São Paulo – Along with his brother Fernando, Humberto Campana’s design practice has been based on dignity for the underused: dignity for underused materials, for underused human resources, for underused cultural capacities. In that sense, the Brazilian designer is a perfect fit for this year’s Societal jury panel at the Frame Awards, honouring interior projects that provide sustainable, innovative and socially positive solutions.
As the round of submissions for projects is almost closing, we asked him: What exactly do sustainability, innovation and social impact mean to him?
As someone from Latin America, look at the quinoa problem: the grain has been both a blessing and a curse for Bolivia, as the local population has been outpriced from eating it due to the global health-food demand. What stage do you think we’re in: Do you think we should focus on demanding environmental sustainability, or is it time to make political sustainability also as important?
HUMBERTO CAMPANA: Sustainability has always been a concern for us. Since the beginning of our career, we’ve been committed to working on recycled materials to give them a new DNA, both with artisanal processes to raise craftsmanship at the level of design and with vulnerable communities, to give them self-esteem and income. Your question is significant because both are important and fundamental issues. However, we are still starting to balance the two paths of sustainability, mainly in Latin America.
Both environmental sustainability and political sustainability are important and fundamental issues
How do you feel about the mass affordability of sustainable design? Can it be further humanised? Can it really be sustainable if a large part of the population is priced out of its consumption?
Whenever we begin a project, we think of pleasing our soul. Democratic prices are not exactly our focus. We want to ‘photograph’ experiences that affect us, without labels.
However, our Instituto Campana is working towards this path of democratic design, which is not limited to the commercial issue, but mainly to the creative process. An example of that is a project recently developed by the Institute in collaboration with the NGO Aliança de Misericórdia, located in Piracicaba city, in the state of Sao Paulo. This community receives men from all over Brazil who are going through the process of rehabilitation, and helps them rebuild their lives. Initially, we organised workshops to stimulate the assistants to work with the predominant materials in the city – such as bricks, as there are many potteries in the region and one of them constantly donates wet bricks for the workshops. We stimulate these men to work with the bricks in different ways: sometimes punching, other times sculpting. Thus, the Brick Collection was created, made up of vases and fruit bowls; they are oriented by Fernando and me, with the design signed by the assistants. The Institute buys these pieces and sells them at a democratic price. It is a very successful project, and the bricks have the symbolism of building houses, so in this sense we can say that the message of the project is to rebuild lives.
As larger brands are increasingly integrating societal concerns into their outward-facing projects, the sector advances in large leaps seemingly every day. Which new ways of thinking, on a commercial scale, have positively surprised you the most lately? How about material innovations?
I think biotechnology is at the service of design. We are constantly involved in projects whose focus is the choice of material. Recently, we have been researching different types of fibers, such as pineapple leather, but we are also developing a 3D printing project whose main subject is the plastic extracted from the oceans. We like to think about materials and, especially, new ways of presenting them.
When local culture and material rescue projects speak locally, they also dialogue with the global
Your Vila Madalena Aesop shop used the cobogó and sisal as its main elements, building upon the knowledge of the creators who came before you in Brazil. Your practice is based on having the humility of looking back and down when sourcing materials. Do you see that happening at a larger scale in some of the interior projects coming out?
What I see is that more and more, there are local culture and material rescue projects. When it is spoken locally, it also dialogues with the global.
Why do you think designed spaces have such an increased societal impact today?
Nowadays, it is increasingly allowed to work with fantasy in these spaces, telling stories, creating narratives, sharing author experiences. For example, for the New Hotel in Athens we had the help of local students in the development of the project and many of the pieces of furniture were produced by them in workshops. It was a rewarding project that tells not only a story but several ones that stir up the curiosity of the guests in each space of the hotel.
The 2017 Detnk report for collectible design had only one Latin American surname in its top 100: the one you share with your brother. What do you think it will take for more Latin American names to start competitively entering that global market? Given your experience scouting for young regional designers at this year’s SaloneSatellite, where do you think the region is at the moment?
We are going through a period of big changes, especially in Latin America, and we are sure that the development is going to be unique. There is an ancient hope of a better future and the young generations are willing to express themselves for what they are. Chile, for example, has surprised us: just look at gt2P, a young studio that is leading the way in that respect.