Joseph Grima, editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, recently commented on the state of design in Italy–a country with a long design tradition and which has undergone a prolonged crisis, saying that “an era is drawing to an end for Italian design,” and “a new idea will be born.” Grima’s words on the current state and future of Italian furniture design showed a strong vestment in cultural tradition and an understanding of the influence of the system that surrounds designers.

“I think crisis can engender nostalgia, especially when it’s so protracted,” Grima said. Grima spoke of a new idea that will be born, and the hope for such an idea in the contemporary Italian design world. “Something new will emerge,” he said.

As to how this new thing wound enter Italian furniture design, Grima said, “Some hope that new technologies will bring that era in. The digital technologies that we talked a lot about last year, they lend themselves also to being combined with traditional knowledges  regarding materials, the kind of craft–hands-on skills of the artisans that exist in this region and are unrivaled anywhere else.

Grima made his comments in relation to the annual show at the Triennale, where a wide range of Italian designers present.

“I think it’s interesting that at the Triennale the annual design museum exhibition is very much on the theme of the great masters and the past and Italian design almost searching for comfort in its own history, and Italy trying to remind itself that there is something there,” said Grima.

“I think everybody realizes that possibly an era is drawing to an end and a new era is beginning.”

I think some manufacturers are really seriously beginning to think about how they can engage a completely different model of design industry.”

Grima spoke of a distinction between the Italian design tradition and the tradition currently experiencing favor, citing relatively prosperous London. “The great tradition that was born here was not born from the tradition of schools. It’s actually the direct contact between the masters and the craftsmen. It’s almost an apprenticeship model, which is something really, really different from the London model, for example. That’s something that now is in a little bit of a crisis because it’s something that’s not as easy to perpetuate, and the world has moved a little bit more towards being aligned with the schools model.”

Of London, where wealth gained through financial services has been replaced by fast-growing, digital community, Grima said, “I think the reason that that’s sprung up in London is a direct consequence of London being one of the great education centers of the world. It’s got some of the best universities and the best schools.”

Grima did not think the state of Italy was conductive to design innovation. “I think there’s a lot of uncertainty, and the political model of course is not encouraging,” he said

Of the system, Grima said, “It can [move forward with the times]. It’s not a system that is predisposed to naturally move in that direction, and it’s one of the paradoxes of Italy that on the one hand it’s completely–it’s one of the most innovative, creative countries in the world, indisputably. On the other hand, the culture of bureaucracy, the actual framework–the mental framework, the bureaucratic framework, the economic framework of the nation–is, actually, one would be forgiven for actually thinking that it had been designed to suppress any sort of creative, vital energy of creating something new. It’s really–some aspects of it are really beyond belief.

Finally, of the current situation in which Italy is importing designers from around the world, and in which great designers are not living in the country, Grima said,  “I don’t think it necessarily matters, because I don’t think you can expect to survive by perpetuating the past, and I think Milan still has an undisputed role as the design capital of the world, and as long as it is able to look out to the world and kind of capture, and be the arbiter in a way of what is interesting and what is innovative in the design world, that’s something that can be equally as important as being simply the product of a lot of small countries.”

By Joseph Reight

Domus