Milan Design Week 2019: Day 3


11 April 2019

Day three: in which Disegno plucks up its courage and enters the maw of Salone – the commercial heart of Milan Design Week.

Salone del Mobile

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the world has a problem with overconsumption. In an economic system in which commerce is rampant, the ongoing costs of resource extraction and industrial production are having catastrophic social and environmental effects. From its base in Milan this week, Disegno was struck, for instance, by the news that rising global temperatures will result in two-thirds of the nearby Alpine glaciers melting by 2100, regardless of any future emission cuts that may (or, more likely, may not) be made.

It was with curiosity, then, that Disegno noted a number of new products shown during the 2019 Salone that gestured towards reducing the environmental impact of industrial design. This year, multiple companies set out their stall to suggest more enlightened forms of production, and fresh ways in which industrial design might help to ameliorate the problems that industrial production and consumption have helped to bring about. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the solutions on display all featured the production of new products – to resolve issues with the surfeit of existing products, the idea runs, the world needs a surfeit of new, better products. And if that sounds hypocritical, you may well be onto something – think Hannibal Lecter offering to help bring in Buffalo Bill.

Nevertheless, at this stage in the collapse of the environmental game, Disegno will take any help on offer. Magis, for instance, launched Costume by Stefan Diez, an exactingly engineered modular sofa. Costume has been designed such that its individual components – a polypropylene inner structure; pocket springs to minimise the use of synthetic foam; and interchangeable upholstery that attaches at the design’s base with elastic loops – can be discretely disassembled so as to aid recycling, or else replaced piecemeal in the event of damage. In contrast to most sofa designs, Costume could (in principle) be endlessly refreshed like Theseus’s ship, thus combatting the wholesale abandonment of a sofa should it require repair or renewal. It is an encouraging approach, and one which Magis ought to pursue. If Costume’s idea is to succeed, however, the company needs to put in place provision such that customers are able to easily replace any and all of its individual elements – and here, an interesting model to look at might be furniture brand Swedese’s 2017 Swedese Repair initiative for the refurbishment of older pieces. At the time of writing, however, a spokesperson on the Magis stand suggested that this interchangeability may initially be limited to the upholstery alone.

On and On by Barber & Osgerby for Emeco.

A different, albeit no less welcome, approach was on display at American brand Emeco, which broke with its recent run of Jasper Morrison-designed products to launch On and On, a rotationally stacking café chair by Barber & Osgerby. On and On is formed from rPET, a form of plastic produced from recycled PET bottles that are fully recyclable. On and On has been beautifully designed (and particular plaudits should go to the way in which it has been engineered to stack rotationally), but it is its engagement with the lifecycle of a product that seems most promising. In principle, an On and On could be endlessly renewed, with each old chair giving life to a new one – a trait that might come into its own with changing business models in the furniture business. Were Emeco to lease furniture in place of selling it, the On and On could be recycled and reformed between rentals, ensuring that customers received a new piece of furniture without Emeco needing to continually add to the surfeit of products in the world. There will be considerable logistical challenges ahead with this idea, but it is encouraging that Barber & Osgerby and Emeco have created a work that leaves itself open to the possibility.