Wunderkammer of Ideas event Domus Academy NABA campus. Image courtesy of the Domus Academy
Reporting by Marcia Caines
Almost everything starts with an idea. The idea of finding solutions to the crisis in education inside a cabinet of curiosities may seem far-fetched, but it's 'ideas' that count: the light bulb moment, the spark. The Wunderkammer of Ideas Seminar, which took place on May 30 2013, was conceived by Gianluigi Ricuperati, newly appointed dean of the Domus Academy, and Petter Neby, founder of the Swiss consumer electronics firm Punkt., which is art-directed by Jasper Morrison. The public seminar was staged with the aim of guiding and improving knowledge creation processes in the contemporary period. In the context of the Wired Next Fest, Punkt. teamed up with Domus Academy and NABA for an inspiring day on the campus, reflecting on the future of design education from different perspectives. Note: This article is not a direct conference report but a reflection on the revelations of the various speakers and the debate that followed. The content of this article does not reflect the views, opinions or positions of Punkt. Tronics AG, the official supporter of the initiative.
The seminar was structured around one-to-one interactions between specialist guest speakers and students, where the students challenged the experts with questions on chosen topics. There were 12 sessions which covered topics ranging from science to writing, art to business, technology to design.
The featured specialists were: Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, physicist, Ph.D. from MIT and researcher at the University of Rome La Sapienza; Amnon Dekel, programmer, computer scientist, computer artist and psychologist; Clemens Weisshaar, German designer, co-founder of the Kram/Weisshaar studio in Munich and Stockholm; Giorgio De Mitri, Creative Director of Sartoria Comunicazione, a successful Modena-based creative agency; Dan Hill, managing director of Fabrica, author of the popular blog City of Sound; Slovakian designer Tomáš Gabzdil Libertíny, who founded a studio in Rotterdam focused on exploring strategies in object design and construction; Renato Montagner, architect, who founded the multidisciplinary studio Change Design in 2002; Nikolaus Hirsch, architect, curator and director of Städelschule and Portikus Kunsthalle in Frankfurt; Roberto Paci Dalò, visual artist and composer; Matteo Pericoli, architect, illustrator and teacher who recently completed a Literary Architecture course at the Columbia University School of the Arts; Elisa Poli, architectural historian, who teaches at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Ferrara and on the Master in Interior Design promoted by NABA, and Kuno Prey, the designer and lecturer who founded the new Faculty of Design and Art at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano. The introductory speakers were Alberto Bonisoli, Marc Ledermann, Petter Neby and Gianluigi Ricuperati.
Petter Neby, founder and father of Punkt. Tronics AG. Image courtesy of Domus Academy.
Schools and universities have always been important hubs for the production of knowledge but the technological revolution of the past 20 years, and the democratization of information through the Internet have facilitated other learning paths, such as networks, gossip, memories and experience, which contribute to forming the learning environment and are now redesigning the role of educators. As unemployment levels soar, it is important to tap into these knowledge sources, which are by nature less visible, and therefore more difficult to account for and measure, forcing schools to question their role in the future of education. In his introduction, Petter Neby of Punkt. stated that the current education model, built for the benefit of industry and corporates a century ago, does not necessarily meet the needs of contemporary society or students. According to Neby, a teacher's responsibility is to guide students towards their purpose in life, without forcing them to fit into a rigid, outdated model.
Meanwhile, Alberto Bonisoli, director of Domus Academy, started the day by questioning if teachers will really be needed in the future at all.
Quote by Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, Wunderkammer of Ideas. Image courtesy Domus Academy & NABA
21st Century Problems, 19th Century Institutions: A Call for Innovation
During the session dedicated to the relationship between scientific and 'creative' education between physicist Giovanni Amelino-Camelia and student Giacomo Baruzzi Vaj the key questions were 'how do we learn?,' 'how do we acquire knowledge?' and 'how do we pass that knowledge on?' Camelia, a leading Italian scientist in the field of quantum gravity, is concerned that there won't be any new scientists in the future unless we create new paths of innovation in scientific education. Physics is still being taught through centuries' old discoveries. Camelia used the example of Maxwell's theories to show how our creative lifespan has not increased greatly over time and called for a rethink to prove to students that the margins of innovation are not shrinking. In his closing words, "we must chart the universe of knowledge for our students."
Amnon Dekel, chairman of the Software Engineering Department, Shenkar College. Image courtesy Domus Academy & NABA
Amnon Dekel, chairman of the Software Engineering Department at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, started his conversation with student César Tena by stating that we live in a post-engineering era. Dekel said that design plays an important role in giving engineering education a new direction. He used the example of Steve Jobs in his presentation to show how engineering and design together can create the magic that today's users expect from technology.
Dan Hill, managing director of the communications research centre Fabrica in Treviso, presented a very people-centred approach to learning, a key standpoint in a world where cultural identity is promiscuous and fragile. According to Hill, lectures are the low-hanging fruit of education because they lack the cultural sensitivity required to find new meaning and potentially invigorate institutions. Hill showed examples of the work done by Fabrica, that he described as an 'unfinishing' school, explaining that by applying a multidisciplinary approach it will be easier to tackle systemic problems, such as climate change, but the first challenge remains removing the brainwashing that impedes institutions to look further ahead into the future.
Nikolaus Hirsch, curator and architect, believes that creating the right conditions for learning does not mean forcing people to collaborate. He prefers a model based on hospitality, allowing space for organic collaboration. His examples of space making, like Peter Kubelka's studio/kitchen and the successful canteen at StÃ¤delschule in Frankfurt show the importance of hospitality i.e. food and social space in innovation and education.
From left: Tomáš Libertíny, Petter Neby, Dan Hill. Image courtesy of Domus Academy and NABA
Learning by Doing
Given that education is the key to personal development, the discussions during the day alternated between the roles of institutions and educators and how students can best develop their talents to achieve their maximum potential for active participation in society after school. According to Neby, the moment of truth occurs after school, in the workplace: in his opinion, it is by working that you can actually see how you function in life. Therefore getting business-oriented activities onto the curriculum can help students gain insight into the real working world. The idea is that of thinking beyond a theoretical argument and putting it into practice.
Clemens Weisshaar, who has collaborated with Rem Koolhaas and worked on projects with Audi and Prada, supports the anti-method approach to knowledge acquisition. Seeing the world as a classroom, Weisshaar maintains that education is about learning life skills, as opposed to applying methods to projects. Weisshaar shared his personal and positive experience of a three-year factory internship placement in Germany, which enabled him to gain valuable work skills and experience first-hand the meaning of work and managing relationships in the workplace.
Giorgio De Mitri, who has created successful advertising campaigns in his work as a consultant for Nike Global, Fendi, Luxottica, SlamJam and i-D magazine, stressed the importance of individuals and what they aspire to in life. De Mitri's vision is less conventional, and started his talk by switching off the lights and naming a series of successful individuals in the fashion industry who never went to school, but who were driven by vocation and passion. According to De Mitri, the secret lies in finding your own path and sticking to it; defining himself as a 'serial pusher,' he outlines that the crux lies in deciding if you want to be a future follower or a future leader.
Kuno Prey, Wunderkammer of Ideas event. Image courtesy of Domus Academy and NABA
Kuno Prey, who trained as a designer among the first students of Domus Academy and founded the new Faculty of Design and Art at the Free University of Bolzano, presented a list of points to help design students find their own place in the world:
· be curious: Explore and take apart things to better understand how they work;
· question everything, even the questions you are asked. Question yourself;
· you do not know everything, therefore ask;
· be generous and fear no imitators;
· talk to people, even in languages you are not familiar with;
· try everything before you claim to know. Document what you do;
· ask a lot from yourself. Never be satisfied with the first solution;
· educate yourself, listen and read.
The Wunderkammer of Ideas event revealed a gap between how students live and learn in the 21st century. The question for the world of academe is how to create real value for students, which in turn means exploring how we measure success in a rapidly changing multi-media society. In the words of the experimental designer Tomáš Libertíny, who creates by investigating the connections between the production of man and nature, "When we talk about design education we must include people who are not on the covers of magazines but who participate," and this statement rings very true for schools in the 21st century. Maybe education needs to go back to basics and understand the true value of learning in order to produce knowledge and provide opportunities directly related to students' life goals. Rethinking our definition of success in a knowledge-based society could be an interesting place to start.