EU helps ISMAT/Portimão to bring sustainable and participatory design to the Algarve

Professor and researcher Américo Mateus is linked to several projects and working groups of the European Union

Photos: Nuno Costa | Sul Informação

Nature Based Solutions, biodesign, biomimicry, FabLabs and citizen participation. Américo Mateus, researcher and professor at Instituto Superior Manuel Teixeira Gomes (ISMAT), in Portimão, deals with these concepts on a daily basis and wants them to reach all Algarveans, through projects that have the seal of approval of the European Union.

The professor of the Communication Design course and Master's Degree in Design for the Circular Economy at ISMAT and director of the Transdisciplinary research center for Entrepreneurship & Ecosystem Innovation at Universidade Lusófona, saw three European projects linked to his academic activity approved.

Américo Mateus was also invited to join a task force for the co-creation of Nature Based Solutions (Nature-Based Solutions), very focused on citizen participation processes, in addition to being named the first director of the Nature Based Solution Hub Portugal.

In two of the cases, that of the Biomaterial Kits project and that of the European network of Nature-Based Solutions, Portimão, but also the rest of the Algarve, will be in the spotlight.

The Biomaterials Kits will be implemented in Portimonian schools and intends to “start introducing, from a very early age, these things about biodesign, biomaterials, into pedagogical practices and models and into the design challenges of students”, according to Américo Mateus.

Funding for this project comes through the Twinning Towns programme, which mandatorily brings together a European city and a Turkish city.

«We chose Portimão, because we are inserted there, and we are collaborating with the municipality of Izmir Bayrakli, in Turkey. The Portimão Council will choose one of the school groups in the municipality to implement a pilot project, with the ambition that it will be disseminated later on by other groups», explains the researcher.

«In this project, learning scenarios will be co-created, during a participatory workshop, to understand how teachers and students can introduce this type of challenge into their content and practices», he adds.

Another aspect of the project is the creation of a mobile lab, or portable laboratory, based on sustainable materials, «which will be placed in each school and will have the basic technologies for the construction of biomaterials, such as ovens and drying equipment».

«In short: you will have the plantation, a transformation bench and some devices that do not consume large energy resources, to carry out the transformation», says Américo Mateus.


Photos: Hugo Rodrigues | Sul Informação


This project will take advantage of work that ISMAT has already been doing, which is based on salicornia and mushrooms produced by local companies.

«The dehydrated salicornia and mushroom mycelia, using a special technique, become the base raw material, as if it were ceramics», he explains.

With the Biomaterials Kit, the idea is to create «experiment manuals that can be taken home, so that kids can make this transformation in schools and take it to their families».

«But it also implies taking food waste, which is produced in homes, like orange peels and other things, and making these small household objects, like vases or containers, which do not create waste. We are looking for non-waste», he concludes.

Also in Portimão, but possibly involving other municipalities in the Algarve, the official launch of the Nature Solution Hub Portugal will take place, one of the poles of a network, which serves so that «people who have been involved in European projects can call society civil, to disseminate information about what Nature Based Solutions are and what is their importance in their territory».

«In September, in Brussels, the first hubs were launched, Portuguese, Hungarian and Nordic.
Our launch in Portugal will be in January and we have funding from the European Union to bring 10 European experts here, for two or three days, to talk about Nature Based Solutions», he advances.

This type of solutions “deal with issues of urban regeneration, rural areas and the coast. I only give these three examples, because they are the most important for the region, but there are seven in all».

«The idea is to launch a challenge in each of these areas to the municipality of Portimão and, eventually, to others in the Algarve. These ten international specialists will help the citizens and stakeholders who will be invited, including the media and non-profit associations», he illustrates.

Over the course of three days, specialists will point out «solution paths, to leave a roadmap in the municipality to whom the challenge is launched, with a view to carrying out an application».

«The City Council will keep a manual prepared with the collaboration of ten international specialists and national specialists who are part of the Portuguese hub, which will stipulate what the City Council must do to achieve the objective it proposes. In this way, the launch event will be a practical way of demonstrating what the hub does», says the researcher.


Photos: Nuno Costa | Sul Informação


Meanwhile, Américo Mateus and a team that includes several researchers from ISMAT in Portimão, have been participating since 2018 in a European project of Nature Based Solutions called Urbinart, which took place in seven cities in Europe.

«Our collaboration was in the area of ​​participatory design and involved involving citizens, listening to them and creating solutions with them», he reveals.

«And this learning to work with citizens was so intense that, in what is our professional activity, whether as teachers or designers, we began to realize that nowadays, nothing can happen without an underlying thought towards nature , either in its regeneration or in its preservation. Our relationship with nature has to be two-way, it's not just about how we look at nature, but also how it looks at us».

In this project, ISMAT's role was «to develop tools, workshops and group dynamics with citizens, to arrive at what is the need that the project had to involve people».

«We designed the entire process of citizen participation and monitored its entire implementation in the seven cities of the project, plus observers from Iran, Japan and Brazil», summarizes the researcher and professor.

«The project lasts until 2023. The 1st part of the work, with the people, has already been concluded: We listen to the citizens. At the moment, a healthy corridor is being implemented in the three cities front runners – Porto, Sofia and Nantes –, based on what we heard from people, their ideas and their ability to understand, among the Nature Based Solutions that already existed, the one they wanted to adapt to their city".

Bearing in mind that «this part of co-creation and citizen participation went well», Américo Mateus and fellow ISMAT professor and researcher Susana Leonor, through the company GUDA, were invited to join a task force of the European Union, «which is to gather all the good practices of those who were involved in the process of listening to people, to try to make an interactive manual, which will be placed on an open platform, so that anyone who wants to carry out co-creation and participatory design processes can learn from it ».

«We wanted to do more than a book of good practices. What we created was a decision tree, throughout the entire participation process, which is quite complex. That is, we do not say "do this". We are providing them with all the questions, which they must answer sequentially and interactively, to find out if they are following this or that path », he explains.

Finally, ISMAT also recently approved an application in the area of ​​biodesign, the Cocoon project, which is coordinated by ISMAT/Universidade Lusófona

«This is a consortium that has very strong partners, namely the AALTO University, which is a reference in Design in Europe, the IAAC, which is a university in Barcelona in the area of ​​technologies and biotechnologies, and Biopólis do Porto, among others», points out Américo Mateus.

«In this project, we look at what in recent years has been the investment in falabs, taking into account that there is no shortage of structures of this nature with prototyping technologies, 3D printing, additive printing, and understanding how we take this phenomenon, which is necessary and fundamental for the ecosystem of any country, and make it bio» , said.

That is, «how can new materials be found that can feed these and other technologies, so that all the activity of these Fablabs becomes green».

«The idea is to think about all this and understand how, from the plantation, to the transformation into biomaterials and the very adaptation of machines, how do we manage to make this circuit green and from that teaching, to understand how we transform this into teaching for schools, for professional training practices», he concludes.

Américo Mateus has also been invited to participate and speak at international events on design and sustainability.