During reading week I decided to really get going on my project. I purchased a wheelchair as a means to ground myself within one of the objects I am trying to deconstruct with my project. If my project is the deconstruction of the materiality of old age, of the objects, then I cannot simply say no to the current breed, current typology. I have to say, ‘what else’?
I purchased a wheelchair as I wished to understand the buying experience. There is no glamour in this industry at the moment, it is almost completely devoid of elegance and this needn’t be the case. Projects such as advanced style (the continuously published images of hip elderly woman) prove that old age can include personality, style etc.
I documented and noted the buying experience. for example purchasing a wheelchair online seemed great at first, quite a novel concept that purchasing mobility tools can be incredibly accessible. Due to the difficulties in gaining access to my building, deliveries are often unattempted, so I opted to have the wheelchair delivered to a local collection point and decided that I would go to collect the thing myself. I completely misjudged the size of the packing and was left pretty much disabled in the centre of lewisham, with a cumbersome box. This lead to me having to take my first ever cab ride in London. I got the thing home and it lay hidden beneath my bed for a few days whilst I went about my regular business and pondered just how disabling a semi assembled wheeled object can make you, in London, a theme that seems to be establishing itself after a recent t-boning incident between myself and a car.
When I opened the box I was surprised at how excited I was. I think I am on to something with this whole ‘pride and joy’ thing. An interesting finding from my experiments making cardboard walking sticks and turning them into vehicles, is that mobility aids ought to be thought of in this way. Due to the nature of the design, a wheelchair is as exciting as a bicycle. Why shouldn’t it also have lights, a hub-dynamo and a brooks saddle? Why should it have a pannier rack and customisable components. I know that sporty wheelchairs have their own culture of modifications, but your regular elderly user doesn’t seem to be interested in making the wheelchair his own, making old age is own. why not?
so I made a few time-lapses of me using the wheelchair at home. I decided to film two of the most dynamically complex jobs around the house. Making breakfast and dinner and loading the dishwasher etc. This was a very interesting exercise, as all of the obvious stuff that you think would happen, happens, but other changes are made to the user. Circulation is a big one, the way in which corners and entire parts of the home become inhabitable for the wheelchair user and ultimately walking frame users etc. around 48% of my already very small apartment became completely unusable whilst seated in the wheelchair. This is not ideal for an ageing population situated within an already overcrowded urban environment. With the pressure on architects to design smaller and smarter private dwellings, what does that mean for my future urbanite self? This again agrees with the points made throughout new designs for old, in that designing with disabled and elderly in mind, only improves living conditions for all.
I then secured support and guidance from my boss. Olivier has agreed to support me in designing and making an all plywood wheelchair that has optional veneers etc. To me, this is not the sole intention of my project, but it is something I am very excited about, and I think it will be the final object, my initial question materialised and existing in order to be questioned itself. In designing a new wheelchair, I will of course have to speak to and observe the elderly, visit care homes, visit manufacturers of existing mobility aids, test the current norm (already doing ) and use it as a testbed (going to do – already within). The wheelchair isn’t just a thin project, it is my project in an object. This also gives an alternative buying experience, as in order to purchase this wheelchair you would submerse yourself in the act of buying from unto this last, the beauty of which I touched upon during my placement presentation.
I also met with Clara from special projects, and as a side note I will be involved with designing and delivering a table for her project at the design museum, which aims to tackle the stigma of old age. Its relevance lies within the possibility it affords me to bump into the right people. Clara herself works at the rca + has been involved with the helen hamlyn foundation that started there. she is incredibly relevant as a sounding board alone, and she thought that my project sounded worthy. The exhibition will also be a great opportunity to meet other designers that are designing for the same cause.
When it came to the presentation, I was a little shocked at the response, not in the criticism, but not understanding that the cause is worthy. Also being told that if my project is just ‘see this kettle, Im going to make a nicer one’, but under the contradiction that it isn’t that because there is so much to my project, its shareholders etc. I didn’t really understand that? and being told it was a brunel project, ‘should be going to brunel’. but the other tutor seemed to see the projects worth, in rectifying not only the stylistic problems of old age, but the experience of purchasing and manufacturing these things also. wheres the human interaction? the wheelchair I bought for example, seemed as though it hadn’t bumped into another human being from cad drawing to assembly + packaging. Was I the first human being to touch it? that seems odd, even if not true, it seems plausible.
So thats that, didn’t end up doing much for the rest of the week which seems to be a common theme amongst my peers, so thats ok. but have lots of things to be getting on with.