Making a design classic, one of Enzo Mari’s famous pieces of Autoprogettazione furniture.
I came across Enzo Mari through talking with Will Holman about utopian designers. But once I learned of his work, it seemed as though every designer and architect I met nodded enthusiastically when I mentioned his name. So as a holiday project, I decided to make one of his pieces of ‘DIY’ furniture; perhaps the most iconic of the series presented in the Autoprogettazione book – the ‘P’ chair.
Yes, it is just as uncomfortable as it looks.
The Autoprogettazione project (approximately transliterated, ‘self-design’) is often referenced by makers and DIY-culture enthusiasts, I think, often mistakenly. Mari has been co-opted as a proto-Maker, much like William Morris and John Ruskin. But his intentions with this project were not about finding alternatives to a system of mass-production, or enabling the creativity or agency of individuals. He wanted people to be able to buy better furniture. And he thought furniture designers and mass manufacturers should be the people to provide that. But consumers needed to understand and demand better furniture, and to that end, needed education. So the object of ‘self-design’ is to educate oneself through the process of making, not to have acquired a new piece of furniture, which by Mari’s own admission, would be ‘uneconomical’, ‘unstable’ and even ‘reactionary’.
The 2014 edition of the book includes a text by Mari reflecting on his original work and how it had been received. I can’t find a digital source for this text, so here’s a scan from the book of the essay where he talks about the meaning of the project.