Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference

May 18, 2011

On Wednesday, May 4, design enthusiasts, critics, family and friends witnessed the graduating students in the MFA Design Criticism Department (aka, D-Crit) present their thesis work at Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference at the SVA Theatre. The half-day event, which has been video archived here, featured thesis presentations from the 11 members of the program’s graduating class of 2011, along with a keynote lecture by New York Times contributor Rob Walker. Moderated by documentary film producer Adam Harrison Levy, the evening concluded with a lively debate featuring industry leaders.

Setting the stage, Department Chair Alice Twemlow remarked, “The students chose the title Present Tense because it gets to one of design criticism’s thorniest issues—the eternal new-ness and now-ness of design. How do we decide what’s important? How do we create space for reflection and evaluation in the face of the torrent of ideas, images, projects against which we each swim upstream every day? And I’m delighted that the topics the students will address today are so contemporary. It turns out that design history is much easier than design criticism. With history you get to work with archives, finite bodies of work, and dead people who don’t talk back. With criticism you must create your own archive that keeps changing shape as it grows, and with people you often know rather too well. I commend this group of students for taking risks with their subject matter and their methods; for developing positions and forwarding arguments that have the potential to retune the pitch of design discourse and to redirect the priorities of design practice.”

Thesis topics ranged from the design of playgrounds to an exploration of Detroit’s design and rebuilding initiatives. Other areas of investigation included decay and impermanence in design, music videos in the internet age and the cultural significance of the afro. The event closed with a spirited debate entitled Speculatively Speaking: The Future of Design Criticism, which featured MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, Van Alen Institute’s Olympia Kazi, The New Yorker’s John Seabrook and Fast Company’s Linda Tischler, along with Levy and Walker.

For more information on the D-Crit class of 2011 and their thesis projects, visit the department’s Web site at

Images: (first) Adam Harrison Levy and student Avinash Rajagopal; (second) student Michele Washington and faculty member Ralph Caplan. Photos by John Messinger.

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