Reconciliation projects, INTERNI Magazine
from Interni Magazine n.3 2011, by Cristina Morozzi.
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Designing to produce vitality to humanize places and things, to create spaces that encourage interaction and relationships.
This is how Aldo Cibic explains his work. He was born in 1955, on 6 Gctober, the same day as Le Corbusier, and he lets you know it. He already has white hairs and a receding hairline, but he still has the enthusiasm and recklessness of youth, the bold habit of diving into utopian pursuits with which he does not hope to change the world, but at least to change the methods of design and architecture, shifting the focus away from the market and onto the real needs of people. He lives in Vicenza, where he was born, but he has a studio in Milan, where he works with a staff of about 20 persons. Almost every evening, when he isn’t traveling, he goes back home, to be with his wife and son. The commute doesn’t seem to bother him, and he even finds time to get in touch with friends. He knows everyone who’s anyone in the world of design, and he is cordial even to those who aren’t. He is generous with his time. He likes to converse, to talk about visions and hopes. To recall projects that never got off the drawing board, almost as if he were looking for confirmation ofthe value of his ideas, which are always sincere, never opportunistic. He admits his errors and the price he has paid for his enthusiasms, though he says he has no regrets. “Maybe”, he says, “I miss the stupid myths, the ones that serve to guide you and show you the way because it is hard to walk on your own. In the fog, if you line up with others, it is easier to travel. Though it might be hard, we need to believe in our intuitions and get off the beaten path sometimes”. He is proud of Rethinking Happiness – New realities for new ways of living, his installation at the Venice Architecture Biennial in 2010: miniatures of a possible future with figurines, imagined for real places, with the enchantment of nativity scenes, made together with his work group with painstaking care, to narrate, as in a children’s tale, that it is possible to create “places linked to the sense of community… nice places”. ‘A nice place”, he writes in the cheerful booklet/catalogue published by Corraini, “is a situation in which aesthetic quality lies in the pursuit of a harmony generated by satisfaction of expectations, both predictable and extraordinary to create the soul of the place”. In an effective way using a fictional language, he has represented a feasible dream. And the disciples are arriving. In China there are young people who want to make his urban vegetable gardens. While H-Farm, the incubator founded by Riccardo Donadon, wants to set up the project of a campus conceived for the Venetian lagoon at Quarto d’Altino. The architects’ association of Berlin has asked him to give a talk on utopia. And he has also talked about Rethinking Happiness on the radio, on 20 December 2010, on the program “L’anno della marmotta”. “In a world massacred by communication for its own sake”, Aldo continues, “we need to regroup and look forward. Everyday life is also composed of dignified projects for interiors and architecture, but I cannot give meaning to my work unless I start with social innovation. Today we need to be much more informed and to use that information to produce beauty that can be shared”. Rethinking Happiness is the successful result of a path that began in 1997 with Family Business, an idea that emerged together with his students at Domus Academy in Milan, and then continued in subsequent phases: in 2002 with New Stories New Design, a project for the invention of stories capable of contextualizing products and services; in 2004 with Microrealities, or lots of little stories put together to determine the identity of a space; in 2005 with A Perfect Weekend, or how design can have social impact, modifying habits and behaviors; in 2007 with View with a Room, the reversal of indoor-outdoor relationships; and finally in 2009, in More with Less.
His professional career began with a lucky meeting: with Ettore Sottsass, when Aldo was just 22. “That opportunity was bigger than I was”, he recalls, “but with fears and a bit of recklessness I grabbed it, in the hope of managing to rise to the occasion, over time”. Memphis was a decisive experience for him, but his language, though it reflected that of Sottsass to a great extent, did not correspond to the ground-breaking spirit of the movement. Even then his design was more closely related to an idea of balance and harmony through greater humanity. From this period, however, he inherited the bad habit of designing to realize utopias, instead of for commercial reasons, keeping faith with the principle of trying to please not the market, but his own visions. If you ask him what design’s mission should be, he replies: “to push the point demanded by production further on, to look at reality in order to surpass it, to break things up and put them back together”. Talking about spaces, he says he designs them to tame them. “I always design spaces that are not conclusive, to encourage personal appropriation, I try to produce sensations and effects that stimulate contaminations”. And objects? “I design forms”, he says, “so that they seem usual, not surprising, so they encourage you to get to know them, as if they had already existed for some time. Then I make them unusual, using innovative materials”.
His biggest regret is that the Standard collection didn’t work. ‘At the end of the 1980s”, he recalls, “after the Memphis experience, I set out on my own. The first idea was to make something that, basically was the opposite of Memphis: not unique, highly characteristic objects, but a family of furnishings and accessories of quality for everyday life, normal objects with a certain brio”. The symbol was a smiling little man, designed by his friend Javier Mariscal. The starting point of the collection was the definition of a standard of personal wellbeing, because the quality of everyday living is composed not only of material things. It includes memories, ideas, habits, behaviors, and it has to do with the way things are made, or with the time set aside to make things. “The operation”, he goes on, “had its own truth and rightness, but it had the original sin of having been thought up outside any commercial structure. The experience taught me that ideas have to be developed slowly and kept in reserve”. Since then his studio has gotten bigger, organized to approach major architectural projects, like the chain of the Medusa Multisala cinemas, the Autogrill fast food outlets, the Selfridges department stores in Manchester and Birmingham, the Corso Como Hotel in Milan, the Valerio Catullo airport in Verona and the new headquarters of the Abitare Segesta publishing house in Milan, various departments for the Rinascente store in Milan, a series of works in China (including a village outside of Beijing, now under construction), and the project City Architecture and Society for the Venice Architecture Biennial in 2006. But he continues to design to produce vitality, to sprout seeds that favor exchange, to create spaces that put people into relation with each other, reawakening slumbering senses, to improve, soften and humanize environments and things.
To do this, he is ready to listen, especially to young people. His truest, most vital projects come to life together with students, talking, freeing up unconventional ideas. In his works with students he democratically communicates the group identity never forgetting the names of the young people whose contributions helped him to invent something different from the world’s current merchandise. The body of his work belongs to an attitude we might define as one of ‘reconciliation’ with things, persons and the values of the past, seen as a return to roots, to give more meaning and warmth to the present, and greater hope to the future. This desire to reconcile contradictions, to smooth corners, on both theoretical and practical planes, also generates the projects he himself defines as unsuccessful. To thought that a product will be valid if its intentions are good is the happy ingenuousness that makes even errors acceptable.
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