This blog represents the students’ thoughts and observations during the 2019 Design Abroad: Costa Rica course. It also serves as an archive of the project and work accomplished in collaboration with the local community. To learn more, read the following blog posts, starting at the beginning through to the final day’s post.
Students and faculty from the Design Abroad: Costa Rica course invite you to attend the Design Abroad Exhibition. The exhibition will be held November 19th to 29th in the Great Hall with an opening reception on November 19th, from 5PM to 7PM.
This exhibition features the work of students from across the FoD who participated in the Design Abroad course in May. Their individual projects are inspired by their experiences traveling and engaging in a comprehensive participatory design project with the El Cocal community in Costa Rica.
During our time in Costa Rica while eating meals together, interviewing community member or just hanging out I constantly found sitting in an extremely comfortable rocking chair made of simple materials, just rebar, and rope. Once I got back home to Canada I kept thinking about this chair design, wondering how the design found itself all over Costa Rica? One family we worked with in El Cocal made these chairs in his backyard and sold them as a side business, this made me think of how I could help the community by leveraging this design and the need for more employment in many places such as El Cocal.
After arriving back in Canada I started to research this chair. The chair, which is locally referred to as Sillas Mecedoras is a mix of a classic American designed mid-century rocking chair made of rebar and cord and the classic wooden Costa Rican rocking chair. In the late 1960s, many American chair manufacturers moved production to Latin America bringing the classic design with them. Over the years workers from these factories redesigned these chairs incorporating aspects of there classic wooden rockers into them, creating this hybrid chair that can be manufactured in small workshops all across Costa Rica. While in Costa Rica I really wanted to purchase one of these chairs to bring back to Canada, unfortionaly due to there design they do not come apart for easy shipping, making it extremely expensive to ship.
For the final design, Keeping with the original design the seat changes very little from the original design. I wanted to keep what I felt was the two most important aspects of the design alive. The seat and backrest, these are the most critical portions of the design from a comfort and ergonomics perspective.
To allow this design to be flat packable I needed to find a way to allow the base to be easily removed from the seat/backrest and to include as minimal work for the end-user. The final design uses a system consisting of the two side pieces and two cross braces connecting the side pieces with the base/backrest units. The side pieces are meant to emulate current trends in North American outdoor furniture with sleek yet subtle curves, sharp edges, and large sweeping organic shapes.
The design requires only two materials, new or recycled rebar and PVC cord. With many communities already having a background with welding due to the large ship repair industry finding trained staff would not be a problem, this project would also allow for on the job welding training for youth and unemployed, giving them the training they need for a career for life.
The concept behind my reflection was to attack a blank piece of lumber with an angle grinder and carve into something pleasant. One of the things that stood out to me the most during my time in El Cocal was that such a community could thrive and evolve without a plan or government. I wanted to reflect that in my piece, to go into it blind, and hope for the best. It was a departure from the normal heavy planning, research and thought behind most design projects. After all research and planning is basically what design is. But the lack of specification and detail let me think about other things while I was working.
I went to my family’s cabin, which is itself on a small island separated from society by a very small water crossing, because I think the parallels and contrasts between the two environments made for some good contrasting and reminiscing. While I worked, I tried to think about how lucky I am to have the cabin and the space, the luxury of time to be able to experiment with art and design. I thought about the differences between the two communities, mine has less than 15 full year residents, the other 1500+. Both are roughly the same size. The waste system on Simcoe island works because everyone has a car, they have to, and can easily drive their waste to a neighboring island with a municipal waste processing/ recycling site. It works because of the low yet wealthy population. The crossing is municipally funded and free for residents. All this made me feel pretty lucky too.
I carved the piece out of local pine, an offcut from the main column that holds my cabin up. I used only an angle grinder, as I had seen them in use in Cocal, and I wanted to keep things simple. The form is not nearly as symbolic to me as the process behind it. Taking time to think about my experiences and my time in Costa Rica, while keeping my hands busy creating something interesting (hopefully). There is still a lot of detail carving, sanding and finishing to do, but the main form is there, and I’m glad I got to spend the time working on it in the way I did.
In reflecting on the experiences and situations we felt, both collectively and individually, during the course of our stay in Costa Rica, I realized that there was an underlying notion of community and collaboration. As a group we did everything communally, such as having our meals together everyday. Additionally, the work we were doing was in collaboration with the community of El Cocal which further promoted this idea of interactivity between all of us. In thinking about the spaces where these situations unfolded, I realized that there was an inherent openness that would facilitate these interactions.
Many of the spaces and structures we came across were characterized by being large and open, with a free-plan and with a sense of permeability. They were often accessible from multiple sides, with the lack of walls to allow for movement and air-flow. While surely these spaces resulted from a response to the climate, I do not doubt that they foster the type of interactions and encounters that we experienced. This sense of sociability was indicative of one of the main differences in culture between Costa Rica and back home.
In an attempt to encapsulate and recreate the social spaces and places we witnessed, my piece is a gazebo that frames an a small, intimate space that attempts to foster social interaction and invites users to stand together in underneath the structure.
The structure, drawing inspiration from locally observed shelters and their form, is comprised of a triangular truss-like frame. The triangular portals invite the users to stand underneath the central joint, creating a quasi-ribbed vault construction. The resulting space underneath could be used as a meeting place or a junction in between other spaces, ideally leading to users to stop for a while and interact with other users. The form is directly inspired from a particular bamboo structure encountered on an excursion. The tall ceiling heights where possible due to the qualities of the material. The space is further enclosed by horizontally placed PVC cords that run from the structural elements framing the portals to the central structural elements framing the central space. The cords will both further demarcate the space as an enclosure, but it also acts as a brise soleil, which recalls the need for shelter from the sun in the tropical Costa Rican climate.
“It takes a special kind of person to do this kind of work”.
A beautifully insightful comment I received from my mother when expressing how exceptional the Costa Rica team was.
Once returning to Canada when reflecting on my experiences to friends and family I realized how difficult it was to truly express the essence of the time we spent a together as a group. I chose to create a documentary following people involved in with the project, diving deeper into who they are as designers and humanitarians. Once deciding to shift my focus on the more human aspect of this project I became innately interested in how people tell narratives. Not necessarily documenting in the sense of formally telling the viewer what we did, but how it felt and how it was all connected to one another. I was very inspired by the initial meeting of the students on the first night in San Hose. All of us had different interests, specialized in different disciplines yet we all ended up here. I found it to be quite captivating the quick dynamic we established with one another very early on.
My final project consists of 2 types of documentation, one being a full-length documentary following the progress of our project alongside interviews with the students. The second aspect of the project follows 2D documentation in the form of an accordion-fold photo book. Intended to be viewed together or separately as it tells the same story but conveys a slightly different tone. The documentary will tell the narrative of the student perspective starting from project presentation then working backwards to show how we got there. The book however will tell the story of our journey chronologically with short chapter breaks introducing each new step of the project.
The two-part documentation is intended to be both inspiring and educational to the viewers. I believe tapping into the human experience and impact of a project like this is so important to encourage more participatory design methods to be implemented into regular design practices, as well as inspire more people to get involved in work like this. Not only is it incredibly rewarding but also generates real world change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.