For every designer, there is one category of products that represents him best. For Antonio Citterio it is definitely sofas, a theme around which he has almost peerless experience, based on success stories but also on important innovations that have changed typological reference points in this sector. The presentation of Noonu, the latest new system of upholstered furniture developed with B&B Italia, offers an opportunity to talk more generally about his vision of design. And to take stock of a long, remarkable career that has reached a turning point, leaving a legacy of values and concrete precedents for the future.
Citterio has spoken of this on various occasions: “When I think about design and what it represents today, the concept comes to mind of a new modernity, which we could very pithily sum up as ‘leaving an inheritance.’ It is an expression I have used of late when I want to explain my approach to contemporary design. The idea is to operate by thinking that you are creating something that will be inherited by someone: an object that lasts in time is able to create ‘memory,’ just as a building conceived for a given, non-ephemeral time span can reinforce the identity of a place.”
Shifting to the story of the sofa, Citterio focuses on the principles behind his idea of design. That of a discipline fully inserted in the industrial process and productive logic of the brands with which he works (Flexform, Maxalto, Arclinea, Azucena, Technogym, just to cite the most important), for which – not by chance – he acts as a strategic consultant, not just an art director.
“I began designing sofas in 1983,” he explains. “Actually, I do not design them, I narrate them. In the sense that I start to make sketches about the way they are assembled and go together, to form domestic islands, after which the project is developed and takes concrete form in constant dialogue with the company and its technical expertise. My sofas are always ‘normal,’ never ‘over-designed,’ because I think a sofa should simply be comfortable and function well. Whenever I have tried to add a more emphatic sign to my products, the results have always been ‘too much’; things should arise spontaneously, and then develop through teamwork.” That is what has happened for Noonu, a sofa that continues and completes a path that began in 2018 with B&B Atoll. The new sofa uses the same production platform, but eliminates the feet thanks to a support structure that vanishes from view, creating islands that seem to float over the ground. It is no coincidence that the project began during a vacation in the Maldives, on an atoll called Noonu: the idea is precisely to form an ‘archipelago’ of items to combine for different needs, each with its own precise identity.
“The theme of islands and peninsulas,” the designer says, “arose in the mid-1980s, when we invented new typologies in the Sity line. These terms, which were unusual at the time, have now entered the common vocabulary. I had already noticed that sofas no longer functioned only for sitting: people lie down, sleep, eat and work on sofas. Hence the introduction of new elements that expand and vary the compositional concept, elements that return in Noonu as precise references.”
These are the so-called ‘pianoforte’ and ‘sail’ elements, which effectively make the new system a contemporary version of the iconic Sity. Just look at an overhead view of Noonu to get an idea of the explicit morphological reference. After which the details express a technical and design interpretation of upholstered furniture based on techniques that have evolved, obviously: while this was a pioneering intuition in the past, it has now been transformed into overall knowledge.
“Before designing an object,” Citterio continues, “there has to be a reason: this is the basis of the work of a designer. My work is always linked to behavioral analysis; in the 1980s I began to make upholstered pieces with a certain depth, precisely because I realized that people no longer sat on sofas only for conversation. Likewise, in the world of kitchens I designed models that were not made only of bases and hanging cabinets, but also contained places for eating. My design is almost always connected with behavior, with the way people live and interact with objects. I have always proceeded along these lines, and the same thing happens in architecture: when we design, we always imagine people, how they arrive, how they enter, how they move inside the space, what they will do there. In substance, how people interact with the space becomes one of the guidelines of the project.”
Antonio Citterio’s perspective on product design has always been closely relate to his activity as an architect. Just consider the systemic approach in the creation of many furnishings, conceived as part of the construction of a habitat, its functional and spatial dimension, rather than a factor of image in individual pieces.
“Architecture and design,” he says, “are the two spirits that coexist inside me. I am driven both by the conceptual approach of the architect, and by the creativity of the designer. This dualism is reflected in my work: I tend to design families of objects that are compatible with each other, and which have specific functions. This comes precisely from my work as an architect: I always have a clear idea of the needs involved in the furnishing of a space, be it an office, a residence or a store.”