Roberto Barbieri

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Architect, designer, graphics consultant and artistic director for shows and work concepts, a cultured man who was calm and caring, an acute and much-valued collaborator and friend.

This is how Zanotta commemorates Roberto Barbieri. “Barbieri was one of the most significant contemporary designers of the Zanotta collection, on which he had collaborated untiringly since 1994 with products which are among the ones that have made our catalogue so innovative and appreciated”, affirms Eleonora Zanotta. “The strong identity and success gained through the series of chairs designed by Roberto from Lia onwards, in both marketing terms and in terms of innovative concept and research, are a concrete testimony to this. His sensitiveness, his willingness, his seriousness, his professional grounding, and above all the great humanity which so distinguished him, are what I will always remember.”

The projects, the visions and the dreams, the courtesy with which he always treated colleagues and company technicians, all leave a profound memory of Roberto Barbieri. Renowned collaborator and friend, and head of Zanotta’s technical department, Daniele Greppi confirms with emotion, “Roberto Barbieri has left us. Suddenly. There are thousands of tales that could be told but I’m attached to one in particular. It was in 1984, a very close friend and I – we were still students at the time – were working with him on a small firm of furniture pieces in Brianza. During a meeting, the owner asked Roberto how the building of his new house in the country was going and what the design was like. Roberto took a small piece of paper and designed a house in the way a child does at infants’ school: a little door, two little windows and a pointed roof. The owner said, “Well done architect, you’ve designed the best thing in your entire career.” I’ve never seen the house but probably it’s as simple as he drew it, the house that exists in the collective imagination of all of us. Fifteen years later we built the Lia chair together, him as designer and me as technician, which I consider is the very essence of a chair. That’s the way he was: he was a simple person who loved simple things, where simplicity isn’t simplification but the fruit of a purification process which can, at times, last a whole lifetime. From today, we feel slightly more alone.”

One interview, many ideas

In the 2006 the Zanotta Happenings magazine, with the first online publication, an interview with Roberto Barbieri. The first of many contributions made by him to the Zanotta magazine. Here is a passage. “The first time I met Aurelio Zanotta, with a project for a wooden chair, was unforgettable for me: we debated for hours on the concept of seating and on how important the relationship between function and design was. My name didn’t count for much in those days, the object I’d designed counted only slightly more, but anyway we started developing prototypes. In the end we didn’t produce that chair at all, but I feel it was that unusual beginning that created a favorable climate for our successive collaborations. Among the projects designed by me I consider Lia to be the specific object that created the market. Die-cast aluminum alloy, a delicate silhouette giving the idea of lightness; subtle polyurethane padding; upholstered covering. Lia was perfect for the public at the time and even now it sells by the thousands. I remember how I admired Tonietta by Enzo Mari for Zanotta: the form inspired by the famous Thonet chairs made modern with aluminum and black cowhide. It too is still in production and doesn’t cease to gain appreciation.”

“We always saw our father designing on a white page while telling us about the projects he was working on, but if a grandchild asked for a design he’d sketch it in the corner of a diary or on a paper napkin summoned up for the occasion. We knew that a piece of white paper didn’t make him feel ill at ease at all, it was totally natural in fact that his pencil left a mark, often strong and essential, that made the page seem more beautiful, more complete. Sometimes he would search for a form in a pencil line that traveled across a page, waiting for an idea to be uncovered. Our father used a pencil, or any other instrument capable of leaving a mark, to give sense to words… it was amusing to observe that he needed a design to feel that he had communicated efficiently. Every person has their own natural way of communicating, through which they feel they can express the distinctive qualities of their soul, giving a sense to things, transmitting a sense of happiness to those who listen. Our father was fortunate in being able to communicate like this and we, who were close to him and who listened to him, were given the opportunity to understand the profound significance of the word beauty. An essential beauty, a beauty that doesn’t boast, a beauty that is the fruit of long and intense research. Beauty without ornamentation, because otherwise it risks falling victim to banality.”

This is how Roberto’s daughters remember their father and his love of design, instrument for thought and communication. We thank them and also Mrs. Laura, for the sketches that illustrate this article.