History, Craft and Practice in the Evolution of Vehicle Design
The Royal College of Art and the Science Museum in London seek to appoint a student to undertake a PhD by thesis on the history of design practice in the UK car industry. This studentship is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Doctoral Award.
Despite its central role in the conceptualization, testing, mediation and manufacture of cars, the history of modeling and visualization in the British automotive industry has received virtually no scholarly attention. This is all the more surprising given the flurry of attention in other design fields such as architecture to the roles played by new technologies of imaging in creating and communicating design, partly provoked by and as a way of understanding the shift from analogue and hand-modeling to digital design practices (CAD) in design and manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s. Clay modeling remains the classical method of developing and finally evaluating new vehicle shapes for sign-off, while the combination of computer drawing systems with projection systems for viewing virtual models (often in 3-D) can often short-circuit and reduce the numbers of physical models made, particularly in studios catering for high volume production and rapid product cycles. However, the conceptual steps pioneered by General Motors with the original studio system, taking a car design from concept sketch through to developed renderings and drawings, models, and finally to an unambiguous definition for tooling still remain.
This PhD draws together methodologies, knowledge, supervisory expertise and archival access in vehicle design history and practice, the history of design and technology and the curation of design and technology history to identify and interrogate the causal factors and impact of emergent modeling and visualization techniques from the 1930s onwards. It will explore these apparently simple
changes in car design practice and ask larger historical questions about the relationship between design process and result in manufacturing. Although a focused study on a hitherto ignored area of automotive design process, it has the potential to contribute to its constituent fields as well as further interdisciplinary thinking and research. As such, applications are welcomed from candidates with a background interest in, but not limited to: histories of technology, science and culture, in design and engineering, in craft, making and manufacturing.
Working towards a PhD, the student will make an original scholarly contribution to the understanding of manufacturing and the role that mediation technologies play in the design and making process. The project will make use of archival resources, material collections, industry contacts and key methodologies drawn from the history of design, history of technology and design research. Outcomes will include scholarly publications contributing to specialist and student knowledge in history of design, history of technology and the study of innovation. It will also contribute, within the Science Museum, to the expertise and historical insight that may be deployed in communicating and interpreting the role of designing in everyday life for a broad public audience.
The project will be supervised by Professor Dale Harrow (Vehicle Design) and Dr Sarah Teasley (History of Design) at the RCA, and Dr Andrew Nahum (Senior Keeper, The Science Museum). As the supervisory structure suggests, the project aims to unite museum research with investigations into recent and current practice, using the partner institutions’ extensive access to historical collections and past and present designers in the world automotive industry. The Science Museum is Britain’s premier Museum of Science, Technology and Medicine. It holds collections, amassed since the 19th century, of international significance as well as relevant archival resources. Its permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions represent not only the history of science, technology and medicine but also address its present manifestations and future potential. The Vehicle Design postgraduate programme (in the School of Design) at the RCA is the world’s premier programme in automotive design. Its former students are found at the highest levels of design in the world’s automotive industry and the department is fortunate in maintaining excellent ongoing relationships with these alumni. Through the expertise of its own staff, and the ongoing contacts with industry, the department maintains an excellent overview of the past, current and evolving trends in vehicle design practice. The History of Design Programme (in the School of Humanities, shared with the Victoria and Albert Museum), is the leading centre for postgraduate study in design history, and an internationally-recognised hub of research excellence.
The successful applicant will be registered as a student at the RCA and will follow the RCA’s Research Methods Course during the first year (one day per week). He or she will be attached to both the Vehicle Design Programme in the School of Design, and the History of Design Programme in the School of Humanities. Joint affiliation will allow the student to access relevant supporting sessions in both programmes to further the development of appropriate historical research methodologies and the understanding of technical processes. At the Science Museum, he or she will be based in the Collections Department , and will receive appropriate induction in accessing collections and in the use of three-dimensional records. At both institutions, the student will become part of a vibrant research culture, which is already supporting several CDA students in related fields of design and historical research in a museum context including the History of Design Programme and the Science Museum co-hosted AHRC CDA on ‘Atomic, Molecular and Orbital Iconography in Post-War Design’, which began in autumn 2011.
Potential students should apply using the RCA’s application system. The application should contain a clearly defined research proposal which outlines a potential subject within the broad parameters outlined above. This means articulating a clearly-defined research field; outlining key collections or works of arts and/or archive material which is available for study; submitting a bibliography of relevant primary material and existing relevant secondary scholarship. An academic reference is also required.
The applicant should have completed or be nearing completion of a masters level degree in a related field (e.g. Industrial Design, Vehicle Design, Engineering, Business or Social History, History of Design, Science, Technology and Engineering, Museology).
Applicants must also be UK or EU citizens and be ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom. Further information on eligibility requirements is available from the AHRC website: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk.
The scholarship is for three-years, full-time study. It has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award in the 2012/2013 academic year provides a maintenance grant payment of £15,590 p.a.and fees of £3,732 p.a. Please note that this award includes the Royal College of Art’s contribution to the top-up fee. EU applicants without UK residency status can apply for this award but, if successful, will only be entitled to a bursary covering the fees.
To apply, complete the online application, available here:
Applicants should indicate on the on-line form that s/he is applying for a PhD to be funded under AHRC CDA Scheme: History, Craft and Practice in the Evolution of Vehicle Design
An academic reference is also required.
In the case of queries about the application process, please contact the RCA Research Office at [email protected]
The closing date for applications is 3 September 2012.