By Marco Romanelli
Four of them are thin, and therefore won’t weigh down your suitcase, yet they’re dense enough in content that you’ll appreciate every word. Not necessarily dedicated to designers, but definitely not for those who think summer reading means turning off one’s brain. The fifth is a novel.
1) Valerio Millefoglie, Mondo Piccolo: spedizione nei luoghi in cui appena entri sei già fuori
If you’re tired of everything being too big and overwrought, read Valerio Millefoglie: ‘… the barman watches me take measurements. He asks me if i suffer from some syndrome that compels me to measure everything around me…’. Everything is lower case in this book – the wedding cathedral where only one person can enter at a time (‘whoever waits outside doesn’t know what the other will say’), the restaurant for only two people, the tobacco shop for four, the island of just 300 square meters… because sometimes ‘small places are a hideaway from problems’. The crowd is elsewhere, but the emotions of life, suspended between moments of joy and eternities of anxiety, are all here.
2) Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Speaking of Art
‘Mastery’ is what leads us to do things well. Tanizaki, the unforgettable author of ‘In Praise of Shadows’, maintains (a totally European word, unsuited to the gentleness of a suggestion) that we should hold in higher regard the concepts of ‘mastery’ (gei) and ‘man of art’ (geinin) than those of ‘art’ (geijutsu) and ‘artist’ (geijutsuka), he writes. ‘I do not wish to say that the artists of the Western school are superficial, but it is true that they are not immune to fame and wealth, and cannot renounce these things in the quest for mastery like the geinin’
3) Ugo Mulas, Cirque Calder
The latter builds a circus with tin snips, a circus of wires and corks, of ant-like acrobats and clowns with anorexic legs, while the former photographs it. We refer to ‘Cirque Calder’, realized between 1926 and 1931, destined to be packed into several suitcases and to travel the world, like every good circus. Perhaps a bit sad, perhaps a metaphor of life – again, like every good circus.
4) Walter Benjamin, Che cosa regalare a uno snob
Walter Benjamin was of the opinion that giving gifts is a peaceful art, but when it comes to snobs, one must use the methods of war.
I am assailed by a doubt: isn’t giving such a book (actually, it’s only 5 pages long) in itself an act of snobbery? We may have a paradox here. So let’s do it this way: if your aesthetic perversion pays no heed to cost (25 euro for this diminutive volume), preferring to praise the paper (Zebkal-Bütten), the dust cover (Hahnemühle card stock) and the font (Garamond Monotype 11), then by all means, buy it!
5) Pierre Lemaitre, Au revoir là-haut
And finally, the novel. It’s enormous. Take all the pages from the other 4 books, add them together and multiply them by 10 and perhaps you’ll approach the sheer size of ‘Au revoir-là-haut’, highly deserving winner of the 2013 Goncourt prize. Why suggest it to design aficionados? Not because it deals with WWII more effectively than any recent celebration. Not because it’s like reading Victor Hugo grafted onto Charles Baudelaire. Not because you won’t be able to sleep until you’ve finished it. So why, then? Because this novel is in reality an extraordinary architectural construction, where every window, every step of every stairway, every stone and cornice is essential to the construction of the edifice as a whole. You’ll say that all novels are like this… but you haven’t read this one yet. Pity that Rem Koolhass hadn’t read it before diving into his 2014 Biennale, ‘Elements of Architecture’.
Mainly dedicated to our Italian followers.
I often have flashbacks, and I will always remember an appearance by Bruno Zevi on the RAI Uno newscast. It was back in the early ‘80s, in September, just before fall registration. At lunchtime, various guests tried to provide an orientation for the students. In this case it was about architecture and the design disciplines more generally.
The interviewer asked Zevi about the job opportunities for a good designer: ‘Designing cities, houses and objects, but also successfully selling insurance policies’ was Zevi’s prompt reply. A cryptic message for me at the time, but nevertheless intriguing.
One of those statements that stay in your head, that you can never forget. It was only much later, once I was immersed in design, that I thoroughly understood its meaning: the study of design and the acquisition of its culture – a combination of humanism and technology – enables each of us to positively address and resolve problems. And by this Zevi meant problems of any kind. Or rather, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Simon writes, those entities that are bound to what is desirable, and that drive everyone to put strategies in place in order to achieve the goals they have set.
In short, studying design means learning to resolve – and also to seek out – problems. And such an ability is applicable to diverse design ‘objects’: from a spoon to a city to the sale of an insurance policy.
How does a design student learn?
I think mainly by absorbing the practice of curiosity, a strategy that must be applied, pursued and realized in every moment of one’s everyday life, in normal as well as extraordinary situations.
It is a practice that requires attitude and love for re-search (looking again, carefully), a systematic vision, the ability to integrate multiple aspects, and most of all the capacity to open oneself and see with new eyes the things around us, which are often invisible to common mortals.
How do you approach the teaching of design?
In a context where knowledge is fluid and tends to change with accelerated frequencies and sequences, learning strategies need to change as well. I think design should be taught like research is taught. This means providing maps for students to orient themselves and to ‘learn how to learn‘, constantly, at all times, understanding the education, pleasure and life are inextricably connected in the culture of design as well as in those who, like designers, are its standard bearers.
Francesco Zurlo is Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the Politecnico di Milano; Director of the Strategic Design Masters’ program and the Interior Design and Management Executive Masters’ program; Director of the courses in Design for Toys and Kids and Wine Design at POLI.design; head of research in the joint committee of the Design Department at the Politecnico. He has authored numerous publications on strategic design, and has been consulting for Panasonic since 2006 on new product development, managing to bring together in an exceptional way a strong theoretical approach with hands-on work in the field.
READ ALSO: iSaloni. Design at the Politecnico di Milano
Design has an autonomous and recognized discipline in the Italian university system for a little more than 20 years. A significant legitimization that acknowledges the dedication of important masters who also worked as teachers since the ‘60s: from Zanuso to Mangiarotti, from Achille Castiglioni to Eduardo Vittoria, from Dalisi to Koenig. And the list goes on even longer.
This tardiness is quite odd for a place like Italy, universally recognized as the homeland of design, and yet quite logical because it is consistent with a design that was born and developed as a unique ‘force from below‘, with no need for ministry seals or strategic programs to support it, as it has been by now for years in the United Kingdom.
So while design got a late start compared to other countries, in recent years design training has undergone a constant growth in the university system, as well as in the academies and private schools. The Politecnico di Milano, with more than 4,200 students including many foreigners, is a central player in design education at the international level, and not only because it is among the world’s largest design schools in terms of the number of graduates.
Every year, the number of candidates who take the entrance exam is three times larger than the available posts, and for years this phenomenon has shown no sign of abating. A true ‘excess of success’, which nonetheless demands a careful and critical reflection on the part of all who work in this field, because it is obvious that the new designers will enter a complex and difficult job market that no longer offers the opportunities that only a couple of decades ago seemed limitless.
Large organizations like this currently face a delicate dilemma: maintain the existing numbers and structure, or downsize to meet the real needs of the market? I don’t think there are easy answers in the face of such a complex issue, which concerns not only design but other disciplines and professions.
Addressing the argument in the most neutral way possible, one can therefore ask:
‘Is it still worth studying design, and if so, to do what?’
Francesco Zurlo, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at the Politecnico di Milano.
READ ALSO: iSaloni. Learning to study design
Cactus. A clothes rack in theory, an icon in fact.
An intellectual object which seamlessly connects the refined surrealism of the Torinese radicals of the ’70s to that more widespread form of surrealism, American Pop.
A cactus without thorns, essentially. Artificial nature for planting in haute bourgeois homes.
Rarely used as a functional object, it has become so famous as to have obscured the names of its creators, Guido Drocco and Franco Mello, two very serious designers.
Produced in a limited edition, originally in emerald green, it has been continually updated in new and extremely expensive variations. And like all symbols, it is absolutely inimitable.
Johanna Grawunder is inquestionably the most original American designer working on the international scene. Born in San Diego, California in 1961, she graduated in Architecture from Florence and joined the studio of Ettore Sottsass. This experience, from 1985-2001, would be long and fundamental for her. In 2001 she went back to the States, to San Francisco, where she continues to design for some of the top Italian manufacturers (e.g. Flos, Glas and Boffi) as well as for important galleries. She is also active in the fields of architecture, interior architecture and installations.
What was your most memorable experience of the Saloni? An encounter, an event, or simply an impression.
The week of the Salone is a time of pure optimism. Everyone showing the fruits of a year of work. Everyone discussing and thinking about the future of design. Sometimes in a positive light, other times negative. But apart from the design exhibitions and products presented, for me the Salone is a clarification of the state of the discipline: for a few days, there’s a freeze frame between the current state of design and what we want it to become.
The 5 most important pieces in the 2014 edition? You can include one of your own.
Patrizia Urquiola, Shimmer side table for Glas. Simple form, beautiful dichroic effect on the glass.
Philippe Starck, Masters chair for Kartell. Bling and glam.
Konstantin Grcic, the installation for FLOS in Corso Monforte at the Fuori Salone. Beautiful vision of a future where everything works, where everything is well designed. Suddenly our planet seems healthy and there’s no sign of the usual negative vision. If only it were so!
Just 3 pieces… but obviously I also liked my own Crack tables for Glas. The technological possibilities of this company are always magical.
Interesting places relative to design, architecture or interiors in your home city, or in other cities particularly dear to you?
San Francisco – Una pizza napoletana (11th Street): very theatrical, with a wood oven clad in gold mosaic in the middle of a big industrial loft. A spotlight hits the oven and that’s it, just simple tables around it. And the pizza is delicious.
San Francisco – The Dzine showroom (Utah Street): extremely well curated, always elegant, it features mostly Italian design, not just production pieces but also lots of one-offs.
San Francisco – The Blue Bottle Coffee (Broadway – Oakland, Bay Area): a large open space with the barista and the technology of the coffee machines in full view, situated in an old car showroom with a glass façade and really high ceilings. Very little separation from the customer. Seating around an immense round table or at a high bar. A very special place, an instant classic.
In the world of furniture design it is usually difficult to trace exact paternities.
With outdoor, however, it’s different. This sector has undergone incredible evolutions in the past decade, and its father is certain – yet in the end not very well known. We’re talking about American designer Richard Schultz, born in 1926.
Richard started working for Knoll in 1951, collaborating with the famous Harry Bertoia, and in 1966 designed an outdoor collection that would change the destiny of this product category: ‘1966’, a series that takes its name from the year of its creation.
Metal profiles, rigorously white and skeletal, of seats in netting, and where necessary consummately elegant wheels combine to form a timeless icon, liberating outdoor furniture, with a single product, from the slavery of the Victorian bench, garden gnomes and wicker.
It’s impossible to imagine the recent outdoor projects of Jasper Morrison for Kettal, of Antonio Citterio for B&B Italia, of Van Duysen for Tribù without citing the work of Richard Schultz.
The two curators of the multimedia exhibition ‘Where architects live‘ are the winners of the award given by the jury of PIDA (Ischia International Architecture Prize) for significant contributions to the world of design.
The installation was presented at the Salone del Mobile 2014: the private rooms of eight of the world’s most authoritative exponents of international architecture were opened to the public in an examination of the culture of habitation through videos, images, sounds, accounts and live reenactments.
Shigeru Ban, Mario Bellini, David Chipperfield, Massimiliano e Doriana Fuksas, Zaha Hadid, Marcio Kogan, Daniel Libeskind and Studio Mumbai/Bijoy Jain espoused their conceptions of domestic space, revealing their methods, obsessions and visions.
Good work should always be rewarded, so congratulations to all for a job well done!
CHECK OUT THE VIDEO OF THE SHOW
On the occasion of the 2014 World Cup, 10 young Italian designers, led by Giulio Iacchetti and Francesca Molteni under the supervision of Raffaella Pollini/Diomedea, were asked to reinterpret the Super Santos, the ball that kids of every age have always imagined kicking in for the win.
Which is your favorite? Vote by ‘liking’ it in the album.
THE SUPER SANTOS – BACKSTAGE
Choose your champion. May the best ball win!
The Atollo lamp. An icon of Italian design
One of those rare products that everyone calls by name, like the Superleggera, the Arco, the 500, the Bialetti, the Sacco. There’s no need to specify chair, floor lamp, car, coffee maker, armchair.
What is the secret of Atollo? Undoubtedly its constructive principle of overlapping simple geometric forms: cone over cylinder, topped by a semi-sphere.
Nothing to add, nothing to subtract: a simplicity from an elementary school workbook, which in the hands of Magistretti, becomes an incomparable masterpiece of balance.
At the beginning of April, in a moment of great ferment and tension as the Salone del Mobile di Milano approached, the 7th edition of the Museum of Design opened at the Triennale. An impeccable exhibition to which we must now return with an in-depth critical reflection.
As you know, each year the Museum of Design proposes a different reading of our design history. This subterfuge, difficult for foreign visitors to understand, nevertheless makes it possible to resolve the age-old problem of space, since the Triennale building cannot, by vocation, be transformed into a permanent museum.
Parting from this premise, what are the features that make this particular edition exceptional? First of all, the particularly felicitous curatorial efforts of Beppe Finessi with the help of Cristina Miglio. Which is not to subtract anything from previous editions, whose curators brought their own ‘particularity’: for the first two, Andrea Branzi, critic with a vision of a wide swath of our design history; for the third, Alessandro Mendini, great master endowed with a sophisticatedly interlocutory approach (Which things are we? is the psychoanalytical query at the core of his presentation); for the fourth, Alberto Alessi, captain of industry, in whose judgment industries become dream factories); for the fifth, Camuffo-Piazza-Vinti in search of the graphic soul of Italian design; and for the sixth, Pierluigi Nicolin, architect and critic wrestling with the uncertain contagions of the syndrome of influence.
Unlike his predecessors, Finessi addresses the Museum by coherently constructing a theme and its inherent limits starting with a specific thesis: crises represent not only moments of difficulty, but also extraordinary opportunities for redemption. In the history of Italian design, there are three emblematic periods that he identifies and dissects: the end of the 1930s with autarchy, the early ‘70s with austerity and the most recent decade of the new millennium with auto-production.
AUtarchy, AUsterity, AUto-production share the prefix AU, alchemical symbol for gold and symbolic confirmation of the curator’s thesis. Within these three historical moments, and without any political judgments, Finessi presents pieces that are fascinating and above all subtle. Nothing is old hat, nothing ‘visually worn out’. Even experts in the field stop in astonishment before the string of names like Anita Pittoni, Gegia Bronzini, Bice Lazzari, Antonia Campi, Renata Bonfanti, Fede Cheti, Rossana Bianchi Piccoli (lots of women, significantly), Eugenio Tavolara, Roberto Mango. And when one gets to better known figures, they are presented with ‘lateral’ attention: pieces in papier-mâché and enameled copper by Gio Ponti, ceramics and sheet metal designs by Ettore Sottsass, thereby counteracting that ‘globalization of knowledge’ that every museum in the world now proposes, from East to West, North to South, showing the same paintings, the same objects.
With equal confidence, Finessi approaches the current crisis, where alchemy has not yet done its work and nothing, for now, has been tranformed into gold (Au), by respectfully and attentively presenting several Italian designers of indubitable talent: Ulian, Damiani, Paruccini, Adami, Contin, Gamper, Iacchetti, authentic ‘new masters’ sometimes scarcely considered by industry.
So where, then, is ‘the problem‘, if indeed we must necessarily find one? Perhaps in the originary conception that assembles under the by now too wide umbrella of design, industrial production, decorative arts, handcrafts, bricolage, even the so-called ‘feminine arts’. A potential philosophical ‘weakness’ that becomes a strength in the hands of the curator and his team (Cristina Miglio, Matteo Pirola and Annalisa Ubaldi), but which seems to reject the idea of design as a democratic, egalitarian enterprise, the ‘popular art of the new millennium’, as Giulio Carlo Argan short-sightedly defined it.
Italian design beyond the crises
Autarchy, austerity, autonomy
Triennale di Milano
Until 22 February 2015