More and more objects, especially furnishings, stand out for the combination of slender lines and material blocks with an ‘architectural’ image.
First of all, we can examine the Kaari collection by the Bouroullec brothers for Artek, the first collaboration between the French duo and the historic Finnish brand, and an excellent example of this new language. The collection features an original hybrid construction system composed of strips of wood and bands of steel, whose precedents date back to the experiments of Aalto with the technique used for bending skis, applied to the paradigm of the object with a geometric structure introduced in those years by Rietveld and Breuer.
What determines the character of ‘subtle design’ is effectively its ability to sum up, in a fresh, immediate sign, an entire path of design history, that of the various spirits of the Modern, not commemorating it with nostalgic tones, but injecting it with intact vitality into the 21st century.
Projects like the Black Landscapes table by Noam Dover and Michal Cederbaum, the Y collection by Jordi Lopez, the tables by the young Francesco Meda (son of Alberto), the Loop lamps by Roberto Giacomucci and Focal Point by Chifen Cheng (Designlump) display elements slimmed to the point of evanescence (bands, metal tubes, steel rods) juxtaposed with more solid, structured materic components (often in wood, or as in the case of Focal Point, in an unexpected material like porcelain).
Even the restructuring project for the interiors of the G house by the studio Francesco Librizzi pivots on this same type of digital-structural design, elegantly organized around the staircase. Particularly interesting cases are those in which the ‘vectorial’ component is combined with soft bulks obtained through the leavening of digital flours, like the Balcony sofa by the Norwegians Vera & Kyte, and the Betty armchair by Angeletti Ruzza, an object “enveloping like a caress” that “encourages visual and behavioral relaxation.”
Precisely this concept of ‘visual relaxation’ becomes a key factor in our discussion. To fully understand the meaning of subtle design, we have to take a step back, to the 1980s, when the postmodern aesthetic apocalypse proposed a conception of the object that unlike the functionalist approach no longer attempted to ‘educate’ the user to its own aesthetic code, but accepted the user as given, with his vices and virtues, as a by-now mature child of the society of consumption, offering object-presences with strong playful and relaxing value.
This is the groove entered today by a large portion of furniture design in the digital age, which besides absorbing the taste for soft but decisive borders, in the iPhone style, is developing a path of management of the form of the object increasingly similar to that of graphic interfaces, in terms of form, color and volumetric arrangement.
Also because such interfaces represent the most daunting adversary, today, against which the product has to battle for the attention of users, who on the same screen are presented with images of real objects – constrained by the laws of physics and structural engineering – and images of virtual yet ‘tangible’ objects – free of any constructive limitations.
Therefore it becomes more vital than ever, for design, to work on languages, the ‘leap out of the screen’ (the touchscreen) and ‘touch’ the eye of the user. In this sense subtle design, salvaging the tradition of the modern object inside the digital visual horizon, performs a true aesthetic miracle, combining the weight, thickness and solidity of history with the lightness, fineness and evanescence of the future.
by Stefano Caggiano