Bringing design and technology to anonymous spaces to reconnect social relationships, in the city or in the workplace. The stories of a design studio and a company that, with the typical Made in Italy approach, make a difference in the world

When, in 1992, the French anthropologist Marc Augé came out with his very lucky essay on non-places, our lives flowed on a reassuring backdrop, where alienating elements still represented an exception, more or less frequent. Thirty years later, everything seems to have changed. Before, digital technology began to project us into a parallel elsewhere. Then the pandemic did the rest, drying up sociality even in the beautiful Renaissance squares, to the point of causing us to ask ourselves if everything is now a non-place. Or if, perhaps, nothing is.

In the midst of doubts, design tries to point a way. And the Italian one seems ready for the challenge, with the design instinct and the hi-tech vocation that distinguish it every time there is a need to reinvent sociality and its spaces. Knowing full well that, public or private, they will all be places in which to re-connect lives, networks, emotions.

For this reason Massimo Roj, architect and CEO of Progetto CMR, the second largest architectural firm in Italy by turnover, the subject of the news more for the project of the new San Siro stadium than for the corporate headquarters signed around the world, insists on the need for starting from the agora, multiplying the squares, urban or in the workplace, and to do so without fear of human density, even in the era of distancing.

“The squares are the main legacy of our civilization. Not only those of the art of Italian historic centers: also the Eastland Center in Detroit, considered the first shopping center in history, was born in 1957 to connect people from the countryside or far away in a single place. Then, that model ended up also generating the negative effects we know, but to satisfy the need of the other, it is still essential to design connecting spaces, on a small and large scale”. 

Connection, therefore. Not surprisingly, at Progetto CMR they called Connector the space designed to inject a new, unexpected sociality into an industrial plant in the cargo area of Malpensa, perhaps the Italian non-place par excellence. For the Italian hub of DHL Express Italy, 50,000 square meters, Roj and his team have thought of a structure where six hundred employees can meet while respecting post-Covid safety standards during breaks, without distinction of duties and roles: “An agora, in fact”.

But connector is also the active principle that Roj and his studio project on the urban scale, rethinking Milan as a polycentric city in the proposals for the regeneration of the Milanese suburbs advanced in recent months, imagined as a series of interconnected but autonomous centers, capable of offer to those who live there building quality and spaces for free time. “Zero land consumption, transformation of degraded areas into completed places, creation of a heterogeneous and multicultural mix of inhabitants, greener, decarbonisation and efficient energy consumption”: Roj opens the rosary of possibilities by looking at models such as Paris and Hamburg, where similar regeneration projects are nearing completion, and invites us not to look at density as a risk, on the contrary, “because the smart city will also become a safe city thanks to technology”. 

Speaking of non-places, it makes us smile to think that in '92 Augé also included lifts in this category, spaces that made in Italy has brought to very high levels of quality and safety in recent years: from passageways, anonymous moving boxes, to architectures dense with technology and customized design, capable, like the Sky Lift of the Lombard company IGV Group designed by the Roman studio MaMa Design, of following the circadian rhythm by juggling lights and atmospheres according to the hour of operation.

Read here an in-depth analysis on IGV Group's Sky Lift

Exemplary is the story of Michele Suria, CEO of IGV Group, brand that started in the 1960s as a manufacturer of push buttons and has risen over time to build an average of three thousand machines a year, including those for the Quirinale and Castello Sforzesco, the Opera House in Sydney and Liverpool Airport. With a past spent between Ferrari, Ansaldo, Coin and forays into furniture (Driade), Suria has strengthened the sartorial attitude of the brand by making it another protagonist of Made in Italy.

“For this” Suria tells “we have entrusted the art direction to Giulio Cappellini and we are continuously engaged in the scouting of designers. Our strength is that of the artisan workshop from which it all started fifty years ago, with a drive for innovation that has allowed us to patent sanitation systems with white room certifications, all with a made in Italy supply chain. Our team of engineers is able to design solutions in line with the standards of any country and to bring visionary projects such as the Sky Lift to the ground”. Provided, of course, to make them go up again.

Cover photo, above and below, different versions of On Air, designed by Studio Piva for IGV Group. Available in a series of cabins covered with precious materials such as laminates, aluminum and Vetrite, it is an elevator that affects the rooms as an interior design element.