The Unspoken Revolution is a design studio of the Interior Design BA (Hons) course at Sir John Cass faculty of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University. The year-long studio investigates the conditions of people that live at the fringe of society focusing especially on homeless people’s lives.
So far the studio has seen two different phases; a group project and an individual one. The first one, which is the result of the group effort, is called “the hermitage” project and is realized in collaboration with Whitechapel Mission “always the homeless first” and BDG Architecture + Design. The former partner is an organization which provides support to homeless people while the latter is a design firm which promotes a humanist approach to design, including techniques of participation such as interviews and observation techniques.
The hermitage is a project of a 1:1 temporary box-shaped structure which functions as exhibition space for the individual works that each student has produced during the course. It will be used for a public event at New Spitalfields Market this Thursday 12th and Friday 13th of December. The structure will be able to welcome only one visitor at a time to intensify the contact of the public with the material presented.
The enclosed space of the hermitage is explicitly reminding to the idea of shelter, especially of the temporary or spontaneous kind, with only few cuts to look through which metaphorically represent the “void in society” in relation to the condition of homelessness. Nevertheless the structure is specifically designed to be a place of contemplation for the visitor.
The individual projects developed by each student during the design studio will be exhibited within the structure of the hermitage within several small boxes. Their concept design, which tackles the topic of homelessness, has to fit the space of the small boxes that will be installed inside the 1:1 exhibition space.
The project aims at raising awareness about the public perception of homelessness but also at promoting a social and participatory approach to design. For such purposes it is launched with the slogan “through design we can change stories”. Each one of the individual projects is based on real stories and profiles of homeless people. The students have been encouraged to follow a non-figurative approach in order not to literally represent the social issues but to evoke feelings and emotions related to the condition of homelessness such as isolation, instability, etc.
Each student interpreted the subject highlighting different aspects of the homeless life; Cristiano Alves, for instance, focused on homeless people’s perception of space defining it as “freedom without limits, limits without direction and direction without a way”. Petya Kalvacheva depicts homeless people’s personality; her project, realized with a split sphere, represents the different sides of the homeless personality, fragile inside and rough outside. Martina Terracino instead narrates the condition of having nowhere to live as both the inaccessibility to shelter and the feeling of never being at home.
Another student, Iliana Mitova, designed a sort of “camera obscura” which shows a distorted view of the immediate surroundings to the visitor. It serves as a metaphor of the different points of view and living conditions of the viewer and the homeless person. Another interesting work is the one of Alicja Mrowinska who tells two different stories; the first one is realized with few boxes and is the story of a homeless girl while the other one represents the scale of the problem of homelessness which goes beyond the “level of the street” to reveal a broader social condition and related issues in the city of London.
The projects want to capture the public eye which is usually distracted or indifferent to the life of homeless people. Telling different stories avoiding any literal narration of the issue in favour of a metaphorical approach is a way to engage the public at the emotional level and to replace mere looking with a new way of seeing through the eyes of the students and their creative work.
As well as increasing awareness towards the homelessness condition how can the event promote a higher social engagement of the design community and of the system of higher education?