Fjord Kitchen Madrid: A Premonition of the Future of Health


If Fjord were a part of a house, it would definitely be the kitchen. Chemistry and chance encounters happen in kitchens. People chat, discuss, argue and share confidences; they combine the best ingredients often in the most unexpected ways, looking for that perfect meal capable of delight and surprise.

A company, which so often expresses itself in the shape of food, couldn’t name its flagship series of talks anything other than Fjord Kitchens. Every Fjord office around the world throws a couple of Kitchen events a year. In each of them we debate how innovation, technology and digital design are facilitating and disrupting our daily lives. Madrid was a bit late in joining party but, to compensate, we are putting all our energy into each new one we run, from the selection of the subject topic and the speakers’ lineup to those little-big details that make the whole experience unforgettable. Oh, and there’s also the food, plenty of it!

Our latest Fjord Kitchen Madrid was entitled “Glimpse into the Future of Health” and it was our attempt to explore what health and health care will look like in the coming decades. To do so we invited Aubrey de Grey, Giuseppe Battaglia and Lorna Ross, three fascinating professionals both operating in the convergence zone between of science and design (even if they didn’t realise it!).  More than 150 people came to our studio to listen, discuss and interact with experts and peers; another +200 were accompanying us from the ether through the live webcast.

If you want to have a nice glance of how our Kitchen was like, here’s the video that our friends from Estudio Redondo beautifully crafted for us!!

Our first stop was Dr. Aubrey de Grey, SENS Research Foundation Chief Science Officer, and internationally renowned biomedical gerontologist who leads a charity dedicated to combating the ageing process.

De Grey stated that, while we have become increasingly good at stopping people from dying early, we haven’t been able to make comparable progress with on the diseases of old age. And why is that? Because “they are not really diseases; they’re aspects of a process that goes on throughout life that we call aging, and ageing is a side effect of being alive. So we need to start thinking of the diseases of old age in a different way in order to understand how we might actually address them with medicine.”

De Grey imagined (or shall we say “designed”) a different approach about two decades ago, observing the human body as a machine; an extraordinarily complicated one, but still a machine, “and we have a chance to extend the fully functional, healthy longevity of that machine beyond its intended life span”, he stated. In other words, a “preventive maintenance” approach, intervening in an early stage of the chain of events that lead to illnesses related to ageing.

Fjord Kitchen Madrid - copyright Lía Martín

Aubrey de Grey @ Fjord Kitchen Madrid

SENS Foundation has developed a plan for this ideology, which breaks ageing down into seven major classes of damage and identifies detailed approaches to addressing each one, in order to create a world in which “people could stay completely healthy –mentally and physically- however how long ago they happen to have been born”, according to De Grey. A world in which age related diseases don’t exist anymore and the elderly can actually continue to contribute materially to society. De Grey asserts that we might see some tangible advances of this research over the next couple of decades.

Even when Aubrey doesn’t like the “We’ll live a thousand years” quote very often attributed to him, everyone in the audience received the second speaker with a feeling that we have a shot at to keep on hanging out in the 22th Century. Following Aubrey was the equally amazing Giuseppe (or Beppe as most people call him) Battaglia, Professor Of Molecular Bionics at the University College London. His research combines Physics and Chemistry with Biology to improve medical therapy and diagnostics and to find unconventional ways to deliver drugs into the body in order to treat diseases such as cancer.

To accomplish this herculean task, Beppe and his team are taking a lot of inspiration from nature. “Looking at how nature works and taking a reductionist view of some of its aspects is helping us reimagine those aspects into engineering tools”, he says.

Those tools could be applied to very promising fields such as tissue engineering, with the ambition that “one day you can reprint an organ that has been damaged”, and the already aforementioned drug delivery: “Imagine a very small device which can work in a really complex environment like the blood, equipped in such a way that we could target the gateways that control our brain with the keys to open those doors”, Beppe explains. That would be a real revolution in neuroscience and would prevent many side effects of conventional treatments from happening by eliminating the randomness of conventional drug treatment.

Fjord Kitchen Madrid

Beppe Battaglia: the Molecular Bionics revolution

This dream is starting to come to life at Beppe’s lab. The next dream would be to convert this sophisticated application method into something personalized to each and every one of us. Perhaps one day, we would even be able to “create artificial surrogates that can serve our needs to create food, new chemicals, or even energy.”

Finally came Lorna Ross, a hugely experienced designer with an almost 25-year track record in design, design research and innovation who has focused for the last twelve on health and health care. She is currently the Director of Design at Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, and in her talk she opened up for us the doors of one of the world’s most respected medical institutions, founded 150 years ago, and the first to incorporate a design team at the heart of its innovation activity.

She gave us a very nice gift in the shape of mind-altering quotes, which left us with the deep impression that “designing for consequence” can really make a big difference in the health and health care arena. “Designers need to understand artifacts , because it’s the only real way to change a system”, she says, being extraordinarily important in an environment that is inherently resistant to change, in which innovation happens as to be a sort of “reaction to fear of the future”. According to Lorna, “design, like science, is a tool for understanding as well as for acting”. This is relevant for all design communities, and it’s crucial when you’re working in the health industry: you have to be able to tell the story about the value of design.

Lorna Ross or design at the heart of healthcare innovation

Lorna Ross: design at the heart of healthcare innovation

The role of design in health care is about empathy, imagination and representation”, she states, the last, being crucial within a scientific context which is, by definition, evidence-based. From persona types, to describing how patients go through the different phases of a disease, to business modelling and “experience mapping tools” to reframe gaps in the system as opportunities, many of the “artifacts” that Lorna’s team creates actually become valuable collateral for the Mayo Clinic professionals.

Lorna closed her talk with a wise learning: “You fix problems by making them irrelevant. In design, we need to stop describing the process and start describing the impact.”

Our second Fjord Kitchen held in Madrid turned out to be a delightful experience. We can’t wait to start thinking about the next one. In the meantime, you can watch the talks of the latest ones at our Livestream channel.

Stay tuned!


More Stories from Fjord