03 Design Criticism (2013)

Module 03

Design Criticism and Practice: a Non-Smooth relationship
With Michael Rock, Andreas Ruby and Roemer van Toorn

Emphasizing the necessity of research and process Michael Rock proposes a methodology of ‘design as thinking’: ”It’s not what you say, but how you say it (…); the content should not drive the organization of the work. Content doesn’t resolve what makes our work ours.

Brief by Michael Rock:
“You’re always repeating your same things all the time anyway, whether or not somebody asks you or it’s your job. You’re usually making the same mistakes. You apply your usual mistakes to every new category or field you go into.”
– Andy Warhol

How could one classify the following verbs: arrange, catalogue, classify, cut up, divide, enumerate, gather, grade, group, list, number, order, organize, sort? They are arranged here in alphabetical order.

These verbs can’t all be synonymous: why would we need fourteen words to describe just one action? They are different therefore. But how to differentiate between them all? Some stand in opposition to one another even though they refer to an identical preoccupation: cut up, for example, evokes the notion of a whole needing to be divided into distinct elements, while gather evokes the notion of distinct elements needing to be brought together into a whole.

Others suggest new verbs (for example: subdivide, distribute, discriminate, characterize, mark, define, distinguish, oppose, etc.), taking us back to that original burbling in which we can with difficulty make out what might be called the readable (what our mental activity is able to read, apprehend, understand).
– Georges Perec, Think/Classify

It is useful, as a way of defining a thesis, to think of your work as a verb rather than a noun: not so much what your work is about, rather how it is about it. To this end, it would be helpful to understand your work through other things that perform a similar function. As an introduction to your project, please prepare a very short presentation (less than 7 minutes total) focusing on 5-10 examples. The examples can be images, texts, films, stories, etc. The point is to find an affinity between these examples and the way you engage your own work. How do you describe these projects? How can you classify or arrange them in ways to make explicit points?

As an inspiration, please listen to this one hour radio broadcast:

Consider how the theme is re-describe through each episode.

Michael Rock is designer and partner in the design studio 2×4 New York, associated partner in AMO, and Director of the graphic architecture project, Columbia university graduate school of architecture, planning and preservation, New York USA. Publications i.e.: The designer as an author. His office, together with Susan Sellers was in charge of the ANY publications (its journal and ANY book series), and designed for instance the routing and information system of the CCTV by Rem Koolhaas in Beijing.


Andreas Ruby is an architectural critic and theorist. Andreas and Ilka Ruby set up the agency “textbild” as a production facility for publishing architectural books, magazines, and essays; curating exhibitions; and consulting architects. Based in Berlin, Textbild is predominantly committed to contemporary architecture and design and they write essays, design books, curate exhibitions, and organize symposia for a wide array of institutional and cultural clients. Andreas Ruby is a frequent contributor to international art and architecture journals, and also writes for the daily press.


Roemer van Toorn is the Architectural Theory Professor at the Umeå School of Architecture. He is a writer, educator, curator and photographer in the field of architecture and cultural studies. From 1993 till 2010 he has been in charge of the History and Theory program and was Head of publications at the Berlage Institute. He has written extensively about architecture and has been the editor of several magazines and publications. Currently he is finishing the forthcoming text and photo book the Society of The And with a grant from Architecture In Effect (Formas) research fund.


22, 23, 24 of January, 2014
Download time schedule, just click: Timeschedule

PhD researchers
The 12 participating researchers mentioned below will be present at UMA School of architecture. One other researcher will do the course at distance.

1) Maria Rasmussen (Lund)
2) Brady Burroughs (KTH)
3) Helen Runting (KTH)
4) Olga Bannova (Chalmers)
5) Fredrik Torisson (Lund)
6) Janek Ozmin (UMA)
7) Erik Sigge (KTH)
8) Sepideh Karami (UMA)
9) Katja Hogenboom (UMA)
10) Frida Rosenberg (KTH)
11) Chotima ag-ukrikul (Chalmers)
12) Eunyoung Chi (KTH)

1) Eva Minoura (KTH)

Activity (for all three days)

Presentations followed by critical comparative analysis.

Each PhD researcher prepares a series of 5 to 10 visuals that together mediate the content and point of view of your PhD as a whole. Both your sentence (of the 1st module), and the conceptual diagram (of the 2nd module) can of course inspire your 5 to 10 visuals.

The idea behind module 3 is to define your PhD thesis “as a verb rather than a noun: not so much what your work is about, rather how it is about it.” says Michael Rock in the brief (see enclosed file). “It’s not what you say, but how you say it; it is not the content that drives the organisation of the work but how the developed forms (visual narrative) allows the content to speak”. It is this aspect we will focus upon in the third module.

The 5 to 10 examples you bring, select and combine, can be images, objects, film, texts, video and all other kinds of material. You can bring your visual material, pin it up, etc, and we also ask you to prepare a very short presentation of 7 minutes (Pecka Kucha format), and to upload your 5 to 10 examples to the blog.

Instead of starting with a critical comparative analysis the first day – as in the two first modules – we will end with a critical comparative analysis of all your work after the two first days of editorial meetings (wednesday, and thursday) where we discuss each of your 5 to 10 examples your PhD research.

After opening the seminar on Wednesday we will split up the group of researchers in two. Six researchers will present their work to Andreas Ruby and six others will present them to Michael Rock. On Thursday Rock and Ruby change from group and listen to the presentations of the other six researchers

Michael Rock already expressed that his public lecture (Wednesday at 17.00 hours) will follow a similar format we ask you all to prepare (“How it is about it”). His lecture – the empire of screens – will unfold the historical development of the screen in our culture, while showing his own design and written work. Andreas Ruby will talk about the approach and different editing formats/concepts Ruby publications has developed to mediate what architecture does and produces over time (instead of “just” documenting the object from the architects perspective).


Michael Rock has selected two texts which you can upload. It are visual narratives, combining form, content and text that can inspire you to make your 7 minute presentation: 1) Superficiality, literal and phenomenal, & Notes from a lecture called, 2) Empire of Screens.


We are very much looking forward to your verbs (see enclosed brief), especially now that the experienced dialogical editors/designers Michael Rock and Andreas Ruby will be with us for three days helping each researcher to further develop (and find) a mediative form communicating your specific (and subjective) content.

Feel free to have a look at the websites of Michael Rock and Andreas Ruby. We believe their work can be inspirational to develop forms (verbs) that speak content:



Michael Rock, New York (USA)
Empire of Screens, 23 Janaury 2014

Andreas Ruby, Berlin (Germany)
From Space to Page and Back, 24 January 2014


Module 03 Design Criticism
January 22, 23 and 24, 2014, UMA School of Architecture, Umeå

From Umeå airport to hotel by taxi (when you like to take a taxi book in advance), or go by bus (for map and transport see also the website)

Maps: How to get to UMA from airportMap of facilitiesMap to restaurantsMap to/from hotel

Address faculty:
UMA School of Architecture, Arts Campus
Östra Strandgatan 30 C
903 33 Umeå

Hotel address:
Hotell Aveny: (12 rooms)
Rådhusesplanaden 14
903 28 Umeå
090-13 41 00
Map to/from hotel

Restaurant addresses:
Rex Bar & Grill
Rådhustorget, 903 26 Umeå

Rådhusesplanaden 17
903 28 UMEÅ

Map to restaurants

More information at:

Contact persons:
Roemer van Toorn: roemer.vantoorn@arch.umu.se
Hanna Ivansson: haiv0002@student.umu.se


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