(November 2009) Dr. Carlo Montani, unchallenged master of numbers, hit the nail right on the head when in Universal Stone (2/2009) he asked where the new markets for stone are to be found. Really new markets, according to Montani, can be found in new products with the help of which traditional markets can be reconceived.
Montani is a man of numbers not a wizard of speculation, so he does not expound on what new products might come to mind. We want to take a shot at the question and direct our focus on the demographic development of the world population.
Whereas at last count 2 billion people on planet earth met the standard of affluence, this number is set to grow to 4,4 billion by 2035 according to estimates of the OECD. The 21st century will, albeit, see billions of poor and starving people. But the affluent class is growing and it is doing so not only in industrialized countries across Europe and North America, as was the case until the present.
The upper crust will be seeking high-end amenities for their homes, houses and gardens – this is an opening for the stone industry whose products meet customers’ demand for ecological compatibility.
However the stone industry will need to work hand in hand with industrial design whose trademark is not only top of the line form and function but also the ability to mass produce.
Graphically speaking: new chances will not be found in the massive stone bathtub. This and similar luxury goods are, and will always remain, but a side issue of the stone branch: this sort of product cannot sustain a quarry nor help develop or acquire new machinery. They will remain individual items, solitary pieces albeit with pecuniary potential.
The trend toward industrial design in the stone branch has already set in and was clearly reflected in this year’s Marmomacc as never before. In place of the weird and narcissistically wonderful designer pieces of years past, this year’s „Marmomacc Meets Design“ showed predominantly down-to-earth drafts, the likes of which could be visualized in any middle-class home.
The Marsotto Company joined the campaign and initiated the „Edizioni“ line with thoroughly unspectacular products for every-day living. With this label, the company set a new trend, as can be confidently predicted: the trend to catchy names – already well established in the ceramic industry.
But fostering industrial design requires increased focus on two important aspects: first, a general theory must be developed, and second, the industry must address women. Yes, that’s right: address women.
Re: the first requirement: developing a „theory“ entails setting up guidelines for stone design at universities. Up until now, designers usually simply replaced standard building materials with stone. The massive stone bathtub is one such example: the material used has nothing to do with its function. It merely has a higher value than metal with enamel.
Concepts of this type may serve corner markets but mass productions demands more from designers.
What could be the criteria for designers’ orientation? Grain or texture, of course is an example – as would be the case for wood, e.g. This idea can be developed even further: creating three dimensional effects with colour and texture has long been part of the mosaic handicraft. The typically high mass of stone could be another useful criteria for designers.
Stone is an ecologically sound material. This fact should be mirrored in product design. Patricia Urquiola’s work designed for „Marmomacc Meets Design“ is a metaphor of tiny life forms. Ideas like this one were quite en vogue 100 years ago as reflected in Ernst Häckel’s famous book „Kunstformen der Natur“ („Artforms of Nature“). The conclusion of this train of thought would be: stone design is synonymous to nature itself – so to speak.
Designers find the traces of processing on worked stone interesting. Stone benches often bear the bore-holes and raw-cut surfaces. Much praise was reaped by architects for deliberate exposure of saw-blade shimmy traces in stone surfaces on facades.
Re: the second requirement: if stone is to gain ground in interior architecture, then women are the target group to be addressed. It is they who design the interior of homes around the world. Another OECD-figure: 73 % of investments in US-American homes are made by women. Similar figures apply to Europe. And there is a proportionally higher representation of women interior designers in the trade than their male counterparts.
The Antolini do Brazil, subsidiary of the Italian market leader, unwittingly demonstrated the extent to which the stone branch is lagging behind the times in understanding this. At this year’s fair in Vitória they not only set up a catwalk for the usual dress models in a stone sequin gown. But they also designed their stand to look like the interior of a brothel.
And more: if the focus is on interior designers and interior decorators, it will not suffice merely to show the material as such. It will be necessary to present and put into scene examples of what can be done with stone.
Just imagine if the steal industry were to exhibit mere polished tin sheets….