CIIDʼs “Cult of Innovationˮ Comes to a Former Monastery in Bergamo

Alie Rose
June 2024

This is a translation of the original article written by Chiara Buratti for Startupitalia


The latest stage of our journey through Italy takes us to a historic building, returning to life in the third millennium thanks to a passion for high technology—as Simona Maschi, CIID director, tells us.

Ivrea, Italy, 2001

Within the walls of the historic Olivetti company—the "Blue House" designed by architect Edoardo Vittoria for Adriano Olivetti—a new school takes shape.

It's not just a structure, but much more. Here, for the first time in the world, Interaction Design is being studied and taught: a still little-known discipline that has since made services like car sharing or app payments possible. Some of the former students of the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea today hold top positions in the world's most important tech companies.

This instalment of our Journey through Italy feature starts from Ivrea, moves across Europe to Copenhagen, and returns to Italy: to the former Monastery of Astino in Bergamo, where in a few months, the doors of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) will open for the first time, thanks to an agreement between CIID, the bank Intesa Sanpaolo, and the support of the MIA Foundation.

But why Bergamo? And what were the steps that brought us to this former monastery in the heart of one of Italyʼs most important centres of excellence in manufacturing and industry?

From Ivrea to Copenhagen

Accompanying us on this journey is Simona Maschi, co-founder and director of the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

We start by taking a step back and returning to Ivrea in the early 2000s. "The Interaction Design school in Ivrea, after preparing some of the brightest Italian minds in the innovation sector, closed its doors in 2005," says Simona, who chose to then carry the project forward, attracting attention in Denmark.

"The Danish government funded the launch of CIID, of which I am the director, but we didn't stop there." After opening a branch in Costa Rica and launching training programmes in more than 20 countries, Simona decided that Italy, where that ambitious project was born, should also have its own Interaction Design school: "I started studying some areas that could be interesting for this profession. Bergamo has a high intensity and quality of industries and has developed manufacturing capacity and an excellent university system, creating synergies between the work and academic environments in a fertile ecosystem. This is why we chose the Lombardy province as the location for the school that will open its doors to new talent in September."

A New Home for CIID

In the new school that rises in the former monastery of Astino, talents will also be able to incubate their innovative ideas and establish collaborative relationships with companies.

"Through a process based on prototyping, we will initiate synergies with local businesses, dedicating much of the time to practice, with laboratories and tests." The annual course, conducted in English, is open to talent residing in Italy with a background in Engineering, Architecture, Design, Art, Humanities,Social Sciences, and Computer Science.

The course is aimed at both recent graduates and candidates with an established professional path, and thanks to the agreement signed with Intesa Sanpaolo, also provides an honour loan (ˮper Meritoˮ) of up to 50,000 euros to facilitate training. CIID offers the opportunity to access "per Merito" the loan of honour that covers the entire cost of the programme (36,500 euros), as well as food, accommodation, and transportation expenses, with no guarantee required by the bank. At the conclusion of the course of study, and for two years following, what is called a "bridge period" begins, at the end of which the repayment of the loan starts, which can last up to 30 years. In case of early repayment, Intesa Sanpaolo does not apply additional costs to those of the financing.

From Denmark to Italy

"As an institute, there is a lot of work to do to support the transition to a new reality, both from a product production point of view and market launch,"explains Simona. "To open a branch here, three things were essential: First, developing partnerships in the territory. Then, creating synergies with the MIA Foundation, which deals with supporting socially and economically vulnerable young people and which has supported the project from the beginning, dedicating time and energy to sharing projects with the municipality of Bergamo. And then we needed a magical place."

"The former monastery of Astino, from the 1100s, is immersed in nature between upper and lower Bergamo," explains Simona. "And here we are today, ready to welcome new talents in September. There are two fronts on which they will be engaged: the school, which will welcome students from all over the world, from photographers to designers, to study new solutions for the future, and then we will host those who will participate in intensive courses lasting one week in the field of sustainability innovation."

An Ambitious Project

"The course will start in September, and weʼre excited that after so many years of work and activities, we have managed to break down the economic barrier of activity costs," says Simona. "We have a 2000 square meter building immersed in greenery, and we aim for global expansion, in India, Japan, North America, South America, and Southern Africa. In our network, we also count collaborations with entities like Enel, Google, Lego, and Meta. Italy will be a central pivot in the development of this ecosystem."

The priority at the centre of these emerging hubs will always be the same:innovating in the field of design by working on the transition to new operating programmes. "We also think about retirement homes, hospitals, and we are working on how to improve sustainable finance. In short, we have many ideas bubbling in the pot that we want to implement, and we are very satisfied with the fact that today many companies realise the importance of this project,"concludes Simona.


Read the original articles in Italian: here

More information about the Interaction Design Programme and the Intessa San Paolo 'per merito' loans.