Loulé Design Lab

Recovering craft traditions of a region or locality, reinvigorating their colours, their ways of making and using them is an extraordinary achievement. But making people’s lives socially and economically sustainable is an even greater accomplishment.

We all know that a region without a past, without its ways and culture, is like a boat adrift, vulnerable to the outside, to the onslaught of interests that do little to improve the locals’ lives.

For this reason, populations urgently need to feel that their culture is protected and preserved, whether popular or erudite. The protection of their estate, traditions, and cultural heritage. And the latter also encompasses habits, which are obviously not separated from the use of artefacts and objects.

Design emerges there as a broad-spectrum discipline, recovering the material culture of a group or community through the revival of its traditions. It also rekindles a state of mind, a way of being and existing, a way of doing and interacting in society.

This encourages a key action to include all elements of a community, through the production and exchange of goods, giving the elderly a meaning to life, a purpose. Along with the feeling of being part of a powerful cog and a mission in society.

The older generations pass on their knowledge to the younger ones, creating livelihoods with multiple purposes: integration of the elderly into the community, pushing them away from loneliness; interaction between them and younger people, nurturing young people’s respect for the elderly; passing on traditions from generation to generation, strengthening the region’s heritage; the creation of new means of subsistence; the integration of younger people into the creative job market; the preservation of Portuguese handicrafts; the promotion of creativity in merging old and new, creating innovative possibilities for environmental sustainability, continuing to appreciate manual art as a source of creativity and plasticity, etc.

The Loulé Design Lab, whose director is Henrique Ralheta, has, therefore, been promoting artistic residencies for designers. The aim is to develop projects that embody the genesis and support the mission of the 1992 World Conference on the Environment in Rio de Janeiro: sustainable development in the environmental, economic and social areas.

The discipline of proto-ecological design, initiated by Papanek in the 60s and 70s and then in the 90s by Ézio Manzini, sought to react in opposition to industrial solutions, at the time without environmental concerns. Under a sustainability policy, design projects attempted to reduce environmental impact as much as possible. The judicious use of natural resources and reduction of waste to protect future generations.

But sustainable development also includes well-being, the community and the individual.

The Loulé Design Lab, as well as promoting projects focused on future environmental balance, organises workshops and residencies. In these, designers contribute, with their know-how and project actions, to strong social objectives. The project includes the integration of elderly people who have already worked as artisans and, as has been happening for several years, reviving this knowledge, in a bridge with designers. The Loulé Design Lab recovers craft knowledge and practices that are almost extinct. Many of these craftsmen had already given up their activities and now collaborate with designers to add contemporaneity to objects. And to respond to new needs.

There have recently been new residencies at the Loulé Design Lab. According to the newspaper Público, a group of designers was invited to create a line of bags for gardeners. To produce these bags, 50 tons of waste were used. To make the bags, the designers used canvas from advertising banners, many of them colourful and graphically diverse. They added pockets, at the request of the gardeners, for them to carry pruning shears and gloves. Waste was collected in Vilamoura, as well as rubbish lying next to waste bins.

The designers were also motivated by social causes and used design to improve people’s well-being.

According to Idálio Revez, in Público newspaper: Gonçalo Gama, one of this project’s resident designers, heard about patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, who didn’t want to go out on the streets1. After talking to the Parkinson and Alzheimer Association of Vila Sol, the designer thought of birdsong and how this could inspire the patients. To evoke the nests in the Algarve’s chimneys, he designed a nest made of canvas, and positioned it in the centre of the institution’s garden2. The designer, concerned about the patients’ apathy, also used old abandoned doors in the association and created tables for tic-tac-toe. And also, a support, or shelf, to set a bottle of water or a packet of tissues3.

Still, the same source4 informed: André Silva Sancho, to humanize this place, and reduce the austere environment that reminds us of hospitals, used fruit boxes to produce frames, and filled them with photographs of Serra do Caldeirão, taken by him. On the wall, the images trigger reactions and memories in the residents; Sandra Neto5, to create an emotional interaction with the objects and awaken memories, developed a chromatic game with fragments of natural elements, collected from public gardens. Seeds, sawdust, among others, were the ones used; Marta Lourenço6 developed the project with children from Fundação António Aleixo. She created an educational farm and a game for the outdoor. She also developed two pieces for drying aromatic plants, for the foundation and the home; Leny Farenzena7 designed a xylophone for a kindergarten, from the tubular bases of unused traffic signs. Carla Martins and Gustavo Arguello have reused old furniture drawers and created new, colourful pieces of furniture for the Ameixial home8.


Gonçalves, Mara (2022) “Loulé está a moldar um novo futuro para as artes e ofícios tradcionais”.  Newspaper Público. March 26.

1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 Revez, Idálio (2021) “A partir do lixo de Vilamoura nasceram jogos e objectos úteis”.  Newspaper Público. November 25.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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