Low Cost Design

Vernissage: 6th May 2022 – 18.00
Exposition: 6.5.22 – 11.6.22

Videos from Vernissage

Konzepthaus Laboratorium shows a selection of images from Low Cost Design.
The artist Daniele Pario Perra will take part in the vernissage.

On the same evening, Andrea Bartoli presents the Farm Cultural Park Favara in Sicily.

Moderation & translation Sophie Mauch, founder of Praesent – culture, communication & language >> www.praesent.studio

>> shop

LOW COST DESIGN is a visual dictionary that connects culture from design to everyday life to planning widespread and spontaneous creativity. We find examples of people building doorknobs for their dogs, others inventing psychological anti-parking bollards, people using diving masks to chop onions, wives sewing rubber balls onto their husbands’ pajamas to stop them snoring, and those who invent solar coffee machines or x-rays which open the front door …

Low Cost Design is a database, a lifelong learning laboratory, a live show on the theme of sustainability, two publications edited by Silvana Editoriale with more than 800 images, a model of teaching for the faculties of architecture and design, and a large traveling exhibition more than five hundred man-made objects collected from around the world.

Creativity is a spontaneous attitude of people capable of changing both everyday things and the economic development of their own universe.











Low Cost Design is a research project into the essence of spontaneous creativity. As a project it grew out of a very simple observation: we are surrounded by thousands of objects and structures that refuse to follow the rules of conventional design. These are not just products of intelligence but cultural indicators of collective design.

Low Cost Design is a database of the applied arts. It covers a spectrum of analysis ranging from design to the sociology of the territory, so it also confronts history. A database made up principally of images without any textual description, forming a great visual dictionary of creativity: over 7000 images showing the changes in the use of objects and the territory through the activities of its inhabitants.

The study of both objects and the territory enables us to investigate the symbols that influence the definition of the concept of identity, whether local or personal. The illustrations are the fruit of the interdisciplinary patrimony which relates the culture of design to the disciplines of social study and sheds light on various parallel fields of study such as history, economics and politics. The invention of new informal, spontaneous instruments, like other spontaneous types of design, reveals Creolization as a constant in time, the fruit of thousands of relationships and experiments. The section devoted to objects is divided into 5 levels, or degrees of transformation, with the highest level understood as representing the fullest intuitive capacity shown in combining resolutive functions and elevated criteria of utility, simplicity of use and absolute replicability. Another section is devoted to actions on the territory, divided in its turn  into 6 categories, or behavioural analyses: private territorial planning, creative commerce, interactions between public planning and private design, personalized solutions to shortcomings in public services, social and commercial communication, personal safety and control of the territory.


DPP: In choosing the images I favoured those richest in both vertical and horizontal connections. By vertical I mean a choice of objects and actions which will make the time-scale of their development visible, and by horizontal a selection of similar objects and actions found in different geographic areas in the same time span so as to foster comparison.

The image not only reveals objects and actions, it places them in the sociological and cultural settings where they developed. The objective is to show both the evolution of design and its cultural hybridizations.

EG: Low Cost Design is not a simple collection of images, but an almost encyclopaedic attempt to catalogue different creative uses of objects, actions, at times even forms of behaviour. In a period of crisis in the industrial system of design, you’re affirming the extreme richness of stimuli generated from below, in a typically local dimension, one indissolubly bound up with a specific economic, social and cultural context. The other fundamental factor strikes me as the attention devoted to the process, genesis and evolution of these creative gestures in time.

DPP: These objects and actions are not the result of chance gestures but the succession of creative processes, stimulated first of all by necessity, but also by craft skills and customs, in short by people’s cultural heritage.

The whole cluster of these values produces an extraordinary practical capacity of adaptation to experience, capable of meeting everyday needs, with an ability comparable to that of a child and the design skills of an engineer. They are gestures charged with an immense visionary ability applied to practical experimentation. If we associate these observations with the history and lives of the inhabitants of a region, we can develop myriads of connections, ranging from sociology to design, from art to architecture, from urban design to contemporary ethnography.

EG: One of the most interesting aspects of your research is the association of spontaneous design behaviours and practices and their influence in the appropriation and the everyday use of spaces. It is in fact the evident manifestation of what Joseph Beuys conceived as “a radical widening of definitions” which makes possible the conception of art as “the only evolutionary-revolutionary force”. In the same declaration Beuys said “every human being is an artist”.  In this respect I find your work has an extremely revelatory sense of the latent capacity for the transformation of society. It is a change that stems from a profound consequentiality with the surrounding context and the specific culture that produces it.

Your atlas of creativity does not focus on the recycling of objects so much as on the practice and cultural path that can produce a quantum breakthrough in the use of objects by the way they were conceived. It shows how the object produced is simply an unexpressed amalgam of imagination, reformed from time to time by its cultural context.


DPP: Spontaneous creativity, if we can call it that, can be studied as a social phenomenon because it is free from external constraints, it is not generated by applications on the market or a special kind of know-how. For these reasons we can recognize the reinvented object or the innovative action on the territory as projections of the status of their inventors, of their culture and to some degree their evaluation of the surrounding context.

EG: Rescued from the skills of professionals, design can become the history of humanity. We can read every object as the crystallization of complex social relationships. It is as if the DNA of spontaneous creativity resided in its capacity to epitomize a profound, ancestral necessity in a simple and at times immediate gesture, but one never really satisfied. It shows how our cities are always planned in a single direction, being imposed on their inhabitants. The gestures you’ve documented are redemptive anarchic actions, they reveal the imagination flowering in the recesses of the city, taking possession of interstitial spaces, undermining the preordained order.

DPP: The more fully a simple use copes with complex requirements, the more widely it will spread to satisfy similar needs. We find the same acrobatic choreographies of display among street vendors around the world; we can discover urban public gardens that are structurally identical in cities far apart; we can find homes in different places transformed into shops and using the windows for displaying goods, we find rear vision bus mirrors attached outside the main entrances to houses to keep an eye on the entries. The object in this case becomes different, it acquires a memory made up of signs and senses, thanks to which it manages to hand down its story to us.  You only need to hold it in your hand to understand that together with its mechanism it also expresses the instruments for dismantling, reconstructing and enhancing it. The history of the artefact makes us aware, in our turn, of the technological code and the tools that enable us to carry out our research, in sociological, environmental and cultural terms.

In the culture of the object moral values fall into the background, behind scientific and experiential memories. Here the meeting of skills has little to do with those moral and conventional values that differentiate generations and different cultures. On the contrary the intuition embodied in the object, enriched from time to time by the experiences of others, by its very nature becomes a value in relation to this stratification. The memory of the object has its own life which is difficult to damage by the many variants that may intervene through the centuries to challenge the process of its transfer. The same is true of the great open book of signs that is the city. Here the memory to be transferred is even richer, more visible and impersonal, precisely because it is related to its collective dimension. Unlike other applications of human intelligence, all these actions are transferred almost complete, because they can be verified and replicated through new codes and new tools that allow for reinterpretations of their use and effectiveness.

EG: In contexts where these spontaneous adaptations to people’s needs do not occur we find a greater harmony with the planning bodies, but also surrender to a preordained order. Forms defined a priori do not always manage to accommodate the complexity and stratifications of the various needs present in the territory. The fusion between a formal dimension and the emergence of informal spontaneous impulses are increasingly being embodied as the new guidelines in planning: architects, designers and urban theoreticians around the world are revaluing these shared practices. The ambition is to define spaces in which it is possible to stimulate the emergence of different cultural identities, alternative uses and the sense of appropriation.


In Low Cost Design we find dozens of examples of objects and almost identical behaviours occurring in places which are sometimes a long way apart. The first of them is depicted on the cover of the book: the coffee being made on the clothes iron photographed in the south of Italy and coffee made on an iron photographed in the south of Greece. Both use the same heat source because of the lack of gas, but they’re differentiated culturally. In Italy the use of the mocha is distinguished from the use of the ibrik for Turkish coffee. This difference enhances the geographic-cultural connotation, without lessening the significance of the same practice used hundreds of kilometres apart.

Hence the need for greater flexibility also in research criteria. In antiquity the Greeks defined creativity as a “poetic capacity”, while today we consider it as a practical question: the point of union between ideas and technological knowledge, or as a pedagogical form. The connection between “poetic capacity” and “technological capacity” can guide us towards more open research methods and enable us to grasp an idea of development as a broad concept, without a restrictive definition of terms.

EG: In your research there are always solutions, poetic references, surprisingly arranged habits in distant areas. It suggests an inexorable repetition of similar states, but also of shared inspirations, suggestions and desires, eventually satisfied by the need and perhaps also the joy of inventiveness and artisanal construction. If you look at this solution atlas together, on the one hand the primary needs that these objects and actions cover become clear: they show a lack, a necessity. But on the other hand they highlight the emergence of an extraordinary ability to identify alternative functions, analyze hidden uses and ultimately understand the true soul of objects, beyond the more conventional use encouraged by producers and conventions. One often wonders if there is a real phenomenon of imitation and dissemination of certain practices, or if some phenomena simply reappear and inspire similar solutions for different people and contexts.

There is a legendary experiment that took place in Koshima, Japan, in the late 1950s that has always fascinated me because of its expressiveness. The researchers studied the transmission of behaviors among animals, and particularly among monkeys, living on Tokunoshima Island. Some monkeys have been taught to eat non-native sweet potatoes. A young woman began washing the tubers to rid them of sand and demonstrated a step beyond what she had been taught and somehow showed progress in behavior. Over the months, all the monkeys on the island learned the new behavior. Within a few months, an extraordinary event happened: on other islands and on the mainland, the monkeys began to wash the tubers in the same way, without having “physically” exchanged this information with each other.

According to John Stewart Bell’s theorem, even another individual – once a certain critical number is reached – synchronically connected to the collective idea contributes to generate a flow of energy so strong that every member of the same species feels the same idea becomes aware. Hence Bell’s theorem in quantum mechanics, which seeks to prove instantaneous communication between individual particles at superthreshold speeds.

This reflection shows how, excluding the limits of political geography, excluding the migration of ideas of a corporate nature, there could be another spontaneous migration of intuitions, perhaps more related to Bell’s theorem. For this reason, even in remote areas, but with the same needs, cultural and environmental conditions, the design methods can coincide even without direct physical contact between their inventors. It is a confirmation of the need to look for creative-cultural spaces, that is, with the same environmental characteristics, and not for political-geographical spaces limited by political borders. Hence the need for greater flexibility in search criteria as well. In ancient times, the Greeks defined creativity as “poetic ability”, while today we consider it as a practical aspect: the point of union of ideas and technological knowledge, or as a pedagogical form. The relationship between ‘poetic capacity’ and ‘technological capacity’, on the other hand, can lead us to more open research methods and allow us to grasp a notion of development as a broad concept without narrow definition of boundaries.


EG: Low Cost Design emphasizes the inventiveness of dilettantism compared to the productive technique of contemporary design. The possibility of forming our context, shaping it according to our needs and building a habitable dimension becomes a gesture of self-determination, recontextualizing the object in a dimension of functionality and imagining possible uses not foreseen by the market – the institutions of planning.

Amateurism is perceived in a perspective of creative freedom, independent of the constraints of marketability and the discipline’s aesthetic doctrines. The object acquires alternative aesthetic needs, not necessarily linked to the marketing department’s decisions, perhaps defining a dimension of genuine experimentalism for design.

DPP: Regarding industrial design, Low Cost Design has two objectives: to improve new aesthetic standards and to increase planning from both a technical and cultural point of view. The first point requires us to redefine the aesthetic canons in an attempt to improve the aesthetics of the process and not just its formal outcome. This is a fundamental step if you want to go beyond the extreme formalization of design that we are witnessing today.

The same principle also applies to the creative use of space: shaping the territory by observing its transformation means reflecting on its ongoing evolutionary capabilities. The territory, like the object, is constantly being changed by the relationship and cultural behavior of the community of residents. The sum of these relationships is all the more substantial the simpler the resulting object or action.


EG: The solutions presented do not necessarily stem from an ecological impulse, but they clearly represent the principle that an extensive and specific use of objects and our daily space, with the application of a little common sense, can make a radical difference in terms of urban ecology. The urban practices of agriculture, intensive exploitation of resources and creative reuse of objects in our daily lives are all excellent examples of ways to cut waste. Besides, every object reused somehow makes a statement against a form of consumerism unsustainable for our planet. A sort of manifesto for a new urban ecology, generated by the simple extensive use of the existing resources.

DPP: The works documented in Low Cost Design are profoundly ecological, because they do not separate the object or the territory from its ties with the context in the broadest ways and include implications in very different fields of knowledge. Fostering design by seeking to give objects a life after death – both physical, in the loss of functions, and cultural, in loss of status – is one of the project’s principal objectives.


EG: This means that design acquires on a clearly political and social character by fostering a common responsibility for our aesthetic and cultural condition. Informal uses and parallels, the appearance of new economies and aesthetics, are ways of taking responsibility for the context in which we dwell, acts of reappropriation and involvement. The diffuse urbanization in which we now live cannot be a forced condition; it has to be a collective act of cohabitation and responsibility.

DPP: It’s interesting to expand the project towards a bigger public, without limiting it to specialists or manufacturers, so keeping as many levels of interpretation and involvement possible. Our objective is to work on the productivity of the territory in the most involving and performative way, through participation by residents, institutions and businesses. Zero Cost Design tackles these topics in a cycle of evenings open to all. It’s a very simple format in which the historical and technological memory of the territory, sensitive design and ecology form the backdrop to collective reflection, at times playful, on the cultural and productive identity of place.

8 LOW COST DESIGN  (on amateurism and flexibility)

DPP: Often the most chaotic and populous parts of our cities are the more vital and flexible because these places naturally enhance the role of the imagination. Paradoxically we are here talking about the same flexibility that Charles Darwin claimed was the basis of the theory of evolution: whatever adapts best tends to improve its living conditions, increasing its capacity of resistance to events and above all tending not to become extinct but evolve. To return to our sensitive design, someone once said that successful design is not produced but used. My hope is that this research will inspire the production of objects or actions that will take design and the project into all the hardware stores rather than as limited editions into some design store.

Daniele Pario Perra

Daniele Pario Perra is a relational artist, researcher and designer engaged in exhibitions, research projects and teaching. His work ranges across different disciplines: art, design, sociology, anthropology, architecture and geopolitics.

For some years now he has been exploring spontaneous creativity, cultural trends and patterns of urban development in a constant relationship between material culture and symbolic heritage.

In 2001 he started the Low-cost Design database, which contains over 7000 photographs of the transformations of objects and public spaces in Europe and around the Mediterranean, published in two volumes by Silvana Editoriale. Low-cost Design is also a travelling exhibition with more 100 objects worldwide collected starting from the same year.

Daniele Pario Perra studied the performances and rituals of street trading in Sicily in the “Economic Borders” project. He investigated spontaneous communication in various European cities with the “Fresco Removals” format, teaching people, in real urban actions, how to store notable examples of wall writing and graffiti before their cancellation. His first monograph, Politics Poiesis, was published in 2005: it contains a long list of ideas, stimuli and projects devoted to contemporary art in urban contexts.

Daniele Pario Perra has taught at the Faculty of Architecture of La Sapienza University in Rome, at the Delft University of Technology, at the Milan Polytechnic and at the Denver Univeristy in Colorado.

 His workshops – Fantasy Saves the Planning, Art Shakes the Politics, Anarchetiquette/ Fresco Urban Removals, Design on the Cheap and Politics Poiesis – have many editions in major European cities. Between 2000 and 2010 he exhibited works, devised urban actions and coordinated projects between Rome, Milan, Turin, Sarajevo, Barcelona, Chicago, Rotterdam, Berlin, New York, Bern, Paris, Thun, Marseille, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Ljubljana, Denver, Belgrade, Budapest and London.