City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.


Events can be useful for focusing attention, but also quick repositioning. We did three major things this last year: one was the Roberto Saviano public lecture, which I've written about previously but it remains one of the strongest things we've done so far.

We'll look to do a similarly big, similarly open event again. Saviano was also a big team-building exercise, involving many bits of Fabrica pulling together at the same time, as well as ensuring that Fabrica was aligned to progressive elements within Italy. Roberto Saviano was incredibly generous with his time and attention during his visit, and we're delighted that he said that he thought Fabrica could be "part of a renaissance of ideas within Italy." I'd like that very much.


Huge thanks to Enrico Bossan, the lead of our "Slow Journalism" studio, who spent months organising this with Saviano and Feltrinelli, his publishers, and also to Angela Quintavalle, for her sterling efforts on the event too.

The second major event was Sam Baron's studio at Salone del Mobile in Milano, which is one of the design industry's major events—perhaps still the major one. I previously talked about the exhibition, but I also want to mention a less well-covered, invitation-only event that Sam, Marta and team put together, to great acclaim from those who experienced it.

This was dinner on a tram, trundling through the streets of Milan one evening. We (Fabrica) hired the old tram. Sam's team selected the chef, who cooked and served on-board. We designed the crockery (and each guest got sent some bespoke crockery afterwards, as a memento.) We curated the guests (I was lucky enough to be seated with all-stars such as Paola Antonelli, Gillian Crampton-Smith, Justin McGuirk, Joseph Grima, Beatrice Gallilee etc but both carriages of the tram were full of interesting and interested people.) Fabrica even supplied the music, with our sound studio's Jhon Montaya playing violin. And Sam's team—especially Mariana and Caterina—designed the stationery of course, with a menu peppered with questions and quotes, intended to subtly convey the idea of design as being about questions, about dialogue.

On board the tram, around Milan

On board the tram

Amidst the chaos, noise and hubris of Salone, this delicately orchestrated experience was generally thought to be one of the highlights, by those that saw it. It served as a subtle complement the show at Villa Necchi, whose quiet grace was a welcome reprieve from Salone for most visitors. Thanks to Sam and team, and again Angela Quintavalle.

(If that was the second major event, I would also add in number two-and-a-half, for a self-initiated Fabricanti project, Unofficial Report, which visits, integrates into, evokes and documents major creative festivals—such as Salone, Art Basel and London Design Week. It's a form of guerilla journalism in situ, with a slightly different format each time. Congrats to the team of quite a few Fabricanti who pulled this off, with barely any funding.

(Equally, Sam's studio led another major event, at the Lisbon Architecture Triennal, as part of The Institute Effect show. More on this here.)

But the third set of events were perhaps more about developing our broader practice at Fabrica, and that is our lectures and workshops series. When I got to Fabrica we were doing one lecture per month, and around three workshops per year, mainly around a particular theme of socially-conscious design. I thought we could find budget and time to increase the number of lectures significantly.

So we've been doing a lecture every 7-10 days or so, and we'll probably manage five workshops this year. I also opened up the process for selecting lectures to the staff and researchers, and the subject matter has broadened too as a result. I've also used it to "curate" practice and thinking a bit too, to some extent, ensuring that elements I thought we needed to absorb—more code, more interaction, more urbanism, a touch of strategic design—would come in too. (We use a long-list of prospective speakers on Basecamp to collate the possible speakers.)

I see these events as "experts as acupuncture": an injection of external stimulus into the working life of Fabrica. In this sense, I see them as a formal part of our pedagogical approach.

An example recent lecture by Tomas Libertiny.

There was also a backlog of videos to get online, so we cleared that up and ensured that the video production was tighter, quicker (we simplified the idents, credits and editing generally, just drawing from web video idioms.) So we now usually get the lecture up within a day or two, building a series. We have the skills, equipment and experience in-house, after all, thanks to Ries Straver, Alessandro Favaron and team. Again, this documentation is incredibly important, and actually develops a new channel for us too. As I said before, my aspiration for that is "Like TED but good."

Before Christmas, we have another broad set of great speakers emerging, so watch that space.

We are also using the workshop series in a focused way—either around generating projects, as with James Bridle, BERG and a certain large software corporation, or in terms of doing projects. In the latter case, we're hoping to run at least two workshops before Christmas where we create things (objects, systems, tools) that Fabrica needs. We bring in workshop leaders, and their approaches, to help us do this; we learn together, and then we build ourselves. We are then building capacity such that we can extend, adapt and develop things once the facilitators have (usually grudgingly) left the building.

These workshops are working really well, as you can tell by the videos of Bridle and BERG (and another to follow, from aforementioned large software company, whose five representatives had to be almost dragged out of the building, in order they catch their flights in time. They were so impressed by what are focused, multi-disciplinary teams of Fabricanti could do in two days, and nearly hired them on the spot.)

Create events that differentiate or reposition the organisation, its people, its thinking.
Use lectures as "acupunctures" of expertise, perspective and experience.
Lecture series can curate conversations internally.
Use workshops to create projects, build capacity or build spaces & services we need.


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