Organic Models 1: Packing Tape Cocoon

An enormous spider web made with 117,000 feet of packing tape installed at Odeon, a former stock exchange building in Vienna. It was created by Viennese/Croatian design collective numen / for use. Fast Company was there. Wish I could have been. It puts me in mind of Bob Cassilly and his City Museum.

I believe it was Craig Venter whom first said that, “If the 20th century was the century of physics, 21st century will be the century of biology.” The direct read is clear enough; the discipline of biology is where the interesting stuff is happening. What I think may be even more interesting is the implication that perhaps the epistemic models that inform physics are giving way to epistemic models informed by biology.

Packing Tape Art Installation
Tape Vienna / Odeon

Marshall McLuhan‘s renown aphorism that, “we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us,” would seem to have a related, but inverted principle. For our tools are shaped after us. How can they not be? The only models we have are ourselves and the biological systems that surround us. What is a wrench if not an abstract extention of the hand?

In this way, all design could be said to be necessarily user-centered. That said, the kind of models that inform the enlightenment paradigm, while powerful, are not the apotheosis of our ability to model the natural world. In other words, top-down hierarchies aren’t the most accurate recreations of the systems we encounter in the world. In other other words, machines don’t feel natural. I think it should be sacrosanct to the designer, that we should not be made to conform to our tools; our tools should be made to conform to us.

That’s why I love design like this packing tape thing. I think it’s maybe an important goal for designers to model organic systems. Their creations are the tools that thereafter shape us, and our models.