As Design Week descended upon New York City, AN sat down with Francesca Molteni, project manager for the Furniture by Gio Ponti collection, to talk about an exclusive line of furniture produced by Molteni&C, how the collection came to be, and an accompanying exhibition about the life and work of one of Italy's most renowned designers. How did the collection come about? Paolo Scenti, the nephew of Ponti, had his uncle's large bookcase in his photography studio while I was there for a visit, and a lightbulb went off; I wanted to produce his designs industrially. We started talking with the family and Salvatore Licitra, the Ponti archivist and grandson of Ponti, and started researching pieces from the past, mostly pieces from the '50s and those from his home, as those were the ones he chose intimately. We also went to another archivist in Parma, where a university there is holding his art and architecture archives. Ponti was so prolifically productive; he left thousands of drawings, sketches, writings, and we had so much material from this we decided to launch an exhibition as well. I was smitten with the information because now you can see the real Ponti, not just his most famous work. It's a more private view on his life and work—a wonderful occasion to closer to the man and the architect. How long did it take to fully realize? It took about two and half years. We worked very hard with all the family. I went to visit his daughter Letizia, who is now 88 years old. She showed me private albums of the family, Ponti's encounters with other artists, Milanese society, travel that he did in the U.S., Tehran, Caracas. I brought four of the albums to my office and digitized the photos, to share with the family and they graciously allowed us to use the photos in the exhibition. How did you select the pieces that you wanted to recreate? During this process we saw about 20 products that caught our eyes. Italian architect Pierre Luigi Cerri, who is very well known in the field, a good designer and knows the story of Italian design, served as art director for the Collection. He helped us choose from the twenty pieces that are most interesting for today's audience and at the end we came out with eight pieces: two versions of the bookcase, the armchair, the Montecatini [aluminum] chair, the bigger and smaller chest of drawers, the small round table, the [area] rug, and the small wall mirrors. Ponti originally designed everything but most was never produced en masse. For example, the bookcase was only produced for his home and handcrafted by Giordano Chiesa, the artist who produced all his prototypes. All of the pieces were from the '50s, except the Montecatini chair, which was produced only for Ponti's contract project [Montecatini headquarters where Ponti designed the building itself and all interior details]. The chair for that project is from 1935, but seems very contemporary today. We chose the pieces that showed Ponti's style, proportion, materials, and his method of design the best. We also selected those that would mix well with current Molteni production. They integrate well with our other contemporary designers. It's unbelievable how they dialogue; the true sign of a master. They're really classic pieces. Which is your favorite piece in the collection? I love the small table because of the perspective that it requires. It's playful, color changing, particular, modern, and very Ponti. You can see he designed it in a different period. In the 30s he designed one similar but it was wood and heavier so [between the two] you can see the difference in the period of design. I imagine it was a piece important to him. I also love the chest of drawers. The different woods, the proportions; it's like architecture and not just furniture. Why did you start this project of reproducing Ponti's designs? We are always looking for architects from abroad [to design for Molteni] but now we started a process of rethinking our Italian design heritage. It was very important in the '50s, '60s, and today. We're not just dreaming about the past and the good old days but it's really our culture today. So with this Collection we want to rethink Italian design and go into the future with conviction, consciousness, and the understanding that we have to look into the past to go into the future. How has the traveling exhibition on the life of Ponti augmented the reissue? The exhibition has been really interesting, because exhibitions of design or of the master often feature a single object, but this tries to put the objects into a bigger context. His life, work, way of living is all told through Italian design. We can say that a single sofa is not telling us so much, but if you can tell the story of that piece you can really understand why it's so important or different. You can see the hand of the master in a bigger frame. When looking at the private life of Ponti, particularly the houses and offices he designed, we tried to put the Collection into social context, to better understand him as well as our history of design and the story of a single piece. What was the biggest challenge you faced in recreating Ponti's designs? The relationship with the family was fantastic, they received Molteni enthusiastically. But the biggest challenge, as with every reissue, is being close to the original: Not copying but reinterpreting the spirit of Ponti and his design. This means, details, proportions, materials. These are quite different from the '50s. We had to have a dialogue today about what is was in the past. The face of the products are the same but now the drawers for example now open with modern mechanisms. The technology is new but the aesthetic is the same. We introduced this so people could use it, furniture isn't just a piece of art. They have to live with it, its not a painting to put on the wall. We wanted to find the best way to be very sincere but at the same time to be contemporary. Price was also an a issue. A limited edition series would not be in the spirit of Gino Ponti. He thought design was democratic, and wanted to reach a larger audience, not just the elite. So, a mix of staying close to the original, incorporating new mechanisms and not increasing cost the mix was the hardest balance to achieve. We have arrived at that point at the end because the pieces are affordable and not much more expensive than any piece in other Molteni Collections. You don't have to sell your car to buy them. In the future, I'd like to do more reissues. Ponti also worked with Aldo Rossi, Luca Meda, and Tobia Scarpa so we would like to start the process of reissuing these masters for our collections. It's a good mission for the future, working with the old masters and younger designers.
Posts tagged with "Q+A":
After the release of the new Organic Collection, designed by Philippe Starck for Axor/Hansgrohe, AN sat down with the head of the brand to talk about working with the designer, the technology behind the product, and Grohe's formula for success. How did Axor/Hansgrohe start working with Philippe Starck? We started working with Philippe Starck in 1998 and it has always been a special relationship. I was very lucky because I followed my mother to the French part of Switzerland, so I speak both German and French. Not only does it help [Philippe and I] communicate [in French] but language is also culture. You think in a different way when speaking French versus German simply because of the structure of the language. How long did it take to complete the project? The Organic collection was a three-and-a-half year project. Many designers think [that pace] is too slow but it's a highly industrial product and we had a lot invested—not just financially but in the technology. The new spray cartridge, for example, took quite some work. It's much more than just a nice shape. We are now testing some new technology but we must test longer than we would for products with existing technology. [More testing means] you get a higher level of assuredness that the whole 'shebang' will work. Please speak to the technology behind the water efficiency of the Organic Collection. Well, if you really look for potential to save water its on the shower side. It's where we lose the most. But we use various [water saving] technologies in both the Axor and Hansgrohe brands. In fact, we've started to study the transparency of efficiency and consumption [related to water use]. The other thing we consider is the perception of water. When you bring it away from being a commodity and bring it closer to nature through studies of laminarity, you can see those results in our waterfall technology for Axor's Massaud Collection. Transparent water is less comfortable because it splatters more, so you have to bring down the volume, but its a fine line and we try to address this [with our products]. Another aspect of this project is the optical perfection of water. On the mixer side, the flow rate [for the Organic Collection] is at .9 gallons per minute [standard flow rates are around 2 gallons per minute]. We can't control installation of the [building's water] system but we do our best to accommodate. It's not as easy to regulate warm water, but as you regulate the quantity that becomes easier. It's the same reason we have a shower spray, because you feel the temperature differently [with changes in spray volume]. The shape of the collection is very unique. When you do something very different, only three to five percent of people will like it and the bathroom is a conservative [place]. But if you change the archetype [people] can access it easier. What's the greatest success of the collection? The success of the Collection is a veritable cocktail of elements. You can have the best ingredients but if you mess up while you're cooking its gone. But [the Organic Collection] has this incredible shape and I have to tip my hat to Philippe. He really proves that he's on top of things consistently. This is a very new shape and the majority of people like it from the first view. You need that attraction when you want to change the habits of people. We try to put a lot of values into our products and I think this perception comes through in discussion, one in particular that I had recently with Fabio Novembre. We've used flow restrictive [flow] technology for 20 years [so there is lots of added value] but it always comes down to that last cent. [The] people [working on the project] don't care what happens after. He said, "You can impress rich people with beauty only." And he's right but you have to like the product first. And [based on the initial reception], for that we must thank Philippe.
Last week, AN reported on the development of Alameda Square in Los Angeles, the 1.5-million-square-foot mixed use project being designed at the old American Apparel factory site on the southwest edge of LA's Arts District. Movement on projects like this beg the question: Just how hot is LA's Arts District? AN's West Coast Editor Sam Lubell sat down for a short chat with James Sattler, a Vice President of Acquisitions at JP Morgan Asset Management, to find out. The Architect's Newspaper: What potential do you see in the LA Arts District? Do you see it as one of the major development areas of the city? James Sattler: Clearly there is a lot of development activity in the area, and this mirrors the pattern we are seeing in many parts of Downtown. I think the Arts District has the potential to become a terrific example of LA’s current wave of post-industrial urban renewal and can ultimately mature into a veritable live/work/play neighborhood with a deeper array of housing, office, and retail uses. Why is it such a major draw for real estate investment? I think the residents, artists, and businesses here today are attracted to the Arts District because it is such a truly authentic urban environment that is connected to the energy and grittiness of Downtown but with a very approachable, pedestrian-friendly scale. Access to a rapidly improving public transport system is also a big plus. It’s hard to find this combination of characteristics in a neighborhood here in Southern California, yet people appear increasingly drawn to the type of urban lifestyle that the Arts District offers. Investors are drawn here for similar reasons. Are there any particular projects in the area that you see as transformative? I think the LA MTA’s Regional Connector project will be huge. When complete it will provide much more convenient access from the Little Tokyo/Arts District station to the rest of the Metro Rail system which will ultimately link to other parts of LA County like downtown Santa Monica, and potentially LAX and UCLA. I also think that the city’s plan to revitalize the LA River corridor, which runs along the east side of the Arts District, will have a big positive impact. Some people call this the next Meat Packing District, ala Manhattan. Do you agree? While I think there are some parallels in terms of an industrial neighborhood in transition, I think it’s too facile to compare them like that. I think one of the reasons for the success of the Meat Packing District is that the city took a very active role in developing the High Line and helping to preserve historical elements of the neighborhood that create its unique sense of place. Time will tell if the Arts District evolves similarly in LA.