Very early on when my interest in design was not professional, I was fascinated by objects and buildings, which seemed to have some kind of eternal appeal.

Why then this fascination?

Unlike many young people I was never fixated with the new or the latest

version of everything but neither did I have an interest in old things as such. Everything that worked aesthetically and functionally appeared very appealing, regardless of age. I was in effect a very early devotee of eclecticism, which to me was exactly that: combining designs to create a functioning whole, with all aspects taken into consideration. Periods or eras were not relevant. Later I learnt about eclecticism as a contemporary trend, which risked being dismissed as merely a passing fashion. I probably interpreted eclecticism wrongly from the outset.  Commonly defined as a juxtaposition of styles, for me it was about combining existing forms in a new, hopefully purposeful, way. According to John Dewey, who I will return to in detail in my work, this is what art and design is all about. It is not about creating new forms, even if this is what many designers often are occupied with – or believe they are occupied with.

When my interest in design eventually started to take a professional turn[1], this idea of objects, which could be related to any time, [even if apparently originating from a certain time] appeared very important, not least because of the enormous resources to be saved by making use of the experience involved. However, I could not find an answer to the question why some objects seemed ‘contemporary with every other age’[2], those we habitually and without deeper reflection call: Timeless. Is it about lucky circumstances, factors converging in the right object in the right time? Do certain historical periods influence us more than others and do objects dating from these periods therefore have a stronger and more sustainable presence? Maybe, it is mainly about smart design solutions: objects stripped down to bare essentials? Could timelessness in fact be a marketing gimmick or alternatively the making of designs historians?

It proved impossible to find any coherent pattern among these possible factors or explanations. The only way forward appeared to be some kind of dissection of the denomination timelessness. My interest had turned academic.

The notions of the timeless and timelessness were thus already very much in focus during the initial process leading to concretisation of the subject area for my thesis.  First enthusiasm eventually met reality. The ambiguity of the timeless became evident, not least through a question I posed on the PhD-Design mailing list (Timeless? 2002). If at all concrete, the timeless was referred to as a phenomenon with philosophical implications. I realised that the research underpinning my thesis would at least initially be something of a quest, but would it be worthwhile? Accounting not only for my motives, but also making a careful analysis of the aim was imperative. Even if your motives are strong, it is by carefully analysing your aim that you really get perspective and become aware of whether there is a true purpose for the work you are about to start. Is the path you are taking likely to lead to improvements, either on a theoretical or a practical level? Or are you merely pursuing a personal line of enquiry?

Two important moments of truth offered the motives to continue.

i) The realisation that most objects are not discarded because they are worn out or no longer function physically. They might not even be technically obsolete or even physically irrelevant for a changing context. They are turned into waste for a number of other reasons, which seem to concern more mental irrelevance: we do not like them any more, we have in fact never liked them, we do not see any meaning in having them around, they do not contribute in any way. We think that we have found something better to replace them. Sometimes we simply explain our action with something being out of fashion. Is this the way we are, or are the main reasons to be found in the economic system, which is ruling western societies? Is this the way it has to be, we want it to be? Is there in fact a self-regulatory balance built into this system, which we should not intervene in? Is there knowledge to be found in various disciplines, which might be relevant and which might advise on how to arrive at another balance of benefit for the development of a sustainable society[3] and hence the economic system? 

ii) The identification of a distinct pattern when researching a number of relevant disciplines: there is an overwhelming focus on human ways of living and methods to influence or change these. Are changes predictable and thus allowing futurism? Does this focus resulting from a general belief in the reflecting, rational human, controlling his or her actions? Might it be the un-reflected response indicating some kind of separation of body and mind? Are human ways of being normally recognised as giving rise merely to lower order actions? Is there enough evidence for a change of focus, or rather a widening, based on how human ways of being and living interact? Would rethinking on this level contribute to the understanding of the timeless?

It came as no surprise that there is very limited work done in this area of research. However, I was not prepared for the complexity of the subject. The initial quest to define my subject area has proven its importance and has become an integrated part of my core work. Advancing from an early interest in timelessness to a true understanding has required much time and effort. It has brought me from the initial idea to a fairly mature concept and has involved much re-thinking. The current habitual use of words like timeless, classic, eternal and so on as synonyms and without discrimination, in popular as well as academic context, has been very confusing. Considering that these words moreover are used un-knowingly, the patterns I have been trying to extract have been almost continuously distorted. Setting boundaries for the area of my research has been another part of the quest. The subject is abstract enough to risk spreading into an unmanageable number of disciplines. There are relationships, which have highly variable connotations although others are well defined.

As a result of the quest timelessness became obsolete and was replaced by affective sustainability. This change is conceptual and indicates where the quest led me: sustainability is a holistic concept, which needs to be further developed.

My hope is that already the denomination will start an imaginative process in the reader, which will then make my work more accessible. Willingness to rethink and an open mind are preconditions for all new understanding.

[1] As marketing professional, I developed over the years a niche competence in the role of design in communication.   

[2] Paraphrasing Gadamer’s expression (Osborne, 1995)

[3] I will present my understanding of sustainability and ‘the Sustainment’ in chapter I, Introduction.