Rooted in rich craft traditions, Colombia’s luminous young designers are leading the way in the country’s upswing.
Nestled at 8,600 feet in the eastern branch of the Andes Mountains, Bogotá offers a captivating mix of tropical greenery, dense brick architecture, and mercurial weather, thanks to its high altitude. At the city’s edges, cascading green hills seem to swallow a sprawling carpet of buildings, a reminder that nature presides over all—a common theme in the work featured by Design Room Colombia, a virtual platform and design showcase that recently drew me to the capital for an all-too-short visit.
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A government-backed initiative, Design Room Colombia spotlights 10 Bogotá–based designers whose work demonstrates the incredible creativity and craftsmanship found in Colombian design today. Over and over, I heard a tone of optimism and pride when talking about contemporary art and architecture, and learned that the momentum isn’t just something in the water—it’s partly thanks to President Iván Duque.
A core part of Duque’s campaign—and vital to the first 100 days of his term, which began last August—is promoting what’s called the Orange Economy, or the country’s creative industries. This translates to investments in, and better infrastructure for, fields like design and architecture, visual and performing arts, literature, film and television, music, dance, food, fashion, and digital media. It’s not only a way to champion the arts and make sure creatives are fairly compensated, but also a bid to lessen the country’s dependence on oil as long as pipelines remain vulnerable to attacks from the leftist, guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN).
The impact, as Design Room Colombia illustrates, has been huge. A major player in the program is another government organization: founded in 1964, Artesanías de Colombia matches artisans around the country with contemporary designers to help them get their products ready for the international market. It’s a program that benefits some 11,000 to 15,000 artisans every year, providing threatened and displaced communities with a crucial source of income, and that promotes the richness and diversity of the country’s craft traditions.
It’s a symbiotic relationship as well, explains general manager Ana María Fries. "We’re creating a movement of modern design and creating opportunities for designers to work with these handcrafted materials," she says. "We preserve the DNA, technique, and language of traditional craft."
Likewise, the designers of Design Room Colombia draw from a deep wellspring of regional traditions, bringing a fresh eye to long-established materials, colors, shapes, and processes. Take a look at their work below.
The country’s revival isn’t just concentrated in the capital, either. About 150 miles northwest of Bogotá, Medellín is in the throes of transformation as well, much of it fueled by public spaces once fenced off to keep armed conflict at bay. Named the world’s most innovative city by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, the "city of eternal spring," famed for its sunny weather and the sunny disposition of its inhabitants, has an especially strong presence in the textile and fashion, telecommunications, and automotive industries.
From art, design, and architecture to public works, Colombia’s advances and investment in its most important asset—its people and their legacy—are definitely something to watch.