Made in Meda

Ital­ian fur­ni­ture maker Cassina marks 90 years with a re­vamped HQ, a crafty pho­tog­ra­phy com­mis­sion and a fresh look at its clas­sics

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Craft, in­no­va­tion and a re­vamped HQ for Cassina’s 90th birth­day

A squat 1940s work­shop, set be­hind a sin­gle train track in blue-col­lar Meda, Lom­bardy, pro­duced the first in­dus­tri­alised mod­els for the Ital­ian fur­ni­ture maker Cassina. For a while, the Cassina fam­ily lived here too, run­ning a small shop on the premises. While Mi­lan, 20km away, be­came the pretty face of mod­ern Ital­ian de­sign, here in Meda is where the Cassi­nas got their fin­ger­nails dirty. This year Cassina turns 90, and to mark the oc­ca­sion, the pioneer of 20th-cen­tury Ital­ian de­sign got a man­i­cure, facelift and more be­sides.

In Meda the Span­ish designer Pa­tri­cia Urquiola – Cassina’s art di­rec­tor for nearly three years – has trans­formed the old pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity into a postin­dus­trial nir­vana. Urquiola has sheathed the front court­yard in the­atri­cal per­fo­rated-alu­minium ‘cur­tains’, smoothed the rough stone sur­faces, built an of­fice ‘tower’ in per­fo­rated Cassina-red metal and reached into the back cat­a­logue of Cassina maestri to fur­nish

As part of this year’s an­niver­sary celebrations, Cassina com­mis­sioned pho­tog­ra­phers Ar­min Linke and Gi­u­lia Bruno to fol­low the work of its ar­ti­sans. Here, a mas­ter car­pen­ter as­sem­bles a ‘699 Su­per­leg­gera’ chair, an iconic model de­signed by Gio Ponti for Cassina. Made of a nat­u­ral ash­wood frame and In­dia cane seat, the ‘su­per light­weight’ chair has been in pro­duc­tion with­out in­ter­rup­tion since its cre­ation in 1957

the cav­ernous spa­ces: ‘194 9’ side ta­bles by Piero Lis­soni as well as low ‘Re­folo’ ta­bles by Charlotte Per­riand and ‘LC2’ so­fas by Le Cor­bus­ier, Pierre Jean­neret and Per­riand in up­dated sor­bet-green and blue. To cre­ate an in­ti­mate break­out space she’s in­stalled a replica of the Refuge Ton­neau in the ‘re­fresh­ment room’. The fu­tur­is­tic mo­bile shel­ter was de­signed by Per­riand and Jean­neret in 1938 and pro­duced for the first time by Cassina in 2012.

It all en­cap­su­lates beau­ti­fully Cassina’s phi­los­o­phy, some­thing man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Gian­luca Ar­mento calls ‘look­ing back to move for­ward’. ‘It’s coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but I be­lieve the truer you are to where you’ve come from, the more in­no­va­tive you’ll be,’ he says, af­ter un­veil­ing the space to em­ploy­ees last sum­mer.

Inau­gu­rat­ing this new, bolder look for Cassina HQ is the cul­mi­na­tion of two years of dust­ing-off and de­con­struct­ing old clas­sics – from Ger­rit Ri­etveld’s

‘Cre­at­ing change and progress is still our re­spon­si­bil­ity’

1935 ‘Utrecht’ arm­chair, up­hol­stered with Bert­jan Pot’s tri­an­gle-pat­tern jac­quard, to the re­launch of the ‘Pam­pas’ chair by Le Cor­bus­ier, Jean­neret and Per­riand. Sim­i­larly, Urquiola’s stream­lin­ing and ‘chal­leng­ing’ of the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­ture at Meda ‘shows the real spirit of Cassina in a more mod­ern way’, says Ar­mento.

‘The soul of Cassina is mak­ing ad­vance­ments on how we cre­ate things. What do we want to leave be­hind? Not just mid­cen­tury mod­ern pieces, but an evo­lu­tion. Keep­ing it au­then­tic while mod­i­fy­ing the an­gle and story is a sci­ence of how to main­tain a glo­ri­ous her­itage. And an­niver­saries are part of that.’

A rather lit­eral ex­pres­sion of that sen­ti­ment can be found in the HQ’S new gallery, me­tres from where co-founder Ce­sare Cassina first tested the sound­ness of Gio Ponti’s ‘699 Su­per­leg­gera’ chair in the 1950s. The in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion, by pho­tog­ra­phers Ar­min Linke and Gi­u­lia Bruno, fol­lows Cassina ar­ti­sans as they piece to­gether fur­nish­ings such as the ‘Cicognino’ ta­ble by Franco Al­bini and the new ‘646 Leg­gera’, an up­dated ver­sion of the clas­sic ‘Su­per­leg­gera’.

Linke’s pho­to­graphs zoom in on the tools of the trade: Bacci CNC routers for fash­ion­ing round­edged ash legs and com­put­ers equipped with so­phis­ti­cated 3D pro­grammes. Ul­ti­mately, though, the same hands-on method from the 1950s takes over. The process of cap­tur­ing it, Linke says, was down­right an­thro­po­log­i­cal. ‘The ‘Leg­gera’ chair is shaped by ar­ti­sans who have been work­ing this way for cen­turies, but also by the clas­si­cal in­dus­trial process and fi­nally the era of ro­bot­ics. So you have one piece of fur­ni­ture from three dif­fer­ent eras.’

And so con­tin­ues the di­a­logue be­tween mod­ernism and the present day, the in­ter­twin­ing of hand­craft – ‘which is now of­ten for­got­ten, but fas­ci­nat­ing’, says Linke – with the outer lim­its of dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy. ‘Ev­ery com­po­nent has a story, and find­ing that lan­guage to fit them to­gether has an elegance, like writ­ing soft­ware code or chore­og­ra­phy.’

To ex­pound fur­ther on the theme, this month Cassina re­leases its 90th-an­niver­sary mono­graph – no mere cof­fee-ta­ble ret­ro­spec­tive, but rather a trea­tise on the in­dus­try mov­ing for­ward. Edited by Pin-up mag­a­zine founder Felix Bur­richter, This Will Be

the Place taps con­tem­po­rary ex­perts in­clud­ing designer Kon­stantin Gr­cic, ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian Beatriz Colom­ina and ar­chi­tect Zhao Yang, and asks them to ar­rive at a vi­sion of the fu­ture home based on their ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the past.

The sig­nif­i­cance of his­tory ‘as a point of ref­er­ence of ex­cel­lence’ is some­thing Bar­bara Lehmann, di­rec­tor of Cassina’s ar­chives, sets up in her in­tro­duc­tion. ‘There can be no fu­ture with­out a knowl­edge of the past,’ she writes. Ar­mento in­sists the brand has al­ways looked for­ward a gen­er­a­tion for cre­ative in­put. ‘Some of the fur­ni­ture we pro­duce was de­signed over 100 years ago, but re­mem­ber, the de­sign­ers were in their twen­ties, thir­ties and for­ties, cre­at­ing change, cre­at­ing progress,’ he says. ‘That is still our re­spon­si­bil­ity, and that is what I want to pay trib­ute to.’

Clock­wise from top left, a replica of Charlotte Per­riand and Pierre Jean­neret’s 1938 Refuge Ton­neau takes cen­tre stage in the com­mu­nal area of Cassina’s Meda HQ; the ren­o­vated cen­tral court­yard now fea­tures an ‘of­fice tower’ in Cassina-red per­fo­rated metal, de­signed by the brand’s art di­rec­tor Pa­tri­cia Urquiola; mod­els from the Cassina archive, in­clud­ing ‘Su­per­leg­gera’ and ‘Leg­gera’ chairs, pho­tographed by Linke and Bruno for the in­au­gu­ral ex­hi­bi­tion of the HQ’S new gallery space; Cassina’s 90th-an­niver­sary mono­graph This Will Be the Place (Riz­zoli, €80)

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