Re-posted from ARCHITONIC by Simon Keane-Cowell, Zürich, Switzerland
As the world’s busiest revolving door, New York is no stranger to new cultural sights and influences. The 2013 New York Design Week saw a raft of Latin American designers and design collectives exhibit their highly polished and conceptually impressive work to an enthusiastic audience. It’s hot in the city.
This year’s ICFF in New York, and the citywide programme of shows, events and talks that now runs parallel to the established trade fair, reminded visitors of the fact that the US sits within a much wider and culturally diverse continent – one that is rich in creativity and materials, and which, in design terms, is increasingly keen to show itself in a polished and stereotype-eschewing way.
For designers and producers from Latin America, exhibiting in a world city like New York, with its confluence and cross-fertilisation of cultures, values and ideas, makes complete sense. Taking to the stage during New York Design Week is not only about extending your creative and commercial network beyond domestic borders, especially when it comes to future export possibilities, it also performs a reverse operation. Recognition and that all-important coverage in the international media serve to increase creative standing and commercial credibility back home, be that in Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil or Guatemala, often resulting in funding opportunities and new collaborations. It’s about importing kudos.
Championed by Bernhardt Design, one of the US’s biggest furniture brands, the Carrot Concept is a entrepreneurial collective of architects and designers from El Salvador, who, in 2012 joined forces to correct the relative lack of both local and business opportunities for the growing design community in this small Central American country. Founded on the values of idea-sharing and the pooling of resources, they created a physical space to encourage their compatriots to exhibit their products and projects – a carrot, as it were, and hence the name of the initiative. This year’s New York Design Week saw the CC’s resident creatives pitch their stall at the Wanted Design design show on 11th Avenue, showing work that ranged from furniture and lighting to textiles and tableware, with an emphasis as much on social conscience as on an exacting level of production and finish – the Carrot Concept-ers use local craftspeople, often inviting them to transfer the skills they have traditionally applied to products in other fields to, for the first time, furniture and lighting.
Promoted under the Carrot Concept brand but also with their own stand at ICFF, fellow El Salvadoran design label Markamoderna has employed local production techniques and processes to create an impressive furniture collection, which, while built by hand, is anything but rough-hewn. Powder-coated metal, moulded fibreglass and stainless steel are utilised to fashion strongly lined, geometric forms that, while not looking out of place in the most modernist of interiors, still speak of their hand-crafting.
Geometry characterises the work of Mexico City-based brand Pentagono too, which also chose to exhibit at ICFF. Its ‘Nodo’ furniture collection, which includes a console and coffee table, plus shelving units, uses hand-woven fibreglass, like thread, to create web-like pieces that are visually open but structurally solid. Suggestive of line drawings and with their network of connections, they occupy space; but, unlike solid-surface objects, they also gesture towards the immaterial.
Mexican design creativity was also present at ICFF in the form of a highly considered collection of products by design cooperative Panoramica, whose polished presentation, not least in graphic terms, made them stand out from the exhibitionary crowd. Comprising seven designers, who, like their El Salavadoran colleagues, have understood the creative, as well as commercial and social, benefits of collaboration, the group exhibited a number of objects, among them bowls, mirrors, trays and jars, fabricated immaculately from what they describe as ‘noble and sincere’ materials – copper, basalt, terrazzo and glass.
Back at Wanted Design, two Guatemalan design studios – the nominally similar Labrica and Fabrica – were keen to show visitors how working with local materials, in particular woods, isn’t at odds with producing high-quality, expressive furniture that is resolutely contemporary in its formal language. Committed to using tropical wood from certified forests, the family-owned company Labrica commissions artisans from the small town of Santa Lucia Milpas Atlas to translate their designs into pieces that are expertly constructed and finished. Fabrica meanwhile, founded by two Guatemalan architects, works across disciplines, bringing in once again different craft skills to create furniture and other objects that marry woods such as Tzalam or Caribbean Walnut with concept-led forms.
Wood is also on Studioroca’s agenda, a Mexican design brand that elected Wanted Design as its temporary New York platform. Mexican and South American timbers, among them Guanacaste and Saman, are put to work in their designs, which cover a range of object types – from seating and beds to desks and lighting – all confidently executed, and with an emphasis on detail. As an interior-architectural practice too, their products have been specified for spaces that place the same level of value on craftsmanship and American natural materials.
From Mexico to Puerto Rico: another collective, this time the literally named Design in Puerto Rico, which used the Wanted Design show as their first group outing. With its mission in New York a clear one – to ‘establish relationships with the global design industry’ – the band of emerging design talents from the island nation have mixed high-tech process with, at times, a relaxed Caribbean aesthetic, to produce an inaugural joint exhibition that should secure them new audiences.
Any discussion of Latin American design, however, wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of Brazil, one the key postwar arenas for the elaboration of modernist thinking and expression in both architecture and design. While the seasoned group show Fresh from Brazil made its fifth annual appearance in New York (this time at Wanted Design), serving once again as a platform for contemporary Brazilian design and designers, it’s perhaps design dealer Espasso, with its strikingly curated and permanent TriBeCa showroom (with further showrooms in Los Angeles and London, as well as an ‘annex’ in Brooklyn), which provides the biggest stage in the city for Latin American design, exhibiting as it does both the work of 21st-century Brazilian practitioners and the finest examples of furniture from the modernist era.
Established in 2002 by Sao Paulo-born Carlos Junqueira, Espasso has rightly been recognised for its contribution to the conservation of design from its founder’s native country and to the preservation of its design heritage, succeeding not only as a commercial enterprise, but also as a valued research resource, and in doing so helping to raise the profile of Latin American design generally. No small feat in the city that never sleeps. Or takes a siesta, for that matter.
Nothing like being in NYC for Design Week. It’s always worth it to travel and submerge oneself in the many design events that energize the city at the beginning of spring.