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.

Rosenbaum is at the forefront of what is currently referred to as ‘social design’, and AGT exemplifies the best of what is being done in the field. Social design has experienced a boom in recent years, especially in the United States and Europe, where members of the design community have joined hands with the social sector in an attempt to improve the lives of people in extreme need through meaningful, lasting changes made to systems and products. Despite its vague and problematic name – surely all design can be social – social design has come to be defined by large-scale projects such as One Laptop per Child; collaborations between designers and ‘underprivileged’ communities aimed at upgrading living conditions, such as American designer Stephen Burks’ TaTu tables for Artecnica, designed in collaboration with South African artisan Willard Musarurwa; and the direct, continued involvement of designers with these communities, in the work of practices like Architecture for Humanity and MASS Design.


Practices like D-Impact and MASS Design are defining the present chapter in the history of social design, but the future of the field can already be sensed in places round the world – in countries like India, Chile, Colombia and Brazil. Here, laying the foundations for what social design can be, are people such as Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena; architect and designer Marcelo Rosenbaum; and Colombians Sergio Fajardo and Alejandro Echeverri, former mayor and former director of urban projects, respectively, in Medellín. Their approach to projects is comprehensive, multidisciplinary, inclusive and pragmatic, bringing together multiple stakeholders – from government and state officials and members of local communities to architects, planners, designers and social scientists – in the pursuit of one common goal, which will benefit all stakeholders equally.