3 February 2016
“Its fine and slender form must have seemed a miracle,” recalls the French architect and designer Jean Nouvel, talking about the genesis of Less, the office table that became a symbol of the minimalism of the nineties. He designed it in 1994 to furnish the work spaces of the Fondation Cartier in Paris, creating what has become one of his best-known works: he wanted a very thin steel top for an essential, archetypal table, able to hold a dialogue with the façade of his building on Boulevard Raspail, which is a diaphanous screen made of glass, aluminum, trees and sky. And yet it had to be sturdy, very sturdy. And so, together with Piero Molteni and Unifor, Nouvel came up with a trick that is only visible from a distance, or in a photograph: a surface that grows progressively thicker toward the center, a “belly” able to contain the ribs required for stiffening. At the edges, its thickness was measured in millimeters. At the center, it reached a few centimeters. Thus a game was played with geometry and materials, distance and perspective. From close up, all you saw and touched was a sheet of steel. From a distance, its solidity became apparent. It was a very different approach from, for example, the tables designed by AG Fronzoni in 1964, which became a manifesto ahead of its time of the reduction of furniture to its minimum terms that was to triumph decades later. In fact the Italian designer conceived them in a graphic key, as black lines turned into square metal tubing. Nouvel, on the contrary, did not renounce the definition of an object in three dimensions, with a spatial and structural development. The lesson of the table was profoundly absorbed by Nouvel, who a few years later would propose something similar, but on a gigantic scale. In the Culture and Convention Centre in Lucerne (KKL, 1995-2000) he designed not a work surface, but an enormous overhanging roof, reaching out all of 45 meters toward Lake Lucerne. Just as with Less, from close up it looks like a two-dimensional surface, but in reality the structure “swells” out of sight, when it is balanced by its urban surroundings. Today, twenty-two years after its birth, Less is still in production with an identical shape and reduced weight. In the LessLess version, brought out in 2012, the steel has in fact been replaced by aluminum sheet, much lighter but equally solid thanks to its box structure, reinforced with segments of bent and ribbed metal. The slender legs, made of aluminum extruded in an L-shape and just 8 millimeters thick, are grateful. Production: Molteni and Unifor.