Bringin back to life the Contenitoreumano

Silvana Annicchiarico , Barbara Ferriani, Rafaela Trevisan

The Contenitoreumano n.1 (1968, metal and polyurethane foam, 1250 cm X 1575 cm X 92 cm), a project by designer, Ico Parisi (1916-1996), and sculptor, Francesco Somaini (1926-2005), was first exhibited at the Milan Salone del Mobile in 1968.

The Contenitoreumanos are a utopian reflection on inhabitation, with strong sculptural value: Contenitoreumano n.1 is designed for a single person, for repose and meditation, while Contenitoreumano n.2 is designed for a couple and intimacy.

Technically, Contenitoreumano n.1 consists of a metallic casing, painted white, and on which the words “CONTENITORE n.1” is painted in oxide red, followed by the names of the creators. On both sides, two large handles indicate the “portability” of the container. This shell contains a soft and cosy internal structure created by the juxtaposition of various layers of molded polyurethane foam and of a receptacle and a tube that carries drink and food directly to the guest inside.

The example we worked on1 arrived in our laboratory completely missing both the metallic shell and the internal tube. Given its age, the polyurethane was in a good state of conservation: good elasticity and with no signs of pulverisation, only an overall yellowing and the beginning of a superficial loss of cohesion. However, there was a total detachment of the glue uniting the layers.

As the the work was incomplete, it was decided to reconstruct the missing parts and thus effectively re-introduce Parisi’s work to the public. The efforts of our laboratory, in concert with the Archivio Francesco Somaini, the Archivio del Design di Ico Parisi and the Archivio Palazzo Volpi di Como, made it possible for us to collect in-depth photographic and bibliographic documentation and to trace the company that had produced the original object in 1968.

Simultaneously, an analysis of the polyurethane material and the original adhesive was conducted. The diagnostic analysis (stereo-microscope, electronic microscope, energy dispersive spectrometry and gas chromatography mass spectrometry) were carried out by CNR (National Research Council) thanks to the pilot project, IPERIONCH.2

Despite the numerous challenges that we were facing, which included not having a coeval Contenitoreumano or the project design to refer to, it was still possible, fragment by fragment, to attain a careful and philological reconstruction capable of revitalising a project which would otherwise have been completely lost. As for the future, the Triennale Design Museum is also considering a further development to safeguard the participatory nature of the work: the reproduced shell will, in fact, also be able to contain a new edition of the interior, thereby permitting the total interaction of visitors, who would then be able to freely experience Contenitoreumano N.1.

1 The work was donated by the Archivio Francesco Somaini to the Collezione Permanente del Design Italiano of the Triennale Design Museum at the time of the exhibition, Francesco Somaini. Uno scultore per la città. New York 1967-1976 (13 January – 5 February 2017, Triennale di Milano, curated by Enrico Crispolti e Luisa Somaini).