During Beijing Design Week, Alessi presented (Un)Forbidden City at China Shijitan Contemporary Art Center. A collection of eight objects from renowned Chinese architects invited by Alessi to design a tray, one of the company's most important product typologies.
All the prototypes are on show until October 31 at the Aether Space Art Gallery in Beijing. After "Tea & Coffee Towers" from 2003 and "Tea & Coffee Piazza" from 1983, (Un)Forbiddden City is the third act in Alessi's "meta-project" exploring contemporary forms and languages deriving from the encounter between a part of the world moving towards the future with great speed—and not without contradictions—and the Italian way of thinking about and doing design, which has always seen the industrial object as a place for expressing a point of view and never just as a means for fulfilling a function.
With (Un)Forbidden City, Alberto Alessi asks a bit provocatively whether there is a line between thinking and producing, between the designer and industry; and if we can incorporate into that complex, elusive and, to some extent, (un)forbidden area of Italian design such names as Gary Chang, one of twenty-two architects who took part in the "Tea & Coffee Towers" meta project, Chang Yung Ho, Chinese-American architect who teaches at MIT and who designed a steel lotus flower for Alessi, Wang Shu, designer of the Ningbo Historic Museum or the Xiangshan campus in Hangzhou, Zhang Ke, Zhang She, Urbanus and Ma Yan Song.
This last figure, the youngest in the group, proposed "Floating Earth"—a typologically hybrid object—a mahogany and stainless steel tray whose multiple levels create a sinuous organic form, and whose design finds its roots in Chinese art and history, revealing the links between Chinese tradition and his architectural projects, like Absolute City Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, for example.
"Tea & Coffee Piazza" and "Tea & Coffee Towers" were intended to explore new possible directions in product development by combining aspects of architecture and industrial design. Above all, they contributed to exposing foreign designers to Italian design whose landscape began to change at the time; so Aldo Rossi's coffeepot, "The cone," was accompanied by Michael Graves bird whistle kettle, "9093," and David Chipperfield's tea and coffee set, along with many others.
Welcoming designers from a still somewhat alien world like China, (Un)Forbidden City becomes a synonym for Italian design and provides an opportunity to discuss both the role of industry and the process of relocating production to Asia as well as the role of architecture and its relationship to the industrial product. This time, starting from the cultural traditions of both the East and the West.