Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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146 DESIGN ORACLE When Li Edelkoort has something to say, an entire industry listens. Now, in her new role at Parsons, she continues to shape the conversation. BY CATHY LEFF World-noted trend forecaster Lidewij (Li) Edelkoort transformed design education during her decade as chairwoman of Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. A prolific curator, writer, publisher, thinker and provocateur, she's now creating a new program as dean of Hybrid Design Studies for Parsons School of Design, The New School. What prepared you for your life's work? I'm a perfect illustration that education doesn't matter as long as you learn to think creatively. Nothing prepared me for the positions I've held. In a way, I've been designing my life all along, step by step. Each time, I invent a new chapter. I just seem to roll like a stone, from one thing to another to another. I recognized this ability to look ahead early on. What do you hope to achieve at Parsons? For Hybrid Design Studies, we'll create an experimental freshman curriculum, beginning fall 2016. Twenty- five students will be selected across multiple disciplines and interests, who are independent thinkers, curious, flexible and able to improvise and make do. I'm looking for social animals. They'll live and be taught like an extended family, working together, collaborating, lending their talents to the world, developing themselves, reaching out to others and anticipating what's happening in society at large. The one-year course will address three broad themes, taught by diverse faculty: body, space and time. For example, 'the body' will consider everything from how the body and brain function to how we train and move the body, develop the voice, feed and clothe the body. This generation of students is romantic, melancholic. I want to protect and give them roots, so they later can fly. After all, they likely will live for 100 years. They will learn how to learn. We'll also start a master's in textiles. Textile is a pre-computer language, a mathematical structure that helps explain the time in which one lives. Its tactility is a human attraction. It can heal, save, carry and cuddle you, give color, create pattern. It has layered emotions. We're on the brink of a time when textiles will be involved in almost every aspect of life—air travel, space travel, the human body. I want to create a bridge between Silicon Valley and Hudson Valley—from high-tech to low-tech sustainable design, to integrate smart materials and sustainable matter. There are many new developments in the Hudson Valley, from farmers to weavers, a revival of industry but in a new guise. We want to be there early on. Are design schools dead? No, but they must change to accommodate a new type of thinking. Change will come naturally and from within. Already, students influence the way they want to work and learn, together and in union. I witnessed this at Eindhoven. We gradually need to change everything we do. Design is a cultural discipline able to explain the times in which we live. When our times are troubled, design becomes a problem-solving discipline. But it can be more: decorative, a curiosity, a way of thinking. It's how we translate the current into material form. How do you educate for an uncertain world? As we look to the future, human beings will become even more nomadic and flexible; they'll be like transformers. We are re-acquiring our nomadic habits on a much larger, global scale. I'm very happy to see ancient skills turned around and reinvented. We need to teach creativity. Everyone can learn to be more creative. When you're creative, you're fearless. You can design your way out of problems. It's a healing agent. I speak about this from experience.

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