After working for almost 35 years with Arclinea, are you ready to take stock of this activity? In other words, what trend have you seen evolve in your research and design work with regard to spaces and products in kitchen living?
If I had to define my designer work for Arclinea with one word, I would say ‘context’. From the start, research was never aimed solely at solving details but also at finding the conceptual idea of kitchen and how the kitchen, albeit consisting of diverse elements and details, relates to the context, becoming the ambassador of epochs and lifestyles of different kinds. One of the most fascinating aspects of designing kitchens is exactly that: they represent social change – photographed or, in some ways, anticipated by designers and architects. In the 1970’s, the kitchen was a private space that was best hidden. Nowadays, instead, it is something to show off to friends, and it becomes all one with the space dedicated to socialisation that was once exclusively conducted in the living room. I would say that the study of how the kitchen is at the same time a work space and a room that is part of everyone’s life, has always been a key element of my approach in my work with Arclinea.
From the start I wanted to apply design to shapes as well as to the concept of space not solely dedicated to the preparation of food and to the dining table but also to the conduction of other living functions.
Certainly home trends and habits change, but Arclinea kitchens you designed many years ago are still being produced. What is it that makes these products so resilient in such a sophisticated market?
We started working together a really long time ago. The first product was rolled out in 1988 and already back then we set the basis of our strategy for industrial production by designing by ‘transversal’ components, namely standardised elements that could be combined to meet different needs and therefore build customised kitchens. That is how that first product – its name is Italia and it’s still being produced – makes clear reference to a professional concept that declares its departure from the classical technology of ‘kitchen furniture’ by using materials such as steel, by increasing the importance and size of the tops, and so on.
In what way does your experience as an architect lead you in designing spaces for the preparation and consumption of food? Is this where the different concepts of kitchen that you have designed come from?
Once again I must talk about application. In the course of my work as a building architect I have tackled all kinds of situations, ranging from the design of houses for friends and clients to that of hotels and, more recently, entire residential towers. All of this experience has helped me to better comprehend where kitchens ‘stand’ today – for me, for the public –, how they should work and what they represent. If you think about it, the kitchen is actually representative of our way of living, of the evolution of our lifestyle. So, with the decline in importance of the ‘living room’, in 2002 I conceived for the Convivium kitchen a large table integrated with the island that would act as the place for coming together and for interaction among people even while preparing the meal.
I believe that the secret of the ‘longevity’ of the Arclinea product lies also in the concept of industrial components that can be used on different models and in the innovation of application.
Functionality, style, aesthetics: on an ideal scale of values, where would you place these components in the Arclinea project and more in general in your approach as a designer?
Rather than functionality I would say complexity. In designing kitchens, it is fundamental not to start from the envelope but to focus on that complex production process that takes place in the ‘kitchen space’. The aesthetic function goes in parallel with the physical function and is no less important, but it too relates to this complexity. The choice of a given material, for example, cannot be reduced to mere detail because it is at the same time the response to a need. In this way, when in 2008 we designed Lapis – a single-material monolith in steel or stone – we worked at length on the shape of the large top and on the details, but the basic approach was based on the complexity of that kind of space, i.e. the ability to receive guests on the one side and to concentrate all of the functional equipment on the opposite side. Moreover, with Lignum et Lapis we developed further the Closet concept, an enclosed space containing dedicated functional spaces, conceived in 2002 with the Convivium project.
Can these products therefore imply also the idea of a very aesthetically characterised kitchen? Or is the spatial concept behind every new project more important?
I believe the most interesting aspect about working with Arclinea is that of not designing models but compatible elements. Each designed element can be transferred to different models. These elements are capable of evolving but anyhow remain parts of a system, an open system that never disowns its matrix. Using a similitude taken from information science, these are elements that can be upgraded – just like software – but anyhow continue to ‘run’ in the same system, updating over time. In the most recently designed kitchen, Principia, for example, with the concept of some more open spaces and others more closed, we have attempted to optimally integrate all of the aspects that make the kitchen a veritable living space. By following this idea of components that are parts of a system, we are now working on other new products linked to new concepts.
Personal experience too, have helped me understand where the kitchen idea 'stands' and how to design it better.
The quality of these kitchens is formal, environmental and also technical. How important is the combination of these components, the details, the materials in obtaining the best result?
I believe that with all Arclinea products we were able to combine these components in the best way possible. Just like when at the time we found that stainless steel was the best technology for producing the Italia kitchen, more recently we have produced finishes such as PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition), a special technology that fastens the colour to the steel via the evaporation of titanium molecules. The treatment makes steel even more resistant and enriches it with special colours. Thus, what was already a classic, the Italia kitchen, as well as a later product, Artusi, have adjusted to a more sophisticated market taste or, even better, they have created one.
Could you tell us something about the projects under way?
This publication describes the state of the art of the Arclinea production, but it would be interesting also to get a glimpse of what lies ahead. First of all I would like to take the opportunity with this question to mention that this publication is truly important to me. I see it more as a book than a catalogue because of how it presents the products and concepts on which my work has been founded in these years, and I recognise that the merit for this communication method goes to the design team. Such a long cooperation too has been a bit like writing a book. We have changed the ‘words’, corrected others, but in the end we have been able to tell the story of a way of living. As for the future, I can anticipate that we are working on the evolution of a concept I have been applying to several residential buildings, especially in the Far East. The two main areas - wet kitchen and show kitchen - are treated differently but integrated into a single product system, precisely in order to anticipate a need that we believe is spreading.
It is no simple thing to find the best technique for obtaining perfect operation and finishes. This is why we work so intensely on industrialization, so we can find the best benefit-cost ratio.
As an architect you built a lot, but you are also a true industrial designer. In this role, how do you think design will evolve, and what position should it take up vis à vis the industry, as in the case of Arclinea?
I think that the chance of the intelligent survival of design and of the enterprises that use it rests precisely in remaining faithful to the idea of industrial design. The global market today seeks such high levels of precision and product versatility that to meet them one can only succeed by using the potential of Industry 4.0. This means intelligent automation that allows to produce elements of almost craftsmanship quality – an entirely ‘customised’, or at least bespoke, kitchen for example – using industrial technologies. Arclinea is already way ahead in this field and is capable of operating well also on the contract market, something that is key to the future of any company. The ability to tackle large numbers today is indispensable in providing the measure and the confirmation of the validity of industries, including those of an industry such as Arclinea with its long and consolidated background.
The global market today seeks such high levels of precision and product versatility that to meet them one can only use the potential of industry 4.0.