Webinar: “Design in the Arctic and the Arctic in Design: From Aboriginal Knowledge to the Future of Design”

Arctic.ru presents the webinar “Design in the Arctic and the Arctic in Design: From Aboriginal Knowledge to the Future of Design.” Maria Gostyayeva, who has a master’s degree with specialization in design, and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the Department of Industrial Design at Ural State University of Architecture and Art (USUAA) talked to us about how designers reinterpret Arctic artefacts and explore the life of the indigenous peoples of the north.

After the webinar, Maria Gostyayeva answered the following questions from the audience.

Most industrial cities in the north are bleak and gloomy. How do you take this into account in your projects?

This is one of the most important factors that we consider in design. We consider the colors based on the specifics of the problems we face. If we design a rescue service building in the Arctic, it should have a very bright color that attracts attention so that it can be easily seen from a helicopter. Sometimes we need to emphasize color to identify it with a particular group of people. On the other hand, if we consider, let's say, tourism in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, we have decided that tourists should be like shadows, they should be almost invisible, in order not to aggravate the intercultural conflict existing between newcomers and the indigenous people. So we tried to smooth things over with the help of color and make sure that both the equipment and the shelters were subtle so that it would take the edge off and smooth over the area.

We are doing the same thing in the "Spirit of the Subarctic" project, which I showed, and which will be implemented in the Polar Urals. We are using colors in the development of the residential module's interior space, because the color makes it possible both to relax and to motivate ahead of difficult and vigorous ascents. Color is a unique tool which can help communicate unique messages and emphasize what you need or conceal any conflict triggers.

How long does it take to develop a project from concept to realization?

The projects that I showed you were carried out by postgraduate students which imposed some time limitations, because they have only two years, actually, just 18 months. And in this time, it is possible to conduct an expedition, analyze the materials and use them to propose a concept and a synthesized vision. If we had a little more time, we could implement these projects.

Postgraduate students carry out projects in cooperation with the Ethnographic Bureau and Green Arctic. This is a time-consuming process, and it is difficult to predict how long it will take. A year is spent on the concept and the development of a project proposal. And then the implementation question arises. We are not always able to follow through because implementation requires financial resources, and we have to search for fiscal partners. As a research and design team, we try to develop and provide a range of materials, and then we see how these projects can be developed.

In your opinion, how much demand is there for your design projects?

That's a difficult question, because there are many different aspects — political, cultural and economic. Actually, there is a growing interest in the Arctic, including Arctic design. So far, it is not so widespread in our country. I mentioned the ASAD, the thematic network at the University of the Arctic, they are developing this in the European part of Eurasia. The term "Arctic design" is already established and recognized. I am quite confident that in the next few years or decades the demand for Arctic design will only increase. We try to move ahead and provide a methodological and conceptual framework first, that is, the science comes first, and then the realization of a project will support it.

The growing interest in the subject of Arctic design can be seen in the fact that you won a grant, this is important.

Design can be seen as a beautiful cover or finish, like the icing on a cake. But we consider design in Arctic conditions to be the creation of something necessary and self-contained, that is, it reveals what is really needed in a particular area which will be acceptable from the point of view of the natural, cultural and inner ecology of the people. While negotiating with public authorities and entrepreneurs, we have repeatedly faced the fact that there is a problem in the understanding of the term. We want to offer not just an appealing facade, but necessary and self-contained items for this environment.

When you were talking about the expeditions to the indigenous northern population, you mentioned that you try to see their life differently as compared to ethnographers and anthropologists. This is a kind of a designer's chronicle of their life, which can show you how their lives are changing

Yes, that's right: it is very interesting to see what their culture takes from the new achievements of civilization, what they borrow for their own culture, and what is not accepted. This also provides a foundation for attentive study and research. It is a unique opportunity to live in Russia, because there are so many indigenous peoples here. This is a kind of chronicle of the material world. We have an opportunity to study it, analyze it, and adopt it, because it is amazing how harmonious this world is and how close it is to nature, and we all should strive for this.