As a designer I know that design is much too important to be left in the hands of designers.

 

If you look at the design history of Italy just about mid-century and onwards, the main players were always architects. They did the graphic design, giving new forms to logos and posters, they did the furniture, incorporating new technologies with aesthetic prowess and a new level of functionally, they created utensils and inserted an added value into objects.

 

 

You cant sell news stories that have data and cautious predictions. Where is the panic? Where is the impending doom? C'mon people , give me something to work with here…

    Opinions / Science / Theory of Relative Ignorance  

Achille castiglioni - Old old skool

During my design studies in Milan, sometime in the last century , I got to meet a lot of designers and architects. I was young and still had the energy to talk to designers. Thank god that passed… here is a good time to explain the connection between architects and designers and why design today , well, if you excuse my French, sucks.

The profession of industrial-design or product-design as it is conveniently called in most schools these days, Is a relatively new concept. Industry in itself is a concept that just celebrated a century , so the whole field can be regarded as young, or immature would be the better word. Before there were 'designers' there were architects. This was the design sector of the academia, the creative part. Artists did art, engineers did construction and machines, and architects were in the seam line between the accurate and the imagination, the practical and the playful.

If you look at the design history of Italy just about mid-century and onwards, the main players were always architects. They did the graphic design, giving new forms to logos and posters, they did the furniture, incorporating new technologies with aesthetic prowess and a new level of functionally, they created utensils and inserted an added value into objects.

Architects have quite a rigorous curricular activity, ranging from the purely pragmatic and precise to the exploration of the mind's dreams and brilliant strokes of thinking brushes. They have a certain level of understanding and a certain level of commitment, which you rarely see in 'designers' these days.

Design has become a superficial aesthetically pleasing marketable make-up for objects. True, after the progress in the last fifty years, there are very few new things to discover, fewer borders to cross, less rules to break. But that is not an excuse. One question I always ask when students present me with their projects. Why? Why did you choose that material, this form, that color. I don’t judge, even as a professor, but I want to know that there was a process, a study, a research, a thought….something. I rarely get an answer that doesn’t make me cringe. It's a game. A whim. Nothing more.

Achille castiglioni was one of the giants from that architects generation, putting all of that knowledge and thought process into objects. Not objects of desire like the market says, but just objects of interest. Whimsical, intriguing, simple, structured. Genial.

I had the pleasure of spending some time with him in his studio, not as a designer but as a translator for an organized group of architects visiting Milan. As I was the only one who spoke Italian, there was a connection between us that I was glad to say lasted for years as I ran into this delightful character again afterwards in different occasions.

Small, extremely wrinkled, like an old paper bag, with an eternal cigarette stuck between his fingers in that kind of burning bush style, as I hardly remember him ever actually raising it to his mouth, and those big curious eyes, which at seventy plus still had that twinkle of a child that got away with something.

And it was that twinkle that was his signature style when it came to industrial design as well. Not a big laugh. Not even a smile. A twinkle. A spark.

The three pieces I like most , from his vast collections, are not his most famous, but they are part of the pantheon of Italian design:

   
  The chair
 
 

Taking a chair from a tractor, putting it on a flexible steel leg and thus creating  a new object doesn’t sound that hard (and I am sure the 'designers' will agree with me, as they rarely understand anything) but the reason it seems like a normal idea these days is because Castilgioni did it. And that is exactly Castiglioni in a nutshell.

   
  The Ashtray
 

Such a simple thing. A cup, a spring. Shiny steel. Clean lines (you CANT get cleaner than that. Cleaner than that would be nothingness, just an idea.and the flag of pragmatism.

No wonder this is also castiglioni's favorite piece (and one of his earliest, I should mention) and every time I see it again, even in a photo, I remember the enthusiasm he had in his voice talking about it. It was a breakthrough for him. It was design surprising even him, and he was delighted by the fact he is still doesn’t believe what huge success it was, even though, or maybe because, of the minimalistic nature of the object, which was quite a novelty back then.

 
 
The joy rotating shelves system.
It's Italian, it's Japanese, it's pure design, it's pure practicality. It is joy, and it is rotating. What more can you ask for? It's a piece I wish I created, and that says it all.
www.achillecastiglioni.it