Formal solutions based on geometry have a long tradition in the history of design. From the proto-rationalism of the Red and Blue chair by Rietveld, to the totemic furniture of Sottsass, compositions based on geometric solids have provided the logical key for the formal container of the object or for its dispersal in space. Today, the grouping of cones, cubes and cylinders takes on an approach in line with our times, marked by the digital repositioning of technique and aesthetics.
So in the Keystone seat by Os & Oos for Please Wait to be Seated, as in the No. 70 vase of the New York-based studio Kelly Behun, the conception of the object as a sum of geometric blocks is positioned at the intersection of two of the main languages of contemporary design: that of the ‘obvious construction’ (see Interni no. 630), and that of graphics used as ‘solid’ material in the composition of objects (Interni no. 644).
More specifically, today’s geometric language shares, with the language of obvious construction, the concept of the object as a ‘sum of parts without a whole,’ as in the Italic lamp by Flip Sellin and Philipp Brosche of the Berlin-based studio Coordination. While with the thread of ‘solid’ graphics it shares the definition of the product through the algebraic addition of compact chromatic blocks, as in the Pick ‘n’ Mix table by Daniel To e Emma Aiston for Tait.
A fundamental role is played not just by form, but also by color. Characterized by chromatic management similar to that of the icons of a smartphone or tablet, projects like the Ora mirror and the Cache cabinet by Zoë Mowat, or the 3 Legs tables by Studio Nomad, encourage a furnishing scenario that has the same visual layout as a graphic interface: genteel, radiated, rigorous.
As can also be seen in certain cases that pay closer attention to market needs, like the Pampa kitchen by Alfredo Häberli for Schiffini and the Rift radiator by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba with Matteo Fiorini for Tubes.
The discontinuity these aesthetics of digital origin introduce with respect to previous design history is not just a surface effect. Instead, it has to do with the deepest rifts of design culture. With the advent of electronics products have entered a process of genetic mutation that makes the display of the technical structure increasingly less definitive on a semantic plane.
This process has been taken to fulfillment by the digital evolution of technique, as it becomes totally disembodied and therefore lacking in its own ‘natural’ aesthetic (hence the need for the interface as a specific design level).
So while the 20th century witnessed the aesthetic ‘transubstantiation’ of technique as a decisive moment in the formal definition of the modern object, today this transubstantiation is no longer possible, and therefore no longer semantically relevant.
Digital users, in fact, are accustomed to interacting with devices that are perceived as reliable even if we cannot see the technical body, which has become a total phantom. And if this is the fate of the technical core in the digital age, the aesthetic core is no longer rooted in the traditional metaphysics of the object – impenetrable because it is saturated with ‘existential inertia,’ like a hard-boiled egg – but in a new digital metaphysics generated by the fluidification of the object into scraps of form and function, like a beaten egg.
The language of geometric blocks, in this sense, constitutes a new ‘postmodern,’ heir to the Italian design of the same label from the 1980s, and positioned, in its wake, beyond the formal territory of the Modern, in a world where the digital has interrupted any correspondence between form and function.
by Stefano Caggiano