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  • Catalogue Essay

    What do we mean when we describe furniture as ‘architectural’? Such talk, strictly true, seems motivated by aspiration. We’re defensive about civil life: it must have meaning on a grander scale than kitchen tables and spoons. No, the movable articles of the house are subordinate to the house. But certain furniture designed by architects condenses the language of their larger structures. The cluster column of the present table radiates out at top and bottom like the supports of a timber truss. Its modular elements hint at a broader composition, as would the beams of a roof model.  
     
    The 1932 architecture class at Milan’s Polytechnic boasted seven students. Four of them, in the habit of close collaboration, presented a joint manifesto on the occasion of their final projects: “It is not an artist’s capricious, superficial, ornamental seal that makes a work of art original. Its clear balance must express the innermost essence…” Schooled in modernism’s language of economy and reduction, the four graduates fittingly named their new firm BBPR, an acronym for Gianluigi Banfi, Lodovico Belgioioso, Enrico Peressutti, and Ernesto Nathan Rogers.
     
    Over the next half century, BBPR realised a highly diversified series of works, including holiday homes, housing projects, mixed-use developments, film sets, cinemas, pavilions, war memorials, art galleries, turnpikes, and select furniture—“from spoon to city,” as Rogers famously declared. The present lot, a prototype cherry wood table, was designed by BBPR in the late 1950s and built by cabinetmaker Piero Frigerio. Rogers stated in Domus: “…the few pieces of furniture that I have designed require great craftsmanship; this is why I have appointed Piero Frigerio from Cantù, who works with as much love and as much wisdom as an old Italian artisan; I am grateful he gave me the chance to realize my ideas.”
     
    As the editors of Interiors noted in November 1954, BBPR did not slavishly imitate modernism; rather they achieved “[a] sympathetic rapport between old and new…” Their infamous Torre Velasca in Milan (begun 1954), with its projecting upper storeys, symbolically alluded to a medieval Lombard castle keep. That same respect for historical antecedents is evident in the present table; despite the austerity of its graphic geometry, one can see in it those cherry wood guéridons of the previous century with fluted columns and stepped plinths.

160

Prototype library table

c. 1958
Walnut, walnut-veneered wood, brass.
71.1 cm. (28 in.) high, 119.1 cm. (46 7/8 in.) diameter
Manufactured by Frigerio, Italy.  Together with a certificate of authenticity from Piero Frigerio.

Estimate
£6,000 - 8,000 

Sold for £7,500

Design

30 Apr 2009, 2pm
London