Society News

28 October 2021

In memory of Gabriele Oropallo

The Design History Society and its wider community mourns the tragic loss of Gabriele Oropallo. Please join us reflect on our grief through Kjetil Fallan's words.

With the untimely passing of Gabriele Oropallo, the international design history community has lost a cherished contributor and a tireless ambassador—and many of us have also lost a dear friend and colleague. The way in which the tragic news has rippled across the globe is testament to his vast network and the indelible impressions he has left on people wherever his many journeys took him. He was such a kind and gentle person, with a contagious enthusiasm for the field and boundless empathy for its practitioners of all shapes and sizes.

Gabriele studied cultural history in Naples and Düsseldorf followed by postgraduate studies in social history at University College London, where he also began teaching design history and developed his first publications in the field. In 2012 he came to the University of Oslo to pursue his PhD as part of a nascent initiative to make design history engage more profoundly with issues of sustainability, ecology, and the environment. He was my very first PhD student, and I remember I found it very reassuring as a rookie supervisor that he at that point already was such an experienced and reflective scholar and person.

During his years in Oslo, we became both friends and colleagues. Gabriele’s efforts were instrumental in developing our broader research agenda, and he naturally assumed the role as something of a mentor for his fellow PhD students in our group. With a remarkable intellectual curiosity and no fear of uncharted scholarly waters he diligently composed his pioneering thesis on historical visions of sustainability in design discourse. This demanding work did not deter him from always finding time to engage with colleagues and students, locally and remotely, or organise events including an international PhD seminar in 2015 and co-convening the 2017 DHS conference, 'Making and Unmaking the Environment'. Towards the end of his Oslo sojourn, he developed and taught an elective module called ‘Design in Nature’, thereby leaving a valuable legacy of his research with our students.

PhD in hand, Gabriele moved on to new adventures. Symptomatic of his cosmopolitan outlook, he relocated to Zürich while taking on a role as Senior Lecturer in Critical and Contextual Studies at London Metropolitan University’s School of Art, Architecture and Design. Now, he was just about to embark on yet another exciting scholarly journey, having been awarded a research fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin for a major project about the implications of the use of materials of insect origin in craft and manufacturing. I can hardly think of a better illustration of the originality of his work and the inherently interdisciplinary nature of his approach to design history. From his early studies of graphic design and urban wayfinding systems in post-war Italy to later research on the maker movement and appropriate technology, he consistently challenged conventions and contributed new insight.

In addition to his academic publications, Gabriele was passionate about public outreach. For a number of years, he was a regular contributor to the German design magazine Form, and his curatorial projects have been featured at the Istanbul Design Biennial and the São Paulo Architecture Biennial. In these ways, and many more, he boldly brought design history scholarship out of the ivory tower and into the world beyond campuses and conferences.

Most DHS members will remember Gabriele also as a Trustee of the Society, serving as its Conference Liaison Officer from 2018 until this year—a role in which his admirable social and organizational skills came together with his scholarly capabilities and outlook to help create the thriving events around which so much of our community revolves.

On behalf of our entire community, I wish to offer our deepest condolences to Gabriele’s loved ones, in particular his partner Thais and their son Nicolas.

Kjetil Fallan


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