The title was awarded this year, for the first time, to the northern Italian city of Torino (Turin), which is celebrated all over the world for its car design.

It was a nomination that somewhat surprised a lot of Italians, who are used to considering Milan the design capital. But the IDA wanted to draw attention to a city that is not yet universally acknowledged for its role on the design scene; one that is able to use design as a tool for growth.

Thanks to a strategic approach to urban planning, developed some ten years ago, the city has slowly but surely transformed itself from a one-company town dominated by Fiat automotive to a service hub.

“Torino is a dynamic, entrepreneurial city,” says Bertin, “where young people can still allow themselves to dream”. He says it with a certain amount of pride, given that losing national talent is a major concern in Italy.

And as far as talent goes, Bertin is certainly an expert: for years he has been teaching at the IED, one of Torino’s design schools. “When students leave the school, they very often confidently open their own studio. They know there is a desire for innovation in this area.”

In a sense, Torino was forced to change. Ever since Fiat was founded in the 19th century, Torino has been its city, and automotive-related industries and design studios have a history of flourishing in the area. Yet Fiat has several times gone into a serious crisis in the last twenty years and was recently almost swallowed up by foreign competitors.

Slowly, but surely, the people of Torino realised that they could no longer be at the mercy of Fiat. The city’s administration initiated a re-zoning in which industrial areas were converted into technological and commercial centres; design schools were opened; and music (Torino is the capital of electronic music in Italy) and cinema (the Torino film festival is very well known) were given a boost.

Italian design conjures up images of the beautiful, well-crafted, experimental furniture produced in the Brianza, Veneto, Tuscany and Marche regions. This type of design is associated with luxury, relatively small numbers and an arty mix of industrial and handmade.

Design in Torino, on the contrary, is more in line with international trends that see design as a strategic tool for company growth. The car design tradition, fostered by Giugiaro, Pininfarina and Bertone, is about providing concrete, valid solutions for everyday needs, and design in Torino is pragmatic and certainly less glam-thirsty than it is elsewhere.

Here, young designers get organised. They have created a community of designers under 40 called Turn, which aims to be a virtual and physical meeting point for Torino’s creatives.

And now this fresh, innovative, forward-thinking city is hosting a whole load of design-related events that look at the multiple roles of design in the enhancement of a complex, globalised society.

One of the highlights of Torino World Design Capital is the Geodesign contest in which forty-three designers will tackle commissioned projects such as portable shelters for market-sellers, clotheslines for condos, and the transformation of normal condos into sustainable abodes.

The prestigious Compasso d’Oro award will be temporarily moved from Milan to Torino this year, and some stand-out exhibitions are in the works. The Flexibility exhibition (June 28 to October 12, at Le Nuove) looks at the ease with which design solutions can be modified and adapted for use in different applications or settings.

In the exhibit, a narrative and experiential path explores the diverse ways of designing when the concept of adaptability is the starting point, often from the perspective of transforming town and city environments into more elastic places that are durable but also welcoming and changeable spaces.

Another interesting exhibit is Dream: The idea of future in Torinese car design (September 18 to November 23, at the Padiglione Giovanni Agnelli di Torino Esposizi-oni). Here, future visions from all the great masters of Torinese car design are on show.

There are legendary models built by Fiat and Lancia, the Bertone and Farina factories, and the Vignale, Ghia and Frua workshops. Full-spectrum designers and engineers like Mario Revelli di Beaumont and Dante Giacosa stand out in this large exhibition which starts in the 1950s, a very defining period for Italian car design when, recovering from the war, it followed Ford’s objective of cars for all.

The title of the exhibit Olivetti: Una bella società (May 8 to July 13, at the Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti) means both ‘a fine firm’ and ‘a better society’. It tells the tale of Olivetti, founded 100 years ago, and its dream that industry can be more than just a rational, efficient approach to producing things.

Olivetti’s vision was for a company that would act as the driving force for growth and development of society as a whole. The company’s ethics, civic morality, design, organisational structure, communication strategies and political outlook are all examined.

Leveraging its hard-working attitude, Torino is doing all it can to ensure that the momentum that is building is not just a passing euphoria but a blueprint for the future.  

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