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The Emergence of Cultural Identity in Design

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Milan Cathedral as a Turning Point in Design.

Throughout the so-called Dark Ages, and the early Middle Ages the Guilds held a virtual monopoly over design theorising. Master Builders, schooled in the lore of the Gothic traveled throughout Europe dispensing their skills with great prestige and autonomy. The Church – the main recipient of these skills was held to ransom by the Guild masters. In these circumstances, the lore of design was a closely guarded secret (or compilation of secrets) which each master carried around in his notes – charting the proportions, heights and mass-in-relation-to-stress  factors in design. Not all of the structures remained standing, and from the failures there emerged a general understanding that is still embodied in the Gothic cathedrals that we still see today. In this situation, cultural differences in form were accidental or informal, rather than intended. It was not until the design of Milan Cathedral in the late 1300s that architectural form as an element of cultural style emerged. The design of Milan marks a crucial turning point in the history of design and of the design professions. It marks the beginning of the end of the Guilds and the emergence of the individual designer schooled not in the lore of structural integrity, but in the skills of design.

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