For a Sicilian furniture collection and exhibition, Moncada Rangel tell a tale of two worlds

Catania, Italy – At home and in office, architects-by-training Mafalda Rangel and Francesco Moncada are a team. Seven years ago, in Rotterdam, they formed the creative agency Moncada Rangel. Now, they live with their young children in Syracuse, an hour’s drive along the Sicilian coastline to Catania.

It’s a trip they made many times while curating their brainchild, Domestic Monuments, a collection and exhibition with furniture manufacturers DiSé and eight international designers. The body of work brought together Sicilian craft, skill and material with global design perspective under a single objective: create bespoke monuments that celebrate the poetry of day-to-day life.

After spending years working for firms such as OMA and MVRDV, the pair now co-direct the architecture program at MADE Labs, a new educational initiative from the Rosario Gagliardi Academy of Fine Arts in Syracuse. Many of their students sat earnestly and admiringly in the audience as Moncada and Rangel presented Domestic Monuments this spring. And rightfully so: the fruits of their curation present a masterclass in design-and-manufacturing matchmaking – and storytelling – at home and abroad.

Was there a specific inspiration point responsible for the idea of Domestic Monuments?
FRANCESCO MONCADA: We looked at traditional Italian design that, in the 70s, was making a point about and revolutionizing the design world. We were inspired by those masters and times, projects that weren’t only about function or beauty, but that also told a story.

In domestic spaces, what most needs to be addressed design-wise?
FM: We think that, in the domestic domain, people no longer want pieces that everyone else has – they want personalization. With this collection, we really wanted to capitalize on the idea of ‘limited-edition,’ because we believe that it’s the future of homes.

We didn’t want to create the next big chair of the design world

The curation tells quite a poetic story. When you began with the project, what were your priorities?
MAFALDA RANGEL: In our initial brief, we had a very set goal. We didn’t want to create the next big chair of the design world. We wanted to create timeless monuments that were celebrations – as soon as the concept was there, it was understood that the end results could take on many forms. From a material point of view, too, we didn’t want to limit the designers. We said, ‘we have this story’: if it’s clear enough, then we can give them freedom in the process. That’s actually quite unique.

FM: For us, it was also very important that the designers wrote their own text about the piece, which many of them weren’t used to. But we specified that beyond just expressing their part of the story through the object design, we wanted them to put that narrative down in words, too.

There are so many visions brought together by the collection. Did you have any doubts about being able to tie them all together?
FM: In the beginning, we weren’t sure that having such a different group of people and presenting multiple themes was going to work. We were a bit scared about what was going to happen. [Laughs] But there was a process, and much communication through the briefs and proposals, and as it turned out, it ended up being quite easy with everyone.

To come from an architectural background where you are, somehow, a control freak, to do a curatorial job is to let go

Were you surprised by any of the outputs?
MR: We were surprised by all of the outputs! [Laughs] For me, what amazes me when I see these pieces is that they all come from different worlds, through us somehow. They’re produced by 20 different hands and they’re made from all different materials. The fact that they were built by 10 people is a visible, coherent underlayer that’s always there, no matter what they were made from or the technique used.

FM: This work was only possible with a company like DiSé. It was a special encounter: usually if you work with a company that produces furniture, they want a collection that is easy to reproduce. With this ‘gallery,’ though, that wasn’t the case.

MR: Their role was very creative – it wasn’t passive at all. There are two different kinds of companies: ones that just produce furniture, and the ones that do so by researching together with you.

How does a project like this differ from the work you’ve done in the past?
MR: To come from an architectural background where you are, somehow, a control freak, to do a curatorial job is also to let go.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Read our round-up of the Domestic Monuments collection in its entirety here.

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