People make Places: Valentina Rognoli and Barbara Cuerden

It has been almost a month since I returned to Ottawa from Europe. Yet, what inspired me to finally sit down and write about my experiences was a stapled copy of references from the book “Il Progetto della Natura” by Giuseppe Salvia, Valentina Rognoli, and Marinella Levi. Thus, it is only fair that I begin my story with Politecnico di Milano.

Roma to Milano

The blast of horn came from terminus 25 at about 5pm – a piercing, penetrating sound that flew out from The Eternal City of Rome and died mournfully in the field of poppies. That was the signal for the departure of the coach. I silently bid farewell to my wonderful cousin Ekaterina and her family – whom I have last seen in St. Petersburg, Russia twenty years ago – and shook hands with a spruce Italian businessman. He looked with distaste at the deep cyan of the Roman sky arching over poppy fields and began a typical “stranger on the train” conversation. Massimo was headed home, whereas my aim was to reunite with Valentina and see for myself a vast library of materials that she so diligently put together for the department of industrial design.

Valentina Rognoli

“Welcome home, welcome home!” – said Massimo in perfect English, as the train dashed past mansions and ironwork fences with wild vines.

“Here is my number, and you let me know what you think of Milano tomorrow.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Designers appreciate Nature innately: A potential cure to God’s complex

My friend and colleague Anthony Dewar has an addiction. He gets to the TED talks website, then wakes up hours later and finds he has looked at over 50 videos. I have a similar problem, when it comes to MIT online lectures. Yesterday Anthony sent me a link to a talk by Tim Harford titled Trial, error, and the God complex. A couple of days earlier, we had a brief conversation about a well-known debate between algorithm vs. heuristic approach followers. Before I proceed, here’s a talk.

When I was working on a civil engineering project in a far-away land called Nova Scotia, my professor made sure we all knew what engineering was about. He once said:

Engineering is an algorithm. The design process can be fast or slow, but the important thing is the guarantee of the perfect solution.

After thinking about this for a week, I quit engineering.

Continue reading

Children are great innovators, or how to start re-making our world one mini-project at a time

How many 8th grade students does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they will use LEDs instead.

No? Nothing? Alright, I tried. The point is, children are extremely creative, intelligent, innovative, and most of all – knowledgeable about current technologies. We have become a nation of superb retail shoppers. But who is raising the planet’s future product developers?

Children of today have great skills of using products – their bedrooms are full of the latest toys from iPod to Razor Skateboard, but I don’t think much of it could be dismantled and then reassembled into anything functional. Children of today, just like children of any generation, crave active involvement in the meat of their toy. They want to use their eyes, hands, brains in the service of innovation, even if it is confined to their bedroom laboratory with a bent paperclip as the only tool available.

I witnessed this craving firsthand, when I taught a course at Carleton University SID department this May to 8th and 9th grade students with the help of my friend and colleague Corey McMahon. In this hands-on course titled Re-Making Your World: From Garbage to Goods! students got a taste of what it was like to design a new product from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Or, as nature likes to call it, upcycle.

Relaxing on a sculpture near Mckenzie Building after final presentations. Photo: A kind anonymous passer-by.

Continue reading