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September 28, 2004

Just because. Mies van der Rohe.

Mies Van Der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion.

Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion, 1929 (reconstructed in 1986).

Mies Van Der Rohe's Farnsworth House.

Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, 1951.

Posted by fabio sergio | 3:36 PM | permalink


September 24, 2004


A recent visit to a large florist in Milano moved Serralunga flower pots from the periphery to the center of my attention (not to mention an apple green New Pot from the shoproom floor to that of our living room).

Serralunga is good example of the role design can have when teaching new tricks to (170 years) old horses.
They already had it all: plastic pebble composts of varying colors, rotational and injection moulding tools, expertise, market presence.
And what they were doing was replicating old terracotta vases, stucco-like decorations and all, with polymers.
The past tense here actually needs not apply, as these exercises in mimicry can still be easily seen on Serralunga's Italian site.
Nothing wrong with that, mind you, just as long as you are into cloning sheep and all that fun stuff.
A side thought here is that a comparison of the .com and .it sites could fuel endless debates about brand integrity, user experience and plain old "what the hell are they thinking" questions.
In any case one day Serralunga decided to call someone apt at helping them move out of the replicant business, to see if they could do something different with all those pebbles and roto-injectional toys.
Someone like Denis Santachiara.
Don't forget this name and fasten your belts as we now get ready to take one of freegorifero's infamous side steps.

Rummaging through books from my college days over the weekend I picked up Peter Blake's "The Master Builders", a wonderfully biased, over-enthusiastic, US-centric take on three seminal figures of modern architecture: Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Other than the odd feeling of meeting long-lost friends the re-read oxygenated hibernating cognitive patterns.
Optimism. Ideals. Hope.

Take Mies' inaugural 1937 speech as the newly appointed head of the department of architecture at Chiacago's Armour Institute of Technology (now I.I.T.):

"If teaching has any purpose, it is to implant true insight and responsibility.
Education must lead us from irresponsible opinion to true, responsible judgment.
It must lead us from chance and arbitrariness to rational clarity and intellectual order.
Therefore let us guide our students over the road of discipline from materials, through function, to creative work.
Each material has its specific characteristics which we must understand if we want to use it ... We must be as familiar with the functions of our buildings as much as with our materials ... And just as we acquaint ourselves with materials, just as we must understand functions, so we must become familiar with the psychological and spiritual factors of our day.
No cultural activity is possible otherwise; for we are dependent on the spirit of our time.

From materials. Through function. To creative work.
And back to Serralunga vases.

Confronted with plastic and flower pots people like Santachiara simply applied lessons learned from people like Mies, and started from the very nature of materials to achieve creative results through function.
The most striking example in this sense must be the Santavase, which twists (pun intended) all rules usually applied to terracotta vases around the plast-icity of its new synthetic DNA, freeing form and adding humor in the process.
The result is a brand new breed of object, not by chance the only one that Serralunga also sells colored like its dirt-derived ancestors, as there's no risk of mistaking it for one of them, or for one of their second-rate neoclassic impersonators for that matter.
The other vases are maybe a bit less striking, but still worth a long second look, from Ron Arad's accordionesque Top Pot, to Santachiara's off-balance Pisa, to Luisa Bocchietto's Vas-one (the suffix "one" in Italian means "huge"), which relies on plastic to keep the hyper-scaled archetypal vase incredibly nimble for its girth.

Serralunga plastic vases | Left to right: Denis Santachiara's Santavase and Pisa, Luisa Bocchietto's Vas-one

Left to right: Denis Santachiara's Santavase and Pisa, Luisa Bocchietto's Vas-one.

Corbus's beloved honesty comes to mind.
What's humorous is that the screw-like lower half of the Santavase is such an esthetic over-achiever that it forced Serralunga to issue a stand to proudly show it, arguably undermining the very function it justifies it in the first place.
But that's also exactly where design mingles with art...and I hope you too catch the inherent irony in associating a purist like Mies with an alchemist like Santachiara.

A few last fleeting thoughts.
How does all of the above apply to interaction design?
How often have we just let technology dictate function or gone straight to the "creative" work?
What is our material?
What will "lead us from chance and arbitrariness to rational clarity and intellectual order"?

Posted by fabio sergio | 5:31 PM | permalink



It took a while, but we're finally starting to settle into our brand new (rented) flat.
An attic with high ceilings, white walls, honey-tinted wooden flooring, gull gray doors, abundant skylights.

Moving proved to be a major planning nightmare, our belongings unnecessarily shuffled back and forth between Varese and Milano.
Belongings such as a double bed, with accompanying mattress.
Boxes were filled and emptied, duct tape liberally applied, six steep ramps of stairs absorbed with sweaty aplomb.
Plumbers and electricians came and went, leaving behind a trail of dirty footsteps and dusty corners.
We gave our vacuum cleaner a run for the money.

Frequent IKEA pilgrimages led to cashiers calling us by our first names.
We talked sponsorship with the master makers of flaky sculptures carefully glued out of sawdust.
Hey, let's buy another sofa, it's down to 3 euros. A pair.
Twenty minutes to decrypt useless manga and turn metal bits into an ironing board.

We now look for familiar things in all the wrong places, regaining control over berserk storage patterns, pitifully eyed by our books, frantic to re-establish sedimented hierarchies.
And still we are enjoying it all.
The subtle lure of city life.
Bookshops and newsstands open until the wee-wee hours, cinemas calling with promises of wide-screen visual stimulation.
New late night soundscapes, Chinese prostitutes shouting madly over the distant shrieks of ambulances.

Homebound eyes, aglaze, under flickering neons.

Posted by fabio sergio | 11:15 AM | permalink


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