(smow) blog compact: Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA at AIT ArchitekturSalon Cologne

August 18th, 2014

When we stated in our 5 New Design Exhibitions for August 2014 post that there were only three exhibitions opening in August worth recommending, we were, it would appear, being somewhat hasty.

On Thursday August 21st the exhibition Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA opens at the AIT ArchitekturSalon Cologne.

Presenting works by some 30 young German architects Aus allen Richtungen is a touring exhibition in which each architect and/or architectural practice is given an A3 sized box in which to present their opinion on the current state of architecture and the architecture profession.

Owing to the unique way in which (smow) blog works we have already seen the exhibition in Berlin, Leipzig and Stuttgart.

And can thoroughly recommend it.

It’s not always easy nor immediately accessible, is however entertaining and well worth taking the time to explore. In addition to Cologne based Aysin Ipekci from STUDYO ARCHITECTs, Aus allen Richtungen also features contributions from, for example, Christian Brückner (Brückner & Brückner Architekten, Würzburg), Elke Reichel (Reichel Schlaier Architekten, Stuttgart) or Jan Henrik Hafke (o5 Architekten, Frankfurt). And the Solarkiosk project by GRAFT architects Berlin. A project that can also be enjoyed as part of the Bundespreis Ecodesign 2013 Exhibition currently on show at the Umweltbundesamt Dessau

For all in Cologne on August 21st the vernissage takes place at 7.30 pm. For all others Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA can the be viewed at AIT ArchitekturSalon, Vogelsanger Strasse 70, Barthonia Forum 50823 Cologne until Saturday September 27th.

Full details can be found at: http://koeln.ait-architektursalon.de/

Aus allen Richtungen Positionen junger Architekten im BDA DAZ Berlin

Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA. As seen at the DAZ Berlin.

Aus allen Richtungen Positionen junger Architekten im BDA DAZ Berlin Solarkiosk GRAFT

Solarkiosk GRAFT Architekten, as seen at Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA, DAZ Berlin

Aus allen Richtungen Positionen junger Architekten im BDA Wechselraum Stuttgart Ulrike Mansfeld Mikroplis

Mikropolis by Ulrike Mansfeld, as seen at Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA, Wechselraum Stuttgart

Aus allen Richtungen Positionen junger Architekten im BDA Wechselraum Stuttgart SML Architekten

SML Architekten, as seen at Aus allen Richtungen. Positionen junger Architekten im BDA, Wechselraum Stuttgart

(smow) blog compact design tourism special: Croatian Design Superstore, Zadar

August 15th, 2014

In our post from the excellent exhibition Croatian Holiday at Vienna Design Week 2012 we questioned the curators assertion that through incorporating contemporary designers into a nation’s tourist industry one could help that nation promote a contemporary national identity abroad.

Our scepticism wasn’t levied at the employment of designers in, for example, creating furniture for hotels, the interior design of tourist attractions or promotional material, but much more about employing designers to create contemporary souvenirs.

“Tourists aren’t interested in modern interpretations of national identities”, we argued, “tourists want the traditional, the expected, but mainly the things other people have and did.”

Fortunately not only tourists travel, also people who are interested in discovering a country, learning about its past and exploring what its contemporary culture has to offer. Such people, we theorised, may purchase objects by contemporary designers, “not because of any cultural identification but because they are high quality, original objects.”

One simply has to offer appropriate opportunities to view and purchase such.

And so it was with great delight, and just a touch of excitement, that we received news from a holidaying acquaintance of the project “Croatian Design Superstore” currently residing in the National Museum in Zadar.

A temporary institution that appears to do just that.

As the Superstore currently has no website and/or other information as to exactly who is represented and with what, we can sadly only base our opinion on a few Facebook photos and a promotional flyer – but what we have seen impresses.

From the 2012 Croatian Holiday exhibition only the XZ folding chair by Numen / For Use and the tote bag family “Croatia – as it is” by Superstudio 29 appear to have made it through to the Croatian Design Superstore.

The delightful Katriga table and chairs by Neven Kovačićby don’t appear to be on offer in Zadar, in their place however Neven and Sanja Kovačićby’s sofa bed family Up-Lift for Croatian manufacturer Prostoria; a product which we’ve never experienced “in the flesh” but which certainly looks very promising.

In addition we were very taken with the photos we’ve seen of Numen / For Use’s Polygon armchair and XL Folding Lounge Chair, the desk lamp Mini Me by Filip Gordon Frank and the Handy Bowl collection by Lidia Boševski. Elsewhere the Croatian Design Superstore offers a selection of toys, clothing, ceramics, furniture and lighting by a nice mix of Croatian designers young and less so.

But perhaps most convincingly, the presence of YY by Numen / For Use – a project that began life as a chair for a hotel in Rovinj on Croatia’s northern shores and ended up in the Moroso programme – highlights that even international furniture manufacturers occasionally pick up high quality, original contemporary design objects while on holiday.

So why shouldn’t you?

Should you find yourself in Croatia this summer the Croatian Design Superstore can be visited until Thursday September 25th at the Rector’s Palace, Poljana Šime Budinića, Zadar.

Full(ish) details can be found at www.facebook.com/croatiandesignsuperstore. From where we have appropriated the following images…..

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 Zadar

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 (Photo Igor Dugandzic, via: www.facebook.com/croatiandesignsuperstore)

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 Zadar

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 (Photo Miljenko Bernfest, via: www.facebook.com/croatiandesignsuperstore)

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 Zadar

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 (Photo Miljenko Bernfest, via: www.facebook.com/croatiandesignsuperstore)

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 Zadar

Croatian Design Superstore 2014 (Photo Miljenko Bernfest, via: www.facebook.com/croatiandesignsuperstore)

(smow) blog compact design tourism special: Weil am Rhein – City of Chairs

August 12th, 2014

Any self-respecting modern conurbation needs a moniker. An evocative tag line on which to hang its city marketing strategy and attract tourists.

Paris is of course the City of Love, Rome the Eternal City, Prague the City of a Hundred Spires while Edinburgh, whether advisable or not, regails as simply Auld Reekie.

In 1998 the southern German town of Weil am Rhein re-christened itself “City of Chairs”

If we’re honest the reason why escapes us, for aside from Vitra there is, as far as we are aware, no further chair manufacturer in the town.

Nor can Weil am Rhein by any stretch of the imagination be considered the cradle of contemporary chair design.

But then when did facts play a part in such naming decisions. The Polish city of Wrocław calls itself the City of Hundred Bridges when it has, at most, forty; Tel Aviv likes to be known as The City That Never Stops, a patent lie as anyone who has visited over Yom Kippur can testify; while in these pages we have often highlighted the, let’s say curiosities, associated Chemnitz’s claim to be the City of Modernism.

And so, why not Weil am Rhein – City of Chairs. With the Vitra Design Museum Weil am Rhein can at least rightly claim to host one of the most complete documentations of contemporary chair design to be found anywhere.

By way of visualising, and cementing, Weil am Rhein’s claim in 1999 the town’s marketing authority started positioning over-sized models of important and interesting examples of chair designs around the town. Each of the so-called Maxiaturen are produced in a scale ranging from 1.5:1 up to 8:1 and have all been realised in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum – thus ensuring that just as with the Vitra Design Museum miniatures collection the Maxiaturen remain true to the originals.

Each Maxiaturen is sponsored by a local business or institution and from an initial collection of nine chairs has now grown to 21, and extended geographically beyond the towns boundaries to neighbouring communities.

And so one can enjoy, for example, Jasper Morrison‘s Wingnut Chair on Lindenplatz in Altweil, the Zig Zag chair by Gerrit T. Rietveld on Weil am Rhein Hauptstrasse or 3:1 copy of Michael Thonet’s Chair Nr. 14 in the nearby village of Ötlingen. Further Maxiaturen present works by designers as varied as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Mart Stam, Michele de Lucchi, Ron Arad or Shiro Kuramata, in addition to two copies of Robert Mallet-Stevens’ 1920s stacking tubular steel chair. One big. And one even bigger.

Although each chair is accompanied by a plaque saying what it is, by whom it is and who paid for it, there is, sadly, no further information available to help the viewer place the work in a historical or creative context. However that aside, the presence of the chairs does make a stroll though and round Weil am Rhein a little more entertaining than would otherwise be the case. But much more allows one a moment of calm to consider both the development of chair design over the decades and also the state of contemporary chair design and the role of the contemporary chair designer. As such should you visit the Vitra Campus do try to find a bit of time to discover the Maxiaturen. And should you decide to photograph any of them – try not to look too much as if you might be from the police, customs and excise, immigration, social work or any similar official body.

Full details on the location of all chairs can be found at: www.w-wt.de

We’ve still not found all 21, but here a few impressions of those we have…..

(smow) blog Design Calendar: August 9th 1878 – Happy Birthday Eileen Gray!

August 9th, 2014

As previously noted in these pages the (hi)story of modernism is largely one of successful male/female partnerships, the most famous questionably being Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich or Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand in the main period of inter-war European modernism and Charles and Ray Eames in context of the post-war American adaptation.

Yet it is also a (hi)story with only very few identifiable female leads. From the examples above Lilly Reich, Charlotte Perriand and Ray Eames are all popularly perceived as the “wee women” on the side of the creative male. At best responsible for the aesthetic, “female”, qualities that round-off the central, important, technical creative talents of the male. But only rarely individually acknowledged as the talented and successful designers, architects or artists the were.

There are of course some shinning examples of successful female modernist architects and designers who are accepted without the need of a male “qualifier” , the most notable being Eileen Gray.

Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray (1878 - 1976)

Born on August 9th 1878 in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland as the youngest of five children to the Scottish landscape painter James McLaren Smith and his wife Eveleen Pounden, the 19th Lady Gray, Eileen Gray studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London before moving to Paris in 1902. Eileen Gray first achieved the attention of a wider public with her oriental lacquer works, a process she learnt first in London at the Dean Street workshop of a Mr. D. Charles and subsequently in Paris under the guidance of the Japanese lacquer master Seizo Sugawara. In 1913 the Paris fashion styler Jacques Doucet purchased her lacquer folding screen Le Destin and subsequently commissioned further works from her; commissions which not only helped Eileen Gray financially, but much more introduced her to an ever wider range of potential clients and customers. One such was a certain Madam Mathieu-Lévy who in 1919 commissioned Eileen Gray to redesign the interior of her apartment, Gray’s very first such commission and one that resulted in some of Eileen Gray’s earliest furniture pieces including the Serpent Chair, Bibendum Chair and the monumentally grotesque, yet somehow endearingly charming and lovable, Pirogue Sofa.

In addition to creating works on commission and for interior design projects in 1922 Eileen Gray established her own shop, Galérie Jean Désert – the “Désert” being a reference to the fond memories of her numerous trips to the deserts of North Africa, the “Jean” because she felt, not unreasonably, that a male gallery owner would be taken more seriously than a female. In addition to selling works by Eileen Gray and promoting her interior design services, Galérie Jean Désert also sold carpets sourced from artisan producers in Morocco. Although such shops were known in the Paris of that period, Eileen Gray was one of the very first designers to attempt to market their own work through their own shop, and certainly one of the first females anywhere to attempt such.

Eileen Gray Bibendum ClassiCon

The Bibendum Chair by Eileen Gray through ClassiCon

Eileen Gray’s first contact with architecture came through her relationship with the Romanian architecture critic and journalist Jean Badovici, an interest that achieved its first physical manifestation in one of Eileen Gray’s most celebrated works, the so-called house E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Côte d’Azur. Teetering precariously on the rocks above the Mediterranean E-1027 is not just an architectural wonder and testament to Eileen Gray’s single minded pursuit of her goals, but also gifted the world some of her most important furniture designs, including the Non Conformist Chair, the Occasional Table and the E-1027 Adjustable Table.

Buoyed by the success of E-1027, and with Galérie Jean Désert suffering in the harsh economic climate of the late 1920s, Eileen Gray decided in 1929 to close Galérie Jean Désert and to focus on architecture rather than her artistic and design projects; a decision which subsequently led to some 45 projects from which seven were realised, mainly for herself, including the 1932 Villa Tempe a Pailla in Castellar and Villa Lou Pérou, Eileen Gray’s last architecture project and one which involved converting an abandoned cabanon in a vineyard near Saint-Tropez.

Villa E 1027 Eileen Gray

Villa E 1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin by Eileen Gray

Being, as she was, a financially secure well educated, artistically inclined child born of the landed petite noblesse and living a single life in early 20th century Paris, Eileen Gray’s biography is awash with those tales and anecdotes that can only come from belonging to that class and that age: being made the subject of a poem by disturbing occultist Aleister Crowley, getting lost in the Tunisian desert and spending the night smoking hashish with nomadic tribesman, ballooning with Rolls Royce co-founder the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls, or, and perhaps the most deliciously debauched behaviour of all, cruising the streets of Paris in her Chenard-Walcker convertible with her lover, the nightclub chanteuse Damia. Damia’s pet panther sat in the back seat. We can’t guarantee that’s true. It may just be apocryphal. But we do so hope it is true.

Post World War II it was a lot quieter around Eileen Gray, there were certainly no more “panthers in roadsters” episodes, and Eileen Gray was in real danger of slipping into an discourteous anonymity were it not for a delightful twist of fate. Following a 1968 review of her oeuvre by Joseph Rykwert in the Italian architecture and design magazine Domus, a 1972 Paris auction of Jacques Doucet’s estate saw Yves Saint Laurent acquire her Le Destin folding screen. A purchase which led to renewed interest in this “unknown” artist who so fascinated Yves Saint Laurent. Thus, just as the original purchase of Le Destin by a fashion styler led to initial interest in Eileen Gray, the purchase of Le Destin by a fashion styler led to renewed interest in Eileen Gray. In the final years of her life Eileen Gray struck up a friendship with the London based furniture dealer Zeev Aram, who subsequently acquired the exclusive rights to Eileen Gray’s furniture designs, designs which today are produced under exclusive license by Munich based manufacturer ClassiCon.

Eileen Gray died in Paris in 1976; however, thanks to the efforts of Aram London, ClassiCon and all those involved in trying to restore and repair E-1027, Eileen Gray remains as present, contemporary and effortlessly stylish as ever.

Happy Birthday Eileen Gray!

Eileen Gray Adjustable Table ClassiCon

The E-1027 Adjustable Table by Eileen Gray through ClassiCon

(smow) blog Design Calendar: August 6th 1920 – Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

August 6th, 2014

“Plastic was equivalent with America for us. Only Bakelite came from Europe. Right? But after the war, everything plastic came to Italy from the States. Purely commercial stuff, but every year a new material came on the market”, recalled Italian architect and designer Anna Castelli Ferrieri in a 1997 interview, “We wanted to try out what all can be made with these new materials”1

And try she did. With an élan that resulted in an enviable portfolio of products that have not only become established design classics in their own right but which helped establish Italian manufacturer Kartell’s reputation at the forefront of plastic research and design.

Born in Milan on August 6th 1920 Anna Ferrieri studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano before establishing her own architecture practice in 1946. In the early 1960s, in context of a hotel renovation project undertaken with Ignazio Gardella, Anna Castelli Ferrieri found herself, more or less, forced to design a table – unable as she was to find anything on the market which matched her specifications. As fate would have it, her husband Giulio Castelli had in 1949 established a small plastics company called Kartell. Following an initial specialisation on industrial and scientific objects and components, Kartell moved throughout the 1950s ever more towards domestic, household objects before in 1964 releasing their first piece of furniture – Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso’s K1340 stackable children’s chair. Against her better judgement Anna Castelli Ferrieri decided to mix private and professional and co-operated with Kartell on the hotel furniture project, the result was Ignazio Gardella and Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s much celebrated large oval dinning table: and the start of a long, if unintended, professional relationship between Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Giulio Castelli. In 1966 Anna Castelli Ferrieri planned and built a new production and administrative complex for Kartell in the southern suburbs of Milan before moving on to develop numerous successful furniture design projects for the company, the best known and most important being without question being the Componibili modular storage system from 1969.

For Anna Castelli Ferrieri the advantages of the new synthetic materials were clear, “With plastics new production process became available. With the old processes one often required several components made of different materials. That meant waste. With plastic everything could be made in one process, from one material, in one piece. And the results weren’t just cheaper, but also more attractive.”2 This passion for plastic never waned and throughout her career she remained an uncritical fan of plastics, even suggesting, somewhat controversially, that “plastic is the only ecological material that exists today. You should leave the wood in the forests. We should not work with anything that can come to an end, can run out.”3 That said, Anna Castelli Ferrieri was also very aware of a designer’s responsibility, stating in 1997 that, “I continue on my own way, conscious of the responsibility I take upon myself whenever I add a new presence to an already overcrowded physical world.”4 For Anna Castelli Ferrieri that included developing new processes for recycling plastic waste and indeed new forms of more durable, less resource intensive plastics. Research that remains a central focus of Kartell’s commercial activity.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s design career was however much more than just Kartell and plastics. In addition to co-founding the Italian Industrial Design Association and teaching at both Milan University and the Domus Academy, Anna Castelli Ferrieri co-operated with companies as varied as Arflex, Matteo Grassi or Barovier & Toso and spent five years as the Italian correspondent of the London based publication Architectural Design.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri died in Milan on June 22nd 2006 aged 87.

But for today, Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

1.  Hufnagl, Florian (ed.) Plastics + design die Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, München , Arnoldsche Verlag, Stuttgart 1997

2. Quoted in, Jürgs, Britta “Vom Salzstreuer bis zum Automobil: Designerinnen”, AvivA Verlag, Berlin, 2002

3.  Hufnagl, Florian (ed.) Plastics + design die Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, München , Arnoldsche Verlag, Stuttgart 1997

4. Quoted in “Anna Castelli Ferrieri, 87, Force in Postwar Modern Italian Design, Dies” New York Times, June 28, 2006 http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/28/arts/design/28ferrieri.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar%2C{%222%22%3A%22RI%3A14%22} accessed 05.08.2014

August 6th 1920 Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri

Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

(smow) blog compact: The hidden dangers of cheap replica furniture. An example.

August 1st, 2014

Over the years we have regularly highlighted the fact that buying cheap copies of established furniture design classics is not only an economically and socially questionable strategy, but is also potentially dangerous.

Just how potentially dangerous being very neatly illustrated in a recent test undertaken by our colleagues at (smow) Australia.

As noted previously, (smow) Australia are not direct, blood, relatives but more second cousins through marriage; we are however bound by a shared passion for and commitment to quality in design and craftsmanship.

A passion and commitment that recently lead the colleagues in Sydney to investigate the differences between an original Tolix stool and two cheaper replicas.

Developed in the 1920s and 1930s by the French metalworker Xavier Pauchard the Tolix chair family have of late become de rigueur for any shop, cafe, bar, hairdresser or home looking for a faux industrial feel.

As such they have become popular objects for forgers. For as we noted in our post from the 2014 Burg Giebichenstein Halle summer exhibition, plagiarists are only interested in objects for which there is a market.

tolix chair

The Tolix family in its multi-colour glory (Photo courtesy of Tolix)

(smow) Sydney made use of an Olympus Delta Portable XRF metal composite analyser to investigate the composition of the original and the copies.

For us the most alarming result is the level of lead discovered in the paint on one of the replicas: some 300 parts per million (ppm). The safe level for lead, for example, for children’s toys in America is 100ppm, for domestic paint it is 90ppm. The limits for the EU and Australia are comparable, if more diffusely defined.

As a toxin lead interferes with and damages most bodily systems and functions. Which is why globally its use is being systematically restricted by law.

And while you may not personally lick your chairs or otherwise consume the paint on them. Babies and toddlers may. Invariably will.

In addition to the lead in the paint the tests also indicated the presence of lead in the solder used to weld the copies – the original used a much higher quality, and safer, copper solder. Lead solder being, effectively, banned in most developed countries on account of the health risks associated. Including of course the health risks for the workers using the lead based solder. And for that matter lead based paints.

Beyond the direct health risks for worker and consumer from lead come the longer term environmental issues: should broken Tolix copies end up in a landfill site the lead will, eventually, seep back into the environment.

You may banish the risk from your home. But it could still come back to haunt future generations.

As the colleagues in Sydney point out, they tested just two Tolix copies, and thus by no stretch of the imagination have they produced any sort of scientifically viable or relevant results. Have however produced results which, for us, are enough to suggest that a lot more testing and research needs to be done. On a much wider range of products.

For ultimately while copyright and intellectual property protection laws might not be enough to stop the plagiarists, health and safety regulations might. Just like the US authorities got Al Capone of tax evasion rather than extortion, murder and racketeering.

We do appreciate that often designer furniture classics are sold at prices that many find unreachable. If not impertinent. And as such are tempted to buy the cheaper copies.

The price of the originals is however a reflection of the better quality materials and craftsmanship that goes into their creation.

Consequently, and at the risk of repeating ourselves, we’d find it very positive if the manufacturers of the originals explained why their products cost what they do – what your getting for your money – rather than focussing on building a complicated visual imagery around their products, a myth if you will that simply attracts the plagiarists and their questionable practices.

The full (smow) Australia post can be read at Replica’s Dirty Little Secret

tolix stools

The Tolix H stool (Photo courtesy of Tolix)

5 New Design Exhibitions for August 2014

July 30th, 2014

As we noted in our 5 New Design Exhibitions for July 2014 post, July and August tend to be quiet months in the world of architecture and design exhibitions.

If evidence to back up our claim were needed, our 5 New Design Exhibitions for August 2014 recommendations features architectural photography in Cologne, Portuguese interior design in Lisbon, interface design in Sydney…….

And that’s it. That’s all that is opening this August. And one of them opened in late July.

But less is famously more, and a little can a long way……

“Markus Brunetti / FACADES. Kathedralen, Kirchen, Klöster in Europa” at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne, Germany

Louis I. Kahn famously spent his formative years sketching the ruins of European cathedrals, sketches and studies that unquestionably inspired many of his own projects: “No architect can rebuild a cathedral of another epoch embodying the desire, the aspirations, the love and hate of the people whose heritage it became”, he wrote in 1944, “But we dare not discard the lessons these buildings teach for they have the common characteristic of greatness upon which the buildings of our future must, in one sense or another, rely”1

An inclination of that to which Louis Kahn refers can be gleaned in Bavarian photographer Markus Brunetti’s large format photos of European cathedrals and churches.

Since 2005 Markus Brunetti has travelled Europe doggedly photographing buildings such as the Notre Dame de Reims, Catedral de Burgos, Frauenkirche Dresden or Santa Croce Florence from an uncompromising frontal perspective. In the subsequent editing Markus Brunetti removes all people, animals and other vestiges of daily, mortal, life from his photos to leave an impression of the construction that allows the viewer to focus fully on the architectural work. And so draw a personal meaning from the desire, the aspirations, the love and hate of the people responsible for its construction.

Markus Brunetti / FACADES. Kathedralen, Kirchen, Klöster in Europa opens at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, An der Rechtschule, 50667 Cologne on Wednesday August 20th and runs until Sunday December 14th.

Markus Brunetti  FACADES Kathedralen Kirchen Klöster in Europa at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne Germany

Hohe Domkirche zu Köln (Photo © Markus Brunetti 2014, Courtesy of Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln)

“Respect and discipline are required by all: The Commission for the Acquisition of Furniture” at the MUDE – Museu do Design e da Moda, Lisbon, Portugal

In 1940 the Portuguese authorities established  the Commission for the Acquisition of Furniture (CAM) with the responsibility of furnishing all government buildings, institutions and facilities. A function CAM carried out uninterrupted until 1980.

Consequently, in the course and fulfilment of its function the CAM was largely responsible for defining and controlling the formal image and identity of the Portuguese state as presented to both foreigners and the Portuguese public at large. A not inconsequential fact for lest we forget the CAM’s tenure started under Oliveira Salazar’s right wing Estado Novo dictatorship and continued up to and beyond the 1974 Carnation Revolution and end of Portugal’s position as a colonial power.

Based on a University of Lisbon research project “Respect and discipline are required by all” aims to explore not only the background to and reality of the CAM but also how its influence remains felt today in Portuguese public buildings and public life.

Presenting some 100 examples of furniture designs commissioned, purchased and used by the CAM in addition to photographs, archive documents and testimonies the exhibition  promises to investigate subjects such as the influence of international modernism in Portugal and the limitations of design and architecture in a conservative, totalitarian state.

Respect and discipline are required by all: The Commission for the Acquisition of Furniture opened at the MUDE – Museu do Design e da Moda, Rua Augusta, nº 24, 1100-053 Lisbon on Thursday July 24th and runs until Sunday November 2nd

Respect and discipline are required by all the Commission for the Acquisition of Furniture at the MUDE Museu do Design e da Moda Lisbon Portugal

Respect and discipline are required by all the Commission for the Acquisition of Furniture at the MUDE Museu do Design e da Moda Lisbon Portugal (Photo courtesy of MUDE Museu do Design e da Moda Lisbon)

“Interface: people, machines, design” at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

Despite the omnipresence of highly designed technical objects in our modern world, the development of such is largely due to the efforts of a relatively small number of manufacturers and designers. A small, almost exclusive, club who form the centre point of the Powerhouse Museum Sydney’s spring exhibition. Starting with Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot at Braun before moving over, for example, Ettore Sottsass and Mario Bellin at Olivetti and on to Hartmut Esslinger and Jonathan Ive at apple, “Interface: people, machines, design”  aims not only to explore and explain the evolution of interface and usability design over recent decades but also explain how that development has not been an organic evolution but the result of the concerted efforts a few visionaries. And possibly marketing departments. In addition the exhibition promises to go deeper into the past and look at historic examples of usable interactive design. Albeit interactive design without the big, sellable, names.

Interface: people, machines, design opens at the Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney on Friday August 15th and runs until Saturday October 11th

Valentine typewriter Ettore Sottsass  Perry King Olivetti

Valentine typewriter by Ettore Sottsass & Perry King for Olivetti (Photo Courtesy of Powerhouse Museum Sydney)

1. Quoted in Eugene J. Johnson, “A Drawing of the Cathedral of Albi by Louis I. Kahn”, Gesta, Vol. 25, No. 1, Essays in Honor of Whitney Snow Stoddard, 1986

(smow) blog compact: Charles Rennie Mackintosh – Travel Sketches at the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow

July 28th, 2014

One of the most mundane, yet important, aspects of any designer or architect’s training is sketching existing buildings and products. Observing. Studying. Forming. Learning. Developing.

Hans J Wegner, for example, drew, drew and redrew the furniture in the Danish Design Museum Copenhagen, Louis I. Kahn spent his formative years sketching the ruins of European churches and cathedrals, while a young Le Corbusier regularly crossed the Swiss-Italian Border to undertake study tours of locations such as Pompeii, Venice or Pisa; tours which involved painting and sketching the buildings he witnessed.

The Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh was also very aware of the importance of sketching and during numerous tours of Scotland, England and Europe established an enviable portfolio of watercolours and sketches of the buildings, monuments and examples of vernacular architecture which crossed his path.

Until March 2015 the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery is presenting an exhibition of  Mackintosh watercolours and sketches, works which in addition to providing an insight into the artist Mackintosh and his artistic style also promise to help demonstrate how travelling, and sketching what he saw, influenced and inspired Mackintosh’s work.

Travel famously broadening the mind. And extending the architects range and vocabulary.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh – Travel Sketches is an accompanying exhibition to “Mackintosh Architecture” the major exhibition of Mackintosh’s architectural drawings currently being shown in the Hunterian Art Gallery. But for us sounds like being the more entertaining exhibition.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh – Travel Sketches runs at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University Avenue, 82 Hillhead Street, Glasgow until March 1st 2015.

Mackintosh Architecture runs at the same venue until January 4th 2015

Hunterian Art Gallery Mackintosh Travel Sketches Lindisfarne Castle Holy Island

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, Northumberland, as sketched by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Photo courtesy of the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow)

Rudolf Horn at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig

July 25th, 2014

As we noted in our post from the recent Burg Giebichenstein Halle summer exhibition, the institution is currently one of the more interesting design schools in Germany.

That it is is largely on account of the conscientious work done and reputation established during the days of divided Germany, and the way that work has subsequently been carried on through into the unified days.

One of the most interesting, if not influential, members of the Burg Giebichenstein staff during the DDR days was Rudolf Horn, a man who joined the Burg Giebichenstein’s Institute for Furniture and Construction Design in 1966 and who remained at Burg until 1996, a man who, almost single-handedly, furnished East Germany, and a man whose contribution to the story of German design is currently being presented in a very brief, if informative, showcase in the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig.

Rudolf Horn MDW Grassi Leipzig

The MDW modular furniture system for VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau by Rudolf Horn, as seen at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig

Born in Waldheim, Sachsen in 1929 Rudolf Horn trained first as a carpenter and subsequently as an interior designer before taking up a position with the furniture manufacturer VEB Möbelwerke Heidenau. In 1952 Horn moved on to the East German Ministry for Light Industry where he remained until joining the so-called Büro für Entwicklung, Messen und Werbung in der Möbelindustrie in 1958. Parallel to his jobs Rudolf Horn studied part-time at the Ingenieurschule für Holztechnik Dresden – Dresden Technical College for Wood Technology – graduating in 1962. In 1964 Rudolf Horn’s first series of modular furniture, the so-called “Leipzig IV” collection was released, followed in 1965 by an accompanying collection of chairs, tables and associated pieces. Rudolf Horn’s real breakthrough however came in 1967 when the VEB Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau released his MDW modular furniture system: a system that was to be produced for the next 24 years and which, as far as we can ascertain, graced every single living room in East Germany. We certainly don’t know many East Germans who aren’t familiar with the MDW system. In later years Rudolf Horn developed further furniture designs that were also to become standard in homes and offices across the DDR, including the Temaset modular office furniture system, a variable sofa system and a family of polyurethane wall mounted modules.

In addition to his furniture design work Rudolf Horn was also involved in numerous housing projects, most notably helping develop and construct a series of concepts high rise flat in Berlin, Rostock and Dresden. Utilising modular construction principles the pilot projects enabled the inhabitants to create, and alter, the internal layout of their flats to meet their, invariably changing, requirements.

For Rudolf Horn the fascination with modular systems came from a simple conviction, namely that “consumers must be able to decide. No-one should tell them what they need and what to buy!”

As if seeking to demonstrate the validity of this position, Rudolf Horn developed a habit of visiting customers to see for himself how they were using their MDW system. And regularly discovered situations where customers had cut the boards or otherwise manipulated and adapted the pre-fabricated elements: something that was very much to his liking “that is exactly how such a systems should be used”, he says smiling broadly, “everyone should have exactly that what they want!” An attitude to furniture that far from making him the “Father of IKEA” as the eastern German media refer to him, makes Rudolf Horn for us clearly the “Father of Open Design”.

In addition to this desire to give customers the opportunity to have the furniture and furnishings most appropriate for them, Rudolf Horn was also motivated by the nature of the job in hand.

Post-War East Germany, as with the rest of post-War Europe, had chronic problems in terms of accommodation and furnishings. And a similarly huge problem of alleviating the situation. Decisions had to be made.

“The central question was where are we going, how should this new, post-war, society be organised”, so Horn, “the society we had known before the war, and the one our parents knew was, and with all respect, not that what we wanted. Everything was broken and simply to re-create what had been wasn’t the answer”

Consequently, the remit for Rudolf Horn and his contemporaries was to look for a moment in history where similar conditions had prevailed, to see how the designers and architcets then had reacted, and so see what the new generation could learn.

Their search lead them to Bauhaus, European modernism and formalism in general. A movement that in many ways arose in situations similar to those being experienced in 1950s East Germany. Yet one which through the pre-war Nazi activities and subsequent war years had largely been closed to Rudolf Horn and his contemporaries.

Dumb however that the young designers had discovered formalism at just that period in history when the East German government were busy banning formalism. The so-called Formalism Debate of the early 1950s denouncing everything associated with the classic modern or the inter-war avant garde as “alienated and hostile” if not a “weapon of imperialism”. As we noted in our previous Design Calendar post on the exhibition “Models for industrial design” from the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden, the East German authorities decreed in 1951 that “Formal tendencies are especially strong in architecture and they ignore the real needs of the workers”

Indeed when the then East German head of state Walter Ulbricht saw the MDW system at its formal presentation in 1967 he announced for all to hear that all he could see was “Bretter“. “Planks”

What the East German authorities wanted was sturdy, solid, heavily ornamented furniture. Biedermeier. The Gelsenkirchener Barock of yore.

But how did a young designer such as Rudolf Horn respond to such debates, to the accusation that his work was ignoring the workers real needs, could one take the authorities seriously?

“Of course we took them seriously”, he responds, “It was all about the workers, the new class, who were now in power, it was about creating something new for the workers so that they realised that they are important. And that was to be demonstrated with richly decorated furnishings, not with simple boxes. And that wasn’t an argument we could ignore out of hand”

Rudolf Horn PUR Grassi Leipzig

Synthetic modular wall units by, and with, Rudolf Horn, as seen at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig

Government wishes however are famously one thing. Reality another.

And so while the political leadership of the day was advocating solid wood furniture, the East German industry was busying itself with the question of “How?”

Quite aside from the lack of materials, machines and factories was the sheer volume of furniture that was needed to be produced. And that as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Fortunately for the East German furniture industry designers such as Rudolf Horn and his contemporaries – unquestionably motivated by the numerous designers and architects with Bauhaus links still working and teaching in the DDR, including, for example, Friedrich Engemann, Selman Selmanagic or Walter Funkat – were quietly ignoring the wishes of the authorities.

“Once we understood what we wanted and had freed ourselves from the arguments in favour of the historical standards, we simply set to work” explains Horn, “And then came the industry. And they wanted what we were doing.”

And through good contact in the government the industry got just that. And slowly, very slowly, the evils of formalism were forgotten.

Which of course raises the obvious question, why were the likes of Rudolf Horn allowed to work on such projects? Why did no-one intervene to stop them?

The answer is a simple as it is obvious “We were young, no one knew us.”

Many still don’t. The systems Horn and his colleagues developed being marketed and sold in the DDR without a designer’s name. The MDW system may be widely recognized. Rudolf Horn isn’t. The presentation at the Grassi Museum intends to change that.

For a designer of Rudolf Horn’s stature and importance the presentation in the Grassi Museum is far too small, provides an introduction to the man and his oeuvre but little more. And that’s a shame.

If only there was another museum somewhere in whose storerooms the archive of the Hellerau Werkstätten slumbered and who could put on a more detailed exploration…… If only.

That the presentation is taking place in the Grassi Museum however is very apposite, for here began the story of one of Rudolf Horn’s more interesting projects, the somewhat unfortunately named Conferstar lounge chair.  A lounge chair that bears a remarkable resemblance to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair.

But then it’s supposed to. That however is a subject for another post…….

The Rudolf Horn presentation can be viewed until December 31st 2014 in the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig permanent exhibition, “Art Nouveau to Present”

Rudolf Horn Conferstar Grassi Leipzig

The Conferstar Lounge Chair for Röhl by Rudolf Horn, as seen at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts Leipzig. Yes we know. But wait, there is a reason.......

Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum

July 23rd, 2014

In 2011 a group of Dutch artists and designers established the Orangemann Trust and set about converting an old, abandoned house in the centre of Oranienbaum into a gallery for contemporary art and design.

That Oranienbaum is a village of some 3000 inhabitants situated 150 kilometres south of Berlin, 80 kilometres north of Leipzig and 4 light years from the next railway station, the location could appear somewhat questionable.


Were it not for the fact that modern Oranienbaum was acquired in 1660 by the House Oranien-Nassau and that in 1683 the Dutch royal family began with the construction of a palace and landscaped garden complex in the middle of the village. A palace and landscaped garden complex that quickly established itself as a popular summer and hunting residence of the Dutch royals and their cohorts.

Then came the war. Weimar Republic. Another war. DDR. German unification. And with it the chance to renovate the crumbling and dilapidated shell that had been Schloss Oranienbaum.

In 2012 with the renovations almost complete Schloss Oranienbaum hosted “Dutch Design – Huis van Oranje”, an exhibition devoted to over 400 years of Dutch creativity.

And 500 metres down the road the Orangemann Trust opened the inaugural summer exhibition in the newly established Ampelhaus Gallery.

2014 sees Ampelhaus present “Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus”, the gallery’s third summer exhibition and a show which ably demonstrates why Ampelhaus is well on its way to becoming just as popular a summer destination as the neighbouring Schloss once was.

Bram Braam Zwei Türen Birgit Severin Geheel gebroken Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus Oranienbaum

Zwei Türen by Bram Braam and Geheel gebroken by Birgit Severin, as seen at Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum

Following on from their 2012 exhibition “Use it Again” which explored reusing and recycling in various contexts and 2013′s “King Size: Art and Design fit for a King” with its more regal perspective on the same subjects, the 2014 exhibition “Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus” moves the discussion on to add more considered reflections on aesthetics, memory, semantics and emotions in context of salvaged and recycled objects.

Something perhaps best demonstrated by Studio Makkink & Bey’s truly monstrous Tree Trunk Bench: a work which is also one of the more apposite exhibits, being as it is an example of reuse created by a Dutch designer in Oranienbaum. Just a dozen years before Ampelhaus arrived.

On a visit to Oranienbaum in 1999 Jurgen Bey witnessed the large numbers of fallen trees lying around the grounds of Schloss Oranienbaum; their similarity to park benches being inescapable and irresistible Jurgen Bey created bronze backrests modelled on historic chair designs found in the Schloss to complete the impression. Last year, by good fortune, the Ampelhaus team observed a tree being felled across the road from them, secured the trunk and so this year can present a Tree Trunk Bench in, near as damn it, its original location.

Tree Trunk Bench Jurgen Bey Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus Oranienbaum

Tree Trunk Bench by Studio Makkink & Bey, as seen at Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum

The very first Tree Trunk Bench was created in context of the Studio Droog project “Couleur Locale”, a project which also included works by Hella Jongerius, Marcel Wanders and Martí Guixé, an enviable collection of some of the most promising young Dutch based designers of that period.

Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus in many ways mirrors and updates that roster, presenting as it does works by some of the more interesting and progressive young designers and artists the Netherlands currently has to offer.

Dirk Vander Kooij, for example, is represented with his 2013 Chubby Chair, a work that takes the extreme 3D printing concept developed in his Endless project to create a recycled polystyrene chair with the most delightfully endearing and engaging cartoon-esque form, while Amsterdam based Pepe Heykoop is represented with two projects, the anarchic 2012 Bits of Wood which combines waste wood and waste tin to create new products, plus two objects from his ongoing Skin Collection series in which he covers old, neglected objects in leather waste thus giving a new life, purpose and aesthetic charm to both.

In addition Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus features works by a further 20 or so artists and designers including, amongst others, Olaf Mooij, Isaac Monté, Bram Braam and Tejo Remy & René Veenhuizen, whose Accidental Carpet created from cut-offs and loose ends of old wool blankets graces the space like some slowly melting Keith Haring painting. One could almost say Keith Haring meets Salvador Dali. In a wool carpet.

But its not all Dutch designers and artists. There is, for example, the installation Geheel gebroken by Bielefeld born, Berlin based designer Birgit Severin in which old, slightly damaged porcelain is coated in black rubber, thus, apparently, preserving the past in a stable and secure form. However, despite its new shroud of invincibility the porcelain remains as fragile and transient as ever. Drop it and it will still break. You just won’t see it.

Or Korean designer Bora Hong with her Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom project, a project in which she transposes the world of plastic surgery on to the world of design. Cosmetic Surgery Kingdom is and was a far reaching, multi-faceted project, on show at Ampelhaus is but one part of that whole, namely an “Eames DCW” and a “Rietveld rood-blauwe stoel” each created from the de-constructed, disjointed remnants of another, less illustrious chair, a chair that wanted/needed “plastic surgery” to become interesting, attractive, illustrious. But is it better than it was? Or just more familiar than it was?

Both Bora Hong and Birgit Severin are, it must be noted, Design Academy Eindhoven alumni, and so while not Dutch themselves, there is an Oranje link.

Accidental Carpet Tejo Remy René Veenhuizen Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus Oranienbaum

Accidental Carpet by Tejo Remy & René Veenhuizen and Chubby Chair by Dirk vander Kooij, as seen at Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus, Oranienbaum

Little remains in Ampelhaus from past exhibitions. For Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus all is refreshingly, and fittingly, new. Including the extension of the exhibition space into the courtyard, stables and outhouses. The one obvious retention from years past being Leerdam artist Oscar Prinsen’s 2013 intervention “Überraschendes Gespräch”, in which two holes were cut in the ground floor ceiling and a very high chair placed under each hole, thus allowing visitors the chance to engage in a conversation across the expanse of the first floor. The first floor itself remaining out of bounds for visitors: Überraschendes Gespräch allowing access and interaction. For Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus Oscar Prinsen has gone down, cutting a whole in the ground floor floor through which one reaches a stool in the cellar, and thus, apparently, opening up the cellar for the visitor. Just as Überraschendes Gespräch achieved with first floor. Except Oscar Prinsen doesn’t open up the cellar. Quite apart from placing the visitor in a cage akin to that used when diving with sharks, the floor of the Ampelhaus cellar has been littered with 1080 ceramic flowers by Rotterdam based artist Onno Poiesz. Delicate, fragile ceramic flowers which although, meadow like, invite one to lie down and dwell a while, paradoxically also stop you doing just that. Consequently you are left alone, isolated and with a tantalising view of a freedom you could have.

With its mix of art and design Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus isn’t an especially easy exhibition. There are easy, very accessible, moments, moments where it is very clear what the designer or artist wants to demonstrate/explain/bemoan; but there are also works that require a lot more time, a lot more effort and a lot more consideration. Time, effort and consideration that the relaxed atmosphere in the Ampelhaus and the open exhibition design concept positively support and encourage.

And away from the theoretical, philosophical aspects Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus can also be enjoyed at a very basic level, Martijn Hesseling’s art work, for example, arising from a fascinating mix of newspaper and varnish, Ron van der Ende’s mesmerising bas-reliefs or Claudy Jongstra’s wool, silk and linen wall hangings being objects that one can simply sit back and enjoy.

Something we can strongly recommend.

Unter Zwischen im Ampelhaus can be viewed at Ampelhaus, Brauerstraße 33, 06785 Oranienbaum until Saturday September 20th

Full details, in Dutch and German, can be found at http://ampelhaus.nl