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.


Lima Project: Informal Urbanism Study

2003 /

Art and research /

Procesos de apropiación, auto construcción y crecimiento”.

(En colaboración con Julio Cesar Bazán)

Este proyecto se realizó a partir de derivas por la ciudad de Lima, registrando y almacenando información mixta, movilizándose vía trasporte público en todas sus escalas y variedades. En este proceso se fueron notando patrones comunes de “informalidad”; patrones de crecimiento; crecimientos lentos mediante procesos de sedimentación urbana (compuestas por etapas de asentamiento, coagulación y consolidación). Estos patrones que se dan tanto en la vivienda como en el comercio y en el transporte, crean una red de microurbanismos que interconectados conforman la ciudad “informal”. El ejercicio de investigación consistió en el registro fotográfico constante y aleatorio, para luego encontrar relaciones que concluyeron en tipologías, etapas de crecimiento y consolidación tanto en la vivienda como en el comercio y en el trasporte. 

La vivienda va transformando su materialidad, de estera (caña tejida), a madera y luego a ladrillo, consolidando el primer nivel y dejando el segundo para el futuro. Más que estilos se tiene que leer la edad de la vivienda y en qué etapa de su proceso de crecimiento se encuentra.

El trasporte sigue procesos similares pero lo que se consolido con el tiempo fueron las rutas. Muchas rutas del trasporte público de Lima se trazaron e invadieron informalmente, rutas que con el tiempo se fueron legalizando y formalizando. Según escalas el trasporte se compone de: Mototaxis, taxis, Combis, Custer y Buses. Lo mismo sucede con en el comercio, que inicia con una persona sola como su vehículo de venta, y que mediante el proceso de sedimentación urbana va consolidando su actividad hasta transformar su mueble en un inmueble.

En esta investigación se puede notar que la Lima informal no se desarrolló a través de conceptos como el de proyecto, planificación, o diseño si no a través del ejercicio procesual de la apropiación, la auto-construcción y el crecimiento.

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