This past summer I took Intro to Ceramics at VCU. I had two goals in mind – first to conduct – Research Through Design – a process, I’ll explain a bit later. Then to construct a Greek portable oven from the 17th century BCE as a tool for Research For Design
I’ve focused my work developing knowledge, methods and processes for collaboration with other designers and other disciplines. Because of it’s universality, food and cooking is a natural lens to construct a common language to engage with each other.
Other artists and designers have explored this topic, Gordon Matta-Clark, an architect in the 70’s co-founded Food, a restaurant in New York run by artists. Dining was the event with an open kitchen and exotic ingredients that celebrated cooking. The activities at Food helped delineate how the art community defined itself and was a central meeting-place for many groups of people.
“Food and cooking implicates us in a whole web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, with the soil, with the farmers, with the microbes both inside and outside our bodies, and, of course, with the people our cooking nourishes and delights. What I found in the kitchen is that cooking connects.” writes author Michael Pollen
Research Through Design recognizes the design process as a legitimate research activity, examining the tools and process of design thinking and making within the design project, bridging theory and building knowledge to enhance design practices.
Christopher Frayling in an article titled Research in Art and Design identifies three types of design research:
Research Into Design
Research For Design
Research Through Design
Research About Design — is historical and aesthetic work.
Research For Design — generates methods and processes that informs and embody the design artifact.
Research Through Design — is constituted by the design process itself, including materials research, development work, and the critical act of recording and communicating the steps, experiments, and continuing the iterative process of refinement.
Research Through Design is a practice that is creative, critical, reflective and ultimately needs to be shared to advance the knowledge of design.
I enjoyed getting up every morning, going to class and making. However, it was difficult and I had to remind myself.
In failure there is a lot of information
Making is a practice that is a repetitive and diligent process
Slow down / multitasking can be harmful
Document and make reflective evaluation
For much of my work, I embraced Wabi Sabi, which represents a Japanese aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and of course imperfection. Some characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, (roughness or irregularity), simplicity and economy.
Along with assignments of the class, the first oven I built was a replica of a traveling roman oven called a Clibanus – I used a flameware clay, – the material is a high-fire “flameproof” clay body formulated to withstand thermal shock when heated. This type of clay can withstand more extreme temperature changes than typical earthenware pottery.
To construct the oven I used a mold and made slabs of clay, then used coils and a cylinder that I threw on the wheel.
I have not tested this oven yet, but have built a corresponding base for it and was thinking of it as the alternative design or prototype to the initial research.
For the Greek portable oven I made a small prototype to test the material thickness as well as the construction process.
After it was fired at a cone 10, one of the hottest firings you can do with this type of flameware clay, I immediately broke it by creating extreme thermal stress by tossing it into a huge fire.
From that learning experience, I built two tiles to test thickness of the material and heat resistance, how slowly it needs to be heated or how hot it can withstand, which is significant.
I built, the second prototype at full scale, and ¾ inch thickness from the materials test. The oven was fired at a cone 8 however, the legs didn’t survive the firing process, I epoxied them back on and proceeded with the test.
Because the tiles do so well in the heat tests..(no cracking) // My theory is that the point where the leg / body and base meet can’t expand, thus creating the crack, it cracked in the same point for the 1st oven.
I was curious to test the oven again, I applied more epoxy, I did a second heat test this time bringing up the temp of the oven slowly inside and below. There was no cracking, which is probably from the new expansion points.
I have to admit the failures were disheartening.
Though I realized on reviewing my motivations that I didn’t need to make a 1 to 1 replica of the Greek Oven but I needed to create a functional oven and a tool.
This is research that is iterative and critical without that we can’t advance our collective knowledge.