‘The New Domestic Landscape’ – MoMA’s ambitious design show 1972

New Domestic Design Environment featured image MoMA 1972
New Domestic Design Environment featured image MoMA 1972

THE NEW DOMESTIC LANDSCAPE was one of The Museum of Modern Art’s most ambitious design shows.  The exhibition, directed and built by Emilio Ambasz, Curator of Design in the Museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, focused on current design trends in Italy with 180 items for everyday use and 11 environments commissioned by the Museum.

Sponsored by Italian Government

The exhibition was sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Italian Institute of Foreign Trade (I.C.E.) and the Gruppo E.N.I., with contributions from ANIC and Lanerossi (companies of Gruppo E.N.I.), Fiat, Olivetti, Anonima Castelli, Alitalia, and Abet Print, as well as a large number of Italian industries.

Italy – Design Power

According to Ambasz, Italy was not only the world’s leading product design power during the 1970s, but it also exemplified some of the issues shared by all industrial societies. Italy took on the characteristics of a micro-model. Varied and often opposing approaches expressed a wide variety of contemporary designers’ worldwide possibilities, limits, and vital problems. There was at the time a wide variety of contradictory hypotheses about the state of design practice, its relationship to the construction industry, its relationship to urban growth, and increasing mistrust of consumer objects.

Installation view of the exhibition Italy: the new domestic landscape in black and white.
Installation view of the exhibition Italy: the new domestic landscape in black and white.

Featured two modes of living

Made in Italy and shipped to New York, the environments are intended for two\smodes of contemporary living — the permanent home and the mobile unit. Four of them represent the counter-design approach of designers who argue that no more things can be introduced to our cluttered consumer-dominated culture. Social and political reforms are needed before we can alter the physical aspects of our society. Designers who believe that improving our physical environment will enhance our quality of life created seven pro-design environments.

Pro-design environment

The pro-design environments paid particular attention to new ways that emerge due to shifting lifestyle trends, such as more casual social and family interactions, developing conceptions of privacy and territoriality, and discovering new materials and production techniques. In the galleries, each setting took up a 16 x 16-foot space. Ettore Sottsass’ micro-environments in plastic, each on casters so occupants can easily re-arrange them to fit their needs, are among them. Joe Colombo’s fixed plastic units for the bathroom, kitchen, sleeping and storage could be installed in any existing space and moulded plastic elements by Gae Aulenti that can be combined to create multi-purpose architectural environments.

'Boby 3' trolley for Bieffeplast, yellow, plastic and moveable. Designed by Joe Colombo
‘Boby 3’ trolley for Bieffeplast, yellow, plastic and moveable. Designed by Joe Colombo

Rosselli’s aluminium mobile home grows from 7 x 14 feet to 20 x 29 feet in size. Mario Bellini’s glass-walled “exploration” car can also extend while stationary. As can Zanuso-home, Sapper’s an aluminium container from which two plastic moulded shells housing bedroom and bathroom/kitchen units telescope. La Pietra’s environment suggests a bridge between pro-design and counter-design proposals; he argues that improved use of the communications network will free people from the conditions of the 70s.

"Kar-a-Sutra" nonconformist funtionality concept car designed by Mario Bellini
“Kar-a-Sutra” nonconformist funtionality concept car designed by Mario Bellini

Counter-design

Superstudio’s 6×6 foot box of polarised mirror glass with a grid in the floor through which tubes project carrying air, food, water, and communications to the inhabitants, who could also watch a film on T.V. that explained the designers’ view of the world and see pictures of clouds projected on the ceiling make up one of the featured design environments. The Archizoom group’s empty room contained only a microphone, through which harsh words about the destruction of objects and societies were broadcast, accompanied by a sweet voice describing a Utopian future. 

Derossi, Ceretti, and Rosso, a group of young designers from Turin who claim that there is no point in designing any artefacts or environments until the entire urban policy is redirected, wrote three pamphlets that are distributed to tourists and describe the present and the future.

Product design examples

In addition to the landscapes, there was a display of 180 items made in Italy during the 1960s by over 100 artists. These product design examples (furniture, lighting fixtures, flatware, and china) were chosen for their design quality and demonstrated the numerous intellectual design roles that emerged in Italy during the 1960s.

The objects section illustrates three prevalent attitudes toward design in Italy at the time “conformist,” “reformist,” and “contestatory.”

“Conformist Designers”

The majority are conformist designers who are interested in investigating the aesthetic quality of single items such as chairs, tables, and bookcases that meet the needs of conventional domestic life. This work is distinguished by its bold use of colour, innovative application of the possibilities offered by modern hard and soft synthetic materials, and advanced moulding techniques. This category includes Joe Colombo’s “Poker” table (1968) in laminated wood and steel; Tobia and Afra Scarpa’s “Soriana” lounge chair (1970) in polyurethane and dacron covered with fabric; Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglioni’s “Arco” floor lamp (1962) in steel with a marble base; and the “Giunone” floor lamp (1969) in lacquered metal.

Poker Table (1968) by Joe Colombo
Poker Table (1968) by Joe Colombo

“Reformist Designers”

Ambasz describes reformist designers as not inventing significantly new concepts but rather re-designing known objects with new, satirical, and often self-deprecatory socio-cultural and aesthetic references. Caetano Pesce’s “Donna” armchair with footstool (1969), shaped like a woman, in polyurethane; Piero Gilardi’s “Sassi” stones, different size seats in polyurethane; and De Pas, D’Urbino, and Lomazzi’s “Joe” sofa (1970), modelled to look like a baseball glove in polyurethane and leather.

Up5 Donna and Up6 upholstered polyurethane foam and stretch fabric lounge chair and ottoman designed by Gaetano Pesce
Up5 Donna and Up6 upholstered polyurethane foam and stretch fabric lounge chair and ottoman designed by Gaetano Pesce

“Contestatory Designers”

Suppose “contestatory” designers agree that an object cannot be constructed as a single isolated entity. In that case, their response is to think of their designs in terms of environments and propose objects that are modular and allow for several modes of use and arrangement. Ambasz observes that the outcomes of this Italian design mode seem to conform to the preoccupations of an evolving society. “Tavoletto,” a low table on casters with a folding bed inside, designed by Alberto Salvati and Ambrogio Tresoldi in lacquered wood; “il Serpentone,” a settee of unlimited length that can be bent into concave or convex curves of any radius to fit the user’s needs, designed by Cini Boeri (1971) in polyurethane; and the “Saccc,” or bean bag chair (1969).

  • Tavoloetto" Transforming table designed by Alberto Salvati and Ambrogio Tresoldi
  • 'Tavoloetto" Transforming table designed by Alberto Salvati and Ambrogio Tresoldi - Bed version
  • Tavoloetto" Transforming table designed by Alberto Salvati and Ambrogio Tresoldi

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Italy: The New Domestic Landscape. (1972, May 26). The Museum of Modern Art. https://assets.moma.org/documents/moma_press-release_326797.pdf?_ga=2.140593914.978442940.1619395883-562362357.1619395883.

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