The Design Museum are running a series of talks at the moment – I went along to this one given by Fernando and Humberto Campana with a Brazilian friend I met on the CSM Furniture Design course. She had intrigued me by describing their work as “representing everything that it means to be Brazilian.” 
campana brothers book signing

campana brothers book signing

The talk was a fascinating insight into Brazilian culture and the Campana brothers’ design process.

“From nothing you can create your universe.”

Fernando and Humberto talked about taking humble ‘found’ materials; things that are a source of shame, and giving them nobility, which I thought was a lovely concept. Their current project is a chandelier made from broken glass! Although this approach has since given them great sustainability credentials and a defining style; it started out of need – they simply couldn’t afford injection moulding techniques and other manufacturing processes, so they made things with what they could find. They are now very committed to sustainability and not only won’t use endangered trees, but even actively use a vine that strangles and kills endangered trees in the Amazon rain forest.

“From things are born other things.”

They also talked a lot about the importance of being involved in the making process themselves – and Fernando’s hands had the cuts to prove it! They described their ideas as ‘coming from the hands’ or coming out of the process of engaging in a dialogue with the materials. Almost as if they explore the materials until they find the design or the idea. Humberto said “The materials dictate the form and the function.” For this reason they do very little sketching and no scale prototypes at all. They always work 1:1 and get stuck straight into sketch modelling. Humberto also said that the process of making was very therapeutic and often leads to ideas for future projects.

“…the Favela, which has been re-named ‘the community'”

They also talked a lot about their committment to using local community craftspeople in Brazil to produce their products. Linking with the idea of giving materials nobility, they want to do the same for the people and the traditional crafts of Brazil. And they feel that using handmade production methods are crucial to retaining the soul of their designs. They often take crafts that have fallen out of fashion; that Brazilians have become ashamed of, and modernise them, e.g. using (recycled) plastic in place of bamboo for basket weaving; to put pride back into these traditional methods. They provide livelihoods to people who would otherwise be forced into crime to survive – this seemed to be something that was really important to them.

“Revisit ideas with maturity”

Another area they touched on that I thought was interesting, was that you should never completely discard an idea. You should register it and then put it to one side, so you can come back to it later. Humberto talked a lot about the importance of maturity in his approach to his work. He doesn’t think the Segrato cabinet works as well as some of their other pieces, but feels it was important to register it as a concept, so he can come back to it later with more maturity.  

And a final insight into the minds of the Campana brothers; as children, Fernando wanted to be an astronaut and Humberto wanted to be an indigenous Amazonian!