When you read the title – what did you think of? Tell me your honest answers in the comments. When I first came across Hot Bertaa, I thought it was totally apt because a kettle is bound to be hot.
My fascination with Kitchen gadgets is quite old and well-known among my classmates from Design School. The kitchen counter staples have always intrigued me; add to that some exciting flavors by design heavy weight like Phillipe Starck and fascination quickly transformed into a colossal obsession.
Returning to the subject of Hot Bertaa, it is Phillipe Strack’s yet another controversial design which made a lot of noise, good and bad…. OK mostly bad! It’s like he designed a sculpture for the kitchen counter… but how many sculptures have you come across that served a purpose other than to look beautiful? My guess is, not many and Hot Bertaa also belongs with them.
Designed by Starck in 1989 for Alessi, it is his post modern interpretation of the regular kitchen kettle. It lacks product intelligibility but I must say it does look stunning. The bullet-shaped body is pierced with a tapering shaft that acts as a spout, steam outlet and the handle, all in one! Yet Alberto Alessi, of Alessi the company that manufactured the kettle, described it as
“Our most beautiful fiasco”
Fiasco because it spectacularly failed in a number of basic kettle related functions. Since it has no lid, there really is no easy way to gauge the amount of water within. The handle is angled in such a way that the hands are scalding-ly close to the hot aluminium. The plastic resin tube that serves as the handle and the spout was angled that way so as to not spill boiling water while pouring, but while it did that it sent hot steam towards the user.
After few years of complains and and a lot of criticism Alessi stopped its production in 1997. Phillipe Starck agreed to his misstep saying:
“The Hot Bertaa is one of my first pieces produced by Alessi. Alessi is a star, so it was a real highlight, a heart-stopping moment. Michael Graves had done it, as had Richard Sapper, so I had to be extraordinary, to show all my talent. But I became somewhat self-deluded and came up with the theory of immobile aerodynamics. There are certain objects that don’t need to move, like a kettle placed on a table. If you give such objects movement, or dynamics, as they are unmoving, they might try to instil movement around them. It may be true. It seems to work a little. But with hindsight, I was just trying to get myself noticed, I wanted to make a masterly, sculptural object. In fact, this sculptural object is one of my worst pieces ever. It isn’t very functional, it’s dated, too fashion conscious. It’s one of the things I’m most ashamed of. And to take the story further, this object, which existed for all the wrong reasons, also had a very difficult birth. It took 5 years to develop. Firstly because certain people at Alessi were very slow. And secondly, they didn’t understand the complex system of valves and such. After 5 years, we couldn’t recall why this object existed. So if a thing starts out badly, it ends badly, too. That piece was one of my big regrets. It illustrates the limitations of design, and it was responsible for my gradual loss of interest in stylistic design and masterly design.”
Hot Bertaa has become a blazing example for the folks who believe that form must follow function. Also it greatly saddens me when it is taken up as an example to teach students that if you get too swayed by form you will fail…Its important to understand that the form vs. function debate is not completely black and white. The magic happens in the grey zone!
What do you think of Hot Bertaa, tell me in the comments below.