When I bought 30 years ago Incorporations (sixth book in the ZONE Books series), this was a thicket of a book, designed by the Canadian Bruce Mau (1959–). An anthology with the most important thinkers about the present and the future. Four years later, in 1995, Mau and star architect Rem Koolhaas published the book S, M, L, XL (Small, Medium, Large, Extra-Large) with critical essays, manifestos, travelogues, architecture and thoughts on contemporary cities. In addition to these two books, I later bought Massive Change (Faidon, 2002), of which Mau was editor – along with Jennifer Leonard and Institute Without Boundaries. The three advanced designed books made up a full 20 centimetres of the bookshelf!
20 years later
A few months ago, about 20 years later, the documentary about Bruce Mau came out: MAU – Design the Time of Your Life. Mau also published the book MC24 last year, where he draws the lines from Massive Change further – because as he says in the film, they had forgotten to describe the actions the book could inspire. In MC24, and at a number of conferences and exhibitions, he calls for «massive action» for the most important challenges of our time.
Mau is one of the world’s leading designers. And design, as it says on the cover of MC24, is not about the world of designers, but about how the world is designed or created.
This started with Incorporations in 1992, on how we humans embody different ways of being and also our approaches to technology and values. An example is the french philosopher Felix Guattari’s thoughts on how we are formed as subjects and live among a diversity of practices, ordering «apparatus» and machine algorithms. And then the way we live and build – Small, or Xtra Large – linked to the ecological consciousness of our time, where we are all responsible for this same planet.
In 2004, Massive Change was also the name of the huge exhibition Mau and his staff held at the Vancouver Gallery (see images). It was then shown elsewhere in the world. Professor Xiewei in China wanted it for Beijing, but the event was stopped just before realisation, when China came into political conflict with Canada.
In 2002, Massive Change expressed both a search for an advanced capitalism, advancddddf f advanced socialism, and advanced globalisation. The contemporary and future-
oriented are prominent in the book: for example in sustainable architecture, where Michael McDonough mentions buildings that «think for themselves» – with temperature adjustment, advanced use of rainwater for heating and cooling, micro-
greenhouses, and organic gardens. Rick Smalley asks how in 2050 you can get the energy 10 billion people need instead of using oil. Solar energy, wind and renewable biomass are good alternatives, but so is nuclear energy and natural gas, he wrote. Stewart Brand’s «the long view» reminds us that the earth has no «backup», we have to live on and with it. Ask yourself, if the earth gets too few resources, do you choose to starve or steal? Hazel Henderson says that the environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 estimated the amount for sustainable development at around 800 billion euro a year, and she criticises the same participants for spending around 12.000 billion euro in 2002 on the unsustainable, such as subsidised fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and high technology in agriculture.
20 years ago, they also envisioned the development of superhard, super-light, super-small, and super-smart materials via molecular engineering with knowledge of, among other things, nature’s pearl shells, hummingbirds, chimpanzees, rhinos, and spiders. With carbon fibres for light sportswear and electric cars, and self-repairing plastic (almost like our skin grows back from a wound) used in everything from microprocessors to aircraft.
Massive Change expressed advanced capitalism, advanced socialism and advanced globalization.
As a visionary with assignments around the world, Mau uses MC24‘s 24 slogans, such as «Begin with fact-based optimism», «Work on what you love», «Design the difference, not the object», «Quantify and visualise, seeing is believing », and «We are not separate from, or above nature». Here is truly an inspiration, as we meet him in the film MAU – but at the same time, he is criticised for being too optimistic or megalomaniac. Well, I can hear things like «Lead by design» or «Think like you are lost in the forest», without talking him down.
As a young boy in the deserted Canadian mining town of Sudbury, Ontario, with a violently alcoholic father, he had to «redesign» his life where he escaped from his father and the polluting nickel stench in order to survive.
For example, the visionary Mau was invited to Guatemmala, for, as the interior minister said, to develop the country in a positive direction after 36 years of civil war . The first thing he did – where 200 people embarked on the work of «redesign», and 20 volunteers – was to redefine the country’s name! Because when the Spaniards came to «Guate», they added mala («bad»). Well, Mau put the letter a – amala means «to love» – so it became Guateamala. New self-images were created in the depressed country, with new products and a willingness to stand up …
In Mecca, Mau and his team, Massive Change Network, were called to improve the urban structure – after 700 were trampled to death in the chaos that arose in Mecca in 2015. In the film you can see a number of Maus’s models for exit roads from the center of Mecca, also conceptually drawn in with Islamic categories. Again, here they inspired the local architects of society, before the government wanted to remove the creative «foreigner» – as also happened in Guatemala …
This year, Mau was interviewed by Sanford Kwinter, who also was behind Incorporations 30 years ago. In this film or video, Mau emphasises the biggest problems of the future as pandemic, climate, racism, food security and «governance». A redesign of the role of politicians? I would nod my head, as many of us see the governmental abuses of political power – corruption, nepotism, or repression of critics – such as Snowden and Assange.
In 2002, Massive Change mentioned the vision of Arnold J. Toynbee, which early in the last century considered the 20th century to be the «era of welfare», rather than being marked by all-encompassing destructive technology or political strife. Well, will this century create such an era?
Mau’s vision is that more and more people must be involved in making their mark and shaping society – and a sustainable planet. Rather than man putting himself at the center, it should rather be all life, all that lives, and the responsibility it entails.
Philosophers have long tried to understand the world, as Marx said – now, with Mau, it is time to change it.
MAU will be the featured film for the opening nights of
ADFF:LA (The Architecture & Design Film Festival, October 14-17), ADFF: Toronto (November 3-7), ADFF: Vancouver (November 10-13) and ADFF:DC
( January 6-9, 2022).
This article first appeared in Norwegian via NY TID
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