The Miro display has opened at the Seattle Art Music, and there’s more than meets the eye. This partner in design went to see the follies of Miro.
I can’t help but post a few of these, they’re delicious and preposterous! Concoctions whipped up by Andy Warhol, his mom, and Suzie Frankfurt. I couldn’t resist and just located a used copy, it should be here in a few days… in time for the holidays. The book condition described a stain on the back cover… I wonder from which recipe.
I’ll will post a few drawings of my Thanksgiving feast. If you do a food drawing we’ll post it here and make our own collective visual feast.
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is an 53-acre refuge, filled with cultivated gardens, restored woodlands and wildlife, designed to reflect a unique urban Northwest landscape known as Cascadia, with Puget Sound to the west and the Cascade mountains to the east. Our identity, signage and print work with the Garden recently expanded to include a full redesign of the Garden’s web site, the primary portal for visitors to learn about this Northwest treasure. The site offers special sections on the history of the Garden, seasonal “What’s in Bloom?” resources, information on sustainable gardening techniques as well as a Capital Campaign fundraising page dedicated to funding the Garden’s new Visitor Center set to open in late 2014. The new site also includes a separate section where visitors can access and the vast array of gardening resources at the Garden through a custom-designed plant database.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian aid, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to help children reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. Partners n Design has worked with World Vision USA, headquartered in Federal Way, WA for many years, producing print materials for their Sponsorship and Donor Engagement. Recently, we were thrilled to work on a very different kind of project: Journey of a Special Gift, a short video designed to help explain to donors where and how special gifts made to their sponsored child are processed. Our approach employed an engaging mix of still photography, typography and animated graphics designed to simplify and enliven a complex process. Watch the two-minute video here.
The Ostara Group is a perfect client for Partners in Design. Ostara works with small to midsize nonprofits, our own client base for many years, providing hands-on organizational and fundraising support and helping these vital organizations realize their full potential. When Ostara approached us to design a new web site for them, we were thrilled. The site is designed for client-access CMS and includes a separate blog area where Ostara’s partner specialists can contribute their expertise and advice.
The story of the San Juan County Land Bank is one of history, regional pride, resourcefulness and independence in the San juan Islands, a rich archipelago just north of the city of Seattle. For centuries, islanders have feasted on clams, hunted for deer, picked berries, dug bulbs, and fished waters teeming with salmon. On gentle slopes they planted large orchards with pears, plums, apples, and cherries. In 1990, in order to ensure that the distinct character of life in their islands would endure, island residents created the San Juan County Land Bank, with a mandate to preserve areas in the county that have environmental, agricultural, aesthetic, cultural, or low-intensity recreational value. Partners in Design has worked with the Land Bank since their founding, designing their identity, print publications, annual reports, maps, land management identification and interpretive signage, and their first online presence. At the Land Bank web site visitors can learn more about conservation management and stewardship of the islands as well as access extensive maps for walking and enjoying Land Bank public access properties.
This is what Barry Moser, the great book illustrator, said to a young artist. He is one of my visual heroes and I’d like to share this quote along with a Moser illustration appropriate for the upcoming holiday “spirit”. When you look at some of Barry’s work it can make you shiver with only the fight between light and dark.
“When I was young, perhaps around your age, I was bored in school, so I stared out the window daydreaming about being home with my dog or building a model. I had a problem with my eyes and didn’t read very well. It was embarrassing when I was called on to read aloud. Reciting my times tables was even more mortifying. I was the last to be picked to play ball at recess, but the first to be chosen to work on the Thanksgiving mural—drawing was the only thing I did well, and I did it at home hour after hour.
I did not go to kindergarten. I started school in the first grade and went six years to public school. Then I went to military academy in the seventh. My family was not rich, so it was a privilege to attend such an elite school. However, the academics were very demanding, sports were required, and military drill as mandatory—and there were no art courses. Not one. In fact, I was often disciplined for drawing, for “wasting my time.” My family wanted me to become a military officer or a medical doctor. Anything but an artist. My daddy told me that I could never make a living at art. But I persisted in spite of his discouragement and today I live a marvelously happy and comfortable life. So, my young friend never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. You can. All it takes—and this is a lot—is the desire to do it, the persistence to learn how to do it well, the courage to stand strong when people around you are discouraging your dreams. And perhaps most important of all is being willing to fail while you are trying your hardest—but then to pick it up and start over again.”
Seattle has blown it. A Pacific Northwestern cityscape that in the past was of uncluttered venues, a fringe of evergreens and recycled debris bins on many street corners.
In the brief span of the past couple of years we have lapsed into a parking-pay-system mania. Complicating itself every step of the way… how could it be when the idea was to streamline, make it green, user friendly, and efficient?
The result has been 6-foot hulking towers, 1 to 3 of them per downtown block, enough instructional signage to bewilder, and enough add-ons to create an eyesore. We now have an obstacle course of signposts and equipment. Each site has hundreds of instructional words incorporated into it… it’s informationally numbing.
We may just fall into apathy about our streets, or it may inspire us to ask for better… design for a solution that will make our streets a desirable intersection of urban culture.
The very best [infographics] engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and easily that otherwise would take many pages and illustrations and tables to convey. Insight seems to happen most often when data sets are crossed in the design of the piece — when we can quickly see the effects on something over time, for example, or view how factors like income, race, geography, or diet might affect other data. When that happens, there’s an instant “Aha!”…
I picked just one example from the volume to live by today… eating. There’s a renewed interest in seasonality of our foods to make them healthier and sustainable, and these charts marvelously distinguishes each morsel in a circular calendar. Another good article I read recently gets back to the heart of the matter… seeds.
Have you ever heard of the CTBUH?
Do you know what Vanity Height is?
To answer the first question, it is the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. A fascinating group which tracks the skyscrapers of the world. I can get lost in this subject, and be awed by these big towers made by little people, piece by piece. I imagine standing next to each slender edifice, staring up and then turning to see the world that bustles in the tower’s shadow.
If you have any curiosity about such things you may what to visit the CTBUH website which chronicles the top 100 skyscrapers. Wonderfully illustrated and organized, this makes for great armchair traveling. Travel the world, these days you will send much of your time in the United Arab Emirates to see the tallest.
This is a great database and fun, choose by many categories: country, status (complete, in-construction, visionary or demolished), function, steel, glass, precast, just to name a few.
Have you guessed what Vanity Height is… it’s that use-less space in today’s tallest. With the increasing trend towards extreme spires and other extensions of tall buildings that do not enclose usable space, the term Vanity Height describes it (the distance between a skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor and its architectural top).
What are Supertall and Megatall Buildings? The CTBUH defines “supertall” as a building over 984 feet in height, and a “megatall” as a building over 1,968 feet in height. Although great heights are now being achieved—in excess of 2,600 feet—as of July 2013 there are only 73 supertall and 2 megatall building completed and occupied globally. Thus the completion of a supertall building is still a significant milestone.
A branding program strives to tell one core story and Island Grown in the San Juan Islands grows out of an island community’s resolve to recognize and preserve its agricultural heritage and future. This luscious pear sailing off in a seafaring dingy inspires, creates interest, and visually explains the program’s primary mission. Plus, it puts a smile on your face. Communications is key element to Island Grown’s success and its logo provides an important synergy, quickly bringing together farmers, restaurateurs, businesses, island residents and visitors.
Graphics guidelines, multi-tier promotions, signage and collateral communications bloom for Sunrise Village, an outdoor retail shopping village nestled in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, just south of Seattle. The pages shown above are from the Sunrise Village Branding Guidelines and Standards, and explains the origins of the visual logo and how it relates to the demographics of the surrounding communities as well as illustrating a sense of how the program will inhabit the environment. Partners in Design collaborated with Tarragon Inc on the Sunrise Village project.
For any emergency management agency, communication is an invaluable tool. But in the mix of ubiquitous public and commercial clattering, its messaging needs to be clear, quick, appealing and instructive to be effective or the cost will be lives lost. Who is responsible for making this happen? In more and more communities an autonomous department provides this vital link and Partners in Design was excited to be part of this important effort by the San Juan County Department of Emergency Management. These particular graphics speak broadly to an isolated island-vulnerable community in Northwest Washington and our challenge was to fuse words and graphics together into a meaningful and high-performance dialogue.
Integration and unity are key factors when developing a strong visual identity program. The primary branding logo for the Bellevue Botanical Garden determined the visual style for all subsequent Garden interpretives and related signage: from entrance kiosk, garden trail markers, print, and even the Garden’s web site graphics. The logo features the Trillium, a species native to Northwest gardens and a symbol for sustainable gardening practices. The shape of the logo were further developed into a series of icons for each garden (shown below).
Greensboro Historical Museum serves up rich history daily. Local people making extraordinary connections at the Greensboro Historical Museum are introduced to Greensboro’s native sons and daughters and shown how their ancestors contributed great things in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. Partners in Design’s approach brought historical artifacts and history into contemporary relevance by bridging the span with bold typography, and using icons and color that would reflect and complement the historical symbols of this well-loved museum. Building banners and dynamic grid graphics targeted students, researchers and families to study and learn about events in colonial Guilford County including the Civil War, the roots of the Civil Rights Movement, and the rise of textile manufacturing in the South.
NatureMed Essential is a natural health store that promotes naturopathic and herbal remedies. The program’s branding and packaging finds its inspiration in the forms and forces of nature, and Partners in Design has supported these health key concepts with visual links. A primary objective was to visually place NatureMed Essentials uniquely in a field poised for explosive growth. The NatureMed program includes a store design and outlook highlighted by a custom-designed computer information system, a Health Elixir bar, and 8 departments of private label supplements and herbal preparations, including Spa Therapy, Weight Management, Immunity, Anti-Aging, Baseline Screening and a Kids Health Club.
The West Hylebos Wetlands is equal parts wildlife refuge, ecological and hydrological conservatory, nature trail, and just plain natural wonder. One of the last remaining bogs in South King County, Hylebos’ wetland wilderness lies just one mile west of I-5 in southern Federal Way, Washington, a rare urban nature park. Partners in Design provided design, writing and fabrication coordination for a series of interpretive signs and visitor kiosks which needed particular care in construction methods given the nature of the wetland landscape where they would be installed. Interpretive topics included glimpses into the park’s history and the staggering diversity of life on its 120 acres.
The Bellevue Botanical Garden is an 53-acre refuge, filled with cultivated gardens, restored woodlands and wildlife, designed to reflect a unique urban Northwest landscape known as Cascadia, with Puget Sound to the west and the Cascade mountains to the east. Our program work includes the Garden’s graphic identity created by Partners in Design has been integrated into all forms of signage, print, online media, and marketing collateral. Overarching program goals include directional signage and extensive exterior interpretives that never impose too strongly on the nuances of the natural environment, and consistently meeting the varied objectives for optimal audience impact of the Garden’s multiple stakeholders—the City of Bellevue, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society and various fundraising and capital campaign committees.
These whimsical sculptures mark the perimeter of Cherry Crest Reservoir, City of Bellevue Utilities, an important community reservoir and new recreation area created when a deteriorating reservoir was covered over with tennis courts and playground. The project was a unique collaboration between the City’s Utilities and Parks departments and provided a unique opportunity to offer the key public message of water conservation. Partners in Design developed the concept of telling the water story through the voices of the creatures who live in the watershed in a series of ten 4-foot cut and bent aluminum sculptures mounted to poles extending above the sport court’s fence line. Each sculpture offers a particular water message on a small interpretive panel mounted to the poles at court level.
The mission of SoundBridge, the Seattle Symphony’s Music Discovery Center at Benaroya Hall, is to inspire and nurture a love of symphonic music through active participation and exploration. Partners in Design worked with exhibit designers Lehrman Cameron Studio to direct the graphics and interpretive designs of the 2,000 sq. ft exhibit which enables people of all ages and skill levels to explore music. Visitors can Meet the Musicians, explore the instruments of the orchestra through interactive exhibits, sample excerpts of the classical repertoire at Listening Posts and get a feel for the podium at the Virtual Conducting station.
The Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve exhibit creates an environment that focuses on the richness and diversity of the New Jersey estuarine natural environment as a context for presenting scientific research, important historical and cultural milestones and community stewardship. The Visitor Center exhibits, developed by Partners in Design in collaboration with Lehrman Cameron Studio, convey and animate the history of the Mullica River-Great bay estuary region, the New Jersey Pinelands and the rich marine environment created where the land meets the open ocean.
The San Juan County Land Bank is a long-standing client of ours and one that is dear to our hearts. In 1990, as part of a county-wide initiative aimed at preserving the distinct character of life in this island archipelago north of Seattle, island residents created the San Juan County Land Bank. Partners in Design has been collaborating with the Land bank from the start, providing branding, on-trail interpretives and property boundary signage, an extensive website, and annual reports. The interpretive panel shown above is fabricated in photo-etched anodized aluminum for longevity, cost and the best UV protection.
The San Juan County Land Bank manages and provides stewardship for extensive trails and properties, many with public access. Partners in Design is often called upon to create maps for public meetings or visitor use.
Partners in Design provided master planning and design for the Central Park Visitor Center, an interactive visitor center housed in the Dairy, in New York City. The center’s permanent exhibit “Central Park: Oasis in the City” was designed to educate children and adults to the landscape design and planning of Central Park and includes a 7-minute video, a 12-ft detailed scale model of the Park depicting its topographical variety and numerous interactive displays. Our design program also included exterior signage for nearby Park landmarks in the “Children’s District” which includes The Dairy, The Chess & Checkers House, The Carousel, and the Belvedere Castle Environmental Learning Center. This exhibit was selected for inclusion in Print Casebooks 8: The Best in Exhibit Design.
Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that after 42 years it would no longer be issuing its candy-colored metal buttons as proof of paid admission, replacing them instead with paper tickets. As with many things in life, with that decision came the sudden realization of how much something would be missed once it has been taken away.
While living in New York City for over 15 years, I have many memories of finding those little metal buttons everywhere. The little icons were such a ubiquitous part of NYC life. Yet who knew the colors actually had names? It was always a pleasant surprise when visiting the Met to see what the day’s button color would be, and a fun decision determining its placement. Depending on what you were wearing, it might look best on the collar, the strap of a handbag, a pocket edge, or even affixed to the cover of the book you were carrying. A default location was always calling on a buttonhole to do double duty. And a day’s visit would inevitably include the distinctive pinging sound of someone’s button falling to the marble floor.
In theory, you were asked to deposit your buttons in a clear plastic receptacle when exiting the museum but I didn’t know anyone who did. Either you simply forgot or you were prescient enough to think about amassing a full collection, either for the nefarious reason of a future paid admission or simply because they were beautiful little objects. Days later, while doing laundry you would inevitably find one of the little guys still affixed to a collar or pocket. And I’m certain I’m not the only person who, more than once, while waiting for a street light or a subway, noticed a glint of recognizable color near my feet, miles and boroughs away from Fifth Avenue & East 89th Street.
After finding a full set going for a starting bid of $200 on eBay, I spent an hour today searching through old storage boxes in my closets hoping to find just even one. I found two! One inside a jumbled box of little-used jewelry and trinkets and another tucked inside the empty matchbox from Lisanne one of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants which closed in 1989.
My buttons’ colors are Joker and Positano.
Various campaigns serving multiple departments of Lakeside School, a well-regarded private middle and high school in Seattle, including: capital campaign, global service learning, alumni receptions, events, summer school branding and collateral.
Annual report for the San Juan County Land Bank
A large suite of publications developed for the Sumner School District, south of Seattle, that reflects this District’s long-range plan for student success. Capability collateral, print and electronic media communicate the partnership of parents and educators helping students become better learners. We also produce annual calendars that become strategic work-horses for the community and are utilized year-round. …
Long-term communications program covering multiple aspects of the Sumner School District’s needs, including: capability reports, annual calendars, events promotion, new school openings, superintendent reports, and special programs (teacher recruitment folder shown above).
A single garden—the Bellevue Botanical Garden’s Waterwise Garden—inspired the City of Bellevue Utilities to promote “waterwise” practices and natural yard care to its residents. Partners in Design created branding, logos, icons, garden interpretives, posters, collateral and education publications for the program’s launch and continued implementation. Quick and flexible graphic standards meet the City’s schedule of impromptu workshops (both print and online).
Retail mall meets downtown community. Working with Tarragon, Inc, Partners in Design stepped in to provide event promotion and marketing for Kent Station retail village, south of Seattle and update and visually expand its existing branding standards. New campaigns of signage, banners, posters, mailings and window graphics supplemented the existing design standards. Designing holiday fanfare was an especially fun project for this long-term client.
A community outreach and education campaign for San Juan Island Integrated Medical Center had the additional objective of targeting primary donors for the center’s construction. Print communications initiated a dialogue for better island health care for a changing community demographic.
This agricultural strategic action plan developed for San Juan County, WA was a collaborative project with the Agricultural Resources Committee of San Juan County, San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank. Partners in Design’s teams/clients often include many stakeholders, making our process of communication essential for effectiveness and productivity.
We all know that school relationships are important. They can either be a source of support or the cause of harassment. Yeah, I’m Different addresses this duality. Partners in Design worked with Safe Schools Coalition, a partnership that seeks to promote tolerance by providing resources for students, parents, and administrators, to conceptualize and design a series of posters on these issues. Distributed state-wide in K-12 schools, the posters address bias-based harassment facing youth in our schools today and feature the creations of Portland artist Marc Willwerth and his “perfect children” who are different but OK just the way they are. Photography by Malcolm Smith.
Serving the island-wide community of the San Juan Islands, the San Juan Department of Emergency Management’s critical publication program can be the difference between life and death. Identity, web site, posters, t-shirts and iconography coordinate to educate and engage the community to be prepared for all emergencies. The seriousness and life-saving nature of this program is infused with a tongue-in-cheek point of view to inspire citizen participation. Poster and postcard design shown above.
Partners in Design is committed to helping schools, like those in the Bethel School District, bridge the gap between cost-effective and visually powerful communications. We have been creating award-winning print graphics to the education community for over two decades. Bethel School District Annual Report shown above.
Book cover designs for Guilford Press, New York.
Thanks to our client Ann Cook who led us to this great title, “Drunk Tank Pink,” and which we’re running to our local bookshop to buy and start reading. We’ve been working with Ann for years on her school district calendar. A publication that has a long life in many Sumner, Washington homes, often being referenced year-long, many of them on refrigerator doors. The project has a large print run and a limited budget… so the solution has been to print good photos with two colors, black and an annual feature color. Ann and Partners in Design has the best of times selecting the “wow” color that will best reflect the school district programs for each year. Ann brings great color discovers to the table and she allows us to dissuade her from color disasters and select color winners.
So back to the book… does pink make strong men weak? Can pink jail cells calm violent prisoners? Is it true that football locker rooms (the ones for the visiting/opposing teams) are painted a certain shade of pink to weaken the players?
One of the most interesting examples of color effects, and a local story, is Baker-Miller Pink – R:255, G:145, B:175. Also known as “Drunk tank pink,” this color has been used to calm violent prisoners in jails. Dr. Alexander Schauss, Ph.D., director of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma Washington, was the first to report the suppression of angry, antagonistic, and anxiety ridden behavior among prisoners: “Even if a person tries to be angry or aggressive in the presence of pink, he can’t. The heart muscles can’t race fast enough. It’s a tranquilizing color that saps your energy. There’s evidence that these reactions are short term. Once the body returns to a state of equilibrium, a prisoner may regress to an even more agitated state.
Is it true that football locker rooms (the ones for the visiting/opposing teams) are painted a certain shade of pink to weaken the players? University of Hawaii associate head coach George Lumkin was a member of the 1991 staff that saw visitor locker rooms at Iowa and Colorado State painted pink in the belief that the color made players passive. Now the WAC has a rule that a visiting team’s locker room can not be painted a different color than the home team’s. In other words, it can be pink, black or any color of the rainbow, as long as both locker rooms are the same color.
Considering our waste-stream, there’s the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Within the category of reuse may we suggest a closer look at the strategy of turning things inside out? The practice has great philosophical meaning and it’s considerate of the environment. Simply respectful to the original resource… to honor it again and preserve some of it’s history.
As a designer I was inspired over a cup of tea this morning. Peering inside the tea packaging there was the glimpse of another visual world. I saw an unexpected other life to this packaging. It was intriguing and I wondered about other ways we could get this to happen in more of our design projects at Partners in Design. Please add your ideas below.
The outside of this Korean tea packaging looks like this… sedate and simple. The zip-lock top keeps the contents fresh and I can store another green tea in it when I have finished this batch.
On the inside there’s another package design. Life number two. A little more colorful… rice, wheat?
- Open up envelopes and turn them inside out, tape or glue, and use them again.
- Unfold shipping boxes and decorate the craft paper interiors with designs, refold inside out to make favorite gift boxes.
- We always turn our grocery produce bags inside out to use them repeatedly. Don’t worry the inks used on these bags are food-grade.
- Using press-sheets as wrapping paper.
- Remember turning your craft paper grocery bags for textbook covers?
- We like this one a lot, sort of turning something inside out… re-purpose an unwanted t-shirt and easily turn the shirt into a re-usable tote bag. http://etcetorize.blogspot.com/2011/08/t-shirt-tote-bag.html
Some companies and organizations pride themselves with the successful longevity of their branding. A good brand indicates stability and confidence. But when does this all go sour? Case in point, may the Sherwin Williams Paint emblem depicting our mother earth being douched with petroleum-based paint be out of date? What a toxic clean up… it would put BP to shame.
Your brand can define the basis of your corporate and institutional culture, your philosophy, origins and strengths. When Partners in Design was creating a new brand for a nutritional school program in Washington State we knew that the public’s view of school meal programs was dismal. International food expert Jamie Oliver had just pronounced that America was poisoning its children. Our response was go back to basics… the food groups, be honest, and put a good face to it… the food icons are smarties and laughing (see below).
What rebranding does for your company internally is a watershed of benefits in itself. A great amount of self-discovery happens in the process of identity-finding. Rebranding pinpoints who you really are, what you stand for, and understanding your business culture. It also observes whether people see you, as you want to be seen. If there’s disparity, you need to change your brand to better target your market.
If your well-established brand still resonates with current and prospective customers, don’t change for the sake of it, or because it might help generate more sales. Don’t tinker with your brand of relevance for fear of losing customers who might no longer recognize the new you. Partners in Design has helped rebrand and create original brands for neighborhoods, retail villages, school districts, all sorts of services and widgets, so we have a few tips about when is a good time to rebrand, and how to look for the best branding team, process and implementation.
A brand is the sum total of what people see and feel about us when they see our institutional image, our marketing materials, and when they decide to interact with us. Now if you look at the example of Sherwin Williams perhaps this paint company should ask how their audience emotionally feels about this graphic… nostalgia or environmental global fear.
4 Good Reasons to Rebrand
You Need to Reposition The most important reason to rebrand is when your current brand is confusing, or worse, misleading your current or prospective customers. If your goals, products and positioning have changed, rebranding will send a clear message. Rebranding is not something you do because you want to, it’s because your customers don’t understand you.
Brand Confusion and Brand Promise Disappointment If people don’t recall your brand, or confuse you with your competition… you are then losing money and influence. Your identity should be unique and memorable. You may see your brand as representing you well and working, but how does the customer see it? Is this a shared perception? Not being on the same page may be economically disastrous.
Your Brand is Outdated Look at our example of the eager paint seller who sadly wants to encase the world in oil. A 50s perspective probably doesn’t work today. Engage in research to determine your brand’s relevancy. If your product range or services change significantly, ensure your existing brand matches the new reality. The same applies if you are targeting a new market — is your brand still effective in the new environment? A new brand that reflects this change would give your profile a massive boost.
Your Market Position has Shifted Many businesses still have the same brand as when their company started… is it still relevant? If it was done in a rush and on a budget, it may no longer represent your business. Markets change constantly, as do customer expectations, so brands can become outdated. Another good time to give your brand image a kick in the pants is during an economic downturn when competitors are tightening purse strings and the industry is talking doom and gloom. Rebranding at this time shows you are alive and kicking, and, more importantly, optimistic about the future.
These 2 sentences tell you all you need to know about POP art. “Pop Art is basically about two things: ordinariness and eating. It’s about daily consumption; the democratic appetite, ravenous for meat, sweets, life on the street, and getting more of everything, cheap”. And this artwork tells you all about a POP master, Claes Oldenburg. See for yourself if you’re in NYC, there’s an Oldenburg retrospective until August 5 at MoMA. As a designer I’ve always been influenced by Oldenburg, Warhol, Red Grooms, Marisol because they questions “context” on every level. As a communication designer I depend on it every time I want to be an attention grabber, or be a wallflower.
Nutella was created in the 1940′s by Pietro Ferrero. War rationing meant that cocoa was in short supply across Europe, so Pietro Ferrero mixed cocoa with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oils to create an economical spread of chocolate. Reformulated in 1949, this variety was both inexpensive and spreadable, which was a great plus-point. It enjoyed enormous success and in 1964 was renamed ‘Nutella’ and marketed outside of Italy. Nutella comes in an oval-shaped jar. The bold label contains both black and red letters! The “N” is designed to draw attention to the nuts in Nutella! But look how this solution draws so much attention to the name and makes this mark memorable. So why is this on our mind today… well today is “World Nutella Day”.
We believe the best graphic design prompts you to think for yourself… not feed you answers. A design may challenge you to learn or interpret meaning. The message may inspire you to take action. We were asked to create a series of posters in response to the Newtown tragedy and gun violence. Since so many argue that the Second Amendment is for our protection… we wondered why innocent victims were targets.
Guns are weapons, but against who? We dedicate these posters to Grace who wanted to be an artist (maybe a designer). Follow “Demand a Plan” for useful strategies.
Communication is is an invaluable tool for emergency management. In the mix of public and commercial clattering, messaging has to be clear, quick, appealing, instructive and effective at the cost of lives lost if unsuccessful. Who is responsible? In more and more communities, an autonomous Department of Emergency Management (DEM) provides a vital link.
So when we were approached a year or so ago by the San Juan County DEM we were excited to be part of an important effort. These graphics needed to speak broadly to an isolated island-vulnerable community in Northwest Washington and our challenge was to fuse words and graphics together into a meaningful and high-performance dialogue.
But like the child who avoids the chastising parent, it was likely that a citizen might avoid hearing the truth and stepping up to meet the demands of disaster preparedness. Few among us spontaneously wake on a Saturday morning thinking, “Hmm, perhaps today I’ll gather all that I need in case of a disaster.” So, along with the DEM, we developed a graphics program that added a little fun to the challenge.
Sometimes the distance between safety and all-hell-breaking-loose can be very close. We developed graphic symbols to explain possible scenarios, and put them into not-so-serious contexts.
Think of it this way—a storyteller leads listeners into a cautionary tale with some levity (perhaps a joke) but invariably the tale they tell examines a world undergoing transformative, and sometimes undesirable, change. Instead of overwhelming an audience with hard facts, humor helps to diffuse the potential impact and gets people thinking. Know the risks, make a plan, get your supplies. When it launched, the graphic program created a bit of a buzz with t-shirt designs that became walking billboards for the DEM. The sinking ship or burning bunny are edgy, but they never lose touch with reality.
This summer, we followed up with a new campaign, dipping into the absurd with a “What if?” series for the DEM. Aliens are attacking the lighthouse! Zombies are going after your sheep! Our island-dwelling audience may be still laughing but we’re hopeful they’re also busy putting together their survival kits.
In today’s divisive political climate, here’s a New Year’s resolution from Partners in Design. Let’s each of us use our talents for the greater good. Do something, say something about what you believe in. Design something.
Join us this Sunday, January 13 in Seattle for a rally against gun violence in Washington state sponsored by Stand Up Washington.
Change starts at home.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Civita looked much the same as it does today. A saddle of land connected present-day Civita to Bagnoregio (known then as Rota) with the Convento di S Francisco occupying the middle ground before it was lost to an earthquake. The monastery can be seen in the drawing (below) sent back to Rome by a visiting monk. Together, the population numbered close to 1,800 citizens.
The Medieval city was divided into four contrade, or neighborhoods: Mercatello (the Merchant quarter); Ponte (the Bridge); Civita (the Town); and Carcere (the Prison). The area boundaries, interestingly, roughly correspond to the ancient Etruscan ideal city plan with most of the upper class Renaissance families building in the most favorable southeast sector and the communal prison located in the northeast. Still today, Civita displays its contrade banners during festas and other important ceremonies.
Most of the beautiful golden warren of buildings you see in Civita were built during this time, including the Palazzo Alemanni, the largest, most imposing house in Civita facing the main piazza. A walk around the town today can give you a real sense of what the city might have looked like in the 16th century—that is, at least from the buildings that are still standing.
Starting in 1695 and continuing for over 100 years, the city endured a series of devastating earthquakes, not to mention landslides, locust infestations, and malaria. By 1800, more than 40% of Civita’s land mass had been lost. Although the rate at which the city continues to crumble is glacial, the process continues through to today. “The clay soil here falls away like fresh ricotta,” says Erino Pompei, the mayor of Bagnoregio until 2009, whose name bears an eerie resemblance to another lost Italian town.
The twentieth century brought WWII bombings and isolation for well over a year in the mid-60s when the old bridge was demolished and a new one being built. In 2004, engineers began a cliff stabilization project, funded by the Province of Viterbo and the EU, that will cost more than $15 million when it is scheduled to be completed in 2014. The project involves planting concrete shafts in the dirt below the rocks on which Civita sits and reinforcing them with thousands of iron rods. The blocks are meant to act as dams to keep the claylike soil from getting too wet and unstable. Last year, a fascinating and extensive exhibit detailing Civita’s geological past and the stabilization project opened at the Museo geologico e delle frane located in the Palazzo Alemanni.
The hope is that for the next few centuries at least, Civita will be safe. After that? “Niente può fermare la natura,” says Signore Pompei. “Nothing can stop nature.”
Ciao from Civita!
As every designer worth her salt knows, timelines are a staple of exhibit design. Mounting an exhibition without a timeline is akin to leaving out the donor wall.
When I arrived in Civita, I knew a timeline would be one of the maps I would create, but I also knew it would probably be the last. It may seem counter-intuitive, but now as I come to the end of my stay, the process feels right. I needed to spend an extended time here, reading, talking, and learning before I felt I could attempt anything approaching a timeline.
Timelines are the quintessential “map” of any subject; a way for viewers to grasp a condensed glimpse of what is usually a huge body of information. So, in lieu of the interactive visual timeline that will be the final product of my fellowship, allow me to play the part of museum curator in my two final posts, and present some of my favorite stories that I have learned about “Civita Time.”
“Civita” means “town” and in central Italy, you will often see it appended to the name of various places, such as Civita Castellana, Civitella d’Agliano, and Civitavecchia (outside Rome). But in early usage, the word, derived from the Latin civitas, designated the oldest and most built up area in order to distinguish it from neighboring villages. If a location was called “civita”, the designation meant that it was a place of some importance.
Civita di Bagnoregio has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years, first by the Etruscans, then the Romans. Its pre-history begins 2 million years ago when the tufo that is this region’s primary building material was formed during the Pleistocene age. History then picks up with the Etruscans, before moving on to significant Roman, Medieval and Renaissance events.
Before leaving Seattle, I had wanted to read D.H. Lawrence’s book of short essays “Etruscan Places” but ran out of time. I checked Tony’s library, hoping that perhaps I might find it in the section marked “English nonfiction” and sure enough, there it was. An old yellowed paperback, but there nonetheless. Non-historian Brit that he was, Lawrence has been criticized for writing six essays on the subject of Etruscans after spending the whole of three days exploring Etruscan Italy. Yet his style is pretty approachable and he writes with warmth and feeling, if from a slightly patronizing perspective. The very first essay begins:
“The Etruscans, as everyone knows, were the people who occupied the middle of Italy in early Roman days and whom the Romans, in their usual neighborly fashion, wiped out entirely in order to make room for Rome with a very big R.”
The Etruscans called themselves Rasenna or Rasna and they are most commonly believed to have moved westward into northern and central Italy from Asia Minor. The etymology of the name “Etruscan” may have come from a phrase in the ancient Umbrian dialect with “trus” being the Latin Umbrian word for tower. So, the Etruscans were “E-trus-ci” or “those who build towers.”
The Romans lay claim to most historical achievements in Italy but many would never have been accomplished without their Etruscan predecessors, including hydraulic engineering and a written language (Latin was a spoken language only until Roman intermingling with the Etruscans began). They put their skill as excellent architects and engineers to good use in diverting waterways, tunneling channels and laying out their cities. The lower lying portions of Rome, such as the area surrounding the Capitoline Hill, was formerly marshland. Creating a habitable area there would never have been a possibility without the hydraulic engineering skills of the Etruscans.
The “Etruscan League” consisted of twelve loosely aligned cities, one of which was known in Latin as Volsinii (or Velzna by the Etruscans) and is believed to have been the site of the modern Italian cities of Orvieto or Bolsena. Every spring, representatives of the Dodecapoli, or Twelve Cities of the League, came to Volsinii for religious rites, conferences, games, entertainment, and a large market. With Civita less than a day’s journey away from Bolsena (15 minutes by car today) it may well have been an important stopping point on what would have been a two-day journey from the Tiber to Orvieto during Etruscan times.
The Etruscan civilization was peaceful (their ultimate downfall) and prosperous, based on farming, metallurgy, ceramics, and trade throughout the Mediterranean. Religion pervaded all aspects of their society, with a particular emphasis on and familiarity with the afterlife. The Etruscans saw little difference between life and death, regarding them simply as different states of being.
They preferred hilltop sites for their cities, safely above the malarial swamps and easily defendable. Often the cities were sited whenever possible on two adjoining plateaus or headlands separated by a river. On one plateau, they would build their city; the other served as the necropolis. Civita and its neighbor to the north, Orvieto, are perfect examples of this scheme.
They used a sacred plan to design the layout of their cities, which reflected their religious beliefs. The ideal Etruscan city was a circle divided into a grid, with four main sectors formed by the intersection of two axes, a street running north-south and another east west. This corresponded to the division of the sky into four parts inhabited by different gods, with good or bad connotations, designating favorable or unfavorable areas to locate particular enterprises. At the center was an open space, the mundus, with a shaft running underground that connected to the necropolis and the underworld, through which sacrifices and offerings could be made. The main temples faced this central gathering place.
When a new city was built, this sacred plan was laid out in a special ceremony. We know this from subsequent Roman writings, and we also know that the Romans respected these beliefs enough that they adopted some of the Etruscan practices. In Civita, the current site of the Christian Chiesa S Donato (first built in the 8th century A.D.) has been the site of some form of religious worship since 600 B.C. and the prison contrade is located in the “most unfavorable” zone.
The elimination of the Etruscans was one of the more successful genocides of modern times. It worked, not because it concentrated on the physical elimination of a group of people—from a Roman point of view the sieges of Etruscan cities was considered a domestic disturbance, not a foreign war—but because the cultural identity of the Etruscans was destroyed. After the sack of Perugia, the last great Etruscan city, Augustus made it illegal to speak the language. By the reign of Claudius, fifty or sixty years later, the emperor himself was one of the few still able to speak Etruscan.
What is left from the Etruscans hints at the richness of their culture. There is the Mummy of Zagreb, an Etruscan text written on linen (they wrote from right to left like the Phoenicians) that was discovered when it was used as binding tapes for an Egyptian mummy brought back to that city by a tourist. There is the Liver of Piacenza, a Henry Moore-like representative of a sheep’s liver in bronze, inscribed with the names of regions and gods used for haruspicy, a divining practice that inspects the entrails of animals. And there are the Pyrgi Tablets, a bilingual text in Etruscan and Phoenician engraved on three gold leaves, one written in Phoenician and two in Etruscan, that dates from approximately 500 B.C. and which is on display in the Villa Guilia, Rome’s primary Etruscan museum.
“But it is not for me to make assertions [although he continues to do so throughout his essays]. Only that which half emerges from the dim background of time is strangely stirring; and after having read all the learned suggestions, most of them contradicting each other; and then having looked sensitively at the tombs and the Etruscan things that are left, one must accept one’s own resultant feeling.”
The “resultant feeling” here in Civita is one of awe that such a place could have been conceived and achieved by the Etruscans and that today, in 2012, I can wake up, walk to the piazza, and sit in the sun next to an Etruscan column built in 600 B.C.
From the studio where I have been working these past weeks, I could (and still can) hear the voices of tourists as they pass by the balcony window. When I first arrived in Civita it was quite hot, in the high nineties, and during the Italian pausa between 1:00 and 4:00 pm, it was a welcome relief to take shelter inside the cool tufo building. Now in October, there are far less visitors, but in late August and early September school children were still on holiday and families were squeezing in one last vacation trip.
The heat did not keep the tourists inside. So as I worked I could hear the mingling of languages as visitors passed by my window—mostly Italian, but always with a smattering of English, German, French and what I think was Japanese. The words drifted into my room like a cloud…a word cloud.
Word clouds or “tag clouds” as they are properly called, became all the rage in the late 1990s as a feature of early personal websites and blogs. The form was used widely to visualize the frequency distribution of keywords that describe website content, and as a navigation aid. Before long, word clouds were being used to editorialize and visualize everything from Biblical passages to presidential debate analysis.
But the idea behind word clouds is not new. It could be argued that traditional maps were the very first rudimentary “word clouds” since the type size of the name of a city, region, or feature is represented relative to its population or importance.
Then there are calligrams, type or handwriting arranged in a way that creates a visual image that expresses the content of the text. Visual designers and educators have used calligrams as a visual means of expression for decades.
During my stay in Civita, I was looking for a way to convey the rich mix of both “hearing” many languages and seeking a way to describe how people experience this place. A word cloud/calligram seemed like the perfect solution. So beginning from that first week in August, I decided to track what I could hear outside my studio window. And so began my “map” of the most common words heard during one hour of the daily pausa when most “sensible” Italians were indoors cooking the midday meal and resting.
Obviously, what I could catch was dependant on my limited Italian, college French, and zero understanding of any Asian language. English jumped out at me without my having any say in the matter, and so my resultant Civita word cloud may be a bit biased in that respect. Simple observation, however, was all that was needed to determine that there have been far more Italian tourists in Civita than any other group these past seven weeks. That should most certainly provide a hometown advantage.
It has been said that you can “read” a person’s temperament, speculate how easy or difficult their life has been, by looking closely at their face. This is often where signs of stress appear, presenting itself with tired eyes, deep lines between the eyebrows, lips and jaw tight.
What if this were true for a place? What if the essence of a city resided not in its statistics and facts but in the development of its character expressed, perhaps, in the configuration of its hills and valleys, tunnels and caves, changes in public and private space? We could then “read” a city by examining its own particular psycho-geography—not the outer surface layer that it presents to the world but its true depth.
The concept is fanciful but intriguing and pursuing it further inevitably leads to an examination of the 19th-century pseudo-science of phrenology. Phrenology is the study of the shape and size of the cranium as a supposed indication of character and mental abilities. The system came from the theories of the Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall but it was quite popular in Britain and American as well. Lorenzo Fowler was America’s leading phrenologist. It was he who created the famous white ceramic head.
Phrenologists worked by touch; they would “read” a person’s character by running the palms of their hands over the surface of the skull, the theory being that the skull takes its shape from the brain beneath. They considered the brain the organ of the mind and believed it was composed of distinct “faculties” and “sub-faculties” each of which controlled a certain character trait or intellectual attribute such as Cautiousness or Benevolence. The size of each area corresponded to its power.
Getting to know Civita phrenologically requires a slightly different approach. It requires eyes and feet, time spent walking its streets and hills repeatedly. This is the polar opposite of reading about a place in a guidebook, visiting for a few hours on a summer day, or checking it out on Google maps. I’ve been fortunate that through NIAUSI’s fellowship I’ve been allowed the time to do this type of exploration.
When complete, my phrenological “map” of Civita will most certainly be a subjective exercise in “bump-reading” applied to a particular place during a limited time period. But my hope is that it will provide yet one more way to “see” this special place. Already, a cursory look at Fowler’s list of faculties applied to Civita leads to some general conclusions.
Civita’s rich yet destructive past has most certainly left its mark but it remains an industrious city that loves children, families, and animals and delights in showing its wonders to the world. The city reconstructs more than it builds anew, and it is an optimistic place that venerates its past. Interestingly, in phrenology, the faculties one lacks are just as significant as those that are prominent, and in Civita the lack of Blandness and Approbativeness immediately come to mind.
This is, of course, an idiosyncratic exercise. Perhaps the best approach is to visit and draw your own conclusions. Civita will most certainly welcome you.
Part of the benefit of spending an extended period of time here in Civita is witnessing the ebb and flow of tourists and visitors to the town. Some days are busy; some slower due to weather or weekday schedules. What remains constant is the realization that whether 10 or 100 tourists walk up the hill on a Sunday in October, Civita will continue to go on about its business.
Jules Verne said, “Look with all your eyes, look.” The Surrealists painters recognized what they called “the potency of the everyday.” Writers and artists love details, but there is always a push and pull between the obsession with detail and the semi-conscious acknowledgement that everything will eventually vanish. Relief, essentially, mixed with dread.
It has been interesting to discover how much more there is to “see” when you really slow down and start to look. Glance around the piazza on a typical morning and you may think not much is happening. A few groups of tourists wander in through the gate…the chiesa door is open and receiving visitors…. La Tonna, one of the souvenir shops, is open for business.
Look a little closer in Civita and you might see: seismic workers heading out to the north cliff wall; a mason mixing the special pozzolano cement used here for tufo construction; Sandro making his rounds to collect and ferry Civita’s garbage to the Bagnoregio bins. Basically, you will see the life of the town in the process of being.
Much of Civita has been documented—its history, culture, architecture, and traditions. These things have been studied, talked about, described, inventoried, photographed, and analyzed. Documentation is part of why I am here on a NIAUSI Fellowship. But what about the rest?
The passing of a day in Civita—a mere 12 hours—includes, like many places, actions and events that are not usually noticed; things that have no real consequence in the grand scheme of the recorded history of this place. Does that mean then, that what takes place when nothing “important” happens is worthy of remembering or recording? My suspicion is that noticing the unremarkable might yield a different kind of map of Civita. And the process of noticing in itself could lead to a particular kind of subjective storytelling since the mind tends to question the whys and wherefores of what it sees. Observing the world in action, it wants to make connections.
The Italians have a wonderful expression: il dolce far niente, which translates as “the sweetness of doing nothing.” Too often in today’s jam-packed, work-driven, internet-powered world, it is easy to forget how to “do nothing.” Even worse, we wrongly believe that doing nothing equals uselessness. The Italians are wiser. They live il dolce far niente even when they are busy serving pranzo, mixing mortar, or ferrying wine bottles and plastic to the recycling bins. Perhaps it is the wisdom that comes from living in a culture with a 3,000-year heritage or simply an understanding that the sum of life is larger than what we can pack into an 8-hour workday. Regardless, life here is not something that can be spent, wasted, or passed. It simply is. Every moment holds possibility. In America, some of us, myself included, frequently feel that if something is not done with a purpose it is the same as doing nothing.
Of course, there is a downside to this observation that I will call the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Our perceptions of the world are formed through categories, genres, and classifications, many of them specific to the culture we come from. Idealizing any particular place happens when we remove ourselves from our daily routines and see new ways of living. We become attracted to the potential for change in our own lives. Yet as we all know, change is hard, but it is essential if we are to continue to grow. Travel speeds that growth process in many ways by simultaneously challenging and enriching us.
The people of Civita are called Civitonici. In such an ancient place, that self-definition may apply only to the handful of families who have lived here for five or seven generations. Can someone who has lived here for 20 or 30 years legitimately call themselves Civitonici? Does it depend on whether you are a full or part-time resident? Does it count at all if you’re a stranieri, a foreigner? You may have come here decades ago and know as much if not more about Civita than some locals. But…Italians take the long view of history.
The answers to these questions are ultimately personal. One solid fact, however, is that Civita is experiencing increasing change with each passing year. Invariably this will—this must—change the definition of who and what constitutes the Civitonici. For many reasons, the city has become a destination. The influx of tourism and rising real estate prices is bringing increased commerce for the merchants but also poses the risk of losing the essence of this city and turning it into an Italian Disneyland. So far that has not happened, but it is a fine line to thread. Everyone wants a piece of something they feel they have “discovered” and when they get it, they tend to not want to share it with the next newcomer. But to survive, Civita has to be shared.
The passing of a day here, like anywhere, has its own rhythm and increasingly that routine includes many tourists and the patterning of locals to cater to the needs of these visitors, both short-and long-term, myself included. Whether this means that a little bit of the ancient soul of Civita is lost in the process remains to be seen. The decision ultimately rests with the Civitonici, however broadly or narrowly they choose to define themselves.
Do a Google search for Civita di Bagnoregio and one of the first things you will find is a reference to it as “la città che muore” (the dying town). This immediately sets a particular tone, but in fact, this appellation is taken out of context from a text by Bonaventura Tecchi an Italian essayist born in Bagnoregio. In 1947, Tecchi formed the “Pro Civita Committee” whose mission was to save Civita from what seemed at the time to be inevitable death. Tecchi was referring to the erosion of the cliffs around Civita, not voicing a prediction for the future of Civita. Here is the full quote:
“I would never have become a writer unless I had lived for a few months every year, from July to November, starting in my earliest youth, in the valley of Civita, with the vision of the white crests, the golden volcanic clay, the eloquent ruins, in the land of Saint Bonaventure…with the memory of ancient earthquakes, the slip constant…in the city that is dying.”
One of my NIAUSI colleagues here is exploring Civita through the lens of adaptive reuse of its buildings over the years, particularly since the 1960s and 70s when many restoration projects began to take place. It has been sobering to see graphic visual examples which she has found in the archives here of just how deteriorated Civita had been before those restorations projects began to gain a foothold. For those of you who know Civita, the picture below (taken from Piero Bormioli’s book) shows the view of the city in the late 1960s, looking west. Osteria Il Forno d’Agnese currently occupies the building on the left.
Today, tourists walk into the main piazza and we hear them comment on how “old” and “worn” the buildings and some of the public infrastructure seems. If only they knew….in actuality, Civita is in pretty top form today. Certainly, there are areas that need attention and repair, but in most cases, they are receiving it. Civita has become a destination and those in authority know it. A major stabilization project targeting one of the most vulnerable cliff areas on the northwest side of the city was recently completed, funded with money from the Province of Viterbo and the EU. as I write this, dust drifts in my open window and I can hear the whirring of additional anchor rods being drilled into the cliff by seismic workers nearby.
Keeping Civita alive takes a lot of work and much resources. But over the decades, it has attracted scores of people who have worked to save it. The reasons are varied and numerous. Some people, like the Rocchi family who own both a bruschetteria and ristorante here, have lived in Civita for over 500 years. The family is very dedicated to the idea of helping Civita survive in the 21st century while simultaneously respecting the geography and geology that surrounds it. Other one-time residents like the Bastoni and Medori families continue a close connection to Civita through the successful businesses that they have established here over many years. It is in their interest to see Civita thrive.
Then there are the contributions made to Civita by the late Astra Zarina and her husband Tony Costa Heywood, who today counts himself as one of the town’s handful of full-time residents.
Zarina was a respected Professor of Architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle, who in the 1980s was instrumental in establishing the UW’s Rome Center, housed at the Palazzo Pio near Campo d’Fiori.
In the early 60s when the couple first visited Civita, much of the town was in a state of extensive disrepair, as noted above. Zarina and Heywood had the foresight to envision the value and potential to restoring buildings in Civita, and their training as architects gave them the skill and vision to make it a reality. But it took hard work and many years. Zarina handled restoration projects for some of the first buildings in Civita in the late 60s for architect friends, leading the wave of reclaiming these beautiful structures. Tony recalls how difficult it was to get workers to even agree to work on a project in an area as remote and difficult to reach as Civita. There was unreliable electricity to run power tools and pozzolana, the volcanic ash cement used here as mortar for the tufo buildings, needed to be mixed by hand. But they persevered.
Civita was enlivened further still when Zarina established the University of Washington’s Italian Hilltowns program in this ancient borgo. Starting in the late 70s and continuing for 30 years, architecture and design students had the opportunity to spent two months in Civita every summer, living with local families and learning the lessons of continuity and change in Italian architecture. In 2007, the pair donated a portion of their own personal restored property to NIAUSI, the organization that is funding my Fellowship, to establish the Civita Institute as a permanent study center in Civita.
These, then, are the real saints and saviors of Civita…the people who loved the city, saw its potential and worked to ensure that it would not become “la città che muore.”
It is impossible, and possibly inauspicious, to evade ecclesiastical interactions while in Italy. Despite the presence of the Vatican city-state in Rome, Italy has one of the least religious Catholic populations in the world. Yet even the smallest Italian city displays a rich layering of religious iconography, placemaking, and storytelling. Civita and its neighboring hamlet Bagnoregio are no exceptions.
One of the most fascinating religious discoveries I have made here concerns saints known as i incorruttibili misteriose or “the mysterious incorruptibles”—devout individuals whose remains do not decompose after death. The phenomenon of incorruptibility is taken as a powerful sign of saintliness in the Catholic Church and most of these individuals have already been canonized. Visitors to certain Italian churches, myself included, are shocked by the display of a corpse, dressed in religious vestments and encased in a glass coffin at the high altar or in the crypt.
Officially Civita has two Patron saints, Santa Vittoria (St. Victoria) and Sant’ Ildebrando (St. Hildebrand), both of whom have separate altars dedicated to them in the city’s main church Chiesa S. Donato.
Santa Vittoria, martyred in 251 AD is remembered for persevering through abuse and her remains are kept in an urn under the left altar. Sant’ Ildebrando was born in Bagnoregio and was its Bishop from 856 to 873. His body rests under the right altar. An interesting miracle attributed to him is that when he was old and bedridden, his servants brought him a cooked partridge, but as it was a fast day, he was unable to eat the bird. So instead, he prayed over it and it came to life and flew away. Here in Bagnoregio, the people are very zealous in honoring Sant’ Ildebrando and regularly make the trip up the hill to Civita since it is said that he has a reputation for dealing severely with those who do not give him due respect.
But Civita’s most famous son is S. Bonaventura (St. Bonaventure). Chapels and statues to him seem to be present on every corner in these two towns. Bonaventura was born Giovanni Fidanza around 1221 AD in a house no more than 50 meters from where I am writing this now.
As a young child, he fell seriously ill and his mother took him to the nearby Convento de San Francisco, which used to occupy the ground between Civita and Bagnoregio before it was lost in a 17th century to an earthquake.
In the grotto that now marks the spot of the old monastery, it is said that St. Francis prayed and healed Giovanni, then blessed him with the name “O Buona Ventura,” seeing much good fortune in his future. Bonaventura went on to join the Franciscan order and became a scholar and teacher and a primary biographer of St. Francis. He traveled widely but often came back to Italy and his home in Bagnoregio. After his death, his right arm was placed in a reliquery made from silver and gold donated by the people of Bagnoregio, an event that is celebrated every year on March 14.
A church, the Chiesa di S. Bonaventura, was built on the site of his childhood home but after the structure was damaged in another earthquake, a chapel built with some of the salvaged tufo bricks was dedicated in a new church in Bagnoregio.
The most endearing story I have heard about S. Bonaventura came from the sacristan in the church here, also named, interestingly, Bonaventura. Apparently, when Pope Gregory X made Bonaventura a cardinal, he sent several messengers to him with the symbolic red cardinal’s hat. When they arrived, they found Bonaventura washing dishes and he asked them to hang the red hat on a nearby tree since his hands were wet and dirty.
In 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson published a fictional tale of adventure about an expedition to an unnamed Caribbean island to recover a treasure that had been buried there. Treasure Island is considered one of the first adventure stories written specifically for adolescents without an obvious emphasis on teaching morals. It’s action-packed, has a huge cast of characters, and begins with a map. And the map has a backstory.
It begins in Scotland, in 1881 on a rainy summer day. A twelve-year old boy is daydreaming and begins drawing a map of an island. His stepfather finishes it, adds names, and writes in the upper right hand corner, “Treasure Island”. That stepfather was Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson’s map inspired his novel. Unfortunately, when Stevenson sent his manuscript to his publisher, the map went missing and it was never found. He created another map for publication, “but somehow,” he wrote,” it was never really ‘Treasure Island’ to me.”
Since its publication, Stevenson’s map has had readers asking the question, “Where is Treasure Island?” even when they are told it is an imaginary island that doesn’t exist. How could they not? Maps are guides. We trust them. We look to them to help us find what is desirable, help us navigate the unknown, and sometimes avoid the dangerous.They can make unreal place seem real, and real place more manageable.
It’s easy, here in Civita di Bagnoregio, to imagine that you are in an imaginary place. The backstory that is history here is sometimes so deep, so hard to comprehend in real time, that it begins to feel unreal. Once, the twin cities of Civita and Bagnoregio were a single city, along with a lively merchant neighborhood between which has since totally disappeared, swallowed up by landslides. Now they are separated by a deep chasm, and joined only by a narrow footbridge. Very few maps unite the two again, but when one has spend some time in Civita, it becomes evident that one could not exist without the other. Civita is why the tourists come, and Bagnoregio thrives, in part, to serve those visitors.
But Civita also has a present life as well as a past which can sometimes be easy to overlook. I’ve watched tourists come into the town, snap a few pictures, and be on their way back out in an hour. They pay little attention to the richness of history here, and zero attention to the fact that there are “real” people here living out their daily lives—merchants, masons and carpenters, cooks, priests, and seismic workers.
Taken together, Civita’s treasures are numerous. Some are historic, some architectural, some natural. When I decided to create a treasure map of the city, I knew that I wanted to include everyday treasures as well as historic ones. Together they feed the body and the soul and here in Italy, both are necessary to sooth a weary traveler.
In some ways, every map is a “treasure” map, every place a “Treasure Island” and what we each decide to include on the treasure maps in our lives will always be as personal as the places we visit and the experiences we have. Everyone will have their own list. Right now, I’m enjoying putting mine together for Civita.
Civita iconography can roughly be divided into three categories—religious, historical, and vernacular—the latter spanning many time periods. What is most interesting to me about this visual language is how each of these three very distinct layers mix. Not surprisingly, this is a recurring theme here in Civita given its amalgam of past incarnations, beginning from its Etruscan beginnings and extending up to today. Having the luxury to spend an extended period of time here looking and learning allows one to begin to perceive the extent of this intermingling in a much more subtle way.
There is also a welcome tendency here to leave well enough alone. Whether this is due to the relatively easy-going lifestyle of the Italians, their innate sense of design, or their tendency to reuse materials (more about that later), the result is that even the simplest of vernacular signs has a natural balance and pleasing composition. Hand-printed signs lettered decades ago hang happily and comfortably beside cantinas and tabacchi. Typography, especially handwritten, is satisfying as well.
Tabacchi are in fact, good examples of vernacular design. In Italy, a tabacchi is where you go for local bus tickets, phone cards and postage stamps. Tabacchi display this sign: a big white “T” on a blue or black background. The text “sali e tabacchi” refers to the two products—salt and tobacco— that these shops sold that were initially controlled by the government. Nice sign, right?
Historical signs carry with them the weight of imagination and memory, making them particularly interesting in cultures like Italy where time reaches back so far into the past. The Etruscans, Civita’s first inhabitants, and the Romans who followed, were both cultures that understood well the power of symbols and used iconography extensively for protection, fertility, wealth, crop germination, death, and birth rituals. In fact, one of the first things the Romans did on their relentless march to conquer the ancient Etruscan cities was to smash their black clay wear which was heavily decorated with symbols. Symbols common here in Civita include the horse—an archetype that both the Etruscans and Romans associated with honor and spiritual journeys to other worlds—the lion, and the eagle.
Religious iconographic art is sometimes referred to as “windows into heaven” and the Greek work anagogic—literally meaning “leading one upward”—was often used to describing their purpose. Iconography was an integral part of Christian life, despite a great controversy in the seventh and eighth centuries when the Iconoclasts (“icon-smashers”), suspicious of any sacred art that represented human beings or God, demanded the destruction of icons. In addition to the Bishops’ hat and keys, associated with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the pervasive religious icon here in Civita, as in much of the rest of Italy, is the Madonna. Not only is she visually represented everywhere, but her presence is alive in many of the built-in altars and icons on buildings and in Civita’s caves and grottos.
For a palpable look into this iconography “mix” we need look no further than Civita’s main piazza and its beautiful Medieval church, the Chiesa S. Donato. Here, in tangible ways, we can see not only the layering of symbols, but also symbol “borrowing” as well as active incorporation of artifacts from one culture to another.
Rosettes—which some scholars believe derived from the Etruscan paterna or mundus—the symbol of the ever-present life-force—abound as decorative elements. The Etruscan lions and Roman eagle now grace the outer entry of the Porta S. Maria, placed there in the 1500s to commemorate Civita’s triumph over a nearby city-state. Roman sarcophagi, frieze fragments, and corbels are set into the lower outer walls of the church and the nearby bell tower.
Enter the church and you will see a holy water font made from two ancient Romans Corinthian capitals turned upside down. When Civita celebrates its festas in the piazza,the Medieval symbols depicting the town’s four contrade, or neighborhoods (the Market, the Bridge, the Caisson, and the Prison) are unfurled and live on. Going back even further, the physical divisions of these four contrade correspond closely to the Etruscan layout of the ideal city, a circle divided into four areas, favorable and unfavorable.
Coming from a young country, this concept of flow and continuity in history is striking. We try hard to understand it, but we may never fully absorb its effect. Michael Adams in his book Umbria, writes: “To the Italian…acceptance of the past is natural and effortless. For him, the centuries merge more easily than for the rest of us, partly because he lives (in Umbria and especially in Civita) surrounded by so many of the physical symbols of the past, but even more because here the essential thread has never been broken…with no Reformation, no French Revolution, lies like a caesura across the line of his history. The Romans (and Etruscans) are his ancestors, as they are not ours, and all that lies between, all the troubled history of two thousand years, has been assimilated, unified, and transmuted into a culture singularly free of contradiction.”
For visitors in any context, doors hold special significance. Here in Civita, since I am most certainly a visitor, I’ve found myself taking a particular interest in them, although I am hardly alone in this respect.
Here in the Civita Institute’s Sala Grande there are years of archived materials from the University of Washington’s Italian Hilltowns Program, which was based here in Civita di Bagnoregio and conducted for many years by Astra Zarina, one of the co-founders of the University’s Rome Center. After spending several hours browsing through the materials, it became obvious that doors and gates (and windows) occupy a good portion of the students’ study, but with a noticeable difference in focus.
Student projects tended to document architectural styles, details, age, and construction materials. My interests lie more along the lines of discovering and describing the enormous variety of doors here in Civita, every one of which seems to have its own particular beauty that it carries along with its long, imagined history. Many in fact are wonderful examples of palimpsests, something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. And then, there is their meaning.
The English word “portal” is, in fact, derived from the Latin portalis or Italian porta which means “door” or “gate.” Doors and doorways have been symbolic across cultures for as long as history has been recorded. A door is, of course, both an entrance and an exit, so it has been associated with portals and passageways on many levels throughout history. Doors are closely related to gates and thresholds because the three share some very similar symbolic features and sometimes work together to create passage.
Doors were first seen in recorded history on paintings inside Egyptian tombs. The ancient Romans had advanced architectural elements and were known to have used single, double, sliding, and folding doors. Fun fact: the Roman god Janus is the god of doors and doorways (which makes him, naturally, the god of beginnings, endings, and transitions.) Doors still continue to symbolize all of these elements today.
First and foremost, a door is an entrance. On a literal level, this will usually lead to the inside of something (a house, building, or other structure). But on a metaphorical level, a door can become an entrance to nearly anything, although in ancient art it is most commonly used to symbolize the entrance to another world. On a personal level, a door might symbolize whether you are an intimate or an outsider.
The other common symbolism for doors, and one that particularly interests me, is transitions. At the simplest level, a door or doorway symbolizes the transition and passageway from one place to another, or can symbolize the passage from one world to another in religion, mythology, and literature. But a deeper meaning arises when doors, gates, and passageways serve as symbolic transitions for individuals experiencing change. Most of us have a memory of taking a deep breath before crossing some kind of threshold, be it to an interview, a meeting with a teacher or mentor, or a dining room filled with happy, laughing people, none of whom we know.
Doors are associated with privacy, control, and protection much more than a welcoming, open-view gate. Often a doorway provides little view to the other side when closed. And when open, we generally take far less notice of them.
Taking that step across a doorway also means you’ve crossed a threshold and thresholds are typically boundaries or points at which two places (or cultures or experiences) meet. It is where two worlds come together and provide the traveler a point of passage. Crossing the threshold means taking chances and leaving the past behind. All appropriate musings for a visitor in Civita, and rich mapping material.
Here in Civita, as my second week begins, I’ve been thinking about the many ways we “map” our world. There is a story I heard once about the American astronauts, who when they first landed on the moon, named some of the craters after their wives. I suppose when we are far from home, there is a need to feel reassured by what is near and dear.
As users, we assign great ambitions to maps. Implicitly, we trust them to make sense of the world, reveal things that are invisible to the eye. But often, they do so in a coded language, so much so that much still remains invisible to many who do not know how to analyze the data.
In traditional societies, there was no need for maps. Words and memories built history, and what was “known” was transmitted from memory to memory. But yet, there seems to be this need we have to define the areas we explore and inhabit, to mark our territory, to organize it and often, change it.
Edward Tufte, the professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University who is noted for his writings on information design and data visualization, says there are only two industries where the consumer is commonly referred to as a “user”—illegal drugs and the computer industry.
Tufte’s books, The Quantitative Display of Information and Envisioning Information are classic reads for graphic designers. His most recent book, Beautiful Evidence, sets out to explode the myth that there are pre-specified ways of displaying particular information. Instead, Tufte believes that the content should dictate the form, a concept not all that different from the “form follows function” principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. His thesis is that the information doesn’t care what is done to it or how it is displayed. Do whatever it takes. Adapt as you analyze. Link it to the content.
Here’s an excerpt from the book’s introduction:
“A colleague of Galileo, Federico Cesis, wrote that Galileo’s 38 hand drawn images of sunspots ‘delight both by the wonder of the spectacle and the accuracy of expression.’ That is beautiful evidence. Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information. Beautiful Evidence is about how seeing turns into showing.”
My Civita mind map has generated five distinct perspectives that will be the blueprint that guides my project: symbolizing, discovering, describing, navigating, and imagining.
As I explore various ways of translating Civita’s treasure trove of content using these multiples perspectives as the underlying framework, I will keep Tufte’s advice in mind and let content lead the way.
This morning, a little etymology…
The origin of the word “map” dates from the early 16th century, from the medieval Latin mappa mundi, literally ‘sheet of the world.’ The position Civita occupies as one of the most unusual locations in Italy—its almost fantasy-like setting coupled with its history of concerned preservation and multi-layered past makes it rich mapping quarry.
Certainly, Civita is not the sole location where a project like this could take form. Many other locations are rich in history and traditions enough to warrant a similar depiction, but a special place like Civita is more than deserving of the effort. Or perhaps it is more meaningful to say that a project such as this is implicit in a place like Civita. With a myriad of mapping potential, I decided to begin with a Civita mind map as is a graphical way to represent all the possible ideas and concepts I might want to explore.
Mind maps have always been common visual thinking tools in the arts and sciences field but they have recently become all the rage in the education world, since they encourage students to avoid thinking linearly. Essentially, a mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea.
Here’s an early example of a mind map by Walt Disney done in 1953, the original of which can be found in the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
Mind maps are process-oriented, not an end in themselves, even if they do sometimes wind up being fun to look at, like this promotional one by Wendy McNaughton for Dell Computers.
In a mind map, as opposed to traditional note taking, information is deliberately structured in a way that resembles much more closely how your brain actually works. They open you up to new ways of organizing information and they’re more realistic, because most projects aren’t orderly to begin with. Mind maps naturally hook into your right brain, where creativity and intuition can help you. Mostly, they help you get the big picture before getting bogged down in the details. Mind maps force you to avoid the prioritizing that happens almost unconsciously in lists and sequence arrangements. In the process, you might discover something that might have been lost or overlooked had you taken a more left-brain approach by creating a prose version of the same information.
There’s only one key to making a mind map: you need to let go of the idea of what it “should” look like and allow yourself to explore implicit rather than explicit connections.
So—on to my own mind map of Civita. I’m looking forward to what the exercise may uncover that might have otherwise slipped past unnoticed.
After traveling by car, plane, bus, plane, bus, train, bus, and walking, I have arrived in Civita di Bagnoregio for my two-month fellowship sponsored by NIAUSI, the Northwest Insitute of Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy, or as it is referred to here, Istituto Civita with an accent on the first syllable (CHEE-vee-tah). Sorry, Rick Steves.
It’s time to give a little background on why I’m actually here.
Working as a graphic designer for the past twenty-some years, I’ve seen the discipline become an increasingly insistent presence in the daily lives of ordinary people, mostly in the service of selling products. But graphic designers also work to interpret, inform, educate and build community through the exchange of information and ideas. As a design professional working in Seattle and a student of Italian, I was marginally aware of the NIAUSI’s Fellowship Program in Civita but it was only when I became curious to learn more that I decided to propose this project because what I discovered surprised me.
Practicing architects and historians had access to a body of technical analyses about Civita’s built form and history and the continuing record of the important work being carried out in conservation and sustainable development of the tuff towns of Italy. The NIAUSI archives contain a wealth of information and project records since past fellows have contributed much richness and specificity to this dialogue, including Gabriela Denise Frank’s CivitaVeritas which offered a welcome personal perspective.
Yet most of this material did not seem easily accessible to the general public. For the casual but interested traveler (or reader) there seemed little more than enticing but short blurbs by Rick Steves and other travel writers, depicting the area as either a dying town or a study model in preservation.
As a graphic communicator, I wanted more. 500—even 50—years ago, Civita was certainly a vastly different place. How had it changed? What forces, events, and people occurred and layered over time to make Civita the specific place it is today? Each bit I discovered made me want to know more, even as each piece seemed to depict a distinctly different place—a multitude of Civitas. And…perhaps this was the key. Perhaps Civita needed to be pulled apart and examined separately before it could be understood as a unified whole.
Maps are essential tools of interpretation for the graphic designer. Audiences see information before they read it, and often we see instead of reading at all. This makes maps ideal devices for conveying complex information. Not only can maps extend factual content, but the manner in which the information is envisioned and arranged can express an emotional component as well. Usually, most of what we conjure when we think of traditional “maps” depicts conventional reality—freeways not bird migrations; shopping footprints instead of lost buildings. But this narrow view of maps denies their potential—rarely do they tap into our subjective memories.
No two people “see” the same city, even with the exact same map. A city is many worlds in one place, or many maps of the same place. Maps—in essence and intent—present arbitrary selections of information. A series of maps may represent many places in the same way or the same place in *many* ways.
What if a series of maps served as an invitation to look at the richness of a place—in this case Civita—with new eyes, allowing a viewer to enter these worlds on their own terms, alter, add, or plan with them? I decided my project would focus on the latter, creating an “atlas” of sorts— Civita Immaginato—Civita Imagined. The series might serve as a ticket to actual territory, but might also offer an open-ended invitation to go beyond what is mapped on the surface, examining the many layers of meaning, culture, and history in one single place through specific and distinct lenses running the gamut from serious to light-hearted, legendary to humorous.
The objective: a small, modest collection, deeply arbitrary, of one person’s exploration of the history and future of a place. The hope: when viewed together, the maps might hint at the richness and complexity of Civita and its surrounding areas as they have been experienced and altered by both residents and visitors.
As I begin my NIAUSI Fellowship, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity. During the next two months, I know I will be meeting people whose lives, on the surface at least appear to be very different from my own. How difficult will it be to connect, and what, if anything, will serve as that connector? Language? Food? Temperament?
On my way east, I stopped for a few days in Washington, D.C. to help settle our daughter in at American University where she’s beginning her studies in the School of International Service. During the welcome ceremony, one of the speakers cautioned against defining oneself too closely or tightly by any one characteristic (gender, race, religion, nationality, etc) no matter how important you deem it to be in your life. His reasoning was that by identifying too closely to any one signifier you risk the danger of it becoming your only defining quality. Then, he said, it becomes “all about you.”
At the other extreme, of course, is as global travel broadens our lives and way of living, we lose a bit of each of our separate cultural identities along the way. Changing dollars to Euros instead of lire felt like one small but obvious reminder. Then when I landed in Rome, I was struck by how many of the signs were offered in English. Many were in Italian and English but a fair number were English only. In a remote location like Civita I wondered how these cultural and economic pressures to reach out to as many people as possible might play out.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. I opened the New York Times Style magazine to discover this fashion ad for the Italian brand Brunello Cucinelli.
I keep imagining the camera crews knocking over the Italian nonnas on the bridge to get that perfect shot of the supermodels. Maybe there’s more that connects us than we think. Oh, and if anyone can figure out the meaning of the tagline, please let me know what it is.
In a few short weeks, I’ll be beginning my Italian Adventure, traveling to Civita di Bagnoregio and living there for two months as a Fellow of the Northwest Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies in Italy (NIAUSI). If you don’t know about this organization, and you are a designer of any persuasion, you might want to check them out. The organization is a non-profit corporation established in 1981 by academics, students, and professional members of the Pacific Northwest design community and grew out of the University of Washington’s Rome Program, founded by the esteemed educator and scholar Astra Zarina to promote intercultural communication and awareness of design in the built environment through exchange between the Pacific Northwest and Italy.
Today, in addition to the three yearly fellowships they award (including one to an current student or alumnus of the UW Rome program) they serve as a resource and an opportunity for professional growth and individual enrichment for any designer interested in studying cross communication and improving the quality of the built environment. And I’m honored to be the first recipient of the recently renamed Astra Zarina Fellowship.
More about my evolving project to come. For now, suffice it to say that its objective is an unconventional series of graphic maps. With no shortage of landmarks and treasures in Civita and the surrounding region, I hope to share thoughts and sometimes idiosyncratic observations in words and images on history, traditions, culture, people, geology, and food. What better place to undertake this project than in la bella Italia.
A recent visit to our nation’s capital brought many design delights: the museums, the pleasing feel of the Mall, the human scale of the buildings. . . and the delightfully named streets. But after a week of walking and looking, we noticed something unusual—there is no J Street in DC. In all four quadrants, the street that comes after I Street is K Street. What happened to J Street?
A little sleuthing and research brought up one theory: some folks believe that the city’s planner, Pierre L’Enfant, left out J Street as a slight to John Jay, the American statesman and first president of the Continental Congress. Legend has it that L’Enfant hated Jay for his 1794 Jay Treaty, an unpopular agreement that settled some sticky issues between the new Americans and the British, which seemed to favor the British. The French were mad too because as allies during the Revolutionary War, they were now were fighting Great Britain on their own. L’Enfant, as a French-born American, must have been doubly upset.
The only problem to this theory is that L’Enfant’s plan was finalized in early 1792, and the Jay Treaty didn’t happen until 1794. Another myth proposes that John Jay stole Pierre L’Enfant’s wife or girlfriend, but that also falls apart when you learn that Pierre L’Enfant was gay. So there’s really no truth about the omission of J Street as a slight to John Jay.
So…back to why all the quadrants skip from I Street to K Street. The answer appears to be typographic! Back then, “I” and “J” looked very similar when written and were largely interchangeable, so there would have been major issues having two streets named the same. So J was left out, along with X, Y, and Z Streets.
In fact, our nation’s capital is a typographic hotbed. The whole network of east-west streets in the District follows an alphabetical pattern. After single letters are exhausted, the streets are named alphabetically with two syllables, then after those, it changes to three syllable alphabetical names, and then finally (only in the upper reaches of the NW section) streets are named after plants and flowers alphabetically (Aspen, Butternut, Cedar, etc). Of course there are exceptions, but generally the rule is followed pretty closely.
So there you go, the real reason why there’s no J Street is the solution to a design issue.