Past Program

Design with Nature in the Azores

In this 3-week travel course, you will learn about design with nature, by designing for nature. The volcanic archipelago of the Azores, situated along the mid-Atlantic Ocean ridge, will be the location and context.

Please Note: RISD has announced the cancellation of RISD Global Summer Studios 2020. Read more.


Global Summer Studios
  • Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal
Summer 2020

Course Dates: Jun 24, 2020 — Jul 15, 2020

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

Walk & Talk, Innovation Green Azores

Academic Credits
  • Architecture
Course Numbers
  • ARCH-1560-01

Includes tuition, accommodation, studio space, transportation, field trips, entrance fees, group meals and international travel health insurance.

Azores: Walk and Work with Wood
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal 2019
Azores: Walk and Work with Wood
Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal 2019

About this Travel Course

Course Description

Islands nations are at the forefront of climate change as their specific geography makes them more susceptible to the destructive power of storm and rising oceans. As the need for resiliency is accelerating, islands have the potential to act as incubators and leaders in green designed futures. This course will explore design for nature, using the Azores as a case study.

In the first part of the course, we will take several walks through forests, fields and the water’s edge of Sao Miguel, the Azores' largest island, to explore the cultural/ecological networks. We will use walking as a means of observation and as a way to collect and generate thoughts. Each walk will be connected to a series of exercises, including a performative experience with a Walk&Talk artist. Drawings from the walks will be translated to a series of pattern drawings that document field conditions and interrelationships seen.

Taking from these observations and material explorations, you will work together to create a small Butterfly and Bee Pavilion that will be installed in the garden of the Quinta do Priôlo, an organic farm and community space in Ponta Delgada. As a class, you will work together in teams to iterate design ideas that will be presented to the members of the community and Walk&Talk designers. Finally, we will work directly with local woodworkers and craftsman to assemble the project on the site. The pavilion will provide a home for young butterflies and bee hives. It will be made of Cryptomeria wood and light weight netting. Together as a class, you will draw from your separate academic disciplines in approaching the project.

Course Objectives

  • Study the intersection of ecology, traditional economy, and contemporary cultural activities
  • Explore the island’s rural and urban landscapes by walking and making daily experimental drawings
  • Draw with an eye of understanding ecological relationships
  • Learn about the potential of the wood and other materials from the forest by meeting with forest ecologist from the University of the Azores and the Department of Forest Management
  • Learn from local craft traditions, including wood working, basket weaving, cheese making, and embroidery
  • 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)

We also will work closely with a local arts organization called Walk & Talk, which will be hosting an annual summer arts festival during our stay.

    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


    To participate in RISD Global Summer Studios, all students are required to stay in RISD- provided housing for the duration of the course. Students will be accommodated in double/triple occupancy rooms with shared bathrooms and kitchen available for the group.

    Background Information


    Because of its dramatic natural beauty, the Azores was designated among 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, the largest city within the Azores. 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.


    Cryptomeria, originally brought to the island from Japan in the 15th century during the height of Portuguese exploration, has become the primary lumber on the island, covering approximately a third of the land in the Azores. It is one of the largest and straightest species of pine and, like redwood, reaches heights of 200 feet and diameters of 20 feet. The harvested wood has many applications. It is versatile, relatively lightweight, easy to work and has natural resistance to water and insects. It has been used for centuries in Japan for temples or Shou Sugi Ban burnt siding and is used as Cross laminated timber (CLT), structural framing, decking, plywood, cladding, insulation, doors, and windows. It is also used for furniture and multiple household objects.


    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/July, and you are required to attend all program activities scheduled during the travel 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).

    Withdrawal Policy

    Requesting to withdraw from a RISD off-campus 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.

    More Info

    In order to reserve a seat, a non-refundable deposit of $1,500 is required at time of application submittal. Students will have 30 days from the date of their deposit to submit full payment. Students that fail to make full payment by their deadline will forfeit their $1,500 deposit and their seat in the course. New application submissions starting April 1 are not eligible to make a deposit and must make full payment by April 12, 2020.

    All RISD students enrolled in RISD and other full degree schools/universities are required to remain in good academic standing in order to participate in Global Summer Studios. A minimum GPA of 2.5 is required for all RISD students. Failure to remain in good academic standing can lead to removal from the course, either before or during the course.

    In cases where summer travel courses and studios do not reach full capacity, the course may be cancelled after the last day of registration. As such, all students are advised not to purchase flights for participation in Global Summer Studios courses until the course is confirmed to run starting April 13, 2020.

    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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