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Aczel: «Designers, technicians, manufacturers, retailers, and users constitute a single unit that defines the virtues of a product; jointly, they are capable of improving social life standards and qualifying their environment for that aim»

Susi Aczel, a pioneer of product design and business management in the country, describes the virtuous circle meant to be experienced by any piece to transcend and explains how technical and technological changes have impacted the offering diversification of the XXth and XXIst centuries.

Born in Vienna in 1931 and trained in both Technical Design, under the guidance of Walter Zieg, and Art History, at the Manero Academy and mentored by Jorge Romero Brest, Susi Aczel began her prolific career at Martín Eisler’s studio, where she produced light artifacts, furniture, and textile prints. Her active participation led her to quickly become one of the associates of the company Shape in Argentina, registered by Eisler in 1954; later, once the firm merged with Interieur, she was appointed co-chair of Interieur Shape, alongside Eisler and Arnold Hakel. A company that has represented Knoll International in South America since 1961.

In the management field, Aczel was in charge of the opening of Vienna’s InterDesign in 1973 and she fostered the incorporation of modern design in such spaces as the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Palais de Glace. She was also a board member of the Industrial Design Research Center (CIDI) between 1979 and 1988 and in 1986 she joined Associated Argentinian Interior Designers (DArA).

In this occasion, the creator of such pieces as the Coca chair (c. 1953) and the Curves sofa (1954) participated in the “Expert Opinion” section of the August issue of the Old&Newsletter with reflections, born out of her vast experience in the fields of production and commerce, about the bond between design and technique.

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design from a technical standpoint? And redefine technique from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?

–Design cannot be separated from technique. It would be similar to wonder if we can live without eating or reading…, you need to perform both actions. The key issue that must be taken into account is the skill level acquired by both designer and technician. While the former needs to collaborate with the latter to solve construction–related problems and define the ideal materials for each project, the technician seeks designers to display new products in the most appealing way.
As I will explain in depth later, besides this couple I would add three more actors to this virtuous circle: the manufacturer, the seller, and the consumer.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

Linked to the last concept I mentioned, I will now elaborate upon some successful cases. In 1980, the Mortgage Bank, in its role as a consumer, launched a public tender to buy seats. Interieur Forma, a producer, hired the designer and technician Mario Mariño, who made a seat with an oscillatory back support.
In another occasion, Emilio Ambasz created a seat for Interieur Forma from Bologna-made molds. Once those had arrived in Argentina, the chair was produced and sold by Interieur Forma.
A similar dynamic took place when Interieur Forma invited Manuel Sáenz to design the Belt Chair, a project in which he collaborated with many technicians during the production process. In this case, his knowledge about materials and parts were key to assess if importing was really needed or everything could be acquired locally.
I could continue giving examples. For instance: many years ago, in 1954, Florence Knoll hired Eero Saarinen to design a table and chair ensemble. Saarinen developed products alongside Kurt Burgold, a former employee of an American aeronautical company that knew how to use aluminum and fiberglass. The result of this process was the Saarinen collection, still produced to this day.

–Has the bond between design and technique changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

As raw materials have been incorporated, production parameters have changed. With the use of aluminum, large volumes of window pieces and bricks were produced. From melting on the soil we moved to in-cast melting and, then, to the, more dynamic, injection process. Plywood is another example. Previously, it took 24 hours to cast one piece. Currently, due to complex molds, a machine can produce large quantities of plywood within an hour.
From a typological standpoint, I can share my experience regarding office environments. In the United States, current investments in swivel chair production amount 2 million dollars.
For some time now —even before the pandemic— measures to ensure personnel wellbeing have been a priority. Respect for the body has increased, thus, office chairs became fundamental since people have to work in a sitting position.
Multiple variables are linked to such an item: height adjustment, lumbar support location in the back of the chair, arm calibration, slide and oscillation features. Besides, all of the options must be easily managed by buttons or handles.
On top of this, we must take into account technological developments. Screens must be placed at an adequate visual level to prevent neck and back injuries; similar considerations must be made regarding the keyboard. If the job requires the employee to be standing up, desks that can be adjusted with handles or lids that go up and down through hydraulic mechanisms must be thought of.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing in order to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?

–That is a difficult goal to meet. The truth is that designers, technicians, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers constitute a single unit that defines the virtues of a product; jointly, they are capable of improving social life standards and qualifying their environment for that aim.
I mean that the individual displays of respect that are the rule in certain spheres should have an ever increasing impact on people. In vulnerable neighborhoods, that impact should derive on quality jobs for everyone, which is the ultimate goal. That means that design could potentially include all citizens in transversal projects, resembling what Campana brothers do in Brazil thriving on more cooperation of the aforementioned actors and less State support.