Field Trip to Brazil: Design Lab Brazil – Learning from the informal

Meldung vom 24.06.2015 in der Kategorie Workshops

Field Trip to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro from August 24th to September 2nd, 2015.

For more than decades, a hardly noticed, but particular design form originating from existential needs, limited economic resources, as well as from the local and cultural context of individuals living in precarious conditions in urban centres, has been an integral part of developing or industrially less developed countries. This kind of design has, at the same time, been the result of an individual survival strategy and the expression of a collective improvisational spirit, and has by these means filled a niche in the local non-official economic system. Illegal constructions as well as countless products or types of services from the black market economy, which have had a lasting and symbolic effect on the image of these countries, are evidence of this.

Globalisation, standardisation and economic growth, triggered by the inclusion of a thriving low- to middle-income consumer population, are increasingly displacing the ordinary products of the informal, replacing them with products of the global mass market. This apparently irreversible development not only leads to a decrease of a valuable individual quality, an ability of getting started from basically nothing, it is also associated with the loss of formal and methodological diversity, resulting in aesthetic regulation. When there is no principle of diversity, as the sociologist Richard Sennett said in an interview (2007) in relation to today’s urban development, there is nothing from which one can learn on the streets.


“Design Lab Brazil” proposes an interdisciplinary field trip to Brazil, with the objective of investigating alternative design forms and practices in an urban (in)formal context. The fieldwork intends to explore this genre of creative practice, and raise questions about its origin – what precisely characterises it – its social and cultural dimensions, as well as its aesthetic value today. The cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are both designated to be the laboratory to examine and reflect these unique types of design products, services, and activities.

The field trip will last 10 consecutive days. Based on sociologist Lucius Burckhardt’s concept of “invisible design”, the expedition will be composed of urban walks through the centre and periphery of both cities, visits to specific (in)formal projects and places, talks with residents, discussions about informal design in the group as well as with local experts, and an individual documentation of the explored. The programme offers an experimental platform to experience Brazilian urban diversity as well as (sub)culture, and to think about design from a particular perspective, by observing and challenging the specific and ordinary, instead of the generic and spectacular.

After the expedition, participants will attend a workshop to evaluate the field trip and the documentation. The outcome will be transposed into an exhibition and/or book.


Informal design practices express genuine creative achievements, material knowledge and cultural diversity, and can serve as an alternative model designers as well as city dwellers can learn from. The project aims to challenge one’s notion of what “(in)formal” and “design” in today’s urban context mean, through examining existential needs and understanding simple solutions. The project should lead to a re-thinking about contemporary design practice and contribute to different understanding of our built environment.


Participation is open to students and academic staff interested in exploring, discussing, and documenting the given topic. Attendance is limited.

Application Deadline: Wednesday, July 15th, 2015.

Application should include a motivation letter to


Participants pay their own travel and individual expenses.

Brazil today:

For some years now, Brazil has been the focus of international attention. Global mega-events, like the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, as well as large demonstrations against the current government, have triggered a hype around the largest country in Latin America.  After ten years of uninterrupted economic growth, Brazil appears to be finally evolving from the eternal developing country into an economic power.  In contrast to its image as the tropical paradise per se or to the cliché of cultural exoticism, Brazil is the westernmost country of the BRICS nations and in many aspects the one closest to European culture.  Unlike Russia and China, Brazil has a stable democratic system and a strong civil society, and compared to India and South Africa multi-ethnic and -lingual states, its social diversity appears almost homogeneous.  After the astounding social policy of former President Lula da Silva, Brazil’s social structure has drastically changed.  Approximately 40 Million people from the poor class have risen to a new affluent middle class representing the largest segment of the population today.  Despite this supposed progress, the gap between the striving of the emerging consumer class and the lack of urban equality is ever increasing.  The country is still facing considerable structural problems under the present government of Dilma Rousseff, such as insufficient infrastructure, poor education, a deficient health system and high corruption, which are incisively threatening recent and future development.

Concept and Realization:

Karin Zindel, Research Associate, Master of Arts in Design

Do not hesitate to contact if you have questions or need further information.

Aktualisiert am: 17. November 2015