Antoine Fenoglio & Cynthia Fleury

Design with care, interview with Antoine Fenoglio and Cynthia Fleury

Exhibition Climat de Soin, Lille Metropole World Design Capital 2020, co-curated by Cynthia Fleury and les Sismo ©Javier Callejas

The encounter between philosopher Cynthia Fleury and designer Antoine Fenoglio offers an example of crossing practices around the idea of design with care, which allows a "design with purpose" based on the idea that fragility favors in a systemic way the practice towards environmental and social issues. With the concept of proof of care, experimentation itself becomes a form of care that leads to a reflection on modes of governance. Designers become integrators, diplomats between expertises, relying on their know-how in representation and prototyping.

The birth of a collaboration

Philippe Chiambaretta : Cynthia Fleury, Antoine Fenoglio, could you elaborate on how your desire to collaborate around the Design with Care seminar came about? Did it stem from the conviction that continual dialogue between theory and practice would prove fruitful ?

Antoine Fenoglio 
What brought us together originally was first and foremost our similar personal experiences. Each of us had had a founding experience with care. In my case, this emerged after I realized that ethical issues were becoming increasingly present in the topics entrusted to Sismo, and felt it was important that we adopt a more robust philosophical approach. I was interested in the topic, but I found it hard to find any form of grounding; my encounter with Cynthia allowed me to address this. We then decided to create the Design with Care approach, a very open-ended program in which we could incorporate our desires for production and exchange, from an academic standpoint, around the Design with Care seminar set up by the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers’ (CNAM) Chair of Humanities and Medicine, but also in very concrete projects. This resulted in a range of specific methodological tools, projects, the incubation of a thesis, the publication of articles, exhibitions, and a festival at the Commanderie—the second Sismo site, in the Creuse département.

Antoine Fenoglio and Cynthia Fleury at the Climat de Soin exhibition ©Javier Callejas

This program is a way of furthering the approach that the Sismos have been conducting for the past twenty-five years around the role of the designer, by pursuing our convictions regarding the fertile relationship between thinking and doing, as well as the possible approaches opened up throughout history by designers including William Morris, Charlotte Perriand, Victor Papanek, and Enzo Mari. These are a few of the pathways that have given a fresh impetus to our thinking—design carries intent (Morris), the purpose of design is humans (Perriand), design is political (Papanex), the learning process is at the forefront of the design approach (Mari).

Cynthia Fleury
Philosophy isn’t bound by the obligation of an applied vision. That doesn’t prevent it from having potential applications, of course, but releases it from the systemic character of this kind of constraint. The world of healthcare is, however, a space with a clinical vocation where the burden of proof is often a requirement and where the legitimacy of a solution grapples with the issue of its actual realization, acceptability, and effectiveness regarding caregivers and patients. The Philosophy at the Hospital Chair at the GHU Paris Psychiatrie & Neurosciences is inextricably linked to the Humanities and Medicine Chair at the CNAM, except for the fact that it is specifically concerned with hospitals and located on the site of Hôpital Saint-Anne. It aims to be a place of thought, teaching, and research, as well as a testing ground, leveraging skills that are structurally geared toward the creation of prototypes and sociotechnical devices. Design was one of the most compelling tools with which to address this challenge.

With Antoine, we launched a few threads, including the experimental approach (in constant interaction with the medical humanities, and the obligation to deliver results that could be put to use in academia); the graduation process (the creation of new university degrees); research (the incubation of a thesis, and soon a second one); the co-curation of exhibitions meant more for the public’s benefit, aiming to introduce design in public policy; and, in a more ideal-typical way, the drawing up of an “architectural” charter, of design, a clinical-aesthetic philosophy, that of Verstohlen, which establishes an effortless dialogue with that of the New European Bauhaus. We inaugurated it during the launch of the Design with Care seminar in 2018. The Charter embodies this continuum of care—self-care, care of others, care of the “City,” care of the living.



Exhibition Climat de soin, Lille Metropole World Design Capital 2020, co-curated by Cynthia Fleury and Sismo ©Javier Callejas

From a philosophical concept to the creation of a caring ecosystem

Philippe Chiambaretta : has this program revealed anything that you didn’t expect in your scope? How has it enriched your approach ?

Antoine Fenoglio 
This collaboration has of course been of great benefit to us, allowing us to approach Cynthia’s environment. Beyond concepts, it has taught us to understand the academic environment, where the probative value of evidence is key. Even though it has a pragmatic dimension, design is more concerned with creativity, with lots of intuition and a robust implementation process that is quite different from academic or philosophical thinking. In that sense, the collaboration has strongly influenced our practices, as well as the specifications that we are given, our methods, and the way we accompany project sponsors. Without questioning the strengths of the designer profession, this has contributed a form of robustness of thought to our projects that is now absolutely key for us. Also, philosophical thought, as expressed by Cynthia, doesn’t just provide ethical guarantees. It opens, beyond words, subtle imaginaries and fosters creative representations. For example, the new uses of a district aren’t designed in the same way when we let one of Cynthia’s dictums resonate within us—for instance “the first architect of the City
is care.”

Cynthia Fleury 
There was no surprise, nothing unprecedented. It was exactly the opposite : there is meaning, which should exist everywhere, in all the places of teaching, research, and intellectual exploration. We managed to set up an ideal intellectual community, our own Abbey of ThélèmeFrançois Rabelais’ 1534 Gargantua depicts a utopian, humanistic anti-monastery called the Abbey of Thélème., a place where thinking is not only possible but advisable, acknowledged, and academically or professionally accredited for doctoral students and project or mission leaders. This place is undergoing an ongoing process of metamorphosis, which will soon be completed, near the end of 2021, thereby transcending its first phase—one that was somewhat more nomadic and fragmented. The first thing to be consolidated was the quality and operationality of the ecosystem, or, in other words, a network of expertise and talent, which is now absolutely stellar. There are young philosophy or humanities graduates, side by side with engineers, architects, and doctors—ranging from medical residents to more experienced doctors—and of course a great many other healthcare professionals, patients, experts or non-experts, ordinary citizens interested in our initiative, and many institutions concerned with their own transformation. Establishing this ecosystem, this pool, this pneuma, is in fact already a step forward in a “world” where reification is taken on, providing health for all. In any case, that was the requirement. Not an idyllic place, because nothing is ever that simple, but a place where a “capability-driven” understanding of vulnerabilities is possible, whether it’s for the protagonists we are sharing ideas with or for ourselves.

Saint-Gobain's Domolab: from the search for performance to the search for comfort (project led by Les Sismo)

The Verstohlen Charter: what cannot be stolen

Philippe Chiambaretta : Antoine Fenoglio, could you explain what exactly Design with Care covers in your creative design practice ? 

Antoine Fenoglio 
Throughout its history, design has primarily followed the tracks of capitalism and has thus simplified our relationship to objects and promoted the reification of our lives. Over the past century, design has encouraged a relationship based on use, with almost exclusively anthropocentric solutions. Items had to be comfortable when used by human bodies while serving an economic purpose. There needed to be some sort of surplus value in order to use up the excess production—a fact noted by philosopher Pierre-Damien Huyghe—which has set aside all the vital spheres of good mental and physical health, and of our relationship to society and biodiversity.

Naturally mindful of the philosophy of care, though not only, we believe that Design with Care has a way of influencing, through a additional of thinking, a practice of design that is overly geared towards creative performance, in order to shift to a mode of attentiveness. This program has enabled us to build on our twenty-five years of design experience to enhance the practice by bringing in a fresh perspective through a vulnerability-based approach, based on conceptualization, but also on graphical representation or tangibilization through objects, services, and spaces. This remains traditional  and sometimes necessary, however this is now realized through the design of living environments and capacities.

This filter of care, of course, is extended to individuals, but also to issues related to society and the environment. It creates the possibility of a much more systemic approach to design. Design with Care’s main contribution is, I believe, to reinforce the view that one cannot design without intent. It proposes a way of defining and activating this intent. Our purpose is to redefine the diversity of our interactions with the world, and to see how a mode of creation can help to reimagine how we go about in the world, how it can bring about new possibilities, and, above all, empower us to act. Design with Care opens a door on this sense of capability that goes beyond the pure question of care. It is part of a broader desire to redefine coherent worlds in which we can feel ourselves live.

Philippe Chiambaretta : Cynthia Fleury, do you advocate for a society of care ? Does the ethics of care represent a new intelligence in our relationship to the world in this anthropocentric context ? How does care highlight our interdependencies between humans, as well as with the living ?

Cynthia Fleury 
In fact, I absolutely don’t advocate for a society of care, or the application of an ethics of care to all areas of society as if it were the result of a new form of newspeak. I am not a “philosopher of care.” My approach is basically that of a lecturer and researcher in political and moral philosophy, who examines the quality of the processes of individuation and how they connect and support the tools—be they institutional or not—of democratic regulation.

Consider the Verstohlen Charter, which supports the kind of modeling and experiences that we design in order to think and live in an anthropocenic context. You both cannot discount the systemic shortcomings, that we will experience collectively and individually, nor can you simply endure them with no possibility of invention of resilience. Our work has something to do with the Latourian reflection around “details,” not to mention the various “ethics of the living” philosophers who know how little the planetary, earthly, and biospheric dimensions have to do with globalization as we understand it from an economic, or even ideological perspective. Globalization in its worldwide form, rather than a planetary one, entails reductionism and perilous uniformization. The planetary dimension is “micrological,” one of constellation, it is inextricably linked to the “revolution of details” advocated by Latour. Details are a way of capturing the sophistication of this planetary dimension that relates to these very subtle ecosystemic balances, to extremely sophisticated laws of creative cooperation.

They demand, on the contrary, that we are very mindful of the singularity of things—of endogenous systems, milieus, and so on—and absolutely not in this sort of bleak dominance that completely misses out on the strong intelligence pact that exists between the elements of life. When we develop our “capacity-based design” facilities, we are specifically looking to invest in these dynamics of cooperation, of creative alliances, of the “shared care functionality” that exists between various parties in an ecosystem. 

Proof of care, the human dimension of proof

Philippe Chiambaretta : could you present the concept of “proof of care,” which you’ve developed together ? Is it a way of advocating more generally for a culture of experimentation and prototyping that could be applied on other scales ?

Antoine Fenoglio
The idea of “proof of care” appeared quite early in our collaboration, when we experimented with the idea of the “proof of concept.” We decided to incubate a thesis at Sismo around this idea, assuming the scientific supervision of Caroline Jobin’s thesis, in collaboration with the laboratory of innovative design of École des Mines (headed by Pascal Le Masson and Sophie Hooge). What struck us was that, based on the concepts of experimentation and proof, we quickly returned to our idea of the uses of the world. Designing for a specific use is one thing, but how is its experimentation liable to create a form of care for those that engage in it, implement it, live it out ? It is this human dimension of proof that intrigued us.

As part of these experiments, we quickly made the assumption that ultimately it was the implementation of the concept itself that created care. For example, we found a solution to foster connections between patients, caregivers, and treating physicians in a medical context, but it could be in another one. Merely engaging in experimentation creates a form of attention and care for all involved. We were able to test this on a larger scale with the Climat de soin exhibition during Lille Métropole 2020, World Design Capital. What’s interesting is that, at the end of the day, the challenge isn’t about looking for evidence as much as it is about seeing how each of these interconnected initiatives creates modes of governance, flows, and connections that show that we are in the act of making society and building something intentionally. We rarely do projects that don’t involve experimentation. Even when this isn’t expressed formally, it becomes an expectation, a call to action on behalf of everyone involved as much as a programming need.

There are different kinds of protagonists who can take on a pivotal role in implementing and monitoring these protocols. They range from individuals, social players, and communities, to the managers of common-pool resources or a municipality. There are also non-human protagonists such as plant or animal environments, or a certain air quality. We ask “what can a project create in terms of care for all these intrications, and how do we manage to embrace them together ?” We work for and within a whole, a “mixture” as Emanuele Coccia would put it, and this is one of the major difficulties in the overturning of methods of imagination linked to design. We must break away from designing things and move towards a creative influence for a whole—at least that is our goal.

What is key, and this aligns both with the philosophy of care and the pragmatic ideas of psychologist and philosopher John Dewey, is to find a way to bring the “different voices” to life, to borrow from Carol Gilligan. These different voices currently have little input. We must therefore make sure we identify them, look out for them, and give them the place they deserve in this process of reflection and creation through experimentation and within the living research of these “proofs of care.”

Cynthia Fleury 
There’s a future objective, though currently somewhat a dream, which is to map the vulnerabilities on the planet—enlightening, exemplary, sorts of ideal types of vulnerability, with all possible intersections, or what I call “places of abutment,” in reference to Lacan’s “abutment points.” This should be done precisely because it would enable us to reflect on today’s world and its challenges, its systemic shortcomings, and to thereby design based on its drivers of capability and transformation for the advent of social contracts, in accordance with the challenges of the twenty-first century. In these places of abutment, there is a possibility of establishing “proofs of care,” to test the robustness of ideas and devices, to measure quantitatively and qualitatively the proofs of care. The Chair advocates an approach rooted in evidence-based humanities, in no way to submit to it without any critical reflection, but rather to shoulder part of the constraint—which is justified as well as regulatory, even though that isn’t sufficient—of the burden of proof. This constraint is necessary for collective trust. It is the only possible shared language with science and the rule of law, in the sense that the former relies on such a pact of veridiction. We endeavor to be more “robust” in our results, in order to better share and disseminate them so that they can be critically appropriated with as much corrective latitude as possible. We nevertheless also remain a more exploratory place, because our “DNA” is also that of the concept concept and the “meta” space.

Renaud and the coherence mapping ©La Gare Architectes
Michelin management headquarters, architecture and quality of life at work (project led by Les Sismo) ©Javier Callejas
Carpentry of the Commandery of Lavaufranche and restoration of its chapel ©Tony Trichanh
The commandery ©Chris Brookes
The sismique banquet ©Louise Monlau