Book List of the Week

Paolo Deganello’s Book List: Radical Architecture, Critical Design

By Steve Kroeter July 30, 2013
Paolo Deganello, architect and product designer (Milan)
View Paolo Deganello’s Book List

Paolo Deganello first came onto the design scene in the 1960s as a founder of the radical Italian design collective Archizoom and has been promoting radical ideas in design ever since. After exploring utopian architecture projects and creating “anti-design” furniture such as the modular “Safari” with Archizoom, Deganello became known for his innovative seating designs in the 1970s and ‘80s, including the “AEO” (with Archizoom for Cassina) and the asymmetrical “Torso” (for Cassina). His work was featured in the landmark Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” in 1972. In recent years he has focused on furniture created from sustainable materials. In a 2011 video for Experimenta magazine, he says, “I think it’s important to stay radical. But being radical today takes a very different form from that which defined the Archizoom group.” *

“My design work is critical design, in the sense that it is design that functions as a critique,” Deganello asserts. Encompassing art, politics, social issues, and critical analyses of design and architectural history, his book list reflects this approach.

“Safari” modular seating designed by Paolo Deganello with Archizoom Associati, 1966; produced by Poltronova. Photo: courtesy of Paolo Deganello

Included on his book list of ten titles—published mainly in Italian—are a history of Archizoom from 1966 to 1974 by Robert Gargiani, about “a group of young architects in Florence who used politics and art to go beyond the Modern Movement,” in Deganello’s words. Two books on the list have become standards of architectural history in English as well as Italian: Leonardo Benevolo’s History of Modern Architecture (“helps us to understand the social implications of architecture”), originally published in 1966; and The Sphere and the Labyrinth by Manfredo Tafuri, one of the major theoretical historians and critics of architecture and urbanism, who presents a critique of traditional approaches to historical investigation and criticism in an analysis of the avant-gardes and discourses of architecture from Piranesi to postmodernism. There is also the catalogue for a 2011–12 exhibition by historian and curator Germano Celant surveying the Italian art movement Arte Povera. “Fundamental to the development of Italian radical architecture” is how Deganello describes Arte Povera, which emerged in 1967 and included artists such as Alighiero Boetti, Mario and Marisa Merz, Giuseppe Penone, and Michelangelo Pistoletto.

In tune with his interest in current issues facing designers and society in general, Deganello cites two books (in Italian) on sustainability. The titles translate into English as “Everyday Sustainability: Scenarios from Urban Life” and “Recycle: Strategies for Architecture, the City, and the Planet,” the catalogue of a 2012 exhibition at MAXXI (National Museum of the 21st Century Arts) in Rome that asked “architecture and design to respond to the destruction of the planet.” Not last is an Italian collection, published in 2012, of linguist and provocateur Noam Chomsky’s “Occupy” essays, under the umbrella title (translated from Italian) “We are the 99%.” “I suggest that young architects and designers create for the “99 percent,” says Deganello.

“Torso” chair designed by Paolo Deganello, 1982; produced by Cassina. Photo: courtesy of Paolo Deganello

A prolific writer for architecture publications and the author of several books featuring his work and ideas, Paolo Deganello is the subject of a 2009 monograph published in Portuguese whose title translates as “The Reason for My Radical Project,” which came out of his association with ESAD/Escola Superior de Artes e Design in Matosinhos, Portugal. His most recent book is Design Maçico: Art on Chairs, which accompanied an exhibition of wood chairs designed by important modern and contemporary architects that Deganello curated in 2012 for the Casa della Cultura, in Paredes, Portugal.

* My Radical Project: Architecture and Eco-design by Paolo Deganello, for Experimenta magazine, July 11, 2011.

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