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Utilitas, Venustas, Firmitas | Spring 2019


Course Title: Utilitas, Venustas, Firmitas
Semester theme 2019: The * Stool
Course Number: CORE-AD-72
Course Category: Art, Design, and Technology (Core Competency Course)
Course Credit: 4.0 points
Course Weeks: 14 weeks
Contact Hours/Week: Day 1, Project Colloquium: 155 min
Day 2, Seminar: 75 min
Prerequisite: There are no prerequisites for this course.

Find the weekly schedule for Spring Semester 2019 here.
Here is the 2019 list of topics for case-study presentations.
Check out some documentation pictures of the course and student projects taught in 2019, 2018, 2017 or 2016.

Course Description

Design seems to be omnipresent. But what is design and what makes it good or bad?

The course »Utilitas, Venustas, Firmitas 1 « (latin for usage, beauty, and stability) explores how design influences our life, and investigates the fundamentals of “good design“ – how to be innovative, while keeping the design useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, detailed and environmentally friendly, and at the same time focusing on essential aspects. Students take a global look at the status quo of the use of design in media, objects and architecture, and observe its influence to art and technology from past to present, dealing with questions concerning ethics and values. Design tools and processes will be highlighted. Based on the fusion of readings, study, discussion and experiences, over the course of the semester students will develop an understanding of how mutually reinforcing and beneficiary a mix of Art, Design and Technology can be. Lecture and discussion will be the breeding ground for concept development of the design of a Bricolage : Every student will realise a <font inherit/inherit;;inherit;;#FFFF00>stool design</font> – a stool that can do something very special, and that represents more than just its pure functionality. The asterisk in the semester theme title The * Stool represents one of the multiple solutions that students will develop during the semester. The project will be complemented by lectures and case-studies, reading assignments (completed prior to class), class discussions and one-on-one meetings with the instructor. There will be several non-obligatory topic related excursions (weekend trip, evening events, etc.).

This Core Competency course borrowed its title from the roman artist, architect, and engineer Vitruvius who comprised a first handbook of planning and design over 2000 years ago. He described that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. These are often termed the Vitruvian Triad. Vitruvius also described that beside an interest in art and science a creative student should be also versed in rhetoric and have a good knowledge of history and philosophy. We will follow his rule. Students will leave the course with a completed project to be displayed in an exhibition and a personal philosophy of about Art, Design and Technology.

Place in the NYUAD Curriculum

»Utilitas, Venustas, Firmitas« is a Core Competency Course in the field of Art, Design, and Technology. It is cross-listed with the Design Minor. This course teaches students to think critically and work creatively toward innovations in arts practice, design and engineering, creative writing, data visualisation, programming, and performance. Guest lecturers as much as interdisciplinary co-teaching plays an important role in this course.

This course is a <font inherit/inherit;;inherit;;#FFFF00>very work intensive course</font> that, beside the Core typical fields, also contains several practical elements: as part of a Lab Component students will be introduced to physical computing, electronics, rapid prototyping, model making, etc. Beside the seminar and lab hours, and homework (±1 hr/day) students are asked to work an adequate time on their projects after class (±240 min/week).

Learning Outcomes

Students in the course will learn to develop critical thinking skills and be trained in concept development. As the project contains practical elements, students will also be trained in using machines like laser-cutter or 3D-printer, and other rapid prototyping tools. At the end of this course, students will:

  • Appropriate the ability to apply design in a project oriented way and to improve the quality and performance of future projects.
  • Solve problems using the design process (understanding, observing, defining perspective, inventing, visualising, prototyping, developing and testing), and to implement knowledge of the following project phases in future projects: research, brainstorming, idea development, concept development, prototyping.
  • Utilise modern digital tools to address design related challenges.
  • Improve visualisation methods and presentation skills. Discuss design topics eye-to-eye with other creative professionals.
  • Be forced to think about ethical issues in the digital age.

These outcomes will be assessed through reports, class participation, in-class exercises, and project presentation and documentation as described below. The course rubric that will be used as a guideline for grading will be handed out during first week of semester.

Teaching and Learning Methodologies

This course is a mix of theory and practice. Students will be involved in reading, discussion and writing, as well as the completion of a practical project. There are two modes of delivery: 
1st. Seminar and 2nd. Project:

This course adopts a SEMINAR format that requires students to participate actively in class discussions. Considerable class time will be spent on presentations and discussions of related art and design projects, and lectures/case-studies on different technological aspects. Hence, students are expected to read and research about a substantial number of projects, participate in classroom and online discussions, and develop a concept for a project. Each student will give one case-study presentation, will write an Artistic Statement, with a draft and re-write, and give a presentation of the project prototype during an exhibition at the end of the semester. Each student is required to do a final PROJECT of a topic of their choosing that goes deeper into issues beyond what was discussed in class. The aim of the project is to develop the concept of a furniture (a stool) that displays the technical and conceptual intellectuality of the student. While the focus in Spring Semester 1 lays on concept development, the focus in Spring Semester 2 lays on the design and development of the working prototype. Weekly presentations and ethical discussions of cases provide the groundwork for students to prepare written case analyses and accompanying oral presentations.

The course makes use of an online site – NYU Classes – that will serve as a repository for required readings, assignments, and additional course materials. Class discussions will be supplemented by multimedia material such as Keynote/Powerpoint slides and video clips.

Required Text Books


  • Research Methods for Product Design, Milton, Alex, Paul Rodgers, Laurence King Publishing, London, 2013

Supplemental Materials (available as PDF via NYU Classes):

  • The Making of Design, From the First Model to the Final Prototype, Terstiege, Gerrit, Birkhäuser, Basel, 2010, revised reprint, ISBN: 978-3-0346-0089-7
  • Design: History, Theory and Practice of Product Design, Bürdek, Bernhard E., Birkhäuser, Basel, 2015, 4th edition, ISBN PDF 978-3-0356-0394, ISBN EPUB 978-3-0356-0405-4

Required Films

  • Bauhaus, The Face of the Twentieth Century, 1994 (source 1, 2)
  • Helvetica, 2007
  • Objectified, 2009
  • Urbanized, 2011
  • Rams, 2018

As supplemental materials there will be a wide range of online video resources and project documentation. Links will be shared via NYU Classes, mail, and/or during class.


Students must complete all assigned coursework in order to pass the course. All required papers and other documents must be submitted electronically. No extensions will be given on assignments or papers without sufficient extenuating circumstances and prior approval from the instructor. Any two missing classes will result in (-) minus point automatically. The course rubric that will be used as a guideline for grading will be handed out during first week of semester.

Marking Scheme:

I. “Artistic Statement” (Project Idea/Concept Development) 20%
This text is designed to teach students how to perform a conceptual outline of a project idea. Find sample here. Length: ±500 words – a Power Paragraph! Students will choose their own topic for their text. The topic will reflect the student’s project theme, with topic proposals submitted in advance for critique and approval by the instructor in a one-on-one session. The document should contain additional drawings and/or information graphics to explain and underline the projects idea.
II. In-Class presentation (case-study presentation) 10%
Students will each give two 15 minute oral presentations during class time: the first subject relates to the dedicated days theme (assignments will be made at the beginning of the term), a second one on a subject related to the students project.
III. Class participation 10%
Students are expected to come to each class fully prepared, having read through or watched the texts or films assigned for the day’s class – and thought about them carefully. Participation will be assessed on the basis of both the regularity and the quality of contributions. Students will be asked to initiate class discussions without prior warning and may be asked to perform this function more than once.
IV. Project Report 20%
Students are required to submit, electronically, before the midnight preceding each class for which it is assigned, a 300-word project report in which they describe their actual project phase: research, choice of technology, materials, etc. There are six project reports overall in the weeks 7–12. Reports will be assessed on the following basis:+ / ✓/ -
V. Realisation of Final Furniture Prototype 30%
Students are required to realise a prototype of a furniture that is designed to follow a certain functionality. Find example projects displayed in the Engineering Design Studio (A5, 015).
VI. Presentation, Documentation and Exhibition 10%
Every student will have to present the final prototype at the semester end in class (semester end presentation) and display it in an exhibition. The following poster template has to be used.
Total 100%

Students will choose their own topic for the final test. This topic will reflect the student’s project theme and the developed machine, with topic proposals submitted in advance for critique and approval by the instructor in a one-on-one session. The text should contain additional drawings and/or information graphics to explain and underline the projects idea. Length: 1200 to 1500 words.

Case-Study Presentations

Every student will present one case-study presentation to be chosen randomly during class. Topics change every semester.


Case-Study Presentation

Every student will present two case-study presentations to be chosen randomly during class. The presentation must follow the class presentation rules, must be submitted as PDF format the day before presentation through NYU Classes, and must contain the following attachment:

Attachment A: max. 15 slides (keynote, powerpoint or google presentation tools) to be presented in class. The student must use the predefined presentation template (to be added! — Felix Beck 2016/11/21 06:25). The file name should follow the same naming standard: casestudy1(2)_YourFirstName_YourLastName.key/.ppt

Artistic Statement

Your Artistic Statement should feature your project idea and should describe the concept behind your Bricolage project (approximately ±500 words). Find a sample here. Describe the concept behind your design. What is its purpose for mankind? What is the idea behind it? Give your view based on the many discussion in this course and on the reading. Close your text with an artistic statement. Deadline: End of week 11 (exact date t.b.a.). The text document must be submitted through NYU Classes course page.

The Vitruvian Virtues

Source: Vitruvius, De architectura in ms. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 30.10, fol. 1r., 15th century

The Vitruvian Virtues or the Vitruvian Triad. The origins of functionally optimised product design can be traced all the way back to classical antiquity. The writings of the Roman artist, architect, and engineer Vitruvius are among the oldest surviving architectural documents. His comprehensive “De architectura libri decem“ (Ten Books on Architecture) comprised the first handbook of planning and design. In his texts he describes that an architect has to be interested in art and science, as well as being versed in rhetoric and having a good knowledge of history and philosophy. In chapter three of his first book he names a guiding principle: A structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful.

utilitas_venustas_firmitas_spring2019.txt · Last modified: 2024/06/28 19:11 by