Julien Benayoun on his participation in Design Week Mexico

Low-tech aims to rediscover technologies that are sometimes forgotten but still make sense, to offer solutions and a desirable future, in a world where resources are finite.

Guest of honour at Design Week Mexico from 10 October to 5 November 2023, France was able to highlight its rich and avant-garde design tradition in a collaboration between the French Embassy in Mexico – Institut français of Latin America (IFAL), the organisation Mexico Territorio Creativo, the Institut français and the Mobilier national. Julien Benayoun from Bold studio shares his experience in Mexico, where he met a basket weaver from the Querétaro region. The French designer took inspiration from local craftsmanship to create Apéro, a furniture collection that evokes a meeting of cultures and materials. 

Published on 08/01/2024

10 min

Julien Benayoun
© DR

Could we talk about your design journey and the specifics of your studio, Bold? 

I co-founded the agency Bold with William Boujon, whom I met at the School of Art and Design (ESAD) in Reims. The idea of working together began to develop during an Erasmus residency in the Netherlands. We also had professional experience on our side before carrying out this project, in my case in Mathieu Lehanneur's studio. We started properly as an agency in Paris in 2009. Our approach at Bold is above all to take into account a set of real constraints in order to lead to consistent and adapted solutions, to projects that are aligned with our values in terms of innovation and social and environmental responsibility. We're both quite complementary, I'm a bit more conceptual and I'm mainly involved in communication, while William has a more technical background, he's very comfortable in the workshops and with everything related to project development. 


The concept of "low-tech" is important in your approach. Could you tell us about this aspect of your work? 

We are very interested in this field, indeed. Low-tech can be defined as a set of techniques that are accessible, easily appropriate and sustainable. They are of great interest to some engineers, who will, for example, leave out cutting-edge technologies and unavoidable automation. Because we realise now that this has its limits, even from the point of view of energy expenditure, as we assess the Anthropocene. Low-tech therefore aims to rediscover technologies that are sometimes forgotten but still make sense, to offer solutions and a desirable future, in a world where resources are finite. For example, we took part in a project where we rediscovered how to store food with so-called "passive refrigerator" systems, i.e. food storage rooms that can store food without being supplied with energy. 

For us, machines are tools that exist to support people.

What is the role of new technologies in your work, and how does it fit in with this low-tech aspect? 

Indeed, 3D printers are being used to prototype "passive refrigerators", in this case at 8 Fablab in the Drôme region where I now live. This makes things possible that cannot be created by hand. For us, machines are tools that exist to support people. We also develop projects using high-technology that we use in a reluctant and economical manner. We also collaborate with an agency in the Drôme, called entreautre, which collects electronic waste to make other functional objects from it. It is difficult to do without these objects today, but you can still work with them differently, in a short circuit. 


As part of Design Week Mexico, you were put in touch with the basket weaver Cirilo Martinez from the Querétaro region. Can you tell us about this meeting? 

We were welcomed on site by the French Embassy and the Design Week Mexico team, as well as by other organisations that have also co-funded this initiative. We were able to experience the local culture, visiting markets, museums and other significant architectural elements. We then met the weaver Cirilo Martinez, with whom we had been previously "matched" due to our interest in natural fibres. In his workshop, Cirilo and seven other craftsmen produce traditional baskets. The time available was quite short, but luckily we already had a pretty clear idea in mind. So I spoke to him about a collection of furniture on the theme of a meeting between France and Mexico. 

Cirilo Martinez & Julien Benayoun
Cirilo Martinez & Julien Benayoun
© DR

You have created four stools and a picnic table called Apéro. Could you tell us about these pieces? 

The notion of Apéro refers to these informal gatherings, beloved of the French, and we also wanted to point out that part of social life in Mexico takes place in the public space, right on the street. So together we created stools and a more hybrid device that can be used as a basket , a table or a tray. During our visit, we were also impressed by the ubiquity of plastic furniture, which surrounds the craftsmen who work with far more traditional materials. The idea was therefore to take inspiration from these objects so often made of plastic, but to make them with natural and renewable materials that already exist on site. 

A gauche : © bold-design / A droite : © Aurélien Chauvaud (pour Elle Deco)
A gauche : © bold-design / A droite : © Aurélien Chauvaud (pour Elle Deco)

What craftsmanship did you discover when you were there? 

Cirilo quickly took our idea on board, and we started testing right away, which allowed me to better understand his technique, its possibilities and its limitations. From this meeting, and further clarification through drawings and in 3D, I was able to unpick the constituent elements of each object, so that I could communicate to him remotely all of the elements he required. This time spent observing and exchanging ideas was important, and now I know a lot more about his weaving technique. 


Would you like to add anything about your experience in Mexico? Or other projects you have coming up? 

The Design Week team is currently trying to see if we can go beyond producing the prototypes for the exhibition and consider manufacturing and selling them. This raises the question of what it would involve to produce and sell them in Mexico, or here in France. Especially since we have developed such a local design. 

The Institut français

As a key stakeholder in cultural policy outside France, the Institut français is entrusted with a public service mission and financed by state subsidy. 

The Institut français, under the dual supervision of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, conducts two fundamental missions: 

  1. To promote French culture and language 
  2. To strive for cultural diversity 

To this end, it works closely with the French cultural network abroad, whose activities it aims to expand. 

L'institut français, LAB