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The meaning behind the Object

Michele De Lucchi

Making sense of things. This has always been my major concern and what drives me in my professional life. Mine is a quest for meaning, regardless of whether the object is large or small, viewed from inside or out, standing in space or creating space. Civilisation has developed in such a way that we now make a clear, simple distinction between crafted and industrially produced objects, between hand- or machine-made things. The distinction has added much to the world of objects. It encourages appreciation of craftsmanship and admiration for the perfection and geometric rigueur achieved by a machine. It has heightened our ability to perceive sensitivity, rationality, emotions and reasoning. This is what drives the world. It is what gives value and quality to feelings and understanding, to our desire to know and satisfaction in discovery. We will never be bound exclusively by either reason or emotion. Rather it is by moving between these opposite poles that we find our own selves, identify our particular reaction to a precious object, an intelligent creation, a striking building, or a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. As an architect I work with mock-ups and models of projects in the making. Which is why I love sketches, models, cassettes and prototypes. They are not archetypes; they are the Penates, the household gods of the real world, both real and artificial at the same time; objects created by man. Objects hold knowledge. They enclose knowledge and history. Each has a story that in turn contains the story of those who made it and those who used it. I always admired my father who, as an assessor of furniture and real estate, could read the stories behind things. He could tell the valuable from the mediocre, distinguish between authentic and false. He knew who had done what, when and in what period and under what conditions. He saw beneath the skin of things, understanding form, substance, colour and style. Objects seemed to have no secrets for him. Everything spoke to him, even the seemingly inanimate and insignificant. In the end, he would pronounce his valuation – an economic value, sure, but not only in economic terms because his appraisal showed things in a new light; everything seemed clearer, more understandable and richer. There are so many objects. I often think too many. I am terrorised by the idea that we will be buried under the weight of things. This will not happen though since we are those things, to cite the marvellous title of Alessandro Mendini’s installation at the Museum of Design. Objects are our thoughts and our times. They evolve with our thoughts and our times. It is the meaning we give to things that instils life into them. They live for us. In turn we are fired with enthusiasm for, and continually seek pleasure from beautiful things. Objects also live for others who perhaps reject the idea that things have a purpose and are determined to live in all the humility in empty spaces devoid of objects. Both conditions are praiseworthy. Nor are they in contrast. Both mindsets must be accepted if we are to understand what man is doing on this Earth. We cannot escape objects just as we cannot escape space, which by its very nature is defined by objects: doors, windows, walls, skirting boards, window sills, glass, handles, floors, pipes, slates, kerbs, doorsteps, upholstery, corners, ceilings, edges, columns, beams, bricks, lime, cement, plaster, steps, risers, threads, banisters, railings, parapets, brackets, profiles, wainscoting, girders, cross members, roofs, roof tiles, eaves, gutters, chimneys, terraces, bow windows, upper floors, below-ground floors etc., etc. Each one is an object. The contemporary penchant for the pared form has led architecture to present increasingly as single volumes made of a single surface material. I recognise that I too have a tendency to devise architectural volumes without front or rear, right or left façade, rather pure units whose faces are all of the same material and formal style. There is little point debating the question of whether buildings are objects or if objects are buildings. Of course any classification depends on size. In one’s imagination though, in drawings and models, size is on a scale that leaves you free to imagine the object’s real size. Playing with size allows the imagination a great deal of freedom. Whether practical, decorative, functional, symbolic or representative, objects are all equally necessary and important. Morandi gets this across famously in his paintings. They seem to be saying that all objects are beautiful if looked at in the right perspective. Morandi seems to be saying that a world of pure objects would be the ideal solution even on the larger scale of furniture and buildings, even cities. Contemporary furniture design has led us to see everything as a separate item, a stand-alone sculpture to be placed as desired with no formal rules except that of respecting a certain distance from other objects. In architecture too, we attribute greater contemporary design value to individual buildings of good function and aesthetic that stand apart for their striking personality. Respecting a certain distance between other objects remains a problem. These are two elements, however, that are increasingly difficult to find in today’s society.

Michele De Lucchi, July 21th, 2011

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