A legacy of her own

The work of French modernist Charlotte Perriand (1903 – 1999)—our muse for Rōzu Eau de Parfum—spanned art, architecture, industrial design, and social action. She believed that well-considered design can improve our lives and societies. Though less widely celebrated than Le Corbusier, with whom she collaborated on enduring modern furniture classics in the 1920s and ‘30s, Perriand should be recognised as an independent design icon with her own strong legacy. Here, we explore the work of three contemporary architects whose practices resonate with aspects of Perriand’s progressive spirit.

Charlotte Perriand and 3 men working on a piece of furniture.
Portrait of Cini Boeri

Cini Boeri

The careers of Italian architect and designer Cini Boeri (1924 – 2020) and Charlotte Perriand correspond in their focus on spatial functionality and the human dimension of design. Like Perriand, Cini faced early comments that architecture was the domain of men. Both women nevertheless persisted in their studies—Cini Boeri was one of only two female graduates in architecture at the Politecnico di Milano in 1951—and became formidable practitioners of the built environment.

Cini Boeri believed that beauty came from function and that the purpose of her designs was to enhance people’s lives. She said that ‘[a]rchitecture is provocative because it helps people to live. It’s a form of creativity that takes its origin from life itself.’ Cini’s Bobo Relax chaise longue, designed in 1967, is an elegant example: a monobloc seat made entirely of polyurethane foam, without an internal frame, becomes a versatile topography for the body.

The homes Cini Boeri designed express a generous vision of domestic space, which she interpreted as the primary expression of an individual’s personality. Her book Le Dimensioni Umane Dell’abitazione (The Human Dimensions of the Home), published in 1980, outlined an approach to design that is attentive to the physical and emotional needs of people. In a 2012 interview, Cini emphasised flexibility as a key value: ‘[m]ore sliding walls than doors, more transparencies than walls, more joy than solitude.’ Casa Rotonda (1966-1967) in Sardinia exemplifies Cini Boeri’s gregarious approach to design: balanced between boulders, a circular space unfolds, rooms open up onto each other, with two autonomous dwellings mediated by a central rounded patio.

‘Joy is inherent to the act of designing, to the proposal of the new and to its creation with responsibility and passion.’ Cini Boeri

Portrait of Kazuyo Sejima

Kazuyo Sejima

Perriand spent several years in Japan, advising the government on industrial arts. Her encounters with Japanese design and Zen philosophy guided her understanding of how interior and exterior living spaces should interact. Although there is no formal link between the work of Perriand and that of Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima, we can see affinities in the way that they design across scales and industries, their appreciation for the social importance of design, and the way that they approach a building’s relationship with its natural context.

The architectural and industrial designs of Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956) are known for their elegance, adventurousness, spatial fluidity, and considerate approach to their surrounds. They have strong forms and clean lines that simultaneously appear effortless and delicate. Sejima has a particular interest in the way a space is experienced, and its potential for social use and adaptation. In 2010, as part of SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates), Sejima was only the second woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. That same year, she directed the Venice Architecture Biennale, the first woman ever selected for this position. Sejima answered a few of our questions:

Why did you become a designer?

‘One day when I was a child, I saw a picture of a house in a book, Sky House by Kikutake. I was very impressed. Some time after that I found the same picture and remembered the feeling I had. This is how I became interested in architecture.’

How would you explain your approach to the relationship between interior and exterior space?

‘Protecting people is a function of architecture, so building typically involves creating boundaries and dividing inside and outside space. But we are all still part of the bigger world—of nature, city, climate and history. I think architecture can provide a space that is comfortable and full of possibilities, simply by creating a smooth connection between inside and out.’

What is the future of design?

‘I believe architecture has an important role to play in our future, providing places where people can share space with one another, with a respect for diversity. I often call it architecture that is like a park. In a park, many people of different ages come together, with different purposes. There are mothers and fathers with children, couples, elderly people and more. Each cluster enjoys doing its own thing, but the park gives them a sense that they are not alone—that they are also with others. We are different in many ways but we somehow learn to cooperate and live together.’

Portrait of Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams

The work of Charlotte Perriand prompts us to rethink the role of art in our society: her concept of the ‘synthesis of the arts’ allows for an expansive understanding of art as the spearhead of profound societal transformations. She believed an actual dialogue between, and union, of art forms—whether painting, sculpture, design, or architecture—would bring about an improved way of life for all. Similarly, Chicago-based artist and architect Amanda Williams (b. 1974) blurs the boundaries between disciplines in order to leverage the strength in their synergies. She employs colour as a way to highlight the spatial politics of her built environment and to drive social change.

Williams proposes that architecture itself serves as the evidence for, and microcosm of, larger social challenges. In her Color(ed) Theory series, which gained international acclaim at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015, she drew attention to housing segregation and discriminatory planning policies by covertly painting condemned homes on the south side of Chicago with culturally inspired colours such as Harold’s Chicken Shack (red), Pink Oil Moisturizer, Currency Exchange and Safe Passage (yellows). She asks: ‘What color is urban? What color is gentrification? What color is privilege?’ And answers: ‘The palette I developed is part of a lineage of artists who used color theory to tell stories about space. It merges my academic and formal mastery of color with my lived experience of the south side. Racism is my city’s vivid hue.’

Williams’ sculptural work Thrival Geographies for the Dimensions of Citizenship exhibition at the 2018 Venice Biennale (in collaboration with Andres L. Hernandez and Shani Crowe) questioned the way ‘the black female body continues to be (mis)read as [getting] out of line.’ This work tackled questions of citizenship, gender, race, and property ownership at the intersection of history, theory, and the practice of architecture. Thick braids in yellow and black intervened into the courtyard of the US Pavilion in Venice, becoming a metaphor for the profound but invisible role Black women have played in American society and in the profession. The sculpture’s formal geometry evokes clandestine routes charted and navigated by Black Americans seeking freedom from slavery.

‘The arts matter because they continue to be the most effective way to inspire societal change through imaginative possibility.’ Amanda Williams

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Slideshow links - for visual effect only:
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Cini Boeri, Bobo Relax chaise longue (1967). Image by Masera.

Kazuyo Sejima, Rabbit Ear Chair for NextMaruni (2011). Image by Yoneo Kawabe.

Amanda Williams, Thrival Geographies (2018), interior detail. Image courtesy of Amanda Williams Gallery.

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‘Adaptation has to be ongoing—we have to know and accept this. These are transient times.’

Charlotte Perriand

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© Archives Charlotte Perriand