Exploring the theme of water, Porto Design Biennale reveals a varied line-up

This year, the Biennale features exciting projects selected through an open call, alongside a programme of designers, architects, artists, filmmakers, cooks and more.

3 October 2023


Back in June, Porto Design Biennale announced its theme ‘Being Water’ (from lead curator Fernando Brízio) – the event would tackle the essential resource from many angles, from its growing scarcity to the need for a greater understanding of how we source our water, and how. The final expansive programme has just been announced; it includes an impressive range of curators and collaborators in Portugal, as well as international voices.

The programme is split into four strands. There’s the main programme, a programme hosted by this year’s guest country Galicia, Spain, a selection of satellite activities – these are the open call projects responding to the idea of ‘Being Water’ – and autonomously organised projects, or “constellations”, which bear relevance to the urgent theme.

Attendees heading to the main programme will find an exhibition by Fernando Brízio, which takes the smell of rain as a starting point and explores a range of “fluid interfaces” designed by humans, from artificial heart valves to plant rafts. Another main programme exhibition – Catharsis by Margarida Mendes – looks at different bodies of water, and the activists and creatives making work tied to those regions, from Bogotá River to the Lower Mississippi River. This year, Fernando Brízio also welcomes director of Fundación DIDAC David Barro to the Biennale as guest curator in a section called Galicia: Processes and Forms, which navigates the essential nature of water and its role in Galicia’s recent design history.


Joydeb and Moyna Chitrakar: Tsunami (Copyright © Tara Books Pvt Ltd)

In the open call section, you can discover all sorts of disciplinary approaches, from fake guided tours to film cycles and board games. The chef Rui Mota will be hosting a workshop spotlighting recipes and tastings that are based on water conservation while questions of sustainability also come to the fore in Mud Matters by designers Irena Übler & Mónica Braga dos Santos. Their exhibition and workshop questions how ceramic pastes might be made using sludges from water treatment plants.

Other open call winners include the “design-critique-turned-design-comedy duo” The Ironing Board, who will draw inspiration from the guided tours offered to tourists in Porto for a water fountain tour that tackles water scarcity. Inside the venue of Parque das Águas do Porto, attendees can find an exhibition from artist and architect Jola Idowu, who will be using the building material Tabby – cement made from oysters – to discuss preservation cycles and “the memory of diasporas around the world,” a release explains.

Alongside this eclectic line-up, the Biennale will present further constellation events, offering a look at this prescient theme from additional perspectives. This multidisciplinary approach offers a compelling way to look at a complex issue that spans continents.

The Porto Design Biennale will run from 19 October – 3 December, taking over numerous venues in Porto and Matosinhos. The event is organised by esad—idea, Research in Design and Art, and promoted by Câmara Municipal do Porto and Câmara Municipal de Matosinhos. You can read more about the event here.


Ivo Poças Martins: Erasing the Line: Between Land and Water (Copyright © Ivo Poças Martins, 2023)


Frank Perry: The Swimmer (Copyright © Frank Perry, 1968)


The Ironing Board: Testing the Waters (Copyright © Marta Ríos & Miguel Parrrra, 2023)


Jola Idowu: Tabi. Tabii. Tabique. Tabby. (Copyright © Jola Idowu, 2023)


The WaterSchool Classroom: Cabinet of Curiosities (Copyright © Studio Makkink & Bey, 2023)


Joana Pestana and Mariana Pestana: Eden x 1.0, photo by João Octávio Peixoto (Copyright © João Octávio Peixoto, 2023)

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Porto Design Biennale 2023

Porto Design Biennale is an event that has been fostering debate, welcoming concerns and multiple perspectives, as well as stimulating interest in design, driving new discourses and practices that increase the discipline’s prospective capacity to outline innovative solutions to collective problems.

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Michela de Mattei: The World, Part I: Mirage (Copyright © Michela de Mattei, 2019)

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