What architects and designers can learn from Leonardo da Vinci.

Micène Fontaine, May 24, 2022

From architecture to anatomy, art, and science, we each stand to learn something from Leonardo da Vinci but perhaps more so for architects and designers whose work it is to help us chart a path forward through “uncertain” times. 

Revisiting the 7 Da Vincian principles always brings me a grounding sense of direction and hope in the midst of what sometimes feels chaotic. 

As a reminder, here are the seven principles as outlined in Michael J. Gelb's book "How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci": 

  1. Curiosità An insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. 
  2. Dimostrazione A commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes. 
  3. Sensazione The continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.
  4. Sfumato A willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.
  5. Arte/Scienza The development of the balance between science and art, logic and imagination - Whole-brain thinking.
  6. Corporalita The cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  7. Connessione A recognition and appreciation for the connectedness of all things and phenomena - Systems thinking.

While they all work together, Curiosita, Sfumato, and Connessione feel particularly relevant at this juncture when the built environment must rethink its relationship with time, place, nature, ourselves, and each other. Very tangible and very different versions of the future are born and built out of the way we frame these relationships. 

Because this is such a critical conversation, even the Smithsonian has chosen to celebrate its 175th anniversary by looking forward to “The FUTURES” (an exhibit at the Arts + Industries Building in DC).  At DAS, the future of design is always top of mind, and we invite you, designers and architects, to stay curious and imagine not just one future but many possible futures in which all of us can thrive. You can do so on your own or with your team; maybe grab a copy of Michael Gelb's book or check out our Change by Design session on Designing with the Planetary Futures in Mind. 

Either way, the future is full of hope and possibilities. It’s up to us to decide which version we want to design, build, and live in. 

Think about it - and stay curious :-)

Da Vinci's Designs For Milan Cathedral. Detail of photograph by Sheila Terry.
:Change by Design