Design Research and Cultural Heritage: Activating the Value of Cultural Assets as Open-ended Knowledge Systems

By Eleonora Lupo, Elena Giunta and Raffaella Trocchianesi.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper aims to give evidence to the value of incorporating culture and cultural heritage in design research. The purpose is to demonstrate how the design discipline can contribute in the valorisation of Cultural Heritage (in its tangible and intangible aspects, from artefacts to processes, practices and performances), in terms of re-generation of its “use value”, through designing sustainable, socially and economically, repertories of knowledge for new “cultural intensive” artefacts. These repertoires will give evidence to the evolutionary and transformative nature of cultural heritage, whose value changes by time according with meanings and context, and will be used to verify an approach of design for cultural heritage based on a synergy of processes more than traditional competences (like interior, communication, services etc). These processes are “relations” like production and re-production (of the form), recognition (of the sense) and activation (of the function) of Cultural Heritage, and connect the heritage with the context which generated it and the community who experiences it through systems, technologies, narrations.
The paper will demonstrate that it is possible, by an hermeneutic and interpretative design process, to identify and clearly isolate and define a system of recognizable elements of a cultural patrimony in terms of “authentic qualities” of forms and processes, codified in cultural archetypes and expressed by visual, material and procedural codes and atlas; and that the same authentic qualities can be used as creative sources for actualising the heritage in the contemporary context in innovative artefacts and practices through essentially re-contextualisation strategies in a new geo-cultural context or thematic ambit, thus opening the patrimony to new interpretations but without losing the reference with the original and traditional matrix in a concept of “new contemporary authentic”. So in particular, active-action and actualisation of the authentic are considered two crucial design actions that enhance the value of cultural heritage through relations by mean of artefacts.
The paper presents a pilot project, “Inspired by Beijing Opera” which proves this heritage activation by design, providing an example of a possible methodology, process and set of tools that can be considered specific for design research in cultural heritage. The patrimony of a collection of objects (costumes, accessorize) relative to Chinese theatre has been analysed and reduced into minimal cultural units and archetypes, repurposed in inspirational visions and concept and re-designed in a design workshop.

Keywords: Design for Cultural Heritage, Actualisation, Activation, Authenticity

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.431-450. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.357MB).

Asst. Prof. Eleonora Lupo

Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial Design, Arts, Communication and Fashion, Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy

Designer, Assistant professor, School of Design, Politecnico di Milano. Ph.D. in Industrial Design and Multimedia Communication at the Indaco Dept. of Politecnico di Milano. She’s part of the Research Unit “DeCH. Design for Cultural Heritage”. In 2008 Visiting Researcher at the School of Design Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Along the years, has participated to many research programs, attended several International Conferences, and has been lecturing in different schools in EU (Artesis-Antwerp, Elisava-Barcelona) Brasil (Unisinos-Porto Alegre) and China (Polytechnic University-Hong Kong, Jiangnan University-Wuxi). Research interests are focused on the innovative role of design as strategic and community centred approach in the enhancement of tangible and intangible Cultural Heritage. In particular since 2007 she promoted the concepts of “activation” and “actualization” and adopted the one of “open-ended knowledge system” as design processes, strategies and techniques improving sustainable cultural heritage awareness and development, and implementing local knowledge and creative and artistic activities. She is currently further experimenting and developing these concepts in different researches incorporating cultural values in contemporary design, questioning the ideas of archetypes and authenticity: “Inspired by Beijing Opera” funded by Fondazione Ada Ceschin Pilone (2010), “Design for Cultural Heritage between History, Memory, Knowledge” funded by Italian University and Research Ministry (2010-2011), “Autentico Contemporaneo Milanese” funded by Politecnico di Milano (2011-2012). See:

Dr. Elena Giunta

Researcher, Department of Industrial Design, Arts, Communication and Fashion, Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy

Dr. Giunta has a PhD in Design and she is a designer and leacturer at Politecnico di Milano. Her PhD thesis is concerning contemporary nature and practices of urban interior design; research goals are design guidelines and strategies for sustain pro-occupancy of public places. She graduated in 2005 from Politecnico di Milano, with a discussion about new trends in sacred spaces design. Since 2003 she has been involved in both professional and research activities: concerning exhibit and visual design, with some experiences in stage design too; about cultural heritage, e.g. design actions for Oltrepò Mantovano area (north-east of Italy) or valorization stategies for S.Leopoldo village (south Brazil).

Raffaella Trocchianesi

Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial Design, Arts, Communication and Fashion, Politecnico di Milano, Milano, Italy

Professor Trocchianesi is an architect and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Design at Politecnico di Milano, and she works prevalently on interior design, communication in terms of design for valorization of the cultural heritage, where has national and international experiences. Since 2004 she has been member of the scientific coordination of the PhD course “Design and Technology for the valorisation of cultural heritage” and she’s tutor of of many dissertations. In addition she has participated in the national research, funded by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, “ME.Design. Strategies, Tools and Operation of Industrial Design to Enhance and Strengthen the Resources of the Mediterranean Area between the Local and Global” (2001-2003) and the national research funded by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, “D_Cult The design for the Valorisation of Cultural Heritage. Strategies, Tools and Methodologies of the Project” (2004-2006). Currently she’s assistant coordinator on the national research funded by Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research, “Design of Cultural Heritage between History, Memory and Knowledge. The “Intangible”, the “Virtual”, the “Interactive” as Project Matters in the Time of Crisis”. She’s assistant coordinator of the Research Unit “Design for Cultural Heritage.”


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