Non-glamorous Trip to Italy is Enriching for Project Manager

Most of us probably think Italy is all about romance – the wine, the food, the language. But Amy Clark, vice president and senior project manager in LEO A DALY’s Washington, DC, office, recently took a trip to Italy that showcased the non-romantic side of the country. And she loved it.

Not only did she travel in a nine-person van - chock full of nine people - across Northern Italy, but she spent time in factories really watching how design products are made.

The event – which stretched from Milan to Venice - was one of a handful hosted annually by Design Diffusion, a European magazine, to expose designers to the breadth and quality of Italian products.

“It’s one thing for a salesperson to show you the finished materials, but it’s another to see them being made,” Amy said.

This tour included eight other design professionals from the United States, including Amy’s peers from HOK; SmithGroup JJR; Burdge and Associates Architects; Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; and Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture. Amy was invited by a former colleague.

The group visited four manufacturers – Iris Ceramica, a ceramic tile producer; Mosaico+, a glass mosaic company; Valcucine, a high-end kitchen cabinet manufacturer; and Kartell, which fabricates premium plastic design pieces, including Philippe Starck’s Ghost Chair.

Family-Run Companies Passionate about their Products

Amy was struck by the passion and commitment of the manufacturers. Most were owned by the second or third generation of families. All produced materials of stupendous quality.

“It was a great opportunity to see the facilities where these products are made and understand how they’re made,” Amy said. “I never would have been able to guess how this ceramic tile is made. They showed us the purified materials they bring in; we saw it being dried and put the kiln. It gives me a better understanding of the product and what it can be used for. As an architect, it’s helpful to understand how something is made. It makes you understand when you can ask for a custom product, and just what you’re really asking for. And meeting the people making the product gives you a ‘warm fuzzy’ more than anything.”

Amy was especially impressed by the size of the tiles and their flexibility of use for flooring, walls and ceilings and for indoor or outdoor use. The large-format tiles – some 3 meters by 1.5 meters (or almost 10 feet by 5 feet) – are only a quarter inch thick. (See photo above.)

When the look of marble is desired but out of budget, the tile will replicate the look but cost less both to purchase and ship – and will provide for easier installation.

That manufacturer, GranitiFiandre (part of the Iris Group) will begin production of these “max” panels in Crossville, Tennessee, starting in 2017.

Kartell, Amy said, has such an advanced and precise manufacturing process that there appear to be no seams in its plastic furniture and other design pieces.

“They have perfected the temperature and timing so you cannot see or feel the mold seam,” she said. “Once that is pointed out, you begin to understand the precision involved.”

Expanding our Specification Palette

Amy said that her greatest take-away from the trip is having a wider palette of materials to specify on projects at LEO A DALY.

And of course, experiencing the non-romantic side of Italy fascinated her.

“We tend to go to Venice and Florence and we look at art and old buildings,” she said. “This trip, we saw where people work and what they do in the factories. We met some real Italians.”

But don’t be concerned that Amy spent the whole time roughing it on this trip in a cramped van and in factories. She did have some fabulous dinners (and she’s pretty sure she owes a few of her travel companions some money for them) and the group spent part of a day at the Prada Foundation Museum in Milan.

Learn more about Amy’s experience by watching Design Diffusion’s interview with her. While you’re there, check out her travel companions’ interviews, too.