Q&A: Elena Pacenti

Aug 25, 2021

In this Q&A with Elena Pacenti, Dean of the School of Design at NewSchool of Architecture and Design, Elena shares her thoughts on what makes our region the perfect place for cultivating a design community.

How did you get involved in San Diego Design Week (SDDW)?

A few years ago, SDDW advisors Patricia Cué and Susan Merritt came to visit me and the NewSchool of Architecture and Design team to present the idea of starting the first Design Week in San Diego, and I was immediately excited. I’m originally from Milan where there is a design week born around the Salone del Mobile (Furniture Fair), and it represents one of the most important events for the city. It brings thousands of visitors to the city every year, and it’s because of that experience, I understood the importance of having a design week in San Diego. Design weeks celebrate and showcase the power of design and connect cultural, educational, civic, and business institutions around it, as well as activating the local creative community, and it only made sense that San Diego would have one.

What’s your role at NewSchool of Architecture and Design?

Currently, I serve as Dean of the School of Design at the NewSchool, a department that includes Interior Architecture & Design, Product Design, and Graphic Design degrees. In 2013 I joined NewSchool, and before that, I was the Head of Design at Domus Academy in Milan. I moved to San Diego with the specific mandate of establishing the School of Design from the ground up. Initially, I worked on developing the curricula from Milan, and then we launched the first program in Fall 2013, and soon others followed. It’s been a wonderful journey and in the past 8 years, San Diego has become my second home.

What separates NewSchool from other universities?

NewSchool is a small private university where students embrace the study of Architecture, Construction Management, or Design in small cohorts and in a project-based studio setting, establishing a personalized interaction with the faculty, staff, and peers. It’s an environment where students learn from faculty who are also practitioners while also cultivating relationships and networking by being involved in real-life projects and community-based events.

Why is design vital to the San Diego community?

Globally, design has extended its scope from the traditional domains of objects, buildings, visual communications, and digital interfaces, to the solution of complex systems and problems, by keeping people at the center. San Diego’s wonderful natural environment along with its mix of biotech companies, start-up businesses, and creative communities, makes it an ideal location for developing new concepts in wellness as well as fostering sustainable innovative solutions to be adopted worldwide.

What makes design special in our region?

Some of the creative expressions that are distinctive to San Diego are linked to the entrepreneurial spirit and soul of design: the design-build (designers as fabricators), architects as developers, and architects and designers partnering with chefs to create unique hospitality experiences. An example of this is the collaboration between restaurants and housing developments in Little Italy. And also, across the border, Valle de Guadalupe has created a beautiful, unique identity through the combination of design and culinary excellence, with original winery and architecture concepts based on the local and original style and construction methods.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes, I just want to thank the SDDW organizers and community partners for creating a platform where all expressions of design mix and cooperate. I believe that it is through the communications of these different expressions of design that San Diego can innovate and find its own voice.