Vernacular Abstraction #1

Design Research Series, Concept, Brochure. Special Tag: High Level Folklore

Coverdesign of the 24 pages brochure


Vernacular Abstraction describes the phenomenon of obscure information architecture (IA) in the ambience of exhibition spaces – best found in forgotten archeology museums or similar venues. Obscure in terms of recognizing the initial ideas and strategies of the responsible designer, turning into a cabinet of curiosities through an act of (unintentional) abstraction. Let me explain: see righten colum!

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Inside Spread

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Dilettante Sacralization & Inspiring Mimesis of Information Architecture and Design

Manuel Buerger, Berlin 2013

This series could also have another name, and I was struggling a lot with it. But, because this term came up in a discussion with Thomas Jeppe after visiting the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, I wanted to keep the potentially failing term, in response to - and parallel to - the rigorous decisions shown here.

While putting myself in the position and thoughts of a designer commissioned to design different parts of an exhibition, from architectural structures to display designs, I had the strong feeling that many decisions were made based on “vernacular knowledge.” But somehow these vernacular ideas were reduced (or enhanced, depending on the perspective of appreciation) to a new level of “what could be a proper, modern design” for an exhibition space. In this process of abstraction, the design object often becomes an art object of its own concept and form - it expresses its main idea in a very direct and often brutal way. A comparison to Robert Venturi (“I am a Monument!”) could be drawn in a museum context, only on a smaller scale: Look, “I am an Artifact!” Though information architecture and exhibited art often merge, it is often unsure which part gains the mastery and the attention. It might be the object of Vernacular Abstraction that interrupts the visitor, contrary to expectations.

Two directions are seen as describing the design of IA:

1. Abstraction Towards Design: a gesture of mimicking a proper, professional, functioning design – ideally but not necessarily in a modern, minimal style. ATD combines the designer’s experience and visions of IA, coming from knowledge gained from traveling or from various international art catalogues, with his own skills in design craft (more or less on a high vernacular level).

2. Abstraction Towards Nonsense: a rigorous gesture of setting and combining things in a definitely unelaborate way. The reasons for this might be laziness (“I don’t care”), or on the other hand pure arbitrariness (“I don’t care at all”). Speculations on the work attitude of local “9 to 5” designers can be made, but could add an off-taste to the beauty to which ATN leads. See figure 6.

Sometimes both forces play together - fulfilling a need to design something, probably in a short time, with less effort and a greater effect. Results are vague yet risky. The emergence of the banal and of the interesting. See figure 1.

Next to these thoughts, I had another discussion with Sophie Jung, who pointed out the “desacralization” of shown art objects – needless to say, placing the prefix “de-” in the context of dilettantism. While obviously the “white cube” might be the overall aim of museum’s architects and designers, the artifacts shown here are sometimes displayed with the same ideas of autonomy and sanctity, except totally inside out ;-/ See postcard.

Both approaches describe the execution of abstraction, reducing or mimicking superstructures and ideals. Designed objects or structures might be more complicated “as they should be” – but who actually cares. Evidently, authorship puts more layers on top of these objects of representation: a local narrative, a true story about the museum and its staff and visitors, and a way of design thinking. Vernacular Abstraction offers highly inspirational material from the most simple to the very complex forms and functions. Get on the trip, explore the dimensions.