We are living in a time of unprecedented—and often gleeful—contaminations. Disciplinary boundaries are fluid, schools and workspheres are transdisciplinary, and cross-sector collaborations are commonplace. On a macro level, organizational hybridity has connected formerly separate compartments of knowledge and expertise, creating inclusive and innovative ecosystems. On a micro level, disciplinary misfits are allowed to straddle multiple fields to capitalize on their unique ways of synthesizing knowledge.
Neologisms have been coined with abandon to describe these “T-shaped” or “horizontal” individuals—the so-called “slash generation.” What distinguishes this contemporary legion of hybrids from polymaths, generalists, passionate amateurs, and career jugglers is their ability to embrace the liminal space between professions and disciplines.
This salon explored the sensibilities, motives, and conditions that drive individuals and companies to hybridity in states of being, working, producing, and thinking. With hybrid champions, hybridity experts, and scholars of life in public spaces we will ponder representations that fuse real and virtual; conditions conducive to interdisciplinary collaborations; the power of misfits and their role in the new economy; the perceptual spatial barriers that exist in contemporary society and cities, and the hybrid identities they engender. We will consider how a mixed and ambivalent approach might be beneficial to deal with urgent developments, not only in our immediate world of designing and making but also in relation to social disparities and unrest, economic imbalance, and geopolitical ruptures.
The salon took place on 3 November 2015, at Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Elijah Anderson, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University, is a pioneering urban ethnographer who has explored the space of the city from a sociological perspective, focusing on race. He is the author of several books, including Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community (1990), Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999), and A Place on the Corner (1978; second ed. 2003). His talk, focusing on “White Space,” is based on his most recent book, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (2012).
Eric de Broche des Combes is an architect and industrial designer, and a lecturer in landscape at Harvard Graduate School of Design. As head of the visualization studio Luxigon, based in Paris, he has produced architectural renderings for high-profile architecture firms including OMA, MVRDV, REX, and Oppenheim. He has lectured widely and recently launched a new visualization project called “Le Nirvalab.” He will talk about his renderings, which borrow from real and virtual imagery.
Jane Fulton Suri has a background in architecture and psychology. In her role as a partner and chief creative officer at IDEO, she has pursued a “human-centered” approach to design, seeking innovation by looking at problems from the perspective of social science. With techniques such as “empathic observation” and “experience prototyping,” she has brought the methods of design beyond the physical object to services and the environmental. Suri’s talk will focus on a crucial part of this process: how to build community among designers in order to create an atmosphere that is conducive to collaboration.
Alexa Clay, who describes herself as a “culture-hacker” and “innovation specialist,” has a background in ethnography, history, philosophy of science, moral philosophy, and creative writing. She has specialized in research on underground activities in times of economic transition, and her recent book The Misfit Economy explores innovation among those who break the rules or operate in informal or illegal economies.
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