The Black Book: Emilio Ambasz’s University of Design

  • Matthew HoltEmail author
Part of the Design Research Foundations book series (DERF)


In 1972 a two-day symposium entitled “Institutions for a Post-Technological Society—The Universitas Project” was held at MoMA and organised by its then curator of design, Emilio Ambasz. Its vision was nothing less than to establish “a new type of University concerned with the evaluation and design of our man-made milieu.” Three years in the making Ambasz managed to draw in an incredible list of attendees and participants. A number of these were picked out to respond to a provocation written by Ambasz and forwarded to them as a booklet—it was to become known as the “black book.” This chapter will closely examine both the provocation and the responses to it to identify the debate over a nascent philosophy of the artificial and what this may mean for an idea of a new form or approach to knowledge, and therefore of the university. Perhaps it is only now that what was seeded by Ambasz has come to fruition—the possibility of a university of design.


Emilio Ambasz The Universitas project Environmental design Philosophy of the artificial 


  1. Ambasz, E. (1969). The formulation of a design discourse. Perspecta, 12, 57–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambasz, E. (1971). I: The university of design and development. II: Manhattan: Capital of the twentieth century. III: The designs of freedom. Perspecta, 13(14), 359–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ambasz, E. (Ed.). (1972). Italy: The new domestic landscape. Achievements and problems of Italian design. New York and Florence: The Museum of Modern Art and Centro Di. Catalogue.Google Scholar
  4. Ambasz, E. (1993). Interview with Sharon Zane. The Museum of Modern Art oral history program. Accessed 10 Apr 2016.
  5. Ambasz, E. (Conceived and directed). (2006). The universitas project, solutions for a post-technological society. New York: The Museum of Modern Art.Google Scholar
  6. Anker, P. (2010). From Bauhaus to ecohouse: A history of ecological design. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Arendt, H. (1978). The life of the mind. San Diego: Harvest.Google Scholar
  8. Arendt, H. (1998 [1958]). The human condition. 2nd ed. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bach, C. (1999). Making space. Américas, 51(1), 6–15.Google Scholar
  10. Bachelard, G. (1969). The poetics of space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  11. Barthes, R. (1985). The fashion system. Trans. Matthew Ward and Richard Howard. London: Cape.Google Scholar
  12. Baudrillard, J. (1972). Pour une critique de l’économie politique. Paris: Gallimard. English edition: Baudrillard, J. (1981). For a critique of the political economy of the sign. Trans. Charles Levin. Telos Press.Google Scholar
  13. Baudrillard, J. (1996). The system of objects (J. Benedict, Trans.). London: Verso.Google Scholar
  14. Baudrillard, J. (1998). The consumer society. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  15. Bourriaud, N. (2002). Relational aesthetics. Paris: Les presses du réel.Google Scholar
  16. Busbea, L. (2009). Metadesign: Object and environment in France, c. 1970. Design Issues, 24(4), 103–119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carter, P. (2015). Turbulence. Climate change and the design of complexity. Sydney: Puncher & Wattmann.Google Scholar
  18. Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society (2nd ed.). Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Debord, G. (1995). The society of the spectacle. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  20. Deleuze, G. (1992). Postscript on the societies of control. October, 59(Winter), 3–7.Google Scholar
  21. Dorst, K. (2015). Frame innovation. Create new thinking by design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  22. Ellul, J. (1954). La technique ou l’enjeu du siècle. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin. English edition: Ellul, J. (1964). The technological society. Trans. John Wilkinson. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  23. Flusser, V. (1999). The shape of things. A philosophy of design. London: Reaktion Books.Google Scholar
  24. Foucault, M. (1963). Naissance de la clinique. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. English edition: Foucault, M. (1986). The birth of the clinic. An archaeology of medical perception. Trans. A. M. Sheridan. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Frank, S. (2011). IAUS: The institute for architecture and urban studies. An insider’s memoir. Bloomington: AuthorHouse.Google Scholar
  26. Fry, T. (2012). Becoming human by design. London/New York: Berg.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harvey, D. (2006). Spaces of global capitalism: Towards a theory of uneven geographical development. London/New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  28. Holt, M. (2015). Transformation of the aesthetic: Art as participatory design. Design and Culture, 7(2), 143–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ihde, D. (1979). Technics and praxis: a philosophy of technology. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  30. Krippendorff, K. (2006). The semantic turn. A new foundation for design. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  31. Krippendorff, K. (2007). The cybernetics of design and the design of cybernetics. Kybernetes, 36(9/10), 1381–1392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kroes, P. (2012). Technical artefacts: Creations of mind and matter: A philosophy of engineering design. Dordrecht: Springer. Scholar
  33. Lyotard, J-F. (1984). The postmodern condition: A report on knowledge (G. Bennington and B. Massumi, Trans.). Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Margolin, V. (2002). Politics of the artificial: Essays on design and design studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  35. Martin, R. (2004). Environment, c. 1973. Grey Room, 14(Winter), 78–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Nelson, H. G., & Stolterman, E. (2012). The design way. Intentional change in an unpredictable world (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  37. Pangaro, P. (n.d.). Cybernetics—A definition. .Accessed 2 Jan 2015.
  38. Pask, G. (1963). The conception of a shape and the evolution of a design. In J. C. Jones & D. G. Thornley (Eds.), Conference on design methods (pp. 153–167). Oxford: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
  39. Pawley, M. (1973). The private future: Causes and consequences of community collapse in the west. London: Thames and Hudson.Google Scholar
  40. Pearce, T. (2010). From “circumstances” to “environment”: Herbert Spencer and the origins of the idea of organism-environment interaction. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 41, 241–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peirce, C-S. (1931–36). The collected papers. Volumes 1–6. Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Scott, F. D. (2004). On the “counter-design” of institutions: Emilio Ambasz’s universitas symposium at MoMA. Grey Room, 14(Winter), 46–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scott, F. D. (2010). Architecture or techno-utopia. Politics after modernism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  44. Simon, H. (1981). The sciences of the artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  45. Stanford University. (n.d.). Structured liberal education syllabus archive. Accessed 23 Apr 2016.
  46. Stickdorn, M., & Schneider, J. (2010). This is service design thinking: Basics, tools, cases. Amsterdam: BIS publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Design and ArchitectureUniversity of Technology Sydney InsearchSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations