A cabinet-maker and French polisher, his grandfather has been described as one of his greatest mentors.

After completing a BA in Industrial Design at the University of Canberra, followed by two years working at Sunbeam, Pandolfo attended the prestigious Domus Academy in Milan to undertake his Masters degree.

After Domus, he spent five years in the research and development department at Flos, the Italian lighting manufacturer.

Curve Editor Belinda Stening spoke with Pandolfo about his Australian-Italian experience and the influences in his work.

You have a continuing alliance with colleagues at Flos in Milan. How does this assist your company, The Ideas Agency, in its focus of a select European audience?

The Ideas Agency specifically targeted European design manufacturing companies and a vast majority of those are situated in Italy for a number of reasons.

I have worked with many of those companies and therefore knew the appropriate people to contact, which was an essential feature to the service. Knowing who to speak to was and still is a major hurdle for designers to overcome.

The companies are situated in Central and Northern Italy. Being contained in this relatively small area allowed me to visit many companies in a very short period of time – reducing travel, accommodation and other associated costs.

The design companies in Italy are familiar with the idea of designers proposing their work even if they have never seen them previously. Another vital element to this is that the companies are used to this procedure and respect the need for design and the designer.

There was no threat of designs being stolen. This business concept could not have worked in countries like the USA or even Australia.

It is interesting to hear you describe your work as ‘primitive’. Can you describe what you mean?

During my time in Italy I was exposed to cutting edge materials and manufacturing techniques. Here in Sydney I am operating in a different environment. There are complex and advanced materials and manufacturing techniques here but these are not accessible to a designer considering a production run of several hundred units per year.

I am not a tradesperson, therefore I call upon the skills and services of local carpenters, painters etc. To successfully take a design through the manufacturing process to a market ready product will often mean making more compromises than say, I would have to have made given the same situation in Italy.

How does the Australian/Italian mix (the pragmatic/emotional) find expression in your work?

I did my design ‘apprenticeship’ at Sunbeam, this gave me the nuts and bolts (pragmatic) experience of knowing about how to put things together and understanding material and manufacturing issues.

My Italian experience enlightened me to the issue that design needs also to cater to the consumer at much more that functional/feature/price level. Design needs to ignite something in the consumer, it needs to connect with the person and satisfy them at a different level – emotional – spiritual.

The work we have displayed for Curve readers represents your unique approach to product design and development. Can you talk about these and describe your referencing?

The first in the series was the coatstand, RAK, followed by the magazine rack, RIV and the most recent is the table, TAV. Together they form a collection of products whose underlying concept is inspired by the work of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth on scientific management conducted during the mid 20th century.

The Gilbreth’s were scientists who conducted time/motion experiments of workers with the objective of improving efficiency. Through the innovative use of photography the Gilbreths were able to visualise the movement of a worker performing any given task. Transforming these images into wire models they could determine to what level of efficiency the worker had performed.

This scientific analysis interested me greatly, the path a hand travelled in air as it assembled an object highlighted the moment of creation on the assembly line in the most spectacular way and the wire travelling through space representing the repetitive nature of mass production in an organic form.

The wire itself represented for me a pencil line drawn in space, a three dimensional line that was physical. The imagery for me was also powerful in terms of the volume these small models implied, and it was from this realisation that the seed for this project was born.

My response is to imitate the success of the Gilbreths wire model in objects I design and then have them manufactured. The task of manufacture is also pivotal in my work. I feel that design is about many things but it is also about multiples, and not the one-off, otherwise it would be craft.

RAK, RIV and TAV are an attempt to create form and volume using interlocking two-dimensional material. The two-dimensional cut outs are assembled in order to facilitate particular functions but also to define forms that imply larger volumes.

RAK and RIV are constructed using only vertical interlocking elements that begin to imply volume. It is with TAV (table) however, and the introduction of the horizontal elements, that the volume and form of the legs are easier to identify and the objective of implied form is achieved. 

I’m interested in your choice of material and construction. Can you elaborate on the concept of ‘implied’ volume in the table?

One of the objectives I had when considering the table was to create a fat, large and voluminous feeling. I desired a monolithic feel, yet in complete contrast I wanted lightweight structure.

The choice of typology in choosing a table was due to the need to continue my work that began with RAK and RIV. These objects were an investigation into how I might be able to imply volume through the use of minimal material and I needed to use manufacturing processes I could lay my hands on.

CNC cutting was a means to streamline the process of part construction and achieve a reasonable part cost and many small workshops now have this technology.

Plywood was the first choice in material as it was visually appropriate and again fell into the cost parameters that I had set. Finding plywood that was of a suitable quality proved to be the most difficult task, and now after much trial and error my products are plywood made from birch that is imported from Europe.

It is FSC approved and is an excellent product that is competitively priced with respect to local product, which after much disappointment I had to stop using.

From the days I worked with my grandfather, through my first design job at Sunbeam up until I discovered the joy of working with Italian manufacturers, I have developed a strong appreciation (love) for machinery and technology.

I longed to ‘hang out’ with the toolmakers in the injection moulding department or the production staff along the assembly line. So when developing my own products I look to what technology I can lay my hands on, literally.

CNC cutting is prevalent in large industries but is also now affordable even for small workshops. To work with small workshops is to remain close to the product and the process, which I consider essential.

My primary objective is to crystallise my design thinking... following that, it is to produce quality product at an affordable price. This is not always easy to achieve but by developing relationships with local craftsmen I have been able to, through a collaborative process, reduce cost, maintain quality and develop ongoing relationships that in the long run I believe is a sustainable solution to being a designer in Australia.

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