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We are proud to welcome Marina Otero Verzier as the new head of our MA Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE). Otero will replace the current head Jan Boelen as of September 1, 2020.

Marina Otero Verzier is an architect based in Rotterdam. Next to her new position at DAE, she is also the Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut (HNI). Before coming to HNI, Otero was based in New York, where she was Director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X. She studied at TU Delft and ETSA Madrid, Columbia University GSAPP and in 2016, Otero received her PhD at ETSA Madrid.

As Director of Research at HNI, Otero works to acknowledge and give visibility to research projects, practices, and initiatives, whose success is understood in their ability to offer departures from established modes of thinking. In this light, she leads initiatives such as ‘Automated Landscapes’ (focusing on the emerging architectures of automated labour), and ‘BURN-OUT. Exhaustion on a planetary scale’ (aiming to instigate other forms of coexistence, sensibility and care for multispecies, collective bodies). In addition to her role at HNI, Otero was a member of the Artistic Team for Manifesta 13, and Curator of WORK, BODY, LEISURE, the Dutch Pavilion at the 16th Venice International Architecture Biennale in 2018. With the After Belonging Agency, she was Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016. She has edited Work, Body, Leisure (2018), and co-edited Unmanned: Architecture and Security Series (2016), After Belonging (2016), Architecture of Appropriation ( 2019) and More than Human (forthcoming).

In conversation with Marina Otero Verzier
For the occassion of her appointment as head, Nadine Botha sat down with Otero to talk about her vision on 'social design' and the position of designers in a broader sense. Otero speaks about her ideas on her role as a head and about the Master itself.

Nadine Botha: Although you are trained as an architect, your practice has a distinct interest in intangible and political dimensions of our material environment. How would you explain your work?

Marina Otero Verzier: The way in which I work is often to start looking at something seemingly familiar or just banal, systems or phenomena that are so pervasive that evade investigation, and then explore them again and again. I also reflect on the architectures where I develop my practice. Not only the social, political, and conceptual spaces, but also the physical spaces where I actually work. What is research? Design? Institutions? This ongoing speculation, investigation, and self-reflection on my role helps me to resist the temptation of relying only on known paths and validating trajectories. It’s a practice that serves to adjust and contest previous positions, and have a more experimental yet solid approach. It also opens up the possibility for things to proceed otherwise: to be imbued with different values and methodologies, to be open to unwanted discourses, and to give way to more humble and vulnerable positions.

NB: Research- and exhibitions-led institutions are playing more and more of a role in design in recent years. How is this significant of the current moment in design?

MOV: There has been a long political and social history of trying to make the design and architecture disciplines into solutions-to-problems machineries. Acknowledging the agency and the power of designers in intervening in certain spaces and struggles has been productive in many ways. At the same time, however, there has perhaps been an overconfidence in the capacity of these disciplines. What is happening now is a growing understanding that both design and architecture are often part of those problems that they claim they can solve. We need to not only acknowledge design’s role in warfare, social engineering, real estate and market speculation, but also become aware of the structural ideologies and biases embedded in all acts of design and their processes, in order to recognise the violence inherent in any design act. This demands a change in attitude, scale and perspective of what the designer is and what can design be. I'm excited about that; I think it's refreshing. It also demands particular spaces and forums to test, enact and put in practice these forms of engagement. Research and exhibitions have become a means to explore this. Exhibitions are no longer only a place where the end product is shown on a pedestal, but spaces of experimentation, rethinking and playing. Exhibitions have become more than representation space, but rather spaces where we can rehearse other forms of being together.

NB: How does this inform your vision for the Master in Social Design?

MOV: Social design is a challenging and even problematic term. It is intriguing and triggers some sort of discomfort in me. For instance, what is understood by social? Who is included in that society? Does it only account for humans? What makes a design social? I’m not questioning the relevance of the term, just emphasizing that it’s a term that needs continuous redefinition. Having the opportunity to do that exercise together with the students, tutors, and the design community at large, motivates me. At the same time, I am not expecting the Master to only be a site for conceptual exploration. Social and political practices and design unavoidably deal with material and aesthetic questions. Aesthetics, many times demeaned, is a political and ethical question and a practice that has the capacity to bring communities together, include and exclude, homogenize or diversify. Similarly, it is essential to be aware of the material implications of different understandings of the social. For instance, for years I have been researching the architecture of institutional space. This is an ongoing attempt to understand how societal structures are defined by the walls that protect them, but also by language, aesthetics, and racialized and gendered representations. These borders may not be visible in conventional forms of architecture or design. Yet they are certainly material. They contribute to the establishment of power relations and have larger implications for the bodies that inhabit and move through them. As designers, this means that we have to be aware of our professional and ethical position, the role that we have in the challenging, opposing, maintaining, legitimization or disrupting certain borders and processes.

NB: What does this mean for existing and forthcoming students?

MOV: The Master of Social Design Master has been put together with a lot of thinking and effort by its former head, and the numerous past and present students and tutors. I have a lot of ideas, but to me this is a team endeavour and I look forward to shaping this new phase together. My aim, while working in institutions, is to challenge traditional hierarchical models through forms of collective care, by weaving structures of solidarity and creativity. As head of the department I will make every effort to hold space for the students: a space of care; for intimate and provocative conversations; for fragility; for risk; for failing and succeeding unapologetically; for collective thinking; for exchanging ideas still in formation; for channelling the disruptive powers of imagination. As designers, how can or should we intervene and what are our responsibilities? The Master will be a place for creative confusion and sometimes even frustration, where we won’t be looking for solutions but for higher resolutions through which to rethink what society is and could be. I hope that collectively we will question the ways and values that we live by and propose alternative ones; a different set of ethical principles, which in turn could be deployed in actual interventions. It’ll definitely be exciting.  

Example of a Social Design project is Gabriel Fontana's 'Multiform' from 2018. The project uses the vocabulary of sport as common ground to challenge the way we usually oppose others by allowing players to perform multiple roles.

MA Social Design
The Master in Social Design is one of five master programs at Design Academy Eindhoven established in 2010. This two-year masters is structured around intensive workshops and mentoring sessions with design tutors, alongside presentations by guest critics and lecturers. At the end of the first year, students develop a research question that will inform their second-year thesis work and graduation project. The Master in Social Design recognizes the increasing importance of the social dimension in the making of relevant design projects for our day and age, and promotes a holistic understanding of the discipline aligned with our contemporary times. 


Published: 12-Feb-2020 16:00


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    Marina Otero Verzier

Photography: Boudewijn Bollmann