(Lecture/Essay presented at the Italian Cultural Institute Chicago, Illinois on the evening of September 18, 2008)
Enzo Mari described his work in 1974 as “A project for making easy-to-assemble furniture using rough boards and nails. An elementary technique to teach anyone to look at present production with a critical eye…”
34 Years ago the author hoped that his “idea would last into the future and asked those who build the furniture, and in particular, variations of it, to send photos to his studio…”
I suppose I will need to send Mr. Mari a few photographs.
The opportunity to discover & then re-visit the 1974 designs of Enzo Mari has been most enlightening.
When we use designed objects, it is our opportunity as consumers to participate in the silent dialogue that takes place hundreds of times each day between designer and end user. Each day, all day, we are Goldilocks at heart.
Too large, too small, too hot, too cold and finally with a little luck just right.
In 1974 Mr. Mari made available to all of us, (who were born and could handle a hammer & saw), the option to be both maker and user.
Mr. Mari’s was an invitation to move design from internal monologue to physical dialogue.
Enzo Mari’s 1974 designs are proposals, roadmaps, schematics that require us to simultaneously follow and lead.
Not much more difficult than an Ikea box full of laminated particle board parts, fasteners and the included at no extra charge allen wrench, “do it yourself” furniture.
But the “do” in Ikea's “do it yourself is limited.
The buyer/consumer is the last stop on Ikea’s assembly line. By the time the box comes to you or you to the box, little exists that might happen or could happen.
The table, desk or shelving in Småland South Sweden, Milan or Chicago are the same.
Nothing changes from one side of the globe to the other.
Climate, culture, custom and craft are neutralized.
With Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione, the local atmosphere can be absorbed.
Wood, nails, finishes, seat & back angles and overall dimensions are all opportunities for site specific adjustments, localization...in essence “design”.
Furniture can be produced by the masses, but does not have to be mass produced.
This is a beautiful distinction that simultaneously addresses the needs of an ever expanding population struggling with a globalization that threatens the very existence of all things local.
For 10 years I have taught a course called Architecture and Furniture. The core concept of the class is to design and fabricate furniture specific to an architectural site. In other words students and faculty are interested in site specific furniture. We are less interested in the next amazing chair that can be used anywhere/anytime by anybody.
When the opportunity was presented by Mr. Mari & the Italian Cultural Institute to fabricate works inspired by Mr. Mari’s 1974 project, I recognized an invitation to confirm the possibility of transforming the published designs from site neutral to site specific.
The invitation for change, transformation, customization and personalization allows the city, the building, the room and the end user to each or all be taken into account in an immediate way.
What species of wood will I use is to investigate what wood is locally available to me.
What dimensions or seat and back angles to use is to identify whether the end user is tall or short, heavy or light, adult or child, good postured or poor.
What fasteners are most appropriate is to assess my budget, my skills as the fabricator, the nature of locally available tools, hardware and my preferred aesthetic.
What finish to use is to study the existing finishes within the space where the furniture will reside, predict the wear and tear anticipated or explore how I might express my personality, current mood, hide or celebrate the wood.
End user fabricated furniture is a wonderful opportunity.
Mr. Mari’s Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione is local production by the people rather than global production for the masses.
(Installation image of Enzo Mari's "Autoprogettazione" chairs fabricated using Chicago urban cottonwood/poplar, square drive wood screws and tung oil. The 3 chairs use a variety of, Mari recommended, 1x dimension boards of varying lengths. Square drive screws were substituted for nails as an updated technology more common to today's "handy-man". Urban wood was substituted for stock 1x lumber to both improve the chairs environmental impact and localize it by way of material. Non-petroleum based tung oil was used as a final finish vs. Mari's unfinished wood in order to allow the chairs to age more gracefully.)