Interview: David Chipperfield

driade-milan-2015-1

My new article for Cool Hunting.

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

Studio Visit: Paula Cademartori

IMG_2248

My new article for Cool Hunting.

Constantly surrounded by architectural and natural beauty alike, Italians sometimes need someone from abroad to remind them of their exceptional surroundings. This may happen when friends and family visit or when some talented creative mind falls in love with local processes. The latter is the case of Paula Cademartori, a Brazilian fashion designer who can be counted among the ambassadors of the “Made in Italy” movement.

Cademartori studied design at Istituto Marangoni and business at Bocconi University, after which she moved to the Marche region (east of Florence on the Adriatic) to work at Orciani for one year. Here she learned what it really means to produce leather goods, the secrets of tanning, cutting, assembling and realizing unique crafts from start to finish. Then she moved back to Milan for two very intense years designing accessories at Versace.

Nevertheless, her dream was to create her own brand, and her first signature bag collection was launched in 2011. In just four years, she established herself as an icon among fashion devotees and buyers alike. We recently met with Cademartori to delve into her creative process and check out an exclusive preview of her new 300-square-meter studio and headquarters in the heart of Milan, where she works with a staff of 17 people. Like in her designs, the space is filled with sophisticated colors, upscale atmospheric touches and shots of pure energy.

“The beauty of Italy,” Cademartori explains of her decision to start the company outside her native Brazil, “is that you can design and then accompany all phases of the project. In a very small territory you have so many people so capable and full of experience that you can learn, discuss, and you always get to do something better than you have imagined. For me, coming from a different culture and a different story (even thou I’ve lived in Italy for the past 10 years) this possibility of direct exchange with all the craftsmen and technicians is always an enrichment.”

Cademartori was raised in Brazil and trained to be an industrial and jewelry designer. For this reason her methodology is far from traditional fashion design. She always starts with the realization of a very complete project (almost final), which then undergoes small changes in the factory. “Each one of my bags originates from my studio, where I have four designers. When I start with an idea, I need to plan it; to understand the user, which volumes and proportions she needs. When I get to the factory, ideas are already very clear, but then there can be a process of evolution. Some details are decided in production, such as the position of the seams in relationship to the inlay, or the use of the materials most suitable for a specific purpose.”

Her pursuit of beauty is punctuated with determination. “If you do not have a real purpose, it’s not enough that the object is beautiful. The aesthetic side matters, but the functionality and the market category are all factors that must be thought of first. My project is global and wants to reach out to all cultures of the world. For this reason, my range is now much larger, designed for women of all backgrounds and origins.”

Cademartori’s bags are extremely spacious yet structured so that everything can be easily organized and accessed quickly, without forcing users to rummage around. Colorful on the outside, they follow defined structural lines, so that one can make the most of space without overstuffing. For this reason they always keep the shape (the study of the structure is critical for the designer) and never lose the beauty of their unique proportions. Also the smallest of clutches have separate areas for smartphones and the bigger styles can hold tablets and other daily essentials. “Each bag is very easy to use,” she adds, “Petite Faye, one of our best-sellers, is full of pockets and is not very deep, so you can reach everything quickly. I love totes, but then you can not find anything inside.”

Since the first collection, Cademartori wanted all the small metal parts to be custom designed, including the recognizable buckle. “That is my logo as well. I put it on all my products and it tells who I am. When I launched my line I aimed at something fresh and new, but I also wanted it to look important. I did not want a simple logo, but a heraldic symbol, as if it were a family crest,” she says. “I started with Greek pi and worked on it, redesigned it so to get to the one we see today. My name you will see very little, since I don’t need to sign my products on the outside, but on the inside. My bags have to be iconic for their design, not because of the name that goes with it.”

Each Cademartori bag can be seen as a sort of base, a frame, a blank canvas upon which to give birth to an infinite variety of colors, materials and inspirations. Her enthusiasm rises when she talks creativity: “The funniest part of the design is when we say, ‘OK, let’s dress the babes!’ At this stage we think less to the design of forms and we freely work on the decoration, the choice of colors and combinations. And I can be a little obsessive with these things.”

In January, Cademartori will present a new line of small leather goods, with some products for men too. “I would like to create a philosophy, a real lifestyle. We started from the bags, but there is a world to be built,” she adds. Expect more surprises to follow, always colorful, always energetic and elegant. And of course—always from excellent Italian factories.

IMG_2240 IMG_2350 IMG_2344 IMG_2342 IMG_2339 IMG_2327 IMG_2326 IMG_2321 IMG_2299 IMG_2296 IMG_2290 IMG_2284 IMG_2260 IMG_2257

Invisible, beautiful, everywhere

foto-5“Naturale e inevitabile”: questa l’idea di Wired USA a proposito dell’evoluzione del design in direzione di una sempre maggiore ubiquità invisibile. La copertina del (bellissimo!) numero di settembre è proprio dedicata ad un futuro già in corso, in cui il design (inteso all’americana, ovvero il mondo del progetto a 360 gradi) sta sempre di più andando verso una smaterializzazione quasi magica, in cui la tecnologia diventa ubiqua ma per nulla invasiva, e bella quando ci sia ancora qualcosa da vedere (come un’interfaccia o un oggetto).

Si parla di “embedded devices”, di sensori intelligenti dentro ad altri oggetti, anche accessori e capi di abbigliamento. Forse proprio perché sono nascosti mi sa tanto di agenti segreti al nostro servizio, infilati dentro i nostri oggetti.  Come possiamo controllare che non facciano il doppio gioco?

Il motto infatti sembra essere: “Non pensare, ci penso io” e a pensarci è sempre una macchina che raccoglie tonnellate di dati e sceglie per noi la migliore opzione. Tutto bene se avremo la possibilità di impostare un po’ di cose all’inizio e controllare un po’ di cose tutte le volte che vogliamo. Mica tanto bene se invece ci sarà vietato di intervenire sulle scelte che compie il sensore. In questi casi è importante ricordare (la memoria digitale è perenne), ma noi siamo esseri umani e alcune cose le vogliamo dimenticare.

Il mio auspicio è che ogni funzione del design del futuro, sia essa oggetto, servizio, esperienza, possa avere un ctrl+alt+canc, un pulsante che ci consenta di controllare e/o resettare i dati che avremo condiviso. Spero in una tecnologia che ogni tanto ci consenta di fare a meno di lei.

Interview: Alessandro Mendini at Venini

mendini-venini-2-thumb-620x440-57670

My new article for Cool Hunting.

Alessandro Mendini is a living legend in the field of international design and architecture. His versatility and outstanding ability to cross disciplines has helped pioneer the multi-pronged approach to design so commonly applied today, and has led him to become both a highly sought after director for forward-thinking publications like Casabella and Domus, as well as a range of companies from all over the world. He lends his talents to established brands but also promising young designers, and remains very involved in the definition of future forms of education. We had the privilege of meeting Mendini during the recent Milan Design Week at the Venini showroom, where we discussed the past and future of glassmaking, the role of masters and makers, 3D printing and his history working with one of the world’s premiere glassworks.

How long have you been working for Venini?

I’ve been working with Venini for so many years I can not even remember how many! With Venini I did some very interesting things, many of which using their signature techniques and colors, both very special. Over the years, little by little I came to realize vases, lamps, light sculptures, very large vessels, figures, horses, totems and so on. Sometimes the occasion was a product for their catalog, other times it was because of my attendance in special exhibitions, for which I asked them to have some specific things. For example in 2002, for the Fondation Cartier in Paris, I created with Venini a great red face wearing golden earrings by Cartier, with archaic eyes inspired by the sculptures of Easter Island.

In 2005, for an exhibition in Athens, I made a blue vase with wings called Giotto, with whom I was going to represent Italy through the blue of the great Italian painter. I also allowed Venini to meet with other companies. For example, one recent thing that is presented during the Milan Design Week at the Galleria Jannone, is Amuleto. It is a series of very technical lamps, characterized by a circular symbol: the glass is made by Venini while the Korean company Ramun has realized the electrical parts.

What is your relationship with glass?

Glass is clearly a material of great charm, but it is fascinating also to work within the memories of Venini. It is very difficult, because there’s always a moment of suspension which is meeting with the master craftsman. I do not go often in the furnaces—I go there every so often and they have an incredible appeal. However, I work at a desk, I’m not able to work with a glass master and tell him what to do. I have to get prepared for the furnace, also prepared for the fact that, like every craftsman, the master glassmaker always says “no, you can’t do that.” The technical abilities are theirs, not mine, and the relationship with them becomes really a true partnership on equal terms.

One of the ideas you lecture on is that of “The Makers,” yet one of the themes that emerged at this year’s Design Week is immaterial design, a form of lightweight, almost invisible design.

The story of The Makers is linked to the hypothesis to be able to work independently from the industry. In the world of makers, individualities tend to realize things with a do-it-yourself approach, through simple technologies and sophisticated materials. This also responds to needs related to the decline of educational institutions and the need for people to make things in isolation, away from institutional places. I am very interested in these issues and for two consecutive years I did an exhibition about makers at La Fabbrica del Vapore. Then there are the traditional makers, craftsmen, but this is a different story. On the other hand, the evanescence of design is linked to the development of electronics, digital tools that become abstractions of communication and information. In the digital devices you can have an entire library and everything is dematerialized.

I think it is important that the sophistication of craft traditions remains. For example, you can not say that with a 3D printer you’ll make an interesting piece in glass. With this technology you can make a disposable glass, with a bad material, slightly polluting, badly designed. The tradition of glass, for example, from the Middle Ages until today is a tradition of sophistication in its use and rhetoric, in the ceremonial use of objects. This is related to the idea itself of the ancient, of the archaic, and it is a matter of anthropology.

The one does not deny the other, but my personal discourse is neither technological nor technocratic, it is a matter of humanistic utopia. If I find utopia in what I see (given that it is not purely technological), then I’m interested. For me, utopia means to aim at something that can not be reached, whatever it is.

Which projects did you present for Venini this year?

Genevra is a project born in the Swiss town, where a group of watchmakers asked me to make 13 different objects with 13 different materials. One of these was made by Venini and it was similar to this but not the same. I started with a form derived by Carlo Scarpa, a very attractive component for large chandeliers. This has been produced in eight copies only, because it is very complex and very slow in the making. It carries an LED lamp, with a metal base and a metal top.

“La colonna di Venini luminosa” was originally called only “La colonna di Venini” and was a tribute to the masters of Venini. The first version had no light inside, and each sphere was made with a precise technique used by a master of Venini, including Ettore Sottssass, Mario Bellini, Carlo Scarpa, Tapio Wirkkala, Fulvio Bianconi, Gae Aulenti among the others. This version has been fully revolutionized. There is an alternation of two colors but the blown glass is always mine, no more references to the company’s past.

Interview: Aiko Telgen

ion-2-lamp-aiko-telgen-1-thumb-900x600-57437

My new article for Cool Hunting.

Almost completely hidden in a small, dark booth inside Zona Tortona’s Temporary Museum of New Design, German designer Aiko Telgen presented Ion Lamps, one of our favorite finds at this year’s Milan Design Week so far. The captivating Ion Two—the newest addition to Telgen’s line—looks like a bubble that has trapped a spirit like a luminescent ghost or a glowing genie.

The Ion Two is built around a central glass cylinder, which serves as the base for additional glowing glass rings. Every part of the lamp is filled with inert neon gas and, through a special process, the neon is turned into plasma so that the light looks more gentle and delicate than what shines through a regular neon tube. Plus, the plasma reacts to the presence of body heat, making the light more intense in the exact point where someone touches the glass. Plasma can also be manipulated by magnetic fields, so the different ionic charges illuminate when they come in contact with each other or become closer together. As a result, the user can create different intensities of light by adding, subtracting or moving the rings around.

We were able to speak to the designer to learn more about the Ion’s very interesting use of technology to turn science into something magical, and the process behind constructing the system.

How was the project born? How did you discover this technology?

The Ion Lamp Series (Ion One and Ion Two) is my graduation project which I did at the School of Art and Design Kassel in Germany. I began this exploration of light with the theme, “A Floating Light,” and started my research about everything around the topics of floating elements and the nature of light. When I visited a small neon sign factory in East Germany I got a first impression of the technology and realized the difference between fluorescent light (generated by UV light), which is widely known and used, and the pure light of plasma. The plasma process is usually hidden inside fluorescent tubes but has a very special appearance. When I saw this for the first time I instantly had the feeling that this could be a solution to my starting point. I then got deeper into the topics of plasma and neon technology and looked into the experimental research of several people like Nikola TeslaDan Flavin and James Turrell.

What is the process of making the lamp? Is it more artisanal or technological?

I would describe the process of making it as both artisanal and technological. The glass pieces are manufactured out of semi-finished glass tubes by a glass laboratory supplier. They are not blown into a wooden mold—this wouldn’t work because of the specific geometry of the glass rings. The finished glass pieces are then transported to a neon laboratory where they are put into an oven and vacuumed with a turbo pump. After this process you have to fill in the neon gas, taking care of the different volumes of the glass cavities, since each one needs a different pressure.

What’s the difference between regular neon gas and plasma?

One explanation which describes plasma very well is the comparison between water and ice. When water freezes and becomes ice you see a change of state to a state of matter. The same happens here with the neon gas, it changes the state from gas to a neon plasma, the fourth state of matter.

Do you think this is a suitable object for mass production?

I don’t think it’s possible—at least with this version—to make a mass production piece out of it, because of the quite complex glass work. With this version I would prefer to make a small series. But of course a third, more simple version with less complexity could be mass produced.

 

Re-lighting Gino Sarfatti Edition N°1 by Flos

flos-sarfatti-edition1-1-thumb-620x505-57412My new article for Cool Hunting

Gino Sarfatti is possibly the most important lighting designer in the history of Italian design. Between founding the beloved Arteluce in 1939 and selling it to Flos in 1973, the self-taught designer had over 600 lamps and “light fittings” under his name. 2012 would have been Sarfatti’s 100th birthday, and to mark this occasion Flos joined up with curators Marco Romanelli and Sandra Severi Sarfatti to create the first-ever Italian retrospective at the Triennale di Milano.

In celebration of his experimental take on lighting, professionals and the general public alike were invited to re-envision his masterpieces, which are now on display next to the rare historic pieces. Flos accepted this challenge and chose to only reengineer the inside components, leaving Sarfatti’s original shapes to shine. This falls particularly in line with Sarfatti’s progressive approach to lighting, as a designer always ready to adopt new solutions like the first halogen lights.

The upshot of this deeply technical operation is “Re-lighting Gino Sarfatti,” a first edition of five timeless lamps, to be followed in the future by additional collections. Each lamp of the new line is based on LEDs and the handsome marriage of contemporary, energy-saving light sources with retro form.

The original “Modello 607,” a table lamp based on halogen lighting, is now turned into a mass of 42 tiny LEDs, screened off by a diffusor. The shape and functional details are identical to the 1971 design, even in the central dimmer at the base.

The most intense technical intervention is probably that of the “Modello 1095.” This floor lamp is a simple tube that was meant to carry a 12V halogen lamp on top. But as it is, there’s no space for heat-sinks, making it necessary to use LEDs to maintain the same intensity and quality of lighting. Flos technicians found the solution in a patented water cooling system, which makes water flow up and down all along the rod while the lamp is in use.

“Modello 1063” was designed in 1954 and was essentially a vertical fluorescent tube. The original base hosted an electromagnetic ballast. Today this volume is used to hide the dimming system and other electronic devices. In this case too, the neon light has been replaced with a LED module with variable light temperature.

The most iconic piece of the collection is probably “Modello 548,” a classic table lamp with reflected and diffused light, and a characteristic colored cup-shaped diffuser. The main innovation is this case is in old push button switch, which has been turned into an optical dimming sensor.

“Modello 2129” was designed by Sarfatti in 1969 and is an incredibly elegant arc-shaped droplight that can rotate 360 degrees. The only wire is hosted by a transparent tube and, thanks to a counterweight, the reflector can freely be moved up and down. As for the other lamps, the original incandescent light bulb has been replaced with a wide LED surface.

Currently on view through 14 May 2013 at the Flos Professional Space in Milan, the Gino Sarfatti Edition N°1 collection will be on sale later this year in selected design and furniture shops worldwide.

Kama Sex and Design

Kama_VaginaWall-thumb-620x411-52036My new article for Cool Hunting.

The products of design are often objects of desire, but to what extent can this drive be pushed? The exhibition “Kama Sex and Design” ventures an answer to that weighty question with an analysis of the visual representation of sexual motifs. The starting point is Kama, the Indian god of sexual pleasure, who welcomes visitors into the exhibition space at the Triennale in Milan. The route runs between contemporary objects, classic design, site-specific installations and photographs.

Curator Silvana Annicchiarico tells us that the show “aims to be an exhibition on objects which have the genitals and sexual organs as morphological matrix, but also on the body that maintains sexual relations with other bodies. It is an exhibition that investigates how sex is present in everyday objects.” To achieve this goal, the exhibition is divided into eight sections: Archetypes, Priapus, Origin du Monde, Breasts, Buttocks, Orifices, Couplings and Erotic Food Design, and is accompanied by an ambitious central installation entitled “Anatomical Atlas of the Erotic Refined Body.” Among Etruscan sculptures, Greek vases and Roman artifacts we find very well known works like the Mae West sofa by Salvador Dalí, as well as provocative pieces such as “The Great Wall of Vagina” by Jamie McCartney, a relief of 400 plaster casts of female genitalia.

The exploration begins with a room by Andrea Branzi, in which the relationships between classical and modern, and sex and death, are made explicit through skulls and reproductions of classical female nudes. It continues with a black monolith by Lapo Lani, located in a dark space covered with obscene writing viewed by flashlights.

In another room Nendo‘s “Shivering Bowls” resembling female breasts move as their name suggests, moving in an unexpectedly poetic manner with a constant flow of air. The softness of Nendo’s work contrasts with the hard marble and metals in Betony Vernon‘s installation where mysterious objects of the body (and a provocatively phallic marble chair) are presented in a red space reminiscent of an elegant brothel.

Other designers and artists whose work is on display include Nacho CarbonellNigel CoatesMatali CrassetItalo RotaPiero Fornasetti, Ettore Sottsass, Gaetano Pesce. “Kama Sex and Design” runs through 10 March 2013 and is prohibited for persons under 18 years.