Celebrating 20 years, the Charles sofa designed by Antonio Citterio for B&B Italia was named in honour of Charles Eames and the extraordinary lengths he and Ray Eames went to, experimenting and testing materials and in so doing, pushing the design industry into the future. Mirroring those industrial leaps and bounds across the world in Italy, B&B Italia also developed an appetite for combining scientific and technological research that earned it a prestigious Compasso d'Oro Award in 1989 for its key role in the development of Italian design.
The research and development centre at B&B Italia's headquarters at Novedrate, near Lake Como in the Lombardy region of Italy, is one of the industry's largest and represents B&B Italia's past and future. It is here that designers including Gaetano Pesce, Mario Bellini, Nipa Doshi, Jonathan Levien, Patricia Urquiola, and Antonio Citterio work directly with the combined industrial manufacturing skills developed by the team over 50 years. Prototyping is key to the process as well as an attitude of always finding a way.
By 1987, Antonio Citterio had been collaborating with B&B Italia for 10 years. It was a time when the typology of the sofa was changing in response to social changes. The sofa was suddenly multi-use, offering flexibility and space for resting, socialising and relaxing in front of the television. Our homes were becoming more complex and B&B Italia responded. First with Citterio's Sity sofa system that would become the foundations and the starting point for the first Charles sofa launched 10 years later.
"I could see what was happening", recalls Antonio Citterio. "We use the sofa for everything, from relaxing, listening to music, to sleeping." At a conceptual level Citterio was looking at a new typology to accommodate the way people wanted to relax. For the first time, the outcome was a sofa system designed with flexible parts specified to suit the individual. What Piero Busnelli described at the time as "the science of evolution and movement.”
To celebrate its 20 years, the now iconic Charles seating system has been launched by B&B Italia in a special version that includes two new coverings in orange/red and grey/blue, shades that designer Charles Eames identified with in the 1960s, An installation designed by Migliore+Servetto Architects and launched in Milan, highlights the events, objects, scientific and technological discoveries over the past two decades in a dynamic overlapping of historical references – the launched of Google in 1998, Youtube in 2004, and the IPhone in 2007, as well as Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower completed in Dubai in 2010, and in 2016 in a huge leap for science and medicine, the first digitally printed organ .
Breakthroughs in industrial production are represented in its slim and strong structure, a single seating cushion, and the sofa's very streamlined “inverted L” shaped die-cast aluminium feet. Along with its seat modularity that starts with 16 elements in different sizes that offer a wide variety of linear and corner compositions while the chaise-longue end units make peninsula compositions possible for open spaces. Charles owes its success to both its shape and aesthetics, and to the research and innovation that went into its design, core to B&B Italia's innovation and philosophy.