Picture a mythical city of the future and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" may come to mind. The sets for his 1926 film classic were considered the height of expressionist style. Their eerie underground power plants--and story line of man overtaken by machine--are still discomfiting. But so far, no real-life city has approached the filmmaker's angst-ridden vision.
Time for a new view.
Italian architect Massimo Iosa Ghini has painted a brighter urban future in distinctive earth-toned murals and drawings for more than a decade. The 40-year-old from Bologna started out doing nightclub interiors, television sets and futuristic graphics using signature streamlined forms. He has since produced an array of furnishings and projects for such clients as Ferrari and Maserati, BRF, Cassina and Moroso.
Now Roche-Bobois, the French furniture company, has commissioned him to mark the new century with a collection called Metropolis 2000. The line, to number 60 pieces, was unveiled Thursday at the annual Paris Furniture Fair.
For a company seeking to appeal to customers in 20 countries on three continents, Iosa Ghini is an inventive choice. A founder of a Bolidist movement formed in 1986 (a bolide is an extraterrestrial body that travels faster than the proverbial speeding bullet and lands with explosive impact), he has long been inspired by '50s American style. He exhibited with Italy's postmodernist Memphis collaborative. He also drew comic strips, which helps explain the animated spirit of his new designs, on view through Monday.
It was Iosa Ghini who reached back to Lang's film to explain the roots of the Metropolis 2000 project. He describes it as a revival of expressionism after decades of minimalist restraint.
"Everyone predicted the house of the year 2000 would be totally futuristic in shape," says Iosa Ghini. "On the contrary, people need to live in comfortable and reassuring interiors."
The new raison d'etre is "a focus on global well-being," he explains. With his futuristic paintings for backdrop, the furnishings express a vision as glowing and translucent as Lang's was grim. Instead of eerie sky towers, the modern city emerges as a pleasant retro-futurist dream.
Iosa Ghini's world is as warm and wavy as the minimalists' was hard-edged. There's a suggestion of the '50s, but with cooler curves. Shapes are fluid to reflect the speed of modern life. Furniture is designed to cradle not only the body but also "the soul of the inhabitants."
"Our lifestyle today is governed by speed and instinct," he says. To cope, "we need comfortable and expressive environments."
In Washington, David Zein, manager of the Roche-Bobois store on Wisconsin Avenue, sums up the line in two words: "Very sexy." He awaits its arrival in May, when the company plans a simultaneous "world premiere." Target audience: global Internet barons.
Comforting curves were apparent elsewhere at the Paris fair in pieces by such influential designers as Christophe Pillet, Pascal Mourgue and Didier Gomez, for Artelano and Ligne Roset. A chair by Piero Lissoni and Nicolette Canessi, also for Artelano, consisted of an elegant swoop of chrome and molded oak tinted to resemble dark wenge hardwood from Africa. As at Roche-Bobois, the focus was on modernism's softer side.
Beyond sleek sofas and sculptured chairs, Iosa Ghini has provided striking 21st-century fusions of aluminum or cherry with glass. Console facades are white-on-white screen-printed glass. Tables are pastel glass and frosted, natural blue or smoked methacrylate.
Though Metropolis 2000 will encompass everything from furniture to lighting to carpeting, the designer contends the collection will leave plenty of room for individual expression. "Your personality is grafted onto the house with the other 2,000 things you possess," he says.
The signature piece for this futurist's aesthetic may be the "Nirvana" armchair. It will retail for about $3,000 with an ottoman and nods to mid-20th-century modern designers Arne Jacobsen and Charles Eames. Iosa Ghini says its shape is the result of high-tech bionic research, which should make it the ultimate in comfort.
"It assumes a quasi-protective function" that makes it closer to a bed than a chair, he says, adding, "One seeks refuge in a sofa or favorite welcoming armchair after a day in Metropolis."
If only Fritz Lang could have had one.
Freelance writer Jean Bond Rafferty reported from Paris.
Thursday at 2 p.m., join Linda Hales live from Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's Arizona home and studio. Archivist Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, will field questions about the architect's legacy in the 21st Century. Send questions beginning Sunday to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
CAPTION: Italian designer Massimo Iosa Ghini showed his sculptural side at the 1991 Milan Furniture Fair.
CAPTION: Iosa Ghini's fluid lines reappear in the Metropolis 2000 collection for Roche-Bobois, left and above, set against his futuristic cityscape mural.