MA Studies > Interior design > Interior design alumnus > Bambang Pramono

Bambang Pramono


In my perspective emergency shelter as industrial design, mostly prefabs; is a mass product, a reproduction of design, a low-cost oriented. Those are subtle into kitsch conception.

Kitsch, cited from Wikipedia, describes as something of tawdry design, appearance, or content created to appeal to popular or un-discriminating taste. In other word, is a style of mass-produced art or design using cultural icons. The term is generally reserved for unsubstantial or works that are calculated to have popular appeal.

For quick response, united nation blue tents are one of marvelous kitsch. What was on our mind when we thought about united nation roles in post-disaster? Spreading the blue tents and dropped it down from the sky, voila! It can easily be pop-up everywhere. Placed as a camp at certain area it appealing from the sky, but when we find it around the globe, imagine it became kind a disaster from distant.

Since it is the most common and quick aid aftermath, in term of immediacy, let’s said the UN cultural icon in notion of disaster is blue tent. But before continue reading this passage it is important to understand  the nature of kitsch.

The concept of kitsch is applied to artwork that was a response to the 19th century art with aesthetics that convey exaggerated-sentimentality and melodrama, hence, kitsch art is closely associated with sentimental art[1]. Sentimental art will be defined as art that, whether or not by design, evokes a sentimental response[2]. Sentimentality often involves situations which evoke very intense feelings where the feelings are expressed with' reduced intensity and duration of emotional experience diluted to a safe strength by idealization and simplification.

In shelter design process, programming was based on sentimental affect. For people aftermath, response to quickness, simple and easy, no tools needed and so forth. The design in turn needed basic need of a living place, a house. I will mention  here, that sheltering is an evolving process that families engage in, starting first with some simple shade structure or emergency housing, then transitioning through stages into a more and more permanent structure. 

The concept of shelter is explained as basic housing provision to protect against the element; it has to answer the housing needs during the period of post-disaster reconstruction. Therefore, “to shelter" is the “minimum of housing standards”. This standard  determined acceptable level of size and use of dwelling in term of the number of composition of the inhabitants varies according to climate or tradition and infrastructure ready such as water, gas, and electricity.  

Hermann Broch argues that the essence of kitsch is imitation: kitsch mimics its immediate predecessor with no regard to ethics-- it aims to copy the beautiful, not the good. Imagine a design of an igloo-like shelter[3], easy to construct, well design enclosure and locate in the middle of prairie. Isn’t that beautiful? Now, try to pin more units at the same prairie, the exact type shelter. What did we see now? A bunch of repetition units. Just like the blue tend complex it become a huge “new catastrophes” for our vision.

According to Walter Benjamin (1925), kitsch is a utilitarian object lacking all critical distance between object and observer; it "offers instantaneous emotional gratification without intellectual effort, without the requirement of distance, without sublimation", neither art nor aesthetic.

Famous quotes from him, “The maker of kitsch does not create inferior art, he is not an incompetent or a bungler, he cannot be evaluated by aesthetic standards; rather, he is ethically depraved, a criminal willing radical evil. And since it is radical evil that is manifest here, evil per se, forming the absolute negative pole of every value-system, kitsch will always be evil, not just kitsch in art, but kitsch in every value-system that is not an imitation system.”

Cited from Adorno's Aesthetic Theory, one of the defining characteristics of kitsch may be that it simulates non-existing emotions. Again, kitsch is art that cannot, or does not want to, be taken seriously, while at the same time, through its appearance, postulating aesthetic seriousness. Outstanding designs, temporary stand, easy to construct, what we expected beside kitsch?

If we look closer to emergency shelter as post-disaster recovery program, it is nearly impossible to tell if one being privileged or discriminated. Try to google-ing emergency shelter, emergency house, disaster shelter, or relief. Many sources will pop-up within less than minute; you can pick any link and drown on it. Some may be come with detail description; some may be hide detail with outstanding 3d-rendering but wordless or postulating aesthetic seriousness. Hence, emergency shelter becomes commodity, large scale, and large capital. Again, low cost mass products!

Can we avoid kitsch? In my point of view, to avoid kitsch won’t be necessary. Kitsch, in this sense of emergency shelter design can eliminated by developing a specific generic design. For instance, a design of shelter that based on local climate, open to local material and simple future modification. By adding local material and easy to modify the design at least will be distinct when surrounded in similar reproduction unit.


[1] source


[3] I found this case of alien on the site as evidence of this assumption. The site is village of New Ngelepen, Yogyakarta-Indonesia.