There can be little argument that nature is, was and always will be the best designer, the most efficient designer: largely because nature never does anything unnecessary. Louis H. Sullivan, for example, saw the evidence that “form ever follows function” in the fact that “all things in nature have a shape, that is to say, a form, an outward semblance, that tells us what they are … they are so characteristic, so recognizable, that we say, simply, it is “natural” it should be so”1; for the Italian design theoretician Bruno Munari nature “creates her forms according to a particular material, function, environment and set of need”, all natural forms, whether complicated or simple, according to Munari are “made according to laws of structural economy”2; which for George Nelson means that in nature “all designs emerge as responses to environmentally determined necessities”, nature, according to Nelson, “seems to have no interest whatever in our concerns with good taste or beauty” and consequently “the creative freedom from which we sometimes talk is nothing compared with an effective response to the pressures of necessity”3
Consequently one could argue that accepting nature as the best designer means learning to understand your materials and your ultimate aim with a project, just as nature understands its: an argument which can explored in the exhibition Funktionsraum – Function Room – by and with designer Thomas Schnur and cameraman/photographer Sven Lützenkirchen.
Presenting examples of Thomas Schnur’s furniture designs alongside Sven Lützenkirchen’s photography of a Seychelles rainforest, Funktionsraum plays in both title and content with analogies between the two worlds
“For us Funktionsraum is a term that can be interpreted in both a natural as well as a man made context”, explains Thomas, “in a natural context, nature can be considered as a functional space where that is produced which we need to survive and which at the same time is organised so as to ensure advantages for the organisms populating it; correspondingly in architecture function rooms could be, for example, where the heating for an office building is located, a room in a Kindergarten where a particular, variable, task takes place, or a room in a hotel that can be used for weddings, meetings, press conferences, so flexible in use and function.”
Similarly Thomas’s furniture is variable, flexible, in its use and function, with none of the objects on show in Funktionsraum is location or function pre-defined, the user is free to decide for themselves. The Stand Up collection, for example, can be used in a modern wet room as shower accessories, can however just as easily be used in a living room, hallway or bedroom, the table Station meanwhile can be used with or without electricity depending on situation and requirements.
The term Funktionsraum transported from nature over architecture to furniture and so by extrapolation to our own understanding of our immediate vicinity.
In addition to the analogies in terms of variable use comes a sparseness in context of the construction systems. In his own words Thomas Schnur always attempts to “reduce an object to its essentials”: be it the Gravity coat rack which makes use of a very simple mechanical law to produce an unimaginably effortless hanging system, the Construct table with its leg formed from three identical elements or his latest work, the table Twist, which receives its stability from an otherwise innocuous “twist” in the steel bars, Thomas Schnur’s furniture demonstrates an optimisation of function through a simplicity of construction and simplicity of form. Much like the leaves of the Coco de Mer palms in Sven’s well studied and intelligently composed photos.
“For me it is particularly interesting that the furniture hasn’t copied natural systems”, adds Sven, “but rather arises from how Thomas approaches working with steel, and for me that is particularly fascinating that we have two worlds, the natural and the man made, architectural, yet both function according to the same principle”
Both Thomas Schnur and Sven Lützenkirchen were involved with the “Objects….” exhibition series which ran as part of the Passagen Cologne design week, and arguably was the stand-out highlight of the Passagen Cologne design week, from 2013 to 2015, and which presented works by contemporary designers loosely conceived around a central brief and which sought to provide a platform and voice for a younger generation of product designers. After three years of “Object…..” showcases a collective decision was made to take a hiatus from the project, “we all had the feeling that it made sense to leave it as a trilogy”, explains Thomas Schnur, “rather than continue indefinitely with the risk that over time it becomes a commitment rather than something driven by passion and inspiration”. That the exhibition space was still available, Thomas and Sven decided to do their own thing. That “thing” became Funktionsraum.
“We’ve exhibited together a few times in recent years”, explains Sven, “and it was always the case that Thomas’s products somehow always stood in a dialogue with my photos, although the photos and the objects had been selected independently of one another.” Consequently the decision to deliberately search for photos and furniture with a connection was a relatively straight forward one. Even if the decision for which images involved a little more though and consideration. “I have several unpublished series” continues Sven”, “and initially we favoured one that was very technical, but then considered that a little too obvious, and thus not particularly interesting. With the rainforest photos the connection is not direct, in Thomas’s work there is no, or hardly any, natural materials yet there is an unmissable dialogue with the natural structures, and that was for us an interesting comparison and also created the polarity we were looking for”
A polarity which Thomas hopes the exhibition visitors take home with them, “the contrast and similarities in the exhibition will hopefully motivate visitors to find their own interpretation and we hope visitors won’t leave the exhibition just saying nice furniture or nice photos, but rather take new insights with them and then transpose these into their own spaces.”
And for anyone who want to try the experiment at home, Sven Lützenkirchen’s photos are also available for purchase.
Sven Lützenkirchen & Thomas Schnur – Funktionsraum runs at Körnerstraße 48, 50823 until Sunday January 24th.
Full details can be found at www.funktionsraum.com
1. Louis H. Sullivan “The tall office building artistically considered”, in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Philadelphia, March 1896.
2. Bruno Munari “A Spontaneous Form” in Design as Art, Penguin Modern Classics, 2008
3. George Nelson Design: The business of survival, Industrial Design, March 1975