a book by
Daniele Pario Perra
with the partecipation of
Renzo di Renzo
After the success of Low Cost Design vol. I, Daniele Pario
Perra continues, in this second volume, his original
research project of the so-called “spontaneous design”,
documenting the smart solutions created by anonymous
designers to find a way to sort out everyday problems or
needs. The book therefore presents hundreds of examples of
unconventional creativity: a re-use, or better, a modified
and enlightened use not only of objects, but also of
actions and projects that can change the use of the
territory, thus revealing people’s innovative customs and
great imagination. The presented ideas are classified, as
in the first volume,
according to different reading levels: five different
project levels for objects and eleven categories for
actions (five more than in the first volume). Images are
introduced by a text by Daniele Pario Perra and by a
series of chapters written like a blog with a contribution
of several authors on the themes ranging from objects
history to design aesthetics, from creativity to
handicraft, from urban tribes to territory culture and
planning, thus presenting not only some important aspects
on the subject, but also a very interesting overview from
the contemporary social, urban and ethnographic point of
All images are selected from the archive Low-cost Design by Daniele Pario Perra and were taken by the artist - Images and photographic prints produced in the CentralColor laboratories, Catania
Low Cost Design is a work in progress: contributions feedback and suggestions firstname.lastname@example.org
Low Cost Design
edited by Daniele Pario Perra
22 × 28 cm
400 colour illustrations
In this first part we find simple objects that change use from their initial design. Among the most interesting examples are a bowl that becomes a washbasin and a shutter converted into a wall-hung magazine rack, fishing nets used to keep out birds, a terracotta flowerpot used for a barbecue, and gym shoes cut down to be worn as slippers. All elementary objects, without special structural alterations but that suggest new designs or enhance the functionality of the original products.
From this level on we begin to perceive a greater development of design and broader market applications. Here we also find objects that radically change their functions, revealing the extraordinary inventive abilities of their creators. Among the most interesting examples are rubber soccer balls used as floats for fishing nets and buoys, a bottle used to dose fertilizer for plants, and a wooden bridge for cats. Some objects, together with the novelty of the application, reveal important synergies between form and the material they are made of, like a bean can transformed into a grater or plastic bottle stoppers turned into a painter's palette. The first is hygienically valid because made of enamelled metal, the second is easily washable and perfectly convenient.
This level show us designs where the change in the original function is enhanced by the designer's capacity for abstraction and symbolization. In such objects communication revisited and evocation play an interesting part: this happens with the outdoor ashtray in the form of a cigarette, or the bench assembled out of used skateboards. Then we find the first "conceptual short circuits" which, by their capacity to break with the original contexts, include inventions with new added values. Examples are the diver's mask used for chopping onions or the compact disc used to scare birds thanks to the effects of refraction of light, or the woollen hood used as a coffeepot cosy.
Elaborate objects, together with the complete objects which we will see below, clearly reveal the signs of interdisciplinary design. We have combinations in which a simple plastic funnel becomes the perfect instrument to protect the filters for collecting fine particles (PM), while keeping out the rain, but at the same time without reducing the exposure to air. There appear the first objects that function in relation to animal behaviour, like the bottles filled with water which, by distorting the image reflected, dissuade dogs from urinating on columns. Often a multi functional object is not equivalent to a technically more elaborate machine, but is a device useful to deal with more complex needs through an imaginative approach. Here, too, there is no shortage of objects reinvented which entail the development of the original functions, like the tennis balls set under chair legs to protect carpets, or a skidproof tray for waiters, or the corks fitted to saucepan lids with iron handles as protection against burnt fingers. Essentially this is a more mature stage of design directed to the satisfaction of needs through more complex approaches than before, whole also increasing the market applications.
The fifth level is the summit of this design survey by its completeness and effectiveness, but above all by the high degree of simplicity, which is inversely proportional to the importance of the task or function performed. This is the case of the slice of bread that serves to absorb disagreeable smells and damp from clothing in a wardrobe in a way that no deodorant would ever succeed in doing. Also at this level we meet objects that interact with animal behaviour: the special handles to open doors for dogs, or golf balls used as nest eggs to stimulate hens to lay. And finally we come to those inventions that directly influence human behaviour. In this respect we have the antiparking systems or the sheet of polythene placed over displays of candies as sound alarms to deter theft. We have also discovered a large intercultural capacity for design, with spring-loaded chopsticks or corks with pins reused to winkle sea snails from their shells. This is the level at which intuition, technological simplification and interdisciplinary knowledge give rise to minor masterpieces of human intelligence, both by their conceptual quality and their cheap production costs.
The chapter on private territorial planning groups together the actions of all social groups that plan or produce works in public space. Through processes of comparison and aggregation, conformity to the institutions and variations in habits, the groups reappropriate the places of everyday life. Before our eyes there appear familiar yet extraordinary and unexpected landscapes: where the washing lines are interwoven with the posts of bilboards, the windows of houses are converted into shopwindows, the beautiful statuettes of patron saints or little votive shrines dear to popular piety stand at the centre of neighbourhood piazzas. A reflection on the overlaps between public and private, between the regular and approved uses of places and alternative uses, entrusted to the independent and creative reinterpretation of individuals; a territory half-way between responsibility and the rights of all and the desire to affirm personal freedom regardless of the rules or established conventions.
In this section we have brought together some examples of street vending revisited in creative and original ways: trades with a very old tradition that have withstood the test of time and can be considered the ancestors of today's "flexible working". Vendors travel at regular intervals through neighbourhoods, towns and cities, considering mobility their strong point.The forms of transport they use to enable goods to circulate are skilfully equipped to promote a real communication advertising campaign on the streets. Their sales strategies, commercial rhetoric and skills are not exercised in complete anarchy but governed by a complex set of unwritten rules, though tacitly respected by all.The guaranteed supply of goods is often backed up by supplementary services tailored to customers' needs: assistance and home deliveries, repairs in case of defects in the products sold, sometimes even hire purchase facilities without bills of exchange. These "laws" are the result of the close relations between the parties which have always typified all kinds of commerce in established societies.
Public planning and the design of the city by individuals influence each other. This is one of the most complex chapters, because it reflects on behavioural differences between two entities, sometimes separated only by very narrow boundaries. It is a creative type of interaction that represents both a meeting point and a clear line of demarcation between public and private. Individuals often plan public spaces, behaving as if they were state institutions, while institutions draw on solutions undertaken by private citizens in the management of the territory and services. We find illegal garbage skips placed by citizens at the roadsides and regularly emptied by the municipal garbage service. Or palm cut down to a chair by council workers and parking barriers converted to support flower boxes and a table by the owner of the nearby café. Or we find mailboxes attached to the posts supporting road signs, so saving the mailman the trouble of entering side streets to deliver the mail. These initiatives produce an exchange of roles and functions: they assign greater responsibility to private citizens in the logistics of public services, while inviting the institutional authorities to make more flexible and less bureaucratic administrative arrangements.
At times the residents of the city make up for the shortcomings of public services and the design deficiencies in their territory by dealing with matters in their own way, using their own resources, because of the lengthy delays in the public sector. Some citizens, for example, themselves repair bush shelters and make them more comfortable. Others take measures to deter parking on the boundaries between public and private property. Still others install mirrors to help guide both pedestrians and drivers on dangerous corners, or paint street names where they are missing. All private initiatives, and the fruit of self-management of the territory, but equally embodying an idea of collective service that already has the value of a political response.
This section brings together different ways of communicating through the use of objects that become symbolic vehicles of artistic expression or advertisements. These are effective messages with strong visual components transformed into new codes of urban communication. Examples are mailboxes in the form of national or religious symbols intended to convey the origins of the owner, or soccer balls cut on church doors, used as warnings. These objects define social status and community loyalties through symbols with an ideological, political, cultural, religious or merely commercial value. These signs, taken all together, and their codes of interpretation form the stratified and complex identity of a broader human environment that continually projects its image outwards.
When private citizens work to maintain their personal security or influence, the control of the territory is no longer treated only as an issue of law and order but as a form of expansion and appropriation by the groups living there, both legally and illegally. Though of different kinds, they both share a defensive attitude, a need for protection. Some put rear vision mirrors on the balconies of their homes to monitor the entrance for outsiders; others position reflecting surfaces at the street corners so as to keep an eye out for the (unwelcome) arrival of the police. The underlying problems, excluding illegality, remain security and lack of respect for the written and unwritten rules that control the relations between the residents of a single territory.
Daniele Pario Perra is a relational artist, researcher
and designer engaged in exhibitions, research projects
and teaching. His work ranges across different
disciplines: art, design, sociology, anthropology,
architecture and geopolitics. For some years now he has
been exploring spontaneous creativity, cultural trends
and patterns of urban development in a constant
relationship between material culture and symbolic
heritage. In 2001 he started the Low-cost Design
database, which contains over 7000 photographs of the
transformations of objects and public spaces in Europe
and around the Mediterranean. He studied the
performances and rituals of street trading in Sicily in
the "Economic Borders" project. He investigated
spontaneous communication in various European cities
with the "Fresco Removals" format, teaching people, in
real urban actions, how to store notable examples of
wall writing and graffiti before their cancellation. His
first monograph, Politics Poiesis, was published in
2005: it contains a long list of ideas, stimuli and
projects devoted to contemporary art in urban contexts.
Daniele Pario Perra has taught at the Faculty of Architecture of La Sapienza University in Rome, at the Delft University of Technology and at the Milan Polytechnic. His workshops - Fantasy Saves the Planning, Art Shakes the Politics, Fresco Urban Removals, Design on the Cheap and Politics Poiesis - have many editions in major European cities. Between 2000 and 2010 he exhibited works, devised urban actions and coordinated projects between Rome, Milan, Turin, Sarajevo, Barcelona, Chicago, Rotterdam, Berlin, New York, Bern, Paris, Marseille, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Ljubljana, Belgrade, Budapest and London.