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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

NeoCon Chicago 2016: High Five!!

At the risk of getting political, the term “neoconservative”/”neocon” hasn’t always had the best reputation, especially not in Europe where its connotations of American supremacy through military force has long made it a subject for suspicion, intrigue and popular rejection.

Thus for us it is all the more amusing that one of America’s main contemporary furniture trade fairs should be “NeoCon”. The imagery the name conjures up easily keeping us amused for the duration of a transatlantic flight……

Staged since 1969 in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart wholesale showroom and exhibition centre, a building so big it famously has its own ZIP Code, NeoCon is America’s largest platform for “contract furnishings” – so essentially, though not exclusively, office furniture, and the 2016 edition featured some 500 companies across three floors of permanent showrooms and one floor of temporary trade fair stands.

First things first. There is nothing glamorous about NeoCon. A building full of men in suits trying to convince other men in suits that their chairs are more ergonomic and environmentally responsible, their height adjustable tables more health promoting and their soundproof booths better soundproofed than those very, very similar looking objects being offered by the man in a suit further down the corridor, is never a good place to find oneself.

Outside is life, colour, titillation, noise, dirt, emotion, natural light.

Inside is.

For three days.

But then events such as NeoCon exist to sell furniture, or at least to promote the potential sale of furniture, that’s their raison d’etre. We and our perverse fascination with design quality just have to grind our way through, hoping to find projects that reaffirm our faith in the truth that a design led furniture industry is a healthy and sustainable furniture industry.

And Hallelujah we did!

As ever what follows is our subjective assessment of those new products on show, or at least products new to us. And as ever we didn’t see everything, and didn’t necessarily understand all that we did see, that said here our NeoCon Chicago 2016 High Five!

Horsepower by Antenna Design for Knoll

Good design is, as we recently noted, not necessarily a case of finding the correct solution but of correctly understanding the question. Which is why we have long admired both the Kantbank by Andreas Grindler for kkaarrlls and the metal bar that runs around the border of the exhibition halls in Milan. A metal bar which we presume is there for security but which is often the best chair design in any given hall. Sometimes we just need a place to perch. Which is also the reason why we were immediately taken by Antenna Design’s Horsepower for Knoll. When you’re next out and about in an urban, civic or commercial space, look around you, you will see untold individuals sitting on stairs, bollards, window sills, their luggage, the floor, and every 5th person will have a mobile device charging in some hastily found, inconveniently located, plug. Give the people a simple beam. Equip that beam with a cushioned top. And plugs. And USB charging ports. The world can be that simple.

Horsepower by Antenna Design for Knoll, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Horsepower by Antenna Design for Knoll, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace

The future of office environments is vertical. Not all office environments obviously, that would be ridiculous. But as part of an integrated office environment, an environment that features areas for quiet work, concentrated group work, brainstorming, social and individual free time, vertical solutions are becoming increasingly unavoidable, as they offer spatial and organisational possibilities traditional “2D” office environments simply cannot. In the past we have posted favourably on, amongst other innovations, the installation “The End of Sitting” by RAAAF & Barbara Visser at gallery Looiersgracht 60 in Amsterdam and on the effortlessly logical “Shrinking Office Project” by Rotterdam based Roy Yin. The BuzziJungle is, as far as we are aware, and we may be wrong, the first commercially available solution for vertical workplace solutions. Developed by Belgian designer Jonas Van Put for Belgian brand BuzziSpace, the BuzziJungle is freely configurable and thus can be adapted to meet the specific requirements of a given location and offers a range of options for sitting or lying at a range of heights and thus an environment for either informal group work or for employees to hang a little during the work day. No we’re not particularly taken by the use of wire meshing as the base for sitting/lying, understand the thinking, just feel it gives it a very slight “prison” feel, and yes would have preferred something modular rather than the rigid and permanent version presented; however, as an entry into a brave new world the BuzziJungle is a very positive and very welcome step. And the fact that BuzziSpace have taken it, not only makes perfect sense, but also bodes well for future developments.

BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

BuzziJungle by Jonas Van Put for BuzziSpace, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Massaud Conference Low Back by Jean-Marie Massaud for Coalesse

The Massaud Chair by French designer Jean-Marie Massaud for US manufacturer Coalesse isn’t new, the Low Back Conference version is, and for us the defining, if not crowning, feature are the armrests. Visually very reminiscent of Hans J Wegner’s PP19 “Papa Bear Chair” the armrests’ well considered curvature make them convenient – something, somewhat ridiculously, not always achieved by armrests – and in addition allow for a very comfortable sitting experience, without unnecessarily cocooning the sitter. One has freedom and enjoys that freedom. Add to this comfort and usability, the very nice, clean, connection between seat and backrest, and the welcoming familiarity more akin to a lounge chair than a conference chair and you have a very well rounded and interesting object. Yes, the conference and guest chair market is arguably over-saturated, but for us the Massaud Conference Low Back is a very welcome addition to the genre. And we can think of a good few others we’d could happily do without.

Massaud Conference Low Back by Jean-Marie Massaud for Coalesse

Massaud Conference Low Back by Jean-Marie Massaud for Coalesse

Presto by Thorsten Franck for Wilkhahn

Furniture design isn’t just about developing formally attractive objects, indeed in many respects that is the last thing furniture design is about; much more furniture design is about adapting to changes in the social, cultural, economic and ecological contexts in which furniture is used, adapting to changing technology and thus new processing possibilities and about following the evolution of materials and of translating this evolution into new products and/or production processes. An excellent example of the latter is the new Presto stool by Munich based designer Thorsten Franck for the German manufacturer Wilkhahn. A bi-conical stool there is nothing especially new or exciting in the form, visually pleasing as it unquestionably is; however there is plenty new and exciting about the fact that it is a 3D printed stool. According to Thorsten the possibility to print such a stool only arose with recent developments in the commercially available materials for 3D printing; whereas such was previously theoretically possible, the thermal stability of the material meant that on hot days the stability of the structure couldn’t be guaranteed. Newer materials being more thermally stable allow for the required stability. A further important factor in Presto’s stability is the exterior pattern. More than mere ornamentation the pattern provides for the physical stability of the very thin-walled structure. Form following function in that the decoration is functional. A state of affairs which we believe is very much in the spirit of Louis H Sullivan.

Aside from the object itself what particularly excites us about Presto is that it takes us one step closer to decentralised industrial furniture production. The idea of producing a furniture object in location X and shipping it around the world is becoming ever less justifiable, and every technological, material or process development that brings us a step closer to reducing such to a bear minimum is to be celebrated.

Technically “available” in a variety of patterns and sizes, NeoCon Chicago was a “pre-launch-launch” the main product launch, and market availability, is planned for Orgatec Cologne this coming autumn.

Presto 3D printed Stool by Thorsten Franck for Wilkhahn, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Presto 3D printed Stool by Thorsten Franck for Wilkhahn, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Presto by Thorsten Franck for Wilkhahn, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Presto by Thorsten Franck for Wilkhahn, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Zip by Alex Akopova for Bernhardt Design

Legs on a sofa unquestionably have an important function. Aren’t however universally necessary. Just as a bed can rest on the floor, so a sofa. Created as part of a long standing collaboration between US manufacturer Bernhardt Design and students from the Pasadena based Art Center College of Design Zip by Alex Akopova delightfully demonstrates that removing the legs not only changes the way a sofa relates to a given space, but also provides for a new sitting experience, different modes of seating and thus a different relationship with the sofa.

And yes, it is a sofa. Zip is no glorified bean bag. But a sofa. And a very comfortable one at that. And a modular one to boot. The individual units are sturdy without being overly heavy and join together via a, well, Zip, meaning that one can effortlessly configure and reconfigure the units to meet your current needs, be that a group sofa, individual chairs or a landscape featuring both. A functionality perhaps more important in an office, commercial, public space situation than in a domestic setting; and although created for contemporary office environments, we do see Zip working equally as well as a domestic object.

The other advantage of a sofa without legs is of course that should you fall asleep on it, either deliberately because your having a nap, or involuntarily because it is Thursday afternoon and its been a long week, and subsequently roll off, the way down is short and the landing painless. It can be important……..

Zip by Alex Akopova for Bernhardt Design, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

Zip by Alex Akopova for Bernhardt Design, as seen at NeoCon Chicago 2016

The Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof presents Stuttgart reißt sich ab. Plea for the Preservation of Cityscape Defining Buildings

Cities grow, mutate, evolve, a process which, as with human development, is rarely straightforward, rarely occurs without sacrifice and/or leaving one or the other scar. Physical as well as emotional. With the exhibition Stuttgart reißt sich ab – Stuttgart Demolishes Itself – the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof aim to explore the nature of post-war urban development in Stuttgart, and to present what they refer to as a “Plea for the preservation of cityscape defining buildings”

Co-curated by architect Claudia Betke and Wilfried Dechau, architect and former editor of the German architecture magazine “db – deutsche bauzeitung”, Stuttgart reißt sich ab presents via large format photographs by Wilfried Dechau and Wolfram Janzer examples of buildings that have either been demolished in recent years, or which have been saved, and when then largely on account of public initiatives and popular protest, while a city plan by Claudia Betke provides for a clear overview of those, or at least most of those, buildings lost/saved/endangered and as such neatly highlights the changes, and for all the extent and chronology of the changes, that have occurred in Stuttgart since the war.

Stuttgart reißt sich ab Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Stuttgart

Stuttgart reißt sich ab Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Stuttgart

Cities grow, mutate, evolve, yet owing to its geographic position Stuttgart is a city with only limited room to expand; in effect the city sits in a hollow, hemmed in, more or less, on all sides by gently rolling hills. Scenic, if impractical in an urban development context. Consequently urban growth in Stuttgart can largely only function through change, and in Stuttgart, as everywhere, urban change is a controversial, and highly emotional, subject. The arguments surrounding the construction of Le Centre Pompidou in Paris and the associated redevelopment of the surrounding area perhaps demonstrating such more eloquently than any other “recent” example.

Much of the current change in Stuttgart is occurring in context of the so-called Stuttgart 21 rail project, a project which will see Stuttgart Central Station relocated underground, thus allowing for redevelopment of the existing site. And a project more controversial and emotional than most, and one which is resulting in change with a tempo all of its own, and thus one who’s shadow hovers over most discussions surrounding contemporary urban development in Stuttgart. The recent announcement that the project will be finished later, and at more expense, than initially planned only serving to stoke the slowly burning fires.

The nature of urban change in Stuttgart is further defined by the fact that, as co-curator Claudia Betke explains, “when an investor in Stuttgart can prove that it is uneconomic to maintain a building, it can be demolished”. And that regardless of any listed building status it may enjoy. A state of affairs neatly demonstrated by Egon Eiermann’s highly controversial decision in 1956 to demolish Erich Mendelsohn’s Schocken department store in order to build a new department store. According to Eiermann the existing structure was “substandard” and bringing it up to contemporary standards would have been uneconomic. Eiermann’s opponents argued otherwise. Unsuccessfully. The decision to demolish Mendelsohn’s building not only being one of the classic examples of the brutal nature of urban change in Stuttgart, but remains a very painful and prevailing wound for many in the city. More recent examples of buildings demolished include the Amerika-Haus/Filmhaus, the former IHK headquarters and the former Interior Ministry building in the Dorotheenstrasse.
The question of what listing status a building enjoys is in itself further complicated by the fact that in no Stuttgart official list of protected buildings has been published since 2008. Whereas in other major German cities such as, for example, Berlin, Cologne or Frankfurt the lists of protected buildings are online and freely available, in Stuttgart access is restricted by the Data Protection Act and only those who can present a justifiable interest receive information. For one building. A casual interest in the list in general not sufficing. As part of the preparations for the exhibition Claudia Betke made use Freedom of Information laws, and a good deal of steely tenacity, to tease a copy of the current list from Stuttgart Council. A current list which of course will invariably become outdated as and when changes occur. A state of affairs which raises the obvious question, if information about what buildings or parts of buildings are listed, and for all why they are listed, isn’t freely available, how can one have an open and informed debate about how change is being planned and realised? Similarly, if no one knows how and why buildings are being listed and de-listed, how can one have an open and informed debate about local planning politics? And that in a city such as Stuttgart which is reliant on urban change for urban growth. And where Stuttgart 21 has, as it were, raised the emotional temperature.

The demolition of flats in the Haussmannstraße, Stuttgart. (Photo Copyright Wilfried Dechau)

The demolition of a block of flats in the Haussmannstrasse, Stuttgart. To allow for the construction of, a block of flats……(Photo Copyright Wilfried Dechau)

Cities grow, mutate, evolve but that needn’t mean demolition, and correspondingly Stuttgart reißt sich ab also presents examples of buildings once earmarked for, or at least threatened by, demolition, but which have been “saved” and given a new lease of life and/or a new position in the community, a list which includes buildings as varied as, for example, the Art Nouveau Markthalle by Martin Elsaesser, the so-called LOBA-Haus by Rolf Gutbrod and Paul Stohrer and, and perhaps as the most surprising example, the Weissenhofsiedlung; arguably one of the most important documents of inter-war functionalist architecture, and an estate which stands as representative of Stuttgart’s and Baden-Württemberg’s role in the development of contemporary ideas in architecture and design, not only because the event was staged in Stuttgart but because the majority of the suppliers and contractors were local. Yet an estate whose future is not 100% guaranteed. Although one must add that the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact the estate is owned by the German State, and so not directly under Stuttgart’s control. No, the Weissenhofsiedlung houses aren’t the most spacious, or the best insulted, in Europe, and so yes, one could argue that demolishing them and building newer, more spacious, better insulated buildings would represent progress: but the Weissenhof Houses exist, are important historical monuments, provide an important contemporary function, and are part of a coherent local community; and demolishing and rebuilding has not only cultural and social consequences, but also environmental, As we noted in a previous post, “we don’t believe every building is automatically worth keeping, just because it is from architect X or Y. Where a building is no longer required or is no longer capable of fulfilling its intended function, it must make way for a construction that can. Which of course doesn’t mean automatically tearing down old buildings. As a first step must surely come the question if one can’t make alterations. Adapt the building to its new function and/or new technological standards.” And as the Architekturgalerie’s recent presentation of regeneration projects by the Paris based studio Druot, Lacaton & Vassal beautifully demonstrated, in certain cases renovation can be the more sensible economic, social and environmental decision.

LOBA Haus Stuttgart by Rolf Gutbrod and Paul Stohrer one of those once threatened buildings whose future is now secure. (Photo Copyright Wilfried Dechau)

LOBA Haus Stuttgart by Rolf Gutbrod and Paul Stohrer one of those once threatened buildings whose future is now secure. (Photo Copyright Wilfried Dechau)

Cities grow, mutate, evolve and in the course of such the fabric of the city changes. And not just the physical fabric, the spiritual, social, cultural fabric changes. Gradual, organic changes are part of that process and are accordingly effortlessly absorbed; abrupt, forced changes less so. Where housing, cultural institutions or established business cede to commerce, offices and luxury apartments relationships, realities and social structures change. Or indeed when established inner city districts cede to cultural institutions, as in the aforementioned case of Le Centre Pompidou.

Ecologists have slowly learned that intricate networks support the functioning of ecosystems; and similarly urban spaces prosper or fail depending on the nature and strength of their inherent networks. Consequently, the secret, if not intention, must always be that through urban change no group is advantaged more than others, that all benefit from the changes, and that the changes encourage and enhance the balance of a community and thus the stability of the networks.

A deliberately politically positioned exhibition, Stuttgart reißt sich ab argues that in Stuttgart such is not the case, that in Stuttgart the interests of finance and commerce take priority over all others, that through the developments not only are buildings being demolished without proper consideration of their relevance to and wider function in the city, but that affordable housing and space for culture and the creative industries is vanishing, and that with the tacit support of the authorities.

Obviously you don’t have to agree with that position. The exhibition presents the curators’ arguments and invites discussion. In which context an important component of the exhibition concept is the opening lecture from the architecture historian Frank R. Werner and subsequent discussion with, amongst others, Herbert Medek, Head of the Stuttgart City Council’s Historic Building Protection Authority

Urban planning is something which affects us all, something which thus should interest us all, yet is something that we all too often are all to happy to entrust to others. Stuttgart reißt sich ab neatly explains why everyone should take an active interest in developments in their communities, in the way they grow, mutate and evolve.

Stuttgart reißt sich ab. Plea for the Preservation of Cityscape Defining Buildings opens at the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Am Weissenhof 30, 70191 Stuttgart on Wednesday June 15th and runs until Sunday September 18th.

The opening  lecture and discussion take place at 7pm on 15.06 in the Vortragssaal Neu-Bau 2, Der Staatlichen Akademie der Bildende Künste Stuttgart, Am Weissenhof 1, 70191 Stuttgart. And in German.

Full details, including information on the accompanying fringe programme can be found at

DMY Berlin 2016: High Five!!

We’re not going to claim that DMY Berlin 2016 was a vintage year, for us the 14th edition of the international design festival featured too little of substance, too much superficial, too little original, too much that was too obvious and far, far, far too many intricate filigree light bulbs. And nothing says “lifestyle”, or winds us up, more than an intricate, filigree light bulb.

However our impression may have been partially clouded by the distraction caused by the large amount of open space in a, relatively, sparsely populated Kraftwerk Mitte. We may have been concentrating too much on the spaces in the space. We’re all for space, we’re all for monumental space that envelops and absorbs you; but sometimes, and as so often in a design context, less can be more. And a different venue advantageous.

However just as the vineyards of the Loire produce excellent wine every year, and not just in those the self-proclaimed experts deign to term “vintage”, so to did DMY Berlin 2016 present some truly engaging and interesting projects. That our High Five! is in reality a High Four! is because on closer research a couple of projects we had considered including turned out to be less interesting than we had initially thought. In contrast to the following four…….

Workaround by Sofie Aschan Eriksson, Lund University School of Industrial Design

Although we visited the Lund University School of Industrial Design’s “In my Office” presentation at Milan, we somehow missed this gem from Sofie Aschan Eriksson. Essentially a variable modular desk system Workaround allows for working at various heights in a system that can be effortlessly adapted, extended or reduced as required. Or at least will/should be able to with a little further development: while in its existing form it can be adapted, extended or reduced as required, for us there are a couple of practical, operational, issues that need to be resolved before it becomes truly as effortless as we just claimed. As anyone familiar with us will understand, the materials are obviously not our thing, or at least not the “plastic with rucksack clips” that form the supporting columns. We like the transparency and lightness it bequeaths the system, we like the idea of informality, just feel it takes it a little too far, transports the mood, as it were, over the border from “informal” to “unserious”. And even hip new start-ups want to look serious. We do however see a lot of potential advantages of the plastic system in terms of branding, and we’ve already worked through some 8000 uses for the hollow interiors. Just feel that with a slightly more “refined” material solution one would have a more viable and universally applicable system; and not just in offices, but in a whole range of commercial, civic, academic, hospitality and industrial situations. All in all a very nicely considered and excellently worked through idea and one we hope Sofie gets the opportunity to develop further.

Workaround by Sofie Aschan Eriksson, Lund University School of Industrial Design. As seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Workaround by Sofie Aschan Eriksson, Lund University School of Industrial Design. As seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Workaround by Sofie Aschan Eriksson, Lund University School of Industrial Design. As seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Workaround by Sofie Aschan Eriksson, Lund University School of Industrial Design. As seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Prjcts – Modular Desk

What initially attracted our attention to the Prjcts modular desk, and what we still haven’t actually, physically, seen, yet are still actually, physically, obsessed with, is the pen storage module. Essentially a hole in the desk top into which a pen can be placed. So, vertically. We use pens a lot. Have on our desk and old earthenware pot thing containing about 25 pens. At least 8 of which don’t work. We don’t need 17 functioning and 8 defunct pens. We need one pen. One pen we can find when we need it. We need a hole in our desk with a pen in it. And this simplicity of function and obviousness of solution flows through the Prjcts concept. Good product design isn’t necessarily about finding the correct answer, but of understanding the question. The Prjcts modular desk is an excellent example of that fact. We all have demands in terms of what our desks should offer, Prjcts responds to these demands with table tops and legs in a range of configurable sizes, materials and colours and into which various “modules” can be integrated, including amongst others a multi-plug, a storage box or an induction plate for wireless charging of mobile devices. And the modules are integrated, not added, they integrate with the table top. In addition one can order just the table top, should you have table supports you wish to continue to use or would prefer an option other than those offered. Which is a nice bit of customer friendly thinking. The system’s creator Christian Knäbke didn’t study design, Prjcts arose from his own experience of using desks, and arguably because it arose from a user’s rather than a designer’s point of view it is for us a more relevant, sustainable and interesting concept than many systems we know in which companies have invested thousands in adding all manner of complex technologies. Yet never considered a hole for storing a pen.

Prjcts Modular Desk, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Prjcts Modular Desk, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Prjcts Modular Desk, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Prjcts Modular Desk, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Marlon Lounge Chair by Alexander Rehn for Axel Veit

We first came across the Marlon Lounge Chair by Munich based designer Alexander Rehn for the Berlin based brand Axel Veit in context of the Berlin Design Selection showcase at Milan 2015. One of those, innumerate, Milan showcases which we planned to post about. Yet never quite got round to. The chance wiedersehen at DMY 2016 was thus very pleasing. Quite aside from its easy accessibility and formal grace what we really like about the Marlon lounge chair is the visual irritation, almost contradiction, provided by the backrest: without any warning it suddenly changes direction, yet does so in a very subtle and pleasing fashion, and also one which aids the sitting comfort and thus the value of the object.

Marlon Lounge Chair by Alexander Rehn for Axel Veit, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Marlon Lounge Chair by Alexander Rehn for Axel Veit, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Marlon Lounge Chair by Alexander Rehn for Axel Veit, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Marlon Lounge Chair by Alexander Rehn for Axel Veit, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016

Happarel Bicycles

A few months ago Eberhard Schilling from Berlin based Happarel Bicycles contacted us to enquire if we’d be interested in their new reflective bike concept. Nice project we replied, one we find fascinating, but we really, really, really, really, don’t want to get started on bikes. Bikes and cycling are worlds of their own, worlds full of design, lifestyle, practicality, frivolity, honesty and show, and we simply do not have the time to even start contemplating and filtering the myriad topics associated with contemporary bikes and cycling culture.

Since when we’ve pretty much only written about bikes and cycling.

We’re not saying it’s Eberhard’s fault, we’d never say that, but we are saying that if he hadn’t contacted us…..

Happarel’s concept remains as delightful, elegant, simple, and fascinating, as when we first encountered it. A specially developed material reflects car headlights in a way similar to road signs and means that by day you have a normal bike, yet at night you are illuminated by car headlights and thus visible. Yet only illuminated for car drivers, for all other, casual observers, your bike remains nondescript, normal. Or as Happarel so poetically phrase it, you are “only extra visible when you need to be without being a rolling christmas tree.” In addition to providing their own custom bikes Happarel can make any existing bike reflective, and that in a way and with a design customised to meet your wishes. An awful lot of Happarel’s marketing is, if we’re honest, a little too cycling lifestyle porn for our tastes, however as a concept and a product what Happarel offer is not only charmingly elegant and intelligently realised, but very, very important.

Happarel Bicycles, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016. On

Happarel Bicycles, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016. “On”

Happarel Bicycles, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016. Off

Happarel Bicycles, as seen at DMY Berlin 2016. “Off”(The light is still shining on the bike, but because it is reflected directly back can only be see from a “frontal” perspective….)

Vitra Schaudepot: A New Home for the Vitra Design Museum Collection

With the opening of the Vitra Schaudepot the Vitra Campus has not only grown by a further building, but the Vitra Design Museum has realised a long held dream, that of an exhibition space in which to present their collection in its full extent; or at least in a much fuller extent than has currently been possible.

Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

The Vitra Design Museum collection traces its origins back to 1981 when the then Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum began buying historic examples of works by Charles & Ray Eames, Alvar Aalto and Jean Prouvé for his own interest; and has developed into a collection of some 20,000 objects, including around 7,000 chairs and 1,000 lamps from across genres, generations and geographic divides. And thus into one of the most extensive and important collections of 19th, 20th and 21st century furniture.

Yet was a collection which remained shut away in the cellar of the Vitra Design Museum office building, save for those rare moments when pieces were required for an exhibition.

A state of affairs with which no one was happy.

With the appointment of Marc Zehntner and Mateo Kries as joint directors of the Vitra Design Museum in 2011 a natural moment arose to rethink the museum’s direction, function and presentation concept, and for all to start new projects, one such was the creation of a space for a permanent exhibition of the Vitra Design Museum collection.

Rolf Fehlbaum’s original plan had been to create an underground exhibition space, next to and adjoining the existing storage space, acting as it were as a natural extension of the existing space, just into the public sphere; and he approached Basel’s local global architects Herzog and de Meuron to ask if they would be interested in creating an “entrance” to the new space. At which point one must add that Rolf Fehlbaum has the honesty and humour to admit that he can only approach the likes of Herzog and de Meuron with such ideas because he has known them for so long.

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron however persuaded Rolf Fehlbaum that it would be more viable to build above ground, especially as a former steel storage building next to the Vitra Design Museum offices was no longer in use and thus offered the perfect, ready-made, solution. Or would have had it not been in such poor structural condition that a renovation was not possible. Consequently Herzog and de Meuron created in its place a building of the same size and volume, and one in which the connection between public display space – the “show” as it were – and the non-public Vitra Design Museum storage – the “depot” – is via an opening in an internal wall which allows the visitor to gaze from above to below.

Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

Kept deliberately closed and windowless, as Mateo Kries is keen to point out, from a conservational perspective in a museum depot every window is one to many, the Schaudepot is constructed from brick – bricks broken by hand on-site and used with the rougher, broken, edges protruding outwards; a device the practice have used in the past and which as Jacques Herzog says creates an effect which is less masonry and more textile. And a feature which in many ways reminds us of the so-called Quetschfuge that Egon Eiermann used to give a physical, 3D, structure to the exterior of his 1937 Wohnhaus Matthies project in Potsdam – and which similarly creates a charming effect with a minimum of fuss, resources and money. And is a feature which may also have something to do with the way the building reflects the light: under the warm June sun we felt as if we were on a set of a Western, the Schaudepot emitting the familiar, strangely welcoming, charm of a slowly disintegrating New Mexico Finca. We suspect that under the grey Weil am Rhein winter sky it will feel very, very different, we’re expecting Scandinavian noir, if every bit as inviting and enticing.

Featuring a gable roof and thus not only resembling the “home” it is but also referencing Herzog and de Meuron’s VitraHaus, the Vitra Schaudepot building is a quietly unassuming beast, easy to miss, yet almost impossible to ignore, very neatly compliments and contradicts the neighbouring Vitra Design Museum offices, Zara Hadid’s Fire Station and Nicholas Grimshaw’s Factory Building, and thus represents an excellent new addition to the Vitra Campus.

In addition the new Schaudepot opens up the Vitra Campus, Rolf Fehlbaum talks of the project giving the Campus a new character. Back in the day we demanded that Rolf Fehlbaum pulled down the fence which surrounds the Vitra Campus and thus make the architectural exhibits more accessible; Vitra haven’t, but in erecting a new fence to more closely constrict the industrial part of the complex they have allowed for direct access to the Fire Station and its new neighbour the Schaudepot…. and finally we understand the Álvaro-Siza-Promenade. When it was opened in 2014 we thought it was nice enough path but… now we understand it, understand the greater thinking behind the project and the way it connects the Campus physically and conceptually, and that without being an overly dominating feature itself. Or as we noted in our original post, “Yes, it’s a path.

The Vitra Fire Station by Zaha Hadid and the Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

The Vitra Fire Station by Zaha Hadid and the Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron

Inside the name is programme, it’s a depot; some 400 furniture objects from over a 100 years of design history arranged chronologically in units three shelves high and which present changes in understandings of aesthetics and form, changes in technology and materials, evolutions in the function and cultural relevance of furniture. It’s mainly chairs – principally we imagine because there is little in our material world which reflects such changes as well and as clearly as the “humble” chair. However tables, shelving and sideboards also feature. Yes, the three high shelving unit concept does make viewing the top row in any sort of detail difficult, when not impossible, and thus as a display concept is probably not ideal; especially for objects which are often as interesting technically as formally, culturally and historically. Spatially however it is important as lower shelves would be lost in the space, and it does in addition mean that the museum can display around a third more objects than would otherwise be the case, something which is important in realising the concept. And allowing the concept to work as well as it does.

It’s a compromise. But then so is life.

The use of glass shelves does however mean that the undersides of those objects on the top shelves are clearly visible, and the underside of a piece of furniture can be every bit as important and interesting as the tops and sides. We endure regular insult and mockery on account of the amount of time we spend looking at the undersides of chairs, especially in restaurants and bars. Hopefully if more people get the chance to do such, and understand the wonders that can await one there, that we will be met with more respect and understanding in the future. The somewhat awkward presentation format is in addition eased by the new digitalisation of the Vitra Design Museum collection, a catalogue which is freely available in the museum either via smartphones, or for hardcore analogists like us via rentable hand held devices, and a catalogue which provides in-depth information on all objects and their creators and thus allows each and every visitor to learn to the depth and breadth they want and need.

The Vitra Schaudepot

The Vitra Schaudepot

Once one gets over the initial “what” as in “where am I?”, “why?”, the presentation does provide for a very well structured, realistic, honest and informative stroll through the history of furniture design, and not just the popular classics but also curiosities, rarities, conceptual dead-ends and objects that will become popular classics. But yes it is a lot of furniture on shelves, and so you do have to be interested in such to get the full benefit of a trip to the Vitra Schaudepot. So, like us. We would quite happily pitch a tent in the Schaudepot and spend our summer holidays there. And we might just. For others it will remain a lot of chairs on shelves, but then again one must assume that those who choose to visit the Vitra Design Museum are interested in such.

Downstairs the “show” becomes “depot” as visitors are allowed an insight, literally, into the depths of the Vitra Design Museum’s collection; glass panels separating you from views along rows of objects divided into four groups: Scandinavian design, Italian design, lighting design and Eames design, the latter being supplemented by a presentation of Charles Eames’, actual, office. In addition the downstairs section features a chance to explore, and for all touch, various types of materials commonly used in furniture production, while upstairs features space for a changing programme of “showcases” highlighting aspects of the museum’s collection and thus the (hi)story of furniture design, the first such showcase focuses on 1960’s Radical Design.

As already stated we’d happily holiday in the Vitra Schaudepot, and have indeed started googling “indoor tents”, for the majority of the population a visit to the Vitra Campus solely to visit the Schaudepot probably makes little sense, for that the subject matter is too specific; however, as an extension to the existing possibilities on the Vitra Campus, and for all as an extension of the exhibitions in the Vitra Design Museum’s Gehry Building, the Vitra Schaudepot is an excellent development as it explains not only the subject matter in hand, but also the Vitra Design Museum, how it works, what it does, how it understands itself, how it understands furniture design and why it wants to transmit all that to as wide a public as possible. Or put another way, helps the Vitra Design Museum in the words of Mateo Kries, “become a much more vibrant location that doesn’t just present exhibitions exploring the most important design themes and topics but much more asks question of the visitors and so becomes more of an experience.

As such we’d recommend the Combi Ticket. And of course the Vitra Slide.

Full information on the Vitra Schaudepot, including opening times and ticket prices can be found at

smow blog Design Calendar: June 1st 1932 – Mart Stam Awarded Artistic Copyright for the Cubic Cantilever Chair

“…the strict, logical lines which avoid anything unnecessary and which with the sleekest form and through the simplest means embodies the modern objectivity”1, with this, glowing, description of his design the Supreme Court of the German Reich in Leipzig awarded on June 1st 1932 Mart Stam the artistic copyright of the cubic, quadratic, cantilever chair, and thus settled arguably the very first legal dispute over the copyright of the form of a piece of furniture intended for industrial mass production.

mart stam W1 weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart vitra miniature

Mart Stam’s “Weissenhofsiedlung Cantilever” (here in  the Vitra Design Museum Miniature version)

The story begins in Dessau in the mid 1920s and the development of tubular steel furniture, a process in which Marcel Breuer unquestionably played a major, if not the major, role. Aware of the commercial possibilities of the genre Marcel Breuer established in late 1926/early 1927 the company Standard-Möbel in Berlin with fellow Magyar Kálmán Lengyel, the first dedicated manufacturer of tubular steel furniture. 2

In early 1928 Standard-Möbel came to an agreement with a certain Anton Lorenz that he would manufacture the company’s chairs and assume the position of general manager. 3 Anton Lorenz was, somewhat inevitably, also of Hungarian origin, and had moved to Germany in 1919 when his opera singer wife took up a position in Leipzig. Although according to the popular Lorenz biography he had been a history and geography teacher in Budapest, in Leipzig he established himself as a locksmith before subsequently relocating his business to Berlin. Shortly after taking over at Standard-Möbel Lorenz persuaded Breuer to transfer the rights to his furniture to Standard-Möbel.

In July 1928 Marcel Breuer began cooperating with Thonet 4, by January 1929 Thonet were marketing the first Breuer works, and in the course of that year the first Thonet tubular steel furniture catalogue was published, a catalogue featuring exclusively Breuer’s designs5. Thus in early 1929 one had a situation in which both Standard-Möbel and Thonet were selling Breuer tubular steel furniture. Albeit different designs. Consequently, and in what must be considered the only logical option, in April 1929 the successful and globally active manufacturer Thonet bought the small, struggling Berlin manufacturer Standard-Möbel and thus secured the rights to all Breuer’s tubular steel designs, giving them what Mathias Remmele refers to as “the world’s largest and most diverse range of tubular steel furniture”6

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

mart stam house weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart

The houses designed by Mart Stam for  the Weissenhofsiedlung Stuttgart (1927) and where he first presented his cantilever chair design

Shortly before the sale of Standard-Möbel to Thonet Anton Lorenz registered patents for his own tubular steel chair designs and also secured the rights to all Mart Stam’s cantilever chair designs: Stam having famously presented his first cantilever chair design as part of the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung exhibition in Stuttgart, since when it had had no producer. Anton Lorenz was however of the opinion that the cantilever represented the future of chair design and having failed to come to an agreement with Mies van der Rohe concerning his, equally at Weissenhof premièred, cantilever, Lorenz approached Stam.

According to Otakar Máčel, in the contract between Stam and Lorenz the latter received “the sole and exclusive rights to produce, allow to be produced, to distribute and make commercially available the cited “invented objects”, 7 and following the sale of Standard-Möbel Anton Lorenz established the company DESTA as a vehicle to achieve just that.

In addition, Lorenz was in possession of four prototypes which although built in Standard-Möbel’s workshops, he hadn’t handed over to Thonet with the rest of the Standard-Möbel inventory; Lorenz arguing that they related to his patent and the contract with Stam and thus were not part of the Standard-Möbel deal. Something Thonet blithely, if not naively, accepted.

Sadly the mists of time have closed in to shroud the exact dates of when what subsequently occurred, but in essence, in 1929 Thonet released the model B 33 and B 34 cantilever chairs by Marcel Breuer, his first cantilever chairs, and works which bare a formal similarity to Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever chair; and in 1929 DESTA released the ST 12 and SS 32, both variations on Mart Stam’s 1927 Weissenhof cantilever chair and related to the aforementioned prototypes.

The B 33 and ST 12 are essentially the same chair.
The B 34 and SS 32 are essentially the same chair.

Lorenz sued Thonet for copyright violations.

In April 1930 the 16th Civil Chamber of Berlin County Court decided in Lorenz’s fvaour, Thonet appealed and in April 1931 the 10th Civil Chamber of Berlin County Court rejected the appeal. Thonet appealed, and on June 1st 1932 came the final decision of the 1st Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of the German Reich in Leipzig in favour of Lorenz 8

In essence there were two disputes.

In terms of the B 34 and the SS 32 the dispute involved a technical construction which Lorenz had developed and patented in 1929. In the interests of space we’ll leave that story here. Save to say, Lorenz won.

In terms of the B 33 and the ST 12 the question was the form, that which Alexander von Vegesack refers to as the “Gradlinigkeit der Form und den Kubismus”9– the  linearity of the form and its cubism – that rigid quadratic form we all know.

Lorenz’s argument was that as a work of creativity the form of the cubic cantilever which Stam had developed for his Weissenhof chair, and on which Breuer’s B 33 was clearly based, was protected by the 1907 Kunst-Urhebergesetz, [Artistic Copyright Law], KUG. According to Sebastian Neurauter the 1907 KUG covered “not only the typical manifestations of the high arts, so paintings and sculptures, but also objects of the decorative arts”10, including works of architecture and appled arts. This addition of architecture and “design” works representing an extension of the scope of the act in comparison to the previous version from 1876. And thus is an obvious indication of the importance already attached to architecture and decorative arts at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s all too easy to think Art Nouveau and Art Deco just concerned the, relatively few, artists involved, but clearly the politicians, lawyers and businessmen were also heavily involved. And were actively shaping laws to reflect the new/coming reality.

Not that everyone appeared to have grasped that.

As Neurauter notes, Lorenz’s use of the KUG stood in direct contrast to Bauhaus who made no use of the law in respect of their workshops’ products; Lorenz, so Neurauter, should have been an excellent example for Bauhaus in such respects.11 He was about to demonstrate why.

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine mart stam gas pipe chair

A recreation of Mart Stam’s Gas Pipe Chair, as seen at 2012 exhibition Stühle ohne Beine in the Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

The decision to sue on the basis of artistic copyright rather than a technical patent almost certainly has its origins in the number of patents for various forms of cantilever chairs which existed at that period. Proving technical originality could have been difficult. But, and more importantly, Stam hadn’t actually developed anything technical. Just bent a piece of steel tubing of appropriate thickness in appropriate places. Stam’s cantilever chair is a classic example of a design process, of taking a material, a concept and developing something through the intelligent combination of the two. Stam designed something, he didn’t invented anything. Or as the Supreme Court phrases it:
“Mart St… [in the court publication all names apart from Marcel Breuer’s are redacted] has created with this chair an independent, idiosyncratic, creation. There is no technical necessity which prescribes an object of tubular steel furniture such a specific form. For the construction of a chair from tubular steel, many possibilities are conceivable”12 – the decisive in the chair is the form, and while it may have followed function it didn’t follow material necessity, rather Stam’s understanding of design.

In addition, and in a remarkable demonstration of an openness for and understanding of contemporary culture that we would never have assumed a German court would or could posses in 1932, they noted that, “at present an art form is considered as being especially valuable, which presents its purpose in a very clear, simple form. For a product of the arts and crafts it corresponds that an object of daily life is given an aesthetic form which is pleasing on the eye.”13

Further the court rejected as wholly irrelevant the Thonet defence that the two chairs were of different materials and also a submission on behalf of Breuer by Walter Gropius that Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever was simply a further development of Marcel Breuer’s, non-cantilever, B 5, “St..’s chair represents at most a free interpretation of Breuer’s models, in the course of which an idiosyncratic creation was realised.”, so the court, continuing, “Mart St.. has thus acquired for his chair as a handicraft product an artistic copyright”14. Later the court would rub some salt into the wound with the assertion that “In artistic development the way from Breuer’s model B 5 to the defendant’s model B 33 leads over Mart St…’s chair”.15 Or put another way – without Mart Stam Marcel Breuer wouldn’t have been in a position to develop his B 5 into the B 33.

That’s gonna hurt.

What the court, and obviously Thonet’s lawyers, didn’t consider was the very clear difference between the B 33 and ST 12: although very, very, similar, and both clearly a further development of Stam’s Weissenhofsiedlung chair, with the DESTA ST 12 the backrest is angled slightly backwards, running in a straight line, the backrest of the Thonet B 33 is angled slightly backwards, but has a “knick”, and thus, theoretically, a higher level of seating comfort. Otakar Máčel argues that such would have made no difference16, the case being about similarities with Stam’s original work not directly between the ST 12 and B 33. With all respect to Otakar Máčel, we beg to differ, and consider that the formal development of the backrest through the “knick” is a design development in its own right. And with all respect to Thonet’s 1930s lawyers, we see it as little more important than the “nickel plated tubes” argument with which they hoped to win.

They didn’t, and the outcome of the case was not only that Mart Sam was formally credited with the artistic copyright of the cubic cantilever chair, and thus became the first designer of the modern period to be awarded “ownership” of a form rather than a technical innovation, but owing to his contract with Stam Anton Lorenz was awarded the rights to those cubic cantilever chairs designed by Breuer.

Thus giving Anton Lorenz a monopoly position as regards cubic cantilever chairs.

A month after the judgement Anton Lorenz licensed his newly acquired rights exclusively to Thonet. Which you kind of get the impression was his intention all along. Much like with today’s hip young Start Ups, one has the unmistakable feeling that Anton Lorenz’s motivation was the well paid “exit”

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

S32 by Marcel Breuer for Thonet (Artistic Copyright since 1932, Mart Stam)

S32 by Marcel Breuer for Thonet (Artistic Copyright since 1932, Mart Stam)

In addition to licensing the DESTA and the Stam rights to Thonet, and in a truly epically, grotesque, textbook, example of poacher turning gamekeeper, in July 1932 Anton Lorenz was appointed head of Thonet’s, we presume newly formed, “Abteilung für Gewerblichen Rechtsschutz” – Department for the Protection of Commercial Right- a position he held until 1935 and from which he vigorously and consequently oversaw the protection of Thonet’s rights, which were of course in effect his rights, and thus played a key role in helping strengthen Thonet’s position and reputation in and with tubular steel furniture.

And that is where the story really should end.

And does.

Except for the unanswered questions.

The biggest and most important of which for us is who designed the DESTA ST 12? The chair which, effectively, started the process, a process which somewhat paradoxically was actually about Stam’s 1927 cantilever and in which the ST 12 played only a cursory role. We can’t find any evidence that Stam himself developed the ST 12, Remmele considers it unlikely that Breuer was involved17, Wilk in contrast sees the B 33, and so by extrapolation the ST 12, as “deriving logically from Breuer’s earlier work”18, Máčel goes further and opines that the ST 12 was “probably the work of Breuer or Lorenz”19. But if Breuer was involved, why does he appear to have remained silent in court? Where are the sketches and plans? And if Breuer wasn’t involved with the ST 12. Was he aware of it? The question is important because on account of the backwards leaning backrest the chair represents a clear break with the strict geometry of Mart Stam’s earlier work. It’s still quadratic, but makes a concession to sitting comfort. The B 33, as already noted, even more so. The answer to the question may have played no role in the case, but is important for completing the (hi)story of post-war chair design.

Despite the central role Mart Stam’s Weissenhof cantilever chair played in the proceedings and thus in the (hi)story of contemporary furniture design it was never really produced and marketed. For all its aesthetic elegance, formal innovation and cultural relevance it was a very rigid piece of work, cumbersome to produce and by all accounts very uncomfortable. Thus today it is survived by more technologically advanced, arguably more elegant and certainly more comfortable works such as Mart Stam’s S 43, or Marcel Breuer’s S 32.

What does remain however is the leading position in terms of steel tube cantilever chairs, and tubular steel furniture in general, which Thonet acquired through the process. A position which is arguably justified. In the late 1920s there were numerous companies producing tubular steel furniture – a great irony of the period is that although the Weissenhofsiedlung marked a high-water mark in the public acceptance of tubular steel furniture, and presented works by several manufacturers, Thonet were represented with their bentwood furniture, and doubly ironically most famously thanks to the Grand Modernist Le Corbusier who used Thonet wooden chairs for his interiors – however Thonet were the first company to invest heavily in the necessary machines and infrastructure, both in Germany and France, and the first to hire a designer of Breuer’s talents to complete a collection and this all despite, as Mathias Remmele notes, the “initiative was comparatively risky because there were no relevant market for this type of furniture, and none which could guarantee a speedy profit”20. Thonet took a huge chance on tubular steel furniture. And it worked out. Even if some dilettantish legal work meant it cost them a lot more time and money that it really should have……

A Mart Stam Cantilever Chair before the Supreme Court in Germany, and not for the first time......

A Mart Stam Cantilever Chair before the Supreme Court in Germany, and not for the first time……

1. Gewerblicher Rechtschutz und Urheberrecht. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für den Schutz des gewerblichen Eigentums, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932

2. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

3. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

4. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

5. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

6. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

7. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

8. ibid

9. Alexander von Vegesack, Deutsche Stahlrohrmöbel : [650 Modelle aus Katalogen von 1927 – 1958], Bangert Verlag, Munich, 1986

10. Sebastian Neurauter, Das Bauhaus und die Verwertungsrechte : eine Untersuchung zur Praxis der Rechteverwertung am Bauhaus 1919 – 1933,Mohr Siebeck Verlag, Tübingen, 2013

11. ibid

12. Gewerblicher Rechtschutz und Urheberrecht. Zeitschrift des Deutschen Vereins für den Schutz des gewerblichen Eigentums, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932, Vol 31, Nr 8 August 1932

13. ibid

14. ibid

15. ibid

16. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

17. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

18. Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: furniture and interiors, Museum of Modern Art New York, NY, 1981

19. Otakar Máčel, Der Freischwinger – vom Avantgardeentwurf zur Ware, Delft TU, 1992

20. Mathias Remmele, Marcel Breuer: Design und Architektur, Vitra Design Museum, 2003

5 New Design Exhibitions for June 2016

Our five recommendations for new design and architecture exhibitions opening in June 2016 feature four in Germany and one in Holland.
That’s not our fault.
That is the honest result of our open minded search through the programmes’ of numerous global architecture and design museums.
The following are for us the best five.
We know the decision is subjective.
But are sticking with our five.
And thereby accepting the suspicion that we have specially selected them on account of where they are being staged rather than on the exhibitions’, apparent, merits.

“PLANET B – 100 ideas for a new world” at the NRW-Forum, Düsseldorf, Germany

For us one of the main differences between art and design is that while art can highlight contemporary realities, can act as a social and cultural mirror, serve as a form of protest and suggest alternatives, it cannot instigate change on its own. It can only motivate individuals to instigate change. Design can do all of the above. And instigate change on its own. With their exhibition Planet B the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf aim to explore contemporary social, cultural and economic realities and possible future alternatives, search as it were for a plan(et) B. In addition to a central exhibition in the NRW-Forum and a number of interventions throughout Düsseldorf a core feature of Planet B is the so-called “Research Station” in which a changing programme of international artists, researchers and designers will be given the opportunity to realise their visions and concepts; and thus an exhibition concept in which, presumably, the visitor will continually move between art and design. An experience which should help highlight the differences. And focus attention on the direction in which our society, economy and politics could/should develop. And that we all have a role to play in defining that direction.

PLANET B – 100 ideas for a new world opens at the NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, Ehrenhof 2, 40479 Düsseldorf on Thursday June 2nd and runs until Sunday August 21st

Vladimír Turner: Courtains Toulouse (Photo © and Courtesy of Vladimír Turner)

Vladimír Turner: Courtains Toulouse (Photo © and Courtesy of Vladimír Turner)

“Stuttgart reißt sich ab: Verschwundene Bauwerke – Veränderung des Stadtbildes” at the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Stuttgart, Germany

The built environment is of course not just what is there, but what isn’t there. Because what isn’t there, was once there, served a function, potentially also a specific social group and thus contributed to the community as a whole. Which isn’t to say that urban change shouldn’t occur, but that it should occur in a carefully considered and managed fashion. With the exhibition Stuttgart reißt sich ab – Stuttgart Demolishes Itself – the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof promise to present examples of particularly valuable and interesting buildings that Stuttgart has lost in recent years and thus explore the question of what the city has lost in recent years. And by extrapolation what it has gained, other than new office buildings and shopping centres. And, and as a general rule, with such exhibitions, and what makes such exhibitions especially interesting: what is relevant for one city can be transposed to other cities thus making local knowledge globally available.

Stuttgart reißt sich ab: Verschwundene Bauwerke – Veränderung des Stadtbildes opens at the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Am Weissenhof 30, 70191 Stuttgart on Thursday June 16th and runs until Sunday September 18th

Stuttgart reißt sich ab Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Stuttgart

Stuttgart reißt sich ab at the Architekturgalerie am Weissenhof, Stuttgart

“Tapio Wirkkala. Finnish Design – Glass and Silver” at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig, Germany

Although best known for his glass design work the Finnish artist and designer Tapio Wirkkala was arguably one of most multi-faceted and productive designers of his generation. Following his graduation from the Helsinki Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1936 Tapio Wirkkala initially worked as a commercial artist, before the war interrupted his career. Post-war Tapio Wirkkala’s career was kick-started with victory in a competition organised in 1946 by the renowned Iittala glass works, a firm with whom Tapio Wirkkala soon began cooperating and with whom he is unquestionably best associated. In addition Tapio Wirkkala worked with companies as varied as Rosenthal, Strömfors or Asko furniture. And designed the Finlandia vodka bottle. In addition to his product design work Tapio Wirkkala was also active as a sculptor, exhibition designer and graphic designer, in which context he created in 1955 a series of Finnish Markka banknotes, designs which remained in circulation until 1981. Focussing on Wirkkala’s glass and silver work between the 1940s and the 1970s Tapio Wirkkala. Finnish Design – Glass and Silver is curated by the Riihimaki glass museum and promises to present a concentrated, detailed, and relatively rare, insight into the life and work of one of Finland’s most important and influential creatives.

Tapio Wirkkala. Finnish Design – Glass and Silver opens Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Johannisplatz 5-11, 04103 Leipzig on Thursday June 2nd and runs until Monday October 3rd

Coffee pot, sugar bowl and cream jug by Tapio Wirkkala for Kultakeskus, 1959 (Photo Timo Syrjänen, Courtesy Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig)

Coffee pot, sugar bowl and cream jug by Tapio Wirkkala for Kultakeskus, 1959 (Photo Timo Syrjänen, Courtesy Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig)

“CRAB: Peter Cook and Gavin Robotham…. and its Archigram antecedents” at the AIT-ArchitekturSalon, Hamburg, Germany

As co-founder of the London based architectural group Archigram, Peter Cook was a leading figure in the theoretical, Utopian, architecture movement of the 1960s; and through projects such as Plug-In City or Instant City helped move our understanding of architecture away from a focus on buildings per se and into the realms of social, cultural and political relationships. In 2004 Peter Cook curated the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, in context of which he cooperated with the young British architect Gavin Robotham. In 2006 the two founded CRAB Studio as a joint practice and through which they have developed projects in cities as varied as Bournemouth, Vienna or Madrid. Featuring a mix of 1960s utopia and contemporary buildings the AIT-ArchitekturSalon Hamburg promise a fulsome overview of Sir Peter Cook’s canon – and hopefully also an answer to question if a radical architect can grow old gracefully?

CRAB: Peter Cook and Gavin Robotham…. and its Archigram antecedents opens at the AIT-ArchitekturSalon, Bei den Mühren 70, 20457 Hamburg on Friday June 3rd and runs until Friday August 5th

CRAB Peter Cook and Gavin Robotham...... and its Archigram antecedents @ AIT-ArchitekturSalon Hamburg

CRAB Peter Cook and Gavin Robotham…… and its Archigram antecedents @ AIT-ArchitekturSalon Hamburg

“Nacho Carbonell – On the Origin of Pieces” at the Stedelijk Museum, ’s-Hertogenbosch, Holland

We genuinely do not understand Eindhoven based, Valencia born designer Nacho Carbonell. To be fair it’s our fault. We have had more than enough opportunities to learn more about his aesthetic, his interpretation of functionality, his understanding of emotion, the permeability of his border between reality and imagination, his relationship to material. We haven’t. No reason. We just haven’t. On the Origin of Pieces at the Stedelijk Museum in ’s-Hertogenbosch would appear to offer an excellent opportunity to, finally, get to know the man and his work. And for all to understand his cocoon constructions, works which terrify us as much as they fascinate us. Why would you choose to cocoon yourself in something that appears more interested in devouring you than sheltering you? Why? Staged as part of the Bosch Grand Tour – a collaboration between seven museums in Holland’s Brabant region to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch – On the Origin of Pieces is the first retrospective of Nacho Carbonell’s oeuvre and promises to explore the development of his work from his 2007 Design Academy Eindhoven graduation collection up to his most recent projects. And which as such promises a collection of works ranging from the conceptual to the practical, and from the accessible to the terrifying cocoons. Cocoons which of course may become less terrifying once you get to know them…….

Nacho Carbonell – On the Origin of Pieces opens at the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch, De Mortel 4, 5211 HV ’s-Hertogenbosch on Saturday June 18th and runs until Sunday September 11th

Nacho Carbonell - On the Origin of Pieces @ Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch

Nacho Carbonell – On the Origin of Pieces @ Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch (Photo Inga Powilleit, Courtesy Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch)

smow blog compact: To work sitting or standing, that is, still, the question….

As we noted in a previous post, spending long periods sitting can result in shorter telomeres and thus a greater susceptibility to health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A new study by researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health would appear to indicate that in addition to health benefits, regularly standing while working in an office environment can also increase productivity.

Based on data collected over a period of six months from employees in a Texas call centre, the researchers found that compared to a control group who worked sitting, those who worked either in “sit-to-stand” or “stand-biased” situations were 46% more productive. The “standers” weren’t standing full time, but rather had the option to work sitting or standing, and spent on average some 73% of their time seated compared to the sitting group who spent, on average, 91% of their time seated. Which equals around 1.5 hours less sitting in the course of an 8 hour shift.

One possible reason for the reduced productivity while seated is cited as lower back pain and general body discomfort; one possible reason for the increased productivity while standing is cited as increased cognitive functioning and thus concentration.

Consequently, the study would appear to indicate that, in certain situations and environments, employees who are offered the freedom to decide between sitting and standing are not only healthier but more productive than if forced to sit all day.

If with a couple of question marks.

The main one for us is that the sitting and standing groups appear to have had different chairs – the report names the chairs used by the “standing” group, and in doing so confirms that two office chair types were in use, one from Steelcase and one from Neutral Posture, but sadly doesn’t say which chair was used by the “seated” group, the photos however lead us to believe that it was a third type. And thus a potential influencing factor that would need to be negated, especially if one accepts that sitting (dis)comfort is a reason why productivity is lower when seated. And something the researchers acknowledge with their comment that, “It is possible that the same productivity could have been achieved if body discomfort had been reduced even for those in the seated workstations through effective ergonomic improvements in the seated workstations.” More research is as such necessary, for all in terms of the relationship body discomfort:cognitive function.

Yet regardless of such considerations, in general the report does offer further evidence of a benefit in regularly working in a standing position, of regularly switching your working position, and thus that raised and/or height adjustable work stations belong in all contemporary office design concepts.

The full study can be found at: Gregory Garrett, Mark Benden, Ranjana Mehta, Adam Pickens, Camille Peres & Hongwei Zhao (2016): Call Center Productivity Over 6 Months Following a Standing Desk Intervention, IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

The height adjustable desk Hack by Konstantin Grcic for Vitra.

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