In the framework of four weeks and having the task to complete seven different projects, the group must get their heads around an exceptionally broad scope of Italian context that dates back to antiquity. We study this context in advance of our work in Italy to understand the broader context of innovation and the space within Italian design. The seven study topics (two per week) range from historical, to design historical, to researching the specific firms and designers we will interview while in Italy (and preparing the interview questions), to the magisterial span of art, architecture and urbanism in Italy (from the Etruscans to the present ), and finally an understanding of Italian culture in a broadest sense. This first project begins from and spans an overview of Italian History from 400AD to the present.

A general history of Italy

Presentation 1Working in teams of two the research team handles parts of the Italian story beginning from the course text, Christopher Duggan’s book, “A Concise History of Italy”. This topic requires far more time to properly digest, but given the span of our needs and shortness of time to prepare, each team presents a different part of the story to the class and hopefully by the end all have had an overview of the span of Italian history. We will build out our context from there. Travelers to Italy often have a limited understanding of Italy’s past: mostly Roman or Renaissance and not much in between. In the field, we will encounter Etruscan tombs, Risorgimento monuments, Baroque buildings, Fascist and Modernist interventions and contemporary post-industrial design. In this, our hope is to see how this context of history manifests itself as a legacy even in the most current work of design.

Visions and layers of Rome

Presentation 2The purpose of this project is to familiarize the group with the span of cultural and historical layers that will be encountered in the city of Rome. Topics range from the Etruscan legacy (and for example the tombs and remains at Tarquinia, Cerveteri, Chiusi and other sites that the group visits), to the Early Christian, Byzantine and Romanesque, the masterworks of the Renaissance and Papal Rome, the Baroque, the Risorgimento and 20th century periods. Contemporary Rome is all of these histories. We wish to encounter these histories in the field meaningfully, with a sense of depth, and at the same time, not holding a perspective that a tourist would hold. Indeed, while in the field our focus is not on the ancient and historical but on the contemporary situation as much as possible.

In the presentations, the student-researchers build out from a single work or architect while finding a way to get to INFORMATION and not data (for example, how is the Tempiettto of Bramante a representative work?). The task is to communicate why this work is important to the History of Western Civilization and ensures that again, the group can learn from each other, the span of work that we will encounter while becoming in-field “expert” sources on particular topics. To this end, the students are required to identify and clearly demonstrate their awareness of each historical period and clearly communicate stylistic particularities that can be seen in the buildings and art of Rome (gothic vs. classical arches/ vaults etc.) The objective here is to provide information that all can recall while standing in front of the work in situ and thereby avoiding as much as possible, the “tourist” experience of the works.

Italian Design History from 1860 - 1999

Presentation 3In teams of two, the students research the history of Italian design from 1860 - 2000, again chunking time scales and teaching each other the parts (such as 1946-1965 Bel Design + the Economic Miracle) while assembling the whole. In later projects we have the opportunity to, more thoroughly, research a single designer or firm but for now we wish to get a general sense of the players and terrain. We then will be interviewing, visiting or encountering every single designer on this list, and bringing the history of Italian design alive. In this way, we first lay a foundation of understanding of the legacy of Italian industry, innovation and design, then in later projects we get into more detail on the emerging contemporary design history and figures. Finally, we look at the firms we will visit and interview with specificity by looking at the topics of how Italy is involved in productive innovation practices today.

Firenze, the flower

Presentation 4Our study ultimately spends 3 weeks in Tuscany, beginning with a deep study of cultural patterns and everyday acts, rituals and practices in the Tuscan hill-towns that culminates in Firenze with a major study of what works and what does not in Italian aesthetic experience and the legacy and weight of the past. The Firenze project looks at current urban “edge” situations in the city while reflecting in the space of a paradigmatic civicness. The project brief is handed out in Brunelleschi ’s cortile in the Santa Croce complex. This set of projects in our preparatory studies prepares the student-researchers for the profound experience and awareness of being in such a historically-rich place: steps from the Pazzi Chapel, Giotto’s Peruzzi and Bardi chapels, and the tombs of Machiavelli, Dante and Michelangelo. Individual presentations on the legacy of the Florentine Renaissance cover the work of Dante, Bocaccio, Machiavelli, Galileo, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Donatello, Botticelli, Giotto and the great works of Florence. We also cover in this section an overview of the Tuscan hill-towns that we will visit and study, ending with a focused project on Siena as birthplace of civitas and “good government”. Once the group arrives in Firenze, these sites are like old-friends - the challenge then, is to experience them strategically (and early!) to avoid mass tourism and its detrimental effect of turning genius into simulacra.

The Great Designers

Presentation 5These presentations familiarize the students with a range of some of the legendary Italian designers and design factories. Some of these we will visit or interview and some we previously visited in year one of the study or hope to in the future. This is a more focused and detailed study of Italian Design History after our overview of the field from 1890-2000 in Presentation 3. In this set, the students learn about the work and theory, the product, approaches and innovations of Andrea Branzi, Cassina, and Achille Castiglione, who’s studios we will visit in 2005; Kartell, Enzo Mari, and Da Driade, whom we visited in 2004, and Piaggio Vespa, Alessandro Mendini, Gae Aulenti, Cini Boeri, Michele de Lucchi, Gaetano Pesce, Artemide, Flos, and Vico Magistretti whom we have not yet visited. As well as familiarizing the group with this small but representative group of Italy’s great designers, the students were asked to build a folder of images and links for further research not to be shown but attached to the ItaliaDesign project site and if the designer or firm has a studio or showrooms in Milan, to get this mapped onto a common source.

The 2005 Studios

Presentation 6The students were asked to provide as much info as possible onscreen to familiarize the research team with our key interviews of these firms in advance of our visit, through internet searches, good links and articles. The person who did this research then became the in-field expert on the firm and manager of that interview, leading the questions being asked while in the studios. In addition to this, they also mapped the studio location for ease of use while in the streets of Milano, Roma or Firenze. From here, each student was asked to prepare 5 MEANINGFUL questions for the firm to be asked by themselves and the group at our visit, regarding the firms practice in design; their attitudes toward innovation; as well as their thoughts on Interactive Design. In this context, students researched: IaN+, Ricci & Spaini, Metrogramma, OneOff, Park Associati, Cliostraat, Isao Hosoe, Alessi and Moroso.

Emerging topics in Innovation

Presentation 7The focus of this study is innovation and the relationship to design process. The last set of topics for presentation the directly forms the beginning of a thesis through amalgamation that begins with our first project and interviews in Roma. The students were given specific readings and/or a thinker or organization who is immersed in innovative work in Italy. In many cases these organizations and individuals are also involved in Interaction Design. In years one to three of this research study, we will focus on Italian “design” generally. In years four and five, we will begin to shift specifically into looking at the areas in which Italy is innovating in the area of interactivity and interaction design. This last set of topics in our Vancouver preparatory studies begins to anticipate that eventual direction. There are, as you will read in the research papers in the “findings” section of this website, significant instances where Italy is uniquely innovative. In this context, Italy’s innovativeness its seems to us, is linked to it’s tradition of quality and relationship to time as a constrainer of design and product. After preparing the students' awareness of Italian culture and design legacy, the project now shifts into the focused topic of “ innovativeness”, and how Italian design supports it.

In this last presentation, students are asked to provide as much information as possible to the group to familiarize us all with the range of topics in advance of our visit, and where applicable (see Q) to create 5 MEANINGFUL questions for the researcher to be asked by them and the group at our visit regarding the firms practice in design and their attitudes toward innovation and thoughts on interactive design. This list of topics included: urbanist Alessandro Vignozzi (Q), historian John Foot (Q), Politecnico di Milano Professor Ezio Manzini, Domus Academy and Motorola’s Marco Susani, the IVREA Interaction Design Institute, Benetton’s Fabrica think–tank, John Thackara’s "Doors of Perception" and the Italians who are part of that community, Andrea Branzi as theorist and his recent writing, such as course text, “The Solid Side”(Q), the “Innovative Cities”, course text, edited by James Simmie, with key article on Milano as Innovation capital, and lastly a comparison of the Milano Politecnico School of Design and the DOMUS Academy.