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Dr Matthew Pilling

Lecturer in Architecture, Research Associate: Experiencing the Future Mundane, Research Student

Matthew Pilling

Research overview

My research is concerned with how we think about and envision futures, particularly when they involve emerging technology. To do this I primarily use Speculative Design, a process that combines real and/or hypothetical extrapolations of the development of emerging technologies with a consideration of the cultural landscape into which they may be deployed. In particular a specific practice within Speculative Design which is Design Fiction as a way of exploring alternative futures. This allows us to interrogate future visions, to consider what is possible, probable and preferable, and more importantly, what does preferable mean, for whom, and who decides.

Profile

I studied at the Manchester School of Architecture, completing a BA (Hons) in Architecture, a BArch, and an MA in Architecture and Urbanism. I then joined Lancaster University to undertake an EPSRC funded PhD as part of the Institute for Social Futures. My research focused on the creation of design tools to better engage the public in futures research, to help guide discussions, and to reveal the existing underlying social structures, necessary to describe alternative social imaginaries. This research contributed to the emergent field of Social Futures research, through the development and analysis of Graphic Social Futures as a method to democratise the construction and discussion of possible futures. These Graphic Social Futures work by exposing possible flawed futures, and provoking debate on how things could, or should be, and encourages consideration for how we get there.

Prior to becoming a Lecturer in Architecture I was a Research Associate/Senior Research Associate on four projects. The first was an EPSRC funded project, The Future Mundane, in collaboration with Nottingham University and BBC R&D, that merged Design Fiction and Breaching Experiments to create a novel methodology for apprehending acceptability and adoption challenges early in the design life cycle of technology. This was followed by the PETRAS funded project, The Edge of Reality, in collaboration with BBC R&D, to co-create an innovative and provocative Human-Data Interaction experience. This was aimed at helping BBC audiences and wider publics to better consider how the lack of user legibility, negotiability, and agency of Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence data is contributing to climate change as well as creating cyber-security concerns.

Following this I delivered the IAA ESRC EPSRC funded The Repair Shop 2049 pilot project, which was a collaboration with The Making Rooms, Blackburn’s community Fabrication Lab. This focused on the limitations of the recently implemented Right-to-Repair legislation which does not account for the repair of Internet of Things devices. The completion of this project led onto the £1.2m 2-year Fixing the Future research project which was funded by the EPSRC and is a collaboration with Nottingham and Edinburgh Universities. These projects considered electronic device repair practices not simply as a method for prolonging the lifecycles of individual products but as an important substrate for a wider socio-technical ecosystem which could improve environmental governance, social equity, and economic resilience within post-industrial communities. 

Research Interests

My research is concerned with how we think about and envision futures, particularly when they involve emerging technology. To do this I primarily use Speculative Design, a process that combines real and/or hypothetical extrapolations of the development of emerging technologies with a consideration of the cultural landscape into which they may be deployed. In particular, I use a specific practice within Speculative Design which is Design Fiction as a way of exploring alternative futures. Design Fictions can be understood as collections of artefacts, that, when viewed together build a fictional world. Following the Design Fiction as World Building approach, the artificially built world is a prototyping platform for the very designs that define it, meanwhile those designs reciprocate in kind and prototype the world.

Prior to undertaking my research at Lancaster University, I was involved in the creation of The Making Rooms, a digital fabrication lab in my home town of Blackburn, Lancashire. The Making Rooms is a place where creativity, technology and advanced manufacturing come together in a community facility for use by artists, inventors, students, and anybody who is interested in designing and making. I am interested in better understanding how makerspaces contribute to their local economies and exploring the potentials of a FabCity to demonstrate the potential of digital fabrication technologies to transform urban and rural economies, reduce environmental impact and improve quality of life for its citizens. I do this by using speculative design to engage with key stakeholders to collectively envision equitable futures that contribute to key agendas, such as Net-Zero 2050 and the Circular Economy.

Current Teaching

I currently run the Digital Skills course for both the BA and MA courses, this involves introducing students to CAD software that is frequently used in Architecture practices. Each year builds upon the skills developed during the previous year and covers everything from 2D and 3D modelling, and presentation techniques, to the production of digitally fabricated artefacts and models. I am also part of the MA Technology teaching team, focusing on technical detailing and architectural model making.

Prior to joining Lancaster School of Architecture I spent over a decade working at the Manchester School of Architecture, where I specialised in digital design and fabrication processes, eco-effective design and architectural technology.

Current Research

My current research is a collaboration with The Making Rooms (Blackburn’s community Fabrication Lab) focusing on the creation of a national network for makerspaces to connect the disparate spaces and organisations that exist across the UK. By creating a network, we can create a unified approach to measuring the impact of these spaces on their local communities and economies, we can also share examples of best practice, funding opportunities and successful project briefs etc. This will also allow the wider dissemination of practical research that has been carried out in partnership between Lancaster University and The Making Rooms into the repairability of smart devices, by providing a platform to engage more makerspaces in current and ongoing research projects.  

Thesis Outline

I use Speculative Design, more specifically Design Fiction, as a way of exploring futures for emerging technologies and societies relationships with them. My research is concerned with developing visual tools to help engage the public in futures research, to help guide discussions, and to reveal the existing underlying social structures, necessary to describe alternative social imaginaries.

This research contributes to the emergent field of Social Futures research, through the development and analysis of Graphic Social Futures as a method to democratise the construction and discussion of possible futures. These Graphic Social Futures work by exposing possible flawed futures, and provoking debate on how things could, or should be, and encourages consideration for how we get there.

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