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Oropel: «IDA Foundation fills a previously existing void and will certainly become the Museum of Argentine Design in the near future»

The architect, designer, and cultural manager Julio Oropel explains the relevance of understanding design in a comprehensive way, while discussing the future challenges the discipline will face.

Julio Oropel, born in Córdoba and currently settled in Buenos Aires, has a vast career in the fields of equipment and interior design. He earned his degree as an architect from the National University of Córdoba (UNC) and he is an expert in different specialties, such as Heritage preservation (UBA), Design and communication (UBA), and Special structures (UBA). He has participated in exhibitions presented in cities like Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Prague, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Seoul amongst others. He has been recognized with such awards as DArA’s permanent Innovations Award (2005), the Best Furniture Design at the PuroDiseño Fair (2007), the ARQ Professional Excellency recognition awarded by the newspaper Clarín (2016, 2017, and 2018), and Casa FOA’s Gold Medal (2012 and 2016).

As part of the interview series conducted by –I–D–A Foundation for the “Expert Opinion” section of the Old&Newsletter, the graduate professor of the Interior Space Design program of the FADU-UBA and DArA’s (Argentinian Interior Designers Associates) former president reflects about the current situation of design and reveals its potentials and challenges.

–What is your personal experience with design?
–I define myself as an architect and a designer, therefore, both my understanding and my passion for design stem from that standpoint. In terms of scale, my work is always variable and my favorite projects are the ones in which I complete all stages and processes of the architectural and creative event. The spatial conception of container volume, as well as the definition of materials and other variables, always responds to the main idea conceived for the interior space and the objects that will eventually manifest it. Design must provide the answer to the question of conceptual and spatial cohesion. To me, designing equipment elements that will complement certain space is a huge bonus that gives me enormous pleasure.

–What features must a piece possess in order to be considered a good design?
–Not long ago I read an article in which the author referred to an object of design as “the dream of eternity… made to last.” I think this quote perfectly defines the meaning of good design. Of course, along with the intangible secret that makes a piece not only to be embraced by a diverse –not always clearly defined– audience, but also to be considered both useful and beautiful. Those two qualities are probably the ones that, when fully achieved, turn an object into an icon that transcends time and space and becomes a category in itself.
Features such as sustainability and simplicity –that will ensure that the object fulfills its main function in the best way using the less elements possible– are also nowadays fundamental qualities of good design. Naturally, in order to adapt to these current requirements, the designer must think in the consumer and respect different life-styles.

–Is there an identity in “Argentine design? Is there a unique “Argentine design”?
–I don’t think so. Throughout our history, we can only identify isolated attempts and very specific designs that represent us, such as the BKF chair, developed in 1937 by Bonet, Kurchan, and Ferrari Hardoy. The piece is undoubtedly an icon that currently belongs to the MoMA collection in New York. We can also name particular designers, like Jorge Pensi, that enjoyed wide success abroad and opened the doors for Argentina to “dream” about design.
In any case, the reality is that our unique mark is almost always shown in the materials we use, such as leather, which is linked to the agro-industrial sector. Modernity has erased whatever remained of regional aesthetics. Actually, the recovery and reformulation of the elements present in our past legacy, without any rejection or denial, might help us find an identity within design.

–Is design socially valued in Argentina?
–The social meaning of design is gradually starting to become more relevant in our society. Some concepts that are fully incorporated by consumers in more culturally developed societies are still new here, in Argentina, for example the product’s origin, its way of production, energy consumption implications, the product’s connection to specific social groups, etc.

–Why are design archives and patrimonial collections so important?
–They become more important by the second. They are important because they materialize our cultural identity and keep the achievements of our country and people updated for future generations.

–Why is it necessary to preserve the memory of design?
–Design museums in London and New York, two spaces I constantly visit and admire, are in permanent expansion. In order to protect and preserve the memory of design, we have to respect ourselves and others. Design is a way to express and reveal both the characteristics and the idiosyncrasy societies and historical periods. I still remember the awe I felt during my first visit to IDA Foundation, when I witnessed the care and love with which the blueprints and sketches of the work produced by the greatest Argentinian designers, like Celina Arauz de Pirovano or Wladimiro Acosta, were kept.

–In order to fulfill that task, what are the conditions institutions must comply with?
–It is regrettable to find institutions led by unprepared people that are unrelated to the topic in question. A space devoted to the preservation of any cultural archive must have, before anything else, a group of knowledgeable specialists and researchers, seriousness, and, above all, love for the task that needs to be carried out.

–¿Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces that integrate?
–It is always the same cause: economic conditions. I applaud that IDA has surpassed all obstacles in the way and, thanks to the great performance and passion of its collaborators, it has constituted the exemplary archive it hosts and constantly expands. Today, IDA Foundation fills a previously existing void and I am certain it will become the Museum of Argentine Design in the near future.

–What future challenges will the design community face?
–Part of the challenge we face now is to focus more on us, to avoid copying or adapting foreign trends, and to be more original on an everyday basis. In order to define our future, we must keep looking for our identity, to consider our roots, and to both recognize and learn our past.