Day 1 of What Design Can Do São Paulo certainly was an absolute success! There was bicycle activism, biomimicry, inclusive gastronomy, an explosion of green Cheetos and another explosion of creative spirit from Dakar. Not to mention the heavenly voice of Xênia França. Here’s a first impression

‘I fight for my city,’ Aline Cavalcante said in her opening talk for WDCD Live São Paulo 2016. The bicycle activist surprisingly explained that she not necessarily want people to take the bike, but more specifically wants them to get out of their cars. Since 2008 Cavalcante fights with several thousand others to regain the city from the predominance of the cars. Through the social enterprise oGANGORRA they strive for improvement of the quality of city life while reclaiming public space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Architect Marko Brajovic, who is originally from Montenegro but for ten years already a Paulistana, felt connected to Cavalcante’s mission. ‘We live in a post-industrial period,’ he said, ‘and now enter a more organic state.’ Nature, natural phenomena and biological processes are Brajovic’s primary source of inspiration, which he illustrated with impressive work for clients including Camper, Coca-Cola, Bertolluci and Hermès. ‘Nature is a designer with 3.8 billion years of experience,’ Brajovic said, ‘but actually nature does not design; it programs forms inside out. That’s how we work too, we want to program forms.’

Food & The City

After the break the topic of Food & The City was first addressed by Jan Knikker, partner of the Dutch architecture firm MVRDV, who showed how the studio’s design of the Market Hall in Rotterdam brought new life into the city. The giant arched apartment building covering a permanent food court was meant to draw 50.000 visitors more per year to Rotterdam, but now brings millions to the city. The building with a giant ceiling painting by artist Arno Coenen ‘is not just architecture,’ Knikker stated, ‘it is urbanism.’

In a way this could be said of Rodrigo Oliveira’s restaurant Mocotó, which also is not just a place for gastronomic pleasure, but also an enterprise with a huge impact on city life. The restaurant in Villa Medeiros on the outskirts of São Paulo is a family restaurant turned into one of the hottest places in town. But while offering a high-class cuisine based on the traditional kitchen of the northeast of Brazil, the aim of its chef is not to be exclusive, but inclusive. ‘São Paulo is very segregated on many levels,’ Oliveira said, ‘but Mocotó is a meeting point for all the different groups. It is a restaurant were everybody is treated the same, whether you are a celebrity, a hipster or a working man from the neighbourhood.’

‘Value is not price’

Oliveira cherishes the north-eastern cuisine his father took to São Paulo 36 years ago. With dedication and a lot of effort he turned the rather coarse cuisine into delicate dishes that eventually put him on the top list of best chefs in the world. Oliveira: ‘We want to show that the value of things does not depend on the price.’ Which is why Mocotó is affordable for any purse.

The success of the restaurant is partly also the result of the architecture, which under the direction of architect Marino Baros, made the place more functional while respecting the vernacular features of the restaurant. With several spinoffs Mocotó now employs 100 people, mainly coming from the surrounding neighbourhood.

Next Sam Bompas, half of the playful artistic British duo Bompas & Parr, pleaded for a bit of pleasure. ‘It feels rather decadent to do so, with all the pollution, the political turmoil and other troubles going on in the world, but actually pleasure is very important too.’ After an overview of the imaginative work of the duo, including jelly architecture, lava cooking and cooking with lightning, Bompas ended his talk with a blast. Creating wonder for the sake of it, as he put it, he produced with boiling water and liquid nitrogen a spectacular banana-flavoured exploding fountain of green Cheetos.

Opportunities for reinvention

After the breakout sessions in the afternoon the acclaimed graphic designer Elaine Ramos talked about her passion for books, highlighting some of her work for the publishing house Ubu Editora she founded with two partners earlier this year after leaving the established publisher Cosac Naify. ‘My passion for books has to do with the simplicity of it. It is just a pile of paper bound between covers, but it offers infinite opportunities for reinvention.’ Which she demonstrated with several examples, including a book (Resacca Tropical) with three different page sizes as the result of just a change in the folding of the plano paper sheets.

Imaginary universes

Finally the upcoming Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane entered the stage in one of her splendid outfits, telling about her short career that made her the buzz of fashion lovers since American singer Byoncé was seen in one of her creations. Although she started out to study economics and law in Paris, she was unintentionally drawn to the creation of garments.

In her native Dakar she immersed herself in the underground scene, discovering a movement of unrestrained creativity to which she felt very much related. With collective events entitled BeStreet, Inner Cruise, Alien Cartoon and ElseWhen, Kane and collaborating artists from different African countries created imaginary universes that have put the African new wave of creativity on the map.

‘My work is close to rebranding Dakar and the rest of West-Africa,’ Kane said. ‘We are the ambassadors of our countries, changing the perspective on our world. Creativity can do that.’

In between all this the audience was treated twice to the voce suave of Xênia França, an upcoming artist too, with the mission to emancipate the black community in her country by setting the example. She could have sung for us the entire day!

All photos by Sergio Caddah/WDCD