“¿Qué es diseño?” asked Clara Porset in 1949. What is design?1
Not because she didn’t know. Far from it. Over the course of the preceding two decades Clara Porset had ably demonstrated her considered, critical and responsive understandings of design; understandings that saw her develop into one of the most important, interesting and informative furniture designers in Mexico, understandings that saw her develop into one of the more important, interesting and informative protagonist in the development of industrial design in Mexico.
Before she slipped from view and into the (relative) anonymity she finds herself today.
Before the more pertinent question became, ¿quién es Clara Porset?
“Design ist unsichtbar“, Design is invisible/unseen proclaimed the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt in 1981.1
Which surprised a great many in 1981.
And may surprise a great many in 2021……
In 1936 Aino Aalto opined that “homes can be given interior design in other ways than before – not by buying expensive complete suites of furniture, but by concentrating on low-cost furnishings which can be used – with the aid of flowers, carpets, drapery and colours – to create hitherto more practical and more comfortable homes.”1
A break not only with the understandings, the ways, of generations long past in terms of what constitutes appropriate furniture; but also a break with the ways of many of the functionalist modernist practitioners of the immediately preceding decade in terms of what constitutes an interior design.
And an opinion, an understanding, which underscores why Aino Aalto stands as an important moment in the (hi)story of interior and furniture design…..
The so-called Bielefeld Conspiracy asserts that the German city of Bielefeld doesn’t exist.
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?, it asks.
Do you know anyone who has ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anyone from Bielefeld?
If your answer to all three questions is no…….. how do you know Bielefeld exists?
A similar conspiracy could be built around Gertrud Kleinhempel, one of Germany’s first professional furniture designers and who for the greater part of her career was active in Bielefeld.
Or was, assuming Bielefeld exists. And assuming Gertrud Kleinhempel exists.
For have you ever seen any work by Gertrud Kleinhempel, do you know anyone who has seen any work by Gertrud Kleinhempel, have you ever seen Gertrud Kleinhempel on the helix of furniture design?
If your answer to all three questions is no……..
“Only slowly does it dawn on people that modern furniture must be designed on the basis of practical necessities”, observed the Danish architect and designer Kaare Klint in 1930.1
How Kaare Klint understood those “practical necessities”, how he understood “modern furniture”, would not only define his career, but in many regards define the development of 20th century furniture design in Denmark.
In a letter in 2008 to the editors of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians concerning remarks in an article on the staged illumination of Mies van der Rohe’s skeletal frame constructions, the architecture historian Kathleen James-Chakraborty refers to the “linking of Heinrich Tessenow’s Festspielhaus of 1910-12 in Hellerau with the installation for the glass industry that Mies designed (in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom Petty does not mention) for the Stuttgart Werkbund exhibition in 1927.”1
“(in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom Petty does not mention)”
(in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom history so often does not mention, or when then fleetingly and sparingly, and which thus tends to leave Lilly Reich’s oeuvre in the shadows. Not least in the shadows of the staged illumination of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe…….)
With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on “the world of the office”.
Reflections which not only pointed towards new directions and understandings then, but which offer insights and lessons for today…….
“The work of the Dresden artist Margarete Junge is largely shrouded in darkness” noted the art historian Gert Claußnitzer in his introduction to the 1981 exhibition “Margarete Junge. Fashion sketches and flower studies”1
And while Margarete Junge’s 2D works may have been allowed to shine, if only briefly, in the early 1980s, her 3D works remained stubbornly shrouded: only in recent years being afforded the opportunity, if only partially, to radiate as they once did.
Thankfully. For the works, and the biography, of Margarete Junge are as interesting and important as they are illuminating……
“The role of the architect is one of organisation. The house is the considered organisation of our ways of life”1, opined the Austrian architect Margarete Lihotzky in 1921.
And in the course of a long, varied career, she repeatedly demonstrated what she understood by such; including most famously, if somewhat narrowly, in a kitchen design………….
Qu’est-ce que le design?
What is design?
A question as old as the word itself, arguably older. But one with an answer?
In an attempt to approach one the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Paris asked Charles Eames, Verner Panton, Roger Tallon, Joe Colombo and Fritz Eichler, Qu’est-ce que le design?……
“This exhibition intends to acknowledge the cultural achievements of Italian design in the last decade, to honor the accomplishments of its gifted designers and incisive critics, and to illustrate the diversity of their approaches to design by presenting a collection of the most interesting examples of their work.”1
Thus announced the curators of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1972 exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape their intentions.
The New Domestic Landscape portrayed by the gifted designers accomplishments and diversity of their approaches wasn’t however, necessarily, one inhabited by voluminously upholstered sofas and elegant lighting…….
The German architect and designer Ferdinand Kramer didn’t just translate the new principles of construction and design which arose in the inter-war years into his architecture, furniture and industrial designs, he was also a very eloquent writer on such matters, and thus helped, and continues to help, explain the motivations behind, and fascination with, functionalist ideals.
“What is the Paris Exposition?”, asked Roger Gilman in the September 1925 edition of The Art Bulletin, “It is a
“In the development and designing of furniture one prevailing problem is the means for securing parts of the furniture together
A few years ago the (smow) blog telephone rang….. “Good morning is it possible to speak to Philippe Starck please?”
There are those, charlatans one must say, who claim that design only exists in the here and now, that design