The Great Divide

If you are aware and observant of your surroundings, then you’ll notice that everywhere you go, every country you travel to, every community you meet, there is always a tension of some sort among the people of that community. There is always a “divide,” a divide usually against a minority. It is something that I can attest to, something that I can relate to, and a story I want to tell. It is a story, often not understood by the vast majority, but it is a tale that is crucial for me to express as someone who has, and still, experiences such a division.

It is a story usually overlooked as something of an excuse or easily fixable to those who have never walked in the shoes of the ones on the receiving end, struggling to be seen or heard; to be acknowledged. This is the story I want to tell; this is the story that needs light to be shed on.

The story of a small community, disconnected from the rest of the city, physically, with a river on one side, and a mangrove forest on the other, but also mentally. Mentally because once they realized they do not have the same opportunities as everyone else, it sets a limit to a person’s dreams, to a child’s dreams. This is what division does to you, and this is what being “othered” does to you.

My reflection piece represents a struggle I share with the people of El Cocal as someone who strives to gain the same opportunities as those who are privileged. As someone who is told barriers such as these doesn’t exist and that it is all just in my head. I could have shared positive and joyful experiences, which are endless, but I wanted to reflect on and express something that resonates with me, something that drives my ambition of raising awareness and breaking down these barriers that set us back.

This installation model is a conceptual one that represents the division of nations and communities, like El Cocal, using topography as an agent of expression. I was inspired to use topography due to my love for the country’s beautiful and enchanting landscapes, although, it is still going through some improvements and changes in the design of the contours. It is hanging, and it is enormous so that individuals are allowed to put themselves, physically, into the situation and surround themselves in it to feel the divide.

Through this piece, my goal is to get individuals to think, reflect and contemplate situations where people are placed in a state they have no control over and are doing their best to make the most of it—the happy and playful people of Cocal, but also the segregated and neglected people of El Cocal. Although there were a lot of things I took joy from in my stay there, there are also many things that I took lessons from.


Project 4: Growth

Over the course of our time in Costa Rica, I felt and realized that the experiences and moments I remembered the most, were those in which the OCADU group, those in El Cocal, and I, grew. Three separate experiences throughout this course drove and influenced this piece, all holding different senses of growth; growth of awareness, growth of self, and growth as a designer. These experiences called into question if I had done anything to change notions or outcomes for me or those around me, as well as making me reflect on my work as a designer and my perspectives as a human; some of the answers to these questions and reflections were grim to say the least, but I chose and continue to view them all as a parts in my development.

Taking a conceptual approach to this project, in a sense, I want this piece to be an overarching theme to my life, and a physical reminder to myself as a being, of the growth witnessed, experienced, and the growth that I will continue to go through.

The sculpture itself will consist of wooden dowels of varying sizes placed sporadically in a spiral going upwards, starting off small at the bottom, growing more dynamically acting as both a literal and conceptual representation of physical and self growth. The spiral is by no means perfect, some dowels falling lower or higher relatively, to epitomize both the struggles, and successes of both growth and growing. I chose to use wooden dowels, not only as ode to the vernacular architecture of Costa Rica, but also because are a very versatile art medium; they can be cut into different sizes and range in thicknesses yet retain their same structure, which would ultimately remind myself to stay true to this newfound purpose and to not change my goals of betterment.wfwf wfwf3

Project 4: Dispose

The piece I have created for this exhibition aims to explore the issue of human impact on the environment through our habits of consumption and the idea of disposability in objects, while also offering a visual reflection of my personal observations and experiences in Costa Rica.

Awareness seems to be growing around how our ways of over-consuming and overproducing are negatively impacting the earth, and how the remnants of our disposable culture are piling up beyond reason. The question of why and how we assign value to some objects and see others as disposable became a driving thought in the ideation of this piece, which hopes to allow the viewer to ponder their own habits of consumption and their relationship to object and environment.

Using discarded single-use items from my household as material, I turned these items into a backdrop for my visual reflections of Costa Rica and its abundant and beautiful natural elements.  I painted these objects in vibrant pink, yellow, and greenish-blue, which I observed to be used often in Costa Rica, and which reflect my personal experience of the country’s sunlight, oceans, and warmth. This process changed the context and meaning of these objects, and altered my perception of their disposability. In this way, the piece asks us to consider what makes an object valuable to us, to ponder our connection to the “disposable” objects we come into contact with on a daily basis, and to question our role and responsibilities in the life-cycle of these items.



My Backyard – My Basura Yard

I recently returned from a trip to El Cocal of Costa Rica and have been reflecting on the amazing experiences I encountered there while working on a design project to help improve the El Cocal community.  It made me think about my level of knowledge and understanding of my own community and what it means to be a local. How much of a tourist am I in my own town? I grew up and still live in Etobicoke, Ontario. I can confidently say that I don’t know much about my community or know of the pressing social, environmental, government and/or economic issues that we might be facing in Etobicoke.

My art piece will demonstrate the findings of questions I have about my community in contrast to El Cocal.  As a whole, the submission will be a physical environment populated with representations of my research. The research will be directed by four main themes the class discovered that were the cause of the excessive garbage within El Cocal. These topics will be contextualized in a fitting matter that represents my understanding and feeling towards my research.

This is an awareness project of what’s going on in my own backyard where the journey of learning, finding answers and where they lead – is the goal.

Home / Away

After arriving back on Canadian soil after our three-week course abroad, everything seemed to feel very normal. It was strange to think how quickly we can slip back into our everyday routines, like flicking a switch. Having travelled a fair amount, the feeling wasn’t new to me but it always seems to spark some reflection. I think in a way, the natural transition is because we leave a part of ourselves there, the part that is so bohemian and free and whose heart is just too full and soft for the grind of reality. However, while the transition seems natural on the surface, deep down we feel that missing self. When finally, after weeks or years we look back upon those places through our memories, it always seems to be this ideal version soaked in beauty, like a filter that makes everything glow.

My final piece is meant to focus on not only these emotional reflections, but to explore the difference in design tactics between these settings. Our design training at OCAD often conforms to a certain visual standard which may not resonate in areas where design is less accessible. Of course, this was a major factor from the beginning of the course, where our objective was to implement participatory design. With this in mind, the goal of my final project is really to explore the relationship between the away self, the home self, the away designer and the home designer with a personal and introspective view.

The physical setup of the piece so far consists of a largescale print, running from wall to floor, consisting of colorized images of Costa Rica’s tropical flora and the flowing sea which meets the coast. A translucent material such as organza/mesh will be stretched slightly above the print, forming a kind of wave shape. The mesh overlay is meant to act as the metaphorical ‘veil’ in which we view our times abroad through memory. Two stones hold the veil in place, and in the corners near the wall there are two bottles labelled coconut water but with minimal graphics reminiscent of design practiced at home. The bottles also pay homage to our project objective of managing waste. In the original concept, an additional component such as postcards or posters was to hang on the wall above or beside the installation, which would further display the contrast of institutionalized design. Depending on how elaborate the final installation is, this may or may not be included but must remain cohesive in some way to its counterpart.

The piece that has manifested so far is more of a scaled down prototype with ample room to grow and evolve. Between now and the exhibition, I intend to experiment with scale, materials, transparency, lighting and added graphic elements such as typography in order to increase visual interest and viewer engagement.  Home / Away is an art/design installation inspired by the relationship between travel and home and the transition from one to another, both as a designer and an emotional being.

[side note] in the images I have provided a rough sketch for possible future updates to the final. This includes plans for up-scaling, added components, lighting, projection and other installation formats.

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A Familiar Place

“Familiar Place” is a mobile app designed to share “off the beaten path” places. The goal is to provide visitors of a new place with a unique experience, different from the ordinary touristic routes, and touristic activities. To see places one would otherwise miss, through the ones who know it best, and to interact with different people, culture and cuisine. Very important as well is to empower locals by making money on their own schedule, and/or promote their own local business and their community.

How it Works

It works as a tool mainly written by locals of any specific place in the world, to share places, activities and events that aren’t targeted to tourists, but can also be interesting and lots of fun. It connects visitors with locals, through paid service meetings and/or hosted meals. Scheduling with a “Local Guide” or a “Local Host” are features offered by the app, as well as a safe payment platform, and a chat for Locals and Visitors to exchange information. There is a user review feature, to ensure safety, where visitors and locals can report any incidents, and/or scams. For safety reasons, every interaction is recommended to be done within the app through the offered scheduling, payment and chat features, as that is the only way “Familiar Place” as a facilitator can intervene. Users are also encouraged to share their experiences and add information about the places they have visited to create an even stronger and safer tool.


The goal was to create a user friendly, easy to understand platform, which is simple and straight to the point. The piece is a semi-functional prototype of how “Familiar Place” could look like, and a simulation of how it would be interacted with, from the perspective of the traveler, as well as the locals’.


Design exists to facilitate people’s wishes and needs, and to create a fun and safe environment for human interaction. During my stay in Quepos – Costa Rica, and my visits to El Cocal, something that really captivated me was how unique that place was, and how not many people outside of the community in El Cocal ever get to see it. I connected it back to my own home town in Portugal and all of the places, activities and events there is that only I and the locals there know of. During many interviews conducted through the course requirements to the locals, consistently the desire to share El Cocal with visitors was expressed strongly. I can think of many places in Portugal that have become touristic hotspots and how they have started to mold to the way of life of the visitors, and I was able to catch that in some of the places I visited in Costa Rica as well. Something that influenced this piece was the moments spent eating good food at Aneyda’s house (a local host that partnered with GVI), getting to know her grandkids, experiencing a local event, the Kite festival, and of course the breath taking beach which is always a few steps away. This is a piece that wishes to share the authenticity of places, and share honest experiences of living.

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What If? – Project 4

What If?

“Embracing human-centred design means believing that all problems, even those that are seemingly intractable like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable” ( So why not equip individuals experiencing those problems with the mindset, tools, and techniques of a human-centred designer?

“What If?” is a kid-friendly generative design tool in the form of a card game. The goal of the game is to empower El Cocal school children with the creative confidence and optimism necessary for tackling their personal and communal issues. As part of the Global Vision International (GVI) curriculum, these cards immerse the user into the mindset of a designer by facilitating the application of human-centred design methods and techniques to personal and communal issues that they may encounter during their daily life. Throughout my 3-week immersion into the community of El Cocal, I witnessed and learned about the different personal and communal struggles that residents face on a daily basis. These included employment, education, waste management, security, housing, immigration, the natural environment, community culture, transportation and more. Imagine a community that could approach and solve their issues without the aid of external organizations. “What If?” as a platform can be a catalyst for shifting the mindset of the next generation of youth in El Cocal by changing the way they approach their personal and communal problems.

How it works

“What If?” presents children with a problem relevant to their lives and a human-centred design technique to help solve it. The tool consists of two different card decks: Circumstance and Activity.

On the face of each Circumstance card, a “What if…” question is posed. Each question falls under different categories of personal and communal circumstances that El Cocal children could potentially face.

On the face of the Activity cards, an activity based off of a human-centred technique is presented. The techniques used are based off of Design Thinking’s 5 step methodology: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. The techniques used are then presented in a kid-friendly way, free of any specialized design language.


Project 4: Community Seating

This design piece, simply entitled Community Seating, is a picnic table designed to facilitate community interactions as a reflection of the beautiful community interactions we had in Costa Rica. Sharing stories, knowledge, and food with the people of El Cocal and my classmates became a big part of what I loved the most about being in Costa Rica.

My approach to the design of Community Seating was to create seating that is as simplistic as possible, a direct reflection of the design styles in El Cocal. The intricate, hand-painted patterns found in the piece reference a painting style found in Costa Rica, La Caretta Tipica, which has a rich history in the decoration of prized possessions, specifically Ox Carts in the turn of the 20th century. La Caretta Tipica is the perfect expression of the colour, nature, and beauty found in Costa Rica and is also a perfect homage to the experiences that shaped this piece. Finally, in lieu of our reason for being in Costa Rica, to assist the community of El Cocal in developing a waste management system, all of the wood and nails used in the making of this piece are entirely reused materials.

The people of El Cocal reminded me that happiness is not a reflection of the things you own, the money you have, or the amount of success others perceive you to have – we can find happiness in each other and in an appreciation of what you are already so lucky to have. This piece is a reflection of this incredible learning experience and what I valued most from our trip; community.

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Project 4– Pura Vida

Pura Vida, it literally translates to ‘pure life’ and has become Costa Rica’s (unofficial) slogan. After experiencing what Costa Rica has to offer, I can say that it is more than just a saying though. I would say Pura Vida is more of a lifestyle; one that embraces simplicity, one where you forget about time, step away from technology, follow the pace of nature around you, and be most present in your current surroundings. This is what Pura Vida is, and this is the serene experience that I am recreating through my exhibit space. For the installation of this piece, I wanted to make it as immersive and experiential as I could, so I played around with designing for the 5 senses. Each sense that I decided to design for is relating back to an experience that we had experienced in Costa Rica, whether it is the visuals, sound, smell, feeling
(touch), and taste.


Last Day All Together :(

Today was our last full day in Costa Rica. Some of us parted ways in La Fortuna while the rest of us made the jaunt out to San Jose for our flights tomorrow. Considering it was our last full day, we really did a lot.

We started our day with an Arenal Volcano tour, which was amazing! It was funny hearing all of us agree that we were “so over seeing monkeys!” since they’re everywhere in Costa Rica. Then we’d quickly change our attitude when we saw Toucans or cool frogs — I wanted this frog as a pet basically all of my life and I don’t know the name of what type of frog it is! It was really quite cool though.



We got to see another waterfall on the hike and go on a few cool bridges. Then we set out to go to a natural hot spring which was such an amazing experience. Some people even got their dead skin eaten by fish … ick! I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but my skin had still never felt more clear because of all of the steam.


Then we all went to eat lunch back in La Fortuna and say our goodbyes to the people staying in Costa Rica that we would be parting ways with. It was actually kind of a happy moment even though the trip was sadly ending, we all had so many memories to share!

Finally, after we split off, the rest of us (10 students left!) got on the bus to go to San Jose. I think a lot of us slept for most of the ride, then slept immediately again at the San Jose hostel. We were going to need all the sleep we could get for our flights tomorrow. There was some bad sushi in between each of those sleepy times though — I’d like more Casados instead, please! What a crazy, amazing day!

Time for fun!

Having wrapped up our 3-week project with a community presentation the night before too say the least we were all exhausted, running on no sleep and lots of amazing Costa Rican coffee. We departed from our temporary home and said goodbye to Quepos, El Cocal and many of the amazing staff that helped us over the past few weeks.

We drove from Quepos to La Fortuna, taking around 4 hours. We arrived and were immediately taken to go see the iconic La Fortuna waterfalls. This breathtaking waterfall is over 75 meters tall, cascading down from the Arenal Volcano landing in a picture perfect pool of clear yet absolutely bone freezing fresh water. I like most people immediately jumped into the water, not expecting how refreshing it was after walking down 500+ steps. We spent around an hour swimming, lounging and taking pictures, then it was time to make the journey back up the 500+ steps. Taking what felt like a lifetime we finally all made it up to the top, exhausted and sweaty.


Heading back, we rested back at the hostel for a while, having a well-deserved break. Later that day we knew we were going to experience the Arenal Volcano hot springs, not knowing that our guide Julius was treating us to an amazing night at a 5-star hotel’s hot springs. When we landed at Baldi Hot Springs Resort we were all taken away by how beautiful this place was. We were treated to a buffet of amazing food, a great break from rice and beans! After dinner, we started to explore this crazy place. It was not just a couple of pools like we expected but a massive wonderland of hot springs. They had 25 different hot pools with varying temperatures, extreme water slides, steam caves, and jacuzzis. After several hours, maybe a few concussions from the water slides and being perfectly relaxed by the hot springs it was time to call it a night, heading back to our hostel for the night.


Projecto Completo: Good-bye El Cocal and Good luck

Today was our last day of our project. We put all our last efforts into completing our assignment and presenting a proposal for a waste management and collection service to El Cocal. Our proposal originated from the efforts and interviews from the dedicated residents of El Cocal. The scope of work ranged from creating an identity for El Cocal, establishing a residents association, creating  job opportunities and a daily waste management collection service. The most important part, developing education plans and literature on recycling and taking care of the environment.


Leading up the presentation we were working diligently, trying to finish all the complex aspects of the project. It was all worth it. We were advised that the turn- out from the community could be minimal. To our amazement upon arrival, we were elated to see a decent turn out of the residents who were patiently waiting to see what the plan we had come up with.


It was a total joy to present to the community, the presentation which was in English and Spanish. A special thanks to GVI for their assistance in translating the presentations slides, ensuring our messages was conveyed in Spanish. I was so pleased to see everyone’s work come together and to really see my classmates expertise, experience and skill sets applied to this project. I can totally see why Sarah picked all of us. We’re a talented bunch. Our dedication and drive came from the compassion we all have to help the community in the best way we could, through design and systems thinking.


Our job was to apply systems thinking to propose a formalized way to move them forward to attaining their goals. We leave El Cocal with hugs, smiles and an implementation document. We planted the seeds and encouragement that they can do it. As we were wrapping up our evening the residents were already planning the next meeting to make this seed blossom.

Pura Vida!