The Roots of Industrial Design Colleges in Colombia

Looking back from two theories about its origin.

Camilo A. Angulo, author AuthorCamilo A. Angulo Followers: 218

The development of industrial design education in Colombia has been underway for half a century. Yet, two different theories have emerged about its origins. The most traditional of these is published by Silvia Fernandez, and directs attention to the European heritage of the practice. The latter is espoused by Juan Camilo Buitrago, and focuses on cultural autonomy. To understand this topic through the lenses of these two historians, it is important to explain a bit about the context in which design education developed.

A Country Under Construction

In the mid 50’s, the future of Colombia was full of uncertainty. On the political side there was a transition going from a Military Council to democracy as an agreement between political leaders Lleras Camargo and Laureano Gomez. This agreement was intended to stop the violence generated by the different ideas of the followers of the two political groups.

On the production side there was a new industry based on machines using new materials and aesthetic trends. The products of these new industrial processes began to compete with those made by traditional artisan groups.

In addition to the production side, the technological side contributed with two events that moved the country into the Modernity Era. One was the inauguration of television by General Rojas Pinilla and second, the introduction of the first mega-computer IBM 650 by the Bavaria Beer Company. Besides in the cultural aspects, the country was driven by ideas that were imported by Colombians who had received an education abroad.

The mid 50ʼs Bogota, Colombia. Flickr images.

Regarding the education component, traces of industrial design started in the late 50’s at the University of the Andes and at National University in Bogota. The architect Alvaro Ortega who had studied abroad taught the first workshop in basic design.

The first singular industrial design course took place in 1966 and featured elements of the Bauhaus School from Germany. In 1967 a complete graphic design program was founded at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University, it was guided by Anna de Jacobini and David Consuegra. But it was not until 1973 that the first complete industrial design program appeared at the Pontificia Bolivariana University of Medellin.

In that same year, the first Masters of industrial design program was founded by the Institute of Design and Industry Projects of the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. This Master program was directed toward architects, civil engineers and people who work in the industry.

The above process was led by architects Giulio Vinaccia, Jose Catalan Recasens (qv, Gorroño Martinez, 2004:21) and engineer Alberto Cruz.

The Two Theories Published

Inside the design community there are several theories about the origins of Industrial Design. But only two of these have been substantively documented and these are written by Silvia Fernandez and Juan Camilo Buitrago.

First Theory

Silvia Fernandez wrote her views about the beginnings of design in Colombia in a chapter of the text «The Origins of Design Education in Latin America: From the hfg (Hochschule für Gestaltung) in Ulm to Globalization».

In the text she illuminates the theory that Latin American countries like Colombia have a European heritage specifically from Ulm, the German school of design. One reason is that Ingo Werk and Gerd Schussler, graduates from the German School, left a legacy as teachers in certain South American universities. A second reason is that early Latin American design schools were influenced by Ulm academic thinking, especially with an emphasis on semiology (How the form of a product intuitively communicates to the user how to interact with that product. This also describes the process by which users assign meaning to a product).

Fernandez goes on to describe the German institution as follows:

«The HFG had shown itself as an institution of strong character, free, self-critical, intransigent on programmatic questions, with a transparent educational strategy which more than once has pushed beyond the limits, clear in the area of project definition, immune to soft compromises, with strong convictions and objectives which went beyond simple academic formation and demanded of its participants social commitment and a critical attitude towards reality.»

Fernandez, 2006:6

This prevaling theory was traditionally accepted by most of the design community in Colombia. And parts of the information in the section about Colombia was based on a graphic time line originally published by the team of Proyectodiseño magazine in 2002 (cf. Gutierrez, 2012:30).

Second Theory

Juan Camilo Buitrago, in his document «Social creativity: the professionalization of industrial design in Colombia» (2012), brings a different perspective.

He notes that in Colombia industrial design was derived from traditional design processes that might be considered a «liberal discipline» or a non mainstream disciplines for that time. Foundations of these traditional processes as metalworking, carpentry and joinery became professional’s inputs for the discipline.

Buitragoʼs awareness recognized the progression of a fundamental twentieth century social transformation that paralleled the industrial revolution of Colombia. And questioned the idea of Silvia Fernandez, from a lineal connection to the Germany school into an idea of an autonomy culture that circulated at the National University in the sixties.

A new career in Colombia

Just as in 1936, when some engineers supported the creation of an architecture program at National University, the late 60’s produced a similar effect powered by a generation of architects. These architectural professionals, considered dissidents in their field, migrate to industrial design and participated in the founding of the industrial design in Colombia. The having come from Bogota’s middle class, most of these men had earlier been architecture students at National University between 1954 and 1974.

The founders generation (architects graduates): Hernando Vargas (1941), Rogelio Salmona (1948*), Dicken Castro (1948) and Arturo Robledo (1954). Google images.

Finally, industrial design practice is rich with visual and physical imagines from hand sketches to working prototypes. Even, including programing of projects descriptions and solutions. But the historical written has never been a part of our strengths, therefore, in order to maintain cultural and historical continuity, it is imperative that more design students and professionals investigate and document the evolving history of our profession.

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  • ​​MARTINEZ GORROÑO, María Eugenia (2004) «La educación en la Colombia liberal de los años 30 y 40: la transcendente contribución del exilio español consecuencia de la Guerra Civil 1936-1939» en Migraciones y Exilios: Cuadernos de la Asociación para el estudio de los exilios y migraciones ibéricos contemporáneos. Vol 4 pp. 9-30. [Education in Colombia liberal of the 30 and 40: the transcendent contribution from exile following the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939].
  • FERNANDEZ, Silvia (2006). «The Origins of Design Education in Latin America: From the hfg in Ulm to Globalization», en Design Issues 22, no. 1 (January 1); pp. 3-19.
  • GUTIERREZ, Alfredo (2012) Las situaciones diseñadas, Tesis de Maestria, Escuela de estudios de género, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, version digital en recuperado en 12/06/2013. [Designed situations, Masterʼs Thesis, School of Gender Studies, Faculty of Humanities, National University of Colombia, Bogota, digital version].
  • BUITRAGO, Juan Camilo (2012) Creatividad social: La profesionalización del diseño industrial en Colombia, Univalle. [Social creativity: The professionalization of industrial design in Colombia].
  • GUTIERREZ, Alfredo; ANGULO, Camilo (2013) «Cuatro decadas del diseño industrial tadeista», Documento interno, junio, PDI – UJTL. [Four decades of industrial design at The Tadeo" Internal Document, Jorge Tadeo Lozano University].
  • H. ALPAY Er & LANGRIS John (1993) «Industrial design in developing countries: a review of the literature», en IAS Research Papers, RP-66, Institute of Advanced Studies, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • PDI [PROGRAMA DE DISEÑO INDUSTRIAL] UJTL (2008). PEP, Proyecto Educativo del Programa de diseño industrial de la Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. [PEP, Program Educational Project industrial design at the University Jorge Tadeo Lozano].
  • PROYECTODISEÑO (pd), (2002) «Historia del diseño de producto en Colombia» Siglo XX Bogotá, Colombia. [History product design in Colombia» Twentieth Century Bogotá, Colombia].
  • PULGAR VIDAL, Javier (2004) «Apuntes para la historia de la Tadeo» pp. 31-36 en Revista LA TADEO 50 AÑOS, Edición No. 69, sobre texto originalmente publicado en Revista La Tadeo No. 23, 1989. [Notes on the history of Tadeo» pp. 31-36 in LATADEO 50 YEARS Magazine, Issue No. 69, on text originally published in The Journal Tadeo No. 23, 1989].
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Portrait of Linda Bernal Piñeros
Feb 2015

Itʼs so important that in Colombia we, as Industrial Designers, had reference like this article that explains us in a very fast but depply interested way, how it´s being the pioneers of the Industrial Design program in our country and in our university.

Throught letters youʼre telling a beautiful story about a unique carrer thatʼs full of many concepts and diciplines.

Itʼs such an honor to have a big influence of characters like: Salmona, Robledo & Vargas, Who cames too us in paper shape, to guide, instruct, build an design our future.

Iʼts an Excelent atricle, it help us definitely to know where`s going our lives!

Portrait of Lukas Escobar
Feb 2015

I truly believe, it is an honor to have a legacy from bauhaus or ulm and to be able to recognize it, but most of all, i think that we all should be proud of being colombian and proud of all the handmade wealth we have. Therefore, industrial design in Colombia should analyze these two educational branches and finally be based in our national wealth

Portrait of María Girón
María Girón
Feb 2015

This article explains about how Industrial Design originated in Colombia (political, production and technological influences), two theories which suggests origins of Industrial Design in Colombia (European influence and Traditional) and also the rise of Industrial Design as a career across Colombia.

I believe that creation of "Avianca" airlines in the start of 20th century was a big technological event which helped in growth of Industrial design as it increased the communication between people at an international level.

I also believe that the industrial designs in Colombia is influenced by both Traditional (e.g. the designs of the transportation of the fruit/arepa vendors ) as well as influenced by other cultures (e.g. "Transmileno").

I agree that we need to document our work for the continuity of the history. Also I think we need to contribute to our society using industrial designs to make it a better society and hence we will make the history.

Portrait of Gheraldine Sarria
Feb 2015

We don´t now industrial design in Colombia as something that has not yet been developed deeply as we still see people who don’t know our profession and know all the progress that has been achieved in the world and in our country from our illustrious career, wondering why this happens ?, the answer is simple diffusion is missing and missing investigation of this fact tells us the article "the Roots of Industrial Design Colleges in Colombia" . Which clarifies us something but gives information that could unite any way we should find either of Silvia Fernandez and Juan Buitrago as the two routes information are very specific and accurate and are focused on the curricula of our careers regardless of the university in which is given the design industrial and artisanal part or the part of basic elements of design Bauhause School.

Portrait of Nathalia Parra
Nathalia Parra
Feb 2015

I think itʼs very important to know the history of industrial design in Colombia, because with the story we understand how important is the design for us Colombians also understand that design is a discipline and a goal to reach every day, because people create their projects based on design in order to improve the world in which we live

Portrait of Carolina Vizcaya
Feb 2015

Reading this article made me realize how important are the registration systems because i believe the reason that today we donʼt know exactly how everything starts is that back then the first industrial designers did not have an appropriate registration of what happened. Furthermore reading the theory of Juan Camilo Buitrago and Silvia Fernandez made me think in a third possibility where both theories are mixed up.

It is not crazy to think that without the huge impact that Germans had in the Industrial Design of Colombia, or without the effort of Colombians professionals today the Industrial Design in this country it would not be as it is.

Portrait of Angie Daniela Leon Castellanos
Feb 2015

In this articule we can see that the industrial design have a very strong link whit the trends in others parts from the world, for us is necessary understand that the industrial design is a profession in Colombia that isn´t usually mentioned and is our job try to improve our position in the country, create new projects like designers to give a solution to the problems that we have in community.

Portrait of Laura Daniela Ríos Farfán
Laura Daniela Ríos Farfán
Feb 2015

Itʼs interesting to think about the story of the industrial design in Colombia because in this way, we understand what the colombian design is looking for resolve. Itʼs great to see how the industrial design is growing up in our country and how it managed to stay for a long time. I feel so lucky for be studying at one of the pioneering of industrial design colleges in Colombia.

Portrait of Evymar Jaramillo
Feb 2015

It is great to know that in Colombia the industrial design career is

increasingly growing. I consider this long process has taken a good part of student´s creativity and convert it in ambitious projects that will not only satisfy their immediate environment but the culture and the way of living.

For thereʼs no way to innovation in design if the design history hasnʼt been known, is time to tell students that knowing their history and even the mistakes of the past will increase the objectives and goals and then the capacity to create will be greater.

However, it is necessary to build an identity in our perspective of design even if we have the euopean heritage or a traditional design process. This will bring brand new ideas and concepts in the new generation (with all technologies) of industrial designers.

Portrait of Nicolas López
Feb 2015

well... thank´s camilo, i think that is very important collet this information about the history of industrial design in colombia. from my perspective both are true... the carecer of industrial design in colombia is precisely particular because is a mixture of the views about the industrial design in europe and the needs that we had over the years.


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