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Giorgetto Giugiaro. From cars to pasta: logic, beauty and genius

Sustainability / -

Giorgetto Giugiaro
© Italdesign Giugiaro – Giugiaro Design

We meet a truly great designer, standard-bearer of Italian excellence in the world and Knight of Labor of Italy. “Giugiaro – according to the starchitect Paolo Portoghesi – uses his gifts to search for a beauty which can improve our lives.” We speak to him therefore about the different significances of beauty, creativity, tradition, sustainability…plus chef Gualtiero Marchesi, and his own “Maccheroni alla Giugiaro”.

You tell the story that as a child you were fascinated by the fact that your tailor mother’s hands could turn paper patterns into garments, transforming a drawing into concrete 3D shapes. Does this process still fascinate you?
I come from a family in which my mother was a tailor – a gentleman’s tailor! – and I used to watch her cutting and sewing: she made my first suit, when I was seventeen. I’ve always been curious about how things are made. Like a sheet metal beater making shapes out of a flat sheet. My grandfather and father, on the other hand, were painters, and so they worked only in the “second dimension”, with paintings and trompe-l'œil. Depth, perspective, vanishing points which we have seen since the Renaissance, Paolo Veronese, Raphael… representations which you can see with the eye, but above all you have to be able to think of them on paper.
 
My father used to send me out to make drawings from life in the afternoon after school, but he also said “Yes, you’re good at drawing faces and objects, but are you capable of making a table?” A table has the third dimension!
 
So… yes, effectively there is still something fascinating about making something real from a sheet of paper. Think of the first bags, for example: a piece of fabric folded and stitched became a useful tool and container. Later on, these containers began to acquire new characteristics… not so much, or not yet, in terms of luxury, but becoming objects which decorated their wearers. And here in Italy we used our skills to successfully create an entire economic sector.
 
Design is not only about beauty. You have outlined a scheme according to which art is a circle, industry is a square, and design is a quadrangle with curved sides. Creativity constrained?
The problem is that everything has its own development process, economic, ideal and emotional. Today the most constrained process is the economic one. It’s difficult to make a car that doesn’t cost much. When we were designing the first Panda (beginning from July 1976), it was almost more difficult than creating the Ghibli or a Ferrari! Like designing a fridge, that’s no joke either, having to stick to limits, in timing, in the space taken by its components…
 
Constraints that turn into prizes… like when the Panda, won the Golden Compass design prize.
In the end it comes down to logic, really. A car, like many other things, like a bag (or ravioli), is created in order to contain things, and that is the source of its logic. Only much later does it also have to express social status.
 
With a stroke of your pencil you transmit certain values. You give a car certain lines which evoke efficiency, speed, solidity, family values… what about industrial design?
There the basic logic is ergonomic. Whether it’s a camera or a bottle. What we designers do is change what we see. I see this microphone, and want to change the way it looks, to make it like this, and this… The risk is that I forget its functionality. If you design a set of table knives and forks with round handles, but really slender and slim – beautiful, of course – then you’re forgetting how and why the spoon and the fork were invented, how they have to be held in a certain way, the lengthy observation of artisans who evaluated the most practical shape to make them… if you propose something like that to the public, without a deep awareness of its functionality, then it’s a fraud.
 
 
You designed a superb little bottle for a balsamic vinegar, based on a sphere and a cube. And also a bottle of mint syrup as a parallelepiped. How did you come to choose these iconic geometric forms? The first perhaps to evoke an ampoule, and the other a picture?
We are creatures equipped with unconscious perceptions, and things enter our heads even though we don’t notice at the time, even when we are distracted. Do you see this geometric shape? Mint has a cold taste. And here you can feel the coldness with your eyes, you can hold it in your hands. Balsamic vinegar, however, is not a cold experience, it is warm and smooth, so its bottle is warm and smooth too. There are thousands of things hidden inside these drawings. I start from practical functionality, but I have to communicate through a shape. I start from logic, the logic of function, in order to arrive at aesthetics. Over the years (especially working for decades with Aldo Mantovani) I’ve become a bit of an engineer, partly renouncing youthful utopias. Even though, as an expert, I also recognize that utopian random freedom can also produce substantial concrete ideas.
 
On top of this big table in the conference room, we have set up a little gallery with various kinds of pasta shapes: gnocchi, ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti, trofie... what would you say from an aesthetic point of view?
Pasta-makers are geniuses. Geniuses. Listen to this… we’ve all seen traditional African masks. Carved from wood by shepherds, informal artisans. But as sculptures they have had a huge aesthetic influence around the world, on Picasso too, for example, in their casual, spontaneous freedom. Something similar could be said about pasta-makers. They invent this and they invent that, without being architects or engineers. When I was asked to design a new pasta format – marille – I reworked an inspiration from the world of motorcars: a cross-section of the sealing material on car doors, which is also produced by extrusion. Afterwards everything was analyzed by the technicians, palatability was discussed endlessly. But these completely normal gnocchi here in front of us are… simply insuperable!
 
The innovative qualities of marille would have been amazing: smooth on the palate outside and ribbed on the inside for the sauce to cling to…
Not only that: let me tell you something you may not know. A classic macaroni has a constant cross-section. Marille, as you can see in the technical drawing, has various different sections, this one, this one, the third one plus the final fold. Imagine the central intersection during cooking. The whole idea was that the pasta could be overcooked everywhere, except in that one place, so that when you bit it you could still feel that it was “al dente”. The project was initiated with the idea of composing a dish with low sauce content. And for this, after the first tasting ceremony in Milan in 1983, I finished up in Newsweek. I didn’t get there for my cars, but for my pasta I did.
 
But, returning to these more traditional – and less beautiful – ravioli…
Works of genius. Fruit of human intelligence which, without even wanting to, creates art.
 
We were not obliged to praise everything, we can be critical if we want to. The ribbed edging on this ravioli can hardly be called “beautiful”, this twisted cappelletto resembles a piece of offal… you can’t tell me you would have designed them this way?
But it works! Let the pasta-makers get on with it, let them express the geniality of functionality which you can only enjoy to the full when eating it. They’re geniuses, mostly unrecognized by history. Maybe they had worked their flour and water on a table in a back alley and as they worked it they came up with shapes which the whole world admires today. In that ribbed edging, which I personally find beautiful, I can see my grandmother cutting the soft pasta and lightly knurling and tapping it. I can only bow down before the things which these experts, in their simplicity, have passed down to us. Expo Milano 2015 would do well to transmit this kind of message, to pay tribute to the unknown authors of magnificent things. Let us render honor to the importance of what they did: stretching back to centuries ago, they started food out on the road that eventually led –for example – to Gualtiero Marchesi.
 
You always mention Gualtiero Marchesi with great pleasure. Why?
I’m happy to talk about him because in my opinion, in Italy he was the first to show something beyond just eating. I still remember the first time I saw his golden square on the round shape of the risotto. I was astonished. My father used gold leaf to make picture frames… What Gualtiero did, in a moment when in Italy we could finally say we had sated our appetites, was to turn food into an attraction. His risotto with gold and saffron expresses poetry and exerts an attraction far beyond its exquisite taste.
 
What is the relationship between the aesthetics of a dish and its taste?
Between various food presentations we can certainly choose the most pleasant. But what will our judgement of the dish be? What has been transmitted visually must offer, when eaten, some corresponding taste experience. If you eat what looked good and it tastes bad, it will automatically start to look bad too. Like a car: if it doesn’t work it’s no good.
 
One of Expo Milano 2015’s key themes is sustainability. You were one of the first people in the automobile industry to focus on this, back in the 1980s, with city cars and modular prototypes, cars with reduced bulk, electric, hybrid, even constructed with recycled materials. What does “sustainability” really mean? Not just avoiding dirt, I imagine…
Avoiding waste. It means avoiding waste. Unfortunately this is something that still has to enter our society’s collective head. I grew up in a modest environment, but people from wealthy backgrounds, or just wealthy people, are not conscious of this need. The more they have the more they spend and the more they waste, and all affluent societies waste heavily.
 
But you have demonstrated, through an endless list of car models, that efficient and intelligent cars are also beautiful and desirable. How did you decide to transmit these signals, contributing, at least, to a certain global awareness?
It’s simple. Simply by following logic. If I can reduce costs, bulk, fuel consumption, if I can give people what they need, it’s logical to do so. This approach sometimes clashes with fashion trends and status exhibitionism, at which point the only solution is to make laws. Stricter laws.
 
Barilla launched a competition for a 3D food printer: some amazing pasta formats came from that… Rosa, Lune, Vortipa. What do you think of them?
Beautiful. There are an infinite number of possible forms. That’s how we make our calenders. Nowadays you can do anything with technology. For designers this is an ongoing opportunity to exercise their creativity, an explosive process, really dizzying.
 
You are known all over the world and you have worked all over the world. How is Italy seen from abroad? Is there a common denominator which can confirm that Italian Quality is appreciated as much as it deserves to be?
The common denominator is individuality. Individuality is creative, in an undemocratic way. Design is authority, instinct, ability. Italy, well, maybe it’s rather living on its laurels, cushioned by past glories. Among our positive aspects, we can count good taste… although I fear that is fading away somewhat. Things that happen, that are part of life. In a couple of thousand years’ time, do you think that such a thing as a Piedmontese character will still exist?
 
On the subject of birthplaces, what is your favorite dish?
Risotto. I love it. It’s a dish I adore. And if it’s been prepared by my friend Gualtiero, on that magnificent black plate, the yellow risotto and the golden square. But also, you know, one or two dishes which I sometimes cook, a bit bizarrely.

You cook as well?
I’ll give you a recipe. Macaroni alla vodka. For four people. For four people you put in a saucepan 100 gr. Butter, four or five pieces of red chilli pepper, 70 cc. cooking crème, and stir. Then take a bowl of hot water and mix in red ‘piemontese salsa rubra’ tomato sauce, and add that to the saucepan. Then add a glass of vodka and a spoonful of cognac, remove the red peppers and stir in 250 gr. Grated cheese, to make a cream with this alcohol, this red cream, five to six minutes at the most. Meanwhile cook the pasta, along with 5 mm slices of potato, and then drain while still al dente. Now place in a serving dish and immediately cover with the hot cream from the saucepan… to be eaten instantly.
 

Famine and its causes. History of an economic theory that saves lives

Economy / -

amartya sen storia teoria economica salvavita
© Steve Raymer/CORBIS

Famine. Economists define it as a serious and prolonged decrease in the availability of food in a given geographical area, resulting in an increased death rate and a birth rate and population and its sub-groups in decline. The children of Biafra define it with its effects: hunger.

Famine is not far off, whether we are leafing through the history books or through atlases. And the numbers, particularly in more recent times, are astounding.

In the 18th century there were sixteen periods of widespread food scarcity in France alone. In modern Europe the last great famine plagued Ireland (1816-17, 1846-47) and the Soviet Union (1921-22, 1932-33). Among the non-European countries, the most affected were India (1838, 1861, 1866, 1869, 1874, 1876-78, 1897, 1899-1901, 1943, 1965-66); China (1877-78, 1887-89, 1916, 1929-30, 1959-61); Congo (1960-61); Ethiopia (1973-74 and 1984-85); Bangladesh (1974); and North Korea (1995-99).
 
The most tragic famines of the last 100 years, perhaps, were those that exploded between 1959 and 1961 in China where between 15 and 30 million people died from hunger and related causes. Likewise, in 1943, over 3 million people died in Bengal, India and 2.5 million people in North Korea.
 
The economic analysis of the Bengal famine of 1943
Something has changed, however, in understanding the mechanisms that trigger these conditions. In 1977, Amartya K. Sen wrote Starvation and exchange entitlements: a general approach and its application to the Great Bengal Famine. The Indian economist was the first to note that the reduction in food availability per capita does not satisfactorily explain the waves of famine in an economy of exchange and can be refuted by empirical data. The current supply of rice and other food grains in 1943, Sen points out, was not much lower than in earlier years. There was then a lack of statistical testing of the assumption of a trend of excessive population growth rate in underdeveloped countries compared food production trends.
 
Instead, Sen noted that virtually every known famine has decimated a number of working groups (agricultural workers, fishermen, artisans and barbers in Bengal; agricultural workers in Bangladesh; agricultural workers and shepherds in Ethiopia), and focused heavity on what he has called "securities exchange", i.e. the individual's opportunity to exchange goods with other food. In fact, his case study showed inflationary pressures typical of a war economy and the wave of hoarding caused by a fear of price increases causing violent alterations in the possibility of exchange of labor or of other goods with rice, which was the main food staple. In short, certain groups used their economic power to handle a large amounts of food, snatching them from the lower classes.
 
The inadequacy of income
The World Bank, in the World Development Report of 1980, developed a thesis based on the famines of Ethiopia (1973-74) and Bangladesh (1974) that they were caused not by a decrease in the average amount of available food per capita but by local decreases in income from agricultural work.
 
Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1998. Now, everyone knows that the inadequacy of income is by far the main cause of malnutrition and its credibility outstrips the cruel Malthusian-inspired theory that lack of food is due to an increase in population. WIth it Amartya Sen gave economists and legislators around the world a new tool with which to study world hunger. Understanding its causes, as with any disease, it is a fundamental step towards eradicating it.
 

When avoiding waste becomes a business proposition

Economy / -

Food Waste
© 68/George Doyle/Ocean/Corbis

The examples of Berkeley Bowl in California, of US chain, Stop and Shop, and of Granel in Spain. They have transformed the problem of waste into income-generating businesses.

Food waste has a significant economic impact in the private sector. Supermarket chains, grocery stores, processing industries have to deal with sell-by dates, wasting food and unsold produce. Several companies have identified the problem and have tried some solutions.
 
Berkeley Bowl, California, selling food close to sell-by date for $1,500 per day
In the US, several retailers have understood the potential of food close to its sell-by date and transformed it by cooking or selling it at a discounted price. Berkeley Bowl, a popular grocery chain in California, has estimated the sales value of goods that are close to their sell-by date or have slightly damaged packages, to be $1,500 a day.
 
Stop and Shop has saved $100 million per year
In 2008, again in the US, the retail chain Stop & Shop / Giant Landover with over 550 stores and a market capitalization of $16 billion, has saved about $100 million a year by simply conducting an analysis in its departments selling perishable goods. The research revealed that there are "sustainable" alternatives to overfilling the shelves with merchandise that leads to inevitable damages to a part of the goods being replaced. Consumers, for their part, do not notice shelves less full in-store, and their satisfaction has increased at not finding damaged goods. And finally, the question of perishable goods has increased and on average was sold three days fresher than before. All this was achieved just by partially emptying the shelves.
 
Granel in Spain has removed both packaging and wrappers
The example of Granel in Spain, however, is just one of many in the growing trend of eliminating both packaging and wrappers of goods for sale. The Spanish chain, where you can buy all or most types of cereals, as well as soaps, honey, spices, oils, etc .., lets you buy everything by weight: what you need and nothing more. There is a minimum of five grams, but as there are no packages there is no obligation to necessarily buy a kilo of flour when you only need 150 grams. It is estimated with the same amount spent on a kilo of rice in a traditional supermarket, fills a Granel shopping bag with 250 grams of rice, some herbs, a dash of olive oil, some dried tomatoes and mushrooms, 250 grams of muesli with some almonds. The waste generated in this way to sell and buy real food is reduced to almost zero, whereas 60 percent of the waste comes from poorly styled bakery shores. The absence of packaging also helps to reduce emissions in the supply chain of the product.
 
 

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