Spotlight: America(s)

American Design Stories: Rodrigo Pinto

Wava Carpenter

The Chilean designer reflects on America’s past, present, and future

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 the designers’ vision of American design.

This American Design Story spotlights Santiago-based designer Rodrigo Pinto, who is making an international name for himself through furniture and objects that are at once beautiful and eerily evocative of a post-apocalyptic world. Each of Pinto’s unique pieces carries a message—implicitly and sometimes explicitly—about where he’s from and where we all may be going.

Does the notion of America or American design figure into your own work? If so, how?

I don’t know if the notion of America figures into my work or not, but I think about it everyday and try to work the concept into my work like an energy. Our ancestors used ideas of worship—magical events, building, things like totems. For me today, I am moved by a similar idea, but imagining a possible chaotic future. So the energy of imagining something that only lives in my head and using the idea to make things, for me, is like our ancestors.

But then I think about who I am, a mestizo, and my ancestors, the mestizos ones, don’t have a history—maybe that is a difficult concept to understand. They were slaves, and they just felt pain in their existence. So, maybe that’s why my work is always inspired by a possible chaotic end.

"In 1889, Belgian Maurice Maitre kidnapped a family of Selk'nam people, whom he took in chains to be exhibited in Europe like animals. Of the 11, two died on the trip. In Paris, they were presented behind bars as alleged cannibals; every afternoon the public threw raw horse meat at them. They were kept dirty, so that they had the appearance of savages. Given the inhumane conditions of the exhibition, the Missionary Society began demanding the family's release. So Maitre took them to Brussels, where they were imprisoned and then deported to England. From there the family embarked for Tierra del Fuego. Of the 11, six made it home according to Chilean authorities." Photo © Adolfo Kwasny c. 1889, in the public domain

What identity obstacles do you face in your work?

I think the only real obstacle today is living so far away from where the design and art events are happening. Is difficult to open your own professional highways being so far, because it is expensive to deliver pieces, make contacts, and find people who want to believe in you. Today I’m working with Side Gallery in Barcelona, and it has been hard because of the studio-gallery logistics. But they are being super nice with me.

What is an example of the best of American design?

For me, a very good example of American design is that mix of craft and design knowledge. There are a lot of good designers who are working with native craft communities, and I think it is amazing. I haven’t tried it yet, because I need to be there working the materials and for that I need time and resources. I know a beautiful example of a couple of girls who build beautiful lamps, LAMPS FROM CHILE.

What is an example of the worst of American design?

I think a bad example of American design is when we try to be European design... that feeling of belonging to something that is not really you is weird. But in the end, everyone is free to do so.

“Gustavo Gatica was left totally blind after being shot with pellets by the Chilean police during demonstrations that began in October 2019 and that continue to this day.” Photo © Gustavo Gatica

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

I think designers have to have an opinion... about everything, but today, urgently, a political opinion. Today our world is revealing its true nature, and designers have to say something, be aggressive, political, have a social opinion. I respect a lot of designers who are saying something.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility to use your platform as a designer in a particular way? How so?

Yes. I mean, I couldn’t be a quiet, reserved person—and even less so a quiet designer. Actually I’ve been putting some messages to the future into some of my pieces. As I imagine the end of the world will happen someday, I imagine some of my pieces will be destroyed someday. So in a hundred years in the future, somebody will read what was happening in our times today. They will know the truth, in case somebody tries to twist the history.

Pinto has started to leave messages to posterity in his work, which may be discovered upon the destruction of the pieces. This message says, “If this piece, under any circumstance, is destroyed, may it never be forgotten; that in Chile, until 2020, human rights continued to be systematically violated.” Photo © Rodrigo Pinto

Where do you look for joy or optimism?

Sharing with friends, training, sharing with my family. I am always doing things that have nothing to do with the art or design world.

What gives you the most joy in your work?

When I finish a new prototype or piece and when I’m drawing one. It’s the moment when I don’t feel pressure. In the middle of the process sometimes I feel a not-so-good feeling. But it is normal I think. There is time and investments, so you have to do your best to use the resources in the best possible way. Even in my work where I’m always trying to use inexpensive materials or processes. So one of my favorite processes is using residues.

Thank you, Rodrigo!


Pinto was born in 1988 in Santiago, where he graduated in Industrial Design in 2015. Alongside his university degree, he engaged in informal studies with artisans of various specialties experimenting and learning with an array of materials and techniques. He took a special interest in ceramics during his university years. In 2015, he applied for an internship with Spanish artist-designer Nacho Carbonell, which paved his way to a year studying in Eindhoven. Returning to Chile in 2017, he opened his first workshop in Santiago, focusing on the construction of sculptural furniture and objects that are often imbued with formal concepts of a post-apocalyptic Earth.


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.