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The “kalòs kai agathòs” between museum and factory

Kalòs kai agathòs”, the relationship between the beautiful and the good, aesthetics and ethics, is an awareness rooted in Western culture. In times of metamorphosis other relationships also have to be strengthened, those between the beautiful and the useful, the good and the productive, aesthetics and competitiveness. Playing on the creative dimension of sciences, philosophy and literature and on the search for new forms (therefore new materials, new products, new fictions) and on the relative technologies, processed not so much as techniques as above all thought and language. A contemporary side which is historically aware and polytechnic in design terms. Steve Jobs maintained that he had found out that large companies took aesthetics seriously as it puts over a message of how the company sees itself. Reintroducing, possibly unknowingly, a thought by Adriano Olivetti, contained in the speech given at the opening of the Pozzuoli plant in 1955: “facing the most distinctive gulf in the world, this factory is elevated with respect to the beauty of the setting and so that beauty is a comfort in daily work”.

A homage to external beauty and also an assimilation of beauty – aesthetics and function in fact. The proof lies in the new factories built in recent years in Italy: Maserati, Ferrari, Tod’s, Lavazza, Diesel, Cucinelli (“high creativity will save these generations and the next”) and Pirelli, with a new plant in Settimo Torinese for producing tyres featuring “premium” products – top of the range and excellent quality thanks to sophisticated state-of-the-art robotic technologies) and a “backbone”, a structure designed by Renzo Piano to house research labs, offices, facilities, libraries, spaces for meetings and leisure, a glass and steel parallelepiped four hundred metres long, filled with light and opening onto the two production plants alongside it, with a roof of solar panels. All this surrounded by five hundred cherry trees. An attractive factory in fact, where working is pleasant and therefore more productive and more effectively productive. In a “sustainable” context, not only in environmental terms (the factory has reduced water consumption and the energy comes renewable sources) but also in social terms. As Piano explains, “we staked on interpreting sustainability as a language and not just as a technique to be applied in a more or less appropriate way to a container designed differently”. In this case too design culture and product culture are combined in an original way. In the factory in fact, but not just in the factory.

Piano’s reasoning can in fact be repeated also for the latest of his works, Muse, the science museum in Trento, opened on Saturday 27 July. Glass, wood, steel, concrete, an exhibition and research structure, a collection of materials to narrate nature and human intervention. “A junction between research and business”, according to the management of Muse, built on the site of an old industrial plant (formerly producing components for Michelin tyres) and suitable for representing the change from the old industrial economy to the season of the “knowledge economy”, which enervates production activities that need, in terms in fact of local competitiveness, to take a leap forwards in terms of cultural, technological and scientific capabilities.

A science museum therefore as a means of narration which links up knowledge, training and production. A system opening outwards an area, Trentino and north-east Italy, a strong manufacturing mission. An incentive to build, over time, unusual links between science and its applications.

There is in fact a close link in this between places of production and places of representation. Piano is an excellent interpreter of this. His works, such as “the beautiful and sustainable factory” and the museum described here contain not only the contemporary version of “kalòs kai agathòs” but also the indication of the possible good future of Italy: the creation of quality has both a technological and poetical spirit.