Design creates culture.
Culture shapes values.
Values determine the future
We live today, we remember the past, and create our “tomorrow”, but we don’t notice how the imagined future – turns into history. Time contains a sort of details – so, there are recognizable centuries marked with certain symbols which form the paradigm of our culture. For a long time there was enough contradictory opinion about design – varied from a negation of the past to attempt to create some abstraction which was declaring a complicated aesthetics and veiled values. Anyway, somewhere – between art and industrial copies, experiments and creativity, between a broken geometry and simple lines – there were “over-design” objects which became timeless – free of any style limits and other conditional classifications. Iconic design conception means some exceptional things which reveal a true uniqueness and brilliant ideas that change our history – forming new values or confirming the existing poles of our culture.
Aesthetics of iconic design can be revealed in “paradoxical, unique, isolated, complete and self-defined objects” which were out of any standardization of the ideas and expression. For example, we can recall the concept of “Banal Design” that appealed to the intellectual and cultural void generated by faceless mass-design of the industrialized society which was content with art of copies. In 1978 Alessandro Mendini created a famous Proust armchair which design was marked with “hypertrophied” aesthetics of banality revealed in bright colours and rich ornaments. We can see hand-carved and hand-painted wooden frame and stylized shapes those were very accordant with baroque motifs, but at the same time a colorful pattern of Proust Geometrica armchair (2009) which became an icon of 20th century design – appeals to an ironic character typical for “Studio Alchimia” (was founded in 1976 by Alessandro Guerriero initially as a gallery to display experimental work that was not limited by industrial production). Today Proust armchairs are presented exclusively in Cappellini collection.
Aesthetics of a pure abstraction was typical for the design of “De Stijl” group (in 1917 – was established the journal entitled De Stijl). We can talk about purification of art and design in a context of Neo-Plasticism (Piet Mondrian) which was one of the fundamental concepts of this period. A unique interpretation of this direction was also revealed in The Mondrian Collection created in 1965 by Yves Saint Laurent. But we can see an initial iconic design object – it is about Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit T. Rietveld (1918 – prototype, 1923 – painted version). There was an artistic realization of dematerialized geometric abstraction which aesthetics was based on the dichotomy principle: like colour-non-colour, vertical-horizontal, large-small surface. There were an ultimate simplicity and total utilitarian minimum revealed in only horizontal and vertical lines and basic colours of spectrum (red, blue and yellow), contrast black contours which divide the internal areas (or block-like elements) placed asymmetrically. Today Red and Blue Chair is presented exclusively by Cassina as a part of I Maestri Collection. At the same time we can see a modern interpretation of Mondrian’s motifs in various design objects: for example, it is about Charles Chair by Marcel Wanders (2014) with cushions upholstering in red, yellow, white and blue colour and black “graphic” structure; Piet hanger by Presse Citron (made in lacquered steel in black, blue, red and mustard); Sélection Piet Mondrian by Arteum (this series includes interesting accessories like Mondri vase, decorative boxes, trays, cups and others); iconic FAB fridge by Smeg in 50’s style series made with Multicolor Special Edition Design; Direttore Shelves by Moooi (design – Paul Cocksedge, 2016) which combines Mondrian’s motifs and Ettore Sottsass geometry.
A unique synthesis of architecture and design, a very special combination of industrial charm and timeless elegance – were revealed in style of so-called tubular furniture. Marcel Breuer designed his first tubular metal chair B3 (in 1925) with using of the innovative material which was inspired by his recently bought Adler bicycle. Clear lines, simple organic-like fluid shapes, a unique dynamics and significant character of modern architecture declared by Bauhaus – were typical for this design concept. B3 or Wassily Chair (1925-1927) by Marcel Breuer is one of the most famous objects created in this style manner, and as we know he defined his designs “as essential equipment for modern living” . Tubular steel furniture became the second constant of Thonet’s history. Today, numerous of iconic models are still in the product line of this brand – among them we can see the exclusive collections which include the designs by Marc Stam, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and others. And tubular steel furniture concept is still reveals a timeless “classics” of any modern interior.
Since 1954 Zanotta presents unique collections of iconic design objects. The innovations of that period have been turned into a logical continuing of the tradition in a context of a profound desire “to create a new world” . “We didn’t realize we were creating what is today called “Italian Design” (Aurelio Zanotta) . A very strange or just – the most favorite piece of any interior, armchair-non-armchair, or bizarre comfortable sack – it is about Sacco easy chair designed by Pierro Gatti, Cesare Paolini & Franco Teodoro in 1968. During almost 50 years sack-armchair is still a design legend and one of the first examples of the frameless furniture. In Zanotta’s collections we also can see a unique Follia chair by Giuseppe Terragni (1934) and Genni armchair by Gabrielle Mucchi (1935) – the design of these objects best illustrates aesthetics of Italian Rationalism. One more iconic piece is Throw-Away series that includes sofas and armchairs created by Willie Landels in 1965. It is about the first padded item made with using of foam polyurethane as the main structural element. These objects had no any wooden or metal frames or elastic belts – there were only four blocks glued together and upholstered. The design of Throw-Away series expressed “a new philosophy of life in which furnishings leave strict and formal patterns to enter the experience of people” .
Colour and transparency, irony and functional performance, an extraordinary shape, creativity and a new dimension of “industrial revolutions” – are revealed in Kartell’s collections. New technologies and the on-going evolution in the using of plastics – allowed to create a unique design recognizable all over the world. For example, it is about Componibili cylindrical storage system created by Anna Castelli Ferrieri in 1967. During 50 years this object is still a design icon which reveals a very special aesthetics of modern design and unmistakable combination of function, universality of using and compositional simplicity. Componibili storage was displayed in Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the Centre George Pompidou in Paris. In 2017 Componibili celebrates its 50th anniversary, and there was an exhibition “Tribute to Componibili. 50th Anniversary” (Milan, 2017) where Kartell presented fifteen signature pieces designed by famous designers all over the world (Piero Lissoni, Mario Bellini, Antonio Citterio, Alessandro Mendini, Ron Arad, Tokujin Yoshioka and others). So, we could see the most interesting versions of Componibili design.
Bourgie lamp by Kartell was originally created by Ferruccio Laviani in 2004, and became one of the most remarkable objects in modern lighting design. Its unusual composition combines interestingly a timeless tradition with a clear character of modernity: we can see a sculptural base made with the stylized baroque motifs and composed of three interconnecting decorated layers while the lampshade is made with a pleated effect which is perfect to create a myriad play of reflections. At the same time this lamp is made completely of polycarbonate in various shades (from a transparent to black, silver, copper and others). As we know, in 2014 Kartell has invited famous designers (Philippe Starck, Rodolfo Dordoni, Patricia Urquiola, Front, Piero Lissoni, Nendo and others) to re-interpret the design of this lamp. It was a unique “remix” concept which has changed a personal design history of Bourgie lamp.
Any talking about iconic design will be uncompleted without mention of the 1950th and unique design by Charles & Ray Eames. This period has a special significance for the history of design because it is about some ending of regular discussion about function and aesthetics, about the “line” between the past and modernity. Eames Plastic Chairs were marked with an exceptional construction which included one-piece seat shell made of reinforced glass-fiber without upholstery, and changeable base (like so-called an intricate Eiffel Tower base made of steel wire). We can talk about sculptural organic-like forms which reproduced perfectly the contours of a human body. Innovative fiberglass was a perfect material marked with pleasant tactile effects, and it was suitable for industrial manufacturing methods. So, Eames Plastic Chairs were launched on the market in 1950th as the very first mass-produced plastic chairs in the furniture history. Today we can see these icon objects in the private interiors (living rooms, dining areas, home offices), in the conference-halls and public places (waiting rooms, cafes and restaurants). Eames Plastic Chairs are presented officially in Vitra and Herman Miller collections.
So, what turns an object into “icon”? It is about something very extraordinary, it is – when some idea is essentially different from other existing things: it has nothing similar and it cannot be repeated, in other words – it is unique. Such things become recognizable; they cause new tendencies, and turn into the symbols of certain time periods, or even provoke the beginning of new styles. According to Charles & Ray Eames’ mind about “the details are not the details, they make the product just like the details make the architecture” – we can say that “design icon” is an object which continues the history of design, becomes a “detail” of our culture and determines new values of the future. In this article you can see only a little part of Iconic Design heritage.
The article “Iconic Design” was oficially published in G&G _ Magazine “South Africa Edition” dedicated to the international fair – DECOREX Joburg.
Official Sources of Photos:
- (first photo) Proust Geometrica Armchair by CAPPELLINI (design Alessandro Mendini, 2009) // CAPPELLINI official Proust Geometrica gallery
- Proust Armchair by CAPPELLINI (design Alessandro Mendini, 1978) // CAPPELLINI official Proust Armchair gallery
- Red and Blue Chair (design Gerrit T. Rietveld, 1923) – CASSINA I Maestri Collection // CASSINA
- S 35 L by THONET (design Marcel Breuer, 1929) Tubular Steel Cantilever Chair with the construction of a single uninterrupted line // THONET official Media Database
- Sacco Easy Chair by ZANOTTA (design Pierro Gatti, Cesare Paolini & Franco Teodoro, 1968) // ZANOTTA Design
- Componibili Storage System by KARTELL presented at “Tribute to Componibili. 50th Anniversary” exhibition (Milan, 2017), design of this version – Philippe Starck // KARTELL
- Bourgie Lamp by KARTELL (design Ferriccio Laviani, 2004), in transparent crystal version // KARTELL
- Eames Plastic Chairs DAW (design Charles & Ray Eames, 1950) – VITRA, Creator: Hans Hansen // VITRA Official
- Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future (Robert L.Peters). – Do Good Design. How Design Can Change the World. – David B.Berman, FGDC, R.G.B. – New Riders. Published in association with AIGA Design Press. – 2013. – p.127.
- Studio Alchimia claimed that “there is a need today for distant, very distant objects to be situated among men and in the world as signals of our vocation to the magic of thought, like lifebuoys in the stormy sea of modernity. Paradoxical, unique, isolated, complete and self-defined objects”. – Design of the 20th Century. – Charlotte & Peter Fiell. – Taschen. Bibliotheca Universalis. – 2016. – Anti-Design. – p.40.
- …Breuer regarded his designs as essential equipment for modern living. – Design of the 20th Century. – Charlotte & Peter Fiell. – Taschen. Bibliotheca Universalis. – 2016. – Marcel Breuer. – p.134.
- Those were years of great vitality, there was an explosion of constructive energy, a profound desire to sweep away the past and create a new world. – The Two Faces of Industry. By Aurelio Zanotta, Design Conference, Aspen 1989. – ZANOTTA Design. Philosophy
- We didn’t realize we were creating what is today called “ITALIAN DESIGN” and that our products would be the pieces that have determined its history and development. – The Two Faces of Industry. By Aurelio Zanotta, Design Conference, Aspen 1989. – ZANOTTA Design. Philosophy
- Throw-Away. – Zanotta Happenings. Archetypes. – http://happenings.zanotta.it/en/throw-away-2/
- The details are not the details, they make the product just like the details make the architecture. – Eames Office. ECS (Eames Contract Storage)