Designers have always traveled. And the traces of the travels of some become the strong sign of a certain way of designing

It is not clear how, but Ettore Sottsass moved into an epic dimension when he decided to leave. The numerous and detailed stories of his travels appear throughout his life. On Domus, on magazines that have now disappeared. In beautiful books, in which Sottsass transforms every step, every drawing, every word or love, into a granite monument to free will and free philosophizing.

“I saw the dolmens and then the ancient Buddhist stupas – a perfect half sphere of earth on the corpse of the man who had said comforting things and behaved well – and I saw among the olive trees the fallen stones of the temples of Greece and also the stones of Corinth, city of ether, and also I saw the Byzantine churches as small as toys ...writes in Travel exercises.  

As if being architects, designers, artists were a vital principle, not something you do but something you imagine, think, say while walking. If you've never been to India, read his memoirs. It will be like having been there, but equipped with intelligent and very lively eyes. His work is impregnated with quotations, with nomadic memories, with attempts to bring back here the most radical and most human parts of a distant place. Whether we are talking about a laminate or a lamp.

Perhaps because the journey of the Sixties does not know of low cost routes, of fun, of ease and facilities. Perhaps because it really took the desire to walk for a long time, to go far, forgetting reassuring pieces of identity. Bruno Munari's travel sculptures, made of paper, fingers that bend and scissors that cut, is also a feeling of urgency and precariousness.

Sculptures to be kept in a book, to be reshaped on the bedside table of a room in a remote place. The fact is that these designers do not stay the same when they travel, they allow themselves to be transformed, impregnated anew, they allow themselves to be restarted and then tell the journey in their work, disseminating it with signs and codes of a spatial elsewhere, certainly, but also cultural and human.

“Per me il viaggio è una forma di lavoro: come andassi a scuola, in una scuola strana dove qualche cosa vedo, qualche cosa mi dicono, qualche cosa mi raccontano” dice Ettore Sottsass in un intervista a Hans Ulrich Obrist del 2004, sempre per Domus. E poi, quando termina il lavoro per l’aeroporto di Malpensa si accorge di aver sbagliato, di aver confuso il non luogo con un luogo simbolico, da cui si parte e in cui si arriva. Mentre invece l’aeroporto contemporaneo è uno shopping centre, e il passeggero è la cosa meno importante. Rimane però la nostalgia per un progetto che contiene le tracce dell’archetipo, per la forza di un segno umano come quello visto nelle pietre dei templi indiani. 


The lightness of the luggage is always the sign of the nomad, of the restless movement of those who think that a little further on the gaze will rest on different things. Bruce Chatwin teaches it, but in the lightness he finds a pretext to travel only with objects thought well and made better. A dandy restlessness? “The first project I signed was a series of trunks/containers in wood and Corian for Ivory” says Gian Paolo Venier. “Travel is a constant in my work: it inspires choices, research and the attempt to absorb and transform the visual patterns of different territories, of distant geographies”.

And it is during a journey that he meets Paola Navone, another professional traveler, with whom he shares an exotic and cosmopolitan code. An ideal sign for places intended for hospitality, holidays: “I am working on a glamping resort project in Greece. I'm interested in the idea of ephemeral architecture, which does not leave indelible marks on the territory and instead focuses on the reworking of typicality, of local décor. The only pre-existing building dates back to the era of socialist Greece. I like the idea of a jarring intervention, not aligned with the sobriety of the place, but able to disappear without leaving marks”. 

Read also: what is luxury for Gian Paolo Venier

Another interesting designer for his way of dealing with distance and geographical otherness is Antonio Aricò. In a hi-end groove of unique or apparently non-serial pieces, Aricò works on the roots of his typicality, the Calabrian one. He never gives up on the quotation, always trying to bring "here" what is normally relegated "there", to a distant and ignored south. An attitude that he also practiced for the works destined for the Ceramica Dolce. Design and craftsmanship in Montelupo exhibition at the Ceramics Museum of Montelupo Fiorentino.

Read also: the storydoing by Antonio Aricò

Italy is not a country, it is a sea of stories. His imagery is an intertwining of infinite tales that unite north to south and west to east. In this case, the idea is to bring the accent back to raw ceramic, typical of the peasant tradition. Materiality and recovery of archetypal forms of local heraldry: it is the journey of memory, stories, signs from other worlds and other times reported in a single place. This is the journey we have been able to enjoy lately.