Interview with Carlo Bimbi

Over thirty years of creative intelligence, used in the research of rational and logical planning solutions, make Carlo Bimbi a central figure of the Italian design. In 1972 – as member of the Internotredici Studio – he is with Tuttuno among the protagonists of Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at MoMA of New York, realizing later projects for Ariete, Guzzini, Bardi, Ciatti, Ferlea, B&B Italia and the emerging Segis – whom Enrico chair wins Roscoe-Awards in 1983. Afterwards, the dialogue with the Tuscan entrepreneurial class becomes more exclusive, concentrating on companies like Arketipo, Bosal, Casprini, La Falegnami, Falegnameria 1946, Segis – whom Blitz wins in '98 Red Dot and iF Award – and, recently, Dema. He is teacher at the Industrial Design Degree Course at the University of Florence.

Tuscany is, maybe always, your ideal laboratory, but talking about your first design experiences is a little as revive a few topical moments of the Italian design. Your first years after ISIA experience are particularly intense...
Since 1970 I worked stably in Florence, but my first experiences took place in Milan in 1969–'70 at the Studio Nizzoli Associati. I speak with affection about this period in one of my publications in 1995 – Diario di lavoro (1970-1995), Alinea editions –, a small book of my professional career.
It was a particularly happy period for who made design, with excellent companies with which being confronted and excellent contractual conditions. That situation contributed to make good projects, complete, coherent and without substantial budget problems. In fact also when the estimated budget came exceeded, that has not never constituted reason of contrast between designer and company. It was an idyllic situation and perhaps, given my young age and the consequent inexperience, I did not attribute the value that in effects deserved. The proposal to participate as associate at Nizzoli Studio arrived like a true gratification and flattery of my acts, but I released without regret thinking to return in Florence, to give a contribution to the region where I was born and grown.
With my friends Gianni Ferrara and Nilo Gioacchini we have constituted the Internotredici Studio and we begun to work, obtaining also articles on the field reviews. With the "global piece of furniture" Tuttuno, in 1972, we have participated at MoMA of New York at Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, the exhibition of the Italian design, invited by its curator Emilio Ambasz. We was very young – I was approximately 25 years old – we exposed and we published on the reviews of all the world with designers like Ettore Sottsass, Gae Aulenti, Mario Bellini... At that moment, I did not understand really what was succeeding to me, but Alessandro Mendini, a few years later, said to me that I had not known to take advantage of that great opportunity...

Do you mean from the professional point of view?
I want to say that in the same historical period I had contacts with incomparably various truths. I had not absolutely taken conscience what was the world in which I could become part and have continued to operate like designer also in fields with poor visibility. In those years, for example, Internotredici worked for young and unknown companies. There was in Tuscan companies an extraordinary fervour, dominated by desire of changing image together to the aim of figuring well to the comparison with productions of the north of Italy. When I was a student I met Sergio Cammilli of Poltronova Company, cultured person equipped to compete with the best companies of the market. That was an important experience for Tuscany, in which very important designers like Ettore Sottsass or Gae Aulenti came from Milan, and, from Florence, the recently emerged Superstudio and Archizoom.
My co-operation with Metalmobile Company belongs to the first 70's. This company formed some important figures – like Franco Dominici, first the abilities: enthusiasm and the deep involvement in the company – for the birth of Segis. I like to remember the chairs Last (1971), Relax (1974), Country (1977), Rectaovale (1977), MM 203 (1978), Pitti and Bargello (1978). Another product of those years to which I am particularly attached is Quadrone realized for Bardidue, second brand of a company of Quarrata that produced typical seats in carved wood and leather.
The arrival of Quadrone had to launch the modern collection of the company but, in spite of the good intentions, that product remained an isolated case, compromising the image and the fortune of the product itself. Some years after a technician of Zanotta company, while holding a lesson to the students of Gianni Ferrara at the ISIA of Florence, told him that Zanotta Company had taken contacts with Bardidue Company to find the project, and in the meantime it had been wide published in the field reviews. The owners of the Tuscan company had refused that proposal, determining the trade's failure of the project. Tuscany is also this: a great care for realization of products, and an insufficient credit to their communication...

How do you see today the relationship of Internotredici with the Tuscan and Northern Italy entrepreneurs?
Since 1972 to the end of the 70s Tuscan companies were available to receive the ideas proposed from as, the designers. Just finished the ISIA – Nilo Gioacchini and I like students and Gianni Ferrara like teacher –, we could boast those Milan experiences and, probably thanks to this I had success.
However in that period – along with Superstudio, for example – we made our first contests and competitions for companies, between which also many Tuscan companies interested to new design proposals. From the trade point of view, the project has never had a real development with concrete consequences in Tuscany; we must arrive to the years '80.
However, we have continued to maintain job relationships with Northern Italy until to '85–'86. In 1982–'83 the season of Internotredici has been concluded, and for next 2-3 years Nilo and I worked for companies of Brianza and Veneto. For B&B Italia was born Pigro sofa bed and the Noa collection – sitting for office –, for Seven the Uno due sofa; for Tosimobili the Chiaroscuro furniture program.
Only afterwards I reduced my action field into Tuscany, Nilo took other job-roads and Gianni Ferrara concentrated his own activity in University and into the ISIA.

The Internotredici's end has consolidated your links with local entrepreneurial aspect...
Here in Tuscany companies are very good both concerning the economic relationships and for what is about all the steps of the project. It has been good for me to remain here. This choice has probably saved me from the illusion of "elsewhere". I refer especially to the Brianza that in the past was for sure the capital of design, which however today resents of the serious crisis of the whole field. I believe always more that it is necessary to develop our project, to think what we want to make.
My position can perhaps appear too much strict, while I really believe that it is the only way to strongly show what we believe in. The most critical moment is convince the companies to realize our projects, because today the market is not so sure, and have success with an proposal is very difficult. Today more than ever companies must sell to survive. That weights down and makes every phase of the project very complex. The decisional, the search perspective, the strategic formulation of the production of an entire year must hold account of several problems that demand much time and much dedication. To understand what we want and what we must do becomes the clou moment of the project.

Do you have noticed difference in approaching between companies of the North and the Tuscan ones?
A peculiarity of Tuscan companies that distinguishes them from the Northern ones is a stronger link between the entrepreneurial world and the handicraft one. The Tuscan company derives, and it is settled in Tuscany. A productive approach that is perhaps definable as more creative, or even also more romantic. If for the north the pragmatic attitude has been an important aspect in the territory and those that it counted in the first place, if not exclusively, were turns out to you, in Tuscany has always prevailed an entrepreneurial interest also to the innovation. The urgency and the push to produce have been always in some way connected to the innovation. Here in Tuscany we think that the new object, the innovation, the various object from all the others, is a guarantee of success. This has determined in the past big mistakes and for same aspects it remains unchanged even today, and that for me constitutes an effective problem. It seems strange, but in the relationship company/designer we must in some way assume the responsibility to "open the eyes" to our interlocutors. It is a continuous debate because in the Tuscan entrepreneurs we have two feelings in evident conflict: on one side we have an excellent opinion of the own professional, personal and intuitive abilities; on the other he believes in the myth of one preferred way to the foreigners design – from Milan in primis. For the limited dimension of local productive activity, this aspect is very dangerous, because when we realized that it is almost too much late and the risk to completely stop the productive activity is very high. In 20 years I have assisted to several phenomena of this type. Often it is an experience of this type that shows them that the project is a hard work that must face entirety, designer and entrepreneur. We do not have to find a solution, an invention that magically exceeds every obstacle. The cooperation to produce "something": to build with this "something" is, according to me, the winning road...

In this entirety been involved in the production process of a new product which is, specifically, your role? For example, do you realize – resolving the executive problems –, an ended prototype that is elaborates a plan of which then "you supervise" the executive yield and the operated three-dimensional elaboration from the company? Which is your degree of integration with the company? Is important for you a technical office inside of the company?
The presence of a technical study into the company is fundamental for me. With greater frequency – also in companies of not big dimensions –, they begin to being present definable inner operating units as "technical office". Begins to be frequent the presence of a group of persons that approaches the professionalism of a technical office.
I make the example of my collaboration with Casprini.
In the company a technical office does not exist materially, but they are present of the reference figures – that I would define risen of head-unit with specific abilities and technical acquaintances –, that they follow the projects of Casprini and Naos.
Is with them that I work during the phase of passage from the project to the prototype. I take the example of Move chair. The assignment of the company was a seat for contract realizing in polypropylene and metal, with a wide range of performances. I realized first studies and when I have the clearer ideas I passed to a three-dimensional verification in wood and cardboard, that I have subordinate at the company. We spoken together, reaching to the conclusion that the project answered to the advance requirements and that therefore it could be developed. To that point me they are made loaded translate the model in prototype. I have worked to tightened contact with the technicians of the company, estimating in itinere the costs of the equipments for the production with to the resolution of several the problems that this type of product involved. The passage from the graphical plan to the object is for me a renewed engagement: the project on paper is never translated dogmatically or like photocopy in the end product. In my career I don't have a graphical documentation that you regard the finished product, but have a series of studies that document several the passages from the idea begin them to the product in work course. For me, for the formation that I received since school, to work in bidimension (the design) or three-dimensionally (the model) represents two aspects of the same activity of research and study. I believe in a design that makes the idea visible, that becomes shape.
Other situation is the relationship that I have with La Falegnami of Castelfiorentino. Here I propose my projects in three-dimensional models, after the job comes all developed inner the company until to the realization the real object. Then happens the appraisal and correction in the same factory, until to final project. The collaboration with La Falegnami goes on from almost twenty years – from 1986–'87 –, of which I will have conserved not more than 4 or 5 designs, because the process of definition of the product is managed mostly in company, between the responsible and me. They are the many products that tie me to this company, but I want between all to remember Le Monde bed, in production from 1995, and Acanto bed (2001).
Since some years has been born another brand to flank of that historian, Falegnameria 1946. For it I realized Tulipano bed and Glicine bed (2004).
Equally tightened and extended in the time it is my collaboration with Arketipo. In 1987 I realized Triclinium sofa, with which I have started my professional relationship with the company of Calenzano. It was a product much meaningful one for the image of the company, to which still they are much legacy affectively. Then I realized Accademia sofa, always by Arketipo. After them have been born many products of quality like the recent XL.
For the field of sitting for contract, I want to remember the collaboration with Segis Company of Poggibonsi, begun already to the time of Internotredici (the Segis name has been born from an idea of Gianni!), and with Steelmobil Company of Rimini. For Segis I want to signal Enrico chair (1980, Roscoe prize), Martina chair (1981), Charlie chair (1983) and, in more recent times, Charlie (1983) e, in tempi pi recenti, la Blitz chair.
For Steelmobil company, the program of sitting in aluminium and polypropylene New Deal.
I want to signal my collaboration with Dema Company. It is a job much recent relationship. The company cures a lot the particular, the detail and therefore is equipped of specialist staff who takes care – mostly or specifically – of the study and research of the optimal solutions of production, of prototypes, particular realizations, etc. In Dema the situation strategic/organizational of the production is rendered still more interesting from the presence of an ulterior figure of much important reference: the art director. His activity is concentrated in the preparations of the stores, but it is to speculative level that its contribution now appears to me stimulating for a company, but not less for the designer.

What do you have realized for Dema?
The last collections for Dema are Hotello and Exteso. With them we are developing a project in which, rather than produce single objects - sofas, chairs, seats, we try to create a master brand for with coordinate bond. Something like a project "Casa Dema" as the definition of a "system house" where the creative process that determines the final shape of the sofa and in particular on valences – color, woven, accessories, etc – to create an whole's atmosphere.
The projectual topic "to realize an object" evolves in a most complex one than "to communicate a total plan". In such a way style becomes the search of one fundamental, in a position to tying all in a defined logical-emotional picture. This is very interesting for who plan.

Do you mean that elsewhere the sofa is the only important thing while the rest is the "frame"?
In the total context the idea of a winning product is immediately emulated. I want to say that, however, in a determined moment, the trend is take – by designer and by entrepreneurs – from a plurality of subjects and, therefore, the greater difficulty to having an own identity is just on the product. Therefore what today has become more important is differing on the system company in its complex and – also to answer to your question – the truth is that the "contour" just serves to sell the sofa. A product little "outside from the lines" is not sold in Italy and abroad. What today is necessary is protect culturally this product or brand. The answer to the question "can an innovative product impose itself on the market?" can be given that is to level of total image of collection, of brand, "idea to living" innovative that is behind the product, rather than of simple innovative product.
In medium-long period is a theme very important. Even if most difficult to propose and to carry on because, is a spold that it has indirect falling back on the product, and often the company has difficulty to quantify and estimate the tangible results of the entire operation.

A difficulty to follow you depends, maybe, on the International situation not just favourable...
Partially from this, but also from other factors. For example from a complete lack of protection of the intellectual property. I think that the design itself is a continuous exchange of ideas, but today many companies produced copy, also of most famous products and strongly recognizable. Determining a series of lawyers causes of which but – also with the by now unavoidable delays of the Italian justice – it is not more succeeded to see the usefulness. The context is not favorable to the investments in searches and the production of the new products. Nevertheless companies are however opening, also here in Tuscany.

Do you refer to Edra?
Edra is a very particular case of a production of objects and collections of products only characterized by strong aspects. But also here it has been an important investment on the communication. Without forgetting that, behind the products "of image", the sale proceeds on the "normal" products.

But going back to Dema...
In terms of productive and business strategy I think that "Casa Dema" project has strong connotes of exemplarity, characterized from the intention of being away from the single object to integrate it with other products of a coordinated system, with all the difficulties that this choice involves. A company of sofas usually does not produce other products and it is forced to resort to external structures, determining an additional difficulty in terms of total quality of the project, that is not more determinable inside of the single business productive cycle.
With Dema we are at the beginning and the problem – also being in the first instance aesthetic and communicative – already introduces in all its managerial specificity that will in the next few months lead to complete with new elements the relative proposal to a domestic ambient.
In 2003, the spirit of this new project's philosophy is going to the realization of Hotello, a new system of sofa. In the total production, the sofa stabilized and determined a background on which they detached some elements, more particular projects – like for example Lips seat designed by Piergiorgio Cazzaniga.
I realized lamps in alabaster and other objects, but more interesting has been the recovery of handicraft workings of the leather. Some job's ways go disappearing and they constitute for the company an ulterior reason of distinction from the other productions.

In your works – beyond the objective logical necessity that is a feature symbol of your realizations – is perceived a Mediterranean vein, warm, softly round, than with passing of the years has become urgent equally
I have soon cited the alabaster for the Dema lamps of the Exteso ollection. I was born in Volterra, and being to tightened contact with the working of that material. This natural evolution of my job is the landing place to one completed maturity. When you are young you have capacities to remove to us from the roots, in order to make to grow the originality of our proposals. This for me is Mediterranean vein, with to the softening of the shapes that I developed in the products for Falegnami and for Falegnameria 1946; like Le Monde – bed, chest of drawer and bedside tables –, and the wrapping profile of the Relais bed. This course I had already undertaken until years '90 in some seats for Arketipo, like Class, Gaia and Via Veneto.

Before you spoke with affection of Quadrone. Watching it today and thinking next to the discreet success obtained by Adriano Piazzesi with its admirable and binding Loft project, I ask myself why does not be in production...
Quadrone has endured the consequences of being born at the right time for one "mistaken" company. The mistake is a divergent optical between the culture of that project and that of the company. I followed with participation the vicissitudes of Quadrone: I contributed to make it be born and saw its production. I recognize still today the validity of that project, and I do not deprive of hope that a day can return in production.

Carlo Bimbi
Via Torcicoda 24A
50142 Firenze Italia
Tel: +39 055 707322 / Fax: +39 055 7134470

B&B Italia
La Falegnami
Falegnameria 1946

edited by: 
Umberto Rovelli 







translation by:
Federica Capoduri