Anyone who reads Design daily on a regular basis will be aware that D.d is a big fan of the Italian design studio Formafantasma founded by Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin in 2009. You only have to look back over the last half a dozen posts to see several examples of their work. So why are we posting yet another? Used to seeing a collection of work by Formafantasma once a year it came as something of a surprise to receive their recent press release outlining their Delta range being presented at Design Miami / Basel for the design galleries Galleria Giustini / Stagette and Galleria O. Roma. Rather than four or five objects in tandem with a swathe of historical references, the Delta collection involves 12 new pieces - three in porcelain and the rest in various combinations of stone and brass. The staggering number and intricacy of many of the new pieces was quite overwhelming and drove the need to look yet again at the work of this incredibly inspiring studio. All photography by Giuseppe Brancato.
Design Miami / Basel has just finished, running from the 14th to the 19th of June in Basil, Switzerland. The event is famous for bringing together the best in limited edition design from galleries from all over the world. The event also takes place in December in, as you might have guessed, Miami, USA. Past exhibitors include some of the biggest names in the field of collectable design such as Paris' Galerie Kreo, London's Carpenter's Workshop Gallery, New York's Friedman Benda, Beirut's Carwan Gallery and Cape Town's Southern Guild.
The porcelain vessels in the ‘Delta’ collection have an obvious ancient Roman feel but are far more refined than anything ancient Rome had to offer. The water, oil and vinegar vessels are the result of a year’s worth of research and development after an invitation by curator Domitilla Dardi instigated a visit to Rome with Trimarchi and Farresin immersing themselves in architecture and museums of the Roman period but also in Rome's more recent past - in the form of rationalist buildings - the influence of which is most evident in a cabinet called 'Theca' (shown later in the post). All in all the designers developed twelve designs across a variety of lighting, furniture and accessory categories including the oil burning table lamp shown below. On a side note: have a look at how well the two images of the lamp shown below sit together one above the other, creating a beautiful geometric interplay.
The Delta collection was produced in collaboration with Galleria Giustini Stagetti and Galleria O. Roma. Curated by Domitilla Dardi as part of ‘Priato Romano Interno’ (Private Italian Room) - a program started in 2012 with a collection designed by Fernando and Humberto Campana, the program commissions international designers to look to Rome as a source of inspiration. For Formafantasma it was both the everyday objects of ancient Rome that inspired as well as the architecture.
“Delta opens and closes between Rome’s remote past – Etruscan or Republican Rome, with its everyday objects in which the votive and the daily merge – and the city of the recent past: that of rationalist metaphysics, with the archetype of geometry punctuated by the rhythm of full and empty and of light and shadow”.
Domitilla Dardi, curator of Formafantasma's Delta collection.
Galleria O. Roma works with Italian design of the twentieth century and international contemporary design. Founded in Rome in 2009 by Roberto Giustini, Rossella Peruzzi and Stefano Stagette, the gallery vintage component concentrates on the period of the 1920s through to the 1970s, with a special interest in the work of Gio Ponti, Fontana Arte and Ettore Sottsass. Through the project Privato Romano Interno, curated by Emanuela Nobile Mino, the gallery has collaborated with international authors to re-think Roman and Italian history arts and crafts traditions, in order to develop new collections exclusively for the gallery. These collections are presented in the form of site-specific installations inside historically relevant architecture. Peruzzi and Stagette are the vintage specialists in the group, while it is Giustini who has specific experience in the commissioning and sourcing of contemporary design and art projects. He formed Galleria Roberto Giustini in 2006 but has been sourcing limited edition design pieces and artworks for private and public spaces since 2000.
The ‘Reflector’ lamp made from gilded brass and travertine may have a fluted stone column that shows obvious links to Roman Doric columns but in all other ways offers an extremely contemporary aesthetic. The ‘Eclipse’, a pendant light design, might reference the Pantheon’s dome and its central glass disc that provides light within the huge dome but the connection is far from obvious. This is not a criticism – far from it – it is exactly what is so admirable about the work of Formafantasma. Despite the thoroughness of their research, they never allow the knowledge of objects and materials from the past to take over the outcome. What they present is always thoroughly contemporary, while enlightening others with what they have discovered from a material and historical perspective.
With the exception of the ceramics pieces, the collection relies heavily on geometry. Circles are used in the 'Magnifier' ceiling light and 'Helmut' table light, intersecting flat planes in the 'Domus' side table and a mixture of both in the mirror called 'Imago'. Beyond the form however it is the material combinations that create that additional spark - whether it's between the gilded brass and exotic crystalline structure of pink onyx, or the rugged, pitted solidity of travertine contrasting with the gold and brass.
‘When you grow up in Italy, you’re surrounded by all these museums but you’re bored by it and don’t realise its value. So we had the opportunity to rediscover our past.’
Andrea Trimarchi in an interview with Wallpaper* magazine Dec 2015.
‘Rome is basically covered in travertine. A lot of people grow up hating it but I think it’s beautiful – the fantastic light you find in Rome is from the sun reflecting off its surface.’
Simone Farresin in an interview with Wallpaper* magazine December 2015
As has been so often the case with Formafantasma projects in the past it is the beautiful execution that puts their work on another level. For Delta, Formafantasma collaborated with artisan makers Fonderia Artistica Battaglia - a company who have been producing fine sculptures in bronze using the lost wax technique since 1913. The Milanese company has produced work for hundreds of artists, designers and architects over the years in scales ranging from jewellery to massive public sculptures.
TuttoMarmo was another important company in the process of developing the collection. The Rome based stone specialist cut and finished the travertine used in the collection. Other smaller artisan makers were also employed on various parts of the project as the designers began prototyping the collection in a variety of materials before settling on the final selection of objects and producing it all in porcelain, brass or stone (and a little wood).
The magnifier concept is presented in the collection in two forms - a ceiling mounted light with a fine ring of metal with central glass 'eye' (shown above) and the floor lamp version (below) where a carved piece of travertine acts as a weighted base but also as sculptural element.
The gilded brass pole of the floor version appears to have been split open by the rock with a visible expression of materials under tension. Even the electrical cable is given attention and becomes an integral part of the design appearing to be pulling the stone at the centre as if it was made of foam not an immovable piece of stone. The detailing of this piece, like all the brass and stone items in the collection is exemplary.
According to the designers their free-floating cabinet called 'Theca' was inspired by several Rationalist buildings they came across during their sabbatical in Rome. For those who are unfamiliar with the Rationalist movement it was an architectural style that occurred in the 20's through 40's - predominantly in Italy - championed by architects such as Cesare Cattaneo, Pietro Lingeri and Giuseppe Terragni.
The core belief of rationalist architecture was, as the name suggests, a more rational approach, rejecting the historicism of the past and the decorative qualities of Art Nouveau. Its signature is a simplicity of structure and lack of overt ornamentation where the structure itself becomes the decorative element. This doesn't mean the buildings were bland, they just relied heavily on extremely good proportions and a minimal material palette - both of which are seen as very positive traits today. The fact that the movement was adopted by the Fascist government of Mussolini is interesting as many of the buildings were not overtly heroic but they were generally grand in scale and some did end up being quite over-the-top in a neo-classical sort of way.
The specific buildings that inspired Formafantasma to create 'Theca' are the ‘Palace of Congress’ by Adalberto Libera and Luigi Moretti’s Casa delle Armi building, both in the EUR area of Rome. The Palace of Congress was started in 1938 but not finished until 1954 while Moretti's building was completed in 1936. The 'Theca' cabinet is a floating structure made from slivers of Navone travertine upon which slatted boxes made from maple sit offering openings on several sides. Appearing like a small group of buildings, 'Theca' emphasises the proportional relationship of the objects above the stone bench and adds a compositional component not generally found in storage furniture.