Icon 164: Studio Swine 09.01.17

In our latest issue, we profile London-based duo Studio Swine, design explorers who discover beauty in ocean plastic, human hair and a lost Amazonian city ...

Fordlandia was Henry Ford’s vision for a city in the Amazon. The industrialist needed a source of rubber for his factory lines in the US and cut a deal with the Brazilian government to establish a factory town in the rainforest. Startling in scale and vision, it was, of course, doomed. In the manner of all colonialists, Ford misjudged everything, from the local population to the environment, and the project was eventually abandoned. 

Fordlandia’s failure is a mistake we seemed doomed to repeat ad infinitum. History is littered with similar follies. In the 1960s, after the discovery of oil near Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, Tandy Industries commissioned architect Adrian Wilson to draw up plans for a city entirely under glass. The 40,000 or so inhabitants would live, work and play at exactly 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Artistic impressions from the time show cable cars gliding towards a modernist utopia, surrounded by a beautifully herbaceous landscape. There would be moving pavements, monorails (this was the 60s), sports stadiums, shops and offices. It failed. Aside from the monumental physical challenges of building a city in one of the most hostile environments on earth, who of sane mind would want to live in an air-conditioned bubble dome all year round? 

But what if Seward’s Success, as the city was called, fulfilled the optimism of its title? What if Fordlandia was today a thriving metropolis – a textbook model of urban planning? 

The architecture of failure is fascinating precisely because it allows us to write our own ending to the story. The founders of narrative design practice Studio Swine, who grace our cover this month, visited Fordlandia in 2013 while living in São Paulo. They found in the rotting buildings something beyond a simple fable of hubris. In their efforts to understand the legacy of Ford’s vision, they discovered a story that deserved another chapter. Their Fordlandia project, exhibited in the Fashion Space Gallery at this year’s London Design Festival, is the most compelling work of the studio’s short career. As the designers explain, this is just the beginning. Should the studio be able to fully realise its own vision for Fordlandia, this could be its defining work.



James McLachlan

On the cover

Studio Swine with a prototype of a chair for St James’s quarter, portrait by Pelle Crépin


165 Leader



Splash A latticed dome of a Muslim cultural centre in Beijing

Scene What sparked our interest this month

Diary The must-see exhibitions starting February 2017

Crimes against design Edwin Heathcote’s gripes with the Dyson Airblade

Opinion Why starchitects matter, and should continued to

Design Feb 2017


Studio Swine How Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves forged ahead in their quest to uniqueness

Lebanon The House of Today in Beirut: conceptual collectibles

Emerging studio London-based Adam Guy Blencowe experiments with new production techniques. Just don’t call it craft ...

Icon of the month Herman Miller’s Aeron chair epitomises the politeness obsession of the 1990s

Technology Virtual reality finally starts to make real waves

Q&A: Ora ïto The French designer’s philosophy, inspirations, contemporary art projects and future ambitions

Architecture Feb 2017


Digital baroque The British practices taming computer-aided design

Icon of the month Helmut Jahn’s highly eclectic State of Illinois Center

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg Herzog & de Meuron’s glorious finale to an era of icons

Thin skin Pedrali’s automated warehouse tries to blend in

OMA in Miami The architect’s New York office comes into its own

Utøya A subtle tribute on an emotionally charged site

Q&A: Anne Lacaton Doing more with less in the French banlieues


Fear and Love The Design Museum’s inaugural exhibition hinges on the strengths of its storytellers

Rêveries Urbaines The Bouroullec brothers’ fanciful urban dreams displayed at the Vitra Campus

Rethink: Italian regions Bergamo-based Studio Temp reimagines a more coherent identity for Italy’s disparate regions

Obsession: Ship Ahoy The O’Jays’ political-funk record that wasn’t out to make any friends


Leave a comment

Click to show