From the Spoon to the City
Milan's Studio BBPR
Studio BBPR was founded in 1932 in Milan by architects Barbiano di Belgiojso, Enrico Peressutti, Gian Luihi Banfi and Ernesto Nathan Rogers and played a major role in the postwar shift away from Italian Rationalism and toward what Rogers (who served as editor of both Domus and Casabella) termed "continuity" in design and architecture.
Rogers is famous for his adage: Dal cucchiaio alla città ("From the spoon to the city"), which references how Milanese architects approached design with continuità, instilling both the smallest and most grand of projects with the weight of that which came before and a regard for present reality. Throughout its five-decade existence, Studio BBPR designed everything from towns to desks, bringing to each project a sensitivity for historicism and specificity toward place and the feeling place evokes.
Studio BBPR's Torre Velasca in Milan, completed in 1958, is regarded as their most significant work; in a defiant act against the prevailing tide of International Style, the fortress-like skyscraper references medieval Lombardi architecture, while still utilizing modern concepts of space and prefiguring mid-century Brutalism. The building remains divisive, with some celebrating its strange and reverent dialogue with the gothic cathedrals surrounding it, and others finding it imposing and harsh. Readily-pleasing aesthetics were less interesting to Studio BBPR than the novel philosophical conversations they could create with their designs. This can also be said of the furniture they designed, which combined industrial materials and impenetrable-looking forms with an earnest beauty, arising from Studio BBPR's evident love of functionality.
The Spazio line of modular office furniture Studio BBPR designed for Olivetti in the 1960s is perhaps the most accessible remainder of the firm's legacy and influence—the only way to interact with their revolutionary ethos directly, aside from visiting one of their buildings. The Olivetti ad below touts the desk's unusual and adjustable feet as "a point of stability and strength, a concrete image of functionality"; a small but meaningful marker of Studio BBPR's belief that design should be fundamentally grounded in the environment from which it arises and will serve.
Whoever sees things in the present sees all that has been ever since the origin of the times and what will be for all eternity...what does not have authenticity and foundations in tradition is not truly modern.
Ernesto Nathan Rogers of Studio BBPR