Up and Coming
Brunno Jahara, Product Designer

If you think about it in the context of design, Brazil is a lot like America: A vast, relatively young country with a tiny cadre of contemporary designers struggling both to step out of the long shadow of their mid-century forebears, and to create objects in a near-industrial vacuum. But you won’t hear Brazilian designer Brunno Jahara complaining — having lived in dozens of European countries, worked under Jaime Hayon at Fabrica, and run a freelance business from Amsterdam before moving back to São Paulo a few years ago, he credits his native country as being the catalyst for his newfound success. “In Brazil I have all the freedom I didn’t have in Europe, because there’s a whole historical background over there that holds you to making things in a certain way,” says the 32-year-old, who’s been all over the design press in the past year and twice showed work at Design/Miami Basel. “Here you have so much space, and everything is new. And it’s so crazy, everything you see on the street each day and the mix of cultures — it’s really inspiring.”

Jahara’s nomadic tendencies were instilled in him at a young age, when he moved with his ex-fashion model mother and structural engineer father to the US, England, Germany, and Poland, all by age 8. By the time the family returned to Brazil, he could no longer speak Portuguese. He stayed until he was 23, living in Rio and studying design in Brasilia, then left again to continue his studies at the University of Venice before moving on to Fabrica. If Italy taught him about the intricacies of manufacturing and the marketplace and the “Italian pleasure in shapes and colors,” his time in Amsterdam — where his mother still lives — gave the playful side of his work an intellectual counterpoint.

He brought all of those influences with him to São Paulo, where he now works out of a three-floor building with a “design lab” in the basement and his home on top, but these days he primarily identifies with a Brazilian aesthetic: “We have this exotic flavor somehow,” Jahara laughs. As part of what he believes is a new movement of young Brazilian designers in the post-Campana generation, he’s taken a similar interest in reclaimed materials and in collaborating with the country’s industry. A project he began recently entails helping a large stationery manufacturer figure out how to use a new material they developed out of recycled and extruded Tetra Pak, which he’ll spin into a full series of paper goods later this year. That’s in addition to the limited-edition design objects, the furniture lines, and the scheme for a massive social housing development he keeps tucked away in his desk, waiting for the time in the near future when he can turn it into reality. In the meantime, we interviewed Jahara to find out more about his point of view.

Design object you wish you’d made: “The lighter. It’s such a magical thing to create an instant flame from an object.”

If you had an unlimited budget for a single piece, what would you make? “Maybe a whole new planet. We’re living in a really chaotic moment, everything’s happening so fast, we have tsunamis and all this pollution — there’s so much that needs to be cleaned up and fixed on this planet that it’s probably worthwhile to think about designing a whole new one.”

Thing you love most about São Paulo: “The Ibirapuera Park with all the gardens from Burle Marx, and the museum of architecture there by Niemeyer. It reminds me of Brasilia. You have the modern art museum, the planetarium, Fashion Week is there — it’s an amazing complex and it’s all right in the middle of a garden.”

Thing you hate most about it: “Cars. São Paulo is on the verge of being stopped by traffic. So we need a proper planning and design of transport solutions here. I cycle usually when possible.”

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What inspired your Batucada series? “Music and cans. In Brazil, people in the favelas play instruments made of tin and aluminum pots, and ‘batucada’ is the percussion sound made by beating them. The process interested me in general because Brazil recycles 98% of its aluminum — it’s a record. The cans are collected by hand by people who collect trash in the street. It’s a crazy system but it works very well. The factory that spins the aluminum for me uses recycled metal.”

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Favorite material to work with: “It's hard to choose one material; I rather prefer to work with all materials because it’s more interesting. But I have enjoyed working with plastics and rubber, and now I’m more and more researching sustainable materials that are easy to recycle and transform, like a mixed extrusion laminate of Tetra Pak cartons we’ve been developing some products with. The bench you see here is new, and the idea is to use slabs of recycled black plastic that’s very hard wearing and can be used outdoors.”

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What objects do you keep around your studio for inspiration? “I started to like to collect dinossaurs, plastic ones in strange colors. I have a few now, and some even have names. Dinosaurs and spoons.”

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Favorite place to shop for materials or inspiration: “Right now downtown São Paulo, like St. Efigenia or Florencio de Abreu streets. They have hardware and materials stores where everything’s stacked up to the ceiling. One is more for electrical stuff, another is more for hardware and tools and plastics. They’re like industrial warehouses. In Tokyo don’t miss Tokyo Hands.... It has everything.” Above: A wall in Jahara’s own studio.

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Moment that inspired you to be a designer: “I guess after my first trip to Milan at age 16, when I had an overall view of the design world. My parents had divorced and my mother was working for an architect there, so I went for vacation and stayed for six months. I saw the way Italians really admire the culture of products and design, and how everything — fashion, design, food — is taken to a certain level of dedication there. They dedicate themselves to quality.” Above: A sculptural piece Jahara made several years ago while studying in Italy, before moving back to Brazil

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Most inspiring place you’ve ever been to: “Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. It’s very unique. I don’t go very often now, but I studied design there, so I had it all around me. The whole city was designed. There’s this sense of space and development that is so unique about it.” Above: The Palácio da Alvorada, designed by Oscar Niemeyer (c) Enrico Cano

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Last great exhibition you saw: “Design Miami last December. Emmanuel Perrotin’s gallery was great. They were showing these collapsing donkeys by Daniel Arsham, but sculpture-sized. You see so much stuff these days, and everything is so creative, but sometimes certain things just stand out for some reason.”

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Favorite thing brought back from your travels: “Black cotton swabs from Japan. I always thought that cotton swabs were white, and suddenly you find a black one and it’s so surprising. It’s something so simple — you just decided to change the color, and you’ve made a whole different product.”

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First thing a stranger would think when they saw your work: “That's something I want to touch.” Above: Brasilia-inspired cement tiles Jahara designed for the interior architect Marcelo Rosenbaum's home.

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Design or art hero: “Christo and Jeanne Claude. They have all my respect. I met them in Japan a few years ago at a conference, and they were so simple, real, and down-to-earth. What relates to my work I guess is their full commitment to their dreams and to large-scale projects — it’s truly inspiring to me.”

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First thing you ever made: “It was made of LEGOs of course! My generation grew up with Lego blocks and we would build anything with them, and then destroy it to build something else again.”

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Fictional character who would own your work: “Aunty Entity, Tina Turner’s character in Mad Max. It’s like what we’re living in now, with all these wars and things. Tina Turner would probaly have a house in the middle of all the trash filled with smashed cans and flowers.”

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Favorite music to listen to while working in the studio: “Our neighbors play live jazz sessions daily — it’s the best thing ever. They play afro-sambas, and things like Baden Powell (above).”

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Design movement you most identify with: “I think there’s a new movement coming up from down here in the tropics, and that’s what I relate to right now. It’s warm, and real. We’ve always had important people in Brazilian design — Sergio Rodriguez and Niemeyer from the older generation, then the Campana generation — but there’s a new generation coming up now. I’m 32, and I think there’s a lot of people my age who are more aware of what’s happening in the international design world, yet share a strong sense of identity.” Above: Jahara’s Neorustica cabinet for the Brazilian producer NDT, each piece of which is named after a different favela in Rio

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Right now, Brunno Jahara is: “Busy. From last year to this year, all sorts of projects are showing up, which is a great thing. At the studio we’re working on silverware for an exhibition, stationery with new recycled materials, furniture for a London café, an exhibit in New York, Italian stone tables, ceramic tableware, a hanger, and glass objects. There seems to be no time, but we’re managing; the team is growing and the orders are being delivered on time.” Above: Jahara’s studio window