The pr-objects from the age of Adhocracy

Abstract: ‘Adhocracy' is the exhibition curated by Joseph Grima at the first Istanbul Design Biennial, but more that it is a concept, a tool, a tentative answer to the question of the evolving role of the practical design, the designer and the user-producer in our contemporary society.

In this article the ‘pr-ojects’ described provide some provocative answers to the following questions: Why are we talking about design in Istanbul? How does the open-source system and 3D printing change the production and authorship of objects? How does open-design empower the user? And thus, what are the social and political implications of networking and sharing knowledge of new technologies?

“… this world is carried by your hands. And men, Oh my men!”  (Hikmet, 1954, pp. 45-46)

1. Istanbul Design Biennial

In the so-called post-industrial or third industrial revolution era, as the Economist defined it last April, defining what design is today and what its role in the current context is, has become harder than ever.
Over these two years of preparation for what has become the core of the first Istanbul Design Biennial, promoted by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), it has been possible to activate a great many discussions with a range of individuals on both a local and international level.
With its vibrant energy, its multiplicity of activities, its contradictions and astonishing undefinable beauty, Istanbul is the embodiment of the general theme ‘Imperfection’ proposed by Dejan Sudijc.
Symposiums, workshops, parallel events and the two main exhibitions – ‘Musibet’ (from the Turkish for catastrophe) curated by Emre Arolat at the Istanbul Modern and ‘Adhocracy’ curated by Joseph Grima at the Galata Greek Elementary School – have tried to engage a wide range of people and to plunge them into an understanding of the chaos, the countless layers of the city, its multiple viewpoints as well as the blurring of boundaries among disciplines, the emergence of co-producers of information, objects, projects and initiatives that characterize the glocal arena of Istanbul.
This article will focus purely on the ‘Adhocracy’ exhibition curated by Joseph Grima and its international curatorial team made up of Elian Stefa, Ethal Baraona Pohl, Pelin Tan and Maurizio Bortolotti.
Starting from this exercise in co-operation, helps us to identify the common denominator of Adhocracy, but it does much more than this too.
Grima identifies the concept of adhocracy as opposed to bureaucracy, hierarchical economic systems and centralized political management. On the contrary ‘Adhocracy’ questions the limitations and rigidity of these systems and proposes alternative, hybrid bottom-up and top-down production practices.
Design is – once integrated with other disciplines – a way to propose new solutions and raise awareness on our rights. At the same time, the exhibition is conceived of as an open work in progress platform and aims to host seminars and to push forward discussions on some of the crucial issues of our contemporary society.

2. Process demonstration
In order to give you a general overview of the projects displayed in ‘Adhocracy’, and a better understand of them, and, at the same time, problematize the exhibition concept, I will summarise some of the requirements announced in the open call launched on the 14th of february 2012:

“We are looking for projects that:
– empower others through self-produced and collaborative design;
– experiment with innovative methodologies of manufacturing and production;
– are born from or rely on networks;
– push the boundaries of the open-source movement and their implications for everyday life;
– combine traditional techniques and know-how with new tools and technologies;
– have no author or too many authors to be counted
– challenge and push the boundaries of the accepted definition of design” (Grima, 2012, pp.88-89).

Therefore the exhibition itself moves very faraway from being the usual object-centred design exhibition and even when we do look at objects/machines or devices we do so in order to comprend the processes behind them and beyond to the actions which the user can easily learn from or contribute to. More than that these projects are central to the redefinition of the professional and cultural role of the designer today.
We can start by analysing the structure of the objects, as Jesse Howard demonstrates in Trasparent tools in which she proposes a set of household appliances – toaster, coffee grinder, vacuum cleaner – that users can produce, modify and repair by downloading a grid format containing plans for the single parts of the device from the OpenStructures system. At the same time this construction system aims to create a network of component user-producers in order to promote processes of co-creation.
Another project based on the sharing and social nature of Web 2.0 is the Open Source Ecology platform founded in 2003 by a group of activist farmers and scientists working in Ohio, who presented their Global Village Construction Set (GVCS), affordable equipment for the construction of over fifty OS industrial machines. On show in the exhibition is LifeTrac III, a low-cost and multipurpose open source tractor, which can be constructed in six days.
Open source projects are not only defining new methods of production and interaction among designers and users. As John Thackara’s (2011, pp. 44-45) argues “openness is more than a commercial and cultural issue. It’s a matter of survival”, as some of the Arduino-based devices show.
The cheap microcontroller board, created in 2005 at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, has spawned a wide range of interactive products to satisfy personal needs.
Tacit by Steve Hoefer, Grathio Labs, for example, is an easy to assemble Arduino-based, hand-mounted navigation device for the visually impaired that measures the distance between objects (from 2 m to 3.5 m) rapidly and translates that into pressure on the wrist.
We are all aware that Arduino should be taught in high schools, expecially after having seen Alarma Sismos, a seismograph built with a Arduino microprocessor, the personal invention of Sebastian Alegria, a 14-year-old Chilean boy, which sends out automatic twitter alerts on seismic activity.
Some of these projects reflect the important theme of the interaction between craft and digital production with 3D printers and, whether we like it or not, sooner or later, we will be surrounded by the latter.
Essentially this paradigm shift, which is not yet easily perceptible, implies that we (both designers and potential user/producers) have to try to come up with different ways of thinking about the design of things, which will lead us to a deeper understanding of their inner structures and raise our awareness also on their material composition.
According to Neri Oxman, professor of Media Art&Science and director of the MIT Media LAB, 3D printing is bringing about a revolution in design – equivalent to Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type press – which will lead to greater democratization of information and production of objects.

The Belgian studio Unfold, in collaboration with Turkish ceramists such as Tulya Madra & Firat Aykaç of Santimetre and Mustafa Canyurt of Istanbul, presents the open-source 3D printing project Stratigraphic Manufactory, from which 3D produced objects in pottery (mainly bowls and vases) are exhibited in a mock-up of a traditional craft shop in the near-by district of Şişhane and displayed in cases facing the windows with the Artisan électronique workshop in the background. Here Unfold explores the tension between handicraft and digital clay products.

By Unfold once more, this time the production of 3D printed objects becomes Kiosk 2.0, a mobile cart that questions the immediacy, flexibility and accessibility of this kind of production in the realm of public space. By accessing an open-source database of scanned digital models Kiosk 2.0 allows users to print false copies of iconic design objects (such as Aalto’s vase) and customize them according to their preferences.
Another particularly interesting interdisciplinary project that connects 3D manufacturing technology, architecture, food design and public space is Street Food Printing by José Ramon Tramoyeres, Paco Morales, Luis Fraguada and Deniz Manisalı, who have started experimenting with Fused Deposition machine deposits (usually known for prototyping plastic) for food stamps, such as chocolate or cheese, in some of Morales’ avant-garde dishes.

This project was exhibited for the first time at the “Future in the Making” fair, curated once again by Joseph Grima, at the Salone del Mobile, but for this Biennial, the designers were invited to modify it to the city context and involve people outside the exhibition space as well. So the initial food printing project became the futuristic cart Street Food Printing.
In fact, if you walk out into the streets of Istanbul, you will notice and be overwhelmed by the lively activities and informal street trades that are taking place in the streets, like Ayşe E. Coşkun Orlandi (2007, pp. 150-153), for example, describing the Biscuit seller (Tahtakale in Turkish, and the craft-assembled pushchair adapted for selling biscuits) both of which are their projects.
Unfortunately this article has had to leave out many other inspiring projects, but two of them represent the historic reference points particularly well: one is Re-reading Giancarlo De Carlo by Autlab and the other is Proposta per un’autoproduzione (Propos al for an Auto-project) by Enzo Mari (1974).
In the first one, Autlab, a collective of Roman architects, lays claim to the present day value of De Carlo’s polyhedric ideas, such as the social responsibility of architects in involving citizens in the design process – the inhabitants of Terni in the Villaggio Matteotti project for example – and thus empowering them, or his reflections in the review Spazio e Società on society as a machine in which buildings, objects and people mutually interact in the making of everyday life.

On the other hand, Mari’s lesson comes from a set of sixteen basic pieces of furniture in wood and the exhibition catalogue entitled Proposta per un’Autoproduzione, which became a sort of manifesto and political statement for the self-producing, do-it-yourself movement, while at the same time criticising the passive role of the consumer which the design industry of the day imposed.

3. Conclusions

Returning to the physical location of the exhibition and its theme, I would like to close with a provocative remark. In 2004 Richard Florida argued that economic development is strongly related to the 3 Ts which are: technology, talent (creativity) and tolerance.
Today Istanbul is not yet a 3 Ts city, but Florida foresees that in 2050 it will become one of the leading metropolises in the world, alongside Mumbai and San Paolo, where hopefully more Adhocratic practices will challenge the country’s weighty bureaucracy and top-down decision making processes.
Finally I will borrow the ironic and provocative manifesto of the Trading Station project, by Post, the Liverpool-Istanbul based group of female artistes, which declares: “Sharing destroys ownership of a product. Share information”. Prophet Muhammed also said: “Whoever is asked about a knowledge that he knows about and then hides in and keeps it away, he will be bridled on the day of judgments with a bridle of fire.”

Teresita Scalco, Università Iuav di Venezia, Science of Design, currently visiting researcher at SALT, Istanbul

Acknowledgments: This paper would not have been possible without the inspiring conversation and ideas shared with Joseph Grima, Luis E. Fraguada, Pelin Tan, Canay Tunçer and Moira Valeri to whom I wish to thanks deeply.


Coşkun Orlandi, A. (2007). Spontaneous Design in Istanbul, in Abitare, n. 472. Milan, pp. 150-153.

Florida, R. L., (2005). Cities and the creative class. New York, NY, London, UK. Routledge.

Grima, J. (2012, edited by). Adhocracy, catalogue exhibition of the Istanbul Design Biennial,  vol.3, Istanbul: IKSV, pp. 88-89.

Hikmet, N. (1954), Of your hands and their lies, in ‘Poems’, trans. Ali Yunus, New York: Masses & Mainstream, pp. 45-46.

Thackara J. (2011). Into the Open. In van Abel B., Evers L., Klaassen R., Troxler P. (editors) Open design now. Why design cannot remain exclusive. Amsterdam, H: BIS Publishers, pp. 44-45.

Trading Station newspaper, issue 2, publieshed 7 September 2012, available on-line at Share!, Trading Station project by POST (n.d.). [Retrieved November, 10, 2012 from]

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