Nelly Ben Hayoun has been interviewed by Rima Sabina Aouf for Dezeen discussing the launch of Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios and friends latest endeavour, the University of the Underground. 

A new masters programme titled the University of the Underground is promising a fee-free design education to students who want to “positively challenge institutions and power structures”. Masterminded by designer Nelly Ben Hayoun, the course is being offered through the Gerrit Rietveld Academie’s Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam. 

The University of the Underground will offer a unique curriculum that teaches students to design experiences, events and situations that support social change. To set an example of the kind of change the programme hopes to spur, all of its places will be fully funded through a mix of 80 per cent philanthropical donations and 20 per cent government grants. 

“The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by proposing a business model in which all students are provided with scholarships to cover their tuition fees,” Ben Hayoun told Dezeen.

“It aims to act as a model of what can be achieved through coordination, shared passion and belief in the next generation – the goal being to create many more of these educative structures worldwide on that basis, 80 per cent, 20 per cent.”

“As a designer, I always felt that objects and our discipline did not properly respond to the emergencies of our world,” she said. “Meanwhile, I believe that institutions like universities owe it to be the place where politics get actively challenged and discussed.”

“The University of the Underground is set to create and connect a network of creative soldiers who can positively challenge institutions and power structures.”

For Ben Hayoun, a turning point was being exposed to critical design at the Royal College of Art while studying Design Interactions. She has also explored the intersection of design and politics throughout her practice, in projects such as the feature film Disaster Playground, which looked at real-life emergency procedures for events like an asteroid impact, and  The International Space Orchestra – an orchestra of space scientists re-enacting a Greek tragedy.

The University of the Underground will combine critical design with experiential, theatrical, filmic, political and musical practices. The programme will be based in Amsterdam, in what is being described as a “hidden network of urban spaces”. Ben Hayoun is currently working to secure a disused chocolate factory, among other sites. Students will also spend three months in London working out of the Village Underground. The University of the Underground is open for applications from today until 1 April. The first class of 15 students will commence the programme in September, entirely scholarship funded. They will graduate two years later with a Master of Arts degree, officially licensed and funded by the Dutch government.

Dezeen is a leading architecture and design magazine, and the winner of numerous awards for journalism and publishing. Their mission is to bring you a carefully edited selection of the best architecture, design and interiors projects and news from around the world. Dezeen was launched at the end of November 2006 and has grown rapidly ever since. 

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