• Itineraries

Give plasticity to the matter, avoiding technicalities


Departing from the initial use of wood in the ‘50s, in order to give shape to decorative solutions, Vico Magistretti, with the collaboration of clients such as Ernesto Gismondi of the then-called Studio Artemide, started to experiment with new plastic materials ("Incontro con Vico Magistretti" in Cinquemattoni, 1973). The approach was ground-breaking and born out of his imagination: instead of starting from scratch, Magistretti had the intuition of the possibility of working "by subtracting" from what already existed and, by observing simple moulded trays, he drew the idea of the Demetrio tables of 1966 («I understood that, starting from those developer trays that photographers use, by taking away one part, stretching the edges, etc., they could become tables») thus, in his special way, coming to terms with the world of the technology of plastic materials, as can be inferred from some of his notes (Handwritten notes by Vico Magistretti, 2004; "Coerenza nel design di Vico Magistretti" in Domus, 1966). It is a method through which he would draw other design ideas, both structural and of organic design, such as in the elegant Gaudì ("Magistretti: prosegue la serie dei sedili stampati" in Domus, 1970) and Vicario (Notes on the Vicario chair by Vico Magistretti, 1971) armchairs of 1971 for Artemide in which he introduced the idea of adding a hole to the Selene chair (1969; Patent; Selene catalogue, Artemide, 1970): the legs remain the same and the armrests are obtained by making a whole in the shell while the critical points are solved by thickening the material, thus answering the doubt as to how to get a single mould to also make the legs and make the chairs stackable. Turning the material inside-out "as the finger of a glove" is what he achieves, on a smaller scale, with the Dalù (Artemide) table lamp of 1966, with its wavy lines that foreshadow Eclisse (1967, Artemide) and results from the moulding of a single sheet of material. Without forgetting that the plasticity lesson can also be applied to other materials: from the Trial lamp (2002), whose diffusor features three dips, and the "soft" stackable wooden chairs of the VicoDuo collection for Fritz Hansen of 1997.

Resistance through shape

The trait d'union between some of his research, especially on plastic furniture, is the idea of giving plasticity not only through the material but also by correctly interpreting its structure, without imposing alien languages but letting it emerge through intuition and elegance. In order to design the successful Selene chair of 1969 (Selene and Stadio catalogue, Artemide), he worked with a specific parameter: he was aware of the somewhat reduced resistance of this material compared to others (steel, wood) and wanted to avoid overly thick forms and sections. «I didn't want to make a chair composed of different parts; I wanted it in a single piece; nor did I want a chair like that by Joe Colombo, that looked like an elephant (...). I tackled this theme by using, I think, a technology as best as possible, not letting myself be conditioned or motivated by the modernity of the technology» said the designer. As pointed out by Vanni Pasca (1999), Vico Magistretti, with a precise static intuition, probably derived from his training in architecture, resolves the problem of the resistance of the legs "through shape", drawing them with an S-shaped section that he had already adopted in 1966 for the legs of the plastic table Stadio (Artemide; "È nata una sedia" in Ottagono, 1969), and later in the floor lamp Chimera of 1969 (Artemide; "Un soggiorno" in Ottagono, 1970), where he applied the same principle, giving a wavy shape to a methacrylate sheet to make it self-supporting. A little miracle is concealed in the far from negligible details, such as the design of the leg of the Blossom table by De Padova of 2002, which opens up like a corolla, or the "whiplash" in the Gemini glass table by Fiam of 2006.

Constructive inventiveness

For Vico Magistretti, the idea becomes one with the technical-production process, in which the apparent gestural art in fact conceals a knowing gesture resulting from deep observation and valid motivations, also from the construction point of view. In Sindbad by Cassina of 1981, maybe the most "iconic" of the master's objects, the focus is on not cutting and sewing the blanket to adjust it to the armchair but on leaving it as it is, making sure that the blanket appears in its entirety and beauty, in order to draw from it the shape of the piece (going beyond the ready made principle that initially inspired it). Remaining in an area dear to the designer, Nathalie of 1978 ("Flou, tutte le metamorfosi del letto imbottito" in La Repubblica, 2000), which was developed through a long and fruitful collaboration with Flou of Rosario Messina, is the idea of the quilt that seamlessly flows into the typology of a bed and represents the synthesis of the union between a soft duvet and the headboard of a traditional bed, thus creating the "textile bed" typology, which means a soft and practically still a blanket "turned structure"(Notes on Nathalie by Vico Magistretti). In the Tadao bed of 1993 (Flou), the slats underneath the mattress also form the headboard, giving shape to an innovative version of a comfortable bench equipped for reading in bed; the same applies to Assam of 1998 (Flou), in which the visual fulcrum consists of a natural reclinable leather roll cushion, which doubles as a headrest to form the headboard.

Rosa Chiesa and Ali Filippini