What does Ilaria Capua have to do with design? The question is relevant but the answer is less complicated than one might imagine. Because the virologist, full professor and director of the One Health of Excellence at the University of Florida, is a symbol of two values and approaches that are very dear to those involved in design in the digital age: opensource and multi-disciplinarity.
Ilaria Capua is in fact the scientist who, in 2006, with a gesture of rebellion that went down in history as the incipit of the OpenSource Science movement, published the genetic sequence of the first African H5N1 virus on the GenBank open platform instead of on the password protected database, as she was ordered. Capua has also always promoted the vision that there is no human health without animal and environmental health: a concept that she explained in her book Salute Circolare (Egea, 2019), Circular Health. And that she resumes in her latest editorial effort written during the lockdown and dedicated to the pandemic: Il dopo (Mondadori, 2020). Sharing also means, for Ilaria Capua, expanding the audience of people who have access to knowledge, starting with children. In fact, her latest book (Ti conosco mascherina, La Coccinella, now in bookstores) explains, through play, how to deal with viruses safely, so that the little ones can live their childhood in peace.
The impression, therefore, is that Ilaria Capua is a scientist, certainly, but with a decidedly design vision – more a FabLab one than one related to a traditional studio – on health: multi-disciplinary rather than sectoral, and developed by international and connected working groups.
Circular health. What is it?
It is a concept that starts from the idea that we must think of life on earth as an aquarium, therefore a closed system in which everything is connected. If we continue to destroy the biodiversity and ecosystems of our aquarium in the name of human interests, in the end we ourselves will suffer. Circular health means that the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment are interconnected and that our every gesture has an impact on the closed system that is the Earth. It is therefore necessary to take action to have a farsighted and transversal vision on this issue and stop trading the health of the future in exchange for an immediate advantage that will annihilate us in the long term.
Reading your latest book, one gets the impression that we should be somewhat to blame for the pandemic. Is that so?
Pandemics have always been part of human life, they are not exceptional events, meteorites that fall on our heads. In the twentieth century there were four. But the acceleration we have imposed on our existence has meant that this pandemic has spread at an unprecedented speed like never before. Now it is up to us to treasure what happened and restore the balance that we have lost by establishing a new starting point. That could be our home.
Why the home?
Because it is the place from which everything is organized, where difficulties are faced together. During the lockdown, the house became not only a refuge, but also a meeting place: to be lived fully, looked after, respected. This does not mean that the houses will be redesigned for Covid, as I hope that within a couple of years we will be out of it. But that surely we will need to adapt our homes, re-invent the way we use them according to the moment.
From your point of view as a scientist, what changes should we expect in the post-Covid world in terms of living?
It is useless to think that the world of work will go back to being what it was before. Because it is not just a question of Covid. It was understood that people can also work from home, saving time and polluting less. Those who can carry out their profession remotely will continue to do so. And this means that the house must be able to accommodate this need. In this sense, the home becomes the tool to face a collective exercise of reflection on how to deal with the environmental health situation in a broad sense (not just that of preventing the spread of the virus).
Will we have a vademecum on how to design our homes for a more sustainable lifestyle?
I think that the emergency – together with the increasingly frequent natural cataclysms and under the eyes of all – has made us understand the meaning of the word vulnerability. And that now when we say viruses, people no longer think about the computer ones. We are back on earth, no longer invincible and tied to machines but animals. We all pay much more attention to domestic hygiene and we must also pay attention to the environment with the choices we make for our homes. After all, it is also a matter of business: if my generation already hardly tolerates waste and pollution, that of our children has zero tolerance. The pandemic, this hooked ball that is the Coronavirus, has put a very hard test of fragile systems and we must put them in place. Even in the world of furniture. I would not be surprised if we soon arrived at a classification system like the one that exists now for appliances, that of the AAA. Or if a new culture of domestic greenery were forced, essential in moments of solitude and to re-establish contact with nature.
Design and health. Do you think designers should collaborate more with healthcare professionals?
On multi-disciplinarity with your break an open door. I believe that everyone must do their bit on this journey towards Circular Health and the change in the system. There are many companies that already do this, I am thinking of B Corp (read here). But, on the other hand, I am also convinced that skills need to be networked. I am thinking of transversal international networks that are dedicated to situations that have similar problems. I attended one of the C40 meetings and explained how, for example in the face of the virus, some cities have shown greater fragility than others. It is a problem that must be analyzed vertically on the one hand, in hospitals, but also from a transversal perspective because the disease is also and above all what happens outside medical centers. The aim must be to act with prevention systems for a possible new first wave. It is necessary to avoid, that is, to have in operation systems that allow to face the fragility of the single metropolis in the way they need. So let's break down the problems – for example I am dealing with the question of sex and gender applied to the severity of the Covid infection at the moment – and weave connections between professionals, academics and people of expertise interested in proposing an interdisciplinary model to have another perspective that intersects with the medical one. The design of that group takes a form that is not a block of marble but a carved sculpture. In this perspective, there is certainly a lot of space for those who design.