In Shenzhen, the urban village takes center stage

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Atelier Bow-Wow’s Fire Foodies Club. ©UABB, photograph by Zhang Chao.

Following my trip to Shenzhen last December, I had the chance to write a review of the UABB for The Architect’s Newspaper, which can be read fully on their website. Below, an excerpt:

As Yan says to a packed auditorium, “The real exhibition is the vibrant city life.” Much in sync with the biennale’s theme, “Cities Grow in Difference,” the auditorium where Yan is speaking is filled with an audience that ranges from architectural experts to local inhabitants of Nantou Old Town, the majority of whom are Chinese migrant workers.

For the curatorial team, the urban village is a model for the future. Against what Yan calls the “globalized, standardized, capitalized city” that has expanded to the global scale, the urban village is a hybrid, a wetland, a “breeding ground for a new city.” The biennale seeks to learn from it, and to emulate it in its search for possibilities.

The location of the biennale is a case in point. One of the oldest parts of Shenzhen, Nantou is an urban village, a specific Chinese typology of low-rise housing in the center or outskirts of the city, serving mostly migrant workers and temporary dwellers. Nantou is lively, crowded, and seems to be a place where everything is possible.

TEOK #40 – Founders

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 11.58.15Presenting at TEOK #40 – Founders. Photo Nicolás Miranda Turu.

TEOK is 4 years old (!!) – who’d have imagined that a crazy idea Juan Palencia, Marta Colón and I had over drinks one time would become TEOK Basel! To celebrate, our 40th event had co-founders me and Juan present on our obsessions as teenagers. I decided to go deep into my fascination with manga and anime – with a very specific focus on my gateway drug to the genre, Sailor Moon. Here’s to hoping the 5th year of TEOK will be filled with many incredible presentations, speakers, and Basel homes!

Beyond Change

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I’m honored to have been working as a program consultant for the upcoming Beyond Change conference, organized by the Swiss Design Network. It will take place in Basel from 8-10 March, and will focus on socially and politically motivated design, fostering feminist, queer and decolonized perspectives. Within the star-studded and very ambitious program, the conference will include a double session curated in collaboration with the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, focusing on alternative design pedagogies in the past and today.  I will be moderating those debates alongside Jan Boelen.
It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with the conference organization team, Claudia Mareis, Nina Paim and Sarah Haug, and I’m very much looking forward to attending Beyond Change! Tickets are available here should you wish to do the same.

On the legacy of the UABB: A panel in Shenzhen

25498472_10155781804106826_4986438912659861256_nView of the panel discussion at the 7th UABB in Nantou Old Town, Shenzhen.

As part of a research trip for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, the biennial director Deniz Ova and I participated in a panel discussion at the opening weekend of the 7th UABB – Shenzhen/Hong Kong Bi-city Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism. Gathering Doreen Heng Liu, Ou Ning, Meng Yan, Liu Xiaodu, Hou Hanru, Jeffrey Johnson, Deniz Ova and myself, and moderated by Ole Bouman, the discussion centered on the vision behind the 7th UABB, titled “Cities Grow in Difference”, as well as how the format has changed and evolved throughout the previous editions. As international guests, we commented on how the UABB connects to other similar events and how the biennial format has changed in the past decade. It was an honor to sit among all these luminaries, and a very pleasant surprise to visit the UABB for the first time!

Values of Design: Problem solving

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The cover of “Values of Design”, designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio.

I was thrilled to contribute an essay on “Problem Solving” to Values of Design, the publication accompanying the opening of the V&A Shekou Gallery at Design Society, in Shenzhen, China. Curator Brendan Cormier invited me to further develop a series of reflections that greatly informed my masters thesis, and could be updated and revised for this tome, which features the voices of experts such as Jana Scholze, Catharine Rossi, Glenn Adamson, Penny Sparke, and Tamar Shafrir.  I was particularly lucky to be able to see the exhibition shortly after the opening, as well, which allowed me to better grasp the immense significance of such an exhibition and catalogue in the context of Shenzhen and South China.

Social Design at HKB Research Wednesday

DPP-y2OX0AA_dYxSpeaking at the Research Wednesday lectures series at the University of the Arts Bern. Photo Robert Lzicar

This Fall semester I had the opportunity to revisit my MFA Design Criticism thesis research, as I received an invitation to lecture at the Bern University of the Arts’ Research Wednesday series. Professor Arne Scheuermann kindly proposed I discussed my views on social design, and I was more than happy to revisit this research and update it with new insights following my work with several projects of this kind. Thank you for the invitation!

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial – A School of Schools

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A mechanism for a model of the motion of a comet. Engraving after B. Martin, courtesy the Wellcome collection.

I’m thrilled to be joining the curatorial team of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial as Associate Curator, alongside Jan Boelen and Nadine Botha. Titled A School of Schools, it is a multi-platform biennial that will use, test, and revise a variety of educational strategies to reflect on the role of design, knowledge, and global connectedness in contemporary Istanbul and beyond.

The first step in the year-long process of the biennial is an Open Call, open to both to learners and schools. For more information you can visit the biennial’s website at aschoolofschools.iksv.org. Hope to see you all in Istanbul in September 2018!

Research Day at ECAL

Research Day ECALAt the ECAL Research Day with Xavier Veilhan and Stéphanie Moisdon. Photo courtesy of Zoe Cooper.

I was thrilled to moderate a full day of conversations at ECAL in October, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EPFL + ECAL Lab and the celebration of 10 years of research at ECAL. The ECAL Research Day was filled with thought-provoking debate and ideas, including the participation of individuals such as Skylar Tibbits from the MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Roel Wouters from Studio Moniker, or Fabio Gramazio from Gramazio Kohler Architects. More information on the event’s official website.

Pressing the right buttons

A detail of Thibault Brevet's studio in Berlin. Detail of a photo © Katrin Greiling
A detail of Thibault Brevet’s studio in Berlin. Photo © Katrin Greiling

At long, long last, I was finally given the opportunity to write a profile of one of my all-time favorite designers: Thibault Brevet. He Skyped with me from his Berlin studio, and I was excited to know more about what drives him and what he’s up to next. The result is up on Interwoven, Kvadrat’s amazing online magazine edited by Anniina Koivu, and is brilliantly illustrated by photographs taken by Katrin Greiling. A link to the piece here, and an excerpt below:

No matter the size of his projects, be they self-initiated or commissioned, Brevet adapts, questions, takes apart and reconstructs. His thinking is representative of a new kind of designer, one less concerned with patents and copyright than with open processes and knowledge sharing. “Most projects I’ve done are born out of Google searches,” he points out. “Every project is this huge list of questions that you have to figure out: how do I mill this? How do I export that? The more material there is online the easier it is.” This reasoning works both ways: the same way he learns from others, from the “guy who already did it in a similar way” to the “little piece of code that inspires you”, Brevet documents and publishes the results online, both at in-progress stage and when finalised; others can build on his process and his thinking, or analyse it and draw inspiration and ideas from it. In the end, “the finished product is a crystallisation of a learning process,” he says. “The fact that you’re becoming an expert in something is the work. Mastering a skill is the project in itself.”

The Unmaking of Autoprogettazione

A giant Autoprogettazione table and a small me at the 2017 DHS conference. Photo © DHS Ambassadors
A giant Autoprogettazione table and a small me at the 2017 DHS conference. Photo © DHS Ambassadors

For Making and Unmaking the Environment, the 2017 Design History Society conference, Avinash Rajagopal and I wrote a paper titled “The Unmaking of Autoprogettazione”. I had the pleasure to present it at the University of Oslo last 8 September, and was delighted to discuss this and many other topics with the scholars attending. An abstract of the paper below:

In 1974, Milanese designer Enzo Mari shocked his contemporaries with his Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione, a set of rudimentary furniture pieces sold as cheap instruction manuals rather than physical objects. Anyone with a hammer, nails, and timber could build the pieces for themselves. The project commented on the overlooked social responsibilities of the designer and critiqued the passive role imposed on consumers by the 20th-century design industry. In the last decade, amidst social and economical complexity that echoes the context of its original making, Autoprogettazione has resurfaced as a touchstone project that adds to the contemporary discourse. From Artek’s 2010 re-edition of Sedia 1 to Cucula, a Berlin-based non-profit, producing Autoprogettazione for and with refugees in 2015, the many ways in which the project has been quoted, echoed, repurposed or copied have shifted, altered and reinforced its original meaning. This paper traces the making and unmaking of meanings in Autoprogettazione, analyzing the context that lead to the project’s inception and exploring its comeback in the last decade, whether as a platform for art and design exhibitions, a vehicle for do-goodism in times of humanitarian crisis, or as a propaganda tool for companies and their marketing agencies. Scrutinizing these instances, and exposing the shifts and appropriations the project has been subjected to, reveal how the original aim to critique the design industry has been appropriated and made part of the design industry itself, in varied and at times perfidious ways.

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2017

A detail of David Bielander's office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly
A detail of David Bielander’s office in Munich. Photo © Gina Folly

I had the pleasure to once again work with the Federal Office of Culture, in the person of Patrizia Crivelli, designer Jonathan Hares and photographer Gina Folly in the publication celebrating the 2017 edition of the Swiss Grand Award for Design, a career prize bestowed upon distinguished Swiss designers of all fields. This year, the winners were David Bielander, Thomas Ott and Jean Widmer, whom I was humbled and honored to meet and interview for the publication.

TEOK FORUM

A view of TEOK FORUM #1
A view of TEOK FORUM #1

Upon invitation by the curators of “Forum Basel”, the most recent exhibition at the S AMTEOK Basel broke the fourth wall and occupied the streets of Basel for two guerrilla-style events. On 11 and 13 June, during the 2017 Art Basel weekwe took to the streets for two performative occupations that brought our events – usually taking place in domestic settings – to the wider public. Thank you to S AM and the curators of the show, especially KOSMOS Architects, for the invitation!

The inception of atelier LUMA

A view of the Algae Lab team in the Camargue wetlands. Photo © atelier LUMA
A view of the Algae Lab team in the Camargue wetlands. Photo © atelier LUMA

The last days of May were marked by the first open house and public presentation of atelier LUMA, a new, experimental project taking place since mid-2016 in Arles with the artistic direction of Jan Boelen. atelier LUMA is a think tank, a production workshop, a learning network and an archive for knowledge and tools of the LUMA Foundation. Based in Arles, in the Camargue region, atelier LUMA wants to co-develop new ways of producing and caring for a city and a bioregion, using design as a tool for transition.

Since 2016 I have been privileged to follow and document this project, as part of the atelier LUMA team. One of the most visible faces of the project, for those who cannot make the trip down to Arles and see the wonderful, large-scale transformation the initiative promotes in the territory, is the website, which I was happy to work on in the last months. I invite you to visit it, learn more and engage with atelier LUMA – and stay tuned for the many fantastic things that will be coming out of Arles.

Independent Thinking

Future+, Shenzhen. Photo © Adam Snow Frampton
Future+, Shenzhen. Photo © Adam Snow Frampton

The April 2017 issue of Metropolis Magazine includes my survey of independent groups blending research, activism and new approaches to practice in architecture – what a pleasure to work with the Metropolis team! I was also lucky to talk to many amazing individuals while researching for this piece, from L+CC to Parasite 2.0, and from The Funambulist to Migrant Journal. The full piece is  online at Metropolis, and a little excerpt can be found below.

The ways in which architects and designers are taking action attest to a future of the practice that will be multilayered and adaptable, responding to our intricate times with polyphonic vigor. However, the passion poured into these projects is tempered by the financial challenges of running many of these initiatives, and practitioners find themselves on a steep learning curve trying to reconcile their independence with a sustainable business model. For many, the uncertainty is constant, and there is no five-year plan. And yet it is precisely these challenging conditions that drive some of their best work: Why not risk everything when you have nothing to lose?

Why aren’t all economies circular?

View of the Disegno x British Council debate at Palazzo Clerici
View of the Disegno x British Council debate at Palazzo Clerici

I was thrilled to participate in one of the debates organized during Salone del Mobile 2017 by Disegno magazine and the British Council on the future of European design, which took place at Atelier Clerici. The event was titled “Why aren’t all economies circular?”, and was chaired by Joseph Grima with Sarah Mann, Carl-Johan Skogh and myself.  The talks were characterized by multi-layered, thoughtful and intense discussions – generally countering the superficiality on display for most of the week, and a welcome addition to the programming of Fuorisalone. The three discussions on the future of European design are all available as podcasts on Disegno Daily, and I invite you to listen to all of them!

 

Dominic Wilcox, contemporary inventor

A view of Dominic Wilcox's East London studio. Photo © James Mollison
A view of Dominic Wilcox’s East London studio. Photo © James Mollison

Last November, I had the pleasure to visit and interview Dominic Wilcox in his London studio for the Italian magazine ICON design, and talk to him about his past and recent work, concluding with some thoughts on his incredible initiative Little Inventors. The result was published in the April issue of the magazine, just in time for Salone, and is also available online (in Italian only). An excerpt below of my English original.

Dominic Wilcox doesn’t stop. As I speak to him, the designer-inventor fidgets, his eyes wander, his mind rushes. It is a grey London morning in mid-November, and his studio and workshop is teeming with his many inventions: drawings and sketches adorn the walls, showing his creations in their inception, while prototypes and one-offs are displayed in walls or tucked under desks. His suitcase is at the door; he just returned from a trip in Vienna, Amsterdam, Warsaw, and Wisconsin, sharing his expertise in innovation, invention, and the ability to surprise and delight. And yet, his first, ingenious creations have now lead to an ambitious, game-changing initiative, with the potential to create long lasting change at a global level.

TEOK at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale

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An aspect of TEOK // PARALELO at the Mãe d’Agua, during the 2016 Lisbon Architecture Triennale – The Form of Form. Photo © Pedro Sadio

Invited by Cartha Magazine, one of the Associated Projects of the 2016 Lisbon Architecture Triennale, TEOK went to the Mãe D’Água in Lisbon to launch its Lisbon series and dwell on the theme of the Parallel. Speakers Andreia Garcia and Susana Oliveira took us on a journey to parallel architectural worlds, serenaded by the rumours of the water reservoir and peaceful ambiance of the Mãe D’Água. Thank you to Cartha for the invitation, it was a pleasure to bring TEOK to my hometown!

On Preservation and Activism in Venice: OMA’s Fondaco dei Tedeschi

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A view of the renovated interior of Fondaco dei Tedeschi, by OMA. Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy of OMA.

I contributed to the The Avery Review 18 with a review of OMA’s project for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, delving on the complex and loaded story of the commission and the many compromises that informed the fairly spectacular outcome. Many thanks to the wonderful editorial team at TAR, always a pleasure to work with. The piece can be read in its entirety here.

Meeting Jürg Lehni for HOLO

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Holo 2 – IF/THEN. Photo @ HOLO

I was lucky to encounter Jürg Lehni for an extended profile in the latest issue of HOLO magazine: his drawing machines Viktor, Hektor and Otto have captured the imagination of many and influenced a generation of designers. For the piece, I visited Lehni in his Zurich studio and followed his work during a few months. Thrilled to have contributed to HOLO with this profile, and many thanks to Greg J. Smith for his invaluable editorial perspective. More info on the magazine, and where to get it, can be found here.

Small Revolutions

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A view of In Residence at the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale. Photo © Istvan Virag

In September 2016, I was lucky to attend the opening days of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale – After Belonging. My thoughts on this extraordinary event can be found on Disegno Daily: a little snippet below.

the most dynamic aspect of this Triennale materialised in the myriad exchanges, conversations, and encounters that took place everywhere in the city during the opening days. Many were consciously provoked in the opening conference and the large-scale international student exchange program launched by The Academy, a forum organised by the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Many more were unexpected and spontaneous, triggered in courtyards, parties, restaurant entrances and walks throughout the city. The opening weekend of After Belonging featured many personalities but little ego, and a larger interest in discussing and sharing ideas than in presenting solutions and absolute visions. There was plurality and tolerance, openness and exchange.

From Border to Threshold

Italian Limes. Photo by Delfino Sisto Legnani
Italian Limes. Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani

When Disegno asked me to write about Italian Limes, a project of Italian design research studio Folder, I couldn’t believe my luck. Here is one of the most interesting projects done in design and architecture in recent years, and I tried my best to show its relevance in today’s world in a piece that made it to Disegno no. 12. An excerpt below, and the full piece available in the magazine.

Italian Limes’s greatest legacy is likely to be how it has contributed in a completely novel way to the fields of design and architecture, and helped carve out a path for a new generation of researchers. It has shown how design can meaningfully contribute to social and political discourse. In stark contrast to the postcard of the Brenner pass that initiated the project, a current Google maps rendition of Italy’s border shows desolation and emptiness. A bare road leads to the Alps, as if entering the country were nothing other than simple and objective. And yet, as Paasi writes, “borders are still with us,” their meanings “more and more complex in both social and political practice and academic research”. Borders are contested, transformed, permeable to different degrees, dematerialised, present – and as movable in their definition as the section of the Italian-Austrian frontier analysed by Folder. “Consequently, it is crucial to step beyond simple dichotomies dictating that spaces should be understood as either territorially bounded or open,” concludes Paasi. “Even the most thoroughly fixed borders transform, are crossed, and are partly ‘mobile’.”

On Relations in Architecture

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Cover detail of Cartha – On Relations in Architecture.

The essay I wrote with Juan Palencia on the inception and growth of TEOK for the inaugural issue of Cartha magazine has been included in their first book, titled On Relations in Architecture and published by Park Books. It was wonderful to see the essay come to life in the printed page! Congratulations to the Cartha team and all their other contributors.

Counter Borders

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The Counter Borders handout, designed by Raquel Pinto. Photo Superscript.

How important is belonging to emerging architectural practices today? The post-recession economy has brought to the fore a number of critical, nimble, and resourceful young architects, who enjoy an extraordinary level of mobility in where they practice, where they build, and where they draw their ideas from. This is one of the many reflections sparked by the theme of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale — After Belonging, which Superscript integrates with “Counter Borders“, a project that is part of the Triennale’s Extended Program.

Continue reading Counter Borders

Between form and function

An aspect of Wilmotte's studio in Paris. Photo © ICON design
An aspect of Wilmotte’s studio in Paris. Photo © ICON design

The July/August issue of Italian design magazine ICON design features my profile of French designer Victoria Wilmotte, who spoke to me from her Paris workshop/office. This was my first piece for ICON design and a wonderful opportunity to learn about the bold and sculptural projects of this young designer. An excerpt below.

A Parisian at heart, Wilmotte nonetheless points out that she derived her style from the London experience. Her strong, muscular shapes and almost reverential attention to materials and their properties indicate a devoted professional, and Wilmotte admits to a constant quest for “the balance between shape and function,” seeking to create “functional sculptures.” She points to Jean Prouvé, Gino Sarfatti, Angelo Mangiarotti and Konstantin Grcic as references. The latter’s Chair One for Magis is a visible presence in the studio, and Wilmotte admits she tries to emulate Gric’s process. “I always try to make the object as a sculpture, like [Konstantin] Grcic when he made his Chair One. He created a sculpture – you can do a mass-produced object with a sculptural look, you just have to find the technique. It doesn’t make it more difficult to produce.”

Unmanned: Drone Venice Book Launch

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The
Unmanned: Drone book launch in Venice.

It was under the blue hues of the Dutch Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale that we presented the first e-book of the Unmanned: Architecture and Security series. Titled Dronethis first issue combines several essays on the topic with reports on two events that took place at Studio X and Het Nieuwe Instituut. I was thrilled to be able to assist the very talented team of editors – Ethel Baraona Pohl, Marina Otero Verzier and Malkit Shoshan – in the making of this volume with dpr.barcelona, and was happy to participate in the launch discussion, where the editorial team was complemented by respondents Anna Puigjaner and Tamar Shafrir.