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At the Milan Furniture Fair, Barber Osgerby speak with Alice Blackwood about the design of the London Olympic Torch, and their new table for B&B Italia.
How they landed the Olympic Torch
We were determined to get the project. We thought it was ’the design job’ of the Olympics. There’s a million other design projects at the site – seating, lighting… but we knew we wanted to do that.
When we saw the competition for [the design of the torch] advertised we said, right that’s it.
We were given this massive 80-page [briefing] document [containing] a huge amount on the history of game; how the relay happens; what kind of people and how many people are running in the relay; the functional requirements [of the torch]; the temperatures the torch has to perform in.
It’s quite daunting to start with. You imagine it’s about designing a nice-looking object, but actually it’s a really functional, technical project that has to be rigorously tested.
The torch’s body is the lightest ever, but the complicated burner weighs the same as the torch. There’s a lot of brass and piping/tubing that pre-heats the gas before it lights the flame – [so it’s impervious to the coldest of conditions].
The basic design and shape of the Torch
There’s two very obvious features – one is it’s a triangular shape – it reflected the fact that the Olympics has been in London three times now, and the Olympic motto is faster, higher, stronger. There were lots of threes that kept appearing in the brief.
We wanted to reduce the [Torch’s] weight, because we have 12-year-olds running, and a woman who is [aged] 101. It had to be really light, so we reduced the material by putting lots of perforations in it. We were thinking about the story and there are 8,000 runners and we engineered it to have exactly 8,000 perforations.
It’s a once in a lifetime project and we’re very pleased and honoured we got it.
The Tobi-Ishi Table for B&B ITALIA
We started talking to B&B Italia about 18 months ago. They really wanted a pedestal table and we started designing this, but in the end after many different designs, it always felt like it looked like some other design.
We stopped that, and thought, lets do something with more sculpture and identity, but the same function.
We ended up with the Tobi-Ishi… at the moment it’s in a moulded fiberglass material with a mineral coating. We’re going to do it in solid wood, marble and stone.
The base is quite a practical solution, even though it looks quite sculptural, it allows more people to join and sit around the table [with the freedom of lots of leg room and no intercepting table legs].
It’s always interesting to work with a new company. We saw our relationship with them as an opportunity to do what we do, in a place where there aren’t other people like us.