Roberto Sironi’s Ruins reimagine architectural artefacts

Kieron Marchese | 06 Sep 2021


Milan-based designer Roberto Sironi explores the concept of ruins as an expression of time through fragments and contemporary elements using casted bronze, marble and glass.

You could mistake Roberto Sironi’s combination of architectural elements as a fortuitous mistake, but the mixing of styles both old and new in his latest series ‘Ruins’ is no accident. Reiterating architectural elements of the classical era, such as Greek capitals and sections of a Roman amphitheater, the Italian designer creates contemporary relics—the result of an expedition to some of the important sanctuaries of antiquity throughout the Mediterranean basin.

Roberto Sironi, 2020 - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

Sironi combines these with rudiments of the industrial era, including reticular structural girders and corrugated sheet metal. A double-T beam resting on the foundations of three classical columns is exemplar in a series of ‘post-archaeological’ compositions that resignify fragments from different historical periods in a bid to explore the meaning of time.

It is a concept that is central to the designer’s work. For Sironi, time is an abstraction he describes as a kind of “search filter” that he applies to his projects. Similarly, it is also the key to interpreting his projects, as in RUINS, which speculates on how the signs of architectural language have been transformed over the millennia.

Installation view of Ruins at Carwan Gallery - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

Sironi’s investigation has roots in the territory explored by cultural anthropology but at the heart of it is something far less exceptional. In essence, Ruins is a series of large-scale sculptures that reimagine traditional monoliths in a playful way. Sironi strikes a careful balance of craft and artistic expression, which finds its footing in some of the most fundamental typologies of design – Grecian ruins inspire the Delphi chair for example, and portions borrowed from iconic landmarks around the world form the base of the Eiffel Coffee Table.

‘Olympia Low Table’, (2020) - Credit: Carwan Gallery

Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

“These elements have been arbitrarily decoded and then combined to become ultra-signs,” Sironi explains. “[They are] contemporary ruins in which the scientific archaeological approach is invalidated [and] replaced by free interpretation for a different production of meaning.”

‘Delphi Chair’, (2020) - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

‘Volubilis Side Table’, (2018) - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

Ruins, which went on show at Carwan Gallery in Athens last month, the result of a four year research project supported by IN Residence and Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, is indicative of Sironi’s practice, which centers on an ecological understanding of material and making. For him, the point has always been to create concepts that reveal life’s complexities.

“My aim is to create projects and objects with precise characteristics that can continuously feed thoughts and emotions in its user, something that can transmit a generative energy over time,”  he explains. “I believe that the designer has an important role within society: he is a sort of explorer who has the burden of disseminating his discoveries using matter as a medium.” 

Roberto Sironi, ‘Baalbeck Coffee Table’ (2018); ‘Eiffel Low Table, (2018); ‘Hubert Mirror’, (2018) - Credit: Carwan Gallery 
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

It’s an apt description for a designer who visited some of the most important archaeological sites in the world to gather inspiration for the collection. Sironi embarked on the ruined Roman city of Volubilis in Morocco, the Valle dei Templi in Sicily, Pompei and Ercolano, Athens in Greece and Turin— the list goes on. During this time he uncovered various fragments, capturing dozens of images which he later analysed in search of key elements to be translated into the collection.

Roberto Sironi working on ‘RUINS’ at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia - Credit: Roberto Sironi & Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Federico Villa

On these trips, Sironi was accompanied by some of the greatest minds. “I re-studied the classical and modern philosophers, who have inevitably influenced the different architectural currents over the centuries. This approach allowed me to add an extra level of reading to understand more deeply what I was observing.”

Informing their design is a precise choice of materials and finishes. Mirror-polished bronze juxtapose a faux marble known as Marmo Artificiale di Rima, a craft technique created in Italy in the mid-nineteenth century with the aim of imitating natural marble. The works take form as functional tables, mirrors, stools and other surfaces.

Roberto Sironi at Fonderia Artistica Battaglia - Credit: Roberto Sironi & Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Federico Villa

“These materials do not correspond to the original architectures but become functional to the post-archaeological message conveyed,” says Sironi.

‘Palmyra Bench’ - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

One of the collection’s most striking pieces is the ‘Palmyra Bench’, which Sironi designed after the Palmyra archeological site was destroyed by ISIS. Sironi replaces an architrave with a casted bronze double-T beam, which rests on three classical columns made in Marmo di Rima, representing the remains of the 2,000-year-old Temple of Baalshamin.

‘Turin Table’ (2020) - Credit: Carwan Gallery
Photographer: Giorgos Sfakianakis

“In essence, I think Ruins can transport the end user into a dream dimension through domestic micro-architectures where historical-temporal boundaries are blurred, and where the disappeared decorative techniques of the Marmo di Rima meets contemporary bronze sculpture to create new post archaeological ruins.”

When fused together, these elements tell a whole new story—a fictional tale narrated by the viewer, but totally displaced in respect of time and location. With a final effect that is almost visceral in its amalgamation of past, present and future, Sironi defines a never ending cycle in which aesthetics are absorbed, broken down and regurgitated, in order to create something beautiful from the ruins.

“The future is always the metabolization of the past,” says Sironi.