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1. Lo Jugendstil
Since the beginning of the second half of the 1800s, an intense cultural debate is opened in Europe regarding the changes occurring in human environment due to the great expansion of the industrial production system.
The major supporter of the necessity of a new projectual vision is the english artist and theorist William Morris which, in a victorian era, tries for a mediation between an industrial production and craftsman inside the so-called Arts and Crafts movement. Morris' beliefs concerned the possibility of obtaining a better quality of life, of the environments and of the objects, by returning to the lost creative capacities of craftsmen, also applied to industrial mass.
It is the birth of a modern concept of design: craftsman projectual and artistic utility applied to mass production.
Only by the end of the century, though, a movement clearly destined to revolutionize for many years the taste and the perception of the built world, will be developed.
It is the Art Nouveau, that is the ensemble of architecture, furniture and objects characterized by the use of winding shapes clearly referring to nature. A vanguard tendency, soon adopted by cultured bourgeoisie, which foresees in it the possibility of a new style, capable of renewing the environment completely, in the name of the alliance between art and industry.
Victor Horta and Henry Van De Velde are in between the starters of this tendency in Belguim. From Glasgow it is Charles Rennie Mackintosh who begins his movement, starting from the building of the local School of Art. In Vienna, Otto Wagner and more decisively Josef Hoffmann brakes the existing conservative cultural tradition with the marvellous clearness of their projects.
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1.1. Charles Rennie Mackintosh
It is the Art Nouveau, that is the ensemble of architecture, furniture and objects characterized by the use of winding shapes clearly referring to nature. A vanguard tendency, soon adopted by cultured bourgeoisie, which foresees in it the possibility of a new style, capable of renewing the environment completely, in the name of the alliance between art and industry.
Victor Horta and Henry Van De Velde are in between the starters of this tendency in Belguim. From Glasgow it is Charles Rennie Mackintosh who begins his movement, starting from the building of the local School of Art. In Vienna, Otto Wagner and more decisively Josef Hoffmann brakes the existing conservative cultural tradition with the marvellous clearness of their projects.
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2. Beyond Jugendstil: Antoni Gaudì and Frank Lloyd Wright
Just a few, in between the forerunners of modern architecture, could escape the influence of Jugendstil; in the creations of some strong personalities, though, it is possible to find spacial shapes and furniture born from a universe of autonomous ideas.
The creations of Antoni Gaudi (1863-1926) takes root from catalan gothic. He considered as his main aim to transalate into modern language all those constructive ways used by his predecessors, which responded to his own ideas.
The sculptoreal furniture of Gaudì earns far too little attention, whilst the strength of his architecture and his spacial solutions are much more appreciated. His rich shapes, springing and growing organically from the material, as the fluctuating and free structures of Guell chapel, or the spaces in the house 'Mila' which resolves themselves one in the other, are the result of a happy union between Gaudì's fantasy and the extraordinary versatility of catalan craftsman. Projects like the seater in Parc Guell turned into sculpture and, with the rich chromatic and shape game of the glazed majolica mosaics, foreshadowed future developments. A plastic happy agreement between construction, structure and material from Gaudì's furniture emerged for the very first time, recalling the one being realized in our days with new materials and new production methods, as for example the furniture made in plastics.
Frank Lloyd Wright (1869-1959), was one of the major pioneers of modern architecture thanks to his enormous activity as architect, which already in 1900 had reached an astonishing artistic maturity, and to his numerous writings. Also in the furniture sector, his thoughts regarding shape and material, as his comparing himself with the most important artistic theories of the time, were of major importance. Other than being influenced by the essential geometrical shapes of Fròbel toys, Wright's ideas originated from the impressions that he received in his grandfather's farm. These impressions awakened in him a strong preference for nature and the tendency to a 'natural' use of materials. His activity in the studio of Louis Sullivan, the major american architect of the time, was of great importance in his vocational training, as were the intense relationships which he kept with japanese culture. In 1893 Japan exposed the copy of a typically japanese building at the Chicago Universal Exhibition, which was turned into a 'museum' for paintings and xylographies; Wright himself owned a considerable collection of these works. Wright visited Japan for the first time in 1905. The 'translation' of the japanese opened plant in the scenery of american cities outskirts, together with the attention given to historical and rustic ­ as for example those designed by Henry Hobson Richardson ­ and the return to the english tradition of a fireplace in the middle of the house, brought to the creation of the so-called "prairie houses", which Wright projected between 1900 and 1910, constituting his first important contribution to modern architecture (fig. furnishings). (fig. furniture).
In his article "Prairie Architecture" of 1931, inside the book "Modern Architecture", Wright set out his ideas on the 'prairie house'. He had the firm belief that the right thing was to "reduce to the minimum the number of necessary elements and of single environments inside a house, and to connect everything as a fenced space, articulated in such a way that light, air and view could confer a sense of unity". All of the proportions of the house had to be "human in a free way". He wanted ­ as far as possible - "the furniture to hold an organic architecture role", he desired to "identificate them with the building and to project them in simple forms which could be realized with machines. Once again straight lines and right-angled shapes".
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3. From de Stijl to the International Style

3.1. De Stijl furniture
A group of painters, architects and sculptors called 'de Stijl' joinde up in the dutch town of Leida in 1917, with the aim of "renewing art radically". The neoplasticism, brought to life in painting by Piet Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg, which was characterized by a clear geometrical order and by recalls to cubism, was transferred to other sections of art and architecture. The so-called "Neue Gestaltung" (new modelling) became the leading concept, the key-word of de Stijl.
The starting point of de Stijl architecture was constituted by a cube. Spacial delimitation through autonomous surfaces, arranged in between themselves in a right angle, was not conceived in a static manner, but understood as part of a principle which could be broadened to infinity (fig. 207). In such a way, on a theoretical point of view, the building was considered as a part of the sorrounding space. (fig. 207). Starting from the example given by Mondrian, only primary colours were adopted: red, blue and yellow; whilst white, black and grey were considered only as contrasting colours. The few interior designs realized, as the coffee shop or the cinema Aubette in Strasburg by Theo Van Doesburg, or house Schròder in Utrecht (fig. 210), by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld, were built with the application of these principles in a coherent way.
This analytical method brought to new building possibilities and to a new plant. The house grew from the floor freely, and the roof became a terrace, a kind of 'open-air' floor. At the time, all of these problems were completely new and no one got interested in them as much as the young architects and painters did.
Furniture by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964), under a technical point of view, are new contructions, which has almost nothing left in common with the traditional carpentry creations. They are to be understood, both considering their structure and their colouring, in their 'manifesto' role.
Theoretical-artistic considerations were at the base of de Stijl furnitures; many projects could have lead to a mechanical production immediately. Most of Rietveld's furniture, born in the following years, was produced in limited series, as for example the "Grate Furniture' of 1934, with furniture which could be broken up by the customer and re-combined together in different ways. The "Zig-zag" chair, the series-created chair by Rietveld, found many imitators and is nowadays being produced again.
The deep theoretical and journalistic activity of Theo Van Doesburg, who kept numerous conferences and organized many exhibitions, influenced the architects of the warlike generation, which were particularly receptive towards theoretical considerations. If we were to think of the first years of activity of the Bauhaus, it would be impossible to view them without the "Neue Gestaltung" of de Stijl, without Mondrian and Van Doesburg; as it would be impossible to see the activity of Marcel Breuer without the previous works by Rietveld. Furniture by Rudolf M. Schindler from Vienna (1887-1953) for his 1930s californian houses, were much influenced by de Stijl ideas, and had an impressive using value. Simple, essential and economic interior design, which would have deserved more consideration.
The spacial idea of de Stijl ­ the cubic space, where the walls didn't have a 'separation' function, but an articulating one ­ became the elementary bases of spacial concept in the International Style. For this reason, it is possible to see an expression of the strength of a concept and of a program which has remained valid up to our days, despite just a few practical applications were done.
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3.2. The Bauhaus: furniture by Marcel Breuer and Mart Stam
Furniture by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964), under a technical point of view, are new contructions, which has almost nothing left in common with the traditional carpentry creations. They are to be understood, both considering their structure and their colouring, in their 'manifesto' role.
Theoretical-artistic considerations were at the base of de Stijl furnitures; many projects could have lead to a mechanical production immediately. Most of Rietveld's furniture, born in the following years, was produced in limited series, as for example the "Grate Furniture' of 1934, with furniture which could be broken up by the customer and re-combined together in different ways. The "Zig-zag" chair, the series-created chair by Rietveld, found many imitators and is nowadays being produced again.
The deep theoretical and journalistic activity of Theo Van Doesburg, who kept numerous conferences and organized many exhibitions, influenced the architects of the warlike generation, which were particularly receptive towards theoretical considerations. If we were to think of the first years of activity of the Bauhaus, it would be impossible to view them without the "Neue Gestaltung" of de Stijl, without Mondrian and Van Doesburg; as it would be impossible to see the activity of Marcel Breuer without the previous works by Rietveld. Furniture by Rudolf M. Schindler from Vienna (1887-1953) for his 1930s californian houses, were much influenced by de Stijl ideas, and had an impressive using value. Simple, essential and economic interior design, which would have deserved more consideration.
The spacial idea of de Stijl ­ the cubic space, where the walls didn't have a 'separation' function, but an articulating one ­ became the elementary bases of spacial concept in the International Style. For this reason, it is possible to see an expression of the strength of a concept and of a program which has remained valid up to our days, despite just a few practical applications were done.
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3.3. The International Style: Mies Van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier
Nell'architettura dei tardi anni Venti e dei primi anni Trenta un nuovo linguaggio formale raggiunse il suo apice e una sua forma d'espressione classica, un linguaggio già preannunciato dall'opera di Sullivan e di Loos e direttamente preparato dall'attività di de Stijl e del Bauhaus: lo Stile Internazionale.
I principi sociali, estetici e tecnici dello Stile Internazionale ebbero ovviamente validità anche per l'architettura d'interni. Da questo punto di vista le nuove concezioni spaziali e i prototipi di Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe e Alvar Aalto ebbero per l'evoluzione del mobile un'importanza pari al ruolo che i loro edifìci svolsero per l'architettura moderna.
Già il primo progetto di mobile di Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), la sedia ' MR ' in acciaio tubolare presentata nel 1926, si caratterizzava per una gracile eleganza e una forma chiara e compiuta. Nella realizzazione del padiglione tedesco
all'Esposizione universale di Barcelona del 1929, Mies ebbe la possibilità di presentare esemplarmente le proprie concezioni spaziali, senza dover obbedire a esigenze di tipo pratico. Ne nacque un capolavoro architettonico che, per quanto demolito alla conclusione della mostra, appartiene alle realizzazioni più importanti del XX secolo. Lo spazio era concepito, interamente nello spirito di de Stijl, in maniera fluida. La poltrona ' Barcelona ' (fig. 241), creata per l'esposizione, ha conquistato, insieme con i mobili ideati nel 1930 per la casa Tugendhat di Brùnn, fama mondiale. In queste realizzazioni chiarezza, armonia e perfezione nella scelta e nella lavorazione dei materiali si fondono in maniera ideale.
Le Corbusier (1887-1965) ha ideato solo pochi mobili. (figg. 250 - 251 - 252) Per le sue prime ville egli preferì, non da ultimo per motivi di ordine economico, la sedia Thonet B 9, talora la sedia anonima in vimini intrecciato, ma anche la semplice sedia da giardino in ferro. Alcuni lavori teorici del periodo intorno al 1922, i progetti per le cosiddette " immeubles-villas " - in cui i vantaggi della casa singola dovevano essere riprodotti in blocchi di edifìci con molti piani -, mostravano ampi ambienti, il cui mobilio era scelto in modo piuttosto casuale. I mobili abbozzati in questi progetti presentano un singolare miscuglio tra comodissime sedie e poltrone da un lato e armadi e cassettoni cubici dall'altro. Nel 1925 nel Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau, modello di una cellula abitativa delle " immeubles-villas ", fu realizzata una soluzione di questo tipo. L'arredamento era ridotto al minimo; gli armadi, come elementi modulari, facevano corpo con le pareti: l'uomo doveva vivere ' nello spazio ' e non ' tra i mobili '. Nella poltrona a sdraio progettata nel 1928 (figg. 250 - 251 - 252) che, come i mobili di Mies van der Rohe fu poi prodotta in serie nei tardi anni Cinquanta, Le Corbusier trovò una forma idealmente adeguata al corpo umano e perfettamente risolta sul piano formale.
Il contributo decisivo di Le Corbusier è rappresentato dalla sua nuova concezione spaziale che, muovendo dalle idee di Loos, in un primo tempo trovò realizzazione nelle sue grandi ville. Un esempio può esser fornito dalla Villa Savoye costruita nel 1929-1931 a Poissy (figg. 245 - 246) : l'edifìcio, di forma cubica, è sollevato dal suolo, spazi e ambienti sono collegati da rampe. Il giardino pensile collega la casa alla natura, ma il severo corpo di fabbrica bianco contrasta con il verde circostante. Anche in queste costruzioni i mobili rappresentano a volte corpi estranei, come qualcosa di inserito, appunto in maniera mobile, che appartiene all'uomo e non alla costruzione.
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4. International Style postwar evolution: Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, ...

Furniture by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964), under a technical point of view, are new contructions, which has almost nothing left in common with the traditional carpentry creations. They are to be understood, both considering their structure and their colouring, in their 'manifesto' role.
Theoretical-artistic considerations were at the base of de Stijl furnitures; many projects could have lead to a mechanical production immediately. Most of Rietveld's furniture, born in the following years, was produced in limited series, as for example the "Grate Furniture' of 1934, with furniture which could be broken up by the customer and re-combined together in different ways. The "Zig-zag" chair, the series-created chair by Rietveld, found many imitators and is nowadays being produced again.
The deep theoretical and journalistic activity of Theo Van Doesburg, who kept numerous conferences and organized many exhibitions, influenced the architects of the warlike generation, which were particularly receptive towards theoretical considerations. If we were to think of the first years of activity of the Bauhaus, it would be impossible to view them without the "Neue Gestaltung" of de Stijl, without Mondrian and Van Doesburg; as it would be impossible to see the activity of Marcel Breuer without the previous works by Rietveld. Furniture by Rudolf M. Schindler from Vienna (1887-1953) for his 1930s californian houses, were much influenced by de Stijl ideas, and had an impressive using value. Simple, essential and economic interior design, which would have deserved more consideration.
The spacial idea of de Stijl ­ the cubic space, where the walls didn't have a 'separation' function, but an articulating one ­ became the elementary bases of spacial concept in the International Style. For this reason, it is possible to see an expression of the strength of a concept and of a program which has remained valid up to our days, despite just a few practical applications were done.


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TEXT AND IMAGES FROM: Karl Mang, STORIA DEL MOBILE MODERNO, Editori Laterza, sixth edition, 1998.