Campana Brothers: dreams, roots and conscious design

Objects and actions speak more than mere words. That is the case of Campana Brothers who see in design an endless number of possibilities to transform society.

A childhood surrounded by nature and a personal universe built by them were the beginnings of Brazilian designers Humberto and Fernando Campana. As kids they never thought that their creativity, passion for making tree-houses, playing around the farm and their fascination for cinema would lead them to the world of design.

When Humberto Campana was a kid, he refused to wear shoes because he wanted to be an Indian in the Amazon, while Fernando dreamed of becoming an astronaut. But their yearnings and their childhood led them to achieve something greater that not only would impact design itself but also that preserve their legacy and especially all the memory of Brazil.

Velvet Magazine invites you to get to know more closely the Campana brothers and have a taste of their collections who have taken craftsmanship to the highest level of design (since their premier in the 80´s) while sharing their knowledge and success through Instituto Campana, founded in 2009. The institute aims to improve people’s lives through art, culture, education and design under the premise of giving back to society. “Life has granted us so much, now it is our turn to reciprocate”, says Fernando Campana.

What defines the Campana Brothers? Where do their roots come from?

F+H: We are storytellers. We make portraits of the places we visit and the experiences that affects us. We have a great passion for materials, especially the unusual, banal ones. We investigate its DNA and then allow the poetry to flow first, in order to give it functionality. Our process starts with the material. The material will indicate what it ‘wants to be’ and determine the form and function of the object.

What is your earliest memory of design?

H+F: Our earliest memory was the architecture of Brasília. We took a trip there with our parents in the 60s and it definitely impressed us.

Can you tell us where does your inspiration come from?

H+F: Brazil is a very important source of inspiration for us. Brazilian multiculturalism nourishes our creations. Translating our country’s identity into design is one of our most important challenges but we actually find inspiration everywhere we go: the magnitude of life in nature and in craft traditions that are disappearing.

What is the challenge of your work?

H+F: To think about something that has never been thought of before.

Working with recyclable, natural and economic materials was something thought, planned from the beginning?

F+H: When we started, we decided to work with cheap materials because it was what we could afford at the time. Today, this is a conscious choice due to our concerns with the environment and our constant research to reveal the nobility of ordinary materials.

What do you consider to have been your greatest achievements?

H+F: Our greatest achievement is certainly to have awoken new generations to reconsider design and handcrafts. We hope to create a wave that will keep on going.

In 2009 you founded the Instituto Campana, why did you decide to create it?

F+H: Sao Paulo has given us so much inspiration along these years. In 2009 we decided it was our turn to give back, which let to the foundation of Instituto Campana which primary goal is the transformation of society through design. One of its main areas of work is the development of social inclusion and education as means to improve people’s lives—with the creation of art and design education programs along with lectures and exhibitions from our archives and other partners. We give preference to underprivileged areas of Sao Paulo where we stimulate the inner creativity of the children in order to educate them to have a more positive outlook for the future. The institute serves as a window of innovation to the world.

Have you ever thought that you would manage to bring Brazilian craftsmanship to the top of the design?

H: I always said I wanted to build my life with my own hands. If I managed to succeed, anyone can do it, too. It is so important to learn to share your life lessons with others, humanity has to be more generous in all senses. Design is a social and political matter, when we look at it from a transformation perspective. That’s the reason why we hope and believe Instituto Campana will inspire and motivate communities to observe around them and get inspired by the power of design as a tool to transform their lives.

What did it mean for you and your career to get to exhibit at MOMA?

H+F: It was an incredible chance and experience. We were, and still are, proud of that challenge. It was an important milestone for us and it certainly opened many doors.

And after all the recognitions and places that you have arrived as designers, what are your aspirations?

H+F: We would like to continue to research. It’s a process that never gets old. It allows us to keep reinventing and reimagining our world.

The last year you introduced a new furniture crafted entirely from cork and recently you had an exhibit with creations using high-end materials and unique construction methods. How you choose the material and what meaning do you want to give it?

F+H: We enjoy the process of discovering new materials and pushing them as far as we can to ideate forms they could take. It’s like Pirandello’s play “Six Characters in Search of an Author” where materials are waiting for an author to determine what they will be: a chair, a lamp, we never know.

The integration of craftsmanship in mass production is a way to make the pieces unique and memorable. Our work seeks to create bridges between the primitive artisanal (and deeply humanized) universe and the contemporary industrialized world. The infinite possibilities of craftsmanship have been our main interest since we were children. In Brazil we have a lot of tradition in handcraft. We want to keep those traditions alive. Nowadays we are fascinated by techniques that are vanishing with the goal of infusing them with a modern twist. We want to bring them a breath of fresh air, to give them our look, our vision.

Can you tell us more about your new collections?

H+F: We recently launched our Hybridism collection at Carpenters Workshop Gallery in London, which is inspired by mythological stories. The “Noah” series features animals casted in bronze and channels the story of Noah’s Ark in a surreal way. It mostly provokes a reflection on today’s human condition and dystopic themes such as the global immigration crisis and political extremism. It seems everyone is in a race to save themselves without much concern about those around them so we thought it was important to shed light on that.

We also did a landscape installation called “Sleeping Piles” for the Human Spaces exhibit during Milan Design Week, which we like a lot because it transformed this palace courtyard into a relaxing space emulating pillars and columns covered in grass, creating a dialogue between architecture and nature.

How do you see the industry of the design around the world and in Latin America?

H: We are going through a period of big changes especially in Latin America. There is an ongoing hope for a better future where young generations are willing to express themselves for what they are. We are sure that the design industry will develop into something unique and thrive thanks to that positive mindset.

Estudio Campana is celebrating 35 years. What are your plans for the future?

F+H: To celebrate our anniversary we are doing a special launch of our first collection “Desconfortáveis” chairs in a miniature edition with an event in June at Casa de Vidro projected by Lina Bo Bardi, in São Paulo. We are also working on a commemorative book that should be released during Milan Design Week next year, and planning a major exhibit for 2020 in Brazil. In terms of projects for the Estudio, we are leaning towards landscaping projects like the one did in Milan. In the long run, our future is Instituto Campana. We plan to keep investing on social and educational programs reaching more underserved communities, raising their self-esteem and showing them a path fo financial independence

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