Nicola Di Battista

Leaving Domus

In his last editorial as editor of Domus, Nicola Di Battista leaves his readers and reflects on the future of printed magazines. They should be capable of making known the projects, products and thoughts – he writes. And, more importantly, to tell the stories behind them.

Yes, dear Domus reader, today is a particular day for me because I am about to write my last editorial as editor of this magazine. My thoughts turn straight back to my first editorial, written a few years ago, and suddenly, as if by magic, all the other editorials vanish.

I don’t understand what’s happening but I feel as if I’m re-experiencing the same frenzy and uneasiness of those now distant days. The time passed since then magically melts away and I am worried by the idea that I must reckon, now, with what I said in that first editorial and only with that.

I feel the urgent necessity to do so and this overrides and erases all my other thoughts. My main concern, at the outset of this exciting adventure, was understanding what my Domus would be like, how the new Domus would be configured and in what ways it would differ from the ones before it. In a word: how would I change Domus. For a while, I have to say, I cultivated this “presumption” to change Domus and only now do I realise instead that Domus changed me more than the other way round.

As a matter of fact, this presumption – arising probably from the need for a change due to the changing editorship – never quite convinced me. It never quite became my chief preoccupation at that time. For I had started with the immediately clear assumption that the task I was about to take up would concern not only me and my staff but the whole long story of the magazine. Domus was not just about us; it was a collective story and a story that belonged to us all, a story I had no desire to change but, at the most, to continue.

Now I can say that this firm conviction that I was dealing with such special contents – the fruit of incredible efforts, deep commitment and passion, such expertise – achieved by so many people over the years was what shaped everything else. Not for one moment did I think that the great collective story of Domus might be an obstacle, a burden or a constraint on my endeavour. Instead, I saw all this as a spur to do better and an unavoidable responsibility to be reckoned with.

It is incredible how all this now seems much clearer than it did back then. Basically, when I come to think of it, changing Domus was not what I had in mind. So the presumption I have mentioned lasted a very short while and quickly gave way to the real issue I felt I had to tackle, which was “what do I do?” Having dropped the idea of change for change’s sake, the new for new’s sake and using the word change as a superstitious way of avoiding the real issue, that  “what do I do” remained.

So, dear readers, there was nothing to do but go back to you: the readers of Domus. After all, until I took up the editorship of the magazine I too had been one of you, a reader – as I shall now become again – of Domus and more. So, this going back to you was congenial to me. At that moment, however, what had seemed very easy to say had, paradoxically, become incredibly difficult to achieve. What does going back to the magazine’s readers mean? Not, certainly, publishing what they expect to be published or, at least, not just that. Nor, however, talking to them about everything. The real challenge was how to tackle the issue of our times, that of information. There can be no denying that, with regard to this topic, our epoch has brought about a Copernican revolution. Information, today, has become global and all-embracing, infinite and obsessive but, if we look closely, this is only apparently true. For, in the end and paradoxically, we realise that we are no better informed than we were before. Indeed, as we well know, our problem as human beings is only how to get what we need when we need it: information commensurate to our physical and mental capacities. True, these are notably increased today by technological innovation but with limitations. So, for us to know that an infinite mass of information is available and within such easy reach is a source only of frustration and anxiety, not of wellbeing. Because at the same time we know that whatever we manage to accomplish in our lifetime will be only a tiny part of it whereas we will never know anything about all the rest, which will remain obscure and beyond our knowledge.

I well remember how, only a few years ago, the new ideology of the Internet swung into our lives with the alluring slogan that everything could be found on the Web and that, from then on, everything would be at our fingertips. This was indeed true, indisputably. It was not a lie. The trouble was that we came to realise, at our own expense, that everything was there but so was the opposite of everything. Without any distinction except that dictated by the various algorithms that make it easier or harder to find this or that. That is another story.

We are not interested in knowing everything or having everything. Instead, we would like to know and have what is of interest to us. What we actually need at a given time and only that. Nothing else.

From this point of view the bubble created by hyper-information becomes clear only when we start looking for something particular and cannot find it. We are not interested in “everything” even if it really existed. We certainly do not believe it does. “Everything” has nothing to do with our lives as human beings. “Everything” is a dimension completely unsuited to humanity, invented to subject people and inhibit them not to free them.

I imagined a magazine that would, indeed, be capable of showing and making known the projects, products and thoughts of our times. More importantly, I pictured it as telling the stories that make those things possible, the stories behind them.

On these terms, whereas  in recent years the debate around us has been all about whether or not it still makes sense to produce printed magazines or whether everything should by now be on the Internet. To tell the truth, this argument has never really enthused me. I decided that the best thing was to think of our readers and nothing else. So, I did that. As a reader myself, I asked myself: what am I missing? What do I need? What would I like to have that I cannot find today in publishers dealing with our particular trade and its disciplines? To answer these questions, I imagined a magazine that would, indeed, be capable of showing and making known the projects, products and thoughts of our times. More importantly, I pictured it as telling the stories that make those things possible, the stories behind them. I realised we had long been bereft of these stories and were badly in need of them. That is why I started looking for them and telling them, always in the spirit of truth, for what they really were. Nothing more than that but nothing less either. With meticulous perseverance, passion and dedication, I put all of our expertise and capacity to listen at the service of these stories and not the opposite.

So, we have told stories of architects, designers, artists and graphic designers, entrepreneurs, gallery owners, students and more, without exceptions or preconceptions. My sole aim has been to find out what lay hidden behind the projects that shape our present times. So – and none more than me – we encountered pleasant surprises, new friends and fellow-travellers. We also received unexpected gifts, such as that given to us by Achillina Bo and an idea of hers became the title of a small but fine exhibition, held to celebrate the centenary of her birth, stating: “All I wanted was a story.” Precisely this unfulfilled wish had driven the young Achillina to leave Milan, the city she lived and worked in, and Italy too, to settle in Brazil pursuing the story she had not found here.

I, too, like her, have experienced the same desire and satisfied it by beginning to reveal some of these stories and tell them to our readers. At first, there were just a few but then they steadily grew and became a considerable number. Today, I are sure, there are plenty more out there within reach, just waiting to be told.

Little by little, something of a community was formed. Transverse and eclectic, composite and unexpected, it is a quasi-community of diverse people who are, at times, far closer to one another than they might have imagined. So, my main purpose became that of finding concrete stories and telling them to our readers. For this reason, news as such has not been pivotal to our interests except when its content has supported the stories, the true stories, of real people who through their work, professions, thoughts and products have helped shape today’s world.

I learnt that behind our thoughts, actions and products – now more and more alike worldwide – are people of flesh and blood. Each different from the next and never the same as another. It is precisely these people who make the difference. It is they who prevent that sameness and today, with hindsight, I can say that the work done on the pages of this Domus represents a decisive action in defence of humankind.

There is, today, a need to work against the closed and sectarian client-city and towards the human, open and hospitable city. So as to be designing, once again, for humanity rather than for clients.

What I had decided, a priori, in that first editorial way back in September 2013 was that my main and pressing priority was to construct a new angle on architecture. I can say that I have achieved that goal. It has been achieved by adopting a precise field that would put humanity back at the centre of its interests as too the communities where those human beings live and work. This objective, I believe, is still the most important. It must be pursued with tenacity and perseverance, even though many things have changed since then.

There is, today, a need to work against the closed and sectarian client-city and towards the human, open and hospitable city. So as to be designing, once again, for humanity rather than for clients. The human city has for me, then and now, constituted a precise choice, one aimed from the outset, with no possibility of misunderstanding, at clarifying what would be the core interest of our magazine. To this day, I feel I can assert the soundness of that choice which will continue to steer my thinking in the future. By simply substituting the words “of our magazine” with the words “of our lives” I realise that the perspective can actually broaden from the concept of humanity to that of  “community”.

I see the human city principally as a potential and viable alternative to the client-city which is, alas, spreading across the world today as the sole way of living on this earth. For this reason, my appeal is directed at everybody, all those who share the desire to build a better world. It is possible.

So, those words “it is possible”, written in that now distant September 2013, were in reality an act of faith. They expressed a hope, which I would like to have fulfilled straightaway. I had been looking, a priori, for that desire albeit knowing that, at that time, the conditions were not right for the construction of a better world, to be seen as paramount to the interests of populations. Under the conditions prevalent at that time, it was not possible to bring about genuine change; all that could be done was to prepare whatever might make it possible and to pursue the task without a working final objective but something similar to attempted change. At that time, the only job that could be done was to reach for potential change while deferring its actual fulfilment to better times.

This time, ‘Now we can’ is a reality, within grasp. It is no longer a utopia or a dreamed and unattainable wish.

Today, everything has changed. There is bitter disappointment with what is happening in our world today and it is quite widely shared and generalised. It is disappointment that drives and obliges me to note how badly we have inhabited it. It forces us to imagine alternatives to what has been done to date; alternatives suited to the times, resources, needs and desires of the human beings living now. For these same reasons, I was able to entitle my last two editorials “Towards a cultural movement” and “Now we can”, respectively.

This time, “Now we can” is a reality, within grasp. It is no longer a utopia or a dreamed and unattainable wish. The conditions today are favourable for this change, for which we have waited too long. Dissatisfied with what has been done in the recent past in terms of inhabiting places, people are better disposed to listen today and this has once again enabled them to be heard if they have something to say.

Clearly, I do not think all this will happen by itself because many voices will have to be heard. Everything and its opposite will be voiced but this is an outstanding opportunity that we cannot afford to waste. Otherwise our civilisation and collective living will inexorably suffer.

For this reason, I have proposed and continue to propose working today on the urgent need to build a broad cultural movement, capable of holding people together regardless of their jobs, social levels and miscellaneous ideologies so as to be able, together, to express our steadfast will to imagine and construct a better world than today’s.

I realise only now that this editorial has sped by like all the others and that we have come to our final farewells.

I realise only now that this editorial has sped by like all the others and that we have come to our final farewells. I would like to say “arrivederci” but this time it is different. For certain, I cannot say I am not sorry to leave Domus to which I have devoted loving care and unlimited commitment, first in the early 1990s and now over these last four years. This time I are deeply aware of having laid the foundations for the full expression of a cultural project. The work is done, the time has been sufficient and the results are good, judging by the many positive comments received.

All this is gratifying and make me happy. For these same reasons, “we will seek to follow this undertaking with a new task, so as to make it clear to all that we still believe in the usefulness of an ideal battle on the field of architecture”. Every cultural project which has elements of concreteness anchored in its own times will create a world that brings people together and this process produces material destined to evolve and be organised in a different form.

What I have done in these years would not have been possible without the unconditional support of our publisher, Ms Mazzocchi, who has once again placed her trust in us in these difficult years, encouraging and spurring us on, always with a smile. My deepest and most sincere gratitude also goes to the members of our college of masters and so I am truly thankful to my friends David, Eduardo, Hans, Kenneth and Werner. They have given me strength and I hope I have not disappointed them. I also wish to thank Centro Studi Domus which has backed me and put up with me.

Finally, special thanks to everybody in the editorial department, including the technical office, who have patiently endeavoured to understand my way of working, supporting and putting it into practice in the best possible way.

With my warmest thanks to everybody. ndb

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