For the very first time, the prestigious Panerai Design Miami/ Visionary Award has been granted to a collaborative project instead of a sole designer. The 2017 honor goes to the Mwabwindo School, which is set to open in 2018 in southern Zambia. Behind the endeavor are 14+ Foundation, Selldorf Architects, artist Rashid Johnson, and designers Christ & Gantenbein.
A nonprofit that builds schools in rural African communities, 14+ Foundation was established in 2012 by Joseph Mizzi and Nchimunya Wulf.
“We are excited that this year’s recipients are so aligned with the core values of Panerai’s culture of design, commitment to innovation, and vision for a sustainable future. The Mwabwindo project represents the best of our community coming together to create real change through design,” said Angelo Bonati, chief executive of Officine Panerai.
Whitewaller spoke with Emanuel Christ and Christoph Gantenbein about designing the furniture to be used by the students. At Design Miami/ this December, they’ll display prototypes of the tables and stools alongside a model of the school by Selldorf Architects.
WHITEWALLER: How did you become involved in the Mwabwindo School project?
EMANUEL CHRIST & CHRISTOPH GANTENBEIN: Design Miami/ approached us after seeing our “Athens Series” furniture exhibited in Basel. The series was developed for the Brussel- based gallery Maniera. The fair’s representatives were seduced by the simplicity of these objects and thought that a similar approach have been a perfect fit for the Mwabwindo School’s commission.
WW: Can you describe the furniture you’re designing for the school and the process for creating it?
EC & CG: Square wooden blocks are assembled by means of elongated thin wooden pegs to form tables and stools. After milling and sanding the wooden blocks, two sets of holes are drilled into them, and subsequently cylindrical pegs are hammered in to keep the structure together. This no-glue design relies on basic carpentry tools. One specific project feature is that the pieces will be realized with two or three different types of wood; this allows us to combine and compose different patterns. Concretely, the wooden blocks will be milled and prepared in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, and then delivered to Mwabwindo, where they will be assembled. This is where the creative process becomes an integral part of the project. The tables are provided with an ingenious interlocking system, which makes it possible to combine them in different configurations: one long table, a cross, a square, et cetera. These layouts can freely adapt to various education purposes.
WW: What were some of the considerations in terms of material choice for the furniture you’re designing?
EC&CG:The design is inspired by a vernacular object made of wood found in a Greek market. On one hand, the constructive logic of the object is strongly influenced by the material; on the other, we also liked wood as a precious but also approachable and contextual material.
WW: What kind of understanding of the importance of arts education in primary school do you want to leave with the community of the Mwabwindo School project?
EC & CG: With this furniture, we directly tackle the creative process inherent in the fabrication of everyday objects. This has a great tradition in Zambia, with traditional crafts such as weaving and wood carving. The “Mwabwindo Series” will mainly be used in the art space, and thus it will support the pupils in their first artistic experiences. We hope that the pieces will bring the pupils closer to their own creative potential and the legacy of their traditional craft. We will be very happy if we can encourage this process.