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Colombia Travelogue #1

View of Bogota photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

View of Bogota
Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Centro Cultural Gabriel García Márquez
Old and new(ish) on the streets of Bogota photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Old and new(ish) on the streets of Bogota
Inspiration at Olga Piedrahita's studio photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Inspiration at Olga Piedrahita's studio
Rogelio Salmona's Torres del Parque and Bogota's Plaza de Toros, seen from the office of Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectura photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani

Rogelio Salmona's Torres del Parque and Bogota's Plaza de Toros, seen from the office of Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectura
Gris photo by João Guarantani

photo by João Guarantani


22 October 2015
by João Guarantani

It's always exciting to visit a country for the first time. All the more so when one's introduced to the best of its architecture, design and fashion scene by colleagues, leading figures in the sector as well as emerging designers, who will often take you places you've never expected to get to. And I'm thrilled to have arrived in Colombia, another Latin American country I have longed to visit. Colombia has gone through an incredible transformation over the last decade, and I look forward to seeing some of these changes first hand.

The purpose of my trip is to assist our new Head of Arts in the country, Sylvia Ospina, and her team to connect with the design sector and start mapping potential projects to take place in 2016 and beyond. A really comprehensive programme awaits and we get started in earnest.

My first day is spent with London College of Fashion alumnus Daniel Ramos, a true 'bogotano' now settling back in his home town after finishing his studies in London. Ruth Heenan, a London-based designer is also in town and joins us for our exploration of the city centre, which includes a quick visit to the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Cultural Centre, one of the most famous projects by celebrated Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona, a leading figure in Modernism in Latin America. The plethora of sounds and visual stimuli out on the street is heady and, as a Brazilian, it almost feels like home. I'm struck by the richness of detail and Salmona's masterly use of the material he became known for; the brick. It's a wonderful introduction to the city and its complex aesthetic context, with the constant contrast of old and new, colonial and contemporary. I wonder if Fundación Rogelio Salmona or Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectos could help us set up an architecture residency here, along the lines of the Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship? 

My week starts with a visit to Juan Luis Isaza, who is known as a leading authority in heritage in Colombia. Juan used to lead on the subject for the Ministry of Culture, and tells me of the wonderful projects he has been involved in and the recent drive to celebrate and restore some of Colombia's most significant architectural gems. Juan also shares news of an incredible new project being expanded by his successor at the Ministry, a network of Escuelas Talleres (workshop schools) set up all over the country, often in troubled areas, to provide skills development and training for local communities. These schools, in turn, eventually provide a qualified work force for the restoration of heritage sites. Once the skills and materials needed for particular projects are identified, schools that can match these needs are established and a cycle of matching supply and demand starts in a seemless manner. The schools have an additional role of maintaining traditions, keeping the use of local materials and skills alive as they are always anchored around the local context. I couldn't have asked for a more inspiring introduction to my week!

We then start to have a number of meetings with key organisations and individuals in the design sector, including the national design award Lápiz de Acero and its accompanying Proyecto Diseño magazine, which were set up nearly 20 years ago to celebrate the best of Colombian design. There are obvious parallels with D&AD's Yellow Pencils and we discuss ways to bring both closer together. We are then whisked to the studio of one of Colombia's most established fashion designers, Olga Piedrahita, a wonderful treasure trove of inspiration and generosity. Olga is known for her collaboration with other designers and artists, and uses her stature in the sector to pave the way for emerging talent she shows in her wonderful Bogota showroom alongside her own creations.

Another space quickly making a mark on the fashion scene in the country is Gris, a shop and exhibition space established in a striking new building - a testament to the recent transformation the city is undergoing - which brings together a number of creative businesses. Gris is run by a group of Bogota-based designers that, much like Olga Piedrahita's studio, evokes a sense of collaboration and generosity. There seems to be a theme here and it's an encouraging one.

Besides meeting leading and emerging designers, which helps me paint a picture of the context of working in the field in Colombia, my time in Bogota includes visits to some of the country's leading design schools: Universidad Jorge Tadeo LozanoUniversidad de los AndesLaSalle College and Universidad Nacional de Colombia. I'm impressed by the wealth of programmes and the common themes presented - a cross-disciplinary approach to architecture and design and the drive to stronger international links. There is also an increasing awareness of the rise of the so-called 'maker movement' in these schools, and with many of them setting up their own maker spaces an obvious link with the Maker Library Network is on the table. We're not short of ideas!

As my 3 days in Bogota comes to an end, Sylvia and I feel thankful for all the inspiring visits, meetings and conversations, and look forward to the next 2 days of further exploration and discovery in Medellin.