Interview: David Chipperfield

driade-milan-2015-1

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Sir David Chipperfield is decidedly one of the most globally recognized personalities in architecture and design. His award-winning work has been recognized many times over for its simplicity and clarity of vision, and recently, he was appointed as artistic director of Driade, the iconic Italian design house.

Now part of the industrial holding company ItalianCreationGroup, Driade was founded by Enrico Astori, Antonia Astori and Adelaide Acerbi in the late ’60s, and has always been synonymous with experimentation, freedom and continual research around the boundaries of good taste and design thinking.

The first act under Chipperfield’s guidance is the opening of a new showroom and store in Via Borgogna in the heart of Milan, which he designed with his architectural firm. The space is white and clean—a sharp contrast with the colorful and joyous pieces of Driade’s past and present. While attending the official opening, we had the chance to meet with Chipperfiled for an exclusive interview.

We begin by talking about the gallery-like venue. “This space is part of a project that’s sort of a relaunch or rejuvenation of Driade in another chapter,” Chipperfield explains. “The showroom is just meant to be a rather independent and fresh series of rooms that become the backdrop for the furniture. It’s more of a sort of gallery-type atmosphere, I suppose, but what we imagine will happen is that there will be installations, like there is in a museum. There will be graphic installations to present the furniture, but sometimes there will be single objects. So we chose a neutral architecture.”

Some details struck our attention, like the unusual nets that surround the staircase. “It’s just a solution to the problem to stop people falling,” says Chipperfield with a smile.

In the new showroom there’s an entire floor dedicated to the historic pieces of the company dating from 1968 to 1982, which you can find in any design museum or book about the design classics. Chipperfield underlines that “this is part of the program of what we want to talk about with the rethinking of Driade. [This represents] the heritage of Driade since 1968. So I wanted to say, instead of the rejuvenation of Driade being lots of new designers, let’s first of all reassess what Driade has achieved in the last 50 years—and remind ourselves that this is the origin of the company and also the origins of design in Italy. And what furniture was in the 1960s and what it is now. I think there’s a certain originality and freshness in those pieces, which is missing in so much contemporary furniture.”

In plotting a new course for an old company, study of the archives is a requisite foundational step. “It’s a very interesting archive and the whole idea was just to try and think of what Enrico Astori tried to experiment. He was very generous in the way he allowed people to experiment and accommodate. It’s not a company where the product is very, very defined, so there are some strange products. There are some extraordinary products, there are some ugly products. So it’s a diversity, which I think is very fundamental to the whole spirit of the company, which is sort of what I wanted to remind ourselves about and also remind everybody else. And that’s the way I’d like to proceed.”

We asked Chipperfield to suggest where young designers could look for true creativity, and his ideas are very clear. “It’s not in images, first of all. I think the problem is that common culture is obsessed with images and less with substance. I would encourage young people to be less [influenced by], or to be suspicious of, consumers as a motivating creative force. And I think what we want to do with Driade is to try and develop products and objects which of course should make sense to the market, but they’re not following the market. I think that’s what’s interesting about the early years: that those objects have a certain integrity in themselves. They’re not part of this sort of market research about what people want. I mean no one really needs a furry cube (the Pouf Blocco by Nanda Vigo), but it’s a really fascinating object.”

This aspect relates very much to the future of Driade. In Chipperfield’s words: “There’s a confusion about design now that design is trying to persuade us that we need things that we don’t actually need. We have to be very self-conscious about whether we can’t regain a little bit of the innocence that is exemplified by the early years work. At Milan Design Week we will promote new products by Enzo Mari and by Constantine Grcic, and I think in both there’s a certain sort of intensity about their work and it’s not soft. It’s strong, and clear and very much about making things, a sort of strong materiality. And I think that’s not just image, or style and product-obsessed. It’s about making things which have a certain value and integrity.”

Chipperfield’s ideas about the relationships between consumerism and design are definitive. “At least we have to think hard about what do we need. The question is: how much more do we want? The market depends on us wanting more. Growth is the only aspiration of the commercial market and there’s a contradiction because we know that we have to stop consuming more. From an economic point of view we’re told if we don’t buy more, the economy will collapse, so there’s an inner contradiction. So I think we just have to be much more cautious and more sustainable, and in terms of bringing it back to furniture, I think we just have to be a bit more careful about what we make and that those things have a lasting value. And as far as Driade is concerned, if we can make good things that people want, need: things which you would treasure as opposed to just consume, then I think there’s a clue in dealing with inevitable contradictions that exist now between our environmental concerns and this commercial system that we’ve invented.”

Does this mean that we should stop creating new objects? “There’s too much stuff and we’re buying too much, making too much, selling too much. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sell anything. People are eating too much, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t eat at all. They should just eat more carefully, less and with more discipline.”

We then exchange a few words with Stefano Core, CEO of Driade. His vision for the future of the Italian brand meets an intelligible vision of the future of Made in Italy too. Core is enthusiastic when he says, “the Italian brand is never an end in itself. In Italy, the brand always comes after the product. Italian artisans and designers do not create just beautiful designs, but real objects, using their hands. We have a great creative ability as well as construction capabilities, and the brand is always a consequence of the product, it comes after.”

When he considers the role of the objects in the market, his vision is in perfect alignment with Chipperfield’s. “A product brings an energy; it should tell a story, a bit like a person. Each of us has to have a reason why we’re in this world, and it’s the same for products. If I want to buy yet another cover for my phone, yet another pen, yet another piece of design, this object must have a reason. This reason may be the price (cheap or free) or a profound value. The products must therefore have a unique and excellent integrity. And the products made in Italy have these characteristics.”

Image courtesy of Driade

Annunci

National Pavilions

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“Common Ground”—the theme this year for Venice’s Biennale Architettura 2012—covers all exhibition spaces from Giardini to Arsenale, as well as the vast range of venues spread out all over town. Fitting into this larger concept while presenting their own respective themes were a number of national participants. Here are three standouts from Japan, Russia and the USA.

USA

For its unifying motif the US chose the idea of “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” The installation marks a huge living catalogue of 124 spontaneous urban interventions, put in place by architects, designers, planners and artists, as well as common citizens willing to intervene in their neighborhoods and cities.

After an open call for projects, commissioner and curator Cathy Lang Ho worked with co-curators David van der Leer and Ned Cramer to narrow down the selection among more than 450 submissions. The result is a clever choice of local projects, urban gardens, community farms, websites and art activities which foster and enhance relationships, leisure, comfort, functionality, safety, sharing and sustainability in US cities. Every project—which ties back to the central notion of collaboration—is visible on a constantly updated dedicated website.

A system of movable banners conceived by the Brooklyn-based design studio Freecell lies at the core of the installation—each banner presents and describes a project, and which of the ideas it explores improve the public realm. The visitors can lower a banner while a counterweight is pulled up, revealing a keyword for the future of cities and graphics designed by communication design studio M-A-D. The Jury of the Biennale has assigned a Special Mention for the national participation in this project.

Russia

The same prize went to the Russian National Pavillion, but here it’s a totally different story. Where the US installation is totally mechanical, concrete and evident, the choice of curator’s Sergei Tchoban, Sergey Kuznetsov and Valeria Kashirina was to go digital, virtual and invisible, with “i-city” and “i-land.”

The i-city area is completely covered with QR codes from walls to floors to windows, with no exceptions. The visitors are provided with a special tablet with a camera that lights up the squares according to a specific rhythm. Then, the monitor unveils projects for Skolkovo, the so-called Russian Silicon Valley. The Skolkovo area is not far from Moscow and is one of the most ambitious architectural, financial and scientific projects in the country, anticipating buildings and development plans by David ChipperfieldOMAHerzog & De MeuronStefano Boeri Architetti and Bernaskoni Architecture Bureau, just to name a few.

On the lower level, the i-land project is a completely dark area, with mysterious tiny backlit holes that create a sort of underground constellation. Looking inside the holes, the visitor can directly spy into the Soviet past, discovering a series of formerly secret science cities. Those citadels represented the excellence of USSR’s scientific research and were kept hidden until the end of the Cold War.

Japan

The Golden Lion for the Best National Participation went to “Architecture. Possible here? Home-for-All,”Toyo Ito‘s project for the Japanese Pavillion, which starts with the consequences of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. With the help of architects Kumiko Inui, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, and photographer Naoya Hatakeyama, Ito documents the realization of community centers for victims.

Questions about the possibility of post-quake architecture find an answer in apparently primeval construction techniques, where wood and stilts make up the basic elements. The entire installation looks and feels like a work-in-progress, where the contribution from everyone is considered and accepted, in a spirit of authentic collaboration between architects and common people. This is the epitome of this year’s Biennale, an authentic “common ground” for the future of architecture.

Torre David / Gran Horizonte

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Torre David is an abandoned 45-story skyscraper located in Caracas, Venezuela. After the death of the developer in 1993 and the collapse of the Venezuelan economy a year later, the office tower was almost complete, but the construction was suddenly and inexorably interrupted. Today Torre David is a real vertical slum occupied by a community of more than 750 families. The residents of the tower have spontaneously created a sort of city within a city with areas for sports, leisure, worship and meetings—an extra-legal community whose organization has been studied by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, along with research and design teams at Urban-Think Tank and ETH Zürich.

The exhibit Torre David / Gran Horizonte is one of the most incredible surprises at this year’sArchitecture Biennale in Venice. It wasn’t by chance that this project was awarded with the Golden Lion for the Best Project of the Common Ground Exhibition, the true core of the Biennale curated by David Chipperfield.

In the Venetian exhibit and in their book Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities (due to release October 2012), Brillembourg and Klumpner analyze this reality and other similar informal settlements, coming up with concrete ideas for sustainable interventions aimed to transform and take these places back to the urban landscape.

The center of the exhibition is far from a didactic space. The fully functioning arepa restaurant, Gran Horizonte, acts as a traditional place to eat and create community, like those created by the inhabitants of Torre David. The exhibit also displays some breathtaking pictures by Iwan Baan that describe the thin line between everyday life and this one-of-a-kind situation, where despair and beauty coexist in every shot. The Common Ground Exhibition runs through 25 November 2012 at La Biennale.

Image courtesy of the U-TT Archives and Daniel Schwartz.