Comfort and sustainability, the new life for an iconic design object

“You come home tired from working all day and find an uncomfortable chair.” Such are the words of Bruno Munari, who in 1944 at Domus was a theme that is still essential to the design world today. A padding should first and foremost be comfortable. And to make comfort, beauty and innovation coincide, this is the terrain where the furniture masters have challenged each other since the war. Today, a sofa is asked to know how to welcome the time of relaxation, such as work, leisure, reading, rest, conversation. Behind that feeling of maximum envelopment and understanding of the movements you feel as soon as you sit down is the polyurethane foam. Comfortable, allergy-friendly, ergonomic, lightweight, durable, but of petrochemical origin, therefore not biodegradable. A material that cannot be considered organic, although a more mature recycling chain can lead to an extension of its life cycle.

Research into the development of more sustainable alternatives is active and produces interesting experiments: from cellulose from waste wood from paper mills that can only be used in construction, to new compounds based on vegetable oils or sugars. But in the meantime? One way may be to optimize production and industrial processes or achieve the maximum yield with a minimal use of the material. This is an important sign that B&B Italia, the company that invented the technology for cold-foamed polyurethane in molds and is a leader in its use, is following it. In addition to being concrete, because the result of this “intelligent” rethought process will be previewed at the Salone del Mobile, it will arrive on the Italian market from July and on the world market from September.

The Bambola armchair from B&B ITALIA proposed in a new sable fabric, Sila, completely reusable, available in eight colors. Ph. Tommaso Sartori.

Ambrogio Spotti, director of B&B Italy’s research and development center for five years and in the company for over 20 years, guides me to his discovery. The main character is the Le Bambole series, which includes the armchair Dollthe two-seater sofa Bibambolathe double bed Baby doll and the new Granbambola three-seater sofa. An iconic collection, Compasso d’Oro in 1979, which after 50 years is renewed and develops in two directions. Recover «the enthusiasm, the breadth, the decorations and the original swellings» (these are the words of its creator Mario Bellini, who emphasizes the «soft and continuous shape despite the fact that the structure consists only of straight lines»). And rethink the technology behind the product. “To Dolls the challenge was also to work with materials other than soft polyurethane, to achieve greater comfort than the original product. We have in our DNA the manufacturing process of this material, visionary at the time and then followed by many: the goal was to continue to exploit this legacy with a conscience, Spotti explains. How do you do it? If the original construction was based on a metal structure embedded in polyurethane, “now the construction part is made with a hollow shell in second life plastic material, which contains other materials to create a perfect design that avoids the use of adhesives or binders. Which would not allow , that the product can be easily separated at the end of its life cycle “.

The materials used are of the latest generation. Starting from the recycled polyethylene that provides structure to which are added elements of polyurethane foam and thermoplastic elastomers that draw the geometry and define comfort and breathability. “This solution simulates springs and allows us to avoid traditional elastic belts. It is all covered with an undercoat derived from recycled PET ». The polyurethane foam is cast in the company and reduced to a minimum. In addition to the polymer made from recycled plastic, which gets a different life, and which in turn can have a third and so on, the polyurethane foam has a high calorific value and can be used for energy recovery and heating, although one will need an even more advanced national and international recovery chain for retirees. Spotti explains that “the limit of such a malleable material is its (at present) irreplaceable. Within the Research and Development Center, experiments are carried out on an ongoing basis, they may work, but not on a large scale. We are not far from implementing this new industrial process in other products as well. And the research into new materials always remains on the table ».

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