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Passé Composée

The future was now and then.

Futurolists are doing a roaring trade these days, so anxious are we to know what tomorrow will bring. Oracular trend predictors habitually riff off our fears of technology, climate change, immigration and economic precarity in order to provide panacæ for an as yet unknown era. Future perfect, the Milan Furniture Fair is by its very raison d’être a time machine churning out new product at a rapid rate of knots. But one of the most compelling shows at the Salone this year was not a stand delivering glittering consumer durables, it was an exhibition proposing new ways of inhabiting our homes.

This Will Be The Place was the title of the exhibition orchestrated by Patricia Urquiola in her capacity as art director of Cassina, based on a sibling publication edited by Felix Burrichter, editor and creative director of PIN-UP magazine. What was interesting about this double-edged manifesto was that at no point in formulating a future did Urquiola or Burrichter obliterate the past. Their future entails no tabula rasa, more a recalibration.

“The past is not made out of marble, to use an architectural metaphor,” Urquiola tells me. “The past is a mix of possibility and memory. Design should respond to the present, and there can be no future without a knowledge of the past. The intersection between heritage and innovation is very important to me.”

“The past used to be the future,” Felix Burrichter adds, by phone from his office in New York. “And most of the things that we think are going to happen to us in the future already in part exist. We already live according to a future vision. For instance, ‘collective living’ might sound more radical than Airbnb but ultimately that’s what it is. It’s a matter of nomenclature.”

In Part I of the publication which serves as a de facto catalogue to Urquiola’s show, Burrichter interviews architectural historian Beatriz Colomina who believes the 21st Century to be that of the bed. Berlin-based architect Arno Brandlhuber predicts the house of the future will be a fluid structure composed of few divisions. Chinese architect Zhao Yang foresees a return to nature and tradition – perhaps not too surprising given he was born in the most violently industrialized economy of the past 30 years. Konstantin Grcic suggests that to think about the future effectively, one needs to know the past and be rooted in the present.

“The problem is that when we think of the future,” says the Munich-based industrial designer, “we picture a certain cliché of it and that is often connected to technology, electronics, the digital and so on. In contrast to that, I work in an industry that’s much more analog – namely, furniture. Mine is a slow world, a world in which one scrutinises and revises the things that have existed for hundreds of years.” Grcic’s affection for the analog has its roots in his classical training as a cabinetmaker at the John Makepeace School in Dorset, England. Yet, as we witnessed in his Panorama show at the Vitra Museum in 2015, he is not immune to a fascination with the future. In that show he staged a series of dioramas around the ideas of Life Space, Work Space, and Public Space. “It was an opportunity for me to take stock,” admits Grcic. “But also to look ahead.” Domus described Panorama as “a retrospective that looks to the future, but with an individual suggestion that narrates the present.”

In a similar fashion, This Will Be The Place takes stock of Cassina’s past, projecting it towards the future with a solid grounding in the now. “As the art director of Cassina,” says Urquiola, “I wanted to respect the company’s past and strong stylistic background, yet also take into account their willingness to embrace the future of design, and incorporate my aesthetic into this progression. I like to think of the brand’s history as an active, systematic part of my mind when representing the company’s identity in a contemporary way.”

Urquiola points to Mario Bellini’s 932 armchair of 1965 that has been updated with new four-cushion configurations and rechristened the MB1 Quartet “in honour of his important collaboration with the company.” She has also revisited Patrick Jouin’s 2003 Lebeau table in wood with a light base made of alternating full and hollow spaces with curved solid wood slats. “This table is the perfect expression of the company’s high level production skills,” she says. Charlotte Perriand’s slinky 520 Accordo table is now proposed in bright lacquers untenable at the time it was designed in 1985.

This Will Be The Place riffs off the landmark exhibition Italy: The New Italian Domestic Landscape at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1972. It is also an extension of Burrichter’s 2015 show at the Swiss Institute NYC titled Le Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau, itself an echo of Le Corbusier’s radical installation of the same name at the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs of 1925. Looking back in order to look forward.

As Finnish architect and theorist, Martti Kalliala puts it in the collection of potential scenarios in Part II of the book, with titles like When Pinterest Becomes Form, Disruption Begins At Home, and Ageless (But Not Young)… “Time – and with it culture – is a spiral: everything that once was will return, but in different form. We will live tomorrow as we lived in the past – only differently.”

This Will Be The Place, edited by Felix Burrichter is published by Rizzoli. Available from September at
better bookshops.

This story was originally published in Habitus #37, the Nostalgia issue – out now!

Image courtesy of Cassina, This Will Be The Place, Playground. Photography by Leonardo Scotti. Artwork by Fausto Fantinuoli





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