Monday, August 13, 2012

Cologne-Mendini-Mathsson (13-19 August)

Cologne Cathedral, Germany, construction begins 14 August 1248, foundation stone laid 15 August 1248, construction ends 14 August 1880
Alessandro Mendini, Italian designer & architect, birthday 16 August 1931
Bruno Mathsson, Swedish furniture designer & architect, death 17 August 1988

In medieval times it was not unusual for the architect of a great cathedral never to see the completion of his masterpiece due to the fact these enormous structures would decades if not over a century to complete.  However, in the case of the Cologne Cathedral, the construction time went way over schedule.  When work halted in the 15th century, a crane remained in place atop one of the half complete towers for nearly 400 years.  The building of a Cathedral was an enormous construction project which employed not only the architect with a lifetime of work but also the multitude of highly secretive guilds which protected the skills of their respective professions such as stone masons, glazers, sculptors, tile setters, etc.  In the pre-internet era, education and knowledge were highly prized and passed on only to carefully selected apprentices.  The socio-political implications of this particular project extend beyond this.  Cathedrals were meant to awe the naïve and mostly illiterate population and this particular cathedral was going to be impressive with what would eventually be the largest façade of any church in the world.  It was also to be a tourist attraction for religious pilgrims to come adore the relics of the Three Kings.  Later during the Protestant Prussian rule, construction commenced in the early 19th century to appease the newly acquired Catholic population spurred on by renewed revival interest in Gothic architecture.

An essential member of the Radical Design movement which emerged during Postmodernism is Alessandro Mendini.  His tongue-in-cheek design of the Lassú chair in 1974 challenged designers to face the ridiculousness of into what the profession was evolving.  By placing it atop a pyramid he farcically elevated the simple chair design onto an altar and then subsequently ritualistically burned another for the cover of Casabella magazine in 1975.  In addition to working for that magazine Mendini also contributed to Modo and Domus.  In 1979 he partnered with Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi in Studio Alchimia where they disputed what was considered “good taste” and laid the foundation for what would eventually become the Memphis Group. 
Mendini examined the banal and everyday object which then could be decorated not necessarily by the elegant convention of the day.  In addition to numerous projects around the world he was influential in the founding of Domus Academy in Milan which, Italy’s first postgraduate design school.        

As the medieval guilds passed down knowledge through the centuries, Bruno Mathsson was born into four generations of cabinet makers.  This family tradition soon evolved into experimentation with form and emerging technologies which lead to his first success of the Grasshopper Chair in 1931 designed for the Värnamo Hospital.  Unfortunately for the staff and patrons of the hospital, the design was so controversial that it was banished to the attic until Mathsson and his designs became more famous.  Never receiving a formal design education, Mathsson poured over archives from the Arts & Crafts movement which helped him emerge as a highly influential contributor to the Functionalist movement of modern design on the international stage.  Other successes in seating include the Mimat Chair, Eva Chair and Swivel Chair 


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