Medellín wants to position itself as a design capital in the Americas, a decision that isn’t gratuitous given the city’s global reputation for mobility innovation and socially-inclusive development projects. Already positioned as a regional hub for start-ups and IT outsourcing, Colombia’s second largest metropolis recently hosted Design Fair MDE, a three-day showcase for local design firms and conceptual artists.
Covering three floors of the Medellín Convention Center Plaza Mayor, MDE 2019 was a walkable affair, walked easily in a day with spare time to talk with exhibitors about the sustainability issues behind many designs, including a locally manufactured electric scooter by the tech design group 0Holdings equipped with leather satchel; or jarringly colorful Caribbean deck chairs by Tucurinca, made from strips of recycled plastics on the Colombian coast.
From wooden flooring with harvested trees to chemical-free dyes used in home furnishings, the “green” philosophy was evident at this fair, even among the techies and indy media folk designing in the Orange Pavilion (which in all other fairs is actually called the Blue Pavilion). After finding my color bearings, I was drawn to the stand of Industrias Montoya Arango (IMA), a three-generational company of metallurgists who are changing their design portfolio with well-designed objects made from stainless-steel, including lamps in the same shape as a traditional chocolatera – chocolate stirring pot.
Creating harmonious spaces for the Medellín apartment owner was another theme of the fair with plenty of decorative accessories inspired in traditional patterns and crafted by artisan weavers in small towns throughout Antioquia. And there was plenty of ink circulating as well, as within the fairgrounds, a tattoo festival was also taking place.
Design is a global affair driven by highly competitive names, and what happens in Milan, New York or London influences designers in other cities around the world. This was evident at MDE with plenty of practical gadgets and decorative items for the home, the majority of which were manufactured in Medellín, and shows how a new generation of industrial designers is very much in tune with branding, marketing, and e-commerce. Such is the case of Hügga, an online retailer that produces cushion covers, throws and blankets made from various materials, yet presented as Danish comfort wear.
With its Colombia Moda fashion trade fair and August flower festival, Medellín has now opened a window on design to promote an “experience” rather than a specific curatorial line.
Given the many international buyers at this year’s MDE admiring the velvet padded safes and studded leather vaults of Grupo Tierra or simple wooden fixtures of Vrokka founder Juan Carlos Franco, it is clear that Medellín’s transformation is a work in progress and powered by a creative vibe.