Milan Day 2: So where does design excellence come from?

I am so tired. That is definitely one truth of the Dulux Study Tour. It’s 5:30 am in the morning in Milan where I write this, and let’s just say I’m under slept and dusty from our final dinner together just a few hours earlier. And this “Groundhog Day” scenario has been repeating itself for the whole tour – there  is so much that we’ve experienced over the last week and a half, and then in between all of these encounters and at the end of every day we always found ourselves in full-throated critical discussion, which generally pushed well into the night. It leaves you weary, but you wouldn’t have it any other way, I promise. 

One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, what are the particular set of conditions that allows a rigorous and critical culture to establish itself? Or, more simply, what are all the conditions that allows for just one exceptional architect or studio (read here exceptional creative – composer, writer, musician, all of it, because this is definitely a universal question) to get to where they need to be to do their best work? And the inversion of this needs asking as well, what are the set of conditions that allows a once critical design community to atrophy?

We’re on the last legs of this trip now, and so we’ve had the chance to see an overview of how three different cities are cultivating their own identity, and how they are each coming up with a unique outcome that is particular to the mindset and the cultural identity of that place. But not all of these places are leading to an explosion of brilliant work.

Right now we’re in city famous for being one of the design centres of the world. From so many of the architects we’ve met over the past few days, we’ve heard a similar theme emerge which is that, they are architects proud to be architects from Milan. This comes from a fantastic sense of pride that the designers have for their work, and which Australians can lack (to their fault). 

This design community has emerged out from some truly inspiring work. Just a short hour or away from Milan are the intensely considered details and utterly captivating spaces of Carlo Scarpa’s Castelvecchio Museum. In that one project alone there is so much rigour and so much care, which all together forms the most intriguing tapestry of collective small and special moments that I’ve ever experienced. 

One thing I know is that challenges and difficulties allow us to grow and to evolve. Having to work hard to overcome adversity makes you know yourself, but it also pushes you to see the world from alternate vantage points and to understand the experience of people different to yourself. And when we’re not constantly pushed a little, we settle in and lock in our views, stop seeing things from the other side of the street.

I’m generalising of course, but I’m tired and this is only a tiny piece so we can’t go into all the details right now, so humour me, please. Maybe let’s call this is a conversation starter. Right now though I’m late for breakfast.

– Kim Bridgland

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