MAD Summer School of Design, Sigulda Castle, Latvia, July 2017

MAD – International Summer School of Design – Latvia

Themed Bio-revolution

“MAD 2017 focuses on traditional and urban farming. During MAD 2017 the 19th century Sigulda castle will be turned into an indoor farming workshop, where six work groups will seek practical solutions for world’s overpopulation and nutritional problems.”


“In this work MAD brings together designers, artists, craftsmen and scientists – people who are unlikely to meet under different circumstances. Theories and hypotheses are tested in practice, creating new things and experiences, friendships and interactions that will continue well after the summer school. Physical work is essential for a wholesome human existence and physical and mental development. Only creative activity forms new values. MAD embraces soft definitions of design and art, creating useful and aesthetic objects during irresistible authentic work process.

Extracts from the official MAD programme. For full details please click here.

At the end of July I had the great pleasure of being invited to supervise the design process of 30 international students, mentored by 12 established designers and artists and lecture on plant communication and permaculture as a design tool to address food security. To support the lecture, I ran an intro to permaculture workshop and created a living installation consisting of a mini medicinal and food forest inserted in a metre squared box. I managed to squeeze in 17 different species of trees, shrubs, bushes, ground cover plants, herbs and bulbs. It is displayed at the Sigulda Castle old bus station and temporary cultural centre.

“The smart edible forest installation by permaculturist and artist Claudiu Oprea invites us to explore ideas around ensuring food security for future generations.

Using the forest as a teacher to inform his design, Claudiu curated a selection of local or near local species of edible and medicinal plants, shrubs and trees using the multi storey stacking functions found in our natural forests. Large trees offer shelter and protection for smaller trees, followed by shrubs, smaller bushes, taller herbs and finally ground cover plants and bulbs. 
This results in a diverse food producing system that produces an abundance of different foods and medicines in a very small space. One layer of vines growing up trees is missing from this design determined by space limitations. In a metre square we have 17 different species, each filling a niche habitat and all working together to create a healthy community of plants and humans.
The model can be scaled up and applied to large pieces of land as well as in in urban environments where space is limited, as illustrated by the installation.
List of plants used in the installation.

Apple tree, sea buckthorn, red and black currant, thyme, spearmint, peppermint, echinacea, calendula, wild and traditional strawberries, paprika, chilly, celery, garlic chives of two types and the local favourite cidonijas, a wild cousin of the quince.”

The theme of the event was Bio-revolution and the brief said: We’re farmers without land. How do we feed ourselves and ensure our survival? The students were split into 5 teams of 6, allocated a couple of designer mentors and given the task to come up with a concept, or product around food, mobility, materials, energy and tools.

Due to my unique role I had the pleasure of observing and interacting with all the teams. I assisted the students, artists and designers in defining the concepts, with the design process, choosing materials, introducing living elements (plants, algae and compost) into the finished product and with some individual projects, build and implementation.

My intention was to create a safe space to enable the flow of ideas, energy, information and skills to manifest into a profound self and practical learning experience for all participants.

It was a true collaborative effort with impressive outcomes. Everyone got stuck in, from students to established designers, artists, permaculturists, scientists, local craftsmen and craftswomen. Together we formed a pool of knowledge and experience which benefited us all.

Yet another testament to support the paradigm of collaboration versus competition. By enabling the formation of a strong web of connections woven together with a common goal for manifesting creative solutions to the problems we face as a species, we became more resilient and empowered to act, play, create, birth new ideas and concepts that may play a big part in feeding and healing this new emergent culture we are creating.

Below you will find a video shot by the talented filmmaker Ivars Burtnieks, documenting events as they unfolded.

This was a true highlight of my summer. Enjoy!

With gratitude to the MAD team: Rihards, Liene, Elina, Toms, Marcis, Gundega, Ivars; the designers: Amy, Tim, Oskar, Sophie, Xiamyra, Marc, Katharina & Co; the artists, Adam and Daria and Sabina, as well as all the super talented students: Alexander Rondeau, Alicija Konkol, Alix Cohen, Ance Janevica, Andrea Brisfjäll, Andrejs Strokins, Anete Sabule, Anna Reingard, Anthea Oestreicher, Barbara Drozdek, Clara Roussel, Girts Reiniks, Isha Suhag, Joao Azevedo, Kaitlin Kobs, Kamila Kantek, Kitty Brandon-James, Laila Snevele, Laura Pazo, Liisa Kivimäe, Maximilian Mauracher, Mies Loogman, Min Young Choi, Niek van Sleeuwen, Olga Zelenska, Roza Rutkowska, Sarah Caraman and Yara Valente.