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Bauhaus Buildings in Dessau

European Design Capitals-CANCELLED

Last updated on Mar 18, 2020

Modernism / Postmodernism in European Design

Faculty: Mara Holt Skov

May 25-June 15, 2020

Housing Check-in: Berlin, Monday, May 25
Housing Checkout: Milan, Monday, June 15

Two CCA students at the Fondazione Achille Castiglioni in Milan, Italy, playing with the master's toys.

Open to undergraduate and graduate students

This three-week immersive course offers students the opportunity to explore three historic sites for design in Europe: Berlin and the Dessau Bauhaus for German modernism, Amsterdam and Utrecht for the Dutch de Stijl movement and 1990s post-modern design, and Milan for the post WWII design boom and 1980s Memphis postmodernism. Every step of the way we situate the movements, methods, technologies, and materials within their geographic, historic, and cultural settings. We visit museum collections, manufacturers, design studios, and relevant cultural sites. Lectures, readings and discussions provide context for our activities, and students develop methods for documenting their observations and experiences and presenting their findings to others.

While specifically designed for Industrial Design students, this summer travel course is also relevant to other design disciplines such as Furniture, Architecture, Interior Design, and Graduate Design, as well as Visual Studies majors interested in design. It offers immersive experiences in the history and culture of key sites where modernism flourished in the early years of the 20th century and postmodernism exploded in the 1980s and 90s to overturn the order.

A group of CCA students at the base of a large outdoor sculpture at the Alessi Museum, in Omegna-Crusinallo, Italy, in 2019

Berlin and Dessau

Our first week is spent in Berlin, where we investigate the Bauhaus archives, design museums, and modernist housing sites in Berlin during the 100-year anniversary of the Bauhaus. We stay in the Bauhaus student dormitories while visiting the masters’ houses and the newly opened Bauhaus museum.

Amsterdam and Utrecht

Our second week is in Amsterdam with a day trip to Utrecht, where we explore Dutch culture from a variety of perspectives - all on bikes. In Amsterdam we visit the Stedelijk museum, design studios, and showrooms (Droog Design and Moooi). In Utrecht, we tour the modernist gem, the Rietveld-Schröder house, historic Rietveld museum collections, and see the world’s largest bicycle parking garage.


Our final destination is Milan, where we visit the Triennale Museum to see current design exhibitions. Highlights of our time in Milan are hands-on sketching workshops with designer Larry Laske (who worked with Ettore Sottsass) and studio visits to designers from the Memphis period. A day trip to Alessi in Crusinallo allows students to experience the Alessi museum and archives.

A group of students leaning over a table watching a sketching demo by designer Lawrence Lasky

Prior to departure, we meet for a three-hour seminar in which we discuss our schedule, travel plans, and expectations for the class and each student begins research on a historic Italian designer that they present on the trip. Students taking the course for 300-level SSHIS credit will do additional research on a topic of interest before leaving and complete an extensive research paper when the class is over.

While on tour, coursework includes on-site and internet research, relevant readings, short papers, visual essays, and presentations. This course exposes students to several different methods of historic, cultural, and visual research. All students should expect to carefully document our museum, studio, and site visits through photographs, sketches, and journal entries. At the end of each city visit, students present the design lessons they gathered from each place. Ample free time in every city allows students to get their research and writing done for the class and also have time to explore their own specific interests.

This is the best class I have ever had at CCA. I learned a lot about how real industrial design works. And how to overcome the difficulty in life.

By exploring city and history in person, I remember more than from studying in school, and I’m inspired by fresh things that can't be experienced in school.

Art and design historian and curator Mara Holt Skov has been teaching at CCA since 2006, guiding the next generation of designers towards a deeper understanding of the ways that design impacts, and is impacted by, contemporary culture. Mara's graduate and undergraduate courses often take a material culture approach, making use of her extensive collection of historic design objects as teaching tools to bring design history to life through a variety of "object lessons." She believes that the study of objects has just as much to teach us about history, psychology, and culture as it does about form, materials, and aesthetics.

Mara has traveled extensively throughout Europe, traveling to over 20 countries as part of her art and design research since 1987. In addition, she lived for several years in France and Germany and speaks both French and German.

Learn more about Mara Holt Skov » adjusted.jpg


  • Undergraduate Students: Completion of Writing 2 and at least sophomore level by summer 2020, instructor approval
  • For History of Industrial Design credit: Writing 1 (WRLIT-1000, 1010, or 1030), Intro to the Modern Arts (VISST-1080) and Foundation in Critical Studies (CRTSD-1500)
  • For 2000-level Social Science/History credit: Foundations in Critical Studies (CRTSD-1500) and Writing 1 (WRLIT-1000, 1010, or 1030)
  • For 2000-level Visual Studies credit: Intro to the Modern Arts (VISST-1080)
  • Graduate students: Instructor approval

In addition, all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2019-20 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2019 are not eligible to enroll in a 2020 summer study-abroad program.

Course Satisfies

  • For undergraduate students, this course satisfies a History of Industrial Design requirement for Industrial Design majors, an H&S Elective, a Social Science/History 2000 level Elective, or a Visual Studies 200 level Elective.
  • For graduate students, this course satisfies a Grad-wide Elective.

Program Fee
$5,400 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee:

  • 3 credits, housing, local transportation, and transportation between cities visited, guest artists, field trips, entrance fees, and travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee:

  • Airfare to and from Europe, ground transportation to and from airport in Europe, most meals

Extending Your Summer Study Abroad Experience

Ambitious students who would like to have an even more comprehensive summer European experience may also enroll in the Berlin program (June 15-July 3). These two courses have been scheduled with each other in mind; taking them together would provide students with a total of six credits.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions.
All CCA summer study-abroad courses (including Exhibition Brooklyn and New Orleans) are coordinated by the Office of Special Programs.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Irwin Student Center

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs