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.

TEOK XXIII – SPECTACLE

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TEOK XXIII in full throttle at Depot Basel. Photo Depot Basel

In our latest collaboration with Depot Basel, the twenty-third edition of TEOK was conceived to respond to the theme of SPECTACLE. Presenters Mathieu Bujnowskyj and Alfredo Brillembourg (with his band BINZ) took us on a wild ride from the hills of Burma’s new capital Nay Pyi Taw to Basel’s White Horse Hotel, and it felt like a real celebration within the space’s walls. Thank you to our speakers, hosts and audience – on to the next!

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2016

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Spreads from the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2016 publication. 

I was delighted to edit the publication celebrating the 2016 edition of the Swiss Grand Award for Design, a career prize bestowed upon distinguished Swiss designers of all fields. This was the tenth year of the award, which is given by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, and the winners were Claudia Caviezel, Hans Eichenberger, and Ralph Schraivogel. I had the pleasure to interview them and get to know better their work and practice, and it was also fantastic to work with the Federal Office of Culture, in the person of Patrizia Crivelli, and designer Jonathan Hares.

TEOK XX – MIDDLE EAST

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A presentation slide during TEOK XX. Photo TEOK

TEOK is two years old! To celebrate the occasion, we had a special edition of the event with a very special guest, Marina Otero Verzier. Our community came together to celebrate twenty editions of this informal lecture series and twice as many uncommon topics and lecturers. The next year of TEOK will bring even better things.

TEOK at the Forum for an Attitude

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An aspect of the Forum 4 – Knowledge. Photo courtesy Depot Basel

I was delighted to represent TEOK at Depot Basel’s initiative Forum for an Attitude. During the 4th iteration of the Forum, with the topic “Knowledge”, I gave a lecture on the many different ways of knowing that we encounter in life, and how the development of TEOK allowed us to further our definitions of what we know and what we think we know. It was great to spend some time with the fantastic participants of the Forum and enhance my understanding of knowledge over the weekend. Thanks to Depot Basel and Matylda Krzykowski for the invitation!

The Two Towers: On High-Rises and Urban Densification in Basel

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The projected Roche campus in Basel, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and slated for completion in 2021.© F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd.

I contributed to the latest issue of The Avery Review with an essay on the inevitable densification of Basel. As a resident of the city since 2013, I was keen in telling this story for a long time. I have to thank Jacob Moore at The Avery Review for the invitation to contribute; writing this piece was an exercise in telling a complex story in a compelling way, and I hope everyone that reads it gets a little bit more acquainted with the architectural reality of this small city tucked in a corner of Switzerland. For the full piece head on to the Review‘s excellent website.

Strategies for contemporary Portuguese design

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“Strategies for the relevance of Portuguese design in the 21st century”, in Camões magazine no. 21

The latest issue of Camões magazine, a magazine of the Portuguese institute for language and cooperation, is fully dedicated to design in Portugal, and co-edited by designer Fernando Brízio and Maria Helena Souto. I was delighted to contribute an essay to the “Critical Voices” section of the magazine, outlining a series of strategies I believe are important for contemporary Portuguese design. It was an honor to be included among the finest voices in contemporary Portuguese design discourse, and contribute to a publication which I believe will have a strong impact in the country’s design scene. The essay is only available in Portuguese, and it can be read after the jump.

Continue reading Strategies for contemporary Portuguese design

DIY design in SRF2

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Excerpt from a production diagram for Jesse Howard’s OS Waterboiler. Photo Jesse Howard

The latest edition of the Swiss national radio’s Kontext program was dedicated to DIY design. Starting from an exhibition dedicated to the topic, currently on display at Zurich’s Schaudepot, the program talked to several curators, designers and critics to better understand the phenomenon and its implications. I was happy to contribute to the program, offering my insights on the subject and discussing the excellent work of Thomas Lommée, Jesse Howard and Gaspard Tiné-Bères, among others. The full program (in German) can be accessed here.

#SociableMuseum at MuseumNext

The #SociableMuseum panel at MuseumNext Geneva, April 2015
The #SociableMuseum panel at MuseumNext Geneva, April 2015

As part of Superscript, I had the opportunity to co-moderate the #SociableMuseum panel at the European Museum Conference MuseumNext in Geneva, Switzerland. In the midst of one of the most significant gatherings of museum professionals in the world, the panel reunited Alin Tomacov, experience designer and associate partner at C & G Partners in New York, Seb Chan, Director of Digital and Emerging Media at the Cooper Hewitt in New York, and Viviane Stappmanns, Head of Communications at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, to talk about how can museums go from being “social” to becoming “sociable”.

Drawing from extensive research by Superscript co-founders Molly Heintz and Avinash Rajagopal, the panel advocated that while many museums today consciously use technology to become more social and open to the communities around them, there is a need for a further step, where these institutions become sociable — willing to actively engage with other people — creating conversations that forge true connections with their audiences. It was a pleasure to listen to such meaningful insights as the discussion unfolded: the panel (as it was recorded by Twitter users) can be seen here.