Working as a designer between industry and society, Enzo Mari’s lesson


Forecasting the future of design is not simple. A good way to grasp signals and trends comes from the dialogue with one of the great Masters, that still nowadays accompany the path of those who design and produce objects for the living.

Confered on an honorary degree in Visual Arts from the Academy of Fine Arts of Brerain Milan, Enzo Mari reminds that this is the second award after the Degree in Industrial Design conferred by the Faculty of Architecture of Milan’s Polytechnic in 2002. «Strange faith for one who would deal with science», says the Master ironically. «I knew nothing about art, much less of design when I started my career. However, I have always been won by the beauty of what I saw: Giotto, Piero Della Francesca, Michelangelo, Masaccio. And by the strength of the well-done things as well. When I approached design for the first time, I wanted to start with determination: to understand out how to make things running well ». And now, how do you think the design can evolve? «Nowadays, the massive use of technology (from 3D printing to pc) is likely to simplify the knowledge that is always based on going deeply into the rules that stay at the basis of design and production. The brain is the most powerful computer in the galaxy and the hand is the perfect tool for shaping things. You cannot replace them with limited and bound technological tools, that must remain what they were conceived for: practical aids» adds Mari, while he remembers the starting experiences at the offices of BBPR, Franco Albini and Gio Ponti. From the Sixties to nowadays, Mari has continued to think and design: over 1500 items for the main Italian companies, winning five Compasso d’Oro Awards, including one for his career (2011). «I also devoted myself to other things: teaching, research and divulgation. Always looking at the essential». This attitude, i.e. aiming at the significance and at function, rather than at the formal effect, made Enzo Mari one of the protagonists of the so-called Minimalism, a design code that tends to reduce and not to increase the amount of materials, components and aesthetic languages. A thought among the most common ones in the evolution of design (and architecture), which alternates with temporary trends and whose main exponent for many people, is the architect Mies van der Rohe with his “less is more” (against the form as the scope of the project). One vision that Mary shares, an in whose work the “subtraction” has always been a practice linked to the search for a balanced relationship between form and function, between quality and quantity. «The action that I consider as today’s priority» he says «is making clear your own social integration». And he adds: «When I was asked by Aurelio Zanotta first , and then by his daughter Eleonora, for example, to deal with the task of designing a series of objects useful for the so-called “home landscape”, I could design under determination to seek universal solutions , for the whole society and for the requirements of the real world. Designing the Tonietta chair, which represented one of my first creations destined to the European market (Compasso d’Oro Award in 1987), I wanted to recover a simple archetype, far from trends. Likewise with the Wunderkammer wall-mounted show case (conceived in reality like one large system of container units), I wanted to fulfill that need and desire to display and make those collections of small objects or memories everyone has. Consequently the forms that support these aspects of life can be nothing but simple, essential and freely “customizable” by their end-users”. Most of the production signed by Enzo Mari follows these values and the connected parameters: the form follows the content, the function plays the leading role, the surplus is banned. Many are the designers who currently design living environments and things to live and furnish them, who grew up following this vision. In the time of widespread communication and digital innovation, many are focusing on Enzo Mari’s recipe: culture of material, shared knowledge, ethics and creative strictness. “Because less objects are needed and those to be put into production must be good, useful and long-lasting at service of a new society” he affirms. “It’s time to say stop to those things that are in line with the market prospects. We need more honesty in projecting and more awareness”.

(interview with Enzo Mari for the online magazine Zanotta Happenings, 2015)

(the product Wunderkammer mentioned in this article has been discontinued)