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Traces of a Dutch designer in Latin America

The departure of the Dutch designer resident for almost 60 years in Italy, Andries Van Onck on May 18, reminds us of his time in Latin America and as an example his student designers who became project managers in a story that deserves to be told .

Good teachers have the power to radiate their enthusiasm and with their experience and knowledge they help us to better understand the world in which we move with new ingredients. At the beginning we are like a pot with water and salt. The sum of the ingredients of this primordial soup is given by education. With the experience that we accumulate during life we make our own and particular recipe.

 Van Onck design projects


Van Onck:

Andries Van Onck, a universal Dutchman, was a student of Gerrit Rietveld. He studied at the legendary school of Ulm, with Tomas Maldonado, Walter Zeischegg, Max Bill was a colleague of Gui Bonsiepe, lived since 1959 in Italy where he was assistant to Ettore Sottssas Jr for the design among others of the Elea series for Olivetti.
In his portfolio some classic projects such as the famous “escaletta” that started the entry of the Magis company in the “Italian design” sector and the first modular light switches that earned him the “compasso d’oro” in 1976. His contribution to Italian design was colossal, since he led this country and taught his whole life with the discipline and scientific and analytical method of northern Europe irradiated to his students for several decades from the ISIA of Florence and the Polytechnic of Milan.

Van Onck in Brazil in 1973 in the recently launched “Brasilia” of WV, perhaps his first visit to our region (photo by Arí Rocha)


The term “Metadesign” and “Metaproject” coined in 1964 is dedicated to the procedure necessary to structure design phases related to the definition of the project until the creation of a suitable concept to be taken to an executive phase, very well explained in his book: “Design: The meaning of training in products” that had an edition in Spanish in attention to the courses that with the as a participating professor and part of the methodological committee held in Uruguay from an agreement of the EEC and Mercosur , which were made in Uruguay between 1999 and 2004, to which we will return later.

His was the study of design methods from a systemic vision that exceeded the vision of the project as a finished object, with harsh criticism of the projects – the ones that we all are – that are determined more by laws of demand and excess of offer. For the design of objects was something similar to the development of living beings that are evolving with society technology and behavior of people.

Van Onck loved to reduce complex concepts to simple tables, some of them to measure the relationship between the price and the demand of the consumer in the sale. Others to understand the objects from the semiotics, their specialty but one of them absolutely great, because it is the summary of all the ergonomic tables in a single table:

Ergonomic table of sitting. Synthesis of the Dreyfuss tables

Design in the last is the art of synthesizing and he achieved it with mastery

The Mercosur Design:

I met Van Onck as my professor in a post-graduate degree I did as a Brazilian at the ” Centro de diseño industrial” of Montevideo in 2000-2001. Course that we made with colleagues from five Mercosur countries and their associates in a scholarship that was made by selecting curricula. The course, divided into furniture, packaging and fashion, was actually a specialization in project management, insofar as it was rightly thought that their students could replicate what they learned in terms of improving companies and communities when they returned home.

The whole process revolved around the EEC  metodology projects, which, being of design or not, should revolve around this methodology that today can be learned very easily on the Internet and which is a standard for presenting projects around the world.
Van Onck, was the director of the scientific committee that organized this postgraduate course and was the tutor of all our projects.

One of my graduate projects in Uruguay. Behind this chair a deep research work on what I called “Local Factor”

The professor, then 72 years old, was delighted with what the primordiums of the Internet were. He put us as a task to do our thesis in a blog using the precariousness of Netscape Navigator. It was very funny to see the old man with all patience explaining to the young people irritated by the slope of learning that came to them as the program worked and to hear from his voice what would be the Internet that we know today. Do creative processes and research registered in blogs, something absolutely visionary.

So I owe him the little moments of notoriety and influence that I can have thanks to this blessed means of direct communication with my readers and to that postgraduate he put a before and an after in my professional life, because I went from working as a solo designer to understand myself as part of a system called Latin America where it was much more interesting and powerful, to work as a team for projects of greater scope.


 Red Latinoamericana de Diseño. An indirect result of theMercosur Design postgraduate 


As a result of this experience, we managed to make the Latin American Design Network that united us and through which we made memorable events such as the Colombian Design Forum, the Latino Identities circuit managed by our colleagues Laura Novik and Celaine Refosco, the foundation of the DIMU , postgraduate in furniture design of the U of Cordoba by Jonny Gallardo. The most recent program LACOD (Latinamerican Contemporary Design with which we exhibited in Milan, the design program Prodiseño of the Argentine INTI in the hands of Raquel Ariza and many more that I can forget at this moment.

Including, of course, the next Industry-Design Business Roundtable, where we will find the channel to finally make an effective bridge between entrepreneurs and designers in Colombia.

Teachers live in their students and their teachings are reflected in the actions their example inspires. In this Van Onck was a crack.


Inspired by him – among other processes – my students use blogs as an extension of their minds and notebooks. Always in my thoughts, what sadness.

Laura Novik.


“For me he was the perfect mix between theory and practice. His passage through Uruguay was incredible, we were very grateful, and he too, in Montevideo his book was published in Spanish, and he had a fruitful exchange with the professor of semiotics of the CDI of that time, his book is loaded with concepts of semiotics applied to the design, a jewel. The fact of being Dutch, a student of Rietveld, who is like the father of the modern chair, having studied in Ulm, and working in Milan, for us was like talking to the Holy Spirit “

Andres Parallada


With Van Onck we began to think about “Clothing that Speaks”. I remember when we did a barbecue at home with several classmates of the graduate, we ended up dancing like teenagers with the Profe … Ana Livni gave her a jean shirt from her Thesis (Both Denim) and she appropriated it with a lot of emotion. Until that moment with Ana, we had not worked together, and Andries was a great promoter of our union: a GREAT visionary!
Fernando Escuder

He called himself an old soldier (of life) and complete (if I may): an expert soldier of design in life.
Many presents I received from this soldier and of course I will never forget it.

Cleuza Fornasier

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