Architecture for the table

There are many architects who are passionate about designing not only buildings, but also small structures for everyday use. Why is that so?

Ben van Berkel is now a knight. Not one knighted with the sword of Queen Elizabeth II, mind, but with the tree root of the “Ordine dei Cavalieri del Tartufo e dei Vini d’Alba” – the “Order of the Knights of the Truffle and the Wine of Alba”. Not the worst distinction for an architect who is also a professed gourmet. But how did he come to be knighted?

Well, Ben van Berkel designed a truffle slicer for Alessi, which is simply named “Alba”. A piece of architecture for the table – a cooking implement that functions differently to the other models on the market. Ben van Berkel and UNStudio worked for two years with Alessi on the utensil for the most expensive fungus in the world. That is arguably reason enough to receive a knighthood. But how did one of the most sought-after architects in the world come to develop a truffle slicer? 

“When Alberto Alessi approached me, I was really enthusiastic straight away – and not only because I am a big fan of truffles,” reveals Ben van Berkel. “I always thought that architects should do more things that offer a tactile experience of space. That’s why I love to design products – from cutlery to furniture. For me, they are all connected to the body. Maybe everything connected to the table constitutes the most social moment of the design.” And as the architect explains, the truffle slicer is also an object with a capacity to unite people – and in this case its design was kept as pragmatic as possible. The result: A product that is immediately recognizable for everyone as carrying the design DNA of UNStudio. After all, unlike previous products, “Alba” has a curved handle, an ergonomic design that makes it considerably easier to exert the considerable strength needed to slice truffles, and simultaneously helps present this last act prior to serving as the highlight of preparation. 

Alessi has demonstrated for decades that such collaborations with architects can produce very special dining and cooking utensils, often veritable pieces of architecture en miniature: Aldo Rossi, Sanaa, Jean Nouvel – to name but a few – have already designed objects for the Italian manufacturer. Our picture gallery provides an overview of these small masterpieces designed by architects. (AS)