The nice thing about talking to Odo Fioravanti is that you always learn something. Overcoming the already brilliant smokescreen of design Haiku and entering Fioravanti-thought means playing it safe: never a nonsense opinion, insights and encyclopedic knowledge of the topic being talked about. And the construction of nomenclatures that do not discount diplomacy. In this case, the topic is plastic.
“I designed some plastic chairs, two million pieces were sold. Obviously I asked myself some questions, especially after some criticism in my opinion misdirected. The demonization of plastic is a more or less voluntary and dangerous simplification operation, which does not serve to solve sustainability problems or to disseminate correct information”.
Let's start from the beginning: does it make sense to design new chairs?
The new word always worries me when it comes to design. The concept of novelty is dangerous for the culture of the project. The right question is: how do you draw a beautiful chair? As for the meaning of doing it, I have no doubts: it's like wondering if it's worth writing a poem or making a good movie. It makes sense because we need other poems as we need other chairs, to transfer the spirit of our time into them. And in doing so we oblige ourselves to give ourselves time, to reflect, to correctly design objects that will stay in people's homes for many years. The concept of novelty - in addition to meaning nothing - is dangerous precisely because it makes speed implicit, it implies a harmful consumer attitude.
Is the task of design therefore to help a relationship, a bond with objects to consume better?
The theme of sustainability is intimately linked to the use made of objects. To the relationship between human beings and things. When they tell me that an object is “only” beautiful, I have to answer: wonderful! That would already be a lot. The intensity of a beautiful object and the work done to design it is what will convince its owner to use it for decades, not to throw it away. A beautiful plastic chair like Selene is a guarantee of sustainability. There is no need to produce it in more sustainable materials to make it better from an ecological point of view. Indeed: it is a hypocritical operation. The correct strategy is made of an “aesthetic durability” and mechanical and a thought about the end of life. Being able to disassemble a piece of furniture is another design gesture that increases sustainability.
No bioplastics then? Or plastics recovered at the end of their life or from industrial waste?
Plastic is a material of organic origin. It breathes, absorbs water, changes over time. It loses aesthetic and mechanical qualities in contact with air and atmospheric agents. To recycle it post-use it is often necessary to add virgin material. There are no chairs that have an infinite life for the simple reason that plastic cannot be recycled indefinitely, if it were really possible and rational to do so. It is among those materials that respond to the laws of organic chemistry, such as plants, animals, humans. All things that die, come to an end.
For the sake of those who think it is easy to choose natural materials...
How much a product pollutes is linked to a series of events. If I cut a tree that produces a rare wood, such as wenge, the gesture I make is intimately unsustainable. A plastic chair is a simple girl compared to a shabby-chic piece of furniture, which however has a much greener look.
So how do you know when a product is sustainable?
There are sustainable processes that arise from reasoning about what changes from before a product is born until it is no longer used. And there is a basic seriousness in looking for solutions. It took Pedrali some years to find a real 100% recycled polypropylene: partly recycled from post-consumer and partly from industrial waste. Besides, the material cannot be colored, because otherwise it is really no longer recyclable. So I need to know that if I want a recycled plastic chair, it will probably be gray.
Are certifications useful?
In the absence of laws, certifications are assessments made by private bodies, which in any case proceed by comparison, at best. The assessment of the carbon footprint is the most effective tool, because it basically tells us if we are polluting a little less than last year, taking into account every part of the life cycle of an object. The rest is of little value and, when you do a little research, you realize that just below the surface there is a not very serious circus. There is a great confusion of structural principles that frequently leads to greenwashing.
Cover photo and above, the painting process of the Babila chair, designed by Odo Fioravanti, within the Pedrali Wood Division in Manzano (Udine) where products made of wood, all FSC certified, are processed. The process is highly automated and 50% of the energy used is produced by the factory's photovoltaic panels. Pedrali has installed a robotic painting system with water-based products of vegetable origin which, in guaranteeing excellent qualities of resistance and durability, limit the emission of volatile organic substances, substantially reducing the environmental impact in interior spaces as well.