Opening talk at Cultures of Assembly

Opening poster for Cultures of Assembly, in Esch-sur-Alzette

I was thrilled to speak at the opening of Cultures of Assembly, a project by the Chair of the City of Esch at the Department of Geography and Spatial Planning, University of Luxembourg (Markus Miessen, Marija Marić, César Reyes Nájera and Francelle Cane). This physical space in the heart of Esch-sur-Alzette seeks to engage in discussions with the local community and beyond, to think together about a fairer future open to political, economic, cultural, and environmental diversity.

The opening event featured talks by Jesko Fezer and myself, discussing the role and value of low threshold design discourses, the production and use of urban space, para-institutional approaches to (urban) design, models of embedded and immersive learning, as well as spaces for experimentation in cities that build on native knowledges. I was happy to revisit some of the work developed during the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, for the talk and debate that followed. Thanks for having me!

Getting Our Acts Together: Parity Activism Past, Present and Future

An impression of the closing roundtable of the 8th Parity Talks.

For the 8th edition of the Parity Talks, I was honored to moderate the concluding roundtable with Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, Torsten Lange, Amy Perkins, Zhu Qianer, Shriya Chaudhry, Khensani Jurczok-de Klerk, Blanka Major and Els Silvrants-Barclay. We talked about the history and milestones achieved by the Parity Group, as well as the dynamics of activism past and present in the framework of the Prix Meret Oppenheim, which was awarded to the group in 2023.

Counterparts: Exploring Design Beyond the Human

The graphic identity of the conference at Zurich University of the Arts.

The 2022 edition of the Swiss Design Network conference took place at the Zurich University of the Arts. Titled Counterparts: Exploring Design Beyond the Human, the conference aimed to provide a basis for a joint exploration of what happens when we shift away from human-centered and universalist views of design and begin contemplating future ways of co-existing and co-emerging with others on this planet. Which ideas, experiences, practices, and possibilities unfold in the wake of such a shift? How can design be re-thought accordingly?

I was happy participate in the conference, moderating the panel Towards Co-Existence and Co-Emergence, with Flurina Gradin, Julie Van Oyen and Haig Armen, Jenny Bentley and Twisha Mehta. Thank you to the Swiss Design Network for having me!

A woman is a woman is a woman…

Donatella Maranta, Schnappis (from the series Ordentliches Porträt einer unordentlichen Familie). Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau/Depositum der Sammlung Andreas Züst

I was happy to review the exhibition “Eine Frau ist eine Frau ist eine Frau…” (A woman is a woman is a woman…) at the Aargauer Kunsthaus for the Swiss online magazine Republik. The full article can be read here (in German) – and a short excerpt (in English) is below!

It is because of these, and many other reasons, that the effort of revisitation proposed by “Eine Frau ist eine Frau ist eine Frau…” becomes necessary, mandatory, in the times we are living in. The parallels between the time of these women artists and ours, however, also become painfully clear—and the ways in which they have been erased and forgotten could very well be the way in which a contemporary generation of women artists will be also erased and forgotten, in the future. How to create mechanisms to make sure this doesn’t happen? And how to make sure these kinds of exhibitions are not just a celebratory one-off? These kinds of questions are instrumental in thinking more broadly about the impact and importance of an exhibition of this kind. Alongside the overall effort of celebration through exhibitions, institutions need to conduct a larger work of reflection on the ways they collect, promote and support women artists, or the mechanisms of erasure that have been a constant in the history of art will continue to be replicated. It would be desired, then, that the process of making such an exhibition can result in a change in institutional attitude, and a conscious effort to change the ways in which women artists integrate—or not—national collections, art history and artistic discourse.

An important part of that effort also lies in the written word. After an exhibition, what remains? Beyond an institutional attitude, which can take months and years to manifest in a visible way, catalogs and written records can also make important contributions to writing a history that is invisible and forgotten. In this way, perhaps the most impactful legacy of  “Eine Frau ist eine Frau ist eine Frau…” is the small brochure that serves as an exhibition catalog. Produced in a small format, and easily accessible for 5 CHF, the brochure is written as a compilation of biographies of all the women represented in the exhibition. The text is open in revealing what it knows and what it doesn’t know—for some of the artists, not much information was found in traditional sources. But by making itself available, this small glossary is the start of something bigger. It reveals a willingness to engage in scholarship that has not been done yet, and invites further contributions to such an effort. It is now a stepping stone, a marker and a starting point for all those who may be able to add to it, using it to revise, and to add, to a history of art that is direly incomplete.”

Art Institutions in the Age of Existential Risks. What to Do?

Day 1 of the conference Art Institutions in the Age of Existential Risks. What do Do?

We live in critical times. Whether pandemics, environmental and climate crises, social inequalities, or conflict- and disaster-induced displacement: humanity is heading towards an uncertain future in which it is exposed to existential risks. What essential role could art and culture play in discussing, reshaping and overcoming such crises? The art scene in transition functions as a mirror of social changes such as coming to terms with colonization, sexism, racism, xenophobia, the discrimination of minorities and other socially relevant issues.

I was humbled and honored to be the moderator for this conference at the ZKM Karlsruhe, where we discussed the future of cultural institutions in the moment of collective crisis and transformation we are experiencing today. With speakers Max Hollein, Ille Gebeshuber, Sonia Lawson, Irini Mirena Papadimitriou, Laura Raicovich, Parag Khanna, Peter Weibel, and Siegfried Zielinski, we outlined the diversity of demands and perspectives arising from global risks for cultural institutions. The two days of the conference are embedded in this post.

Day 2 of the conference Art Institutions in the Age of Existential Risks. What do Do?

Table Talks: Foreign Legion at Design Miami 2021

For the 2021 edition of Design Miami, Foreign Legion (myself and Matylda Krzykowski) partnered with the Swiss Design Awards and Het Nieuwe Instituut / Solar Biennale to host two talks on the current and future states of design. The table setting was developed by ceramicist and designer Nela Weber.

With the Swiss Design Awards, we hosted the conversation Understanding what makes a design generation great – from education to support structures, and invited Sarah Owens (ZHdK), Anna Niederhäuser (Swiss Design Awards), Alexandra Gerber (Designer), AATB, Andrea Anner and Thibault Brevet (Designers) and Alena Halmes (Designer) to the table.

With Het Nieuwe Instituut and the Solar Biennale, we hosted a talk titled Calling for a Solar Movement – from implications to intersection of design and technology, and invited Marjan van Aubel (Solar Designer), Pauline van Dongen (Designer for wearable technologies), Felix Hallwachs (Managing Director of Little Sun Foundation), and Floor van Gaalen (Head of Program at Het Nieuwe Instituut) to the table.

Vitra’s turn to sustainability

The Oudolf Garden at the Vitra Campus, Weil am Rhein.

I’ve written about Vitra’s turn to sustainability for Metropolis magazine, and the resulting piece looks at the new Oudolf Garden, just opened at the Vitra Campus, and at a more comprehensive set of steps the company is taking to effectively become more sustainable – in their practice and within the organization. Below an excerpt; the full piece is up at Metropolis!

“The attention given to the planning and execution of the Oudolf garden, however, signals a significant change of course. While its planning dates to the pre-pandemic times, the garden was planted in May 2020, when most of the world came to a standstill. In total, 32,000 perennial plants of 114 species were planted in small pots. When the garden was unveiled to the public one year later, they had matured to give way to a dazzling early summer landscape, a complex mix of perennial varieties of varying colors and fragrances. The various colors and textures changed over the course of the following months, and in typical Oudolf fashion, the garden continues to evolve and transform with the seasons. Its maintenance will now become a constant; and the gardening team will be complemented by a few beehives at the edge of the garden, looked after by two company employees that double as trained apiculturists. We might be looking at a future when Vitra honey becomes a reality.”

Making the Tambacounda Hospital

Manuel Herz’s Tambacounda Hospital in Senegal

I enjoyed writing about Manuel Herz’s Tambacounda Hospital for Metropolis magazine’s August issue. The full article can be read online here, and an excerpt of the text can be found below:

After bringing the first concept back to Tambacounda, Manuel Herz recalls hours of transformative discussions with detailed feedback from local authorities and hospital staff—from the director, Dr. Thérèse-Aida Ndiaye, to the doctors, midwives, and janitors—which helped round out the final design. Construction was conducted in close collaboration with local doctor and contractor Dr. Magueye Ba, who supervised the process, including the brickwork: Workers produced 50,000 bricks for the project, 100 per day, over 500 days, which follow the local typology of hollow bricks. The hospital expects to start receiving patients this summer.

Herz is now working on an additional project in the hospital complex for staff accommodation, allowing visiting doctors from the capital city of Dakar to extend their stays and bring their families. In the meantime, the signature brick pattern has taken on a life of its own, with Magueye Ba using it for other buildings in the surroundings. In this dynamic, Herz’s project begins to exist as part of a network—of stakeholders who become coauthors in the intervention, and of buildings themselves, as his extension touches upon existing structures and conditions new ones. “The project becomes not only an architectural intervention but a territorial intervention,” Herz says, noting the project’s economic impact in the area. “This kind of coherence is incredibly important to make sure the building really is accepted by the population.”

Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021 – Sarah Owens

As a part of the Federal Design Commission, it was a pleasure to have an extended conversation about her life and work in the context of her distinction with the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021. As author Jonas Berthod remarked for the occasion,

Her consideration for the full spectrum of knowledge reflects her desire to share and connect with the wider community, addressing issues of representation and visibility outside the university. These activities perhaps define the core of Sarah Owens’s biography: a passion for knowledge that is anti-hierarchical, celebrates plurality and focuses on inclusion, but also a career-long engagement to sharing and collectively building that knowledge.

During the prize ceremony of the Swiss Grand Award for Design 2021, I was honored to give Sarah’s laudatio and present the award.

Reading the laudatio for Sarah Owens. Photo by Diana Pfammatter.

Parity Talks 6 – What’s Good?

For the 6th edition of the Parity Talks at the ETH Zurich, I was thrilled to moderate a roundtable on Tastemaking, with the participation of Meike Schalk, Katarina Bonnevier MYCKET, Cruz Garcia, Nathalie Frankowski, Els Silvrants-Barclay, Regine Keller, Marion Fonjallaz, Morgane Hofstetter, Dieter Dietz, Tom Emerson, Leonie Wagner and Olga Cobuscean. This conversation gathered deans, professors, and students from various institutions, and proposed a multigenerational encounter to discuss our current understanding of good practice, who decides what is good, and the problems of education based on ideas of excellence.

Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse

The Archipelago visual identity, by Mitch Paone / AATB based on a concept by Chloe Biocca

I’m thrilled to announce Archipelago: Architectures for the Multiverse, a 3-day hybrid format festival that seeks to interrogate and think through the present moment in contemporary architectural discourse. Taking take place 6-8 May 2021 in Geneva, it is jointly organized by the architecture schools HEAD and HEPIA, and it will be broadcast over the course of three days in a hybrid format combining live and online interventions.

Bringing together three disciplinary strands—architecture, interior architecture and landscape architecture—the festival seeks to offer a snapshot of the present moment, its intersections and overlaps. The three days of exchanges and reflection take place in a specially designed infrastructure at the heart of the Cube, a multifunctional space at HEAD that will double as a broadcast studio for the event. Manifesting in a variety of formats, from intimate conversations to performative interventions, and complemented by masterclasses, films and offsite projects, Archipelago creates multiple entry points for a discussion around contemporary architecture’s lines of inquiry.

We will announce the program soon – meanwhile, you can follow us on Instagram or register to get the latest news on the program and schedule!

Driving the Human: Seven Prototypes for Eco-social Renewal

Earlier this year I joined the team of the Driving the Human initiative as the program coordinator. Driving the Human is a catalyst for experimentation, shaping sustainable and collective futures that combine science, technology, and the arts in a transdisciplinary and collaborative approach. Running from 2020-2023, the project is jointly led by four partner institutions – acatech – National Academy of Science and Engineering, Forecast, the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design and ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe – and relies on the expert knowledge and skills of their combined networks.

Throughout 2023, the community of participants, experts, and the larger audience that Driving the Human brings together will explore diverse phenomena such as the social impact of global warming, energy cycles and technology-driven disruptions, the impact of collective decision making, and contemporary processes of exchanging values and objects.

The results of these explorations will be shared and communicated over the project’s three-year duration, and will deploy strategies for action in the form of physical experiences, with a strong individual and collective impact. Ultimately, they will create tools that enable new ways of envisioning and inhabiting the world.

I’m excited to be part of such an ambitious initiative and I invite you to learn more about the project and partners at the Driving the Human website, Instagram and Facebook channels.

Failure is not an option?

The digital programming around the 2020 edition of the Swiss Design Awards was structured around the question: “Failure is Not an Option?”. The program aims to question the idea of failure as a malfunction, embraces the reassessment that the absence of normality permits, and entertains the idea that failure might be a better option. In this context, I was happy to moderate three conversations with design luminaries Aric Chen, Catherine Ince, and Matylda Krzykowski, where we sought to frame the present moment and its challenges.

The first conversation, with Aric Chen, curatorial director of Design Miami, reflected on the digital turn, the progressive focus on local and regional realities, and a plural, decentered future for the design discipline. With Catherine Ince, chief curator of the V&A East in London, we talked about the role of museums after the pandemic, the importance of creating conversations, and how institutions can become revolutionary spaces of care. And with Matylda Krzykowski, curator and designer, we discussed different forms of isolation from the desert to the city, the need to embrace new categories for design and its practitioners, and how young designers can claim their space. Thank you to the Federal Office of Culture and the team lead by Anna Niederhäuser for the invitation!

Design and crisis

The latest issue of German design magazine form. Courtesy form

The most recent issue of German design magazine form asked me: “What is design?” My answer opens up the issue – and is transcribed below, in English. Many thanks to the editors Anton Rahlwes and Nina Sieverding!

Design is mediation. It is the glue that connects and engages with other disciplines, bringing together people, objects, systems and ideas. Although it was born out of the industrial revolution, and shaped by that paradigm, it is increasingly and surely – especially in Western Europe and North American regions – moving towards and finding itself in a postindustrial reality. This has only been accelerated by the current spread of the coronavirus. In this context, the design discipline finds itself in an acute identity crisis and needs to reshape itself, claiming territories and ambitions that are bigger than the knowledge silos that we still cling on to. Design needs to overcome disciplinary silos; it needs to become inclusive and diverse, decentralize its mythologies and welcome voices and points of view that aren’t white, male, Western. It also doesn’t need to generate anything physical anymore; it should be able to move and travel, as light as ideas.

Social matter, social design

A spread from Social matter, social design, edited by Jan Boelen and Michael Kaethler and published by Valiz. Courtesy Valiz.

I contributed an essay titled “The Self as Other: Vivien Tauchmann’s ‘minor gestures’ towards the entwinement of design processes and the body” to Social matter, social design, a volume edited by Jan Boelen and Michael Kaethler and just published by Valiz. My essay takes the work of designer Vivien Tauchmann as starting point, to explore notions of empathy and multisensorial experiences in contemporary design. Ultimately, I argue that Tauchamnn’s work is a model of a new kind of design, which opens paths for the discipline and other practitioners. A short quote below – the book can be ordered through Valiz’s website!

“As seen in these examples, Tauchmann’s work exemplifies practice that goes beyond social matter and towards a relational one—mediated through bodily movement and expression—not unlike life itself. These strategies confirm the designer’s strongly political stance, and her methods allow her to engage with designers in an unexpected and powerful way, as well as to reach audiences that do not traditionally engage with the design discipline or design discourse. At a time when the discipline reorients itself and begins to engage with a post-industrial future, beyond object-based entanglements and towards a relational practice, Tauchmann’s works are incredibly prescient, using design’s full potential to become a discipline not of production, but of mediation. In her forays towards the future of a discipline that is not yet defined, Tauchmann inhabits what scholar and educator Danah Abdulla describes as the “borderlands”, a place where a decolonial thinking of the design discipline can begin.”

Revisiting A School of Schools

Design Biennial Talks, a podcast series by IKSV / Istanbul Design Biennial.

One of the highlights of the lockdown period was talking to Deniz Ova, director of the Istanbul Design Biennial, Jan Boelen and Nadine Botha, alongside whom I curated the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, in 2018. We revisited some of the themes of the biennial and their resonance in the present moment, in a conversation that was recorded for the biennial’s podcast series “Design Biennial Revisited”. You can listen to the episode here, and follow the series for more conversations. Thank you to the IKSV/IDB team!

Joining the Federal Design Commission

The Federal Design Commission. Photo Ruth Erdt / BAK

Since January I am one of the new members of the Federal Design Commission of the Swiss Confederation, a non-governmental advisory body that, among other things, forms the jury of the yearly Swiss Design Awards competition and grants a yearly career prize to designers in Switzerland. It is a great honor to join this incredible group of people and I look forward to my time serving as a member!

Opening New Doors of Possibility

It finally arrived at my doorstep! The incredible Atlas of Furniture Design, published by the Vitra Design Museum, was decades in the making, and I was proud to contribute an extended essay with Avinash Rajagopal that anchors the contemporary design section of the book. I also contributed several biographies of Italian designers, joining a stellar group of contributors that worked in this encyclopedic effort. Congratulations to the editors and all the team for a fantastic result!

Prototyping the Otherworldly

The Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly book. Photo courtesy Porto Design Biennale.

Following the Fiction Practice workshops earlier this Autumn, I wrote an essay with Jan Boelen for the Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly publication. The book features contributions by an impressive roster of authors, and gathers impressions and accounts of the workshops and exhibition that we built together in September, exploring intersections between fiction and design. Fiction Practice: Prototyping the Otherworldly is published by Onomatopee and you can order it here.

Can an old format learn new tricks?

The cover of Disegno #25 – A Year in Review. Image courtesy of Disegno.

I was happy to contribute an essay on graduate shows for the winter issue of Disegno, where I muse on the purpose of such an event; how the format has come to shape important Euro-centric design events; and how it can change and evolve beyond its tireless fascination with new, marketable talent. Disegno #25 gathers nineteen essays on themes that defined design in 2019, and I’m thrilled to be among a fantastic and inspiring group of authors as the year comes to an end. Thanks to the wonderful team at Disegno! You can order your copy here.

Devices for Dreaming

Presenting at “Architectural Models: Theory and practice in scale”. Photo courtesy HEAD-Genève.

I was in Geneva to discuss architectural models at the conference Architectural Models: Theory and practice in scale, organized by the Interior Architecture Department of the school. The two-day event was organized as an experimental stage for discussion, and it was great to talk to master students about recent architectural exhibitions and events and how the model embodies so many contradictions within. Below the talk abstract – I’ll post the presentation video when it’s online.

The architectural model is unparalleled as a device for dreaming. Its regular use in architectural exhibitions and events attests to its allure, but also to the paradoxical impossibility of exhibiting the discipline these devices embody and attempt to represent. This talk will cover the ways in which architectural models have been used in recent architectural exhibitions and events, with varying degrees of efficacy.

Foreign Legion at the Vitra Speaker Series

Foreign Legion portrait by Diana Pfammatter.

It was fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss the Foreign Legion project, which I co-founded with Matylda Krzykowski, at the Vitra Speaker Series. We discussed the ambitions and goals of the project, and how the design industry can spearhead the transformation of the discipline into one that is more inclusive and diverse. Thanks to Vitra for the invite!

Add to the Cake at the Zukunftsforum


Add to the Cake, the exhibition I curated with Matylda Krzykowski (under our moniker Foreign Legion) came to an end last 3 November. To mark the occasion, we had a panel discussion at the Japanisches Palais in Dresden, in the very room where it all started almost one year ago with the A Woman’s Work symposium.

Within the framework of the Zukunftsforum program, we sat with Thomas Geisler, director of the Museum of Decorative Arts Dresden, Kerstin Flasche, lecturer at the HFKD, and Vivien Tauchmann, designer and researcher, to reflect on the results of one year of work around the theme of the invisibility of female practitioners in design, architecture and the arts. The result has been recorded and can be seen in its totality here – mostly in German.

On Surrealism and Gender

Meret Oppenheim Gloves
Meret Oppenheim, Gloves (Parkett Edition, no. 116/150), 1985
Courtesy of Ursula Krinzinger, photo: Jasha Greenberg, copyright for the works of Meret Oppenheim: © VG Bild-Kunst,Bonn 2019

I contributed an essay on the entanglements between Surrealism and gender for the catalogue of the Vitra Design Museum’s recent exhibition on the movement, titled Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924-Today and curated by Mateo Kries and Tanja Cunz. My essay proposes a re-evaluation of Surrealist notions of love and violence, analysing their relevance in the twenty-first century and detailing the problematic relationship between the two terms from the inception of Surrealism to the present day. It also covers the movement’s problematic relationship with gender, and with women in particular. It starts off with this fantastic quote by Leonora Carrington:

“The idea that ‘Our Masters’ are right and must be loved, honored and obeyed is, I think, one of the most destructive lies that have ever been instilled into the female psyche. It has become most horribly obvious what These Masters have done to our planet and her organic life. If women remain passive I think there is very little hope for the survival of life in this earth.”
– Leonora Carrington, 1970

The refusal to let women in is something that can be widely observed in the Surrealist movement. While it has been pointed out several times that women were indeed part of Surrealism, their voices were rarely heard, and even then, only well into the 1940s and later when the movement has arguably already dissolved and mutated, having lost much of its initial impetus. Yet, if women’s voices were overwhelmingly excluded, or just not recorded as part of the discourse, their bodies on the other hand were everywhere, as the prime subject of the male gaze in literature, films, the visual arts, and photographs. For the Surrealists, the woman is the ungraspable and fascinating other, the object of ecstatic love, the cause of ultimate misery and madness. Yet, no dialogue with this ungraspable other is attempted; instead, she is only further fetishized, imagined, objectified, destroyed.

My essay ends with a plea for a re-evaluation of the movement, and a revisionist take that doesn’t seek to redeem the male Surrealists’ reinforcement of patriarchal power relations.

It is perhaps by looking to the margins of the movement and peering into the interstices for traces of instability, that a re-evaluation of Surrealism can happen—beyond the misogyny, the violence, and objectification of women, and outside the gender binary. The power relations advocated by the Surrealists “are not natural but social constructs”, as Kuenzli asserts. “The male Surrealists’ blatant reinforcement of patriarchal power relations should not be theorized away in order to redeem Surrealism”, he continues. “They should be resisted, they should be rejected.”  It is in this rejection, combined with an exploratory, revisionist attitude beyond the binary, where a dismantling of the Surrealist canon can begin.