smow Design Blog


What is a chair?

You sure?

With the exhibition Chairs. For children only! the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig, explore the (hi)story of and developments in children’s seating, and in doing so not only allow for insights into an all too often undervalued, underappreciated, ignored, genre of furniture, but also forces you to reconsider your response to what you thought was a very, very straightforward question…..

Chairs. For children only!, Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig


Much as with “Bauhaus”, “Memphis” is all too often popularly reduced to a “style”, something one can “recreate”.

As with “Bauhaus” that it is not only disingenuous, and erroneous, but hinders development of understandings of the (hi)story of design, understandings of the path taken to our contemporary design that are important for considerations on where we are and how best to progress.

With the showcase Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance the Vitra Design Museum Gallery issue an invitation for us all to delve a little deeper, to look below the plastic laminated surface.

Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance Vitra Design Museum Gallery


Braun occupy a special, ¿unique?, position not only in the mythology of product design but also in the (hi)story of West Germany; arguably no brand is as closely related with and to West Germany as Braun.

With the exhibition Braun 100 the Bröhan-Museum, Berlin, explore the development of design at Braun in the post-War decades and in doing so help one approach differentiated understandings of not only Braun and Braun design, but also of the relationships between Braun, design and West Germany…….

Braun 100, Bröhan-Museum, Berlin


“In his work the designer seeks to find the constancy of the good”, wrote Karl Clauss Dietel in 1973, a lightly articulated yet not so straightforward task for, as he continues, not only is the assessment of such dependent on a myriad varying factors, but “the search for what defines design, what it grows from, where it comes from and where it wants to go, takes on new dimensions against the background of our cultural upheaval”.1

With the exhibition Simson, Diamant, Erika. Formgestaltung von Karl Clauss Dietel the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz allow insights into not only how Karl Clauss Dietel understood “what defines design, what it grows from, where it comes from and where it wants to go” but how those understandings aided and abetted him in his own search for, understanding of, “the constancy of the good”…….

Simson Diamant Erika. Formgestaltung von Karl Clauss Dietel, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz


As the worldline of architecture’s spacetime continuum moves through the 1970s and ever further into the 1980s it becomes increasingly blurry, indistinct, harder to confidently follow: established conventions and systems, acknowledged fundamental and/or necessary rules of architecture become increasingly difficult to locate.

Indeed were there rules in 1980s architecture?

With the exhibition Anything Goes? Berlin Architecture in the 1980s the Berlinische Galerie explore the architectural developments in the, then, two Berlins, and in doing so not only allow one to approach better understandings of the architectural development of the, now, one Berlin, but also to question the putative lawless of 1980s architecture…….

Anything Goes? Berlin Architecture in the 1980s, Berlinische Galerie, Berlin


In his 1917 novel The Job Sinclair Lewis makes note of a group of ambitious young clerks who work in the offices at Pemberton – “the greatest manufactory of drugs and toilet articles in the world” – and who sat at “shiny, flat-topped desks in rows”.1

And you’re all currently thinking, yeah… and… ???

……. and… while that may be a valid response today, in 1917 ambitious young clerks sitting at rows of “shiny, flat-topped desks” were, when not a revolution, then a relative novelty, and for all were highly indicative of a period of fundamental evolution and development in understandings of the office, of office work, of office workers, of office desks. A period of fundamental evolution and development that continues to inform the 21st century office. And the 21st century office desk…….

#officetour Milestones – The Modern Efficiency Desk (Image from Lee Galloway, Office Management. Its Principles and Practice, The Ronald Press Company, 1922)


We go in withering July,
To ply the hard incessant hoe;
Panting beneath the brazen sky,
We sweat and grumble, but we go…..1

…..alternatively, skip the panting, sweating and grumbling with a visit to an air-conditioned museum.

Our recommendations for escaping the brazen sky of withering July 2021 can be found in Munich, Aalborg, Eisenhüttenstadt, Wrocław and Karlsruhe.

And as ever in these times, if you are planning visiting any exhibition please familiarise yourself in advance with the current ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, cloakroom, etc rules and systems. And during your visit please stay safe, stay responsible, and above all, stay curious……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for July 2021


Although cultures very often arose in splendid isolation, only very few remained splendidly isolated for very long.

For much like a young child who having learned to walk intuitively understands what a powerful tool mobility is/can be and seeks to exploit it to the fullness of their abilities, so too did our youthful human civilisations very quickly understand that there was, in all probability, a world beyond their own, and began wandering, at first in their immediate vicinity but increasingly further afield. Increasingly beginning to settle in those further afields.

With the exhibition Cultural Affairs. Art without Borders the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig reflect on the thereby arising cultural exchange in context of art, craft and design…….

Cultural Affairs. Art without Borders Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig


The Historia Supellexalis E for England

England

An Island; A Notion; A Context


In 1950 the Dutch architect and designer Mart Stam told a conference in Leipzig, “when I speak here for a group of individuals active in industry about the problem of industrial design, I do so because I believe that it is necessary for us to concern ourselves in detail with the question of industrial design, and also because I believe that through intensive work and cooperation in this field we can contribute to increasing the cultural quality of our goods.”1,2

With the exhibition The Early Years. Mart Stam, the Institute and the Collection of Industrial Design the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin elucidate that Stam did more than simply speak about “the problem of industrial design” in the, then, fledgling East Germany, that Mart Stam wasn’t the only person in 1950s East Germany interested in “increasing the cultural quality of our goods”, if ideas about how one defined “increasing” and “cultural quality” varied greatly; and in doing so allows insights into the development of industrial design in East Germany……

The Early Years. Mart Stam, the Institute and the Collection of Industrial Design, the Werkbundarchiv Museum der Dinge, Berlin


“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it is always June”, ponders Anne Shirley in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1915 novel Anne of the Island.

“You’d get tired of it”, sighs her adoptive mother Marilla Cuthbert by way of reply.

“I daresay”, responds Anne, “but just now I feel that it would take me a long time to get tired of it…”

Thoughts we very much concur with as we survey and contemplate the varied profusion of new architecture and design exhibitions sprouting forth in June 2021. Who could ever tire of such a joyous abundance? Who?

Our five recommendations from that early summer crop can be found in Leipzig, Hornu, Berlin, Bloomfield Hills and Chemnitz…….

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for June 2021


“¿Qué es diseño?” asked Clara Porset in 1949. What is design?1

Not because she didn’t know. Far from it. Over the course of the preceding two decades Clara Porset had ably demonstrated her considered, critical and responsive understandings of design; understandings that saw her develop into one of the most important, interesting and informative furniture designers in Mexico, understandings that saw her develop into one of the more important, interesting and informative protagonist in the development of industrial design in Mexico.

Before she slipped from view and into the (relative) anonymity she finds herself today.

Before the more pertinent question became, ¿quién es Clara Porset?

Clara Porset (1895 - 1981) (photo commons.wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 4.0, courtesy Archivo Clara Porset Dumas)


After a long, challenging, year the smow Song Contest finds itself exactly where it was: Rotterdam.

Not just the location, but the stage, the decoration, the costumes, even the bier en frieten exactly as they were twelve months ago.

The decisive, defining, difference between the 2020 smow Song Contest and the 2021 smow Song Contest being the new understandings, the new perceptions, the new perspectives, the new vitality, the new passions, the new desires, the new old new, articulated by the contest’s motto: Open Up!

smow song contest 2021


“What would it mean to live life as lightly as possible?” asks the exhibition School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, “what would it mean to live life in a way that had as small an impact as possible?”

What indeed……

School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg


In 1935 George Nelson opined that “the history of art in Italy presents the astonishing spectacle of a series of men who knew no boundaries between the arts”; a history, a tradition, Nelson saw continued into 1930s Italy through “the cheering example of Gio Ponti, who found early in life that no one profession was sufficient to use up his energy or exhaust his interests, and added others with the nonchalance of a small boy increasing his collection of marbles”.1

A borderless, inexhaustible collection of marbles explored and discussed in the new Gio Ponti monograph from TASCHEN Verlag……

Gio Ponti, with two Superleggera chairs (Photo Dan Wynn © Gio Ponti Archives/Historical Archive of Ponti’s Heirs, courtesy Taschen Verlag)


How did previous generations imagine daily life in our contemporary age?, the Museum für Kommunikation Frankfurt asked itself.

Specifically, how did previous generations imagine technology integrating into and assisting daily life in our contemporary age? A question which naturally leads into questions of how we imagine technology integrating into and assisting daily life in our contemporary age? How does our contemporary age imagine technology integrating into and assisting daily life in coming ages?

The answers, as presented and discussed in context of the exhibition Back to Future. Technology visions between fiction and reality, may surprise you, may appear familiar to you, may surprise you in that they appear familiar to you. And in their surprising familiarity could, should, stimulate more critical reflections on the role, function, purpose and place of technology in our cultures and societies, and of our relationships with and to technology……

Boundless Communication, as seen at Back to Future. Technology visions between fiction and reality, the Museum für Kommunikation, Frankfurt


According to Germanic folklore Mairegen bringt Segen, Rain in May brings blessings.

It also brings an excellent excuse to visit an architecture and/or design exhibition.

Our five recommended shelters from the showers in May 2021 can be found in Ulm, Stockholm, Baruth, Zürich and Hasselt……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for May 2021


As the title of Hella Jongerius’s 2016 book I don’t have a favourite colour succinctly explains, Hella Jongerius doesn’t have a favourite colour.

Not that Hella Jongerius is indifferent about colours.

Far from it.

And in explaining why colours are important to her, and why she doesn’t have a favourite colour, Hella Jongerius helps one approach a better understanding not only of colours, nor only of our relationships with and to colours, but also helps one approach a better understanding of the functionalities of colour…….

The Polder Sofa by Hella Jongerius for Vitra.... Proof, were it needed, that Hella Jongerius doesn't have a favourite colour.....


In 1956 the Dutch electronics conglomerate Phillips asked Le Corbusier if he would be interested in designing their pavilion for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.

Le Corbusier was.

Albeit, “je ne ferai pas de pavillon; je ferai un Poème électronique avec la bouteille qui contiendra“, “I will not create a pavilion; I will create a Poème électronique with the bottle to contain it.”1

And a pavilion/bottle/Poème électronique which offers an apposite starting point to approaching a differentiated image, a differentiated composition?, of Le Corbusier…….2

Radio smow A Le Corbusier Playlist 2021


The Historia Supellexalis D for Denmark
Denmark

A Peninsula; An Archipelago; A Context


As the 19th century English poet Robert Browning so very, very, nearly phrased it:

Oh, to be in Berlin, Vienna, Chemnitz, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Berlin (again),
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in Berlin, Vienna, Chemnitz, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Berlin (again),
Sees, some morning a most interesting, entertaining and instructive sounding architecture and/or design exhibition,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough……

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for April 2021


In the final decades of the 19th century the lands of the, then, German Empire, established themselves amongst the leading protagonists in the developments of contemporary applied arts as they moved towards that which we today term design. A leading position which, in certain regards, became a European dominance in the course of the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s through the contributions made to the evolving practices, processes, expressions and understandings of the period by institutions such as, and amongst many others, the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau, the Deutsche Werkbund, the Frankfurt city building authorities and, and perhaps most famously, the Bauhauses.

Then, as so oft in 1920s Europe, came the 1930s, the War and subsequently the establishment within (part of) the lands of the, former, German Empire two new nations: West Germany and East Germany.

And what became of the design understandings and approaches that had developed and evolved in that region over the previous half century?

That, to misquote Hamlet, is one of the questions the Vitra Design Museum pursue in German Design 1949–1989. Two Countries, One History.

German Design 1949–1989. Two Countries, One History, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein


With the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize being awarded to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal international attention has become focused on architectural strategies geared towards maintaining existing buildings in the face of evolving economic, social, demographic, et al, realities rather than demolishing and erecting new ones by way of a response; and also of the value, the economic, the social, the cultural and the environmental value, of reusing, remodelling and reimagining that which exists rather than replacing through rebuilding and replanning.

The Deutsche Architektur Zentrum Berlin’s exhibition Caring for what already exists. Ten Architectural Strategies was developed, and was scheduled to open, long, long, before Lacaton & Vassal’s selection; however, in asking questions of how buildings and urban spaces could, should, must?, evolve with those societies and communities around them, questions of the relationships between built environments and the communities with which they co-exist, its delayed opening has not only brought its themes a new popular relevance to compliment their unquestioned importance, but also allows it to help contribute to the sharpening or our collective foci in context of architecture and our built environments….

Caring for what already exists. Ten Architectural Strategies, Deutsche Architektur Zentrum, Berlin


“Conservative Hamburg only permits white paint for its ceilings, doors and windows, and, at most, economical gilding”, remonstrated once the decorative painter Peter Gustaf Dorén.1

And set about rectifying that, set about bringing more colour to Hamburg……

Peter Gustaf Dorén. Interior Design in Hamburg circa 1900 Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg


Design ist unsichtbar“, Design is invisible/unseen proclaimed the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt in 1981.1

Which surprised a great many in 1981.

And may surprise a great many in 2021……

Lucius Burckhardt (1925 - 2003) (Photo Annemarie Burckhardt, © Martin Schmitz Verlag)