A fixture in some 90 per cent of Italian homes, the stove-top moka pot coffee maker is a symbol of national culture that the New York Times cites as being “on a par with the Fiat 500, the Vespa scooter and Nutella.” Invented in 1930 by Luigi De Ponti and Alfonso Bialetti, the instantly recognizable Art Deco angularity of the original Moka Express makes it a 20th century classic – and an inspiration for countless riffs. This year, Alessi traces the contours of Italian design heritage with a subtly contemporary new moka pot by David Chipperfield.
Available in three sizes, Chipperfield’s vessel evokes the classic Art Deco shape, but its 11 facets – rather than a Bialetti moka’s typical eight sides – allows for a newly widened base and a flat top that draws attention to the quietly kinetic angularity of the percolator’s aluminum body. The subtle matte finish of the moka pot’s aluminum body and the soft grey finish of the polyamide handle lend the object a pleasing tactility. The monochrome colour palette reinforces an impressively cohesive sense of aesthetic unity.
“Its familiarity and its character is defined not only by its friendly silhouette but also by its soft grey materiality, the strangely accommodating soft dull aluminum materiality, the agreeable grinding noise that accompanies the simple mechanical screwing and unscrewing of its body,” says Chipperfield. But what about the coffee?
The Chipperfield moka pot is designed to tackle the percolator’s achilles heel: uneven heat distribution that leads to a slightly burnt taste. The widened base optimizes heat transmission, supporting a more even flavour while giving the object an assuringly weighty, stable presence. The shape and position of the top knob also allows for the lid to be more easily lifted with one hand, and careful contouring of the handle protects against heat damage from the cooktop.
Introduced at Salone Del Mobile, Chipperfield’s update adds a compelling new chapter to Alessi’s moka pot variations, which have included designs by the likes of Aldo Rossi, Piero Lissoni, Wiel Arets, Mario Trimarchi, Alessandro Mendini and Michele De Lucchi. After re-inventing the percolator in styles ranging from radical minimalism to postmodern abstraction and poetic historicism, Alessi’s latest iteration takes its cues from De Ponti and Bialetti’s original design.
The Milanese launch for Chipperfield’s design was accompanied by an exhibition tracing the moka pot’s history – and its links to Alessi. In fact, Alfonso Bialetti was the maternal grandfather of Alessi founder Alberto Alessi, creating a strong tie between two companies that jointly epitomize Italian design. Appropriately, Alessi has continuously re-visited the Bialetti classic – and we can probably look forward to new moka pot variations to come.
Still, there’s an inherent tension to reinventing something timeless, though it’s one that Chipperfield has navigated with graceful aplomb. “What does it mean to redesign it, perhaps only to make it more of what it already is?” says Chipperfield.