In the Intersection column of this issue we attempt to analyse the complex and changeable relations between design and the socio-political world in which it exists. My place in the editorial is taken by a collage of authoritative and contrasting opinions to reflect on the theme: Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Achille Castiglioni, Jean Baudrillard and Roland Barthes.
“Our modern life, that of our activities, with the exception of the herb or camomile tea break, created these objects: your clothes, your pen, your typewriter and your telephone, your admirable office furniture, the Saint-Gobain glass and your Innovation suitcases, your Gillette razor and English pipe, the bowler hat and the limousine, the steamer and the aeroplane. All the humbug that is spouted about the unique object and art furniture rings false and displays a tiresome failure to understand the necessities of the present: a chair is not a work of art; a chair has no soul; it is an implement for sitting on”.
Le Corbusier [Decorative art and design/Towards an architecture]
“A thing is determined by its essence. To give it shape so that it can function properly – be it a house, a chair, or a receptacle – its essence must first be studied; it must in fact fulfil its purpose, which is to perform its functions in a practical manner and to be lasting, economical and beautiful”.
Walter Gropius [Principles of Bauhaus production]
“Drop the idea of the “artist’s splendid isolation”. An object of design is the fruit of a common effort by many people of different specific trades (technical, industrial, commercial, aesthetic). The designer’s work is to sum up that collective effort”.
Achille Castiglioni [By Achille Castiglioni]
“If we subject the objects around us to this question: what in them is structural and what is a-structural? Be they technical objects or gadgets, accessories, or indications of form, we would realise that we were living at the height of a neotechnical age, in a broadly rhetorical and allegorical atmosphere… The use of a non-series object is not linked, implicitly or explicitly, to the demand for that model. And reciprocally, models are no longer entrenched behind a caste system. Instead, they are outgoing and take their place within industrial production, within the circulation of mass-produced goods. They, too, present themselves as “functional” (a quality absolutely extraneous to “period” furniture) and accessible, in theory, to all”.
Jean Baudrillard [The system of objects]
“It must not be forgotten that the object is the best bearer of the supernatural. For it can easily embody both a perfection and a non-origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter (matter being much more magic than life), and, in a word, a silence that belongs to the order of wonder”.
Roland Barthes [Mythologies].