“A short course is a way of building an interesting portfolio,” says Foundation Studies Director Cally Saunders of Central Saint Martin’s in London.
“Often when we have ten portfolios coming from the same school it is difficult to determine whose is whose. They all look identical and it is very dispiriting. What we want to see on the Foundation course is the beginnings of an individual thinker.
"When you see summer school work in a portfolio alongside work done at school, it looks far more mature, more considered and more conceptual – all the things we are looking for.”
Aside from students, though, professionals can also profit from attending short summer courses, particularly when looking to brush up their knowledge or to enlarge it in other fields. Additionally, summer schools can afford the perfect opportunity for interacting with the cream of design, as more often than not these are held by professional, internationally-acclaimed designers.
It comes as no surprise, then, to see that the summer courses are unlike the traditional, year-long academic courses. In order to answer the wide variety of needs and motivations of potential pupils, these types of courses need to be focused, hands-on and to-the-point.
They need to provide concrete skills that students are able to immediately put to work in their everyday lives. This means that in order to be successful (and success here is very easy to measure: a unpopular course will be deserted the next year!) they need to steer away from theoretical teaching methods – with one person talking and the students taking notes – and, more often than not, they take the form of practical workshops.
Another unwritten but widely accepted rule for a summer school is its international outlook. What’s the point of attending if the people that you meet (including the teachers) are the familiar, local crowd?
Consequently, all courses are run, strictly, in English and governments, local authorities and schools themselves do all that they possibly can to foster partnerships between the various institutions across the continent.
The following is a bird’s-eye view of the various summer courses that were run until last September in Italy, the UK, Spain and France. The schools will repeat the experience next year, with some enrolments starting as early as January.
Scuola Politecnica di Design (SPD), Milan, Italy
It is certainly less known at an international level than other Milanese schools, yet it was the very first one to be founded, in 1954, by artist Nino di Salvatore.
His approach from the very beginning sounds extremely contemporary: bringing together artists, designers, professionals and students from across five different continents to provide a comprehensive, up-to-date design education focused on the individual.
The relationship with the teachers (throughout the years the likes of Bruno Munari, Gio Ponti, Max Huber, Isao Hosoe, Achille Castiglioni have taught here) is always extremely close and so is the link with the industry throughout the development of practical, hands-on projects.
Following this tradition, the SPD opened its doors last summer to three internationally known professionals. In June, Patricia Urquiola lectured about Milan’s courtyards, analysing their historical social function and stimulating the pupils in developing new solutions for outdoor design that would help re-establish a new central function of courtyards in the everyday Milanese life.
Car design was also part of the summer school, with Chris Bangle reflecting on the evolution of automotive design and on the influence of production processes and new materials on styling. In his workshop, held in July, he invited the participants to think of new and unexpected shapes, and to interpret new social habits and gestures as a part of the style concept.
In the name of cross-fertilisation between disciplines, Catalan ex-designer Martí Guixé used the weeks of his workshop, held in September, to look at food as an object and work with it as though it is a design project, taking on its sustainability, ergonomics, the logic of its industrialisation, its shape, materials, naming, packaging and rituals of use.
The participants were asked to create edible objects that are different to those presented by the food industry or the gastronomic sector.
Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti (NABA), Milan, Italy
2010 marked the seventh year of the NABA summer program. With transferable educational credits, students of these courses are able to transfer credits to their courses in other European universities and academies that use the ECTS system.
This is a system that helps to design, describe and deliver programs and award higher education qualifications and that applies to all types of programs, whatever their mode of delivery (school-based, work-based), the learners’ status (full-time, part-time) and to all kinds of learning (formal, and informal).
NABA was established in 1980 by a group of artists who aimed at challenging the rigid academic tradition by introducing new visions and languages closer to contemporary artistic practice and the creative professions.
Today, the school integrates the more traditional disciplines of visual representation with the new digital technologies and the critical-project culture of Italian design and its training programs are based on a cross-disciplinary method aimed at developing artistic-professional skills and profiles in the fields of art, design, fashion, media and graphic design.
The NABA summer courses relate to many design disciplines – industrial design, fashion, graphic and communication design, and are structured at introduction level (for students without an academic background in a specific subject area), intermediate (to meet the needs of students with previous knowledge who look for specialised training experience) and ‘A Focus On’ courses, theme-based workshops centred on a particular subject.
NABA works in partnership with Central Saint Martin’s in London, with Parsons Paris and with Forma International Centre for Photography in Milan.
Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London (with Domus Academy and NABA in Milan and ELISAVA in Barcelona)
In 2009 Central Saint Martins welcomed over 4500 students into more than 325 summer school courses in the arts, design and performance. At this prestigious and internationally-acclaimed institute, during the summer it is possible to study an extensive range of subjects in arts and design – fashion, textiles, fine art, graphics, product design, ceramics, theatre and jewellery, plus much more.
The school has recently set up dual cities summer studies programs, in partnership with ELISAVA in Barcelona, Domus Academy and NABA in Milan.
The summer courses, open to people of various abilities, focus on the creation of portfolios for future studies or to supplement other studies elsewhere by giving a new practical experience. Lasting four weeks, they allow the pupils to carry out classes in both the cites involved in the program.
But ongoing education is something that at Central Saint Martins they do all year round, with over 575 courses to suit everybody’s needs, as evening, daytime, Saturday, or week-long intensive Christmas, Easter or summer sessions.
Courses run at different venues across central London, with beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Students must be 18 or over in order to attend, yet some courses are also offered for younger pupils.
Domaine de Boisbuchet, Lessac, France
You wouldn’t necessarily expect the countryside between the Charente and the Limousin regions in France to be a design hotspot. Yet this is truly the case.
Every summer, roughly three kilometres out of the village of Lessac, the wide Domaine de Boisbuchet, a country estate with 150 hectare grounds, historic and new buildings, gardens, meadows, fields, woods and a lake, bordered by the Vienne river, turns into a design school.
It’s all thanks to the world’s first ever design collector and also director of the Vitra Design Museum, Alexander von Vegesack, who, many years ago, decided to turn his own chateau into a meeting point for design enthusiasts.
At Boisbuchet the keyword is experimentation and no academic teachings are provided. Courses are organised as a series of workshops, held by designers selected for their in-depth knowledge of a particular way of working with a certain material, technology or approach.
The method is therefore totally hands-on, the purpose being that of getting to know a particular design approach intimately and to work side-by-side with the likes of the Campana brothers, Maarten Baas, Moritz Waldemeyer, Max Lamb, Tomoko Azumi, Paul Cocksedge – just to name a few.