“It is one thing to find products with a still current design value in your own catalog. Another is to re-propose models of the past in a misleading way, with casual reinterpretations”. Luciano Galimberti, President of ADI, on the meaning of history in design

Heritage or the desire to draw on one’s past and tell it. Almost a necessity for many design companies, sometimes a stretch. But the historical heritage of the Italian industrial product is a very important value beyond the fashions or the needs of the market that must be protected and communicated. We talk about it with Luciano Galimberti, president of ADI, l’Associazione Disegno Industriale, which is about to inaugurate the ADI Design Museum next December and to make the rich collection of the Compasso d'Oro visible to the public.

In the last decade we have seen a surge in activities aimed at recovering the memory of design. What are you motivated by? Is there a risk that this is a shortcut to rediscover sources of inspiration in the past that are not found elsewhere?

This is partly true. Personally, I am not always convinced of the relaunching of products designed in other historical periods. In particular, as regards businesses, we need to distinguish and understand the difference between memory and nostalgia. It is one thing to find products with a value in your catalog – because they were designed by an important designer, they renewed the language of design, proposed an innovative material – and present them to the market as timeless pieces, still today beautiful. Another is to misleadingly re-propose models of the past, with somewhat too casual reinterpretations. It often happens to find furniture rather than lamps ‘reinterpreted’ by art directors with important responsibilities who do not always take into account the historical value of the original piece. In this case it is more about marketing operations.

What activities are you carrying out as ADI on the front of the enhancement of ‘memory’?

As an association we have proposed a coordination of the foundations of the masters of design: Franco Albini, Achille Castiglioni, Vico Magistretti and others. The work of the Museum is different, which has a heritage such as the Compasso d'Oro collection to tell a wider audience. For this reason, a year ago, together with the Triennale Foundation and the Musei di Impresa Foundation of Asso Lombarda, we created Musei Design Milano of which Antonio Calabrò of Assolombarda. Un progetto condiviso da tre realtà che dialogano con Comune di Milano e a Regione Lombardia per poter organizzare un percorso comune.

Take for example an object like the Arco lamp by Achille Castiglioni, which is in the collections of both ADI and Triennale. By putting ourselves together and doing planned work, we can identify different ways of exhibiting and telling it, creating a circuit and a more articulated narrative of the same product. We focus on a very broad audience for example, so the storytelling of an object is very important.

This year, for the Compasso d’Oro, ADI has established an award dedicated to historical products, which supports the Compasso career. Why reward objects?

The product award stems from a museum need which sometimes lacks iconic pieces. How can you create a design museum and not have what we can define as the essentials of design? But it can happen. I go back to the Arco lamp because it was one of the three pieces awarded at this first edition. The Compasso d’Oro award has always been in its historical moment and evaluated by a totally independent jury in its choices. In 1962, the year in which the Arco lamp was in competition, the jurors preferred to award another object by the Castiglioni brothers, the Cimbali Pitagora coffee machine because, it was declared, Compassi d’Oro had already been awarded to various lamps over the years. so they chose to award a different product from the same designer.

For this first edition we have awarded three pieces because they bring cultural and typological innovation: the Arco by Flos, a free standing lamp designed to shed light on a table without being hung from the ceiling. The Sacco armchair by Zanotta (from 1968) as the bearer of a radically new model of seating, and finally the Nathalie bed by Flou (from 1988), which transferred the tailored concept of the upholsterer's bed to the world of industry, transforming it into a real best seller.

Vi occuperete anche di restauro dei pezzi della collezione. In che modo?

Il tema del restauro dei pezzi originali di design è molto importante. Noi abbiamo già iniziato un processo di restauro già da una decina d’anni grazie alla Fondazione Miroglio tramite La Venaria Reale. Il design spesso è realizzato in prodotti che invecchiano, plastiche, schiumati, e altro, oltre che pezzi magari ancora oggi in produzione ma prodotti con materiali e metodologie diverse. Noi dobbiamo seguire un restauro filologico e quindi recuperare o ricostruire nel rispetto del periodo in cui le opere sono state realizzate. Per questo abbiamo stipulato un accordo con l’Accademia Galli di Como, credo la più importante istituzione nell’ambito del restauro contemporaneo, per istituire insieme un corso di laurea dedicato al di condition report un programma di restauro sul prodotto industriale. Questo ci garantisce un laboratorio permanete del restauro leggero nel museo ADI pensato all’interno di una struttura in vetro trasparente, affinché sia possibile coinvolgere il pubblico, in particolare i giovani, ad assistere alle operazioni di pulitura, rammendo, manutenzione. Quando si tratta di restauro pesante invece, trasferiamo i pezzi presso i laboratori dell’Accademia a Como dove ci sono lo spazio e le tecnologie necessarie per intervenire. In questo modo possiamo restituire al nostro pubblico gli oggetti esattamente come erano quando sono stati prodotti. Questo ci rende particolarmente orgogliosi. 

Cover photo by Saverio Lombardi Vallauri, part of a project carried out in November 2013 by eight photographers (above some of their shots) invited by ADI to document the state of the building that houses the ADI Design Museum before the renovation.