Saturday, May 11
12:30–7:00 p.m.

Visual Arts Theatre
333 West 23rd Street

counter/point: The 2013 D-Crit Conference, moderated by NPR’s “The Takeaway” host John Hockenberry, and featuring graduating students of the SVA MFA in Design Criticism, will take place on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at the SVA Theatre in New York City.

Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art, will deliver the keynote lecture, launching an afternoon of rich, polyphonic exchange between the D-Crit Class of 2013 and a headlining roster of design curators, practitioners, theorists, critics, educators, and planners. D-Crit students will be presenting their thesis research in counterpoint with: Walker Arts Center curator of Architecture and Design Andrew Blauvelt; British interaction design firm Dunne & Raby co-founder Fiona Raby; architect and theorist Mark Foster Gage; director of the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City Toni Griffin; and architect and activist Michael Sorkin.

Topics to be addressed include: the persistence of segregation in today’s built environment; the problems inherent in exhibiting graphic design; the spectacular framing of nature in the urban environment; product design’s social and participatory dimension; and how some emerging architects are using literal representation in new ways.

This will be the fourth D-Crit conference organized by, and featuring, graduating D-Crit students. Join us for a fast-paced afternoon of heady ideas and practical insight about the subjects and strategies giving shape to design criticism today, and help us to celebrate a new generation of design critics, editors, journalists, authors, curators, researchers, and educators.

This event is free and open to the public, so sign up today to save your seat.


12:30 p.m. Registration, Opening remarks: Alice Twemlow, John Hockenberry

1:15 p.m. Keynote lecture: Paola Antonelli, “Nexus of Things

In the past twenty years, design has branched out in new directions that have galvanized young practitioners, sparked business models, and attracted worldwide public attention. A designer today can choose to focus on interactions, interfaces, the web, visualizations, socially-minded infrastructures and products, immersive spaces, bioengineering, sustainability, video games, critical scenarios, and yes, even products and furniture. In the next twenty-five years, I imagine and hope, designers will be at the nexus of things. Like physics, design will be loosely separated between theoretical and applied. Theoretical designers will be exquisite generalists, while applied designers will continue to make objects, but objects will not always be physical; they will often be shared, not owned; they might be starters that people will finish and customize at home using 3D printers and other on-demand services; they will visualize complex infrastructures and systems to make them manageable by scientists, policymakers, and citizens. How might we as writers and curators—as fellow travelers with design—respond to, interpret, and evaluate these shifts in practice over the next quarter-century? And how does looking to the future change how we interact with and approach design today?

2:00 p.m. Andrew Blauvelt, “Graphic Design: Discipline, Medium, Practice, Tool, or Other?”

In an essay entitled “Towards Critical Autonomy,” written more than a decade ago, I wrestled with the notion of graphic design, as it faced dispersal, atomization, or obliteration by the challenges of a new era, and posed the question: Can graphic design save itself? For this talk, I will revisit this central question again in the context of “Graphic Design: Now in Production,” an exhibition and book produced just over a year ago by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Walker Art Center.

2:30 p.m. Bryn Smith, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Exhibiting Graphic Design”

If it’s true that exhibitions are the medium through which most art becomes known, the opposite might be said for graphic design. Posters, books, film titles, signs, magazines, and packaging to name only a few, are all encountered regularly in the context of day-to-day life. In contrast, exhibitions on the subject are rare—including 2011’s “Graphic Design: Now in Production” at the Walker Art Center, there have been only three major shows in the United States over the last twenty-five years—but this is changing. Designers, who have often been critical of the ways in which their work is removed from its cultural or commercial context when exhibited in museums and galleries, are now frequently engaging the exhibition space as part of a diverse practice. This presentation examines the tensions that underscore persistent objections to displaying graphic design, and asks whether this shift signals the start of a larger discussion about representation in the field. As new challenges to the white cube are considered, is it time for us—as designers, curators, and critics—to rethink how we approach exhibitions of graphic design? • Extract

2:45 p.m. Fiona Raby, “United micro-Kingdoms (UmK): A Design Fiction”

Design has tended to be solution driven, but the problems are becoming more complex and contradictory, and the solutions no longer so easy to define. The space before us is unresolved, full of dilemmas and trade-offs.

Yet, even here, designers are perfectly equipped to flourish. Understanding and accepting the complexity, and the messy loose ends, can provide cohesion through multiple possibilities. Tangible problem-solving design skills can be used to ask questions, interrogate existing frameworks, and generate a broad range of diverse alternatives, both positive and negative. The implications of technological cultures are revealed even as they are still in formation.

The requirement is imagination, and more importantly, the ability to trigger the imagination of others. Design proposals
are used as participatory tools, not only for a broader public of citizens or end “users” but also for “experts” and “decision makers.” UmK is a design experiment to reignite idealism and social dreaming.

3:15 p.m. Tiffany Lambert, “Expert Citizens, Citizen Experts: Transforming Participation in Product Design”

At the very core of design is the user, whose instrumentality only continues to evolve. Recent events, such as the sudden groundswell of coverage related to 3D printing, signify that the function of the user is shifting from a state of passivity to one of engagement. Users are rapidly becoming their own producers of objects. What does it mean when boundaries between experts of design and citizens of design begin to blur? This presentation provides insights into the way participatory culture operates in relation to product design, and suggests key areas worth a deeper, more nuanced consideration. It engages the realm of collaborative design practices — from the various roles the user has assumed, to the resulting products, their reception, and dissemination — tracking historic precursors to the current impulse of participation for the populace. Critical developments and inherent complexities prompt a re-evaluation of the optimistic rhetoric surrounding participation, opening up a space to carry the collective discussion forward. • Extract

3:30 p.m. Coffee break

3:45 p.m. Mark Foster Gage, “Architecture After Concepts”

Mark Foster Gage will discuss the theoretical movement in architecture away from abstract conceptualization towards new territories of aesthetics, affects and sensations. His talk will be illustrated with work from his office including projects for Intel, Lady Gaga, Diesel, and others, and will feature material from his two most recent books Aesthetic Theory: Essential Texts for Architecture and Design and Composites, Surfaces and Software: High Performance Architecture.

4:15 p.m. Matt Shaw, “Avant-Pop Architecture 1: The New Literalism”

Throughout architectural history, the figural, or more specifically the recognizable image reference that can be called “the literal,” has been derided as immoral and impure. For this reason, it is often relegated to little more than a footnote in architectural history. Yet many of today’s most interesting experimental architects are using literal, referential forms as part of their architectural work, both built and speculative. This presentation demonstrates how the literal is being used in contemporary practice at many scales. In addition, it examines how this new group of projects and practitioners moves beyond kitsch, attempting to mediate between the recognizable sign and the affective artistic treatment. Through this unique type of architectural poiesis, do the political lines between opposing ideologies begin to break down? • Extract

4:30 p.m. Toni Griffin, “Design for the Just City”

Fifty-one years after Jane Jacobs’ seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, our nation is still marked by a portfolio of “legacy cities”—a recently adopted term-of-art developed by the American Assembly at Columbia University to describe the phenomenon of American cities that have been losing population, increasing in unproductive land and retaining a high majority of the region’s poor, unemployed, and under-educated citizens. The depreciation of public sector resources and the urgency of maintaining neighborhood health and safety is compelling the emergence of community organizations, designers, and local residents to act as the new agents of change by introducing innovative practices that require fewer resources and are freed from “top-down” authority. These trends suggest an opportunity for integrating new design innovations into public policy aimed at remediating longstanding structural inequalities and progressing toward a more just and inclusive city.

5:00 p.m. Brigette Brown, “Overcoming Obstruction: Identifying the Infrastructural Inequities that Perpetuate Segregation in Red Hook”

Red Hook, Brooklyn, is an amalgam of parts that function very differently for each of the two groups that call the neighborhood home: the extremely poor and the well-off. The neighborhood itself is cut off from the rest of the city. And within the neighborhood, separate areas have emerged, which inform the way people shop, commute, eat, and play. This presentation identifies a range of barriers—sometimes visible, sometimes invisible—that prohibit residents’ movement within the neighborhood. They include: the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, insufficient public transportation, limited access to education, and lack of mixed-income housing. Further, the talk examines the way design has contributed to the inequitable separation of people from one another, both historically and currently, and argues for change. As tactics used to segregate have become less overt, the language we use to address the problem must also adjust. • Extract

5:15 p.m. Coffee break

5:30 p.m. Michael Sorkin, “New York City (Steady) State”

New York City (Steady) State is an outgoing research project—being undertaken by the non-profit Terreform—to investigate the limits of local autonomy. It is based on the predicate that New York might become completely self-sufficient in key areas of respiration, including food, water, air, waste, manufacture, movement, and building. Underway for over five years, the first major portion of the study—an investigation of urban food production—has now been completed and will be at the core of the talk. Although the project does look at the marginal possibility of a completely autarkic arrangement, its main goal is to compile a lucid encyclopedia of the morphologies and technologies that might allow cities to take far greater responsibility for their effects on the planet.

6:00 p.m. Cecilia Fagel, “From One to a Million: Learning from the Spectacle of Nature in New York City 2012″

As city-living is often considered a solution to sprawl and related environmental concerns worldwide, some ambitious NYC urban initiatives—such as Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 for parks and public spaces (2007) and The Design Trust for Public Space’s High Performance Landscape Guidelines (2010)—are being replicated in cities around the world. Yet this blanketing of urban greenery often screens the more subtle social, economic, and philosophical implications of designing nature in the city. This presentation takes a pedestrian approach, studying the winding parkland fronting each doorstep, and inspecting nature in the public sidewalk. Using the Million TreesNYC initiative as a contemporary cue, we start with the story of one tree and expand our lens to the image of a future of a million trees. Will this spectacle become a specter? Is it all arboreal ether? We take a critical pause to see the reflection—how we frame and evaluate—through the mirror that is nature. • Extract

6:15 p.m. Panel discussion: All speakers

7:30 p.m. Reception

See below for speaker bios.


Opening Remarks

Alice Twemlow is chair and co-founder of the SVA MFA Design Criticism program. She writes about design for publications including Design Observer, Eye, and The Architect’s Newspaper, and has recently contributed essays to Iconic Designs: 50 Stories about 50 Things (Berg, 2014), Lolita—Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design (Print, 2013) and The Aspen Complex (Sternberg Press, 2012). She has directed several design conferences, and frequently moderates and presents at seminars and conferences, most recently at “Blunt: Explicit and Graphic Design Criticism Now,” the 2013 AIGA Design Educators Conference. Twemlow is also a PhD candidate in the RCA/V&A History of Design program in London, where she is researching the history of design criticism in the United States and the United Kingdom since the 1950s.

D-Crit Conference Moderator

John Hockenberry, founding host of the public radio program “The Takeaway,” has worked in network television, documentary films, new media, and is the author of the novel River out of Eden as well as the journalist memoir Moving Violations, a National Book Critic’s Circle Award finalist. He has been host or correspondent for a half-dozen network programs, including “All Things Considered,” “Morning Edition,” and “Talk of the Nation” on NPR; “Day One” and “Good Morning America Sunday” at ABC News; and “Edgewise”, “Hockenberry,” and “Dateline NBC” at NBC News. Holder of four Emmy awards and four Peabody awards for journalism, Hockenberry is also a celebrated speaker at the TED conference and, as a high-profile advocate for social justice and the rights of the disabled, he has argued for disability rights at the United Nations and at the White House.

D-Crit Conference Keynote Speaker

Paola Antonelli is senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art where, since 1994, she has curated groundbreaking exhibitions such as “Design and the Elastic Mind,” “Humble Masterpieces,” “Mutant Materials in Contemporary Design,” “SAFE: Design Takes on Risk,” and “Workspheres.” Prior to joining the staff at MoMA, Antonelli was the editor of Abitare and a contributing editor to Domus. Among the books she has written are: Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design and Objects of Design from the Museum of Modern Art. She also writes for publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Harvard Design, Metropolis, and Paper. For these accomplishments she received the 2006 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Design Mind Award, a senior fellowship from the Royal College of Art, London, and an honorary doctorate from Kingston University. Antonelli teaches “Design Exhibition and Collection Curation” at the SVA MFA in Design Criticism.

D-Crit Conference Speakers

Andrew Blauvelt is curator of Architecture and Design and chief of communications and audience engagement at the Walker Art Center. Blauvelt has organized several major touring exhibitions for the Walker, including: “Graphic Design: Now in Production” with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” with the Carnegie Museum of Art, and “Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life.” He is currently working on an exhibition that explores the elevated pedestrian walkway in various global “skyway” cities. From 1998–2010, Blauvelt served as design director of the Walker, which was awarded the 2009 National Design Award for Corporate and Institutional Achievement, the first non-profit organization to be recognized in the category. Prior to the Walker, he was head of the Graphic Design department and director of graduate studies at North Carolina State University’s School of Design. Blauvelt writes and lectures about design and culture for various publications including Design Observer.

Mark Foster Gage is at the forefront of a new generation of architects working to combine architectural practice with the innovative use of today’s most advanced technologies. The work of his firm, Gage / Clemenceau Architects, ranges from large-scale architectural projects, to a dress for Lady Gaga, and from new store concepts for the fashion company Diesel, to interactive environments for Intel. Gage’s writings have been featured in numerous publications including Log (which he also guest-coedited in Fall 2009), Journal of Architectural Education, A+U, Perspecta, and Architectural Design (AD). Gage also serves as the assistant dean, chair of admissions, and associate professor at the Yale University School of Architecture.

Toni Griffin was recently named professor and director of the J. Max Bond Center for Architecture at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. She also runs the firm Urban Planning and Design for the American City, whose clients include the cities of Newark, NJ, and Detroit, MI. Prior to returning to private practice, Griffin was the director of community development for the City of Newark, where she was responsible for creating a centralized division of planning and urban design, and before that she served as vice president and director of Design for the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation in Washington, DC, and held the position of deputy director for Revitalization Planning and Neighborhood Planning in the DC Office of Planning.

Fiona Raby is a partner in the British design partnership Dunne & Raby, estab- lished in 1994. She is professor of Industrial Design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, and a reader in Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London. Dunne & Raby use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry, and the public about the social, cultural, and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies.
Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, the Pompidou Centre, and the Science Museum in London. They have published two books: Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects and Hertzian Tales. A new book, Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction and Social Dreaming, will be published by MIT Press in late 2013.

Michael Sorkin is an architect and urbanist whose practice spans design, criticism, and teaching. He is a contributing editor at Architectural Record and the author of numerous books including Variations on A Theme Park, Exquisite Corpse, Local Code, Wiggle, Some Assembly Required, Other Plans, The Next Jerusalem, and After The World Trade Center (edited with Sharon Zukin), among others. Sorkin is the principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio in New York City, a design practice with a special interest in the city and in green architecture. In 2006, Sorkin founded Terreform, a non-profit devoted to research and intervention in urban planning and sustainability issues. Sorkin has been the director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at the City College of New York since 2000.


Brigette Brown is a studio artist and critic who comes to New York from Los Angeles — the land of palm trees, sunshine, and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. A native of Southern California, she received her bachelor’s degree in studio art and graphic design from California State University, Long Beach. Brigette has worked for the Museum of Latin American Art and Surface, researched for Metropolis, and edited a publication for Domus. Brigette enjoys writing about the junction of race, class, and design, and is currently working on a project that investigates the efficacy of social design in the developing world. She will test selected objects — including works from the Cooper-Hewitt’s 2007 exhibition Design for the Other 90% — and then document her experiences online. Brigette looks forward to a career as an editor, researcher, or archivist.

With degrees in architecture and design management, Cecilia Fagel is used to weaving between the worlds of design and business. Prior to D-Crit, Cecilia worked in the furniture design business in Cebu, Philippines, and as a media marketing analyst for a New York-based advisor to Dentsu Japan. Concurrent with her studies, she has developed concepts and external research for a university consortium in Asia. Cecilia applies critique as a tool in design, but sees criticism’s transformative and positive value through literature. (Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities is one of her literary guides.) She is currently working on a book about the visual culture surrounding urban beehives, and is adapting her thesis into an illustrated storybook for children. Cecilia looks forward to research and design projects that fuse her passion for criticism and literature. Her writing has been published in the Architect’s Newspaper, form, and by the Cooper-Hewitt’s DesignFile.

Tiffany Lambert is a design researcher, writer, and curator. She recently joined the curatorial team at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum where she is involved in planning exhibitions, including the upcoming Triennial. Tiffany is currently working on Milton Glaser’s forthcoming monograph for Taschen, as well as a number of projects for New York-based editorial consultancy Superscript. In 2012, she helped develop the first Designers & Books Fair and continues to serve on the organization’s editorial board. Her writing and research contributions have appeared in Disegno, MetropolisDomus, and Design Miami’s blog, among others. A recipient of the Henry Wolf Scholarship and Silas H. Rhodes Award, Tiffany holds bachelor degrees in behavioral neuroscience and art & design from the University of Michigan.

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Matt Shaw studied Architecture at the University of Cincinnati. After graduating, he returned to Columbus in 2008 to help win Indiana for the Obama campaign. That led to a stint with Rory Reid’s gubernatorial campaign in Reno, Nevada. Matt is the founder and co-editor of Mockitecture, a half-manifesto/half-satire collection of architectural debauchery. He has worked for the Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting (C-Lab), and been published in Beyond, Domus, Icon, and the Architect’s Newspaper. He recently finished writing and researching the guidebook Europe’s Top 100 Architecture and Design Schools, for Domus, and helped edit Reiser + Umemoto’s O-14: Projection and Reception for AA Publications. Matt is currently writing various theoretical texts and critical surveys for Domusweb, and helping to move the exhibition “Spontaneous Interventions” from the U.S. Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Biennale, to Chicago, where it will be on view through summer 2013.

Bryn Smith is a graphic designer and writer. She studied journalism and new media at the University of Colorado, and established her New York-based design practice in 2002. She has since produced award-winning work for a broad clientele, including the Clinton Foundation and Carbone Smolan Agency. In 2012, Bryn worked in the editorial department at Print, writing about popular culture and design; and at Pentagram, helping to coordinate the exhibition “Double Portrait: Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Graphic Designers” with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She is currently developing “In the Wild,” a roving exhibition and monthly publication on noteworthy works of graphic design. In April, Bryn was a panelist at Blunt: Explicit and Graphic Design Criticism Now, the annual AIGA design educators conference.

Register & Attendees

Immerse yourself in new thinking about design through short presentations and tightly moderated discussion, enjoy lectures by the likes of Michael Sorkin, Paola Antonelli, and Fiona Raby, and meet the next generation of design critics, researchers, educators, editors, curators, and managers. There is no charge for admission to the D-Crit Conference but registration is required.

Previous Conferences

Eventually Everything: The 2012 D-Crit Conference was moderated by Change Observer co-editor Julie Lasky, and took place on May 2, 2012 at the Visual Arts Theatre in New York City.

The conference was comprised of four themed panels, each introduced by keynote speakers: media historian Stuart Ewen; Pentagram partner Michael Bierut; 2×4 founding partner Michael Rock; cultural historian Jeffrey Schnapp; and Interboro Partners principal Daniel D’Oca. Topics addressed included the absence of firearms in design collections, the persistence of an anti-ornament bias in architectural discourse, Main Street USA as rhetorical trope, and the need for designers to make repairable products.

This was the third D-Crit conference organized by, and featuring, graduating D-Crit students. The conference reception took place at the Vitra store.

Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference was moderated by documentary film producer Adam Harrison Levy, and featured The New York Times Magazine contributor Rob Walker as keynote speaker, the 11 graduating students, who each made a sharply honed 10-minute presentation on their thesis topic, and a panel of prominent critics on the future of design criticism. The students’ topics ranged from the design of playgrounds to the use of sound as a communicative tool in design and architecture and from a consideration of decay and impermanence in design to an analysis of the Afro as visual archetype.

The panel included MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, BIG’s founder and architect Bjarke Ingels, Van Alen Institute’s executive director Olympia Kazi, The New Yorker’s John Seabrook and Fast Company’s Linda Tischler, who all joined Levy and Walker onstage to debate the priorities, possibilities and impact of design criticism. The conference was rounded off with a reception at GD Cucine.

Crossing the Line: The 2010 D-Crit Conference was moderated by D-Crit faculty member, award-winning author, and “Studio 360” host Kurt Andersen. The event featured thesis presentations by all 15 graduating students alongside keynote talks by design visionary and Doors of Perception founder John Thackara and author and educator Peter Hall. Topics under discussion ranged from the design of personal memorial objects to the use of smell as a communicative tool in design and architecture, and from design and visual language in the films of Jean-Luc Godard to the applications and implications of car sharing. The conference reception took place in the Sky Room at the New Museum.

Videos of past conference presentations available here:


Saturday, May 11, 2012
12:30–7:00 p.m.

Visual Arts Theatre
333 W 23rd St. (between 8th & 9th Ave.)


Supporting Partner

Supporting Partner

Supporting Partner

Media Partner

Reception Partner

Spirits Partner

Coffee Partner

Furniture Partner

Citywide Event Partner

Special Thanks


“D-Crit remains one of the most interesting and thought-provoking ongoing conversations about design and contemporary culture.”

“The groundbreaking MFA’s second annual conference features thesis presentations and a powerhouse panel on the state of design criticism.”

“The fast n’ fascinating thesis presentations are sure to keep attendees glued to their plush red SVA Theatre seats.”
—Mediabistro’s UnBeige