Exhibition architecture

Exhibition architecture

Design for Archival Materials

These works of exhibition architecture explore the interstitial space between the document, the body, furniture and architecture.

The projects presented here are exhibition systems for art and historic archival materials, which are conceived as mobile architecture of intermediate scale, that relate the body of the visitor with the experience of archival material through a more domestic scale, in which the document and the body are in a more equitable situation. These designs create a liminal space between an art exhibition and a library, where one is able and willing to spend more time, to sit and read, to move slowly through space. Time in these archival exhibitions flows differently and the built environments function as mechanisms where one stays, sits or reads, turning the gallery into a public space.

These characteristics allow these exhibits to challenge and disturb the tacit policies that exist in contemporary museum spaces and that give one the feeling of being in a bank or in a church. "Do not touch anything; stand behind that line; we know that you would not understand; if you understand something, good for you; please keep walking. Do not stay." This experiments explore different strategies to hack the body of the visitor and put them in a different bodily relation to the space, breaking the formal status of how one needs to behave in an exhibition space, without using any signage or labels, just choreographing the body in a more informal manner.

Made of modular groupings, with drawers, furniture, open structures and mobile devices all our projects invite to stay, encourage exchanges and create public space. Its construction avoids participating in the “drywall bureaucracy” of ubiquitous exhibition design, that characterizes most contemporary “white cube” exhibitions, nor work with modern monolithic proposals, instead we use diverse techniques and construction systems, which have the ability to change, can be reused and grow.



Art and research

Art and research

Experimental devices and Common trades 

The early projects have resulted from my research of informal architecture in the different cities where I have lived, Lima, Tijuana and now Mexico City/San Francisco. I learned from the self-constructed "informal" city that there are different kinds of mobile architecture, which I have described as “changeable,” “incremental,” and “accumulative,” design. All of them are forms of built self-organization and together comprise around 50% of the built environment of many Latin American cities. My research has led to production of a diverse family of mobile devices, accumulative constructions and systemic approaches.

This experience was later applied to further investigation of the mining regions of Peru that, in my opinion, share with the contentious areas of the informal city of Lima the revelation of historical territorial and social disputes associated with land tenure policies, collective rights, migration, and the great struggles of class and labor. That is why my recent research projects investigate the transformation of the landscape of the Andes by the extractive mining industry and the social conflict that this economy generates. 

How to create projects that challenge the economic dependence of formal globalized economies—meaning that in one way or another they are dependent on extractive, unsustainable and inequitable systems—within the disciplines of art and design? My answer has been to create research projects that study “common trades” of urban and rural communities to register, experiment and co-produce, with knowledge of local craftsmen contemporary designs and processes, to generate a small chain of knowledge around those histories. By “common trades” I mean the trades people who make the common things used every day, such as glaziers, carpenters, and metal workers whose skills are commonly utilized but underecognized.

From this experience the long term project Oficios Comunes, Metabolismo Urbano de Saberes / Common Trades, Urban Metabolism of Knowledge emerged and together with it different projects that study the material culture and the local knowledge of urban, rural and marginalized communities of makers.

Mobile devices

Mobile devices

Furniture / Mobiles / Muebles

The furniture and urban mobile devices, such as carts, benches and chairs utilize popular construction languages to define their forms, such as a wheelbarrow, taco stands and others. Exploring mobility, temporality, and change, these pieces are often designed to intervene in the public space as well as exist in public and private settings.

Some of the furniture pieces presented in this section were designed as part of systems developed in exhibition architectures which have been individually evolved and transformed.


Common Trades, Urban Metabolism of Knowledge, L.A. Version

2017 /

Art and research /


Common Trades, Urban Metabolism of Knowledge, L.A. Version presents a series of research and design projects that study trades ubiquitous in specific urban and rural centers. Started in Mexico City in 2014, it continued in 2015 in Cuzco, Peru. With this residency and exhibition, the project moves North to Los Angeles, with a focus on the making of food vendor carts, trailers, and food trucks that are characteristic of Mexican and Latino street food culture in this city.

I often walk without pre-established ideas to attempt to understand the city through the lens of its trades, found along the way, focusing finally on the makers whose trade seems most to describe the dynamics of the city in their work; as if that particular craft contains the DNA of the whole city. The three case studies of common trades presented here follow parallel approaches. Each begins with being in a place, walking in streets and fields, engaging with other makers and inhabitants – both long-established settlers and new arrivals.

While common trades in Mexico City are most associated with informal street vending, and trades in the Cuzco region of the Andes with wood working with eucalyptus, Los Angeles has long been associated with its vibrant Mexican and Latino street food culture, which started long ago in the mid-19th century when the tamale wagon, the predecessor of today’s taco truck, was feeding a newly assimilated majority Mexican and Anglo population. Common Trades L.A. presents a new video, created in collaboration with Miguel Buenrostro, that registers a week of work in the Martinez Carts metal workshop in East Los Angeles. Makers of a variety of systems, from carts, to trailers, to taco trucks Martinez Carts provides the city with vital, mobile, urban infrastructure. This common trade has generated resourceful and innovative construction systems that support informal, marginalized, and low-income communities in their bid for economic stability and legal status.

Giacomo Castagnola

This exhibition is possible thanks to the collaboration of Erick López and Cristobal Garcia (Germen Estudio), Miguel Buenrostro, Esteban Germán, Andrea Bowers, Juan Martinez and his welding crew (Martinez Carts), J. Salomé Meza (TA Signs), Taco truck “La Chicanita” and Rudy Espinoza (Leadership for Urban Renewal Network).

Funding comes from California Arts Council: Artist Activating Communities and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.  Giacomo Castagnola: Common Trades, Urban Metabolism of Knowledge, L.A. Version is organized by Irene Tsatsos, Director of Exhibition Programs/Chief Curator.

Miguel Buenrostro, Still image from the video.

Giacomo Castagnola received his Master of Science in Art, Culture and Technology (SMACT) from the School of Architecture and Planning of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2013, and holds a degree in architecture and urbanism from Ricardo Palma University (URP) in Lima Peru. Originally from Lima, Peru, for seven years (2003-2010) he lived and worked in the Tijuana / San Diego border region where he established Germen, an architectural and design studio, to investigate the self-organized "informal" city that composes up to 40% of the urban and growing infrastructure of many Latin American cities. Currently, Castagnola works between Mexico City and San Francisco in architecture for exhibitions and museographies that explore new ways of displaying archives of art and material culture. His work seeks to overcome the white cube and the bureaucracy of drywall; proposes to treat the museum as a public space through the use of different structures and exhibition systems that explore the interstitial space between document, body, furniture and architecture.

Logo Germen


Giacomo Castagnola


Erik López
Cristóbal García

Past Collaborators

Fernando J Limón — San Diego, CA
Fernando Becerra — San Diego, CA
Carlos A. Augusto Paz — Tijuana, MX