Alessi will never settle for creating “things which have become so much a part of our everyday lives that we hardly even notice them any more; that just fade into a neutral and tranquillising domestic background”. It’s not even enough for every Alessi item to conceal some great little adventure in creativity and technology”. No, Alessi has to take that one step farther, blaze experimental new trails in the design of household articles.

For its “Tea and Coffee Towers” operation, Alessandro Mendini took 22 architects from 10 different countries, and faced them with an industrial design project for the very first time. The idea of bringing “pure” architects face to face with a design commission had been tried once before in 1979. Then too the project was orchestrated by Mendini and what they created was the Tea and Coffee Piazza: eleven silver tea and coffee sets.

Both times the idea was to offer the designers the widest possible scope for experiment, to give them all the freedom of an Italian design factory, where they would find conditions propitious for creations that would expand the horizons of design. The company made just one proviso: since Alessi manufactures essentially in metal, their preference was for solid silver, which is, after all, the classic choice for tea and coffee sets.

The Tea and Coffee Towers operation also triggered another thought in its inventor’s mind: “What message can be drawn from these 21 architects’ experiment in design? Is there a unifying theme, a single philosophical statement that sums them all up? Well, I do think that, unlike what often happens in the design field, our twenty-one architects did express ideals as well as ideas; did adopt a critical stance that reflects a new awareness, a regained sense of responsibility for things”.

The article continues in Auto & Design no. 139

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