The idea. On a winter’s evening in Milan to discuss design.
The guests. The great masters of Italian design.
The place. A restaurant, better a private room, or preferably maybe somebody’s house… The editor of Domus’s house.
Organisation. A week to pick active participants and spectators, work out technical details, choose the menu …
10 March 2004, 8.30 pm
The table is laid, the microphones carefully concealed, the tripods placed at strategic points, the lamps switched on… The guests trickle in. Glasses of wine, tidbits and chit-chat to get over any minor embarrassments and to pass the time while waiting. Everybody is here.
The portrait. At the editor’s firm. Same landing. As a backcloth, a wall painted grey for the occasion. Two ‘masters’ draw with chalk on the improvised blackboard. The other three form a separate group, laughing and telling each other stories. “I never enjoyed myself so much as that time…” (when?).
Flashes and smiles. The only tense one, though not excessively, seems to be the photographer. Or the cook perhaps. The risotto is ready… A small crowd of spectators watches the five perform. Everybody feels the portrait is going to be fantastic.
At table. The editor shows the guests to their places. More than expected! Someone refuses to start. “If we are 13, I can’t eat!”. An extra guest is found and the problem ceases to exist.
Words. A forkful of risotto and the editor casts his stone. “What do you think of the new Domus?” “I think it’s great”. “Pornographic graphics”. “It has guts!” “I don’t understand the photo-story”. “It’s fluent, but you can hardly read the text, the type size is too small…” The passion surges, the topic excites everybody. The discussion widens to more general matters.
Design and industrial design. Italian design was created by architects and a few enthusiastic industrialists. Everything is design, nothing is. The real products of Italian design are the schools and the magazines. Design is not fashion. Certain design objects have become vacuous forms. They imitate fashion without having its impact. Design is a mood. Design is not industrial. China is going to be the place of design and high tech. The places of knowledge? The designers’ offices…
Drawings. The pieces of cardboard used as place-names and the pencils laid on the table next to the cutlery explain the concepts better. A quality diagram is improvised. Numbers explain why quality cannot be a mass phenomenon. Right, but…
Memories. By the time the fillet appears, the discussion has warmed up. A bit of controversy, a few recollections, enlightening words, fading silences. “I like to meet my clients, get to know them: size ‘em up. Like a tailor when he has to make a suit.” “I used to frequent one of those latterie, where you could also have lunch. There was poetry in those walls, in those plain plastic laminate tables…” “Of all my students in twenty-twos years’ teaching, I only remember five or six. One of these was Japanese. He had designed a piano with a vartical keyboard. A nutcase! I gave him hospitality in my office for a while.”
Reflections. “Don’t attach importance to money. If you don’t think about it, money gets jealous and runs after you.” “Man’s future will be decided by physics and biology.” “There are many answers and no question.” In India, people are extremely poor. They eat with their hands, their clothes are a rectangle of fabric. Banana leaves serve as plates. The only object no one can do without is the bowl.”
Stone guest. When the dessert comes, a bowl of white cream garnished with a single raspberry, the discussion again catalyses on Domus. “We live under a constant bombardment of images. Urging us to buy goods. The pace of these images needs to be slowed down.” “Readers expect to see projects with plans and sections”. “Putting art back on the same level as architecture means carrying on the original Domus tradition.”
Leave-taking. After the guests have spontaneously split into smaller groups, some continue to argue excitedly, others go home. No point in keeping the recorders on and taking any more photographs. It’s been a lovely evening.
Thanks to everyone.
11 March, 0.45 am
On Domus 869, in the newsstands in April, Branzi Magistretti Mari Mendini Sottsass discuss design. Edited by Maria Cristina Tommasini.