In school while studying Architecture & later Industrial Design, my professors could not stop emphasizing on the fact that one’s design needs to solve a problem. Yet the students were expected to do tried and tested design assignments which (of-course) needed to solve a problem. But what is one to do, when there is no problem or better yet, the problem has already been solved in genius ways? After a lot of sweat, blood and tears I learnt the answer to that question – Make it better!
I think Micheal Graves, the acclaimed post-modern architect and the designer of this iconic kettle must also be in a similar predicament, when he designed the 9093 Kettle also known as the Bird Kettle for Alessi. What is the problem with boiling water? Well…. there is no problem! So clearly 9093 Kettle is less about solving the problem of how to boil water and more about how to take the mundane out and bring the fun in!
The main feature of the 9093 Kettle is the bird on its spout, which whistles when the water boils. This unusual addition, became extremely popular with the public when it was launched in 1985. Thirty years after, the stainless steel kettle is one of Alessi’s best-selling products with over two million units sold till date.
The kettle design is a derivative of the Tea and Coffee Piazza project in the late 1970s, in which Alberto Alessi invited 11 architects, who had no experience in the field of industrial design, to design a tea and coffee service. Encouraged by the experience, Graves designed the 9093 Kettle and a few more kitchen products that are still produced today. The characteristic of these objects is the fusion of Art Deco & Pop Art. They have distinctive shiny stainless steel finish, use of vibrant colors and whimsical elements that bring mass-market appeal.
Michael Graves’ formal style blends influences from the European tradition, Art Deco, American “pop”, and flashes of pre-Columbian culture. He has shown he can bewitch the public like only very few of the designers with whom I’ve worked.
The Form & Function debate about which should follow what, will perhaps never have a satisfactory conclusion. The kettle’s form has received its share of criticism. Its main feature, the bird needs to be removed before pouring and then it gets lost creating a demand for replacement birds. This inconvenience is definitely true but then if everyone had the same opinion, this kettle would have never become an iconic design. Simply having one of these sitting pretty in your kitchen goes to show that the owner is conscious of good design.
On a concluding note I say, it’s never too late (or too much) to elevate the ordinary to the status of iconic! Let me know what you think about the Bird Kettle. I would love to know what is your take on the Form vs. Function debate in the comments section.