential of education to help achieve the global imperatives of ecological balance and social equity.

It isn’t necessarily about solving problems, although it can be, but as an art and design institution we are uniquely placed to interpret, critique and represent the current situation and to speculate on alternative futures and new paradigms.

I want visitors to recognise that this is an emergency but to retain hope and believe that through positive action there is still time to make a difference. As Noemi Klein says “Climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us”.

Is there a particular piece of work in the exhibition or event taking place you're particularly excited about, and why?

As Dean I am excited about it all as you would expect! However, if I have to highlight a specific event it would be the launch of the MA Design for Social Innovation and Sustainable Futures, as part of the Closing Event on 16 October 2019.

It is a new Design School course that has already recruited well and I am super excited about its potential to prepare students in responding to real-world challenges, from addressing climate concerns to promoting community relations and social cohesion.

Find out more about EMERGENCE and view the full programme of events.

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