Virtual, Azores | Design with Nature

Islands nations such as the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, are at the forefront of climate change as their specific geography makes them more susceptible to the destructive power of storms and rising oceans.

As the need for resiliency is accelerating, islands have the potential to act as incubators and leaders in green-designed futures.


Global Summer Studios
  • Virtual Course
Summer 2021

Course Dates: Jun 7, 2021 — Jun 25, 2021

Open to RISD students, Brown University students, non-RISD students

2.5 GPA required. Non-RISD participants see eligibility requirements below.

  • Sustainability
  • Cultural Ecology
  • Forestry
  • Design Installation
  • Craft
Program Partners

RISD Nature Lab, Innovation Green Azores, University of the Azores, Walk & Talk

Academic Credits
  • Architecture
Course Numbers
  • ARCH-1560-01
Azores: Walk and Work with Wood
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal 2019
Azores: Walk and Work with Wood
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal 2019

About this Virtual Studio

Video Snapshot

Course Description

In this 3-week, 3-credit remotely taught summer course, we will learn about design with nature, by designing for nature by collaborating with colleagues from the Azores, the volcanic archipelago, situated along the mid-Atlantic Ocean ridge.

During the course, we will examine the crossovers between our communities (New England has one of the largest populations of Portuguese people outside of Portugal and many immigrants from the Azores), and study the intersection of ecology, traditional economy, and contemporary cultural activities. You will draw throughout the three weeks with an eye to understanding ecological relationships. We will explore design with biofibers and at the end of the course, design of objects and artifacts including for some students, a Butterfly Pavilion for the Quinta Ambiental Kairos.

Course Objectives

Through lectures, we will learn about the island’s rural and urban landscapes. Along the way, we will learn about forest management and the use of invasive biofibers and local wood by meeting with forest ecologists from the University of the Azores and the Department of Forest Management. We also will work with a local arts organization called Walk & Talk which will be hosting a remote version of their annual summer arts festival. In addition, students will be exposed to local craft traditions from woodworking, basket weaving, cheese making, to embroidery as a means to learn from the past and to look toward an ecologically hopeful future.

    Learning Outcomes + Assignments

    • Exposure to Portuguese culture, architecture and design and the specificity of the vernacular
    • Understanding of island social ecological economy and sustainable economic development that balances natural habitat protection with urban growth
    • Understand responsive and resilient design strategies towards natural and man-made environments
    • Understand tactical urbanism and small interventions that can activate space and event
    • Observational and experimental landscape and forest drawing
    • Translation of discursive arguments and inquiry into design methodology

    Faculty Infosession

    Background Info


    Because of its dramatic natural beauty, the Azores was designated as UNESCO’s Global “Geoparks”, a network established to protect biodiversity, promote geological heritage and support sustainable economic growth. Sao Miguel, the largest island, includes Ponta Delgada which is the Azores largest city. It also includes historic towns, agrarian pastures, hedgerows of blue hydrangeas, lake-filled calderas, and cryptomeria forests. Multiple religious festivals have been a critical part of the daily life of the place and recently, several new international festivals have been established.

    The geographic isolation of the islands and their mountainous terrain give rise to several endemic species and a wide variety of biotopes, ecosystems, and landscapes. In addition, the Island’s remoteness means that its inhabitants have learned to be relatively autonomous and self-reliant, depending mostly on available resources of the islands. Agriculture has been and still is the primary form of income. There are efforts underway to build on the sustainable development of traditional agricultural markets and modernize the forest sector through responsible forest management.

    This year single use plastics, that pollute the ocean will be prohibited and designers are developing replacements that use waste from invasive species. The Azores is largely dependent on imported fuels including diesel and oil even though there is significant renewable energy potential (geothermal, wind and solar). Tourism is playing a larger role in the life of the Azores and pushing the economy. With it, local artists have successfully organized popular gatherings that draw an international contemporary arts scene, including Walk&Talk, Tremor, Burning Azores. Arts are used as a means to invigorate culture and open up new ways of connecting traditional and modern-day worlds.


    Design with biofiber is experiencing renewed interest. Biofibers were for centuries, one of the primary materials used in the design of ordinary products and building components. With the introduction of plastics and other synthetic materials at the advent of the 20th century, the use of the natural materials declined. But thanks to a growing environmental consciousness and to new attitudes, traditional crafts are being reconsidered in innovative ways. In the Azores and Portugal, the traditional handicraft culture is still thriving. Artisans continue to create beautiful objects including woven baskets, hats and fiber dolls.

    We will explore these traditions and then look at new approaches that use multiple techniques for a varied set of applications that range from bioplastic containers, algae based fabrics, grown mycelium bricks to 3d printed woven and compressed building components. Examples include work from Portuguese Design, RISD students work and the RISD Nature Lab workshops

    University of the Azores, Innovation Green Azores project

    This RISD studio will collaborate with engineering colleagues from the University of Azores who have been leading the Innovation Green Azores project

    Innovative Green Azores was conceived as a solution to the problem of plastics at a global level, but also as a solution to the invasive Conteira plant that proliferates in the Azores archipelago. The project addresses two distinct environmental problems in the Archipelago, the accumulation of plastic packaging waste and the increasing threats to biodiversity of Azorean flora from the invasive conteira plant.

    Researchers are developing marketable biodegradable products from the plant's fiber to replace disposable plastic objects. The biofiber of the container is a natural product, abundant and renewable, but not yet fully exploited. The project aims to value endogenous vegetable raw materials to develop innovative technology-based products that can replace those made of plastics. The approach is also more economical than traditional materials and therefore is seen as a viable alternative in the production of innovative products, in particular for the packaging sector.

    More Info

    Application + Registration

    Course Dates: June 7 – June 25, 2021
    Non-Refundable Deposit (Required at time of Application Submission): $500.00
    Balance (After Non-Refundable Deposit): $2,500.00

    In order to reserve a seat, a non-refundable deposit of $500 is required at the time of application submission. Students will have 15 days to submit the remaining course balance of $2,500.00. Students that fail to make full payment by their deadline will forfeit their $500 deposit and their seat in the course.

    For RISD Students: Courses are not available via web registration. Students must complete an online application through this website.

    Deadline Extended: Apply by May 2, 2021


    All RISD students and other full degree schools/universities are required to remain in good academic standing in order to participate in Global Summer Studios. Failure to remain in good academic standing can lead to removal from the course, either before or during the course.

    RISD Students

    If your current cumulative GPA is 2.5 or above, you are eligible for registration. If your current cumulative GPA is lower than 2.5, you must first contact the Registrar at to seek exception to this academic policy.

    Non-RISD Participants

    If you are a college student currently enrolled in another art/design college or institution around the world, or a professional practicing in the field, you are eligible for registration. We will collect a recommendation/support form from your institution/workplace.

    In order to register for RISD Global summer studies, you are expected to have a high level of English (speech, writing, and comprehension) as all coursework and critique is delivered in English.

    Attendance Policy

    Global Summer Studios are three weeks long and take place in June, and you are required to attend all program activities scheduled during the course. RISD Global Summer Studios comply with RISD class attendance policy. In case of unexcused or multiple absences, you may be removed from the course, given a grade of “W" (withdrawal) or a grade of “F” (fail).

    Cancellation Policy

    In case a virtual Global Summer Studio does not reach full capacity, the course may be canceled after the last day of registration (May 2) and a full refund will be issued to enrolled students.

    Withdrawal Policy

    Requesting to withdraw from a RISD global learning program, including RISD Global Summer Studios, prior to the start of the course is highly discouraged and requires a formal process outlined in the RISD course withdrawal policy. It is not possible for a student to drop a RISD Global Summer Studios travel course via the standard Add/Drop process after it has commenced. In the case of unforeseen and extenuating circumstances (and only after students have spoken with the faculty lead and RISD Global for approval to withdraw from the program), students should be aware that no refund will be issued.

    Apply to Global Summer Studios

    For summer 2021, RISD Global is offering 4 creative and culturally immersive art and design courses, all taught virtually for 3 weeks between June 7 – 25.

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    1:1 Advising Session

    Have questions? The RISD Global team is available to meet for a 1:1 advising session. We can give you more information about your study options, help you figure out which program makes sense for you, and assist you with the application process.

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