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D4T. Design for Terriitories

01 September 2017 — 5 minutes read

My name is Marina Parente, I graduated in Architecture in Naples (1987) and then, always at the Università degli Studi Federico II, for three years I attended the School of Specialisation in Industrial Design, the first to be established in Italy by Roberto Mango in an era in which Design Degree programmes did not exist.

My relationship with the Politecnico di Milano began immediately afterwards with the PhD in Technology for Architecture and the Environment that I concluded in 1998 with a thesis on the relationship between disused industrial areas and scientific and technological museums. In that period, I also collaborated with Città della Scienza in Naples, which is today a well-known science centre and business incubator with interactive exhibit design activities, the setting-up of exhibitions and the organisation of events for the promotion of scientific, artistic and territorial culture.

The relationship between Naples and Milan was strengthened on the research front through participation in some national research ("SDI- Sistema Design Italia" coordinated by Ezio Manzini and "" coordinated by Giuliano Simonelli) and on the educational front with some teaching activities as adjunct professor, until I joined the Politecnico di Milano in 2005 as a researcher in design.

Today, I am an associate professor in this department and I teach in the Product Design Degree programme. At the post-graduate educational level, I continue to be interested in the relationship between design, territory and culture with the higher education course in Brand of Territorial Systems, of which I am the director, and the coordination of the Master of Design Culture together with the Università Cattolica, where I handle a teaching module on Design for Territorial Enhancement.

I am also a member of the Thematic Board "Handmade in Italy - the Design of Italian Territories" of the ADI - Associazione per il Disegno Industriale (Association for Industrial Design).

What is D4T

D4T- Design for Territories is a research network financed by the FARB funds of the Department of Design, of which I am the coordinator. It is built from the desire to consolidate and enhance a line of research that has become highly specialised within our department in recent years, through the theoretical and applied research activities of various professors and researchers.

Interest in design for the territory has expanded over the years: the territory is no longer only considered as the context where design develops, but the very object of the design project.

There has been an evolution from:

  • A design in the territory, that is, a design based on local resources but also on the material and cultural know-how of a territory, as happens for example in relation to craftsmanship or local production districts;
  • To a design of the territory, where the territory begins to be considered as a complex system to be enhanced, which is primarily expresses with the design of effective communication systems;
  • Up to a broader vision of design for the territory which, in addition to being inclusive of the two previous approaches, has the goal of enhancing a territorial system and its community with a purpose that is not only geared to tourism but to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of a place in general.

To address a plurality of very broad and differentiated issues, design for the territory models methods and tools generally used for business, such as strategic design, services design and design-thinking and applies them to organisational systems: cultural systems, political systems, social systems, and production and economic systems.

D4T Objectives

The D4T Research Network has 3 main objectives:

  • Firstly, to consolidate the internal network, by strengthening the expertise already existent within the Department of Design, and to increase the synergies, integration and visibility of excellence.
  • To compare and develop strategies, integrated methods and interdisciplinary tools for research, design and teaching.
  • To expand the external network and dialogue with other national and international organisations, with which to share experiences and research opportunities.

Activities and results

D4T activities can be summed up as follows:

  • Listening

  • Insights (focus groups and publications)

  • Dialogue and networking (conferences and papers)

  • Field experiments (didactics and applied research)

D4T’s preliminary activity was listening and comparison. Through meetings and interviews held with PhD students and researchers and professors of the Department of Design the fields of action, themes, approaches and the aims of their interventions in the context of design for the territory were identified and summarised through keywords that build a structured and complex framework of skills present in our department.

Three dichotomies emerged from this first survey requiring further study. The relationship between:

  • Theory and Practice
  • Tangible and intangible
  • Competition and collaboration

3 focus groups were organised on these themes from September to December 2016, in which we invited members internal to the Department to participate together with external researchers and professionals, and in some cases, even from outside the design discipline. 2 calls for papers for a magazine (PAD n.13 - Dec. 2016) and a book were also launched in relation to these themes.

As regards the consolidation of external networking, during this first year of activity we participated in different conferences in Italy and abroad, with the presentation of various advancement steps for the D4T activities. “Design for Next” was the most recent which was held in Rome in April 2017.

The activities that D4T performs in three main areas were also systematised and communicated through the website:

  • Educational, offering specialised educational courses
  • Theoretical and applied research
  • And that of dissemination and networking by publishing books and articles and by participating in conventions and conferences

As regards the educational offer, which is certainly one of the cornerstones that is also useful for design experimentation, I have already mentioned’s Higher Education Course BST-Brand of Territorial Systems, the Master of Design Culture coordinated by the Università Cattolica of Milan and the Politecnico di Milano, but we envisage the launch of a new Master programme on topics related to the territory.

The research activity, instead, has seen us engaged in the drawing up of a feasibility study commissioned by the Municipality and the Local Tourist Information Centre of Biella in Piedmont. This territory is attempting to redefine the local economy and town identity following the downsizing of the textile industry. The Feasibility Study, through a design phase with the participation of local stakeholders, has developed a strategy for the renewal of its identity, based on a careful reading of existing and potential resources, and has defined the actions necessary for a competitive and sustainable repositioning.

The feasibility study was submitted to the Region of Piedmont in December 2016, but we are continuing to work with the Local Tourist Information Office and the Municipality of Biella with the aim of following up on the proposed actions, including through the identification of calls for research that can support us.

In particular, we are currently working on an INTERREG Italy-Switzerland call.

The future of D4T

D4T’s aim is that of becoming the Department of Design’s permanent research network, by continuing and expanding the activities I have discussed.

To this end, we are participating in various European calls, such as the UIA - Urban Innovation Action, as a partner of the Metropolitan City of Milan and Horizon 2020.