Interview with Sergio Giobbi

At the beginning of the 70s Sergio Giobbi dedicated himself to the didactic activity – with his master and friend Leonardo Savioli until 1985 – and to the profession. After a period of collaborations in architecture – still in the staff of Savioli Studio –, the florentine architect concentrated his experiences of the latest thirty years in design, focusing his research on modular programs – meant as systems of stackable elements – and on movement – to enjoy furniture much more.
He cooperated with companies like Busnelli G.I. – he's the author of
Boboli , Monopoli, Biplano and the recent Airone realised with Alessandro Mazzoni delle Stelle –, Abet Laminati, Bontempi Casa – for which he presented the folding chair Yes during the Milan International Furniture Fair 2005 –, Giovannetti, Origlia – he's the author of the interesting Bonita collection of this year –, Segis, Steel Line, Toncelli, Tre D Italia, Zani Cucine and Casprini – for which he created the stool King, presented in Cologne 2006..

Let's start with a short outline of your thirty years of activity.
I graduated from the University of Architecture in Florence, then I spent 15 years in that University as assistant of Leonardo Savioli, full professor of Interior Design. This has been a great experience because of the talented teacher and the exciting contact with the students.
It was a very creative and profitable period for the University of Architecture of Florence – I must admit that, clearly, this is a biased opinion…
In many pubblications about that period's works we can still notice an idea, a scent of those years. As an example some times ago, leafing through Firenze. La Città Sognata by M. Conti and A. Scanzani – a book that collects not-realised projects from the past of the capital of Tuscany – I found some plans elaborated by me and my students. I think that their utopia is still interesting; that look beyond characterised a decade of great intensity and quality in university projects. Utopia and dream influenced my imprinting, my way of planning projects and still today, maybe, I haven't use up their influence in my works...
In addiction to architecture I practiced design, because of my bricoleur mind that has always used touching as an intense source of experience and knowledge. Since I spent my childhood in the industrial zone of Larderello, among workshops, I've always been keen about anything was under construction.
One of my first contacts was the American designer Ted Waddell, who had his study in Florence. In that period I collaborated to the realisation of the famous 714, a table in steel and crystal created for Cassina. Then I worked in a study with some other colleagues as Giovanni Corradetti and Patrizia Innocenti. Finally I opened a study on my own, even if I keeped relating with other professionals.
I had a positive experience with the young architects Antonio Bastreghi, Giorgio Esposito and Gianni Mannocci; we founded Arcibottega, a laboratory for the creation of originals ceramics objects. My friend Dante Bandini took part to this experience, too.
Some year after, another friend and schoolmate got in my study as cooperator; Giampaolo Lodi, excellent designer, who had already had some experience in design, and that still today sometimes helps me in choosing and improving ideas.
Among the latest young cooperators I'd like to recall the architects Alberto Fillini and Riccardo Fanucci; I have learnt a lot from both of them.
Back to the beginnings, before my graduation I have had contacts with some significant companies like Metalmobili, for which I realised in 1970 my first project: Lem, a monoblock for living room that included table, chairs and containers.
This company carried out the whole production process, both for wood and metal, included the plating system; it had also an area for the presswork of expanded polyurethane. Everything was near-at-hand so that I acquired a direct experience of different kinds of manufacturing very soon.
Ever since I worked in several ranges, creating everyday objects, tables, chairs, systems of sitting, beds, furnitures from bath, lamps, passing trough any typology, enhanceing my professionality. I cooperated with Toncelli from the 70s till 90s, realising several popular kitchens; among them Douglas, Tholos etc, but the first one that overcomed the narrow concept of kitchen, becoming a modular system with personalisation opportunity, was Kaleidos.
Every time it has been like a rebirth. In design, the experience matters a lot, so as much as you can extend your activity, more you fall across technologies, problems and new resolving expedients to invent.

You've had a continuing connection with companies from Lombardia and from Tuscany. What can you tell us about them? Can these experiences be comparable? How does it changes – if it does – the relationship with a company from Tuscany?
Maybe, if difference does exist, it's a problem of statistics. In fact we can find some typical business peculiarities of Tuscany also in Marche, Lombardia or Piemonte, while here in Tuscany there are some companies similar to northen ones. However, as general tendency, the Tuscan companies don't show their own full qualities and maybe they offer a facade of concreteness. People can underestimate them.
Tuscan industry – even if devoid of the specific division – has a great individuality in the realisation of prototypes, so that models are as interesting as those of the North. The production uses active and deep intelligence that can bring that precision and intuition lacking somewhere else.

How did the designer profession evolved during these years?
As I said before, experience in manufacturing is the key for my activity. Nowadays, being up-to-date with new technologies is crucial: ideas and technologies become obsolete quickly. At the beginning – I'm talkin' about popular design of the 70s – projecting an object was just no more than defining its shape. The technical issue concerned well-established options not progressive process; when the product turned out to be pleasant it was time to launch it. I'm not saying that nowadays the process is totally different, but it's becoming much more complex and heterogenous. As an example, at the beginning of my career, if I designed a chair this could be realised through elementary technologies and materials: in wood or in metal and wood. Planning, elaborating, prototyping took about two months, then the chair could be on the market. Nowadays this process involves the definition of a lot of details and it can took even two or three years 'cause of advanced technologies. Not rarely the problem is finding a company equipped to realise that certain kind of processing.
Sometimes an output can be too much expensive or problematic for industrial production, that's why it's necessary to have a good knowledge of technological-manufacturer workings. Nowadays, undertaking this kind of profession without solid grounds given by a good school or without practicing in a study becomes quite troublesome.

Is it true that this technical issue drives some designers to specialization?
This phenomenon does exist and it can have some benefit because, as I pointed out before, changing branch can determine a new approach to the plan. Many designer do think that some areas are more congenial than others – sofas, chairs, household-appliance, lights, etc. I believe it's some kind of intimate affinity more than a rational choice.
But delimiting the area does not dampen the use of different techniques. Even planning sofas can involve a pressing in fusion. Then, if the sofa has adjustable back and adjustable arms you must plan some mechanism, therefore other technologies are incorporated in the project. Always in overstuffed area you must know the hydraulic mechanisms, the plastic elements, etc. There is not a field of design in which is not necessary to acquire multiple competences and technical knowledges – except maybe kitchens, but I would like to talk about them apart –. Also because there aren't specific texts able to train designers in every area of their work.

One of the peculiarity of nowadays is, besides evolution of working-technologies, the remarkable amount of new materials…
This is another problem. I must admit, I do envy those designers that can often test new materials. Material ConneXion® – the greater research center about innovative materials – offers about thirty new alloys and synthetic products in every furniture fair, and at the present time it has about 3,000 new materials and innovative technologies. But I do think that knowing new materials is not always enough to enhance efficiency, indeed it can be quite frustrating. As an example I can be aware of the existence of a plastic glass that fits perfectly my projects, but if I can't find a company equipped to work it – with convenient times and costs – my knowlwdge is completely ineffective. We should be designers and businessman at the same time to find a technologic and operative ability in working new materials – finding a an object that could be competitive in a specific area of the marketplace –; this is what can determine the success of a new technology. Nowadays this process seems to be increased. Sometimes it seems to be strategic creating new products just to use a new material. In reality, popularity of an object isn't always the result of the utilisation of a new material. More often it is a certain synergy between design and engineering that brings success, also because of some kind of inertia in the public tastes about matters of living...

Computers increase the pre-visual ability of designers. Do you think that observing the object before its concrete realization can influence designer's creativity?
I don't think it can influence creativity in any way, as much as a good designer isn't influenced by his manual talent: creativity in itself is an abstract thing. However, medium can be a test for your own creativity, in particular programming 3D.
Projecting is creating something that represent a possibility. It could be a newsworthy thig, but it's not still a concrete object. Especially when you're emotionally involved in a project, the design will be influenced from the liking of the object itself. If I like it my design will be nice, if I don't my project will always be designed badly. Computer can create that diaphragm that is necessary in order to proceed in the formal definition. It is aseptic and it allows you to predate the moment of aesthetic-functional decisions toward something that can be assimilated to a real object more than a sketch. Another benefit is the short time taken by this passage. Moreover, the project idea, once transformed in 3D, can be changed. I've never changed as many ideas as now, using computer.

This kind of separation from passions that you assign to 3D models is nearly surprising if we compare it with the frequent criticisms given by other designers. As an example, Enzo Mari defined it accessory, epidermic and noisy (asserting that nowadays theses seems to be appreciated in according to the quality of the rendering much more than to the value of the plan). It’s interesting that against the clamour about 3D, there is somebody who speaks about objectivity of 3D...
Maybe people who express this kind of judgements don't have a deep acquaintance about the subject. The point is: it's easy to be prejudicial about what we don't know. There are many designers of my generation – or older – that employ young students to use computers in their studies. These boys can rarely aspire to reach a lead role in the project: they are workers. In such cases, it is obvious that the computer is considered a machine, because that's how it's used. Actually we must admit that software, experience, ability, etc. can make the difference... Leafing through reports about Milan Furniture Fair's projects or similar, we can see that: 1) Almost nobody proposes his own works through a sketch; 2)Three-dimensional digital simulations can be as realistic as approximate. This lack of contents and informations can affect the future of end products. As a matter of facts a realistic representation can prevent problems during the creation of prototypes, because they can be detected and solved on the virtual model.

So according to you the virtual model can be a testing ground?
Yes. With a 3D program comprehnsive of lights, materials, etc. we can quite build the object more than design it. So the project is not a mere computer sketch but a real building plan. And, if we can manage the software without getting frightened by, planning in 3D is like a volumetric testing...

Listening to you we can notice a certain passion...
The strange fact is I've always been adverse to this kind of devices. I usually said that I don't need any computer because I'm faster and smarter in manual design (actually I was faster because I didn't fathom the object like I do now). Therefore I didn't bring it into my study till 7-8 years ago. Ever since I change my opinion and my attitude, so now I couldn't work without it. It has became another sector of my bricoleur activity; actually I disassemble and reassamble it quite often...

A characteristic of your works is a steady tension to multifunctionality, to application of movement to many kind of product – chairs, tables, sofas. This shows your ermeneutical approach to the domestic area, not aesthetical or formal but practical and proudly dynamic...
It's true, but it was not a rational choice. I looked behind and notice this fil rouge, as an example in the table Clip Clap for Segis. Now there are many similar wares, but at the time of its creation it was very original, in particular because of its industrial production chances. In the latest version it has become a true jewel of functionality, it has even the regulation of leg-height from above. Its derived Et Voilà, always for Segis, uses the same device of Clip Clap but the shape of the main leg allows horizontal stacking.
For Boboli I can say that the proverb every cloud has its silver lining is true. Me and Alessandro Mazzoni Delle Stelle were working on an old idea of a sofa with moving back for Busnelli G.I. Unfortunately, I saw a sofa nearly identical to that I was working at on a magazine. I informed the company; we had to find something new and so the mechanism of Boboli come to life, maybe it was the first example of movement that completely transforms the sitting. Biplano has been a challenge, even for the Busnelli company that was quite skeptical about the realisation of the prototype. The idea was transforming seat in an completely extended one.
I had to modify the prototype in a workshop with the aid of a friend of mine, testing levers, tongs, rotations etc on the sofa. Finally we managed to give back the working prototype to Busnelli.

Hand made is a frequent presence in your works and in your paintings. A gestual and poetic vocation noticeable also in the formal freshness of Albero del cuore, a clothes-hanger realised for Steel Line or in 4 Modi sideboard created for Genesis...
Lately I noticed this union of romanticism and technology alternated in my works. Some kind of interchange is also typical of my character, which is inclined to poetry, colours, nature (chaos and moviment) and, on the other hand, to technology, order, the more schematic precision...
I love painting and long since I enjoy realising chromatic compositions. The passion for the colour is surely a trait of my personality and this influence also my production. I'm collecting materials in order to realise a professional site and a publication of my other activities, that are painting and photography, areas in which I continue to be an amateur... Albero del cuore is an old plan for Steel Line and it could cross-refer to my poetic part. Sometimes it like to set fantasy free in order to create objects that can spread a little optimism. The tree has this characteristic and I like to have it in my study.
4 Modi instead is a modern sideboard with geometric shape, created during the 80s for International Genesis and still on market. It is a game payed on squares, its main characteristic is the diagonal bevel towards the centre. Raissa, in Italy with her husband Michail Gorbaciov, loved it and she wanted one for her house in Russia. Another romantic object is Settecento for Giovannetti, a sofa that suggest again in modern way the elegance of the Rococò style.

You and Busnelli have been involved in a research about systems of sittings and modular elements for an age. What this experience did teach you about the evolution of living room furniture?
Television has been the engine for the evolution of living room. Even if television does exsist since about 50 years, its central presence has not been fully understood until approximately 20 years ago – when television became part and parcel of the global plan of living room. The drawing-room – I doubt that this concept can coincide with that one of the thirty-year-old at the present days – has been a space with limited and intermittent use during the post-war period; it was something representative of cultural level – something similar to a status symbol – more than a room with practical use. It was lived mentally more than really: there must be a place where to be more exposed than in intimacy but it wasn't the place of the pleasure. With such predominant shade it has carried out its own functions: an hosting room for friends and relatives, a reading room, etc...
Today the metamorphosis of the drawing-room spaces is first of all quantitative. It has become a place usually attended by every member of the family for 3/4 hours a day. And the assiduous frequentation of this space and of its essential elements – in particular sittings – has contributed partially to the evolution of the taste and the concept of atmosphere itself. The representation has begun to taint itself with the comfort. Designing the sofa, as an example, it has become important to create a sitting comfortable for hours. At home I experience every day this necessity of informal practicity. I furnished my house with sofas designed by myself; they are beautiful but a little uncomfortable. So, searching for the right position, sometimes I just sit on the floor, on a couple of pillows... Now I bear in mind this factor during a planning. And with Busnelli I think we created some pretty good solutions, like Boboli that can extend the sittings or raise headrests, to easily change the position for conversation in a relaxing one. Actually it has been a great success...

So much to induce Busnelli to realise Ugo: a model similar to Boboli by the Centre Studies & Busnelli Searches...
I would like to not deepen this topic...

Monopoli has been another success by Busnelli. A modern and sober plan, in which the polyfunctional structure plays a lead role...
It has advanced technology and original setting-out.
It's based on an aluminium extruding that can host a series of elements; it allows several compositions. Monopoli gives an impression of an actual and versatile article with hight grade technology.

During Milan International Furniture Fair 2005 you introduced a plan that, beyond being beloved, it's part of your research about dynamic design…...
Among my latest plans I treasure Yes, a folding chair – horizontally and vertically stackable – I realized for Bontempi House, with structure in aluminium and sitting and back in ABS. Maybe it's one of the best project in this category. Every part is pressed, containing human work in the assembly of components. The research focused on feasibility, because the production costs are the main obstacle to overcome. Bontempi realises objects with competitive prices and Yes must have acceptable price also being comparable to similar products of higher level – as an example, the similar Frau Seat. So when Yes prototype has been shown in Milan we still didn't solve the problem of feasibility of some parts. As I have said before, realising a chair means, above all, faceing a laborious management of the plan, because at present days constructing a chair needs a large investment, so that many companies operate carefully.

During Milan Design Week 2005 you introduced also Bonita, a collection of sittings that – aligning itself with a defined business policy – aims a balanced equilibrium between lightness, modern design and functionality...
The story of Bonita begins some year ago. It consisted in a chassis in tube of aluminium with sitting and back in aluminium. Then the chassis has been transformed in a die casting, while the original formulation for the seat and the back continued, even if with some little variations. However meeting Origlia has been crucial, because, taking advantage of its own experience, it was able to carry on cleverly this complex plan. Bonita is a sitting system comprehensive of chair, little armchair, little sofa, seated on bar, stools etc..., everithing in several versions. This important plan took me wholeheartedly, but it is already giving great satisfaction. Little sofa Bonita has been recorded among the best works of contemporary Made in Italy design by Italian Design on Tour 2006/2007 Committee and will be exposed in a itinerant show around Europe, United States, China and India...

Last year your Oblà was exposed in the hall of 100 Years 100 Chairs Vitra Collection Design florentine fair: a golden opportunity in order to know the history of design of the more meaningful domestic object. Today there is also your renewed interest...
Oblà is the simple and elegant plastic chair I realised for Steel Line in 2004; it has been exposed, as the latest born (of the new century) beyond the 100 historical chairs introduced in the show setted in the Ospedale degli Innocenti in SS. Annunziata Square.
This year during the Fair, beyond to Bonita collection and to Yes, I introduced – still for Bontempi – Link. According to me this is a return to a typology I appreciate. But it's true that there is some kind of tension about the chairs among designers. A small object, within range of everybody; the most industrialised article that can use many new technologies. Moreover, when the article is successfull, there is a significant economic profit: as we said before, there are strong investments that can carry out hundred millions of copies.
But what strongly determinates attention on this product is the great intimity that the chair can have with anyone of us. The bookcase can be beautiful, but it's the chair that gets in contact with you. The bed gets in contact with us too but only during the night. The chair instead is used all day long, we have a stronger memory of it: it is one of the most synesthetic objects of the house. And, in general terms, the sitting – at least in the west society – it is an element completely immersed and involved by our daily life: in the machine, at job, in the house, etc. Chair and sofa are indeed the two elements of furnishings much more involved in our day life...

You said the product's cheapness is practically a value, or an important requirement...
It seems to me that realising an object for mass production (a chair, as an example) can be more coherent with needes of our time: producing in a context and in a society that is no more handicraft but late-manufacturer. Moreover producing a high-level chair, with hand-crafted finishes and therefore high cost, does not seems to be interesting for commercial purposes neither for the impression of public. That why I would prefer to obtain a great series rather than one for niche-market; I do think that the design concernes great series rather than limited ones. There is not true progress if technology is not within range of everybody, as Henry Ford said.

Even if you already mentioned someone, Who would you like to thank for your professional experience?
Leonardo Savioli influenced great part of my life. A great personhood, a great communicator, and, above all, a great planner. I'm not talking about plans as via Piagentina, in which I can see much more research than coherent theoretical inspiration, rather I'm talking about that ones I consider masterpieces among Italian post-war architecture: as an example, theMercato dei Fiori di Pescia. This plan exalted the real abilities of Leonardo Savioli. I have seen it under construction and I have partially collaborated before and during the realisation – executing some designs and perspectives – but the works carried on for several years. Finally when it was completed and the exhibition of flowers was setted, I had a strong feeling: it seemed to be in front of a contemporary Colosseo.
Actually In this plan it is possible to comprehend the great power, the comunicative ability of Savioli, the vibrations of typical materials of the latest years – metal, crystal, steel pylon and poles.
I have an intense memory also of my colleagues as assistant, they were some year older than me: Alberto Breschi, Stefano Bolaffio, Buti Remo, Giovanni Corradetti, Paul Galli, Adolfo Natalini and others.
There was an uninterrupted exchange among us, because we knew works of our students when we prepared for the composition exam. Everyone of us carried in work his own personality, and every personality was relevant. Useless to say, everyone of them taught something to me.

Sergio Giobbi
Via Ventura Monachi Ser, 26
50125 Firenze - Italy
Tel: +39 055 6810377

Busnelli G.I.
Giovannetti Collezioni
Bontempi Casa
Steel Line
Genesi International

edited by: 
Umberto Rovelli 















translation by:
Elena Granchi
Maria Giulia Graniti

in cooperation with:
Elena Granchi