Architecture in 13 cm

Giulio Iacchetti tells us about his latest challenge: as artistic director of dnd by Martinelli handles. From the firm’s new coordinated image designed by Leonardo Sonnoli to the involvement of five Italian architecture firms. With openness and pragmatism as key concepts.

Giulio Iacchetti, artistic director of dnd by Martinelli
“Whenever a designer feels like everything’s been done already, it’s time to get to work. It’s a powerful stimulus to get something done. With the typical design mindset of the Italian school, we need to set ourselves an aim and then attain it.” Giulio Iacchetti not only says this, he backs it up with action.
As ever, being well aware of trends in the relations between design and craftsmanship, in 2012 he launched the Internoitaliano project. He styled pieces that have become classics, like Duet and Elba cutlery for Sambonet, and Noè wine collection for Alessi. Then there are his small inspired inventions, like the biodegradable Moscardino spoon-cum-fork (awarded the Compasso d’Oro 2001). And that’s not the half of it. Now he tells us about his latest challenge: as artistic director for dnd by Martinelli handles. He has already designed the Gingko/Gingko Biloba models in 2017. From the new coordinated image designed by Leonardo Sonnoli to the involvement of five Italian architecture firms in a pragmatic approach, designing a new collection to present at the 2018 Salone del Mobile, Iacchetti describes his interpretation of artistic direction as openness and engagement.

How did you approach the design of handles, the factors you decided to target: formal values, balance, lightness, functionality...
I see designing handles as involving numerous very special factors. Companies that make handles turn out a single product, the little L-shaped object that projects from a door. It looks almost ironic in some ways, but it promptly calls us to order because – like all objects – its design needs to be given a contemporary interpretation. It’s a task of great intensity, because in just over 13 cm you have to create forms, dimensions and even new functions for an object we grasp goodness knows how often every day.

The question comes naturally: what still remains to be designed in a handle?
Whenever a designer feels he can say “What is there left to do?” or “It’s all been done before”, it’s time to get to work. Neither officially nor contractually can we accept the presumption that everything’s been done already. It’s a strong spur to take a step further and refute this attitude. Yet scepticism is perfectly legitimate, and I always start a project by asking myself this. Whether it’s a handle, a chair or a button, it’s perfectly relevant and worthwhile to ask whether there’s any need to redesign it. The answer can’t be taken for granted. But with the design mindset typical of the Italian school, we first set ourselves a purpose and then act.

Giulio Iacchetti at work with Alfonso Femia / 5+1AA
Giulio Iacchetti at work with Alfonso Femia / 5+1AA

Do you have any models? Think, for example, of Gio Ponti’s handle for Olivari... Are there designs that served you as an inspiration and a model?
Gio Ponti’s Lama is a handle that, I guess, everyone feels great affection and interest for. It has the rare quality of defying time, keeping its extreme elegance and a contemporary feel. It’s a combination of inexplicable factors. It could have been designed today. It’s a touchstone. But we always have to accept the challenge to innovate, because doors and the way they open change. Then a handle opens the door to every work of architecture. So it’s not surprising that for this work with DND I called in five Italian architectural firms to rethink the concept of the handle.

Which practices are you working with?
Stefano Boeri Architetti, 5+1 AA, Maurizio Varratta Architetto, 967 Architetti Associati and Cino Zucchi Architetti.

Tell us about the reasoning behind your choice
They’re all practices engaged in important projects, with a very intense present and future. They’re all doing outstanding work. Then they’re very different from each other. I wanted to see the handle as an object interpreted from a variety of standpoints. I coordinate them with a light touch and I’m eager to find out how they deal with the project. They’re curious, too, to see how a product design develops. We’re keeping an eye on their work and we’ll be telling the whole story at the next Salone del Mobile.

Giulio Iacchetti at work with Stefano Boeri
Giulio Iacchetti at work with Stefano Boeri

How do you conceive your task of artistic direction? What are your working methods?
I’d like to start from the word “direction”. To me it really is a matter of taking a new direction. How do we go about it? First of all you have to make sure you – I mean the company – are travelling on a path not often taken before. It could even be work that may not involve a broad range of action. To me it doesn’t mean, for example, taking over all the creative roles, controlling and enforcing all aspects of the work. Instead, it means engaging with specific kinds of intelligence and qualities, and coordinating the teamwork. A company that entrusts its design to me is making an important gesture of confidence. My response is not to require work in the image and likeness of the artistic director, but quality for the sake of the company’s cultural and numerical growth. Like a movie director, the artistic director is behind the camera and the result is a beautiful movie, not a three-dimensional self-portrait. I love watching Leonardo Sonnoli at work. I couldn’t have done that job in a hundred years! We have a great photographer, called Massimo Gardone, and then Elisa Testori, head of communications. Together, we make a team, visit different businesses, watch the designers at work... It’s a very rewarding experience.

So what will we be seeing at the Salone del Mobile?
Definitely the very different designs by these practices: five handles, or families of handles. Different, but all part of a single map, which is dnd. As always, I like to give my work a pragmatic key: research and experimentation, but also real handles, clearly applied to real doors.

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