Explosive (Information) Design

When I think about design, I typically describe a process of creation. But a method of destruction is just as interesting a topic. Here was my inspiration: the planned implosion of Scott Towers on January 19, 2014:

Even if we learn nothing from this article, that video was worth the 39 seconds it took to watch it. You don’t see that everyday.

The creation of a demolition inspired me to re-consider design and how it operates in an academically geeky way, so here we go:

Kress & van Leeuwen’s Multimodal Discourse discusses 4 design processes involved in creation: discourse, design, production and distribution. I often use their model as a framework for thinking about design. Here’s how an analysis of this demolition might break down according to their model:

  1. Discourse: the knowledge of a domain of influence, in this case demolition. Perhaps it is my lack of knowledge of the domain of planned implosions that made me gravitate to this topic. But I know literally nothing about the structural methods for causing a building to collapse in a certain pattern. My best practice for this would be felling trees as a teenager and noticing the difference between axe, bowsaw, and chainsaw. I never detonated an explosive to bring one down.
  2. Design: the realization of the discourse in a specific setting. How would the domain of demolition apply to the destruction of Scott Towers? In this phase, the designers of the implosion would investigate both well-traveled past experiences and innovative solutions for the hypothetical demolition. How could it occur?
  3. Production: the medium of execution. In the production process, the designers would determine how best to demolish the building and execute their function.
  4. Distribution: preserving and disseminating the results. In the case above, the distribution serves little purpose, except to honor the implosion with a crowd of onlookers who could preserve the memory, or perhaps a video of the event that could be used to determine if any issues emerged.

However, that fourth category is fascinating in this case, because the distribution of the designed implosion (and any other public events) are in the hands of its observers. The implosion was captured live by local news, it was broadcast on YouTube (by me among others), Tweeted and Facebook-ed with the hashtag #ScottTower, and Instagram-ed until its images were pervasive. I was among thousands of onlookers standing around the perimeter, many of whom captured and shared video from their own vantage points.

Surely, the implosion designers knew this would happen, and it only causes me to remember that social media have fundamentally shaped the design process of public events. Our mobile phones have demolished the designer’s ability to control distribution of design. And that simple fact changes the ways that we as designers make decisions about how we relay information and for what purpose.

One comment

  1. Interesting perspective. Your reverse design concept reminds me of language deconstruction, whether poetry or narrative art; it’s all design.

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