"me too collection
Pinocchio written by Collodi. Heart, a schoolboy's journal written by De Amicis. The teaching methods of Maria Montessori. The kindergartens of Reggio Emilia. Objectively speaking, we must admit that Italy has indeed produced a few things that were good for children. But the point of view from which we look at the young ones seems to always be from a mother's adoring eyes. Deep down, we are, and will always be, a nation of mammas and mamma's boys. We cannot be surprised then, to see that ""la più amata dagli italiani"" (""the one Italians love best"", from Scavolini's TV commercial) is a stunning modular kitchen, a modern and abundantly equipped version of yesterday's sweet-smelling domestic hearth. Refrigerators, frozen foods, microwave ovens and dishwashers: life today is a rat race, although it's taking us longer and longer to grow up. There is the suspicion that many adults are children with long trousers on. Between father and son, toys seem to be interchangeable all too often: they are digital, complicated, programmed. But we should know by now that the fun of playing a game lies above all in inventing the rules. The exercise is not that of deciphering the instruction manual, but tracing the outlines of an imaginary world. A world where all is real and all is make-believe, a world where we learn things at our own expense (but with limited costs) - the value of strength, the usefulness of cunning, the oppressive force of violence, the price of honesty, the sweetness of a caress.
However, it is we, accidental adults, who dream of living in fantasy worlds: houses that are elegantly refined, minimal in the crispness of their white, essential in their steel details, serene in the aesthetic softness of their micro-fibre softness. A new-age touch, an exotic detail, a vintage quote. This makes it unthinkable to have hallways where we can run and beat our own world records day after day, where we can secretly open a door, where we can get lost in our own thoughts. We walk through rooms that we imagine as being perfect, where every thing has order, the order has style, the style has dimension. Ideal landscapes for a country that adores its mothers but that fosters a birth rate that is well-nigh inexistent.
We have forgotten that children's emotions are immense and absolute. Their eyes are wide open, their mouths are a permanent tasting lab, their hands are ever-ready sensors. Children are explorers of unknown terrain and of feelings both their own and belonging to others; they are endearing and ruthless, fragile and super tough.
So what a surprise it is to see Me Too burst in on the design scene – an entire pint-sized collection. Nine designers for twenty-something objects: an all-plastic collection, no wait, let me correct myself; in different synthetic materials plus cotton; both rigid and soft, neutral and coloured. It's not a parallel universe like Collodi's Funland, nor is it a scale reduction of the adult world. It's more of an intermediate station, emotive equipment that stimulates the little ones' perceptions and helps them to take stock of what the adult dimension will be like. It's a token of love and an intelligent welcome to the smiles of tomorrow. Me Too: I'm here too and I deserve my place among everything else.
Behind it all is an idea born from Eugenio Perazza's impassioned curiosity, and also from careful research. Because you can play with children, but you can't fool them. A project needs its rules too, and Me Too's were dictated by the experience of pedagogue Edward Melhuish, the Londoner who participated from the start in the definition of the themes and who subsequently evaluated each proposal, approving only those that carried positive and educational values.
This collection of objects is also a flight of fantasy. Without wanting to resort to the most obvious of clichés or forward psycho-analytical readings, it's not at all surprising that the leaders of the design team are a couple of centre forwards that are of a rather venerable age. On the other hand, we all know that grandfather types have great life experience and have learned to tell and listen to fairy tales.
Leading the way is Eero Aarnio, never-forgotten standard-bearer of Nordic pop, extraordinary inventor of coloured bubbles and giant pills. His first move is a little barrel-backed chair of un-extravagant appearances. But the name, Upside Down Chair, says it all: surprises are in store. Firstly, the seat is not placed exactly in the middle of the semicircular back, so it's enough to turn the chair upside down to have the seat at a different height. The lower height makes you be a little hidden, from the higher one you emerge like from a throne. Incidentally, some could find good ergonomic reasons for this choice. But the real surprise is in the arched profile of the two front sides. If you lie it down, the outside of the back becomes a rocking horse, a motorcycle, or, to keep it simple, a space ship. But if you really need to get moving, you just hop on Bam-boo, a tube on wheels, a self-propelled suppository-like one-seater, two-seater or maybe even three-seater, depending on the occasion. Three is also the number of sizes of Puppy, the little dog who doesn't speak, cannot see, does not jump and doesn't even have ears, giving free rein to use it exactly as you wish. Three very basic pieces, designed for rotation moulding with low costs and excellent surface finishes.
Besides Aarnio, there is Enzo Mari, staying separate and confusing the adversary on the forward line, waiting to grab his chance in the goal area. He seems to be saving his energy, but he's on constant alert for the final dash. Here he takes a winning shot, a little chair that is one of the most basic of his long career. We must immediately add that much of its merit is due to the use of expanded polypropylene, which is a relatively expensive material, but extraordinarily lightweight and solid. Mari interprets his subject with absolute restraint. The chair revisits those aluminum chairs made famous by American movies that are about things happening in the US Navy. And not just adventurous war movies, but poetic and angry movies too, such as One flew over the cuckoo's nest. Other designers, too, have recently reinterpreted these chairs but they made flashy replicas, eager-to-please fashion objects. Mari makes no concessions: once he assimilated the basic model, he deformed its dimensions, he reduced its scale but dilated the sections to adapt them to the resistance-factor of polypropylene. Pop is an object of extraordinary crispness that does not yield to facile irony. Its few details reveal the absolute mastery of its design. The front legs are not two squat parallelepipeds inserted into the seat: a slight splaying of the two inner sides lends sense and proper value to the material's thickness. And the seat is not just a simple horizontal plane, but a surface of complex geometry that connects the straight front edge with the hint of concavity of the back edge. It seems like nothing, but it's the name of Mari's game. As always, fortune favours the brave: the mould for expanded polypropylene requires a numerous series of little air-escape holes that are transferred onto the surface in a delicately textured pattern. Technology itself can be a beautiful decoration. 700 grams of lightness and colour, but so well-structured that it passed the strength tests and conformity tests in an amazing way – not only for domestic use, but for schools, kindergartens and nursery schools.
Our midfield player, part halfback and part variety artist, is Javier Mariscal, the captain of the team. Of him Eugenio Perazza did not only ask to play tightrope walking, but also neatness and geometry, offering him in exchange the availability of all technical solutions and necessary materials. It's interesting to see Mariscal attack such a classic theme as a homework desk. Without allowing for any simplifications of the artificially childlike kind, Mariscal imagines a fluid figure, a continuous ribbon that wraps around with a hint of spiral to it, giving shape to the work surface as well as the seat. The authentic added value of Pupitre, however, is given by two accessory elements: a set of wheels allowing for easy movement, and above all the design of the back rest, which was carefully studied the way ergonomic details deserve to be. Then there's some dribbling action: Julian, a rotation-moulded stool that looks like it's from a three-dimensional comic strip.
There's a place to sit, and a playmate to boot. But Mariscal reserves his best for the three other projects. The first, Nido, is a double-entrance shell, a den for hiding out, an egg in which to dream. Overhead, almost like traces of dreams, the heavens of imagination are animated by raised patterns. The second, Ladrillos, is a bookcase with fanciful anthropomorphic verticals that are inserted in-between the shelves, resulting in a family of bizarre caryatids with almost Aztecan features. A slot through the shelves that runs over their full length allows for different positioning of the verticals, offering many types of possible composition. The third is a rocking chair, Rueda, more of a space capsule that has just come back from an interstellar mission than a chair. This rocker is a spatial module with a window to the sky, always standing by for take-off to unpredictable destinations. Last but not least, for picking up, there is El Baul, a large container that holds all things, a big soft and colourful box, made by moulding a sandwich of two sheets of polyethylene with a core of foam.
Fanning out over the field are fellow team members following the tactics of play that have them toying with the useful and transforming the necessary into amusing discovery.
Satyendra Pakhalé designed Puzzle Carpet, a modular floor covering made up of large tiles in soft expanded polyethylene covered with synthetic stretch fabric. A soft rug (or an anaconda) that can wind its way through the house. So that no mess is made, he also thought of a cart on wheels, Agma, to put all the toys in and haul them around. But it might be more fun to get inside and be pulled around.
Marcel Wanders designed a worktable, Little Flare, with hollow transparent legs – display tubes for paper and drawings.
Björn Dahlström uses fabric to devise furnishings for room transformation: a folding screen called My Space that marks off the territory, and tablecloths called My House that turn a table into a castle.
Marco Ferreri uses light to cut out a space protected from the dark. Tabi is a hand-held, huggable lamp with a reassuring, soft, translucent covering in silicone resin, equipped with batteries and a timer to regulate automatic switching off.
Martí Guixé is a minimalist player. He invented Football Tape, a semifinished product that gives entertaining results: adhesive tape with the shape of football hexagons that are used to make marvellous balls from newspaper.
And then there are El Ultimo Grito, who take on the design of team kits. More than a fashion collection, Summer to Spring is a delving into the theme of pockets: in the guise of pouches, storage space and functional accessories, pockets are the original gravity centre of these designs.
Me Too is not just a sign of attention for the world of children. It is also the tangible demonstration of how many areas still remain open for design research. Of course the distribution of these objects will need to be studied in order to find the appropriate channels and ways of presenting such unusual items compared to furniture production. But that's the challenge of all new proposals.
To whoever is convinced that design nowadays is nothing but style, Magis answers with the power of ideas. Because design isn't only technology and serial production, Above all, design is culture, an intelligent and sensitive way of thinking about the world in which we live.
Architect, design critic, former professor at the Industrial Design Faculty of Venice. He is editing director of the publishing house Editrice Abitare Segesta.
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"me too collection