smow Design Blog


French designer Ionna Vautrin first reached a broad international public with her Binic lamp for Italian manufacturer Foscarini, a design which, it’s fair to say, is/was one of those genuinely, gloriously, joyous moments in the (hi)story of lighting design, a work full of character yet devoid of vanity, universally applicable yet always individual.

Ionna Vautrin is however more than Binic: before Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of studios and across an equally diverse range of design genres. Since Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of manufacturers and across an equally diverse range of design genres.

Keen to know more we met up with Ionna Vautrin in Paris…….

Ionna Vautrin


As we all learned from the exhibition Peter Behrens. The Practical and the Ideal at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld, the city was an important location in the development of the young Peter Behrens, not least through the role played by the museum’s founding director Friedrich Deneken in helping Behrens take his first steps from pure to applied arts; help which included not only giving Behrens’ work space in the museum but also mediating commissions with Krefeld manufacturers.

One of the more interesting projects discussed by Deneken and Behrens was creating the Damenzimmer – Boudoir – in Behrens’ house on the Mathildenhöhe Artists Colony in Darmstadt as a “Krefeld Room”, featuring exclusively, or near as makes no difference, works by Krefeld manufacturers.

Ultimately, for reasons of time, it wasn’t realised as such, but the fact that it was seriously considered underscores the depth of manufacturing and craft industries in Krefeld of 1901.

And the breadth of Behrens’ fledgling talents.

Krefeld of 2018 may not have the depth of industry it enjoyed in 1901, but do the current fledgling designers have the breadth of talent of a Peter Behrens?

The 2018 designkrefeld Werkschau provided a good opportunity to gather an impression.

 Bernhard Pfau Building, Hochschule Niederrhein, Krefeld


At Orgatec Cologne 2016 Vitra staged, in effect, their own trade fair, renting an entire hall and inviting family and friends along to share the space and their ideas on the future of work.

And obviously had a lot of fun and/or success with the concept.

For at Orgatec Cologne 2018 they once again staged the Vitra Fair……. Work

Vitra - Work, Orgatec Cologne 2018


History is not only written by the winners, and re-written by those who can’t accept the facts of their defeat, but history is also the story of the visible, those who are invisible having nothing to contribute.

With the exhibition Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938 the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden not only re-introduce nineteen, largely, forgotten female creatives, and therefore allow their contributions’ to history to be recorded, but in doing so allow for new understandings of the development of design in the first decades of the 20th century, the (hi)story of the Werkstätten Hellerau, and also reflections on today’s contemporary furniture design industry.

Works by Lilli Vetter, as seen at Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938, Japanisches Palais Dresden


How many stories can a city tell? There are the public, collective, communal stories told by its buildings, by its peoples, by its industries, by the development of its cultural institutions and through the actions of famous/infamous citizens; but there are also the myriad private, individual stories, the scurrilous, the appalling, the romantic, the comic, the tragic, the improbable, and of course the secret, whispered, ones.

At the risk of sounding like a city marketing platform, a city is the sum of its stories. And is thereby always in flux.

For Waidblicke #3 smow Cologne invited selected professional and student architects, photographers and designers to reflect on Cologne’s Stadtgeschichte(n) – City (Hi)stories

The Cologne City Wall as imagined by Corporate Architecture students from Cologne Institute of Architectural Design (CIAD), as seen at Waidblicke #3: Stadtgeschichte(n), smow Köln


It is seldom that the largest, most centrally placed and intricately staged object in an exhibition isn’t the central focus of that exhibition, but a conduit which introduces and guides the exhibition.

Something you could ignore, but really shouldn’t.

However such is the case with the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin’s new exhibition Inside Out. Understanding the art of furniture making

Inside Out. Understanding the art of furniture making at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin


Remember, Remember!
The fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot……

Thus begins the traditional song commemorating, and urging us all never to forget, Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators attempts to overthrow the English parliament of the day, their plotting to install a new parliament, one more in line with their ideological position, for all one more in line with their ideological understanding of the English parliament’s future relationship to the dominant extra-governmental power of contemporary continental Europe.

That however was Westminster in November 1605. Such treachery and plotting would be unimaginable in Westminster in November 2018.

And so we can all relax and sing,

Remember, Remember!
The five smow blog architecture and design recommendations of November,
Ditzel, von Borries, Japan, Latvia and Duchamp.

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for November 2018


As previously, and repeatedly, noted, one of the defining aspects about an office furniture fair such as Orgatec Cologne is that wherever one looks one sees a similar vista. Whereas in terms of domestic furnishings there are enough genres of furniture and interpretations of those genres to allow for a, at least relatively when not necessarily satisfyingly, varied landscape, office furniture is much more limited, not only doesn’t have the variety of genres, but has a few that are essentials; consequently every manufacturer has very similar product lines, every manufacturer has, for example, a height-adjustable desk, a sofa with high sides, a desk height rocking stool, a modular bench system, and an office chair with flat, slightly organic quadratic armrests that resemble cutlery Georg Jensen may have produced in the 1960s. The differences are, generally, to be found in terms of mechanisms, connection systems, interfaces, materials or textiles, so very technical aspects. Very important aspects, very fundamental aspects, but things that aren’t necessarily instantly visible. Hence the visual monotony. And aspects which when explored in detail aren’t always that interesting/innovative/engaging/sensible/relevant/practical/functional/etc. It’s a tiring, thankless, business working your way through such a landscape.

Particularly a landscape such as Orgatec 2018 which was, at least as we experienced it, largely about consolidation, about manufacturers extending existing product families or presenting existing products in new materials, new textiles, new colours, new fragrances, etc, etc…..

Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a thankless and fruitless task, just thankless, and thus, and with the standard disclaimer that we have invariably missed numerous genuine highlights, a smow blog Orgatec Cologne 2018 High 5!!

Orgatec Cologne 2018 High Five


With a new name, but a familiar format, the 2018 Kölner Design Preis once again celebrates the city’s design students and creative colleges, including an exhibition of all nominated projects in the Cologne Museum für Angewandte Kunst.

1st Prize: Unfolding Space by Jakob Kilian (KISD), as seen at Kölner Design Preis/Toby E. Rodes Award 2018 Exhibition, MAKK Cologne


Qu’est-ce que le design?

What is design?

A question as old as the word itself, arguably older. But one with an answer?

In an attempt to approach one the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris asked Charles Eames, Verner Panton, Roger Tallon, Joe Colombo and Fritz Eichler, Qu’est-ce que le design?……

A view of Verner Panton's installation at Qu'est-ce que le design Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris 1969 (Photo © and courtesy Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris)


Staged as part of the Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 City Festival the showcase, We are the Next Generation, presents/presented works by graduates from design schools across Belgium and northern France.

But are they………

We are the Next Generation @ Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018


It’s probably no exaggeration to claim that musicians have at best an ambivalent, truculent, openly confrontational relationship with the office. When not writing about being in love, not being in love, wanting to be in love, wanting to not be in love, not wanting to be in love, etc, they can be found pouring scorn and ridicule on those who dutifully waste their days in offices when there is all that freedom to be enjoyed.

Thus one could imagine songs about office furniture being about as rare as occasions when Caílte mac Rónáin is unable to explain how a particular hill, valley or river in Ireland came by its name.

Could.

A Radio smow playlist devoted to office furniture and our complex relationship with such……

An early prototype of the USM Haller Wine Bar Module....


The top story from Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 is that use of the toilets is free. Jubilation all round!! Much as we like to think our campaign against the previous 50 cent charge was responsible, we suspect the answer lies elsewhere. But we made a stand, and that’s what’s important.

As is the fact that freed from our rage at the intolerability of the charges, and the thus ensuing intolerable bladder pressure, we could concentrate freely on the objects on show.

Accepting, as ever, that we missed one or the other genuine delight, a Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5!!

Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5


Whereas today the term “design” is regularly understood as an adjective or a noun, its origin is as a verb. It is something one does.

The interesting and relevant being that everyone does it differently.

With the exhibition Process the centre d’innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu explore Belgian designer Benoît Deneufbourg’s definition of that verb.

Benoît Deneufbourg. Process, CID - centre d'innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu


With his two faces the Roman God Janus was able to look in two different directions at once, a skill he traditionally employed as a gatekeeper, as a guardian of transitions, observing the past while always having his view firmly on the future; but a skill which is also helpful in understanding design processes, allowing as it does one to see simultaneously both the finished article, and the research, experimentation and design philosophy that lead to it.

Presenting works by eight Liège based studios which juxtapose the finished product with the development process, the exhibition Face A – Face B at Design Station Liège allows just such a Janus perspective.

Reciprocity Design Triennale Liège 2018: Face A – Face B @ Design Station


Escalating tension between the nuclear powers, public discourses on gender equality/respect, racial equality/respect, religious equality/respect, thousands displaced through war and conflict in South East Asia, destabilising wars and conflicts in the Middle East, warnings about irreversible environmental stability and the long-term habitability of earth, thousands on the streets demanding change…..

And the situation in 1968 wasn’t very different.

With the exhibition 68. Pop und Protest the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg explore the relationships between the social and political developments of the late 1960s and the cultural manifestations of the period……

Hermann von Wissmann, and proters posters from Paris, as seen at 68. Pop und Protest Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


The 2018 ArtEZ Academy of Art & Design Arnhem graduation exhibition was staged under the title, Liberty, but how many would the students be taking……

ArtEZ Academy of Art & Design Arnhem, Liberty 2018


The 6th edition of LuForm Aachen is being staged, as the title succinctly implies, in conjunction with the Reciprocity Design Triennale, an event nominally based in the Belgian city of Liège but which, and as with LuForm, integrates creatives and creative institutions from across the Meuse–Rhine Euroregion. And therefore a most logical and natural cooperation

As an exhibition LuForm 6 also reflects one of the principle themes of Reciprocity 2018: fragility.

Whereby, if the exhibitions in Liège primarily discuss practical considerations on fragility, then the presentation in Aachen is much more concerned with speculative, theoretical, abstract, artistic considerations on the same.

LuForm 6 - LuForm Meets RECIPROCITY @ Ludwig Forum Aachen


Recycling, reuse and reappropriation are not only subjects for product design, but also for architecture, which hopefully isn’t new information, even if considerations on such (arguably) aren’t always at the forefront of architects thoughts, far less architectural planning.

Even if they (equally arguably) should be.

With the exhibition Transform the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum Basel make an appeal not only for more, better considered, recycling, reuse and reappropriation in architecture, but explore three contemporary projects which demonstrate how such can function, and thereby serving as impeti* for further projects.

Cité du Grand Parc Bordeaux by Lacaton & Vassal, Druot Hutin - left what was, right the new extension, as seen at Transform S AM Swiss Architecture Museum Basel


“I am happy to supply you with photos of a larger building that has recently been completed, and which, for me, is one in which I have succeeded in most clearly expressing my views on art”, wrote the German architect, designer and artist Peter Behrens in 1931, “it is the central warehouse and the associated administration building of the Gutehoffnungshütte Oberhausen, Rhineland”1

With the exhibition Peter Behrens – Art and Technology that clearest expression of Behrens’ view on art hosts an exhibition explaining how he arrived at such an expression, and the wider development of his understanding of the relationship between art and technology.

Peter Behrens - Art and Technology @ the LVR-Industriemuseum Oberhausen


Fragility is in many regards the natural state of all systems and organisms.

Something the Second Law of Thermodynamics tends to support.

Given this inherent fragility, the secret to existence is largely a perpetual struggle to prevent fragility becoming the defining condition of a system/organism, in keeping the fragility in the background: something our organic and non-organic systems have developed very clever and astute methods for achieving, so much so that we normally are unaware of fragility, although it is always present.

Which, arguably, is the reason we find such strong, contradictory, emotions in fragility: for example, on the one hand the beauty we find in fragility, on the our other how our, and our environment’s, fragility can elicit fear and despondency.

Considerations on, and responses to, our, and our environment’s, fragility are one the central themes of the 2018 Reciprocity Design Triennale Liège.

Precarious Architecture & Design, Fragilitas, La Boverie, as seen during Reciprocity Design Triennale Liege 2018


If Jean-Claude Juncker gets his way October 2018 could see the clocks of Europe turned back an hour for the final time.

And thereby bringing to an end the long tradition of local newspapers publishing bi-annual articles documenting the curious tales and legends of town clocks, stories from the Schwarzwald on the largest and smallest cuckoo clocks, and photographs of horologists surrounded by the 350+ clocks and watches they need to reset.

For our part, we’ll miss them.

It will also mean you won’t have that extra hour the last Sunday in October to enjoy an extra leisurely visit to an architecture and/or design exhibition, so take the chance while you can…..

Our five recommendations for using that extra hour in October 2018 can be found in Hamburg, Weil am Rhein, Zürich, Paris and Helsinki.

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for October 2018


Victor Papanek’s contention that “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them”, remains one of the most pertinent considerations on the design profession, because it succinctly underscores that in what they do designers directly and indirectly impact not only the user/consumer of that which they design, but also on all those involved in the production, distribution and disposal of that which they design. And thereby, directly and indirectly, on our environment.

A pertinence that remains relevant despite the opinion being voiced in 1971.

With the exhibition Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design the Vitra Design Museum not only present the first major retrospective of Victor Papanek, his life and work but also investigate his wider contemporary relevance.

And indicate how designers could be less harmful, more useful…..

Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design, Vitra Design Museum


Staged in context of Intersections, ADAM Brussels Design Museum’s biennale programme, Design Generations explores not only the work of designers of differing generations, but for all design that remains relevant across generations……

Intersections #5 Design Generations, ADAM Brussels Design Museum


Back in the day most everything was produced locally, every community had its network of producers, who not only produced but were also knowledge depositories for processes, materials, local conditions etc, etc, etc

Back in the day.

More recently production has become remote, goods being produced in anonymous factories, transported across continents, through innumerate staging posts, and thereby not only severing the link between producer and customer, but meaning ever fewer people understand how things are produced.

But could evolving cultural, social and ecological understandings open the way for a return to local production?

With the exhibition New Urban Production Halle 14 Leipzig explore possible future realities.

Cow&Co by Ottonie von Roeder Anastasia Eggers, as seen at New Urban Production, Halle 14, Leipzig