Flexible stone. New opportunity of stone design.
The course and final exhibition

October 14, 2013


Until a few years ago very limited attention was given to design of products using stone materials.
Excellent examples of stone products, the works of several masters, can certainly be found coming from the nineteen sixties and seventies just as in the nineteen eighties there were significant attempts by some companies in the stone sector to create collections of design products.  
This, however, took place without generating a follow-up capable of drawing at least part of the stone sector into the successful season of Italian design during that period.
Several causes and circumstances can be assigned as reasons for this lack of success by stone design in subsequent decades. Several causes can be assigned as reasons for this failure of stone design to take off. The principal cause was the inability of the production world to conceive and enact effective and innovative technical and linguistic strategies to transform stone into high quality serial products at low prices, able to compete with the performances offered by the lightweight, malleable and easily processed materials that dominated the international market. Stone products, increasingly concentrated in the construction industry and interior décor, seemed unable to attract the best and most creative designers. Not even in the design schools which started being founded during the last part of the century in the country’s main manufacturing and production zones.



Today the situation offers a glimpse of different future paths, thanks to the introduction of modern computerized design tools, such as three-dimensional rendering programs, and to stone processing tools, such as CNC machines, which can create formally and functionally innovative products. New prospects are opening up for almost totally robotized serial production, quite like those used with products made using “more docile” materials.
At first glance this would seem to lead to the disappearance of the handcrafting skills and know-how that, in the past, have given stone those qualities of excellence that made it the privileged material for architecture and interior decor.
But in reality stone, being a material with differentiated qualities and unique characteristics, needs to maintain all of this accompanying millenary culture. There is a need for a broad capacity to comprehend the nature of the material and its different physical-mechanical qualities, to discover its hidden tactile and formal potential and to know the infinite opportunities offered by the practically unlimited global catalogue of types of stone.

New spaces now opening up to stone design require reestablishment of the cognitive and methodological bases behind its development, especially when forming the figure of the  designer.
It is with this objective that the Master’s Degree in Industrial Design, offered by the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Ferrara, chose design with stone materials as its theme for the 2012-2013 academic year.
Flexible Stone, the title we gave to the Course, aimed primarily at giving second year students critical awareness of the use of these materials in contemporary design projects.  At the same time it strove to create a mutual exchange situation between students and companies in this sector to create a virtuous circle, helping both in their professional training and in their growth.
The first phase of training began with a study of the geological, petrographic and merchandising characteristics of the main Italian types of stone.  This was followed by a selection of materials on which to focus research and organize the project.



Petrographic research, flanked by lectures on culture, language and quality experiences in the field of contemporary stone architecture and design, identified a group of types of stone of particular interest for their content, geographic locations and for their accessibility to the students in the Course.
The next phase, with direct contact with the materials, occurred in group visits to several companies in the most important marble basins, geographically proximate to the site of the Faculty.
Visits to quarries and processing plants helped the students become cognizant of the processes for quarrying and transforming these materials.  It also led to direct perceptive experiences with various samples of stone, processed by the students themselves in a specialized training institute.
Several product categories with which to initiate the project were brought into focus by this knowledge and experience.  These ranged from elements of interior-exterior design to architectural components, from everyday objects to modular components and covering systems, etc.  The themes that were chosen, each combined with one type of stone, led the students to investigate different problems tied to the characteristics of individual materials, measuring their compatibility with the design options proposed for them and exploring eventual new esthetic qualities.
At the same time the students followed a course in 3D design using Evolve software by Altair to equip them with the technical ability to generate surfaces and solids that could then be transferred to CNC machines.
Particularly important, during design phases, were contacts between students and quarrying and processing companies aimed at creating prototypes of the objects under study.




It was thanks to these contacts that the final step of the educational experience was achieved:  verifying, by prototyping, the achievement of project goals and the ability to control technical, functional, ergonomic and esthetic aspects.
The willing participation by several companies, particularly interested in testing innovative directions, led to the construction of many prototypes.
The academic process of the Course was completed by initiating two communications experiences.  The first, inside the Faculty, consisted of an exhibition of the projects accompanied by drawings, models and videos to be staged in Palazzo Tassoni during July.
The second will take place at the end of September in the INSIDE Cultural Section of the 48th  Marmomacc at the Veronafiere fairgrounds.  Here the stone prototypes produced by the partner companies will be exhibited, flanked by graphic-video documentation of all the projects in the Course.
It is our hope that this intensive learning experience triggers real interest and generates fruitful bonds between these two worlds – education and production – which need mutual feedback in a sector, that of stone materials, that is exceptionally rich in cultural and economic potential that has yet to be explored and revealed.

back to top print
MD Material Design
ISSN 2239-6063

edited by
Alfonso Acocella