Provocation II: Dark Matter

Note: This post is part of a series presenting the contents of our Brickstarter exhibition at the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial, October 13-December 12th.


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“If you really want to change the city, or want a real struggle, a real fight, then it would require re-engaging with government … with these structures and these institutions, this horribly complex ‘dark matter.’”

—Wouter Vanstiphout

Vanstiphout’s use of the term “dark matter” suggests a form of imperceptible material that envelops its more easily perceptible outcomes—the observable physical matter of a neighbourhood block, a street food cart, a bike lane, a wind turbine.

Dark matter is the material that absorbs or rejects wider change.  It’s made of the accumulated invisibles that give the status quo its weight and inertia, and it defines a community’s ability to make their own decisions.

The market is already producing numerous crowdfunding & idea gathering solutions for cities. What the market won’t naturally do is address dark matter, or attempt to reshape it by directly engaging the democratic institutions that govern the city.

To accomplish this we need “probes” to explore the dark matter as a design material of its own, exposing how decisions are made. Illuminating dark matter reveals the texture and grain of our institutions, making their seams visible, and enabling us to see them as human constructions. That’s important because human choices are  always capable of being redesigned. This allows a more constructive, meaningful discussion about the city and how we make it.

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