The Courage and Risk of a Vision: Using past successes to inspire, not overshadow, the present

by Domitilla DARDI

In 1972 Italy: the new domestic landscape, the exhibition curated by Emilio Ambasz, opened at MoMA: it was a momentous event for Italian design, consecrating the industrial production of the glorious decade of the Sixties in the world. The exhibition pointed out the experimental character of Italian design, the courage of a vision of interior design able to fill the industrial and technological gap between Italy and other countries with a stronger training and production background.

Italy, as presented to the world, was a country where two groups of 30-year-old designers were \ creating an inflatable plastic armchair – The Blow Chair by De Pas, D’Urbino and Lomazzi (1967) – and a beanbag chair containing polystyrene beads – the Sacco Chair by Gatti, Paolini and Teodoro (1968). These two projects legitimately appeared as “radical” because they broke with a design tradition and launched a new conception of design.

Their vision did not remain a theoretical concern, but was actually realised by a manufacturer such as Aurelio Zanotta, who had the entrepreneurial courage to overcome a mere sales-oriented strategy, sharing a superior objective with designers: the vision of a different future.

In the post-war Italy, investing in young people was not rare at all. In 1959, for instance, Nuccio Bertone entrusted twenty-one-year-old Giorgetto Giugiaro with the management of his company, which seems science fiction in today’s Italy. We can’t help but wonder whether that depends on the lack of new talents, or of far-sighted entrepreneurs able to take on the risk of an investment driven by intuition, by a common vision shared by manufacturers and designers.

It has been said that the new generations of Italian designers, unlike the glorious masters of the past, are only left a narrow space in the conception of a project within the corporate organisation. Those who are nostalgic for the past, those who have continued to give space only to the great masters, those who have only invested in internationally reputed designers in order to contain risks, have certainly sheltered behind this conviction.

The good news is, however, that today there is actually a generation of Italian designers who have taken the best from the masters’ lesson, developing an independent attitude in the creation of projects that convey a responsible and critical view of the present.

What designers such as Paolo Ulian, Giulio Iacchetti, Lorenzo Damiani, Formafantasma – only to name a few – seem to be carrying out is a critical research project, which has probably arisen from their “liminal” condition. Some of them work for large companies, others don’t, but the central thread is that nobody is content to design a product exclusively conceived for the market. All of them, each in their own way, design objects that analytically question our society, our behaviours and consumption habits.

Their research projects take on the responsibility for a reflection on consumption, on nature reserves threatened with extinction, on the varied uses of everyday life. As their work shows, this can even be done starting from small everyday objects, by using the winning weapon of irony, being aware that a smile is more able to convey a thought, or a doubt, than a lecture.

In a nutshell, their objects are beautiful to see, of course, but also functional to use, and have an additional feature as well: they provide food for thought. So, what is missing in Italy is certainly not the vision.

That probably won’t save Italy, but is still good news.

About the Author


Born in Rome in 1970. After graduation in History of Art at La Sapienza, Università degli Studi di Roma, she attained a Ph.D in History of Architecture at Università Federico II di Napoli, with Prof. Renato De Fusco relator. From 2003 to 2007 she taught History of Design and History of Contemporary Art in Facoltà di Architettura of Ascoli Piceno. In 2007 and 2008 she was the curator of the exhibition cicle “Design A_Z” at MAXXI Museum of Rome. In the last few years she’s been working like company consultant, copywriter and museum curator at MAXXI, always in design and architecture section. Now she’s teaching History of Design, History of Interior Design at IED, Roma, in the Interior Design Master and in the Interior Yacht Design Master. She edited the catalogue of the exhibiton Spazio for the Architecture Section of the MAXXI Museum. She’s author of several pubblications: Achille Castiglioni (Testo e Immagine, Torino, 2001), Il Design di Alberto Meda. Una concreta leggerezza (Electa, Milano, 2005), Il Campus Vitra, una collezione di Architetture (with F. Argentero, Meltemi, 2007), Lampade and Negozi 2 (Federico Motta, 2007), The Design in 100 objects (Federico Motta, 2009), Interior Yacht Design (Electa, 2009).