(more)SoftAssertions: A Progressive Paradigm for Urban Cultural Heritage, Interior Urbanism, and Contemporary Typologies

(more)SoftAssertions: A Progressive Paradigm for Urban Cultural Heritage, Interior Urbanism, and Contemporary Typologies

Peter A. Di Sabatino
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2823-5.ch015
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This chapter examines the shifting landscape of disciplines and professions, with particular focus towards “Spatial and Experience Design.” In spite of trends and increasing examples of the erosion and overlapping of disciplinary and professional boundaries, there is a need for some sort of disciplinary and professional definition. There needs to be a body of knowledge and skills defined and practiced and routes to circumvent them. This is especially relevant in a world of inter-, multi-, and trans-disciplinary work and comprehensive creative practices. The chapter examines core aspects of spatial/interior design and how this may intersect with other related disciplines and practices. An articulated interior urbanism creates clear areas of contribution from “interior” designers within the city. The chapter explores these cross-fertilizations through the curricular use of intensive design workshops (often of one-week duration) with a singular focus of the student's attention; selected student works from two such workshops at Politecnico di Milano are included.
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Foundation And Introduction

All That Is Solid Melts into Air
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, 1848, Communist Manifesto

The second decade of the twenty-first century continues to see the questioning of definitions and boundaries. In the realm of design, this questioning typically manifests in the erosion or erasure of strict disciplinary and professional domains. Additionally, collaboration amongst disciplines and professions has become common practice. Multidisciplinary practices are more the norm, especially at the global scale, with the offering of comprehensive design services and extensive design and technical muscle. This combination of depth and breath are considered to be a strong asset, if not a simple requirement in much of the creative practices of today.

Along with comprehensive practices and/or highly collaborative situations, we also find the co-opting of once distinct academic and professional boundaries. We see disciplinary collisions and leap-frogging in the worlds of practice and education. The extent of creative practices that have a full array of collaborating disciplines, inclusive of art, foster not only multidisciplinary practice and education, but also the emergence of true transdisciplinary work. Education, disciplines, and creative practice are dynamic things, and must remain relevant and responsive to place and time.

Of course, the combining of art and design, and multidisciplinary processes and work, is hardly new. Recent and popular research in this includes Walter Isaacson’s book on Leonardo da Vinci, where he writes in the second page:

I embarked on this book because Leonardo da Vinci is the ultimate example of the main theme of my previous biographies: howthe ability to make connections across disciplines – arts and sciences, humanities and technology –is a key to innovation, imagination, and genius. Benjamin Franklin… was a Leonardo of his era: with no formal education, he taught himself to become an imaginative polymath who was Enlightenment America’s best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist… Albert Einstein, when he was stymied in his pursuit of his theory of relativity, would pull out his violin and play Mozart, which helped him reconnect with the harmonies of the cosmos. Ada Lovelace… combined the poetic sensibility of her father, Lord Byron, with her mother’s love of the beauty of math to envision a general-purpose computer. And Steve Jobs climaxed his product launches with an image of street signs showing the intersection of liberal arts and technology. Leonardo was his hero. “He saw beauty in both art and engineering,” Jobs said, “and his ability to combine them was what made him a genius.” Walter Isaacson, 2017, Leonardo da Vinci (text emphasis added by the author)

Isaacson’s writing on Leonardo’s Florence in the same book is also interesting and relevant to this chapter. He writes about the merging of disciplines and professions, and of skills and ideas, that were the expected norm of the most advanced figures and undertakings of the time:

The city’s cathedral was the most beautiful in Italy. In the 1430s it had been crowned with the world’s largest dome, built by the architect Filippo Brunelleschi, which was a triumph of both art and engineering, and linking those two disciplines was a key to Florence’s creativity. Many of the city’s artists were also architects, and its fabric industry had been built by combining technology, design, chemistry, and commerce.

This mixing of ideas from different disciplines became the norm as people of diverse talents intermingled. Silk makers worked with goldbeaters to create enchanted fashions. Architects and artists developed the science of perspective. Wood-carvers worked with architects to adorn the city’s 108 cathedrals. Shops became studios. Merchants became financiers. Artisans became artist. Walter Isaacson, 2017, Leonardo da Vinci (text emphasis added by the author)

Florence and other places and times by inference credited, the extent and more normative nature of this type of creative practice and education may now be at unprecedented levels. Certain programs and “disciplines” in education have fundamentally included multidisciplinarity in their very foundation and formation. An example of such a program can be found in the “Environmental Design” degree at Art Center College of Design. Around 2002, while the Chair of the department, I led the writing of following descriptive text concerning the department, its degree, and place in the world. 1

Key Terms in this Chapter

Intangible (Cultural Heritage): Typically, the non-physical, temporal aspects and acts—for example, the sensory and experiential manifestations including storytelling, music and the performance arts—of a culture over time and place.

Genius Loci: The sense and reality of a place formed over time, culture, traditions and typologies; this concept tries to get to the basic and fundamental root nature of a place, and its locational and cultural genesis.

Disciplinary/Discipline: A distinct area that is typically defined by a well-established range of knowledge and skills, such as architecture, graphic design, painting; when in the professional realm, this typically also includes specific roles and responsibilities, and some form of membership that delimits and brings greater definition.

Tangible (Cultural Heritage): Typically, the more permanent physical aspects and artifacts—for example, the material manifestations including art, architecture and writings—of a culture over time and place.

Experiential: A sensation, realization, or affectation gained by direct engagement with a person(s), place or thing that is usually intensive, impressionable, or illuminating in some way.

Multidisciplinary: The assembly and collaboration of many disciplines on a shared project, however each discipline typically contributes material from their particular area of expertise; a sort of collaboration with defined edges, roles and responsibilities. Diversity is celebrated and embraced (with the hope for greater creativity and innovation), however typical defined edges, roles and responsibilities are more than likely respected.

Interiority: The sense of, and actuality of, being inside, and hence possibly protected, distanced or shielded from others and other things.

Transdisciplinary: The assembly and collaboration of many disciplines on a shared project, with each discipline contributing material not only from their particular area of expertise, but rather a sort of collaboration with a much more broadly scope and interaction. Those in any particular discipline work collaboratively and intimately with others beyond their discipline, with the idea that one can, and the work can, transcend disciplines to create greater innovations and broader knowledge. Diversity is maximized. Typical defined edges, roles and responsibilities are mostly broken down.

Comprehensive Design Services/Practices: Professional practices that contain a relatively large or comprehensive disciplines in the same firm, and therefore do not need to sub-contract that work to other design firms.

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