Another Tiny Design Tale.

In the year 2000, I found myself seated in Philip Johnson’s small, minimalistic personal office at the Seagram Building in New York, the very masterpiece he collaborated on with Mies Van De Rohe. Engaged in a conversation about furniture design over chilled Frappuccinos, I ventured to ask him, “Why not design furniture for some Italian companies?”. Johnson, wearing a surprised smile, responded, “I don’t know why you’re asking me.”
“Well, considering your status as the godfather of modern American architecture, I believe you could excel in designing furniture.” I said.
Still smiling, he replied, “Look, I’m not that great at designing furniture, but if you’re truly seeking an architect to design some furniture, don’t ask me. You should ask the architects I admire the most. I believe he would be the right person to design some very interesting furniture.” Taken aback by the response, I asked, “Who’s this person?” He answered, “Well, his name is Frank Gehry. I love his work, so you should talk to him.” I couldn’t help but laugh, exclaiming, “Wait a minute! I’m discussing furniture design with the most important architect on the planet, and you’re suggesting I talk to Gehry? Ha!” Johnson’s humility left a lasting impression, commemorated by a beautiful book about his life and work that he graciously signed for me …a cherished memento to this day.

Antonio Larosa

 

Design Education Critique: Less Tools, More Brains.

One day, the Maestro Castiglioni observed me painstakingly drawings intricate details with an ink pen on a large sheet of paper. He halted and inquired, “What are you working on?” I responded, “I’m honing my skills, adding all the necessary details for this product.” He smiled and advised, “You must channel your time into nurturing creativity, generating new ideas, rather than practicing technical drawing. Anyone can learn to draw or make things, but few grasp the significance of ideas in our craft. Leave behind these drawings, grab a notebook, jot down your ideas, and sketch freely.”

Antonio Larosa

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Several years ago, I received a phone call from a representative at a Chinese university, inquiring about my interest in relocating to China to teach and lead a design department. Surprised by the unexpected call, I sought more information by posing questions about the state of design education in China and the reason behind their interest in me.

In response to my first question, the representative candidly explained, “You’re likely aware that if you handed any object to a manufacturing company in China, they could reproduce it precisely. The challenge lies in the lack of design skills within Chinese companies to create their own designs.” This insightful observation resonated with my existing thoughts on the matter.

Addressing my second question, the representative acknowledged the necessity for an individual with a comprehensive understanding of design thinking from both European (where I had pursued my studies) and American (where I was presently working) perspectives. This recognition of my diverse experience was not only flattering but also presented an enticing opportunity. I was on the verge of accepting this proposition when a concurrent offer to oversee a design department at a prominent university in Georgia diverted my decision, ultimately leading me to choose the latter opportunity.

During my tenure as a professor and Chair of a Furniture Design Department and Eshibition Design Program, over the course of three years, I frequently reflect upon a meaningful conversation I had with a Chinese colleague. Our discussion centered around the importance of imparting students with not only the requisite design thinking but also equipping them with the essential design skills and knowledge.

This challenge captivated my interest not only when I commenced teaching in Georgia but also during my prior position at a prominent state university in the Southwest. I observed a distinctive emphasis on a “shop-oriented” approach in design schools across the United States, a departure from the prevailing methodology in many European universities. In my own educational experience in Italy, students focused less on physically crafting products in workshops and more on engaging in studio-based courses that emphasized process contemplation and explored the design philosophies underpinning creative endeavors.

My aspiration was to guide students away from a sole reliance on tools and equipment, offering them a unique knowledge base rooted in design thinking. This involved immersive experiences in studio-based classes, collaboration with manufacturers and design offices, exposure through travel, and more. Essentially, it served as a test, providing students with a distinctive real-life experience and thought process crucial for their evolution into professional designers rather than being limited to crafting one-of-a-kind products.

After just one year, the positive impact of this approach was evident in the remarkable improvement seen in both the student body and the department. By the end of my three-year tenure, the furniture design department I led had not only become the largest but also garnered widespread respect both within the United States and internationally.

I firmly advocate for the presence of knowledgeable and passionate instructors who can instill the right motivation in their students, a motivation crucial for success. The transmission of design passion, akin to the mentorship I received during my own academic journey, is indispensable for shaping a future generation of adept designers. Technical knowledge alone is insufficient; a genuine love for one’s work is essential to effect meaningful change in our society. The emerging cadre of designers has the potential to be a driving force in shaping both our culture and economy.

Furthermore, fostering collaboration between design students and their counterparts in other departments—such as business, engineering, and social science—is paramount. This interdisciplinary exposure is the key to addressing contemporary environmental needs and social issues effectively. Our design education programs attract some of the brightest and most talented students; it is incumbent upon us to guide them towards a future that betters society.

Drawing parallels with the perspective of the woman from the Chinese university who emphasized that design thinking, not just tools, is the essential ingredient for a country’s future economic growth, I assert that this approach is a sensible course for design schools. By prioritizing design thinking, we can tackle the challenges confronting design education today and pave the way for innovative solutions.

Antonio Larosa, Designer

www.LarosaDesign.com

The Rationalist GT Bench

Created for public spaces, the GT bench design was inspired by the Palazzo Terragni located Lissone, Italy. The building (pictured below) was designed in 1938 by the master of Rationalist architecture, Giuseppe Terragni.  The clean design of the bench, the selection of materials and finishes are blending together exceptionally. At first glance the bench even looks like a miniature Palazzo Terragni.  Larosa named the bench GT in honor of the rationalist architect and the city of Lissone but this product is also a masterpiece of sustainability as well. The simple armrest/handle is a universal design detail added to facilitate the use of the bench for the elderly or disabled …a useful aid to sit down and get up from the seat and -at the same time- allows two elderly people to sit next to each other (something that would not be possible in a traditional bench with arms located at both ends). Structure made of solid aluminum, seat made of composite wood slats or man-made stone. Antonio Larosa designed the GT bench from recycled materials and to be completely recyclable! …but seriously, who wants to convert into reusable material such a beauty? Buy GT and keep it forever!

 

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Some Press & News

Antonio Larosa is a designer and educator who has been featured in many publications around the world . His work has been featured in Domus, Interior Design, Interni, Fast Company, Vogue, Contract Magazine, Design Journal, Furniture Today, Java, The Daily Mail, Desert Living, Home Fashion magazine, Taiwan News, Il Giornale Promosedia, Giornale Dell’ Arredamento, CNBC, Club System International, Gente Motori, The Business Journal, Gap Casa, Die Tischlerfachrift, European Home & Garden, Taburet, Home Decor Buyer, Office Layout magazine and may others. Over the years his work has been also featured on national television shows such The Apprentice on NBC and many other US and European news channels.

“Thank you so much to all those publications that have asked me for images and interviews over the years. Now is the time to move forward quietly and diligently to serve the people in need of a lovely chair to sit down for a coffee or in need of a practical bench at the park to rest and chat with friends  …It’s time for more design and less shine!”.  Antonio Larosa

 

 

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Sustainability with style!

Happy to announce that the outdoor furniture selected for the main courtyard located on Albuquerque’s College of New Mexico campus consists mainly of the Garda and Loop collections.
The Garda modular seating system and the Loop collection were designed by Antonio Larosa for Florida-based Benchmark Contract Furniture.
Both collections, designed exclusively for public spaces, have structures made of solid aluminum that is powder-coated to specification. Seats for the modular Garda benches for the Albuquerque project were specified using composite wood-look slats.

 

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