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Design as metaphor

Introducing a series of furnishings created by Shiro Kuramata, the Japanese designer who died in 1991. Piero Lissoni has selected the pieces, also with an eye on their feasibility for industrial production. They are timeless products, with lasting mystery and efficacy.

The intense design research conducted by Shiro Kuramata (1934-1991), ranging from Japan to the Occident, took place in a historical moment (late 1970s and 1980s) in which Tokyo was emerging as one of the world’s greatest cities. Unlike occidental cities, it seemed to be without a center, in an urban condition that would be described as ‘liquid’, where the qualitative difference between urban spaces, works of architecture and their interiors continued to shift toward the latter category. Interiors and their furnishings were the focus of the Japanese designers of this period, who were influenced by the echoes of the new expressive freedom of design arriving from Milan (Alchimia, Memphis), emphasizing the separation between architecture and interior design.The lack of significant places and buildings in the metropolis was countered, in those years in Japan, by the rise of interiors and furniture design as the new tools for the necessary qualitative design of the city, new opportunities to shift values, symbols and themes of research into spaces to be discovered in an introverted design process. As Andrea Branzi explains: “Japanese space looks inward, and is well suited to metropolitan contexts where there is nothing to see outside (except big advertisements), while inside one finds this very sophisticated system of spaces”. Shiro Kuramata stood out, in this context, for his great conceptual intensity, his poetic gestures, the fertile contamination between deep Japanese identity and an ability to listen to the messages arriving from the Occident. Abandoning the world of ‘corporate design’, his work went beyond the category of ‘composition’ to extend design to symbolic, metaphorical values, reflecting a new urban condition in relation to the status of the ‘citizen of the world’.His furnishings return to the utterly Japanese idea of the transience of the material world (mono-no-aware), but also express, in the timeless essence of their design, a state of lightness that is almost luminous, mystical, typical of religious and ceremonial gesture. In this sense Kuramata’s recurring use of curved chromium-plated tubing is not just a reference to the furniture of European rationalism (Breuer, Mies van der Rohe), but also a choice to make modernity a given, a point of reference; what remains is the ‘elementary’ sign, charged with other expressive values, but remaining in time. As Ettore Sottsass wrote: “[…] I do not believe that Shiro can be taken for an academic, conserving any paranoia of the absolute, conserving the aristocratic, exclusive possession of the ‘golden balance’ […] the design of Shiro Kuramata is precisely the attempt to represent the elusive, mysterious state of our contemporary existence inside this suspended landscape, inside this unusual, new ambiguous situation where thought and life itself (and with life, its figurative metaphor) no longer pursue total solutions […], no longer pursue perfection, monuments, tabula rasa, moral purity, but pursue – if it is possible – the concrete state of history that is precisely the state of permanent suspense”.

Presentiamo a distanza di trent’anni una serie di arredi disegnati da Shiro Kuramata, designer giapponese scomparso prematuramente nel 1991. Piero Lissoni ha selezionato i pezzi anche per la loro intrinseca possibilità di produzione seriale. Sono prodotti al di là del tempo, dotati di una persistente qualità misteriosa ed efficace, che senza stanchezza hanno scavalcato il millennio per riproporsi oggi con convinzione.