An exhibition of designs developed for Alessi by RMIT students will offer a glimpse into the vibrant future of making and production at one of the world’s leading design events, WantedDesign.
RMIT is the only Australian educational institution involved in the influential event, which showcases design pioneers from across the globe.
Chosen by Alberto Alessi to officially represent the company at WantedDesign Manhattan (13-16 May), the Alessi Mutants exhibition spans six years of collaboration between Alessi, the University of Applied Arts Vienna and RMIT.
The 47 projects by students and graduates from Melbourne, Vienna and leading design universities all showcase the possibilities of 3D printing and are intended for production.
The design research projects emerged from the Alessi Mutants workshop, held in Vienna each year since 2010 and led by Tom Kovac, Professor of Architecture at RMIT’s School of Architecture and Design, and Associate Professor Reiner Zettl, Institute of Architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
Kovac said Alessi Mutants explored and reinvented the relationship between architecture and industrial forms, with students asked to design innovative objects that were extraordinary both in their language and production methods.
“This exhibition has been six years in the making and shows just how inspired Alessi has been by our students’ inventive ideas,” he said.
“These projects redefine the notion of physical space by warping, pulling and pushing the boundaries of forms, moving into new and unfamiliar territories of design.
“They’re fresh, vibrant and exciting – and we look forward to working with Alessi to continue exploring and discovering new possibilities that exist on the very edges between architecture and industrial design.”
Reflecting on the six-year research collaboration and the investigation of new methods, Alberto Alessi said: “Finding new ways of manufacturing objects for daily use is inherent in human behaviour.
“My grandfather Giovanni was a skilful sheet turner when he founded Alessi.
“Then, after the lathe came the press, and after the press came the rocker arm, and after the press and rocker arm came the laser cutting and welding machine.
“Since, the technology of cold forming metals which is at the foundation of Alessi has not changed much in a century. Will they jump one step? Let's see..."
The projects have been developed by postgraduate architecture, landscape architecture and industrial design students ranging from first year through to the final year of their Master degrees.
All the designs are developed for 3D-printed production on demand, with some projects also incorporating Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
At WantedDesign, the projects will be presented through an exhibition and a responsive web app as well as a roundtable workshop discussion led by Alberto Alessi, Kovac, Zettl, Herna Diaz Alonso, Matias de Campo and leading design industry professionals who will explore the future of design materiality and innovation.
The Alessi Mutants workshop takes place in Vienna each year, with final presentations at Alessi HQ in Crusanillo, Italy.
As well as touring the company’s factory, the students are guided by Alessi’s engineering and marketing teams, with their work responding directly to the design brief.
RMIT Master of Architecture students Edward Bainbridge and Grant Trewella took part in the workshop in 2014 and co-designed “Totemic”, which features in the exhibition.
Embedded within Alessi's ethos of family and memory, “Totemic” is a playful companion that functions as a multi-scale system, morphing between umbrella stand, desk organiser and vase.
“The experience has encouraged me to think more holistically as a designer rather than focus just on a specific discipline,” Bainbridge said.
“Designing across multiple disciplines, on different scales, in a different medium – all that has fed back into my architecture work and studies.
“Having the opportunity to really engage with a brief and design realistically to the Alessi ethos and narrative has been extremely valuable.
Kovac said engaging directly with the design industry on the future of making was integral to RMIT’s approach to research and education in design.
“The interactions and negotiations that occur between vision and creativity, and the demands of production, branding and marketing are complex and critical,” he said.
“We want to arm our graduates with the skills they need to be able to create and develop exciting products and to export Australian innovation beyond our shores.”
Following its debut in New York, the Alessi Mutants exhibition will head to China for Shanghai Design Week in October.
It will feature at next year’s Milan Furniture Fair in April, before coming to Australia and the RMIT Design Hub in mid-2017.
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Story: Gosia Kaszubska