The soul of Milan is the Duomo, the great cathedral begun in 1386, and completed five centuries later. It’s the third largest cathedral in Europe, capable of holding more than 20,000 people. Clad in pink-tinged Italian marble, with three immense Gothic windows in the apse, and ringed by more than 3,000 statues, it is a triumphant expression of the Italian Renaissance.
Since Milan has been, and continues to be, at the forefront of Italy’s economic, cultural, and economic life, it’s intriguing to speculate about how much the Duomo is an expression of that ascendancy, and how much it a the cause — for it is the Duomo that originally attracted artisans, artists, and visionaries to Milan. Over time, they forged a culture of creativity.
Now, fast-forward to Toronto, in 2001, to hear Luigi Ferrara, at Toronto’s Design Exchange, liken an internet portal to the Duomo. Ferrara is vice-president of programs and services at the exchange, which is located at Bay and King Sts. He’s also president of DXNet Inc., the arm of the exchange that reaches cybernetically into the future.
The portal, he says, with soft-spoken passion, will be the doorway to creativity for our age, like the Duomo was for Renaissance Milanese. That’s because it will organize and manage detail, and free people to be creative. In particular, he says, it will enable them to collaborate across disciplines, and to leap the barriers erected by specialization.
« Design, he says, is the key to sustainability.’’ It’s what translates vision into reality. It’s what « provides the framework for the possibilities of life.’’ With the planet in peril, it’s to sustainability that we have to look to find a healthy future, he says.
What’s fascinating about his comments is his expectation that the portal will clear the way for multidisciplinary collaboration, because that’s exactly what will promote sustainability.
Sustainability, after all, is not a result; it’s a process. It’s about ensuring that decisions will produce the best possible results economically, socially, and environmentally by taking into consideration information from all three fields.
The logo of the Design Exchange is a stylized DX, and the exchange’s DXNet web portal is like an electronic railyard with tracks leading off in all directions. One track takes you where you can look at products or projects in three dimensions, turning them any way you want, and zooming in and out at will.
Another track takes you to a conference centre where participants, scattered across the country, can sit, metaphorically, around the same table, seeing each other, talking, exchanging files, and working on a common sketchpad, or « whiteboard.’’
A different track gives you the life cycle of products on the market. Eventually, it will tell you the energy consumption that went into their creation and, after they are worn out, how their chemical components can be separated, retrieved, and recycled.
Another track takes you to a « theatre’’ for video presentations. In other places you can scan directories of products and services. Yet another track leads to systems for managing the construction of projects. In short, the portal supplies tools for creating the idea, producing the design, and implementing the project — regardless whether it is a high rise building, a wetland restoration, or a proposal for reorganizing the delivery of medical services.
If Ferrara’s comparison to the Duomo seems far fetched, think of this: The web portal and an « advanced visualization centre’’ — a modest way of referring to a virtual reality centre — were built at the exchange by a new generation of programmers. Already that generation produces 60 per cent of the world’s computer graphics software. « They’re at the forefront of a creative movement,’’ says Ferrara, and now they’re creating a medium for sharing knowledge and creativity.
The « advanced visualization centre’’ was used in presentations of Toronto’s Olympic bid, and was a knockout success. I’ll talk more about it next week, because it, and the DXNet web portal, have the potential to transform cities in Canada. And that’s what building the Duomo did in Milan.