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DESIGN SCHOOLS IN BARCELONA

Design was first taught in Barcelona as a study subject in the 1960s. Since then, schools such as Elisava, EINA and the Escola Massana have been building up an increasingly high-quality teaching and academic tradition that has contributed to the creation of a culture of design, culminating in the boom that has been ongoing since the eighties. Against the background of Spring Design, three representatives of these schools analyse how courses in design have evolved, and how they stand at present.

 

The vessel and the bone (or an Art and Design lecturer's worried reflections)
by Jesús-Angel Prieto.
coordinator-director of the massana school, barcelona's municipal art and design centre.

(...) More and more often, certain experts in visual arts (mainly painters) were called upon to contribute ideas that might enable others to produce material objects according to their technical skills. A case in point is the contents of the letter (dated 1483) Lancillotto de Andrasis addressed to Federico Gonzaga: "I have started negotiating with goldsmith Gian Marco Cavalli the production of the serving dishes and goblets following the patterns designed by Andrea Mantegna. Gian Marco asks for three liras and ten "soldi" for the serving dishes and one lira and a half for the goblets. I am sending you the design produced by Mantegna for the bottle, so that you'll be able to assess the shape before starting to work". Because of the renown achieved by painter Andrea Mantegna, his patron (in a modern context, the equivalent of a sponsor-cum-employer) could use his work as a basis for the production of different types of objects, thus establishing the basic patterns for a series of systems which have been highly developped since, due to the complexity of modern industrial production processes. It is interesting to point out the dual meaning of the Italian word "disegno" which can be translated as both "drawing" and "design".

And it is within such a frame of reference (obviously very schematically outlined in our short summary of the situation) that we have to understand what Catalan entrepreneurs aimed to achieve when, in 1762, they set up a free School of Design on the premises of their "Llotja" (Guildhall). The school was intended as a training establishment for young draughtsmen who could later supply the manufacturers with new drawings, or "designs", to be used in the prominent textile industry (at that same point in time, Goya was working on a series of sketches that other craftmen would later use to design and manufacture carpets).

The purpose of these brief introductory remarks is mainly to vindicate a tradition that has its roots in the arts and crafts schools in which all students were given training in drawing as a preliminary step in preparation for their direct work with the materials, tools and methods peculiar to each specialization. This is from such a practice that stems one of the first approaches to the concept of design: the graphic representation of an object with a view to provide information about its actual production.

The fact is that, in those times (i.e. the late eighteenth century), art, design and crafts shared the same working methods and, above all, the same objective: to serve the client. Consequently, no matter what you produced, paintings or objects for everyday use or buildings, your work only had real meaning if you met the strict requirements established for any given assignment. (I don't think that, at that time, the process was viewed in terms of social needs, such as we see them nowadays).

It is also true that, with the turn of the century, a new kind of sensitivity, linked with the increasing predominance of the bourgeoisie (whose strength was based on trade and its natural development, industrial revolution) as well as the increasing importance and self-assertion of the social body as a whole, would lead to a a clearer separation between arts and crafts and a restatement of their respective roles. Art is defined anew in accordance with the models and values extolled by Romanticism, such as (oversimplifying the issue) the primacy of the creative individual. Crafts began to loose importance as part of their field of activity was being taken over by industrial manufacturing, while, in the sphere of construction, there was a radical change in attitudes where methods and objectives were concerned, mainly as a result of the professional dialogue and confrontation brought forth by the appearance of trained engineers and their "architecture". These new experts (engineers and architects) would introduce the notion of "separation" between the designing process and the actual production process (as Isabel Campi points out in her "History of Industrial Design"), thus appearing as the fathers of project methodology

A paradigmatic illustration of these changes is the history of our veteran "Escola Gratuita de Disseny" (Free School of Design), popularly known as "la Llotja", which was called "Escola de Belles Arts de Barcelona" (Barcelona School of Fine Arts) from 1775 onwards. In 1817, one of its department would become an independent school from which the current "Escola Superior d'Arquitectura" (School of Architecture) originated. Later, in 1901, "la Llotja" was rechristened "Escola Superior d'Arts, Industries i Belles Arts" (Industry, Arts and Crafts School) and, in 1940, it was finally divided into the "Escola de Belles Arts Sant Jordi" (the Sant Jordi School of Fine Arts) - actual Faculty of Arts since 1977 - and the "Escola d'Arts i Oficis Artistics "la Llotja"" (La LLotja Arts and Crafts School), called today "Escola d'Art i Disseny (Art and Design School).

We may say that, in the sphere of design pedagogy, there is a group of schools (for the most part created during or after the nineteen sixties) whose teaching principles have been developed from the conception of design as a radically novel activity and the need to structure a specific methodology on the basis of new subjects of growing importance within the panorama of "late capitalism", ranging from the theory of modern communications and semiotics to marketing, from the study of new technologies and materials to integral design and some telecomputerization-based branches of engineering. In that modern frame of reference, the etymology of the word "design" (which is derived from the Latin verb "designare": to designate, to mark) seems to fit better. (...)

Where higher education in the field of art and design is concerned, we ought to find ways to stir up the students' creative capacity by making them discover their own channels of expression. And it is through such a mental training in self-discovery that they will come to view the more academic aspects of their work or even the slow manipulation processes as really interesting and indispensable.

(...) It is time now to come back to our fist question, and to venture an opinion regarding the future: reality is so changing that any attempt at analysing prospects appears as a subjective activity. Is it possible that the professionals of the future (in this case, the designers) might have to solve problems on the basis of a sophisticated technology, always following the dictates of the market-place? Won't an excess of "virtuality" create an increasing demand for real products in which materiality and manufacture would be ineludible values? Will unsustainable growth become part of the designers' responsility? Or will technological optimism based on creativity prove to be an always reliable instrument for finding a last-minute solution before we pass a point of no return? (...)

 

Education in design in Barcelona: reflections and analysis of future prospects.
by Joan Vinyets i Rejķn,
director of the elisava school 

A reflection on higher education in the field of design in Barcelona should on the one hand refer to its historical background but, on the other hand, I think that it also implies an attempt at analysing future prospects and, within the existing educational system, a real effort to work out answers to the different questions we are already faced with. As a matter of fact, the history of design as a course of study started with the school founded within Barcelona's "Llotja" (Guildhall) in 1775 with the aim of training young draughtsmen specializing in patterns to be printed onto the fabrics produced by the rapidly expanding Catalan textile industry. After a time, the institution would be restructured and rechristened "Escola d'Arts i Oficis Artistics", as a result of the influence of the British "Arts and Crafts" schools. Later, in 1929, under the patronage of the City Council of Barcelona, the "Escola Munical d'Art i Disseny de Barcelona" (Barcelona Municipal School of Art and Design), better known as the "Massana School", would open its doors. The school curriculum initially included enamelling, glazing and embossing techniques, and the first pedagogic guidelines were provided by the F.A.D, a Barcelona-based institution set up in 1903 which played an important role in the diffusion and promotion of design - a still new, developing field of activity at that time - throughout the country. For some years, the F.A.D also run its own school, whose curriculum included courses of study related to design.

In any event, we might say that the creation and application of a specific pedagogy focused on design would not take place until the nineteen sixties, first with the establishment (by the C.I.C. Cultural Institution, in 1961) of the "Escola Elisava", the first school in Spain entirely devoted to the teaching of design and, soon after, with the introduction of design into the curriculums of the Massana and Llotja Arts and Crafts schools. At the beginning, the Elisava School, although principally orientated towards design courses, chose to incorporate subjects related to the art world into its syllabus, under Catalan painter Albert Rāfols Casamada's directorship. However, it was in 1968, following the creation of the Eina School in 1966 as a result of a dissociation from the Elisava School, that the new director - Jordi Pericot - would establish the bases for teaching and research in a school that had fully committed itself to the recognition of design pedagogy as a specific, clearly autonomous branch of knowledge. A new reality was taking shape that would later achieve legitimation and further development thanks to the contribution of another director, the unfortunately deceased Enric Brical, whose actions led to the integration of the Elisava School into the Pompeu Fabra University as a Design College. This was a step further on the road to the official recognition of design studies ( a step that another design school, Eina, would also take some time later) and a real milestone in the history of education in design in Barcelona.

We may therefore say that, where design is concerned, the city's current educational landscape shows an important diversification, completed by the establishment of the Lai School in 1979 and of the I.D.E.P School in 1981. Nowadays, there is a certain conglomerate of educational institutions that has opened up a wider range of pedagogical orientations - structured on the basis of different conceptions and perceptions regarding design as a course of study -, which could be defined according to the really differenciated aspects, fields of knowledge, instruments, attitudes, values and methodologies each of them chooses to emphasize.

From the perspective of comparative analysis, such diverse pedagogical approaches could be structured into specific models characterized by four different types of reasoning or tradition: firstly, the continuation of a certain creative tradition in the production of objects through a practical knowledge of the required skills; secondly, a connection with the world of art viewed as an instrument of creation and a source of inspiration; thirdly, an orientation towards a professional practice that is essentially dependent on and circumscribed by the technological possibilities of modern data-processing equipment; and, finally, a process of research and development of a model particular to design as a branch of knowledge, based on a rigorous and scientific in-depth study covering the fields of knowledge involved in the different stages of the designing process - creation, production and consumption of the products - in the widest sense of the word. An approach that implies identification, knowledge and understanding of the different agents involved as well as the processes these agents play a role in, so as to establish a system which might meet the new requirements the designers are requested to satisfy. Therefore, in view of this diversification in terms of pedagogical contributions, we should no longer refer to "design" in the singular form, but rather to "designs". This is a perspective that, in my opinion, will enable us to meet the current requirements in the field of design because, today, to teach design means to be first of all able to discern and understand the complexity of the functions design has to perform in our advanced "post-industrial" society.

Professional practice has similarly experienced a process of diversification which has been translated into different professional profiles and patterns that have continued to change over the last years as a result of industrial and technological developments and, at the same time, as a consequence of new entrepreneurial strategies within the framework of "globalization". As Richard Buchanan - director of one of the most important North-American design schools pertaining to the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University - pointed out, we have now moved into a period that could be labelled as the third era of design, characterized by the emergence of design as a specific branch of study. Which is to say that, if any scientific subject is typified by a stock of knowledge and a body of methods and processes which are used as a basis for research and study with the final aim of analysing, understanding and systematizing all the elements that give substance and shape to the subject itself, today, more than ever, design has become immersed in that process aimed at ascertaining its own nature and at understanding how that nature affects professional practice. Logically, this is not a new reality, but the novelty lies in the fact that, thanks to diverse contributions from other fields of study (economics, engineering, social sciences, etc...), advances have been made in the field of design in terms of knowledge and scope. A designer's training cannot be limited to the transmission of a given practical knowledge mainly because professinal practice is continually evolving, so that the requirements a designer will be requested to satisfy four or five years from now will surely be different from those he has to meet today. It is therefore necessary for us to keep advancing in a wider process of research, inquiring into the changing nature of design as well as into the connections and processes associated with it. Which is to say that, as it the case with any other course of study, the educational system must be orientated towards design as a specific field of study so as to get a real knowledge of the methods, processes and principles involved, with a view to build up a rigorous body of methodological, theorical and practical data which would grant us the capacity for anticipating future events and developments in the practice of design. So, it is in that direction that education and professional practice in design should advance, running parallel with each other. Design is continually assimilating and integrating skills and knowledge from other branches of study, and this is a reality the importance of which should not be underestimated. (...)

 

University, workshop and garden. Education and pedagogy in design from the inner perspective of EINA.
by Oriol Pibernat.
year head at eina, school of art and design. 

EINA is an institution, now attached to the University, in which design is taught as a higher education branch of study. At the same time, it is a school that encourages creative experimentation and professional apprenticeship, keeping up the educational tradition established by the workshops of the Bauhaus school in the field of art and design. We may also present EINA as a "garden", and not only because the presence of gardens is an intrinsic part of the school's physical environment, but also because, on the model of the epicurean garden, EINA intends to remain a place in which you can think things over and "distance yourself", as well as a place in which things and people are taken into consideration. Thus, "university, workshop and garden" are concepts which form part of its peculiar identity.

Since its foundation, more than thirty years ago, EINA has been a school particularly attentive to the cultural changes taking place within our society. Its identity as a school is determined by the fact that it is the fruit of the initiative of a group of teachers, scholars, theoreticians and other professionals from the world of art and design. The school was set up with the aim of creating a specific framework appropriate for the free practice of teaching in accordance with a pluralistic and progressive educational system, the guiding principle of which is a healthy curiosity about a great variety of different subjects.

During its first period of activity, right after its creation in the year 1967, the EINA school became a centre for the renovation of cultural life in Barcelona. The team of EINA's "founding fathers", headed by painter Albert Rāfols-Casamada and art scholar Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, started a school project that, in the context of a country that was at the time "isolated", politically as well as culturally speaking, stood out from others for its innovative initiatives in the field of art, design and creative thinking.

At that point in time, even though the school had clearly declared its claim to the pedagogical inheritance from the mythical Bauhaus school, it did not hesitate to also draw upon an eclectic mixture of more contemporary experiences and currents of thought (e.g. the Ulm school, Italian design, pop culture, semiotics, etc...). Some years later, starting in the late nineteen seventies and during the whole decade of the eighties, without abandoning the academic flexibility that had always characterized the EINA project, the school curriculum was further structured into a diversified system that accomodated different specialities: interior design, graphic design and art studies. From 1994 onwards, the EINA school, which had moved to new premises and had been fitted with modern equipment, embarked upon a new venture as a school attached to the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The school now offers a new four-year degree course with a choice of three specialities (interior design, graphic design and product design) and the students who have successfully completed the course obtain a university degree ("Graduat Superior en Disseny") awarded by the UAB. In parallel with this, EINA still offers students the possibilty of doing a course in Art Studies, at the end of which they get a diploma awarded by the school itself. (...)

From the nineteen eighties onwards, design has been the object of special interest and attention in Barcelona. However, the information diffused about design is too often centred on quite anectodal aspects. On the other hand, the academic world, having by its very nature an obligation to look to the future and to carry out an objective analysis of current professional practices in design from a global point of view, presents us with a very different picture. The professionals who work in design schools are perfectly aware that we are presently faced with a situation in which changes are bound to take place and that these changes will directy affect the cultural and social context of design as well as its very identity. To that effect, it is by no manner of means accidental that the debates to be directed within the framework of the 1999 "Primavera del Disseny" events are presented under the generic but highly significant title of "El disseny a la cruīlla: reptes and utopies" (Design at a cross-roads: challenges and utopias).

In actual fact, the panorama of contemporary design is not impervious to the different crises - understood as processes of transformation with uncertain side-effects - that affect western society. As a case in point, we shall refer to those phenomena which we ought to pay special attention to: the crisis of the concept of "product" in our post-industrial service society; the crisis of traditional working patterns and professional identities; and the crisis of technological uses in an era dominated by the computer revolution. (...)

Following the same line of thinking, some people have started to question the existence of specialities such as they are defined in the current educational system (industrial design, graphic design, interior design, etc...), as well as the traditional models on which services are presently patterned. Excessive professional specialization could make it difficult for designers to adjust to rapidly changing economic and technological conditions. Furthermore, it is necessary to establish a pluralistic educational system with the capacity for training designers for pluridisciplinary dialogue and interdisciplinary work, so that they might cope adequately with the complexity of their task.

We have already mentioned the transformation undergone by the concepts of "product" and "work". But we cannot fail to also refer to the impact of technological changes on the design sector. Technological change entails much more than the mere replacement of certain tools by more efficient ones. It exerts a direct influence on the "reality prefiguration" stage of design projects by providing an increasingly wide range of computer simulation resources. However, at the same time, - and this is a crucial point - technology serves as the basis for the development of a new system of activities and of a new phenomenology in the field of cultural events. (...)

In a world in which ideas and values are often in conflict and technological and cultural conditions are continually changing, there is room for different options where education in design is concerned: from technocratic systems to more humanistic ones, from programmes based on the values of craft-oriented apprenticeship to others that accentuate the abstract nature of projects. (...)

EINA has opted for an educational system based on:

"The cultivation of the students' creativity and expressive capacities in a framework that fosters synergy between art and design.

Analytic rigorousness, theoretical knowledge and reasoning capability as basic skills to devise projects and do research on forms.

Attention to the craft, to the disciplines of technical work and training in technological domains, related either to crafts or industrial processes or computer science.

A critical attitude towards the camouflage of reality, visual pollution, excessively showy displays and the trivialization of mass culture.

An orientation towards cultural, social as well as aesthetic innovation, as an alternative to conventionalism and to the repetition or imitation of models.

The fostering of interaction, pluridisciplinary dialogue and interdisciplinary work, as the best approach to complex issues."

And it is on these principles that the school's curriculum, academic activities and social diffusion are based. The model of school and educational system embodied in EINA is not the only option available, but it is the model our school has chosen, in accordance with its constitutional tradition and the continual dialogue it holds with the surrounding reality.