Who is to Design
the Globalisation Machine?

Tönis Käo, University Wuppertal, Germany

This publication modestly intends to encourage reflection, rather than claiming to offer solutions to the complex problems involved. The starting point of our critical reflection is the idealistic-elitist notion of “culture”. “Culture” as a word is derived from the Latin “colere” which means to tend, to grow, to cultivate. Originally, the term was used for the cultivation of the soil.

The prevailing tendency now is to use the term “culture” comprehensively for all material and immaterial products made by humans. The elitist notion of culture means the cultivation and improvement of activities and objects by human work. In the case of design this is achieved by aesthetic form.

The Structure of Globalisation
Globalisation began with the introduction of the postal service as a self-controlled system for the deliverance of letters. If all necessary information – address and return address – is given, the postal service works on a global basis. With the introduction of this logistic means and the development of the supporting technical infrastructure in the fields of transportation, road construction and distribution the system has reached perfection.

Today, we think of globalisation primarilyt in terms of the financial market. This is a most simple approach to the topic. But financial managers were only the first to use the administrative and technical complex, which means in this case the network of technical communication. All technical means of infrastructure, e.g. production and distribution, traffic and transport, provision and disposal, water supply and sewage, the production and distribution of power, and the complete communication media act as the determining elements in the globalisation design. The systems contain special components: immaterial ones, e.g. logistics, material ones, e.g. technical means, and social ones, e.g. legislation.

The main cultural problem of our days is that the approach of most urban planners, architects, designers, and artists is in most cases a particularistic one. They aren’t really in a position to deliver a significant contribution to infrastructural planning. Infrastructural systems, on the other hand, are highly dynamic and evolve globally. They determine all processes and show a strong entropic tendency.
Literally translated, “infra” means “under”, as “infernum” means “underworld”, “hell”. Originally, the term “infrastructure” was used to describe the basic necessary provision for the army, e.g. roads, bridges, and telephone lines. Afterwards, it was transferred to the economical field, and nowadays it is used for all material and immaterial controlling systems.

The highway, this enormous building of our times, shows this most clearly; especially in our, probably, most important design presentation: the congested highway. In no other place in the world, public communication, that is the road sign system, is so intensely realised as on a highway. It is interesting that almost all dislike this situation. Without the developments of infrastructures there would be no globalisation. Although in some cases negative consequences emerge, the structural change of our civilisation cannot be stopped.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

  • Prof. Tönis Käo, University Wuppertal, Germany
    How the Globalisation Machine is designed 
  • pages
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