INSTRUMENTS FOR DESIGNERS VOL.1: Square Circle Triangle BY BRUNO MUNARI
Lately, I have had an important client in my hand. As a designer, I was called to draw a concept for an eventual industrial production. I’ve been spending sleepless nights to find the right inspiration, the one that gives you shivers and adrenaline in the stomach when it turns into “the idea”.
That feeling finally came and I was sure the concept could thereupon thrill the company.
Why? I've undressed the product until I come up with a universal, shared and recognizable sign which suddenly was fixing the brief given: the “A” or the triangle as a basic shape, as the designing core for a “structural but disappearing product”.
Despite its simplicity, the triangle is the shape at the base of static and complex structures (like tetrahedron), and it's mathematically pictured as a "non-deformable figure".
Likewise, it is conceptually fascinating how depriving such a strong structure of just one of its elements, which can be a corner or a side, makes the figure react losing all of its static properties, collapsing on itself and disappearing in a segment.
I read Circle Square Triangle a few years ago, and I unconsciously absorbed notions that daily affect my designing process; in this particular case, this lecture allowed me not to trivialize the conceptual inspiration of a triangle as a building reference, but to purposely use it as the compositional silent tool that confers stability and order, for definition.
I finally took that commission and I partially assume I have to thank the lesson of Bruno Munari.
“Understanding every aspect and formal-structural possibility of this simple, basic form is a great help to a designer”
The Discovery of the Triangle, Bruno Munari, 1972
A DESIGNER, AN ARTIST, AN EDUCATOR
For those not familiar, Bruno Munari (1907-1998) has been one of the most influential key figures of the XX century for the art, design and graphic field. Due to his omnivorous approach to the disciplines of art, he devolved his whole life in support of the constructive investigation of form, through visual and tactile experiments.
Initially close to futurism, he then gradually moved away from it, dedicating his research to the deepening of shapes' and colors' meaning, as to the aesthetic autonomy of objects.
From industrial design to painting, from pedagogical workshops to graphics, the variety of inputs built his sincere curiosity to find simple solutions, and to masterly communicate it with synthetic and enviable cleanliness (for instance, the twelve functional steps to design, useful for daily application in the project as in the resolution of complex issues), which characterized his entire approach to the project.
“Simplification is a symptom of intelligence, as an ancient Chinese saying goes: what can’t be said in a few words cannot be said in many”
Bruno Munari, “Verbale Scritto”, 1992
Precisely in this regard, Square Circle Triangle speaks loud about the simplification not as a process of trivialization but as a process of synthesis to dive into the real knowledge of the subject. The book is a tribute to his way of doing.
No matter what field you belong to, Architecture, Industrial, Urban or Graphic Design, if you are a painter or a photographer. It is sure to find a lot of meaningful content in the visual trip through the fundamentals of these shapes, so rarely available in a single volume.
Square Circle Triangle is an extremely concise encyclopedia about the constructive modules at the very beginning of human creation and cultural growth.
To achieve that level of objectivity typical of an informative delivery, the book is square-shaped, printed in black and white, and the subjects are all arranged alphabetically (according to Italian names).
Munari intentionally reduces the narrative aspects to the bone, and rises to an omniscient storyteller, charging the shapes of a mystical touch.
“The first thing a child draws looks like a circle. People spontaneously arrange themselves in a circle when they need to observe something close up, and this led to the origin of the arena, the circus, and the stock exchange trading posts.”
The Discovery of the Circle, 1964
The Discovery of the Square, The Discovery of the Circle and The Discovery of the Triangle, originally conceived as three autonomous books are been recently combined and reissued into the single volume "Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle" (2015) by the Princeton Architectural Press: 285 pages divided into three sections, each one preceded by a concise introduction to the illustrations that will then follow.
The brief introductions elevates the shapes to the function of a connecting element through the complexity of human expressions, which explains how the whole sensible world is resolved, from the natural to the artificial construction one.
He then reaches back into the history of different civilizations in order to uncover symbologies, archetypes, uses, traditions and human practices.
Through these examples Munari stimulates our brain to connect the Proportions of Septimius Severus Arch in Rome, with a boxe ring or a chess table, the logarithmic spiraI as the natural model of the arrangement of the seeds in a sunflower to the ratio which guided the designing internal sections of ancient buildings, or the coconut holes on the fruit surface to the Mercedes Logo designed by Gottlieb Daimler.
And thus passing from ancient Greece to ancient Chinese culture, from the works by Le Corbusier to the experimental objects of Giorgio Scarpa, and again from the ornamental facades to parlor games, Munari makes us aware of how those abstract or even divine models have influenced the way people gives sense to things.
They are portrayed like eloquent common denominators to the world of art, languages, symbolism, architecture, mathematics and nature.
They are elevated as a silent guide of our way of seeing the reality, unconscious models we give for granted.
Bruno Munari's collection ensures that there is an inseparable connection between artificial creation and the natural origin at the very base of human inspiration.
Seemly laughing up one's sleeve and without many words, he explains to us both the divine and earthly origin of the forms, just juxtaposing the section of a cucumber to the structural scheme of the representation of Buddah.
In his unmistakable style he seems to tell us: “How? Didn't you notice yet?"
Images from ‘Bruno Munari: Square Circle Triangle,’ courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press
Circle Square Triangle by Bruno Munari, Princeton Architectural Press edition, 2015
Original first edition published by Zanichelli, Bologna