Multiculturalism and Pluri-disciplinarity for the Educational and Training Paths of Designing

Two clarifications, three myths, six challenges

Filippo Angelucci, Gabriele d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara, Department of Architecture, Italy

These brief notes point out some priority themes to face the new challenges of university training in the designing fields (architecture, engineering, design) and, at the same time, respond to the emerging requests of the community and the sectors of human habitat design, which are now totally globalized and characterized by continuous changes of target and organizational structures.

The possible disconnection with the job’s world does not only concern the non-compliance of educational courses with the request for new skills, competences, and capabilities that can be immediately used. The challenge is much wider because it concerns the passage towards a multicultural idea of designing/planning activity and a necessary pluri-disciplinary articulation of the training paths.

It is therefore necessary to focus on some clarifications, myths, and challenges starting from the awareness that the effectiveness of the bachelor's and master's courses cannot be achieved through the separation of three inseparable aspects. The first aspect regards the evolution of higher university knowledge in times of globalization, emergencies (economic, social, health), and increasingly high complexity regimes. The second aspect is related to the real request for designing skills and its distortions emerging from the building sector that is historically characterized by long incubation of the innovation processes. The third aspect concerns the development trajectories of applied knowledge and skills with their cultural and disciplinary resistances that inhibit the innovative potential of universities.

Two necessary clarifications about the evolution of higher knowledge
Less projects, more experiences with different degrees of design complexity

Two clarifications are necessary concerning the first aspect. Globalization has produced exchange of knowledge, contamination between cultures, and hybridizations through traditional and innovative technical knowledge (Ceruti and Bellusci, 2020). This condition requires a transition from the contemporary articulation focused on disciplinary specificities (often crystallized on intra-disciplinary segmentations) towards a more complex re-articulation that finally opens to a dialogue between disciplines and cultures (Morin, 1999) concerning the experience of designing.
- The idea of multiculturalism does not mean bringing the designing training back to the provision of generalist knowledge or standardized principles for all seasons, nor can it be reduced to the aggregation of ultra-specialized technical notions. The challenge of multiculturalism requests the ability to reconnect scientific technical and humanistic cultures within a framework of "pertinent" knowledge between global and local dimensions that are needed to address the multiple complexities of designing the human habitat and the built environment.
- The overcome of the traditional disciplinary and intra-disciplinary closures “inside the project” cannot be faced with the sum of multiple disciplinary heterogeneities (multi-disciplinarity) neither by the formula of temporary exchange between a main discipline and a fragmented compendium of ancillary disciplines (inter-disciplinarity). A possible qualitative leap is to strive towards the construction of a multiple vision of disciplines to get, update, expand, and customize knowledge and skills useful for setting/solving problems that are in continuous evolution.

Three myths to unhinge to answer the real request for designing skills
Less individuality, more real and collegial design experiences

It may be useful to highlight mythical figures to be undermined in the redefinition of training courses to avoid a reductive interpretation of the correspondence to the Dublin descriptors by focusing exclusively on “individual doing” and on segments of maximum specialization. The challenges of designing inside the complex systems require training methods focused on both theoretical dimensions of the project practice (Emmitt, 2002) and the choral and participatory dimensions of the design experience with which students design together and learn from errors (Ratti, 2014).
-The first myth concerns the interpretation of the higher education exclusively in professional terms at the service of the variable request for sectorial figures, according to the fluctuating trends of the job’s world. This myth is based on the pursuit of seasonal trends emerging from the market and underlies the risk of a general cognitive impoverishment and downgrading of the university courses.
-The second myth is related to the idealization of the job’s market as the only accredited selector of the knowledge, skills, and competences of graduates. This myth risks to nullify the role of incubator/innovation engine that universities can play with the integration of first, second and third missions, also through experimental training courses co-designed and coordinated with institutional and corporate actors, both public and private.
- The third myth is referred to the model of individual liberal professions as the only job opportunity. Considering the crisis of professional activities during the transition to globalized and post-industrial economies, this reference excludes the possibility to train figures with different degrees of design skills and competences able to coordinate and/or work in pluri-disciplinary teams, complex institutional and corporate bodies.

Six challenges for developing applied knowledge and skills
Less technicians, more experts in the multiplicity of designing

The responses to requests from the job’s world, institutions, and companies call universities to face at least six challenges in articulating training courses innovative and pertinent with the real needs of society. The main goal of the bachelor’s/master's courses is not the re-proposition of the idea of the generalist, specialist or technician designer. It is necessary to train experts who have the ability to work according to systemic logic (Di Battista et al., 2006), to manage innovations in the different phases of the design/construction process (Ferracuti, 1990) towards the continuous improvement of habitat quality.

About the bachelor’s courses
1. Avoid the reduction of the bachelor's degree (three-year courses) to the acquisition of sectorial knowledge within specific professionalization fields, replacing or continuing school education. It is important to recover the bachelor’s degree as a training process for figures that will be able to work with project-support roles in building activities, testing, cost evaluation, safety-monitoring, development of executive elaborations.
2. Reduce the segmentation of the bachelor's degree within the acquisition of technical skills extrapolated from the current trends that risk to change in short times. It is necessary to reshape the three-year training courses on figures that can work to support the competitiveness of the entrepreneurship in the production processes, maintenance and increase of the real estate value, product performance monitoring, harmonization of workflows, digitalization for the project and business services.
3. Limit the emphasis on the bachelor's degree as a junior professional figure in competition or as an alternative to the master's degree. On the other hand, it may be useful to re-evaluate the meaning of the three-year course to train figures who will be able to work in support of the design innovation process of public and private institutions, for the communication of the project, final user services, maintenance of real estate, quality certifications.

About the master's courses
4. Limit the trend towards the exclusively enabling definition of the master's degrees only for professional and/or school teaching purposes. It could be useful to train towards the definition of expert figure capable of manage the complexities of the design process in its various forms (e.g., as coordinator, director, consultant, facilitator). Even post-graduate training courses (specializations, PhD) should aim at perfecting expert skills and abilities that can be spent in the working fields and not only for the university careers.
5. Avoid the reduction of the master’s graduated to a generalist “expert” designer or an ultra- specialized technician that follows the trends coming from the outside as a mere formalizer. It is important to recover the role of the designer as a promoter of innovation in terms of experimental design research, development of new designing scenario and construction visions/concepts, increase in procedural, programming, and administrative performance, experimentation with new practical solutions and co-design.
6. Reduce the training centred on the figure of the freethinker professional/designer. It is necessary to open the master's degree courses also towards a more complex figure of expert designer who know how to work in teams and in support of housing/construction process widespread in design companies, public and private institutions, and associations. Graduates with master's degree will have to get pluri-disciplinary knowledge to exercise their role as “expert doctors” in Architecture, Planning, Landscape, Design, and Civil/Environmental Engineering to manage, harmonize, regulate, and enable innovative process and practices.

Synthetical references
Ceruti, M., Bellusci F. (2020). Abitare la complessità. Mimesis, Milano, I.
Morin, Edgar (1999). La tête bien faite. Seuil, Paris, F.
Ratti, Carlo (2014). Architettura Open Source. Verso una progettazione aperta. Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino, I.
Ferracuti G. (1990). “Intervento” in IV Conferenza Nazionale dell’Area Tecnologica. Editori del Grifo, Montepulciano (SI), pp. 89-90.
Emmitt, S. (2002). Architectural Technology. Blackwell Science, London, UK.
Di Battista, V., Giallocosta, G. and Minati, G. (Eds.) (2006). Architettura e approccio sistemico. Polimetrica, Milano, I.

Filippo Angelucci, Architect, PhD on Environmental Design Researcher on Architectural Technology - SSD ICAR/12 Member of Consiglio Universitario Nazionale (Italian National University Council)
G. d'Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara/Department of Architecture Viale Pindaro, 42 - 65127 Pescara, ITALY
Tel: + Mob. +39.339.52.38.222
e-mail: [email protected]
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