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Massimo Vignelli, born in Milan, studied architecture in Milan and Venice. He came to the United States from 1957 to 1960 on fellowships from Towle Silversmiths in Massachusetts and the[…]

When you live in the shadow of the Vatican, “ambiguity becomes very natural” in life and art.

Question: What is the distinction you make between dimension and scale?

Massimo Vignelli: Dimension is a measurable thing, entity, you know that long, six inches, 10 inches, 10 feet, whatever it might be.  Scale is a mental – you can say that a lounger has scale, a building has scale, or an object has scale, or a page, or whatever if it’s just right.  A scale is a relationship to the object and the space surrounding it.  And that dialogue could be music, or it could be just noise.  And that is why it is so important, the sense of scale.  And the scale relates to everything.  The thickness of a pipe, the thickness of a leg of the furniture.  Even color could have a scale.  Let’s say that if you paint a building shocking pink, that has no scale, it is just a huge mistake, but it’s not in the scale of the city to have things like that.  You know. So, not only because it’s not appropriate, not only because it’s offensive to the environment, I mean but among them also because that quantity of that color in the urban scale, is out of scale.

But however, out of scale is also very fascinating thing.  One of the greatest inventions of pop art was really to bring an object which was usually like this to make it huge.  Oldenburg was really the great artist that did the best with that notion, you know.  I mean we need also, **** we made a line of cosmetics in the shape of nuts and bolts and screws and things like that by just taking a real thing and making it big.  The change in scale is a surprise sometimes that could be used in a good way, but again, you have to measure it and it should be appropriate.  Appropriateness is not a very important issue, you know, the notion of appropriateness.  That means to design things which are right for that destination, and not for another one.  And so when we start, we always look for what is specific for that particular problem so that we can design in a most appropriate way as much as we can understand it, of course.  But appropriateness is important, discipline is important, and ambiguity is important. 

Ambiguity is not – ambiguity for us Italians is a positive thing.  For the Anglo-Saxon it is a negative thing.  You know.  It’s a different culture.  You know, you come up with a Vatican in your pocket, ambiguity becomes very natural.  But for us, ambiguity is plurality of meanings and that is why it is exciting.  In the Anglo-Saxon dictionary, so to speak, ambiguity instead has a negative connotation in the sense that ambiguity’s mellifluous, something that is neither here or there.  And for us instead... it is a way of living.  But it’s important in design too because then it gives another level of richness so that, yes, it is that thing and if you read it in a slightly different way, maybe it is something else too.  And that might be – but it’s very, very dangerous as well.  So, one has to train – it’s not for everybody.