May 2022
Peter Hefti

Observing things and remembering. This dual concept holds the key to understanding the ties between Aldo Rossi and design, and between the architect and UniFor, which has recently re-edited four of the pieces he created for the company. Observing things means listening to them and comprehending their meaning, both across history and with respect to our own sentimental geographies.

UniFor’s encounter with Aldo Rossi occupies a special, unique, and unrepeatable place in the company’s history. It was Rossi’s quest to revive the fragments and traces of memory that led him from the practice of architecture to the design of objects. He would rediscover, in the finished forms of tools, appliances, and other objects, echoes of the buildings and cities he designed on a large scale as well as his personal memories of the houses and objects in his life. “The reduction of fantastic architectures that I would encounter further on”, as he noted in his Autobiografia scientifica regarding the coffee pots, saucepans, the bottles and the kitchen of his house on Lake Como.

For UniFor, remembering Aldo Rossi means paying tribute not only to a great master of architecture, but also to a close personal relationship, wholeheartedly cultivated since the late 1980s, that had an important influence on both UniFor’s collection and its ability to create new projects in collaboration with the architect.

It was a generous intuition on the part of Luca Meda that brought Aldo Rossi into contact with the Group’s companies, Molteni&C and UniFor. Meda and Rossi were both born in Milan, Meda in 1936 and Rossi in 1931. They enjoyed a close friendship, shared sensibilities, and a professional relationship that began with the studio they opened together on Corso di Porta Vigentina.

Based on an instinct that it would be wise to place some part of its destiny into the architect’s hands, UniFor welcomed Rossi’s ideas and listened to him carefully. The result was the launch of a new type of furniture, works of architecture on a small-scale that have been faithfully re-edited today. Rossi would arrive with detailed sketches and leave them in the skilled hands of the technical design team that was entrusted with bringing his creations to life.

“The furniture that Rossi designed for UniFor—the Parigi armchair (1989), the Consiglio table (1994), and the Cartesio modular bookcase (1994)—present a rather unusual idea about the office environment. It is as if the workplace had
lost its recent history and identity and had become confused with a faraway idea and form. The table and cabinet are based on a modern structure and technique, but the face is traditional in form and made of wood. They are imaginary buildings”

comments Daniele Vitale in the book celebrating UniFor’s 50th anniversary.

The enduring freshness of these first four iconic pieces of the ARCHIVIOUNIFOR collection, Parigi, Cartesio, Consiglio, and Museo, their timelessness in a rapidly changing world, make them as up-to-date as ever. Lined up neatly in a row, they have returned to inhabit a memory of things, like herbs in a garden or words in a dictionary.

“This is more or less my idea of design: to be able to translate fantastic, personal elements into rational, repeatable pieces rather than one-of-a-kind creations. Moreover, a piece of furniture is agile, that is, transportable. The theme of portability is always on my mind. Maybe I have an escape complex. But I think furniture should be mobile, just like the word [in Italian] suggests”

wrote Aldo Rossi.

At UniFor in Turate he found what he might never have looked for on his own—the design factory. Thus the Parigi armchair, as Rossi wrote in one of his Blue Notebooks, “began as just a sketch I did in the margins of a project in New York”, adding that “it seems beautiful, it’s like a game. You are one of the few people who works outside the rules”. Consiglio was originally designed as a table for his Milanese studio on Via S. Maria alla Porta. The Cartesio bookcase and the Museo chair were integral parts of his project for the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht (1995). Each of these pieces represents moments that are as special and unique as the architect who created them.

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