The Italian Design Archipelago

Integration and tradition


Organized in the occasion of the Italian Design Day 2019 – promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation – the exhibition describes the “behind the scenes” of Made in Italy, the creative and productive processes that make it so unique and appreciated in the world. Italy has maintained a leading role in design for decades, thanks to its ability to integrate aesthetics values with functionality and technological innovation. This design principle was also stated by Vitruvius, who described beauty (venustas) as a result of functionality (utilitas) and constructive reliability (firmitas). 

This synthesis again emerges in this exhibition, embracing a selection of the best Italian design brands in Japan. Some of the most iconic elements of their production are exhibited on this occasion, ten products that represent a paradigm of beauty, innovation, and utility. The displayed materials are organized on two distinct but complementary levels: Knowledge and Representation. The first portrays the object’s genesis and history, from the design phase to the production phase, to its critical and commercial fortune. The second level emphasizes the formal, material, and chromatic values ​​of the objects.

The exhibition’s concept draws inspiration from the image of the archipelago. In addition to the geographical reference to Japan’s islands, it also represents the archipelago of Italian design firms. Each brand is intended as an island with its history, identity, organizational model, and specific language. Altogether, they acquire history, identity, form, and expression: they become a system, which affirms its weight and influence in the international sphere. From here comes the title: Italian Design Archipelago.

The exhibition’s design is inspired by the Japanese Karesansui, the traditional stone garden where the water is simulated through gravel or sand, shaped similarly to waves. A sequence of garden islands – scattered with functional and perceptive logic in the Cultural Institute – contains some of the most renowned Italian design objects, interacting with traditional Japanese materials. The design products are intended as the “guardian stones” of the Japanese garden, the exhibition’s focal points. They are marked and enhanced by semi-opaque movable partitions (i-Byobu) inspired by the byobu – the typical Japanese separé – realized for the occasion with the innovative Italian fabric I-Mesh, woven into a traditional Japanese pattern. The islands’ edges are built with four axes of Japanese cedar, assembled with traditional wood joinery. The sand of the garden is simulated with recycled and shredded paper. Some products are placed on a Hexae, a sustainable modular exhibition system – made with recycled parquet flooring tiles – realized for the occasion in collaboration with AdWorld. The half-hexagonal geometry of the modules allows for countless combinations. 

Finally, the backdrop of the setting is imagined as a forest and realized with suspended trunks veneers. The inspiration comes from the concept of shakkei, the “borrowed landscape” often embedded in the traditional Japanese gardens.

In its intents, this event aims to achieve a deep integration of two different cultures – Italian and Japanese – that share similar identity roots: founded on architecture and nature, grown with the design.



Download the catalogue here: The Italian Design Archipelago



  • 2019.7.13 - 2019.7.27


  • 250 sqm


  • Tokyo


  • Italian Institute of Culture Tokyo


  • Shukoh K.K.


  • MB-AA


  • Matteo Belfiore - Curator


  • Interior design, Graphic design, Site supervision


  • Lamberto Rubino