07 May 2019

Knowing how to do, Knowing how to think

    Written by

  • Alessandro Profumo

The first issue of “Civiltà delle macchine” came out in 1953, a publishing project of Finmeccanica which then managing director Giuseppe Luraghi decided to entrust to a poet, essayist and art critic, Leonardo Sinisgalli.

This choice shows the essence of the project: to contaminate the two cultures, the humanities and science, in order to enrich both. Together with you, I would like to read again a few lines from a letter Luraghi wrote to Sinisgalli a year later: «In Italy – and I believe elsewhere too – there exists no publication like this, where we can see a poet looking in amazement at a steam boiler, an engineer enjoying the mechanisms of old bolts, an architect thinking up new alphabets, a mathematician creating electric mice, a child painter depicting fairies and angels in place of machines and men. It is the dangerous game of life seen in an enchanted castle, the beauty of amazement and optimism; numbers turn into magic signs, full of mystery, losing their traditional aridity to take on a new charm, and the figures of steel production, building formulas, problems with exports, budgets, in other words our everyday troubles which make us suffer and curse, in your atmosphere become kind friends, simple and a bit dreamy».

And farther on: «In this fantastic work you have grasped civilisation, telling that Marconi and Picasso, the atomic engine and the first naive abstract depiction by the caveman, one and one billion, all have the same worth». These words consecrated an innovative and intellectually refined approach, stimulating an environment of free encounter between two different yet complementary worlds.

Though in a different context, the reasons for the rebirth of “Civiltà delle Macchine” today are the same as they were 66 years ago: thinking about the relationship between science, technology and man, creating an interdisciplinary meeting place, open to contamination, thus helping the birth of a “digital humanism” where knowing how to do is as important and knowing how to think, in a close dialogue between industry and culture and between technology and creative genius.

I believe this to be even more important today, in an age where high technology occupies a central place, not only in guaranteeing proper operation of the key infrastructures of our social and economic systems, but also in establishing and spreading ideas, providing opportunities never before explored to help knowledge and culture travel among the women and men of the 21st century. Of course, these benefits come along with new questions. We need only think that the global impact of the digital revolution is so pervasive that it even influences politics. And not only – there is a growing perception that new technologies lead to economic growth without creating jobs or, even worse, to concentration of riches in a way never seen before. Nor should we forget that our dependence on the net is growing faster than our ability to make it safe, and this exposes us to further risks and unknowns.

The need to find an answer to such questions is strongly felt in an industrial company like Leonardo. Due to its nature and its historic vocation, our company is indeed the child of that “civilisation of machines” which one not only finds in the period when it was founded – the years of Reconstruction and of the new life of the manufacturing tradition of our country – but has roots deeply embedded in a more ancient genetic code: the craftsmanship dimension of production, tied to the “botteghe” of the Renaissance, forges where ancient and new knowledge were learned and where there were no disciplinary borderlines between technical inventiveness and artistic creation.

In Verrocchio’s bottega, in 15th century Florence, Leonardo, Botticelli, Perugino, Ghirlandaio worked side by side, producing works of art, architecture and engineering, and satisfying the requests of the Renaissance courts of the times, giving life to an extraordinary experience of cultural and scientific renewal.

Nor should we forget that our dependence on the net is growing faster than our ability to make it safe, and this exposes us to further risks and unknowns.

Energizer "Soul", Ronald A. Westerhuis, 2018, Stardust series stainless steel wall sculpture

Energizer "Soul", Ronald A. Westerhuis, 2018, Stardust series stainless steel wall sculpture

Our way of working fits right into this great tradition. Both when transmitting “knowing how to do” – with our laboratories and research centres where neophytes approach the complexity and beauty of what we do – and in technological innovation, born from a meeting of countless different professions, from engineer to designer, from chemist to mathematician and environmental expert.

The thread which ties us to this “tradition of crafts” proceeds in continuous dialogue with our customers in designing and developing the most appropriate solution, just as once happened in relations between the client and the artist: a way of working which puts people at the centre of the process, with their needs and intuitions, until a unique item is created, or if we prefer, a technological masterpiece, where the wisdom of the craftsman joins the specialisation of the technician.

Our constant passion for quality products helps us to relive every day the spirit of “Civiltà delle Macchine”, bringing its message up to date and drawing new vital sap from it for our work and for that of the generations to whom we will one day hand it down, in a fertile and constant mix of creativity of inspiration and rigour of study and technique, able to give shape to the many realisations of human genius.

Therefore, I am sure that this second life of the magazine will be useful for all of us, helping us grow as human beings and as professionals, to enrich the communities in which we live. In the digital era, to pick up the theme of the “civilisation of machines” again is even more necessary and urgent: to handle the complexity of the moment, grasping the opportunities it affords and building a sustainable future together.

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