Alberto Meda "During the design process, I connect with a physical appearance, a material or a technique, and step by step the shape becomes clear from that"

Alberto Meda collaborated as an industrial designer with numerous companies and carried out teaching and research activities at IUAV.

A technical director, from 1973 to 1979 he worked at Kartell where he became responsible for product development of the labware division and the furnishing accessories division.

Since 1979 Alberto Meda has dedicated himself to design as a freelancer, collaborating with Brevetti Gaggia and from 1981, for four years, with the design of Alfa Romeo Auto.

At the same time he worked as a lecturer from 1983 to 1987 in industrial technology at the Domus Academy.

From 1995 to 1997, lecturer on the Industrial Design degree course at the Politecnico di Milano with a design laboratory.

Since 2003 he has been teaching at the IUAV in Venice with a design laboratory in the master course in industrial design.

He holds numerous conferences and seminars in Europe, Japan and the United States, including in Chicago, in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Architecture, in Stockholm with the “And now…” workshop, in Boisbuchet, in Miami, in San Paulo, in Ulm, in Istanbul, in Toronto, in Mexico.

Alberto Meda works as an industrial designer with various companies: Alias, Alessi, Arabia-Finland, Cinelli, Colombo design, Italtel Telematica, JcDecaux, Mandarina Duck, Ideal Standard, Luceplan, Kartell, Omron Japan, Philips, Vitra, Olivetti.

‘Compasso d’oro’ in 1989, 1994 and 2008 with the lamps Lola Metropoli, Mix by Luceplan, Honorary Royal Designer for Industry, RSA London 2005.

Physix by Vitra credit Florian Böhm

Physix by Vitra (©) Florian Böhm

Lets discover more about him!

– How would you describe your work?  How is your passion for visual art and design born?

As a child I was fascinated by how things are made, I have disassembled many … although sometimes I reassemble them in advancing a few pieces!  Meccano was my favorite playmate, a box number 6, very rich in many gears, worm screws, electric motors, etc. My uncle was an engineer, and he gave it to me …. gifting me the passion of construction. I could not say how many model aircrafts I have destroyed in an effort to improve their acrobatic performance, because not enough for me those ” in assembly kit “, whose project was already done. I liked the idea of ​​making a model aircraft designed by me ….  So “I found myself” enrolled in Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic of Milano. After graduation, I met Mr. Castelli, the owner of Kartell, that was looking for a young engineer in charge of production. After two years I became technical director with the responsibility for development of plastic laboratory and furnishings products. In Kartell I started attending many designers, to solve constructively their ideas. With Castiglioni, Zanuso, Sapper, Magistretti, Anna Castelli, etc. I began to “breathe the design culture.” After leaving KartelI, I became engineering consultant freelance and soon I found new jobs: Brevetti Gaggia entrusted me with the project of an ice cream made from the “Peltier effect”, and for four years I became a consultant for Alfa Romeo cars, because of my knowledge of “plastics“. It is the “world of light” that marks my career as a designer and a turning point in my life. Until then, I was considered a technical consultant and not a designer. Having scoured numerous fields of application, from the coffee machine, the ice-cream maker, to cars and have done numerous experiments with different materials and technologies, one day I thought I might venture an idea, my idea of ​​a product and become a consultant of myself. 

So I made the prototype of Jack, a lamp for reading in bed without disturbing your partner. I presented to Luceplan that put the lamp into production. The Jack lamp changed the perception of my role and marked my entry into the world of design. Thus my first product was born and so does the relationship with the world of light. The lamp is a sophisticated tool with a strong aesthetic potential and I wanted, without losing my “face” of engineer, to measure myself with the aesthetic issue. The lamp seemed particularly suitable because its aesthetic is strongly linked to an original constructive idea and not just a formal one, its aesthetic refers not only to the shape but also to “how” it works. The lamp is an appliance with thermal problems as well as electrical, but above all it is light, and the light is slight, makes you dream, in two words, the light causes emotion. I learned that the immateriality of light could become a paradigm of reference and a guiding idea, “in charge” of the formal aspects. Because immateriality means lightness, and not just in the physical sense, but also visual. It means remove weight to things, to make them light and discrete

– What is the most difficult work you have done and why?

One of the most complex is MedaGate by Vitra. The project starts at the end of 2007 and was presented at Passenger Terminal Expo in Bruxelles on March 2010.

MedaGate by Vitra

MedaGate by Vitra

The Vitra design specifications were very strong:

MODULAR, with easy possibility of reconfiguration, of replaceability, space efficient, wide flexibility for customer solutions.

SERVICE-FRIENDLY Seat system consists of a few individual components that can be simply and swiftly and thus cost-effectively replaced. Simply to clean materials, slip poof without fixing on the floor. Easy assembling on-site.

ROBUSTNESS:  The structure and materials must be highly impervious to mechanical impacts (e.g. baggage trolleys, cleaning machines and suitcases).

PASSENGERS COMFORT The new system should enhance passenger comfort compared with previous seat solutions.

At the beginning, following the Vitra specifications, in order to be as flexible as possible I thought to separate the back from the seat, supporting the back and seat separately by aluminum brackets. That means you can replace only the parts subject to wear-and tear but in that way the number of brackets increases because every seat needs one or two of them. Specially if you see from behind, the final result becomes very confusing (too many pieces)

In airport environment that is in itself so complex, we need more calm! We needed a change… For that we decided to make seat and back together (one piece) in PU foam with metal insert inside the foam, no more aluminum brackets in view. Instead of bearing the seat with two brackets holding it in front and in rear position, we thought to support it only in front, like in cantilever chair. Adding to the PU foam the contribution of the elasticity of a cantilever, the seat becomes more comfortable and visually floating on the beam! From the back view the complexity was decreased, and the visual lightness increased.

– What is your main source of inspiration?

What I’m trying to do is starting from an idea, not a form, I mean I start out with a constructional idea, I don’t have a fixed repertory of shapes. During the design process, I connect with a physical appearance, a material or a technique, and step by step the shape becomes clear from that. Often, a structural concept or a technical or technological way of functioning will trigger the thought around which the object grows. By making drawings and trying to find an elegant solution, the idea turns into a shape that is, in a certain way, unplanned. The shape is done by doing. As the project advances and coherence is sought, the form arises as it did out of the blue. I try to use contemporary techniques that give me the possibility to integrate functions and reduce the number of components, such as plastic or cast metal. My attempt to simplify is directly connected to the techniques that I use. First, I explore the generic technical possibilities, then I carefully select the material and technique that best corresponds to my goals. In this way it is possible to obtain objects that look simple, unitary and “almost organic”. This is because I am not focused on formal elements, but on relationships, the relationship between the parts, and the relationship between the object and the person using it.

– What about your next project?

I’m studying a dynamic monitor arm

– Outside of design, what are you currently interested in and how is it influencing your design work? 

I like skying, sailing and to do watercolors

Alberto Meda foto Miro Zagnoli

Alberto Meda (©) Miro Zagnoli