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title: Cleaning in Motion
author: Gabriele Neri
Date: 10.2017

To remove the dust from our homes today, all we need to do is simply pressing a button. For some years now, a specially designed app on the touch-screen of our mobile phones means we can click and order the latest robotic vacuum cleaner into action. This potential state of human and machine independence marks a turning point in domestic appliance history – the rst “suction machines” of the XIX Century needed human energy to operate – and highlights a profound impact on the relationship between machine and the human body. As the history of vacuum cleaners points out, these issues do not affect only technology and ergonomics. Subtler interactions between man and machine can be found by looking at the myth of hygiene and cleanliness that still dominates today; the role of female bodies within the history of design; the representation of vacuum cleaners in contemporary art; or even at a dark side connected with distorted applications and the unease aroused by the appearance and action of these machines. In this perspective, using the vacuum cleaner’s history as interpretative lens, it is possible to widen our understanding of the extent and signi cance of the broader process of digitization that has been underway for some time – i.e. driverless cars, civil and war drones, robotics-driven industrial manufacturing; but also design and even the act of writing – and the modi cations of the relationship between humans, their activities and their architectural environments.

Gabriele Neri, architect, PhD in History of Architecture and Urban Planning. He is adjunct professor of History of Design and Architecture at the Polytechnic of Milan from 2011. He is researcher at the Academy of Architecture, Mendrisio (CH). The author of essays on the history of architecture, engineering and design, he curated exhibitions in Italy and abroad. He contributes to the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and he is on the editorial staff of the Swiss magazine Archi. Among his publications: Capolavori in miniatura. Pier Luigi Nervi e la modellazione strutturale (2014); Caricature architettoniche. Satira e critica del progetto moderno (2015), focused on the relation between satire and architecture from 1850 onwards; Umberto Riva. Interni e allestimenti (2017), dedicated to the interior and exhibit design of the Italian architect. In 2015 he won the Second Research Grant from The Design History Foundation (Barcelona, Spain) and the Alfaro-Hofmann Collection (Valencia, Spain).