Interview: David Chipperfield


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

Amori da discarica

Qualche tempo fa mi sono fermato a riflettere sull’assurdità del fatto che spesso porto i rifiuti in Montenapoleone. Parlo delle capsule Nespresso che, grazie al progetto Ecolaboration, possono essere restituite al punto vendita per garantirne un corretto smaltimento (io vado in via Verri o in San Babila). E oramai mi trovo a non gettare più una sola capsula nella raccolta indifferenziata.

I rifiuti oggi sono così importanti che ci preoccupiamo di indicare una giusta e corretta strada anche quando siamo costretti a separarcene. E a volte non vorremmo nemmeno allontanarci da loro.

Ce lo dimostra anche un nuovo progetto che – tra design e  arte – crea teneri, dolci, affettuosi rifiuti. Sono i robottini di Massimo Sirelli, realizzati per il progetto Adotta un Robot, “la prima casa adozioni di robot da compagnia al mondo”, presentato durante il Salone del Mobile di Milano alla Mediateca Santa Teresa.

L’idea è semplice e porta a riflettere sull’importanza di recuperare materiali di scarto. Infatti Massimo recupera vecchie latte, lattine, oggetti della memoria, che poi assembla a formare dei robot di varie dimensioni. Andando sul sito del progetto si può scegliere un piccolo da adottare. Ma attenzione, non è sufficiente “acquistarli”, si deve motivare la richiesta, pattuire una cifra per l’adozione e ci si deve impegnare a tenere costantemente aggiornata la community sullo stato di salute e benessere dell’esserino meccanico.

Come non innamorarsi della spazzatura?

Interview: Marc Newson


My new article for COOL HUNTING

Recently, we reported on the launch of a new collaboration between Safilo and acclaimed Australian designer Marc Newson, meant to celebrate 80 years of activity for the historic Italian eyewear company. At Milan Design Week, we had the honor to talk to Newson himself. In a totally white space filled with light, in the historic halls of La Triennale, the designer spoke about manufacturing processes, signature products, heritage and the future of design.

How did you get in contact with Safilo?

I was approached by Safilo about 18 months ago and, in terms of industrial design, it was a relatively short period of time. I automatically assumed it would be sunglasses or something more fashion-oriented, but they said they were actually interested in optical frames. I became very excited about that because for the first time three years ago, I had to start wearing glasses. As a consumer, I found it really difficult as a male to go and find nice optical frames. It sounds like a crazy thing and there’s so many products on the market,but I really, really had difficulty. So I was using an old pair of frames which I liked and I put lenses in, but they were antique frames and didn’t work very well.

You also had the chance to get in with the production side, since you have worked a lot in recuperating specific techniques and materials.

Safilo is an old company with a really rich history, and that’s always a wonderful place to start. I work with a lot of brands that have a rich history and it’s good on one hand, it’s difficult on the other hand. In some cases it can be quite heavy and inhibiting. In other cases, depending on the mentality or the philosophy of the company, it can become a fantastic kind of wealth of information.

Safilo is a quintessentially Italian company, so they’ve lived through the greatest periods of design because they’re in the spiritual hub of design. To go through the historical archive, with products, techniques and philosophy, it’s an inspiring process, it’s a much better place to start.

Did you start from already existing styles in terms of shape or did you start from scratch?

It was a combination of three things: it was starting from scratch on one hand, on the other hand looking through the range of products that have been produced by Safilo for the last 80 years. Not only to take ideas, but to understand the philosophy of the company because there is a kind of deep design DNA, there is a way that Safilo does things, which is different to other manufacturers. And then the third thing is to simply create something that I’m happy to wear as a consumer.

In this specific project and other projects you’ve made, how is it possible to keep to the next level, to remember—but not too much—what was before?

My job is not to reinvent the wheel, but it’s a reinterpretation. It’s a way just to make it more contemporary. Probably it also has something to do with the fact that I come from Australia. I was born in a culture with no sort of historical baggage in design, so everything for me was new in one way. It’s like if I work for Riva, the most important thing for me is when somebody sees a boat 100 meters away, they say, “Ah, it’s a Riva”. They don’t say, “It’s Marc Newson.” It has to look like a Riva. The same happens with the Atmos clock for Jaeger-LeCoultre: the first thing they see it’s an Atmos clock. It’s not about me, it’s really about the product and that’s the same thing with Safilo.

If you were to give advice to a young designer or design student, what would it be?

I think designers need to spend as much time as they can studying technical things because you can’t work anywhere in the world with design if you don’t have a really great technical understanding. And the only way you can achieve great results is if you are able to communicate with manufacturers on an equal kind of basis, so I spend as much time as possible learning how to do that. It’s not just about sketches, it’s not just about concepts, it’s really about understanding production, materials, technology. And getting some kind of commercial knowledge as well, that’s also important. Every designer I know—every single designer, all of my contemporaries—99% of the time they have to teach themselves about the commercial side of design.

Is there something you haven’t designed yet that you would love to design?

I’ve been asked the question a few times and I always struggle to find an answer. I’ve worked in so many different areas, but the point for me is that it’s all design. People think you need to specialize, but I’m thinking I am specializing actually: I’m specializing in design. Design is always a problem-solving exercise. It doesn’t matter if it’s glasses or a frame, doesn’t matter if it’s automobile or a telephone. It’s a problem-solving exercise, absolutely. That’s what I’m doing. But maybe it would be nice to design nothing for a while.

The Safilo x Marc Newson collection is on sale at Colette in Paris, 10 Corso Como in Milan, London’sDover Street Market and online at Mr. Porter.

TOG: All Creators Together


My new article for COOL HUNTING

The dream of many a design enterprise—the best designers, meaningful materials, Italian production, a community of fans, reinterpretations made by artists—TOG is all of this, and more. “All creators together” is the idea behind this new design adventure by Brazilian company Grendene, just launched at Milan Design Week.

The concept is simple, but innovative. Every TOG product—tables to bar stools and shelving units—can be purchased (in stores or online) and then customized in different ways: by choosing colors, forms, prints or by selecting an artist through the dedicated app. This is certainly the most interesting aspect of the entire operation; the possibility to transform objects created by the likes of Philippe StarckSebastian Bergne, Sam Hecht & Kim Colin of Industrial Facility and more.

Most of the products are made out of plastic (like the Castable set of tables by Maggiar, or the Joa Sekoia family by Starck) and some highlights are the Captain Surf table/bookshelf by Jonathan Bui Quang Da and the Polo Treto table (with a wooden top) designed by Nicola Rapetti.

Nicola Rapetti, who’s also TOG’s design research development director, tells CH of the interesting approach, “We don’t want to judge creativity; we want our customers to be free to make whatever they want, even though we may think it’s ugly.”

In the future, the 3D files of each piece will be available for download, to allow anyone to print TOG’s objects at home. Sales will begin over the next months, it will be interesting to see how consumers will react to the creative freedom they’re offered with this structured new reality.

Safilo by Marc Newson


My new article for COOL HUNTING

Italian eyewear brand Safilo is turning 80 this year and instead of hosting a retrospective celebration of its achievements, they chose to honor the important occasion by asking Marc Newson to work on their next set styles, drawn with inspiration from their historic catalogue. An Australian designer extraordinaire, Newson is very well known for his ambitious projects, having designed everything from chairs to airplanes, watches to speedboats, and clothing to cameras, lamps and shoes. He’s also considered to be the initiator behind today’s contemporary design art market, of which he accounts for almost one quarter. His unique pieces often sell for staggering amounts in record-breaking auctions. Altogether, Newson’s ability to innovate in different fields coincides well with heritage brand Safilo’s ability to engage in so much experimentation.

The guiding principles behind Newson’s approach to the archives of Safilo have been transparency and transformation. In particular, the resulting capsule collection consists of five optical frames and two pairs of sunglasses, each of which manifest in five variations through five specific materials and technologies. Newson not only revised the styles, but also combined different peculiar techniques and patents he found across Safilo’s portfolio; like ultra-lightweight Optyl (a trademark of the Italian brand), the Elasta 80 hinge, the ultra-thin steel wire of the historical UFO collection and the combination of aluminum and steel.

The general vibe of the collection is retro-futuristic—clearly inspired by the past, but perfect for the current day. The capsule collection, Safilo by Marc Newson, is completely manufactured in Italy and will be officially presented next month at La Triennale di Milano, in occasion of the Salone del Mobile.

Check out more of the Safilo by Marc Newson sunglasses in the slideshow.

Osmosi by Emmanuel Babled

OsmosiEmmanuelBabled-8-thumb-620x379-64267My new article for Cool Hunting

Some products own the rare ability to combine magic and technology, craftsmanship and digitalization, uniqueness and industrial processes—but Emmanuel Babled‘s latest project, called “Osmosi,” incorporates all of that. Babled’s pre-production research has two distinct directions: product and edition. While the first holds truer to a traditional approach in the design world, the latter is definitely experimental and often encourages his clients to raise the bar, test their limits and collaborate.

“Osmosi” was previewed during Milan Design Week and was unveiled in its entirety at the Venice Biennale. It’s the result of the joint efforts of Babled, stone-crafters at Testi Group and glassmakers from Venini. The objects are a blend of function (they can be used as lamp, vase, bench or table) and art (each piece is unique and not replicable).

The production process starts with glass-blowing as Venini artisans create colorful, thick bowls. The second step is 3D scanning, since the exact shape of the glassware is digitalized, then Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milled into marble by the Testi Group. The two parts now match each other perfectly and complementarily, to become one. The process and the outcome are intriguing, and we asked Babled about the project, and the relationship between art and industrial design.

In your recent projects, different materials—almost opposites—have been combined. Can you tell us about that?

I follow various productive sectors with passion, and I’m interested to work on the synergies that digital media can generate in today’s production systems. “Osmosi” is our last production in this direction and plays on an atypical combination of two materials—glass and marble—through the use of digital technology.

My studio—as opposed to industrial products manufactured for large-scale distribution and therefore for a large audience—works on much more rarefied production, dealing with historical regional abilities. The creation of works of selective content production is destined to stimulate research in this field, and to give rise to a product of substantial quality for a demanding audience.

Great design often results from a direct collaboration between designers and artisans. What were the relationship dynamics for this project?

This relationship is crucial, both in the work of the master glassmakers, but also in arranging and connecting different knowledge. This is the case of “Osmosi” where the glassworks are first hand-blown, then we grab the resulting fluid forms digitally in order to create an equally unique and complementary marble. The result is an atypical “aesthetic vibration,” where the glass appears to have simply deleted marble. The materials perform together with a kind of spontaneity never seen before.

How do you view the future of Italian design?

The future of Italian design, understood as production ability, has the unique opportunity to have a significant expansion in this field. This happens due to the large diffusion of craftsmanship and the role of its historical artifacts, whose quality and credibility is undisputed worldwide. Credibility is a big advantage in the culture of information and allows designers to become successful candidates for the production of unique objects or “special production” items.

And the relationship between industrial design and art?

It’s a constant and complementary relationship. Art—in its broadest sense—is necessary for the development of industry and product. Industry itself—thanks to its processes and progresses—can become the medium of reference for the artist.

Interview: Alessandro Mendini at Venini


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.