Grad students attend Design After conference in Bogotá

November 08, 2019

Connecting with a global community of academic peers to address key topics in design in the 21st century, nine PNCA graduate students recently attended Cumulus: The Design After conference in Bogotá, Colombia. The first- and second-year students in the MFA in Collaborative Design and MA in Design Systems programs in PNCA’s Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies spent a week in Bogotá bracketing the conference.


Central themes for the conference included biodiversity-driven design, design and counterculture, and de-innovation. Highlights of the incredible international roster of speakers included the keynote by Daniel Grushkin, founder of the Biodesign Challenge, and Dori Tunstall, who spoke on decolonizing design. Students attended sessions on bio-design, speculative design, and designing with not for communities.

“It was an incredible opportunity for our students to connect with and think alongside faculty from institutions in Singapore, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Oslo, and more,” says Meghann Gilligan, faculty member who teaches the MFA in Collaborative Design Thesis course.

“The biggest thing for us was knowing that we are connected to a larger community that is doing this work including bio-driven design, collaborative practice, and systems thinking,” says Leah Payne, a candidate in the MFA in Collaborative Design. “We are one of only three or four graduate programs doing this work in the country. The conference really validated the work we are doing.”

Payne appreciated the wide range of talks and paper presentations including Marysol Ortega Pallanez’s talk entitled “Handmaking as the interplay of the personal and collective in designing transitions” that “focused on group quilting and group stitching, talking about hard things while your hands are occupied.” A presentation entitled “Collaboration as a Form of Counter-Culture” was another highlight.


Gilligan said that in addition to the conference, students also toured Hacienda Coloma, a sustainable coffee farm that employs permaculture techniques. They also participated in a Breaking Borders tour of the Egipto neighborhood as part of a project by Universidad Externado de Colombia.

“We made so many connections. I met two people from Johannesburg who were talking about the difficulties in collaboration between architecture and urban planning. We talked about how collaboration is billed as being this magical thing. And when you get into it, you realize, ‘Oh, it’s really tough.’ You have to confront your own things when you collaborate.”

Payne connected with colleagues in a working group focused on writing bio-design curriculum as she is currently developing a course for anchoring the collaborative design experience during the student’s first year employing the metaphor of the ecotone.

Payne say, “I’m very inspired. I will be participating in the next conference in Rome.”