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Kogan: «Due to lack of interest, texts, cultural assets, art collections, and elements that give account of our history are permanently lost»

Interviewed by –I–D–A Foundation, the cultural manager and international consultant, Hugo Kogan, examined the history of design in Argentina and asserted the urgency to recover and protect the patrimony.

Kogan is a self-taught industrial designer born in Buenos Aires in 1934, who has a technical formation and studied sculpture and architecture. Since the 1950’s, when his professional career in Fapesa/Philips Argentina began, he has coordinated the design departments of such companies as Tonomac and Aurora, where he designed portable radios, televisions, and even the piezoelectric lighter Magiclick (1968). In 1983 he created the avant-garde design firm Visiva alongside Ricardo Blanco and Reinaldo Leiro, afterwards, he headed several studios specialized in design development and consultancy, like KLA –in association with Hugo Legaria and Raúl Anido– and FocusBrand –an international consulting and branding office he has led since 2003–. Besides, he was a member of the founding committee of the Industrial Design and Graphic Design programs in the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) and consultant of different government programs, such as Argentina Exporta Diseño and Innovar.

– ¿How did design emerge in Argentina?
– In that respect, I recommend reading the book History of the CIDI. A boost to design as a part of the Argentine industry. (Buenos Aires, Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, 2009), an impressive compilation by José Rey –and coordinated by Carolina Muzi– that describes the actions carried out by the CIDI from 1962 to 1988 and includes a section entitled “Background”, in which the origins of design, worldwide and in Argentina, are presented in an entertaining and well contextualized way. I had the privilege to experience those years of intense industrial activity that boosted and mobilized our profession in response to strong and sustained demands. Copies of the book can be found in the libraries of the CMD and the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism of the University of Buenos Aires (FADU, UBA).

– ¿Which are, in your opinion, the icons of Argentine design?
– In 1938, the architects Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy created the BKF chair, a single structure of iron rod with a suspended piece of leather; an intelligent and beautiful synthesis, an innovation in terms of seating variables that enabled diverse usages. It was quickly accepted and soon it became part of the equipment used in both corporative and family oriented settings. Seats have always been a relevant design item, hence the multiple formats in existence. It is interesting to corroborate how its image in publicity as well as its presence in the market is still strong, iconic, and contemporary.

– ¿How transcendent, do you think, is the conformation of design collections and archives?
– The indifference from both society and governments towards protecting the important collection of emblematic design pieces –assets that reflect the cultural, economic, and industrial level of a society– has been a historical constant. It is imperative to manage its recovery, maintenance, classification, and protection.

– ¿What conditions must be possessed by institutions in order to properly preserve the memory of design?
– The safeguarding of any type of design objects, products, equipment, or wardrobe requires a long-term, systematic, and rigorous program backed by permanent financial support and managed by a team of professionals with a high cultural level, who are deeply invested in the task, updated, pro-active, and, ideally, with the possibility of staying in charge for the long run.

– ¿Why does our community need a museum of design?
– Because design is a vital element in any organized society that has a high education level. It is part of its history, its technological, cultural, nutrition, and health care progress. In that respect, design makes intense and profound contributions to the protection of our environment and to the validation of the rules and prescriptions that enable us to live within society. In these preservation sites, design is not only a mere participant, since it also generates, through proper management, the required conditions to ensure its own fulfillment.

– ¿What is the role played by the State and private parties in the protection and appraisal of design?
– As I stated before, the State has shown no interest at all nor has it supported the work of private parties that have been funding and backing these type of social actions so far.

– ¿What is the role played by mass media in the process of creating awareness about the legacy of design?
– The media has an essential role: to permanently communicate all actions carried out and why are they performed, as well as to inform who are the people committed to rigorously manage and preserve sensitive data.

– ¿Why do you think private actors and international institutions show a great interest for Argentine design from a historical perspective?
We know that design evidences the cultural level of any society; it is necessary and urgent to safeguard those values. Due to the State's lack of interest, texts, cultural assets, art collections and other elements of historical relevance are lost, a concern that is only addressed by private individuals or entities.

– ¿What are the institutional dynamics needed to achieve the research work, preservation, appraisal, and display of local design?
– A network must be created to foster interaction amongst institutions, such as –I–D–A, public, private, local, and international universities, funding agencies, industrial and cultural companies, business associations, and people related to the field that possess a peripheral vision, as well as high professional and personal attributes. To begin such a project, the required elements are: intelligence, planning, the creation of programs, long term investments, and the formation of teams with the involvement of persistent, committed people that are deeply proud of the task they perform.