London-based experience designer on the University of the Underground

Nelly Ben Hayoun teaches students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and challenge structures of power.

Experience designer Nelly Ben Hayoun has launched two vastly different endeavours that both look to the design of our future. In the first, titled the Life, the Sea and the Space Viking, Ben Hayoun immerses the public in the race to colonise Mars. In the second, called the University of the Underground, she trains the next generation of designers to challenge power systems and subvert the status quo.

Both projects are motivated by two things, the hammering technique and total bombardment. Ben Hayoun honed these strategies at her award-winning studios, BH Studios and Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios.

“So the hammering technique is this method that we use. Whenever someone tells us no, we just find a way to make the project happen. We’ll modify the power structure to do and manufacture that project.

“The other thing is what we call, total bombardment. To make things happen we collect roles in various institutions. We work with these institutions to make these impossible projects happen,” she explains.

The colonisation of Mars once seemed impossible, but, thanks to recent advancements, it doesn’t seem as far-fetched anymore. To make the science behind the ambitious plan accessible and interesting to the public, Ben Hayoun partnered with NASA and SETI to create the Life, the Sea and the Space Viking.

It’s an expedition into the Earth’s harshest environments where scientists learn what it takes to maintain life in an inhospitable landscape, much like they might find on Mars. Drawing on the idea of an iconic Viking conqueror, Ben Hayoun takes the public on a journey into this scientific voyage.

To learn more about the project, watch Ben Hayoun’s Design Talk at the Design Indaba Conference 2017.

As the director of the new institution, the University of the Underground, Ben Hayoun hopes to train the next generation of designers to be the Viking conquerors of the modern world.

Affiliated with Amsterdam’s Sandberg Instituut, the institution offers a Master’s Degree that looks at design as it crosses music, film, theatre and politics. It will be provided through a scholarship programme funded by a combination of government grants and donations.

“We teach them how to infiltrate and how to work together with public institutions in order to modify power structures, in order to modify the way they’re conceived and how to modify the status quo,” says Ben Hayoun.

The university hopes to grow into a PhD programme at Sandberg, the postgraduate arm of Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academie. 

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Watch the Talk with Nelly Ben Hayoun