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Tea, coffee and architecture
by Thomas Wagner | 11/23/2012
“Tea & Coffee Piazza” by Michael Graves (1983), photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi

Alessi has always had a special understanding of how to combine the practical with the fashionable. Many a source of inspiration has been brought to the fore, shapes and materials interpreted in new, unconventional ways; and all of this has aspired to create new, exceptional products. Indeed, this is clearly reflected in the long line-up of architects and designers that work or have worked for Alessi, ranging from Aldo Rossi, the Castiglione brothers, Richard Sapper and Enzo Mari to Philippe Starck, the Bouroullecs and Jasper Morisson, to name but a few. The result: a continuous flow of incunabula for everyday use.

And as though that weren’t impressive enough: Always in search of new inspiration, Alberto Alessi has also looked into areas that go far beyond the everyday object. This is how designer Alessandro Mendini came to join forces with Alberto Alessi as early as 1983, in the midst of the euphoria that marked the birth of Postmodernism, the outcome of which was the “Tea & Coffee Piazza” project. With this project he initiated a radical examination of both the design of silver tea and coffee services and design itself, together with its never-ending world of possibilities. Alessi and Mendini succeeded in getting eleven of the most prominent young, international architects on board for the project, who would approach the task analytically and in the style of an architectural manifesto. The results were both surprising and groundbreaking. All of the designs honed in on construction, composition and symbolism – at times with a good shot of irony to boot. Michael Graves designed jugs that look like watchtowers, Charles Jencks made his way from A to Z through the formal vocabulary of ancient columns and the lids on Aldo Rossi’s jugs look like gabled roofs. And each and every set is grouped on a tray, its own little piazza, like an architectural ensemble.

Alberto Alessi and Alessandro Mendini went for this idea once again in 2003, and once more the idea was to foster interaction between the two disciplines architecture and design. But this time round they considered the relationship between designing on a large scale as in architecture, and on a small scale as in “ordinary” design. They invited the crème de la crème of the architectural world to participate in the experiment – be it Gary Chang, David Chipperfield, Morphosis, Greg Lynn or SANAA. And yet again they trod new paths in design, whereby reflection on their own craft was tied in with a concrete task. The “Alessi Tea & Coffee Towers” were the outcome of the project, which present each participant’s distinctive, playful examination of the dimensions of individual parts and the consolidation of different functions.

The group created a total of 31 tea and coffee sets, each a chic and sophisticated household staple and likewise a small platform for experimentation with design, a cluster of one-offs that together form an urban landscape, in which body and space play a central role.

In accompaniment to the “Tea & Coffee Towers” project, Museo Alessi and Edizioni Corraini came together to produce and release two DVDs featuring interviews, in which a number of the participating architects tell of their intentions and aims in the project as well as the approach they took when selecting their “micro architecture” and multiples”. Now we are pleased to present you with an exclusive teaser – a taste of the three interviews with David Chipperfield, Greg Lynn and Gary Chang, created in collaboration with author and director Anna Pitscheider.

David Chipperfield explains that he was less interested in designing a tea and coffee set directly inspired by architecture but rather in transferring the creative process behind his own buildings to the design task at hand. Chipperfield consciously forgoes the inclusion of a handle in the design for his two pots (he considers them mere liquid containers) lending them an exceptional haptic quality. What should something that holds liquids look like? And: What does actually mean to pour liquid? These are the questions that occupied Chipperfield during the design process.

Gary Chang sees building and designing as strictly cooperative processes. This has led him to adhere to local tradition in his work and subsequently take it out into the world. The separate parts of his “kung fu tea service” all correspond to a different aspect of the tea-drinking ritual. Each has a distinct appearance from the next, and you can play around with them individually, but only when used together does the vivid process tea-drinking process truly come to life.

Greg Lynn took quite a radical approach to the task at hand. Inspired by high-tech, he created four components made of titanium that together form a single entity, but also a group or family. His construct appears organic, expressive and erotic at the same time, while transformation and interaction play an instrumental role in the creation of the shape. Lynn not only toys with volumes here but with the object’s application and the space that ultimately results from the compilation of the four elements creating a flower of sorts – a space that is in constant flux.

Of course, those who listen to the three architects and take a look at their tea and coffee sets will not only gain a unique perspective on the design process. Each time they will experience an unique encounter with human creativity, its richness and diversity.

Museo Alessi – Design interviews
Tea & Coffee Towers vol. 1 and vol. 2
by Anna Pitscheider and Museo Alessi
Edizioni Corraini
Book/ DVD
€15

Museo Alessi – Design interviews
Stefano Giovannoni
by Anna Pitscheider and Museo Alessi
Edizioni Corraini
Book/ DVD
€15

www.alessi.com

“Tea & Coffee Piazza” by Michael Graves (1983), photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi
Video “Tea & Coffee Towers vol. 1”, video © Anna Pitscheider and Museo Alessi
Video “Tea & Coffee Towers vol. 2”, video © Anna Pitscheider and Museo Alessi
Museo Alessi – Design interview Stefano Giovannoni, video © Anna Pitscheider and Museo Alessi
The tea and coffee set by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa is a recreation of a fruit bowl; the silver service items represent apples, pears and other kind of fruit, photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi
The elegant tea and coffee service by David Chipperfield is made of ceramic and silver; the handle is made of thermoplastic resin, photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi
The “Kung-Fu tea set” by Gary Chang refers to the tower-like assembled bowls, which can be found in Hong Kong restaurants, photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi
“Tea & Coffee Piazza” by Alessandro Mendini, photo © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi
Tea & Coffee Towers von Greg Lynn, Foto © Carlo Lavatori, Archivio Alessi