Journey among some of the protagonists of the history of Italian design
There are timeless interior design icons, which have entered our homes, hotels, and work environments making them more precious, even when lines and shapes were so minimal as to seem almost obvious. Instead, they have survived time, the style that changes, the materials that are renewed. All this because they represented the history of design, expressions of architectural and artistic streams and movements that have left a tangible trace, from an aesthetic point of view, but also from a sociocultural one.
In Italy, the term "design" made its appearance in the common terminology at the end of the 1800s. Only in the 1960s did this industry begin to flourish, thanks to outstanding personalities who brought the inspiration and quality of made in Italy production all over the world. The Italian masters who have plowed through architecture and interior design in the last century have irreversibly changed the history of design, leaving timeless furnishings and accessories, with shapes and materials that are always current, even if they have often evolved together with us, but always remain faithful to the origins.
Achille Castiglioni: design at the service of functionalism
"If you are not curious, forget it". It was the motto of Achille Castiglioni, architect and designer born in 1944 and younger brother of architects Livio and Pier Giacomo. Son of rationalism, Castiglioni thought that every design concept should be linked to a function, as for him design was the resolution of the problem, and it must be guided by essential elements. Throughout his career he has supported the theory that "there must be irony, both in design and in objects".
Castiglioni has conceived and created a series of design icons. Among the most famous and long-lasting is Arco, a lamp designed for Flos, which hides a little big curiosity. It was the first industrial design object to which copyright protection was recognized as a work of art.
When he created it, the designer of Arco was inspired by street lighting, where suspended lamps are able to illuminate every corner of the city. Arco, in fact, represents the freedom of movement combined with that of creating new plays of light and shadows within your own environment. With the strictness of its lines and attention to the combination of materials, it is a mixed product, with a mission for suspension.
It is the lamp that has established new rules in the interaction between table and lighting fixture, releasing it from the fixed position on the ceiling. An advantage that becomes practical: being able to be placed practically anywhere, it arrives directly with the light point on the desired place.
2 meters and 5 centimeters high, Arco has as its base a parallelepiped in white Carrara marble weighing 65 kilos, with rounded corners. The hole in the center of gravity supports an arched stem, consisting of three telescopic elements in stainless steel, which adjust the width of the arm and the height of the light source. The dome-shaped hat is a perforated cap, on which rests an aluminum ring with an adjustable position. In this way it is possible to change its position, depending on the height of the third sector of the arch.
Vico Magistretti and its sinuous and visionary design
“Design is also looking at everyday objects with a curious eye”. Word of Vico Magistretti, who has made it a mantra throughout his career. Born in 1920 and passed away in 2006, he graduated from the Milan Polytechnic University in 1945 and was an architect, interior designer and industrial designer, working with companies such as Artemide, Cassina, De Padova, Flou, Fritz Hansen, Kartell and Schiffini.
He too, like Castiglioni, of rationalism, adds a plus: for the first time, the creation of everyday objects is done by architects.
The idea of simplicity and his brilliant and innovative style have created sinuous but essential shapes, functional and resistant materials. For Magistretti, a good design concept is primarily the answer to a technical problem that must be solved. His need was reflected in a very practical design approach, the result of continuous dialogue with producers.
An example is the fact that he never elaborated a detailed drawing of the Eclisse table lamp, a design icon with a singular and legendary history, starting from its conception. It all began in 1963, on the Milan underground. Reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, Magistretti begins to think of Jean Valjean's lantern described in the novel. A moment later in his head, the thief's semi-blind lantern turns into a table lamp. In order not to miss the sudden creative leap, he took the subway ticket and did a sketch on the back.
The design concept includes three hemispheres: two fixed - the base and the outer shell - and a movable inner shell. Hence the idea of adding the metaphor of the astronomical phenomenon: symbolizing the Sun - Earth - Moon system, the three hemispheres simulate what happens during the eclipse of the Moon, when the earth's shadow cone totally or partially runs over the lunar globe. Similarly, the inner cap rotates, totally or partially covering the light output of the bulb.
The user is free to scale the light beam to obtain a soft and shielded or diffused and homogeneous lighting: this is also a small revolution. In addition to creation, the history of production is also curious. As there is no detailed drawing, it seems that the concept of this iconic lamp was told over the phone and understood by the manufacturer.
Ettore Sottsass, diverse shapes and colors for a timeless design
Color, unusual shapes and cheap materials. Ettore Sottsass, architect and designer born in 1917, graduated from the Polytechnic of Turin, during his career, truly multipurpose, he designed furniture, jewelry, glass, lighting, objects for the home and design of office machines, as well as many buildings and interiors .
Among the various collaborations, he has worked for Knoll, Esprit, Olivetti, Alessi, Brondi, Poltronova and Fiorucci. Known as the founder of the Memphis stream, the collective of designers who had set itself the goal of countering the principles of rationalist design, Sottsass wanted to redefine the very idea of style through bold colors, unusual shapes and economical materials.
In his philosophy, there was always the desire to explore more deeply, under the surface of the objects he designed, and he claimed that everyone should find their own, original and unique way of doing things. Among his most significant works are the Califfo sofa, the cubirolo dresser and pieces from the gray furniture series for Poltronova, as well as rarer objects such as the flying carpet chair, where the apparent lightness with which he combines pop culture and spirituality of the hippie era. Objects such as the dining chair Seggiolina for Alchimia and other Memphis pieces testify to his unique formal language.
Alessandro Mendini, between postmodernism and re-design
“I treat objects as if they were human beings, I make them smile”. A multifaceted personality, full of nuances, the same ones that he projected on his works. Alessandro Mendini was an outstanding figure in the interior world. During his career he was editor of Casabella and Domus, creating at the same time works of graphics, furniture, interiors, painting and architecture.
Among the main brands with which he has collaborated, Alessi, Swatch, Kartell, to name but a few. Above all, he was an active member of the profound Italian anti-design movement. His aesthetic references, as a postmodernist as he called himself, found inspiration in a huge variety of fields, from literature to art. He had a design approach defined as “re-design”, indicating the desire to give a new meaning or perspective to everyday objects.
Mendini's activity has marked architecture, design and more generally contemporary culture both with his theoretical and design activities. Among his most famous pieces is the Proust armchair, a perfect example of what he called "re-design", that is, the practice of intervening with decorations on found objects and famous design icons. Since 1978, Proust has been an object that, despite its many variations (born as a unique piece and then passed to the limited edition, but also to industrial production), is and will remain firmly in the empyrean of cult.