How the Big Sur becomes a round thing at the Dolder Grand at Easter
The Memphis Milano design collective existed for just seven years, but the fundamental importance of the group for the history of design means its impact has been lasting. The Floristry Team at the Dolder Grand has decided to show its appreciation for the work produced by Memphis Milano during the wild period of the Eighties by dedicating this year’s floral Easter egg to one of the collective’s most important representatives. Peter Shire is the designer behind the Big Sur, a sofa which is much more than simply something to sit on.
As a retrospective summary of the Memphis Milano story, one could say that the group hit the ground running, turned everything on its head, quickly dissolved again but managed to retain its relevance for decades to come.
During a meeting in December 1980, the group, made up of designers, architects and artists and led by the architect Ettore Sottsass, came to the decision to open up new dimensions within the international design world. Less than one year later, the collective opened its first exhibition at the Arc’74 Gallery in Milan where it showcased its furniture, lamps, clocks and ceramics to the public.
The exhibition was a breath of fresh air. Instead of functional (but also boring) designs, the collective introduced a hitherto unprecedented playfulness into their work. This included bright and acute colours, daring combinations of material and form, a light-hearted approach to decorative elements and plastics and, last but not least, a rejection of the notion that form follows function. The exhibited objects were not designed to blend into the room and quietly sit in the background but rather to draw the observer’s attention towards them and, at the same time, to push the boundaries of fine art.
Between art and industrial design
One of the most important minds within Memphis Milano was Peter Shire, born in 1947 in Los Angeles.
Big Sur is one of Shire’s most famous works and was designed by him in 1986 for Memphis Milano. Its wood with various types of lacquer, which allows different elements to stand out, along with the piece’s asymmetrical silhouette give Big Sur a bold character. Shire created art you can sit on, and not just anywhere – in the Dolder Grand too! The upholstered piece of furniture is one of over 100 famous pieces of artwork from over 90 artists that belong in the Hotel’s art collection.
But what does a sofa have to do with Easter? Cristina Mathis, Team Leader for Floristry at the Dolder Grand, gave us her answer. “When we were brainstorming ideas for this year’s floral Easter egg, I immediately thought about the sofa in the Spa Wing”, explained Cristina. “The shape of the sofa fits perfectly with the 3.5 metre floral foam structure used for the Easter egg, which, in this case, contains circles, rectangles and pyramids in five different colours”.
The Easter egg, which consists of 12,000 real carnations, will take around two days to construct, and will then ornament the Main Entrance from 6 April 2023 for around one week. During this period, the Big Sur will be placed next to the egg as a homage to Peter Shire.
A lasting impact
Incidentally, Peter Shire is still busy exploring the boundaries between different disciplines from his workshop in Echo Park. Meanwhile, Memphis Milano experienced a much shorter life. In 1985, the initiator of the group, Ettore Sottsass, left the collective, and three years later, the group was dissolved. Some members continued their careers in Milan, whilst others moved elsewhere in the world or returned back to their home countries.
Despite the group’s relatively short life, the influence the collective had can still be seen today. Memphis Milano is an integral part of design history, and people continue to pay good money to buy Memphis Milano items from the second-hand market in order to pocket a little piece of history.