On September, 2018, Kaunas 2022 has officially become the member of EIDD – “Design for All Europe” network. For the occasion, the executive board of the network visited Kaunas. Not only the international representatives of EIDD held their meeting here, but they also took part in the presentation of “Design for All” workshop that is a part of the Kaunas 2022 programme “Designing Happiness”. Led by Pete Kercher, two groups of students prepared the revival plans for Sugihara House and its neighbourhood. After the presentation, we sat down with Pepetto Di Bucchianico, the network’s Vice-President for Administration and representative of the D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, in Italy, to discuss the ideas behind the “Design for All” concept and its implementation in everyday life.

First of all, could you please reveal us the secret behind the double name of the network: EIDD-Design for All Europe?

EIDD is the acronym of the initial name of the organisation that was focused on dealing with disability issues – the European Institute of “Design for Disability”. I was not a part of the organisation back then, but from what I know, the founders did not take long to change the name to a more challenging one, which is “Design for All Europe”.

What were your steps towards the position of the Vice-President of the network?

I am the president of “Design for All Italy”, which is one of the first organisations on the network. A few years ago, I got in touch with EIDD network as the delegate of our national organisation, so I started working on the European level. Within the network, every two years, we have executive board elections, and it is my second mandate as the Vice-President for Administration.

First and foremost, I am an architect. When doing my PhD in Technological Culture and Design Innovation, I also studied Ergonomics at the Polytechnic of Milan. After completing my studies, I started working at the D’Annunzio University and became a researcher. Quite naturally, I moved my interest from ergonomics: I now call it “traditional ergonomics” – to “Design for All”.

Do you mean that ergonomics in the broader sense of the term does not include the values of design for all?

The main problem with ergonomics is that it always deals with the standard population. During my studies, I realised that we are, fortunately or not, all different, and that, to put it simply, the standard man does not exist. So, I became interested in the human diversity and, very naturally, I moved towards the “Design for All” philosophy, that is, according to the Stockholm Declaration, the design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality. Right now, all my lessons and courses taught are about “Design for All” in different fields. It is a transversal discipline. The secret is to put the individual into the centre of your interest.

You mentioned that Italy was one of the first members of “Design for All Europe”. Would you say your country is also the most successful in implementing the concept?

In EIDD-Design for All Europe, we have 34 members and organisations in 17 countries, and by members, I mean universities, cities, research centres, NGOs, associations of designers, etc. “Design for All” in Italy has the biggest number of members. Unfortunately, I must say that from the practical point of view, it is very difficult to convince the decision makers. From my experience in Europe, I can say that in other countries, decision makers are much more sensible about the issues, for example, when dealing with the elderly. In Italy, the focus of some of the important people is on the present, rather than the future.

Architecture and design objects aside, what are other areas to implement “Design for All”?

“Design for All” involves all human senses and parts of everyday life. For example, a critical topic is signage systems in public spaces. The signs should be understood by everyone, also by children. Talking about children, I am pleased that both teams that presented their visions for Sugihara House thoroughly thought about them, as well as about parents with strollers.

Regardless of the project, the key to its success regarding DfA is talking to the people that are or will be included in the project, most often the neighbours and the community.  They have to be involved from the very early stages, by showing them the very rough initial sketches of your project, be it a square, a bus stop or a big business centre. At first, many will be shy to speak, but invite them for a coffee, tête-à-tête, and, you will see, at the end of the meeting, you will have a lot of insights and opinions.

Could one compare “Design for All” with the concept of the universal design?

It is an ongoing debate. Most of the time these are used as synonyms, and sometimes they actually are. I would say that “Design for All”  is one step above the universal design, because it is also a political process, an inclusive process and not just concerning the design itself.

What do you think about the neighbourhood surrounding the Sugihara House in Kaunas? Is it possible to successfully convert a quiet residential neighbourhood into a touristic area, which is currently the plan?

From what I know and have seen, the neighbourhood is at the moment very private and residential, and the crucial task is to help the residents realise and accept the value and history that are surrounding them. There are too many examples of good projects that have not been recognised by the residents because they did not feel like a part of them.

I can share an example from Brno, Czech Republic, here. In the neighbourhood of Černá Pole, there is the Villa Tugendhat, the building designed by Mies van der Rohe, one of the must-visit objects of the city. On my way there, I did not follow the signs but only asked the residents – all of them were very helpful and the last one also extremely proud that he is living near such a famous building. This is something to strive for, even if, I believe, in the case of Brno, it was as long and maybe not a “Design for All” process.

 

As “Kaunas 2022” is now part of the international network, how can our professionals expect to benefit from it?

If you asked Pete Kercher, I believe he would use the famous phrase: “Do not think what you can get, but what you can give to the network”. Of course, the most significant opportunity that the network provides is the network itself. Just imagine all the people you can meet and exchange ideas with. I am personally involved in the academic subgroup of the network and “Kaunas 2022” is now a part of the “CITInet” – the name stands for Creativity, IT and Innovation network. It’s a new subgroup, and it will also help with business opportunities, ways of working with each other and sharing competencies. Kaunas, for example, has an increasing competence in organising international events!

Can “Design for All” help get funding for projects?

Not directly, but, of course, “Design for All” is an excellent opportunity to make innovations. “Design for All” is one of the main topics in the European Commission, which means there are a lot of grants and other funding options available, if you concentrate on one of the crucial issues, like, for example, the ageing society. From my point of view, it is wiser to look for a grant first, and finalise your project afterwards. This is what I would have suggested to the students working with the case of the Sugihara House. Of course, young people are always full of ideas. But, you know what, the solution will always come, if you are a professional. It is more important to work with the challenges first – not problems, as we do not use the word ‘problem’. In fact, if a designer is not able to come up with a solution to a challenge, that is the real problem!