Super Vernaculars: Design for a regenerative future

Super Vernaculars: Design for a regenerative future

The Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) in collaboration with the Center for Creativity is launching an Open Call for participation in Super Vernaculars – 27th Biennial of Design, curated by Jane Withers.

Global expansion and the pursuit of profit at the planet’s expense have precipitated the climate crisis and accelerated a massive imbalance between humanity and the natural world. Super Vernaculars, bio 27’s central theme, explores a growing and ambitious movement that takes inspiration from vernacular and indigenous architecture and design traditions around the world to shape a radical vision for a more resilient and responsive future.


In contrast to our extractive ‘dig and dump’ economy, vernacular practices are rooted in regenerative systems. The term is generally associated with traditional architecture and design practices, but the Super Vernaculars approach is in no way reactionary or regressive. During bio 27, Super Vernaculars will bring together designers and thinkers who are exploring alternative narratives as inspiration for 21st-century innovation. In our current period of seismic change and improvisation, this call to explore cultures and wisdom traditions largely ignored in the modern era is a crucial catalyst for designing a more equitable future.


Exploratory, interdisciplinary, and intercultural, Super Vernaculars will not be a conventional design or architecture show. Instead, it is envisaged as a collection of stories told through case studies that demonstrate how these ideas serve as a springboard for contemporary innovation. As well as showcasing projects from different corners of the globe, visitors will encounter a series of live commissions that aim to engage the next generation of designers and citizens, and demonstrate the potential this approach has to address regional and global issues at scale and to rank among the world’s credible contemporary approaches to climate change.


Bio 27 amplifies the biennale’s strategy to reflect on and deepen inquiries into the future while strengthening local impacts. The emphasis will be on design that responds to local needs and context, and commissioned projects will draw on local conditions, resources, and materials. As the environmental impact of hosting international cultural events becomes clear, bio has embedded a commitment to sustainability in its mission and strives to become a sustainable cultural producer, insisting on an approach that manages and reduces our environmental footprint. The role of design in relation to environmental and climate issues is a common thread that will connect several upcoming editions of the biennale.


The Super Vernaculars exhibition and design commissions hosted in MAO, Ljubljana, in May 2022 will be accompanied by a programme of affiliated events around the city in response to the Super Vernaculars theme. We kindly invite you to join the super vernacular movement and join us in shaping bio 27 by attending events and participating in the calls that will take place from September 2021 to September 2022.

Who are we inviting?

The Open Call invites local design and interdisciplinary collectives and teams to participate in the Super Vernaculars production platform.


We are looking for established collectives, teams or newly-formed project groups from the geographical region of Slovenia who will have the option to participate in one of the three projects themes of the bio 27 and the Centre for Creativity production platform.


Bio 27 amplifies the biennial strategy to reflect on and deepen inquiries into the future, while strengthening the local impacts. The emphasis will be on design that responds to local needs and contexts, the commissioned projects will draw on local conditions, resources and materials.


Applicants will be selected and invited by bio 27 curator Jane Withers in collaboration with bio 27 mentors and advisory board. The three teams selected from the Open Call will each work with a design mentor and various local experts.


The OPEN CALL invites local design and interdisciplinary collectives and teams to participate in the Super Vernaculars production platform by addressing one of the following three themes:


One team will participate in the project Grains for Brains under the mentorship of Carolien Niebling, a designer and researcher who specialises in food-related projects. Carolien’s work uses design to unite the fields of science and food. She received a master’s degree in product design from École Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne (ECAL) in 2014. Among other accolades, Carolien has won the Design Parade Hyères Grand Prix at Villa Noailles (2017), the Hublot Design Prize (2017) and the Design Prize Switzerland (2019).


There are numerous opinions on how we should grow, produce, process and eat food in the future for a better health and planet. When we look back at the evolution of our diet and the evolution of our health, it becomes clear that a one-size-diet to fit the world does not exist. Several studies have proposed a plant-based diet as a solution for the future, though there are many hunter-gatherer tribes that live primarily on animal protein and could not survive on purely plant-based diets. But there is one common factor to the research in our diet: we need to eat more diversely! Mono agriculture has simplified and refined our food supply to a point that our diet has become not only unhealthy for us but also for the planet, which is in dire need of biodiversity.


When thinking about the future, sometimes it pays to look at the past. For example, we often  hear: “You are what you eat” but it should actually be: “You are what your ancestors ate.” For example, historically, in Europe, people have been more dependent on dairy than in Asia, hence we have developed a better tolerance for lactose.


We need to challenge our guts again with different fibrous foods. Likewise, we need to enlighten our taste buds with new or forgotten flavours. The brief invites a multi-disciplinary team to create a world of grains cookbook that looks back at Slovenia’s rich cultural, agricultural and culinary heritage and reintroduces, modernises and redesigns cuisine into a series of mouth-watering recipes with eye-opening background stories to put grains back on the map.


The multidisciplinary design team may include: designers, chefs, nutritionists, gastronomists, dietitians, regenerative farmers, agricultural academics, data visualisation experts, culinary artists, botanists, foragers, food historians, ecologists …


One team will participate in the project Communicating Modern Architecture under the mentorship of Adam Štěch. Adam has a master’s degree in the History of Art from Charles University in Prague and is a co-founder of the creative group OKOLO, with which he has prepared dozens of publication and exhibition projects in the Czech Republic and abroad since 2009. 


In July 2021, the works of Jože Plečnik in Ljubljana became designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site under the citation “Human Centred Urban Design”. Following Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, the designation is another example of 20th-century architecture placed under UNESCO protection, and a sign of the importance of Plečnik’s work and its influence on the historical urban landscape of Slovenia. The year 2022 also marks the 150th anniversary of Plečnik’s birth and offers an opportunity to update thinking of Jože Plečnik and his legacy in a contemporary way, communicating his vision for human-centred urban design and championing the vernacular. Modern architecture is becoming increasingly popular around the world with new guidebooks, maps and social media inspiring niche tourism. But it is also important to inform people about the values behind the visuals. With the UNESCO designation, Plečnik provides an ideal case study to explore fresh ways to communicate modern architecture to broader audiences locally and across the globe.


The brief for bio 27 invites a multi-disciplinary design team to use current concepts and technologies to explain Plečnik’s story, his significance for Ljubljana and his broader contemporary relevance. Designers should communicate Plečnik’s work and legacy through the creation of an info-point guiding visitors to Plečnik buildings and engaging them in the master architect’s stories. The design of the hub should reflect Plečnik’s architectural ethos and use of vernacular influences and traditional craft or re-interpret elements of his buildings. The tools for communicating Plečnik’s legacy should mix the physical and digital and could include maps, souvenirs, illustrations, posters or guides, but also ideas for other services, tours and more, to narrate this Slovenian architect’s work to new audiences. This project aims to connect historical and theoretical research with product design, exhibition design and communication design.


The multidisciplinary design team may include: architects, designers, digital designers, architectural historians, urban planners, art historians, walking clubs, cartographers, writers, communication designers, eco tourism experts, guides…


One team will participate in the project Water – Designing a BioVernacular under the mentorship of Shneel Malik, an architect, biodesign researcher, social entrepreneur and TEDx speaker. As a PhD candidate at the Bio-Integrated Design Lab (Bio-ID) at University College London, she explores 3D printing and robotic extrusion to design photosynthetic systems for the built environment.


With the escalating climate crisis, the Mediterranean region is experiencing extreme heatwaves and floods. Central to this is the imbalance within the water cycle. Bio 27 invites interdisciplinary team of designers and researchers to help re-establish our relationship with water by carefully evaluating the root causes of water-related problems, such as water pollution, water depletion, the drying of wetlands, including the impact of these problems on local communities.


The brief invites the team to devise water-specific design prototypes that function as immediate interventions and instigate new understandings of water that are not dependent on large-scale engineering projects. The prototypes will perform two key functions – firstly, collecting real-time parametric data relative to moisture, temperature, pH and pollutants. Secondly, embedding a sustainable, biological and ecologically-induced solution that can function as a short-term intervention to control any sudden imbalances identified via data collection in its immediate surroundings. We encourage the designs to be based on traditional materials and techniques related to water, soil, food and agriculture, while re-inventing them with advancements in biology, material sciences, actuators and sensors including tools of fabrication. The team’s prototypes must be designed for ready integration within our existing communities, while using the tools of design to bring man and nature closer.


We intend to use this design opportunity to illuminate the 700-year-old tradition of salt cultivation in the region of Piran in Slovenia, where increasing solar and water temperatures and unpredictable evaporation patterns along with depletion in biodiversity, are directly impacting the salt pans. Here, innovative solutions can help conserve and even accelerate Slovenia’s vernacular practices by re-inventing them for a climate-sensitive global future.


The multidisciplinary design team may include: designers, architects, water researchers and hydrologists, industry, botanists, landscape architects, biologists, neuroscientists, local water NGOs, engineers, salt harvesters, farmers/regenerative farmers, data analysts, digital designers …

Application process

As the applications will be examined by an international panel of experts and mentors, all documents submitted in support of the application must be in English.


The application process consists of a three-step online application form:


1. Personal information

  • Personal information of the team’s leader (group’s name, leader’s name and surname, address, city, country, phone, email, legal status, website, social media.

2. Presentation of the team 

  • The group’s professional information (CV, bio and portfolio)
  • Why are you interested in participating?

3. Statement of intent 

  • selecting the Open Call brief
  • response to the bio 27 theme (max 200 words)
  • response to the individual Open Call brief (max 250-300 words)


Applying to more than one open call is possible by submitting an application form for each theme separately.

About BIO

Organised by the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO), BIO – The Biennial of Design in Ljubljana is an international platform for new approaches in design. BIO was founded in 1963, making it the first design biennial in Europe. Witnessing the many shifts and changes of the last fifty-eight years, BIO has seen design transition from its birth at the crossroads of industrialisation and modernism into a discipline that permeates all layers of life and human endeavours. Today, BIO is structured as a long-term collaborative process, where teams of designers and multidisciplinary agents develop alternatives to established systems. BIO works as a testing ground, where design is employed as a tool to question and improve our daily life among different and multidisciplinary design approaches that touch systems, production, services, scientific research, humanistic issues and unexpected conditions to produce our habitat. The diverse array of topics resonates with both local and global demands, with comprehensive projects aimed at creating resilient structures that develop over time, beyond the duration of the biennial.


Bio 27 is organised by the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) in cooperation with the Centre for Creativity, at the Museum of Architecture and Design. The Centre for Creativity is a project co-financed by the Republic of Slovenia and the European Union from the European Regional Development Fund within the European Cohesion Policy for the 2014–2022 period.


Bio 27 – Super Vernaculars

Jane Withers, Curator

Ria Hawthorn, Project director

Jan Boelen, Advisory board member

Lucia Pietroiusti, Advisory board member

Špela Spanžel, Advisory board member

Ana Struna Bregar, Advisory board member

Carolien Niebling, Mentor

Adam Štěch, Mentor

Shneel Malik, Mentor

Atelier Luma, Mentor

Kellenberger White, Mentor

Medprostor, Exhibition design

Klemen Ilovar, Photography


Centre for Creativity and Museum forArchitecture and Design


25 Oct 2021