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18 November, 2013

VCUQatar’s MFA Department Hosts Alice Twemlow

Alice Twemlow, chair and co-founder of the Design Criticism program at the School of Visual Arts in New York joined VCUQatar’s MFA program in Design Studies as a guest critic this month.

Acting Director, Pornprapha Phatanateacha, says collaborating with Twemlow was a highly valuable opportunity for the MFA faculty and students as it brought different perspectives to this multidisciplinary program.

Apart from her general role in the department as provocateur and guest critic, Twemlow worked closely with the second year students on their thesis projects, focusing on their writing, critical thinking, methods, ideas, and design experiments. “They each have rich and complex topics to contend with, and I've been impressed by the thoroughness of their research and the quality of their conceptual thinking. I'm really looking forward to catching up with their realized projects next year,” Twemlow says. 

As the only graduate program in design in the GCC, the program faces unique challenges since it sits in a region with a very young design industry. “The MFA certainly faces challenging conditions, some of which are not connected to geographical location, such as how to teach design as a process of navigation and negotiation between disciplines and constituents (there are few models and precedents), and some of which are context specific: How to teach design in the absence of a supporting design culture. I think these challenges can also be seen as opportunities and I know VCUQatar sees them as such,” says Twemlow.

According to Twemlow, VCUQatar’s MFA program can be at the forefront of evolving interdisciplinary design pedagogy via symposium, articles, and work. “I think it's very exciting for students to be involved in a process of redefining design. Also, Qatar presents such an open field for design intervention. To operate effectively in a construction site, design has to be flexible, adaptive, negotiatory, but also bold. Design needs to be at the forefront of decision making in Doha. That's an exciting goal!”

Twemlow enjoyed her two weeks in Doha. “I immersed myself in the life and culture of the city as much as possible, and visited Zekreet, the sand dunes, the Souq, Mathaf, MIA, Sheikh Faisal's museum, Katara, the Pearl, the Migrant Worker Housing project, amongst others,” she says. Twemlow’s blog (, that she set up for her collaboration with VCUQatar’s MFA program, captures some of her other impressions of the visit.

During the last two days of her visit, Twemlow worked with the students to give material form to the provocations and responses. These can be seen in the online exhibition on the blog which will be up for a month with the MFA department continuing to contribute to it. “The MFA comprises a very talented and thoughtful group of faculty and students, and I have learnt a lot from working with them,” Twemlow adds. 

Phatanateacha says the MFA department thoroughly enjoyed their work with Twemlow, who previously visited Qatar in 2011 during VCUQatar’s international biennial Tasmeen Doha conference. “We hope to continue this type of exchange every semester, create a tradition of bringing in international designers and educators to work with our students and faculty within the context of this region.”

Alice Twemlow is chair and co-founder of the SVA MFA Design Criticism program. Twemlow is a contributor to Design Observer and writes about design for publications including Eye, Design & Culture, and The New York Times Magazine. She is the author of What is Graphic Design For? (Rotovision) and of essays for books such as The Barnbrook Bible and 60 Innovators: Shaping Our Creative Futures (Thames and Hudson), and the catalogue for “Graphic Design Worlds” at La Triennale Design Museum. She has directed several national conferences for AIGA and moderated conferences such as the Tasmeem Doha Conference 2011 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, the College Art Association Conference 2011 Conference in New York, and “Abstract: The Future of Design in Media Conference” in Portland, Maine. Alice has recently given lectures at the ICOGRADA conference in Beijing, the QT series at MoMA, and at AIGA Chicago.

The work done by the MFA department can be seen at Twemlow’s blog which will host the online exhibition for a month.

Alice Twemlow with MFA faculty and students

Alice Twemlow with MFA faculty and students

Alice Twemlow with student provocations in the background

Some of the MFA faculty and students with Twemlow