We all know that Leonardo da Vinci was one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance period. But did you also know that Da Vinci was an inventor and engineer? At the Machines of Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, which is part of the programme of the Italian cultural festival, Italy 2004: Quality & Lifestyle, you can find out why Da Vinci was one of the world's most innovative people. Sixteen models based on Da Vinci's ancient drawings are on display and Hong Kong is the only Asian city showing the collection. The exhibition's curator Gabriele Niccolai, who also builds the models, says that although Da Vinci designed these machines over 500 years ago, his concepts are still applicable in today's modern industrialised world. 'His ideas were amazing. In the past when people looked at these drawings, they thought that he was crazy, as no one could understand what was in his mind.' Long before the Wright Brothers invented the first airplane, Da Vinci was exploring the idea of flight in his drawings. 'Da Vinci had an obsession to fly,' says Niccolai. 'His machine, the Vite Aerea, was built on the concept which is nowadays applied in helicopters.' Two other machines on display are the Flying Machine and the Parachute. 'During his search for the secrets of flight, Da Vinci learnt that big birds like eagles fly by gliding on the air,' says Niccolai. 'Therefore, the Flying Machine was designed based on this concept. But the materials available in those days were too heavy for practice.' Niccolai says that with the Parachute, however, Da Vinci was able to carry out an experiment to prove his idea. 'He tied a cat to the Parachute and threw it from the top of a church tower. The cat landed safely, and Da Vinci thought that by multiplying the model to the right proportions, it would work for human beings.' Apart from flight, Da Vinci also came up with many inventions to ease people's lives. The System for Walking on the Water might sound rather obscure, but all Da Vinci wanted to do was help farmers. 'In those days farmers had to cross rivers or lakes many times a day to transport heavy goods, and hiring a boat was every expensive,' says Niccolai. 'Da Vinci invented this machine to try and help farmers.' The machine looks like a water ski, and Niccolai says that it works on calm water on lakes and rivers. 'But, of course, nobody believed him in those days. People thought he was crazy.' Niccolai's father Carlo was one of the first people to start building the machines based on Da Vinci's drawings. In Florence, where Niccolai is based, more than 200 models have been built, but, in fact, there are 15,000 drawings. Although Niccolai has been building Da Vinci's machines for 16 years, there's still a long way to go before the entire collection is completed and he hopes to return to Hong Kong one day with more of the models. 'Because of the space problem here, we can only show 16 pieces this time. I really hope that in the future we can hold a much larger exhibition showcasing these fascinating inventions.' The Machines of Leonardo da Vinci Exhibition is on from now until June 27 at the IFC Mall (Podium Level 2). Free admission.