(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Moooi

April 11th, 2014

Preparing for his solo exhibition “Pinned Up at the Stedelijk, 25 years of design” clearly helped Marcel Wanders tackle, and defeat, his inner demons.

We can find no other explanation for the transformation from the darkness of Moooi’s 2013 Milan show to the lighter, happier, untroubled, feel of 2014′s.

The formats were and are essentially the same, both based around room contexts backdropped by large format photos of heavily stylised spaces, but whereas last year’s presentation was a menacing neo-sadistic Wes Anderson battles Tim Burton fantasy hell; this year there was free sorbet on offer on the press day.

In two flavours: pink grapefruit or lemon.

The new Moooi products also exude a lighter, more accessible, less troubled, aesthetic.

And a new construction approach: carpentry.

Something that until now simply wasn’t part of the Moooi programme, and which they have realised with an aplomb we honestly wouldn’t have expected.

Not because Moooi can’t do quality or craft, but because in recent years the feel of the collection has been going ever more towards extroverted extremes, to forms, compositions and imagery that have challenged concepts of good taste.

The antithesis if you will of nicely turned chair legs and rounded table edges.

And then came Pinned Up………..

Among the new products the highlight for us was the Zio family of armchair, footstool, sideboard and low table by Marcel Wanders. And principally the sideboard.

An object that doesn’t do anything especially new, when all is said and done it’s a standard mid-60s wood sideboard; however, it does what it does with a wonderful degree of clarity and a self-controlled vanity that is somehow far removed from the its more formal forefathers.

It may be meant ironically. We don’t know. We don’t care. We like it.

Elsewhere the new Taffeta sofa and chair from Alvin Tjitrowirjo caught the attention with their almost colonial charm, the Nut chairs and footstool by Marcel Wanders bring a genuinely fresh form to the over-saturated world of moulded plywood chairs, and so prove that in the furniture world a market is never so over-saturated that one more object can’t be squeezed in, while the Prop Lamps from Bertjan Pot bring the glamour of the stage dressing room to the living room. In a surprisingly incognito fashion one must add for such big, brash objects. And they probably also represented the most theatrical aspect of the Moooi 2014 presentation.

A few impressions.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

April 10th, 2014

“Modern office chairs can be like machines, very technical. We wanted to create something a little softer, more human.” So explains Ronan Bouroullec the background thinking to the new Uncino chair by the brothers Bouroullec for Italian manufacturer Mattiazzi.

According to Ronan the path from the commission from Mattiazzi for an office chair to Uncino was “quite slow”, but was obviously worth it, resulting as it has in a truly fascinating and engaging object.

Available in either a static version with a delightful curving sleigh base that hints cantilever without venturing so far, or a swivel version, a version which we consider to be the far superior, Uncino is constructed from ash and steel and comes with a choice of two backrest forms: an elongated, centred, version for lumbar support or a narrower, rounder, curved version more appropriate for relaxing.

The combination of wood with the delicate bent metal tubing bequeaths Uncino something of an historic feel, almost a Victorian steam punk flair; a form language that unquestionably arises from the research Ronan and Erwan undertook when developing the project.

“The very first office chairs were wooden and the seat turned on a very simple, central spindle”, elucidates Ronan “and for us it was quite easy to return to this typology”

Despite its pre-industrial references Uncino is unquestionably a chair for contemporary, post-industrial, environments and we can well imagine it, for example, in a reduced, uncluttered yet busy, office. Or a home office.

If we’re honest we visited the Mattiazzi stand on a couple of occasions to inspect, reinspect and reinspect Uncino, so unsure were we if we really did actually like it. Ultimately we decided we did.

We suspect that for most people it will also take a little getting used to.

But then, somethings just take time…..

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan furniture Fair 2014

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi

Uncino by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi, as seen at Milan furniture Fair 2014

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Source Material @ Kaleidoscope Project Space

April 10th, 2014

Exhibitions in which designers present objects that inspire them are nothing new. But are by their very nature exhibitions that are always new. No two being the same. A fact that always makes them worth visiting.

During Milan Design Week the Kaleidoscope Project Space is showing “Source Material”, the latest such exhibition.

Presenting objects submitted by 45 creatives from across a range of genres, Source Material claims to be an exploration of how the creative process is both “informed by the legacy of material culture that surrounds us” and at the same time an “affirmation of the potential of an object to reflect and nurture the human spirit”

That the exhibition has been organised by Jasper Morrison and Jonathan Olivares in cooperation with art director/publisher Marco Velardi the list of participating creatives is suitably A list, and so we learn, for example, that Naoto Fukasawa first understood beauty through the rolls of vinyl friction tape his electrician father used, that Richard Sapper finds inspiration in Romano Guardini’s Lettere dal lago di Como or that Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon carries his songs, cigarettes, computer and camera in a handmade leather briefcase bought in 2009 in Japan. And how the idea of longevity inherent in the briefcase inspires him to strive for the same in his music.

All very interesting, entertaining and insightful individual stories.

But nothing more.

We all have objects that tell stories, yet simply telling the story behind a collection of unrelated objects from unrelated individuals is too little for an exhibition.

For us the basic problem is that curatorial aim of Source Material is too easy.

We all know that personal objects can cause us to reflect and can inspire us. That’s why we keep them, often in the face of bitter opposition from a loved one who simply cannot understand our infatuation with some, invariably, broken object. Or a cellar full of boxes from which we can’t be parted.

The stories of objects belonging to successful people we may have heard of, assuming we have the correct cultural interests and references, are however no more interesting than those of people we’ve not heard of. And never will hear of.

Unless that is all the objects presented have played some role in the success of the individual. Have directly inspired their work. Helped build the career. Are, so to say, biographically relevant.

With Source Material, despite the implicit intention in the exhibitions name, that is not the case. Or not always. Occasionally it is. Too occasionally.

Or put another way, had the curators focussed more attention on the objects rather than the contributors they could have created a much more coherent and useful exhibition.

However, if you simply want to know what an old pair of yellow industrial earmuffs mean to Konstantin Grcic, embroidery frames to Klaus Hackl or what his spurtle means to chef Fergus Henderson, your definitely in the right place.

Source Material can be viewed at Kaleidoscope Project Space, Via Macedonio Melloni 33, Milan until Saturday April 12th

There is also an accompanying book by Kaleidoscope Press.

Full details can be found at www.source-material.net

Vitra Design Museum Talk: Raumlabor – Temporary Architecture

April 10th, 2014

As part of the accompanying fringe programme to the exhibition Konstantin Grcic – Panorama, the Vitra Design Museum is hosting a talk on Thursday April 17th by Berlin creative collective Raumlabor.

Established in 1999 as a loose association of architects and artists Raumlabor have spent the past fifteen years exploring issues around urban renewal, interactive environments, the borders between public and private spaces. Cityscapes, to use the vocabulary of Panorama.

For their Vitra Design Museum talk members of the Raumlabor team will discuss their vision of the “city of tomorrow” in context of the collective’s past and current projects, including – we would assume – the Eichbaumoper, which transformed the Eichbaum metro station in Mülheim into an open air opera house; the 2009 Spacebuster intervention in which they “re-planned” various locations across New York with a vast, mobile, inflatable, temporary space; or the “World is not Fair” mini World’s Fair they staged at Berlin Tempelhof in 2012.

And while we can appreciate that for many of you such projects may sound like messing about rather than getting some proper work done; one of Raumlabor’s first projects in 1999 involved a re-imagination of Moritzplatz in Berlin, including an urban forest. The Prinzessinnengarten community allotments that now stand on the site might be a very, very small-scale forest, but is not only one of the more interesting and important urban intervention projects in Berlin, but a project that shows alternative urban futures are feasible if communities seize the initiative. Just as Raumlabor sought to demonstrate in 1999. And will no doubt seek to do at the Vitra Design Museum.

Raumlabor – Temporary Architecture takes place at the Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Strasse 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany on Thursday April 17th 2014. The talk will be held in German, and entry is free.

The 2009 Spacebuster project in New York.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Thomas Schnur @ Salone Satellite

April 9th, 2014

As regular readers will be aware, unlike The Kinks we are no dedicated followers of fashion.

Millinery is another matter altogether.

There is little that excites us quite as much as a good hat.

And so we were obviously instantly taken by what we took to be an over sized Fes on Cologne designer Thomas Schnur’s stand at Salone Satellite.

It was of course not a Fes but “Felt Stool”, one of Thomas’s newer projects. And a project that is exactly what it claims to be. A stool made of felt.

Not only does Felt Stool resemble the Fes in its physical form, but Thomas engaged the help of a hat maker to create the prototype.

A further brilliant example of the importance of traditional crafts in contemporary product design. If more were necessary.

Headwear aside the stand out object for us on Thomas’s Cologne stand wasn’t Felt Stool but rather the coat rack Rail.

The secret of the design is a cleverly thought through and endearingly simple mounting mechanism based around, in effect, a couple of screws and a piece of rope which holds the bent steel tube frame taught and firm. The result is a very low maintenance and low profile hanging system created from a minimum of materials and with a minimum of fuss. And a product with a lot of character that appeals to us greatly.

Full details on Thomas Schnur and his work can be found at www.thomasschnur.com

A few impressions from Milan.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Vitra @ Salone del Mobile

April 9th, 2014

Older readers will remember how last year one of the Vitra Senior Manager’s quoted from this blog in his pre-fair pep talk to the assembled Team Vitra.

Having reached the zenith of our careers we contemplated retiring.

Fortunately we didn’t.

For at Milan 2014 Vitra have re-issued objects from a collection of Alexander Girard furniture designs that featured in our July 2012 “Lost Furniture Design Classics” post.

OK not the furniture pieces we referred to, but objects from the same collection. And while we can’t prove a connection……

Created in 1967 in context of his legendary design work with Braniff Airlines, Alexander Girard’s furniture collection was produced by Herman Miller. But only for a year.

Vitra’s re-issue sadly doesn’t include the sofa and armchair that so moved us to pen that particular post, but does include the Colour Wheel Ottoman. A joyful piece of well thought through and perfectly proportioned furniture design, the Colour Wheel Ottoman features the same base and leg structure as the sofa and side chair, but is a much more approachable, cuddlier, domestic item. And an item that has lost none of its charm over the intervening four decades since its conception.

For us the decision to re-issue is not only very welcome but also very sensible; not least because it gives Vitra a new product genre that beautifully complements and extends the existing Vitra Home Collection.

Parallel to the Colour Wheel Ottoman Vitra have also released some of Alexander Girard’s side tables from the same collection, tables of which in 2012 we wrote “The tables don’t rock our boat quite as much. A little too restrained, don’t really look fully thought through. Look a little too much like a necessary, unloved afterthought.” Sentiments we stand by.

In addition Vitra have also launched re-edition of the  Aluminium Chairs EA 101, 103 and 104 by Charles and Ray Eames. Originally marketed as the “Aluminium Dining Chairs” the EA 101, 102 and 104 are somewhat more compact than, for example the  EA 105 or EA 107 and as such more suitable for domestic settings. Be that a dining table or not. Complimenting the new chairs and their domestic suitability is a palette, a veritable pastel rainbow, of new tones developed by Hella Jongerius for the Kvadrat fabric Hopsack as used in and on the aluminium chair collection.

We know such colour schemes are more about lifestyle than design. But they are most alluring.

New products by Barber Osgerby, Jasper Morrison, Hella Jongerius and a re-launch of the legendary Landi Chair by Hans Coray together with the Davy Table from Michel Charlot – a new product inspired by the Landi Chair and intended as an accompanying piece – complete a fascinating collection of new products.

A  few impressions.

CH24 Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn

April 9th, 2014

At the 1949 Copenhagen Carpenters Guild exhibition Hans J. Wegner presented his JH501 “Round Chair” for Johannes Hansen. Often referred to simply as “The Chair”, for many its basic yet expressive form reflecting perfection in chair design, the JH501 was the work with which Hans J. Wegner first reached a mass public and is in many ways the work that first established the international reputation of Danish design and which made Danish furniture “hip”.

Among those who saw the JH501 at the 1949 exhibition was the furniture dealer Eivind Kold Christensen, who subsequently asked Wegner if he could create something similar for the Odense based manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn, something similar, but which in its construction would be adaptable for partial machine production and so less exclusive than the handmade JH501.1 An affordable chair for a mass public, as, for example, with Michael Thonet’s chairs.

Wegner readily agreed. And promptly created the CH24 Wishbone Chair, also known as the Y Chair, an object which bears little or no similarity to the JH501.

Other than the use of bent wood.

CH24 Wishbone Chair Hans J. Wegner Carl Hansen & Søn Sketch

Sketches by Hans J. Wegner of what would become the CH24 Wishbone Chair (Photo: Hans J. Wegners Tegnestue I/S, courtesy of Hatje Cantz Verlag)

As with all good design the Wishbone Chair looks effortless, yet this effortlessness hides a carefully planned and thoroughly thought through construction, a construction composed by a craftsman with not only a fine understanding of his craft but much more by one with a restless creative mind driven by a passion for improving works past.

As a student at the Copenhagen Arts and Crafts School Hans J. Wegner was introduced to the so-called Chinese Chair, a simple, common chair form that was to inspire and influence him his career long. In the mid 1940s he designed two “Chinese Chairs” for Fritz Hansen, the FH1783 and FH4282 2, and, as Christian Holmsted Olesen beautifully illustrates in “WEGNER – Just one good chair“, the Wishbone Chair can be seen as a further development of these works.

With a few important variations.

For all the characteristic “Y” shaped backrest element, a feature which allows the backrest to curve further out than would otherwise be the case, thus allowing a slightly longer, more organic backrest which gives the sitter more room than in, for example, Wegner’s Chinese Chairs or JH501. This backrest construction is aided and abetted by the rear leg, which extends forwards with a delicate, self confident, twist to support the backrest in the middle of the seat, thus avoiding the need for an additional, and potentially space constricting, supporting element at the front of the arms.
The result is a much more open, lighter form language, a chair that emits a welcoming calm that almost invites one to sit down.

In addition, with its much shorter arms the Wishbone Chair is more suitable for use at the dinning table than the JH501 – a deliberate design decision on Wegner’s part and one which solved one of the, for him, faults with “The Chair”3

The CH24 as an improvement on the perfect JH501, if you will.

Released by Carl Hansen & Søn in 1950 the Wishbone Chair took time to establish itself, but ultimately was to go on to become Wegner’s most commercially successful chair design.

To mark Hans J. Wegner’s centenary (smow) are offering the CH24 Wishbone Chair from Carl Hansen & Søn at celebratory prices. The offer applies to all oak and beech versions of the Wishbone Chair ordered before May 15th 2014.

And so while, much like Hans J. Wegner, you never be able to design just one good chair…. you can own one.

Full details can be found at smow.com

1. “Christian Holmsted Olesen”, WEGNER – Just one good chair”, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, 2014

2. ibid

3. ibid

CH24 Wishbone Chair Hans J. Wegner Carl Hansen & Søn

CH24 Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn

CH24 Wishbone Chair Hans J. Wegner Carl Hansen & Søn Side

CH24 Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Le Feu Sacré. Designers and glass blowers at Institut français

April 8th, 2014

“With Milan design week, as with life”, we noted in our Milan Design Week 2014 preview, “the best, most interesting, most enjoyable discoveries are invariably to be made on the by-ways. And often as the result of spontaneous, unconsidered, chance, decisions.”

And so it came to pass.

On the Sunday before Milan design week we were busy completing all those important, unacknowledged, thankless, tasks without which this all wouldn’t be possible, when by pure chance we walked past the Milan dependence of the Institut français and saw that they were staging an exhibition. The existence of which we were until then unaware.

But which we are very thankful for having discovered.

Presenting works created by 17 design studios in cooperation with the Meisenthal International Glass Art Centre, Le Feu Sacré premièred at Grand Hornu in 2012 and is as much about the continuing importance of traditional crafts in contemporary design as it is about the works on display.

Tracing its roots back to 1704 the Meisenthal Glassworks fell victim to the harsh economic conditions in post war France and closed on December 31st 1969. In 1983 a museum was established on the site before in 1992 a group of enthusiasts established the Meisenthal International Glass Art Centre: an institution which not only reignited the Meisenthal kilns but also the tradition of experimental glass making in the Vosges mountains, a tradition that began in the late 19th century with Emile Gallé, arguably the most important French Art Nouveau glass artist.

We first became aware of Meisenthal through the Mesh Vase by Werner Aisslinger, an object created by blowing the glass inside a glass fibre textile bag, and so were delighted to see examples from the project on show in Milan alongside projects by international design studios such as V8 Designers, David Dubois, Andreas Brandolini, Jasper Morrison, etc, etc, etc.

One of the joys of seeing industrial designers working in an experimental fashion with glass is that it reminds us that, when all is said and done, design comes, in effect, from craft, industrial design from the desire to make craft more accessible and more affordable.

Le Feu Sacré is a delightful demonstration of this, and that despite all our alleged advances and sophistication, traditional crafts still feed the design process, still inspire, excite and drive designers to realise projects and to experiment with processes which they otherwise wouldn’t.

Many of the projects on display at Le Feu Sacré have no future as mass market products. But all contain research and experimentation that can be used elsewhere.

A fact that makes an institute like the Meisenthal International Glass Art Centre so important. And Le Feu Sacré so enjoyable.

Le Feu Sacré. Designers and glass blowers runs at the Institut français, Corso Magenta 63, Milan until May 16th.

The vernissage takes place on Thursday 10th April from 6.30 pm until 11.00pm, should you be in Milan we can think of worse places to be.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Dutch Invertuals – Happy Future

April 8th, 2014

Many people, if not peoples, could currently be forgiven for reacting somewhat sceptically to the notion of a “Happy Future”.

With their exhibition “Happy Future” Dutch design collective Dutch Invertuals take on this scepticism and aim to show that the basic ingredients for such are there; we just need to identify and use them correctly.

Established in 2009 Dutch Invertuals is a loose collective of designers, largely but not exclusively with a Design Academy Eindhoven background, who cooperate on an annual themed exhibition. Not only is the preparation and organisation of the exhibition a collective effort but also all projects are discussed and debated within the community. The result is invariably a exhibition that allows each designer the freedom to explore the brief as they see fit, while maintaining the cohesion that is necessary to make such an exhibition worth viewing.

Happy Futures is in that sense a classic Dutch Invertuals exhibition.

Some projects deal very directly with the future as, for example, the NewspaperWood project by Mieke Meijer. First developed in 2003 NewspaperWood is, as the name implies, a synthetic wood made from old newspaper. Paradoxically. Together with the Dutch label Vij5 Mieke developed numerous pieces of furniture and other products from her NewspaperWood, and in Milan is now presenting the latest development: fine “veneers” of NewspaperWood that can be moulded like plywood. A development that opens up a whole new vista for the material. A new future, as it were.

A further example of an obvious link to the future is the Mono-lights project by Peet and Sophie Mensen aka OS ∆ OOS. Taking their inspiration from nature OS ∆ OOS have created a lighting object that extends fluorescent light tubes into a pliable, mountable product in its own right and one that has the flexibility to allow it to be utilised in numerous situations. And then utilised elsewhere if need be. In addition the fluorescent tubes contain the latest in LED technology, thus allowing for an object that is not only fit for the future in terms of its (multi)functionality but also its resource responsibility.

Others projects approach the future more abstractly such as Clips by design studio Daphna Laurens, a product that, in a way, never should have been. It started as an abstract exploration of forms, the creation of 60 “imagination tools” and was intended to remain as such, as a sort of inspiration source for Daphna and Laurens. But then came the thought that one could, maybe also create something based on the forms. And that something was range of paper clips. No one is seriously arguing paper clips are the future, but the exploration of new forms has already led to the paper clips. Where could it also lead?

Foam & Glass by Roos Gomperts addresses the unmistakable fact that a healthy, safe, peaceful future requires a better balance between varying factions. In this case Foam and Glass combined in a majestic series of objects. And in the wider world………………………………?

Then there are those more conceptual projects that no good Dutch Invertuals show exhibition should be without. With their Feeds per minute project Raw Color not only allow one to filter out either the good news or the bad news from a personalised news stream, but to the save the virtual news stream in an analogue form that can be revisited virtually as required. Archiving the digital world as it were, and of course a theme also discussed in the exhibition Okolo Offline at Depot Basel. Design studio Edhv meanwhile explore the relationship between physical and virtual worlds through the analogy of roots. And of 3D printing root structures developed from digital interpretations of physical processes. Essentially an exploration of natural algorithms the research opens up new possibilities for individualised production of otherwise standard products.

Elsewhere Jólan van der Wiel has extended the magnetic forming process from his Gravity Stool project to magnetic forming of porcelain, Jeroen Wand (re)introduces the rustic world of aluminium welding for future of open source processes, Brit van Nerven and Sabine Marcelis explore new possibilities with glass through the medium of mirrors and Jetske Visser presents a new approach to textile printing using…. steam.

Finally, and while accepting that Dutch Invertuals is no beauty pageant, the project that most tickled us was CaCO3 – Stoneware by Thomas Vailly and Laura Lynn Jansen. Essentially taking the natural phenomenon of stalactite/stalagmite formation as the basis for a production process Thomas and Laura have not only created new production possibilities, but  the most delightful objects.

Some of the projects being presented in Milan will no doubt end up as much sought after gallery pieces, others will lead to adaptations for use in areas other than those they are currently being applied in. Yet others will, inevitably, run into the sand. And one or the other will lead to real products . Of that we are certain. But a commercial product is not the ultimate aim of the work any of the designers are doing. All the projects are about exploring within their own niche, investigating what is possible and seeing where the journey leads.

And as we all know, or should know, if designers do that conscientiously and with the necessary mix of inspiration and perspiration, we can all look forward to a Happy Future.

Dutch Invertuals leaves one feeling optimistic.

Dutch Invertuals – Happy Future can be viewed at Via Pastrengo 12, 20159 Milan until Sunday April 13th

Full details can be found at www.dutchinvertuals.nl

(smow) blog Design Calendar: April 8th 1901 – Happy Birthday Jean Prouvé!

April 8th, 2014

Whereas, generally speaking, those designers we feature in these pages have trained as either an architect or carpenter, Jean Prouvé was a blacksmith. Or more correctly a ferronniers d’art. An ornamental blacksmith.

A training that was to give him a singular perspective on the challenges of the age, on aesthetics, on the question of industrial versus artisan production and which endows him and his work with a unique place in the history of European architecture and design.

He is also the only 20th century designer we aware of who has ever had their work featured in The Adventures of Tintin……..

Born in Paris on April 8th 1901 as the second son to artist Victor Prouvé and his pianist wife Marie Duhamel, Jean Prouvé grew up in Nancy where his father had co-founded the Ecole de Nancy arts and crafts school. At 15 Jean Prouvé moved to Paris to train as a smith before returning to Nancy in 1923 to establish his own workshop. Initially content with the production of “standard” ornamental blacksmith products – railings, gates, banisters, etc – things began to change in 1926 when Jean Prouvé “discovered” sheet metal, and for all the bending and forming of sheet steel and sheet aluminium. Starting with furniture Prouvé quickly expanded his repertoire to architectural elements and structures, yet always relying on the same folding and binding systems. In addition to realising his own projects Jean Prouvé regularly co-operated with architects on their projects, perhaps most notably in 1930 with Maurice-Jacques Ravazé on Citroën’s new showroom in Lyon – the company’s first dependence outwith Paris and where Prouvé first used folded sheet steel on a façade1 – or his numerous co-operations with Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. In 1931 ever growing success allowed Jean Prouvé to establish a limited company, “Les Ateliers Jean Prouvé S.A.”, which by the early 1950s employed over 250 workers producing furniture and realising architectural projects at the company’s facility in the Nancy suburb of Maxéville. The success however came to an abrupt end in June 1953 when differences between Prouvé and Aluminium Français, as major shareholder, saw Jean Prouvé leave the concern. And although he continued to work on architectural and engineering projects, June 1953 effectively marks the end of Jean Prouvé’s career as a furniture designer.

His works however didn’t fall into forgetfulness, as playfully demonstrated by the inclusion of a Fauteuil visiteur – Visitors Armchair – in Hergés classic “Tintin in Tibet”. Published in 1960 Tintin in Tibet opens with Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock enjoying a holiday in the Hergeian alpine resort town of Vargèse. Or at least Tintin is. Snowy fears for his feet on the rocky mountain terrain and Captain Haddock, while enjoying the Alps as scenery, is firmly of the opinion that “mountains should be abolished”. Following dinner in the Hotel des Sommets, Tintin and Captain Haddock are playing chess when Tintin, no doubt tired by the champagne-esque mountain air, drifts off…. and awakes with a start.
The half-page illustration depicting the commotion in the hotel lounge as Tintin awakes shows other guests, most prominently Tintin’s acquaintance Professor Calculus, relaxing in Fauteuil visiteurs. And then the chairs are gone. And there follows a highly engaging, and tintintypically adventurous, trip to Tibet in search of Tintin’s friend Chang. A trip that involves runaway cows, avalanches, Buddhist monks, yetis and more blistering barnacles, great snakes and thundering typhoons than you can shake an ice axe at. All highly entertaining stuff.

Almost as entertaining is the story of the development of the Fauteuil visiteur. Almost.

The Fauteuil visiteur first appears as a sketch in a July 1941 portfolio of furniture designs intended for the Solvay Hospital project by Nancy architects’ Jacques and Michel André; a portfolio that also includes the first sketches of what would become the Guéridon table and the EM Table.2 Initially sketched by Jean Boutemain the draft was adapted in February 1942 by Jean-Marie Glatigny, and re-draughted again two weeks later by Jean Boutemain. Both Glatigny and Boutemain belonged to the “research and design team” Jean Prouvé established upon opening his second workshop in 1931.3 A team whose very existence demonstrates just how long the product design world has been reliant on unsung, unnamed creatives, technicians and engineers working in the shadows………

The Solvay Hospital project was never realised, but in 1948 Les Ateliers Jean Prouvé released the Fauteuil visiteur as a product in its own right, and over the subsequent five years made the chair available in a range of versions, including a reclining version with an adjustable backrest.4

If we’ve judged things correctly the version in which Professor Calculus sits in Tintin in Tibet is a FV 13 from 1948/49.

We could of course be mistaken.

Much like a Gerrit T. Rietveld, Jean Prouvé’s work had and has parallels to what his contemporaries were doing, while being unmistakably a canon of work that exists for itself. For example, as Jean Prouvé was developing his furniture from folded sheet steel, aluminium and solid oak, contemporaries such as Mart Stam or Marcel Breuer were experimenting with bending steel tubing and moulding plywood.

Same. But very different.

And whereas we’re all use to seeing examples of classic furniture design being used in film, television, photographs and advertising to stimulate a particular cultural reference in the observer and so portray a desired atmosphere and/or emotion … Designer furniture in a comic?

Same. But very, very different.

Happy Birthday Jean Prouvé!

1. Peter Sulzer [ed.] “Arcus XV. Jean Prouvé : Meister der Metallumformung; das neue Blech”, Verlagsgessellschaft Rudolf Müller, Köln 1991

2. Peter Sulzer “Jean Prouvé : oeuvre complète. 2. 1934-1944″, Wasmuth Berlin 2000

3. Peter Sulzer “Jean Prouvé : oeuvre complète. 1. 1917-1933″, Wasmuth Berlin 1995

4. Peter Sulzer “Jean Prouvé : oeuvre complète. 3. 1944-1954″,  Birkhäuser, Basel 2005

(At this point we should obviously publish an impression of the scene from Tintin in Tibet. However owing to “contractual complications”……)

Happy Birthday Jean Prouvé!

Happy Birthday Jean Prouvé!