Walk down Via Crespi in Milan and you’ll find, at first, an unremarkable Italian street scene in 2018. A bar, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a newspaper stand, a church, a barbershop, a food market, an osteria, a convenience store, an Internet café. But look again, and certain curiosities  come into focus. The Internet café provides advice and bureaucratic services to asylum seekers and refugees. The bar is the first gay bar in the neighbourhood. In the convenience store, The hardware store displays a collection of baseball caps, not for sale.

Via Crespi can teach us two things about design. On one hand, it can be boiled down to the act of exchange. For €1, I can get a coffee or a black-and-white print; for €5, I can get a magazine or some snacks; for €10, I can get an aperitivo or a set of drill bits; for €20, I can get a haircut or a three-course lunch. These transactions are a kind of grammar for how we relate to one another, a basic protocol that give us a hint of our place and power in a local, national, and global system of money and goods and services. But the act of exchange is also the scaffolding for a society at play, constantly unfolding beneath our feet and before our eyes. The plate of pasta, the coffee, the newspaper — these are simply the building blocks upon which the real design — that of inimitable identity, interwoven community, and ad hoc innovation — take place.

Via Crespi shows us that design is not about the lowest common denominator of commodities, nor about the opportunism of “added value” and the service economy. Design is something that cannot simply be commodified and sold. Design is what spills out around the edges of the market, what exceeds its basic arithmetic, what cannot be explained by graphs of supply and demand. Design is practiced along a spectrum, from the banal to the avant-garde, from the amateur to the professional, from the market stall to the performing stage. Design has been there all along — we just needed the right perspective.

During the 2018 Salone del Mobile, the Design Academy Eindhoven presents NOT FOR SALE, a street-long installation that looks at the intricate relationship between design and everyday life — the ways it is inextricably tied to the public and commercial sphere, and the way it plays with that relationship and upends our expectations. One graduate from each of the 8 bachelor’s departments and 4 master’s departments will create a new project in relationship to the personalities, opportunities, and stories along Via Crespi.

By Tamar Shafrir and Joseph Grima
17–22 April 2014
Milan, Italy