School of Speculation SOS_20

This summer, Blackhorse Workshop are delighted to be one of the hosts for The School of Speculation (SOS_20) an alternative month long free design residency for 18-24 year olds developed by critical designers Pierre Shaw and Kishan San. Other host collaborators on the programme include the Design Museum and South London Gallery.

As one of London’s exciting new independent educational programmes, we caught up with them to find out what’s in store and why they’ve set it up.

Your website states ‘SOS will challenge the status quo. Design must critique the existing socio-economic systems it operates within.’ What does this mean?
We believe that designers have the ability to ask questions of big business, state controls and social norms – this is where they can make a real difference. We think that designers shouldn’t have to commit to creative industries that support constant growth at all cost. Critical design is a channel for designers to make and do things that confront issues of injustice and exploitation.

What do you see as the status quo?
All we mean by the status quo is everything that remains unchallenged in contemporary culture. This is really broad but it’s important that everything remains open to challenge and debate.

Why is this important?
Designers are uniquely positioned between behavioural sciences, economics, politics, technological advances and the environment. That gives them great potential to see things from different perspectives and therefore the responsibility to support those with a smaller voice or bring people together who wouldn’t ordinarily.

How did you come to set SOS up?
SOS is a response to the worsening crises in UK Arts higher education. The UK Government has removed Art and Design from its ‘Core’ subjects at secondary school level and university tuition fees continue to rise prohibitively. The UK has portrayed itself to be an international home for the creative industries whilst creating an elitist and hostile educational environment, we see this as a major problem.

SOS has 3 key missions:

  1. Design and Architecture should interrogate, confront and challenge the status quo.
  2. Design and Architectural education must be free to achieve accessibility.
  3. An alternative to the higher educational model must be found.

Where do you see alternative education going?
The alternative education scene has been around for some time with art and design having their moment in the 1930’s with the Black Mountain College and the Bauhaus. It went quiet toward the end of the century but picked up pace again in response to the 2008 financial crisis. Today, it feels so important to be asking hard questions again to our universities and the Department for Education.

It will always be difficult to challenge the prestige that traditional universities offer but we are beginning to see a change in perception. A triple first class honours degree will never substitute original creative thinking and people can see this.

Who is SOS for?
SOS is a network of host institutions, galleries, workshops, schools, libraries, professionals, practitioners, artists, students and researchers. It pulls together the strengths of all its contributors and collaborators to form a school with no walls.The SOS nomadic platform harnesses the wealth of space and knowledge outside of the traditional bastions of education in the galleries and community spaces, public spaces and museums of the city. The network of these spaces create the framework of the SOS platform.

This year, we are taking on 20 students of art, design, architecture and related disciplines, aged 18 – 24 to join us for this year’s residency programme. We are particularly interested in students who don’t think the traditional career path is for them – perhaps you are more interested in starting your own practice? Need some additional material for your portfolio or want more time to develop what your discipline means to you?

How long does it run for?
SOS_20 runs between 27 July and 21 August 2020

What are the programme’s aims? How will it be structured?
We will visit 4 main themes this year: Performance Therapy, Digital Labour Relations, Speculative History and Protest Architecture. These topics are not tried and tested but are a series of experimental briefs that aim to give participants a hand in creating new potentials for design.

2 weeks of individual work will follow 2 weeks of group work based on the 4 thematics. The course includes technical workshops that will give participants time to develop skills in a number of digital mediums.

Alongside the residency SOS will host a number of public lectures by leading critical thinkers in a range of disciplines. This year we are joined by author of ‘Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work’ economist Nick Srnicek, writer and author of ‘Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family’ Sophie Lewis as well as artists Anna Bunting-Branch and Aliyah Hussain, with more to be announced.

How can you apply?
You can apply on our website, simply download our application form:

Apply before Midnight on May 30th!!! 


Pierre  Shaw is a Co-Founder of SOS. He obtained his BA Architecture at the University of Sheffield, UK where he was nominated for the RIBA Bronze Medal in architecture.  Pierre has also held a research fellowship at the British Council as well as publishing academic essays for e-flux and the Institute of Ideas. He was named as ‘One to watch’ by Blueprint Magazine in 2018. Pierre works as an Architectural Assistant at RIBA Stirling Prize winning architecture office, Haworth Tompkins, London.

Kishan San is a Co-Founder of SOS. He obtained a Diploma at the Architectural Association in 2019. As a Londoner of Indo-Chinese descent, Kishan’s work investigates fluctuating notions of identity in an increasingly unstable, globalised and cosmopolitan world society. Kishan works as an Assistant Researcher at the Turner Prize nominated human rights research agency Forensic Architecture, based out of Goldsmiths University, London.