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Rodríguez: «We should incorporate digital interphases to our conception of design in a decisive way and leave behind the purely material culture that still predominates in our region»

The creator of the magazines PLOT and NESS, Florencia Rodríguez, claims that our context provides opportunities to diversify the ways in which we approach and practice design in order to produce significant transformations.

After obtaining her degree as an architect at the University of Belgrano and specializing in Form and Meaning, Florencia Rodríguez devoted her career from the beginning to writing and editing specialized texts. After having collaborated regularly with texts for Summa +, she founded the architecture publication PLOT in 2010, which she directed for seven years. As time went by, on account of its innovative, experimental, and assertive conception of the discipline, PLOT became an emblematic design journal in all Latin America.

In 2017, motivated by the aim of creating new platforms to dialogue and create meaning within the field of tangible and intangible culture, she boosted, alongside Pablo Gerson, another disruptive project: the printing house Lots of Architecture – publishers, along with its main product, the English language magazine –NESS. On Architecture, Life and Urban Culture, which also has a digital website with updated podcasts, news, and thematic documents.

In the academic sphere, Rodríguez has taught in different American and European institutions, such as the University of Buenos Aires, the University of Palermo, the University of the Littoral, and the Boston Architectural College, since 2004. Up until last year, she delivered the seminars on Theory of Technology and Theory of Landscape which belong to graduate programs at the Torcuato Di Tella University.

While being a Loeb Fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Design, she curated and coordinated the International Symposium on Contemporary Architecture Critique “What Criticism?”. In 2016, she was a member of the jury that awarded the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize, one of the top architecture competitions in America.

Throughout her brief but intense career, the bass player of the band Olympia has been acknowledged with multiple awards for her work as an editor, such as the recognition bestowed upon her at the Ibero-American Architecture Biennial. She has also written in several publications like Domus, Oris, Arquine, a+u, and Uncube. She is currently working on a compilation of her reviewed articles while co-editing with Mark Lee issue 48 of the Harvard Design Magazine, that will be published before the year’s end.

Invited by IDA Foundation to participate in the “Expert Opinion” section of September’s Old&Newsletter devoted to the topic of connectivity, Rodríguez encourages the readers to keep dissolving limits and building bridges between virtual and real, within disciplines, time frames, spaces, and ideas with the goal of carrying out “discreet revolutions” that will eventually result in much needed evolutionary processes.

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

–Ever since communications have become the means through which we experience the world, connectivity has had an impact on design and vice versa, even in not so evident ways. For instance, in the fields of architecture, landscape design, and urbanism, composition and form have given way to the relationships established among different elements, many times based on interpretations of narratives originated in such disciplines as topology, philosophy, and relational aesthetics, to mention a few. That method of undertaking projects, which should not be conceived as deterministic but as a practice that fosters, boosts, and brings forth situations while creating connections, has certainly re-defined many aspects of design.

Terminology from other spheres of knowledge also resonate within this context, for example, concepts that reveal things-connectivity links which surpass disciplinary borders, such as the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and “design thinking” (understood as conceiving ideas from a design-focused perspective).

In other words, the aforementioned relationship penetrates and defines, in general terms, our contemporary understanding of the world and the way in which we use our objects, spaces, and devices. I think it would be impossible to conceive the discipline as an isolated sphere without having direct ties with both human and non-human entities; I would even dare to claim that design is connection.

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

–On one hand, connectivity has modified our way of working to such an extent that no one can avoid these kinds of experiences. Referring my own work, the editorial practices concerned with design matters we have carried out —first in PLOT and now in NESS— did not exist a few decades back, without internet nor connectivity.

On the other hand, I cannot find an answer to this question outside the context marked by the pandemic and the new work dynamics we have been forced to implement in order to keep moving forward. From that starting point, I think that we should incorporate digital interphases to our conception of design in a more decisive way and leave behind the purely material culture that still predominates in our region. This is hardly a new thought, however, being challenged to use these interphases on a daily basis for working purposes and to rethink their role, I am now wondering if these issues have not been duly considered in the process of conceiving design.

That is why, even if I would love to answer by referring to a specific object or public space, something that could be touched, smelled or felt, to exemplify an uplifting experience in terms of the relationship between design and connectivity, that would currently be unfair. This year Zoom and Tik Tok are the products that are teaching us about our contemporary experience, and it should be highlighted. Are there better ways to design the type of interaction offered by Zoom? How come Tik Tok has become a space of interaction and expansion that tops any other one even to the extent of having a tangible impact on political issues and physical territory? Once a platform is designed, new ways of connecting are designed alongside it.

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

–Absolutely! Just think about this precise newsletter, the device where people read it, the possibility of accessing thousands of live conferences regardless where they are taking place, how education is currently redefining itself in order to continue, the enhanced consumer habits carried out from home which had previously boosted such enterprises as Amazon or Mercado Libre even before 2020. Let’s think also about the new payment platforms and the general ways of managing money, as well as the different activities that we have discovered lately can be done from the apparent intimacy of our living quarters. Most of these things had already started to mutate before the pandemic, but now, this process has reached unexpected heights. During the next decade, we will witness which of these phenomena will keep moving on the same track and which ones will face fundamental transformations. We are on the verge of something interesting. Design and connectivity are key agents of the current changes that we perceive as something so dramatic and dangerous, yet provocative.

I think we will see more products emerge from this pairing in the immediate and near future. This corpus will include a vast range of products, from the smallest objects to public spaces, from the domestic sphere to entire territories.

In terms of design education specifically, many universities are now opening comprehensive design programs, where the field is understood as an umbrella discipline that establishes transversal links among very diverse aspects of life. This means that specialized programs related to design give way to a holistic way of conceiving the role of designers, male and female alike. Somehow, design is understood precisely as connectivity, as a thinking strategy, thus, leaving behind the primacy of an aesthetic interpretation.

–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?

–In my opinion, design cannot be conceived without considering all those topics anymore and they cannot be considered as external elements, but as essential components of the discipline. When sustainability became a trend, along came an excessive number of green fronts that showed how much effort was devoted to express and create awareness about our concern for the issue. However, as time went by, we understood that sustainability is one of many features of design, as important as technology is to architecture, to name an example; once we built that common ground, we were able to overcome that green image, which looked more like propaganda, and find more committed production methods.

Maybe I am way too optimistic (allow me to indulge in that self-preserving feeling if only to cope with such a year as this one) but I think that extreme crisis, like the one we are facing, are a wake up call that will make us pay attention and perceive key issues that will inaugurate new paths.

We do not define identity, nature, and society in the same way as those terms were defined during the modernity, besides, one of the values of design is, precisely, to represent what we are and what we could become. In that respect, connectivity can be understood in diverse ways: among people, between people and objects, based on different historical meanings, in between craftsmanship and production, in between body and thing. From that departing point, new projects and solutions are already emerging all over the globe. They consider all possible scales: inclusive public spaces, democratic ways of making technology accessible to everyone, and objects meant to change deeply rooted habits.

A very simple and concrete case is the menstrual cup, an ergonomically designed element that is presently changing paradigms related to the female body while supporting an environmentalist effort. Such small things are the fertile ground that allows design to achieve what I like to call discreet revolutions. From tiny, individual changes, huge transformations can be accomplished.