The Tipping Point


Sketches for the Tip Ton chair, by Barber Osgerby. Photo by Felix Friedmann, courtesy Disegno

The first issue of design, architecture and fashion magazine Disegno includes my 3,000-word essay on Barber Osgerby’s Tip Ton chair for Vitra and the process behind its making. It was a challenge and an honour to write this piece, and I was very pleased with the result. The magazine can (and should!) be bought here, and the full feature article can be read online over at Disegno Daily. An excerpt after the jump.

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Legerdemain


The entrance of Fernando Brízio: Inhabited Designs, at EXD’11/LISBOA. Photo: Luís Rocha.

I recently contributed to the companion brochure of EXD’11/LISBOA’s retrospective exhibition of the work of the contemporary Portuguese industrial designer Fernando Brízio. Titled Legerdemain, my essay sought to understand Brízio’s posture and design production, placing him in context among other international designers of his generation. I originally wrote in Portuguese, and the text was translated to English by the lovely Rute Paredes. Thanks to Frederico Duarte for valuable insight!

Fernando Brízio belongs to that generation of Portuguese product designers who, upon finishing college in the mid 90s, found themselves in a difficult and paradoxically privileged position. This is a generation of pioneers. Pioneers because, for the first time, they are free from the outdated moulds of the profession, which until then had been mostly limited to consultancy work for the industry and market. And pioneers because when, in 1996, Brízio finished his course in the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal was a country coming to terms with the reality of its first decade after joining the EU. The influx of European investment was taking a long time to bear fruit, industry and competitiveness were weakened by the open markets policy and design was still unable to find its place in industry. As such, the most recent generation of designers would have to carve out a place for themselves.

Fernando Brízio would therefore become a designer the way you were a designer in the 90s: by being an author.

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Learning from the bricoleur


Image: Zwelethu Mthethwa, Untitled (from the series Interiors) (detail), courtesy of the MAD blog.

Disegno is a new design magazine that seeks to bring back long form critical writing and reflection to the design field; it appears in the form of a website, a biannual print magazine, and a series of events. I wrote my first essay for the Disegno website on how contemporary designers seek to emulate the figure and spirit of the bricoleur. As one of the magazine website’s Lessons, I traced back the origin of this term and its current implications, as seen in examples as the Museum of Arts and Design’s recent exhibition “Are You a Hybrid?” curated by North-American designer Stephen Burks, which I also critique. An excerpt is below:

Fascinated by the craftsmanship behind these creations,Are You A Hybrid? is trapped within the boundaries of formalism. Burks’ simplistic presentation of a powerful creative force is representative of the limited Western perception of the figure of the bricoleur. It also implies that this creative impulse can be appropriated and emulated by Western designers, reducing it to a formal trend. But what escapes Burks and much of the Western design world is the true essence of the bricoleur, which cannot be copied or crystallised. Because this creative impulse lives in a state of permanent flux, the stillness of the museum pedestal will only extinguish it. Because this maker only exists in the periphery of society, bringing him to the centre will thwart him.

The Western design world’s selfish fascination with the bricoleur seeks to tame and incorporate this elusive spirit within the discipline’s moulds. But it should instead observe and learn from a creative process that, unlike design, is unskilled and indifferent to conventions and standards. This tenacious, resistant spirit, intrinsic to emerging design scenarios, is already helping the discipline grow and reshape in developing nations. It is now up to the West to catch up.

The complete piece can be seen over at Disegno, as well as some reading suggestions if you’re interested in the topic.

Souto de Moura: a commentary and interview


Braga Municipal Stadium, Souto de Moura Arquitectos. Photo: Luis Ferreira Alves

More on the Souto the Moura front: my commentary on the Portuguese Pritzker, as well as an exclusive interview, are now up on The Architect’s Newspaper. It was a pleasure writing a bit more about this Portuguese architect, whose work I like so much. It was great to interview him, too. A small excerpt here,

Your work is full of quotations of work you admire: the Corbusier-type window in your House in Maia, the Xenakis-imposed rhythm in the House in Barrocal, and Mies in the Burgo Office tower, this last one an homage…

The Burgo Tower is not an homage. I quote, because those who cannot write quote. What I don’t want is to start from scratch, which is a waste of time and a sign of little intelligence. If there is a set of circumstances to which architects have answered in a way I admire, I would like to use it, because this is part of the continuity that architecture needs. Architecture is a continuous story. I’m not going to invent a brick angle if Mies already did it in the Dominion Center, but what I can do is to re-think or re-draw it. But I always start from a concrete thing. To start from scratch leads to two things: either it’s stupid, or it leads to an excessive creativity that architecture doesn’t need.

And the full commentary and interview at The Architect’s Newspaper site & April 20th print edition.

It’s African Time


Bibi Seck, Taboo stool. Photo: Bibi Seck.

Próximo Futuro/Next Future is the Gulbenkian Foundation‘s programme of contemporary culture dedicated in particular, but not exclusively, to research and creation in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Africa. Issue number 6 of their newspaper is now available online, and within it the essay I contributed exploring contemporary African design, titled “It’s African Time” in homage to Heath Nash’s fabulous piece. Here is a small excerpt of the Portuguese original—English translation after the jump:

Caracterizar o momento actual do design em África pode parecer, à partida, um esforço fútil. Este é ainda o continente onde a maioria da população continua a ter como preocupação maior arranjar uma refeição ao final do dia e onde 53 países — em breve 54 — diversos em população, tradições e cultura continuam a ser demasiadas vezes rotulados sob uma designação genérica. Mas o design contemporâneo existe, de maneira mais ou menos visível, e está em todo o lado, partilhando traços comuns em nações africanas distintas. O fascínio recente que os círculos de design ocidentais têm por África é apenas mais um capítulo numa relação com altos e baixos. Esse fascínio desdobra-se hoje em duas narrativas distintas, que encarnam duas maneiras essencialmente diferentes de olhar para a criação e produção de design em África. A primeira é a mais linear e glamorosa, e ocorre sobretudo no mundo exclusivo e limitado do design de luxo. A segunda é fragmentada e menos óbvia, mas infinitamente mais promissora.

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Beyond


Today SVA’s MFA Design Criticism launches “At Water’s Edge,” the first in the D-Crit Chapbook series. This first volume was edited by Akiko Busch, Saundra Marcel and me, and features 10 essays from the D-Crit graduating class of 2011. You can buy the book on lulu.com or read a review by Alexandra Lange on Design Observer. I am very excited about this project! To celebrate, I share below my contribution to the chapbook—”Beyond.”

On the first day of class in September 2003, Antonio Queirós sat down in front of thirty students at the University of Porto, Portugal, and asked: “What are the words that define each of you?” He proceeded to enumerate this first exercise. Write a list of fifty words that you believe define you. Then reduce it down to three. And then to the one word. You have a week.

Hardly a graphic design exercise, I remember thinking, leaning against a window and trying to evaluate this redheaded forty-something teacher. But then I started my list.

The word I chose was beyond. It sounds pretentious when I say it now, but when I first presented it to class I had the brilliant idea of saying it in Spanish—mas allá. Much better than the Portuguese version of the word, I thought. More accurate, I believed. It reminded me of a folk tale I had heard in my teenage years, in which a firstborn son digs in vain through the hills of the Iberian Peninsula, searching for his dead father’s buried treasure chest. He keeps encountering paper scrolls, every one of them bearing the same message—mas allá, go beyond.
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