The material side

From environmental impact to aesthetic choices, the relationship between design and material is increasingly close and interconnected

Lost Highway Armchair by Lionel Jadot - © photo Stanislas Huaux and Jeremy Marchant. courtesy of Objects with Narratives and Baranzate Ateliers

One of the most interesting things about my job is the possibility of seeing how things are made. Recently I visited the headquarters of two companies (Margraf and Neutra) that are very different from each other, but share the fact that a material is the central factor in their activity: stone. In both cases, the use of technology – by which I mean workmanship controlled by computers – is combined with a manual process that can be taken as a given: fluid, continuing man/machine interaction. The foundation is profound knowledge of the material, which first of all makes it possible to decide what should be done by machines and what should be done by humans – after which the task is carried out in an optimal way.

Ruben Modigliani - Photo © Valentina Sommariva
Ruben Modigliani – Photo © Valentina Sommariva

This relationship with material, based on experience and governed by respect, is also emerging on a public level. Prompted by environmental concerns, we have all become more engaged, we want to know what goes into the objects that enter our homes, what impact they have on the planet and on the society. We have also become more competent, thanks to the enormous quantity of information that is available to us today.

For a smaller niche of people, this expertise has become a special attraction: a good-sized chunk of what is called collectible design, a sector that is in a moment of strong growth, is based precisely on the use of special materials and types of workmanship. Form is important, but so is substance, which often plays the part of the protagonist: just consider the Lost Highway armchair by Lionel Jadot (who will soon be one of our guests), in iron and asphalt. This is an extreme case, but it gets the idea across very nicely. All of this moves in the direction of growing awareness, also on a cultural level. And that’s good for design.