I taught a course this Fall at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus called Nomads which asked the question: What can the unique human ecology and worldview that emerges from mobile ways of life teach us about human ingenuity and culture?
This course used the lenses of philosophy, art, and design to examine the history, influence, and cultural underpinnings of nomadism and nomadic dwelling. We paid special attention to kinetic objects and the built environment and probed historical and contemporary conceptions of ownership and ecology, transience and permanence, home and homelessness, and citizenship and belonging.
We considered all aspects of mobile dwellings, from familiar vernacular models such as tents and huts to developments in humanitarian design and contemporary art. I presented the students with a series of design challenges and asked them to solve problems by creating new designs and producing prototypes.
We developed several successful designs and fabricated some of the larger scale pieces. The nomadic walking wheel is a performance-based mobile structure designed for contemporary urban nomads who don’t have time to go out to the desert but who would still like a desert dwelling experience. By filling the bottom with sand, the wheel generates a weather event similar to being on a dune during a sand storm.
The nomadic dwelling featured below is built entirely out of 5.5mm plywood and plastic cable ties. It has no internal supporting structure and flat packs much like Ikea furniture.
The modular seating structure below is a playful experiment in self-supported seating designed to facilitate social interaction in public space. The entire structure can be disassembled in under 3 minutes by removing three nuts and untying two of the ropes. The three rings can easily be rolled or carried to and assembled on site. The entire structure is built using inexpensive building materials that are easily available at a typical hardware store.
We also experimented with textiles based designs. The “Invisibility Cloak” below is a wearable dwelling designed to provide a fashionable and practical way to create an impromptu private shelter for any setting.