It’s all hands on deck for Bachelor in Design students as they prepare to show their work in this year’s DOPO? Design Festival. Slated to run throughout October, the event will be held in Corvetto, Milan’s legendary art district.

A safe space for creativity

Corvetto District is an ancient borough close to the heart of the city. With the Prada Foundation close by, it’s transformed into an eclectic, multicultural haven for avant-garde artists, ateliers and art galleries. This makes it the perfect backdrop for the DOPO? Design Festival, which is a lively celebration of urban design and the arts. It involves a series of events, including exhibitions, symposiums, an art residency, urban explorations, food experiences and the much-anticipated afterparty. 

Organizing the event is DOPO? Space, a cultural center that offers an innovative, multidisciplinary space for the next crop of creative talent. There, an assorted team of designers, architects, researchers and curators help develop and oversee collaborative projects that ripple through the global art scene. The festival will be curated by the renowned Milan-based design studio Mr. Lawrence

This year’s theme is Rooting. Leading lights from the world of architecture and design will examine the relationship between spaces and objects with the realities of the surrounding environment. Through projects combining creativity and innovation, they’ll explore what it takes to put down roots and settle in—and why art is a pivotal part of the process.

To the drawing board

With this brief in mind, several students from the Bachelor in Design accepted the call to blend art with real life. Their project? “We were challenged to make an inflatable of any size,” says Thomas Jackman Kuwabara. Thomas is in his second year of the program and part of the team representing IE University at the DOPO? Design Festival. 

The project is part of a dedicated exhibit called Parentesi Cinema. It honors the various mediums available to creative professionals to express their artistry and points of view. As an institutional partner for the festival, IE University occupies a significant place in the lineup: apart from creating the inflatable art piece, students will also oversee the staging for this exhibit. They’ll be in charge of setting the tone, using space, infrastructure, objects and textures as their brush strokes.

However, conceptualizing the inflatable was the easy part; bringing it to life was another matter.

“The real goal of the project was to make the figure functional but also interactive.”

Thomas Jackman Kuwabara

Students had to figure out how to add an element of human interaction to the inflatable in order to create “some sort of connection you may not have had without it.” What followed were intense brainstorming sessions as students split into groups of three or four to pool ideas and choose the final design. They opted to make an inflatable chair that attendees could actively engage with during the festival. 

Then, it was time for materials.


Problem-solving on the fly

Students didn’t expect it to be so hard to find the right supplies for their project. “It was a process of trial and error,” Thomas describes. First, they had to pick the right material to use in constructing their inflatable. Once they settled on plastics, they tested out different types to rule out options and find the ideal one. 

It was then time to select the best way to put all the plastic pieces together. As Thomas notes, “To fuse plastics, you need to use some sort of heat.” They initially thought to use a standard iron but quickly found an alternative solution that would make MacGyver proud. “In the end, we found out it was much easier to use a hair straightener to melt the plastic and create a piece that’s both strong and inflatable.” As soon as the team identified their primary heat source, it was all systems go.

An explosive challenge

One of the major difficulties our student team had to tackle was ensuring the inflatable chair’s overall structural integrity.

“We had someone test our chair and when they tried to sit on it, it exploded when two parts we had joined together separated.”

Thomas Jackman Kuwabara

In an installation meant to be interactive, the inflatable had to pass rigorous stress tests before it was go time. So the team went to work, engaging the problem-solving skills learned in the Bachelor in Design to pinpoint the most effective solution. “We had to figure out a way to make the fusion strong enough so that it wouldn’t detach when someone tried to sit on it again,” says Thomas.

Ready to blow

It’s sturdiness assured, our students’ inflatable chair project is now ready to hit the stage at the upcoming DOPO? Design Festival. It will be exposure like they’ve never seen before, with a chance to rub shoulders with some of the most outstanding architects, designers, historians and critics in the contemporary art scene. For Bachelor in Design Students, this installation is not just a fast track to global recognition, but a glowing accomplishment to add to their resume.

We wish our students all the best at the DOPO? Design Festival!