Francesca Settimi, architect and designer, has signed a product line called “Lettering”, an organizer for the shower area that takes the shapes of some letters of the Latin alphabet, specially redesigned. First we ask her: why are they produced in plastic? What kind of advantages did you see?
I think that the main advantage to work the plastic is the adaptability and versatility that distinguish plastic materials that, at least in part, still embody the values and myths of the modern era. These are characteristics that are condensed and summarized in the etymology of the word “plastic” derives from the greek word “Plasso”, “to mold”, “to form”, “to shape”. It is interesting that, since the choice of the name of this new creature, it wanted to allude to the peculiar characteristic of synthetic polymers: go to permanent deformation and can be “made -in-shape” through modelling.
Plastic, decades after its invention, isn’t only technical or production material. It left indelible marks in industrial design. Which objects or designers do you think have marked more history?
Their number is infinite, just for the fact that, being such a versatile material, it was used in each sector; just think about items that everyone has at home, in the offi ce, in the cars… It’s enough to cite design objects born since the 60’s, they became part of our history, such as the mythical phone “Grillo” (designed by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Siemens in 1967), the reclosable radio designed in 1965 for Briovega (once again by the couple Zanuso/ Sapper), the prototype Panton Chair Luran®S and more contemporary THE KETTLE (a kettle made by engineering plastic Ultrason® from BASF) and the innovative MYTO cantilever chair designed by Konstantin Grcic in 2008. And the list goes on…
It’s not only a material used for tools, for objects, for “things”. The plastic was also used to create artworks. What expressive possibilities does it offer?
I answer with the words of Roland Barthes, literary critic, essayist, and an expert in semiotics. At the end of the twentieth century he wrote about plastic, such as an “alchemical” thing, which transforms matter into “perfect objects” almost “human”: «So, more than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its infi nite transformation; as its everyday name indicates, it is ubiquity made visible. And so it is, in fact: a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden transformation of nature. Plastic remains impregnated throughout with this wonder: it is less a thing than the trace of a movement».
The plastic materials represent for the designer, just as for the builder, a source of greater freedom of designing. And the relationship with the environment? Being able to produce more does it mean also produce more pollution?
Despite common belief, plastic has a very important role within the conservation of natural resources, because it saves a lot of fossil raw materials than otherwise would have been required for its production. Together with Vifra, a company that’s very attentive to ecology and environmental protection, for example, we have chosen to realize “Lettering” employing ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene): one of the finest mixtures of a resin and an elastomer, resulting in the excellent technical properties that characterize it. It is in fact a rigid and tough material at low temperatures, very strong, resistant to scratches, with an high impact for resistance, and it is mainly used for the production of packaging, for the automotive components, furniture, toys, paint and shells or covers for household items and consumer electronics. But not so only. As I said before, this material is easily recyclable. And many major companies producing ABS and electrical and electronic equipment are involved in recycling programs of this polymer, for example in the field of telephony, where the ABS of obsolete products is recycled and used for the construction of new models. The same happens for computers, televisions, and other hyper-technological objects.