From the market to the real needs of human beings. Aldo Cibic explains how to study the environment from different perspectives. The goal: to design dynamic, more joyful places of life. For everyone
article Antonella Boisi
How can we look forward, navigating the unpredictable stormy seas of our time? We asked an outstanding designer, Aldo Cibic, born in 1955, who in his extraordinary career as an autodidact, first with Memphis and Ettore Sottsass, and then since the late 1980s with his own practice, has always combined his work on objects, interiors and architecture with stimulating cultural research.
“I don’t have any preset, heroic answers to that,” the designer from the Veneto said. “But our present, our lives, are interesting precisely because they are problematic. Global warming, protection of natural resources, sustainability, migrations, social imbalances, the cost of life, education and health, artificial intelligence…
With everything that is happening, it seems rather limiting to focus only on the beauty of things.
I have an inner aesthetic dimension, ranging from humor to delicate poetry, or explicitly joyful, which accompanies my desire to identify with pleasant places in which to feel good, to conserve in memory. But today, more than yesterday, I feel the need to understand how to be an active part of a system that produces improvement with respect to complex conditions.”
When did this great dream begin?
“Three years ago, after turning 60, I went through a phase of radical rethinking of the meaning of my design and its dignity, which interests me less, if it is not part of social innovation. I was frustrated that I could not be more pro-active regarding what I should or could accomplish. Alessandro Mendini tried to reassure me, reminding me of the fil rouge that runs through everything I had done until then, on a chronological and typological level. In every project, on every scale, I have always searched for an emotional return of joy, vitality, the possibility of incompleteness as a stimulus for personal appropriation on the part of the user.”
Let’s quickly trace back through this conscious sharing that becomes interaction with other lives, other behaviors.
“This research was definitely there in the project Pocket Landscape and its idea of nature in a miniature table-tree-tableau (exhibition at Galleria Jannone, Milan, 2009); or in Elephountain which became a public fountain (an installation from 2013). There was also the project New Stories New Design presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2004: the idea of designing activities and services that would encourage dynamic relations between man and space. The research was also there in Microrealities (2004) and Rethinking Happiness (2010), two more projects shown at the Architecture Biennale, which represented another step: to understand the dynamics of collective places, the elements that generate their vitality.”
Getting back to the present and the initial question, in which direction are your thoughts now moving?
“I’d say that today the time has come for (In)complete, which is the name of the new platform of research on design: an online questionnaire that produces information and responses on these themes. The paradigm of refe-rence has changed as my story has continued: I need to understand what normal people think, collective intelligence, regarding the big problems that are facing us all in our life. I want to know what they feel they need, what they are lacking, what progress means to them, what are the opportunities for design. What are the actions to take for the city and the country, or where we can really be useful. We all have to take part. Not just the specialists. I don’t want to have regrets tomorrow.”
How can design concretely offer active support?
“For now we have identified three major themes: nature, artificial intelligence, social problems. Crossing these ‘coordinates’ and gathering data through a questionnaire made available to all, we can start to understand what the real issues are.”
In this sort of major survey on life and design, where is the value of the project?
“First of all it lies in the awareness that solutions will not be found through the gestures of individuals. It is necessary to exercise creativity with others, in order to make it become construction. Certain universities have already understood this. To offer a degree program in anthropology and visual art, for example, or in philosophy and economics, implies a readiness to grasp what is happening, to train young people to approach complex themes. I have a son who is 18: the hope is that study will help him to acquire critical and intuitive skills, not just a specialization.”
Some places are more receptive to change than others, though. In the field of design, Milan made breakthroughs in the 1980s, with Memphis for example. Today you spend a lot of time in San Francisco. Do you think it is a new epicenter of this orientation?
“I don’t have to remind anyone of what Milan has represented for design: in the 1980s a new generation of entrepreneurs, relying on innovative materials and technologies, interacted with architects and their humanistic approach (there were still no design schools in our country at the time) to achieve the alchemy that generated the extraordinary originality of Italian design. Certain companies have attracted designers from all over the world thanks to their pioneering focus on quality and versatility. On a different scale and in other ways, I can see similarities between that Milan of the past and San Francisco and Silicon Valley today. The coexistence of unknowns to be solved, the economic force of innovative businesses and the concentration of intelligence converging here from all over the world trigger a scenario, a potential that make San Francisco the center of a new Renaissance. With respect to what I have done in all these years, I believe the Bay Area today is the place in which to take an active part in a collective project, a laboratory of the future.”