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Kunsthochschule Kassel – Rundgang 2016

For reasons which we believe are in some form or other closely related to Ley Lines, or similar, all long distance trains in Germany pass through the station Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe. It’s not a situation over which Deutsche Bahn have any control, is rather a natural phenomenon, or as Louis H. Sullivan would no doubt phrase it, “This is the law”

Thus we have passed through Kassel a lot. Without ever having visited the city. A situation we rectified this year with a visit to the Rundgang end of term exhibition at the town’s Kunsthochschule.

Kunsthochschule Kassel - Nordbau by Paul Friedrich Posenenske (1962)

Kunsthochschule Kassel – Nordbau by Paul Friedrich Posenenske (1962)

Kunsthochschule Kassel – Rundgang 2016

Although the Kunsthochschule Kassel as an institution can trace its history back to 1777, the Product Design department is but a child; having, effectively, been created in 1869 as an Arts & Crafts School with the aim of training applied artists to create products appropriate for the new age and new forms of industrial mass production, before being officially designated a department in its own right in 1971.

Perhaps on account of this history the course of studies at Kassel has a strong practical, workshop, focus and offers an ultimate specialisation in industrial, textile, systems or furniture design. But first of all students must complete the Introductory Class.
As documented by the 2016 Rundgang the Introductory Class from the semester past included courses such as Einmischen – Interfere/Tamper – by and with Kassel alumni Aust & Amelung Design Studio which asked students to investigate processes, spaces and objects found in the college’s vicinity and to use them as the starting point for a new project; Brandrunner from Prof. Oliver Vogt, Prof. Lutz Pankow and Ines Göbel which placed the students in the role of both brand art directors & freelance designers and asked them on the one hand to set a brief for other students to design a product for their given brand, and on the other to design a product as defined by their colleagues brief(s); and, and we must add, rather disappointingly, a Readymades class under the guidance of Raw Edges Design Studio. In our experience most design students will of their own volition experiment with Readymades at some stage during their studies, and so there really is no excuse for colleges encouraging such.*

In addition to the Introductory Class the 2016 Rundgang also presented the results of various semester projects and classes including Yellow Pages, which, under the supervision of Raw Edges, saw students learn locally practised trades before applying their new knowledge in the development of an object; Wohnaccessoires which looked at how objects can affect the physical, psychological and social atmosphere in and of a space; and dua meets Kunsthochschule Kassel which, as the name neatly indicates, saw a cooperation between students and the Cologne based label/design agency dua.

As ever, and in a statement we are going to by typing a lot this week and which we will never tire of repeating, student projects aren’t about the end result: they are about how the students responded to the brief, how they framed their answer, moved towards it and what they learned on the way. Not the product that arises at the end. That can be as guff as you want.

Similarly visiting end of year student exhibitions isn’t about “discovering” “new” “innovative” projects, but about getting a feel for what the students have been up to, what they have been learning, how they have been learning, what tools, materials and approaches are being taught and used, how good is the cafeteria.

That said there were a couple of projects on display at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016 which did cause our frail hearts to skip one or the other beat…..

Rautenhag by Helena Bolte

Developed in context of the project Schnalser Säge which saw students cooperate with the eponymous Tirolean firm, a company who process Swiss Pine (Zirbeholz) to a variety of objects using traditional methods, Rautenhag is, very simply, a bar of wood fixed to a piece of leather which one attaches to the wall. When not in use it just hangs there. When in use it is a very practical hook. A piece of leather on the base of the wooden stab adding a little friction, and protecting the wall. For us Rautenhag works on a couple of levels; on the one hand it is just a lovely, simple solution which turns a genuinely practical, mundane, coat/hat hook into something that is not only interesting but involving. Secondly it has a wonderful temporariness. There are numerous coat racks on the market which fold in and out via various methods; however, they are all attached to a backboard and thus have a defined volume and a permanency. Rautenhag just hangs there when not in use, and that not in a particularly flattering or attractive manner, and certainly not in a way that says it is making any claim for long-term residency on your wall. And on the fabled third hand, combine this temporal simplicity with an object made of Swiss Pine and leather and you have a decadently luxurious couldn’t give a damn. Which can only be adorable.

Rautenhag by Helena Bolte, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

Rautenhag by Helena Bolte, as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

Garten by Monja Hirscher

The first product George Nelson ever designed, arguably the only product George Nelson ever designed, and the one that lead to his appointment at Herman Miller was the Storagewall. Essentially a hollow wall which could be used as storage, Nelson’s logic was that the wall was there, it was hollow…. might as well use it. We were instantly reminded of Nelson’s Storagewall when we saw Garten by Monja Hirscher. With its frame, water bowl and lighting Monja pitches it as a garden for the living room which you can hang on to your wall. We say, wrong. It is a garden for your living room which you can place inside your wall. And not just for your living room. Walls may not be as thick as they were in 1940s America, and certainly not contemporary internal, non-structural, walls, but where walls of a suitable depth are either in-situ or are planned a modular system based on Garten would allow for the creation of recesses which can be used for plants, and storage, but which are also part of the room architecture and lighting plan. Yes, that makes it sound more like an architectural feature than a product, but then so was Storagewall.

Garten by Monja Hirscher as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

Garten by Monja Hirscher as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

Stuhlprobe by Jan Emde

Mixing wood shavings with a binding material and using that as the basis for making furniture isn’t a new idea: however, in almost all other cases the designers use the various mixes to create, more or less, furniture of standard forms. Instead of saying “New Material. New Forms.” Which is surely the correct and logical way to go. And is the way Jan Emde went. Not that we’re saying we like what Jan created, because we don’t particularly. For us the objects are a little to Antoni Gaudí, pushing hard at the unacceptable borders of Rudolf Steiner and generally invoke visions of naked 19th century reformists dancing their floral way towards Art Nouveau. But they are new forms. Are an attempt to use a new material to break down accepted standards and to explore new realms. Non-conventional materials and processes allow for non-conventional forms and thus new conventions in product and furniture design, a truth nicely embodied in Jan’s project.

Stuhlprobe by Jan Emde as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

Stuhlprobe by Jan Emde as seen at the Kunsthochschule Kassel Rundgang 2016

* Yes we freely admit that for us one of the more interesting, historic, design events is and was the exhibition Kaufhaus des Ostens, KdO, at the, then, Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. And yes that was about Readymades. And yes in context of KdO Jasper Morrison did write one of our favourite design texts, “The Poet will not Polish” with the deliciously malicious statement “Marcel Breuer seeing a pair of bicycle handle-bars decided to make chairs using the same industrial process. The new world constructor seeing a pair of bicycle handle-bars decides to use them as they are and save himself the trouble and expense of bending the tube” But that was 1984. Over thirty years ago…. Let’s leave Readymades to the urban-craft-maker-upcycler community

smow Blog Interview: Tom Newhouse – aesthetics, sustainability, ergonomics and economy must be in equilibrium, if they aren’t the design isn’t finished

Born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a town famous for some 150 years as a, if not the, centre of American furniture production, it is perhaps not surprising that Tom Newhouse choose to pursue a career in furniture design. Upon graduating in 1972 from the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Tom Newhouse took up a position as a staff designer with Herman Miller, a situation he himself refers to as a “marvellous beginning”, before in 1978 he established his own studio in, where else, Grand Rapids. His first job as a freelancer however came from his former employer with the commission to redesign Herman Miller’s European showrooms; a commission which saw him, albeit briefly, leave West Michigan to spend three years in Europe, and an experience which allowed him to gain first hand insights into the European office furniture market and culture.

In addition to his numerous co-operations with Herman Miller Tom Newhouse has also developed furniture and lighting projects for and with manufacturers as varied as, and amongst many others, Worden, Philips and JRB Studio, and currently holds some 90 patents.

Long an advocate of sustainable design in 1996 Tom Newhouse created with the Limerick Chair Herman Miller’s first 99+% recyclable chair – technically 100% save a little powder coating which burns off when melting the steel – and has lectured on the subject at institutions around the globe.

We met up with Tom Newhouse at NeoCon Chicago 2016 to discuss sustainable design, chauffeuring George Nelson and his role in the development of the infamous office cubicle systems, but started, as ever, by asking why design?

Tom Newhouse: I was always sketching/drawing pictures of cars, planes, boats, etc. when I was child. I am told that I naturally drew in perspective when I was 2-3 years old. My 6th grade teacher had a brother who was an industrial designer, he told my parents about that profession….and I was hooked at 11 years of age. I simply love the creative process, combining aesthetic beauty, sustainability, ergonomics and affordability into truly useful things.

smow blog: Your first job was with Herman Miller, something you refer to as being a “marvellous beginning”, how did that beginning arise, was that an advertised vacancy or something arranged through college……

Tom Newhouse: No, no, I saw an advertisement for Eames furniture and I said “Whoever makes that, I want to work with that company!” And as it turned out it was only 20 miles from where I was born. At that time they didn’t have an opening but the Director of Design Bob Blaich created one for me and I was fortunate enough to work with Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson in their emeritus years, which was a wonderful experience.

smow blog: And if we’re correctly informed you were also George Nelson’s chauffeur?

Tom Newhouse: Yes, at the time his health wasn’t so good but he had not only been such a central part of Herman Miller for so long, but was still an important voice in the company, and so would regularly come to Zeeland to view and critique the new projects.

smow blog: And was he a harsh critic?

Tom Newhouse: Tough but fair, although probably not as hard as Charles Eames, he was probably a little harsher in his criticism.

smow blog: And we presume that as a young designer one can only learn from spending time with someone such as Nelson…..

Tom Newhouse: Absolutely, a huge amount. Among other experiences I was lucky enough to accompany him to the design conference in Aspen and there we got to spend an awful lot of time discussing things with him. He was a very wise man, a very sharp critic and very magnanimous. One should never forget that Nelson was taken on to design for Herman Miller, but he told D. J. DePree [company founder and CEO] there are these brilliant designers, Charles and Ray Eames, they are in Los Angeles, but you really need to get to know them because they are doing really great work. And D. J. replied OK, but you’re giving away work, to which Nelson replied, yeah, but they’re doing things I can’t do!

smow blog: And in addition to chauffeuring George Nelson around Michigan, were you actually designing yourself or what was your role in the company?

Tom Newhouse: Herman Miller generally work with external designers, and always have, George Nelson for example always lived in New York, Charles and Ray always lived in LA, Bill Stumpf was based in Minnesota, but they tend to have staff designers who assist locally. Which was my job. And so for three of the six years I was part of the facilities and exhibits team and for the other three years I was part of the Action Office team working in-house for Bob Propst who was based in Ann Arbor.

smow blog: Which means you’re partly to blame for the cube farms…….

Tom Newhouse: ….yeah I’m partly to blame! We started with Bob Propst’s wonderful 64 part system, a system which we then developed into thousands of parts, way too many parts, and which became the famous “Dilbert” system. Propst never wanted all those parts, he wanted a limited number of parts, and most importantly he never wanted a rigid box, every connection in his system was hinged, and he was in favour of being able to create random, hinged shapes to meet specific needs.

smow blog: So why did we end up with rigid, square cubicles, and Dilbert?

Tom Newhouse: My opinion is that facility managers cramming more people into boxes made everything quadratic. The demands of the economics of space. Facility managers realised that with square cubicles they could cram more people into a given space, and then over time reduce the size of the cubicle and cram even more people in. And we kept developing new components because people were asking for them. But the end result was far removed from Propst’s original intention for flexible work spaces.

smow blog: And did that work on the Action Office also involve Nelson, or was he out of that project by then….?

Tom Newhouse: George Nelson styled Action Office 1 because Propst was an inventor not an industrial designer and didn’t really have any aesthetic skills, and so the Nelson Office did all the styling, and in my opinion didn’t do a particularly good job. For me Action Office 1 wasn’t a particularly good product, was pretty, but terribly expensive and structurally poor, and so there wasn’t a good marriage between Nelson and Propst. Consequently for Action Office 2 the cooperation was much more between Propst and Jack Kelly, who had worked with Propst for many years before he became Director of Design at Herman Miller, and so Action Office 2 was much more a Herman Miller project.

smow blog: After leaving Herman Miller you established your own studio in Grand Rapids, the famous “Furniture City USA”. As a designer is contemporary Grand Rapids a good place to be based?

Tom Newhouse: It’s a great place, for all if you don’t want to travel as you’ve a lot of potential clients nearby, about half of the American office furniture industry is located within a twenty mile radius, the rest is scattered across the country. But more importantly for me it is really strong in terms of materials and processing, whether you want injection moulded plastics, stamped steel, die-casting, whatever, it’s all there and that at a very sophisticated level. Consequently you have state of the art expertise as it applies to commercial furniture production, right on your doorstep, and that’s not something you have everywhere in America. It’s probably not all positive, there is a risk of it becoming incestuous when everybody talks to and cooperates with everyone else in a twenty mile radius, but on the other hand it is fantastic because you have excellent possibilities, can build things and also have a lot of local engineering experience.

smow blog: Something which of course isn’t unimportant when considering office furniture….

Tom Newhouse: Absolutely. My preferred approach is always to work with a great engineering partner. I’m an industrial designer, I define the aesthetics, but benefit from having someone with a better technical and material understanding, and then when the client is already selected you can really win……

smow blog: Another of your preferred approaches is to work is sustainability…..

Tom Newhouse: ….yes, yes, from very early on I was a green, sustainable, kind of freak, consequently sustainable, ecological, design has always been at the core of what I do and my approach to my work has always been that aesthetics, sustainability, ergonomics and economy must be in equilibrium, if they aren’t the design isn’t finished.

smow blog: And was that something that developed during your studies, or…..?

Tom Newhouse: I had a Professor at Michigan, Aare Lahti, who was an American of Finnish extraction, and he had a strong interest in the correlation of materials, processes and the planet, and so from very early on I was being taught about efficient use of materials. And then at that time, in the late 1960s, the campuses were burning with radical thought, the green movement was born and I was right there, met my future wife there, and so I was present at a moment in time that made perfect sense to me, and for example, I built our house and studio in 1978, and it’s low-energy consumption and has always had a green roof.

smow blog: And when you look at the contemporary American furniture industry do you see “sustainability”?

Tom Newhouse: In the sector as represented here at NeoCon it’s become normal, in contemporary office furniture sustainability is an absolute requirement. In essence a lot of the thinking behind LEED certification, green buildings, sustainable planning and the like has permeated into the thinking about what stands inside buildings, and thus the buyers of office furniture are much more aware of, and demanding of, sustainability.

smow blog: And with home furnishings?

Tom Newhouse: Home furnishings is different, in home furnishings they are way behind. Many Americans buy in a very temporal way, and so in terms of home furnishings they buy something and not only throw it away when it breaks, but expect it to break. In addition there is very little appreciation of the design, for many Americans the design isn’t particularly interesting. Consequently I’ve rarely designed for the domestic market. Office furniture is completely different, operates at a much higher level and demands a higher level of quality and sustainability.

smow blog: Which we presume has changed the ball park for yourself?

Tom Newhouse: Most definitely. I used to have to sneak my ideas into the design and not say anything to the company involved, then about fifteen years or so ago the companies started to tolerate it – but only if it didn’t cost any more! And now as I said it is a requirement, and I love it!

More information on Tom Newhouse and his work can be found at

Limerick Chair by Tom Newhouse for Herman Miller (Photo © and courtesy Herman Miller)

Limerick Chair by Tom Newhouse for Herman Miller (Photo © and courtesy Herman Miller)

Jill Side Chair by Tom Newhouse for Worden (Photo © and courtesy Worden)

Jill Side Chair by Tom Newhouse for Worden (Photo © and courtesy Worden)

Animate+ by Tom Newhouse for JRB Studio (Photo © and courtesy JRB Studio)

Animate+ by Tom Newhouse for JRB Studio (Photo © and courtesy JRB Studio)

Preview lamp by Tom Newhouse for OFS (Photo © and courtesy OFS)

Preview lamp by Tom Newhouse for OFS (Photo © and courtesy OFS)

smow blog Design Calendar: July 13th 1841 – Happy Birthday Otto Wagner!

If the (hi)story of 20th century architecture and design is unimaginable without the contribution made by Austria/Hungary/Austria-Hungary; then the contribution made by Austria/Hungary/Austria-Hungary is unimaginable without the contribution of Otto Wagner.

Otto Wagner (1841–1918)

Otto Wagner (1841–1918)

Otto Wagner: An Architect’s Journey from Viennese Historicism to…..

Born in Vienna on July 13th 1841 Otto Koloman Wagner studied first at the Wiener Polytechnikum and subsequently the Berliner Bauakademie, before returning to Vienna in 1861 and the Akademie der bildenden Künste. In 1864 Otto Wagner established his own architectural practice in Vienna, in which context he served as Site Manager for numerous projects realised in context of the Vienna Ringstrasse; not only one of the most important construction and urban development projects in the Vienna of that period, but a project representative of the city’s vitality, prosperity and self-confidence. And a project which brought the young Otto Wagner into contact with many of the leading architects and political figures of the day.

As a freelance architect Otto Wagner initially realised numerous tenement blocks in Vienna, and whereas his early works were in the favoured Historicism style of the period, over the coming decades Otto Wagner increasingly freed himself from the dogmatic adherence to historic models and began to experiment with new forms and new methods of construction; describing, for example, in 1887 his project in Vienna’s Stadiongasse Wagner notes, “The façade is kept simple, with all but a minimum of sculptural ornamentation, and rather a focus on expansive proportions, bigger windows and simple, clear motifs”.1

And not only new forms and methods but also new ways of thinking about the function of architecture; an evolution perhaps best demonstrated by his 1893 competition entry for a new urban plan for Vienna. Aware of the contemporary social, cultural and political evolution, the increasing importance of technology and the associated changing nature of the urban fabric, Otto Wagner devised a city planned for new transport methods, for new communication methods, for ease of expansion, for the future. And a concept which clearly impressed the jury who awarded Wagner first prize, even if, and as so often with the winners of architecture competitions, the plan was never actually realised.

Entrance to Station Stadtpark by Otto Wagner (Photo: Manfred Helmer, © and courtesy Wiener Linien)

Entrance to Stadtpark station by Otto Wagner (Photo: Manfred Helmer, © and courtesy Wiener Linien)

…… Moderne Architektur and international relevance

In 1894 Otto Wagner was commissioned to develop Vienna’s new Stadtbahn urban railway network, and subsequently created an institution which remains one of the architectural highlights of the city, and in the same year was appointed Professor at his alma mater, the Akademie der bildenden Künste, where Wagner’s position against historicism and classical architecture caused a fresh breeze to blow through the school’s ateliers, a breeze which by 1901 had already led to talk of a “Wagner Schule”2 and that a school who’s students included many of those who would go on to play important roles in the future development of international architecture and design, including Josef Hoffmann, Rudolph Schindler and Jože Plečnik.

And what they learned can be read in Otto Wagner’s book “Moderne Architektur” – “Modern Architecture”

Published in 1896 Moderne Architektur was in many respects the first text to argue for new approaches to architecture, urban planning and construction; to argue for a greater cooperation between engineers and architects, the one responsible for the physical, the other for the artistic realisation; to argue for a practicality in architecture rather than a pure beauty; to argue for a simplicity of form devoid of the ornamentation and motifs of previous ages; to argue against the, until then, standard and blithely accepted, study tour of classical Italy undertaken by young architects and instead a call to visit the major European metropoli* in order to understand the needs of contemporary society; to argue for a modern architecture. And although against the backdrop of current understandings of architecture and design much of what Wagner wrote sounds almost embarrassingly obvious, in 1896 it was just short of revolutionary. Republished in 1898, 1902 and 1914 – the latter two versions with numerous changes and emendations over the first two – Moderne Architektur was not only one of the first outings for the term “modern architecture” but as a work existed during, and thus served as an important theoretical and ideological accompaniment to, a period of rapid change in architecture and design thinking: in Scotland Charles Rennie Mackintosh was translating Japanese aesthetics into Glaswegian sandstone; in France Siegfried Bing and Henry van de Velde were opening the “Salon d’Art Nouveau” in Paris; in Germany Großherzog Ernst Ludwig von Hessen was establishing the Mathildenhöhe artists colony in Darmstadt; in Finland Eliel Saarinen, Herman Gesellius and Armas Lindgren were struggling with the question of defining a contemporary Finnish national identity; while over in Chicago Louis H. Sullivan was confidently proclaiming “form ever follows function, and this is the law.

Postsparkasse Wien by Otto Wagner, main banking hall (Photo C. Cossa a.k.a Gingercub, via

Postsparkasse Wien by Otto Wagner, main banking hall (Photo C. Cossa a.k.a Gingercub, via

A New Architecture for a New Era

As with Louis H. Sullivan the basis for Otto Wagner’s new thinking was on the one hand the new types of buildings that were needed for the contemporary city, and on the other the opportunities afforded by new materials and new construction methods. Unlike Chicago Vienna wasn’t busily building skyscrapers, but, for example, in realising his ever genial Postsparkasse Otto Wagner employed, as arguably one of the first in Central Europe, steel reinforced concrete, while the monumental glass roof over the main banking hall not only makes no effort to hide its underlying construction principle, but positively celebrates it: it is we suspect no coincidence that Postsparkasse remains one of the most splendid and compelling buildings in the Austrian capital. Or indeed any city.

In addition to architecture and urban planning Otto Wagner was also an active member of the pre-Jugendstil Wiener Secession, and in demand as an interior and furniture designer, in which context we refer the interested reader to the interior of the Postsparkasse, a work which is not only an excellent definition of the term Gesamtkunstwerk, but whose furniture presents a refined, if luxurious, simplicity every bit as delicious as the architecture.

Otto Wagner officially retired from his Professorship at the Akademie der bildenden Künste in 1912, remained however on the teaching staff until 1915, by which time the realities of the First World War overshadowed all other enterprises. Otto Wagner died in Vienna on April 11th 1918, and while the man was gone his spirit remained in the work of those students he had inspired, and who were in the process of reforming architecture and design and thus were themselves inspiring the next generation of architects and designers.

Happy Birthday Otto Wagner!

* as ever, we know “metropoli” isn’t the plural of metropolis. Passionately believe it should be

1. Otto Wagner, “Wohnhaus, I., Stadiongasse 6 und 8 in Wien” Allgemeine Bauzeitung, Wien, 1887 Accessed 12.07.2016

2. Wagner Schule 01, Der Architekt – Supplemente 7, Wien, 1901 Accessed 12.07.2016

Furniture for the Postsparkasse Wien by Otto Wagner

Furniture for the Postsparkasse Wien by Otto Wagner

Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden present Friends + Design

Tulga Beyerle, Director of the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden, once gave us a piece of advice, the context of which we’ve long since forgotten, but not the content “only work with people you like”

Much as we have tried to follow Tulga’s sage advice, such are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune under which we suffer, we haven’t; unlike, we presume, Tulga who has now gone one step further and transformed the premise into the exhibition Friends + Design.

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden (Photo Marco Cappelletti © DSL Studio, Courtesy Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden)

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden (Photo Marco Cappelletti © DSL Studio, Courtesy Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden)

Co-curated by Tulga Beyerle and Maria Cristina Didero Friends + Design began, and as befits such a theme, with a discussion amongst friends, “Tulga and myself have similar backgrounds, share a common vision of life, do similar jobs, have a similar approach to our work, and enjoy a real friendship” explains Maria Cristina Didero, “we have been talking about working together for a while, one day we started discussing friendship as a topic and were convinced that if we got the right people, and by that I mean true friends, that it would work.”

To that end seven international designers were asked if they would be interested in contributing to an exhibition, not individually but together with a friend; the “right people” being Tomás Alonso with Mathias Hahn, Bethan Laura Wood with Philippe Malouin and Richard Hutten with Michael Young and Jerszy Seymour. The result is three projects which in addition to representing three different types of design – product, concept, and interior – also represent three different aspects of what constitutes a “friendship”, and which in many ways define the depth and potency of such: trust, shared time and experiences, understanding and taking a genuine interest in the other.

The Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young & Jerszy Seymour, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. Here the table top by Richard Hutten

The Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young & Jerszy Seymour, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. Here the table top by Richard Hutten

Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young and Jerszy Seymour

The most instantly accessible of the three projects is without question the inaccessibly named, Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young and Jerszy Seymour. Arising from a brief asking for a joint project the Youhutseymatic Table is a dining table composed of three elements, each designed by one of the triumvirate, and an object which not only reflects the trust that must exist with one’s partners to ensure a successful collaboration nor only the trios differing understanding of design and aesthetics, but which also mirrors both what Jerszy refers to as the “anarchic” nature of their friendship and, as Richard explains, the fact that the three “are not friends because we are the same, but because we are different, and one sees the diversity of the individuals in the table.” If you will a friendship caught in and embodied by an object, and that, as with the friendship, a one-off, unique piece.

What selling the table says about the friendship is a question we defer to more capable minds.

Largely created, by the designers’ own admission, in a bar in Dresden – the three live in different countries and as such can’t meet up as easily as the other two pairings – each designer created their element in secret, without reference to or contact with the others, but could they imagine asking one or the other for advice on a project “No!”, answer Jerszy and Richard simultaneously, before Jerszy adds the qualifier that that is “largely because our processes are quite different, and so it isn’t something that happens.” Richard concurs adding that while he may not telephone Jerszy to ask for advice, “I have a team whose opinion I obviously ask, but I am the singer and songwriter and so ultimately I decide.”

Or put another way. The design process may be a solo trip, but that doesn’t mean others can’t, or shouldn’t, accompany you.

A metaphor taken to a new level by Tomás Alonso and Mathias Hahn.

The Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young & Jerszy Seymour, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. Here front leg by Jerszy Seymour, rear leg by Michael Young

The Youhutseymatic Table by Richard Hutten, Michael Young & Jerszy Seymour, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden. Here, front leg by Jerszy Seymour, rear leg by Michael Young

The Trip by Tomás Alonso and Mathias Hahn

Spending your professional life designing products can leave you weary of products in your private life; therefore when London based designers Tomás Alonso and Mathias Hahn were asked to create a gift for the other, they, in Tomás’s words, “decided not to make something”, and instead decided to give one another time, or perhaps better put, time together and shared experiences in the form of a road trip from London to Dresden. Being English based designers that, obviously, meant a road trip in a Mini Cooper. And being product designers meant a road trip involving visits to factories and workshops along the way – factories and workshops large, small, high-tech, traditionally analogue – and thus became in addition to Tomás and Mathias’s individual memories and impressions, a joint experience documented in a video of the trip which can be viewed in the exhibition and a collection of items from the places visited. Or at least it will be. When we were there the pair were still setting up: as with all good road trips Tomás and Mathias’s taking longer than planned.

Of the three projects The Trip perhaps best focusses attention on one of the more interesting aspects of Friends + Design, namely that the designers involved all, generally, work alone, and not only that they generally work alone but as Philippe Malouin notes, “when you’ve got your own design studio you get used to designing for yourself”, the invitation from Tulga + Maria being thus for the designers as much a good exercise in getting away from this solo habit as it was about dealing with the brief per se.

Does however mean cooperating with and finding a joint approach and objective with someone who isn’t an abstract client or supplier, but a friend; was there, we ask, no apprehension on the part of the curators that it might all go horribly wrong, that the designers may have over hastily accepted the brief without considering the full consequences, and that it might ultimately test the friendships more than was healthy?

“No, we were never worried”, answers Maria without hesitation, “because we knew that the designers involved are real friends. In many ways the project is exactly about challenging friends who normally work separately to spend time together and to work together, so yes one could say the brief was maybe a little pushy, but real friendships are robust, real friends can climb mountains!”

That as may be, but can real friends survive a five day road trip in an old mini cooper?

“The car was so loud that we couldn’t really talk and so most of the time we were minding our own business”, laughs Tomás Alonso, and thereby also providing a nice tip for any other friends planning a longer road trip.

The Mini Cooper from Tomás Alonso & Mathias Hahn in front of the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

The Mini Cooper from Tomás Alonso & Mathias Hahn in front of the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Freaky Friday by Bethan Laura Wood and Philippe Malouin

Whereas designers do travel in a physical, geographic sense, not least in context of the innate annual spring migration to the watering holes of Milan, design journeys tend to be more in terms of style, philosophy, materials; and where the paths of two travellers cross, interaction is possible, exchange enabled, fusion can occur. Where the design paths of Bethan Laura Wood and Philippe Malouin cross fission is arguably more likely than fusion, for as Philippe reflects on the pair’s characters, “I guess I’m minimal and Bethan is maximal”

Asked by Tulga and Maria to create an object for the other the decadently extravagant Bethan and the decadently reserved Philippe decided that they should both create the same object, and that it should be one which not only came from the giver but which also referenced the receiver.

The subsequent decision for a bed and bed linen was largely influenced by the ideas of privacy, intimacy and seclusion associated with beds and bedrooms, your bed being the one place where you can be yourself without fear or intimidation. Each bed is accompanied in the exhibition by objects selected by Philippe and Bethan from the Kunstgewerbemuseum’s collection and thus presented in context of a “real” scenography, a personal, private space which rather than reflecting the impression either Philippe or Bethan has/may have of themselves, reflects, almost caricatures in the sense of exaggerating and highlighting, but also in terms of poking light hearted fun at, elements Bethan and Philippe recognise, understand and for all appreciate in the other’s character and work.

Something which is, logically, only possible when you understand and appreciate the other’s character and work.

And something which is a fusion, and not the feared fission.

On account of the polarity of their styles it is highly unlikely that Philippe and Bethan would ever find themselves as direct “competitors”, similarly Jerszy Seymour, Michael Young and Richard Hutten all have their own approach, their own style and thus their own market(s). The situation is somewhat more complicated with Tomás Alonso and Mathias Hahn. And for all Tomás Alonso, Mathias Hahn and their extended circle of friends. Tomás and Mathias studied together at the Royal College of Art London in the early 2000s and upon graduating in 2006 moved into a shared studio complex alongside 6 former RCA colleagues. New arrivals over the intervening decade mean that the complex is currently home to 12 befriended design studios, 12 befriended design studios who, more or less, generally, work in similar areas and occasionally for similar, identical, clients. Is there therefore a sense of competition amongst friends?

“No, not really”, answers Tomás reflectively, “I can think of a couple of, lets say, negative occasions, but nothing serious. And I think if it was a problem we wouldn’t all still be sharing a space after ten years. We all somehow find ways to create our own space without getting in each others way”

A situation which implies a mutual respect. Not only a very important element of friendships but something very present in the three projects presented at Friends + Design.

A bed by Bethan Laura Wood for Philippe Malouin, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Bed and bed linen by Bethan Laura Wood for Philippe Malouin, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Vive la différence!

That friends can successfully design together isn’t a particularly earth shattering conclusion; historical and contemporary design being as it is awash with excellent examples of such. However such co-operations are concious co-operations, are what the designers want and how they feel comfortable. Friends + Design in contrast sought and seeks to explore what happens when those not familiar with working with someone are forced to. And when that someone is a friend.

Consequently as an exhibition Friends + Design is less about the results per se, interesting as they are, and much more about on the one hand what they tell us about the seven protagonists’ approach to their work and their understanding of design and on the other an exploration of friendship, of how and why friendships work. And from that we learn above all: vive la différence!

In addition Friends + Design also very neatly explains what a design museum can be and how a design museum can make contemporary design relevant and accessible. A state of affairs greatly helped by the decision to base the exhibition’s “identity” around the TV series “Friends”; a decision which brings a very nice, pleasingly irreverent, almost inappropriate, to be honest bordering on the amoral, lightness to proceedings, and which makes approaching the exhibition less about the “Design” component and more about the “Friends”. Even if it does mean you’ll be humming “that” Rembrandts song for months to come. And wondering if anyone ever told the participating designers that life was gonna be this way? If they’re broke? Are their lives a joke? Do they feel stuck in second gear? Has it been their day, their week, their month or even their year?

An exhibition with a lot more depth than breadth Friends + Design arguably isn’t worth a trip to the Dresden Kunstgewerbemuseum on its own; but as an extension to what the Dresden Kunstgewerbemuseum offers it is certainly a further convincing argument for making a trip along the Elbe this summer. And naturally across the Elbe with the Schlossfähre ferry.

One possible explanation as to why Friends + Design works so well is that it is built not only on the friendship that exists between the curators, but also on that between the selected designers and the curators, friendships which in many cases go back years, involve numerous co-operations in as many contexts and which are probably best summed up by Jerszy Seymour’s comments that the designers knew they could “trust” the curators to successfully manage and organise the project. As such the exhibition is built on trust, understanding, shared experiences. And thus, and perhaps most importantly, working with people you like.

Friends + Design runs at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Schloss Pillnitz, Wasserpalais, August-Böckstiegel-Straße 2, 01326 Dresden until Tuesday November 1st.

Full details, including information on the parallel running – surely rolling? – exhibition Self-Propelled. Or how the bicycle moves us can be found at

A bed by Philippe Malouin for Bethan Laura Wood, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Bed and bed linen by Philippe Malouin for Bethan Laura Wood, as seen at Friends + Design, Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden

Schlossfähre and Schloss Schlossfähre and Schloss

Schlossfähre and Schloss

Design European Championship 2016: Review and Preview

After four weeks of competition at venues throughout France the 2016 Design EM prepares to bid adieu, au revoir and a heartfelt merci….and thus an opportune moment to reflect.

Whereas the first few days were more notable for off-field activities than on-field, and for all those off-field activities of design fans from Russia and England, Design 2016 slowly developed into, if not a classic tournament, then certainly an honest and realistic reflection of contemporary European design.

And also confirmed a few truths: Spain’s early exist underscoring the need for a generation change and the development of fresh ideas in Iberian design, the dominance of teams from “western” Europe highlighting that despite the obvious and very welcome advances being made in nations such as Croatia, Hungary or Slovakia, more still needs to be done to make their design internationally competitive on a broader scale, while England’s mediocre performance once again served notice that to be a leading international design nation possessing a few high-earning, high profile, individual talents is not enough, one also needs a system which encourages and promotes the culture of design as much as the commerce. And that filling your domestic rosters with foreign designers doesn’t necessarily help foster your native talents.

While Holland’s absence was unquestionably felt their experimental flair and abstract passing was more than ably compensated by the performances of nations such as Iceland or Wales who nicely demonstrated that in the contemporary design world “size” is relative and as much a question of your belief in the correctness of your approach and the competence with which you command the design basics, as it is about numbers or memories of former glories.

On Sunday evening Portugal meet France in the final in Paris, our prognosis


Although having never worked as a product designer herself, with her rediscovery, and for all her modernisation of, the azulejo Portugal’s trainer Maria Keil unquestionably helped bring a new sense of national identity and self value to Portuguese design and as such played an important role in bringing Portuguese design to where it is today. Fielding one of the youngest teams at Design 2016 the Portuguese demonstrated a very mature, and very fine, feeling for the use of colour, lightness of form and material combinations.

Goal: Antonio Garcia
The old master of Portuguese design Antonio Garcia is not only a benchmark for younger players but one of the safest pairs of hands in the game.

Defence: Bruno Carvalho, Paulo Sellmayer, Tiago Sá da Costa, Rita Botelho
All four played together in legendary Made out Portugal team who a few years ago threatened to dominate the European game. That project may have sadly come to an abrupt end, but the individual talents and inter-group understanding from those days remain; while the experience from their time in the Dutch league infuses their design with an unpredictability that can often wrong foot opponents.

Midfield: Rita João, Pedro Ferreira, Gonçalo Campos, Maria Bruno Néo
All alumni of the Fabrica Design and Communication Research Center based in Treviso, Italy this very young Portuguese midfield represents not only a new generation of Portuguese designers, but based as they are with Portuguese manufacturers a new confidence, upswing – and era? – in and for the domestic game in Portugal.

Forwards: Rui Alves, Carmo Valente
One of Portugal’s most prolific and hardest-working designers Rui Alves never tires of attempting to find new ways and new approaches to break down defences, while in Carmo Valente Rui has the perfect wing man who not only creates his own opportunities with his straightforward approach but who through his regular forays into art distracts defences and thus gives Rui the space he needs.

Design European Championship 2016 Final - Starting line-up Portugal

Design European Championship 2016 Final – Starting line-up Portugal


As the man who led French design from the stylistic confusion of Art Deco to the simplicity of modernism, and who then pushed modernism further and made it accept its social responsibility, French coach Jean Prouve understands the function of contemporary design perhaps better than any other. A fact which helps explain the mix of experience and youth which characterises his team selections: contemporary design needing as it does to be not only innovative, but also relevant.

Goal: Jean-Marie Massaud
Although Jean-Marie Massaud’s game has always been voluminous and largely about self-confidently dominating the space, since switching to the American league he has increasingly rediscovered the delicate finesse of historic French design traditions, and thus has unquestionably added to his canon. And the French team’s options.

Defence: Philippe Stark, Pierre Paulin, Julien Phedyaeff, Pierre-François Dubois
With Starck and Paulin, the grand doyens of contemporary French design, and Phedyaef and Dubois, two of the stars of the ambitious French club Hartô, Prouve has selected a defence which both understands the finer traditions of French design, but which isn’t afraid to ignore it when a more universal solution is required.

Sweepers: Ronan Bouroullec, Erwan Bouroullec
A stable partnership for over twenty years the brothers Bouroullec are famed for the differing styles, the one a fox, the other a hedgehog; and exactly this combination makes their interaction so variable and means they are always likely to surprise.

Midfield: Charlotte Perriand, Eileen Grey, Ionna Vautrin
The familiar all female French midfield, Charlotte Perriand and the naturalised Irishwoman Eileen Grey play a very straight, uncomplicated, traditional game, while the younger Ionna Vautrin in the middle adds a fresh, contemporary approach that compliments and expands that of her more experienced colleagues.

Forward: Jean Angelats
Apart from his height Jean brings a breath of fresh thinking to the French attack, combining as he does a classic design philosophy with some very individual, idiosyncratic formal, material and technical solutions. In his youth somewhat uncontrolled since transferring to Brussels and the contemporary Belgian league he has become much more focussed and has developed into a real force in European design.


Despite Portugal’s mastership over colour and aesthetics, France’s greater experience and for all formal variability should give them the edge. 2-0 France.

Design European Championship 2016 Final - Starting line-up France

Design European Championship 2016 Final – Starting line-up France

Jean Prouve - Maison des Jours Meilleurs

Jean Prouve – Maison des Jours Meilleurs

Estação Praca de Espanha Lisbon, 1959 by Maria Keil

Estação Praca de Espanha Lisbon, 1959 by Maria Keil

smow blog Interview: Alain Gilles – For me the benchmark is never to lose the functionality, I like to create works which have a very graphic character, but they need to work as intended and to work well

Whereas the careers of most product and furniture designers follow a very similar path and pattern over apprenticeship, internships and college, Belgian designer Alain Gilles took a “somewhat” different route: a degree in political science being followed by five years working in the Brussels’ office of international finance concern J P Morgan, before, aged 32, he began to study product design.

And that with a fair degree of success.

Since establishing his own studio in 2007 Alain Gilles has worked for and with clients as varied as Bonaldo, La Chance, Verreum and, and perhaps most notably, BuzziSpace where Alain Gillies’ designs have been instrumental in establishing the Belgian producer’s global position and reputation.

We first became aware of Alain Gilles through a much more humble, if every bit as interesting project: his portable solar-powered Nomad lamp for O’Sun, and since then we have taken a keen, if distant, interest in his projects. Keen to learn more we met up with Alain Gilles in his Brussels home-studio to discuss his career and his approach to and understanding of design, but began, as ever, by asking why design, or perhaps better put, why eventually design?

Alain Gilles: It’s complicated, but also very simple. I always wanted to work creatively, it just took me a long time to realise that it was design that interested me. After finishing school I decided that I should study something “serious” and choose political science. Then after graduating I rented a studio space and spent six months working on, let’s say, “creative” projects, which didn’t really work out because I was trying to do everything at once and ended up achieving very little which was all very frustrating. And so one day I decided it wasn’t working and that I should find a conventional job. The first one I applied for was with J P Morgan, which I got, and subsequently did for five long years.

smow blog: And during these five years were you then still developing creative projects?

Alain Gilles: No, not at all. For the first two years I had more or less buried such thoughts, for me I’d tried, failed and moved on; but then I found this house and started renovating it myself, and so in many ways working on the house helped me realise that what interested me was 3D forms and experimenting with colours and materials. In addition the job with J P Morgan was so far removed from what I wanted to do that it pushed me to study marketing, which I thought is a little bit more between real world and the more artistic world, but then that also wasn’t enough, did however help me clarify that what interested me was design. And over time I understood that if I wanted to follow a design career, then I should study design.

smow blog: Which then took you to the Institut supérieur de design in Valenciennes. Why the decision to study at ISD?

Alain Gilles: A friend who is a designer at Tupperware told me about ISD, and on the one hand it isn’t that far from Brussels which made it convenient, but what I particularly liked about it was that the studies are based in the real world, which means most of the time we were working on projects for real companies, the projects may never have been realised, but were being created in a real context. And as an experience that helped calmed me down, taught me to move forward with a project step-by-step, to work in a structured fashion and also confirmed that this was what I wanted to be doing.

smow blog: And was that from the beginning furniture design or…….?

Alain Gilles: I studied product design, but aside from the history involved what attracted me to furniture was that furniture offers an excellent platform to express your ideas. In other areas of product design you are much more limited by existing norms or the company’s corporate image, but with furniture you have much more freedom. And it is also a lot of fun. However I don’t want to focus solely on furniture, I do work on non-furniture projects and also recently did my first art piece which was something that I had long wanted to do.

smow blog: So “proper art” as opposed to a design gallery piece?

Alain Gilles: Exactly, I did a gallery project once but I’m not so comfortable with the idea of “limited edition”, I like the idea that if I design something and people like it then a lot of people can own it, not from an egoistic perspective, but because for me that is the point. Also when you design for mass production you have to find ways to make it credible, find solutions, and create a good product for a fair price.

smow blog: Form & function, where are you?

Alain Gilles: For me the benchmark is never to lose the functionality, it doesn’t have to be 100% functional, I like to create works which have a very graphic character, but they need to work as intended and to work well. When I design I start with the architecture of the product, so what you have visually in front of you, then it is a question of how do you play with that, how do you add a second or third layer to that through for example colour or finishes, and so create something unexpected, but still functional.

smow blog: Going back a step or two did you establish the studio directly after graduating, or…….?

Alain Gilles: No, not directly. Shortly before graduating I was in contact with Quinze & Milan about producing a one-off object for an event, I got into conversation with Arne Quinze, he liked what I was doing, and so I spent two and half years working with them on very good and very interesting projects for the likes of Moroso or Rem Koolhaas. And then after two and a half years I decided to set-up my own studio, and that was a scary moment, because I’d never had to go out and find work……

smow blog: How long did that then take to establish yourself?

Alain Gilles: Fortunately it all went relatively quickly because at around the same time one of the subcontractors I had recruited for Quinze & Milan decided that he wanted to start his own brand, and so I designed the first furniture collection for the French brand Qui est Paul? Parallel I was submitting proposals to various brands and Bonaldo took on the Tectonic side tables, and in the following year I designed the Big Table for them which became not only one of their biggest sellers but also their signature product, and that then opened a lot of doors.

smow blog: One of those doors was BuzziSpace, how did that cooperation about?

Alain Gilles: I was helping on a smaller brand’s stand at a trade fair, BuzziSpace were also there, I really liked what they were doing, got into conversation with them and we remained in close contact, but it took about three years before we started cooperating, because it was never the right time or the right product. At that time BuzziSpace weren’t doing furniture as such and so with them I was able to develop some truly innovative new ideas, whereby the fact that I had spent five years working in a big open space office really helped me because I had lived it, I could feel the problems!

smow blog: And generally do you think your business/marketing background helped with the founding of your own studio?

Alain Gilles: I definitely think the fact that I had worked elsewhere, had lived several lives, unquestionably helped, because it’s funny but you don’t talk about design that much when you talk to a producer, rather it’s more on the one hand small talk over lunch, and on the other trying to convince them to do more than simply the safe, standard versions, but also to take a few risks and try something new, for example in terms of materials or colours. And those aren’t skills you necessarily learn in design school.

smow blog: You’ve been working independently for nine years now, are you now at a position where producers mainly contact you, or are you still knocking on doors looking for work?

Alain Gilles: I still go out knocking on doors! I like to develop my own projects and to propose and pitch them to clients, because otherwise you just end up doing what the client wants, and if that client is an established brand one can often be quite restricted. In addition I need to be able to develop the ideas that I have, to explore my ideas and to try new things, that is something I have to do. I don’t always find a client for my projects, but the process is something that can then help when I do work to a brief, often there is a cross-pollination and I can bring the experience into other projects.

smow blog: And how is the product development process with yourself, sketching, computer models, prototypes, or…..?

Alain Gilles: I don’t build prototypes, that is just a waste of money. Before I started my own studio I saw so many young designers invest so much time, money and effort in building prototypes of projects which they then never sold, and so from the very beginning I decided not to build prototypes. And so here in the office we work with plans, 3D programming and rendered images, although I do always have my calipers close at hand because on the computer screen you quickly lose a perception for the scale and so it is important to be able to physically check thicknesses, distances etc… And so, yeah, I know it sounds terrible, but no I never build prototypes!

smow blog: But presumably the manufacturers then do, or……?

Alain Gilles: Exactly, and that is something they are not only generally happy to do but which makes sense. I have, for example, often seen people creating prototypes using a different process or material from the intended because they didn’t have access to what they wanted. And that’s pointless because you’re not learning anything of value. However the manufacturers have the capabilities to develop meaningful prototypes, which also then help them understand how full scale production will work, or not.

smow blog: In terms of your work, when we look at your portfolio the one thing missing is lighting, is that something that you’re not interested in or…

Alain Gilles: No, not at all, I want to do lighting! Before I studied I created a lot of lamp designs and most people thought that was the direction in which I would go. Then I got into furniture, more or less by accident, and lighting and furniture seem to be very different tracks and we’ve never had much luck with securing lighting projects, but it is definitely something I am very keen to do more off.

smow blog: Changing tact slightly, as a Belgian designer based in Belgium do you feel yourself visible, or…..

Alain Gilles: Because Belgium is such a small country with a relatively small domestic market we always have to think about exporting, also exporting yourself, and so when I started my first reaction was that I don’t want to work for Belgian brands, because no one will see me and so I will have no possibilities to progress. And so initially I concentrated on companies in France and Italy and I was lucky in that it worked out. Then later I started working with BuzziSpace, who are yes Belgian but very internationally focussed, and that then made me better known in Belgium and now I am working increasingly with Belgian companies.

smow blog: In which context our impression is that for a, relatively, small country Belgium is home to an awful lot of furniture brands, is that the case or are we just making that up?

Alain Gilles: You’re certainly right Belgium is a small country! But then Denmark is only half the size and probably has even more brands, especially today when it seems everyone in Denmark is trying to create a brand! But yes, the industry in Belgium is currently very healthy. For various historical, social, cultural reasons the interest in contemporary furniture and design has generally been stronger in the Flemish regions, so in the north of Belgium, and that is also where today most of the interesting furniture brands are based, and there are currently a lot of very good companies in Belgium.

smow blog: You yourself are based in Brussels, is Brussels a good city to be based in?

Alain Gilles: I recently saw a statistic which said that Brussels is globally the second most cosmopolitan city after Dubai. In Dubai 83% of the population were born outside the city, in Brussels its 63%, and I like the fact that Brussels is so international and that one feels the influence of different cultures, and I also like the fact that it is so imperfect. If you visit other Flemish cities they are much cleaner, more ordered, but for me that is also a lot drier, they lack sources of inspiration. Here in Brussels one regularly sees interesting little things, imperfect details that get you thinking and inspire you to develop an idea.

smow blog: But is it affordable, is Brussels an expensive city?

Alain Gilles: No not at all, it is very affordable and is therefore home to many international artists and designers, and it is also a lot more lively and vibrant a city than one might think. Belgium is a cold country and so it’s not like Italy where everyone is outside socialising, however inside the bars and restaurants there is always something happening. I like to speak of the three Bs, Berlin, Barcelona, Brussels, three cities which are vibrant and relatively cheap, even if Barcelona has become more expensive of late.

smow blog: And is there an equally vibrant design community in the city?

Alain Gilles: Yes there are a lot of designers in Brussels, when not that many who are making a living as professional, independent designers, but we know one another, occasionally exhibit together and so there is definitely feeling of community here….

smow blog: … and, and the question is always a bit complex in a Belgian context, but Belgium wide…

Alain Gilles: … a few years ago the regional authorities tried to promote the different regions independently, because the money comes from the regional governments. For us as designers that was a shame because, for example, in Milan, you had three separate exhibitions of Belgian design, except they didn’t say “Belgium”, they said “Brussels”, “Wallonia” and “Flanders” and so no-one understood anything. Thankfully the authorities eventually realised that and now everything is unified under “Design is Belgium” and that is very good and through that there is much more of a sense of community and much better contact between designers from across Belgium.

smow blog: To end, you mentioned earlier that don’t want to just do furniture, what does that mean for your future plans?

Alain Gilles: I will definitely keep a principle focus on furniture, but would like to do more general product design. We have a couple of product design projects which are finished but not yet released, but once they are, people will see that we can also do products and so hopefully that will lead to more projects. But principally I am looking to continue having fun and enjoying what I’m doing!

Further details on Alain Gilles and his work can be found at

Berenice Abbott – Photographs @ the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

“Photography is the medium par excellence of our time. As a visual means of communication, it has no equal.”1 So wrote the American photographer Berenice Abbott in 1941.

How she set about proving such can be explored in the exhibition Berenice Abbott – Photographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Berenice Abbott PhBerenice Abbott - Photographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlinotographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Berenice Abbott – Photographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Born in Springfield, Ohio in 1898 Berenice Abbott initially, and only very briefly, studied journalism at Ohio State University before moving to first bohemian New York in 1918 and subsequently avant-garde Europe in 1921, where, and following a period in Berlin, she ended up in Paris working as an assistant to Man Ray; the two knew each other from New York days, and according to Gaëlle Morel, Abbott was hired “because she had no prior experience in photography, and Man Ray could train her to print in accordance with his own methods”2 Obviously a quick learner, in 1926 Berenice Abbott established her own studio in Paris, largely concentrating on portrait photography; in addition to the largely interchangeable fashionable Parisian party people, her subjects included leading cultural figures of the day such as James Joyce or Jean Cocteau.

In 1929 Berenice Abbott returned to New York in search of a publisher for her book about the French documentary photographer Eugène Atget, and was so overwhelmed by the way the city had grown and evolved in the intervening eight years she decided to bid au revoir to Paris and return to New York. And for all to photograph the evolving city, in its pre-depression blooming – very much in the way Eugène Atget had once documented evolving, post Haussmann, Paris.

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a backer, in 1935 the Federal Art Project, a programme of the depression era Works Progress Administration, WPA, which sought to support artists, agreed to fund her project to photograph New York and thus to document the changing urban environment. The culmination of this work was some 300 negatives, the 1937 exhibition “Changing New York” at the Museum of the City of New York and in 1939 publication of the book “Changing New York”: but for all the project resulted in a collection of photographs which remains one of the defining documents of 1930’s New York architecture and an archive not only interesting for shots such as Abbott’s portrait of the Flatiron building in Manhattan, but for the fact it covers the whole city with a self-evident parity, presents the suburbs, rich and poor, with just the same concentration, interest and critical distance, as it does the new downtown skyscrapers.

Berenice Abbott - Photographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Berenice Abbott – Photographs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Despite being arguably best known for “Changing New York” and her other documentary works of the 1930s, Berenice Abbott is and was much more than just New York and the 1930s, and Berenice Abbott – Photographs also includes examples of her portrait photography, of works created on a 1954 road trip along the so-called U.S. Route 1 – a 3,800 km highway running down America’s East Coast from the Canadian border to Key West – and, and arguably representing one of the high-points of Berenice Abbott – Photographs, examples of her scientific photography. Began in 1939 principally as a means by which to help explain the laws of science and the nature of nature to as wide a lay public as possible, scientific photography would occupy Berenice Abbott until the early 1960s, led her to invent new pieces of photography equipment, saw her briefly appointed as Head of Photography at Science Illustrated magazine, and has left us with the most delightful, endearing and utterly fascinating images of ball bearings, waves, body parts and soap bubbles. Yes, in their naivety and two dimensionality they all scream analogue. No we wouldn’t swap a single one of them for a modern digital impression.

Exampes of Berenice Abbott's 1920s portrait photography by Berenice Abbott, as seen at Berenice Abbott - Photographs, the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

Exampes of Berenice Abbott’s 1920s portrait photography by Berenice Abbott, as seen at Berenice Abbott – Photographs, the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin

There is, when all is said and done, an awful lot of high-faluting nonsense written about Berenice Abbott’s photography. For all her architecture photography. Unquestionably well composed, well considered and technically correct works, they generally aren’t anything “spectacular”. That said we have long found ourselves strangely attracted to them. Only ex post facto did we learn one possible reason: as an advocate for “straight” photography Berenice Abbott was fiercely against any artistic manipulation of photos, what you saw was what the photographer saw and was able to catch. Something that isn’t necessarily always the case, for as we noted in our post from the exhibition New Architecture! Modern Architecture in Images and Books at the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin, architecture photographers have long been inclined to retouch and rework their photos, Photoshop et al just made it easier. For Bernice Abbott such thoughts didn’t come into question, “[Mathew] Brady’s Civil war photographs could not make their intense emotional appeal if we had any idea in looking at them that they were doped-up fakes like Hearstian war “atrocity” pictures…..  Because of [photography’s] value and usefulness, we would be very bigoted and even irresponsible to seek to legislate a narrow perfectionism for the medium….Is not photography good enough in itself, that it must be made to look like something else, supposedly superior?…. What makes art is the man who feels, thinks, labors, sweats, dreams, hopes. This is true with photography as with any other medium”3

By practising this attitude Berenice Abbott created works that exist on and through her interpretation of a scene. And for all the moment of conception; rather than as an essay of an idealised location built up over time. In addition Berenice Abbott’s New York photos are largely about the buildings and the urban environment, this is no “street photography”, yes there are people to be seen but they are generally in context of the setting and not the principle focus. Nor are her works a social and cultural documentation à la Jacob A. Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives”. The principle focus is the buildings. Where they are. How they are constructed. How they are used. And in our ever evolving world of ever more temporal architecture and the often necessary, often unnecessary, demolition of buildings, honest documentation is important if future generations are to be able to learn from the mistakes we invariably make, as well as from the brave decisions that may regularly be condemned as barbarism at the time.

Presenting around 80 photos by Berenice Abbott, backed up by letters, magazine articles, books and a video, Berenice Abbott – Photographs is a concise exploration of Berenice Abbott’s canon, if a very satisfying, very well conceived exploration, and as such is not only a good place for all unfamiliar with her work to become familiar, but a nice, untroubling, summer holiday season, rainy day Berlin, reminder for all who are familiar with her work to reacquaint themselves with some key aspects.

Berenice Abbott – Photographs runs at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, 10963 Berlin until Monday October 3rd

Full details can be found at

1. Berenice Abbott, A Guide to Better Photography, Crown, New York 1944

2. Gaëlle Morel, Berenice Abbott (1988 – 1991): Photographs, exhibition catalogue, Jeu de Paume, Paris & Ryerson Image Centre at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Paris 2012

3. Berenice Abbott, A Guide to Better Photography, Crown, New York 1944

5 New Design Exhibitions for July 2016

Inaugurated in July 212 BC* the Ludi Apollinares were Roman games staged in honour of Apollo and featuring a mix of chariot racing, plays, dances and ritual sacrifice.

The following five new exhibitions opening in July 2016 may lack the excitement of the chariot race, but in many respects are much more appropriate means by which to celebrate the Greco-Roman God of the arts, poetry, music and knowledge.

And no gilded ox, goat or heifer need suffer.

 “Fast Forward: The Architecture of William F. Cody” at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, Los Angeles, California, USA

“Desert Modernism” is without question one of the more niche branches of modernist architecture. If one of the more interesting. And certainly more photogenic. Architecture’s equivalent of cats, images of reduced down works in the California desert, invariably at sunrise/sunset, producing an instinctive, conditioned smile in all but the coldest of hearts. However, unlike cats Desert Modernism has a value beyond the visual; through taking the formal understandings and construction techniques developed a generation earlier and applying them to the peculiarities of the Californian desert the likes of Richard Neutra, E. Stewart Williams or William F. Cody created works that although universal in their design, only work in the location they stand. Represent if you will a different perspective on modernist architecture and thus allow for a new understanding and appreciation of the principles on which the constructions are founded. And made the Coachella Valley one of the hippest, partiest, places to be long before the modern glitterazzi got there and started burning things. Celebrating William F. Cody’s 100th birthday Fast Forward promises not only a fulsome celebration of the life and work of one of the genre’s leading protagonists, but through a collaboration with students from the improbably named Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will present contemporary interpretations of some of Cody’s furniture, lighting and typography designs, and thus explores the more general question as to in how far one can “update” a design, and for all a design created in a particular time and context.

Fast Forward: The Architecture of William F. Cody opens at the A+D Architecture and Design Museum, 900 E. 4th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013 on Sunday July 10th and runs until Sunday September 25th

Shamel Residence, Palm Desert, California by William F. Cody (Photo © Julius Shulman, courtesy A+D Museum Los Angeles)

Shamel Residence, Palm Desert, California by William F. Cody (Photo © Julius Shulman, courtesy A+D Museum Los Angeles)

“World of Malls. Architekturen des Konsums” at the Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München, Germany

It all began with temporary open air markets, outposts, often at crossroads, where traders from far off regions would meet and hawk their wares, before moving on. Over the centuries these outposts became ever more permanent, ever larger, gave us the bazaar, trading post or market town, created centres of commerce, craft, culture and political power and thus evolved ever more to locations that went far beyond simple buying and selling. And yes, also allowed for the development of efficient taxation systems. Since the end of the Second World War, and largely thanks to developments in America, the shopping experience has become typified by “the mall”.  Focussing on the architecture of shopping malls rather than their cultural and social significance World of Malls presents 23 examples from around the globe via which the curators aim to not only explore the architectural development of the shopping mall since the 1950s but also the evolution of the shopping mall’s relationship to the wider urban environment. And so by extrapolation ask if things have genuinely “advanced” since the traders of yore meant under the tree by the duck pond. Or just got bigger.

World of Malls. Architekturen des Konsums opens at the Architekturmuseum der Technischen Universität München, Pinakothek der Moderne, Barer Strasse 40, 80333 München on Thursday July 14th and runs until Sunday October 16th

The Horton Plaza, San Diego, California by Jon Jerde (Photo © The Jerde Partnership)

The Horton Plaza, San Diego, California by Jon Jerde (Photo © The Jerde Partnership)

“Nathalie Du Pasquier: Big Objects Not Always Silent” at the Kunsthalle Wien, Austria

As one of the founding members of the Memphis group Nathalie Du Pasquier played an important role in helping re-shape attitudes towards art, design, form, function, and ultimately aesthetics; principally through the numerous textile, laminate and what one could refer to as “surface” designs she created and which in their abstract garishness came to define the “Memphis style”. Post-Memphis Nathalie Du Pasquier continued her exploration of colours and forms through artistic works and since the late 1980s has worked exclusively as an artist. Self-taught Nathalie Du Pasquier’s canon is largely centred around still lifes, her early works expressing a delightful naiveness which over the decades and through an increasing concentration on a few limited forms have become ever more purist, and which latterly have moved from 2D to 3D and sculptural objects which are often formally reminiscent of Memphis, albeit without the functionality that separates art from design. Although largely forgotten as a designer, recent years have seen a revived interest in Nathalie Du Pasquier’s textile designs, something principally manifested by Wrong for Hay’s reissuing of a selection of her designs. With Big Objects Not Always Silent the Kunsthalle Wien promise to display works from across Nathalie Du Pasquier’s oeuvre, across the decades and genres in an exhibition concept which aims to provide an in-depth exploration of the artist and her work, and which thus also promises to provide an interesting exploration of the relationship between art and design.

Nathalie Du Pasquier: Big Objects Not Always Silent opens at the Kunsthalle Wien, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, Austria on Friday July 15th and runs until Sunday November 13th

Arizona carpet by Nathalie Du Pasquier, 1983 (Photo: Studio Azzurro, Courtesy Memphis Milano)

Arizona carpet by Nathalie Du Pasquier, 1983 (Photo: Studio Azzurro, Courtesy Memphis Milano)

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden, Germany

The nature of the freelance product design profession is such that close friends are often direct “competitors”; not in a gladiatorial sense, the profession isn’t that hard fought, or at least not yet, but competitors none the less. The chances of success are slim, the inability and unwillingness of the market to absorb everything meaning only very few freelance product designers make a genuinely good living from their creativity. Thus the old college chum or atelier cohabitee is often as much a potential career hazard as a reliable and honest source of advice and feedback. What to do? The Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden response was to pair up befriended international designers and commission them to develop a joint project, and thus promote the friendly rivalry, this curious tension that exists between designers, to a creative process, and in doing so allow for, potential, new insights into the chosen seven’s understanding of and approach to design.

Friends + Design opens at the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Schloss Pillnitz, Wasserpalais,
August-Böckstiegel-Straße 2, 01326 Dresden on Saturday July 9th and runs until Tuesday November 1st

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden (Photo Marco Cappelletti © DSL Studio, Courtesy Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden)

Friends + Design at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden (Photo Marco Cappelletti © DSL Studio, Courtesy Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden)

“New Romance: art and the posthuman” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia

Art isn’t design, and should never be confused as such. However art and design can influence one another, can provide a new perspective on the other, and working together they can often advance our understanding of contemporary society more effectively than the one alone can; an idea of how this dialogue can function is promised by the exhibition New Romance: art and the posthuman. Organised jointly by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Korean National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, New Romance was originally shown in Seoul and presents works by 18 Korean and Australian artists which set out to explore what the term “human” means today, and could mean in the future. Approaching the subject from a range of perspectives the exhibition promises a mix of objects, videos and performance which focus on subjects such as, contemporary communications, evolving ethical realities and our relationship to the natural world. Yes we would have preferred it if a few designers had been brought in, but as an art exhibition New Romance promises to be a very thought provoking, informative and for all entertaining exploration of our contemporary world.

New Romance: art and the posthuman opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney on Thursday June 30th and runs until Sunday September 4th

Airan Kang, Digital Book Project, 2016 (Photo Courtesy and © the artist and Gallery Simon, Seoul)

Airan Kang, Digital Book Project, 2016 (Photo Courtesy and © the artist and Gallery Simon, Seoul)

* We know there wasn’t a “July 212 BC”, but writing “Quintilis 212 BC” or even “Quintilis in the year of the Consulship of Flaccus and Pulcher”, wouldn’t we feel be particularly helpful……

smow blog compact: Ursa by McKenzie & Keim

Being principally an office furniture fair NeoCon doesn’t really attract “fringe events” the way home furnishing focussed trade fairs do; office furniture, allegedly, lacking much of the flair, emotion and excitement of its domestic relatives.

In the past however the so-called Guerrilla Truck Show did attempt to provide an alternative, more independent, take on design, than the sanitised corporate vision presented at NeoCon.

Staged during NeoCon week in Chicago’s Fulton Market district the Guerrilla Truck Show, as the name implies, allowed selected Chicago design studios to present their work in the back of a truck, a presentation form we will forever associate with the sadly defunct “Made Out Portugal” collective who used such a presentation form at DMY Berlin 2011, and a presentation form of which we thoroughly approve.

Following 2014’s tenth anniversary edition the Guerrilla Truck Show organisers’ called time on the event; however, for NeoCon 2016 could be persuaded to present a paired down showcase featuring ten design studios in front of the Merchandise Mart Megalith.

And joy of joys they were principally designers. We had feared a lot of felt, a lot of “recycled” bags, a lot of “makers” with their nice-but-lethargic-generic works, a lot of filigree light bulbs posing as design, and a lot of felt. It was however largely designers.

Of which the highlight for us was without question the Ursa light collection by studio McKenzie & Keim.

A freely configurable lamp system Ursa features five connector elements of differing forms and onto which metal rods of a standard and/or custom length are attached and which thus can be shaped into an untold number of forms and configurations. More professional design writers would no doubt refer to the sculptural qualities of the lamps, wax lyrical about the way they reflect natural forms, be that coral, chemicals or galaxies and philosophise over the way the lamps twist and wind through space like their stellar namesake. We’ll mention that the light bulb at the end of each rod is a standard two pin LED, a bulb type readily available and thus easily replaceable.

Obviously, and as with Jason Miller’s ever genial Modo for Roll and Hill and ever decadent Superordinate Antler for Roll and Hill, we do miss a little that the Ursa system isn’t fully modular and reconfigurable, for us that would complete it; that said we were really taken with the reduced character of the variations presented, the lamps on show dominating the space without being arrogant, we really liked the scale of the pieces, the dimensions made sense and created very coherent, logical and accessible objects… and we also liked the fact they are self-produced in Chicago by the designers Taylor McKenzie-Veal and Brendan Keim using local suppliers and local trades.

We imagine you’ll have to live in America, or at least have an American standard electricity supply, in order to be able to use the Ursa lamps. But for us simply knowing that they are out there is enough.

More information can be found at:

And, and as we’re sure you’re all aware, Taylor McKenzie-Veal has previously featured in these pages as part of the collective behind the Rhode Island School of Design’s Granoff Sofa project……

Ursa Pendant Lamp by McKenzie & Keim and a chair design by Taylor McKenzie-Veal, as seen at  Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

Ursa Pendant Lamp by McKenzie & Keim, and a chair design by Taylor McKenzie-Veal, as seen at Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

Ursa Table Lamp by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at  Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

Ursa Table Lamp by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

A quadratic Ursa Pendant Lamp by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at  Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

A quadratic Ursa Pendant Lamp by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

Pivot Table Lamp & Ursa Sconces by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at  Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

Pivot Table Lamp & Ursa Sconces by McKenzie & Keim, as seen at Guerrilla Truck Show, NeoCon Chicago 2016

smow blog compact: Hangout by Proof of Guilt

In our recent conversation with Birgit Severin and Guillaume Neu-Rinaudo about their Heimat Lamp project they told us that the lamp was not only their first joint project but in many ways a test joint project to see how well they cooperated. Or perhaps better put, if they could cooperate. And was a test which they obviously both passed, for at Salone Satellite 2016 in Milan Birgit and Guillaume presented new, joint, projects, and a new, joint, venture, the design studio “Proof of Guilt”

For us the highpoint of the new Proof of Guilt collection is and was the Hangout family. Initially inspired by the mundane, if universal and wholly unavoidable, need for hanging space in a bedroom, Birgit and Guillaume developed a collection of hanging solutions suitable for kitchen, hallway, conservatory, office, or indeed bedroom, and based on traditional school sports equipment, specifically a Hula-Hoop, Climbing Bars and a Wall Bar.

Presenting themselves as very accessible, uncomplicated yet not uninvolved or uninvolving objects, the highlight of the collection for us is and was the Climbing Bars with their offset bars: which is not something we are aware of having ever experienced before in such an object, yet which is an eminently sensible solution. As in patently obvious. Bars arranged one above the other mean that objects hang over those below, offset the bars and they hang in front of or behind. Which just makes sense.

The one concern we did have with the collection was the question of stability and durability: the wooden rods are relatively thin, the metal brackets even more so. However, having had a chance post-Milan to investigate things a little more closely and unhurriedly our concerns have proved unfounded. We wouldn’t recommend actually climbing on the bars or swinging from the hoop, that would be genuinely foolhardy, but for the everyday storage of clothes, belts, jute bags, dog leads et al, the Hangout collection offers not only robust solutions but very civil, visually appealing, harmonious, and anything but mundane, solutions.

And also very nicely demonstrates that despite being Eindhoven graduates both Birgit and Guillaume can develop projects which originate in context of a real, everyday, problem and not an exploration of an abstract concept.

And that despite the claims of the Bröhan Museum Berlin’s exhibition, in terms of design it needn’t always be “Germany versus France“, “Germany with France” is possible.

Full details on Hangout and Proof of Guilt can be found at:

Proof of Guilt, together with friends from Halle & Berlin @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Proof of Guilt, together with friends from Halle & Berlin @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Hangout Hula-Hoop & Wall Bar by Proof of Guilt @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Hangout Hula-Hoop & Wall Bar by Proof of Guilt @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Hangout Climbing Bars by Proof of Guilt @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

Hangout Climbing Bars by Proof of Guilt @ Salone Satellite Milan 2016

.... and in detail

…. and in detail

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