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Iglesia: «The impact of design upon culture will only be enhanced if the field embraces a political and economic perspective»

Architect and writer Rafael Iglesia elaborates upon design as a cultural phenomenon while reflecting about its different conceptions, implications, and scopes according to specific contexts of production or formation.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1930, Rafael Iglesia was one of the founders of the iconic group Onda, formed by Miguel Asencio, Carlos Fracchia, Jorge Garat, and Lorenzo Gigli (h), a transversal collective that developed Casablanca style architecture, ephemeral buildings, equipment, and graphic design during the 50’s and 60’s.

As a scholar, this architect, who obtained his degree from the Buenos Aires University (UBA), directed the Masters in History and Critique of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism program; was a member or the Doctoral Committee of the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism (FADU-UBA); joined the Mario Buschiazzo American Art Institute; and worked as a professor in the national universities of La Plata, Tucuman Littoral, and San Juan.

Knowledgeable and reflective, as he is, during his carreer Iglesia has collaborated with such specialized publications as Nueva Visión, Ambiente, Spazio-Societá, and Summa +, besides analyzing the local and international development of architecture and design in his books Eero Saarinen (IAA-UBA, 1966), La arquitectura historicista del siglo
 XIX (Espacio Editora, 1979), La ciudad y sus sitios (CP67 Editorial, 1987), Habitar, Diseñar (Nobuko, 
2010) y 25 casos de diseño “grosso”. Argentina (1920-1981) (Diseño Editorial, 2016), most of which have been reprinted in recent years.

IDA Foundation has asked Iglesia to participate in the “Expert Opinion” section of the Old&Newsletter. The former director of the Museums department of the National Ministry of Culture and the MNBA shares his vision about the dynamics established between design and culture

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design from a cultural standpoint? And redefine culture from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?

–Design is, fundamentally, a cultural phenomenon. As an offspring of culture, redefining it requires a contextual analysis that considers not only core geographic and chronological elements but also the habits, techniques, skills, ambitions, and demands of the people that participate from it.

Without a doubt, design can also mutate and reformulate itself based on cultural grounds, since it is the result of a complex cultural system; in that sense, its constant redefinition is not only a possibility but an inevitable result of the network it originates from.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

–Weapons are the most obvious and clear example of design created out of sheer cultural necessity. Having said that, we can certainly find “healthier” cases that show how design embodies enlightening experiences, for example, another iconic example is the automobile, which was a result of the demands emanated from a modern cultural system that, at the same time, boosted the general developments required to accomplish this feat. The system provided the circumstances needed for it to exist. In other words, its creation implied the existence of specific, tangential conditions, such as paved roads.

–Has the bond between design and technique changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

–It has changed but only in its subtleties. I think the original one to one relationship will remain a keystone even when its particularities are in constant transformation due to the daily changes in terms of technology, possibilities, and, in a nutshell, things that can be achieved. No one could have conceived a car during times when fusion motors could not be created. There are objects that even with some technology available were unthinkable. This relationship changes based on factual criteria.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing in order to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?

–This inevitably depends on the social organization we belong to: for example, in communist organizations, design will be addressed to fulfill the, quote on quote, real needs of people; while capitalist systems have profit-oriented goals. This proves that design’s impact on culture can be enhanced as long as it embraces a certain political and economic perspective.