February 28, 2014

Designing Democracy Master’s programme:call for applications

Sandberg Instituut Amsterdam
Settings, September 2012. Installation view, de Appel arts centre, Amsterdam. Photo: XML.

In a time when confidence in democracy is under increasing pressure—from the Euro crisis to the US shutdown, from the Occupy movement to the streets of Athens—this Sandberg Master’s programme puts the future of democracy into question through design. Directed by architecture studio XML, students collaborate within an intensive environment with artists, architects, journalists, politicians, scholars and other thinkers. This interdisciplinary studio explores the power of design to activate possible forms of collectivity—the quality or state of being collective—and ranges from intervening on the scale of personal media to rethinking the institutions of democracy itself.

The programme aims to apply design as a specific method of critical thinking and use it to re-imagine collective structures of dialogue, debate and social progress. Design used to be one of the self-evident tools to shape politics, but today the role of design in large-scale politics is either underestimated or controversial. The aim of the studio is to understand this reconfiguration and to experiment with new articulations of design that give shape to democratic politics.

During the first half-year, the students form a collaborative research team to explore and map the current condition of representative democracy in the Western world. A series of workshops around themes formulated by the tutors helps the students to focus on specific issues and angles in this research phase. The aim of this phase is to connect the broader examination of democracy to the students’ individual interests and agendas.

In the second part of the year, students work individually or in small groups on developing projects within thematic sub-clusters that are based on questions formulated in the research phase. At the end of each phase the results are presented to the public at a special location outside the school.

Based on the findings of the first year, students will work in the second year on sub-themes they have formulated themselves. Alongside the two-year track, the studio offers students opportunities to develop smaller midterm projects as a way to respond to present-day societal urgencies. In this way, the studio develops its own kind of agency within the current debate surrounding the growing disapproval of structures of democratic government.

During the two-year Master’s an intensive program of lectures, workshops and public events is organized as part of the studio. The Sandberg Forum program is held at a prime location in the city of Amsterdam and, when relevant, at venues in other world cities. Moving away from academic insularity by extending the interface between academia and society, the studio effectively operates as a “do-tank” that is capable of addressing urgencies in society. Students are challenged to invite and introduce guests on this platform based on their own individual projects.

For this course we explicitly invite applications from students from different backgrounds. We aim to create an interdisciplinary group of graphic designers, spatial designers, filmmakers and other visual artists. A small number of places in the studio are open to students with a limited (or no) background in visual arts, but who will be able to contribute to the work of the studio through their proficiency in fields related to the studio’s research (such as journalism, sociology, political science, etc).

Course directors
Max Cohen de Para & David Mulder van der Vegt (founders XML)
A changing group of artists and experts will guide the students, whether weekly, or in workshops, or as visiting critics.

For more information, please visit: /

How to apply
Please visit for an online application.


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