The New Relevance of Basel Basics
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Described through asymmetric sans serif typography, modular grid systems and denotative photography, The Basel School of Design is often described as dogmatic and conservative in respect to post-modern trends in graphic design. While this description may accurately reflect certain aesthetic tendencies, it does not reflect the essence of its pedagogy. This paper will argue that the Basel approach to teaching design fosters formal discovery conducive to contextual awareness. The studio experience in Basel endorses form making as a structure for knowledge production. Ideas arise from the rigorous study of visual form. This approach does not impart aesthetic preference, neither does it entail adherence to a formal dogma, but rather offers a basic set of tools with which to engage the environment. The case study for this paper is based in the United Arab Emirates, a country undergoing massive infrastructural and socio-cultural transformation. A claimed capital of the world's construction activity, Dubai is home to thousands of cranes supporting ever more ambitious projects that have transformed fishing villages into dynamic urban environments. As a result, design pedagogy must address students who live in a place subject to constant change, and prepare them for a practice of improvisation. Students should primarily experience design as a process of critical observation, of assessing the past, present and potential qualities of a given situation. By analyzing the relevance of teaching methods refined in Basel to our studio-based program in visual communication design at the School of Architecture and Design, American University of Sharjah, we will discuss the significance of the Kunstgewerbeschule to contemporary design education.