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The tension necessary in the teaching of design. The diversified option of the school Elisava

It would not seem to be excessively bold to affirm that the model for development adopted for design in Catalonia has considerably influenced the aspect and peculiarities that the teaching of this subject has undergone here. One could go further and state that the schools and institutions that have for years been devoting themselves to pedagogic work have played an important and active role in the formation of a design culture, and even more so when one considers the small number of agents that have intervened in such formation.
This is not the moment to outline the principal characteristics which might he listed as being fundamental and definitive in this development. This would necessarily involve an analysis capable of picking out the key characteristics in the process of giving form to design in Catalonia. To probe deeply into such an analysis would mean starting out from the existence of studies and monographs on the progress not only of design but also of that set of previous questions which, in the coutries of Western Europe, have led to the defining of the concept and the profession, of the contents and the practice.
But it is no exaggeration to say that the volume and capacity for reflection which Catalan design has had on its past, on its precedents and on its present have been —and still are— scarce in the extreme, hardly existing, despite the presence of certain, very few, exceptions.
Thus the level of knowledge and references that can be used as a base when it comes to defining the characteristic traits are completely deficient.
This lack of historical culture gives us our first clue to the peculiarity we mentioned in the model of the evolution of design in Catalonia and which will naturally have a great effect on the quality and significance of those formulations of a pedagogic nature which have been building up over the last thirty years.
However, there is a second trait in this peculiarity which must be borne in mind, both because of its presence and because of its importance: the delay in the recognition of the term “design”. In this sense, there is produced, to say the least, a certain feeling of unease in accepting the fact that the introduction of the concept of design in the Catalan cultural context did not take place until virtually the beginning of the sixties of this century; and in having to recognize, moreover, the weakness of its repercussions. It is not until well into the sixties that design reveals itself as being capable of arousing interest —and even then only inside reduced circles, thereby causing only the weakest impact on the social and economic texture.
The first paradox: an industry without design?
This delay and coolness of an industrial society, such as is the case of that of Catalonia, in welcoming design denotes a first paradox, a kind of original contradiction which design has to face here: a contradiction which, at the same time, was to have great influence when it came to formulating a pedagogic proposal and endowing it with at least a minimum of seriousness and credibility: that is, when it came to drawing up a proposal capable of relating the practice and culture of design with the economic and social network, with the civilization of the object, with the projectual environment, with the expectations demanded by the formal and communicative resolution of products: in short, a contradiction and a difficulty which arise out of the perspective of the particular definition or approach from which the phenomenon of design may be viewed.
This conflict has its roots in a general recognition, according to which, throughout the course of history, the appearance of and interest in fundamental design themes have been the consequence of the existence of certain previous conditions: a hypothesis which can be admitted without any qualms, even though it might appear to be an excuse and justification for the birth and later strength of design.
And conversely it is also to be admitted that when there have been certain premises at the heart of social formations, there have arisen, almost as if they were a natural consequence, questions that have led to the spread of the discipline of design.
In general terms it can be accepted without hesitation that a considerable number of these conditions have been present in our society.
In fact, the beginnings of concern for design have normally been linked to the first effects of the industrial revolution and to the birth of a new type of society and economic order. More specifically, the starting point is generally found when a series of social events converge:

-  A collapse of craftsmanship, brought about by the new process of industrial work.
-  A breakdown in the corresponding corporate society; an increase in the market and volume of production.
-  A breach in the unity existing to that moment between the idea and its realization.
-  The consequent substitution of this unity by a structural differentiation between the work process corresponding to the project and that related to its actual manufacture.
-  The ability to decide on the characteristics of the product is separated from the scope of the two examples mentioned and becomes a private matter for the owner of the means of production.
-  The appearance of difficulties inherent in the new means of production, not only stemming from the distribution of labour and the division of work but also from the use of the new means of production, the new materials and the new energy.
-  A loss of qualitative references and the models to be followed to obtain the new products.
-   An inability of the old system to satisfy former demands and needs, both of a technical and cultural nature.

It goes without saying that all these questions will not appear at the same moment but over an extended period of time. It must also be borne in mind that they are not produced exclusively in new industrial sectors: they also appear in the old systems of production which continue to follow schemes of work fitted to earlier periods.
In any case, it is a question of the beginning of a process which is still operating and has not yet finished. To appreciate this, all that is necessary is to recall the present application of new technology in the field of production; the appearance of new materials and new raw materials; the tendency towards a market that every day spreads wider across the world; the defence of national markets and the maintenance of the identity of groups; subsequent consumer habits; the greater intervention of units of production in consumer decisions; the growing importance and force of problems caused by ecological equilibrium, which affect both production factors and the use of the produced object.
In this sense, therefore, there can be no doubts about the presence in Catalan society of such phenomena and the questions and problems raised by new aspects of production, by new consumer norms and, in our case, by the formation of a peninsular market. Furthermore, the industrial development of Catalonia is not based on the iron and steel industry or on an industry rooted in an abundance of natural resources. The bases of its production lie in its transformation industries, for which the raw materials have to be imported.
This means, then, that the production structure, after the initial start allowed by the textile sector, will go on forming by relying on the modification and finish of objects, obtained by the manipulation of a multiplicity of materials. And this is precisely one of the models of industrial development which facilitates the appearance and the growth of design theory.
This has meant that the evolution both of our social context and of the economic framework has not been so very different from that of those geographically neighbouring societies which have approached the production and resolution of the communicative and expressive aspects of objects obtained in series and aimed at a growing demand, in accordance with the suggestions of the artistic, cultural and industrial world: societies, all of them, which have at least tried to face up to the problem through the intervention of the artist and the expert in applied arts, in a world that is every day being increasingly shaped by an objectual environment.
It seems, then, that in the industrialized countries of Western and Central Europe there is a complete set of motives that explain and justify, in the first instance, the appearance of a consciousness disposed towards design at the end of the nineteenth century and in the first third of the twentieth, and, secondly, the burgeoning of this consciousness into the formation of the discipline and practice of design.
Paradoxically, it seems that here this same set of motives was of little help in achieving a certain recognition and interest parallel to that attained by other societies. Thus it is hard to understand the inability of Catalan society to react to problems and questions, to which almost all the societies around it, with scarcely an exception, had proved to be sensitive.
Or design without history?
Or might it be that the evident lack of historical memory has not allowed us to know what really happened in that world of worries and concerns that corresponded to the triumph and evolution of industrialization? Or has the lack of interest in a knowledge of our cultural heritage prevented us from having even the slightest idea of the development of design in Catalonia, from the beginning of industrialization to the decade of the nineteen sixties?
We do not know which is more deplorable, the possible insensitivity of Catalan society to react to the new problems and the inefficiency of industry’s new productive apparatus and of the emerging society corresponding to it, or perhaps the hardly excessive cultural density of the same society evident in its inability to know and respect many aspects (fundamental in our view) which have determined its cultural and social heritage, its very way of being. It is clear that this doubt can only be resolved by carrying out lines of research in a variety of directions.
At all events, if we situate the birth of design in Catalonia in a period as contemporary as the decade of the sixties we are obliged to accept an elemental dilemma, which can be simplified as follows:

-  either Catalan society, right from the time of the outbreak of the industrial revolution, had not considered, and so had not attempted to solve, those questions which in neighbouring European industrial societies had led to approaches of a design nature (something which would at least explain the already mentioned inexcusable delay),
-  or we must accept that the appearance of design at the end of the fifties was unaware of —or perhaps silenced— the efforts made and paths followed up to that moment.

Fortunately the alternatives are not really so categorical and elementary. If necessary, the radicalness of the two extreme positions can be attenuated and reduced, by bringing forth a whole series of questions which in the last instance would justify the tardy appearance of design in Catalonia.
The first of these would be the breach represented by the Civil War (1936/1939), which, among other things, prevented the continuation into and throughout the forties of the developments carried out by the rationalist movements in existence just before the Civil War: more precisely, the interest shown by these movements in aspects linked to industrial design and to the industrialization of those products with which the architect had strong professional ties. Not in vain had the GATCPAC —a group which included the principal names involved in the tendency— set up in the centre of Barcelona a commercial site, MIDVA, which supplied furniture and decoration for contemporary living.
The outlawing of the GATCPAC during the post-war period reached the extreme of banning even the mention of its name and work. The recuperation of the work of the GATCPAC architects and the scope of their work as a whole is due to the activity of Group R, which during the decade of the fifties acted as a nucleus of agitation and polemics within the heart of the sad panorama of the time. It is not surprising that important components of Group R would be those who acted as pioneers in introducing design to Catalonia.
Reference should likewise be made to the decline and halt in the impulse given to the Decorative Arts and Art Deco in the thirties. The survival into the post-war period, both of the tendency itself and of its most notable representatives, well beyond their most fruitful moment, caused among other things a not overgood press reaction for the most representative entity —the Foment de les Arts Decoratives, the FAD— including the positive aspect which it showed in producing the Salons of the Modern Home in the fifties.
In noteworthy contrast is the good reception accorded to the Section of Industrial Design of the same entity —the Agrupació de Disseny Industrial del FAD, the ADI/FAD.
Meanwhile, however, design in Catalonia had to take into account the absences and fragile historical sensitivity already mentioned. Consequently it went on taking shape with no possibility of recourse to those assets which in other societies explain the appearance and later development of its problems; and with the added difficulty of having to explain, when vindicating its consistency, that none of the coherence found in the rest of the industrialized countries is applicable here. The reason for such non-application had basically to be justified by referring to ignorance.
There was neither history or earlier pre-history and what there might be was practically unknown or not considered. Fidelity to previous approaches was nonexisting. Because of this it is difficult to evaluate the design that began in Catalonia in the sixties as a consequence of historical evolution, with a past with names and surnames; that is, as the result of a process of evolution that has its gestation in a confusion of approaches and which gradually adopts a certain content, on a level with the progress made in adjacent sectors and branches of knowledge and action, of culture and economy. Curiously enough, there is no continuity, but neither is there a break. It is a birth ex novo.
So what is known today in Catalonia as design is situated within a framework that has been modelled over the last thirty years and determined by practice and co-ordinates fixed by orthodoxy, but both of them born during that period. Design in Catalonia is the offspring of the Catalan society which has been forming since the sixties and responds to the needs and hopes of a part of that society.

 Front of Escola Elisava, Barcelona.

The second paradox: design without a reception structure?


Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Paolo Lomazzi and Fumiko Itoh
in the Spring of the disign of  Barcelona, 1991. Elisava School

What has been said so far might lead us to conclude that the design plan which has been taking shape in Catalonia from the sixties corresponds to a model which has formed inopportunely, outside its time, almost on the edge of the historical text and geographical context that correspond to the industrialized countries of Western Europe. To understand this, it is necessary to resort to arguments and experiences which are not those described in explanatory models used to legitimatize the phenomenon of design.
Thus the appearance of design in Catalonia is built practically outside a logical historical evolution. We might even say that this growth can be considered the fruit of a deliberate act, carried out by a group of persons desirous of reforming the content and cultural instruments of society corresponding to those critical moments in the history of Catalonia; that is to say, in its beginnings, action in favour of design can be considered one more of those carried out by certain of the country’s progressive elements, who had aimed to avoid the destruction caused by the dictatorship. Or at least this has repeatedly been considered to be the case.
There are reasons, then, for introducing a second paradox into the development of design in Catalonia. In fact, design is characterized, in general, by its pluridisciplinary aspect. This aspect has been exaggerated so much that there have even been —and there still are— difficulties in defining its specialness by setting out from design itself and overcoming the tendency to convert it into a mere sum of all the disciplines participating in it. This means that design has always been integrated —perhaps excessively— into the set of compartments into which human knowledge has been divided. Likewise, as a professional practice, it has joined on to the nearest activities.
Despite this capacity design has for fusing with society, it is not too difficult to list, in the model adopted in Catalonia, a series of constant absences of a highly general type; absences which, at the very least, reveal the lack of connection with the rest of the sectors and interests of the society surrounding it.
Thus we can cite:

-  An inability to achieve with sufficient strength, in the past and almost in the present too, a minimally clear governing policy disposed to solve those problems of production, consumption or market which are the basis of approaches to design, or to arrive at formulas which demand the necessity of a state apparatus conscious of the role of design in the very essence of industrial society.
-  The traditional absence of feeling against the poor quality of industrial production, which would make explicit a concern for the objectual environment, whether for ethical motives or for purely cultural reasons. And this can be applied from the nonexistence of any line of thinking favourable to the vindication of the craft ideal, up to the absence of sufficient sensitivity to preserve the good examples already achieved.
-  The inability, as a general rule, of the old industrial skills and the industrial and decorative arts to transform themselves into the seed of the new design trend; with the result that they have failed to take advantage of the great opportunities in the artistic and cultural movements, of great strength in Catalonia, such as is the case of Modernism or Art Deco, for achieving this transformation, for constructing the new path of design.
-  The insufficient incidence of enlightened sectors of the bourgeoisie which might consistently have proposed and formulated —that is, taken an interest in— a culture of the object linked to the spirit of the industrial culture.


The author between Andr6 Ricard (left) and Federico Correa.

What it amounts to is the absence or ignorance of great names, related to social movements, to thinking or to tendencies, and concerned at the very least with the existence of an environment of objects. Here too figure industries, with very few exceptions which have come down clearly in favour of design as a productive factor capable of solving some of their manufacturing or marketing problems or as an element able to generate an added value. It would without doubt prove embarrassing to draw up an inventory of products that stand out for the quality of their formal contribution or for some novel aspect of sufficient substance and scale, comparable to the weight and importance enjoyed by the entire Catalan industrial production throughout the course or its history.
The reception structure is thus revealed as almost nonexisting. From the cultural and artistic examples, in general, little concern has been evidenced for the civilization of the object. Neither have industrial needs imposed the desirability of improvements in production and markets, capable of being brought about by design.
As a consequence of the aspect adopted by its introduction to Catalonia, design appeared at the beginning of the sixties as the result of the action of a set of persons grouped around an institution —the Agrupació de Disseny Industrial del Foment de les Arts Decoratives, the ADI/FAD— who had made an earlier attempt, the defunct creation, the Barcelona Institute of Industrial Design, the IDIB. In this way, design, from its isolation, developed under the wing of cultural good with characteristics determined by its promotors: an isolation which it had tried to avoid from the beginning, as could be discerned in the Manifesto of the Barcelona Institute of Industrial Design (June 1957), which had received the support of the College of Architects of Catalonia and the Balearics, the College of Industrial Engineers of Barcelona, the society for the Promotion of the Decorative Arts (Foment de les Arts Decoratives) and the Association of Contemporary Artists (Associació d’Artistes Actuals).
But it seems that not even that minimal connection was to be achieved. If we compare the Board of Management of the IDIB and the first of the ADI/FAD we see that Antoni de Moragas, Alexandre Cirici-Pellicer, Pau Montguió, Ermengol Passola, Oriol Bohigas and Ramon Marinel·lo remain, and Juli Schmid, André Ricard and Albert Bastardes are added, but the engineering sector (Manuel García Madurell, Guifré Ricart and Joan Vallvé) disappears.
Design without debate?
In these circumstances the growth of design was to rest with the ADI/FAD; this is to say that design —both in its professional practice and as its conceptual basis— was felt to be a child of the work developed by the ADI/FAD. For more than a decade this was to be the only entity in existence which could centre activity in the specific field of industrial design. In fact, it would not be until July 1974 that there was set up, in the form of a limited company, the Barcelona Centre of Industrial Design, later to become the Fundació Barcelona Centre de Disseny (BCD). In 1978 was formed the Association of Professional Designers (ADP), of an eminently professional character.
The ADI/FAD was to set in motion a series of demonstrations aimed at the public, centred on the introduction of the Delta prizes. This activity, and the good press reception which it was to enjoy practically from its inception, determined a situation which would favour its hegemonic and exclusive role for a very long time. It seems clear that this would be strengthened through the loosening of the ties with and unawareness of possible precedents for action concerning design and because of its separation from other sectors of society.
The result was that almost everyone connected with design and with the profession would see in the Agrupacions del FAD —for the AGDFAD, which included the graphic design aspect, was founded in 1961— a kind of recognition of work which till then had been practically unknown: almost everybody that in one way or another had any connection with design would have dealings with these groups. And this despite the difficulties of the first ADI, earlier inclined towards the field of art and architecture, in contacting persons who, quite independently of the name with which their profession qualified them, practised as designers.
The action of these entities ranges from the function of uniting the designers, the defence of the interests of design, the promotion and spread of design, contacts with international organisms, etc. to the drawing tip of a theoretical corpus and the definition of what in practice is understood as good design.
As a consequence, there was consolidated, as it were, a unitary treatment of the phenomenon of design, in a way that was not official —earlier, in fact, in opposition to the political system— but which in the consciousness and also in the subconscious of most of the persons belonging to the sector acted as a strong bond.
It seems logical to feel that the role of covering the overall activity of design was too ambitious to be carried out by an institution with initial actions that were weak in the extreme, with meagre resources, all inside a society that was culturally and economically in a critical state. We should remember too that it was acting within a sector that was dragging an immense deficit, both of a historical nature and of social support, as we have seen above.
To bring out the weakness in the initial stages, even if it is in the nature of an anecdote but at the same time clearly demonstrative, it is necessary to compare the frustrated birth of the IDIB with the precedents of the inauguration of the Associazione per il Disegno Industriale, born one year earlier, in 1956. Just one example: the Italian IDA asked for the support of industrialists and technicians belonging, among others, to companies with design antecedents such as Arflex, La Rinascente, Pirelli, Cassina, Innocenti, Olivetti, La Pavoni, Rima, Pinin Farina, Arteluce, Guzzi, Kartell, Montecatini, Fiat, etc., of critics such as Giulio Carlo Argan and Gillo Dorfles and designers and architects like Franco Albini, Sergio Asti, Ludovico Belgioiso, Gigi Caccia, Anna Castelli, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Giancarlo Frattini, Ignazio Gardella, Ludovico Magistretti, Angelo Mangiarotti, Roberto Menghi, Carlo Mollino, Bruno Munari, Marcello Nizzoli, Carlo Pagani, Gio Ponti, Ernesto Rogers, Alberto Rosselli, Sambonet, Ettore Sottsass, Albe Steiner, Giotto Stoppino, Vittoriano Viganò, Marco Zanusso, etc., and on to sixty-five designers. (The consistency achieved by Italy during this period and the high level of quantity and quality of its components justifies a detailed explanation.)
Furthermore, the Italian IDA did not attempt to take in the whole of the movement which swept Italy and which was, moreover, notably richer and denser then here.
Within this framework there was established here in Catalonia an orthodoxy of design which was to last for many years. Given the starting premises, it was logical to aim for the more general and socially committed aspects which were reflected throughout the twenties in the theoreticians of the Bauhaus and later the guteformats who passed through the Ulm School. This meant approaching design from outside a context that was highly defined both culturally and industrially, that of Central Europe between the wars.
In fact, the IDIB Manifesto specifically laid down the coordinates of design:

The essence of Industrial Design is the study of the form of mass produced objects, based inseparably on that of the materials, the manufacturing process, the physical function to be fulfilled and the psychological and aesthetic need to be satisfied, within a defined social and economic context.

In the exhibition of the first Delta prizes, those of the year 1961, an explanation was given of what were understood to be the demands of correct design: the rational use of the material employed in the production of the object; its aesthetic form; the satisfaction of the functional requirements of the product adopted in the solution. And, following the same line of thinking, when it came to justifying the prizes that had been granted, the Record of Awards quotes basically and almost exclusively the fulfilment of functional and utilitarian requirements, simplicity of construction and the generation of little advances in mechanisms by means of design solutions.
It is not completely exaggerated to affirm that design discourse was not to stray far from what is implicit in these qualifications. The redeeming concept of design, the hope inspired in its use in the productive processes of industry, the total rejection of craftsmanship in production methods, confidence in its progressive aspects, its anchorage in the reducing dichotomy of form-function, etc., were to act as constants in this discourse. They would, however, at times be retouched by some important pioneer —as in the case of Antoni de Moragas— to vindicate the need for the expressive side of the object, and critically revised by Oriol Bohigas.
Reflection, then, would advance little, while action, the task of the professionals, would increase more and more, on many occasions working in favour of, and exclusively in favour of, the cause of design. The work of the designers was to be the great asset of Catalan design, on which the boom of the eighties would be based. Meanwhile, as a general rule, the industrial sector, precisely in the middle of its stage of economic growth, would continue to lack confidence in the capabilities of design.
The crisis in the unitary concept of design in Catalonia was to come about during the eighties, when the established mould was invaded in strength by the new tendencies in European design, especially those from Italy, and a certain pluralism was reached in approach and activity. It would be necessary to wait for the irruption of new publications and new dynamiters of the cultural life of design. But this break in the one-dimensional consideration or discipline was also to be somewhat delayed.
In fact, practically, at the same time that the ideological bases of design were being proclaimed, with the consciousness of acting in the name of the avant-garde, in some parts of Europe the essence of design was being modified in accordance with other suppositions, since it was claimed that the avant-garde had removed some obvious lasting and long-established devices, which prevented the development of its alternative investigatory function. And all this in the second half of sixties. Questions, new or forgotten, were formulated with a certain clarity, revealing different kinds of models from that which had been dominant up to that time.
Among them were the rejection of a lineal rationalist discourse applied to the projection of objects; the use of the language of some of the mass media; the references to pop art; the re-assessment of expressionist components; the interest in research into the qualities of products, which would soon afterwards be channelled into Primary Design; the emphasis laid on the evasive capacity of design as a means of escape from the dogmatic and epiphenomenal application of funscionalism in the everyday environment; the experimenting with new materials independently of the possibility of productive application; the attempts to lay the foundations for a culture of the object and design, concentric but independent of the culture of industrial production; the acceptance of the inconstancy of many of the manufacturing processes and technologies in use, with the resulting affirmation of the designer as a new craftsman; the approach to the small and medium-sized company as a privileged place for experiment and innovation; the stregthening of the communicative and expressive capacity of the object; the search for the influence of the artist.
Many of these matters, which were to have a decisive effect on the development of design and on its intensive and profitable use by industry, were raised before the 1968 answer: Archizoom was founded in 1966; in the same year and in the same town, Florence, Superestudio began its activity; one year later the UFO Group and 9999 were formed. And not only Italy was involved; England too (Archigram) and Austria (Hollein).
Elements of tension in the teaching of design
Anyone might suspect that the interpretative models of design in Catalonia are almost always formulated late or at an inopportune moment. It seems plausible to believe that conditions in the country have not helped them to appear at the right time. Yet I believe that the justification does not always have to be sought in an unfavourable convergence.
It might be desirable, first of all, to make a brief examination of the reasons for the delay. And here one would analyse, with complete certainty, the reason for the curious paradox of an industrial society lacking in motivations for design, at least up to the decade of the sixties. Or perhaps it would be necessary to study how a modern society with a fragile historical memory that would favour insufficient consciousness of itself could have come to be formed.
And we would also ask the reasons for the paradoxical fact that it is a society within the framework of Western Europe but one in which design has not been demanded with any degree of insistence until recently —and so has not been welcomed— in hardly any of the sectors which compose it: not in the cultural or the industrial, not in the sector corresponding to the old skills, not in that of politics or of economics among others.
In the end, to understand the “why?” with such facility, it has been necessary to introduce interpretations of the history and reality of design which correspond to evolution of social, economic and cultural forces belonging to another context and to another stage in the deployment of these forces; interpretations imported out of their time context, which have proved to be almost impossible to apply to the actual conditions in which design in Catalonia has taken and is taking place. It is one thing to need to know the evolution and progress of design produced in other societies and situations, as points of reference and as sources of improvement, and another to extract from these an explanation for what has happened here and to formulate expectations for the future.
If we accept this situation, it is logical to deduce that the level and quantity of information accumulated throughout the history of our autochthonous design culture could not escape being unsatisfactory earlier on, when these interpretative schemes were being imported with considerable delay and with an almost imminent expiry date. At all events, debate has been almost non-existing.
We should not want this vision of design in Catalonia to be interpreted as a rejection of its achievements, or as a shifting of responsibility to other sectors of society for what it has not achieved, or as a defence of its accumulated assets.
The aim has been, in any case, to emphasize, perhaps from a radical angle, a mesh of considerations and question marks which educative practice helps to reveal, simply because there coincide in it elements from the professional world, the field of speculation and historical knowledge: questions which we feel should be faced in the search for a certain degree of pedagogic coherence; always on the understanding that this very practice (which by definition must be differentiated by its critical intention) assumes the commitment acquired in the forming of the present universe of Catalan design.
It is with this intention that we have proposed to find more convincing approximations —and not reducing responses— and more inherent interpretations for the said questions, by means of hypotheses which can sometimes be uncomfortable. It is in this context and in the spirit of this critical yet also creative and motivating conception of the evolution of design in Catalonia that the participation of a school must be situated: more precisely, in the convergence of two perspectives; on the one hand, reflection on the state of the question, and on the other, the re-statement of an interpretative model, as a basis for the introduction of new variables.

A) Critical reflection and, basically, an investigation with rigour and depth would help to focus on the state of the question of design, here and now. And these would facilitate the possibility of ridding ourselves of some of the myths which hover over Catalan design and its history, and which we believe have hampered any greater fidelity to its significance. Also it would remove the need to resort with such frequency to incorrect interpretations and to visions which do not help to awaken a more accurate understanding.
On the other hand, it might be foreseeable that the meagre understanding of the complexity of design that is sometimes found could lead to its discovery as if it were something new and to formulations capable of exhausting the patrimony built up with the efforts made in the thirty years spent in creating consciousness and burgeoning.
B) Having reached this point, it seems unnecessary to explain that at the bottom of this approach to design an attitude has been adopted; that it is based on a set of considerations which have been developed in the present work and which could be summarized thus: the belief that design in Catalonia presents certain historical and evolutionary characteristics which, as we have tried to show, can be qualified as quite singular; however, they are sufficient in themselves to construct an interpretation from, without having to resort willy-nilly to other alien models to plant and cultivate: above all, if these allow us to unravel the question, perhaps brilliantly (but perhaps also distanced from reality and thus without roots in a determined context and society).

The content of what has been developed throughout this article reflects a perspective in which absences and deficiencies stand out more than presences and abundance. Neither the whole nor almost every one of the variables and traits which appear in it prove to be brilliant. But it might be considered hygienic to assume that it is thus, without attempting to palliate or dilute the consequences of the confirmation of this hypothesis.
But at the same time it needs to be stated that in spite of this inferiority and these deficiencies, action, practice and profession have achieved outstanding results, due to a greater or lesser extent to the efforts made by those of the sixties. And that this way of acting has been capable in recent years of creating interest and reverberations in other countries with a solid tradition of design. We do not believe that this characteristic can be applied nowadays to any of our society’s activities.
This performance is not to be underrated if we compare it with other achievements and realities of the present time —rather the contrary. And more so if we take into account the scarcity of resources which have been available.
It is precisely the presence of this patrimony that has to bind us to lucid critical proposals and approximations to the consistency already achieved and to open up a whole new perspective. Among other questions, we must be ready to use reflection and debate as daily working tools for improving present conditions: be aware of and informed about the results of new paths taken in other countries; increase the cultural weight of design; reinforce the vision of design, starting from what is its intrinsic speciality and not from other neighbouring sciences or fields of knowledge which can be used by the designer: discover the unknown historical memory: work on projectual research and experiment; seek the sense of design, nowadays, in the productive apparatus and in society, not only in the traditional fields of manufacturing and distribution but also in the newer territory of marketing, of innovation and of product quality; introduce the new technologies into the held of design, without forgetting, however, those which correspond to the industrial structure of the country; make design a participant in new ecological proposals. And, to be coherent, in the manner of the interpretative model which is defended, pick up and continue with the thread from where it begins, for the necessary formation of a civilized tradition that is flexible, open and instigative of new advances.
The diversified structure of the school elisava
We believe, therefore, that it is in the operative layout of a school for achieving the feasibility of this convergence that the pedagogic task must again adopt a sense of progress and challenge.
In order to take up this line of action it is necessary, we feel, to direct an organic structure capable of going beyond the functions which are usually attributed to a school. And not only because this is imposed by the lack of infrastructure of the world of design but because adopting this option is not the consequence of volition, personal actions or tendencies but of the smooth functioning of the activities carried out.
In this way there is established between these activities a relation of criticism and confrontation, so as to avoid the establishment of a paralysing climate of self-satisfaction and routine or working from suppositions that do not exist or, on the contrary, are excessively pragmatic.
It would be a matter, then, of putting into operation activities which would act in two different ways. It would, therefore, be desirable, on the one side, to try for approximations that might refer to the state of the question; a greater knowledge of the elements which make up design in Catalonia nowadays, of its achievements and results, of the methods of work and techniques employed, of the sources of information and fields of application, of the professional work and the level of experiment, of the difficulties and deficiencies, of the myths and realities which envelop the world of design. It is because of all this that, as has been stated, the presence of professionals in the heart of the school and in the teaching activity is so important. Because they constitute, we feel, the most intimate and genuine asset, and because, moreover, they are aware, from their profession, of the scope of design today.
On the other side, it would be desirable to favour the introduction of proposals capable of leading to alternatives and contributions to facilitate new perspectives, at the same time as they continue to re-examine and renew the daily work of the school: to head towards debate; experiment; the questioning of customs; cultural enhancement; the stimulation of the creative capacity in a concept of design that is more and more cultured: co-operation with other areas of knowledge; the acquisition of instrumental novelties obtained by critical assimilation; the knowledge of other realities and possibilities, born in other countries; the recuperation of a tradition that befits a progressive and advanced society; an attempt to diminish historical deficiencies.
These would have to be the two extremes of an uninterrupted continuous pedagogic tension, with the will to create a school, to transcend the mere imparting of knowledge which often dries up within the classroom or with the award of a diploma; and which drifts towards a concept of school circumscribed in itself and complacent; at times, distant from society.
Elisava has been working for several years, perhaps boldly but also with enthusiasm, in an attempt to make this alternative feasible.
During the course of 1986-1987 a first step in this direction was explicitly taken, assisted by a notable enlargement of the installations, in honour of the first twenty-five years of the school’s existence. The decision to follow this path, however, had already been taken several years earlier. It is starting from this situation that the most recent phase in the history of Elisava is being consolidated, by means of the study of a didactic programme capable of forming the student, not only in the technical and creative aspects of the profession but also in questions relating to new fields of application for design in society.
The framework in which the strictly teaching work was developed was established by the school as such. But it was necessary to set up specialized groups, parallel to and concentric with the school, not conditioned by it, with the specific function of creating new elements of tension. The aim was to achieve an organic structure which, in its normal day-to-day application, would favour critical progress along the line that had been decided on. In this way, and with all kinds of limitations, both of ability and of resources, the first tentative steps were taken.
Thus, in the year 1987, appeared the first issue of the publication Temes de Disseny, with a long tradition in the teaching programmes of the school, from the Publications Service of Elisava. Theoretical and speculative in tendency, it proposed, out of a critical analysis, reflection and debate as being necessary elements. At the same time, and in the same line of thinking, it opened up the possibility of interchanging contributions generated here with other correspondents in different situations and countries. Managing to interest authors specialized in neighbouring branches of knowledge in the phenomenon of design has been, we feel again, one of the results achieved. The definitive object, in this aspect, will be achieved when the reflections of this discipline are made from the coherence of its most specific intimacy.1
In November 1988 the Centre de Documentació de Disseny Elisava was inaugurated, with the aim of collecting and cataloguing that information from the world of design necessary for the agents that work in it. The creation of this work tool permits knowledge of what is being produced, of what is being written and who is doing it, what productions, themes and focuses of attention are of interest and which are raised today, as well as the objectives and syllabuses of different schools. And all this is placed at the disposal of the designer, the company studios and the researcher.
Since then a team of graduates and designers has been working from that data. The information which arrives and that which is asked for covers a large part of the total scope of design. Part of the information proceeding from abroad is acquired through continuous interchange and connection with similar centres abroad. The arrangement of the material has naturally required the creation of a data base. Simultaneously there was created the library of newspapers and journals, which receives more than sixty design publications, the specialized library and the iconoteque. Research is being carried out on the documental infrastructure which is available.
The knowledge, not only of the new requirements demanded by the designer but also of the deficiencies in his present education, is displayed through the Postgraduate Aules (Technique, Research and Propagation), created in March 1989. These Aules have gathered together a series of activities (seminars, courses, cycles of talks, competitions) aimed at graduates of design schools and young professionals, as a means of filling as far as possible the vacuum felt to exist in the execution of their professional work.
The presentation of these Aules, between March 1989 and July 1991, has culminated in the organization by Elisava, during the present scholastic course 1991/92, of two Masters Degrees of the University of Barcelona, within the terms of the Agreement of Collaboration signed with that institution. The first of these is in Corporate Identity and Packaging, while the second is in Design of Office and Urban Furniture.
At the beginning of this same course, 1991/92, and as a result of the introduction five years ago in the school’s programme of the teaching of computer science as a tool for solving problems of projection, the Computer Aula was initiated with the creation of Computer Assisted Design and Digital Image Manipulation. This entry into the field of new technology was the result of an agreement drawn up by the Centre of Applied Technology of the Vallès and Elisava.
The will to intensify the incorporation of critical elements with different criteria of projection provoked, in September 1990, the beginning of the interchange with professionals and designers from other countries. One of the aims of this contribution resides both in the increase in the level of information from different contexts and also in dial of the relative, non-dogmatic character which should surround any tendency in the field of design.2
Finally, in January 1990, a programme of project research began with different industries or entities related to design, with the aim of looking for more fluid areas of convergence and dialogue between design and industry, between the work of the designer and industrial processes.3
In this way, in the heart of Elisava there is an attempt to maintain an organic structure of diversified activities with a common objective: the existence of a permanent state of tension between the activity of design, the interpretative criteria with which to evaluate knowledge already experienced and historical versions, and the introduction of new elements and variables. All this with the aim of supplying a pedagogic tool, critical and creative, fitted to stand up to professional requirements.

1. Among the authors who have collaborated in Temes de Disseny can be cited: Eileen Adams, Lluís Àlvarez, Fernando Andacht, Bruce Archer, Gerhard Baller, Xavier Berenguer, Jordi Berrio, Margarita Boladeras, Gui Bonsiepe, Holger van der Boom, Enric-Lluís Bricall, Bernhard Bürdeck, François Burkhardt, Lino Cabezas, Anna Calvera, Isabel Campí, Anna Casanovas, Josep Maria Casasús, Norberto Chaves, Hazel Clark, Yago Conde, Francesc Compta, Joan Costa, Xavier Costa, Nigel Cross, J.H. Dohr, Sarah Dinham, Franc Fernández, Antonio Fernández-Alba, Enric Franch, Wojciech Gasparski, Peter Gorb, Menene Gras, Daniel Giralt-Miracle, Asunción Herrera, Teresa Honrubia, Heiner Jacob, Stephen Kendall, Juan-José Lahuerta, Klaus Lehmann, Miquel Mallol, Jordi Mañà, Francesc Marcé, Victor Margolin, Josep Maria Martí Font, Alessandro Mendini, Francisco Javier de Melo, Antoni Mercader, Abraham Moles, Josep Maria Montaner, Jordi Montaña, Andries van Onck, Jordi Parcerisas, Antoni Pérez Mañosas, Francesc Orenes, Vanni Pasca, Jordi Pericot, Oriol Pibernat, Anna Poch, Margaret Portillo, Josep Puig, André Ricard, Pcre Riera, Francesc-Xavier Ruiz Collantes, Tony Russell, Pere Salabert, Enric Saperas, Enric Satué, Claude Schnaidt, Nelly Schnaidt, Edward A. Schricker, Sebastia Serrano, Ignasi Solà-Morales, John Turpin, Josep Maria Villagrasa, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Daniel Zampa.
2. Here, giving classes, public talks, running workshops, intervening in the Masters degrees or in the «Design Spring» organized jointly with the College of Architects of Catalonia and with Juli Capella and Quim Larrea as commissioners, since Octuber 1990 there have passed through Elisava among others the following designers or persons closely linked to design, who habitually work abroad: Alberto Alessi, Francesco Binfarré, Andrea Branzi, Achille Castiglioni, Allan Fletcher, Zaha Hadid, Isao Hosoe, Fumiko Itoh, Tibor Kalman, Paolo Lomazzi, Alessandro Mendini, Santiago Miranda, Esperanza Núñez, Jonathan de Pas, Denis Santachiara, Yuri Soloiev, John Sorrell, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck, Leila and Massimo Vignelli. For January 1992 the presence of Pierluigi Molinari and Ezi Manzini is confirmed.
3. Among the companies and institutions which have collaborated in this programme can be mentioned: Abet Laminati, Arcón-El Picaporte, COOB, Derbi, Epson, Camper, Guzzini, Olivetti Synthesis, Onilsa, Tecno, Valli Colombo.
About Author


Bachclor of Laws and Economics. Director of Escola de Disseny Elisava.



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