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Intangible Search Inventory

Posted on Sep 23, 2018 by in Special Issue - ICH & HE |


Ilaria Guglielmetti
Polytechnic University of Milan, School of Design

Agostina Lavagnino
Etnographical and Social History Archive of Lombardy Region

Intangible Search Inventory and the Development of an Academic Course to Valorise Alpine ICH Practices and Rituals


The Polytechnic University of Milan School of Design launched a course in Exhibition Design Studio. The course aims at enhancing the cultural heritage of the Alpine Mountain’s identity, focusing on design solutions that relate to exhibit design in terms of widespread museums and temporary exhibitions. In 2017, fifty students from various countries designed two different typologies of projects to valorise some Alpine Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) practices and rituals. The first project lays itself within the regional landscape, the second one in the urban context of the square Città di Lombardia, in the city center of Milan (it is the Lombardy Region Institution District). The projects presented how the cultural heritage of the Alpine mountain regions can be shared to urbans, thanks to the design of new models of cultural experience and, hence, demonstrate the relationship between rural and urban areas. The experience deals with the mountain cultural valorisation and aims at envisioning and designing new models of cultural experience. For example, exhibiting design practices and solutions in widespread museums and temporary exhibitions in mountain areas. Students created audio and video material to discover rural and mountainous heritage. In particular, the design exercise was applied to real case studies (related to traditional food, rituals, textiles…) that represent tangible and intangible distinctive elements of this area. Some aspects that have been touched upon include systems and materials, graphic signage, technologies, new kinds of audience, narratives and circulation. Which collections have been specifically selected? Within the variety of the alpine cultural practices we selected 5 collections. All these are composed of tangible and intangible elements. They are expressions of the “values” of “alpine style”.


  1. Traditional carpet pezzotti: it’s a rustic and colored traditional carpet, made of waste textile from Valtellina.
  2. Handmade footwear pedù: Lanzada town’s (Valmalenco) footwear made of a thick fabric sole with velvet ribbed and laced upper sewn onto it.
  3. Rye bread pan de séghel: it’s a particular type of bread made of rye wheat, which is still today consumed throughout “Valtellina” mountain area.
  4. Carnival and wooden mask sculptors: Schignano’s Carnival is part of the Alpine ones.
  5. Bells and bell-ringers: since the middle ages, the sound of bells has played a major role in the Bergamo’s area celebration of religious events and in calling public gatherings.

The goal of the course is designing diffuse museums and temporary exhibitions in the Alpine Macroregion. The specific goals are:

  • identifying new topics, audiences and narratives
  • designing new models of cultural experience
  • designing new exhibit solutions and the relationship among collection, sections and space
  • designing the relationship among technologies, collection and users
  • designing new exhibit systems, material details and graphic signage

This experience proposes to take “Cultural Creativity” as the theme of experiential design, design strategy and feasibility. The importance of the study is to apply humanity and characteristics of local culture to convert it into design transfer media through theoretical basis of semiotics. Then it merges cultural design as experiential marketing to promote local culture values and construct an experiential marketing design conversion mode to take it as reference for cultural experiential marketing application. The result of the course was to obtain a digital collection of poster scenarios (which will be shown) that local stakeholders can use to activate real projects. The course is based on the Intangible Search Inventory ( to select the 5 collections, to share information with the students and to understand the quality of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) collections.

Intangible Search is a community-based Inventory developed by the Ethnographical and Social History Archive of Lombardy Region. The project adopts the principles of 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, trying to apply the main key ideas of the Convention, participation and communities, in the identification and in the description of the ICH elements. The Convention, signed by Italy with the 167/2007 law, introduced new approaches to cultural policy at international level, extending the concept of heritage to practices, expressions, knowledge and skills that communities, groups or individuals identify and recognize as their own. The Convention paradigms inducing institutions to a new way of thinking about ICH and force the scientific community, the same ethnographical and anthropological disciplines, in a careful analysis of the approaches and methodologies of fieldwork research, bringing new standards in the practice of identifying and inventorying intangible elements. The Lombardy Region 27/2008 law underlined the importance of ICH safeguarding measures carried out in cooperation between various organisations and communities concerned, including institutions and local associations specialising in ICH. Intangible Search is a result of this new regional cultural policy and the Ethnographical and Social History Archive regional Institution is in charge of it and coordinates safeguarding measures actions and projects.

Identification means describing ICH elements in their own context and distinguishing them from others, through a process involving representatives from institutions, administrations, associations and, above all, the communities who practice their ICH. Thanks to the Interreg Programme Italy-Switzerland 2007-2013, the Intangible Search inventorying process has been extended to the Alpine Regions involved in E.CH.I. Italo-Swiss Ethnography for the enhancement of intangible cultural heritage project (Lombardy, Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta Regions, Autonomous Province of Bolzano, the Swiss Cantons Ticino, Valais and Graubünden).

The main objectives of Intangible Search are:

  • Identifying and inventorying the living ICH taking into account various domains of ICH which, according to the UNESCO Convention, include e.g. oral tradition, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, traditional craftsmanship.
  • Spreading and increasing awareness about ICH in a very widespread manner, also holding discussions and seminars for the purpose of providing a large number of parties operating in the field of ICH.

According to the Convention and the UNESCO values, the description of ICH elements follows the new key terms: in particular, the concepts of participation, transmission and learning, and those most closely related to community of practice and their role. Who are the bearers and practitioners of the element and their specific role in it? What are the responsibilities in the transmission of the element? Are there any specific roles or categories of persons with special responsibilities for the practice of the element? Who are they and what are their responsibilities? What social and cultural functions and meanings does the element have today for its community?

The elements are geo-referenced, allowing the system to detect the element “map” implemented in the element form and on the inventory website. Audios, photos and videos identify the ICH element, and are functional to understand other aspects related to the dynamic nature of the ICH. The database and the Intangible Search layout is accessible to local communities, which can be enabled to implement the information.

Adopting this approach, the Ethnographical and Social History Archive is now developing a new section for the project AlpFoodway – Alpine Space Programme 2014-2020. Each AlpFoodway Partner selected practices about dairy production, breeding, traditional horticulture, cereal production etc. by involving communities, groups and relevant NGOs in the identification and safeguarding of ICH Alpine Foodways.

It is a complex work, still in progress, which should provide for future developments, even by comparison with other European and International organizations concerning these issues.

 Questions for further discussion

  • How can intangible cultural heritage be internationally recognized under the Convention?
  • Why should we safeguard intangible cultural heritage?
  • Are intellectual property rights dealt with by the Convention?
  • How can design contribute to cross fertilization between Alpine traditions and contemporary creativity?
  • How can designers’ approach be useful for the dynamic and living nature of intangible cultural heritage?


Ilaria Guglielmetti is a PhD in “Design and Technology for the valorization of Cultural Heritage,” at the Polytechnic University of Milan and a freelance designer in visual communication, info-graphics, cultural merchandising, especially for Public Administrations and Cultural Associations.
Since 2006, she is adjunct professor and lecturer in university courses, masters, workshops and seminars dedicated to the development and dissemination of local culture.


Agostina Lavagnino has been working at the Lombardy Region’s Ethnographical and Social History Archive since 1991. She carried out fieldwork, ethnographic, linguistic and dialectology researches, in particular about oral tradition narrative repertoires in the Pavese area and about the Stradella’s handcrafted accordions. For the Archive, she is in charge of coordinating scientific cataloging activities, development of the Archive cataloging system and website ( and the management of the intangible cultural heritage inventory Intangible Search (