Spotlight: America(s)

American Design Stories: Humberto Campana 

Anna Carnick

The Brazilian trailblazer talks about creating equity through design and what makes him most proud

In the American Design Stories series, we ask designers from across the Americas to share their insights on American design today, along with three images that represent their vision of American design.

We recently sat down with Humberto Campana, cofounder of the groundbreaking São Paulo-based Estudio Campana. The studio—a familial partnership between Humberto and his younger brother, Fernando—has led the disruptive design wave of the past 30-plus years. Frequently transforming everyday materials into museum-quality works, the Brazilian trailblazers critique social mores and inequities through a signature, charismatic approach that harnesses traditional craftsmanship, an energetic, contemporary vision, and often humble media. Honoring their Brazilian roots through vibrant colorways and combinations, they champion poetic, simple design solutions above all.

What is an example of the best of American design?

I admire the body of work of Charles and Ray Eames. It is a great example of innovation that resists the test of time, that inspired several generations of designers—even to this day—to look at their living space differently, while exploring new ways to create materials on an industrial scale.

Asked to pick an image that embodies American design, Campana points to this: La Chaise by Ray and Charles Eames. This icon of organic design was created in 1948 for a competition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, inspired by Floating Figure, a sculpture by Gaston Lachaise. Photo © MoMA

What are the most urgent topics that designers can and should address today?

Sustainability. I know this has been mentioned repeatedly over the past few years, but I can’t stress enough how the design community has to spearhead the movement to balance the usage of resources on our planet, including human resources. We can’t continue taking from the environment and returning it in the form of waste. We must resignify everything.

Where do you look for joy or optimism?

I look for joy in the process of giving life to objects.

Do you have a personal mantra?

Build your life with your hands.

Another example of quintessential American design? Campana picks the Palácio Gustavo Capanema, Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro by Roberto Burle Marx. Image © FADB, via Flickr

How can design support a more equitable society?

By making sure we create pieces using a sustainable process where the production chain includes and considers the small businesses, the artisans, and the communities in remote areas that may benefit and thrive. We founded Instituto Campana ten years ago with that in mind. Aside from preserving our legacy, we aim to give back to society and support people in underserved communities. We nurture their self-esteem by either teaching them a craft or expanding their outlook on how to use it. Sharing knowledge and showing them how design can truly improve their lives is a great start. It is incredibly rewarding to see the transformation.

Serpentine Galleries Pavilion 2014 designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić in London (2014). The semi-translucent, cylindrically shaped installation calls to mind the organic form of a shell. Photograph © Iwan Baan

What gives you the most joy in your work?

Everything! I absolutely love what I do, so every day at work is like being on holiday for me.

What are you most proud of in your work to date?

I’m sincerely proud of having a studio where I employ 20 people, in a country where unemployment is so high. I love to be able to mentor my team, who already have excellent skills, and show them how to apply their knowledge to new ideas, new possibilities. Inspiring people is very fulfilling because it fuels energy right back to me and keeps the creativity flowing.

Thank you, Humberto!

 

*Special thanks as well to Iwan Baan for generously providing the above image from the studio’s series depicting the 2014 Serpentine Gallery, London’s Smiljan Radic installation.

 

Humberto Campana is cofounder—along with his brother, Fernando—of Estudio Campana. Proudly rooted in Brazilian culture and traditions, their work carries universal values in its core, such as freedom and human dignity, through the search of our identity from life experiences. Campana pieces are part of permanent collections of renowned cultural institutions such as Centre Pompidou and the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, MoMa, New York, Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo and Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein.

In 2009, the Campanas founded Instituto Campana, in order to preserve their ever-growing collection for future generations and to promote design as a tool for transformation through social and educational programs.

 

Inspired by the 2020 Design Miami/ Podium theme America(s)—and all the complexities that go along with it, especially in this moment—Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects connected with a selection of outstanding designers with personal ties to the Americas to get their take on “American” design today. Their responses were insightful, inspiring, and diverse: From thoughts on the most pressing issues and challenges facing designers now, to hopes and suggestions for a more equitable future, and reflections on their own American design journeys to date. Each story is accompanied by images provided by the designer that embody what America(s) or American design means to them.

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