In the months of the emergency, the rush to produce gowns and masks. And now Italian companies design sensible solutions to make us live better during the health alert. It is called conversion

The design does not have definitive and eternal solutions. Which is the only sensible thing when the context changes suddenly and continuously. A flexibility that the made in Italy companies have made available with great generosity in times of need, competing to convert their productions in a frankly distressing and decidedly challenging emergency situation.

The rapid change in the production lines of brands such as Prada, Gucci, the entire Miroglio group, Valentino, Geox, Moschino – just to name a few – was coordinated by Confindustria Moda which, on March 26, responded to the appeal of the Civil Protection Italian. In ten days, the production units began manufacturing gowns and masks at full speed: some plants up to 100 thousand pieces per day.

Automotive companies have made their know-how available to produce components and assemble respirators: FCA and Ferrari also offering delocalized production sites, that is, those subcontractors that very often in Italy are the engine of innovation.

Why has all this worked out so well and so quickly with us? The answer is in one word: habit. Flexibility has always been at home in Italy, ever since the design system began to create that virtuous circuit between architects, entrepreneurs, artisans and contractors. While in recent years, when many productions have been moved abroad, inventing new markets has become a matter of entrepreneurial life or death.

And it is again design that intervenes in the recovery phase, the moment in which the inadequacy of cities and public places, from mobility to large-scale distribution to the workplace, manifests itself because it makes the proximity of bodies frightening. A difficult, painful subject. Because temporary isolation is one thing, but the feeling of having an enemy in front of you when you get on public transport or enter a shop is a human issue, not just health management. And therefore delicacy is required, an ability to create dignity and care through a generic diffusion of aesthetic and formal, as well as functional, attention.

In this phase, companies and designers return to work together, this time with large public and private structures. A not so common occasion.

The first major issue is that of control between inside and outside. Ettore Bandieri, CEO of Abet, says: In the company we had to measure the body temperature of our employees, with infrared thermometers: the inconveniences that came from repeating this operation for about 700 people were evident, from both a functional and psychological point of view. and emotional. We solved it by applying thermal scanners to our composite panels. But this gimmick gave us an idea: rethink the concept of threshold. The next step was to ask the design curators Giulio Iacchetti e Matteo Ragni to design and make available this solution, specially adapted, in places of great turnout, thinking about the concept of entrance. The result is Igea (read here), a system that creates a safe passage in transit areas, controlling the temperature and the presence of the masks and sanitizing. The real added design value is all in the experience, which is natural and spontaneous, very far from a disturbing and vaguely dehumanizing health procedure.

Attention to people in high-density places, such as work or public spaces, is one of the themes that fascinate Carlotta De Bevilacqua, CEO of Artemide. The brand is currently focusing on Integralis®, a light source with a light spectrum that sanitizes environments and modulates its effectiveness based on the number of people present. Research on new technologies and related applications are developing at a very rapid pace, both in the field of electronics and photonics, revolutionizing the boundaries of design and production” explains Carlotta de Bevilacqua. And she adds: Technology transfer is increasingly reduced, invention patents are immediately applied, solutions are shared among multiple products, innovation is distributed and accessible.

The spread and accessibility of technology explains the rapid reaction of many companies and many professionals. Science, another great source of inspiration for architect De Bevilacqua, is within the reach of those who are able to understand it and use it to produce products that we suddenly need now.

The need for face masks, for example, although debated, will accompany us for a while and Guzzini has recently begun to propose one designed by the duo Sparvieri & Del Ciotto (read here). The difference between the product of the Marche company and any mask? It is reusable, just change the filter which is sold separately. The body is in recyclable polypropylene and the profile in rubber, so that it adapts perfectly to the face. It weighs 45 grams and is definitely more decorative than many others. In short, Eco Mask is a beautiful and sensible object, even though it was designed and produced in record time, compared to the usual standards.

Evidently the rapid reaction to the context request, which in other words is called project and productive conversion, is another of those exercises that is good for design.

Opening image, the photo taken by Mattia Balsamini on 9 April 2020 at the Prada plant in Montone (Perugia), the cutting process of each mask produced with non-woven fabric. The Italian fashion company has in fact converted the production of trousers to make 110,000 masks for medical personnel in Tuscany. Photography, together with those of Luján Agusti & Nicolás Deluca and Gaia Squarci in the article, participated in The Covid-19 Visual Project,, an online platform created by Cortona On The Move,, an international visual narrative festival, from 11 July to 27 September 2020 in Cortona.