; ; 22 Mar 2017

Designing Together: Historiography of a Collaboration

Architect and manufacturer in Italian furniture design, 1950 to 1980 by Andrea Foffa

This article is part of  the publication ‘Sooner, or Later’. [1]

Design by Andrea Foffa

The written work that informs this visual essay focused on the knowledge exchange between the Italian architect and the furniture manufacturer between the 1950s and the 1980s, and on a broader question of how we came to define ‘Italian Design’. Instead, I approached this visualisation as an occasion to focus on a secondary aspect of my research, whilst hinting at a critique on the perhaps excessively reverential approach academics may have towards historiography.

This visual essay plays with images gathered from ads of iconic Italian furniture from the mid 1950s to the mid 1960s, highlighting the obsession for lighter and lighter pieces of furniture and for the chair as the quintessential bearer of this newfound lightness. Looking at the promotion of the inflatable chair Blow by the company Zanotta in 1967, and, a decade before, at the design process of the wooden chair Superleggera by the company Cassina -whose memorable product launch consisted of actually ‘launching’ the chair in the middle of the company’s courtyard- one might wonder: why were chairs designed to be thrown?

Giving a serious answer to this not-so-serious question is not the intent of the visual essay – in all honesty, the exercise of creating a mock secondary source, complemented with a self quote (another common item of the historiography I have encountered) has been much more fun.

Sooner, or later is a collection of visual essays by History of Design MA students at the Victoria & Albert Museum and Royal College of Art. The submissions reflect and refract the research undertaken for an historiographical essay in spring 2016. This project was developed in order to push the boundaries of the essay format through collaboration with other schools at the RCA. The essay brief invited students to write a critical historio­graphy of design change in a category of objects or a design process. The brief tested the ability to: identify patterns of historical change; evaluate different explanations for change; and analyse the social, cultural, gendered, ideological and technological reasons for design change. Sooner, or later is an unbound, risograph-printed publication in burgundy and fluorescent pink. Contributors were given 0.25 square metres, or two sides of A3, with which to cultivate and interrogate their historio­graphical research. Most of the visual essays are the result of collabo­rations with other students at the Royal College of Art.
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