Creative Disruption

The digital era is changing the structure of our planet in extraordinary ways. ‘Technological progress has accelerated to the point that the future is happening to us far faster than we could ever have anticipated. This new world is what we call “extreme present,” time in which it feels impossible to maintain pace with the present, never mind to chart the future’ (Olbrist, 2016).
The endless flow of data, the democratisation of information and the abolition of time and space, are revolutionising every layer of our society, including the economy. The world wide web, which ‘created new physics of business’, appears thus to be as one of the leading causes of the ‘radical disruption in the economies of both the creation and distribution’ (Waldman, S, 2010).


What is the role of entrepreneurs in such era of disruption?

In the history of our times, successful entrepreneurs have always been those who, by using their creative thinking, revolutionised the current reality toward the realisation of new ways of doing business. ‘More than inventors, they were the people who seized the technological advances and used them to transform our world’ (Waldman, S, 2010).
Like designers, entrepreneurs, accumulate data about the current reality and build innovative patterns of markets. In this perspective, smart entrepreneurs are those who can understand immediate changes and create products and services to satisfy immediate but still intangible needs.
As stated by Schumpeter, ‘entrepreneurship is innovation and the actualisation of innovation’ (1942) therefore represent a critical force of the economy as it redefines, through its visions, societies.

  1. Moreover, Schumpeter believed that innovation is also ‘the centre of economic change causing gales of “creative destruction”’ (Sledzik, n.d.). It is a ‘process of industrial mutation, which incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one’ (Schumpeter, 1942 cited in Sledzik, n.d.). Entrepreneurs thus perform the destruction of the old and participate in the creation of the new systems.


Disruption is thus the start of a creative process, the input for a redesign of the demands and offers of the contemporary market. As much as entrepreneurship is not only a job title but rather a mindset, creative disruption can also be seen as a design attitude, a ‘pro-active critical attitude geared towards questioning the outdated patterns of thinking’ (Guidi, n.d.). In this sense, design thinking is crucial to entrepreneurs as it provides strategies for identifying the circumstances for change, the stimuli to enable disruption and the means to control it. 
Having a precise awareness of the current times is thus fundamental to the entrepreneurial activity. As a matter of fact, Victor Papanek developed the concept of ‘Telesis’ to explain ‘how products have to reflect the true conditions of the environment, translating them into meaningful design concepts. The physical context in this sense influences and provides stimulus but is not determinant in the disruption process’ (Guidi, n.d.). Entrepreneurship is thus not only about developing new products but in setting, through commodities and services, the premises for a change by acting with confidence above what is familiar.


  • Caballero, R. and Hammour, M. (1994). On the timing and efficiency of creative destruction. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. pp. 805-806
  • Dobbs, R., Manyika, J. and Woetzel, J. (n.d.). No ordinary disruption. pp. 1-12
  • Galli, F. (n.d.). What if Disruption Could Increase Creativity. 1st ed. Milan: Politecnico di Milano, Faculty of Design.
  • Waldman, S. (2010). Creative disruption. Harlow, England: Financial Times Prentice Hall.  1-48
  • Śledzik K., (2013), Schumpeter’s View on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (in:) Management Trends in Theory and Practice, (ed.) Stefan Hittmar, Faculty of Management Science and Informatics, University of Zilina & Institute of Management by University of Zilina


Space is a human construction, outcome of the natural tendency of categorising reality. Architecture is thus the deliberate manipulation of these spaces and works as the ‘inevitable background, support and frame of any work’ (Buren, 1975 cited in Greenberg et al. 1996).

When it comes to art, architecture, seen as a system of cultural signs, plays a fundamental role in framing the exhibited works by imposing them a specific role within a particular context. In the same way curating creates a narrative among the exhibited pieces, exhibition design has the responsibility of rendering the discourse into a physical element; that is the architecture of the spaces.

As stated by Martina Abramovic, in ‘Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art’, it is ‘the public that makes the piece’, reason why the design of the exhibition space – the navigation through the artworks – is of fundamental importance in moulding the visitor’s experience. Moreover, ‘the work of art only exists, can be seen, in the context of the museum/gallery to which however no special attention is paid’ (Buren, 1975 cited in Greenberg et al. 1996). The traditional ‘Withe Cube’ is, in fact, an attempt of creating a neutral space where ‘the outside world must not come in […]. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light. The wooden floor is polished so that you click along clinically […]. The art is free, as the saying used to go, “to take on its own life”. Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial – the space is devoted to the technology of aesthetics. […] Art exists in a kind of eternity of display’ (O’Doherty, n.d. cited in Greenberg et al. 1996). The space of curating needs, therefore, to be ‘empty’ not only for making the artworks stand out to the eye of the visitor but also to create the conditions for the public to engage with their creativity, being free of any distraction.

White Cube, Kunsthalle Rostock

Nevertheless, as much as architecture, which embodies our social relations and reflects our social values, the exhibition space can’t possibly be designed as neutral but rather ‘as thoroughly prescribed by the psychodynamics of politics, economics, geography and subjectivity’ (Blazwick, n.d. cited in Greenberg et al. 1996). Furthermore, each cultural institution tends, through architecture, art and activities, to inevitably represent the context where their action take place.

cq5dam-web-960-800In this perspective, Mudec, the Museum of Cultures of Milan, emerges as a response to the conflict between the neutrality of the white cube and the inevitable influence of the surrounding context. Born in 2014, from the regeneration of an early 20th-century factory placed in a working-class area of the city, the museum is the meeting point between different cultures and communities populating Milan. Mudec is the centre of cultural diversity, admirable through ethnographic collections and temporary exhibition, where the aim is to build a dialogue among contemporary themes through visual, performative and sound art, design and costume.



The renovated building, work of the international architect David Chipperfield, is formed by external parallelepipeds made of zinc, which, by reminding of containers, reinterpret the old factory’s spaces. The outer constructions act thus as a shield for the core of the museum, a glass structure which geometrically burst into the building and reminds of an organic form.


What’s interesting about Mudec’s architecture is the contraposition between the utilitarian design of the perimeter and the experimental structure of the core, which perfectly represent the impossibility of the latter to be part of an industrial context and the consequent choice of accessing it only through the ‘protection’ of the outer containers. The museum, which arises on a building that was not designed for people, succeeds in its mission: creating a space (the organic structure) where different cultures can meet and preserve their differences as a symbol of the most multicultural city in Italy.

The new challenge of museum architecture is, therefore, to create a synergy between the signature buildings and the transparency – or ‘neutrality’ – of the internal spaces, which must be able to allow artworks and visitors to ‘produce a creative partnership’ (Blazwick, n.d. cited in Greenberg et al. 1996).


Curating and Creating

Since the very beginning of times, humans have created knowledge through the manipulation of natural elements. Today, when walking through museums or exhibitions we can thus experience history and culture through objects, which work as statements of technical and intellectual development through time and space. Objects are introduced to the public as lessons ‘of aesthetic, ethical, political and historical worth: no museum object is mute but is already entitled with a legend and address in cultural and historical space-time. Museums render what is visible legible’ (Preziosi, n.d. cited in Macdonald, 2006).

British Museum, London

In the act of exhibiting, objects are defined as artworks. By entering the museum or gallery, art ceases to be neutral and becomes the ‘product of the artist, the commodity of the dealer and the possession of the collector’ (Alloway, 1975 cited in Greenberg, R et al., 1996), thus part of material culture.

Curating itself cannot be a neutral process since, by preserving, selecting, researching and displaying ‘lumps of material culture’ (Pearce, 1992), the curator is inevitably imposing on the scene his assumptions dictated by his personal experiences. The curator is also the ‘first interpreter’ by acting as a medium between ‘the museum as an institution and the public consumers’ (Alloway, 1975 cited in Greenberg, R et al., 1996).

‘It seems axiomatic that it is not possible to exhibit objects without putting a construction upon them. Long before the stage of verbal exposition by label or catalogue, exhibition embodies ordering propositions. To select and put forward any item for display, as something worth looking at, as interesting, is a statement not only about the object but about the culture it comes from. To put three objects in a vitrine involves additional implications of relation. There is no exhibition without construction and therefore–in an extended sense–appropriation’ (Baxandall, 1991).

By giving visibility and legibility to the displayed artworks, the curator acts like a ‘pharmakon’ which ‘cures the powerlessness of the image, its inability to show itself by itself. […] it both cures the image and further contributes to its illness’ (Groys, 2009).
Nonetheless, nowadays, while art is increasingly becoming part of the masses, it has become difficult to create a complete separation between the roles of the artist and the curator. ‘Today, there is no longer any “ontological” difference between making art and displaying art. In the context of contemporary art, to make art is to show things as art. So the question arises: is it possible, and, if so, how is it possible to differentiate between the role of the artist and that of the curator when there is no difference between art’s production and exhibition?’ (Groys, 2009).

Harald Szeemann. Photo by Balthasar Burkhard, 1972

Harald Szeeman (1933-2005), a Swiss curator and artist and art historian, has the merit of having introduced the idea of the curator as we know it today. Through the exhibition ‘When Attitudes Become Form’ (1969), Szeeman managed to design himself as an independent and performative exhibition maker. The exhibition is, in fact, considered a landmark for curatorial history as it shaped the role of the curator as a collaborator of the artist, ‘a creative actor who generates original ideas and structures through which art enters public consciousness’ (Phaidon, n.d.). Thanks to Szeemann, the curator not only leads the artists free to express themselves without limits, by creating an exchange and dialogue but also created a unique signature of his presence by orchestrating the artworks and rendering them to the public domain. Held in the Kunsthalle of Bern, Szeemann, willing to detach the idea of artefacts for the wealthy from his work, transformed the exhibition space into a giant artist’s studio, a white cube, a space for discussion.

When Attitude Become Form, 1969


Creativity in Collaboration

In a world based on infinite consumptions of goods, finding new and unlimited resources has started to become a dilemma. The success of the creative industry thus lays on its primary material which is human creativity, an ever-growing and endless source with multiple possibilities of outcome. The human creativity, at the core of the creative economy, produces goods which are vehicles of symbolic messages containing intellectual property and results of immaterial labour which generate knowledge through creativity and rigorous strategies.

Technology and digitation have completely revolutionised the way cultural goods are produced, distributed and experienced. As a matter of fact, the web has profoundly changed our economy by giving the tools to generate information to everyone.
The creative industries are in fact part of the emerging knowledge-based economy which main profit sanctuaries are, as explained by Levine (2011), ‘content aggregators and distributors’ (DeFilippi and Wikstrom, 2014). The primary audience composing the creative economy has thus moved from being passive recipients to active creators themselves. New technologies are allowing the creation of social cohesion and development and moreover of collective memory.

In force of the drastic change brought by the affluence of the worldwide web in our lives, the latest Creative Economy Report (2010) underlined the need for a ‘shift of focus from a traditional property rights approach to a long-term perspective in which benefits are generated by collective action and by creativity sharing. The recent trend towards “creativity in collaboration” rests on the notion that creativity is essentially a social process, not only involving individuals, but also a specific socio-cultural domain of knowledge and a field’. In this perspective, the non-profit corporation Creative Commons (CC) developed a system that enables creators to share their work within the copyright rules and to embrace the opportunities offered by the Internet to expand their network and collaborations.

Creative Commons Guiding the Contributors. From ‘Liberty Leading the People’ by Delacroix

In this scenario, projects like Wikihouse stands as promoters of a new industrial revolution, as a response to the current digitisation of our reality. WikiHouse is a collaborative project creator of the first open source building system designed for open digital manufacturing. Their service can be accessed everywhere (users can download simple and small Creative Commons licensed buildings plans), rapidly (each project can be assembled in about a day) and at a low cost. Most importantly, customers can personalise the designs through the website to best fulfil their needs and creatively cooperate with the process.

Starting from the current reality of our economy, which relies on the wisdom of the crowds and the internet of the things, WikiHouse sees the possibility of a democratisation of production and the realisation of a society where ‘the factory is everywhere and the the design team is everyone’ (Parvin, A. 2012). Their main aim is to overcome the housing crisis by reinventing a new system built on digital tools for a new sustainable, inclusive, resilient and scalable volume housing industry.

In times of revolution, ‘the primary question for the design professions thus becomes not what new products to make, but how to reinvent design culture’. (Margolin, 1998 cited in Galli, n.d.). Furthermore, to reformulate design culture and creating new mindsets it is necessary to totally embrace the current times and conditions ‘and deconstruct the circumstances rather than attempting to fix irrelevant problems’ (Galli, n.d). Basing on this philosophy, WikiHouse is perfectly answering the needs of the contemporary society by offering them a common ground of shared meanings and values, where creativity appears as a collaborative, rather than elitist, tool.


  • Bennett,T and Frow, J. (2008). Handbook of Cultural Analysis. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  • Robinson, K. (2011). Out of our minds. Oxford: Capstone.
  • O’neil, E. (2012). Open Source WikiHouse Disrupts Traditional Design. [online] Policy Innovations. Available at: [Accessed 17 Oct. 2016].
  • Unctad, (2010). Creative Economy: A Feasible Development Option. Creative Economy. United Nations.
  • Van der Pol, H. (n.d.). Key Role of Cultural and Creative Industries in the Economy. 1st ed.

The Museum of the Self

The act of exhibiting lays in the concept of displaying objects to create a narrative and follows the same pattern of building a discourse, in which the message is imposed by the act of the curator. While the curator designs the space in the name of the public, visitors themselves play a fundamental role in defining the purpose of an exhibition.

While in the past, museums and galleries, by being guarantors of knowledge, have always played a role of superiority on the public, nowadays the relative positions have experienced a shift of hierarchy.  The technological revolution and the growing mass-culture of the 21st century have contributed, in fact, in a consequent democratisation and growth in popularity of cultural institutions. ‘In the emerging new relationship it will be the public, not the museum, that occupies the superior position. The museum’s role will have been transformed from one of mastery to one of service’ (Weil, S. cited in Conn, S., n.d.).

Boris Groys, in the article ‘Politics of Installation’ (2009), defines the art spaces as an ‘extension of neutral, public urban space’ in which ‘multitudes can view themselves and celebrate themselves, as God or Kings, were in former times viewed and celebrated in churches and palaces’. The sacrality that used to be attributed to the museum or gallery is now concentrated on the viewer, who’s focus doesn’t necessarily lay on the displayed items of interests but rather on the other spectators. Exhibition spaces have thus being assimilated by the power of mass culture into arenas ‘for the self-display of bourgeois-democratic’ (Conn, 2010).

If you can’t see the art very well, we might ask what you can see. Then answer is, I think, each other. (Conn, 2010)

In 2013, Karin Sander, a German conceptual artist, realised an installation entitled ‘Identities on Display’, which perfectly represent the paradigm shift that cultural institutions have been through the 21st century. Being composed of 26 display cases serving as glass cloakrooms, the idea on which the installation is based is simple: each visitor is invited to deposit their items in the public view cabinets. The artwork is therefore centred on the viewer, which, in this case, also assume the role of the curator as much of the exhibited object, while ‘revealing individual identities and cultural references, embedded with a sense of normality and the banal’ (Lab’Bel, 2013).

Identities on Display, Karin Sander, Berlin, 2013

Normality, in term of mass-culture, is, in fact, the place that exhibitions have entered. Having left their original elitist aura, such institutions are now attracting record numbers of spectators while also entering the world of capitalism. Therefore, the contemporary art spaces are designed to include a heterogeneous experience, made of restaurants, cafe, bookstores, gift shop and the like, which focuses on visitors as ‘costumers’, rather than only ‘viewers’.

The museum, for example, has increasingly been treated as an object itself. As explained by Stephen Conn, in the book ‘Does Museum Still Need Object?’ (2010), the building of the Guggenheim in the 1930s and its futuristic design have determined a trend in museums architecture: designing ‘signature’ buildings that would attract more visitors.

Guggenheim, New York 

The director of the Guggenheim, Thomas Krens, provides the perfect definition of exhibition spaces: ‘great collections, great architecture, a great special exhibition, a great second exhibition, two shopping opportunities, two eating opportunities, a high-tech interface via the Internet, and economics of scale via a global network’. Today art spaces have evolved into social events, attracting people of all kinds, fostering an exchange of information ‘where people can learn as much about themselves as they learned about art or science’ (Conn, 2010).


From Objects To Processes

The Triennale di Milano International Exhibition opens after twenty years offering multiple events, exhibitions, conferences and festivals all around the city of Milan. ‘21st century. Design After Design’ is the title of the XXI Triennale which will argue key topics affecting our society like the effect of globalisation and economic crisis, the relationship between cities and design, and the one between new technologies and craftsmanship. The global event will also touch issues that the modern society refuses to approach, in particular, anthropological themes such as death, the sacred, eros, destiny, traditions, and history. 

Opname_def_1The symbol, protagonist of the XXI Triennale’s campaign, is a futuristic object that, realised by the communication agency Kesselskramer, was inspired by Bruce Mau’s statement ‘Now that we have made everything, what will we make?’. The yellow object perfectly embodies the concept of ‘design after design’. Today’s challenge is, in fact, to overcome both aesthetic and functionality to create a design able to make people critically thinking about what is currently surrounding us. 

‘The only design you will ever need in your life. It does everything you want it to do. It is both innovative yet authentic. Technical yet user-friendly. For the home yet for the office. For your pocket and you bedside. It is Design After Desing, manifested into a single object’ (Kesselskramer, 2016).

Part of the XXI Triennale di Milano is the exhibition entitled ‘New Craft’. Curated by the economist Stefano Micelli, it is hosted by the so called Fabbrica del Vapore (the Vapour Factory), the result of the reconversion of an ex public transports’ factory that, since 2011, is an expositive space dedicated to creative activities.

The exhibition touches the themes of craftsmanship and its relationship with technology, presenting the new reality that this sector is achieving in the market industry. The thesis that supports the exhibition, as the title may suggest, lays in the awareness that the artisanal know-how is a patrimony that has to be exploited in the era of digital manufacturing to create a new industrial paradigm (La Repubblica, 2016). The objective is not to show a selection of objects but rather to get the visitor involved in the process characteristic of the new world of design and manufacturing. Technology is often thought as a substitute for man’s work; this event will try to convince the visitor of the opposite by underlining the necessary meeting between technology and manual know-how, innovation and tradition.

New Craft erects as the epicentre of a new way of approaching the production of value and believes in the importance of building a new manufacturing that doesn’t live of economies of scales but of quality and customisation, which finds in the artisanal world the strength for establishing ties with end users.


In the curator’s opinion, ‘the technological revolution is transforming the means of production and consuming while inevitably altering the ways of designing. Digital manufacturing is offering the chance to overcome the traditional constraints of the production processes and is prefiguring a world free of serial products. A new generation of artisans aims to take advantage of design and new technologies to promote variety and personalisation. The strength of these technologically evolved artisans lays in having renovated the traditional operative sequence “idea-prototyping-materialisation-distribution” which has characterised the epoch of industrial growth while focusing on the Internet as the most important platform for dialogue and contamination’ (Micelli, 2016 quoted in Domus Web, 2016).

The new manufacturing is approached here by placing together famous and consolidate producers and young artists selected through the Call Under 35 which collected more than 500 candidacies from over 30 countries.

The exhibition design, curated by the company Studio Geza, is made of nine vertical installations, each dedicated to a particular manufactural product and company.


The new craftsmanship does not only arise from the encounter with technology but also with poetry, just like the coat made from tiny feathers created by the designer Janaina Milheiro, who also designed and built the machine for its realisation.


Among the vertical installation, the visitors can also admire Atlas, a seven metres tapestry realised by the Bonotto textile company. The piece ‘represents a map of the earth that uses symbolism and local sceneries to portray a sort of imaginary – but also real – journey of new generations, the millennials. It embodies the extraordinary cultural melting pot of our time, which is the result of a new way of living and interacting with each other: the cultural nomadism that makes us all inhabitants of one single space-territory. Atlas is a mix of heritage, technology and innovation: it creates three-dimensionality and different textures that bring this tapestry to an unexpected level of creativity’ (Bonotto, 2016).

An ‘X’ shaped table occupies the centre of the room dedicated to 3D printing, the symbol of the new technological and industrial revolution, which introduces the viewers to the new kind of manufacturing. One single technology can be applied to several sectors such as fashion, furniture, prosthesis and aeroplanes.


The sides of the space are filled with expository tables displaying not only finished products but also their processes. A proper laboratory thus takes place giving life to magnificent artefacts; a culture of projects, based on the potential flexibility and customisation, typical of digital manufacturing, emerges.

Important is to disclaim that the objects displayed are not experiments, like the one presented in the Makers Fairs, but prototypes that won in transforming themselves into new economic paradigms.The visitors can thus observe revolutionary items and techniques that are making their way in the design and technology market.

IMG_3620.jpgAmong these, there is, for example, the 3D body-scanning by the company Human Solutions Assyst which offers, with its precise, high-performance scanning technology, the customer the opportunity of being directly involved in the product development. This technology enables higher quality product by giving the possibility of choosing ‘made-to-measure suits in-store using a virtual catalogue which has all the variants of fabric detailing and accessories’ (New Craft, 2016). It also contributes to creating customers bonding in the retail trade, aspects which is, as already mentioned, at the core of the New Craft’s philosophy. Shopping becomes a pleasurable experience for the customer, who can be scanned in the store, get the right sample size which is sent directly into the production of his customised garment. The process terminates in the virtual fitting where the customer can try multiple models on the computer instead of trying them on in a fitting room (Human Solution Group, 2016).

A similar technology takes advantage of the 3D scanning technique for the production of customised stools, that are eventually manually completed, and even for the making of innovative shapes for pasta.

Innovation applied to craftsmanship can also be seen in fabrics and textiles, as shown by the interwoven polyester fabrics with stainless steel wires by Luce Couillet and the young artisan Rana Feghaly in Beirut, the collection inspired by the plight of the city during the civil war. ‘Two textile arrangements and ensembles in felt recall the city’s war-shattered buildings. This aesthetic experimentation is part of a wider project for the recovery of textile traditions that can be revived in a contemporary guise’ (New Craft, 2016).

Another exhibition is included inside the room, creating an intimate space enclosed by a thin circular curtain. The small exhibition, entitled ‘Mutations‘, is a project commissioned by Vacheron Constantin, in collaboration with the Institut National des Mètiers d’Arts Dècoratifs and the Musèe des Art Dècoratifs of Paris. The exhibition aims to highlight the way in which the art from the past still inspires the modern forms of artistic expression. Nine groups of master craftsmen, visual artists and designers explore and reinterpret the basics of decorative arts. Pieces of artisanal work from the 18th and 19th centuries are taken as inspiration for contemporary and innovative designs.


The protagonist object of the exhibition is a vase, called Les Metier d’Art, realised by the artist Lycien Falize. Presented at the Universal Exposition of  1900 and used by the president of the Les Art Decoratifs institution during holidays and ceremonies, is reinterpreted by Stefane Perraud in its artwork called Corps de Mètiers. The red laser explains the meaning of the installation: if positioned vertically it reproduces the pouring of wine; if placed horizontally it reproduces an organism that unifies the concept of collectivity with the one of individuality.

Another peculiar item displayed in the small exhibition is ‘Confident‘, a wooden armchair from the 19th century, innovative at the time since it presented a new way of communicating. Reinterpreted by Quentin Vaulot, Goliath Dyèvre, Robert Jallet and Frédéric Gallin, ‘Morpheme‘ represents the new rituals of conversing. While abandoning the classic seated position, the design piece proposes an improvised moment of dialogue. The artwork represents the synthesis of the evolution of uses and demonstrates how artisanal techniques follow social praxis.

The exhibition terminates with an area dedicated to typography and letter-printing machines. The space entitled ‘Print Is Daed‘, results partly empty for being completed in the next months. Frames without posters, composers left on the table, defunct machines and white sheets of paper hung on the wall waiting for being filled. The objective is letting the space at the dispose of those that still are working in the typography sector and finding what printing can still mean in our times.

The concept of ‘handmade’, for a long time associated with approximation and imprecision, ‘has become the distinctive element of a new concept of social and economic worth. […] Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman, together with many others published in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, has paved the way for new concepts of work and socialness, proposing the craftsperson as an antidote to an economy otherwise abandoned to the fate of international finance‘ (Micelli, 2016).

In front of an economy that results to failing under many aspects, all we can do is going back to our origins while reinterpreting the for the creation of a new paradigm of quality and value. The new artisan will not be confined to his workshop, but, as Stefano Micelli argues, will be reinterpreted as the promoter of a new way of enterprising, whose know-how can be used as a resource for launching small and large businesses. Social networks, e-commerce portals and digital manufacturing are redefining the perception of craftsmen  and of making.

‘The potential afforded by this admixture of design, crafts and new industrial forms expands and extends its effects thanks to designer=enterprise-which are individuals endowed with personal creativity and potentiated technological abilities that enable them to act like an enterprise and, subsequently, to implement their activities via networked connections, influenced as they are by open, collaborative models. […] We are therefore increasingly obliged to consider craft production as an open, nondogmatic category of ‘making’ capable of generating a new ecosystem displaying both historical continuity and new identities’ (Maffei, 2016).

The priority of our society is, therefore, about ‘creating value by means of dialogue and relating’. We do not need new objects to expand our egos, we need ‘social and cultural connections mediated by objects that succeed in connecting diverse cultures and sensitivities’ (Micelli, 2016).



Demolition and Regeneration

‘Another example is today’s high rise of public housing projects. Originally conceived and carried through as major advances in ridding cities of slums, they involved the tearing down of rotting, rat-infested tenements, and the erection of modern apartment buildings. They were acclaimed as America’s refusal to permit people to live in the dirty shambles of the slums. It is common knowledge that hey have turned into jungles of horror and now confront us with the problem of how we can either convert or get rid of them. They have become compounds of double segregation – on the basis of both economy and race – and a danger for anyone compelled to live in these projects. A beautiful positive dream has grown into a negative nightmare’ (Alinsky, 1971).

Schermata 2016-03-30 alle 19.48.19

Built in the 1970s, The Heygate Estate, designed by Tim Tinker, was a large housing estate in the area of Elephant & Castle and was home to more than three thousand people. Part of the Brutalist architecture movement, prominent in the second half of the 20th century, the estate, which was first an enjoyable place to live, evolved into what was described as a ‘human dustbin’ (Heffer, 2010) or a ‘concrete fortress’ and it soon became an epithet for social failure, crime and antisocial behaviour. The building was, therefore, demolished in 2014, a decision brought by one of the biggest green regeneration programs of Europe: the Elephant Park Project, developed by the company Lend Lease, specialist in sustainable urban regeneration, in collaboration with the Southwark CouncilThe three billion pounds scheme foresees the construction of five-thousands new homes, three lines of boulevards, a new park at the heart of the city of London, community facilities and retail space in the whole area of Elephant & Castle. 

‘Elephant & Castle is a place where people just travel through; the program wants to make the area a place in which people want to stay. […] The 1960s architecture, the roundabouts and the unappealing subways are starting to be wiped away to create a new destination in which to live, work and play’ (35% Campaign, 2012).

Lies and myths 

Schermata 2016-03-30 alle 14.40.27

The revolutionary program carries, although, both exciting innovations and controversial mysteries. Plenty are, in fact, the ‘broken promises’ that the council made to the estate’s residents. As mentioned in the short film ‘Up the Elephant’ directed by Julie Speechley, in 1998 the tenants were, in fact, asked through a survey if they thought the area needed a significant change or not; 95% of the participants said yes, but the council failed to mention that it was only the 95% of the 5% of the residents to reply to the survey. Therefore, the decision of demolishing the building didn’t take into consideration the people’s opinion at all. Once the demolition was approved by the council, the tenants told that they simply didn’t have the money to maintain the estate anymore and that new social housing was going to be built for the residents of the building. The council had in fact planned the construction of 1100 new social rented homes in the area of Elephant & Castle, which had to replace the 1100 units of the Heygate, even though by January 2013 (few months before the demolition) only 209 of those homes had been completed and the total number reduced to 553. The residents who didn’t manage to find a new property within six months or refused the offers received from the council’s bidding scheme, were systematically subjected to eviction. Furthermore, of the five thousand new replacement homes 50% was promised in 2006 to be affordable, but in 2010, the percentage was reduced to only 25%. The final project also proposed to introduce sustainable materials and renewable energy, a promise that was never kept.

Whose regeneration?

Another controversy can be seen in the declaration that already in 1999, the Southwark’s Director of Regeneration, Fred Manson, expressed in an interview:

‘We need to have a wider range of people living in the borough. […] Social Housing generates people on low income coming in, and that generates poor school performances, middle-class people stay away’.
‘Completely Naked’ – Flash Mob, Heygate Estate, 2012

The urban regeneration project thus revealed, in its early stages, to be willing of an inclusive gentrification scheme, planned ‘to bring in more wealthy residents with higher levels of social capital and labour market involvement and paying higher levels of local tax which could be used to benefit local residents’ (DeFilippis and North, 2004). The suspect that the whole regeneration scheme is an attempted social cleansing is well explained by the words used by Anna Minton (2013) in the article written for The Guardian: ‘the influx of a new class of plutocrats, seeking to take advantage of London’s global status as a tax haven, is undoubtedly skewing the top end of the property market. But while this is having an impact on the rest of the city, London’s reconfiguration is largely the result of deliberate housing policies, with cuts in housing benefit paralleled by plans for large-scale demolition and redevelopment schemes which will change the social composition of central London’. The regeneration project aims, therefore, in creating a more mixed community wealthy enough to afford the new houses and to make the area more suitable for the standards of central London.


Art in the Heygate

Initially hosting 1200 families, in 2010, the Heygate Estate was populated only by 54 of them and the whole building almost looked like the scenario of an apocalyptic movie (Independent, 2010).

‘The council has turned off heating and hot water on the Heygate Estate leaving the remaining residents, some sick and elderly, without utilities for weeks’ (Soutwark Notes, 2010).

The remaining tenants reunited into the Heygate & Aylesbury Leaseholders Action Group in reaction to the tactics played by the council.

Schermata 2016-03-30 alle 19.42.27

‘We are a group of leaseholders who have got together as a result of Southwark Council’s   plans to compulsory purchase our homes in order to make way for the coming regeneration scheme. We believe that leaseholders on the Heygate and Aylesbury estates are being excluded from the benefits of the Regeneration scheme. We believe that the council’s valuations do not reflect the true market value of our homes. There is a significant difference between the council’s valuations and the price of other properties in the area; This is resulting in many of us being forced to move out of the area completely’ (Southwark Notes, 2010).

Despite the council kept on closing the access to the estate, even though few residents were still living inside, the group organised small events for enjoying until the end their space and trying to prove the liveability and value that the estate could still demonstrate.

‘On the one hand, there has been a lot of heavy talk of supporting temporary uses such as gardening and social activities on the empty-ish site of the Heygate but then, on the other hand, they keep closing off access to the site itself despite the wealth of autonomous and free events, talks, walks, films, sports, allotments and other wonderful endeavours local people have been putting on there’ (Southwark Notes, 2011).

Interesting was also the interest that the film industry showed toward the building, which perfectly matched with scenes of gritty urban life, violence and degradation. Since 2007 the council earned £80.000 of filming fees.


‘Is demolition ever the best way to regenerate?’ (Cathcart-Keays, 2014)

Before going to the site onto which the Heygate Estate once was erected, I didn’t know what to expect. Not knowing much about the history and the present conditions of the building, I tried to interview the people working in the area, although nobody could answer my questions: ‘is the regeneration project benefiting your liveability?’, ‘what happened to the people living in the estate?’, ‘what do you think went wrong?’, ‘was the demolition the best solution?’ etc.

 When I started to frequent Elephant & Castle, I was excited about the regeneration scheme of the area, as the present one is certainly not the most appealing for the eyes and it is inevitable to admit that it doesn’t reflect the standards of the Zone 1. Not being aware of the deprivation and exploitation that the people living in the area had suffered throughout the years or of the injustices hidden by ‘sustainable and innovative’ objectives, I was blind during my everyday journey from the Elephant & Castle tube station to the university. 


From what I collected through the interviews, Elephant & Castle, as already mentioned, seems to be a place where people just travel through or where people just go to work and thus the disinterest about the problematics of the area. What impressed me was the complete lack of memory for what the estate was and the disregard of what the council wants it to become. The failure of my onsite researches perfectly reflected the sense of bleakness that the demolition has brought, which aimed at an architectural change and to a proper social and economic status renovation. The council won not only in dismantling the physical building but also in destroying the memories and the voices of the people who grew up in the estate.

According to Athlyn Cathcart-Keays (2014), demolition is certainly easy to market and it instantly gives a perception of progress. Nevertheless, the author also reports the point of view of the urbanist Ben Campkin who points out that it’s the negative connotation we built around estates that creates the impossibility of improving them. 

‘There is always an alternative to demolition. […] Rather than demolition, it is organic evolution that creates the most resilient communities. Forget tabula rasa regeneration, slow and steady wins the race. Just as nature renews itself, so a gradual process of pruning and regrowth is better suited to our neighborhoods. After all, successful regeneration of an area shouldn’t involve replacing the life that exists there. ‘ (Cathcart-Keays, 2014).


  • 35% Campaign, (2012). 35% Campaign. .
  • Lees, L. (2004). The Emancipatory Community? Paradoxes and Possibilities. London: Sage Publications Ltd, pp. 74-86.