BIO50: 3, 2, 1… TEST


The BIO50 group at the Biennial’s kick-off in Ljubljana. Photo by Lucijan & Vladimir

I’m happy and honoured to announce I’m integrating the fantastic effort behind BIO 50, the 2014 Biennial of Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I’ll be serving as an advisor to the curatorial team, alongside curator Jan Boelen and co-curators Maja Vardjan and Cvetka Potzar. BIO 50 is reinventing what a design event can and should be in this day and age, moving from an awards-based competition to a full-fledged six month collaborative process. I’m very excited to take part in this groundbreaking initiative. After the jump, the curatorial statement for the project, by Jan Boelen; and I hope to see you at the opening of the Biennale next September in Ljubljana!

Continue reading BIO50: 3, 2, 1… TEST

Tanto Mar


With Shumi Bose, Ethel Baraona Pohl and Tiago Mota Saraiva at the Tanto Mar roundtables. Photo by Tanto Mar.

Last December marked the public presentation and discussion of the Tanto Mar project, an excellent initiative of Lisbon-based architecture studio ateliermob. They propose to map and register the work of Portuguese architects outside of Portugal, reuniting their work in an exhibition in Lisbon’s CCB cultural centre. The project launched an open call to Portuguese architects abroad, and invited critics, curators and architects to discuss the submissions in two open roundtables. I was happy to take part in the international roundtable last 13 December, alongside Blueprint magazine’s Shumi Bose, dpr.barcelona’s Ethel Baraona Pohl, and ateliermob’s Tiago Mota Saraiva. The discussion was enlivened by the audience and a few agents provocateurs – Fredy Massad, Anna Buono and Cesar Najera Reyes – and a series of important trends and topics soon emerged. Alongside the results of the Portuguese roundtable that was held the previous days, these will inform and shape the curatorial process that will then materialize in an exhibition, which will open in Spring 2014. Thanks to ateliermob for the invitation and for having me! It was a pleasure to take part in the discussion and I look forward to see what the exhibition will bring.

Things the Internet has taught me


With Alec Dudson, Merve Yucel and Elian Stefa at the Një Mendësi Tjëter conference, Tirana

The last days of the year allowed for a fantastic opportunity: to return to the beautiful city of Tirana, and to talk at the Një Mendësi Tjëter conference, on a panel discussing, youth, culture and activism with some of my favorite people. Alec Dudson expanded of the publication he founded and helms from Manchester – Intern magazine –, which was born out of his experiences in the publishing world, among which his period as my intern in Milan. Merve Yucel spoke about the role of youth in established cultural institutions, namely IKSV, the foundation that promotes the Istanbul Design Biennial, and where she works as a production manager. Elian Stefa spoke about transforming grad school assignments into real-world platforms, with the excellent  Concrete Mushrooms initiative. For my part, I spoke chiefly about Things the Internet has taught me, largely derived from my experience at Domusweb. I expanded on the many ways in which the internet can serve those who struggle to affirm themselves as young creatives, and how communication and promotion are fundamental skills for a creative professional in our day and age. It was a pleasure to be back in Tirana, and to learn so much from all the conference speakers!

An afternoon at Close, Closer


Post World’s End Architecture at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale. Photo Valerie Bennett/AA

By initiative of Gonzalo Herrero Delicado and in association with Blueprint magazine,  the Post World’s End Architecture series became an event during the opening week of Close, Closer, the 3rd Lisbon Architecture Triennale. Unfortunaly, Gonzalo couldn’t make it– and therefore Blueprint magazine’s Shumi Bose and I led the event in the courtyard of the Triennale HQ, during a wonderful sunny afternoon. The informal but energetic discussion was a fantastic opportunity to hear from Portuguese and Spanish practitioners — including dpr barcelona, O Espelho, Ateliermob, Polígono, blaanc, Artéria, Inês Moreira, Paulo Moreira and many others. Their passionate and unromantic debate described both the practical and moral predicaments of working in architecture today, and of maintaining civic and social principles under financial constraints. Thank you to all the participants for such fantastic contributions to the discussion, and thanks to the Lisbon Architecture Triennale for having us!

Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives


The 2013 DHS Conference program booklet.

In September 2013, I participated for the first time at a design conference, taking part in the 2013 Design History Society Annual Conference “Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives”.  It was truly an honor to be among such talented academics and historians, and I was thrilled to be able to present in such a fantastic context as the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India. Beyond the fantastic exchanges I had with all those who participated and attended, I was also able to present the continuation of the research I started developing with my masters thesis at D-Crit, presenting on contemporary social design projects and particularly Marcelo Rosenbaum’s A Gente Transforma initiative. An excerpt of my paper can be read after the jump.

Continue reading Towards Global Histories of Design: Postcolonial Perspectives

Post World’s End Architecture: Italy and Portugal


ateliermob’s Open-Air Theatre in Rio de Moinhos. Photo by Zoraima de Figueiredo

Following the invitation of Gonzalo Herrero Delicado, I had the opportunity to further delve on my research on contemporary architecture in crisis contexts. This time, focusing on the south of Europe, for Blueprint magazine’s “Post-World’s End Architecture” Series. Together, we researched and analyzed the context in Portugal and Italy, while Gonzalo devoted himself to a full-on immersion in Spain and Greece. The result is a four-part series of articles that saw the light during 2013, and offer a comprehensive analysis of the contemporary architecture scene — in its many layers — in the crisis-ridden European south.

“Post-World’s End Architecture: Portugal” can be read in its entirety at Design Curial — and an excerpt can be found after the jump.

Continue reading Post World’s End Architecture: Italy and Portugal

Farewell to Domus


Domus July/August 2013. Photo Delfino Sisto Legnani

The July/August 2013 issue of Domus marks my departure from the magazine, after a year and a half of intense learning and a lot of fun. It was an honour, a challenge, and an immense pleasure to work under editor-in-chief Joseph Grima and the Domus editorial team — among which Marco Ferrari and Fabrizia Vecchione—, creating a magazine and a website that truly captured the contemporary.

Personally, this period marks my most intense professional growth thus far, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity. For the moment, find all my collected writings at Domusweb here. And now, on to the next challenge!

We don’t always need to build


Polígono at work. Photo by Francisco Bahia Nogueira

The July/August 2013 issue of Domus features a story which I was thrilled to research and write, on small-scale interventions by emerging Portuguese architecture practices. For me, it was a bit like coming home – and simultaneously, it was one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in the year. It was a pleasure to speak to the people behind ateliermob, Polígono, Arrebita!Porto, Artéria, Casa do Vapor and LIKEArchitects, and understand what drives and moves them.

This issue of Domus is a special one, too. It is the last under editor-in-chief Joseph Grima, and brilliantly combines all the themes that marked his period in the magazine – a period that suceeded to truly capture the contemporary. The volume marks his departure from the magazine – and mine –, and heralds the beginning of new projects and adventures.

The full piece can be read after the jump.

Continue reading We don’t always need to build

The Italian Avant-Garde, 1968-1976


The Italian Avant-Garde, page detail. Photo by Fabrizia Vecchione for Domus.

When Catharine Rossi first asked me to moderate a conversation between Joseph Grima and Alessandro Mendini for an upcoming publication she was co-editing on the Italian avant-garde of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I have to say I panicked. But a few nights of research led to an absolutely fabulous conversation, in which I merely watched as history happened before my eyes. This meeting of giants has been transcribed as the first chapter of Sternberg Press’ new volume EP Vol.1: The Italian Avant-Garde, 1968-1976, edited by Alex Coles and Catharine Rossi, and designed by Experimental Jetset. The book features a series of essays, interviews and explorations of several aspects of this complex, multilayered impulse that was immensely influential. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of it. Read Alice Rawsthorn’s review of the book here.

Writing = weapon


One of the slides in my Pecha Kucha presentation, reading “Writing = weapon”.

During my last visit to Lisbon, I was happy to participate in the 18th edition of Pecha Kucha Night Lisbon, where I talked about my writing and work. This was the first time I presented in an open event in Portugal (my home country), and it offered a good opportunity to reflect on everything I’ve been doing in the last few years — happy to say it’s been a lot.

The presentation was also a moment for me to advocate the use of writing as a weapon of agency and power — ultimately, I began writing (back in 2003) because I was frustrated with the state of cultural critique in Portugal — and to discuss the work of a series of Portuguese architecture studios, who together form a potential new avant-garde in the country, in a moment of crisis and exception.

On Display: The Future of Museums


The Superscript wall at New York’s MAD after the third On Display event. Photo by Aileen Kwun

As part of the MAD museum’s The Home Front 2013: After the Museum exhibition and series of events, editorial consultancy Superscript (which I co-founded) alongside HAO and Neil Donnelly proposed a series of panel discussions titled On Display. In each of the events, a simple starting point was used to discuss issues around objects, exhibitions and location in the future of museums. While discussion progressed, a wall in the exhibition gallery was transformed with live inputs from the discussion, such as images, quotes from readings, or comments by participants in the discussion. The results of the three events will be compiled soon in a publication.

I was fortunate to participate in one of the discussions on the occasion of my last trip to New York. On Display #3 focused on location, and started with the location of MAD — 2 Columbus Circle — to then question physical and virtual locations of museums, collections and galleries today and in the future. For me, it felt just like coming home — so many friendly faces! —, and it was a pleasure to participate in a discussion expertly led by Molly Heintz and Avinash Rajagopal.

The Collective Story


Unfold’s Stratigraphic Manufactury, part of Adhocracy. Photo by Benoit Palley

In order to celebrate the opening of Adhocracy at the New Museum, in New York, below is the essay Avinash Rajagopal and I wrote for the exhibition’s catalog, introducing the volume’s intentions and structure. The catalog is available at the New Museum store. Make sure to visit the show, which will be on through 7 July at Studio 231 at 231 Bowery.

The Collective Story
Avinash Rajagopal, Vera Sacchetti

At first glance, what does a film about superannuated gardeners in Barcelona have to do with 3-D printed ceramics from Antwerp, or an open-source tractor built on a farm in Missouri? The many manifestations of adhocracy—the conviction that societal change can come out of small interventions, little subversions, and closely-knit communities working without the aid of the powers-that-be—can be surprisingly, and affirmingly, diverse. If only all these local agents who create tirelessly within their own online and offline communities could speak to each other, then a powerful new mode of creativity could take over the world—or at least that is the dream.

Continue reading The Collective Story

The Milan Breakfasts 2013


The Milan Breakfasts, 2013. Photo by Ilco Kemmere

During the 2013 Salone del Mobile in Milan, I participated in one of Premsela/DAE’s Milan Breakfasts, discussing Linking Process alongside moderator Tracy Metz, DAE’s Miriam van der Lubbe, V&A’s Corinna Gardner and Vitra Design Museum’s Marc Zehntner. The breakfasts have become a staple of the Salone in the last years, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to discuss the display of designer’s processes in recent exhibitions and in the museum and gallery context. Discussion was accompanied by coffee and brioches (the Milanese term for croissant), and a podcast of the hour-long discussion can be heard on Soundcloud. Thank you to DAE/Premsela!

Printable futures


A view of DUS architects’ studio. Photo by Hans Vermeulen

The April 2013 issue of Domus features my story on DUS architects’ KamerMaker — a large-scale, mobile 3D printer — and their project to built the world’s first 3D printed canal house, room by room, in the north of Amsterdam. The project seeks to revitalize a run-down area in the north of the city, and I was fortunate to visit DUS’ studio on a grey March morning to see the KamerMaker for myself. The full feature is available to read online over at Domusweb, and an excerpt can be seen after the jump.

Continue reading Printable futures

Art beacon in the Mediterranean


The open-air gallery of Mangiabarche. Photo Beyond Entropy

The March 2013 issue of Domus features my piece on the open-air gallery of Mangiabarche, in Calasetta, Sardinia. This was a truly special place that I was lucky enough to visit late in 2012, which defies the conventional notions of what a gallery space is and can be. This feature also marks the first time I write about contemporary art and politics of territorial occupation. The full piece can be read over at Domusweb, and an excerpt can be found after the jump.

Continue reading Art beacon in the Mediterranean

Beyond the Tin Can Radio


Moveable Playground Structure by Victor Papanek. Image courtesy Victor J Papanek Foundation

The 3rd issue of Disegno magazine features my story on the Victor J Papanel Foundation and its making, and tries to shed some new light on this controversial figure that has become the symbol of an entire movement in the early 2000s. I was privileged to have interviewed both Thomas Geisler and Martina Fineder, who were responsible for tracking and putting together the Papanek Archive in Vienna. The full piece is available online over at Disegno Daily, and an excerpt can be read after the jump.

Continue reading Beyond the Tin Can Radio

The Adhocracy Reader


The Adhocracy Reader, page detail. Photo by Ethel Baraona Pohl

During the summer of 2012 I was lucky enough to be involved in the preparation of Adhocracy, an exhibition curated by Joseph Grima with Elian Stefa, Ethel Baraona Pohl and Pelin Tan for the 1st Istanbul Design Biennial. My collaboration with the team materialized in the exhibition catalog, which I co-edited with Avinash Rajagopal and Tamar Shafrir. The Adhocracy Reader was designed by Folder (Marco Ferrari and Elisa Pasqual), and in its 400 pages we tried to push the concept of a standard catalog and create a reader, evoking a standard college reader — a compilation of pre-published material. A series of introductory essays frame the exhibition’s premises and the catalog’s intentions, followed by a carefully curated selection of material on the projects on display in the exhibition, alongside a series of pre-existing essays. The whole catalog can be consulted on Issuu, and a Flickr photoset by Ethel Baraona Pohl can be seen here.

The Social Network


Marcelo Rosenbaum and Pedrita in Piauì, during AGT #2. Photo courtesy A Gente Transforma

For the September/October 2012 issue of Frame magazine, I wrote a feature article on the current state of social design, and focused on a few projects that I believe are shaping the future of the field. One of them is A Gente Transforma [“We Transform”], a project by Brazilian designer Marcelo Rosenbaum (pictured above). The text dovetails with the research I have developed for my masters thesis, and continues my investigation into a direction which I hope to further explore in the future. An excerpt of the piece can be read after the jump.

Continue reading The Social Network

Concrete Mushrooms


Concrete Mushrooms. Photo by dpr.barcelona

During June and July 2012, I copy-edited and helped Elian Stefa finish the book Concrete Mushrooms: Reusing Albania’s 750,000 Abandoned Bunkers, which was then published by dpr.barcelona in August 2012. The book, in Albanian and English, traces the history and fascinating “bunkerization” of Albania during the last years of Enver Hoxha’s dictatorship, and proposes a series of uses for these now discarded military structures. The project was originally started as a research project at the Politecnico di Milano. In August 2012, Concrete Mushrooms was also one of the initiators of Concrete in Common, an exhibition at  the Kunst Raum Riehen, in Basel, Switzerland — which I reviewed for Domusweb —, and was presented as one of the projects in the Albanian Pavilion at the 13th International Architecture Exhibition — Venice Biennale 2012.

Grey areas

When Frederico Duarte asked me if I’d be into having a conversation about social design in Portuguese, I was instantly game. Over email, we had a fun back and forth that became a section of the Portugal e África: Melhor Cooperação, Melhor Desenvolvimento [“Portugal and Africa: Better cooperation, better development”] book, a publication of the ACEP — Associação para a Cooperação Entre os Povos. This was the first time me and Frederico collaborated, and it was an immense pleasure to finally pen something with him. The full book can be seen at the ACEP website in PDF, or it can be ordered at info@acep.pt. After the jump, the full conversation between me and Frederico — unfortunately only available in Portuguese.

Continue reading Grey areas

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.

Continue reading The Tipping Point

On Banana Fibers: Considering the Social Mandate for Design


Metro Cable in Caracas, Venezuela, featured in the MoMA exhibit “Small Scale, Big Change“. Image credit: Iwaan Ban.

I co-wrote this article with Avinash Rajagopal as part of the second issue of the “New City Reader — A Newspaper of Public Space,” October 22, 2010. This was a newspaper edited by Joseph Grima and Kazys Varnelis, as part of the New Museum’s “The Last Newspaper” exhibition, which ran from October 2010 till January 2011.

Elizabeth Scharpf reached into a tote bag, and with all the flair of a Vegas conjuror, pulled out strand after white candy floss strand of banana fibers. “This is the local material we chose to work with,” she announced. The rabbit Scharpf was pulling out of the hat was her miraculous sanitary pad innovation for Rwandan village women. The occasion—her acceptance speech for the Curry Stone Design Prize 2010, which she won for the “social venture SHE which launches businesses to address some of the world’s most pressing problems.”
As ever, the world seems extraordinarily pressed with problems. The ice caps are melting, ducks are covered with crude oil, children are starving somewhere in Africa, and we’re losing our jobs. If the multitude of conferences, awards and exhibitions in New York are anything to go by, architects and designers are all over it. The Cooper Hewitt’s Why Design Now? symposium—where Scharpf’s banana fibers were first greeted by appreciative titters—answered its titular question with the rather ambitious title “Solving Global Challenges.” A new show at MoMA, Small Scale, Big Change, is advocating social engagement in architecture, through eleven projects from around the world. And the Curry Stone Design Prize 2010 puts a $100,000 price tag to addressing “critical issues such as access to clean air, food and water, shelter, health care, energy, education, social justice and the promotion of peace.”

It’s clear to any designer listening—big problems are the only problems worth solving. The first of which, of course, was the inconvenient truth. But with its emphasis on reducing materials and cutting back on wasteful consumption, sustainability could only offer so much fuel for the design machine. Design has since moved from protecting the ozone layer to saving underprivileged people. At the Why Design Now? conference, the panel on green design was just a pit stop on the way to the biggest goal of them all—Design for Social Change.

Continue reading On Banana Fibers: Considering the Social Mandate for Design

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.

Continue reading Legerdemain

Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education and Social Change

Winterhouse Education Symposium participants at Winterhouse. Photo  © Winterhouse Studio, 2011
Winterhouse Education Symposium participants at Winterhouse. Photo © Winterhouse Studio, 2011

I was humbled and honoured to take part in the second Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education and Social Change, which took place at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, August 14-16, 2011.

The symposium’s 28 participants came together to share insights, strategies and concerns about a discipline that has experienced dramatic growth in recent years, yet remains, in its teaching, research and community-oriented practices, inchoate if not chaotic.

For me, this was an intense learning experience and I was thankful for every second of it. William Drenttel and Julie Lasky wrote a final report on the outcomes, which was published and can be read at Design Observer.

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.