Machines in transit

During the course of the 20th century man’s main paradigm shifted from ‘space’ to ‘time.’

If the moon landing was the last great moment of the spotlight on variable space, time accentuated its condition as a frontier, setting the codes of the last period of modernity: the contemporary world.

Faced with this change of status, design takes on two radically opposing attitudes. The first is represented by a dynamic vision: languages that transmit the idea of incessant progress of technological content.

Then there is a second, opposite trend, in which the need to cope with the anxiety produced by technological acceleration generates the desire to turn back to a repertoire of formal archetypes of primal iconic power and strong affective potential.

While literature has explored this condition in great depth – just consider the steampunk phenomenon, a thread of fantasy and science fiction narrative that introduces anachronistic technology in a historical setting – in the field of design the discussion has been far less widespread.

The true forerunner in its individuation is undoubtedly Clino Castelli, who in his Transitive Design (Electa, 1999) encoded the main features, also indicating some of the pioneers: first of all Bel Geddes, creator of a design with typically regressive aspects, though grafted onto fully advanced visions.

This particular ‘transitive’ trend can be seen anew in two recent objects, made for light and sound, that raise time to the status of a resource to conserve, not only to voraciously consume.

Philippe Starck has designed Bon Jour Versailles, a lamp that straddles aristocracy and democracy, technology and memory. Heir to the Bon Jour model created for Flos, and to the Versailles candlesticks for Baccarat, Bon Jour Versailles has a base in sculpted transparent crystal or polymethyl methacrylate, whose lines remind us of the most typical pieces by the French maison.

Its high-tech heart plays harmoniously with retro forms.

The lamp contains a sophisticated Led Edge Lighting device, that interacts with the pleated fabric shade to spread warm, homogeneous light that reveals space thanks to an infinite optical game. In this way, as in the reverberation of a magical transparency, the lamp is immersed in light and almost seems to take form from inside it.

The second object is the BeoSound Shape wireless speaker by the Danish designer Øivind Alexander Slaatto for Bang & Olufsen. The hexagonal module on which the system is based permits free compositions on the wall or ceiling, with an unlimited number of elements. Again in this case, the technological component is very important.

The special upmixing algorithm used by BeoSound Shape has been created to produce clear, precise soundscapes, with the vocal performer at the center and the instruments to the sides, reproducing the audio experience of a live concert. On a figurative level, the speaker does not, however, pursue a high-tech language: instead, its graphic design explicitly suggests the axonometric cubes that were one of the most widespread decorative motifs of 19th-century floors.

As in the case of Bon Jour Versailles, in BeoSound Shape the interference between elements of the past and others of the future is so incisive as to trigger an effect of disorientation of the viewer, drawn into a paradoxical voyage in time that could become the distinctive language of the fast approaching (new) Twenties

article Guido Musante