Brazilian Design: Travel notes #1

The Ibirapuera Park marquise (covered pathway), designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1954: one of São Paulo’s finest public spaces © Frederico Duarte

The Ibirapuera Park marquise (covered pathway), designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1954: one of São Paulo’s finest public spaces © Frederico Duarte

My PhD research project, one of twelve being developed at the V&A under the AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award scheme (and in my case, also at Birkbeck, University of London with additional funding from a FCT studentship), focuses on Brazilian contemporary design.

Design in Brazil is a topic I started researching in 2009 during my MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts. Today I am particularly interested in understanding how design practise in Brazil evolved between 2004 and 2014, a period during which Brazilians witnessed significant economic expansion and unprecedented social mobility triggered not only by job growth but also by state support programmes such as Bolsa Família.

These changes in economics and policy helped create a new consumer base: the so-called C-class. Below the country’s traditional elite (A) and middle-class (B) but above the poor and destitute (D, E), Brazil’s lower-middle class represents around half the country’s population (90/100 million citizens) and is, despite the current crisis, changing the way Brazilians shop, travel, communicate, use public space and, eventually, express their political voice. As such, how have designers reacted or even contributed to these significant changes in consumption and citizenship? And are the results of their practise worthy of international interest, namely by design museums such as the V&A?

Last landscaping touches to the Antero de Quental station, one of six making up the new Line 4 of the Rio de Janeiro metro connecting the city’s south zone to Barra da Tijuca, home to most 2016 Olympics venues.

Last landscaping touches to the Antero de Quental station, one of six making up the new Line 4 of the Rio de Janeiro metro connecting the city’s south zone to Barra da Tijuca, home to most 2016 Olympic Games venues. © Frederico Duarte

To better understand the context of design practice in Brazil’s recent past I’m now in the country on a 3-month research trip. Until September 28th I will be traveling to several cities and a sustainable development reserve in the Amazon, conducting interviews with design professionals, students and academics, but also other agents relevant to the Brazilian design system such as magazine editors, museum curators, marketing and consumption experts, social scientists, manufacturers and state officials. Should you know of someone I should talk to, do get in touch.

"What is the Perspective of a Post-Olympic City?" asks Pedro Évora of Rua Arquitectos at the "Design em Diálogo event at Centro Carioca de Design, Rio de Janeiro, July 6th 2016 © Frederico Duarte

“What is the Perspective of a Post-Olympic City?” asks Pedro Évora of Rua Arquitectos at the Design em Diálogo event at Centro Carioca de Design, Rio de Janeiro, July 6th 2016 © Frederico Duarte

I’m writing this first V&A blog post from Rio, where this Wednesday I attended the first “Design in Dialogue” event promoted by the Centro Carioca de Design and ESDI, Latin America’s first design school. Under the topic Design and the Olympics, guest speakers architect Pedro Évora, graphic designer Fabio Lopez and historian Ana Luiza Nobre introduced projects that deal critically with the city’s urban and social issues. A highly participated discussion ensued, reflecting a sentiment common to the inhabitants of Rio, and the citizens of Brazil: failed expectations.

My next stop will be João Pessoa, where I’ll spend a week attending N Design, the national design student convention. Despite the event’s jamboree atmosphere I expect to get a sense of the hopes and frustrations of Brazil’s future designers. I’ll dedicate my next post to them.