The University of the Underground

  • Danielle Pender
  • Marta Giralt
  • Victoria Adams
  • Nelly Ben Hayoun

The star of our first cover, designer of experiences Nelly Ben Hayoun, is one of those people who are capable of achieving the impossible. Creating dark energy in a kitchen sink? Done. Creating a volcano in a living room? Done. Recreating the experience of a sonic boom? Done. Directing an international space orchestra at NASA who perform with the likes of Savages and Sigur Ros? DONE!

In person she practically fizzes with an unstoppable energy – a passionate energy she invests into everything she turns her hand to. Often inspired by social movements and issues Nelly’s latest project is created in response to the increased tuition fees at universities and even for her it is a project of epic proportions.
The University of the Underground that launched last week will teach students how to engineer situations, to design experiences and events that best support social dreaming, social actions and power shifts within institutions, companies and governments. The Willy Wonka of design wants to inspire the next generation of researchers and designers, mythologists and makers of new worlds in their creative and political endeavours.
Courses will be led by a team of expert tutors including Pentagram’s legendary partner Paula Sher, Science fiction author Bruce Sterling, activist and feminist Jasmina Tesanovic and Prof. Rachel Armstrong. Our advisory board includes Dave Eggers, XL recordings’ creative director Phil Lee, Prof. Fiona Raby, the president of WeTransfer Damian Bradfield, the Vice President of Design at Airbnb Alex Schleifer, the Metropolitan museum’s associate curator Beatrice Galilee, Jurgen Bey and more.
We caught up with Nelly to discuss her latest creation and what she hopes to achieve with it.
What is the idea behind The University of the Underground? 
Three things drive us really, they are:
1) I believe that it is most urgent to equip young designers with the learning that allows them to use their knowledge of the material world within the navigation of governmental systems, institutions and power structures. 
2) The University of the Underground responds to the current trend of increased fees for postgraduate programmes by firstly proposing a business model in which every student is provided with a scholarship to cover their tuition fees.  By hosting the University of the Underground, Sandberg Instituut is making steps towards a new, ambitious model for financing education. In the near future scholarships are to be provided to students through the support of philanthropists (80%) and governmental grants (20%). As such, it aims to act as a model of what can be achieved through coordination, shared passion and belief in the next generation.
3) I am concerned with the modelling and physical existence of my students' dreams, beliefs and myths.  I want to support them in believing that they can achieve the impossible and I want to give them methods that allow them to produce and manufacture it.
In the punk tradition we believe that there are no more heroes and we wish to democratise the experience of the institution. The young generation deserves to reclaim their part in public institutions. We will work on making this happen. As a result, this university is bold, ambitious, unapologetic and impolite.

Project Tags


  • Riposte Magazine logo

    Riposte Magazine

    • Publishing
  • Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios logo

    Nelly Ben Hayoun Studios

    • Design