Category Archives: languages

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Legacy in the Pocket: Reactivating Collective Memory by Co-Design

Could design co-exist with a social-participatory approach? It is a complicated issue, yet it seems only possible in a case where consumers are not seen as passive recipients but rather as co-designers. The Turkish designer Sölen Kipoz seems to have found an interesting device for the involvement of user in the process of design. Her design, a rag doll, not only involves the participants in the design process but also induces them to transcribe their memories onto the product. The first series of the rag dolls exhibited as a pilot project during the art triennial, PortIzmir 2014, Turkey, were carried out with working women from Odemis Cooperation, a rural town near Izmir famed by its traditional hand-woven silk, a local economy. Under the  curation of Slovenian art historian Sasa Nabergoj, Sölen Kipoz conceptualized her idea in coordination with Slovenian design trio-Oloop ( Jasminka Fercek, Katja Burger, Tjasa Bavcon) and Mine Ovacık from Turkey in the frame of the fieldwork Slow Design: Body/ Clothing/ Memory.

As a designer the cycles of the female body and their interrelation to body/memory are themes Kipoz frequently dwells upon. In a novel she read, by Clarissa P. Estés’s; Women Who Run with the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, she was moreover thrilled by the wild women of pagan cultures who did not forsake their immediate and intimate relationship with nature. Especially inspired by a tale which tells the story of a girl who matures with the help of a rag doll in her pocket, a legacy from her mother, Kipoz then wanted to design for the women, a productive tool that would liberate them by assuming them within production, and by doing so enable them to transfer their female wisdom onto their production; a reproducible, spreadable object.
Thus Kipoz comes up with her rag dolls that enable bodily memory’s transfer to clothing. These are stereotypical, template-like dolls, composed of a single piece of fabric and shaped up with a few stitches. This uniform, primitive design of the dolls await the contribution of the participants to play their game; deconstructing the role given to women by modernity and letting the participants reconstruct it in their own terms. In this phase the women workers from Odemis cooperation came into stage as co-designers, it is not a mere coincidence that Kipoz first wanted to collaborate with a group of women that sustain a local economy. During the workshop design decisions were taken together, echoing the principles of slow design, and moreover questioning the role given to designer as the autonomous creator by challenging the designer ego.

Furthermore, this social participatory approach of Kipoz’s rag dolls unveils a hidden past; the various body parts of the template-like doll activate and inscribe certain memories of the participants. Each participant then shapes the doll according to her own life story; charging it with their own character and thus finalizing the design.
For instance the rag doll named Sad Bride is made to bear a reluctant wedding dress; created by a participant who got married without a bride’s gown, at the age of thirteen, and became a mother at the age of eighteen. The Bouquet of Flowers apparently bears the hope to bloom again, leaving the sad past behind, however it is added that the brown cord represents the things that cannot be changed. Another woman made her rag doll wear a swimsuit, expressing a longing for the sea because she never had the chance to swim in the sea as a child. The wedding dress, the brown cord, the swimsuit and many others are all interventions of participants on the doll’s surface for the inscription of their memory which completes Kipoz’s design. In the outcome of the installation we see Kipoz’s rag doll disappear and turn into something different, an almost living object that directs our looks to memories; a look that testifies to the repression of the female memory.

When speaking of dolls their intimate relation with pagan cultures come to mind. Such cultures which have not lost a direct connection with nature are full with animist rituals, that objects also have souls. In this context the rag dolls may be understood as objects transcribing this repressed female memory through generations and may even be seen as entities animating legacies, as the name of this installation suggests; Legacy in the Pocket.  Kipoz’s rag dolls allow an instance to deconstruct the role given to the female figure, usually embodied by dolls, and let the participants reconstruct it in their own terms. In doing so they become devices which aid women in activating, through generations, a collective memory pertaining to a lost sense of wholeness, sacrificed to modernity. This common legacy we are reminded of with the soul breathed into the rag dolls binds women, through collective memory, to a world where fertility and nature are intrinsic to one another. A world held by female attributes, privileged but partially lost. Once again underlined by such ritualistic traits, Kipoz’s design is not aimed at subjective consumption but rather for the interaction of as large a community could be.

It is hard not to think what such a social responsible approach towards design can help reveal in many other groups of participants. The design of the rag dolls is so simplistic that a mere pattern suffices to recreate the dolls anywhere. The project is thus open to a social interactive process. The Legacy in the Pocket with its feminist-deconstructive agenda acts thus as a pilot project where Kipoz handles the problematic of how consumers can be made into co-designers by allowing them to co-exist by producing.
Kipoz could well have expressed the repressive female memory as part of her own artistic quest but instead she consulted design for the dissemination of a much larger project. The design of the dolls which is pluralistic rather than unique, attests to a reproducible, sharable outcome. A doll, an object that is complete with the user/participant’s internevtion, thus built by him/her but induced by the designer.

Title of the Project: Legacy in the Pocket
Exhibited in: PortIzmir3 International Contemporary Art Triennial
Venue: Turk-Austro Tobacco Warehouse, İzmir
Dates: March-June 2014
Photography: Ersan Çeliktaş*

Information on Dolls
Doll design: Şölen Kipöz
Clothing Design: Şölen Kipöz**, Co Designers 1***, Co-designers2****


*Izmir University of Economics, Faculty of Fine Arts and Design, Photographer Technician, Design Studies Programme master student.
**Izmir University of Economics, Department of Fashion and Textile Design, Assoc.Prof.Dr.
***Ödemiş Women’s Cooperative.
****İzmir Women Entrepreneurs Association.


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Information design to support the analysis of organized crime in Northern Italy


The phenomenon of organized crime in Italy is current and urgent.
This article talks about one of the possible ways of how design can contribute to the study of such a complex issue.
The described project, a visual analysis of the organized crime in the Northern Italy, aims to be a valuable tool to support the study of the phenomenon, providing to the users (journalists and academics) the ability to analyze the data extracted from the annual reports of the Direzione Nazionale Antimafia. The extractions of data were made possible thanks to the collaboration with the ItaliaNLP Lab. The research covers the time period between 2000 and 2012 and allows the analysis of trends and changes over time in nine provinces in Northern Italy. The design process was characterized by a continuous and constant dialogue with the users, so as to evaluate the usefulness, clarity and value of the project in all its phases. The result of the process of research and design is an interface that allows the users to explore the visualized data.

1. Supporting the study of the phenomenon. The users’ demands.

A serious problem in Italy is the phenomenon of organized crime. Besides, the issue of organized crime in Northern Italy has been controversial for decades.
Faced with such a complex problem, I wondered how a designer could provide support to the study of the phenomenon. One of the possible answers came from the field of information design.
For these reasons I decided to realize my M.Sc. Thesis: an information design project dealing with the phenomenon of organized crime in Northern Italy.
The target audience of the project is specific: journalist, academics and experts. These users already know the issue, so I decided to realize a tool to support them in their studies and researches.
During all the design phases I was in contact with journalists and experts, in order to constantly evaluate the usefulness of the project. Every visualization has been checked by them and by my supervisor Paolo Ciuccarelli.[1]
In particular, in the first phase of the project I contacted some journalists so as to understand their actual needs.
From these meetings a few common points are emerged:
– visualizing the names linked to the phenomenon;
– individuating and geolocating the main categories of committed crimes;
– linking the names and the crimes.

2. Extracting the data from the sources

In order to realize the information visualization tool to give answer to these demands, I had to individuate a source from which to extract data.
I decided to use an official source: the annual reports of the Direzione Nazionale Antimafia.[2]
These reports contain a chapter dealing with the situation in the main Italian cities: I decided to analyze the paragraphs regarding the Northern cities.
In this phase I needed a tool to automatically extract the data. For this reason I contacted the “Antonio Zampolli” Institute of Computational Linguistics and started a collaboration with the ItaliaNLP Lab[3], a research laboratory that “gathers researchers, postdocs and students from computational linguistics, computer science and linguistics who work on developing resources and algorithms for processing and understanding human languages, with particular attention to the Italian language.”
I selected and prepared the files for the data extraction: the paragraphs dealing with the situation in nine cities in Northern Italy: Bologna, Brescia, Firenze, Genova, Milano, Torino, Trento, Trieste, Venezia. I used the annual reports of the time period 2000-2012.
The ItaliaNLP Lab researchers performed the extraction for my analysis. They used T2K (Text-To-Knowledge)[4], a tool that allows you to automatically extract linguistic and domain-specific information from text.
During this phase, 3.999 pages have been analyzed and 25.935 words have been extracted. I personally inspected and cleaned the files using Microsoft Excel.
The extracted data were divided in three main categories: named entities (the names), domain terminology (the specific terms) and matrix of distances (the proximity in the text between names and terms) [Fig.2]. I used from the domain terminology only the terms referring to the committed crimes.
For every term was indicated the frequency in the documents; for the names entities and the specific terms was also indicated the relevance in the document, calculated as tf-idf value.

“The tf-idf value increases proportionally to the number of times a word appears in the document, but is offset by the frequency of the word in the corpus, which helps to adjust for the fact that some words appear more frequently in general.”[5]

3. The role of design: the visualizations and the interface

At this stage I had all the data I needed, so I began to design the final project.
I decided to realize an interface that allows the users to explore the visualized data. [Fig.3]
This phase was characterized by a constant dialogue with a few possible users as well, so as to validate the clarity of the project and of the visualizations.
The interface is divided into three sections: Persone (People), Vicinanze (Proximities in the text) and Crimini (Crimes). Each section has different views.
All the visualizations have a few common characteristics:
– each term is represented by a geometrical element;
– the size of the element indicates the frequency in the document;
– regarding the names and the crimes, the distance of the element from the center indicates the relevance of the term in the document.

The People section contains:
All the Names view: all the extracted names, organized in alphabetical order or ordered by frequency; [Fig.4]
Geographical view: the names geolocated in the selected cities and divided by year; [Fig.5,6]
Temporal view: a comprehensive view that shows all the geolocated names and all the years. [Fig.7]

The Proximities section is composed of:
All the Groups view: this view shows all the groups that have been individuated during the extraction. Every group contains the terms close to each other within the text; [Fig.8]
Groups by Year view: the groups divided by year. [Fig.9]

The Crimes section contains:
All the Crimes view: this view shows all the crimes extracted in the documents, ordered by frequency or by category. I grouped the terms into 12 categories: public procurement, money laundering, extortion, gambling, illegal immigration, enslavement, kidnapping, prostitution, arms trafficking, human trafficking, waste trafficking, and drug trafficking. [Fig.10]
Geographical view: the crimes geolocated in the cities and divided by year; [Fig.11,12]
Temporal view: a comprehensive view with all the geolocated crimes and all the years. [Fig.13]

This interface allows the user to explore and analyze the extracted data.
When the user hovers the mouse pointer over an element, all the information about the term are visualized. [Fig. 14] Besides, clicking on the element is it possible to access additional information continuing the exploration, so as not to interrupt the work flow.
The project has not been realized yet.
Anyhow, I showed all the screens of the interface to some of the possible users: their comments were extremely useful to obtain a clear final result. Most of the journalists I met weren’t accustomed to refer to data visualization projects so it was very important to me to focus on the immediacy and the clarity of the visualizations.
There are a lot of projects that already use complex data in order to analyze and understand crime: this is one of the many examples of how information design can be useful to support the analysis and the study of complex phenomena.


Bibliographical references

Bonin F., Dell’Orletta F., Montemagni S., Venturi G. (2012). Lessico settoriale e lessico comune nell’estrazione di terminologia specialistica da corpora di dominio. In Ferreri, S. (edited by), Lessico e lessicologia. Società di linguistica italiana.

Dell’Orletta F., Lenci A., Marchi S., Montemagni S., Pirrelli V., Venturi G. (2008). Dal testo alla conoscenza e ritorno: estrazione terminologica e annotazione semantica di basi documentali di dominio. AIDAinformazioni: Rivisa di Scienze dell’informazione, vol. 26 (1-2), 197-218.

Dell’Orletta F., Venturi G., Cimino A., Montemagni S. (2014). T2K2: a System for Automatically Extracting and Organizing Knowledge from Texts. Proceedings of 9th International Conference on Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC-2014), Reykjavik, Iceland, 26-31 May 2014. Curran Associates, Inc.


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

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An Ontology of Render Ghosts


This paper will cover the topic of render ghosts and will discuss their role in our world, as well as the relationship we have with them. To do that, concepts from sociology, philosophy, and physics were used. The analysis of Jean Baudrillard on modernity was useful to explain what a simulacrum is, and to demonstrate that we live in an everlasting hyperreal situation. The reflections of Karen Barad on the void as an on-going process of creation were necessary to understand the ontology of digitally unborn creatures. Finally, James Bridle and his premises about the New Aesthetic provided us with a panorama of the convergence, and retro alimentation of the digital and the real.

1. Introduction

At the end of the last millennium, The Truman Show film (Weir, 1999) starred by Canadian-born comedian Jim Carrey was received with great acclaim. The movie depicts a nonchalant man who lived all his life unaware that he was only a character inside a televised series. It was only by an accumulation of signs that he ended up uncovering the truth.
In The Truman Show, the scope of reality television was cleverly questioned: what if we were only props in a simulated world? I cannot but wonder that Truman Burbank is the perfect analogy for a virtual entity. Isolated in a parallel space, living in an idyllic world, raised as real but fake as a forgery banknote.
In present times, reality television series are not shocking anymore. In the same manner, the fact that our environment has been duplicated is not a big surprise. On a daily basis, we experience a series of simulated phenomena and we do not even bother to question what is substantial, and what is not. In fact, it would be almost impossible to tell apart one thing from the other, because that is by definition a property of simulacrum.
Render ghosts constitute, more or less, one of these simulation phenomena. Because it would be complicated to approach this topic from a single point of view, this proposal will cover the ideas of three authors: Jean Baudrillard, Karen Barad, and James Bridle. These spirits share some commonalities, for they have discussed themes such as simulation, ontology, and virtuality on their own works.

2. Hyperreal Beings

A good point to start our discussion about render ghosts is to look up the ideas of French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. He is considered to the date one of the most influential thinker and theorist of modernity. His ideas about simulation and hyperreality, conceived during the decade of the 1980s will allow us to settle good foundations so as to understand other hypothesis, like the ones Karen Barad and James Bridle have presented in more recent times.
The first question will be: what is a simulation and how it differs from a mere representation?  While both terms can be easily confused, Baudrillard makes an effort to make a distinction between both concepts. When we face an image -a form of representation- we can distinguish it from the original. Therefore, reality has not been compromised; in this case, it is clear the boundary between the source and the copy. A simulacrum, on the contrary, threatens reality masking it. It no longer resembles reality, because it is a product without a basis on something authentic.
Baudrillard starts citing Borges’s fable on the first chapter of Simulacra and Simulation (originally published in 1981). In that story, an exact replica of the territory was created in the form of a map and was placed over the land. Over time, it was the map that survived, masking what it had below. Citizens will no more inhabit the real world, but the map. Here and there we can find vestiges of the territory, a subverted scenario where reality has been superseded. This will lead to a scenario where a new reality is generated without having an origin in the real: the hyperreal (Baudrillard, 1994).
Constant exposure to media alters and influences the way we perceive reality. Because of that, there is no more need to deepen in into the real in order to construct new universes, for everything can be simulated. In words of Baudrillard (1994), by using matrices reality can be manufactured and reproduced infinite times. Our render ghosts are clearly a simulation, generated from models (beings) and placed inside a virtual environment (Figure 1).
Can we think of these digital worlds as non-places? If so, we should stop for a while and refer to the work of Marc Augé. For him, non-places are a consequence of supermodernity, an era characterised by excess on three main fronts: overabundance of events (the speed at which they occur makes impossible to grasp history anymore); spatial overabundance (changes of scales, proliferation of imaged and imaginary references, and the acceleration of means of transport); and the individualisation of references (citizens becoming isolated worlds) (Augé, 1995). Non-places and places complement each other, they “are rather like opposed polarities: the first is never completely erased, the second never totally completed; they are like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten.” (Augé, 1995) What are, if not, these pristine minimalist villas found in advertising billboards? What about those HDR beaches where phantasms stroll next to the seashore, expecting a marvellous Bali-like sunset? What can be more hyperreal than this non-existent microcosm? Like Disney World, nobody questions these chimeric mise-en-scènes.
The aftermath of being progressively accustomed to the hyperreal is that our past experiences are no longer satisfactory. Lo-res videos or five-megapixel photos are some kind of heresy nowadays. Resolution overrules content. Programmatic obsolescence. This hyper-thirst for the ultimate gadget and a hubristic desire to achieve (a better) reality has leaded us towards a maze of artifices. And then, Elvis appeared from thin air in 2007, materialized thanks to light on a televised show. Dead or not, his resurrection in the form of a hologram surprised more than one. Would not many of us like to have also a three-dimensional self? Baudrillard (1994) could not have said it better: “the closer one gets to the perfection of the simulacrum (…), the more evident it becomes (…) how everything escapes representation, escapes its own double and its resemblance.”
Many relations can be found between render ghosts and holograms. Both are generated in another world, that of the software. Whether emerged from a Computer Aided Design (CAD) environment or sculpted thanks to a laser beam, they belong to the virtual. Holograms and ghosts are, to some extent, prolongations of our existences. We are not unique anymore.

If, according to Mach, the universe is that of which there is no double, no equivalent in the mirror, then with the hologram we are already virtually in another universe: which is nothing but the mirrored equivalent of this one. But which universe is this one? (Baudrillard, 1994)

I have an answer to that question. That is the universe of the void, a place in which things are neither real nor material. In order to understand this, we need to go further in time, and examine the theories of Karen Barad.

3. A Non-existent Existence

As stated in the last chapter, it is compulsory to revise some of the hypothesis that Barad developed concerning nothingness, the void, and the interactions among beings and non-beings. These aspects will abet us to come up with a more consistent definition of these contemporary creatures that are materialized in a digital/virtual dimension.
I would like to start with a quote from The Measurement of Nothingness, which will open a door to further discussion into the matter of existence: “virtuality is not a speedy return, a popping into and out of existence with great rapidity, but rather the indeterminacy of being/non-being, a ghostly non/existence.” (Barad, 2012)
It is this duality immanent to render ghosts that is fascinating. When we see an image depicting a fictional space we think it is just a mere representation. However, what we are witnessing is a parallel world, filled with of (non) humans, performing common actions like talking casually to each other or using their smartphones, always unaware of our presence (Figure 2).
To comprehend better how the author came up with her proposal, it is necessary to branch out a bit and look into physics, for that is the discipline Barad chose to gave birth to her statements. In that sense, a critical aspect to grasp the duality of existence and non-existence is the concept of virtual particles.
In classical physics, the vacuum is the absence of matter, and therefore possesses zero energy. In contrast with that, the quantum field theory (QFT) considers that “the lowest energy state of all the systems could be called a vacuum state.” (Boyarkin, 2011) Although the vacuum, under this definition, does not contain physical particles, it is not empty as the classical model propagated. In direct connection with the quantum vacuum zero-point energy is the idea of vacuum fluctuations. Virtual particles are responsible for these fluctuations. In other words, “virtual particles are short-lived particles that cannot be directly detected, but that affect physical quantities -such as the mass of a particle or the electric force between two charged particles- in measurable ways.” (Dukes, 2009)
While it is true that these particles do not exist as regular particles, it is also important to notice that an electron intra-act (to use the author’s terminology) with these particles in the vacuum, because they cannot be isolated from the void. Moreover, according to Barad (2012): “(…) even the smallest bits of matter are an enormous multitude. Each ‘individual’ is made up of all possible histories of virtual intra-actions with all Others. Indeterminacy is an un/doing of identity that unsettles the very foundations of non/being.”
Render ghosts are indeterminate creatures. Ontologically speaking, they were born in our territory, but they were shifted to the virtual (Figure 3). To some extent, one can also relate indeterminacy to the concepts of speculative design and design thinking. The former because design becomes a tool in order to come up with what-if scenarios; in that regard the displacement of humans to the digital realm is one solution to evidence that these non-places will eventually be populated by regular people. The second insofar designers are responsible for conceive and plan what does not exist yet (Buchanan, 1992). With the risk of branching out a bit, lets say that in Buchanan’s paper the determinacy and indeterminacy dichotomy is a neural point of his discourse. In opposition to the classic “problem definition / problem solution” model for design, the wicked-problem (a term coined by Horst Rittel) approach acknowledges the following:

Design problems are ‘indeterminate’ and ‘wicked’ because design has no special subject matter of its own apart from what a designer conceives it to be. The subject matter of design is potentially universal in scope, because design thinking may be applied to any area of human experience. But in the process of application, the designer must discover or invent a particular subject out of the problems and issues of specific circumstances. (Buchanan, 1992)

In the next chapter we will revise a clever study of the render ghosts phenomenon by journalist-derived-into-media-artist James Bridle.

4.  Ghosts

The term render ghosts, coined by James Bridle, refers to those mysterious inhabitants of virtual sceneries: anonymous denizens, which are used to represent an idyllic, almost dreamy life style. They populate unreal universes, future places that still have not been erected (Figure 4).
In an evolutionary fashion, architectural representation shifted from traditional schemata and blueprints to physical plaster models, to digital representation, and now to hyperreal environments (Figure 5). Due to the increasing demand of project visualization, rendering ended in the hands of designers and visual artists. As James Bridle (2013) himself stated, “(…) visualizations are produced for a range of purposes, but it’s almost by accident that they surface in public.” From some time ago, architecture firms and building companies have decided to display these models on their websites as well as the urban scenery. Even though the final result can be faithful to the blueprints and 3D representation, render ghosts will not survive and will disappear without leaving traces. An empty space is waiting for us to occupy it. We will take their place.
The fact that nobody knows exactly who these persons are makes the issue more intriguing. They, in turn, do not realize that they have been photographed, cropped, and inserted in a hyperreal world. I cannot but surprise myself with the following assertion on the condition of these beings by Gillian Rose, Professor of Cultural Geography at The Open University in the United Kingdom: “(…) mostly they drift as isolated individuals. This impression that they’re atoms floating in a void is probably enhanced by the fact that I know they’ve been taken from other places and inserted into these scenes.” (Rose, 2013) It is not hard to encounter commonalities with the theories of Karen Barad (2012):

Virtual particles are not in the void but of the void. They are on the razor edge of non/being. The void is a lively tension, a desiring orientation toward being/becoming. The vacuum is flush with yearning, bursting with innumerable imaginings of what could be.

Even though they are non-beings, it is only a transitional momentum, a hibernating process… a waiting stage to become something/someone. With human libraries now sold as packages for architectural model software we have reached another level of absurdity; in the same way as furniture and objects are incorporated in mock-ups, men, women, and children can be included too. It only takes a couple of key words to find and download these human packages on any search engine.
James Bridle embarked on a journey to trace the origins and the identities of these render ghosts. Suffice it to say that he failed in his mission, but that trip allowed him to reflect on this subject and the ephemerality of Internet. But, how powerful can this new phenomenon be to make someone travel to the middle of nowhere?
Actually, Bridle is often accused of a lack of foundations on his thoughts. Using Tumblr as a platform to collect and show examples of the New Aesthetic phenomenon might be good to reach a broad audience, but it is not the best way to approach the academic and scientific community. His public speeches, although well documented, have less theory behind that one could expect. Despite that, there is no doubt that his opinions are accurate, and that he created a buzz around the topic. For better or worse, that aspect was the key to be worshipped and hated at the same time.

5.  Conclusion

To summarise, hyperreality is a condition sine qua non of post-modernity; we are no longer in the realm of authenticity, but of the simulacrum. Render ghosts are, like holograms, disturbing duplication of ourselves. Unlike holograms, it is not possible to touch them, to pass though them and see what is on the other side. But, alas, would that be necessary? Concerning their habitat, both Baudrillard and Augé noted the appearance of non-places in their respective works: spaces characterised by their indeterminacy, stripped of identity. These environments are the world in which render ghosts are frozen in time and space. To enter (or, more precisely, to be inserted) into these places is to enjoy a rapture state where one enjoys being disconnected, possessed by the joys of indistinctiveness and the pleasures of role-playing (Augé, 1995). The speediness in which technology is shaped, the surplus of information and occurrences, summed to our tolerance to hyperreal events and situations, makes difficult to question contemporary phenomena, because they have become an indivisible part of our time. We have developed a tolerance, and the bar will go higher with each new generation.
In this context, physics gives us a hand in order to comprehend the ontology and indeterminacy status of virtual beings. In the same way as virtual particles, render ghosts are non-beings, for they speak of something-to-come, of possibilities. They can be seen as speculative outcomes as well as a particular solution to a design problem.
Ontologically speaking, although these phantasmagorical appearances were created in a digital milieu, they are not entirely virtual. A model (Baudrillard would be tempted to say matrix) was used for that purpose, not always with their consent, as James Bridle sharply pointed out.
We recognise we live in a world in which the leakage of the digital onto the real is undeniable. The frontiers are open, enough of shuttled doors! Although one would be tempted to think of The New Aesthetic as a soon-to-be-gone fashion, it is true that design (in the broader scope of the term) sap from that source, for the good or the worse. Render ghosts are undeniable part of that trend. Real beings photographed, scaled, converted into props, and distributed like products. They are we… and not. Uncertainty. Indeterminacy. Future.


This paper would have not been finished without the help of Professor Dr. Andrea Sick from the “Hochschule für Künste Bremen,” whose suggestions allowed me to make this text more accurate and intelligible. I would also like to thanks Antoine Royer and Richard Murphy Architects for granting me permission to include their images in this document.


Augé, M. (1995). Non-places: Introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity. London: Verso.

Barad, K. (2012). Karen Barad: what is the measure of nothingness? Infinity, virtuality, justice = was ist wirklich das mass des Nichts? Unendlichkeit, Virtulität, Gerechtigkeit. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Boyarkin, O. M. (2011). Advanced Particle Physics. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press / Taylor & Francis.

Bridle, J. (2013, February 27). Balloons and Render Ghosts. Domus. [31-12-2014]

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Dukes, C. (2009, July 1). Explain it in 60 seconds: Virtual particles. Symmetry Magazine. [31-12-2014]

Rendering Vs. Reality. (n.d.). Curbed. Retrieved December 31, 2014, from

Rose, G. (2013, November 6). Rendered People: Ghosts, Omens or Atoms?. Visual / Method / Culture. Retrieved December 31, 2014, from

The New Aesthetic. (n.d.). The New Aesthetic. Retrieved January 26, 2014, from

The Render Ghosts – James Bridle. (n.d.). Electronic Voice Phenomena. Retrieved December 31, 2014, from

Weir, P. (Director). (1999). The Truman show [Motion picture]. USA: Paramount.

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The Post-digital era: towards a relational and sustainable approach


Multimedia technologies revolution has changed in the last years our ways of interface with the surrounding reality, transforming reality itself that is growing on a thin border with the virtual world. But, it still remain to understand which kind of technologies will be added (or probably substituted), to the other elements that constitute our living spaces, and consequently try to trace a evolution line of domestic interiors in the near future.
A direct consequence of the “mediatic flood” is the “fight for perception”. On one hand perception still belongs to human body as its most properly peculiarity, but on the other hand this flood of stimuli make it thinner and liquefied. In the specific feeling of nullity proper of the microelectronic age it is included to be deceived about “self-radiation”, and also about our “self-perception”. Therefore, the impulse to escape from the vacuum of the absence of perception drives us to know about our essence.

1. Rethink new-media technologies in everyday life

As technology changes so do society, the environment, and the practice of architecture. The globalizing “network society” has certainly forced architects to rethink the relationship of their work to new modes of production and construction, new patterns of movement and settlement, and new cultural priorities and above all a new kind of spaces and objects that will probably change radically our living environment. Through the twentieth century philosophers and historians have debated the nature of that relationship, leading in recent decades to a more nuanced view about their interaction and the degree to which technology itself is “socially constructed,” or at least culturally embedded and coevolving. The central question is the radical transformation of the space-time relation. On one hand space appears as a fluid, and on the other hand, time and its perception is compressed and extremely accelerated. This change has completely modified the rhythms of consumption, styles, and the way objects and lived spaces are used. Thus, in this context, design, as one of the most powerful aesthetic and socio-cultural expressions of the present civilization, has assumed different shapes, adapting and fragmenting itself to all the different components of society, and the global market. The diffusion of the idea of a “show-city”, together with the idea of a continuous moving city, due to the fluxes and the dynamic transformations more and more temporary and reversible, is creating a weave, and some times a very narrow union, between the forms and the practices of the exhibit and the forms and the practices of the spaces of entertainment and consumption. A fundamental element of this process are the different ways to stimulating the visual perception, that from static and Euclidean with classical proprieties of rational, uniform and long lasting order, becomes more and more dynamic and in some way non-euclidean, melting empathically, as observed by Marshal McLuhan in the 1973, with the most uncertain and extended spatial dimensions related to the sensorial proprieties of the touch, the taste and the hearing. As well, today everyday life flows over a background of a multitude of pictures and sounds, transmitted by millions of screens in a constant flux that could communicate endless quantities of information in a few minutes, also to all papers, journals, web sites, newsletters and blogs. Of course, this type of “bombing” goes over the domestic walls, in fact the use of “media facades” is more and more extended in cities, and this dimension of the (contemporary) domesticity continues in the public space, expressed paradoxically by the presence of the television screen.
Paul Virilio in his essay The Third Interval taken from the book Open Sky, originally published in 1997, claims that the new technologies of “telepresence” have created a new category of experience, one that transcends the limitations of the classical concepts of space and time. This new “interval” emerges from the illusion of simultaneity created by the latest digital communication technologies. The almost-instantaneous availability of “realtime” information challenges our conventional understanding of the experience of the here-and-now. At this point this thesis point out its fundamental questions: how new technologies changed, or will change the ways of inhabiting space, especially due to mutations of our customs? What doses it means inhabit today or in the near future, and how interior spaces will evolve? What kind of evolution had objects in our houses in the last fifty years? Is interiors space perception changed due to the digital revolution? What kind of technological approach could be more correct due to the actual environmental and social mutations? One of the answers could be that the perishable objects that surround us less and less incorporate today meanings and memories. The objects and so thus the technologies are designed to be easily replaced and not to last. In fact, in our world the objects landscape changes so quickly, and a new generation of objects is always ready to substitute the previous one: more elaborate computers transform all the computers built a few years before into obsolescent technology, the microwave oven takes the place of the home fireplace. Thus, “if technologies, demands and preferences are changing, why is it necessary to remain attached to the things and technology of the past? The reason is that, the things from the past reestablish the connections between the different segments of our and collective history: saving things from insignificance means understanding ourselves better.” (Bodei 2009, 60)
In his last book, Chaosmosis (originally published in French as Chaosmose in 1992), the French philosopher Félix Guattari insists that technology must be defined more broadly, that we must abandon the simplistic opposition between the technical and the natural – the distinction between the tool and its human operator. Instead we must try to grasp the “machinic” as a continuum of related elements, containing particular technical devices inseparably embedded within the vast networks of materials, processes, systems and infrastructure (both technical and sociopolitical) within which they must inevitably operate. Cities have always represented and projected images and fantasies of bodies, whether individual, collective, or political. (Grosz 2001, 48) In this sense, the city can be seen as a (collective) body-prosthesis or boundary that enframes, protects, and houses while at the same time taking its own forms and functions from the (imaginary) bodies it constitutes. Simultaneously, cities are loci that produce, regulate, and structure bodies. This relation is not a simple one of mutual determination nor a singular, abstract diagram of interaction: it depends on the types of bodies (racial, ethnic, class, sexual) and the types of cities (economic, geographic, political), and it is immensely complicated through various relations of intrication, specification, interpolation, and inscription that produce “identities” for both cities in their particularity and populations in their heterogeneity. This is a relation of both productive constraint and inherent unpredictability: neither relation is able to take place on the one plane or in a regulated form. While the relations between bodies and cities are highly complex and thoroughly saturated with behavioral, regulative, psychical, legal, and communitarian components, nonetheless the corporeality of cities and the materiality of bodies – the relations of exchange and production, habit, conformity, breakdown, and upheaval – have yet to be adequately thought as corporeal. The corporeality, or materiality, of the city is of the same order of complexity as that of bodies. (Grosz 2001, 49)

In the West, bodies and cities in their broad generality – and those discourses aimed at understanding them (cultural studies, urban studies, geography, as well as philosophy, psychology, and feminism) – are (as is always the case) undergoing major structural and pragmatic changes, changes necessitated and brought about by the complex linkage between global corporatism, the technological revolution in information storage and retrieval, and the transformation of global communications thereby effected. Since the introduction of the personal computer, since the computerization of economic transactions, since the advent of the Internet and instantaneous global communication through cellular phones, satellite networks, and the World Wide Web, transformations in how we understand ourselves, our bodies, our place in cities and communities, and our relation to the future have all been effected, transformations that are in the process of perhaps reconfiguring how we are in the world. (Grosz 2001, 50) Our simultaneous anxiety and joy reside in the extrapolated hopes and fears that an exponentially growing technology promises: its “gift” to us is an increasing edginess about what the future holds in store, whether it promotes our every fantasy to the status of the attainable or the real, or whether we and our hopes are transformed beyond recognition into something other than what we are now.

2. What about the “smart home”?

Since the Industrial Revolution and the rise of science fiction, the popular impulse has often been to regard technology as a socially derisive and potentially malign force. (Castle 2005, 4) In the 1990s, this was further exaggerated by the spectre of cyberspace with its promise of the domination of the virtual over the physical. It engendered visions of a horrific netherworld responded to by even the most subconscious of neuro twitches. Here, spatial design skills and adept application of digital technologies are pooled to aid interaction. This presents technology as a tool for exchange, cohesion and communication. Web and remote technologies may be the props of the contemporary world, but it is the underlying social forces of individualism and an unrelenting work culture that most often distance us from each other, rather than the gadgetry in our hands. Taking the form of installations and public art, interactive spaces and structures can offer a welcome respite. This is most often as an entertaining diversion, whether it relies on spectacle, wonder or unadulterated fun. The interaction between viewer and what is viewed can be physical or remote, whether the object responds to a bodily presence or an electronic device such as a mobile phone. At every level, it encourages us to leave our isolated self and interact with a greater social group, perhaps merely for the joy of seeing a chandelier reverberate with light in a gallery, or contributing to an interactive sculpture on an urban scale. Interaction is not just confined to the art world. It provides tenable and, very often, remarkable solutions for the work place, leisure sector, retail and the domestic. As Mike Weinstock acknowledges in his recollection of EM Forster’s refrain “Only connect!”, connection has to be consciously sought out and worked towards. He gives the example of UN Studio’s Möbius House, where the architecture enfolds the family in a continuous surface that takes in shared and separate living spaces, enabling the occupants to be simultaneously alone and together. (Castle 2005, 4)

This articles investigates the reality that the perceptual boundaries between the virtual and physical worlds have been broken, and asks how architecture and its tasks can creatively adopt a fourth dimension, that of digital technologies. Their time-based nature is increasingly producing socio-spatial effects that challenge architecture’s traditional identity.
What’s clear is that, independent of architecture, this fourth dimension is already inexorably transforming the previously understood identity of space, as a penumbra of new technologies – WiFi and other features of pervasive computing like Bluetooth, RFID tags and GPS – support the spatialisation of time. (Bullivant 2005, 5)
“Multi-mediated” interactive design is already entering every domain of public and private life as a spatial medium, revolutionizing and reinventing our work, leisure and domestic spaces. Social contexts are dominated by the blurring of boundaries between work and play, information retrieval and use. However, as Malcolm McCullough, author of Digital Ground published in 2004, points out, pervasive technology does not obviate the human need for place. (Bullivant 2005, 5)

3. “Fourth kingdom” objects and “Soft Technologies”

This transformation in technology – let us call it computerization for short- is not simply the creation of a new tool or device more sophisticated than the rest but fundamentally the same in nature. Rather, global computerization is a mode of transformation of the very notion of tool or technology itself. The space, time, logic, and materiality of computerization threaten to disrupt and refigure the very nature of information and communication, as well as the nature of space, time, community, and identity. (Bullivant 2005, 5)
These technologies make possible knowledge/sciences, modes of art and representation, forms of communication and interaction, that not only are reconfiguring social and personal life but are also, in a fundamental sense, beyond the knowledge and the control of individuals and communities. These technologies, whose limits are unknown by their designers and foremost researchers, have become Futures, Cities, Architecture subject to historical, perhaps even evolutionary processes or laws that we do not, and perhaps even cannot, know in advance. Computerization transcends the tool or mere cultural innovation, insofar as it has begun an inherently unforeseeable trajectory in global life. Such unforeseen trajectories are not new; they are the forces that shape global transformation, whether dictated by shifts in polar ice caps or the production of nuclear weapons. Technological transformation is not inherently different in its global effect. This is why it may be understood more in the long-term horizon of evolution rather than in the short-term horizon of development or historical change. (Grosz 2001, 51)
These technologies have served not to transform bodies in any significant way – at least not yet – but to fundamentally transform the way that bodies are conceived, their sphere of imaginary and lived representation. They promise (and for some they achieve) the fantasy of action, communication, and connectedness at-a-distance, the fantasy of an alternative or virtual existence that may bypass the gravity and weightiness of the body itself: they have mediated spatial relations through the compression of temporal relations, they have transformed interaction and communication through screen and virtual mediation, they have transformed the notion of community through selective global expansion. Bodies clearly are, and always have been, the objects of prosthetic transformation and supplementation, of virtual enhancement and technical mediation. Computerization does not transform this prosthetic hankering; rather, it transforms its degrees of intimacy with the body, the size and nature of prosthetic intervention: micromachines cleaning out veins and arteries, microcomputers pulsating as heart or lung enhancements. It transforms an imaginary anatomy well beyond its technological capacities, yielding the fantasy of the interchangeability, even transcendence, of the body and its corporeal configuration. (Grosz 2001, 51)

For instance, the discovery of the real identity of the single object becomes more pressing, where the fusion or the miniaturization canceled the same object. This back to the object is not already taking place, could not be realized for products that have just found their structuring, but will be applied to other sectors where there is already a possibility of a formal representation. In this manner, we assist and will assist in the future to a recovery of some kinds of crafts that are apparently dead or that have not found their right utilization. Therefore, to the preeminence of the industrial object, probably there will be a new crafts time, maybe more linked to the world of art or to the discovery of natural materials forgotten in the last years and now rediscovered. Not only, there will also be a rediscovery of symbolic factors that once were inherent to many objects. On the other hand, this last sentence can also be valid for many recently manufactured products; in fact it is impossible to not feel the symbolic value of objects like a telephone, or a personal computer, or of a Swatch clock and more over household appliances. (Turkle, 2007) We can say that we are in front of the origin of a “fourth kingdom” (Francalanci 2006, 22) of the objects, and it becomes impossible to image them as prophetic instruments, the extension of the human body (the “objects membres-humains” of Le Corbusier), and of the human mind, but as “others” from us, as partner-instruments: moreover they seem to be like autonomous organs, and the world of objects will be more and more similar to a fourth kingdom, beside the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdom. Eventually type object and emotional object, find a common interest in the same wish of surpassing technique in its banal manifestations, instead promoting a technological imaginarium, that will transform technology to human and vice versa.

In fact, saving objects from their insignificance or from their instrumental use means better understanding ourselves and the events into which we are involved because things set synapses of sense between the different segments of individual and collective histories, between human civilization and nature. “Super technology is going to ask for super tactility”, interiors and products will need more tactile designs as the use of computers and screens makes us crave a sense of touch, trend forecaster Li Edelkoort predicts in this last movie filmed at Dezeen Live.[1]
“The more screens we have the more our figures are afraid we’re going to disappear”, she says. “I feel it already in my fingers that they want me to touch lots of things so I don’t loose contact with touch”. Edelkoort therefore predicts that textiles will be increasingly important in interior design, supporting the increasingly nomadic lifestyle that mobile technology permits. One of the strongest long term trend of the future is probably the hybridization .We will navigate at the border of organic & digital, intuition & interface. A world where technology and human will be one. Here succeeding some representative case studies.

Rewriting Traces
FELD Studio, 2008
What would happen if cause and effect could be rearranged? Traces are left on or by objects whenever we use them. These traces tell us something about what has happened before. Some traces are more or less noticeable than others, some are intentional and some not, some we want and some we don’t. This reactive tablecloth communicates and interacts with the participant through its material and surface, the surface texture changing depending on the way we interact with it. The effect of pressure or heat through a cup or hand results in a change of colour. This change can happen either at the point of action or at an unexpected location of the tablecloth. The reaction to our actions runs through distances connecting the people that use it in unexpected ways. The textile of the tablecloth consists of three layers. The bottom layer registers the presence of objects on the tablecloth using pressure sensors. The middle layer is woven with high resistance conductive yarns that heat up individually when current flows through them. The upper layer was screen printed with thermochromic pigments to allow a colour change when it is heated.

To hear the grass growing
FELD Studio, 2008
Reactive environment which generates soundscapes according to the growth of grass. Feld is a German studio specialized in “digital crafts”, they design some digital objects connected to the physical world, or like here to the nature. We see more and more works that connect nature and technology, it’s like a will of find another way to the eternal debate digital vs craft/traditional. Both are necessary, and when both are connected, they can bring us great experiences. In this project, an arduino based computer is connected to the grass, for translate into a heart beat the growing phenomenon. An original way to realize when your plants need attention or when they’re in good mood. The continual process of growth is something which generally escapes our ordinary senses. It is something which can be recognised only over an extended period of time. If a person takes care of a plant, they recognise growth over a period of days or weeks, this application transfers the growth of the plant into a medium which we are always able to interpret, that of an ever changing soundscape. Through the installation, the growth of the grass generates different electrical pulses similar to heartbeats. The more advanced the growth of the plant, the slower and stronger the pulse develops. The application consists of three physical layers, the top layer is the growing grass and beneath it the root system, below these is the technology which measures the growth and generates the sound. Over time, and with care and attention, the roots grow more and more, creating a complex root-system. A microcontroller is able to measure the conductivity of the root system, the growing media and the solutions of nutrients which surround them and when coupled with an amplifier, generates clicks and pulses in different frequencies. Care, light, nutrients and water, as well as the sequence of connectivity between the growing elements of the grass are thus responsible for creating the ever changing and growing soundscape. This prototype tries to compare nature and technology to point out parallels. It allows us to pay attention to things which would seem unimportant or unperceivable to us without such a device.

Objects made from mind
FELD Studio, 2010
This work comprises a series of sculpted computer keyboards which have been sketched out by a series of colleagues and friends, who use computers for different reasons in their daily lives. The physical manifestations, as recreations of the freehand sketches show the blurriness of the mental representations of these devices with which we spend so much of our time. Testament to how much the ways we interact with the world govern our perception of it, the 3D milled perfection of the keyboards, with the utter lack of detail, demonstrates a stark contrast between the objects in our minds and those in reality “Objects made from mind” looks at the incompleteness of the internal representation of the external world.

Unter Strom
FELD Studio, 2010
With which senses do we perceive electric current? How does electric current influence our behaviour and physiological condition? This textile describes a wearable sensor to ‘feel’, detect and indicate electricity. I want to combine material behaviour with human condition to enable communication and to raise specific questions regarding increasing fields of electronic technology and our electrified behaviour. A woven textile uses electrical energy from its surrounding via influence – by human activity as well as electric fields nearby – and passes it in a comprehensible way to the user. For testing it, the textile is attached at the shoulder of the participant and has exposed yarns that represent hair. If he or she is acting fast, the textile hair stands higher and higher – it charges up until it wants to discharge in its surroundings. If the material received a huge quantity of electric energy, it gets more inflexible. After that it is able to give up its electricity and consequently can interrupt technical devices or give the wearer small electric shocks, after he charged it. This project demonstrates a possibility to enhance and sensitise materials to explore changing in perception. Figuratively the textile caricatures the fear of electric fields. The material probe describes electric current as something natural within different manifestation. This fabric could ask questions about cultural turns that will emerge from our constantly growing need for acceleration and energy.

Demain est un Autre Jour
Video weather station, Mathieu Lehanneur, 2011
Lehanneur provides food for thought regarding the permanence and impermanence of things, about the principles of uncertainty, ineluctability and spirituality, allowing everyone to be a day ahead of time itself… Originally intended for use in a hospital, this device eludes the course of time by offering everyone the opportunity to see tomorrow’s sky. Conceived from weather information gathered in real time on the Internet, the luminous image of the sky is diffused through a honeycomb network, appearing both like a sculpture and a celestial globe.

Water Light Graffiti
Antonin Fourneau, 2012.
Mixing water, technology, and public art, the Water Light Graffiti project is at once fluid and beautiful while at the same time transitory and digital. The project was conceived at Digitalarti, a lab dedicated to the digital art community at large. Welcoming artists, organizers, galleries, and collectors, the site and quarterly print magazine invites the public to share experiences, information and digital tools. An artist in residence at Digitalarti Artlab, Antonin Fourneau created the Water Light Graffiti project. As described by the artist, the project surface is designed of thousands of LED lights which are illuminated by contact with water. To activate the lights, one can use a paintbrush, spray bottle, sponge, or just about anything damp. The artist writes, “Water Light Graffiti is a wall for ephemeral messages in the urban space without deterioration. A wall to communicate and share magical in the city.”

The new domestic landscape is now strictly related to this “fourth kingdom”. The relation between space and the objects is now of a different nature, the same as the relation between humans and objects. Probably the most important mutation of the interiors world would not be in the changing of the space itself, but in the relation between humans, objects, spaces and new technologies. We can may conclude that the real challenge of designers and architects today will be to shift from a “multimedia” approach to a “multimodal” one. Try to stop an archetypical action and be able to supervise the future of the project; maybe we can talk about a historicization of the technological object.



Bodei, R. (2009). La vita delle cose. Roma-Bari: Laterza.

Bullivant, L. (2005, January/February). Introduction. Architectural Design, Special Issue 4dspace: Interactive Architecture, Vol. 75, 5.

Castle, H. (2005, January/February). Editorial. Architectural Design, Special Issue 4dspace: Interactive Architecture, Vol. 75, 4.

Francalanci, E. (2006). Estetica degli oggetti. Mulino.

Grosz, E. (2001). Architecture from the Outside. Essays on Virtual and Real Space. Foreword by Peter Eisenman. Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England: The MIT Press.

Guattari, F. (1995). Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Indiana University Press.

Lehanneur, M. (2009, May/June). Domestic Micro-Environments. Architectural Design, Special Issue: Energies, Vol. 79, Issue 3, 42-4.

O’Neill, S. (2009). Interactive Media: The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction. Springer.

Türcke, C. (2012). La società eccitata. Filosofia della sensazione. Milano: Bollati Boringhieri.

Turkle, S. (Edited by). (2007). Evocative objects: things we think with. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Virilio, P. (1997). Open Sky. London: Verso.


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Dezeen Live was a series of discussions between Dezeen editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs and a number of designers and critics that took place at design exhibition 100% Design during London Design Festival this September.

Sense of place: sense of tele-place?


I consider three meanings for a single place, a mid-twentieth century residential suburb at the time of development, the same neighborhood at present day, and an online representation of that constructed landscape. I thus explore both place and tele-place as materialized and understood then and now.  Thinking of the inter-relationships and memories created by each, I unfold a particularly localized story with international parallels.
The site of three interpretations – a Greensboro, North Carolina neighborhood – stands as a ubiquitous post-war American suburb with single-family of primarily Ranch and Classical Revival examples. In this context, Modern style residences stood as discourses of non-conformity to tradition and the white-columned mansions of the Piedmont South. The second place consists of alternative readings of the same neighborhood from the current century and its now-embedded Modern structures, once forms of civil disobedience, now quietly speak of a heritage to be preserved. The third place – a digital representation – draws on the physical sense of place, a memory aid to investigate identities all based on virtual “realities” of the materialization. Through this newer form of social discourse, the thoughts and insights of the past re-make the mid-century based on available pixels and bytes that shape artifacts encountered online.

Sense of place: sense of tele-place?

I offer here three readings of the same place, two experienced in person and one of the same place represented online.  This third reading results from the process of curating an actual place in making a tele-place where people come to know and understand a landscape without direct encounter.  By investigating three readings of the same place, I hypothesize that computers have impacted how we communicate, as Christian Norberg-Shulz coined, the special “spirit of place” or genius loci that informs about the particularities of human intervention in specifically sited and built works.(Norberg-Shulz, 1980) As we continue to re-define relationships of humans and machines, and shape corresponding digital identities for all manner of material and physical things, I posit that we organize our understandings of the past and present in an intertwined way, no longer able to separate place from tele-place.  I hypothesize that the juxtapositions possible in layering these modes of experience bring whole new insights for uncovering relationships and revealing identities.  Through this single example of three readings of the same place, I hope to demonstrate interconnections that call into question the distinctions between the virtual and physical.  In doing so, I hope to use the mid-century architecture of an American suburb as a framework to interpret three inter-related times of the same place, resonating with one another.  Fundamentally I ask: how do we come to know a place?  And I suggest that it is possible to know a place through a digital interface in addition to direct encounter.

Place 1: Mid-Century Suburban Neighborhoods

With a population of nearly 75,000 people, Greensboro, North Carolina in the 1950s was described by some as a “sleepy southern community,” a characterization that obscured the progressive spirit of the Quakers who settled the community in 1808 after the Revolutionary War, near the site of the battle of Guilford Courthouse.  The characterization of sleepiness also belied the importance of the community as a major crossroads in the rail transportation system, a location that brought together the Southern Railway (with routes north and south along the east coast) and the North Carolina Railroad (providing access to eastern North Carolina), resulting in train traffic at its peak of some 85 passenger and freight trains daily through its downtown.(Arnett, 1955) Too, the railroad attracted attention from northern industrialists to the sleepy southern community, including Moses and Ceasar Cone of Baltimore, who established large-scale textile plants, transforming Greensboro from a village to a city in the last decade of the nineteenth century.  By 1900, Greensboro stood with other places in a web of Southern textile industry towns, with workers producing denim, flannel, and overalls in large-scale factories.  At the outbreak of World War II, the United States government established an Overseas Replacement Depot at the edge of the sleepy city to process soldiers – again using the train lines – and send them onto military bases in the eastern part of the state and then into the world.(Fripp, 1982) All of these readings of progressive and busy place lay behind the appearance of the community as a city mired in Southern ways, with columned houses along stately streets, and a quiet understanding between classes and races of people in maintaining order and decorum.[1]

At the conclusion of World War II, like other communities in the nation, Greensboro found itself on a different kind of crossroads, one that had little to do with transportation or industry – one that was about sorting out identity for all of its citizens across the landscape.  Particularly with the influx of GIs returning home or settling for the first time in the community, Greensboro experienced a shortage in housing (again echoing the challenge in many places), one that architects, designers, and contractors labored to close within a decade.(Shanken, 2009)
By looking at this housing stock, though, we find the opportunity to better understand the mindsets, values, and hopes of thousands of its citizens.  This reading of place, then, centers on the suburban landscape and the ubiquitous ranch house found there. With Classical and Colonial Revival-style details and features, architects, designers, builders, and owners through these ranch houses tethered their visions of themselves to political and social leaders of the past – elite white men carrying out the American colonial experience.(Archer, 2005; Baxandall & Ewen, 2000; Beauregard, 2006)
In sharp contrast, the Modern house on an open lot with its fluid layout and its eclectic furnishings schemes suggested an alternative to suburban dwellings within a lexicon largely defined in the first 200 years of developing the American house – the traditional ranch house full of period antique reproductions in closed, paneled rooms surmounted with elaborate trim, casings, and decorative wallpaper.  In sweeping aside this architectural rhetoric with Modern structures, design professionals, builders, and owners forecast no less a stable world but one that borrowed on contemporary understandings of materials, spaces, and issues – houses “of the age.”(Isenstadt, 2006)
A house in between, the reality for many, suggested a structure perhaps with an open plan but a traditional exterior shell, or a house with a somber front facing the public thoroughfare but with expansive, fluid spaces at its rear, enclosed with glass to maximize the connection to the outdoors.  In either scenario the hybridization of architecture, interior design, furniture, and finishes represented the uncertainty of fitting in or standing out with one’s neighbors.  Often more easily or readily changed, house interiors and furnishings embodied an ephemeral way for homeowners to modify their near environment and thus their identity.  The landscape of buildings also could be readily modified, providing a truly outward sign to all passersby about values and identities of the residents.  Sitting between these two ever-changing zones in the human environment, the building’s more steady physicality and the relative high expense of alteration, suggested the semi-permanence of the structure, one mediating between old and new, past and present, inside and out, in a conversation about values expressed in the  “dream house” of the mid-century.(Spigel, 2001; Hayden, 2002)

Enter the architect.  Chicago native Edward Loewenstein (1913-1970) moved to Greensboro in 1945 with his wife, Frances Stern, following Army service in World War II and modernist architectural training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.(Lucas, 2013)
Frances, a native of the Greensboro area and stepdaughter of Julius Cone, local businessman of the textiles magnate family, provided access to a large social network of contacts within and outside of the Jewish community.  Through this web of relations, Loewenstein secured design commissions for residential projects that redefined Greensboro in the post-World War II period.  As the only Modernist practicing in the community – and because of his family connections – Loewenstein said something different with particularly his residential structures.  They stood in non-conformity with their traditional counterparts in a Southern community that, in the same time period, saw the beginning of the sit-in movement in the downtown Woolworth’s store, less than two miles from the residences designed in Loewenstein’s firm.
Celebrating his Modern approach to design, several magazines published Loewenstein’s own work as well as that of his firm: Architectural Record, McCall’s Magazine, Bride’s Magazine, House and Garden, and Southern Architect.  The North Carolina American Institute of Architects bestowed an award for Loewenstein’s Martha and Wilbur Carter House (1950-1951), 1012 Country Club Drive, the community’s first Modern dwelling.  In that vein, Loewenstein brought to the landscape nearly two dozen houses following the Modernist idiom, mostly located within the Irving Park and Starmount neighborhoods of Greensboro, but spread further afield in Sedgefield, Summerfield, Pinehurst, Alamance County, and in southern Virginia (Danville and Martinsville).
Committed to the community, the firm hired the first African-American architects and design professionals in Greensboro, among them the late William Street (Loewenstein’s MIT classmate who eventually joined North Carolina A&T’s faculty), the late W. Edward Jenkins, and Clinton E. Gravely, all of whom went on to establish prolific architectural careers in North Carolina and beyond.  He mentored hundreds of students in the office as interns, many of whom continued with success, going on to design award-winning buildings and interiors throughout the United States.   Loewenstein also taught history of architecture lecture courses and studios at the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina from 1958 through the late 1960s, where he offered design studios in three years resulting in the development of a student-designed structure dubbed the “Commencement House” in each of those studios – a story that we pick up later in history and in this account.
Because of Loewenstein’s active community engagement, the firm completed buildings for the greater good of Greensboro.  These public structures – schools, hospitals, and religious institutions, as well as buildings for industry and commerce – included the development of the master plan and the completion of twelve buildings for Bennett College, a traditionally African-American women’s campus.  Beyond Bennett College, Loewenstein embraced the African-American community and some of the inequities in facilities existent among segments of the population. Before his death, Loewenstein completed the design for the YWCA Building (1971) to bring together membership from the black and white branches that had existed through the 1960s.   In the more tumultuous 1960s, Loewenstein remained true to his open-minded spirit and sense of civic engagement as he forged additional avenues for commercially based work. The Greensboro Public Library (1964), the most lasting community building and the symbol for the progress of the town, demonstrated that the building emblematically remained an important landmark and anchored the civic pride of the community in troubling times.
As significant as this commercial work was to understanding the power of design and the presence of Modernism in traditional Greensboro, Loewenstein’s greatest contribution to the emerging contemporary architectural lexicon of the Piedmont is best represented by his residential commissions where he created livable houses that mediated between the crisp high style Modernism of his training and the traditional buildings on the local landscape.  Working with a diverse clientele, including some of the chief leaders of the Jewish community, Loewenstein said something different with these innovative buildings in a community that valued the tried and true, starting with his own home, the Frances and Edward Loewenstein Residence (1954), 2104 Granville Drive, featuring slanted exterior walls, curving interior fieldstone walls, and broadly reaching horizontal overhangs in antithesis to conservative, upright Colonial Revival neighbors.  With the Eleanor and Marion Bertling Residence (1953-1954), 2312 Princess Anne Street, Loewenstein found unsolicited support from the neighbors to the property, all of whom signed a petition to the Greensboro Zoning Commission to allow a Modern building to be constructed in the Kirkwood neighborhood, comprised almost exclusively of Cape Cod-style houses.  Through homes like these, Loewenstein’s clients brought an avant garde cultural and social agenda to the community attempting to redefine itself in the 1950s and 1960s.  Alongside the Modern structures, Loewenstein-Atkinson designed numerous Ranch and and Colonial-inspired structures with more traditional details.  More than two-dozen residential commissions incorporate both Modern and traditional spatial organizations, details, and landscape relationships, blending the two different approaches to design within the same buildings, as in the Joan and Herbert S. Falk, Jr. Residence (1964-1965), 2044 Marston Road, and the Bettie S. and Robert S. Chandgie Residence (1958), 401 Kimberly Drive, a building that features a curved fieldstone full height wall to define the dining room space, lurking behind a middle-of-the-road Ranch-style façade.

In stating difference through his buildings, Loewenstein designed mid-century Modernist homes deep within their lots achieving unity with the landscape.  Unifying residences under low slanting horizontal roofs, Loewenstein successfully tied them to the land with large, over-hanging eaves that created visual and physical transition zones from interior to exterior.  Screened rooms and covered porches, often located adjacent to living rooms and dining rooms, served as extensions of living space outdoors, particularly at the rear of each structure.  Glass walls and well-placed windows created the sensation of being simultaneously projected into the landscape as the outside areas of each site were simultaneously pulled into the houses. Large-scale windows provided additional light to public areas in most houses, including provision for many clerestory openings. Such open fenestration made for very little privacy, yet Loewenstein embraced this approach and did not provide for significant interior window treatments, rather relying on landscape elements and plantings to screen interiors from public view.
Loewenstein separated public and private spaces within residential commissions through the development of L-shaped plans, with the confluence of the ells often containing the public entrance to each building.  Self-contained maid’s rooms, a regular feature in Loewenstein’s residential commissions, spoke to the economic level of homeowners and provided evidence of two separate worlds coming together in these mid-century Modern residences.  Large central chimneys served as focal points in living and dining rooms and provided vertical punctuations in strongly horizontal floor plans.  Built-in features, shelving and drawer units, storage closets, dressing rooms, bars, and the like lessened the number of furnishings required in these houses, in turn reducing the need for larger rooms, most particularly bedrooms. In his use of indigenous building materials, Loewenstein brought together natural finishes and exposed materials in the construction of mid-century Modern residences.  He incorporated Carolina fieldstone, brick, slate, and pecky cypress paneling, and juxtaposed these indigenous materials to expanses of clear glass and steel structural frames, the latter more in keeping with purely Modern buildings.

Place 2: In and Around the Present-Day City

The architectural legacy of Edward Loewenstein, cut short by his untimely death in 1970 and inherited by two subsequent generations of Greensboro residents, experienced some significant losses, with two major houses demolished to make way for cul-de-sac developments on their large lots.  Other than these losses, by the first years of the current century, many had come to appreciate the timelessness and utility of the Loewenstein designs, and continued caring for – or in some cases meticulously rescuing and restoring – the two dozen buildings.  As an initiative of the modern art museum in town – the Weatherspoon – the university’s Department of Interior Architecture in 2005 was asked to organize a symposium and tour of homes.  The idea here was to celebrate the terrific qualities of the houses and their neighborhood contexts. Over the course of two days, property owners graciously shared their well-loved residences as more than 525 Modernism enthusiasts toured eight houses in the community…and an additional 380 people attended the symposium on the subject.  Clearly, there was interest in the community about the mid-century time period and the buildings that expressed, alongside their traditional counterparts, something a bit more progressive about the community than typically is recognized.
So great was the success of the symposium and tour that an exhibit on Modernism took form in the fall semester 2007. Credited with bringing Modernism to the community, Loewenstein stood as the exhibit’s focus as students explored the discourse of non-conformity that mid-century Modernism represented.  Encountering Loewenstein’s designs as reflections of community aspirations and challenges, students examined buildings as conscious shapers of values and as containers for social discourse and action – but importantly removed from the landscape they attempted to interpret. Designers faced the challenges of making this story come alive in two separate exhibit spaces, working within a large design team (18 students) mediated by a design review group and a team of advisors to the project. Because the network involved in producing the exhibit spread far and wide, crossing off of the university campus, the exhibit served as a form of conversation itself, reaching out from university to community, in the interpretation offered by the students.
An exhibit on architecture presents particular challenges to designers and viewers as the very artifacts interpreted represent the subject through mediated images.  The designer does not have the actual buildings, spaces, and materials at hand but instead relies on a leap of faith by the visitor to set aside a real world experience for an artfully managed view of the subject matter.  In the case of one exhibit on mid-century Modern architecture, the designers – in this instance, a team of eighteen students and their professor – undertook an exploration of one local designer’s work in two very different exhibition spaces as well as in various mini-sites throughout the community.
Throughout the design and fabrication process, students explored in several forms contemporary practices surrounding the interpretation of Loewenstein’s own work as an explicit built environment within its historical and ideological contexts. Together students examined issues of sited-ness, representation, story telling, and the accommodation of physical artifacts ranging in size and complexity from photographs and drawings to entire neighborhoods.  Each step in the design process allowed the group to examine place and context as they amassed material, proposed design work, and created experience.  In the schematic phase, students modeled proposals for internal studio review, selected three to move forward with for further development, and presented these refined models to the design review panel in the second week of the semester.  Following this meeting, the teams again addressed suggestions from the panel and refined the schematic to a single scheme.

Concept : datum + moment

Two ideas offered by the students repetitively arose throughout the schematic development for the exhibits.  In absence of the actual architecture but in an attempt to classify it and to elicit an emotional reaction to it, students kept coming back to the horizontal as a direction of emphasis in Loewenstein’s architecture – and in Modernist architecture of the mid-century.  As expressed by a broad, sweeping gesture, this horizontal tied all components of the exhibit into a single mark on each space considered for their designs.  In addition, the datum helped provide a structural manifestation of the long legacy of Modernism to the Greensboro scene.  The horizontal line also linked the various sub-themes of the exhibit (Modernism in Greensboro, Residential Design, Loewenstein’s Design Approaches, Collaboration, and the Commencement Houses) into the overall expression of Modernism outside the style centers in the United States and abroad.  The second recurring idea – a moment – materialized by the students began with a conceptual notion of a de-centralized exhibit spread throughout the community.  Just as a moment of understanding comes from the discussion of ideas in a variety of settings, the architectural moment explains something about Modernism in a textural as well as experiential way.  Since this was a key concept for the development of the exhibit in the community, the students turned the idea inward on their own thinking for the exhibit, resulting in a [mod]moment as the core to the gallery space.

Installation : challenges + opportunities

With the exhibit, students elucidated conceptual and practical approaches to curating architecture and design in two interior galleries separate from the city’s physical context. The first of the gallery spaces (one in the studio building on campus) allowed students a huge volume in which to interpret the historical data and contemporary responses to mid-century Modernism as borne out through the work of students in three undergraduate art studios.  The second space, an 80” wide, 72-foot-long hallway (in a building downtown), challenged students to think about how the carefully crafted volumetric and information experience of the gallery could be translated into a linear encounter while still relating back to the look and feel of the whole.  Both of these spaces afforded their own particular challenges and opportunities, and to mediate some of the dis-connects between the two major installations, students designed a dozen [mod]moments, information kiosks placed throughout Greensboro at significant buildings and spaces to aid the broader citizenry in understanding the impact of Modernism in a community that valued the tried and true.  These kiosks served as three dimensional, experiential signs for the exhibit and spread the ideas generated by the students into the community.  This deconstructed, multi-sited exhibit thus helped to ask questions about the social impact of artifacts both situated within and removed from the community, about how novice exhibit designers responded differently to the blank canvases of gallery spaces and highly contextual mini-sites, and about the strategies for curating urbanism and architecture in particular, sited installations.
From the physical realties of the exhibit and each [mod]moment, students carried forward the assessment of Modernism through [mod]haus, an exhibit cyberspace that manifested a whole new sort of virtual place, delocalized and decontextualized, existing in mediated form and entirely removed from the realities of the buildings it represented. This tele-place afforded an investigation of mediated images, information, and ideas alongside material manifestations and representations to question the validity of staged reconstructions of the mid-century work in both physical and digital realms.  The decision made by the students to make parallel the content of the physical exhibit alongside that of the digital experience provided much rich comparison between the transfer of ideas to users and visitors.
Despite the success of the exhibition (well over 2,000 people in one month at all locations), developers eyed yet another property on which sat a structure designed by Loewenstein – and in this instance, 23 women from the university’s design studios in the form of their beloved 1958 Commencement House.  As with many preservation stories, this one has a sad ending and the house was demolished late in 2010, despite a number of efforts to purchase it, renovate it, or move it.  Thus the chapter on the current day physical city comes to a close.

Place 3: The Digital Realm

But our story of mid-century place does not end there.  With a team of student collaborators and support from the Graham Foundation, Loewenstein’s work took form in a new kind of space – a permanent website which served as a forum to bring together all of the information generated from the symposium, tour, exhibit, and an ongoing research agenda.[2] This latest iteration of Loewenstein’s buildings, located even further from their physical realities in a mid-century community, distant from their evolved characters over the last fifty years, and un-moored from the physical setting of the exhibit – still continue to shed new light on our understanding of his story – and that of mid-century modern architecture and design.   Abstracted further into pixel form, admittedly with many layers, this web presence allows people to encounter the suburban milieu from which it sprung in a non-physical way.  This mediated space brings as many answers as it does new questions, not so much about the mid-century work at its core but in the ways that we negotiate a digital world to understand the one around us.  In a landscape now populated by mobile phone users and digital apps, we tend to forget the physical one in front of our noses.  In exchanging a walk in the neighborhood for a digital stroll through space, we trade place for tele-place and risk disconnection with each other, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our communities. By relying on the digital place to tell our story, we communicate to others that the tangible, physical links we have in our environments can be translated, packaged, and squeezed onto a computer monitor, thus making it possible for developers to sweep aside social meaning and cultural exchange for two other ubiquitous architectural forms in today’s suburbs – the snout house and the town home.

The mid-century world is safe, though, encased in digital amber only a keyboard away.  Sealed hermetically in its curated space, the legacy of architecture and design – and the attendant social and cultural messages attached to it – remain for others to study, all around the world. Fortunately, the vibrancy of Loewenstein’s designs continue to provide a means to allow us to critically question the interpretation of architecture and design in contemporary curatorial practices – and to learn something about mid-century Modernism and its currency today.



Arnett, E. (1955).  Greensboro, North Carolina: The County Seat of Guilford.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 171-174.

Archer, j. (2005). Architecture and Suburbia: From English Villa to American Dream House. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Baxandall, R. & Ewen, E. (2000). Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened. New York: Basic Books.

Beauregard, R. (2006). When America Became Suburban. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Chafe, W. (1980). Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Fripp, G. (1982).  Greensboro: A Chosen Center.  Woodland Hills, CA: American Historical Press, 59.

Hayden, D. (2002). Redesigning the American Dream: Gender Housing, and Family Life (2nd ed.). New York: Norton.

Isenstadt, S. (2006).  The Modern American House: Spaciousness and Middle Class Identity.  Cambridge: Yale University Press.

Lucas, P. (2013). Modernism at Home: Edward Loewenstein’s Mid-Century Architectural Innovation in the Civil Rights Era.  Greensboro: Weatherspoon Art Museum.

Norberg-Shulz, C. (1980). Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. New York: Rizzoli.

Shanken, A. (2009). 194X: Architecture, Planning, and Consumer Culture on the American Home Front.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Spigel, L. (2001). Welcome to the Dream House: Popular Media and Postwar Suburbs. Durham: Duke University Press.


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. This is a theme taken up in Chafe, W. (1980). Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina and the Black Struggle for Freedom.  New York: Oxford University Press.

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Smart materials based research for tangible user interfaces


This article proposes an overview on the evolution of interaction design concepts considering smart materials based research. A series of design projects and experimentations, realized within recent years, are here presented with a specific focus on materials performances. Going through design experimentation on chromogenic and kinetic smart materials, the article would try to define three emerging visions that prefigure the creation of physical object used as interactive interfaces with physical users and or responsive systems to environment conditions.
Toward these new design visions disciplinary contributions hybridize with interdisciplinary ones: product design methods work together with interaction design in the Smart Material Interface scenario.
The article investigates on these recent advancements and its correlation with human habitat.

1.   Introduction

The term interaction means a mutual influence between two or more persons, objects, materials, systems, phenomena, etc. The concept of interaction is inherent to the idea of a bidirectional action between the agents who maintain a relationship. Thus the interaction differs from the ratio of unique needs cause and effect.
Commonly used in social and psychological sciences, with interaction we define the sequence of dynamic and changing, direct or mediated relationships that are the basis of social relations among individuals, groups, communities, through processes of communication (verbal, written, graphic or gestural, communication).
Within project disciplines, as design and architecture, interaction usually means a dialogue which the user sets with a given object, work, device, space, environment or system.

In the digital Era this concept has been taken on the crucial importance by design discipline, as a result of the widespread use of personal computers and software, programmable machines, and GUIs, objects that are able to act and react, devices that allow a complex interaction between man and machine (HCI – Human-Computer Interaction). The set of interaction and interface became an element of the project itself. Firstly it happens in the specific computational field, then in design field in order to facilitate the use of the software and improve user interaction-product. In particular the interface, defined as the scene where interactions take place (Anceschi, 1993), has attracted the interest of visual designers, ranging from the simple exchange of information to more complex relationships.
According to G. Anceschi (1993), designing the interface consists primarily in shaping the “metaphorical osmotic membrane separating object and user”: ideating surfaces, atmospheres adaptations between man’s body and the equipment, in order to open “perceptual doors” and “ergonomic bridges toward the action”. This includes the design of communication codes with devices, made of textual or gestural or oral languages. Interfaces research hence the concept of “natural interaction”, emphasizing how articulations of user requests can be very similar to actions performed spontaneously in the physical world.
In the late 80s the debate on the issues of interface design scholars put in opposition the IT approach and the design one. The IT approach supports the issue of usability, functionality and ergonomics computational of technical artifacts (now regulated by EN ISO 9241). The design approach promoted visual design aspects of interaction, in order to define the interaction and interface aesthetic dimension. In the same period Bill Moggridge and Bill Verplank[1] coined the term Interaction Design to indicate the human-centered approach to experience design, resulting in the relationship between user and interactive digital instruments (user experience).
With Interaction Design term it was defined a branch of industrial design that deals with the design of the interactions, identified as the ratio between the user of devices, and the environment.
The first official academic program of Interaction Design was established in 1994 at the Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburg, Pensilvenia, USA). In 1990 Gillian Crampton Smith founded in London the Design MA Computers connected to the Royal College of Art (RCA). In 2005 Anthony Dunne changed this title in Design Interactions. In 2001 it was established in Italy the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, exclusively devoted to interaction design, included a specific course of Building Interface. In 2007 the Institute of Interaction Design of Copenhagen (CIID) was founded. In 1998 was founded the Interactive Institute, a Swedish research organization sponsored by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research. Today almost all design schools have a course of Interaction Design.

2. Evolutions of Interaction Design fundamentals

The short history of Interaction Design as a specific field is living a process of continuous skills upgrading (computer science, cognitive psychology, visual communication design, ergonomics, semiotics, etc.). Many studies helped to define Interaction Design methods and purposes. Most of the studies agree with the position saying that the usability of an interface is not enough by itself to determine user’s likings. Usability can be high, because it meets the standards already defined, but does not give sufficient “sensory gratification”, or it does not completely perform the tasks that user expects from the application. Due to the increasing complexity that society is facing in the digital age, it is desirable that the relationship between users and “active” technological products should be complete, understandable, enjoyable, engaging and manageable (Norman, 2005). Many scholars have addressed the issue and expressed their views on a possible theory about interaction design, like J. Maeda (2006) whose approach is based on the principle of simplicity, or D. Norman (2005), whose approach is based on emotionality.
In order to define the “quality of interaction”, a lot of interdisciplinary researches analyzed phenomena that occur when a user interacts with an interface. The studies have been using physiological measures like skin conductance, electroencephalogram, electromyography, etc. to understand, using experimental psychology methods, which interface or user’s profile variables influence the different aspects of the interaction.
The design approach seems to be the most highly user-oriented one. The design approach is based on the awareness that the quality of the interaction concerned with its expressive result. This depends on a number of fundamental choices that have their profound aesthetic nature. The interactive experience of a specific user with a technical device, depends on the involvement of all human senses, as on the evolution of values and meaning of use, within an holistic view of social, material and cultural phenomena (Battarbee, 2007).
Some studies intend to enhance sensory experience with interfaces through the physicality of interactive objects. This is the case of some researches that show the physical and emotional dialogue between an interface and its user. This dialogue is expressed by the dynamic interplay between form, function, and technology (Kolko, 2011). Hallnäs and Redström (2006) stated that interaction design could no longer being considered only as a subfield of computer science, but a real link between basic research in computer science and product applications for new expressive design materials.
Experience design encompasses the design of interaction through the involvement of all the senses and, to include the quality of interaction, also involves many disciplines such as perceptive and cognitive psychology, cognitive sciences (neuropsychology), linguistics, and semiotics. This complex methodological approach has been developed within software design, web applications, and digital devices. Today, experience design is one of the new focal points of research in product design.

3. Smart Materials for Interaction design

The contemporary technological transformations together with the newly developed smart materials are changing the way of thinking and design the interaction between objects and users.
Smart Materials are radically different from traditional ones (Ferrara, Bengisu 2013 p). They are active, sensitive and reactive to various stimuli, like the modifications of external conditions around them (temperature, humidity, light, electricity, magnetism, pressure, chemical substances, etc.), to which they respond until the stimulus persists. Therefore they are inherently interactive. They act within a predefined behavior with kinetic effects changing the visual aspects of their physicality. They are in motion without using electrical mechanisms. Their interactivity depends on physical and chemical reaction processes that occur at a molecular level.
The interactivity of smart materials has been applied from long time to build 2D human-computer interfaces (as flat screens surfaces). User interacts through remote controls (mouse, keyboard, etc.), or touch screens, with graphical user interfaces (GUI so-called in computer language) that show digital information.
Some recent developments researches focus on the exploration of smart materials correlating digital science with material science and design. Smart materials are used in combination with conventional ones, in order to move the interactive behavior from conventional 2D interfaces to new 3D ones. Based on the characteristic behavior of smart materials (more liable to implementation) you can design objects that serve as tangible interactive interfaces (TUI), capable of changing appearance dynamically reconfigurable as the pixels of a screen, so as to give a physical manifestation of data, to “incorporate” digital information in physical space.
Design a TUI depends on our ability to use the materials to “incorporate” digital information in a physical space. The advantage of a TUI than a GUI is to benefit from the way we perceive intuitively through the senses. The TUI can therefore provide an alternative to the graphical interface and the vision of ubiquitous computing Mark Weiser (H. Ishii, D. Lakatos, Bonanni, Labrune, 2012).
With increasing design potential of physical computational technology, tactile/sensory qualities can be further explored in a way to build intimate relationship between user and object. Physical properties of materials – how they invite user engagement – can provide meaningful insights to interaction design, especially to explore diverse form properties of computational materials. Design exploration with new smart materials can eventually contribute to stimulate the senses and intuitive understanding, so as to make the interaction more enjoyable experience and user-centered. So the project have the challenge of use new materials faced this question: How smart materials can transform product and user experience?
If design will incorporate the potential of these materials in everyday actions, our reality will be much richer and powerful enabler for social interaction. On this subject Iroshi Ishii, director of the Tangible Media Group of the Boston MIT, argues that it is necessary to think “beyond the screen”, and find a way to let people interact with technology in a more efficient and direct way: it is a way to involve the body and sensory testing. The screen information was seen as at the bottom of the sea: you can see it, but not touch it. Instead the work of Ishii focuses on bringing information “on and over the surface of the water”, making them tangible (H. Ishii, D. Lakatos, Bonanni, Labrune, 2012).

Therefore design is facing the challenge of the use of new materials and the question: How digital artifacts designed with new smart materials could transform product and user experience design?
If design will be able to incorporate the potentiality of these materials in everyday actions, our reality could be richer, powerful and qualifying also for social interaction.

4. “Materials that move” in Design Experimentation

Smart materials performances are a powerful stimulus for the project, and they are also promising in relation to current paradigms based on the new sustainability goals, implementation of communication, interaction and human experience. They are great innovative tools to design radically new objects that respond to new   consumers needs.
On this assumption, a considerable increase of design research focused on the applications of smart materials. They are opening “a turning point in the methods of design” and “new opportunities for research of design and perception”. “The intrinsic dynamics of these materials, the capacity of continuous adaptation, and an harmonic transition make them extraordinary collectors of experience” (Ferrara & Bengisu 2013, pp. 84-86). Most of the design experiments, even if conducted at the level of crafts and do-it-yourself, are useful to develop a series of reflections in order to start new creative challenges combining technology research and experience inspired design.
Their technical complexity referred to a knowledge gap about them in the design field, means that the most successful experiments are those that involve multidisciplinary teams, with different specific tasks (electronic engineers, product or fashion designers, interaction designers, programmers, etc.).
Here reassumed an analysis related to most preferred materials used for experimentation, based on an overview of the last ten years scientific publications:
– Materials that change color, scientifically defined chromogenic, skilled in the change of the visual aspects related to the color and transparency, due to different stimuli;
– Materials that change shape, also called kinetic, disabled to modify their shape and size for response to different types of stimuli.

The wide use of these materials depends on their commercial availability and ease of retrieval.
The trial of chromogenic materials, widely available in the world market, is driven by fashion design study. Photochromic, thermochromic and chemocromic pigments can be fixed on fabrics with traditional techniques, without need to resort to sophisticated technology and industrial processes. From fashion and textile design experimentation they are spreading in other areas of design, especially product and interior design, but is more manufacturing difficulties for the preparation of composites. For a discussion of the results of experiments with these materials, please refer to the publication Materials That Change Color (Ferrara & Bengisu, 2013) which contains a number of case studies related to experiences of experimentation conducted with different types of chromogenic materials for a variety of design.

Regarding “materials that change shape” the currently testing is driven by the research in architecture, although experiments abound within the product and fashion design.
Within this class of materials are the Shape Memory Materials (also Magnetic Alloys and Polymers), Electroactive Polymers (EAP), Electrostrictive materials, Dielectric elastomers, Piezoelectric ceramic, Magnetostrictive (Terfenol-D) and Magnetic Fluids.

Nitinol is the most applied shape memory alloy[2]. It is available on the market in semi-finished components of various sizes for various fields: medial devices, artificial implants, surgery, dental implants as biocompatible material. Nitinol alloys has a property that allows the material to undergo deformation at one temperature, then recover its original, undeformed shape upon heating above its transformation temperature. Nitinol Wire (also known as Muscle Wire or Memory Wire) is a thin strand of Nitinol of small size, light weight, low power, a very high strength-to-weight ratio, precise control, long life, and direct linear action. Easy to use, it can lift thousands of times their own weight and it returns to its original length when it cools. The direct linear motion of Muscle Wires offers experimenters a source of motion that is very similar to that of a human muscle, providing possibilities not available with motors or solenoids. Nitinol Wire may be heated by any means, air temperature, hot water, or most commonly by running electric current through it.  Its activation or transition temperature is 70°C (158 °F).
Fabrics incorporating memory wire have the ability to return to some previously defined shape or size when subjected to an appropriate thermal procedure. The temperature at which the material changes in form can be programmed precisely at any desired temperature between -50° and + 100°C. When a similar heating process is applied to Moving Textiles, a material that features shape memory wire, the fabric reacts to later changes in temperature (of more than 2.5°C) by shrinking, creasing, changing structure or rolling up. Normal fluctuations in body temperature, therefore, cause no reaction. But clothing made of Moving Textiles can be programmed to respond to the transition from outdoor temperatures to heated indoor spaces. Examples are sleeves that automatically roll up and down, a jacket that opens and closes on its own, and a shirt that expands and contracts in both length and circumference. Other possibilities are blinds that descend when exposed to warm sunlight and roll back up when the temperature drops, moving lampshades, etc.
Thermobimetals are a combination of two metals with different thermal expansion coefficient, laminated together. They are available in sheets or strips, disks or spirals. It is commonly used in thermostats as a measurement and control system and in electrical controls as components in mechatronic systems. As the temperature change and rises, one side of the laminated sheet will expand more than the other. The result will be a curved or curled piece of sheet metal.
Reacting with outside temperatures, this smart material has the potential to develop self-actuating intake or exhaust for facades. Some applications in architecture have been documented. Automatically opening and closing ventilation flaps have been developed and installed in greenhouses and also for use as self-closing fire protection flaps, but nothing has been published on the development of this material for building.

Electro-active polymers (EAP) are actuator that converts electrical power into mechanical force. They move in response to electrical stimuli, with the ability to change shape without the need for mechanical actuators. They contract and expand significantly in length or volume. They also react to a few Volts. Are good conductors, with very lightweight, low density, flexibility, but their strength is rather poor, although much higher than the rigid and fragile electro active ceramics. The EAP, have been used in recent decades in application fields such as aerospace evolved in inflatable structures (like the balloons that act as cushions cushioning the blow when a aero-robot lands). Thanks to their flexibility, are used for the realization of Artificial Muscle Incorporated (SRI International, a research non-profit in California that launched a company) that emulate natural muscle in bionic systems and biomedical sector.

Finally there are the Magnetic Fluids[3], underused at present in design experimentation given their prevailing liquid state difficult to manage. A magnetic iron fluid is a colloidal suspension made of nanoparticles[4] of iron suspended in the fluid. It becomes highly in the presence of a magnetic field. Due to this unique propriety, it can be defined as a material with characteristics of more than one state of matter, the magnetized highly one and the not magnetized and fluid one. Very interesting to understand the quality of these materials are trials of Wakita for Blobs and works by Sachiko Kodama.
Experiments carried out by designers through practical workshop, provide an interesting scenario for basic research that tends to fill the gap of practical knowledge about these new tools in order to understand the technical potential and aesthetic qualities that smart materials can offer during the interaction.
Initially, the trial does not arise an application problem, but it is aimed to understanding the behavior of the material. Free from the search for application solutions, experimentation can reach the performance limits of a material to understand how it works, how can be manipulate for manage its formal, visual and tactile characteristics for his behavior before finally reaching a hypothesis of functionality and interactivity. The experimentations proceed in the following general steps:

1. Know what it has been already done;

2. Understand what you can manipulate by design;

3. Master manipulation of shaping attribute to model the interactions.

Thus, during the trial, the material is revealed to the senses, it informs on its behavior and inspires new applications.
Another step of the experiment is the project of interaction that firstly must establish codes of communication between material-object and user.

5. New Design Visions and Cases Study

Researchers like Dunne, N. Oxman, M. Coelho, A. Minuto, M. Kretzer, Akira Wakita and many others who work in the field of interaction design or computing sciences try to recompose the two aspects, namely computational and operational, designing two dimensions of materials in unison: the physical and the digital. Their objective is encoding information into materiality and to give life to objects and space whose electronic operation becomes tangible and capable to generate a rich, easy understanding, aesthetic and satisfying interaction experiences. As Dunne (2005) states, such an approach intends to retrieve the materiality of the object, reducing the gap between the analog and the digital world since materials used at the micro or nano scale started to be used to construct transistors inside sealed boxes, which gave these objects technical consistency, although they made their operation incomprehensible from that point on. The current approach could improve the affordance of the objects, recovering the material richness, which was lost during the passage from atoms to pixels (Coelho et al. 2007).
Using smart materials, interface design grows with tangible interface that can improve the interaction quality through the physicality, and tray to overcome some of the limitations that digital interfaces have.
The use of smart materials into objects and systems can improve the understanding of the objects during their operation (Ferrara & Bengisu, p.), and it makes pleasant interaction by direct experiences of users using the human senses. It can counter some of the limitations imposed by digital interfaces such as akinesis.
Here we will deal with three visions that emerge from design experiments who are placed at a certain distance from the vision of ubicomp (ubiquity computing) that search a indirect and mediated experiences where material and the computation are seen detached from each other.

5.1. Smart Material Interfaces (SMIs)
SMIs is a product design vision between computing technologies, material engineering and design that aims to overcome the conventional model of digital human-computer interaction to arrive at a new model of Tangible User Interfaces. By integrating the digital logic to the physical world of objects, Smart Material Interface becomes a way to create a more “natural” interaction and a rich sensorial satisfaction for user. SMIs vision can implement the user-object interaction by new expressive languages and communication channels.
This view was put forth by a team of researchers[5] at the University of Twente, in partnership with Interaction Design Organization. In these organizations considerable efforts have been made to explore the possibilities of applying smart materials in physical interfaces.

Marcello Coelho, researcher of Research Group Human Media Interaction (HMI) of the University of Twente, during his PhD conducted a series of experiments about coupling between smart materials and conventional ones, to creating high-performance composites. Some of his projects have allowed the creation of working prototypes like Superflex, a new composite material for a deformable and programmable surface that integrates Nitinol muscle wires in a poliuretanic shape memory foam. The experiment is aimed at the development of a new composite material capable of assuming different configurations for physical computer-aided design. M. Coelho was inspired by the work of Robert Thompson, who explores how human interaction can be the primary force that leads to the transformation of the forms, and to bring to the physical world the same versatility that we find in the digital world, but also support new ways of interaction and communication. The concept of Superflex is very reminiscent of the material developed by Bruno Munari for the Pirelli’s collection of toys from the 50s. But, in contrast to that of Munari, Superflex’s surface can be electronically controlled to deform and gain new shapes without the need of direct manipulation with hands, but it work by external actuators. The material has been designed as a shape-changing interfaces, also be applied as a device used to record and replay messages by physically manipulating ITS SpeakCup shape to achieve, in the form of computer-aided design.

Another prototypes is Sprout I/O, an haptic interface for tactile and visual communication composed of an array of soft and kinetic textile strands which can sense touch and move to display images and animations. It is built from a seamless textile and SMA composite to render a dynamic texture, which is responsible for actuation and sensing, as well as the surface’s visual and tactile qualities. Sprout I/O uses a shape changing texture to explore how small shape deformations on a surface can be perceived as a whole and used to communicate. As consequence, this exploration also sheds light on the relationship between the overall shape of an object and its changing surface properties.

This example demonstrate that the application of smart materials can improve the user-object interaction because it confers to the objects a communicative capacity related to their state or to other external information (environmental).

Akira Wakita[6]
The project Blob Mobility, from the Wakita Laboratoray at Keio University, uses a fluid, pastel-colored, programmable matter (magnetic liquid named pBlob, i.e. programmable blob) as interface for a physical actuated shape display. The liquid display is manipulated by hardware made of electromagnets and their control circuits, and provides newfound abilities to govern the unpredictable movements of fluids, that responds to the magnetic field, changing shape in response. The designers describe the method of Blob creation, details of the mechanism and the language for transformation control.
This enables the designer to experience organic shape changes geometrically and topologically in real space. According to Wakita, the device “enables us to experience organic shape changes in real space.” (xx) If virtual environments have incessantly mimicked real ones, Blob Motility marks an intriguing reversal in which reality begins to emulate virtual space. Some applications are being develop.

Another but more complex design example, which declares to adopt smart materials to build a user interface, is the project of a smart vacuum cleaner by de Bruijn (2011). Describing the applied methodology during design, de Bruijn emphasizes the importance of designing the user experience, which anticipates the full involvement of senses to facilitate the understanding of the functioning of the object and the design of user-product interaction, based on the model of human–human interactions made of reciprocal communication and reactions to render the experience more satisfactory.
This and other examples of product design demonstrate that the application of smart materials permit the improvement of communication with the product. Through the modification of color, light and shapes induced by stimulus and without the need for screens, since the material itself acts as an interface, it is possible to convey messages and information to the users, for example communicating what is occurring inside the product or how to use it. Smart materials, like chromogenic and kinetic ones, open new windows of opportunity for augmenting the reality of interaction, making it more continuous, persistent, and coherent to feedback (Minuto et al. 2011).

5.2. Responsive Environment
This design vision inspires architecture and landscape concept that enhance users sensory experience and lifestyle.
Architectural product concepts, that include responsive skin, are designed to facilitate well-being through surprise, movement, natural noise management, air movement and natural light dispersion. The interaction happens between environments thought a skin responsive mediation. That can transform to change the interior characteristics of a space in response to people and the atmospheric/lighting conditions outside.
Investigations show the Building with responsive skin as biomimetic of the human or other biological life skin must be designed as a “huge receptor field”, capable of indicating, controlling and reacting to the aggression of the surrounding space. This field has to form suitable values of the components that influence the living comfort in the architectural spaces. It should be composed of smart materials (thermo-chromic glasses, thermo-bimetal elements, memory shape materials, piezo elements, etc.)
With responsive building skin as the outside (or inside) temperature rises, it is intended that the skin will physically peel open, allowing the building to ventilate automatically. With further development, an active method of air intake and exhaust can be developed.
From the many design investigation stands out the Metamorphosis design concepts, by Philips. That have been created viewing the home as a filter to limit air pollution, electromagnetic smog, and industrial noise penetrating our living and working space while letting in natural light, air and sound. The concepts work as a filter between people and the natural world from which, over time, people have become detached.

Phototropia is the name of the thesis project of Edyta Augustynowicz, Sofia Georgakopulou, Dino Rossi and Stefanie Sixt, supervised by Manuel Kretzer of ETH Zürich. It was realized in September 2010 in cooperation with the Laboratories for Material Science (EMPA), in Dübendorf.
Phototropia is a façade that contributes significant reduction in energy consumption by regulating the incoming sunlight into the interior of a residential building. Electrochromic and liquid crystal technologies allow the modification of thermal transmittance and view, which are controlled by a model-based plan executive. Except from operating as climate moderator the façade functions as an interface mediating the dynamics between inside and outside, public and private. The interaction design challenge is how to renew the role of the façade to provide new ways of association between the private environment of the house and the public environment of the street, the residents among themselves and their neighbors, and ultimately the house and its urban context.

5.3. Warning signals or Communicative Clothes
Although any clothing can be construed as an expression of personality or identity, certain garments are more explicit when it comes to communicating something about the wearer. With the incorporation of electronics into clothing, modes of communication through fashion are extended further.
Lorna Ross’s models for telephone gloves allow explicit communication through actual conversation.

The MIT Media Laboratory’s MEME tags transmit information about the wearer to other tags. Cell phones and beepers themselves have entered the realm of fashion: in Japan, an incredible array of cartoon-character pendants, flashing antennae, and sleek pouches are available for embellishing cell phones, while both cell phone and beeper manufacturers strive to design attractive and trendy cases for the devices. Traditional fashion allows people to express themselves and communicate personal information to the general public; electronics allow targeted communication of specific data to specific people. Wearer can transform or customize a garment.
Reactivity input how many stimuli a garment responds to. Any physical object is inherently responsive to ambient physical stimuli: wind, collision, gravity, and wear and tear. However, electronics allow computational garments to respond to any number of specific stimuli as well, physical or intangible, from motion (via accelerometers) to sound (via microphones) to transmit digital data (via infrared or serial receivers). The number of inputs can range from zero (no explicit inputs; for example a wool sweater) to one (on/off; for example a light-up LED ring) to many.

6. Conclusion

In the essay, we introduced the evolution of interaction design affected by the emerging smart materials. Our survey about recent material and interface technologies described specific vision design examples in order to conceptualize the emerging material quality of digital artifacts in term of their material effect in use. As an overall observation based on this survey, we found that there is a need for interaction design and HCI research to pay more attention to the on going rapid and dynamic development of new physical materials. It is clear that these new material bring potential for new form of interaction where the physical is merged and blended with the digital.
Questions in how tangible or physical computing interfaces would transform the relationship between users and digital artifacts from longitudinal and socio-ecological perspective, how they could achieve or would lose certain design qualities compared to the interaction with non-digital artifacts, and how designers could strategize design with physical enhanced computational technology to promote sustainable interaction and good experiences.
Based on the review of specific example and design scenarios, we have described three different visions – smart material interfaces, responsive environment and communicative clothes. The design visions are not mutually exclusive but closely related to each other. Each of vision suggests a corresponding design implications and research directions in functional behaviours, performances and aesthetic quality. A suitable interaction design and a frame of meaning.

Both the objects we use in everyday life, both architectures in which we live, from “passive” and “immutable” (as in appearance, shape, size, color, etc.) are transformed into “active” and “changing” due to the materials acts as an interface. Their appearance and texture will change with the same ease and speed with which digital forms change on our computer screens.
In architecture, building surfaces may lose their stiffness, rigidity and immobility, changing their way of being and appearance in relation to the interaction with users and with the characteristics of the external environment, in automatic or intuitive ways; environments will gain sensitivity, becoming “flexible” and “adaptable” to respond easily to change throughout their lifetime. 
Objects and architecture, incorporating the digital logic and the open source programming processing, thanks to platforms like Arduino, will integrate their behavior depending on specific customer.
Incorporating a composite entity in both hardware and software, the interaction may be rich in expressive potential and serve new functions that we will be able to imagine.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Bill Verplank worked for Xeros, for Interval Research and Stanford. In 1991 he with Bill Moggridge co-founded the IDEO company.
  2. This shape memory alloy is composed primarily of Nickel (Ni) and Titanium (Ti). The name Nitinol was derived from its place of discovery (Nickel Titanium Naval Ordinance Laboratory). Nitinol alloys exhibit are shape memory, superelasticity and the ability to undergo deformation at one temperature, then recover its original, undeformed shape upon heating above its transformation temperature.
  3. Ferrofluids were initially discovered in the 1960s at the NASA Research Center, where scientists were investigating different possible methods of controlling liquids in space.
  4. The particles are suspensions of larger, and usually non-stable, magnetic particles. “The ferrofluid actually contain tiny particles (~10 nm diameter) of a magnetic solid suspended in a liquid medium.”
  5. The team is composed by M. Coelho, A. Minuto, Nijholt, Kretzer, Poelman e Vyas and others.
  6. A researcher of interactive textiles with a PhD in computer-aided design from Japan’s Keio University. He works for making stronger connections between the analog and digital realms.

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From screen readers to tactons: vision-independent technologies for accessible products

Vision-independent technologies and interfaces are an important topic in interaction design. Such technologies are of interest for visually impaired users and for elderly people who have difficulty in reading. Furthermore, they offer new pathways for communication in cases where visual overload is a problem, where the user needs to use vision for a more critical task, or where vision-free interaction could be more convenient for the user. Commonly used alternatives to vision are audio and tactile communication. A more direct means of communication involves brain computer technologies that involve the user’s brain activity to control devices. Interaction designers play a critical role in the realization of products, devices, and systems that involve vision-independent technologies reviewed in this paper. Their efforts will include a seamless adaptation of these technologies into easy to use products, as well as exploration and integration of the sociocultural context into such innovations.

1. Breaking loose from vision-dependent interfaces
Most of the consumer electronic products in the market involve touch screen or flat panel interfaces that require some kind of visual interaction. For example, while using a smart phone, the user needs to read a text message, choose an item from a menu, press an icon, make a specific finger gesture to open a different screen, or interpret a graphic display such as a map. Such products are almost impossible to use by visually impaired people (VIP) without any modification, additional technology, or some help from a person with adequate vision. Why? Because a flat screen has no topography that can be discovered by touch, unlike a pushbutton on a conventional phone. There is no difference between two points on a screen. Thanks to researchers, designers, and engineers, there are already various solutions available to overcome this problem (Bengisu, 2010; Brewster et al., 2003; Jayant et al., 2010; Qian et al., 2011). The general strategy is to make use of sensorial feedback other than vision such as sound. For example, screen readers are an established technology that aid VIP to read aloud the information represented on the device screen. Vision-independent technologies and products are not solely developed for VIP. They also offer the following benefits:

• increased accessibility for people with motor disabilities,
• increased accessibility for elderly users,
• improved security (by not displaying confidential information on the screen),
• easier and more accurate data input since the user is not limited by a small screen size.

Here, motor disabilities refer to various disabilities that may prevent or impair access to the interface of a device such as the keyboard or smart screen. The development of voice recognition and voice command has already become a useful alternative for people with motor disabilities. For example distal muscular dystrophy may affect the muscles of hands or arms, limiting the ability to use fingers for any data input into a device. However, most of the patients with such impairment can talk (Emery, 2008) and thus use a voice-based interface. In many adults, aging causes at least minor impairment in vision, hearing, or dexterity. Arthritis or tremor can make fine motor movements difficult to control (Fisk et al. 2005). Inclusive design or universal design philosophies aim to take into account the needs of the largest possible number of users in product, service, and system design. Thus, problems of vision loss or impaired dexterity need to be addressed by designers who design products such as tablet computers or, say, digital blood pressure monitors that will be used by senior adults, in addition to younger users. New ways of communication with such products gives designers fresh opportunities to consider during the design phase. Furthermore, the increased number of data input modes will make many products more accessible, increase accuracy of data input and output, and provide the user different alternatives, thereby increasing convenience and efficiency. Take, for example, data input for computers. Today, there are various alternatives to enter text, numbers, or other type of data into a computer, including keyboards, mouse, voice-input, touchscreen, light pen, trackball, and joystick (Wickens et al., 2004). Each of these technologies offers a different degree of cognitive, perceptual, and motor load as well as fatigue. A user who wants to omit stress or disease due to repetitive movements or prolonged static postures may benefit from the use of two or three alternative interfaces used at different times. For instance, instead of using the mouse continuously, it would be healthier to use the touch pad and mouse alternatively. Therefore, it is conceivable that the inclusion of new ways of communication with electronic devices will be beneficial for all types of customers, regardless of age, sex, nationality, or the presence of disability. “Interaction design is making technology fit people” according to David Kelley, one of the pioneers of this field. In this simple definition, technology represents software, hardware, screen graphics, displays, and input devices. Kelley believes that interaction design should make technology useful for people, delight them, and excite them (Moggridge, 2007). Following this definition, one could say that interaction design is at the core of vision-independent devices and applications. The role of interaction designers would be to adapt vision-independent technologies, develop easy to easy to use devices, and create pleasurable experiences. Examples to vision-independent devices are voice-activated mobile phones and tactile computer screens. Designers and design researchers could contribute to this emerging field through the exploration of the social and cultural environment of potential users of vision-free devices. A simple example would be helpful to clarify this point. For instance, Söderström and Ytterhus’s research (2010) on the use of assistive technologies by young people demonstrated that many disabled teenagers don’t want to be different from their friends and they don’t want to be seen as dependent on assistive technologies. Therefore, some of them prefer not to use an assistive device if it is something obvious, restrictive, slow, or if the assistive technology overtly exposes their impairment. In other words, they don’t prefer to use an assistive device if they do not seem as ordinary as their peers while they use it. Such information would obviously be very useful for interaction designers during the development of a device for young disabled users.

2. Vision-independent technologies
Various technologies are under development, aiming to offer reliable alternatives for vision-guided manual input and vision-based data output. Currently voice-based technologies are the most developed of such technologies, already offered as alternatives in many devices, although their owners may be unaware of it. Speech recognition became available for consumers in the 1990s. One of the first commercial products was Dragon’s speech recognition software, launched in 1990. An improved version was introduced in 1997 at a much lower price ($695 instead of the initial $9000) recognizing about 100 words per minute (Pinola, 2011). The Windows Speech Recognition software was released with the new Windows Vista in 2006. Unfortunately, the software failed to function correctly during a demonstration at a Microsoft financial analysis meeting, causing much embarrassment and loss of public trust in this technology (Wikipedia, 2013). Today, speech recognition and voice command are standard in certain Windows and Mac systems. Furthermore, Google introduced a free application for iPhone in 2008 that uses voice recognition technology for web search engines. A similar application is now available for other smart phones. Although speech recognition technology is rapidly diffusing in various platforms, this is not necessarily a vision-independent technology since the user still needs to see the screen and read the results of a web search or speech to text transformation. An additional program is needed to completely bypass vision. This is a text to speech software which synthesizes speech and reads the text aloud. Such software are known as screen readers. Common commercial software for mobile phones include TALKS for Symbian 3 operating system (OS), Mobile Speak for Symbian and Windows Mobile OS, and TalkBack and Spiel for Android OS (Bengisu, 2010).

3. Vision-independent brain computer interfaces
Brain computer interfaces (BCIs) are devices that translate brain signals into commands that are used to control equipment or computer devices (van Erp & Brouwer, 2014; Kim et al., 2011). In principle, any brain mapping technique such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, near infrared spectroscopy, or electroencephalography (EEG) can be used for this purpose. EEG, which reflects electrical activity of neuron ensembles, is the most popular mode because it is noninvasive, affordable, harmless, and well developed for practical applications (Kim et al., 2011). Three types of BCI approaches exist, namely active, reactive, and passive. Active BCIs rely on the active generation of brain patterns. For example, the user imagines a left hand movement to move a cursor to the left on a screen or vice versa. In the reactive mode, the brain reacts to specific stimuli. For example, different environmental sounds are created and the user is required to concentrate on a certain one and ignore the others. Passive BCIs detect the cognitive or emotional state such as workload, frustration, attention, and drowsiness. This information can be used to improve human-machine interaction but the user has no direct control on the output in this case (van Erp & Brouwer, 2014). Most of BCI research and product development has been focusing on vision-based active or reactive brain signals until now. This approach uses visual stimuli or visual feedback. For example, the visual P300 speller uses a 6 x 6 symbol matrix that contains letters and symbols within rows and columns. The user is asked to focus on the desired symbol and mentally count the number of times it flashes. The computer identifies the symbol attended by the user as the intersection of a row and a column (Riccio, 2012). Vision-free BCI recently became a subject of research in order to explore alternative modes of communication for disabled users that have difficulty fixing their gaze on specific visual stimuli or patients with vision impairment. BCI technology is also interesting for non-medical applications such as the game industry. There are already commercially available games such as Uncle Milton’s Force Trainer and Mattel’s Mindflex that use EEG caps (Fig.1) as the sole interface to control the game (van Erp & Brouwer, 2014). Such products rely on visual feedback but vision-free BCI could be used as additional means of control in such applications. Two vision-free BCI technologies being studied are auditory and tactile BCIs. Studies on auditory BCIs mostly use event-related potentials (ERPs). Participants are subjected to acoustic signals that are termed events. Some of these events are target events and the rest are non-target events. Both of these events can be tones, words, or environmental sounds. Participants are asked to focus on target events. Auditory streams are presented with changes in position, frequency, sequence, pitch, or loudness of tones. The target event is rare, while non-target events are frequently encountered. This approach in ERP based BCI is called an oddball paradigm and the target stimuli are called oddball sequences (Riccio et al., 2012). Based on such methodologies, auditory spellers have been developed. These interfaces are used for basic communication with the user. Simple words or sentences are communicated just by concentrating on oddball events. For example, participants are asked to select a letter or a whole word such as yes, no, stop, or pass, corresponding to the location of one of the six loudspeakers surrounding them. The average accuracy with healthy participants was in the range of 65-75% during various trials (Riccio et al., 2012). Tactile BCIs employ the sensation of touch for communication. At the moment, research is focused on tactile interfaces as a route for stimulation but studies in other fields (not related to BCI research) also use it for feedback. Tactile stimulation can include Braille letters, vibration directly delivered to fingertips, vibration delivered to other parts of the body through vibrating elements (tactors), and vibration delivered to fingers through a flat screen. In one experiment, tactors were placed on a vest in order to deliver vibration through the torso (van Erp & Brouwer, 2014). The user was required to focus on one of these tactors while ignoring others. This system is an interesting alternative for VIP or in situations where visual overload creates a risk.

4. Vision-independent interfaces for mobile interfaces
Another frontier of research is in the field of mobile assistive technologies for VIP. Portable devices such as mobile phones, digital music players, organizers, and handheld computers represent an important market both for people with good vision and VIP. There are many product development opportunities related to vision-independent technologies that may interest designers, engineers, and R&D managers. As mentioned before, any research aiming to solve problems faced by VIP could actually also benefit the whole sector. A recent review describes current research in the field of mobile assistive technologies for VIP (Hakobyan et al., 2013). Here only some of the more interesting and relevant studies are highlighted. As it is the case for BCI technologies, two alternative sensorial paths are considered in mobile devices in order to substitute vision. These are auditory and tactile paths, which are sometimes used together as well. One example of an auditory solution is the gesture-driven 3D audio wearable computer developed by Brewster et al. (2003). The aim of this research team was to create interfaces that use as little of users’ visual attention as possible and to be independent of the limited screen space causing input/output problems. Such an interface could be useful, for instance, when someone is trying to take an important note in his electronic organizer or handheld computer while walking, or switching from one song to another in the menu of a digital music player, while jogging. Brewster el al.’s wearable device uses a spatial audio interface for data input. The system interprets head gestures to choose items from menus. The user nods in the direction of sound or speech that surrounds the head like a pie in order to choose the desired item. An evaluation of this device with and without audio feedback indicated that dynamic guidance by audio feedback results in more accurate interaction. The efficiency of such a system depends on cognitive load (Vazquez-Alvarez & Brewster, 2011) but in general, it seems to be a very promising alternative to current vision-based devices. Tactile icons or tactons are tactile stimulations with various dimensions such as intensity, rhythm, and spatial location. Qian et al. (2011) used pairs of tactons in order to test and explore new tactile feedback mechanisms. For example, one tacton involved a pulse duration of 200 ms and an interval between pulses of 500 ms. Another tacton consisted of a pulse duration of 400 ms and an interval of 2000 ms. These tactons were tested under a set of distracting conditions showing that music and street noise reduces the chance of tactile recognition. Some guidelines were developed for interface designers who will use tactile feedback for mobile devices. Various possibilities exist for tactile input. Braille has been used directly on mobile phones for tactile input. Spice Braille Phone (Fig. 2) is a low cost mobile phone produced for VIP by the Indian company Spice, introduced in 2008. It is a simple phone without a screen. The keypad provides audio feedback to inform the user about the number being dialed. Other means of tactile input include talking touch sensitive interfaces such as the Slide Rule and vibration-based Braille script on a touch screen such as the V-Braille. Slide Rule is an interface that uses touch input and speech as output. As the user navigates through the screen, a list of on-screen objects appear. The user listens to the items on the menu while she brushes her fingers down and uses certain gestures such as tapping in order to select the desired item (Hakobyan et al., 2013). V-Braille is a free application for smart phones. It converts the mobile phone screen into a screen with six dots (Fig. 3). These dots correspond to Braille letters made of six raised dots on paper or other materials. Dots on the screen vibrate when touched and the rest of the dots remain still. The user can identify the letter through this interface. Both input (through the VBWriter application) and output (through VBReader) are possible (Jayant et al., 2010).

5. Conclusion and future research
Vision is an essential element of communication with electronic devices. However, there are many situations that necessitate the use of new modes of interaction. The major driving force behind research in the field of vision-independent technologies is loss of vision. VIP and elderly people who commonly develop certain problems with vision may benefit from new ways of communication with devices and their environment. Furthermore, research in vision-independent interaction design will also help to develop new, easier to use, and pleasurable interfaces and devices. Auditory and tactile paths are being studied as alternatives to visual communication. An interesting possibility is to make use of brain computer interfaces. In certain cases, the remaining two senses, smell and taste, could also be used to replace vision. New fields of research, design, and product development include, but are not limited with, the following:

• vision-free interfaces for devices with very small screens or with no screens at all,
• vision-free technologies for products that have to be used in the dark (for example for military applications),
• alternative paths of communication in situations where visual overload becomes a problem (for example in complex tasks or multitasking such as walking/driving/jogging and interacting with a device at the same time),
• alternative paths of communication that allow one to switch off the screen (for example for security reasons),
• exploration of the social and cultural context of users and the integration of this information into new products.


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Söderström, S., & Ytterhus, B. (2010). The use and non-use of assistive technologies from the world of information and communication technology by visually impaired young people: a walk on the tightrope of peer inclusion. Disability & Society, 25(3), 303-315.

Van Erp, J.B.F., Brouwer, A. M. (2014). Touch-based brain computer interfaces: state of the art. IEEE haptics symposium, 23-26 February, Houston, TX.

Vazquez-Alvarez, Y., & Brewster, S. A. (2011). Eyes-free multitasking: the effect of cognitive load on mobile spatial audio interfaces. In proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems. ACM. pp. 2173-2176.

Wickens, C. D., Lee, J.D., Liu, Y. Gordon Becker, S.E. (2004). An introduction to human factors engineering. Pearson, Upper Saddle River, NJ.

Wikipedia (2013). [19-08-2014].

Editorial #12: Bodies of interaction

A collaborative project realized by Jan M. Sieber and Ralph Kistler
The documentary film was made by Susann Maria Hempel

In the last decades, since the computers became portable and ubiquitous, the everyday life of people changed drastically. How we communicate and socialize, the way we gather for fun or work, the concepts of entertainments and occupations changed and are still mutating. The continual introduction of innovative interfaces as experiment or as product in the market impact thoughts and actions. The relations between the human and the non-human bodies are in a constant dialogue, re-discussion and contradiction. The facts and actions in the virtual world regulate and organize in a different manner the actions in the physical world. The digital appendices alter the life in the city and its fluxes. The control of the electronic extensions of our body increasingly involve the gestures of the natural body and cause its modification.

The fact is that these digital artifacts influence our behaviors and a critique of the trigger factors must be encouraged and increased. The focus of the 12 issue of Pad journal is on the interactions between digital artifacts and human behaviors. In specific on the relations, influences, modifications between these devices and the human body viewed as physical, virtual and/or social. The body of human relate with and through artifacts in a continuous extension of their potentialities, those abilities, possibilities of action, faculties of actualization[1]. The potentiality of the human-artifacts belongs to the two individuals as well as to their relation. The potentiality of talk to someone farther than our voice can reach, the potentiality of see farther than we otherwise could, the potentiality of recall to memory and so on; as much as the potentiality of functioning in mobility, the potentiality of being carried in a pocket, the potentiality of recognizing human movements. These that we can call technical potentiality can support greater potentiality for human-artifacts activities interfering in the social and cultural context as well as the identity of the now redefined individual. The technological innovations offer a constant expansion of tools to be applied for the creation of these potentialities and the role of the designer is to understand the how of the affection of these new tools on the potentiality of our bodies, being them physical, virtual or social.

The limits of the human physical body are challenged by artifacts and redefined. As an example the race of the Natural User Interface (NUI) or Tangible User Interface (TUI) or as we can say better today the touch and gestures based interfaces, brought great innovation in the daily technologies in the form of smartphones and tablets. Although defined for their use of tactility these interface rely richly on the vision and are in many cases bare of other feedback. The topic of vision-independent technologies is addressed by M. Bengisu “From screen readers to tactons: vision-independent technologies for accessible products”. A path that start from extended accessibility conditions can be proved fruitful in specific context of use (for example complex tasks, or sport activities) as well as in more generics daily applications. The use of auditory and brain interfaces, a technology today in vast growth and daily more accessible, is a step towards the critiques of consumer electronic standards in which the issue is not yet tackled. The negative potentiality of a not-to-see open to the many potentialities of hearing, touching and feeling.

The physical body and the concept of tactons, the tactile icons, meet with the materiality of artifacts that are becoming “active” and “changing”. The research on new materials with dynamic and interactive potentialities is explored by M. Ferrara in her “Smart materials based research for tangible user interfaces”. Smart material interfaces, responsive environment and communicative clothes are the three core topic discussed in the article. The body and its physicality is a crucial perspective on the actual turn in interaction design towards materiality. Materials are getting dynamic, changing, somehow computational, the next interfaces will be physical and tangible in a totally renewed and yet to define way.

The body digitized become virtual and so the space around it. How our surrounding affect us and how can we describe them using the tools of vision of memory, and of digital representation? P. Lee Lucas sets a three perspective picture on describing a place and its alterations in “Sense of place: sense of tele-place?”. In a google-map-mediated-world where a place it is because it can be digitally reached, leaving tracks of its past in the digital world is an increasingly interesting subject that sits next to the digital archives and digital museums and galleries that are populating the Internet. Can our architectural past be digitized? What will survive now the book, the architecture or the digital representation?

The world of past digitized places can be considered a world of abandoned realities that can be inhabited only by ghosts. Virtual ghosts of people that really existed in the place and that now are not there anymore, people that didn’t survive their digital representation, or at least the representation of their spaces. These ghosts of the past can lean next to other digital ghost: the render ghosts. The concept of render ghost presented by Antonio Palacios in “An Ontology of Render Ghosts” is that of people inhabiting render spaces. The render ghosts, defined by James Bridle, are unknowns citizens of places yet to come. In opposition of the ghosts of a past city these are ghost of the future, a future that does not exist other than in the virtual representation. They are potentialities of citizens, users of a digital space that if realized will enable physical people to act inside it replacing the rendered ghost. This short circuit define ghosts from a present registered in the blueprints of a potential future. People will realize their machine dreams, will substitute their avatars, citizens will replace their own props and reiterate their representations. The virtual lose its virtuality or shows its never-virtual-purity mixing with realities of different times.

The body of social interaction is a body that relate itself through and with technologies. The time is in fact the dimension of dynamism that more affect the computational objects and their different realities. The concept of “fourth dimension” is addressed by Chiara Lecce, starting from the work of Lucy Bullivant and her 4dspace, in “The Post-digital era: towards a relational and sustainable approach”. The so called dimension of digital technologies shapes our everyday life through the object we use or as we should say the objects we live with. This population of computational artifacts is growing exponentially in experiments and installations having a wide affection on our visions but still a limited impact on our houses.

For the cover of this issue we present the project “Monkey Business” by Ralph Kistler and Jan M. Sieber. The awarded project is constituted by a toy monkey that reacts to the movement of the person in front of it. The mechanical animal duplicates the human body creating a physical dialogue that start with a greetings and doesn’t finish in a dull imitation. As the designers state “In a subtle way, the monkey asks for another move, you have never ever performed before. Playing the game, you will lose control unconsciously”. The bodies of monkey and human start replicating each other and influencing each other to the point of reaching a seamless interaction and choreographed performance. The bodies becomes one, the machine becomes human and the human becomes a monkey.

The door of contemporary is open to computational things, ghosts and shape-shifters; a world of potentialities is ready and waiting, it’s time to make things that help us to think, it’s time to make things that make us do, it’s time to make things that make us, better.


Agamben, G. (1995) Homo sacer: Il potere sovrano e la nuda vita. Torino, Giulio Einaudi.

Bridle, J. (2013, February 27). Balloons and Render Ghosts. Domus. [1-12-2014]

Bullivant, L. (2005). Architectural Design, Special Issue 4dspace: Interactive Architecture. Academy Press.

Sieber, JM. and Kristler, R. (2011) Monkey Business in:

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York, Basic Books.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. The concept of potentialities refers to the notion proposed by Giorgio Agamben in Homo Sacer.

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Geopolitics of contemporary Mediterranean arts in North Africa

This article talks about how social movements in North Africa create new relationship between art, politic and citizenship. We wish to focus on revolutions in Southern Mediterranean coast in Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt. This reflections would like to go beyond “eurocentrism” explications of the social movements called “Arab spring”, trying to better understand how sociopolitical conditions as censorship, postcolonialism or mass media controlled by dictatorship, affected artists’production and its contents. We wish to talk about the situation before authoritarianism and how art practice changed the activities of creators. These changes have been catalyzed by network technologies, activism in the public space and by the artists as agents of action during the transition.

Mediterranean revolutions represent the biggest democratic movement in the XXI century. The “Arab Spring” for these movements or events is ultimately irrelevant. The expression “Revolution of Freedom and Dignity” and “Revolution of Dignity and Democracy” are the most widely circulated names given to describe them. These social movements created new forms of contemporary art and design due to a closer relationship that exists between politics and arts.
These social movements started to take place in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Libya, Spain and Syria since January 2011. New social democratic movements followed European shores, particularly to Spain, Greece and Italy, countries that were inspired by the revolution of dignity. A paradoxical situation developed in 2012 because of that several dictatorships were overthrown, the last polls in whole Mediterranean countries returned back to conservatives political organizations, which resulted in the collapse of economic systems devastating the lives of millions. The resulting conflicts, wars and deep economical, social, political and environmental crises are now dangerously affecting the region, and all mankind at large.
Revolutionary movements inside these conservative rules created an uprising of connections between activism, contemporary arts and design. Political themes became a central topic in the Mediterranean contemporary art sector. Since 2011, artists started to use public spaces through forms of expression such as street art, performance and artivism. Artists often participate and contribute to demonstrations, in ways such as producing printmaking and murals to fully express citizen rights. With online social network tools, Mediterranean artists were able to give powerful records of political events in their own country, or share what happened in their own neighborhoods.
Since 2011, the Mediterranean countries are in the world’s spotlight. Contemporary art markets are increasing attracting attention from private collectors and museums. In this article I will discuss about censorship describing the changing behavior of artists in Mediterranean societies, public space and technology. This article will focus on geopolitical views to explore and to deeper understand how the sociopolitical context has influenced artists and art processes. When we talk about the “Revolution of Freedom and Dignity”, it’s important to identify what kind of sociopolitical events are and also the ways that artists interact with them.

1. Censorship
In North African dictatorial regime, governments established censorship through collaboration with artists affiliated with the regime. They monopolized financial funds that were used in exchange for self-censorship. Censorship authorities also created opaque access policies, locking the access to the public funds allowed for local art production. Politics and socially critical topics in artwork were repressed in North African dictatorships for 15 to 30 years, which heavily impacted on the evolution of art.
Artists who broke such authorities rules were usually jailed or at worst tortured. Artists were treated as potential criminals from government authorities, and were placed under high control and extreme vigilance. We can talk about the experiences of Mohamed Ali Belkadhi to illustrate this situation. At the end of 1998, he presented an art piece that had caused him a lot of problems with the previous regime. It was a series of 60 cans that bore the inscription, “A drink to make the Revolution”, with the effigy of Che Guevara printed on each can, along with the text, “Potable and stimulating solution for any person seeking revolution”. Presented in the windows of a Gallery Bookstore, the cans were quickly spotted and seven police officers turned up at the artist’s house the same night, and took him to the police station where he was interrogated for several hours. This is a clear example of how efficient repression systems were able to inhibit artistic expression, and silence political views, obtaining moralist frames where the freedom of choice of the artists’ topics was seriously limited.
Such political repression of artists in dictatorship regimes muffled the possible future projections for politics and political views. Artworks were locked up, subduing artists to focus simply on aesthetics and decorative artworks made in the traditionalist legacy of past artistic values. With such prohibition of social projections toward the future that could be created by collective dynamics in political activities, artists were jailed, for such representations of society. An obsessive nostalgia for past times pushed artists to work on decorating ceramics, realist paintings, vintage photographs, and postcards. Dissident artists that did not follow the restrictive ways set out for them had no other option but exile. We can see the particular action of European countries to receive these intellectuals and artists. A special exchange was made between northern coast governments and southern Mediterranean dictatorships to receive these dissidents and reduce political critics. It’s important to understand that south European governments, particularly France and Italy, helped these dictatorships for their own economic interests.
From a post-colonialist perspective, southern dictatorships offered a stable business relationship with European companies [1] and corrupted their local politics for supplies exploitation of North African areas of European companies. We must also remember the close connection between presidents [2] such as Sarkosy-Ben Ali and Berlusconi-Gadafi. This also happened in Algeria during the kabylian uprising at the beginning of the XXI century with the censure on writers and artists of Tunisia.
We can talk about post-colonialism because the “brain-drain” of artists and intellectuals to European societies had a double interest: to reduce social pressure, and also to use dissenting artwork production to reinforce in northern societies the idea that North Africa was a place of violent and censored human communities.
The result was a good socio-centric feeling that European populations are the only true producers of modern democracy, and that they were the true guardians of human rights values. Southern artists in exile were exploited in European societies with the goal of producing negative representations of southern societies – as it was done in the colonialist era. This generated discourses about the legitimization of domination of meridional populations, due to a hypothetical social and ideological risk to northern modern societies. This need for negative representation is still present in revolutionary events in the area. These representations make European societies feel proud and satisfied as being a model of democracy and human rights that justify post-colonialism thinking, rejecting diversity in Europe. This trend corresponds to stereotypes that have found a new skin following post-colonial representations of the Islamic veil, of Arab woman being depicted as oppressed, and the Islamic terrorism. We can look to the increase of exhibitions displayed that are only dedicated to these topics, and the increase of open calls for art residents in France for North African artists during this period. We must also highlight how French alliances and organizations spread and selected Tunisian artworks to create a particular post-colonial representation of North African societies, such as they did for the Festival World Nomads Tunisia. We can see how European governments contribute to reinforcing the notion of violent societies existing in North Africa, and to the distortion of new contemporary forms of social representation displayed in the Occident. The dimension of oppression or state repression is never spotlighted or it is shown only to confirm the concept of North African societies as dangerous for Europeans societies.
Highly prejudiced thinking about the revolution of dignity is still active today because it was described as a violent movement. In 2013, there were a lot of exhibitions displayed in Europe about North African uprising that focused only on the violence of protesters, fundamentalism or gender issues. The artworks produced and displayed in the Occident focused primarily on gender struggle or stereotypes of violent African or Arabic societies. These exhibitions and these art events reinforce the idea of oppressed southern women living in a machist world. We can observe the impossibility of northern neighborhood societies to think of the “Arab spring” outside the negative representations system, in spite of the fact it is the biggest movement of democratization of the XXI century. Western societies reducing all social struggles of the “Arab spring” only to the stereotype of submission of southern women.
When we discuss about censorship in revolutions of dignity, it is useful to think of how the downfall of censorship rules impacted the entire range of art communities of Northern Africa. Before it broke suddenly in January 2011, artists were under a continuous vigilance by police and regime administration. These restrictions on artistic practices that existed during the Ben Ali regime and the Mubarak Era disappeared in less than one month in each Country in which the revolutions took place in, leaving ecstatic freedom of creative self-expression for artists throughout the area. When we look at the social impacts of the pictures produced by artists from the south Mediterranean coast in that time, we can see we are addressing a real revolution of arts and design in this area of the world. These movements were broadcast through mass media internationally, and were in the spotlight of the public eye of the world for over two years.
In less that six months, three dictatorships that had been in place for decades fell in less than three months, leaving a wonderful space for activity for artists that had been repressed in their art practices and topic choices for such a long time. When we observe Mediterranean art during revolutionary movements, we can start to discern that what was being built by it is a tribute to social hopes and emotions of the population as it began to gain a new outlook on their own lives and futures. They were a tribute to the discussions about revolution and freedom, with all the complex emotional mix they entail – ecstasy, sadness and determination. There was a real break from old, heavy, oppressive censorship that had been built and kept active for decades, and ultimately imposed upon the entire local practice of art.
Artists tried to break the boundaries of censorship, and the fear of punishment for freedom that was produced and injected into their own societies over decades. Now these boundaries have exploded. One of the major changes that the revolution brought was “the breaking of being afraid”, in other words, the fear of speaking up and expressing by their own mind and the fear of being punished. The creativity of the slogans, the humor and the activity that were witnessed in Tahrir and on Burguiba avenue was only the beginning of the unleashing of an immense and long-oppressed creative energy, and it turned a page in history. It brought artistic freedom, but not only that: also the freedom to think and to practice new ways of creating, and to run art spaces in a place and time with which one must struggle (they are now practicing in a here and now that it is imperative to transcend).
In the post-revolution time we can observe a double dynamic between artistic activities and old-rule practices of censorship that are still present in southern Mediterranean governments. Artists today in North Africa are still considered potential criminals and are directly targeted as the most reactionary fringe of society by the police and judicial system. Various examples illustrate this situation as follows:
On June 12, the international press reported severe unrest in Tunisia, and it was said that protests against an art exhibition were the cause. This exposition was called “Springtime of the Arts”, held in Marsa, a quarter of Tunis. It resulted in aggression against the participating artists, including public calls for their murder. A radical destruction of artwork and direct intimidation of artists was carried out at the scene. The conflict did not begin until the last day of the 10-day art fair (June 1-10), when some visitors voiced indignation about what they considered to be blasphemous character in the works of art, and they threatened the organizers with legal consequences. The media reported differing versions and interpretations of the causes of the rapid rise in tension. On the following night a large group of Salafists stormed the Abdellia Palace, destroying many works of art, and they ravaged the site of the exhibition. These events triggered anger and bloody fights with the police in and beyond Tunis.
In the following days, fundamentalists fanned the flames of anger that was held toward the artists; as evidence of the alleged blasphemy, in particular via the Internet. They used Facebook to spread pastiches of works of art that were never actually featured at the exhibition at all. Also on Facebook and on several other social networks, they published the names and photos of the participating artists and called for their killing. Several of these artists were threatened personally. On the 16th of June 2012, Chairman of Zitouna Mosque was banned from preaching following incitement carried out to murder artists.
Another example of the continued aggression was the various incidents of police chasing street artists or photographers away, or in worse cases simply arresting them. In Egypt they and their works still risk being targeted, especially by the powerful army and its supporters. Ganzeer, possibly Egypt’s most famous street artist, was briefly arrested in May 2011, months after the revolution, over a poster criticizing the military’s repression of freedom. The recent documentary ART WAR from Marco Wilms is an apt and passionate summary of the predicament of street artists in Egypt.
Then there is also the well-documented case of Amina Femen, who was sent to board in a psychiatric hospital after publishing a bluntly nude picture on her facebook page. She was be put in the hospital on request by her own father after the publication. An international feminist coalition created a support website to support her and place pressure on Tunisian consulates and government to grant her freedom. The artwork of Amina Femen revolutionizes the feminist’s struggles all around the world. In May 2012 we can see on social networks international feminist pictures painting message in all languages to claim women rights. By way of photography and activist performances, the Amina Femen movement created an efficient artivism that was enough to break gender stereotypes. One of the last spectacular examples of this was carried out in Cologne Cathedral during a Christmas celebration. A shirtless Femen militant with the words painted on her chest “I am God” attempted to end the ceremony by jumping atop the altar and saying “your god is a rapist, our god is a woman!”. A more efficient performance against the conservative community is difficult to imagine.
The case of musicians of the Mediterranean area also interesting after revolution. They also expressed socials pains and hopes. Their powerful lyrics created political controversies so strong that artists were arrested in less than 48 hours. Musician are at direct risk of being jailed for their words and their opinions. Artists such as Doble Canon & Kafon Tunisia, and Pavlos Fyssas in Greece were directly targeted by conservative movements. In the case of Pavlos Fyssas, the artist was killed by a far-right politics group directly connected with the far-right government. After seeing the burden of censorship in northern Africa over 15-30 years, we can feel the deep wish of the artists to make an uprising in desire of freedom, and to break old rules and alienated machinery that represented dictatorial regimes.

2. Status of artists in societies in transition
Artists became agents of emancipation, and the dynamics of transition were an antidote to censorship, authoritarianism and to any sort of fundamentalism. This post-revolution situation put artists in active dynamics as individuals who must perpetually construct freedom. They are daily creators of alternative narratives of political events. They represent actual social struggles, political and economic changes with humanistic views at the fore. As human beings with emotional intelligence, artists recognize the fragility of the human condition. We could say the participation of artists is an expression of solidarity, with civil societies imposing an activist dimension in their artworks. Artists were not at the forefront of this revolution, although they clearly took part in it. Creators played a new role of being catalysts of the social requests of the protesters. They were working for self-empowerment, hope, and inspiration for the struggles of everyday life.
The personal experience of creative freedom for whole communities of North Africa in the revolution period moved artistic practice and led to new creations. Artists were not rethinking their practices because of the events, rather we must read their artworks as a dynamic collective construction. There are individual artists who are active in their local cultural scene and who have made meaningful contributions to social and political change in their countries through artistic practice. Artists demonstrate significant activity as participants in local institutions and/or as activists using creative strategies. They became locals agents for change during revolutions of dignity. The artworks produced by them have a real social dimension exhibited in an urban environment.
They create personal projects that explore sociopolitical dynamics, occupation, and subcultures of their cities. Artists, when best performing their role as citizens, pose imperative questions about societies and their environments. Through the practice of mixing diverse art media, they try to express personal or social experiences. Artistic work interweaves deep personal experiences with a questioning of the social conditions and circumstances in the world around them. Artists draw artworks from the same personal experiences as protesters and share them in very popular ways.
The prohibition on projecting alternative future politics that I discussed earlier disappeared during uprisings, leaving space for the creation of political alternatives allowed by the imagination skills that define artists. The pressing need of civil societies to imagine alternative political systems empowered artists in their role of creators of symbolic representations utilizing the means of art. Collective desires, hopes and aspirations facing an often disenchanting and brutal reality produced new forms of visual language during revolutions of dignity. These pressing needs for symbolic representations pushed the boundaries of art mediums and the interconnections between disciplines.
Artists mix an eclectic panel of components in their artworks: their personal stories, slogans, embroidery, patchwork, painting and illustration on the exterior and internal panels, inspirational proverbs and quotes, interviews, listen to sound installations in the street, watch dance performances by young students, or write a wish on a ribbon. This mosaic of components in North African processes expressed the intimate feelings of the whole of North African, whether young or old or rich and poor, street urchins and intellectuals. Artists made multi-faceted art actions that included also teaching art, art criticism, organization of exhibitions, etc.
The artists came to tell stories of personal and collective experiences, stories of contemporary political & social struggles questionings such as alienation, violence, technology of information, relationships of the present and the past. The communicational activity of the work of art, such as structures and behaviors in the urban environment, was to refer to economic crisis, globalization, as well as similarities and differences, convergences, unifying lines and deviations; the “old” and the “new” in the wider geographical area of Mediterranean.

3. Public space
Art exhibition in the public space redefines politics in creation, as well as art in its relation to the city. Public art in the Mediterranean region was historically linked to the urban context because public space has been an antic place for the exchange of ideas for centuries. Artworks that are promptly exhibited in public spaces can still have significant and symbolic locations. It’s the natural site for public meetings, debate. The new social movements, economics and political circumstances as well as the rapid advancement of technology created a new urban artistic context.
Under the Mubarak, Ben Ali or Al Assad regime, the prevalent sense of fear had a paralyzing effect on people’s self-expression in the public area. But once they realized there was no longer seemingly anything to fear, they started to explore ways of expressing themselves on public spaces that had been prohibited during the past regime. Art had really been a way to enable a social Catharsis of their political communities, their dysfunctions and the lack of freedom and ideological impositions that were issued from the public sphere. People and artists found themselves freely drawing on walls, singing themselves in streets, and going back to the public space.
No longer confined to exhibiting their works in galleries, more and more artists found themselves turning humble streets into open-air studios and outdoor museums. Because art was no longer only in museums and galleries, and exhibiting it in such venues created distances, which can demoralize artgoers. In a gallery space, people, who were usually part of the “very select” public, excluded the usually popular social expression. Artists and new generations of creators rejected by museums and gallery systems made a real statement with their art displays. Their canvas of choice is a bare, dusty wall on which they spray cheeky graffiti and paint colorful murals. The public space offered a break from the museums and galleries framework. Streets are for everyone, and therefore the street offers itself for art. Just as it is for political activity, the street is for walking, for sitting down, and also it is a place for demonstrating.
By way of contemporary art, artists help to re-appropriate public space, and also help to repair and reconstruct socials relationships and the politics of self-expression in an extended sense. The interventions of artists transforms the spaces of daily life into poetic visuals, experiments, and into places for developing collective political representations. The spaces of everyday life and of social creativity offer to all persons an important source of visual inspiration and intellectual material, which is to be shared and gained from by everybody.
Artworks displayed during this period of time often contained popular and subjective language, used to transcend our personal experience. The artworks are emotionally charged, expressing social anger, political frustrations, or paying tribute to fallen protesters. Artworks during the revolution were a way of chronicling a narrative. At this moment, artists transposed a record of collective moments of life’s continuity. Art activity gained a new and powerful significance in the public sphere. It was a period of great emotional difficulty that all experienced and needed to share. Public art exhibitions became a shrine of collective memory that could be shared by all. They mixed those feelings with the ecstatic sense of freedom that was upon them, hope for tomorrow and desperation with government responses to police repression and brutality. It’s like a hymn of hope in the midst of misery.

4. Networking technology
The Revolutions of Dignity were the biggest movements of democratization in the first part of the XXI century, but they were also the first cyber-revolutions ever carried out on a global scale. The technology networking became a key in the revolutionary uprisings. The use of social media by citizens changed traditional usefulness of the mass media, create new forms of citizen political expression and changed the artists status in society.
In the case of the revolution of Dignity, it’s easily observable that it has been a famed and popular uprising, and worldwide knowledge of it has been facilitated by new social media and mobile telephones, and channeled through existing structures and traditions of resistance and protest. Technology has broken the previous limits of capacity of national mass media. At that time national television had strictly ignored protests, and seemed oblivious to the fact that thousands of people were calling for the overthrow of the government on social media networks. When national mass-media did ultimately discuss the issue, their narrative held that it involved only hundreds of protesters, and in that narrative Tunisian people saw a profusion of videos and graphic images of police cracking down on the protesters in different regions of the country. People could now contrast the events being diffused through word of mouth and the internet with the media reports, and soon realized that journalists were very busy concealing the news, rather than transmitting it. A daily asymmetry was being experienced, a disturbing dichotomy between the TV news portrayed about North African events, and the information being given directly from local communities about the events that were actually transpiring.
The evolutionary step of the increase in photography devices in society, along with a democratized desire and capacity to report and capture the reality created a deep revolution in the meaning of photography. People share a desire for truth and honest description of the events they live through, whether they are an artist interested in eloquent social expression, or a passerby engaging with their surroundings. Before the revolution, photographers had had their practices associated with those of photojournalists, and also with certain sectors such as advertising or fashion industry. Photography was also used in private spaces for social events such as weddings, births, or traditional celebrations. The production of political discourses by the way of photography was be the activity for decades by mass medias and highly supervised by political censorship and police control. Photojournalism, photo-reporting, advertising photography, and fashion photography were allowed in various spaces and had their own commercial and economic logic. Commercial imperatives generated propagandist drifting or instrumentalisation of the art medium of photography. In 2011, cell phones contributed in a new way to creating an exceptional evolution in the landscape of photography that has taken place over the last ten years: a considerable, dramatic quantitative shift in the number of photographers, and photographic devices that were being used on a daily basis. This democratized the use of photography as a medium of expression, information, and sharing between people in the Mediterranean area.
We can see the transformation in the use of photo-reporting from the professional photographer employed by censored mass media, to every citizen effectively becoming a reporter, and catalyzing the effect of the pictures by diffusing them directly to as many people as possible via social media networks. Camera-phones and online accounts equalized social access to the use of photography. The online network sites became a powerful new medium of sharing and communicating political’s abuse and completely bypassing traditional censored sources of information. These were used as a means to re-appropriate and re-empower people with the social narration of socio-political movements. By contrast, mass media organizations under the pressure of the regime at the time created a distorted narrative version of the events. On the other hand, the realities shared through online social media between familiar and interconnected people, only familiarized and interconnected more people – which made more sense to people than being drip-fed a skewed version of events designed to retain the regime in a position of power, at the cost of the truth, and regardless of its merits or faults. This separation between official information and that social media reports generated a massive. This high cognitive dissonance between social medias contents and mass medias news happened at first in Tunisia in 2011, and followed successively in each country in the surrounding Mediterranean area, and was also seen on a global scale.
With the uprising of social networking, and within the virtual sphere of the internet, physical barriers of geography and communication held less power. Technology allowed the easy use and democratization of publication tools; smart phones, computers and small electronic devices such as cameras and other recording technology. Video and pictures became easy to edit and publish. Technological networking allowed an extremely fast medium for uploading, publication, and distribution. The World Wide Web has provided a safe haven for any citizen can create, upload, distribute and share their creations, reflections, opinions, and experiences with the rest of the world.
These posts could be thought of as a trans-national art, because the personal publications on social networks shared in a creative way with the aim to produce sense. This collective narrative construction produced revolutionary symbols. Mediterranean communities events were drawn to messages through publications, videos and photography. A global public space where experience could be shared and people could inspire each other was a clear result. These pictures slowly develop a particular iconographic representation of the social movements. Catalysts for this growth such as the medium of photography and also the work of street artists bred this language of iconography. A global exhibition of signs and symbols was being shared by way of instant posts being published daily and massively by citizen, protesters and artists. The cellphone was becoming an extension of the eye, events were captured in film or in pictures. A simple cellphone became a tool through which a fusion could take place between the point of view of a local protester with a global watcher. These pictures captured individuals in action, and connected viewers as affiliate members of the demonstration. By being approached through photography, images of intense moments of conflict and violence could now open thousands of eyes and create subjective and personal views of an event or a situation. Revolutions progressed, and access to other societies expanded via the Internet. They could be re-interpreted by Mediterranean neighborhood communities in the context of their specific histories and to match their own sociopolitical situation.
What happened in photojournalism also happened with artistic photography, and also led to new forms of art. In the art sphere, technology again broke the border between artists and viewers. Technological tools are not only widely available, but are becoming a new standard for the average person in society. Everybody can create art, anyone can produce pictures and edit video. We can talk about the explosion of street photography and the democratization of photographic artworks that results from this, and we can see that the production of photos with photographers being held up in status to the public eye like superstars with elitist displays in museums and art galleries is now becoming decadent. Art is represented more widely today at art markets, museums and galleries, as art practices of the people. Art activities are not solely defined by art institutions or individuals when they are realized in such spaces.
With the democratization of photography by technology we have had no need to wait for artists to express the communities emotions, and produce significant representations of what happens daily for the people. Perhaps we forget the fact that people make art for to make sense. Citizens with a smartphone can now do that by themselves, directly. People no longer professional artists to give them a sense and expression of sociopolitical movements anymore – they are able to publish and create directly with the democratized technology at hand. It’s so easy for people today to edit pictures, videos and sounds, upload, publish and share them, and it is interesting to see art with open-minded views flow into view online. Technology allows a democratization of creativity, as it permits a new diversity in the range of producers and their creations.
Creating signs is possibly the easiest thing that can be done with technology, and with the view of gaining knowledge to improve personal art skills, it’s now an easy material that everyone can access easily on the internet. Making art makes sense; everybody can do it with the help of technology – it is not limited to artists as proprietors of special gear. Art tools are no longer exclusive: they have become democratized. Reducing art and design to commercial art has to be forgiven in the name of all others kinds of art activity that occurs in the name of social expression. If you wish to understand arts of the Mediterranean area better, it’s important to study them outside the boundaries of art markets. Artists and people in the time of the Egyptian revolution edited tutorials about the strategy of video-shooting, for artivists to use and increase their capacities with. Artists also used their visual production skills for editing diverse video instructions that had been created to support protesters, and to help them protect themselves against tear-gas and other repression tactics used by the police to stifle protests. Artists didn’t only create work for art markets- they also created a knowledge base for people to help them, and as a measure of protection against political repression. These activities satisfy a need for information that was not fed by traditional mass media, nor by the western concepts of art production.


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Product-Service Design for Immigrants


The paper analyzes the social landscapes that arise from the spontaneous configuration of groups that mingle with each other following the instinct of survival and a state of emergency, which configure no longer linear country borders but fluid ones.
In this context a form of widend multicultural social typology emerges, where the human dignity is founded on acts of solidarity that lead to radical changes.

The paper presents Product-Service Design for Immigrants case a product-services for immigrant populations that ensure the efficiency and widespread access to the healthcare system.
Through innovative strategies that have been able to peruse a new welfare concept based on the user’s active role in order to develop an integrated assistance in which the immigrant citizen becomes part of a healthcare course.
The project, for its development, requires the support of a new generation of services, products and communicative artifacts that play an important role in the Health Care System: prevention, monitoring, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.
In the healthcare field the use of ICT can be a useful tool to improve accessibility, to share data and information, for the implementation of health services already existing online, and to upgrade the performance of the whole system hence obtaining better results with less resources.
The project has set up a civic space like a platform to enable a dialogue between migrants and local health facilities establishing a digital context to receive, analyze and offer alternative models for assistance.

1. Multicultural breach

New social landscapes arise by spontaneous configuration of groups that mingle in areas easily accessible and affordable, functional nodes on the routes of illegal migration.

These “fall back lands” used to shelter and to organize their lives for emergency purposes, regulated by international agreements, lack in basilar human necessities. The social landscapes that emerge are the mirror of contemporary life: environmental disasters, poverty and war are the leading causes, from which a new way of life is developed, therefore a new social organization.
The “invisible multitudes” recover waste from western society, they draw from it resources to face issues, mitigate the disadvantages and adapt to change.
The new geography comes up with a new Europe seen as a continent with undefined borders, a single, huge city that embraces all the differences, allocated in mingled area.
The geographical mingled space of “Europe City” works today as a device that filters and organizes the movement and passages of migrant populations. This image of the continent that expands embracing new directions leads us to a mediterranized Europe; according to the idea of multicultural landscape as a mind place, by the plural character, such as the descriptions of Fernand Braudel (1998) of the Mediterranean.
In fact, the space of the “Europe Mediterranean City” is willing to embrace human landscapes and traditions, shaped by its various protagonists. The enlargement of the space spreads in peripheral and marginal zones, far and disconnected, revealing the ability to self-organization by spontaneous social groups. It concerns relational rules re-created and re-adapted by people within cultural social differences.
A new business model is outlined, based on the development of human skills, overcoming the capitalist model based on the values of each individual.
According to André Gorz (2004) society must focuses on the individual development, “one of the priorities will be to identify people and groups conveyed values and knowledge necessary for companies and institutions transformation” (p. 21).
The comparison is made between knowledge, value and capital, elements that guide us to understand the huge development of the knowledge economy along time; “knowledge is a practical skill, a know-how that does not necessarily involves delineate knowledge […], nor even the practical knowledge isn’t easily codified and cannot be learnt if not by practice and apprenticeship” (p. 22). This process involves the emancipation of human capital by the capital, according to A. Gorz (2004), an example is represented by the “craftsmen of free software and networks”(p. 22), that as holders of knowledge of high-level technical support, in opposition to the privatization of the access tools to a shared knowledge.
These tools are essential for the individual development in the human evolution from the “workforce” in “independent force” (p. 22): the software allows to generate contents accessible to all that have in usage unique value, bypassing the exchange value.

2. Sharing in emergency case

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that in 2013 there was the most massive migrants movement across the Mediterranean: thirty-two thousand people landed in Italy, coming from Syria and North Africa require better migration managing through the prevention, protection and solidarity coordinated actions.
In this social context design strategies can realize integration between sustainable practices and innovative technologies and methods.
The strategic and services design are the disciplinary traces through which develop collaborative systems and experiment cooperative models, envisioning the managing social innovation demand (Cipolla, 2009).
Thanks new community forms, the individuals involved in process became actors. They identify flexible solutions, personalized and appropriate to their capabilities, testing the results and developing a new form of welfare (Cipolla & Manzini, 2009).
The promotion of a welcoming society, characterized by intercultural dialogue, social mediation and by the right to health, is the precondition of the research project Product-Service Design for Immigrants (PSDFI).
The design approach proposes to experiment new creative processes able to highlight the social issues, identifying opportunities and formulating possible solutions.
The development of solidarity and participation forms is a necessary condition to implement the design thinking methodological approach in new models (Brown, 2009).
According to recommendations of European legislation, in particular, the principles of the European Handbook on Integration (Niessen & Schibel, 2007), PSDFI intends to promote an easy access to welfare facilities for migrant communities and minorities thanks to a product-service system.
The PSDFI project aims to provide health care for immigrants with the creation of a services system that managed, in a platform, the information on the health condition, monitoring assistance forms and remote healthcare.
The main action is to create a multitasking network that is enable to capture and process data, to examine medical records pursuing a connection between public health operators, local actors, NGOs and immigrant populations.
In 2009, the project Mighealtnet, information network on good practice in health care for migrants and minorities in Europe, spread in 16 countries, has pursued a similar goal: to provide a services system for health care of the multicultural European population. Another project about the theme is: Healthy and Wealthy Together, promote by Municipality of Milano, that establish a thematic exchange network of public and private local actors working with or for migrants on the health and poverty issues.
The PSDFI project provides an intangible service for healthcare, associated to a wearable product, organizing the individual’s health information with the managing of clinical data; using RFID it is able to send data directly to the database. The wearable product is connected to the service platform, will be distribute to local reception centers for immigrants.
The site, that offers healthcare expertise, is a place to share and receive the requests and experiences spreading in user’s forum. The medical staff can access clinical data and update them as well as patients can check their portfolio and interact with an online expert 24 h/day.
The project promotes and facilitates the encounter between immigrant populations and families residing in the countries of origin through the online service (an interactive web site) that will provide information on health condition, and will allow to better understand which are the available organizations and resources. Information accessibility is guaranteed by actions of communication and awareness rising, provided in different languages (the partner countries and the countries from where migration to Italy originates).
The challenge is to demonstrate that using product-service design it is possible to ensure the efficiency of the Health System, a more widespread access to it, and to minimize public health costs.

The paper was written by the authors on the basis of mutual agreement and extensive discussions. Are related to the two authors jointly sections:

1. Multicultural breach, this paragraph was written by Maria Antonietta Sbordone.

2. Sharing in emergency case, this paragraph was written by Rosanna Veneziano.


Braudel, F. (1998). Les mémoires de la Méditerranée. Paris: Editions de Fallois.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Cipolla, C., & Manzini E. (2009). Relational services. Knowledge. Technology & Policy. (pp. 22, 45-50).
Cipolla, C. (2009). Relational services: service design fostering sustainability and new welfare models. In Silva, J., Moura, M., & dos Santos A. (orgs.) Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Sustainable Design (II ISSD) Brazil Network on Sustainable Design – RBDS, São Paulo, Brazil. Disponibile presso
Gorz, A. (2004). Métamorphoses du travail. Critique de la raison économique. Paris: Editions de Fallois.
Niessen, J., & Schibel, Y. (2007). Manuale sull’integrazione per i responsabili delle politiche di integrazione e gli operatori del settore, Commissione europea (direzione generale della Giustizia, della libertà e della sicurezza). Pubblications Europa. Disponibile presso

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The use of faces in Egyptian Graffiti

Psycho-social aspects and change of identity as post-revolutionary phenomenon[1]


After the 2011 Revolution in Egypt it has been easy to observe the intensive use of graffiti spreading with a particular characteristics:  the use of faces in Graffiti. The faces are protesting images. The art styles are many, and the techniques are variable from drawing, painting, decoupage, and stencil. The stencil sprayed around the cities of Egypt form a mass production of graffiti that is done by anyone. This phenomenon has raised through a social and psychological background related to the revolution event, which is referring to a new identity for the Egyptians.

1. The Egyptian Revolution and the “face”-graffiti

After the 2011 Revolution in Egypt it has been easy to observe the use of graffiti spreading out in the core areas of protest to support the people’s dissatisfaction as probably happens in any place of political “unhappiness”. But differently, a massive use of facial designs can be observed (Hyldig, 2013; Assaf S. et al., 2011), which continue the virtual demonstration against the political instability, either by showing martyrs (common persons who died under unlike situations) or common persons supported by keywords or simple representations of a scene (Wikipedia, 2014). [Fig.1, 2]

In the modern age with the spread of electronic media and social networks, the possibilities for common citizens to express their ideas and widespread them by reaching hundreds and thousands of others has changed completely. At the same time these people promote ideas and ideologies, they also promote themselves as persons. An anticipating media for this “self-promotion” is probably the wall graffiti as one of the arts belonging to Mural Paintings.[2]

Many of the interested researches refer this art to the first human civilization thousands of years ago, with similar meanings like expression of ideas and self-promoting by scratching or painting on the walls of caves and rocks. Since then, in all the eras people used graffiti to express themselves and their emotions (Unesco 2014; Gansser, 1995).

Different to other mural paintings, the graffiti moves into what is known by “street art” showing its core aim at the end of the sixties, and glowing with the Youth Revolution in France in 1968 as a tool to criticize the authority, and to self express (Rafferty, 2014; Shanks, 2008; BPS, 2014; Gallagher, 2010).

In a more direct way, it appears in the USA where it expressed the refuse of violence in the communities of dark skin people in the USA through art.[3]

Before the so called “Arab Spring”, there were few graffiti in Egypt, made by stencil and referring to social behaviors. Lately, a main shift happened with the 25th January Revolution in 2011 that attracted political groups and citizens to express their opinions on urban walls. [Fig.4]

The ongoing research of the Helwan University in Cairo, Faculty of Applied Arts, led by Prof. Dr. Reham Mohsen, and conducted by the postgraduate student Hend Yousef, works out the massive use of faces in comparison to graffiti of other places in the world, while defining general features characterizing the Egyptian graffiti. Inside these characterizing elements, an intensive use of faces can be observed which surely left a psychological effect on the population.

There are different ways of writing on walls: some are traditional, others use stencils that are cut out of drawings or elaborated photographs. Using these stencils for the political protest and message, the message rises to a different kind of diffusion and massification, executed not any more only by artists but by anybody. [Fig. 3]

The phenomenon of using portraits of common people of Egypt in the graffiti around the country is showing a sign of change in the structure of identity of Egyptian people, that might be going through a deep change. All started with the accuse of killing an ordinary Egyptian person for no reason during a peaceful demonstration turned outrage the community of youth in the country. They have already been suffering from many other issues by the government including poverty, lack of job opportunities, no health care, and others. The situation has raised worse when the government made order to the hospitals and death departments not to give a certificate for the victim declaring the true reason of death as “killed” but to indicate “suicide” or “car accident” (El-Aref, 2011).

From then the use of portraits of ordinary people who were killed represents a call for the human rights that are totally missed. Furthermore, it relates the whole population to the events, “facing” literally the protested politics and forces which led the country in these last 36 months. The population got an identity, a “face” which communicates and protests silently.

The idea of the ongoing research is also to focus on different ways of communication like facebook and their relation to political protest, as shown through graffiti: it might be a coincidence of the term “face” that there has been the phenomenon of Facebook which led most events of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, and the large use of faces in the streets as manifest for human rights and as a perspective of a new Egypt.

2. The making of the “face”-graffiti (from an artistic point of view)

The characteristic of the portraits spread in the Egyptian graffiti is mainly about a silhouette, or a simplified form of the portrait in one or two colors, that is derived and edited from photography.  [Fig.1, 3]

This last is easily available because of the wide spread photography on the Facebook representing common people demonstrating: any running activity today is supported by a digital documentation either done by demonstrators themselves or professional photographers by using any kind of professional, semi-professional, and ordinary mobile cameras. All these photographs give a wide range for the graphic artists to choose the photo that fits onto the simple form that can be used to produce “face” graffiti of the person.

The portrait is then cut into a paper or any surface material, resulting into a quick made stencil set. And then, this stencil is used to spray the image on the walls, fences, even cars. The result today is that the walls of Cairo and other big cities in Egypt are full of graffiti that turned after all simple ordinary people into public celebrities. [Fig. 5]

They have become a symbol, each figure of the graffiti portrait is a symbol of felt injustice, a symbol of killing ordinary people, a symbol of all the suffering. They represent the anger, and recall not to forget the dead.

The colors used are primary colors mainly, like black, red, sometimes yellow, blue and grey. The color found less is green, which can easily be related to the meaning of green standing as the color for peace. [Fig. 11, 12]

The elaboration of the shapes of portrait varies more, starting from the simple high contrast of a photograph (used for the stencils) [Fig. 4, 5, 15], going through an illustrated lines and colors of the portrait (used by brush and paints of artists) [Fig. 11, 12], and ending with a painted portrait with more details [fig. 6], or lately, printed paper cut precisely and glued on the wall. [Fig. 13, 14]

3. Who are they?

About the expressions of the faces, we can classify few types:

The first type is the very shocking photograph shot of the face or head of a dead person, that became famous in the media and went then into a graffiti: the most famous is Khaled Saeed, yet killed before the revolution. [Fig. 11]

The second type we find in Egyptian graffiti is the good looking photograph of a killed person that was taken long time before his death. Usually smiling, and perhaps taken from the personal Facebook profile picture, it stands for the memory of the dead person and for initiating an inner blame to every observer, like in the case of Emad Effat [fig. 9, 10]. This kind of graffiti was mainly used by the football groups “Ultras” sprayed on larger scales in one color without any text around. [Fig. 3]

A third type can be seen in the caricatured faces which represent mainly political figures like the former president Mubarak and the former defence minister Tantawy, together in a famous graffiti painting putting both figures in one face, each one of them is one half. It simply represents the semantic way of “two sides of the same coin”. [Fig. 7, 8]

The spread of the face graffiti turned into a phenomenon, artistic and social. In addition, the use of the stencil to produce portrait graffiti turns the graffiti into a mass production process. The artist role can end up with the graphic effect edited from the photograph to form a simplified portrait. Then any one can pick up the thread of the process by printing the portrait, cutting the stencil, and spraying around. In the end hundreds and thousands of copies of a portrait turn an ordinary person into a public figure. Definitely, this is raising the story of this person and how he or she was killed into the mind of the people, up to bringing the portrait graffiti into a symbol. Now Egypt has famous names of ordinary people Emad Effat, Mina Daniel, and Jika, or Khaled Saeed (Bradley, 2010), and Saied Belal. Also these persons are famous by having paid with their life the wish of a different Egypt, getting killed while standing for their rights in a clearly witnessed peaceful way.

Right after February 2011, the photographs of the killed young people in the first revolution were used as stickers in the streets, on cars, or anywhere else. By evolving of the political situation, the production of these stickers were not anymore allowed, so that the face graffiti by stencil was the fastest and easiest way to produce these temporal memorials.

4. The situation today

Through the last three years the use of faces in graffiti experienced changes in many directions. While originally used for memorizing, in the year 2012 some portraits of famous political characters were spread, mainly at the time of voting to elections. In the last year 2013 portraits with no features started to appear: a face with no eyes, no lips, no nose [Fig. 13]. And some other figures represented in shrouds “white winding-sheet” used to prepare dead people for coffins, but in these shrouds we can find accompanying angel wings on the sides, and furthermore, the faces had nor details either they have been removed.

Later in 2013 a new symbol showed up after the 30 June revolution. This sign is a symbol for a massive human slaughter in the area of “Rabaa” in Cairo. The sign, black on yellow ground, is a simply hand with four erected fingers and the fifth finger turned in, symbolizing the number four, as the same name of the location “Rabaa” means: “forth”.

Showing single faces in order to represent the events has now no effect anymore by the number of killed persons. Therefore a collective sign has risen to conclude the whole tragedy of the events. While faces still stand for their anonymous protest, the sign of Rabaa is now forbidden!

Perhaps limited to the time after the Revolution of 2011, the face graffiti has signed a new way of protesting and communicating the anger of a whole population. Indeed, every day the graffiti in Egypt is showing a new creative style or idea, finding new ways of expressions, as the protests are still going on.


Assaf S. et al. (2011). The Road to Tahrir: Front Line Images by Six Young Egyptian Photographers. Cairo: AUC Press. pp. 8-9, 115.

Bradley, M. (June 14, 2010). Anger of the streets of Cairo. The National. Available on: [March 2014].

Bureau of Public Secret (BPS). (2014). Graffiti de Mai 1968. Available on: [January 2014].

El-Aref, N. (2011). The death of innocence. Available on: [January 2014].

Gallagher, R. (2010). A Situation for Revolt: A Study of the Situationist International’s Influence on French Students During the Revolt of 1968. Thesis for History, University of Albany. Available on:

Gansser, A. (1995). Hands: Prehistoric Visiting cards? Vlg. Dr. C. Müller-Straten. pp. 8.

Gröndahl, M. (2013). Revolution Graffiti: Street Art of the New Egypt. American University Cairo Press.

Hyldig Dal, M. (edited by). (2013). Cairo: Images of transition: Perspectives on Visuality in Egypt, 2011-2013. Bielefeld (Germany): Transcript-Verlag. pp. 265-274.

Mohsen, R. (2007). Process of Visual Perception and Cognition in the Human Mind and its Reflection on 2D Design. Paper Presentation during Conference Design Hot Topics of the Third Millennium, Human Factors in Design. Cairo (Egypt): Helwan University.

Rafferty, P. (2014). The Street Art/Graffiti of Youth: Questioning “the Normalizing Influence of Tradition. Department of Elementary Education – University of Alberta. pp. 3. Available on: [January 2014].

Shanks, M. (2008). Drive the cop out of your head. Available in: [January 2014].

Sicklinger, A. (2013). Notes on Optical Illusions around Tahrir: The no Walls Project. In Mikala Hyldig Dal (edited by), Cairo – Perspectives on Visuality in Egypt 2011 – 2013 (pp. 240-243). Columbia University Press.

Unesco. (2014). Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain. Available on: [January 15, 2014]

Wikipedia (2014). Egyptian Arts post 2011 Revolution. Available on: [January 15, 2014].

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Extracted, re-edited and completed from the plan of the thesis by Hend Yousif, led by the team of supervisors; Dr.Reham Mohsen,  Dr.Akmal Abdelrahman. Faculty Applied Arts, Helwan University, Prof.Andreas Sicklinger, German University in Cairo.
  2. Video document: [March 28, 2014].
  3. See for example the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, in

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Diseño activista en España. Una breve historia contemporánea


The political culture of the majority of the Spanish people during Franco’s era was marked by distrust and indifference. At the end of the 1960’s, however, interest on political matters grew thanks, to a great extent, to an increasing discontent with the regime and greater support for democracy by the people. The change in attitudes continued being observed during the years of the Transition. After this stage, Spaniards fell in a phase of disenchantment. By 1982, with the arrival of the Socialists to power, there were some signs of recovery. However, over the decade and during the 1990s was the growing mistrust and sense of political impotence that, at present, are one of the main features of Spanish political culture. Against this background, during the 1990s has been a growing social and political activism outside the legally recognized parties, which has been strongly linked with a broad spectrum of artistic and design practices.

The full paper is available in Spanish

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Design and new trends in temporary living for emergencies and nomadism


There is a long tradition of research, projects and experiments regarding the issue of temporary living. It is a very fertile field of reflection because it represents the intersection of practical needs with the aspiration, sometimes utopian, toward an extreme simplicity in living and an innate desire for freedom and exploration. Here, we will draw a quick historical overview exemplified by four design stories that are indicative of certain strategic and typological research lines, and then, we will present an updated overview of trends in contemporary design and production.

1. The Mediterranean area and forms of precariousness: the temporary dwelling

The Mediterranean area is a fragile and geologically unstable region due to its environmental, social and political ecosystems. It is a fluid territory in which the mobility of its people and cultures has become a part of its identity over the course of time; factors such as transience, mobility, insecurity, migration and nomadism are always present there, despite their opposition to the prevalent cultural model of permanence and long-lasting habitation. It is a vulnerable area in which the progressive inattention to environmental protection and proper management of the landscape has amplified the effects of natural disasters, and more and more, has transformed events during disasters.

In addition to these factors, we also should consider social problems related to fluctuations in the economy and politics that fuel migration and poverty.

In this context, an emergency can refer to many things: the need to respond quickly to sudden and unexpected cataclysms; the constant presence of social situations that are sometimes chronic and now increasing in size and number; and the hospitality management of large concentrations of people in a specific time and place (as in the case of major events).

The theme of the emergency is connected to the dwelling by a dialectic comparison of the sense of the precarious with the desire for stability, the insecurity of the situation with the security related to the concept of home, the relationship between the permanent and the temporary and between the fixed and the mobile.

This is an important topic in design culture, which is based on experimentation in military field and has expanded throughout the twentieth century through the research and solutions of distinguished interpreters: Le Corbusier’s early studies in Maison Voisin (1920) and in the Logis Provisoires Transitoires during the post-war period (1944), the Dymaxion Deployment Unit by Buckminster Fuller (1940), the Emergency Mobile Housing by P. Jeanneret and J. Prouvé (1945) and the Mobile Housing Unit by M. Zanuso and R. Sapper and the Mobile House by A. Rosselli and I. Hosoe, which are presented in the exhibition, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at MOMA, New York (Ambasz, 1972; Mango & Guida, 1988; Firrone, 2007).

Alongside many proposals that have been stimulated by real and often urgent needs, an ideological strand has led to the development of new models of mobile dwelling that culminated in the eradication of the static concept of the city form in the futurist Walking City by Archigram in 1964; it is a design aspiration that is aimed at lightness and fluidity in living, which has produced many visions and proposals (Ambasz, 1972; Schwartz-Clauss, 2002), that have anticipated the current changes in social life and are only now being viewed with interest by the world of production.

2. Case studies: a comparison of four experiences 

We will now return to real life situations, though not solely emergencies. They have stimulated many research studies and projects regarding the topic of temporary or mobile dwellings, which we will now discuss. Each of these design stories can be taken as emblematic of the different types of construction (prefabricated modules, tents, containers, modular systems, etc.) or sustainability approaches in the social and natural environment.

Paris, 1954. An exceptionally harsh winter drove the Abbe Pierre to promote a fundraiser for the construction of emergency housing for the homeless. The project was then entrusted to Jean Prouvé, who designed the Maison des Jours Meilleurs (Better Days House). An expert in precast construction, Prouvè tackled the problem from a technical and logistical point of view, but also devoted great care to the qualitative configuration of the inhabitable space, arousing comment from Le Corbusier, who called it “the perfect object to live, the most brilliant thing ever built”(1956). The house, which could be assembled in seven hours by a few men with simple equipment, was 57 square meters and included two bedrooms and a large living room in addition to the core technical and structural steel for the toilet facilities and for the kitchen. From the constructive point of view, it was constituted of a steel frame on a concrete base, with wooden sandwich prefabricated panels that include openings and fixtures as well as cover panels in wood and aluminium sheet that jutted out to form the entrance porch.

This system’s components, which are easily storable, transportable and mountable, combined certain basic requirements – lightweight, low cost, durability of materials and comfort – but, it was too innovative for its time and it did not result in the mass production that was anticipated. It represented, however, a model and a reference point for subsequent experiments in the field of lightweight precast. Recently, an original version of the Maison des Jours Meilleurs was restored and was exhibited in the Paris gallery of Patrick Seguin in 2012 and during the Design Miami Basel in 2013.[1]

Valley of Muna (Mecca), 1975. Every year, during the pilgrimage to Mecca, it is necessary to erect temporary shelters in a wide area covering approximately 25 kilometres for an extremely large concentration of pilgrims who arrive from all over the world (about 2-3 million). Since 1975, the architect Frei Otto, together with the Research Centre of the University of King Abdul Aziz in Jeddah, has been engaged in numerous studies aimed not only at streamlining the logic of the settlement by integrating it with facilities and equipment for collective services, but also aimed at providing temporary housing made of lightweight structures that can be assembled and disassembled quickly. In particular, Frei Otto has designed an innovative solution consisting of a multi-story tent that can be installed with ease and less environmental impact on the hillsides of the valley and that provides internal conditions with enhanced habitability and ventilation. The tents, which have a square base with sides measuring 4 meters, can have up to three levels. The structure is self-supporting, with a frame made of aluminium profiles and wooden panels for the planking level; the casing is based on the traditional spire roof, which is made of a single sheet of fabric, while other fabrics enclose the perimeter, so that the overlapping flaps ensure protection from the sun, but also provide ventilation and a view. The ground anchor consists of holes drilled straight into the rock, where the structure of the tent is secured with simple joints once it is calibrated at a horizontal level (Guida, 1992). It is a simple system, which rationalises the use of space and has minimal environmental impact.

Irpinia earthquake, 1980. In the long list of earthquakes that have taken place in Italy, from the event in Messina in 1908 to the quake in the Emilia Romagna region in 2012, the Irpinia earthquake is particularly significant. This is not only the result of the vastness of the area affected and the high number of displaced persons, but also the effect it has generated in terms of planning and subsequent research; this is in contrast to the formerly inadequate response of the Civil Defence and the resulting lengthy periods of reconstruction, which have led to extended stays, sometimes for years, in housing units – mostly containers – that were supposed to be temporary.

In particular, it is worth noting that the research carried out by the Course of Design in the Faculty of Architecture in Naples (prof. R. Mango and E. Guida), which was conducted from 1981 to 1987, through an agreement with the Commissioner Extraordinary Government for Reconstruction, has resulted in the implementation of a prototype of a housing module (Cecere, Guida & Mango, 1984; Mango & Guida, 1988; Guida, 1992).[2]

The innovative approach of the solution, which started with an observation of the critical issues in the management of the Irpinia emergency, was mainly due to its establishment as a system, rather than as individual units; in other words, it is made up of a set of technical modular elements that are configured as a continuous cover under which it is possible to situate multiple units. This approach allows the storage of the components in a much contracted form, easier transportation and a greater adaptability to each individual context and to the different compositions of households during the assembly phase. In addition, it allows flexibility in time and the possibility that they can be regenerated for future use. An additional aspect concerns the quality of living that, despite the reduction in space, is expressed in the study of possible configurations, in the relationship between interior and exterior spaces, between private and public spaces and in the definition of the home space. It is a technical solution that does not forget the real dynamics of everyday use and is careful to ensure living conditions that respect the dignity of people who have already been hit hard.[3]

Civil war in Rwanda, 1994. To accommodate more than 2 million refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided a supply of tents that were made of an aluminium structure and PVC sheets; however, they were soon dismantled by the refugees themselves, who sold the aluminium poles and replaced them with branches of trees that were cut on site. This was a procedure that aggravated the already critical level of deforestation. To resolve this problem, the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed an emergency shelter structure using paper tubes that were first tested for durability, cost and resistance to termites. The solution was effective because of the easy production of the paper tubes and the small size of the machinery used to produce them. This made it possible to establish their production on site, and in turn, reduced the transportation costs. In 1998, fifty such emergency shelters were built in Rwanda and they were monitored to assess their performance (McQuaid, 2003; King, 2001). Following this experience and a previous one following the Kobe earthquake in 1995, Shigeru Ban has applied the use of cardboard as a structural material in other emergency contexts. He has refined and adapted a system used in Japan, the Paper Log House (emergency housing of 18 square meters with load-bearing walls in cardboard tubes), to different environmental and cultural contexts, including Turkey (2000) and India (2011). A first aid system consisting of tents with a tubular cardboard structure was used again following the Haiti earthquake in 2010.[4]

These four stories document the variety and complexity of emergencies to which we can respond, from time to time, with the most typologically appropriate solutions and with an emphasis on strategic issues, timing, environmental balance, large numbers, duration, quality of life, and so on. The entire repertoire of projects is certainly much broader and you may refer to the specific literature on the subject for further study.

The selection of these examples also wants to highlight some major research themes for the Mediterranean area: the attention to the social critical issues in the big cities with the first experiments on lightweight precast by Jean Prouvé; the large-scale migrations and the study of flexible and reversible systems by Frei Otto; the awareness of the geomorphological instability and the idea of a technical ready-for-use kit, with an attention to the values of living under transient conditions, in the research of R. Mango and E. Guida;  the studies of new materials and forms of self-production to respond to natural emergencies in a sustainable way with the experiments in the use of cardboard by Shigeru Ban.

3. The contemporary research on temporary dwelling: from emergency to new trends.

Here, we would like to outline an updated picture of the contemporary lines of research in three areas: emergency disaster, social emergencies and new trends in mobile living.

Regarding the first area, we will describe the Refugee Housing Unit project, which was born from a partnership between the IKEA Foundation and the UNHCR. The Swedish company has been able to provide this project with its expertise in the optimisation of costs and its operations in packaging, shipping and installation by transferring them from the area of furnishings to that of an emergency house consisting of 18 square meters.

The modules are now being tested in a refugee camp in Ethiopia; they are the result of co-design activities involving universities in Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. They are designed to replace the tent systems that are predominantly used in these situations and to ensure better climate protection and greater durability (three years compared to an average of six months for tents).

The modules are structurally composed of an easy-mountable system of metal and lightweight panels composed of a particular polymeric material called Rhulite, which is resistant and insulating and is capable of filtering the sunlight inside, but not projecting internal shadows to the outside at night. On the panels that make up the roof, there is a special fabric cover that reflects heat during the day and returns it at night; the sheets are also equipped with solar panels that provide lighting and electricity inside. All the elements necessary for the construction of a module are contained in its packaging plans, which include, according to the Ikea philosophy, everything needed for its installation, which requires half a day. The experiment, which began with 13 units that were installed in August 2013, is designed to verify their technical performance and the response to them in terms of housing and comfort during use to aid in the development of a final version.[5]

Other interesting research that is currently in progress and still at an experimental stage concerns the on-site production of clay housing by large 3D printers. The Wasp, the World’s Advanced Saving Project, which is an experiment being conducted by the research centre of an Italian company together with ISIA design students, has led the innovative world of producers to deal with housing issues in the poorest areas of the world.[6]

There are numerous project proposals that address the issue of social emergencies in light of the increasing number of indigent and homeless people.

Among these, the project Pro.tetto by Andrea Paroli (2012) is particularly interesting because it is exactly halfway between the design of a sleeping bag and a tent. Developed as a thesis in Product Design at the University of Rome La Sapienza and reported in ADI Design Index 2013 – Targa Giovani[7], it is designed as a disposable kit to be provided by mobile units to offer shelter from the cold on the most critical nights to all those who refuse to take refuge in specific centres. The kit, which is much reduced in size and weight (only 270 gr.), is contained in a little bag; it makes an emergency shelter composed of an inflatable insulating material (metallic PET), a mattress and a pump.

Similar in its compactness and portability, but intended to be personal reusable equipment, is the project Less Homeless, which was designed by the Portuguese architects Filipe Magalhães and Ana Luisa Soares, who were awarded a special mention in a contest in Lisbon in February 2013. Inspired by the Ikea concept, it is a very compact mounting kit that allows a shelter to be erected for the night in only a few minutes and then to be dismantled in the morning. The shape was deliberately designed to be an icon of a house as a means of visually signalling and denouncing the growing number of homeless people.[8]

More poetic and utopian, and striking for its extreme lightness, simplicity and “pocketability”, is the project Basic House by the Basque designer Martin Azúa; it is a cubic enclosure of metallic polyester that is inflated with air by the heat of the sun or by the human body, and which then deflates slowly, providing protection against heat and cold (Richardson, 2001). It is a minimalist house, designed for a nomadic lifestyle without material ties; but, it is also a way to expose the futility of so many things around us and to return to the basic concept of home as a protective shelter that is available anywhere and at any time. Basic House has been a part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York since 2007 and it introduces us to the third issue that, following the ideological trends of the avant-garde of the twentieth century, has revealed a renewed dimension of the nomadic life as a contemporary lifestyle.[9]

There are many projects that could be reported in this field. Among them is Diogene, a mini accommodation designed by Renzo Piano for Vitra: It is only six square meters and costs 20,000 euros. It features very sophisticated materials, technology and energy performance, and in addition, it is mobile and has completely self-sufficient systems for harvesting rainwater and for the utilisation of solar energy. It is a complex product designed for industrial mass production. Revealed on the Vitra Campus in June 2013, Diogene is not intended to be an emergency shelter, but rather, a voluntary choice for shelter: It is a housing solution reduced to the essentials that is inspired by the barrel used by the ancient philosopher from whom it takes its name and that operates in total autonomy, independently of its environment (Adam, 2013).

Two similar projects are also worth mentioning. The Smart Student Unit, designed by Swedish architects of the studio Tengom (2013), is made totally of wood, consists of 10 square meters and is partially a loft.[10]A few years earlier, and already in production, the Micro House M-ch was designed by a team of researchers and designers in London along with the Technical University of Monaco as a response to a growing demand for short-stay accommodation for students, business people, spectators of sports events and those enjoying weekend visits. M-ch was developed by a research university in 2001 and, inspired by a Japanese tea house, it is a cube of 2.66 meters per side that covers an area of about seven square meters with a folding top that allows its height to be extended. The module, similar to the previous cases, it is supplied fully furnished. In 2005, thanks to the sponsorship of a telecommunications company, six units were set up on the first university campus. Currently, M-ch is on the market at a cost of € 38,000.[11]

Solutions like these, which are even larger in size, but still easily transportable on wheels, already assembled and able to accommodate more people, are now very widespread; this reflects a real interest in the market and a cultural change in the idea of living. For example, consider the Portable Home ÁPH80 by the Spanish design studio Abaton, which is 27 square meters (in 2013, the cost is 32,000 Euros)[12], the mobile unit building Su-Si (42 square meters, which allows more complex configurations and spacious rooms when combined with other modules and was the winner of the IF Design Award 2000 in Hannover) and a more compact version called Fred[13](formed by two cubes of about 3 meters per side, one inside the other, that, in the installation phase, expand to form a living space of 16 square meters), both of which were designed by the Viennese architect J. Kaufmann between 1999 and 2000.

These proposals reflect the trends of new forms of tourism and dwellings that are more in touch with nature, but that are also in touch with practical temporary needs for accommodations for study or work. They are examples of useful and good quality experimental productions that we hope will inspire new basic solutions that can be applied in cases involving social and environmental emergencies.

4. Conclusions 

From this synthetic review of the contemporary design research, a complex framework emerges in the relationship between emergency situations and design approaches. We will try to summarize by highlighting the most interesting lines of experimentation for the Mediterranean area:

– The emergency solutions in case of disaster, in order to optimize the problems related to storage, transportation and manufacturing, are strategically oriented in two different directions: the study of durable lightweight modular elements, easy to carry and assemble, where the processes of prefabrication are closer to the world of furniture than to the building (the Refugees Housing Unit by Ikea and the concept of the “assembly kit”); or experimenting new ways of self-production of autochthonous forms with poor materials but with technologically advanced systems (like the 3D clay moulding), in line with the pilot project launched by Shigeru Ban with the cardboard tube.

– The solutions for social emergencies emphasize the idea of the minimum shelter as an extension of the body, as a basic protection or a provocative ideological manifesto of an essential dimension of dwelling. It focuses on the object scale, on his immediacy and his temporary use, to reiterate the need of addressing social emergencies to other scales (architecture and urban policy) and to other levels (social and economic policies).

– Finally, the new forms of social aggregation and the current needs of mobility and transience for job or leisure feed the mass production of micro-mobile homes, with an eco-friendly and energy efficient approach. A new reflection on the existenzminimum, supported by a growing market, which could affect the concept of urban development and the relationship between natural and built environments.


Adam, H. (2013). Diogene. A cabin designed by Renzo Piano and RPBW for Vitra, in Vitra Magazine,, [12 giugno 2013].

Ambasz, E. (a cura di). (1972). Italy: The New Domestic Landscape. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.

Cecere, T., Guida, E., & Mango, R. (1984). L’abitabilità transitoria: la ricerca architettonica per nuove strategie abitative. Napoli: F.lli Fiorentino.

Firrone, T. (2007). Sistemi abitativi di permanenza temporanea. Roma: Aracne.

Gentile, S. (1992), “Il Concorso Fantoni, nuove utilizzazioni del pannello MDF” in Guida, E. (a cura di). Sistemi abitativi di soccorso. Ricerche, esperienze didattiche (pp.23-24). Napoli: Officine Grafiche F. Giannini e Figli.

Guida, E. (a cura di). (1992). Sistemi abitativi di soccorso. Ricerche, esperienze didattiche. Napoli: Officine Grafiche F. Giannini e Figli.

King, L. (2001). Shigeru Ban. London: Princeton Architectural Press.

Mango, R., & Guida, E. (1988). Abitare l’emergenza. Studi e sperimentazioni progettuali. Napoli: Electa Napoli.

McQuaid, M. (2003). Shigeru Ban, New York: Phaidon.

Parente M. (1992), “La risposta al concorso. L’esperienza didattica” in Guida, E. (a cura di). Sistemi abitativi di soccorso. Ricerche, esperienze didattiche (pp.25-48). Napoli: Officine Grafiche F. Giannini e Figli.

Paroli, A. (2012). Protetto. Riparo per l’emergenza freddo, Tesi di Laurea Specialistica in Design del Prodotto, Facoltà di Architettura, Università degli Studi La Sapienza a.a. 2011-12, relatore prof. F. Dal Falco, correlatore arch. M. Ziliani. Disponibile anche in: [30 dicembre 2013].

Richardson, P. (2001). XS: Big Ideas, Small Buildings. London: Thames & Hudson.

Schwartz-Clauss, M. (a cura di). (2002). Living in Motion. Design and architecture for flexible dwelling. Weil am Rhein: Vitra Design Museum.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. More information is available at See the video explaining the house restoration at [January 10, 2014]. 
  2. The research, with the collaboration of students and undergraduates in the Course of Design, has continued in the following years through other educational experiments coordinated by prof. E. Guida, including solutions presented in a competition sponsored by Fantoni Furniture Group (1989). These designs, which were awarded with a special mention, involve the innovative use of MDF for modular temporary housing systems that are easy to transport and assemble. (Gentile, 1992; Parente, 1992). 
  3. In 1984, the IRI group Italstat realised the SAPI project – Space Housing Primary Care – designed by Pierluigi Spadolini; it was based on an evolution of the concept of the container into extensible modules that can be combined with each other to allow different configurations. The 200 units that were produced remained unused for years and required a large area for storage. They were donated by the Italian government for the emergency created by Armenia earthquake of 1989, which led to the creation of the still existing Village Italy. (Firrone, 2007, pp. 116-119). 
  4. See more disaster relief projects at [January 8, 2014]. 
  5. See the video explaining the project at [December 11, 2013]. 
  6. Cf. and see the video at [December 28, 2013]. 
  7. Cf. [December 2, 2013]. 
  8. Cf. [January 10, 2014]. 
  9. Further information is available at [January 10, 2014]. 
  10. Cf. [December 9, 2013]. 
  11. Cf. [January 18, 2014]. 
  12. Cf. [January 20, 2014].
  13. The Fred project has been exhibited in the travelling exhibition, Living in Motion (2002-2007), in the “Folding +Unfolding” section, and has been published in the magazine DETAIL n.03/2001 as well as in its catalogue. 

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Social Design for the Mediterranean


The article is based on researches within the editorial activities at PAD Journal from 2008 to present, and deals with the organization of the Mediterranean Design contest in 2009 and 2010. The text presents a selection of projects developed in different contexts in the last years and focused on the social and political problems of the Mediterranean area. These projects offer some possible answers to the emerging problems and to emergency by exploiting opportunities tied with social communities and territorial resources.

Design practices have been carried out by several design operators: from magazines designers, who operate culturally and critically in the geopolitical field, to designers who, in case of exhibitions or competitions, present some ideas who are freed from any industrial requests; from university research centers to groups of independent activists who are in partnership with associations and social communities. These projects range from architecture to product and visual design, by adopting several approaches to the project. All projects show an awareness of the real problems of the Mediterranean in the different contexts and set the social needs as the priority of the project.
The reading of the design practices acquires relevance in a perspective finalized to promote social innovation and economic development through “social design”.

1. Premise
The issues at the base of the structural crisis which has been affecting the Mediterranean area for centuries are numerous, and the issues to be faced in the context of the world economic crisis are very complex.

In many countries, both in the North and South coast of the Mediterranean (obviously with proper differences), the lack of any protection and support to life, welfare, labour and culture, give life to a structural uncertainty in everyday life, thus worsening political and social conflicts.

The strong economic inequality, social injustice and the inadequate access to basic services (education, health care, water, etc) in some area of the South coast of the Mediterranean, are today, like in the past, main causes of the emigration of millions of people searching for better life conditions.

In the last years, clandestine immigration has been increasing. This is illegally organised by criminal groups: slave-drivers who run modern traffic of human beings, as in the case of the so-called scafisti, the pilots who drive the boats, who gather plenty of people on totally unsafe boats leaving from the North coasts of Africa to get to the Countries of the North coast of the Mediterranean. Clandestine immigration has been the cause of death in the Mediterranean for years, and has stressed the reception system and the social devaluation of the most involved countries, such as Italy. The ever growing number of landings makes granting adequate assistance and first aid very hard.

The data of Caritas Italia on emigration related to 2008 show a foreign presence in the countries of the Mediterranean that is distributed as follows: Spain (5,3 mln), France (3,7 mln), Italy (4 mln), Greece (nine hundred thousand), Malta (fifteen thousand). In the North side of the Mediterranean there is a concentration of the so-called economic migrants, i.e. the ones who leave their home country looking for a job and for better economic conditions. In the South and East side there is a main concentration of immigrants seeking asylum and refugees. The countries of this side are, in most cases, also emigration countries with about 12,7 million expatriates, of whom 8,2 million (64,7%) resident in the European Union, 2,7 million in the Arabian countries (21,4%) and 1,7 million in other parts of the world (13,7%). Moreover, statistics record a growth in the trend of the migrants from this area towards countries in the North of the Mediterranean, ranging from 5 to 10% per year. Even though the number of migrants is globally decreasing, in this area of the planet the phenomenon is exactly the opposite. The two reasons for such a phenomenon are the crisis in Iraq and Sudan (Darfur), as well as the steady increase of the number of Palestinian refugees reported by the UNRWA.
According to the observatory Fortress Europe, from 1988 to 2007 the immigrants drowned while crossing the Mediterranean are at least 8.165 people. Half of the bodies have never been rescued. In the Channel of Sicily between Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Malta and Italy, there have been 2.487 victims, of whom 1.529 missing. 70 are the drowned while sailing from Algeria towards Sardinia. Along the routes from Morocco, Algeria, West Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal towards Spain, heading for the Canary Islands or crossing the Straits of Gibraltar, there have been at least 4.030 victims, of which 1.980 are missing. In the Aegean, instead, between Turkey and Greece, 885 immigrants have died, of whom 461 are missing. Finally, in the Adriatic Sea, between Albania, Montenegro and Italy, 553 people have died in the last years, of which 250 are missing. The Mediterranean proves to be the place for flows of immigrants that cross it on board of makeshift dinghies, ferries and vessels, on board of which they usually travel inside the holds or in containers.

Clandestine arrived in the destination countries will be faced with new sorts of issues. There are a lot of difficulties in entering the official labour market. They often become victims of the criminal organisations or are barely able to live a decent life.
How can design and its competences give a contribution to concretely solve issues such as the ones that afflict the Mediterranean?
In order to answer, we will investigate some examples of design that have been lately proposed in the Mediterranean.

2. Imagining bridges uniting different worlds
In the current complicated Mediterranean reality, an approach of “critical design” leads to questions that are both social and politically relevant, follow to address the complex needs of communities.

This approach belongs to the meta-projectual practices, i.e. during the phase of problem and opportunities analysis leading to the construction of reference sceneries for the project process. This phase does not always lead to the generation of punctual and precise solutions, though it allows to develop the debate on possible solutions or hypothesis to be experimented. By preceding the development of the solutions, critical design stimulates the thought of the designers, leading to the comparison between different points of view, different actors and bearers of interests and it makes the meaning of the operated project emerge.
This was the aim of the Project Heracles (J. Grima, 2011), promoted by Domus magazine, that, by invading the geopolitical sphere, stated “the need to rethink the relationships between Africa and Europe, starting from all those infrastructures that could lead, though symbolically, to dialogue and not to separation”. The project has worked as a provoking instrument to invite to a reflection involving social, philosophical and political disciplines within the project.
In May 2011, in the heat of the Arab Springs, the international magazine Domus edited by Joseph Grima, launches a call for ideas named Project Heracles. A Euro-African bridge.
The project originated from the epistolary swap between two European philosophers (both from Belgium), the activist Lieven De Cauter and Dieter Lesage (2002), that imagined a bridge linking Gibraltar and Ceuta, the two edges where Europe and Africa are the closest. The bridge would have represented a concept answer to the walls of Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish territories in Africa, built with the support of the European Community, symbolising the division between North and South. A bridge could have given a more suitable reply to the numerous detention/refugees camps for the illegal immigrants arriving from the South coast countries in the North Coast, thus putting an end to a story full of ecological, social and humanitarian disasters
Joseph Grima wrote in the editorial of Domus n. 949: “the idea of physically linking the European and the African continents… is not new and, for nearly one century, the commitment in the project has been fluctuating as a rag hanging to the rough wind of the European politics […] the issues of the African continent have poured (also physically) on the European conscience. If the situation is so critical that even the sea represents an obstacle, shall we completely abandon the concept of euro-fortification to build a bridge?”. This question was followed by an invitation to designers to send some design concepts for a Euro-African bridge to be printed on postcards.
At the same time Joseph Grima published an open letter to the President of the Council of Europe Herman Van Rompuy, in which he notes the possibility of Europe’s gaining much from Africa’s innovation and experimentations (Grima, 2011, 8).
At a later stage, thanks to the invitation of some European Members of Parliament, Domus managed to realise the exhibition “Project Heracles. 200 postcards from the Straits”at the European Parliament, showing the postcards received illustrating the projects in order to spread the initiative properly.
The Gopher Hole Gallery in London and Domus invited a number of distinguished thinkers, writers and curators to examine the postcards and make a selection of the most provocative and creative designs. Philosophers Lieven De Cauter and Dieter Lesage, architectural academic and author Eyal Weizman, curator of the Marakesh Biennale and director of Program, Carson Chan, director of Architecture for Humanity, Cameron Sinclair, futurist and author Bruce Sterling, writer Geoff Manaugh and The Gopher Hole team made a short list of six postcards which were to be displayed in the exhibition space.
Each postcard exposed presented an imaginary answer to the question. The drawings and pictures were accompanied by ideas to reflect upon the concepts of border and communion. Suspended bridges, floating cities, airships and cable cars marked a linking route between the two borders of Ceuta and Gibraltar. Amongst the many themes there were refugee camps, monorails, currency, playgrounds and artificial islands and a big floating city of the Mediterranean.
The project of the artist Francis Alÿs, entitled Don’t cross the bridge before you get to the river depicts a line of children leaving Africa towards Europe, while a second line goes away from Spain and moves towards Morocco. The two lines will meet at the horizon. [1]
Andrea Costa and Debora Sanguineti’s proposal transforms the “Square of the 200 columns” of the residential compound Climat de France in Algeri into an inhabited bridge, thus referring to the notion of Mediterranean City by Giancarlo De Carlo. [2]
The concepts reveal an imaginary universe that is able to overcome all cultural, economical and social barriers separating the two continents. And they showed that the Mediterranean still represents a cultural and symbolic space, which is alive despite its emergency condition and apart from the humanitarian responses that are needed for its crisis.
The project as a whole has showed that the architecture and design practises are strictly related to the global conditions of geopolitics and that, at the same time, they act as real activators in the construction of the symbolic contemporary universe.
Within the specific Mediterranean context the project defines a new social and critical agenda for designers.

3. Design Activism
While design practices acquire a social dimension, several expressions of design activism world wide show what Ezio Manzini, through his foundation DESIS[3]has defined as a societal journey towards a more sustainable way of living.
In the last few years, in many countries of the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea, like Tunisia, Egypt and others, intentional actions asking for a change are emerging. These want, stimulate change on behalf of a neglected group and support social innovation. Several expressions of activism have spread during public performances and through social networks, where all images and icons created to express discontent become “viral” and spread extremely quickly.

Characterised by different approaches, between art and design, social sciences and communication sciences, creative professions and civil society, design activism is focused on the social reaction, trying to find solutions activating new behavioural patterns and hence cultural change of society (Alastair Fuad-Luke, 2009). In order to do this design activism seeks for new communicative ways, by using ICT, and new ways of involvement (design participatory actions, co-design) and tries to catalyse any change in the perception of reality, by increasing information and awareness.

An interesting example of design activism is Visualizing Palestine. This is a project of visual communication conceived by Palestinian Ramzi Jaber. It uses creative visual concepts design and storytelling (in posters, motion graphics, animation, videos) diffused on line to describe a factual rights-based narrative of Palestine/Israel. The project entitled “against injustice in Palestine”, aims at correcting information against the wrong narrative spread by media on Palestine. Through its information, the project aims at a widespread social awareness of the injustice practiced in Palestine.

In 2009, Ramzi Jaber, quit his job of civil engineer in Jerusalem, as to organize TEDxRamallah. While working on the conference, he was impressed by the huge amount of data available on Palestine, though not very well-known. With the aim of spreading this information, in the early 2011 he conceived his project as a start up and non-profit project, in collaboration with TEDxRamallah co-organizer Joumana al-Jabri, an architect, operating with the same DIY approach as the conference. (Stephanie Features) Editor at Wamda and a freelance journalist.

After a first failure of some workshops launched in Amman and Dubai, the two founders realised that they needed to properly train a team composed by people with different competences, able to build and streamline the process of carefully-designed infographics.

Today Visualizing Palestine is composed by a team of 13 people of different nationalities (Arab, Jordanian, Palestinian, Lebanese, French, etc.) with different background and competences (managers, designers, and researchers), plus 8 – 14 volunteers, implement an eight-part process. Most of the work consists of turning raw data into a story, then telling that story through an arresting infographic, within the communication project, starting from modelling and visualising the data deduced by statistic studies and scientific researches carried out on Israel territories and coming from verified sources .[4]The process is meticulous enough to warrant the team. The communicative artefacts turn the data into infographics that overcoming linguistic differences allow the comprehension of information on a worldly scale. The visualization of the data has an immediate impact, due to the narrative style involving images and data.

Visualizing Palestine can be described as intersection of communication, social sciences, technology, design and city planning for social justice. It is financed through crowdfounding campaigns launched on indiegogo. It uses the license Creative Commons (no profit organisation) that allows the sharing and the employment of creativity and knowledge through free legal instruments.
The project carries on design practices that give voice to social and political contradictions, thus gaining political value. And it tries to reveal the public image, spread by traditional media, that conceals the complicity at the basis of contemporary politics.
Magazines and websites then buy and publish the infographics of Visualizing Palestine, unless they are commissioned, in which case clients then print and distribute them.

4. Design for emergency
The theme of emergency is not new to design. It has already been dealt with in the past, especially with regard to emergency housing, a problem that emerges in case of natural catastrophic events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. The problem of emergency deserves great attention both from a techno-functional point of view, and from a psychological one, since it has to fulfil man’s instinctive need for safety (P. Antonelli, 2005).

An example of product design for emergencies is that wanted by the Israeli Government. Between the 1980s and 1990s, the government of Israel collaborated with the Research & Development Department of Bezalel Art and Design of Jerusalem, in order to improve the quality of life of its population, that is constantly at war with Palestine.

The project, made for the national security plan, focused on the application of a device for gas masks: the air blower. This uses positive pressure inside the mask so that there is no need to breathe through the filter. It comes in kits for personal protection, consisting of gas masks with body extensions that protect different body parts (head, arms and part of the trunk). It is easy to wear and use for adults, children and new-born babies (like the portable cradle “Mini Mamat”) thanks to the flexible and transparent materials that cover one’s face without limiting their vision or movements. It also include a series of accessories that allow to drink easily ( a baby bottle and a straw) and to listen to the radio. It is easy to use thanks to graphical symbols showing the use modes of the masks. These protective systems, widely in use during the Gulf War, are still provided to every citizen of Israel. The Shmartaff kit (Hebrew slang for babysitter) is an official present from the government to every Israeli newborn child. Despite any arguments on the fact that these products may be part of the “political rhetoric”, this security kit has made Israelis stronger.

In 2005 these products were exhibited at SAFE. Design Takes On Risk features, an exhibition by Paola Antonelli held at New York MoMa. The show shocked the American people by highlighting the situation in Israel and how much Israeli designers are contributing to the population life quality and comfort. Overall more than 300 contemporary objects and prototypes from all over the world designed “to defend body and mind from dangerous or stressful circumstances and provide a sense of comfort and security” were exhibited. Addressing a range of human concerns, from the fear of earthquakes and terrorist attacks, the exhibition covered different parts of the project, from architecture to information. The exhibition included a “blast mitigation system” for glass walls, a bullet-resistant blouse, and the Spider Boot Antipersonnel Mine Foot Protection System, a special shoe apparatus for minesweepers and soldiers.

Some of the most recent projects, such as those which received an award at the International Contest Mediterranean Design[5], at the 2009 and 2010 editions, are focused on the emergency of clandestine immigration, and aim at improving immigration policies for refugees, while achieving psychological and physical comfort.

Floating hearts[6]by the Italian Giulio Iacchetti is a system of signalling buoys, equipped with led panels charged by photovoltaic cells and emergency signalling systems. The project offers a concrete solution while poetically hinting at a metaphor. The buoys hold the frame of a floating bright heart, and being spread over the Mediterranean they are useful to help the shipwrecked, and they could be placed where shipwrecks happened. “A warning to the sailors and a memorial between the waves, less vanishing than a bunch of flowers that is thrown from ships after any sea tragedy” as Iacchetti himself writes.
Brakumo[7]is a comfort kit by Studio Paolo Paladini who writes “… on disembarkation we need to provide the immigrants with a support …even a moral one, so that they won’t feel emarginated in a society that rejects them. A gesture is enough … Brakumo is made of a rug, a pair of shoes and two boxes. Minimal objects but rich in a gesture that breaks the present social patterns. The name of the kit is the word “hug” in Esperanto; through this global language we hoped for a dialogue between peoples, as well as we wished to break bias through the kit…a consoling and understanding hug…”

In 2014, the students of Ecole de design de Nantes Atlantique analysed the theme of surviving catastrophes in the exhibition Survival. Among the projects presented there, Vestaïs[8]is a brazier used for heating; a welcoming wood stove. On its top, a foldable grill can be positioned on the bowl in order to cook food. Heaters placed in the tripod can be removed to warm oneself. The stove location would help to share thoughts and ideas between people. As such, it is oriented toward conviviality. It is run on methane produced by a 7 litre compost bin and wood placed within the bowl. If the compost bin is not used (it takes 24 hours for methanization) to light the fire, it can be replaced by a gas bottle with a universal burner. The cross bars hold and dry the wood and can also be used to dry clothes.
Another project is Armadillo[9], an health capsule, that aims to create a reassuring environment for a person waiting to be rescued. It is a survival backpack that looks like a shell, which includes first aid equipment, a GPS and a light, in order for the person to be spotted by rescuers easily. It also includes an empty pocket, which can be filled in according to one’s needs. A user grabs the bag and leaves his house in order to look for a safer place. He then opens the shell, transforming the backpack into a cocoon in which he can sit. Like the Tuaregs, one can sit still a long time thanks to a belt going around his knees and back. One adult can fit in. The comfortable seat protects the user’s legs from the hard floor. A blanket made out of Goretex® with reassuring colours inside allows the user to stay warm and dry, while keeping the sweat from condensing. Parts of the backpack outer colour and blanket are reflective so that they can be easily seen by rescuers.
Nowadays, the main problem for this kind of design is finding actors who could promote, finance, produce and distribute the product to interested recipients. Sometimes humanitarian and philanthropic organizations, associations and ONG take care of this, and designers cooperate with them to identify problem areas and strategies to give suitable answers to the needs that products, services and systems have to have, in order to fulfil humanitarian help requirements.
Some companies are starting to deal with these themes, making them part of their strategies for the communication value they acquire in brand promotion.

5. Design for socio-economic development
The awareness that design can be a real agent of development in various situations led design research to try and offer concrete solutions to less urgent matters than those discussed before. Given the low industrialization of Mediterranean countries, research explores new production and innovation opportunities for typical or local products, or different configurations for actors and resources, capable of creating new value for those productions. The projects strategically receive a huge capital in terms of tangible and intangible competences and resources linked to the social and territorial context. Some introduce new ideas or organization models; others mix handicrafts with industrial processes or put together old technical skills with new technologies.

This is the case of Egypt design hub (Di Matteo, 2012) that, during Salone del Mobile 2013 and 2014, at the Salone Satellite, presented, prototypes from young designers, who experiment new products for local manifacturing production segments. The project by Nadal Bahr, released this year, is Anub Chair, a wooden chair combining fine craftsmanship from ancient Egyptian production, inspired by animal anatomy, with innovative 3D milling techniques.

Another case is that of Rawtating[10]project by the Israeli designer Adi Zaffran Weisler who experimented a production process for the production of small series of furniture. He created a set of tables and stools by combining tree branches, trunks and twigs with plastic during the moulding process. The project combines the industrial and the manual process and develops a method where the meeting point between the organic and the synthetic is achieved through the rotational moulding process without the need for cold joints or complex adjustments. From the manufacturing process a new aesthetic language is created out of basic shapes and raw materials.
In a context where the economical crisis is exacerbating job security, it is important to promote such projects in which design supports the internationalization of productive territories. These projects that have been developed by design centres, institutions or individual designers, are mainly led by the desire to help artisans and small producers to reach new markets and to build connections with partners worldwide. In some cases, these projects have become a concrete opportunity for new businesses, showing how the process of design driven innovation can have a strategic role in economical development.
An example is Corque Design (Mestre, 2013), a new sustainable design brand based on cork, a Mediterranean sustainable material. Corque Design was born after an applied design research led by the Portugues designer Ana Mestre with a focus on design solutions with these materials produced in large quantity in Portugal. The brand was internationally launched in 2009 during the Milan Design Week, and offers a range of high quality furnishing products and accessories carefully designed by different Portuguese designers. It has already made several small series productions, which have been exhibited and commercialized in the European, American and Asian markets.
Another case is Trochet, a collection of objects between fashion and product design (handbags and soft chairs), made by crocheting a line obtained from used plastic bags, indeed Trochet stands for trash+crochet. The project is by Diana Rayyan, from Saudi Arabia, founder of Ateeq, a startup that helps poor Saudi women by giving them a job. Objects knit from used plastic bags by women involved in the project are sold thanks to commercial mediation by Trochet. Founded in August, 2012 with two women, the company today numbers 50 employed women and has worked 200,000 plastic bags.

Other projects are aimed at giving value to agricultural productions, agro-alimentary products local resources and cultures to make them accessible. Being capable of valuing them is today a key element for the development of production systems, considering the economic, social, touristic opportunities it can raise. Even the mere preservation of typical activities like agriculture, integrated with new and different functions, noticeably the environment and territory protection, creates new economical and social opportunities for places. (Belletti and Berti, 2011).

During the last few years in Italy, France, Spain and also Greece we observed a growth of attention to initiatives that place touristic, educational and recreational services aside of agricultural production, also with the aim of detecting and satisfying new consumer segments interested in the fruition of agricultural products and production territories, in order to “dive” into the culture of those places e live consumption experiences as opportunities for social and cultural enrichment (Ferrara, 2011b).

The Ametlla+ de Mallorca® (Flaquer, 2012) brand project by designer and entrepreneur Barbara Flaquer is part of this vision. She and other 4women from Mallorca have established in the island the 3+1 company. They produce and package various preparations, based on almonds and other ingredients, to be used in traditional recipes. Thanks to the preparations, the recipes may be cooked in less time, thus complying with the contemporary life style. The project aims at reintroducing the cultivation of Majorca almond, so that it may still be a profitable activity, yet preserving the beauty of the landscape. Company communication is based on typical iconographic elements of Majorca visual culture, which show the beauty of the landscape of the island. Attention to product authenticity and production eco-sustainability is part of an economic development strategy that values the local territory, without going back to archaic or autarchic economies.

6. Social design for social innovation in a geopolitic contest
Design in all its different approaches (from critical design to design activism, from emergency design to design for the socio-economical development of communities and territories) is a powerful tool for the development of a collective awareness and for the transformation of reality through its processes, productions and actions requiring its use and consume.
Often, design operates in the symbolic universe. Frequently it raises reactions and moves consciences through its strong ethical messages, which affect the cultural, political and commercial life. This has always happened, although nowadays this need is stronger. In particular since the word design has been accompanied by the ideas of “responsibility” and “social commitment”, thus giving birth to a peculiar area of design called Social design[11], referring back to the theories of V. Papanek, G. Bonsiepe and V. Margolin and debate which took place between the 1960s and 80s. At present, Social Design “that is directed first and foremost to human needs” (Margolin, 2007) is taking on the attitude for a better future, including the ideas of sustainability, activism and social innovation.
As V. Margolin claims, design research has confronted for as long as two centuries with the ‘market model’, which has seen design develop in the most industrialized countries as a profession specializing in product and visual communication design, commissioned by production companies and targeted to the consumer market. Design for market model takes care of social need, not everybody’s need though, but only those of potential buyers.

Today, the transition toward social market asks for a redefinition of goals: make responsible fulfilment of human needs a priority, without differences in purchasing power, and including poor countries and disadvantaged groups.

In the last ten years, a crescendo of projects, exhibitions, and initiatives demonstrates a collective movement for ‘social design’ and suggests new social dimension for design practice and not a mere ally of consumerism any more.[12]

As designer activist Alastair Fuad-Luke claims (2009, p. 78): “There is a stream of consciousness and activity around what could be termed ‘social y active design’, where the focus of the design is society and its transition and/or transformation to a more sustainable way of living, working and producing.”

But the transition from the market model to the social model raises a new problem for designers, that is organising economic and partnerships conditions for the projects. In the market model, these conditions are guaranteed by the entrepreneur who funds a production and gets the profits from the sale.

The advent of new communication technologies and additive production (3D print), lighter, more sustainable and economic than those of the past, give us hope, because they offer some opportunities useful to rethinking of development processes possible, allowing co-existence of both social and market models.

Moreover in a globalized society, there is the idea that it is necessary to carry on creative activities and projects respecting socio-economic conditions and international politics. We are going towards geodesign, a “strategic” design that deals with the building of “bridges” and strategic international alliances for the development of territories.

Today, designers are less and less asked to provide productive responses. Instead, they are asked to produce questions and ideas that require different skills and include the design of products, services and communication in its multifold shapes. A designer’s role is to identify the problems, guide choices towards selected targets, be good at building and managing networks of people involved, individual and collective skills and direct all these skills towards different possible solutions[13]and productions.

Starting from an evaluation of the cultural, productive, geo-economical and geo-political variables of every single territory, geo-designers and social designers may act as facilitators, finding partners that together can make up a single production chain, from the project to the consumption, also acting as strategic planners of this system, which is the means to reach the targets, by fostering social change at the same time.

In a geopolitical vision, design is asked to be the promoter of both economical and social change. Design is indeed able to convey complex information, raise people’s awareness of reality, modify our perception of the world around us, project us into the future[14], open new opportunities and visions in order to transform contingent reality, by improving people’s activities and welfare.

7. Conclusion
The design offer for the Mediterranean seems varied and consistent with a new “social model” that drives design towards social innovation and economical development, in a context where the ideas coming from the “bottom” are more significant than those imposed from the “top”.

The above mentioned projects focus on concrete realities and the appreciation of environmental contexts and human resources.
The purpose of social design research is now that of understanding how social and economic development could proceed responsibly at the same speed in order to accelerate and increase “design-driven change”.

In adhering to the perspective on design for social model, we wish for design to contribute to the development of the hyper-democracy context Jaques Attali (2006) talks about as the only chance to avoid a hyper-conflict.

This scenario asks us to work on relationship, sharing and cooperation between the two sides of the Mediterranean. To try and do new things designing them together, developing the capability to satisfy social and economic needs.

The present Mediterranean context represents an essential challenge for designers if they wish to contribute to the socio-cultural evolution and the economical development of this large part of the world.

Antonelli P. (2005), Safe: Design Takes on Risk, New York: Museum of Modern Art.

Attali J. (2006), Une brève histoire de l’avenir, Paris: Editions Fayard; Italian translation by Eleonora Secchi, Breve storia del futuro, IT, Rome: Fazi Editori.

Belletti G., Berti G. (2011), Turismo, ruralità e sostenibilità attraverso l’analisi delle configurazioni turistiche. In Pacciani A. (ed.) Aree rurali e configurazioni turistiche. Differenziazione e sentieri di sviluppo in Toscana, pp. 21-62, IT, Milan: Franco Angeli.

De Cauter L., Lesage D. (2002), Re: The Myth of the Bridge (an e-mail correspondence) in Hunch 5, pp. 54-68.

De Cauter L., Lesage D. (2011) Project Heracles. A Eurafrican Bridge. In Domus 947, May 2011, pp.90 – 94.

De Cauter L., Lesage D. (2011), Project Heracles #1. 172 Postcards from the Straits. In Domus 949, July/August 2011, pp. 94 – 105.

Di Matteo, G. (2012), From Drop City to the African hackerspace. In PAD. Pages of Arts & Design 9: 0803. Accessed March 15, 2014.

Flaquer B. (2012), Mallorcan Design and flowering almond trees. In PAD. Pages of Arts & Design 8: 0904. Accessed March 15, 2014.

Ferrara M. (2011a), Mediterraneo fucina per il design. In Arte e Critica, 68, pp. 76-77.

Ferrara M. (2011b), Mediterranean design? Dal food design all’agrindustrial design per la riqualificazione delle attività agricole e dei contesti territoriali. In ddiseño, 10.
Fuad-Luke A. (2009), Design Activism: Beautiful Strangeness for a Sustainable World. UK:London Earthscan.
Margolin, V., Margolin S. (2002), A “Social Model” of Design: Issues of Practice and Research, Design Issue vol. 18, pp. 24-30.

Margolin, V. (2007), A Call for Social Design, lecture presented at the conference “Best-Practice Medical Design for 2020 Technion, Haifa, Israel, June 14, 2007. Accessed March 15, 2014.

Mestre A. (2013), Corque Design: a New World Branding for Cork. In PAD. Pages of Arts & Design, 10:1012. Accessed March 15, 2014.

Studio Paladini, (2011), Brakumo. In PAD. Pages of Arts & Design, 7. Accessed March 15, 2014.

Papanek V. (1971), Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change. London: Thames and Hudson

Pencarelli T. (2010) (ed.), Marketing e Management del Turismo, Urbino: Edizioni Goliardiche

Weisler Z. (2011), Rawtating. In PAD. Pages of Arts & Design, 7. Accessed March 15, 2014

Safe, MoMA In Accessed March 10, 2014.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1.  The project was published on the cover of Domus in progress of May 2011. 
  2.  The Italian architect Giancarlo De Carlo, reflecting on the distinctive characteristics of the Mediterranean city and imagined a city-bridge connecting the two continents. He writes: “I think the idea of the Mediterranean city could be a major influence in the construction of Europe and the European city; this influence would be beneficial because it would generate fruitful contradictions. […] Migration has always been the vital important for Mediterranean cities. Newly arrived cultures have become part of everyday life and have fertilized society with their wealth of imagination which are expressed through complex urban forms (De Carlo, 2004, “Tortuosity”on Domus January 2004, pp. 24 – 25), so multiculturalism is one of the most important factors in contemporary Europe, resulting from migration determined by a variety of reasons. It has transformed the spaces of the contemporary city.”
  3.  DESIS (Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability) is a network of design labs, based in design schools and design-oriented universities, actively involved in promoting and supporting sustainable change. Its website is: 
  4.  International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Committee for Employment of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon (CEP)
  5.  Thanks to the free theme, the Mediterranean Design Contest, organised by Journal PAD. Pages of Art and Design, proved an interesting point of observation of the trends in Mediterranean design. There were projects that try to give an answer to Mediterranean emergency. 
  6.  This project was awarded the first prize in the product design category at the Mediterranean Design Contest 2009.
  7. Project receiving a special mention in 2011 in the product design category at the Mediterranean Design Contest 2010.
  8.  The Vestaïs project, by the students P. Dufour, I. Le Pays Du Teilleul, M. Leproux, D. Letassey, H. Louradour, J. Rolland, was developed with the support of Armor, partners for the Survival event, and exhibited at the Salone Satellite, at the Milan Fair during the Salone del Mobile 2014. The prototype was produced with the support of ArcelorMittal SoluStil. 
  9.  The Armadillo project by the students (I. Hauck, M. Le Bas, C. Germain, D. Le Cléac’h, C. Sanz, L. Chatain) was developed with the support of Armor, partners for the Survival event, and exhibited at the Salone Satellite, at the Milan Fair, during the Salone del Mobile 2014. 
  10.  Project selected at Mediterranean Design Contest 2010 and exhibited in 2011 at Mediterranean Design Exhibition at Design Hub, in Barcelona. 
  11.  With the phrase Social Design we define a specific skill in activating process of real change aiming at providing a respectable daily life. The project operates in social, cultural and economical marginality situations, deriving from specific vulnerability that systematically affect people and communities: access to credit, food, housing, education, work, health… They vary from context to context, from country to country, from culture to culture, therefore design has to comply with these variables and find the right tools, knowledge and competences, by activating multidisciplinary processes. 
  12.  In 2002 the exhibition “Designs for the Real World” at the General Foundation shed a critical light on urban development, ecological design and the third world; in 2007 the exhibition “Design for the Other 90%” held at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum showcased the global need to refocus design to the underserved 90% of the population; in 2005 the Utrecht Manifest Biennale for Social Design, a new biennial for social design was launched and in 2009, numerous events and exhibitions at this Biennale aimed to strengthen multidisciplinary socio-political debate. 
  13.  On the other hand the development of the philosophy of complexity (as discourse, paradigm and collective experience) demands that design, not only should improve its competences and skills, but should also have a constant dialogue with the systemic dimension of reality. As Edgar Morin has clearly pointed out what is hard to achieve for a contemporary project is precisely “to project the complexity of the points of view” in order to “organise” and “manage” the sequences of potential behaviours. Thus the central feature of design becomes the process that is activated and enabled and how it generates the project. The actors involved are central; the competences and the tangible and intangible resources linked to the territory and the social context where the project operates have strategic importance. 
  14.  The term ‘project’ is derived from the Late Latin proiectare frequentative of pro-jacere which means ‘throw forward’. 

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The other seashore. Migrations to the South of the Mediterranean


Since the beginning of the French occupation of Algeria, by the middle of the nineteenth century, a large number of people from Spain, Italy and Malta, fleeing from poverty and hunger or as a result of political and social instability, headed the North African country in search of a better life. The melting-pot created in French Algeria due to the coexistence and interaction of different cultural realities, gave rise to a new sense of belonging within the community of European origin.

The full paper is available in Spanish

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Mediterranean Great Conversation


The exit from the Mediterranean emergency requires rethinking its identity in a new perspective. This means recognizing its legitimate role as a “Great Sea in Between”, as a cultural interface able to connect all the citizens that address to it, in everyday life and as individuals, involving them in a real “great conversation” based on the design disciplines. Design, Brand, Visual Identity, Packaging, Social Media, Fashion, Food, Architecture, Music may be powerful antidotes to the immobility of those who mourn a lost Mediterranean harmony and also a viable alternative to the ethnic closure led by the proponents of the Clash of Civilizations.

1. Globalization of indifference
The media landscape shows everyday apocalyptic scenes of tragedy between a bank and the other of the Mediterranean Sea (Boldrini, 2010). The images of death and suffering have become so frequent that they inevitably look like ordinary, necessary evil which seems everyday less outrageous and indicative. Ordinary recurrence of such tragedies matches, in fact, a loss of interest and centrality of these same events for the general public. They end up to be swallowed up by the boredom and indifference of zapping between TV channels. This goes on as long as it does not happen a striking fact, capable to return death to its real, to reawake, as on cue, the “dormant consciences” from torpor. On one hand, bellicose positions against any feared invasion of migrants along our coasts get reactivated, on the other, so do radical acknowledgements of activism in struggle for the universal brotherhood. Both positions are strengthened due to the wave of emotions which the emergence demands. No need of saying that this kind of reactions, however legitimate, are ready to fall again into the ordinary apathy led by the so called “globalization of indifference”, once the clamor has been overcome.
At the borderline of this rhetoric, the problem of the Mediterranean Sea as a cultural and symbolic space remains untouched, keen far beyond the emergency and the necessary humanitarian responses that crisis requires. In this regard, it may be asked whether it is possible to recognize a specific placement in the social imaginary of this sea. The politicians who are called to deal with the arrival of migrants, for example, face the horror, in regret. They think of the Mediterranean Sea as the site of a lost civilization (Braudel, 1985; Matvejević, 1987), a place of harmony among people who share a common citizenship, obliata in the present in the name of petty reasons: religious differences, nationalisms, economic interests are reported to have denied this common root causing the crisis of our years. Every willing of intervention is focussed on how to restore this lost harmony, on promising a return to a mythical as well as elusive Mediterranean golden age. We can understand how this feeling of Mediterranean Community risks of presenting itself as “Invention of Tradition” (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), atavistic longing for a timeless purity, hard to be recognized in a given historical horizon.

2. Mediterranean Nostalgia
In the memoirs of Sicilian emigrants to America between 800 and 900 (Pucci di Benisichi, 2003), an interesting metaphor can be found: the Atlantic ocean with the ship appointed to cross it was compared to a big belly able to swallow and digest passengers during the trip, then respit them on the docks of New York as completely transformed after a long digestion. The Mediterranean Sea, nowadays, rather than “sea in between”, works like an endless ocean: prevents communication between the two sides, takes the floor and acts as a large stomach constantly digesting everything that goes through it, reducing it to a pulp. That’s why crossing it, far more than stepping along a trajectory, looks like a transfiguration. What is returned by the waves does not look like what was shipped in the beginning: not objects but debris, not bodies but shreds are found. And this is what triggers melanchony: these crumbles demand to be considered as fragments, pieces of a puzzle original and lost that wants to be reassembled.

3. Design and the Mediterranean “Great Conversation”
Such an offer may perhaps profitably be rejected, avoiding the easy temptation to invent the overall picture when being not able to rebuild it. Trying, for once, to fold it, rejecting the vintage languor of the æsthetics of fragment. That is to stop regretting the past, debating genealogy of common roots, that is to do away with the endless discussions on how to share the legacy of the “great sea in between”. Then, to try to do new things. And design them together, between a bank and the other in the Mediterranean, promoting, even financially , activities which aim to repopulate the sea of people. Not of migrants in search of a misunderstood and increasingly evanescent Eldorado but of new citizens of a new coastal community that can come back to invest on their geographical proximity. Doing things together, with the right responsibilities and the necessary determination. In such an attitude, design skills, meant in a deep latourian perspective (Latour, 2009), may run a big part. Emergency exit may have a lot to do with branding, visual identity, packaging, social media, fashion, food, architecture, music, all of which require a high level of creativity and low costs of entry and are based on the use of real and virtual networks in order to link people in the flesh. The best way to the emergency exit of the Mediterranean, then, is to think of it as a cultural space; think this sea within what is called the Great Conversation, in the Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger, 2000), the famous book of online business. It is worth pointing out that obviously this has to do with the digital communications infrastructure but for sure it does not end up with the mere technological sphere. On the contrary, it concerns primarily the daily life. Changing perspective on the Mediterranean Sea means, first of all, abandoning the great theories, the notorious geopolitical and strategic talks, the clash of civilizations and the universal brotherhood to take a pragmatic perspective, tailor made for the citizen, that is the same as to say, revolutionary thing, for the individual.

3. Paypal and freedom of movement
From these fast considerations, new questions: when can we buy an item of Moroccan Design on paying with Paypal? When sending small correspondence between the countries of the Mediterranean will be possible without paying big bucks? When, and here comes the really fundamental question, citizens who want to trade, do business, learn, move into their Mediterranean scenery, which is their home, can do so, without incurring the heavy humiliations that the visa regime imposes with no difference to the travelers?


Boldrini, L. (2010). Tutti indietro. Milano: Rizzoli.
Braudel, F. (1985). La Méditerranée, les hommes et l’héritage. Paris: Flammarion.
Hobsbawm, E. & Ranger, T. (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Latour, B. (2009). A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (with Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk) in Hackney F., Glynne, J. & Minton V. (a cura di). Network of Design, Proceedings of the 2008 Annual International Conference of Design History Society (Uk) (pp.2-10). Boca Raton: Universal Publisher.
Levine, R., Locke, C., Searls, D. & Weinberger, D. (2000). Cluetrain Manifesto. New York: Perseus Books.
Matvejević, P. (1987). Mediteranski brevijar. Zagreb: Grafički zavod Hrvatske.
Pucci di Benisichi, R. (2003). Prefazione. In Schiavelli V. Bruculinu America. Palermo: Sellerio.
Schiavelli, V. & Lipani, S. (2002). Many Beautiful Things: Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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Fig. 1 Standing man of Taksim Square, performance.

Mediterranean Emergency: Design Against Disasters (DAD!)

Social, political and economic turmoil appear to be an on-going agony for the Mediterranean region, ever since, perhaps, the emergence of “Mare Nostrum” in Roman times. The issues we face today have always been present. However they have come to the surface differently in recent years and demand urgent responses in accordance with their new characteristics.

We know that limited economic growth and unequal distribution of wealth are some of the reasons causing migration today, in addition to inadequate access to basic services and fundamental rights, which make people “vulnerable to extortion, violence, discrimination and marginalization”. As stated in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message:

Almost half of migrants are women; 1 in 10 is under the age of 15; 40 per cent live in developing countries. Poor and low-skilled migrants face the highest barriers to social mobility. The United Nations is acting to safeguard the rights of migrants, lower the social and economic costs of migration, and promote policies that maximize the benefits of mobility. Migrants should not be forced to risk lives and dignity seeking better lives.

Each year thousands of illegal migrants die in the Mediterranean, some under the wild waves of the cold sea, some in the hidden compartments of smugglers’ trucks and some God knows where…We will never forget the Lampedusa boat disaster, which claimed hundreds of emigrants’ lives last year in Italy.

A design response is vital in helping to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.

The problem of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in their country is another issue requiring an immediate answer. Millions of people live in tents, temporary shelters and container houses in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, for how long no one knows.

A design response is essential to raise the quality of these people’s lives.

The problems are complicated, social conditions are complex, and situations are chaotic in many Mediterranean states. Social unrest against long surviving regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria etc., was initially welcome by the West. The images of anti-governmental protests were presented to the global public as if these movements could be the beginning of a new era and even maybe the beginning of participatory democracy in these countries. However, the expectations of this so-called Arab Spring have faded quickly in this respect. At a glance, protests began with people’s demands for democratic rights. Nevertheless, while protestors were critical of the status quo, their demands were vaguely articulated and showed little unity of purpose as to what should replace it. This resulted in power vacuums following the fall of the various regimes, which various factions and extremist groups have sought to exploit. Al Qaeda increased their presence in Syria and Iraq and the ‘Arab Spring’ ricocheted off the Mediterranean glass ceiling.

A design response is crucial to define and defend universal values valid for all.

Each country has its own particularities and civil unrest in the Mediterranean reflects these differences clearly: what happened in Egypt or Tunisia cannot be comparable with that of Syria. Therefore an analytical and critical approach with substantial local knowledge is imperative to obtain a realistic understanding of social turbulence being experienced in these particular countries. For example, the Turkish state’s distinctive reaction to the Gezi Park or Taksim Square Protests in 2013 needs to be underlined.[1]

Unlike many other protests, participants’ creative reactions made a significant mark on the Taksim Square demonstrations. During and after the events, participants and contributors produced art works, composed and made music, performed dance, shot art pictures, made documentary films, wrote books, designed posters and objects and so on. Innovative performances such as the “standing man of Taksim Square” [Fig. 1] and a great sense of humour have burgeoned through slogans, jokes, and graphic works and so on. For instance gas masks became a symbol of the protests and were widely used in every circumstance and in all media [Fig. 2, 3, 4]. For instance, when Izmir Mediterranean Academy produced a series of posters to celebrate the World Industrial Design Day on 29 June 2013, the mask was used for one of the posters to indicate that it is an object of design, while at the same time making an implicit reference to the Gezi Park resistance [Fig. 5]. Design was an inseparable tool of communication in Taksim Square with which protestors gained public sympathy and conveyed their messages more efficiently.

No doubt, the Mediterranean Emergency requires an urgent design response for all kinds of disaster, including natural ones such as flood, tsunami or earthquake. The list may extend easily. We are aware that some of these listed are not specific to the Mediterranean but applicable in other cases and areas too. However, when priorities are concerned, the current problems of the Mediterranean, such as immigration and refugees cannot be postponed and must be resolved quickly. Design has limited direct power to effect change yet nevertheless can help alleviate victims’ suffering as well as accelerate a political and social solution to problems. Therefore, a call for design response concerning the Mediterranean Emergency is not a fantasy but a must.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

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Nefertiti with gas mask, designed by El Zeft, worn by women during a manifestation in Cairo, downtown

Editorial #11

PAD Issue #11 is online. This issue is completely dedicated to the Mediterranean design with interesting contributions coming from different authors living and working in the countries of this part of the world.

Why are we addressing the topic of Mediterranean Emergency and Activism?

Because the critical situation of the Mediterranean area, that in the last years run into an acute condition of emergency due to strong social conflicts and demonstrations of public dissidence against political and social repression, especially in the field of art and design practices.

Lampedusa Island, in the south of Italy, is afflicted by the continuous clandestine disembarking and by serious sea crashes that have caused the death of many immigrants. The Syrian civil war records an increasing number of refugees. To escape the violence, more than two million Syrian refugees [1] have fled their country to neighboring countries as Jordan, Lebanon, or Turkey. Refugees experiencing extremely poor and unsafe life conditions have overpopulated Gaza strip, like other Palestinian territories, for a long time. Meanwhile, protest movements have broken out in different regions, like Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, or the occupy movements and the Gezi protests in Istanbul.

Facing these troubles, expression of long-term unsolved problems, civil society demonstrates its disagreement, during public events and by social media, also creating visual artifacts like Calligrafiti or masks (as shown on our cover), and generally using design practices, going beyond the conventional conception of design as a marketing or styling tool (T. Balcioglu). Furthermore, the advent of ICT has enabled rapid production and widespread distribution possibilities, urging activism and the potentiality of creative dissidence.

This issue starts with an article, as introduction, by Tevfik Balcioglu, a renowned scholar and design historian in Turkey, who proposes an overview of Mediterranean emergency. Tevfik Balcioglu launches DAD! (Design Against Disasters!), asking for a design response in order to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis as well as to give voice to civil society in the Mediterranean area.

In his text, the Italian semiotic scholar Francesco Mangiapane, appeals to a “great conversation”, between all the citizens of the Mediterranean area, founded on different design disciplines that could be able to rebuild a constructive social and cultural collaboration facing the emergencies.

Concerning immigrants stories, the paper by Marta Amorós Torró, PhD of the Universidad de Girona (Spain), brings us back almost a century ago, for a retrospective analysis of emigration, seen in an opposite direction than today, when part of Spanish, Italian and Maltese population moved towards colonial Algeria, with a consequent strong sense of belonging to European-origin communities.

The paper by Raquel Pelta, a Spanish historian from the Barcelona University, analyzes Mediterranean phenomena of activist design. The text describes socio-political activism in Spain since the 60s, and its relation with art and design movements, which came into view particularly in the 90s.

The paper by Andreas Sicklinger and Reham Mohsen, design professors in Cairo, concerns the intensive use of graffiti around the cities of Egypt during the events of the last years of revolution, and analyzes the new use of faces in Graffiti as protesting images. Authors say “This phenomenon has raised through a social and psychological background […] which is referring to a new identity for the Egyptians”.

In this situation of chronic emergency, politically active design could find several solutions for everyday life, in order to decrease emergency seriousness. Marina Parente offers an overview of design research on emergency housing and temporary living, which represents “the intersection of practical needs with the aspiration, sometimes utopian, toward an extreme simplicity in living and an innate desire for freedom and exploration”.

The paper by Maria Antonietta Sbordone and Rosanna Veneziano presents an example of product-service design project for immigrants, for a better access to the healthcare system by peoples in the emergency areas. The text highlights the role of design, which leverages on ICT as a useful tool to improve accessibility, to share data and information, in order to develop an integrated assistance in which the immigrant citizen becomes part of a healthcare system.

And also my article presents a number of projects where the social approach of design emerges transforming power relations into a new social order.

The closing text is the reportage by Ziad Zitoun, which focuses on the “Arab spring” in Tunisia, Lybia and Egypt, shown very powerful examples of visual design. The article, both emotional and personal, illustrates socio-political movements and their relationships with art practices in the Southern Mediterranean coast. In the mean time it describes the roles of network technologies as catalysts of activism phenomena in the public space.

Nowadays, Mediterranean emergency reality represents a primary challenge for designers toward a socio-cultural evolution and an economic renovation of this part of the world.

Cover photo: Nefertiti with gas mask, designed by El Zeft, worn by women during a manifestation in Cairo downtown. Photo by El Zeft (Egypth). The same mask was used during “Egypt : sexual assaults on women must stop” German protest.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. See at: 

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Ahimsa: Showing Kindness to Dresses

Abstract: A recent conceptual fashion design exhibition Ahimsa has been displayed as a critical response against the rapacious growth of the fast fashion system through its means of production, design and consumption. The exhibition’s importance comes not only from positioning ethical fashion within the conceptual fashion design practice, but also from its status as the first critical fashion design exhibition in Turkey, which has been conceived and curated by academic and designer Şölen Kipöz in Izmir Ahmet Adnan Saygun Art Center, Izmir, Turkey, from 18 October to12 November 2012.

The word Ahimsa, which gives an important clue about the Kipöz’s design approach and methodology, refers to an attitude of  kindness and non-violence towards all living things.By adopting the concepts of recycling and do-it-yourself method in her sustainable design journey, Kipöz aims to transform and deconstruct the fragments of garments, and at the same time, avoiding harming them. She describes her production process as ‘articulation’ and ‘grafting’. Instead of using scissors to take the pieces apart, she makes use of an extractor manually, ripping off the pieces and re-stitching them together. In this way, the sartorial method of the designer emphasizes utilization of the inactive/ waste materials and garments. She describes these materials as ‘surprise materials’, and working with them gives the creator an opportunity to design innovative forms, and embark on a journey into unknown territory.

Kipöz cultivates traditional arts and craftsmanship by enhancing both the authentic and the sustainable characteristics of dresses in her designs. It is easy to understand the sensibility and responsibility in this design process, which allows the building of a transparent and confidential relation between user, designer, and producer.

When entering the exhibition, you will be delighted by the seemingly familiar traces which reflect the designer’s memories. Each of these designs clearly conveys their own unique and personal stories. Kipöz’s initial inspiration for this project was her grandmother’s cotton dress, dating back to 1940’s, which was passed down to her. The designer has transformed this valuable, but inactive piece into a new dress, by creating a collage which includes other mementos from the grandmother, and also a more recent garment, a torn shirt belonging to the designer ; she states  “I have immortalized these dresses by giving them a second life”. Thus the dress is at the beginning of a cycle in which various surplus and waste fabric can be used in later creative designs.

The structure of the exhibition has been created in conjunction with three experimental approaches, named as Nearest Things, The Old News and De-structured. The first of these, Nearest Things were more related with the possibility of the creative design solutions within the reality of daily life practices.  In this section, the designer showed how an ordinary object can be transformed into a monumental piece, through the use of cotton string market bags, a symbol of  a nostalgia in Turkish culture, and creating a structure by tying hundreds of bags to each other. Thus, thanks to its permeability, she not only ingeniously created a perfect visual texture, but also has given a new meaning to this  ordinary object.

In contrast, The Old News was very similar to the hybridization of the beauty of the natural, and the seduction of the imperfection. These dresses recall natural aging, imperfection, and aesthetics of recycled waste materials. Moreover, they are embedded with fragments of memories of the past. On the other hand, De-structured dresses reflect both a rather reductionist design approach, and re-interpretations of the memories associated with the clothes. Kipöz deconstructs the pieces through  a process of draping the fabrics around the body, morphing them to create new layers between body and space. Through these layers, the memory of the previous form of the dress is retained through its incorporation into a new design experience, for example a previously  invisible pocket suddenly becomes visible through hand stitches, or the absence of the collar recalls its former presence;  In the process of extracting the structural map of the dress, the designer highlights the relation between the dress and its memory. Thus, the dress becomes a document housing for the previously lost memory, which is now recovered.

During the exhibition, Kipöz shared her own personal memories with the audience, and presented the other lives of dresses. Sometimes she embarked on a sartorial journeys , with a flamboyant shirt from 1970’s harboring so many memories, or with another worn-out shirt turned into a skirt. The symbolic use of her grandmother’s sewing machine as a mythic object was the protagonist of one the installations of the exhibition entitled Next. In this exhibit the random patchwork of the unused fabrics and parts of the garments which had been produced during the design process represented an ironic imagery, set in contrast to the linear mechanization of the fashion industry.

Kipöz has taken great pleasure in displaying controversial designs highlighting the corrupting system of fashion. Her rebellion is against stereotypical and spiritless production and consumption of industrial and mass fashion system. She asserts “I wanted to produce dresses that leave something behind; […] Like us, they have also memory and resistance to something. Design can be a solution to the conformist, extravagant world of fashion. Perhaps it is possible to engage in seduction, luxury, the new, and ecology at the same time”.

The exhibition stresses the potential of slow fashion rituals to humanize fast fashion. Kipöz absorbs the viewer in  a time warp to encourage the recall of social memory, and to forces us  to find our own displaced roots. As far as possible he tries to keep her process transparent and open to interpretation, which involves the production of  open-ended designs. In her designs, new lives and experiences of old and meaningful dresses are encoded. In addition, both  the unworn and unused,  and also the damaged, and stained dresses destined to be thrown away, are transformed into  a ceremonial design experience, through the  revitalization of  the memory of the traces remaining from real life experiences.This process of revitalizing the design experience creates an empathy between the audience and the designer, by incorporating the concepts of the philosophy of Ahimsa.

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Corque Design: a New World Branding for Cork

Abstract: In April 2009, a new sustainable design brand based on cork – a Mediterranean, sustainable and eco-efficient proved material – was internationally launched during the Milan Design Week. The brand was baptized as Corque Design (Mestre, 2006). The originality of Corque Design remains for being the first–ever launched brand exclusively dedicated to cork and to its application in eco-design products. Hence, it offers a range of high quality furnishing products and accessories carefully designed by prestigious Portuguese designers for people who most value creativity, quality and eco-efficient design (Corque, 2009). The brand has already accomplished several small series production, which have been exhibited and commercialized in the European, American and Asian Markets. Corque Design brand resulted from an applied design research project – Design Cork (Mestre, 2008, 2013) – with a focus on the search for new applications and design solutions based on cork materials and technologies and on strategies and processes that championed the use of creativity and conceptual development towards sustainable product design innovation.

1. Design as a research-driven opportunity for Cork

Portugal has one of the largest cork oak forest areas in the world, to the point that cork oak forests (Fig. 1) have traditionally been a social and economic vital element playing a decisive role in economic and cultural activities. It remains to this day one of the greatest and most important Portuguese natural resources. Cork is a natural material with exceptional environmental qualities: it is a renewable, recyclable, non-toxic and durable resource, with excellent physical and mechanical properties. Cork extraction doesn’t require that trees be cut down in that cork is naturally renewable, as it grows back in the bark of the cork oak (about 1 cm per year). The cork bark is harvested every nine years through a careful manual process, without harming the cork oak or the environment (Mestre and Gil, 2011).

The Portuguese cork industry has a large technological capacity in terms of materials and processes (APCOR, 2009), however this capacity is not being fully exploited nor does it take advantage of the eco-efficient aspects of cork (Mestre and Gil, 2011). It is still mainly oriented to the traditional products and applications (stoppers, flooring and insulation construction materials), which in the majority of the cases, no longer represent competitiveness and differentiation. Natural cork, granulates, composite agglomerates and expanded agglomerates are four of the most noteworthy groups of cork materials available in the industry (Mestre and Gil, 2011). However, the scarcity of technologies suited to design and a certain lack of information on this matter shed light on the need for developing a systematic work that could field the knowledge of cork as a material for product design (Mestre, 2008; Mestre et al, 2009; Mestre, 2013).

Emerged from this thriving context and anticipating the launch of Corque Design brand, the Cork Design project (designated as Design Cork for Future, Innovation and Sustainability)(Mestre, 2008) has been implemented in the Portuguese Cork Industry for the period of 2006-2009 by Lisbon based Susdesign studio in collaboration with the Delft University of Technology with the following goals (Mestre, 2008; Mestre et al, 2009; Mestre, 2013):

a) Incorporate Sustainable Product Design Innovation as a strategic factor in the Portuguese cork industry;

b) Explore the application of potential uses of cork materials and technologies in Design, through research and development of new added-value and proved eco-efficient cork products and solutions, thus stimulating companies to innovate with cork and at the same time, motivate designers to work with this material;

c) Create awareness to foster strategies and implement activities to promote sustainable product innovation amongst a broad audience (academia, industry, designers and consumers).

To meet the three-presented goals, a Design Cork Intervention Approach to stimulate the cork sector to open the horizons for advanced product design, was formulated based upon the conceptual framework of Sustainable Product Innovation, Action Research and Design Methods (Mestre, 2013). This combination revealed to be an optimal approach to cork product innovation, generating a great product portfolio and potential market directions that could “openly” inspire the next generation of cork products and those contributing to rethink the future of the greatest material sector in Portugal. This is the subject of a detailed article submitted to the Journal of Design Research (Mestre, 2013).

Within this Design Cork Intervention Approach, new thirty-eight cork product-prototypes of different market categories (from furniture to technological devices) were presented for the first time. Speak of a team of 50 designers (Mestre, 2008) who joined the Design Cork Project Exhibition, presented in Lisbon, in May 2008 at the Berardo Museum (located at Belém Cultural Centre) (Fig. 2) which received 13 000 visitors (in the first 10 days). The successful results of the Design Cork Exhibition defined the rising moment of CORQUE DESIGN foundation.

2. Corque Design: Vision & Strategy

Corque Design founder Ana Mestre together with co-founder Gonçalo Riscado, introduces a new brand concept: “Designing Living Objects”, which refers to the design of new exclusive and differentiated products made from cork with unique sensorial properties and exceptional environmental characteristics (Corque, 2009). From the Mediterranean forest to the world most well-known design stores, as MoMA retail store, Corque early succeed as a recognized world brand and a trendsetter in the field of sustainable product design (Vilar, 2013).

The vision of Corque Design is to promote eco-efficient and sustainable ways of production and consumption while positioning cork in a worldwide sustainable development movement (Mestre, 2008). As recently quoted in the International Direct Arts International Magazine, Issue 4 (2013) “this is a Portuguese brand with its own seal of quality. Environmental awareness, a vision of sustainability, the questioning of established paradigms and a search for new solutions. Any challenge worth undertaking involves a good deal of irreverence along the way (…) This is the spirit in which Corque Design was created, a project that offers design objects made from cork that is proud of being entirely Portuguese, from the raw material used to the talent that works it. Like any good venture, it has already secured its place in the market” (Vilar, 2013).

Along these lines, the mission of Corque Design is to commercialize new creative products and solutions based on cork materials and technologies, ensuring the use of eco-efficient principles in product development and presenting exclusive and quality cork products while satisfying the economical, environmental and socio-culture concerns of a contemporary sustainable driven society (Mestre, 2008). In this, Corque Design offers quality and creative eco-efficient cork products for the home environment – furniture and accessories, targeting a medium to high-income adult audience that prizes creativity, differentiation and sustainable conscious design.

Anticipating the brand’s mission, Dowdy (2007) wrote in the Financial Times weekend edition of December 8-9, 2007 that “in the hands of young Portuguese Designers vying to save one of their country’s biggest export industries, the material is being transformed into something rather more creative and contemporary”. In 2010, the international Monocle Issue 37 (Monocle, 2010) dedicated to the theme of “Global Style Survey” with a guide of the brands, business trends and buyers of 2010 stated that “the material has now catched the attention of the country’s designers, eager to find sustainable ways to make product for daily living. Since 2006, Lisbon based Corque Design has used the natural, non-polluting and renewable material”. In November 2011, international Wired Magazine selected Corque Design as one of the Sustainability Icons of the year, showing-case the brand product collection at the largest Wired store ever, in New York Times Square, attended by 566,500 visitors (Millner, 2011).

Though it is a design brand with a distinct identity rooted in the Mediterranean cultural region, Corque Design’s impact grows internationally achieving, in a short amount of time, a global diffusion. From Lisbon Design studio headquarters and strategically implemented in several international destinations, the brand is managed from a creative (science based) entrepreneurial point of view. The brand’s plan and communication strategy is permanently enriched by external advice of strategists, marketers, designers, production engineers and commercial managers. Four brand concept-values defined the Corque Design strategy (Mestre, 2008):

i. Design & Innovation – Design experimentation is a relevant drive to innovation in Corque Design generating different types of product characteristics, visual features and functions. It implies the study and implementation of new concepts for cork and advanced materials research & development which are combined with both traditional production capabilities and 3D advanced technologies using cork agglomerates and composites.

ii. Creativity and Cultural Identity – while Design is nowadays considered one of the greatest influential marketing innovation tools, creativity through design is the most powerful tool for differentiation in product design. Accordingly, this is one of the most recognized values of Corque Design, which counts with a group of diverse designers, who are encouraged to explore and translate their own individual and social-cultural identities into their design work.

iii. Sustainability & Eco-efficiency – the natural and renewable characteristics of cork, its transformation process with little waste and low usage of resources and the high eco-efficient results that it generates, present not only acknowledged environmental benefits but a high social-economic value when compared with similar products made of other conventional materials. Specific LCA studies, based on Eco-efficient value creation are made for Corque Design products (Mestre and Vogtlander, 2013).

iv. Quality & Exclusivity – Corque Design works on a small-scale production with both technological and handmade processes, having a rigorous material selection and a precise control system. The overall production criteria, account for the brand’s values of quality and exclusivity. These values stand side by side with customers’ trust and loyalty. The sustainable, physical and sensorial characteristics of cork, highly contribute to label Corque Design as an exquisite and eco-trendy brand.

Corque Design brand logo (Fig. 3) was design to be a graphical easy recognition of those concepts. According to the brand’s graphic identity designer (Oliveira, 2009) “the brand identity concept combines cork and sustainability perception with a sophisticated and contemporary aesthetics yet using organic differentiated elements target to an urban eco-exclusive driven audience”.

3.Product Design Portfolio

Corque Design explores the diversity of cork materials, composites and technologies as expressed by the brand’s Design portfolio (Corque 2009, 2011, 2013). The products created by Corque Design meet the characteristics of sustainability, creativity, aesthetics, playfulness, sophistication, eco-friendliness, uniqueness and quality; and they are targeted to a public who values these aspects (Pires, 2011). Corque Design product portfolio includes innovative furniture pieces and accessories, with fifteen products designed by a team of professionals that includes names such as Fernando Brízio, Sofia Dias, Pedro Silva Dias, Luis Pessanha, Toni Grilo and Ana Mestre (also the brand´s creative director). “Corque Design began by focusing on objects such as ‘puf fups’ (seats made of spheres), chairs, candlesticks or ice buckets. In four years, it has diversified, expanded and triumphed” (Vilar, 2013).

Puf-Fup design by Mestre (2005) (Corque, 2009) (Fig. 4) is the most iconic piece of Corque and it is the brand’s first creation with the purpose of exploring the sensorial characteristics of cork through the application of 2500 natural cork spheres, thus providing a sensorial experience as a result of the body’s direct contact with the material. The structure of the string that links the spheres turns this piece into a malleable seat, challenging the user’s creativity to adapt it to his needs and self-comfort

Lagarta design by Mestre (2011) (Corque, 2011-12) (Fig. 5) is a playful and very flexible and multifunctional modular seat. It is produced from black expanded agglomerate, which is one of the most eco-efficient cork composites, for it only uses one boiling process at high temperatures, allowing the cellular structure of cork to expand. This process allows for a small quantity of material to increase its volume. In addition, it changes the natural colour of cork to a darker tone, without the introduction of any synthetic pigments.

Mestre has also designed a seat named Puf String (2008) (Corque, 2011-12) (Fig. 6), a playful seat taking to the limit the plastic and visual possibilities of rubber cork (a special cork composite with natural rubber). The Puf String is made of a single rubber cork belt strip, which is fixed by joint screws. The wavy movement creates the final aesthetic language of this object, which can be used as a single unit or as separable modules.

Vinco design by Grilo (2008) (Corque, 2011-12) (Fig. 7) is a sophisticated chair with a natural feel, produced from a combination of cork agglomerate and rubber cork. This chair is named after its aesthetic form, which results from the creases produced in a cork composite slab and that enable a volumetric installation on top of a polished steel structure.

Wallcork design by Dias (2008) (Corque, 2011-12) (Fig. 8) is an innovative and unique wall covering that brings the texture of natural cork produced in rolls with vibrant visual patterns. This ‘wallpaper’ has low environmental impact coloration, due to the water-based printing processes that are used. In addition, the use of natural cork adds acoustic and thermal insulating characteristics, which fulfills an advantage point in relation to similar products made of other materials.

Corque Design collection also includes ten additional pieces launched in 2009 for the debuted catalogue of the brand. This is the case of Vine wine cooler design by Mestre and team (2009) (Corque, 2009), one of the brand’s designs selected by MoMA retail store in New York and Tokyo.  All of the abovementioned creations have been presented in exhibitions in several world cities and they can be better appreciated on the website and on the current catalogue of the brand (Corque, 2013).

4. Internationalization

Soon after the launch of Corque Design in 2009 (Fig. 9), the brand met its first approach to international markets. The first year results were significant and the brand soon started to be represented in European cities such as Oporto, London, Berlin, Milan, Madrid, Helsinki and Lisbon (Fig. 10). Outside of the European context, the brand was one of the selected brands for “Destination Portugal”, a MoMA retail store initiative taking place in New York and Tokyo. At the same time, Corque was being represented in Los Angeles at Touch studio. Later in 2009, Corque Design was invited to be represented in Shangai World Fair, at the Portuguese Pavilion (Fig. 11). “Early on, it crossed the border and has already reached dozens of destinations in four continents. Although Oceania does not feature in its curriculum vitae, having a loyal international public is a source of pride” (Vilar, 2013).

In 2011-12, a second internationalization phase began, taking Corque Design to East and West: it reached the US market with the brand’s largest international exhibition at New York Design Week (Fig. 12); in Hong-Kong (China) it was for the first time represented in commercial design stores, followed by Tokyo (Japan) and Dubai (Emirates) retail stores; in 2012, CORQUE DESIGN was showcased in Belo Horizonte, at the fourth Brazilian Design Biennale and soon in 2013, arrived in São Paulo Design stores and Rio de Janeiro galleries (Fig. 13). Along the way, international retailers and design galleries purchased small series productions and started to sell pieces from the brand’s collection (Fig. 14). Thousands of contacts have been made with a professional audience (mostly architects and interior designers) who is now the main follower and largest buyer of Corque Design, while international groups as Microsoft, Google and BMW are in the list of earlier adopters of Corque Design.

The world exhibition portfolio of Corque Design (Fig. 15) includes some of the most relevant world design events such as ‘Tortona Milan Design Week’ (2009), ‘Helsinki Design Week’ (2009), ‘Lisbon Design Show’ (2009), ‘Shanghai World Fair’ (2009), ‘New York Meatpacking Design Week’ (2010 and 2011), ‘Biennale International de Liége’ (2010), ‘Portugal Criativo Barcelona’ (2011), ‘Experimenta Lisbon Design Biennale’ (2011), ‘Most Salone Milan Design Week’ (2012), ‘Interior Life Style Tokyo’ (2012), ‘IV Brazilian Design Biennale’ (2012), ‘Portugal-Brazil Year’ (2013).

Additionally, a series of lectures and seminars have been given by the Corque´s founder and creative director to promote the scientific content related to the new cork products development and cork innovation. These included, amongst others, the Ecodesign conference in Japan, the Creative Industries conference in Helsinki or the Brazilian Design Biennale conference (Fig. 16). Participation in both exhibitions and seminars target potential international markets for Corque Design and have been decisive in terms of the brand international recognition, gathering media attention, public discussion and international dissemination.
There is a loyal audience movement that has been following the brand in different world locations, strengthening the proximity of Corque´s founders and designers to its audience. Ultimately, the global design networks used to promote design value and local cultural identity enhancement are contributing to achieve a stronger social design democracy. These design principles have been gaining force since the first introduced ‘Design technology for a better life’ Bauhaus doctrine and Ulm design philosophy by Maldonado (1953), who saw the design process as ‘a system embodying both scientific-based and intuitive-based thinking’, and finally by the social-ecological Design approach of theorists as Papanek (1972), Bonsiepe, (1978) and Manzini (1990).
Corque Design is today recognized as a scientific research-based sustainable design brand. Its involvement both in academic research and design practice (as a commercial operation) reveals to be an original and successful approach for the future of Sustainable Product Design. “Design must be an innovative, highly creative, cross-disciplinary tool responsive to the needs of men. It must be more research-oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly-designed objects and structures” (Papanek, 1972).


APCOR, (2009). APCOR Year Book 2009, Portuguese Cork Association, Santa Maria de Lamas.

Corque, (2009). Corque Design 2009: Designing living objects, Corque design, Lisbon.

Corque, (2011). Corque Design 2011-12: Designing living objects, Corque design, Lisbon.

Corque, (2013). Corque Design 2013: Designing living objects, Corque design, Lisbon, also available at:

Dowdy, C., (2007). Put a cork in it. Financial Times weekend edition. December 8-9. European Edition.

Maldonado, T., (1958). New developments in the training industry in product, Ulm.

Manzini, E., (1992). Prometheus of the Everyday: the ecology of the artificial and the designer‟s responsibility, Design Issues, vol.9, no.1, pp.5-20.

Mestre A., (2005). SM DESIGN – Significados da Matéria no Design,  Lisbon: Susdesign.

Mestre, A., (2006). Corque PT Design Brand ®. National Institute of Industrial Property. National Trademark nº 406513, filed 26 September 2006, issued 28 January 2008, also available at:

Mestre A., (2008). Design Cork for Future, Innovation and Sustainability, 1St Edition. Lisbon: Susdesign.

Mestre A., Brezet H., Christiaans H., (2009). A Material-based Design Intervention Model (Mb- DIM) for Sustainable Product Innovation: The case of the Design Cork Project. Ecodesign 2009, 6th Inter. Symposium on Env. Conscious Design and Inverse Manufacturing, Union of Eco designers and AIST, Sapporo.

Mestre A., Gil L., (2011). Cork for Sustainable Product Design, Sc. & Technol. of Mater. nº 23, 52-63.

Mestre A., (2013). Sustainable Product Innovation with Cork: A Design Action Intervention Approach, Journal of Design Research (submited).

Mestre A., Vogtlander, J., (2013). Eco-efficient value creation of Cork Products: an LCA-based method for Design Intervention. Journal of Cleaner Production,

.Millner, R., (2011). Largest Wired store ever hits Times Square. November 9, 2011, also available at:

Monocle, (2010). Inventory nº 37, Monocle Issue 37, Vol. 4, October 2010, 73, also available at:

Papanek, V., (1972). Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, New York: Pantheon Books.

Pires, S., (2011). Design, Cortiça e Sustentabilidade. Casas & Negócios, Issue 46, Oct – Nov, 60-68.

Vilar, C., (2013). Making History with CORQUE. Direct Arts International Magazine, Issue 4, (pp. 76-80), also available at:

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Interview with Vincenzo Castellana

Abstract: Vincenzo Castellana is an architect, designer, lecturer and co-founder, together with the executive committee of ADI Sicily, the regional delegation of ADI (Association for Italian industrial design).  For several years, he has been conducting activities aimed at the exploitation of local, territorial resources, both as an architect, through works of architectural recovery and as a designer committed to modernizing outdated productions in the territory. Current President of ADI Sicily, Castellana endeavors to establish communication between the world of little production companies and craftsmanship with the young designers from the schools of art and design.

Alessandra Fazio: Where did the idea for ADI Sicily come from?
Vincenzo Castellana: The story of the Sicilian delegation is almost an anecdote.
ADI has existed since 1956. The delegations were established under directorate of Gianni Forcolini in the early years of 2000. A process began of convening in regional areas, from which the delegations sprung out. The Sicilian delegation was among the last to be formed.
In 2007, designOrientity, a business related to my professional activity, was selected for publication in the volume ADI Design Index, which is in fact a nomination for the Compasso d’Oro (Golden Compass award). DesignOrientity is a permanent laboratory that connects designers and craftsmen, and over the years has developed a collection of objects (about 15).
In the same year, during the Salone del Mobile (Furniture Showroom) in Milan, I was invited to form the delegation ADI Sicily by former President Forcolini.
In parallel, Professor Vanni Pasca, in a predominantly academic ambit, was already working on the birth of ADI Sicily, so I contacted Pasca informing him of my intention to establish the delegation and we were both happy to join forces to come to the establishment of the Sicilian delegation.

What kind of path is ADI Sicily pursuing?
Since its foundation, the delegation is carrying on the initiative “Ferri di richiamo” (Iron tools) with which this year we were guests in Milan at ADI, during the Salone del Mobile. This is a series of meetings aimed at deepening the knowledge and value of some instances of high-quality design and production in the history or modern affairs of our region.
“Ferri di richiamo” in building tradition serve to continue construction over time; in this sense, the meetings proposed by the delegation serve to strengthen that process of signification which not always in the past in Sicily has made its quality and culture recognizable.
With this goal in mind, the delegation has also launched collaborations with the artistic school of Caltagirone, specializing in ceramic production, with design schools of territorial excellence such as the the Abadir Academy and with small and medium production realities.

What prospects are there for design in Sicily?
It is a very difficult question that is almost impossible to answer today, as it does not depend only from ADI and the variables or the combinations necessary so that we can envisage design as the path to value in Sicily are several. The process at the core is one that depends on training. In this regard, we are confident Academies will open to design, in conjunction with the transformation of course curriculums in schools of art and the growth of university courses with a more pragmatic approach and workshops, as well as that of Abadir where young designers may learn how to become themselves entrepreneurs. On the other hand, it is necessary that organizations that no longer operate only on a regional level decide to take advantage of design and to be representatives of this culture. I care in this regard to point out the example of Moak, a producer of coffee, which is set to revolutionize its image entrusting to Bob Noorda the restyling of its logo, the aim being to assert itself as a company that believes in quality. It therefore is a problem of companies maturing and becoming aware that to be active quality planners means promoting a new way of doing business, of communicating and also of manufacturing new products. For some weeks now, the Sicilian delegation of ADI has formalized a partnership with MOAK. The cooperation includes the establishment of a biannual research project which attempts to simulate the project of a Corporate Museum for the company.

So its a matter of business strategy?
Yes, that’s correct! Strategy allows you to reach into new markets and to assert your business. Strategy must be planned out and as such, includes design. Obviously, product innovation is only one of the ramifications of the course of innovation chartered within the company.
Sicilian companies must understand that the only possibility in this situation of economic crisis that we are living is innovation through design.

In this regard, how is ADI Sicily going about the process of spreading awareness among businesses?
I have already spoken of “Ferri di richiamo” which is one of the activities of cultural promotion in which we present case histories that tell more of the collaboration of companies and designers in an event within one showroom in Sicilian territory.
Among other initiatives organized is the event “The product of the ceramic design”, periodically scheduled in Caltagirone in the secondary school of the arts for ceramic design with the aid of various supporters. The initiative provides for the creation of workshops and design exhibitions.
Last year, the first edition of the event saw a partnership with Bitossi, the company that produces ceramics designed by Ettore Sottsass, in addition to those of Karim Rachid and Luisa Bocchietto. This year will feature guest appearance by Alessi, whose ceramic creations are the focus of an exhibition inaugurated on May 18 and the designer workshop of 3 days on the theme: “Tea and Coffee”. The latter involves the best 5 students of 5th year classes of the secondary school, associated with 5 students and 5 craft enterprises chosen on in the Calatino territory, so as to constitute 5 groups of 2 students and a craftsman.
These activities are expected to bring two types of results: the first is to encourage collaboration between young designers and artisans through training activities, in an effort to understand that design must promote a circular process that involves the planning and design stage, production, sale and consumption. If this process is interrupted, the project dies before it even starts; this is the problem that we have been dragging for ages in Sicily.
Moreover, now ADI Sicily is one of the promoters of the III International Competition “Mediterranean Design”, launched every two years by PAD journal for the design of new scenarios of Mediterranean design.

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New design geographies. International workshops in Sicily

Abstract: 2012 seems to have been a relevant year for design in Sicily. From Giulio Iacchetti to Giovanni Levanti, the island has witnessed numerous designers who have been invited by different institutions for various projects, thereby bringing to it their own experience. What is actually going on? Why are designers starting to spend time in Sicily not only for their holidays but also for the purposes of design? Is there a new wave that is inverting general trends and the usual geography of design dynamics? Who promotes design on the island and why do they do it? The most active side has certainly been the education sector. Since 2000 the Design courses of the Faculty of Architecture in Palermo have promoted a lot of activities connected to the world of design and now other institutions have taken the initiative of starting to call designers to teach on the island. One of these institutions is Abadir Academy, a private institution authorized by the Education Ministry.

In 2010 the Academy launched Abadir Design, a new department aimed at training designers to design our contemporaneity and to develop new ideas able to shape the future and the time in which we are living.

Last year among the department special activities hosted two of the most active designers of the current panorama in Italy and Europe: Giulio Iacchetti, a designer based in Milan, awarded with the Compasso d’oro in 2001, together with Matteo Ragni for the Moscardino project, and lagranja design, an Italian-Spanish studio based in Barcelona, designer of several products for Foscarini, Poltrone Frau, Metalco, Palucco and others.

Both workshops were inaugurated with an open lecture held by the designers who outlined their professional path by talking with students, architects, teachers and other designers. These have proved to be very important didactic occasions as well as opportunities to raise the public’s awareness regarding issues of design, as well as to convey the value of the synergy between the designer and companies.

Secondo imbrunire was the title Giulio Iacchetti gave to his workshop, in homage to the homonymous song by Franco Battiato. Out [of the] Door was one of the Master’s activities in product design and it aimed to explore the possibilities of volcanic material and to experiment with its features in the production of objects. The choice to work on the material of the volcano strongly rooted the workshop to the identity of the place, its nature and its uniqueness. As in the Franco Battiato song whose lyrics enhance the charm, the colors, smells and sounds related to Mount Etna and its landscape, the workshop with Iacchetti sought to explore these places starting from the quarries, where the material is stripped from the volcano, to the craftsmen, the industrial process, the production companies and the supply chain.

In July, the activities of the design department of the Academy moved to the coast and its beaches. Vamos a la Playa was the workshop conducted by Gabriele Schiavon and José Manuel Fernandez from Lagranja Design; for Abadir they proposed a new workshop once again linked to the nature of the Sicilian territory that has become a testing ground for the design of devices for the beach, the shore and the sea.

Istanze di design was the name of the workshop curated by the Foundation Fiumara d’arte and Antonio Presti in collaboration with AIAC and Press/T factory, which was held in Tusa at the Museum Hotel Atelier sul Mare.

The topic of the international workshop was the development of a hotel room for the Atelier Sul Mare according to the wishes expressed by the Foundation: to create a permanent laboratory which combines the artistic processes with the production of everyday objects, through the mutual exchange between local artisan and the design skills of the artist-designer.

The workshop, which lasted a week, was led by Giovanni Levanti, Mario Trimarchi, Chris Kabel from Droog Design, Michael Obrist from feld-72 and Wyssem Nochi from Lebanon. Tutors assisted students between project activities and theoretical meetings, rethinking the spaces of the Tusa museum and the surrounding park, dotted with important sculptures that over the years, Antonio Presti has commissioned from artists such as Tano Festa or Pietro Consagra.

The workshop held in Caltagirone with Luisa Bocchietto and Vanni Pasca was devoted to ceramics and the tradition of some major Italian companies.

Entitled Il design del prodotto ceramico, the event was organized by the Sicilian Delegation of ADI together with LADEC and it was developed on two levels: a laboratory itself and an exhibition dedicated to Bitossi ceramics through 20 artifacts produced by the company since 60s to today, with pieces by Ettore Sottsass, Karim Rashid, Mario Ferraini and the same Luisa Bocchietto. After the workshop, molds were shaped at the Montelupo factory and then again prototypes were created in Caltagirone. Therefore, a new series of ceramic products for Bitossi took life thanks to this experience and they will be presented soon in Milan along with a special event.

In December, Giulio Iacchetti returned yet again as he was called by the Kore University of Enna, where he held a one-week workshop entitled S/Tools. Once again, it was an active laboratory that involved local craftsmen, which produced 10 real stool prototypes according to the main theme of the workshop: the stool and how to sit down.

Iacchetti and the city of Enna had already met a few months earlier. The castle of the Sicilian city hosted the show Cruciale last June. Curated by Beppe Finessi, the exhibition showed 21 crosses the famous designer has created starting from the assumption that contemporary design is no longer only related to the material sphere of our existence but also to emotional, sentimental and spiritual functions.

It is the same Iacchetti who has announced new possible geographies for design. The radical change of economic processes and the new dynamics of the market, accompanied by technology and new communication systems, have deeply upset the model in which design was related only to large industrial systems based in the north of the world. Today it is possible to produce design with few elements: a good designer and a skilled artisan or small business with technology on one side, and small-scale production on demand, web as a showcase to the whole world and powerful means of transport for shipments on the other side.

It’s already an on-going phenomenon that has given an opportunity for growth to peripheral regions unable to deal with industrial dynamics.

In this sense, Sicily, if able to acquire virtuous designers capable of creating value from its territory, could without question generate new projects and new economies. This is the mission of design schools and laboratories spread around the island: to train designers and raise awareness among entrepreneurs. Events and facts recounted here may indeed be a sign of this trend.

Lucy Giuliano is an architect and director of Accademia Abadir in Catania. She studied at the Faculty of Architecture in Palermo and at Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona (ETSAB), obtaining a MA degree of Historia, arquitectura, arte y ciudad, and DEA degree (Diploma de Estudios Avanzados) in the Projects Department. From 2000 to 2011 she worked at the Arata Isozaki office in Barcelona, as architect in concept and design buildings. She participated to several project developed between Barcelona and Tokyo. Beyond architecture, she also collaborated to several publications. During her period at AIA office she broadened her interests in intersection between architecture, contemporary culture, territory and current issues in society. Since 2010 she is full time engaged as director of ABADIR Academy (Arts Between Architecture Design & Interdisciplinary Research) in Catania.


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Design and new processes between culture and service

Abstract: Places and services in Palermo are abuzz with new activities and processes. A territory almost devoid of industries, marked at the beginning of the 20th century by the Workshops Ducrot, seems to now have grasped the value of the word design and has begun to experiment with its various forms. The word Design (project) in the city candidate as 'European Capital of Culture 2019', is not only cool, fashion or for a few but has been transformed into: lab, creative industries, self-generation, service design, co-design.

Companies and cultural associations are linking their activities with the world of design, sometimes unconsciously, other times in an almost natural way they turn into companies that are able to provide goods and services in an innovative way. Let’s see who are the actors and places where this change is occurring.
We will start from Addiopizzo, a voluntary association spontaneously born to support the fight against the racket of Mafioso blackmail, producing goods and activities with brand name Addiopizzo. The association publishes the lists of the names of the professionals and companies that take position against Mafia and organises the Party of critic Consumption “I will pay those who won’t pay” that is based on the idea of “common good”, example of shared management aiming at overcoming the Mafioso system. Through its services Addiopizzo Travel, a rich calendar of trips to the places symbol of the struggle against Mafia through the discovery of a territory that is resisting blackmail money, the association is turning into social enterprise, thus attaining the world of design of services with a project of ethical tourism. Since 2005 the visual communication of Addiopizzo has been looked after by Fausto Gristina, member of the Committee Addiopizzo and visual communication expert for FAI, Federation of Italian Antiracket Associations.
NEXT | New Energies for the Territory is an association dealing with development strategies and interventions for the innovation and sustainability of the organisations and the social contexts. It has carried out some research on “artefacts of history within the internationalisation processes of Palermo” realised with the support of the Foundation Banco di Sicilia. Starting from a mapping of the architectural places and goods turned into multi-purpose museums and urban parks, the association has developed the app Urban City Guide Palermo, a guide that tells about Palermo as a different city, that is to say a city that has been transformed, with the recovering of the ex-industrial areas, new generation urban parks and public spaces, co-working, design hotels, bars and shops.
Aware of mixing together cultural practices and design, RE FEDERICO co-work is a project by CLAC (Lab Centre of Contemporary Arts), a cultural enterprise engaged in Palermo since 2003. The aims of its project are: to test new practices of social innovation, to support the emerging lifestyles of the creative young people, to create a virtuous example of participatory economy based on new themes that put together designers and architects of sustainability sharing the same aims and projects. Some of the co-work activities propose mappings for young people (Use-it), practices of co-distribution of products of the territory and research and project tables about agrindustrial design.
Accommodation places in the city turn into places for experimenting new cultural processes. N38E13 “micro hotel” and association of social promotion within a historical building of Maqueda street, becomes a place of creation, use and connection between arts. The space devoted to visual and sound arts and to design will house residences, laboratories, exhibitions and meetings about culture, tourism and territory in an innovative way.
With the aim to carry out some good practices and a conscious design, between training and meeting, sensibiliambienti, puts in practice new forms of co-production. It is an agency of exhibit design of sustainable creative spaces and it deals with logistic support, training, distribution and design for a new ethic system of out-fitting.
New forms of design-handicraft, in a little lab in the historical centre, draw inspiration from the local materials that are poor and typical and turn into miniminimondi (Miniworlds). Narrow-gauge boxes and postcards that can be sent by mail, contain tiny alternative spaces. The delicate paper works come from the common passion for poor or waste materials of Carmela and Nina, two non-Sicilian women arrived in Palermo a few years ago.
A store that becomes the meeting point between the customer and the stylist. Rizzo Manufacture studio is a crossing between a creative space and a handicraft laboratory where the tailor-made product becomes a service. A place where the creative/manufacturing process followed out in details takes place along with the customer and the realisation of shoes and bags is carried out through hand-crafted processes within the laboratories of Scius.
Sartoria Maqueda is also an experimental Laboratory and co–design along with customers. It is a place where territoriality, design, dressmaking tradition of pret-à-porter with the brand Mitzica give birth to street-dressmaking and creative recycling. Inside the shop it is also possible to ask for stylistic consulting and trend research through the project b-plan.
Artes, an association dealing with the diffusion and promotion of textile art in all its shapes is the result of Giulietta Salmeri’s research and experimentation. Rugs, scarves, wool decorating textiles and cloths, cotton and linen are contaminated by other materials, such as paper and copper through the use of looms with 2, 4 and 8 heddles.
Pradlab is a system of services dedicated to design and manufacturing, belonging to the design and rapid prototyping study of the same name, able to provide support and consulting in every stage of the creative, design and manufacturing process: from the concept to the final product.
Whereas cultural enterprises and associations with the attitude of creative operators are transforming the concept of enterprise, there is also someone who has made their own design work turn into a brand, as in the case of the brand OJI, set up by the designer Giuseppe Pulvirenti together with the cabinet-maker Carlo Caruso Jr. This brand produces and markets the products that arise from the confrontation with other cultures, characterised by a fusion of ideas, shapes, atmospheres and colours, according to a will expressed by the brand itself: for Oji is the name of a metro-station of Tokyo, while in Italian the pronunciation is ‘oi’ that means ‘today’ in the ancient Sicilian dialect. Oji products are marketed by Spaziodeep, a special concept-store promoting design on the island through its own magazine and blog.
Maribelle 615 designed and produced by two young designers, Francesco Belvisi and Vito Pavia, is an innovative sailing boat, 6,15 m long, characterised by tube-shaped tires that make it a mix between a sailing boat and a rubber boat. Pointed out in the adi index 2011, the first model of the boat has been self-manufactured by YAM, a company born thanks to the company start up of the University of Palermo and assisted by the Consortium Arca.
The reuse of spaces with new modalities and the restart of old handicrafts seem to be the key-point of studio427, born in Palermo in a space of industrial archeology in Brancaccio, that has moved to an old carpentry in Alloro street. Founded by the Swiss designer Alfred von Escher with the cooperation of Raffaella Guidobono as advisor of the study in the communication strategy, it is an atelier/studio of co-design, where old furniture is recovered: wooden platforms, pallet, no longer used scaffolding boards, no longer used cloths and equipment of theatre sets are employed for new purposes, with simple forms suitable for daily uses, such as the furniture line Leftover, presented in the last Milan Design Week.
Pivviccì products originate from the same passion for design and attention to the eco-sustainability of manufacturing. They are totally hand-made with materials recycled by local artisans.
The first project developed by the group Snap, made up of very young designers of the island is Metroquadro proget, a series of furniture pieces to be put together, thought to be within a plywood sheet, whose dimensions are multiple or sub-multiple of the square meter. Easy to be assembled and stored, they express the will to limit the production wastage.
cut&paste  is the studio of three young designers that deal with the topic of “self project”, projects animated by games and creative activities to be shared with those who buy them: Patella is a lampshade made up of several ribbons of notched paper to be self-assembled and Wally is a vinyl sticker to be self-applied, both self-manufactured by the studio that works above all in the field of visual and exhibition design.
Freelance designer, Gandolfo David without forgetting or referring to traditions (as in the products designed by him for the brand OJI together with Giuseppe Pulvirenti), mixes together shape, material and colour in an interesting collection of “illumination” tiles. Designed for the Studio Le Nid, an atelier created in the mid-sixties that is still working between tradition and experimentation.
Designer of exterior and interior furniture, Roberto Serio has some important partnership with leader companies within the national and international panorama. He designs exterior furniture collections for Talenti, luxury collections or the legendary company Turri and for Visionnaire.
The “germ” of design in Palermo has a long history. Since the eighties, there have been many designers and companies at international level that have been spreading the germ of the “project” within the design courses with several moments of high training, information and experimentation.
From the sustainable awareness to the research of new recipes anti-crisis: reuse of spaces with new modalities, restart of old crafts, employment of new technologies, experimentation of new cultural processes, services for the territory, that is how design shapes itself in Palermo.

It’s no coincidence that within the Cultural Yards of Palermo, the idea of a start up of creative enterprises becomes a new incubator. Cre-zi, managed by the Consortium Arca, already coordinator of the incubator of the University of Palermo, in collaboration with the innovation lab Catamiati, aims at encouraging the birth of new enterprises in the fields of the economy of knowledge, such as show, fashion, design, audiovisual and editorial production.

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Paolo Zaami. The flow of things

Abstract: Paolo is an illustrator, graphic and product designer, born in Palermo in 1986 and currently based in Milan. Graduated in Industrial Design at University of Palermo, then he moved to Milan to follow a master’s degree in Design Innovation. In 2011 he collaborated with Marco Piva office, being part of several design projects for Vitrum, KME, Unopiù. In 2012 he worked at Total Tool studio, dealing with research and graphic design for A2A, Expo 2015, Barbanera. Currently he works at DINN! Design Innovation Studio in Milan where he brings his knowledge of graphic and product design, his vision and his aim of “doing it right”. Discreet, accurate and determined; keen about art, illustrations and plasticine. Moving around a multicultural and multidisciplinary planning dimension, he has learned that design is fusion of knowledge.

Il flusso delle cose project

Everyday we are exposed to a huge amount of data and media content. We are inside a constant stream of experiences. Every action and relation is recorded beyond our will: we are always tracked. The aim of this thesis is to understand the process of tracking and how it can turn into an useful mean for designers. I have started this path asking myself the following questions: how can we understand our relationship with things? Can we realize useful tools to understand this relationship? Through these tools, can a designer analyze the value of things he/she lives with? Can a self-tracking path helps a designer to understand his/her personality and subconsciously hidden relationship with things? The thesis starts with a research which deals with different subjects starting from the analysis of the human behavior related to things: from the need to remember and memorize, to the complexity of data to deal with, ending with the self tracking. Then, there is the concept and the metaproject sections where I have recorded my own tracks. Hence the sofware “Designmapps” is developed. This software/app is created to catch and memorize technical and sensitive details. Day by day, designer enrich his/her personal archive which becomes a resource of studying and planning.

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Interview with Vincent

Vincent, or Vincenzo Billeci, born in 1988 is a fashion designer native of Palermo. Despite his young age, Vincent is already showing his talent at high levels. Recently, in fact, his collection fall winter 13-14 has been mentioned on in the new talents section. Great sensitivity for Sicilian tradition impoverished by every overdone stereotype and accompanied by a focus on the contemporary. A work of research that takes its cue from religious and anthropological symbolism of Sicily processed carefully observing the figurative arts of our times and structuring a good theoretical research on performance art and body art giving rise to a style that is consistent and adequate. We get to know Vincent better in this interview.

Giuseppe Mendolia Calella: Vincent… tells us more about yourself. Why are you involved in Fashion design?
Vincent: As a child I always wanted to be the stylist; i dreamed the haute couture in Paris. Fashion was not only a passion but a reason for living, a constant commitment that has brought me where I am today. I am involved in fashion because among the visual arts, it is the one I express best, narrating the tale of my land, my aesthetic taste through fashion collections.

A Sicilian soul with no overstatements, tradition and innovation. In your concept and in your stylistic search they seem to be recurring staples… wouldn’t you agree?
Yes! in my collections, there is a very strong bond with Sicily, its traditions and all that religious symbolism so dear to me. At the same time, I always try to reformulate the whole in new aesthetic codes, expressing something extremely contemporary.

You studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo; you have presented a thesis on sculpture as vestment with curator and art historian Laura Barreca. It seems to me that visual arts make a strong impression on you, don’t they?
The Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo was a very important time in my life. The Academy has allowed me to develop a critical conscience and offered and opportunity to experience; as in my work on the thesis: “Art, fashion and technology between XX and XXI century”.
Starting with the first experimentations in the 20th century, the fluxus and the birth of the performance art , together with Emanuela Graci I created a video-installation where through costume, the body is deformed and changes shape, always creating new solutions. Contemporary art is essential in my creative process, in particular those artistic disciplines where the body becomes the instrument of research.

Was there an encounter, a significant moment in your career that you recall as being decisive?
No, there was no precise moment, but many small moments that day after day have allowed me to grow and made me known to a wider public. The publication of the collection fall winter 13_14 on surely represents a very important starting point.

In Sicily, what is the role of haute couture? Is there a system, are there any points of reference?
Someone before me has said: “ The Sicilian women know how to dress well without lacking taste. ” I believe that Sicilian women are truly among the most careful and sophisticated, but at the same time, I think that the role of fashion in Sicily has lost a once known privilege. I would like to mention Donna Florio; she was considered to be the most elegant woman in all of Europe [ … ]. So it is the new generation of Sicilian stylists who have the task of spurring a new stylistic renaissance.

What are you going to be doing in coming months? What are your goals?
I’m already working on the Spring Summer 2014 commuting between Milan and Palermo, and I hope to continue my work to the fullest, and always give more credibility to my brand.

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Alessandro Squatrito. New reality for old locations

Born on a warm day of November, in Palermo, he grew up surrounded by the beauty of his city. He studied in Palermo, A Coruña and Venice where he concluded the master degree in product design at the Iuav University in 2012 with the project “Nuove realtà per vecchie località” (New reality for old lacations).

He has worked between Italy, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, after a collaboration with Cibicworkshop, he is currently collaborating with the studio Chris Kabel in Rotterdam.

He works in product and graphic design.

New reality for old locations

So what makes any place a nice place? Probably the people who live there and the relationships that are established between them, but if at some point these people abandon it and forget it, then it loses not only its beauty, but also loses its sense of place.

This thesis talks about Sicily, small towns built sixty or more years ago, and talks about reactivation, new forms of tourism, paths, nature and new proposals.

The work is divided into two key moments: the first comprehensive research on the meaning of abandonment and how to reactivate existing in Europe. In a second time, the idea focuses on the villages farm built in Sicily between 1920 and 1960, during the Fascist period for the plan nicknamed “piano di colonizzazione del latifondo siciliano“, between fifty and more villages built, four were chosen for their geographical and morphological switches and have proven potential for a large and complex project reflection. It is given initial impression of use for each of the four villages, each village subsist thanks to a resident community through agriculture produced in the adjacent fields in turn occupies the management and operation of the entire service; of the four villages then for their characteristics is intended for specific uses: a joint tourism, a centre for art and crafts, a centre for research and agricultural production and a small alb ergo diffuse.

The project focuses on the path of one hundred and eleven kilometres that connects the four villages, the latter to be made on foot, on horseback or by bike, through not only the villages as well as areas of natural beauty, try to reactivate areas normally excluded from traditional tourism markets such as the agricultural areas of the Sicilian countryside. They were finally designed a series of artifacts of use and communication artifacts such as microstructures for day and night stop, reporting structures, multimedia application and a website that try to make the tourist experience a moment of discovery and lived. In its complexity the project does not want to be the point of arrival or the solution to the problem of abandonment, but identifies it as an opportunity to undertake a process of reflection on the potential of the existing.

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Andrea Sciarrino. rEvolution

Andrea was born on February ’86 and raised in Palermo.  Awarded a Bachelor degree in Industrial Design, he decided to move to Milan with other fellow students, enrolling at the Master’s degree (Product Design for Innovation) at the Politecnico di Milano. In December 2012 he graduated  with a thesis, which aims to combine two great passions: music and design. With this thesis he has the opportunity to work in an important field where coexist music and design. The most meaningful professional partnership takes place with Noah guitars, a company that helps him during the development of the thesis project, and with which builds the foundation for a new concept of acoustic guitar, with a new material: aluminum. The thesis project is just the first step in a long way project. Today he is dedicating himself to the research and analysis to identifying new ways of understanding and thinking about the  world musical instruments.

rEvolution. Material metamorphosis of a sounding board for acoustic guitar

The project idea born from cooperation with Noahguitars, a company in Milan that realizes electric guitars with aluminum,using a CNC milling machine for the guitar’s body.
The common will is to create a new way to thinking about acoustic guitar. This research thesis has as ultimate goal,to realize a concept resulting from a material metamorphosis, from wood to alluminum.
The design object is an acoustic guitar soundboard. The metamorphosis has been divided in three phases: A,B,C.
“Metamorphosis A” explains the way in which the linings are incorporated in the sounding board.
“Metamorhposis B”consists of the transposition of the concept of grain in wood in a material such as aluminum.
“Metamorphosis C” concerns the structural point of view, and portrayed the bracing role in a hypothetical soundboard made of aluminum.
Revolution is a word game that adds two important concepts: revolution and evolution. The revolution is given by material Metamorphosis to aluminum. The evolution is given by research and from the design behind the three stages of processing of the concept. The way I see it is that only the union of these two spects can give an innovation as a result.

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Carla Piazza. TuneUp

Carla gained her first degree in Industrial Design, at Palermo University in october 2008. She spent an Erasmus semester at A Coruña University, Spain, and she was a video editor intern at the Palermo audiovisual production Studio Forward. In April 2012 she graduated full marks cum laude in Visual and Multimedia Communication, specializing in Interaction Design, at Iuav University of Venice. Two of her projects were semi-finalist in the 2010 and 2011 Adobe Design Achievement Awards for the Mobile Device Category. She was a visual and interaction designer intern at ICON Worldwide, a design and techonology agency in Bühler (Switzerland). She worked as freelancer for the agencies Log607 and Digital Accademia (H-Farm) in Roncade (TV). She now lives in Madrid, where she is engaged in a new work experience at the international firm Fjord.


TuneUp is an application for mobile devices that helps diabetic teenagers with the technical and emotional management of their condition by creating a sound image represents the collected glucose data with an educational purpose. The application collects data about the blood glucose levels and translates them into sound distortions applied to an audio track chosen by the user: the duration of the sound track represents the user’s day; the distortion is applied to the portion of the track  connected to the part of the day in which the testing values are out of the normal range. The collected data can be edited and brought back within the optimal glycemic range through an interaction with the app that aims to increase knowledge about the daily management of diabetes and emphasizes, through sound, the importance of proper self-management.

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Fabrizia Parisi. Cooltour

Fabrizia (Palermo, 1985) is a designer and freelance photographer. After the degree in Industrial Design in Palermo, she specialized in arts and design at the University IUAV of Venice, with a thesis on services design. His work ranges from design, illustration and photography.
In 2011, participates in the architecture Biennale in Venice with a project in collaboration with Fondazione Claudio Buziol and Kist-scious and Kigali Institute of Technology in Hall Rwanda. Also in 2011, exposes some of her personal shots at the space A + A Public Center for Contemporary Art in Venice. Now works at La Claque, a collective founded in 2012 that work about communication, design and lifestyle. At the same time she is working on a photographic project about some institutions volunteer for children of Palermo.


Cooltour is a project of hospitality widespread in the territory, that upgrading three rural villages abandoned in the province of Messina. The project will protect the historic heritage lower, keeping the memory alive, and urging the historical and cultural recovery of these picturesque places, renewing the economy of the inland areas, bringing new tourists who travel to Sicily most degraded through responsible tourism and non-seasonal.
The project configures the experience, through a new kind of tourist accommodations, closer to the products, culture and the environment, the project generates a place in complete harmony and balance with nature. The project offers a way of life and the quality of the rural villages, places to live by reversing the hospitality vertical, the hotel facilities, to horizontal.
The idea is to make the hospitality of a widespread pattern of tourism development compatible and able to exploit the resources of the territory, with particular attention to the promotion of the products and culture, stimulating initiatives and involving local producers generating networks and supply chains between the small farmers, land owners and guests of the service.

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Dorotea Panzarella. Emmo

Dorotea Panzarella was born in Palermo in 1985 and grew up in Cefalù. In 2004 she enrolled at the University of Palermo and in 2008 completed her Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design with a visual identity project for the Mandralisca Cultural Foundation. She also partecipate in Erasmus programme, attending the FHNW – Hochshule fuer Gestaltung und Kunst in Aarau (Switzerland). In 2008 she enrolled at the IUAV University of Venice and moved from Palermo to Treviso for attending product design classes. In 2011 she completed her Master’s degree in Product Design with a degree project named “Emmo – An interactive toy for visually impaired children”. Now she still live in Treviso working as freelance and collaborating with other design studios, mainly in the consumer electronics  design field.

Emmo. Interactive toy for visually impaired children

The project has been developed after visiting some rehabilitation centers (in Padova, Trieste and Bolzano) and interviewing families of low vision children. Emmo is especially meant to motivate spatial exploration and helping children to develop the capability of creating mental topological maps. The toy includes lighting and sounding elements for a kind of “treasure hunt” and space-related “memory game” and it’s based on RFID technology. Shape, materials and colours (black and white) has been studied in order to meet low vision children needs. A first prototype has been realized in rapid prototyping; it works thanks to the Arduino UNO microcontroller and other electronics elements (audioshield, RFID readers). Emmo was presented at the Arduino Day 2011 in Rome and an article about Emmo was posted on the Arduino official blog.

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Fabio Nucatolo. Cooking Naturally

Fabio Nucatolo was born in Palermo, and took his Bachelors degree in Industrial Design at Palermo University. In Palermo he did a 3-month internship at yacht designers Acom and freelanced as furniture designer for Mediterranean Engineering. In 2010 he and Simona La Torre won the ComON national design competition, following which they were invited for a month as guest designers of furniture manufacturers Lema (Brianza, between Milan and Como). In 2010 he also started his first year of the Masters in Product Design at the Faculty of Design and Arts, Iuav University of Venice. His projects have been exhibited in Rome, Milan, Verona, and published in the journals Interni, Interni On Board and Ottagono. His thesis master degree investigates the possible development of special purpose devices for kitchen.

Cooking Naturally

Cooking Naturally aims to change people’s use of food resources, reducing waste by creating a direct channel between people and the information cloud surrounding the theme. All, a kitchen device that allows a better exploitation of this information, is both a display appliance and a filter which adapts its behaviour according to the user’s habits.

It is designed for people living in shared accommodation or alone. Due to their living conditions and lifestyles, and to how food is currently distributed and sold, these are the categories most exposed to food waste. Through All, such people can receive advice on grocery shopping and food conservation, preparation and consumption. As it is used, All learns to recognize its users, improving the advice depending on each individual’s behaviour.

All is used in the kitchen during food preparation and consumption. It can recognize the person using it and understand words and gestures. All integrates itself in the habitual dynamics of this environment. Making people concentrate on normal tasks, like preparing a recipe or conserving food, it becomes a tool that improves the experience of responsible cooking, not the focus of the experience.

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Claudia Miliziano. Lexis

Claudia (b. 1986, Palermo) took her first degree in Industrial Design at Palermo University, designing a social network that allows users to access informations which may be of interest in professional field. In 2009 she worked for three months as graphic designer at the Agrigento advertising agency Stand Up and in 2012 she was an interaction and graphic design intern at the Roberto Fazio Studio, Bologna. In April 2013 she gained her second degree in the Master programme in Visual and Multimedia Communication at the Faculty of Design and Arts, Iuav University of Venice. Her specialism is interaction design and her main interests are graphic and product design, art and new technologies.

Lexis. Il mostro

Lexis il mostro is an interactive game for dyslexic children which aims to support the processes of reading, memorizing and association in a kinestethic, ludic and amusing way. It is designed for Sifteo Cubes, a new game platform with mini-screen and proximity sensors.

Inside Lexis are mini-games that allow the testing and development of specific skills. Furthermore, to encourage the dyslexic subject to test with regularity, the game has been designed with a captivating character. The child has to keep a monster through three different areas: feeding, cleaning and fun. The mini-games are included in this contest and only at the end of the game is it possible to unlock some bonus, useful for the character’s needs. Last but not least, this instrument allow teachers and parents to check the progress of the child, thanks to the data saved on the associate site.

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Eleonora Majorana. conDUCImi

Eleonora was born in Catania in 1984. After graduating in International Communication at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures of the University of Catania with an experimental thesis titled “Graphic Design: between art and communication”, she has continued her studies in Barcelona at the University Elisava where she has obtained a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Design, specializing in Graphic Design. The Erasmus scholarship has given to her the chance to study in Paris, and after gratuating she has attended the Master in Branding and Packaging at BAU University (Barcelona).

She did an internship in Javier Mariscal’s design studio in Spain and moved to Mexico City in 2012 where she has joined the design team of the global branding consultancy Interbrand. In Mexico she actually works as freelance Graphic Designer for countries like Spain, Italy and U.S.A. under the name of branDept. – Branding little brands, creating and developing little brands with an international team.

From January 2014 she will start teaching at the Colegio Mexicano de Diseño – COLMED in Mexico City with the courses of Corporate Identity, Branding Methodology and Personal Branding.

During her experiences abroad she loves to do research about the design working process, its multidisciplinary aspect and the chance to know new methods.
When people ask her if she will ever go back to Sicily, she answers with a Sicilian saying “A iaddinedda ca camina tunn’ a casa ca urza china” (The little hen that walks comes back home with a full bag).


conDUCImi® is a fashion and souvenirs brand for (Sicilian) girls and tourists, created by Eleonora Majorana in 2005 and made it known through exhibitions of creatives and artisans.

conDUCImi has been defined as: glamorous, romantic, elegant, pop & folk.
The Sicilian word ‘duci’ literally means sweet. In the island it is almost a way of being. It is perfect to describe a person who is special, sweet, sensitive, delicate and unique. It is ‘duci’ everything that produces tenderness and what the heart likes. The creations of this brand are ‘driven’ by the user. Girl and accessory are united by the awareness of being different from all others.

The brand is represented by a Sicilian handcart. That’s because the brand means ‘take me’, ‘guide me’. In fact this symbol is both a container and a mode of transportation that perfectly conveys an idea of Sicilian folk. Reinterpretation is given by the color of the symbol, sometimes put in old pink, very unusual for a handcart, but adapted to the concept of tenderness and sweetness that characterizes this brand.

The brand will be launched again on Spring 2014 with a recall of the places where its designer has lived: the French elegance of Paris, the Mexican folk, the impact of Spanish visual communication, the perfect work of an American brand, everything based on the world apart of Sicily’s inspiration.

Made in Sicily for pride and for the difference that Sicilians represent.

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Simona La Torre. The daily show

Born in Palermo, Simona is 26 year old. Her training is heterogeneous and transversal her approach to the project. She worked as a product, footwear and fashion designer. She started her training in Palermo where obtained her bachelor degrees in industrial design. Her first approach to the fashion design world is a Polo Ralph Lauren project, about fashion trends and a footwear collection. An initial three-month internship in Italy Lotto sport (where she developed her thesis) extended for a one year full in this company.
In 2010, she and Fabio Nucatolo won the ComON national design competition, following which they were invited for a month as guest designers of furniture manufacturers Lema (Brianza, between Milan and Como). The project, “Comera” table was showed in Como, during the creativity week , November 2010.

In 2010 he also started her first year of the Masters in Product Design at the Faculty of Design and Arts, attending the pattern course, the fashion laboratories , male tailoring and knitting. On july her knitting collection was selected and showed in Giacomelli building during the “fashion at Iuav”.
 To improve her tecnical skills attend the Short Course of Fashion “from shapes to dress, creative pattern for designers”.
She took her masters degree on April 2013 with a thesis and projects of a male and female capsule collection  named “Lo Spettacolo del quotidiano”.

The Daily Show

The focus of this thesis was to develop a collection composed of pieces that also live individually, The design process of the dissertation begins from a personal interpretation of photographic portraits; they act as filter and synthesis of people chosen , each outfit is the sartorial portrait of the person, who inspired the author.
“Lo spettacolo del quotidiano” is a fashion collection of men’ s and women’s clothing designed from photographic portraits taken from the Inta Ruka’s series “My country people”.
The sartorial portraits proposed are independent items of clothing which create a collection through three unifying features: the chosen source of inspiration to draw people’ profiles from, the clothing items’ construction criterion and the textile printing technique.
Experiences and life events lived by each character, described in the book are evoked and imprinted on the surface of the clothes through a process printing.
This precise choice pursues a concept of tailoring understood as the design process slow and ad personam, prints fact are made according to a manual technique, which impresses the fabric as if it were a photographic film, through exposure to sunlight.
Patterns and prints placing talk to each other, to enrich of the sense the result and to shy away from a trivializing relationship between them. Making sure that one is not mere support and the other does not go along with logic purely decorative.

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La Claque

La Claque is a collective of four young design from Sicily – Alessandro Arena, Maura Messina, Fabrizia Parisi e Salvatore Portella – that deals involved in with design, graphics and communication with a focus in offering suggesting contemporary style, making thus promoter promoting a taste of a trend dictated by the analysis of different realities that surround us. Its purpose is to generate a contagious “start at a round of applause contagious” is his intent. Sensitivity and rationality are the basic philosophy of La Claque, not to mention a sense of humor, fun and gratification that follow the design.

“La Claque collides with enthusiasm with the reality of Palermo, a periphery of Europe and the center of the Mediterranean, which therefore possesses at the same time the heart divalent soul divalent heart and the border. Why Palermo is what has been but it is also one that still is not, and then you have to discover, to experiment, to risk” (la Claque, 2013).

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d/storto design project

d/storto is a group of four Sicilian designers: Gaetano Crivello, Vincenzo di Stefano, Daniele Grande e Paolo Zaami. The mission is to become an active subject promoting design through the introduction of innovative processes into local craftsmanships. d/storto works on two parallel project lines: one answers to external requests (e.g. local authorities, cultural organizations, private persons) while the other one is an internal method of research which fosters the emergence and spread of design products starting from local firms.
d/storto is already working locally with the product “Frank”, a folding chair totally made out of cardboard, which has been showed at exhibitions like Vinitaly (client: Tasca d’Almerita) and local events like the “Earth Day” and “Domenica in cantina” (client: Planeta).

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Manuela Bentivegna. Autisme

Manuela was born in Palermo 26 years ago. Once adult she went to Rome where she worked and, at the same time, got her bachelor degree in Industrial Design at La Sapienza University of Rome. This experience improved her capacity to interact with people of different backgrounf, and power of her ideas. Between Rome and Palermo she collaborated as graphic designer for many studios/publishing house/ companies. She worked with inespaoluccidesign for the university and for famous design companies; for a small roman editing house Socrates Edizioni; with Archicom she managed SposiMagazine; for Aikon she designed a capsule collection; with and for il Filo dalla Torre onlus she developed an app for children with autism.


Trough a depth research and sperimentation Manuela studied the way to manage, playing, children with autism and what can be the control/verification/help instruments for them. Thanks to many esperts and psychologists helps, she designed a computer appliance capable to adeguate with any children need: Autisme is a tablet videogame studied and worked out for children with autism and mental retardation from two years of age.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that occurs within the first 3 years and accompanies the subject for all his life. Recent cognitive theories identify in the distortion of interpersonal relationship the fundamental characteristic of autism, impinging in all areas of children’s relationship.

The game, unique in its genre, consists creating animated stories that reproduce routine, often for children with autism difficult to understand and to play.

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Laura Bagnera. Auxiliary mimesis

Laura Bagnera (1987) was born and raised in Palermo. After high school, she decides to attend a course in Industrial Design in Palermo. At 22 years old she moved to Milan to attend a course for a Master’s degree in industrial design at the Politecnico while cultivating an interest in illustration. In 2012 she finishes her studies with a thesis that analyzes the relationship between the object-aid and the elderly. She did a three month long internship in a snail farm in Greece. Right now she’s trying to carry on personal projects.

Auxiliary mimesis: design for autonomy

A change that today can not fall through the net is the increasing in the average age of the population. This means that the number of people over 65 years of age may be even more numerous. My thesis comes from the desire to meet these new needs by taking a look at which are our daily habits that at a certain age may become difficult. I have thoroughly investigated the relationship between elder and object through a careful analysis of the products: there are objects that scream our disease, so we refuse to use them, we are ashamed, others with whom we can live together peacefully. Through the hand we can make the simplest gestures, making thus independent. Simultaneously with an analysis of the problem related to the hands movement I place my attention on what it means to be elderly today. My intention is therefore to make sure that there is a peaceful coexistence, without too much effort and without shame, with the object.

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Vittorio Venezia. un/coordinated

Vittorio Venezia is a product designer. He graduated in Architecture at the University of Palermo in 2005. He has devoted himself to the design products since 2004, after winning the Bombay Sapphire Martini Collection Award. In 2006, his final university paper won the Lucky Strike Junior Award. In 2007 he moved to Milan and started collaborating with various international designers. Meanwhile he continued his research on design, cultivating an increasingly personal approach. In 2008 he was selected for the Triennial Prime Cup and included in the International exhibition New Italian Design. Through his career Vittorio Venezia has won various major international awards, including: Grand Prixe Emile Hermes 2008; Promosedia 2012; Cristalplant 2013. Some of his works have been exhibited at the Triennale di Milano, the Louvre and the MAXXI. In 2012 he became co-director of the master “Out of the door” from the Abadir Academy in Catania. He lives and works between Milan and Palermo, where he collaborates with many companies, such as Alcantara, Falper, Meritalia.

un/coordinated. Notes, drawings and models for the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Paris

Once upon a time Grand Tour used to bring people all the way throughout Italy to the deep South, Sicily. To this regard those are her words: “Nowadays, I’d like to think that I have done a similar journey but pointing north, all the way to Paris. My aim in fact is to draw and design and sometimes event to craft objects myself. I much prefer the ones that can be used for some purpose and thus I am called a designer.”

During his residence in Paris at the Italian Institute of culture he was asked to design an Italian merchandising family. He started his research trying to define a project with a strong and direct link to Italy, to Italian culture, so that he could be a synthesis of the Bel Paese. “The project here presented is the un-coordinated array of objects inspired by Italy. Rather than finished items I like to describe them as travel notes. I conceived them as un-coordinated as they are born from different methodologies: some are formal quotation, others come from simple sensations, perception of different materials or the manipulation of familiar objects. I like to design working on indirect memories such as the roll while moving on the Lagoon in Venice; the chimneys in a painting by Giorgio De Chirico; the big domes in Turin, Florence and Rome; a moka coffee maker; wood grain; a clothes peg and the list could continue forever. Travel notes. The focus of this project was to steal symbol of the Italian culture re interpret them and transform them into simple object that try to convey a memory, a distant echo of belonging somewhere.”

Some of the objects he designed have been developed with craftsmen and artisans in different Italian cities and with different expressions. The glass, for instance, is made in Vicenza, the toll in Palermo, the sun glasses in Sorrento, marble is from Comiso. Other objects have been rapid prototyped, they create undefined forms, representative of one single idea.

This approach wich he loves define s/coordinated as it attempts to harness and metabolize all the slight differences and sensations of such unique a culture that can only be described as Italian. Assistent of the project, with Vittorio Venezia, was Giorgio Laboratore.

Young Sicilian design

This section presents an overview of the youngest generation of Sicilian designers.
These designers, who share the same origin and the same interest in the world, work all around Italy and Europe, dealing with social, interaction, visual and fashion design.
It’s a generation experiencing a phenomenon occurring for years, that is to say globalization, with the abolishment of frontiers and the shortening of distances: such a condition leads to the exploration of new destinations, to the comparison with other realities in order to enhance one’s cultural knowledge, experiences and insights.
For all those who have left and live elsewhere, the comparison is direct; for those who leave and then come back, the web net allows to keep in touch easily, to work remotely with other people, to be always up-to-date, thus activating a virtuous circle that fosters the creation of a network of intelligences and professionals.
Culture of the project, contemporary languages and sensitivity towards beauty, always of great importance in Sicily: these are some of the qualities that characterise the projects of these young designers. The different working conditions of each of them, not only connected to the geographical context of Sicily, represent a sort of guarantee that keeps them far from any possible expression of regressive regionalism.
Instead, what emerges from their projects is often the wish to release their own home countries.
The young designers represent, along with the artists, the most surprising driving force for the cultural transformation of the territories. A cultural transformation that, without any imposition, can encourage the development of a consciousness, of a mental ecology based on the “being”, to be carried out in order to restore the balance between our individual and collective needs and the natural roof of our planet.
The new generation of young designers, an important human resource, represents the promise of a better future.

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The current art scene in Sicily

Abstract: How would you describe the creative identity of Sicilian art? Flexible, open, independent, free of local and provincial restrictions. Through its artists, Sicily nowadays confirms its role of primary importance in the world of contemporary art, thanks to an altogether new ability compared to the past to promote itself and gain a reputation, to frequently migrate to the centre of the action, to take up new challenges and arouse curiosity and interest. Artistic currents and forms of expression mingle and continuously blend, displaying an inquisitive spirit and designer orientation, often shared as part of a creative teamwork approach. From Palermo to Scicli, many young artists have devised no-profit platforms to exchange feedback, productive cells open to both local and international art, often acting as springboards for fruitful endeavours on the territory and innovative outreaches to the wider audience. So everything is OK, then? No, obviously not. The art system is still quite fragile. The result is a Sicily full of life but yet unable to manifest itself, promote art and grow.

In recent decades, an attempt has often been made to outline a profile of Sicilian art, striving to understand how this borderline territory, these Western outskirts on the margins of the art scene, have responded to trends and isms that were developing elsewhere. The question is which currents and movements have penetrated the island and how and when, which and how many artists have chosen the way of innovation over the continued establishment of solid tradition. The results of this evaluation, as you can imagine, have differed from decade to decade, but up to the end of the 90’s, we have surely witnessed mass migration of artists to the happening venues of “integrated” art, those cities in Italy, Europe and even Northern America, where the art system offered visibility, support, and advertising opportunities. Those who decided to leave have often also opted for a language of research and change, adding a number of stylistic currents to the system that have become the benchmark for scores of generations of artists. To name a few, consider the abstract signs of Forma Uno, with Carla Accardi and Pietro Consagra at the fore-front, the conceptualism of Emilio Isgrò with his essentialism, the environmental sculptures of Schiavocampo, the post-pop of Filippo Panseca with his eco-friendly machines, the dynamic monochromatic art of Pino Pinelli, the spatial art of Turi Simeti with his exterior vocation, the trans-vanguard of Mimmo Germanà, up to the decorative textures on wallpaper of Francesco Simeti, the audio-visual work of Seb Patanè, the video-art and photography of Domenico Mangano, the pictorial installations of Pietro Roccasalva and Francesco Lauretta, or the socio-political reflections with subversive incursions of Adalberto Abbate.

In the past two decades, we have witnessed a substantial change of course: the ultimate landings and an approach bridging to the future have changed. The immediateness of digital technology, in my opinion one of the most functional motivations to the decision to “stay on”, as also a bond with one’s homeland and the sweet savour of this Mediterranean latitude, have been the springboard that has driven certain artists to  return or stay on in Sicily, in spite of everything. Andrea di Marco, a talented painter from Palermo who died six months ago at the age of 42, had returned to his native city after the mafia’s terrorist attack on judge Falcone. In his own words, because “the thought of leaving the most cherished friendships and ties to themselves… and this gnawing sense of guilt” made him feel a part of the tragic political affairs that swept the entire nation. The expression “in spite of it all” continues to be as stereotypical as it is dramatically urgent, in light of the economic-political dynamics of recent years, the system’s idiosyncrasies, with the consequential setbacks for the territory and its cultural programmes.

Staying (Loredana Longo, Canecapovolto, Sebastiano Mortellaro, laboratorio Saccardi), returning (Alessandro Bazan, Francesco De Grandi and Fulvio Di Piazza) and arriving (Stefania Galegati, Aleksandra Mir) are verbs familiar to the latest generations of artists who work on the island; they have configured a new creative, flexible, open, independent identity, free of local and provincial restrictions. The scene appears as a stage walked by a broad number of actors, some of whom lead stars, others deuterogamists, in the sense of a conscientious and intriguing juxtaposition outside set patterns and trends in a land with a strong egocentric drive. Many struggle to break free of fashion trends that are in reality lacking conceptual and aesthetic soul, but many others are willing to reinvent themselves, to venture outside their home to seek dialogue with different and foreign realities, eager for artistic confrontation. Globalisation and localisation are two concepts we stumble upon continuously and, after all, the international landscape includes many artists who frame reality from a perspective tending to embrace broader topics, in Shanghai just as in New York, while not straying from the compass mark of local themes, with a glance on individual and collective memory.

Currents and forms of expression continue to blend, displaying curiosity and a designer mentality. If up to a few years ago, art here winked an eye to individual myths, a collective trend seems now to have the upper hand, one of consciously sharing and participating to collective projects with “team spirit”, one that often aims to share idealism, work, approach and an engagement of reality. “Cowork di Re Federico” in Palermo has embraced the communitarian concept, having for some years now webbed a network of young independent artists who share professional skills, creativity, experience to tackle together the touchy subject of work and the shifting job market. Coworkers are offered state of the art facilities with workstations and a common environment in which to share their work time. This programme has extended to the city at a time of occupation of the Zisa Cultural Construction Sites, “I Cantieri che vogliamo” (The construction sites we want), with round tables and workshops organised to discuss and plan with the community of citizens at large the fate of a symbolic place in local culture. The artistic project proposed by the scientific committee designated by the local Council to open the pavilion inside the Construction Sites, meant to become the new centre of contemporary art of the City of Palermo, is much in line with this teamwork approach. ZAC (Zisa Zona Arti Contemporanee) opens to the city as an outdoor space whose “boundaries are constantly shaping” that welcomes all forms of contemporary artistic expression. A group of some 90 young artists and students of the Academy of Fine Arts have been selected and invited to contribute to the great nave of the ex-hangar, with the aim of jointly designing a think-lab, of pooling creative skill to condense inspiration and suggestions, the aim being to design the ZAC project as a team. Of the lab artists, the team Fare Ala, born in 2009 and comprising young artists from Palermo, Spain and France is the one that instantly managed to grasp the concept of the project.  Accustomed to exchanging “feedback on the relation between artistic practice and the social and urban dimension”, Fare Ala has attracted other artists, acting as a melting pot in a particularly new and complex situation. The themes tackled by ZAC have to do with memory, the weaving of past and present, construction site identity, the concept of databasing, topics in a variety of sub-installations, paintings, sound effects and video footage. However, there are also examples of relational/useful art, such as the “fertile zone” of Dessislava Minerva open to collaboration with Gabriella Ciancimino, or “the great theatre” of Andrea Mineo, a stand built with recycled materials from construction sites, transformed into a mutating structure that can adapt to different “settings”, art that opens to the arts. The idea of salvaging the city’s history in terms of artistic heritage thought of as a shared asset is at the base of the “Macerie” (Rubble) project. Now in its second edition, the event was held in the 14th century halls of Palazzo Barlotta di San Giuseppe and in the 18th century Giglio church, historical sites inaccessible to their state of total ruin. The project’s designer is once again the young artist Andrea Mineo, who has succeeded in bringing together a large number of artists who have worked on and with rubbles to create sceneries of sheer visual and emotional effect.

An exceptional observatory on contemporary research is Zelle, a busy and dynamic centre under the direction of artist Federico Lupo. Counting on the contribution of several international young artists, Zelle includes a collection of works on paper called “Sweet Sheets”, in a place where history, fragments of souls, a play on emotions come alive, thanks too to the lightness of the support and to the lingering trails. Palermo also hosts the A Project space designed by artists Giuseppe Buzzotta and Vincenzo Schillaci, a set of stands transformed into exhibition space, but also a residential area, where conceptual building artists create minimalist work, decorating the living space with sombre aplomb.

The no-profit cultural association Erbe Matte, the “artist-run space” Bocs and Parking 095 in Catania are central spots for promoting and organising urban action, site specific events, unconventional exhibitions in the city. On the Saracen coast between Capo d’Orlando and Brolo, the artistic scene is quite thriving and counts on the support of events sponsored by artist Massimo Ricciardo, who designed “Guardiola Contemporanea” (Contemporary Porter’s Lodge), artist residences and workshops, and the exhibition “La rincorsa della lepre” (The hare’s chase) jointly with Tothi Folisi of the Laboratorio Saccardi Group. The events welcomed contributions by Sicilian artists and a broad spectrum of international artists. South-eastern Sicily is preluding to a new horizon in contemporary research. The works of the Barbaragurrieri/group have attempted to analyse the social framework when compared to issues of local microeconomics and the global macro-economy. Clang in Scicli is a space of research, collaboration and innovation established by the artist Sasha Vinci, which will be presenting “Crossing over” in 2013, a series of events that encourage dialogue between different arts.

The Sicilian landscape becomes especially interesting when we touch on photography, in a variety of international spins: documentary, journalist, artistic, inventory snapshots of seemingly useless objects, imaginary landscapes, surreal inventions, an open language that is by now vital in contemporary routine. Young photographers touring the world express their vision in impactful, beautiful images whose theme is Sicily or India, China or Wall Street. The quality and modern vibe of the artistic offer from the latest generations is still lacking a sturdy system, institutionally and privately. But that is another story.

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Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo. Architecture

Abstract: Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo, a Sicilian born in Vittoria, receives the Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement at the Triennale di Milano. A life in the Sicily of the carob, the Western borderline of the Iblea area where boundaries between lands are marked by low, dry stonewalls. She grew professionally in Turin in the 80's, working alongside Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Pierpaolo Calzolari and other among the most innovative artists of the international scene.  Recently tributed one of the most prestigious career awards for an architect and hasting to move on to the next designer project.

In September 2012, Triennale di Milano awarded Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo the Gold Medal, a prestigious award that in the same edition went also to Vittorio Gregotti and Gae Aulenti, and in former editions to notable architects Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas, Renzo Piano, Paolo Ricatti and Umberto Riva.

The award was instituted in collaboration with the Ministry for Cultural Affairs and MADE expo, and every three years “…wishes to promote and inspire reflections on the newest and most interesting building works in the Country and on the architects that made them possible and, more specifically, on contemporary architecture as a builder of environmental and civil quality”. (1)

The award most recently went to Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo, who had already received other national and international acknowledgments: the RIBA Awards/EU in the commercial section in 2005, an honorary tribue at the European Architectura Award Plaster in 2006, the Vaccarini award in 2009 and again the Riba Awards EU in 2012 for the construction of a home in Noto.

Architectural work, a field of much interest, attains mainstream status in the second half of the 80’s, when MGGC decides to return to Sicily, where she was born and lived before leaving the island to attend university in Rome. She graduates in 1974, after a brief stay in Turin between 1980 and 1986, where she has the privilege to work with key figures of contemporary art, one of her chiefest interests.

Sicily is where she designs and develops most of her architecural projects. The remote geographical location of the island has perhaps delayed (certainly not prevented) her work from receiving wide acclaim, in Italy and abroad.

In an article published in the magazine Casabella in July 1985 and quoted later in the introductory pages of the catalogue of the Architetti in Sicilia exhibition of spring 1986 (Pierre Alain Corset 1986, p. 8) posed the question as to how much a confined island condition was decisive in determining the success of an artist’s architectural production. Pasquale Culotta, the promoter of the exhibition and catalogue, some pages later was of the idea one should speak of ‘contemporary architecture in Sicily’, rather than of ‘Sicilian architecture’ (Culotta 1985, as quoted by Alain Croset in 1986, p. 10), underlining that the work of an architect in such a geographical context does not necessarily produce architecture that is an expression of regressive regionalism, but can give place to projects of top international status.

To which Sicily does Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo belong? In the geography of the Plural Island described by Gesualdo Bufalino (1997, p. 14), we find MGGC in Vittoria, in the Sicily of carob, on the Western frontier of the Iblean land, where territorial boundaries are marked by low, dry stone walls.

In the Sicily of architects, MGGC gains professional experience quite independently of the narrow-minded affairs of the Academy (2) and local orders.

From her hermitage accessible to a selected few and inhabited by cats, birds, dogs and contemporary artworks that migrate to be featured in international collections, MGGC in the limelight of her beautiful Sicilian country home, with tar-step staircases (an old technique in disuse), absorbs the confidence of the objects piled up by the parents and generations that came before her, feeding architectural schools of thought and a system of relations whose natural habitat is the international scene.

The home and studio are one and the same. MGGC attends to her projects, surrounded by a very small nucleus of assistants who seem like altar boys taking part in the same lithurgy (from the Greek leitourgia ‘public presentation’) because architecture, even when the project is for a private client, must nonetheless express an ethical and civil dimension of becoming shape accessible to the community, for the project beneficiaries who are part of a larger society.

In general, MGGC’s architectural work consists of projects to mould small-sized buildings, ‘miniature scale miracles of pride and humility’ (Irace, as quoted by Bono, 2012), and could have been much larger and extensive if she hadn’t turned down several project proposals, which she deemed incompatible with the intransigent rigour that has distinguished her professional career. There is no universal method in developing a project, if by that “we mean an approach that is identical from start to finish” (Russo, 2013). It also would seem impossible to separate the link between critique and project in MGGC’s work or, in other words, the expression of a method that adds more value to her architecture because, as Agamben believes (2009) “….a work of art [and in our case architecture] that does not have some critical value is fated to oblivion” (p. 14).

A project, at least in its first stages, does not grapple with formal aspects, it unfolds from inward to outward, it is not concerned with providing perspective solutions, but rather with ordering the elements of a given architectural problem to provide solid solutions and satisfy the client’s demands, as part of the specific conditions at hand which, as MGGC herself affirms, “…generate reasoning and lead to the identification of strategies for intervention” (as quoted by Russo, 2013).

Mies van der Roher had expressed himself along the same lines on the theme (quote from 2010): “We do not see a particular formal problem, but rather only constructional solutions. Form is not the end goal but rather the natural consequence of our work. Form as goal is formalism: and we reject it”. About Mies’ work (but the same could well apply to MGGC), Carlos Marti Artis has this to say (2002): “…shape is not the immediate objective of the architect’s work […]. The clear constructional expression of his work, the precision of syntactic rules, the clear interpretation of form are for Mies [and for MGGC] nothing more than a series of strategies which are meant to guide us to the expression of perfect beauty ” (p. 42). But it is the beauty that Adolf Loos (1982) attributed to the works of ancient Greece: “… in their work, the Greeks were only bothered with the practical aspect, without in the least thinking of beauty, without raising the issue of catering to an aesthetic constrigent. When their work achieved perfect practicality, they thought of it as being beautiful” (p. 43). This is also true of the architecture of Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo.

There are three factors that MGGC considers essential to her career and that we find in her architectural work.

The first concerns her experience at the University of Rome, where she took part in the 70’s to a course on renovation by Franco Minissi, who equipped her with the tools and gave her the opportunity to develop a special calling for comparative work with former building constructions. The course itself largely dealt with monuments. She now juxtaposes recently built artefacts that require structural changes.

The second has to do with her interest in contemporary art, whose origin is unclear, but that certainly received vital impulse from her stay in Turin from 1980 to 1986, when she was fortunate to make the acquaintance and hang out with Mario Merz, Alighiero Boetti, Pierpaolo Calzolari and others among the most pioneering artists on the international scene. In those years, Turin attracted international operators and artists who met at exhibitions, events and private venues. More specifically, we think that the interest for conceptual art offered a useful paradigm in the field of architectural production: a project is first of all a concept, reflection before being a sign that takes on its own specific dimension when the conceptual solution, which is often time-consuming, appears convincing.

The third is her significant experience at Fiat Engineering in Turin. Industrial design followed strict codes that fit into a standardisation process that made it possible to replace the designer at any moment during the project.

MGGC’s architectural design is stripped down, minimalist and focused on the project aim, which is to serve as a tool to deliver information to other subjects who contribute to the work, with no concessions to caligraphy.

In a time of rendering and of the FX of a society geared to display and image, this method of representation gives the sign its original value of means to an end, rather than end in itself or, even worse, of phony graphic design. This was a concern prophetically prefigured by Adolf Loos (1982) who, already in the early 20th century, remarked “architecture has depreciated to graphic art, for which architects are to blame. It is not who knows how to build better that is most commissioned projects, but the architect who most skilfully presents a project on paper [….]. To the ancient masters, instead, the drawing was only a tool to communicate with the builder” (p. 246).

If on one hand the career achievement award is a tribute to her work, on the other it necessarily not coincides with the deposition of the pencil and sheets in the drawer which, instead, continue to happily occupy the tables of Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo, for whom we wish the same destiny of Frank Lloyd Wright, who approaching 90, still replied to the question of a reporter as to which was the most important feat of his career: the next one (as quoted by Costantino, 1991, p. 89).

(1) Excerpt from the website:

(2) There are three Faculties of architecture in Sicily: one at the University of Studies of Palermo, one belonging to the University of Catania and based in Siracusa and one at the Kore University of Enna.


Alain-Croset, P. (1986). Elogio dell’isola. In AA.VV.  Architetti in Sicilia. Catalogo della mostra, Cefalù: Edizioni Medina.

Agamben, G. (2009). Nudità. Rome: Edizioni Nottetempo.

Bono, M. (2012, September 13). La Repubblica.

Bufalino, G. (1997). La luce e il lutto. Palermo: Sellerio.

Costantino, M. (1991). Frank Lloyd Wright, New York: Crescent book.

Loos, A. (1982). Parole nel vuoto. Milan: Adelphi 1985

Martì Artìs, C. (2002). Silenzi eloquenti. Borges, Mies van der Rohe, Ozu, Rothko, Oteiza, Milan: Christian Marinotti Edizioni

Mies van der Rohe, L. (2010). Gli scritti e le parole. Torino: Einaudi

Russo, L. (2013). intervista a Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo. Incontri, 3.

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‘Sicilia’. One, no one and one hundred thousand Sicilies

Abstract: Sicilia is a magazine that still has much to tell and teach, in its absolute visionariness so constantly hovering between being a Sicilian, and even more viscerally a Palermitan magazine and being an international, contemporary, multilingual, experimental and forward- looking magazine. Sicilia, without fear of being accused of unnecessary and exaggerated local pride, deserves a much more in-depth study than has been done so far, through a careful analysis conducted in the different subjects involved in the folds of its pages. Here we will try to deepen its study, analyzing the magazine as a complex graphic artifact, through the lens of visual communication design, the discipline that will help us to investigate its concept, its development, its evolution and above all its constant experimentation.

It is kept on the bookshelves of the Sicilian families, in all the libraries of the districts of the island, on the stalls of flea markets and it is dusty on the shelves of the old and second-hand books retailers. It bears a name that you cannot forget because it is the same name of the island where it was born. It has a format that cannot be ignored because it stands out overwhelming the  near smaller publications. It was born modern and international because even today, thirty years after its publication, it has nothing that anchors it inextricably to its actual age.

It is Sicilia, the magazine that  keeps on living, not only through the action of eager collectors but of all those who having known it, continue to search it, and it’s not going to step aside.  Brave and indomitable, it could deal with new and glossy magazines and even more with that pale and fragile imitation, bearing the same name and features. For years the historical publisher has tried to distribute the last, but it lacks the strength, intelligence and the vital spirit that characterized the original periodical publication.

It’s amazing and inexplicable the theoretical void that accompanies the history of the magazine, and even more in the period following its closure, there are only articles scattered on various texts, but never a careful and organic research.  There aren’t any historical studies and criticism of Sicilia which try  to reconstruct the many different aspects that led to his birth in the womb of the Sicilian Regional Department for Tourism and Entertainment, as a tool that could tell inside but even more outside it, the various cultural fragments that make up the Sicilianess. A Sicilianess which has little of folklore and a lot of anthropology, a concept that must be first searched in the depth of the territories, where the roots of the people are deep, but then stand out from them, on the long and slender branches which look constantly further away.

I think it is important to emphasize the value of the magazine in the visual communication design, because it is an excellent example which  can tell more than others, in such a complete and concise way,  the visual culture of a country. It has ended up influencing inevitably those who, working with various qualifications in the design discipline, were born or grew up there, or were formed there. The issue of the cultural matrix of a territory, understood as a set of visual and material culture, then found in the graphic designers who work in that place or come from that place, is a concern with no easy solution. Not one but many are the factors that converge in the formation of a professional, but even a common hint can be found, to transcribe on a hypothetical map, common paths and points of convergence, capable of establishing between the many actors – even of different periods – the assonances. A genius loci that continues to survive in the territories, in spite of our difficulties to find out and to listen to it as we are overwhelmed by time, crushed and deprived of our permanence. Perhaps, and certainly it makes sense to continue to look for it, while recognizing that not so much the territories and their guide spirits as well as those who live in them, were deeply transformed and with them, their sense of belonging to one culture, one identity, in one single place. Of course the relationship sought is unlikely to be bijective, having to deal with a constant cultural contamination, but that does not mean that we have to disregard its knowledge.

Studying and learning Sicilia means going through – visually and conceptually – a graphic and iconographic heritage that tells, in a detailed and unusual  way, the island, its language, its expressions, its manner, its tone of voice. A heritage that fixes the past and throws itself like a sharp stone towards a future scenario. A valuable legacy worth knowing and sharing, as well as translating and betraying, as only an irreverent child can do.

But, before assessing the merits of an interesting and innovative graphic design  which will be traced as a volume through its main chapters, you first need to try to reconstruct the historical context, the political landscape, the many figures who have desired, designed and developed it.

Sicilia was born in 1953 as the official journal of the Sicilian Regional Department for  Tourism and Entertainment, and next to its name other names stand out in importance, because they granted its birth, growth and success. The first is undoubtedly Pino Orlandi, its director, even if it is simplistic to force him only in this definition. Orlandi is a man from the north, who landed on the coasts of Sicily at the end of the Second World War and never went away, who worked without interruption for a big, bright and ambitious cultural project. He was the only who made the editing, established the topics, directed the graphical structure, recruited photographers, illustrators, painters and engravers to collaborate in the design of the magazine, called historians, anthropologists, poets, writers, philosophers from different countries, asking them to write texts for the mostly monographic numbers of Sicilia.

The second is Salvatore Fausto Flaccovio, then just S.F. Flaccovio, as we are accustomed to see it written down, surmounted by a lithe gazelle in the logo of his publishing house, reproduced in the characteristic green flag color. Flaccovio was an intelligent and ambitious young man who changed in a short time his bookshop, located in the central Via Ruggero Settimo, in a prestigious cultural salon, a meeting place for the intellectuals of the time who lived or stayed in Palermo.

The third is that of Bruno Caruso, the famous Sicilian painter, who had the important task of structuring  the graphic design, giving to the magazine that imprinting that it will keep until the end, in a crescendo and an ability of continuous self-renewal that cannot be solely attributed to the artist, but it should be fairly distributed among those people who directed, paged and produced it.

Sicilia was a four-monthly magazine, distributed in Italy but addressed mainly to a foreign audience as emphasized in his speech, at the opening of the publishing business, Pietro Romani, honorable and representative of the High Commissioner for Tourism.

A magazine that represents not only the most beautiful aspects of the island and its culture, but also the truest, most unusual and most cultured aspects, collected in a photograph that can be merciless, able to capture the beauty even in the plots of abandonment and destruction, never yielding to pity or victimization, but proud and bold, as it emerges from a story told through the articles of both Sicilian authors and important exponents of national and international culture. But also illustrated with photographs, engravings, paintings, illustrations, chosen with great care from the historical and photographic archives of the island or made on purpose for the magazine.

But let’s get into the structure of Sicilia. This is based on a criterion of variability, which inserts itself into a system of invariants, it goes without saying that soon it became his stylistic signature. The journal keeps some constant elements, few indeed, and are those regarding: the size, rectangular top that always measures 24 x 32 cm; the font used for the layout of all the texts, a robust Bodoni that binds strongly with the printing on the paper; the layout of pagination of the articles in one, two, three or four columns; the material used, a coated paper or uncoated, white or colored, for specific sections of the magazine as the abstract. Another feature, not concerning the graphical structure, but concerning the concept of the publication and its being an international product, is the decision to publish the articles in their original language, without any full translation, only a summary of all the articles is translated into English, French, German and Spanish.

With regard to the variable elements, these are in a random order: the cover can be graphical, illustrated, photographic, different each time; the logotype of Sicilia that changes in size, in position, in the graphic processing on every cover, also working only for the subject of the monographic treaty; the back cover, completely white, that houses a fragment, a detail, an element related to the front cover; the summary also designed each time as a new element related only to the monographic theme, of which becomes a further interpretation; the head of each article, which is never processed in a rigid way, how could require the compliance with the layout, but more like a logotype, a sort of translation and graphical summary of the topic. The authors of the many graphic designs, but also of the unending experimentations, were at the time two young graphic artists, Santuzza Calì and Gabriella Saladino. They worked by establishing  and keeping over the years, an artistic collaboration with the director Pino Orlandi thanks to their ability to communicate and to have a good understanding with him.

Sicilia, with the number 89, was the last issue of the magazine, published in May 1982.

Sicilia: rivista trimestrale dell’Assessorato turismo e spettacolo della Regione siciliana, dal n. 1 (edito il 31 marzo 1953) al n. 89 (edito il 31 maggio 1982), Flaccovio, Palermo, 1953-1982

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Design and Entrepreneurship: Palermo in the Liberty age

Abstract: We are in Palermo, 1899, two relevant characters, such as Ernesto Basile and Vittorio Ducrot, at first glance belonging to distant working fields, meet and clash each other, creating the first partnership between a designer and an entrepreneur in Italy. Instead of the past stylish models, we have now the inspiration from Nature: the vegetable organic strength becomes the model for the development of the ornamental line.

Over the years, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the city of Palermo lives an extraordinary period of cultural and economic development. Some families, such as the Florio and the Withaker are involved in entrepreneurial activities, but the city gives hospitality to other people belonging to the new cultural and economic tendency, like artists and scholars. Many artisans, decorators, craftsmen, mosaic workers, and master glaziers are hired to include their works inside the buildings following a new taste which soon will be adopted by architecture: the Liberty style (Art Noveau). Both the interior decoration elements and the furniture were demanded not only by the local aristocracy and the bourgeoisie of that time, but also by hotels and public buildings. With all that, we can even assert that the economic liveliness of Palermo at that time, is not only due to the presence of entrepreneurial personalities, but it is the result of an artistic incentive that supports the highest quality production of art objects.

Considering the increase and the differentiation of the client’s demand, together with the desire and the pleasure for the objects belonging to this new artistic Liberty tendency, we can confirm, between the end of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, the proliferation of new artist/artisans workshops, that tend to a different production. Instead of being linked to the aristocratic and high-bourgeoisie elite demand, they are now ready to open out to the serial manufacturing production, which they were opposed to. For this reason the little laboratories need to create new bigger workshops to increase their productivity but, above all, to let some of the most important artistic and intellectual personalities of the time to work together. Over the years, this peculiar collaboration turns the artist into designer and the artisan, workshop foreman, into an entrepreneur.

The firm C. Golia & C. Studio – Ducrot in Palermo, is one of the first artist/artisan workshops to become a real business. It shares the new modern language for the furniture production, taking advantage of the collaboration of the famous architect Ernesto Basile but also of other well known artists of that period. The collaboration relationship we are about to discuss now is the one between Ernesto Basile, architect, and Vittorio Ducrot, heir of the above quoted C. Golia & C. Studio. This relationship is definitely established when Vittorio Ducrot becomes the only owner of the C. Golia & C. Studio. Through different steps of growth, Ducrot turns a little artisan workshop into a modern furnishing factory. The result of this relationship is also due to the strong personality of the two main characters and their experiences. In 1899, the firm C. Golia & C. Studio furnished the ‘Grand Hotel Villa Igea’ in Palermo, with Ernesto Basile, establishing a long-term collaboration with him. As said in a letter written by Basile himself in 1898, they had previously worked together on the fortuitous occasion of furnishing the house of the countess Francavilla.

This collaboration represents a new experience, according to whom both the design of furnishing and furniture and the production of decorative objects are strictly connected with the technological and stylish innovation, as well as the trade expansion.

Therefore the furnishing of the ‘Grand Hotel Villa Igiea’ can be considered as a ‘test bench’ for the couple Basile-Ducrot. You can notice a stylish innovation in the main areas of the hotel, designed by E. Basile, such as the hall or the dining room, where the furnishing stands out above a uniform view of the space; with regard to this, the frescoes by E. De Maria Bergler contribute to the unity of the space.

Villa Igiea is the most representative example of what could be defined ‘Grand Hotel’ at that time; many meetings and high-society parties, involving an oligarchic entourage of regular clients, took place there.

The quest for a stylistic integrity, in order to create the ‘total work of art’, making the domestic areas and the elements which compose the rooms as a whole, distinguishes the interior design of ‘Villino Florio’ by E. Basile. In regard to this, Basile has the opportunity to test the executive resources of the firm Ducrot: the factory, following the modern trends in the furnishing field, reveals a renewed way of producing in every field of practical arts. (Sessa,1981, p. 13)

Commissioned by Ignazio and Franca Florio in 1899, built and completed with internal and external decorative elements between 1900 and 1902, the building has a structure separated in different perspective levels. The inside is composed of individual rooms which seem to be connected each other. This particular arrangement reveals Basile’s intention to reach ‘unity’.

The furniture is similar to the models that Basile and Ducrot presented at the Turin Decorative Modern Art Exhibition in 1902 and the Venice International Art Exhibition in 1903.

According to Basile’s quest of a ‘new architecture system’, the organization of the spaces in ‘Villino Florio’, with its inclination for the variety giving a guarantee for the homogeneity, represents the first step towards a modern maturity. The building, in spite of the various arrangements of its four floors, doesn’t dissemble the logic of its geometrical structure, organized with a clear dimensional ratio, denying Raffaele Savarese’s opinion about the affinity of Basile’s art with an undefined late-Romantic trend, as he writes in his long essay ‘Arte Nuova Italiana’ about Villino Florio and Basile’s  programmatic objectives. (Sessa, 2002, p. 181)

As well as the Mirror Hall in Villa Igiea, Villino Florio represents a unique for its internal and external aesthetic shape which can’t be repeated or re-edited; for this reason it will be the starting point for all Basile’s future works.

With the presence in the Turin Exhibition in 1902, together with Vittorio Ducrot, also thanks to the industrial progress of the factory, you can notice a particular maturity in the furnishing culture.

In the following years, although there is a close relationship between Basile and Ducrot, the latter takes the liberty to make different choices from Basile’s ideas. Actually the fortune of the couple is due to Ducrot’s determination in regard to the selection of the best materials and the following well-advanced construction technique that allow the innovation and the expansion of the firm in the trade of Palermo.

As previously mentioned, Basile also looked after the graphic style of the firm and the arrangement of the exhibition/sale areas.

In 1903, at the Fifth International Art Exposition in Venice, he sets up the section ‘Napoli and Sicilia’ where exhibits the furniture designed and realized by himself with the collaboration of Ducrot. You can notice the transformation of the decorative elements, since there isn’t any similarity with the famous 1902 oaken working room; but the presence of naturalistic elements and the decorative exuberance derived from the nature, create a dynamic ‘organic unity’ which promotes the birth of the New Italian Art. (Sessa, 2002, p. 247)

Vittorio Ducrot, who is not a qualified technician, unable to design and realize what he actually produces, takes advantage of the participation and also the collaboration at the 1902 and 1903 Exhibitions. Thanks to these two events he gets hundreds of orders from all over Italy especially referring to the pieces exposed in Turin and Venice, which bring to quadruplicate the profit of the company.

Between 1905 and 1907 Basile formulates a new aesthetic combination, which is carried out with the design of the main façade of the International Exhibition building in Venice and the enlargement of the Cassa di Risparmio offices in Palermo. In the first building Basile displays the furniture designed by him, while in the second one, he deals with the architecture but also the interior furnishing, together with Ducrot. The work carried out in the Ducrot workshops, was integrated with parts produced by other Italian companies, such as Opificio San Leucio for fabrics, majolicas by the firm ‘Figulina Artistica Meridionale’ in Neaples, wrought-iron by Angiolo Grasso workshop in Neaples, in order to provide an appropriate framework for the paintings and the sculptures by G. Enea and E. De Maria Bergler.

The construction of ‘Casa Basile’ also known as ‘Villa Ida’, inspired by the name of the artist’s wife, is contemporary too. It was entirely designed by him and furnished by Ducrot’s firm.

Situated at the corner of via Siracusa and via Villafranca in Palermo, Villino Basile still reveals the principles of an homogeneity of style as well as of design also regards to the furniture which follows a concept of modern comfort, without replacing the main peculiarity of the Mediterranean way of life and the typical Sicilian use of the colors.

Inside Casa Basile you can notice a sense of sacredness in the disposition of the rooms as well as the furniture; this can be deduced by the position of the dining room in the most reserved part of the house. The furniture by Ducrot in this room is from the same series of the one exposed in Milan in 1906, with carvings of octopuses and crustaceans. The house also hosted the ‘working core’ of Basile, that is to say, his laboratories and the professional archives. All these room were furnished with drawing tables and high bookcases; the furniture belonged to the ‘Tipo Torino’ series.

Therefore the house suits to its own logic of functional division, with the basement reserved for the restrooms, in correspondence to the heart of the professional laboratory and the archives, and even the reception rooms overlooking the façade in via Siracusa; on the contrary the inner core with its courtyard hosts the dining room with relative vestibules and stairs leading to the second floor with its bedrooms.

In 1906-1907, there is another change concerning the furniture design and production for the Ducrot Company since Basile is called to realize the new Assembly Hall of the Parliament and to enlarge ‘Palazzo Montecitorio’ in Rome. The firm is selected as furniture manufacturer for Palazzo Montecitorio by the Italian Parliament Artistic Commission; they use a prestigious style appropriate to such an ‘important responsibility’.

In the same years, the Ducrot firm is awarded by the Agriculture Industry Commerce Ministry for the furniture of ‘Caffè Faraglia’ in Rome; this particular kind of furniture represents another new style created by the company, which is, for this reason, called Faraglia.

Using such a modern style, reconsidered in a ‘prestigious way’, in range of ‘institutional demands’ is for sure a significant success of the Basile-Ducrot couple.

As for the architecture and the furniture, Palazzo Montecitorio is the most representative example of the collaboration between Basile and Ducrot; it has a magnificent covering on the external front, with architraved windows; the interior with wood covering which underlines the geometrical tendency, and even the insertion of classical elements, such as the columns of the Assembly Hall, which, for their chromatic similarity, resemble the ones of the secondary galleries and the other meeting rooms of the building.

On 9 March 1907, the Ducrot company is officially registered in the Stock Exchange of Milano with the name of ‘Ducrot Mobili e Arti Decorative, Società Anonima per Azioni’. Among the first shareholders there were some old partners, like Antonio Ugo and Ettore de Maria Bergler.

Two years later, the couple Ducrot- Basile takes part to the 7th  Biennale di Venezia with the furniture of the hall ‘Bellezze Siciliane’. The classical style of Montecitorio can be observed in the refined carvings, the plating, the brass application, the lacquering and the painting ‘Vernis Marin’. Basile designs massive furniture where are inserted in a modern way: ornaments, volutes, mouldings, friezes and other details.

The aspect of this furniture could lead one to think about a return to the previous stylish concepts, but this misunderstanding comes out because of the Ducrot company designers, who receive in their own way the suggestions of Basile about the design intended as a severe superimposition of levels and volumes. That represents the decline of the Ducrot company and the end of the collaboration with Basile.

The couple breaks up since in the following years, the Ducrot workshops are about to become a large productive apparatus, which needs different plans of action and strategies, in relation to the new decadence of the city and the islander’s migratory flow, when the World War I was about to explode.

Between 1915 and 1918, Ducrot makes a renovation of his workshops, enhancing the wood warehouses, adding some structures, but confirming the productive organization so converting the factory located in via P. Gili into a seat of war airplanes production.

This ‘industrial adaptation’ phenomenon, accomplished by Ducrot, was possible thanks to its high technological possibilities and the advanced flexibility of organization.

When in the 1920s the demand for seaplanes run out, there was lust for the old furnishing production, but a lot of difficulties came out because of the leaving of the old partners and the change of the clients.

We can consider the end of the collaboration and its success as a result of the continuous movement of renovation regards to the habits and taste of the Western culture.

The couple Basile-Ducrot, in the years 1899-1909, establishes a new modern quality standard for furnishing and the all the works of art, together with the birth of specific applications in the early cycles of industrial production.

Sessa, E. (1981). Mobili e arredi di Ernesto Basile nella produzione Ducrot. Palermo, IT: Novecento.
Sessa, E. (1989). Ducrot: mobili e arti decorative. Palermo, IT: Novecento.
Sessa,E. (2002). Ernesto Basile: dall’eclettismo classicista al modernismo. Palermo, IT: Novecento.

Editorial #10: From Sicily notes about a changing reality

Number 10 of PAD is a special number. It is devoted to Sicily and, to those who, like us, come from this region of the Mediterranean or have spent there a part of their life; this number represents a moment of retrospective consideration, in the will of opening a “conversation” with the current situation, for a connection between seek of comprehension and real change of the practices.

After 10 numbers, PAD restarts from its origins. Born in Palermo in 2005, thanks to a group of researchers who have been working perpetually for the development of the design culture in Sicily, PAD has achieved an international reputation. It has left its original place in order to enter the web region, popular place that is being colonised by the Southern countries of the world, because of the possibilities of emancipation offered by the net. And nowadays PAD is immersed in a net of contacts that feed its Pages on Arts and Design.

After this premise, let’s go back to the question of this number. What is new in Sicily?

Back to the original places for a recognition of what is the current Sicilian scene of design and art, we cannot but highlight the fact that design, that until a few years ago was exclusively connected to the formation of the young at the Faculty of Architecture of Palermo, is now taking a full-bodied structure with branches in the whole region and several articulations. Industrial design courses are widespread in the Academies, with Palermo and Catania as driving forces, so are workshops, events, professional occasions, enterprises of new typology, whereas ADI Sicily, regional delegation of the Italian Association for the industrial Design, has become the reference point for the actions of design for the producing companies and the young professionals (as you will read in the interview of Alessandra Fazio to Vincenzo Castellana, President ADI Sicily).

There is also a flourishing of social enterprises (as written by Agnese Giglia) connected to creative activities linked to the territory resources, of art centres such as Farm Cultural Park of Favara (visible in Reportage) and Fiumara d’Arte in Tusa and of laboratories of ideas that help provide new ideas to the genius loci of whom Sicily is rich.

And then there is a young generation of artists and designers, born in the South but trained all around the world, that has left their home country in order to be fulfilled. They have learnt to travel, to be contaminated, they have achieved the right thinking necessary to be able to protest, to carry out a “cultural resistance”, thus spreading know-how and a new forma mentis. Willing to give a contribution to the future of their home community on location or at distance, this generation represents a new chance for a Sicily that is widespread, connected and global.
Also through their projects (as you will see in Young Sicilian design), Sicily becomes a place to be traversed and visited: destination for the cultural and enogastronomic tourism or for Pizzo-free tourism, with unique products that come in contact with their own environment, thus seeping authenticity. Moreover, one shouldn’t forget that there is also an image of Sicily that is conveyed by a product that has become global: the series Montalbano that Rai exports with the result that spectators have multiplied their visits to Sicily year after year.

In this overview that this number proposes, by presenting some case history of Sicilian design in order to reach modernity, we wish to prevent from exalting a reality that is still too complicated and contradictory. We will put our expectations into the hands of the young and of the strategic dimension of design within the Sicilian territory.
Design is a generative and epidemic activity.
The cultural tools of design and arts can give a substantial contribution to the creation of an “economy of culture”, the only economy that disposes of endless resources and potential, that can carry out projects for a sustainable and virtuous future.
Cover Photo by Sasha Vinci artist born in Modica in 1980. Today living and working in Scicli.

“Sicily…is the land where I came back voluntarily some years ago, the place where my instinct tells me to stay and work. Sicily is the centre, and it is like this that we have to imagine it. It is necessary to join forces against any kind of power obstructing the cultural evolution of this incredible territory. A real change can be triggered by the independent realities of art”. (S. V.)

From Drop City to the African hackerspace

Abstract: The modernity of the 'ad-hoc’ approach enhanced by the American counter-culture of the Sixties is proved by the numerous events recently dedicated to the topic. If the adhocracy is the opposite of the strict hierarchical and bureaucratic organizations, adhocism represents the art of improvisation, of being able to find rapid solutions in critic situations, according to the typical  lifestyle attitude of the Southern parts of the world, where the Do It Yourself practises represent a necessary daily exercise, that nowadays is acquiring an important variable, represented by the democratisation of information technologies and of relation nets. Therefore, the long wave of community of makers has reached Africa as well, thus giving life to something extremely original.

The complete version of this article is available only in Italian.

What’s up? 15 young european architects

Fifteen firms of young European architects show their most relevant works and meditate on the current conditions of design production. While pragmatically anchored to the present, this generation confronts the transition to a different, more cooperative and social, existential situation: to an architecture that can overcome the obsession for individual self-representation and formal and stylistic research in order to contribute to an ecology of interaction.

WHAT’S UP? is a call to attention. An invitation to look at what is happening in the European architectural scene.
Young people’s slang is used to describe a new generation of talented architects who know how to turn the tables on prejudice and reticence.
The book was designed to arouse curiosity and stimulate architectural critique by channeling it towards the results achieved by young generations of designers; the goal is to document and testify to the organizational capabilities and cultural training of younger firms in the context of an equal and not rash comparison with colleagues who have been active for a long time, through the tools of ideas and work procedures.
The selection involves 15 European firms whose members range between 30 and 40 years of age, described with a text and the publication of two of their projects, the first one they developed and the one they consider most significant. The selection was based on anagraphical aspects but also on the firms’ contribution to the current debate on the state of architecture.
Among the various selection criteria was the number of works carried out in connection with years of activity, as well as the will to identify projects with different functions, from which heterogeneous shapes, inspirations, intentions, results, materials and colors emerge. For some States, in cases where content was equal, another selection factor was a studio’s presence in the media.
While different educational backgrounds, project methodologies and action ranges emerge from the interviews (some plan mainly sport or religious buildings, others work in the poorest areas of the world), all firms equally highlight the importance of architectural research, interdisciplinarity, professional collaboration and context.
To listen to professionals who will try to plan future cities is as interesting as recording the experience of well-known architects.
I hope it will be evident that what caused this book to develop is my belief in freedom of expression and in the enthusiasm of young generations, in their ability to change predominant values, in the sacrifices made in the name of the passion for their job, and in the courage and recklessness of so many professional choices that characterize the beginning of one’s career.
Despite the unpromising economic and political situation we face today, I believe that tenacity and talent always provide astonishing results, and that listening to inexperienced architects’ original voices and ideas can be a winning weapon to create varied and more stimulating places.

Salvatore Spataro

The same music

Every time I hear the echo of Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd from my son’s headphones the familiarity of recognition merges with the surprise of an unexpected continuity of taste between generations. If they had told me forty years ago I wouldn’t have ever believed it: rock music was revolutionary form, ideological belonging, affirmation of identity and opposition to the old: simply unthinkable to share aesthetic pleasure with one’s parents. Broadening the gaze, one notices the same musical phenomenons of duration, or of postmodern copy and paste, cross the most varied forms of expression, and architecture isn’t an exception. But we can’t say that general or specific conditions have remained the same. This volume, dedicated to fifteen young architecture firms, gives voice to the first generation of digital natives, fully fluent in radically new languages, comfortable in a change comparable, for its explosive potential, to the one produced by Alberti and Brunelleschi. And it’s not just a matter of tools for specific disciplines, but of a total transformation of social interactions and forms of communication. The fact that all of this hasn’t (yet?) produced a recognizable space aesthetic is an unexpected as well as significant phenomenon. Some people sense in the characteristics of the web, in the extreme precision with which search engines return exactly what you look for, in the progressive isolation in social networks constructed by “likes”, the disappearance of the fuel for innovation, of the casual collisions with the unexpected to which the pre-digital epoch constantly exposed us. Others assign an important role to the consequences of the numerous crises (environmental, economic, ideological, demographic…) and to the just as many fall backs that ensued: especially in project-based disciplines, for which the “new” is less and less a socially recognized and shared value.
These reasons being true or not, it is evident that we are in a transition phase and the best way to understand it is to listen to its protagonists. A first fact that emerges from reading this book is precisely a certain marginality of the generational issue, as if the Freudian need to eliminate fathers has all of a sudden disappeared. Perhaps the early engagement with the concreteness of construction played a role in orienting the various approaches here collected towards a healthy proactive pragmatism, for which the expression of a specific position doesn’t necessarily have to pass through the emancipation from known paradigms. Activity that, in more isolated and sheltered fields such as academia, is actually still practiced with enthusiasm (even if there, usually, they try to eliminate the fathers exhuming the grandfathers…). The ambition which instead appears to be most shared by these young working architects is simply to do their work at their best, trying to maintain a certain integrity in regards to contextual conditions. Positions vary, from idealism at the limits of ingenuity to professionally realist approaches, but all are imbued with the will to take a distance from the cynicism and individualism we usually associate with the role of architects. The widespread distrust towards archistars’ ways and goals doesn’t therefore appear to be a perfunctory statement by those who, having been excluded by the game, declare their lack of interest in playing. It’s a different orientation, less obsessively directed towards individual self-representation via the shape of constructed outcomes. For these youngsters the project isn’t anymore a heroic act, à la Howard Roark, the fictional and romantic architect played by a tough Gary Cooper in Fonte meravigliosa. It’s not the result of the rare talent of a Gehry, or of a technological persistence, that sustains its feasibility. He doesn’t even rely on the paradoxical reversal of reality through its own contradictions, a narrative device on which Rem Koolhaas and his many pupils built their success. If, in the end, we manage to recognize a generational specificity, we must look for it for it in opposites: in a different existential condition, more collaborative and social, more careful to participate in a sort of ecology of interaction, in space and time, in choices and areas of expertise. A generation not particularly oppressed by its past or anxious to shape the future, and thus quite rooted in the present, precociously aware that in a rapidly transforming world the quality of the voyage is more important that reaching goals that are less and less identifiable.

Review by Giovanni Corbellini
Padova, 5 July 2012

Ziad Zitoun from Tunisia

Ziad Zitoun is a contemporary Tunisian artist. He does a interdisciplinary work with videoart, installations and mixed-medias. He starts his creations in 2004 with Videoart. He follow with videodance works, photography and mixed-medias documents. Ziad Zitoun composes about recurrent socials thematics of immigrants & human rights.
His semantic turn around topics of migrants rights, trans-borders movements, refugees history… those works speaks about human rights and condition of people in movement. The author lines up with minimal and abstract forms. In that direction he studies about Zelij patterns, stamping & ceramics. Ziad Zitoun mix languages for gathering lines and patterns to allow a social message with a strong visual narration.

Thematics of inspiration by Ziad Zitoun revolves around rights of migrants, trans-borders movements & refugee Asylum. His works speak about familial separation, stigmatization and social invisibility that produce clandestinity life. Ziad Zitoun gives thoughts on the South-North relations and be testimonies of persons who live without dignity, without fundamental rights (health, work, education).

The author speak about them people who try to survive, persecuted only for the fact they are ‘illegals’. Every year, thousands of people from all over the world, afflicted by economic, social and political hardship. They escape from wars, dictators governments or misery. They migrate to Europe in attempt to attain better living standards. Every day a lot of people perish on the way.

Ziad Zitoun studies related social problems and it transcribe it in contemporary art domain for create aesthetic of migration. Art has for centuries been deeply estimated by the presence of immigrant artists and them fresh ideas. Today, more than ever before, the population reflects global patterns of migration, and this is evident in the art add a value of diversity in in our contemporary societies.

Visual arts

“I create visual narrations and construct a strong social message. I’ m using expressive textures, which are combined with the main figurative motifs as ornaments as Zelij patterns and african tooling. I’ m always turning around the idea of border, the wall, the line. Adding textures helps me to express feelings about these concepts.” said Ziad Zitoun, “An intense colors work on playing with bi or tricolor compositions. With this chromatic game, I covering surface with set of geometrically organized tiles inspirited by Zelij architectures and russian constructivism works. I use rock, iron fence and wall pictures. That give me the chance to transfer the feelings of someone who is in front of a wall. I wish to express feelings of someone in the situation of crossing a border. I try to express the difficulties that you can feel when you see something locked and when you try to overpass this situation.”


“Photography permits me a deconstruction of space, transcribe an ambient of urban square, and create extended perception of a location. My preferred location is North African & Mediterranean area. Tunisia, Algeria or Libya is wonderful unknown regions of the world. I capture rarely viewed scenes and environments and present them in a dynamic way.” said Ziad Zitoun.
“Photography is a powerful medium it opens our point of view, give visibility to unknown areas & change our perception of reality. Do pictures is as open a window, create a bridge and permit new connection between the subject and the viewer. Photography can break a thousand barriers & invite you to explore the world, experiencing other cultures, be concerned & sensitive to the world around us. It helps in opening up our mind. I capture scenes and events as I see them and to share with others the beauty and diversity of the world I’ve seen.”

“Mediterranean – Shared & Divided” is visual art project about in the Mediterranean area. The interdisciplinary project explore photography for create contemporary motions of this space. Between Sarajevo, Tunisia, Istanbul and Cairo. “Mediterranean – Shared & Divided” aims to promote a dialogue among communities sharing commons backgrounds. In a actual fragmentation of Mediterranean belt due of an hard european migration politic, artists propose new visual artworks for contribute to pluralism, diversity and multiculturalism dialogue.

Design & Production in Italy from ‘Miracolo Economico’ to Present

Abstract: The history of Italian design is characterised by a variety of changes gradually occurring within the relationship design-production. These changes are inherently connected to the structural conditions of the Italian industrial fabric, to the technological development, to the economical changes and to the changing conditions of the design demand and offer both in Italy and all over the world. The present chronicle considers Milan and its surroundings as the centre of a series of events that made the Italian design reach the point that it is still maintaining at a worldly level. Moreover, it takes into account the productive sector of furniture and furnishing accessories, which mainly identify Italian design. As any facts revision, also this one has privileged some aspects and excluded some others, in order to reach its own significance.

The complete version of this article is available only in Italian.

Interview with Denis Santachiara

Paola Proverbio: The 1985 exhibit “La Neomerce. Il design dell’invenzione e dell’estasi artificiale”, created by you and supported by Montedison’s “Progetto Cultura”, was definitely paradigmatic, as you clearly showed the way towards a new design based on ‘soft’ electronic and computer technologies, of which you saw sensorial and poetical elements. After may years, what direction you envision for design?

Denis Santachiara: The most important thing in design is the presence of some strong motivation, of a context constantly renovated by new discoveries – as it was in the 1960s with plastic materials. Differently from other arts, design is not an autarchic form of expression. It is a complex system. Today I still believe the future of design is strictly connected to the development of technology. The only limit is that while using technology design is more concerned with materials than with its potential influence on the productive process; actually, such process is the main factor of change, as it determines the cultural configuration of objects, and not merely their shapes.
As soon as 1986, when I contributed with Alberto Meda to the editing of Ezio Manzini’s  book, La materia dell’invenzione (1986), I started reflecting on diversified seriality. It has been a long time, then, since I first saw the web as an environment offering a chance for real developments in design. This belief brought me to the creation, with Tiziana Cippelletti and Paolo Trezzi, of Monastero Santachiara in September 2004.

Tell us more about this venture.

The original idea was to encourage rapid manufacturing in less than avant-garde businesses, acting in many different ways. I also concocted a project for an exhibit at the Milan Triennale, as I had done for “La Neomerce”. I clarified in an article this idea (Tessa, R., 2005), in relation to the so-called Personal Factory. However, I was too far ahead of the times, and the operation could not be continued. Even today, the web is still perceived by businesses as a mere communication device, a tool for advertisement and image-building, and not as a working environment, while many designers – and especially those of the last generation – are absolutely up to date with this shift. It is clear, then, that the design world has not yet established an actual connection with the world of the web. I believe when this encounter happens, it will facilitate the birth of a new context of renovation for design; maybe times are just not ripe yet.

In the exhibit “Principia. Stanze e sostanze delle arti prossime” at the 2011 Fuorisalone in Milan, though, you foregrounded this important approach to design, something people have been talking about for at least a decade.

Yes. That was for me another manifesto-exhibit, a post-media event through which I wanted to show another possible future development for design; I chose several principia ruling the disciplines connected with technology, and I put designers in front of a question, in order to understand in which direction design itself should be headed. So again I insisted on the meaning and importance of the Personal Factory, since through it design can express new linguistic and poetic moods, while rapid manufacturing makes it possible to produce a piece or a thousand at the same unit cost, that is the main goal of mass personalization.

Mass personalization, of course, but in some cases self-production, as well. As you have pointed out, it is possible to reach a total autarchy of commodities, based on open-source strategies. In 2007 you installed a 3-D printer in your workshop, and you began creating models. Can you tell us more about your direct experience with both production and these upcoming forms of project?

As a matter of fact, I go in many different directions, as I try to take advantage of all the opportunities opportunities offered by this new context: Open Search Design, Co-design, Open design, post-serial Design On-demand. As for Open-search design, in 2010 I conceived a motorcycle utility which contains GPS, electronic toll collection system and charger. I designed it for my motorcycle, but once the project is available online, clients can download the math from the website and print it out in ABS format at the closest service using 3-D printers. Through a simple parametric software, you can change the math and customize the attachment based on the specifics of your vehicle and also your personal taste, by adding text and images.
The same is true for a set of glasses I designed, with both a customized mount and a simplified assembling process, in order to make every step compatible with the entire production system.
The interesting side of such system is that you do not just print models, but actual objects of immediate use: for instance, I recently printed a metal door handle. As for co-design and co-creation, I designed a set of shelves allowing clients to adjust them based on their needs and taste. The project was chosen by Quirky (, a New York-based online platform selling everyday objects. Through the community, designers, consumers and business associates rate the products and suggest possible improvements, from colors to prices. After this pre-marketing stage, Quirky decides whether to produce the object and sell it through its website and its partners, including Amazon, Apple etc.
As for open design, I joined forces with Campeggi to create “Santapouf PRO” (2010), a soft, colored, customizable ottoman with a built-in inflatable emergency bed. My inspiration was the “continuous profile” sculpture by Giuseppe Bertelli (1900-1974), who during the regime believed in the possibility of one head thinking for everybody; in a democratic, open, technological, liquid, connected society, each of us thinks with his or her head. My idea was to use CNC (computer numerical control) technology to cut polyurethane. For now, my ‘pouf’ has my own profile, but it can take on the face of each client. You just need to send your profile to us through smartphone, e-mail and so on. Our goal is to suggest an idea of design which could be customized without getting outside the price range of standard industrial products.
Another possibility I explored is design on-demand: I was recently asked to make a project for an urn (architects have always designed family tombs, while industrial designer have created customized family urns). In my project, you just need to send some pictures to have one made with your own face. The first urn has a primary shape on which the ‘client’s’ features are added; the second is a transparent cylinder containing many small boxes that can be given out to relatives and friends. It is obviously a challenging, thought-provoking matter, but it concerns all of us.

Paola Proverbio, Politecnico di Milano –

This interview was taken during a conversation with Denis Santachiara for the research published in: Proverbio, P. (2012). Denis Santachiara. In Pagliardini, V. (ED), I Protagonisti del Design. IT: Milan. Hachette.


Manzini, E. (1986). La materia dell’invenzione. Milano, IT: Arcadia

Tessa, R. (2005, April, 13). Nuove tecnologie, una seconda rivoluzione per il design. La Repubblica.