From the 40s to the end of the century: the evolution of minimalist design

In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, design began its renovation process to recover from a dark and declining period brought about by the war. The ensuing economic revival produced what is still known today as Italy's "economic boom", a period that saw the growth of the country's social well-being and wealth. Italian design and architecture were conceived as something necessary. The years of reconstruction were characterized by experimentation and the use of a wide colour palette; artisan production transformed into mass production, the consequence of which was that decorations gave way to a formal language, with essential and comfortable shapes. Thanks to its iconic lines and its ability to instil cheerfulness, the design of the post-war decade has never showed any sign of weakening, not even with the spread of minimalism. The candid and pure style that characterizes many contemporary projects goes well with the more cheerful and eye-catching elements of the golden age of design. The most interesting mixes are those between the vintage and the minimal style, which began to spread slowly but steadily. This is when Mies Van Der Rohe became the director of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where his idea of art based on order and rationality started to take shape. The university campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology represents a reference point for modern architecture; the vast horizontal pavilion respects the alignments and the relationship with the large surfaces of the campus outlined in Mies Van Der Rohe's master plan. The organization of the project is extremely simple: the shape of the building is a large rectangle within which there are two rectangular courtyards, that convey natural light to the centre of the building. The lines of this building portray a clean architecture, outlined by relatively non-complex shapes that give this building an elegant allure. The 1950s were a period of great excitement as well as the golden years of design, and produced pieces so contemporary that they have become truly iconic. Still relevant today, 1950s design has known no crisis. It came about when Italy's desire for redemption after the war as at its highest, and developed starting from this sentiment that was widespread among the different designers. From an aesthetic standpoint, the 1950s design also marked the triumph of plastic materials, that is coloured plastic materials that revolutionized the world of tools, making them modern and functional objects. Many objects still in use today and still considered relevant and modern actually boast a history that is over sixty years old. The main characteristics of the Fifties' design are the perfect blend of functionality and irony, along with the use of materials that up until then had been considered waste or second-choice, which promoted the reinvention of objects. This design is fluid and pleasant and yet complex, as it is full of emotions and very evocative at the same time. Minimalism was not yet a proclaimed art but, unconsciously, some objects were already characterized by clean and elegant lines. In these years, new seats were created and their design was so modern that they are still considered relevant today. Tulip 151 for Knoll (1956) or the Panton Chair (1959) are just two examples. The first was designed by Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) an American industrial designer and architect. This seat already hinted at minimalism and can be considered a magnificent and new object. The second was designed by Verner Panton, from which it also takes its name, and is an enduring classic in the history of design furniture. A few years later, this chair was developed for mass production in collaboration with Vitra. It was the first chair to be made entirely from a single sheet of plastic. The comfort of this seat is the result of the combination of the design cantilevered structure with a slightly flexible material. The Panton Chair received numerous international awards and is present in the collections of many important museums: its expressiveness has made it an icon of the 20th century. The Sixties represent the highest point of stylistic excess as regards design but above all materials, as evidenced by every object produced at that time. Also the Sixties produced creations and colour combinations that have gone down in history: it was a flourishing period full of ideas and innovative at the same time. The interiors of the houses were unique, a mixture of minimalism and psychedelic shapes. The use of plastic in the production of furniture was very widespread at the time: more plastic products were built in that decade than in the following years, and the furniture had futuristic shapes with large spaces and soft lines and geometries. The search for the new and the original was the most coveted feature: nothing was to be taken for granted or could be traditional. It was precisely in those years that minimalism was born, a movement that had emerged in 1960 and which, over time, had become of interest to many: its principle was the conservation of pure forms. Minimal art was the main trend that brought about a radical change in the artistic climate. It was characterized by a process of reality scale-down and by the use of elementary geometrical structures. Before it got its name, in the 1920s the Bauhaus school had already promoted a design that used as little material as possible. Over time, the Bauhaus aesthetics became an end in itself and minimalist designers were happy to welcome an airy aesthetics that left the spaces half-empty and clean. The famous motto "less is more" was born with the German-American master Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe and represented the soul of minimalism. We are talking about the Arco di Flos lamp made in 1962 by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, a brilliant object that has become one of the most imitated icons in the history of design. Its geometric shapes are clean-cut and are sober, the colours used are neutral. The light helps to perceive the cleaner and tidier space, two of the principles that characterize this style. When natural light makes room for darkness, the arch (Arco) comes into play. The choice of light points refers to essential shapes and a captivating lighting recreates that minimalism, which the great designer of the past spoke about and which is still trendy today. It is one of the best known and most representative pieces of Italian design: its strengths are the severity of the lines, the careful use of materials, and the unmatched elegance. The Seventies are a distant decade, yet not that distant, characterised by many edgy aspects that were less understood compared to those of the Sixties. These years prepared the contemporary world as we know it today, and gave us a glimpse of the digital future. One of the principles of the Seventies was not the search for beauty and pure harmony, but the search for excess, and the desire to experiment with new forms of communication. From an imagination standpoint, the Seventies were way ahead of their time: art was no longer made on canvas but expanded on a planetary level, which was a very strong concept at the time. Art became like an activity parallel to religion and therefore artists regarded themselves as creators of colossal enterprises. Architecture, instead, had a utopian part that dated back to the Sixties. The Seventies were interested in the idea of macro-structures, namely cities compacted within large structures. In the minimal architectural field, reference can be made to Aldo Rossi, an architect born in Milan in 1931, whose curriculum boasts large buildings, including the San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena designed in 1971 and inaugurated in 1984. It is a modified architecture, almost like a toy, that refers partly to certain elementary forms of the Italian rationalistic tradition, and partly to the forms of Roman architecture, which were then made cubic: the simplified lines of this building make it clean and very impressive. Design lost its humanistic aspect and tended to take on a more artificial connotation that was already looking towards the contemporary period, which was about to begin. In 1979 Gio Ponti designed the Short Seat Chair, the opposite of the superleggera (super-light) which had a very high back but bent at a certain point, because Gio Ponti said that feature wasn't needed. In this case, however, by reducing the stretch of the seat, the backrest develops. It is vaguely reminiscent of the Barcelona seat of Mies Van Der Rohe, redesigned forty years later. Van Der Rohe was one of the main exponents of minimalism with his "less is more" concept, which later became the motto of the movement according to which everything must be reduced to the necessary elements while remaining in step with modernity. This seat, the Short Seat Chair, follows the principles of minimalism, evidenced by the use of neutral colours and clear-cut geometrical shapes. In this period, the designers broke down what had been done before: some say they sold themselves to the industry, but in reality it was an indication of the extreme culture of the time. In fact, the Seventies were a source of surprise and experimentation: the aim of design was not to produce practical and functional objects, but to tread paths that had never been travelled before. The design of the Seventies was characterized by many styles: from aggressive to poetic, to minimalist, to exasperation, the latter being a feeling that is very difficult to express from an artistic point of view. But this didn't just apply to design: for example, Gianfranco Zappettini, an Italian painter and exponent of the analytical painting, a current that uses surfaces and colours in their pure form to bring out their simplicity, painted a white cross on a white background. Despite the minimalist approach, the message conveyed by these works of art proves to be very deep and interesting. It is a super chic and extremely refined work: the cross is highlighted in the centre and fades at the edges, which is a testimony of the obsessive research for minimalism. The Eighties were the first decade that re-read the past: from an aesthetic perspective, the certainties that were a stronghold of the previous years were no longer there. Architecture was dominated by the deconstructivist and post-modern architecture, the two main currents of the time. This decade saw the return of minimalism, which later became the current of the Nineties. Giovanni Offredi's Krios kitchen for Snaidero is a symbol of this chapter in the history of design. The concept behind this kitchen, which is partly unsupported, is brilliant and expresses an idea of a very solid architectural structure, so much so that it seems to be a very current piece. A kitchen marked by refined beauty and clear lines and by the innovative design, which is still relevant today. "Krios" is based on the concept of duotone, that is the expressive and architectural use of two colours. It is the perfect example of the Fifties reinterpreted from the Eighties perspective. The “less is more” concept acquires a new dimension thanks to some very famous pieces such as Ghost by Cini Boeri, designed in 1987 for Casa Amica. The seat is made using a modulated and cut crystal plate: it is a unique and exquisite piece. The armchair has become a design icon worldwide and is exhibited at the MoMA in New York. Some remarkable achievements projected the Eighties to the next level: all of a sudden minimalism was back under the spotlight and represented the beacon of a new Eighties' inspired period. With his S-Chair for Cappellini, Tom Dixon represented a continuation of the minimal current as he based its lines on this idea of a metal tube, referring to Marcel Breuer's Vessilli: with their sinuous and firm traits, they are virtually contained by a cylindrical volume marked by the circular metal base covered with a characteristic intertwining of rope and straw. The final result is an item with an undeniably aesthetic effectiveness, which was hugely successful, so much so that it has become a timeless classic and is exhibited at the MoMA in New York. We cannot talk about the Eighties without mentioning the king of these years, that is Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis group. Ettore Sottsass was the most admired designer, considered a reference figure both in Italy and abroad. His philosophy was that an object is defined by what it represents, not by its function. The Carlton bookcase (1981) is probably the most iconic item designed by him: it is a colourful bookcase, which breaks away from the minimalist design we talked about before: there is a break in verticality and a criticism against the system that had generated the design at that time. The Nineties are close to today: many indications are easy to understand and the design tends a little towards uniformity. In the 1990s, an entire generation of minimalist architects and designers began to get noticed, each reacting in their own way to the excesses of the late 20th century design industry. Living in a simple way, putting aside everything that is not strictly essential, and focusing on what really matters, became their mood. An attraction towards see-through transparency characterizes this decade, which was made possible by using the new materials inserted within the design, a feature shared by many research works of the time. The translucent effect, that is a superset of transparency, allows the passage of light, but not necessarily, and is one of the common connotations of the design of the Nineties. When we mention adding minimalism to transparency we are talking about Mobil for Kartell, well-designed by Antonio Citterio and Glem Oliver Loew. Mobil is a system of containers that can be placed in any rooms of the home and office, responding to various functions of use. It was a successful piece, and Kartell's key material. Another object worthy of being mentioned, not so much for transparency as for its extreme lightness, is Go by Ross Lovegrove, the visionary Welsh designer, who created it for Bernhardt Design. Modern and contour lines define this chair designed in 1998: it is a small award-winning work of art, which won the Best of NeoCon 2001 award, was included in Time Magazine's Best of 2001 list, and received dozens of enthusiastic reviews. The Go chair is the Ferrari of ultra-modern furniture and demands applause from design connoisseurs. It exudes fluidity with the aim of provoking an emotional design. It is a one-of-a-kind piece. In conclusion, the Nineties are very close to our contemporary style where minimalism is still highly sought after. For obvious reasons, I have included only some of the pieces that have characterized those years, the pieces that I think are the most interesting and visually beautiful from my point of view. Personal considerations I decided to focus part of my text on minimalism, a theme that I find fascinating and intriguing and that basically represents me. Every day we are surrounded by objects, buildings, etc. and irrationally my eye always falls onto the most minimalist ones: for this, I have decided to deepen my research in this area and enrich my personal culture. BOOK - Amate l'architettura (Loving architecture). Architecture is a crystal. Amate l'architettura (Loving architecture) is a book written by the architect Gio Ponti, born in Milan on 18th November 1891, who graduated from the Royal Polytechnic in 1921. He soon established a long partnership with his friend Emilio Lancia, which led him to the inauguration of the first professional atelier. He was one of the most important post-war architects and designers, boasting countless masterpieces ranging from industrial design, architecture and interiors as well as bibliographies. Ponti died in Milan on 16th September 1979. Considered a classic of architecture, this book, conceived as a “small pocket-size architecture”, was published by Vitali and Ghianda in 1957. These were the first years of the economic boom during which a renovation work was needed, and Ponti was the right man for the job. Animated by a modern spirit, the maestro was a great communicator, an indispensable gift for spreading "the new" and infecting a wide audience. The pages are of different colours: you can find illustrations and sketches that make everything more lively; the cover features a graphic composition in black and green, by the author himself. Design and layout are also by the author, with texts freely arranged and organized both in terms of graphics and content. It is a book full of different contents that pushes the reader to think. When architecture is pure, it is like a crystal: it begins and ends; it is made of closed shapes and rejects unfinished ones; anything that moves is not architecture. Art evolves according to the terms of the project to reach perfection, like a crystal. As it is quoted in the book: "after all, everyone has a different interpretation of what they read or know: this interpretation is that person's truth. Therefore, there are countless truths: this is mine". In my opinion, this sentence tells a powerful truth: when we approach a work of art or design (or other works) we all have a different perspective and thought, which is our truth and which we must then feed to make it more meaningful in other people's eyes. This book is not just for architects, but it is for all those who are mesmerized by ancient and modern architecture, because loving it also means loving one's country. A chapter that struck me is the one dedicated to “WOMEN AND ARCHITECTURE”, where he says that he has learned a lot from women in the architectural field. I want to talk about this to pay homage to a topic that was not often mentioned in those days: in fact, most of the architects and designers we study today, were men. He compares himself to four women; the fourth woman in particular argues that functionality must be assumed, and implicit. There is therefore a functionality of the form itself, which goes beyond the function; that is, the shape has its own further practical-poetic function, that of pleasing us in using it, which stems from it being in harmony with our senses. Women's senses understand more than men's: the sense is rationality that women sometimes lose due to the male influence. It cannot be defined as a simple book because it contains a lot of information, some of which is complex and may require some time to be understood; but it certainly enriches a person's knowledge with interesting and engaging information.