smow Design Blog


As Peer Gynt reminisces with his dying mother, they dwell long and fondly on how, when Peer was a child, they would imagine his bed was a sleigh whisking them across a frozen fjord, a sleigh pulled by “fleet-foot horses”.

Or more accurately by a cat proxying for fleet-foot horses; a cat who before being pressed into service as a horse had been peacefully “sad på en kubbestol1, sat upon a kubbestol: a chair hewn from a tree trunk, and an item of furniture which is as closely associated with Norway as is Peer Gynt, and which may have led just have as many lives and have just as many tales to tell…..

A World of Vernacular Furniture: The kubbestol/kubbstol


Amongst the more important tools that the smow Blog team have at our disposal, one of the most important is, without question, our copy of the Historia Supellexalis, one of the oldest, and most fulsome, encyclopediae of furniture and lighting.

First recorded in a 15th century inventory of the Hanseatic League Kontor in Bergen, the Supellexalis itself is much older, and although unsigned is generally regarded as being the work of a certain Nessoz, an individual about whom little is known other than she appears to have been a solitary, ascetic, individual who spent the greater part of her life travelling the known and unknown lands of her day collecting stories of furniture and lighting; whereby the why? she did such is lost in the mists of time1, there is certainly no record of any professional reason or association.2

According to the popular telling of the tale, in the midsts of Nessoz’s wanderings a great plaque befell the world and Nessoz found herself stranded in a cold and inhospitable land, and where, one assumes, to pass her period of unfamiliar dormancy she began work on the Supellexalis; a book of extraordinary length, whose footnotes alone amount to over a thousand folios, and a work whose focus on individuals and manufacturers rather than the epochs and eras so popularly portrayed in furniture encyclopediae, and for all a breadth and diversity of individuals, manufacturers and the complex contexts in which they worked and traded rarely found in furniture literature, means the Historia Supellexalis provides a unique, singular, insight into the origins of furniture and rightly serves as the basis for much of our contemporary understanding of the development of furniture and lighting.

If a work whose extraordinary length made and makes it unattractive to publishers and retailers; records indicate that Nessoz approached the peoples of Amazonia, who at that time had a near monopoly on the book printing trade, with a request that they list the Supellexalis. A request they declined citing a lack of global printing capacity. And a lack of trees.

Thus the world is left with but a handful of editions of the Historia Supellexalis; editions it is believed Nessoz copied herself while, literally, sitting out her enforced, and if true extraordinarily long, quiescence. One copy of which was received by an early incarnation of the smow Blog team. And while the whens, hows, whys and wherefores of our possession of the Historia Supellexalis are unclear, or more accurately put, lost in the unnavigable depths of the smow Blog archive, generations after the fact we remain ever grateful that it was received, for it is very much the foundation on which the smow Blog is built.

Ten years ago the Google Empire tasked their Bot Army with scanning the Historia Supellexalis; an altruistic and selfless act so typical of the Googlearians; if one whose scale they greatly underestimated and thus one whose predicated completion date drifts ever further into an ever more uncertain future.

Which is as unsatisfying a situation as the Historia Supellexalis is important.

And thus a situation we resolved to rectify.

Our resources mean we cannot hope to bring you the whole book in a single move, or indeed in a single generation; we can however,3 and will, publish selected entries from the Historia Supellexalis until such time as the full work is freely available for all.

Starting with A for Artemide……………..

artemide design


The only certainty as 2020 flows into 2021 is the ongoing uncertainty. An uncertainty that is increasingly being understood as an ongoing certainty and thereby turning ever more “plans” into “options”.

And also causing a great many global architecture and design museums to skip over the first quarter of 2021 as if weren’t there, and to move their new exhibition openings to April and beyond.

A state of affairs which on the one hand means there are currently fewer lonelier locations than any given museum’s “future exhibitions” listings; but on the other hand means that much as the coldest hour is the one just before the dawn, so it is increasingly certain, as in “old” certain, that the paucity of new exhibitions opening in the first quarter of 2021 will cede to a flood come spring. And so you can now plan, as in old “plan”, to visit an exhibition a day come summer. And still have options. Old and new

And a state of affairs which has to a degree forced our hand and produced a hybrid recommendations list for January 2021: offline exhibitions in Berlin, Hamburg and Metz; online exhibitions from Warsaw and Weimar/Dessau.

And as ever in these times, if you do feel comfortable visiting any museum, 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 January 2021


The so-called Bielefeld Conspiracy asserts that the German city of Bielefeld doesn’t exist.

Have you ever been to Bielefeld?, it asks.

Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?

Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?

If your answer to all three questions is no…….. how do you know Bielefeld exists?

A similar conspiracy could be built around Gertrud Kleinhempel, one of Germany’s first professional furniture designers and who for the greater part of her career was active in Bielefeld.

Or was, assuming Bielefeld exists. And assuming Gertrud Kleinhempel exists.

For have you ever seen any work by Gertrud Kleinhempel, do you know anyone who has seen any work by Gertrud Kleinhempel, have you ever seen Gertrud Kleinhempel on the helix of furniture design?

If your answer to all three questions is no……..

Gertrud Kleinhempel (1875 - 1948)


“Only slowly does it dawn on people that modern furniture must be designed on the basis of practical necessities”, observed the Danish architect and designer Kaare Klint in 1930.1

How Kaare Klint understood those “practical necessities”, how he understood “modern furniture”, would not only define his career, but in many regards define the development of 20th century furniture design in Denmark.

Kaare Klint (1888 - 1954)


“With every new building the first task is to clarify the needs that will arise in context of its use”,1 opined Peter Behrens on December 10th 1912 at the official inauguration of the new administrative HQ for the Prussian industrial concern Mannesmannröhren-Werke AG.

And while Peter Behrens was certainly not the first to opine such, with the so-called Mannesmann-Haus in Düsseldorf he realised one of the earliest large office buildings designed to evolve and develop as those needs evolved and developed.

Mannesmann-Haus, Düsseldorf by Peter Behrens


To paraphrase the Propellerheads, this is just a little bit of a blog post repeating

For much as with our November 2020 exhibition recommendations, so some of our December 2020 exhibition recommendations won’t be opening. Or at least not in December 2020.

But then as now are in still in our list.

On the one hand because they will open, and is an important part of any pleasure not the expectation and anticipation?

And on the other hand, because that which makes an exhibition recommendable in advance of its opening, that which makes its anticipation and expectation so pleasurable, is that it promises to present a rarely explored subject and/or promises to explore a regularly presented subject from a new and/or fresh and/or deeper perspective. And thus a recommendable exhibition is also a nudge that there may be more to learn and understand about architecture and design than you were aware of. And thus a stimulus for your own research. And what better season than winter for that research?

Our five recommendations/stimuli/nudges for December 2020 can be found in Berlin, Vienna, Helsinki, Rome and St Petersburg.

And as ever in these times, if you do feel comfortable visiting any museum, 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 December 2020


In the northern hemisphere* December marks not only the darkest period of the year but also that moment when light begins to return: following the Winter Solstice our days start to get a little longer, and a little brighter.

And in December 2020 not just astronomically, but metaphorically.

Midwinter 2020 symbolising a moment when a particularly dark year, a particularly dark period, starts to get a little brighter, a moment when a little more light will start to slowly seep into our days, weeks, months, lives: and not just because of that, but also; nor just because of that, but also; and, yes, also because of that. But definitely not because of that.

And so by way of celebrating a particularly notable Midwinter, a Radio smow playlist devoted to one of the earliest objects to make artificial light manageable and functional, and thus one of the earliest objects to literally bring a little more light into our lives, to literally aid making our lives a little brighter…….

Radio smow: A Candlesticks Playlist


“The placing of foam mattresses, spring mattresses, and the like, on bed frames made of wood or metal is familiar”, notes a July 1966 patent application, and it was. However, it continues, “bed frames of this type are heavy, continually take up one and the same space in a room, must be dismantled if they are to be moved to a new location, and represent a major obstacle in context of cleaning the bedroom.”1

Which, certainly in the early 1960s, they were and did.

But what is one to do?

Verner Panton had an idea.

An idea that may not count amongst his better known projects, but is a project that allows one to approach a better understanding of the work and career of Verner Panton…….

Lost Furniture Design Classics: The Panton Bed


The study of vernacular furniture can teach us a lot about not only the development of understandings of furniture, nor only of the development of societies and cultures, nor nor only only about relationships between furniture and wider realities, but also how the position of furniture as a cultural good, as a good embedded in a culture and society, can see furniture serve as a component of projected understandings of heritage and identity, and in doing so can endow attributes on an object of furniture it doesn’t naturally, inherently, possess.

Or need.

Something particularly well expressed in the (hi)stories of the straw-backed chair, a.k.a. the Orkney Chair1

A World of Vernacular Furniture: The Orkney Chair


Outwith his native Denmark, the country home to the most architectural works by Arne Jacobsen is Germany.

Yet the vast majority of them remain popularly unknown.

As does Arne Jacobsen’s partner on his German projects: Otto Weitling

With the showcase Gesamtkunstwerke – Architecture by Arne Jacobsen and Otto Weitling in Germany, the Felleshus Berlin not only set the record straight but allow for some fresh reflections on both Arne Jacobsen and our relationships to and with architecture and our built environments……

Gesamtkunstwerke – Architecture by Arne Jacobsen and Otto Weitling in Germany at Felleshus, The Nordic Embassies, Berlin


Back in May we were faced with the decision as to whether to remain with the online exhibition recommendations we’d been carrying throughout the spring, or, given that ever more museums were re-opening, move back offline for our June recommendations.

And decided to move back offline, not least because “viewing an exhibition in a museum is the more satisfying experience, the more rewarding experience, the more enduring experience. And an important experience.

Ahead of our November recommendations we faced a similar choice. Travel, certainly international travel, is not only becoming increasingly difficult and of questionable responsibility, but in many regions the official advice is not to travel unless absolutely necessary; meaning while most museums are open, they are, in a purely practical sense, inaccessible for many. And so is compiling a list of offline exhibitions a meaningful undertaking? Is such a list sensible? Should we move back to online recommendations?

Yes. Yes. No.

And not just because museums are important cultural spaces, but primarily because most all museums are open……

…..or were while we were writing this. However, the rapidly developing nature of contemporary society meant that just before publishing this post it became clear that two of our five November openings will not be opening in November.

We’ve kept them in the list. Not because we couldn’t change the list, not that we couldn’t have substituted them for two others. We could. We’re smow: quick, uncomplicated solutions is what we do, flexibility and spontaneity are our best friends, there is never a Plan B but always alternative options, no job is too big, no pup is too …. no, hang on, that’s Paw Patrol.

We could have substituted them.

But didn’t see why we should. Every month we scan hundreds of museums and galleries around the globe looking for interesting, relevant, recommendable architecture and design exhibitions, the five we present are those we consider to be the most interesting, relevant, recommendable. And no temporary lockdown closure changes that. And all going well, come December, all five will be open.

And now, returning to where our ready-for-posting text was on Friday morning……

……and also with the reminder that such a recommendations list shouldn’t be understood solely as suggestions of locations to physically visit, but also as an impetus for your own study and research, for voyages of cultural discovery from your own sofa and/or desk. Most museum websites have in-depth descriptions of their exhibitions and the themes therein, often components of the exhibition are available online, and there will, almost always, be a catalogue that goes into more depth and detail than the exhibition; and so if an exhibition interests you, and you physically can’t get to the respective museum, why not use the long autumn and winter evenings to explore on your own.

Our five recommendations for new exhibitions opening in November 2020, and five recommendations for a meaningful use of the long autumn and winter evenings, can be found in Frankfurt, Zürich, Jyväskylä, Oslo and Hamburg.

And as ever in these times, if you do feel comfortable visiting any museum, 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 November 2020


“How far can we entrust the machine to design?” asked the American architect Louis I. Kahn in context of the 1968 conference Computer Graphics in Architecture and Design.

In his opinion, not much.

“The machine can communicate measure, but the machine cannot create, cannot judge, cannot design. This belongs to the mind”.1

And today?

With the exhibition The Architecture Machine. The Role of Computers in Architecture, the Architekturmuseum der TU München explore the (hi)story of the computer in architecture, the (hi)story of architecture in the computer and considers the question, if the course of those (hi)stories has seen the computer take control of architecture or architecture tame the computer…….?

Imaginary Architecture by Otto Beckmann (l) and Plotter Drawings by Günter Günschel (r), as seen at The Architecture Machine. The Role of Computers in Architecture, the Architekturmuseum der TU München


The sense, logic or otherwise of the biannual changing of the clocks is a subject that can keep any conversation animated until the next change occurs……When it can start all over again.

The biannual repositioning of the hands of time is however also an opportune moments to consider our relationship to time, for all our measurement of time, our harnessing of time, our charting of time, and of time metaphoric and time symbolic as represented by that embodiment of time tangible … the clock.

Radio smow A Clocks Playlist


“I don’t know what design is”, opined once the Italian designer Enzo Mari.

Not because he hadn’t considered the question. But because he had. A lot.

With the exhibition Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli the Triennale Milano present an opportunity to approach an understanding of that which in the course of those considerations, and his 60+ year career, Enzo Mari has variously understood both design to be, and what it could, should, must, be……..

Enzo Mari curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist with Francesca Giacomelli, Triennale Milano, Milan


In 1977 Ludwig Glaeser, curator of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, opinioned that “it is certainly more than a coincidence that [Mies van der Rohe’s] involvement in furniture and exhibition design began in the same year as his personal relationship with Lilly Reich.”1

A statement that has in many regards come to define understandings of the furniture designs of both Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich.

An understanding that “is certainly more than a coincidence”. It is wrong. Certainly in terms of furniture design.

And a statement and understanding whose clarification not only provides an excellent starting point for an exploration of the furniture designs of Lilly Reich and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but also for some reflections on the (hi)story of furniture design……..

Lilly Reich and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe


In 1977 the German designer Luigi Colani demanded a “renaissance of Art Nouveau”1

What he meant, why he meant it, and if it is something we should all fear, can be explored and considered in the exhibition Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau at the Bröhan-Museum, Berlin…….

Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau at the Bröhan-Museum, Berlin


“Last night the waiter put the celery on with the cheese, and I knew that summer was indeed dead”, opined once A.A. Milne, continuing that, while there may be other indications of autumn’s arrival, “it is only with the first celery that summer is over.”

And the first celery appears, or at least appeared in early 20th century England, in October.

Not that one should fear the celery, for in its crispness, freshness, tenderness, sweetness celery, so A.A. Milne, reminds us that winter isn’t only about the cold, wet, dark and dreary, but is a season which brings its own pleasures and joys, is a season of “crisp and sparkling days, long pleasant evenings, cheery fires” and to which we’ll add lingering visits to architecture and design exhibitions. Our recommendations for new showcases opening in October 2020 can be found in Munich, Milan, Rotterdam, Philadelphia and Brussels.

And as ever in these times, if you do feel comfortable about visiting any museum, 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….

“Here’s to October—and, waiter, some more celery.”1

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for October 2020


As a general rule we prefer to focus the Design Calendar on positive events, it just seems more, well, positive; however, sometimes a negative event is more illustrative of a situation, provides for better access to a story.

An event such as Mart Stam’s beurlauben, suspension, as Rector of the Hochschule für angewandte Kunst, Berlin, on September 22nd 1952.

The unhappy end of Mart Stam’s not altogether joyful sojourn in East Germany.

But also a moment that allows for some focussed considerations on both the person Mart Stam and on his understandings of art, architecture and design.

Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weißensee ca 1956, with its new extension. Thus not as Mart Stam knew it... (Photo: Hans-Günter Quaschinsky, courtesy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-41083-0001 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via commons.wikimedia.org)


On October 31st 1517 Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, his criticism of the contemporary Catholic church. 95 theses which fired a debate and discourse that, ultimately, led to the splitting of the, until then, all-powerful Catholic church, an event which was to have consequences far, far, beyond religious practice and power, and which was arguably one of the single most important moments in the development of European society.

According to the popular telling of (hi)story, Martin Luther published his 95 Theses by…… nailing them to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg.

Imagine if @DrMartinLuther95 had had 60 million followers on Twitter…..

With the exhibition From Luther to Twitter. Media and the Public Sphere the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, explore developments in the nature of public debate and discourse and the role of evolving media and technology in those developments.


Hvis jeg får et nyt liv, vil jeg være gartner“, opined once the Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen.

“If I have another life, I want to be a gardener”

Not that, as Arne Jacobsen – Designing Denmark at Trapholt, Kolding, would tend to imply, he made an incorrect career choice…..

Arne Jacobsen - Designing Denmark, Trapholt, Kolding


Not the Situla itself.

But rather what is depicted on that small, delicately carved, 10th century ivory object: the four Christian Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, busy writing their gospels while seated at height-adjustable desks…….

<em>La Situla del vescovo Gotofredo</em> (photo Dominik Matus via commons.wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)


Tuesday September 22nd marks the 2020 Southward Equinox, and thus the start of autumn in the northern hemisphere, and of spring in the southern hemisphere. Two seasons known throughout history for the vagaries, capriciousness, of their weather.

And thus two seasons perfectly suited to a longer architecture and design, or art, museum visit.

Our recommendations for four new showcases opening in September (autumn) 2020 can be found in Berlin, Kolding, Düsseldorf and Berlin (again); our recommendation for a new showcase opening in September (spring) 2020 can be found in Sydney.

And as ever in these times, if you do feel comfortable about visiting any museum, 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 September 2020


“Trunk-hasped, cart-heavy, painted an ignorant brown.
And pew-strait, bin-deep, standing four-square as an ark”1

Reading Seamus Heaney’s musings on his Settle Bed one could be forgiven for considering it a thoroughly unremarkable object. Ignorant even.

That would however be to misunderstand the nature, spirit, essence, of poetic construction. And the nature, spirit, essence of the Settle Bed.

A World of Vernacular Furniture: The Settle Bed


“It is a very interesting thing indeed to ask myself certain questions”, reflected H.G. Wells in 1937, “How did I come to know what I know about the world and myself? What ought I to know? What would I like to know that I don’t know? If I want to know about this or that, where can I get the clearest, best and latest information? And where did these other people about me get their ideas about things? Which are sometimes so different from mine. Why do we differ so widely?”1

Questions whose validity and urgency were undeniable in 1937 as Europe lurched, helplessly, towards another war; and questions whose validity and urgency has increased in the intervening 83 years as we have acquired not only ever more sources of information but ever quicker methods of information mediation.

With the exhibition Common Knowledge – Design in Times of the Information Crisis the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden explore the complex relationships between information, the individual and society…….

Common Knowledge - Design in Times of the Information Crisis, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden