Moving in: Das Verein

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This month marks the official move-in to the new office I’ll be sharing with a bunch of interesting people in Basel, and we’ve called in Das verein. Over the course of the next months, we hope that it will grow into much more than just a shared office space – becoming a platform for exchanges, sharing knowledge and opening up possibilities. I’ll share what we’ll be up to soon.

Bienal da Maia 2019: Design looks ahead

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Performance by Acro Clube da Maia in front of AATB’s “A Particular Score” installation. Photo by Rita França.

When Andreia Garcia invited me to curate the Design program of the 2019 Maia Biennial of Contemporary Art, which she was overseeing as chief curator, I was overjoyed for a number of reasons. First, here was an opportunity to work in my home country of Portugal for the first time in ten years; second, it allowed me to stretch the definition of what is design in an event that just incorporated in its program; and finally, it gave me the opportunity to commission new work to some of the most interesting designers working in Portugal and abroad at the moment. I was thrilled to be able to develop new work with AATB, Catarina Carreiras, Orlando Lovell and Pedro Augusto, and had a lot of fun curating the design program of the biennial with Inês Revés. Below an excerpt of the essay detailing the curatorial approach, and more details on each commission after the jump below.

In post-industrial, twenty-first century Europe design is facing a transitional moment. Born with the Industrial Revolution, this discipline experienced a moment of great abundance after the post-war reconstruction boom of the 1950s. The capitalist explosion of the mid-twentieth century brought along the fiction of endless growth. We now know – after the hard consequences of the last two decades – that this was not true. Among financial crises, global warming, the potential failure of the European project and mass layoffs, the context in which the discipline emerged is no longer extant. We face a brave new world in which crisis spread to the point of becoming a quasi-permanent state of affairs, and in which the confrontation of preceding decades will no longer exist. At this moment, we must question all certainties of the last hundred years in order to dream and invent what is yet to come, and to test out a future that we are unable to envision.

In this context, design has met with an impasse, a moment of profound questioning in which the questions that were always answered no longer make sense and the silos of specialization into which it developed are increasingly less relevant. Today, graphic and product design have expanded to encompass other fields and disciplines as new specializations take shape with abstract names such as conceptual design, speculative design, biodesign, social design. Designations aside, what unites these new areas is a sceptical, questioning attitude regarding what design is and what it could be. At the same time, the new ramifications of design are not enclosed in a single disciplinary silo but seek dialogue and mediation with other disciplines – from the social sciences to biology, from economy to literature. This is the advent of a new mentality and new priorities for this disciple: on the one hand, it has realized that its initial objectives are not sustainable; on the other, it recognizes that this is a moment for reinvention and opportunity.

Today, design works with other disciplines as a mediating discipline. It takes on multiple forms and scales, it is visible and invisible, it does not necessarily generate objects or solutions, but interactions, connections and possibilities. Above all, it generates many – if not all – of our interactions with the world, from the technology that we carry in our pockets every day to our relationship with our governments, distribution systems and one another. In doing so, it is a platform for deep experimentation and, most of all, a meeting point.

The Maia Biennial of Contemporary Art ‘19 disciplinary axis of Design also wants to be a meeting point, a stage for sharing, for knowledge, for points of view and modes of producing. In doing so, it carries with it the contemporary reality of design, proposing new ways of making design. Guest participants have all presented new commissions. Two of them manifest formally and occupy the territory with large-scale installations; two other manifest invisibly through interactions with the territory and its inhabitants to generate unexpected unforeseen and multi-sensorial results. All of these are modes of making design; and they are all pathways for contemporary design.

Continue reading Bienal da Maia 2019: Design looks ahead

Add to the Cake: Preview

Foreign Legion and Raby-Florence Fofana amidst the scenography developed for Add to the Cake. Photo by  Jenny Peñas for Freunde von FreundenForeign Legion and Raby-Florence Fofana amidst the scenography developed for Add to the Cake. Photo by  Jenny Peñas for Freunde von Freunden.

Following the A Woman’s Work symposium which I organized with Matylda Krzykowski under our Foreign Legion moniker, we were invited to transform the symposium material into an exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Dresden. This was an incredible opportunity to further continue working in the themes first developed in the symposium and allowed us to further test and stretch a commonly known format – the exhibition.

We titled the project Add to the Cake: Transforming the Roles of Female Practitioners, and structured it over the course of two iterations. The first was a preview, in which we worked through the themes discussed in the symposium and presented them in a three-dimensional space, surrounded by the many references, examples and role models discussed on that occasion. This was all presented amidst custom scenographic elements developed by Andrea Anner and Raby-Florence Fofana for the occasion.

The second iteration of the exhibition will open on 5 July, and present a variety of visions for the future of female practice specifically commissioned for the show. Below an excerpt of the curatorial text:

Contemporary cultural constructs have us believe that not everyone can get a fair share of the cake, and that only a limited few can write history. In the case of female practitioners in design, architecture and the arts, their erasure from the history and the memory of their disciplines has been systematic; but in the first two decades of the 21st century, they have regained visibility. In this pivotal moment, female practitioners have the chance to usher in an important transformation for their disciplines.

We can – and need to – add to the existing cake: infinite layers for an expanded canon. Adding to museum collections and to historical accounts, adding to collective memory and to possible futures. Most importantly, we must realize that ‘adding’ doesn’t mean ‘taking away’, but that it enriches the existing context with multiple, varied voices and perspectives.  

The exhibition Add to the Cake is an exercise in enacting the kind of transformation that design, architecture and arts are about to experience. It develops over the course of an exhibition, an active public program, and a series of performative moments over the course of six months.

Add to the Cake could not have been developed without the unwavering support of the Museum of Decorative Arts Dresden’s team, especially Nils Hilkenbach. A few installation shots, all by Klemens Renner, can be seen after the jump.

Continue reading Add to the Cake: Preview

Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

During this year’s Salone del Mobile, we finally presented to the public the book we’ve been developing for Atelier Luma, titled Design as a Tool for Transition: the Atelier Luma Approach. I co-edited the volume with Jan Boelen, and was thrilled to work alongside Studio Folder on this project, as they developed the editorial design and a fantastic set of maps and other visual treats that help tell the story of this ambitious and impactful project.
The book, a bi-lingual edition in French and English, combines insights from international experts with the visual storytelling of the first years of several projects, bringing together the wide network of this initiative and opening up new avenues of practice for the field of design. It is available here.

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

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Design as a Tool for Transition: The Atelier Luma Approach. Designed by Studio Folder. Courtesy Studio Folder.

 

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Browsing Design as a Tool for Transition: the Atelier Luma Approach. Photo Atelier Luma.

To hell with good intentions

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The collapsed Makoko Floating School by NLE Works. Photo Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters, first seen at the Guardian.

I hardly ever rant on social media, but when I visited the recent Social Design exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, I couldn’t help myself. Here was another noble attempt at celebrating a nascent field for design, but once again, falling short for a number of reasons – which I listed online.
I was thrilled when Gabrielle Kennedy, the editor in chief of DAMN magazine, asked me to turn my post into a proper op-ed piece for the magazine, which was published in their April 2019 issue. What an honor! Thank you for the invitation and for the opportunity to once again revisit the fundamental need to do away with good intentions if we ever want social design to become all it can be. Below a small excerpt of my piece:

When design steps outside of its silo to engage with other disciplines and contexts, the stakes are much, much higher. We’re not just making chairs and lamps, and therefore social design needs better research and assessment, a willingness to listen and embrace complexity, time to develop, mature, test solutions – away from media cycles and yearly product launch calendars. Ultimately, social design is a brave new world. And it needs to do away with the structures that inspired and modelled it in the first place. You want to engage with social design? Then you need to do better. Social design has to be about more than good intentions. It is political, complex, and not easily digestible in feel-good blurbs. It deserves critical analysis and rigorous evaluation. To hell with good intentions – social design deserves better, much better than what we’ve given it so far.

Looking back on BIO

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Curators of BIO editions past and present. Photograph courtesy MAO.

This Salone marked an opportunity to gather curators of BIO editions of the recent years, and discussed lessons learned and perspectives for the future. It was a pleasure to reminisce on the work I developed with Jan Boelen for BIO 50, the 24th Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, alongside the event’s stellar team and curators from the last three editions. We also discussed the upcoming BIO 16 – Common Knowledge, which will open doors to the public in November this year.

Scratching the Surface

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I had a great time talking to Jarrett Fuller in the latest episode of his Scratching the Surface podcast, which has just been released. We discussed career paths, our shared love of graphic design, criticism and education, how we made the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and ended talking about how design can evolve and change as a discipline. You can listen to the whole episode here! 

School Fundamental at the Bauhaus Dessau

Festival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / OstkreuzFestival School Fundamental, Bahaus Dessau, March 2019. Photo by Thomas Meyer / Ostkreuz

At the end of March, the Bauhaus Dessau welcomed an extraordinary festival. Titled School Fundamental, it transformed the historic building into a temporary school, a “testing location” of design learning experiments. The festival brought together several educational experiments taking place all over the globe, and featured an impressive roster of speakers and participants. I was happy to take part and to present, alongside Jan Boelen and Deniz Ova, the work we developed for the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

A School of Schools was born out of an examination of contemporary design education, and informed by an attitude of critical reflection towards the past and present of design education with an appreciation of the singular contexts and spaces in which it happens. The curatorial team sought to transcend the traditional spaces of design education and explored design practices that have learning at their core.

Ultimately, the biennial’s many dimensions acted as a starting point, illuminating how the much-needed shift in the field of design and design education is already underway. This shift appears in many shapes and colours, and opens several doors towards possible futures. It calls for greater responsibility and greater agency. It demands visibility and creates spaces for the opinions of others. It pushes design out of its silo and into the spaces where it connects with other disciplines. It insists on learning as a permanent, embodied attitude, one that transcends the formal, spatial and temporal boundaries of the school, and overflows into the world and life itself.

Dear gatekeepers

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“Dear gatekeepers”, in Icon Magazine, March 2019 

Right after our A Woman’s Work symposium, Matylda Krzykowski and I were thrilled to be able to take the conversation on design and gender politics further, as we jointly authored an op-ed in the March 2019 issue of Icon magazine, titled “Dear Gatekeepers”.  The op-ed can be read in the Foreign Legion website, below an excerpt:

On 18 January this year, we made our first attempt to dismantle such structures, organising a collaborative conversation at the Museum of Applied Arts in Dresden. Titled A Woman’s Work, the event gathered voices from the discipline of design to discuss the roles and influence of female practitioners. The symposium took place alongside the exhibition Against Invisibility, which rewrote a fraction of modern design history by rescuing the nearly-forgotten stories of female designers working in the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in the early decades of the 20th century.

What are the differences between them and us? As design critic Alice Rawsthorn pointed out in the symposium, “we need to build on [past achievements] with a dynamic and critical discourse … While many skirmishes have been won, others await.’

We must ensure that our stories won’t get lost like theirs. We must create spaces for their – and our – voices to be heard once the present generation is long gone. We must ensure that the current enthusiasm doesn’t get lost, and after an object designed by a woman is sold, exhibited, commissioned and exchanged for inflated sums of money, women – and their stories – will remain.

It is the responsibility of the gatekeepers – who write, who teach, who collect, who curate, who sell, who promote, who advocate – to open the gates for the dismantling of past and present conditions, in order to make women’s work, contributions and visibility a permanent condition.

The birth of Foreign Legion

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A screenshot of the Foreign Legion website, designed by AnnerPerrin.

This year helped materialize the outcome of many months of conversations and discussions between Matylda Krzykowski and myself, and shaped into Foreign Legion, a new curatorial initiative we launched with the A Woman’s Work symposium. The Foreign Legion website documents our work on design, gender politics and other themes, and the several experimental formats we have developed and will continue to develop. You can also follow the initiative over on Instagram.

Claiming space and enacting transformation

SKD_awomanswork_MG_8138_davidpinzer_1901An aspect of the A Woman’s Work symposium at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. Photo David Pinzer.

Thrilled to have just come out of a lively and thought-provoking day of discussions during A Woman’s Work at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. If you were not able to make it, you can see a report by Emma Lucek at Pamono Stories on the event. Below an excerpt:

The dominance of women both on the panel and in the audience—curators, designers, educators, students, directors, and more—brought home just how far we’ve come already. The significant rise in the visibility of women in the world of design today is undeniable. But as Rawsthorn very articulately summed it up, “We need to build on [these achievements] with a dynamic and critical discourse… While many skirmishes have been won, others await.”

A Woman’s Work

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The visual identity of the symposium, developed by Andrea Anner.

On the occasion of the exhibition “Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938”, currently on view at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden, Matylda Krzykowski and I were invited to organize a symposium focusing on female practitioners in design. We organized it under the moniker of Foreign Legion, and called it A Woman’s Work, a symposium on the roles, influence and visibility of female practitioners today.

Taking the exhibition as a starting point, A Woman’s Work examines the contemporary, in order to shed light on the invisibility of the female practitioner as it continues to exist today.

Structured in three parts – ‘Advocates of History’, ‘Enablers of Visibility’ and ‘Dismantlers of Existing Conditions’ – the symposium brings together a wide range of practitioners, scholars, writers, critics and curators based in different parts of Europe, aiming to offer transversal, multigenerational and diverse perspectives on the present and the future of female practice.

Throughout the course of one day – 18 January 2019 –, conversations will take place in a variety of formats, creating platforms for exchange and connection. A Woman’s Work aims to bring women in and around design, art and architecture to the fore, advocating for their visibility to become a permanent condition. We hope to see you in Dresden, and that you will join us in conversation!

Steps Towards the Yin Revolution

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View of the essay “A Woman’s Work, or Steps Towards the Yin Revolution” in the catalogue of the “Against Invisibility” exhibition.

I co-wrote with Matylda Krzykowski an essay and manifesto for the catalogue of the excellent “Against Invisibility” exhibition at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. The exhibition focuses on the forgotten stories of the female designers of the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau. Our essay focused on the present condition of the female practitioner, and outlines some steps towards what we are calling (after Ursula K. LeGuin) “the Yin Revolution”.

The essay (now published in English in Domusweb) is one of the ways in which we are contributing to the program of the exhibition – the other is a symposium on 18 January 2019, called “A Woman’s Work“. Thank you to Tulga Beyerle for inviting us to contribute!

Mediated Meaning

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An aspect of Judith Seng’s Acting Things VII: School of Fluid Measures at the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo by Ekin Özbiçer.

During the closing weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, Judith Seng’s installation at the Scales School, in the Pera Museum, hosted a special roundtable. International guests – a sociologist, a curator, a philosopher and game theorist, and a theatre director – discussed the project from different angles, offering surprising views on the process and the interactions that Seng’s installation determined. The discussion, which I moderated, centered on the fluidity of standards, and on the possibility to create a notation system for fluid values. The result was published in Disegno #21, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

The Politics of Design

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Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, the accompanying publication to the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition. 

I contributed to the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s most recent exhibition, Victor Papanek: The Politics of Designwith not one but two pieces. One, an interview with Critical Making and Disobedient Electronics author Garnet Hertz, and another, an essay co-written with Jan Boelen on how the spirit of Papanek lives on in the work of several contemporary designers. The publication is impressive and gathers the voices of many luminaries and experts on Papanek and his significance. I’m happy to be among such incredible authors! You can find out more about the book in the e-shop here.

Convivial Tools

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I was thrilled to be part of the Design Museum’s Convivial Tools symposium, which re-examined the legacy and work of the late Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich, focusing particularly on his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality. Illich argued that the nature of modern ‘tools’, from machines to schools, had the effect of making people dependent and undermined their own natural abilities. What he called “convivial tools” were those that encouraged people to think for themselves and be more socially engaged.

Convivial Tools was a programme of talks, debates and workshops exploring new strategies for a more cooperative society. Using Ivan Illich’s concept of “conviviality”, it brought together designers, artists, media theorists, curators, and social thinkers from diverse fields to examine current tools and technologies that encourage alternative modes of production and social relations.

I was happy to discuss the “de-schooling” facets of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, and to take part in a day of incredible discussions and insights.

Making the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial

It was a pleasure and an honor to go back to my alma mater, SVA’s D-Crit department, to kick-off this year’s Fall lecture series and talk about my work in the past years, with a focus on the making of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. All my thanks go to Program Chair Molly Heintz and all the D-Crit students, alumni and family. Always such a joy to be back in my New York home.

Design as Learning

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Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader, designed by Offshore Studio and published by Valiz. Image by Offshore Studio.

On the occasion of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, I edited the accompanying publication, Design as Learning: A School of Schools Reader. The volume was beautifully designed by Zurich-based Offshore Studio (as was the striking visual identity of the whole biennial, explored here in detail) and is published jointly by IKSV and Valiz. The Reader seeks to expand on the many narratives of the biennial and offers a series of critical reflections on the past and present of design education, with contributions by Danah Abdulla, Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha, Corinne Gisel, João Ferreira, Naho Kubota, Nina Paim and myself. Additionally, the book features interviews with Zeynep Celik Alexander, Claudia Mareis, Peter Land and Nelly Ben Hayoun, contextualizing issues on the past and present states of design education. And finally, a series of conversations with participants in the biennial looks at ways to approach design education today. Interviewees include Åbäke, FABB (Burcu Biçer Saner, Efe Gözen), Navine G. Kahn-Dossos, Ebru Kurbak, Mae-ling Lokko, Studio Folder, SulSolSal (Hannes Bernard and Guido Giglio), and Pinar Yoldaş. Below the back cover blurb:

Why do design? What is design for? These are forward-looking questions for a creative discipline that seems more slippery to define than ever. In a world of dwindling natural resources, exhausted social and political systems, and an overload of information there are many urgent reasons to reimagine the design discipline, and there is a growing need to look at design education. Learning and unlearning should become part of an on-going educational practice. We need new proposals for how to organise society, how to structure our governments, how to live with, not against, the planet, how to sift fact from fiction, how to relate to each other, and frankly, how to simply survive.
The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, and this publication Design as Learning ask: can design and design education provide these critical ideas and strategies?

Spaces of Exception and other formats

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Can Altay presenting at the Spaces of Exception roundtables during the opening weekend of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools.

I was thrilled to be able to curate the public program of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, as part of my role as a member of the biennial’s curatorial team. As a crucial part of our understanding of the “expanded” character we wanted to give the biennial, the public program was an active and intense part of the biennial’s effort, testing a variety of formats and experimenting with elements of duration, complexity and materialization. Taking place across the six venues of the biennial, the public program was also a way to involve a large local audience and bring several international practitioners to Istanbul, including some international schools who became temporary residents of the exhibition spaces, adding to the show and creating new work while there. In this way, the public program sought to expand and amplify the discussions started by A School of Schools.

Continue reading Spaces of Exception and other formats

A School of Schools is now open

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Performance by Vivien Tauchmann during the press conference of the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools. Photo Ilgin Erarslan Yanmaz.

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, has officially opened its doors to the public. The Orientation Days on 20 and 21 September – open to professionals and other accredited visitors – kicked-off an intense series of events and formats, complementing the main biennial exhibition, which extended over six venues in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. From 22 September to 4 November, A School of Schools will be free and open to the public.

The biennial brings together projects from more than 100 interdisciplinary practitioners from across the globe. Six of the city’s most iconic cultural institutions in the Beyoğlu district—Akbank Sanat, Yapı Kredi Culture Centre, Arter, Pera Museum, SALT Galata, Studio-X Istanbul—will transform into “schools” where new ideas in relation to expanded notions of design and its role in contemporary culture are explored.

Continue reading A School of Schools is now open

F for Film

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A still from an educational film.

For the latest edition of the Abecedarium, a format developed by Alexandra Midal, I was invited to intervene discussing the idea of educational films. At the event, which took place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and focused mostly on the interactions between design and film, I chose to talk about some of the ways in which film and education are entangled, and focused on the rich material provided by the so-called “social guidance films” developed in the United States in the second half of the 20th century.

My talk advocated that we should ask more from film as a learning space. We should ask for film as an enabler of learning spaces that are open and ambiguous, that open doors and not just close them; that open world-views and not just demand them. Of course, the Abecedarium is in itself this kind of space. Thank you to Alexandra and Sébastien Quequet for the invitation, it was fantastic to be part of this format!

One Woman Show

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Participants of the One Woman Show talk at the Swiss Design Awards 2018. 

I was honored to moderate the One Woman Show talk which took place at the Swiss Design Awards exhibition during Art Basel week. Organized by the Bundesamt für Kultur with the Zurich chapter of Ladies, Wine and Design, the event sought to explore how women work independently as designers and creative practitioners. Discussion topics circled around business and creative leadership, working independently, courage in creativity, work ethics and how to go from fear to freedom. We were lucky enough to be able to hear insights from multiple generations, with participants including Rosmarie Tissi, Cécile Feilchenfeldt, and several of the designers exhibiting as part of the Swiss Design Awards exhibition of this year. The conversation provided an interesting space for the sharing of many different stories, and it was fascinating to see how many of the challenges faced by previous generations are the same – albeit in different scales – as those of the practitioners of today. I am thankful for this opportunity, which was an incredible learning experience.

Towards expanded notions of design

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Talking about Marcelo Rosenbaum’s A Gente Transforma at the “Design Positions” lecture.

I was extremely happy to be invited to lecture as part of the “Design Positions” lecture series, organized by students of the Public Interest Design masters program at the Bergischen Universität Wuppertal. Taking place in public spaces around the city of Wuppertal, the lecture series seeks to create connections with the city and its inhabitants. The recently founded Public Interest Design program has high ambitions and it was fantastic to get to know some of the students and faculty. I took the chance to lecture about some of my recent projects and what I see as interesting directions for the design practice in the 21st century. Thanks for having me!

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2018

_DSC9042An impression of the atelier of Cécile Feilchenfeldt in Paris. Photo Marc Asekhame.

In May we presented the results of the latest volume developed for the Swiss Grand Award for Design series. The 2018 laureates of this award, given annually by the Swiss Confederation and the Federal Office of Culture, are Cécile Feilchenfeldt, Rosmarie Tissi and Felco. Once more I had the pleasure to interview all these wonderful practitioners and help make the book that celebrates their professional achievements. This year, the photos were by Marc Asekhame, and the graphic design by Krispin Hée.

A School of Schools at Milan Design Week

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Overview of ALCOVA just before the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial presentation

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, was present during Milan Design Week with a public presentation that took place at ALCOVA, amidst the School of Time installation by Z33. The director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Deniz Ova, introduced the ambitions for the event, and the curatorial team – Jan Boelen, Nadine Botha and myself – anticipated some details of the biennial, which will open next 22 September in Istanbul. Additionally, we also announced a collaboration with Z33, who will bring School of Time to Istanbul as part of the biennial. We are looking forward to seeing you all in Istanbul in the Fall!