After visiting a series of well-executed conceptual projects on day three, Disegno's editorial team sought out displays devoted to the building blocks of design: recyclable materials and structural supports; joinery and connecting technologies; and bare bones seating solutions borrowed from vernacular traditions.
In 2017 Kvadrat launched Really, a company that epicycles end-of-life textiles to produce new materials. The brand was launched in response to society’s widespread failure to recycle textiles (Really suggests that 95 per cent of textiles could be recycled, but only 25 per cent actually are), and for its debut presentation it turned to designer Max Lamb to fashion its solid textile board material – a high-density composite of cotton and wool – into a series of benches and material studies. The results were highly impressive, with Lamb making hay with the structural potential of the board and playing with the prima facie oddity of textiles being used as a load-bearing material.
The challenge for 2018, then, a year in which awareness around global waste has grown, was to continue Really’s message around the urgent need to address systems surrounding the lifecycle of materials (while the company’s products are intriguing, it is the brand’s ideology and general approach that seems primary) without ennui setting in. To try to address this, curators Jane Withers and Njusja de Gier broadened the project, inviting seven designers to produce work using the brand’s solid textile board and acoustic textile felt.
While the breadth of designers involved invariably amounts to a less focused presentation than Lamb’s, the smorgasbord of work on show does a fine job of highlighting different applications and approaches towards the materials. Claesson Koivisto Rune’s Bibliothèque shelving system revels in the rigidity of the textile board, while Raw Edges’ Fine Cut table and wall console are pleasingly expressive, producing colour and pattern out of the blue denim fibres included in the material. The picks of the bunch, however, were projects by Christien Meinderstma and Jonathan Olivares. Meindertsma’s Acoustic Fur is a superbly silly and joyful proposal that nonetheless expertly exploits the lightness and stiffness of Really’s acoustic textile felt – a covering of grissini-like felt noodles that attach to magnetic wallpaper to offer sound-dampening properties. Olivares, meanwhile, worked with the solid textile board to produce Solid Textile Screen, a partition system formed from a series of connected curve panels. Here, it was the rigour of Olivares’ approach that stood out. Each curve in the screen had to be achieved by CNC milling precise channels into two sheets of the board, which could then be pressed together. As the complimentary channels of each board interlock, it pushes the composite panels into the defined curvature. It is an ingenious and elegant system, which gives the sense of Olivares having considered every detail of the task at hand. Even the means of connecting the separate panels felt on point – the panels are connected up by zippers in reference to the design’s textiles origins.
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A preoccupation with origins of a different nature is to be found north of the city centre at Nilufar Depot, the Nilufar Gallery's warehouse-like outpost which opened in 2015. Here, Nilufar's director Nina Yashar has collaborated with the Instituto Bardi Casa du Vidro in São Paula to bring together the largest number of furniture pieces by Rome-born Brazilian designer Lina Bo Bardi ever to be exhibited in one place. The show focuses primarily on a relatively short period in Bardi's career – 1948-1951 – when she ran the Palma Art Studio together with the architect Giancarlo Palanti, but also features a wealth of Bo Bardi's later work. In a reversal of the usual fate of twentieth-century design partnerships between men and women, it is in fact Palanti whose contribution has been more or less forgotten. Research conducted by the Instituto Bardi leading up to the exhibition found that "some of the most famous furnishings attributed to Bo Bardi are actually signed together with Giancarlo Palanti," according to a statement from Nilufar.
Yet it is the show's emphasis on Bo Bardi's interest in vernacular and indigenous traditions of making that ultimately made it unmissable for this visitor. Salon pieces like the Bola armchair designed for Casa de Vidro in 1951-52 are, of course, exquisite in their cavallino leather upholstery and whimsical brass detailing, but it is roughly hewn solid pine chairs by Bo Bardi, Marcelo Ferraz, and Marcelo Suzuki from the 1970s and the five rare wooden seats for the pews in the Espírito Santo do Cerrado church and Santa Maria dos Anjos chapel in São Paula from the same period that really capture the imagination: these latter pieces coincided with Bo Bardi's extensive curatorial work in anthropological museums in her adopted country, which is helpfully delineated in a documentary screened in an ancillary space. Perhaps most pleasing among this later group of works is the so-called road‐side chair from 1967: constructed out of four branches and liane only, it is a refreshingly bare bones seating solution.
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Not far from Nilufar Depot, and tucked away in a courtyard space within a Milanese foundry, Rome-based collective design gallery Giustini Stagetti has staged an exhibit that also meditates on the potentialities of wood construction. Two designers of different generations have been brought together: Umberto Riva, who turns 90 this year; and Giacomo Moor, born in 1981. The younger designer is in no way dwarfed by being paired up with the near-nonagenarian: Moor's Centina desk, wall-mounted shelving, and marble-topped table all feature the leifmotif of oak arches which have been exceptionally well-executed. The wood has been bent and wedged with olive inserts rather than cut and glued: the arches are held in shape by the pressure of the oak on the wedges only, mimicking the equilibrium of pressures needed to hold up a pre-modern vaulted ceiling.
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London-based gallery Seeds opted for another kind of typological examination in its display Test Tube: that of the tube, in various materials and on various scales. Six designers were invited to interpret the ubiquitous form: from BCXSY's unabashedly tubular satin brass console, room divider, and vase to Guglielmo Poletti's geometric corten steel bench, which would not be out of place in a modernist sculpture garden, and Martino Gamper's much more organic soda fired clay vases, which appear like little tree stumps, Test Tube offers a pleasing array interpretations.
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Curators Andrea Caputo and Anniina Koivu are to be applauded. On paper, their pitch for U-Joints sounds dry and inaccessible: an exhibition examining a history of the joint and other connecting technologies within design. The results, however, are anything but. U-Joints is engrossing and animated, while nonetheless not shirking the inherent technicality and geekery of its subject matter; it manages the delicate balance of being both a real designer’s design exhibition, while also remaining of interest to a general audience.
The exhibition breaks down into two main areas. The first is a display of traditional Chinese and Japanese joinery techniques, with the examples on display rendered exquisite by the intricacy with which they were made. The display is both a superb introduction to functional techniques that are strangely humbling for their exactitude, but also beautiful – the woodwork takes on sculptural properties that can be enjoyed independently of the historical information provided.
From this initial display, U-Joints moves into the main meat of the exhibition: a display of some 50 examples of connections supplied by contemporary designers, as well as a range of industrial scaffolding and piping connections. Here, it is the melange that delights: Pierre Charpin’s delight in strapping glassware together with elastic bands put up against the highly calibrated engineering of the aluminium joint Stefan Diez designed for his D1 chair for Wagner. Joints, it would seem, are catholic in breadth.
There are sections of the exhibition where the non-technically minded may begin to glaze over, but the offering on display is rich enough such that there is something for everything. In U-Joints, Caputo and Koivu have created an exhibition about a taxing subject matter that still has a genuine mass appeal – all achieved without dumbing down its subject matter in order to resonate more widely (to the degree that the exhibition’s sponsor, inexplicably, is the Italian football club Juventus – a brand which, to the best of Disegno’s knowledge, has no connection to joining techniques of any kind whatsoever, be they traditional or contemporary). It is an intriguing model for how design might seek to represent itself to the general public moving forward.
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