Cardboard to build eco-sustainable houses, easily transportable. And inside, as furniture, new quality furniture designed and manufactured on an industrial scale. Things never seen before. The exhibition of the Milan Triennale in 1954 (followed by that of 1957) was a first moment to speculate and discuss issues that seemed science fiction because there was a world pulverized by the war still to be rebuilt. And it would take years. In the meantime, however, someone was still asking questions about an “after” that sooner or later would come anyway. A tomorrow whose latest offshoots, on closer inspection, seem to be our present with all its reflections on the city, decent living as a universal right, the healthiness of the environment and more. It was design in the pure sense of the term, that is, project, problem analysis and search for solutions. If Shigeru Ban, the Japanese architect famous for his cardboard constructions, was not yet born, good Italian design was reasoning at full speed. Roberto Mango, one of the most dynamic and creative minds in Italy at the time, also thanks to the experience gained in the United States, is the protagonist of the story presented here through the article Casa Vogue published in April 2008. Author of the text is Professor Ermanno Guida architect and then full professor of industrial design at the Faculty of Architecture of the Federico II University, Naples, as well as a profound connoisseur of the figure and work of Roberto Mango of which he was a student at the Neapolitan university. The images are a selection taken from the rich documentation preserved in the archives of the Milan Triennale. Among the many questions: when will we still see such daring proposals at the Park? But the question of the questions remains: when will it be possible to walk back to the Park safely, in all the parks? (Paolo Lavezzari)

The Triennali of the 1950s are a fundamental reference for the issues they face, close and pertinent to the conditions of Italy during the post-war recovery; cities, houses, schools, people: all to be rebuilt. One edition after another, the Milanese institution examines the various emergencies: from housing (promoting the construction of an experimental social housing district on the outskirts of the city, the QT8) to urban planning issues, technological innovations in architecture, the delicate issues of new ways of living and passing from evolved craftsmanship to large-scale industry, up to a new conception of the house in the light of the great transformations that have taken place and are underway. Important, for the organization of the editions of ’54 and ’57, are the contributions of ideas and skills given by the young Neapolitan designer Roberto Mango (1920-2003). Trained in the United States, he gained many research and collaboration experiences in professional studios and institutions, gathering the most innovative American designers – from Raymond Loewy to Charles Eames and, in particular, Richard Buckminster Fuller – then they expressed.

One of the two domes of Mango in the Parco del Sempione, in Milan, 1954.

© Archive of the La Triennale Foundation of Milan

For this experience and for the relationships matured as art director of “Interiors”, the Triennale therefore invites Mango to organize a conference with Buckminster Fuller to illustrate the experimental and innovative researches of the great American “visionary”. Not only that: the editing in the Parco del Sempione of two of its geodesic domes in kraft cardboard, with a diameter of eleven and twenty-two meters, different in size, but identical in the structural concept. It is the first experimentation on a unpublished material for applications of this kind, but particularly suitable, due to its weight and cost-effectiveness, for that humanitarian destination that Fuller was thinking of, that is, as a contribution to the resolution of housing emergencies in Third World countries. The two unique models of dome arrive in Milan by air, in the form of multiple packages of shaped and punched sheets, ready to use. They just need to be folded and stapled. From each sheet a single three-dimensional quadrilateral component is obtained to be placed next to each other, always by means of metal pins, according to an essential and linear geometric grid, only apparently formed by all the same elements. A principle of self-construction as exemplary – for the management of which no provisional work or skilled labor is required (except to end up with bloody fingers and hands) – as complex to explain in its geometric-mathematical implications and static behavior. For their interior layout, Mango agrees to allocate the smaller model to the display of ornamental plants, the other to a home.

The interior of the larger of the two experimental geodesic domes.

© Archive of the La Triennale Foundation of Milan.

For the latter he experiences a unique furnishing concept, which he subsequently deepens, in the 1957 edition, with his “international accommodation”. The organization of the interior spaces follows a dynamic and open logic. The horizontal and vertical partitions, free from conditioning and constraints posed by the basic structure, occupy the space by reason of mere necessity, as Fuller himself had experimented with the Dymaxion Dwelling Machine and will do (1960) for his residence in Carbondale, in ‘Illinois. There are three staggered levels to include the living-dining area, two areas for the beds, then the kitchen and the services. Mango adopts a planimetric layout with a hexagonal matrix, similar to that used by Fuller for the internal organization of the Dymaxion House (1928). For the furnishing of the living cell, Mango uses few and selected standard furniture, including his table and the cone-shaped armchair in laminated wood produced by Tecno, together with the two wicker tripod and rocking seats. The intent is to demonstrate how and to what extent it is possible to affirm one new home identity through the sole use of standard furniture. It seems paradoxical, but the issues that were being discussed at the time and that tormented the dreams of that time were precisely these: was automation destined to bring about a transformation in the relationship between the public and the market? How to re-read the questions underlying the exhibition on the “single piece of furniture” formulated by Gillo Dorfles, Leonardo Ricci and Marco Zanuso? To what extent was the rapid “consumption” of the project due to the continuous renewal of products on the market to be considered a negative element in the design? Was it possible to furnish a house with single pieces of furniture only?

In the smaller dome. The semi-hidden conical seat on the left is a project by Mango inspired by fishing traps.

© Archive of the La Triennale Foundation of Milan.

54 years have passed, but this one small, exemplary Fuller’s architecture is even more relevant than ever, not only for the innovativeness of the free plan or the overcoming of housing stereotypes, but also for the thinking that is at the basis of the invention: the need for a teleological education informed to the boundless trust in the values ​​of science and technology. Hence the theory of Fuller on “Comprehensive Design”, the logic according to which the schematic organization of the production effort must always be greater than the sum of individual efforts, “constellated composition of multiple specialized functions and specific knowledge acquired in continuous experiments carried out in the advantage of industrial production; the yield-weight ratio determines the industrial aptitude of a product ». Of course, this unlikely home, as well as the many other prophecies of entire parts of the city – St. Louis, Manhattan – protected by huge umbrellas over three kilometers in diameter or the “floating geodesic cities” suspended in the clouds have the taste of science fiction utopia, but they still offer the starting point for a reflection for the construction of a better world. They are the exemplification of a methodology of approach to the project responsibly based on a notion of “lightness” different from the one empty of contents that today we find too much on everyone’s lips; they are the loyal commitment to reduce any use of resources and means. A good example, even for our times, where the notion of eco-efficiency is often only boasted. Fuller was a rare designer which has placed its commitment at the center of the great ethical and social issues, beyond just the professional dimension. “When I started, I had no intention of designing a house suspended from a pole, or of making a new type of car. I started from the universe ».

© Archive of the La Triennale Foundation of Milan.

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