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Posts Tagged ‘Knoll’

smow blog Design Calendar: March 10th 1915 – Happy Birthday Harry Bertoia!

March 10th, 2015

“I am rather silent, resolute and industrious. I can use any tool or machinery with dexterity.”

So described a 21 year old, and apparently extremely self-confident, Harry Bertoia himself on his application for Cranbrook Academy of Art.

That the boast was anything other than hollow is something Harry Bertoia was to go on to prove. Repeatedly and in many fields.

Harry Bertoia 1915 1978

Harry Bertoia 1915 – 1978 (Photo courtesy of Knoll International)

Born in San Lorenzo, Italy on March 10th 1915 Arieto Bertoia moved to Detroit in 1930 to join his older brother Oreste who was already living in the city.

And anglicised his name to Harry Bertoia.

A classical example of a prodigious artistic talent Harry Bertoia initially studied art in Detroit before in 1937 he was awarded the aforementioned scholarship for Cranbrook Academy of Art where he studied painting and drawing, and got to know the likes of Walter Gropius, Carl Milles, Charles Eames, Maija Grotell, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Ray Kaiser et al.

In 1939 Cranbrook Academy of Art Principle Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero, asked Bertoia if he would be interested in taking over the metal workshop at Cranbrook, Bertoia was, and over the coming four years taught metalwork and jewellery design in addition to developing his own sculpture and painting projects, including a series of monoprints which he sold to the Guggenheim Museum of Non-Objective Art, the forerunner of the modern Guggenheim Museum, for the princely sum of $1000.

In 1943 Harry Bertoia left Cranbrook and moved to Los Angeles to join Charles and Ray Eames‘s expanding design studio, and for all to assist with the development of Charles Eames’s experimentations with moulded plywood. Although the personal links between the three were very close, Harry Bertoia for example had created Ray Kaiser’s wedding ring, Bertoia felt his contribution to the joint projects was undervalued, all work was publicly only credited as “Eames”, and so in 1946 he left.

After taking a series of jobs Harry Bertoia was approached in 1950 by Florence Knoll with an invitation to work with her and her husband Hans’s fledgling furniture company, an offer Bertoia duly accepted and which resulted in 1952 in the release of the Diamond Chair collection – one of the best known examples of 1950s American furniture design, a product family which placed Harry Bertoia alongside Eames, Nelson, Saarinen et al at the forefront of mid-century American modernism, and a commercial success which gave Harry Bertoia the financial security to concentrate on his sculpture work.

For much like his contemporary Isamu Noguchi, Harry Bertoia always understood himself primarily as a sculptor, and much like Noguchi saw his product design work as an exploration of the borders of his sculpting and an opportunity to test his art in other contexts.

Over the course of his career Harry Bertoia created an estimated 50,000 sculptures, some 50 sculptural objects and interventions for public buildings and spaces, and from the early 1960s onwards turned his attentions ever more to music.

Inspired by childhood memories of watching Hungarian Gypsies repair and make metal kitchenware and fascinated by the universality of a sculpture as a musical instrument which everyone could “play” regardless of talent or training, Harry Bertoia created a series of so-called tonal sculptures, largely created from rods of differing metals, lengths and thickness, but also featuring gongs and other hanging constructions, and with which he recorded and produced 11 albums in his barn in rural Pennsylvania.

Released under the title “Sonambient” the works remain as avant-garde and challenging today as they invariably were when first released, moving as they do from passages of almost spiritual beauty to unforgivingly brutal sensory assaults. Even if at times they do get a little bit too close to bell-ringing for our liking.

Currently out of print all 11 albums will be re-issued to mark Harry Bertoia’s 100th anniversary, and in addition a Kickstarter project is running to raise the necessary funds to digitalise, and so preserve, the 350+ cassettes of tonal sculpture recordings in the Harry Bertoia archive.

We hope they succeed, it would certainly be a fitting gift for one of our most original designers on his 100th birthday.

Happy Birthday Harry Bertoia!

Passagen Cologne 2015: Rem Koolhaas – OMA: Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

January 19th, 2015

Following on from system design at the MAKK and the more autonomous product design featured at Objects in Between, we bring you an exhibition in Cologne presenting a third product design category: the collection.

Whereas systems require a connector, a universal node, collections can be considered a series of related products which although created in the one context need not have a connection. Other than having been created in the same context.

For their Passagen Cologne 2015 exhibition Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft are presenting the Tools for Life collection by Rem Koolhaas & OMA for Knoll.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Rem Koolhaas - OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Premièred at Milan 2013 the Tools for Life collection marks Rotterdam architecture bureau OMA’s first foray into commercial product design and was realised in response to a Knoll brief for a collection of products which exist between an office and domestic environment and which allows for working at a range of different heights.

The result is a collection of tables, chairs and shelving with a very, very unique form language and aesthetic.

Although the exhibition at the Ungers Archiv should be presenting the products Counter and Coffee Table, “logistics problems” mean that only Counter is present.

Something that while regrettable, is perhaps not that disastrous.

The exhibition space in Ungers Archiv isn’t very big, the Tools for Life Counter is. And so it is, all things considered, probably for the best that the Coffee Table is not on show as it gives Counter the space it needs to fully reveal its character.

In essence composed of three beams which can be individually moved and positioned, Counter is intended as an object for both allowing individuals to work either sitting or standing as well as a location for facilitating informal team meetings.

In our original post from Milan we noted in context of Counter that “Innovative and interesting as the functionality unquestionably is, we’re just unsure who actually needs or wants such. And certainly in an object that stands around one metre high and two metres long.”

Having seen it again in Cologne we maintain our position. Whereas we fully accept the need, importance and sense of allowing for flexible meeting and working arrangements, and also understanding that in addition to a variable counter it also serves as a static room divider, we just don’t get this shifting and repositioning such a monolith. For us it is a little too ungainly. Asks too much of the user rather than assisting the user.

But then we also don’t do team meetings. The idea of standing around with colleagues, informally discussing a project is as alien to us as it is terrifying.

And so maybe we just lack an understanding of the context to be able to fully appreciate it:  “it isn’t you darling, it’s us”, as it were.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Tools for Life Counter by OMA for Knoll.... open.

Aside from the chance to get to grips with Counter one of the real joys of the exhibition is that, as ever with Ungers Archiv exhibitions, a large part of the presentation is devoted to explaining the design development process; products are all well and good, but development processes are fundamental to understanding products and in the Ungers Archiv exhibition one can clearly follow the development of the Tools for Life project from the original Knoll brief to the finished collection.

Something achieved particularly well in context of the absent Coffee Table where one can see how the initial attempt to create a table from various elements which could be manually repositioned became the final, mechanical, version.

In addition the Ungers Archiv is presenting an object, albeit in only in model form, which wasn’t shown in Milan and doesn’t feature in any of the publicity for the programme: the so-called Perch, a height adjustable rocking stool which resembles a Minion from the film Despicable Me, and which just like the playful Minions looks very much like something worth getting to know a little better.

Passagen Cologne 2015 Rem Koolhaas OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

Perch, as seen at Rem Koolhaas - OMA Tools for Life at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft

In our 2013 post from Milan we commented that the Tools for Life collection was for us more Haute couture than prêt-à-porter, a collection in which the focus on technology has been allowed to dominate to the determinant of the form and aesthetics; but also that the collection contains “enough genuine technical innovation and interesting new thinking” to indicate that some very good, off-the-peg, products could also be realised.

Speaking in Cologne with Antonio Barone from the OMA product design team and lead designer on the Tools for Life project, it appears that having cut their teeth on the Knoll collection there is interest at OMA in realising further commercial furniture design projects, and reading between the lines that could mean new products which have the potential to be more universally accessible than the Tools for Life collection.

We’ll be sure and keep you updated.

And for all in or near Cologne and wanting to learn more about the Tools for Life collection, Rem Koolhaas – OMA Tools for Life runs at Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft until Sunday January 25th.

Full details can be found at

5 New Design Exhibitions for January 2014

December 30th, 2013

Those still looking for a New Year’s Resolution could do worse than to promise to try to maybe visit more design exhibitions this year.

And January 2014 offers a few wonderful places to start.

That January is once again IMM Cologne and the accompanying Cologne Design Week we make no apologies for having selected two Rhein-side exhibitions, in addition we have an investigation of the production process and a brace of exhibitions devoted to Denmark’s more important design “old masters”…..

“BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren” at AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Germany

Older readers will be aware that we long had huge problems with Berlin architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s decision to call his “breakthrough” project Hartz IV Furniture. Delightful project. Appalling name. Having spoken to Van Bo on a couple of occasions over the past couple of years we now at least understand why the project is called what it is called.

We still find the name truly appalling.

We still find the background thinking behind the project truly delightful.

And from Thursday January 16th the AIT Architektursalon Cologne is giving you the chance to make up your own mind. In collaboration with Berlin based platform BKULT the AIT Architektursalon is hosting an exhibition, workshops but for all a discussion around Van Bo Le-Mentzel’s central theory – Build More Buy Less. Can we create a better, fairer society if we kill off consumer culture? Does building your own furniture make you happier? Is Hartz IV Furniture a good name? What is Karma Economy?

Answer to none, some or all of these and similar questions will be searched for and discussed in the course of the event(s)

BKULT Featuring Van Bo Le-Mentzel: Konstruieren statt Konsumieren opens at the AIT Architektursalon Cologne, Vogelsanger Strasse 70, Barthonia Forum, 50823 Cologne on Thursday January 16th 2014 and runs until Thursday February 20th 2014.

Van Bo Le-Mentzel Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less

Hartz IV Moebel - Build More, Buy Less. The book.

“Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?”” at Museum für Angewandte Kunst Cologne, Germany

For their major winter/spring 2014 exhibition Cologne’s Museum für Angewandte Kunst will present London based designer and artist Rolf Sachs’ take on popular German stereotypes. A take that if we’ve correctly understood the accompanying press material promises to be a little more humourful than your average design exhibition. Tackling traits such as industriousness, tidiness, sociability or wistfulness “typisch deutsch?” promises to present a series of objects and installations intended to not only reflect on the truth about the nature of “Germanness” but which also encourage us to view the objects around us in a new light. And so by extrapolation ourselves.

Rolf Sachs “typisch deutsch?” opens at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst, An der Rechtschule, 50667 Cologne on Monday January 13th 2014 and runs until Monday April 21st 2014.

Rolf Sachs typisch deutsch Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Rolf Sachs' interpretation of industriousness....

“”In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby” at Design Museum London, England

One of the curious aspects of the design world is that for the designer the finished, on the shelf, ready to buy product is thunderingly uninteresting.

The creative process, the prototyping, form-giving and the production process(es) are what really interest designers. And if most could get away without ever having to produce anything sellable they probably would.

For the London Design Museum Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby have curated an exhibition presenting 20+ familiar objects in various stages of production. Ranging from a coins over tennis balls and onto Thonet chairs, “In the Making” aims to make the charm and wonder of the production process visible, and so the designer’s fascination with production processes comprehensible. In addition there is nothing like getting to know a production process to make you appreciate a product – and of course the difference between a diligently produced product. And cheap tat.

“In the Making” an exhibition curated by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby opens at the Design Museum, Shad Thames, London SE1 2YD on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Friday May 4th 2014

Auf Biegen und Brechen Thonet

The hot wood bending process developed by Michael Thonet. And still practised today.

“The Answer is Risom” at Silvermine Arts Center, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA

Although the story, and indeed success, of Knoll International is without question closely associated with Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia and Eero Saarinen, it all began with a Danish designer who came to America looking to understand contemporary American design. And ended up helping to define it.

Born in Copenhagen Jens Risom studied at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts under teachers such as the great Kaare Klint before in 1939 he travelled to America. In 1941 Jens Risom was introduced to Hans Knoll and in the same year created the first commissioned pieces for Hans Knoll’s fledgling furniture company. And so the very first Knoll Collection. A collection that confirmed Knoll’s commitment to modernism and on which the early success of the company was unquestionably based. In 1943 Jens Risom was drafted into the US Army and post-war established his own Jens Risom Design studio.

Always one of the more underrated proponents of mid- 20th century design Jens Risom’s importance goes far beyond the works he created and can be found in his approach to design and his understanding of his materials.

The exhibition in New Canaan promises to present not only examples of Jens Risom’s furniture but also of his advertising/graphic design work. And will hopefully help a lot more people understand the true majesty of Jens Risom.

“The Answer is Risom” opens at the Silvermine Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, New Canaan, CT 06840 on Wednesday January 8th 2014 and runs until Sunday February 16th 2014

Jens Risom Lounge Chair Knoll

Jens Risom's 1943 Lounge Chair for Knoll

“Børge Mogensen” at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Kolding, Denmark

On April 13th 2014 Børge Mogensen, one of the true giants of Danish furniture design, would have celebrated his 100th birthday. And to mark the occasion the Trapholt Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture in Kolding have organised an exhibition devoted to the man and his singular approach to the problems of his age.

As one of the first Danish designers to adopt industrial production Børge Mogensen was able to combine his fine understanding for the traditions of Scandinavian, English and American furniture with mass production to create cheap, affordable furniture.

And in doing so unwittingly played an important role in helping define the ubiquitous as it is mythical concept of “Danish Design”

In our 2012 introduction to Børge Mogensen we wrote that he “…has never reached the same level of public fame, far less acknowledgement, as a Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen or Verner Panton.”

And while the show at Trapholt wont substantially change that, it will hopefully introduce a lot more people to Børge Mogensen’s life and work.

“Børge Mogensen” opens at Trapholt – Museum of Modern Art, Applied Art, Design and Architecture, Æblehaven 23, DK-6000 Kolding on Wednesday January 22nd 2014 and runs until Sunday October 5th 2014

Børge Mogensen FDB Chair Desk

A 1944 FDB catalogue featuring Børge Mogensen's chair and desk designs.

(smow) blog 2013. A pictorial review: April

December 27th, 2013

The biggest April fool is…. us, for always going to Milan!
That said, as ever, we did find a few gems amongst the senseless corporate trash…..

And after Milan we had the joy of viewing the latest addition to the Vitra Campus, the Factory Building by SANAA……

Carwan Gallery MiArt Milan 2013

Carwan Gallery at MiArt Milan 2013

Object Limited Edition Design at MIART Milan 2013 Swing Gallery

Swing Gallery at MIART Milan 2013

Milan Design Week 2013 Empatia by Carlotta de Bevilacqua and Paola di Arianello for Artemide

Milan Design Week 2013: Empatia by Carlotta de Bevilacqua and Paola di Arianello for Artemide

Milan Design week 2013 Galleria Viafarini Magic Moments Inside

Milan Design week 2013: Galleria Viafarini. Magic Moments Inside

Milan Design Week 2013 The Mattiazzi Collection

Milan Design Week 2013: The Mattiazzi Collection

Milan Design Week 2013 Roll and Hill at Euroluce

Roll & Hill at Euroluce 2013. Stella Triangle by Rosie Li

Milan Design Week 2013 Workbay Office by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra

Milan Design Week 2013: Workbay Office by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra

Milan Design Week 2013 Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll 01 Arm Chair 03 Coffee Table

Milan Design Week 2013: Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll. The 01 Arm Chair and 03 Coffee Table

SANAA Factory Building Vitra Shop Weil am Rhein Window

New on the Vitra Campus: The SANAA Factory Building

SANAA Factory Building Vitra Shop Weil am Rhein Roof

SANAA Factory Building. The roof.

Milan Design Week 2013 Contrast Thomas Schnur and Karoline Fesser

Milan Design Week 2013: Contrast with Thomas Schnur and Karoline Fesser


Milan Design Week 2013: Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll

April 16th, 2013

During Milan Design Week 2013 Knoll formally launched the “Tools for Life” collection from Dutch architecture practice OMA, a collection overseen by OMA co-founder Rem Koolhaas.

The collection had previously been previewed as part of the stage decoration for the Prada Fall Men’s show in January, and was formally unveiled in the same location…. the Prada Milan HQ

A location that theoretically the likes of us should never be allowed to enter. But Design Week is Design Week.

Milan Design Week 2013 Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll

Milan Design Week 2013: Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll at Prada Milano

The first thing to say is that the collection looks like it has been designed by an architect.

Just not in the easily accessible way we all know from the likes of Jacobsen, Eiermann or Haller. And certainly not in the tradition of the architects with whom Knoll’s reputation was founded; Mies van der Rohe, Bertoia, Saarinen….

It’s all very much the result of a conceptual thinker, a pure author collection from a designer working on the basis of a theory rather than a specific functional or aesthetic brief. Haute couture to misuse the Prada vocabulary.

For Knoll the signature piece of the collection is the 04 Counter. Three beams stacked on another, the top two can be rotated through 360 degrees thus allowing for a range of variable, fluid uses: seating, presentation, discussion. Innovative and interesting as the functionality unquestionably is, we’re just unsure who actually needs or wants such. And certainly in an object that stands around one metre high and two metres long.

The 03 Coffee Table works on a very similar principle with similar mechanics; however, being smaller in scale the movement makes a lot more sense, is friendlier, more desirable and is something we can well imagine attracting a following. Albeit a very wealthy following.

For us the highlight of the collection is the 11 Floor Seating, a legless chair that at first glance looks as if it is just for relaxing; however, in context of modern working with tablet computers et al, sitting low down, knees raised, slightly hunched is likely to become a much more common option. And high-quality, well considered chairs that allow one to, effectively, sit on the floor are about as rare as Prada jackets in our wardrobe. For us “11” just needs a slightly higher backrest to be truly functional.

Milan Design Week 2013 Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll

The 11 Floor Seating from the Tools for Life collection by OMA for Knoll (The cushions will be upholstered)

Amongst the further objects the 01 arm chair has a not unappealing form language, albeit takes a little bit of getting use to. When we first saw them we didn’t like them at all, felt they evoked an unpleasant Star Trek meets 80s Miami Beach Nightclub imagery indicative of a designer trying too hard. However, having let them work on us for few days, we are starting to understand and appreciate them a lot more. It’s a bit like David Bowie. Didn’t get him for decades, then suddenly a few years ago we approached his music in a different way and since then find it much more appealing.

The 05 Round Table and 06 Table are technically very, very interesting; however, the less said about their appearance the better. And no, we don’t think we’ll ever get used to them.

Although we imagine they’ll be very well received in Moscow.

The real star of the launch however was Rem Koolhaas, who was followed round the Prada Cathedral by an adoring crowd, hungry for titbits of information, principally on his reasons for the choice of materials. A question he, patiently, answered at least a thousand times.

We of course weren’t part of the mob. At that point we were busy in hospitality eating croissants with a proficiency that would have put Polar Bear Knut to shame.

They were Prada croissants. When are we ever likely to get the chance to eat Prada croissants again?

Never is the answer. And yes they were lovely.

Milan Design Week 2013 Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll

The 01 Arm Chair from the Tools for Life collection by OMA for Knoll. Here in its prototype upholstery.

Tools for Life is the first time Rem Koolhaas has taken on a furniture project. According to Knoll the first contact was made some 15 years ago, but Koolhaas didn’t have any real interest, or perhaps better put the necessary motivation, for furniture at that time. Then a couple of years ago they started discussing the possibility again and Koolhaas said yes, “….because Knoll asked us to do a collection rather than a single object, and that made it an interesting proposition”

And regardless of what you think of the individual pieces or the form language, as a collection Tools for Life works very well. It has a unity, a solidarity that binds the individual pieces together.

In our post from the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln exhibition “From Aalto to Zumthor Furniture by Architects” we hypothesised that what makes much of the furniture designed by architects such as Eiermann, Jacobsen or Le Corbusier so appealing is that it was largely developed for specific projects, it originated in a specific context and so was influenced and formed by this context.

Furniture by Architects also showed what happens when architects develop furniture out of a fixed context, free as it were. Or at least showed what can happen.

Tools for Life by OMA for Knoll is a further good example. An interesting and not-unappealing collection it is, for us, driven too much by a desire to be an OMA furniture collection and as such lacks a certain nonchalance that is necessary to make furniture something that people want to possess and use.

As such we fear that Tools for Life is fated to become a historical footnote in the story of Knoll and OMA, good for a few glossy photos but otherwise culturally and economically irrelevant.

However there is enough genuine technical innovation and interesting new thinking in the collection to be fairly confident that if OMA and Rem Koolhaas are given a more specific brief, then something truly wonderful could result.

Or put another way, having seen the haute couture we can’t wait for the prêt-à-porter

Bauhaus Dessau: Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture

June 1st, 2012

Much as Gerrit Rietveld‘s career is publicly reduced down to the Rood-blauwe stoel, so too is it all to easy to imagine Marcel Breuer spent his days doing nothing more than creating chairs and tables from bent steel tubing.

Indeed start typing the name “Marcel Breuer” into google and the all-knowing, all-seeing algorithm will only offer you “Marcel Breuer Chair”, “Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair” and “Marcel Breuer Biography” as searches.

That the public impression of Marcel Breuer should be so monotone is all the more surprising given that the Breuer biography is without question one of the better known Bauhaus biographies. He is one of the few Bauhäusler about whom a TV quiz show would consider posing a question.

The exhibition “Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture” currently on show at Bauhaus Dessau not only introduces the visitor to less well known, less well publicly explored, areas of his work, but presents one or the other rarely seen or barely known object from Marcel Breuer’s oeuvre. But for all makes very clear that important as his steel tube work was for 20th century European design, for Breuer himself it was an early and short lived phase of his creativity.

Doing what it says on the tin, “Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture” is split into two sections. One looking at his design work, the other looking at his… you get the idea.

Marcel Breuer design and architecture Bauhaus dessau wassily club chair B3

The B3 Club Chair (Wassily Chair) by Marcel Breuer @ Bauhaus Dessau

The design section of the exhibition is arranged chronologically and so starts with Breuer’s initial wood pieces, including the unmistakably de Stijl influenced – and appropriately coloured – Lattenstuhl, and an epic, almost steampunk, dressing table and chair combination he created in 1923 for the Haus am Horn in Weimar.

In the mid-1920s Marcel Breuer then started his ground-breaking experimentation with steel tubing, and naturally the genre is well represented in the exhibition, be it the “Wassily” B3 Club Chair in its various forms, Breuer’s numerous and varied collaborations with Thonet or his cantilever chair designs. What is particularly interesting to see is the construction variations Breuer experimented with in his furniture. For example his B 35 chair for Thonet is shown in a welded and a screwed version; the one obviously being suited to flat pack delivery and a modular furniture family. The other is more aesthetically pleasing.

However, whereas the steel tubing is without question his best known, and most important, epoch, for us the plywood section is by far the more interesting.

On the one hand because it was a material he was more or less forced to work with – the company Isokon having little interest in steel tube furniture and wanting instead the commercially more relevant wood – yet was a material with which he was able to produce some truly wonderful furniture; with the organic form language standing very much in contrast with what the majority of us associate with the name Marcel Breuer. Admittedly one has limited options with moulded plywood, but what Marcel Breuer achieved is truly a joy to behold.

But also because it shows that Breuer had an understanding of the commercial furniture industry that few of his contemporaries could match. His 1936 stacking chair being a particularly powerful example.

Marcel Breuer design and architecture Bauhaus dessau Isokon moulded plywood chair

Examples of Marcel Breuer's moulded plywood work with Isokon. In the foreground the stacking chair

In contrast to the chronological design section, the architecture section is thematically divided into “Spaces”, “Houses” and what the curators refer to as “Volumes” – monolithic, almost brutalist, constructions that seem determined to justify and enforce their right to exist through their presence alone.

Each of the sections is explained through models, photos and sketches of representative buildings.

The most interesting display for us is that devoted to the BAMBOS project.

As a thousand Japanese tourist a day can tell you, one of the most important features of Bauhaus Dessau is the Meisterhäuser – a row of villas built specially for the Bauhaus Masters.

Albeit built much to the annoyance of the “Young Masters” such as Breuer, Josef Albers or Herbert Bayer, who found it “antisocial” that while the Masters were given shiny new villas, the Young Masters – who at the time were doing the lion’s share of the teaching – weren’t.

In an act that stands in magnificent juxtaposition to the happy party people Bauhaus currently on show at the Barbican Art Gallery, the Young Masters rebelled against the plan and proposed their own series of experimental, prefabricated houses known colloquially as BAMBOS after those Young Masters for whom they were intended: Breuer, Albers, Meyer, Bayer, Meyer-Ottens and Schmidt.

Initially the plan was rejected, but with Breuer threatening to leave Dessau, Walter Gropius eventually conceded to the project. However, as with so much associated with Bauhaus, fate meant the project was never realised and much of the original documentation has long since vanished.

Consequently the presentation of BAMBOS is limited to a short text and a model of the BAMBOS House Type 1.

That said, the inclusion of BAMBOS is important as it acknowledges that Bauhaus wasn’t a train speeding towards an agreed destination along a unified ideological track, but rather a collection of individuals with opinions that they were prepared to defend. Even if that meant derailing the train.

In a similar vein we feel the exhibition would and could benefit from a little more information on the disquiet caused when Marcel Breuer started selling his steel tube furniture through his own “Standard-Möbel” label, without first clarifying that with the rest of Bauhaus. Or indeed on many of the other moments when Breuer and Bauhaus clashed. Despite the success it unquestionably brought all parties, the relationship wasn’t all sunshine and cocktails.

Regardless of this, for us, omission “Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture” presents a wonderful, very accessible, overview of the man, his legacy and his place in the story of 20th century design and architecture. One truly gets a feeling for the progression that occurred throughout his career.

But more importantly, and as with “Gerrit Rietveld – The Revolution of Space“, one understands that the public persona is only the introduction to a more complex and creative character. If you like, the invitation to explore further.

Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture is the perfect chance to do just that and can be viewed at Bauhaus Dessau until October 31st 2012.

Marcel Breuer design and architecture Bauhaus dessau BAMBOS House Type 1

A model "BAMBOS House Type 1"

Marcel Breuer design and architecture Bauhaus dessau

Bauhaus Dessau: Marcel Breuer – Design and Architecture

Marcel Breuer design and architecture Bauhaus dessau aula

The Aula at Bauhaus Dessau, featuring seating designed by Marcel Breuer

(smow)intern: The Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011

July 5th, 2011


Not a phrase normally associated with (smow)

To the best of our knowledge no (smow)employee has ever smashed an iPad or capped a WiFi service in protest at the creeping and increasingly obsessive proliferation of technology into our lives.

Despite that, the early summer weeks in the (smow)HQ were dominated by the preparation and production of the very first (smow)catalogue.

That’s print catalogue.

So on paper.

With ink.


Au contraire nos amis!

Not only is the production of such an analogue catalogue technologically more challenging than coding with that “any-fool-can-do” HTML; but, just as the mechanisation of the textile mills offered the oppressed masses their first, golden, taste of leisure time – so does a print catalogue help us to regain that.

Turn off the computer, enjoy a break, peruse a catalogue. And then turn the computer back on and order.

In addition to featuring a selection of products from the (smow) range the (smow) Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011 also includes biographical information on some of the most important designers and a range of specially commissioned photos of products from USM Haller, Vitra, Moormann, Richard Lampert et al

And is a mighty fine piece of work. Well done to all involved!

If you’d be interested in seeing the finished work, or know someone who would appreciate a copy, please contact (NOTE: It is only available in German)

And at we have posted a photo gallery documenting the production process.

smow Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011

(smow) Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011

Happy Birthday Eero Saarinen!

August 19th, 2010
Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen, 1910 - 1961

August 20th marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Finnish architect/designer Eero Saarinen.

Eero Saarinen had – in all probability – very little career choice other than that of architect: Not only was his father Eliel Saarinen one of Finland’s most celebrated architects, but two of his uncles followed the same profession. In addition his mother, Loja Gesellius Saarinen, was a sculptress and textile designer.

Eero Saarinen spent his first 13 years in his birthplace, Kirkkonummi on the outskirts of Helsinki. In 1923, following the positive feedback to Eliel Saarinen’s entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower competition, the family emigrated to the USA – initially to Evanston, Illinois before in 1925 Eliel Saarinen was commissioned by G.G. Booth to build the new Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

The Cranbrook Academy Campus, designed by Eliel Saarinen

The Cranbrook Academy Campus, designed by Eliel Saarinen

A commission that was later to have a large influence on Eero’s career.

In 1930 Eero travelled to Paris where he spent a year studying sculpture at L’Académie de la Grande Chaumière before enrolling at Yale School of Architecture from where he graduated in 1935. After a year travelling Europe and North Africa, Eero Saarinen returned to America where he began working in his fathers office at Cranbrook; and where he met Charles Eames for the first time. The young Eames both studying at the college and being employed in Eliel Saarinen’s office.

The meeting was to be the start of a lifelong professional and personal relationship; Saarinen even naming the first son from his second marriage “Eames”.

Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen at Cranbrook Academy (photo © Cranbrook Archives)

Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen at Cranbrook Academy (photo © Cranbrook Archives)

The professional careers of Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen were equally close and both effectively started with joint projects; the 1940 “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition and the 1945-49 “Case Study House #9″ for Arts & Architecture Magazine.

In response to an increasing boredom in the USA with the minimalist steel/leather/glass objects of the Bauhaus School, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised in 1940 a competition entitled: “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” to find the best new American furniture design concepts. The competition rules called for designs that were functional, affordable and based on new, modern production processes.

Eames and Saarinen submitted an entry comprising eight designs based largely on their early experiments with moulded synthetic furniture and that included, amongst others, the Conversation Chair or as it is more popularly known today, the Organic Chair.

The jury, including such luminaries as Marcel Breuer and Alvar Aalto, awarded Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen first prize.

The Organic Chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen through Vitra

The Organic Chair by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen through Vitra

While the award brought the pair recognition, the mass production of the Eames-Saarinen designs was still impractical in the early 1940s. The technology simply not being rife enough to either produce the chairs nor the machines required to produce the chairs. The approach used, however, was to be important in both designers later furniture design work. Charles Eames employing it for his fibreglass/plastic chair series; while Saarinen used it in his works for Knoll International, most notably the Womb Chair and the Tulip Chair – arguably his two most important designs.

Eames and Saarinen’s architectural careers also involved an early joint project. In January 1945 the US Magazine Arts & Architecture publisher John Entenza wrote an editorial calling for greater use of mass production technology in house building. In the following years a series of leading architects were commissioned to design and build their vision of the industrial mass produced house of the future.

In 1949 “Case Study House #9″ by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen was completed. Showing the typical quadratic nature of most of Eames and Saarinen’s early work,”Case Study House #9″ is filled with fixtures, features and furniture that illustrate both mens belief in the unity between architecture and design and the importance of the relation between a building, its contents and its user.

Next door to “Case Study House #9″ is “Case Study House #8″ the so-called “Eames House”: officially accredited to Charles and Ray Eames, but where one also detects the influence of Eero Saarinen.

For both Saarinen and Eames, their participation in such a prestigious project was to bring the two, still relatively young, architects a greater public and greater authority.

In 1946 another of Eero Saarinen’s “Cranbrook Connections” lead to the start of his collaboration with Knoll International.

Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll International

Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll International

At Cranbrook Saarinen had met Florence Schust. In 1944 Florence married the young German furniture producer Hans G. Knoll and became the Knoll International “in-house interior designer”; and it was Florence Knoll who approached Saarinen to ask him to develop his moulded chair concept for the company.

In total Saarinen developed over a dozen products for Knoll International, many of which have been in continuous production since their launch.

Despite the importance of his work, for Eero Saarinen furniture design was a side project to his architecture career; a career which saw him build, amongst other buildings, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St Louis, the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport New York and Dulles International Airport, Washington. That said it was never a lesser value work for Saarinen, who was fascinated by the concept that each part of a work could reflect and compliment the others, that outside and inside could be united as one entity.  In that sense Saarinen’s furniture designs can be seen as a direct extension of his architectural work. And his architectural work as an extension of his furniture design.

On September 1st 1961 Eero Saarinen died following an operation on a brain tumour.

Despite dying young, in his 25 year career Eero Saarinen created a canon of work – both architectural and furniture designs – that not only helped redefine architectural theory and shaped future thinking, but also laid the foundations for much of the modern designer furniture industry.

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

Eero Saarinen, 1910- 1961

(smow) offline: “gute aussichten – junge deutsche fotografie 2009/2010″ Georg Brückmann

July 27th, 2010
Eames Lounge Chair by George Bruckmann. A delightful combination of paiting, photography and mind games.

Eames Lounge Chair by George Brückmann. A delightful combination of painting, photography and mind games.

A recurrent theme, not only here in the (smow)blog but also in general throughout the (smow) global network is the subject of illegal copies of design classics.

Or better put when is a design classic a design classic?

At the HGB Leipzig Rundgang in February we were confronted with an unexpected and somewhat unusual interpretation of the question in the form of “Eames Lounge Chair” by George Brückmann.

And were immediately hooked.

And not only we were impressed by Brückmanns work, In October 2009 his series “In-Situ” was selected to be part of the 2009/2010 “Gute Aussichten – junge deutsche fotografie” exhibition, one of the most important and prestigious Germanic contemporary photography exhibitions.

After 10 months and 6 stations in 3 countries the final “Gute Aussichten” exhibition of the 2009/2010 tour opens in the Art Foyer DZ Bank in Frankfurt am Main on Thursday July 29th.

Until the September 11th visitors will be able to view not only the work of George Brückmann but the work of the other seven young artists selected from the 91 entries submitted from 33 German colleges.

Ahead of the exhibition opening we caught up with George Brückmann in his atelier in Leipzig-Lindenau. And pretty much got off to the worst possible start.

Just as all forms of “design” rely on innovation and new ideas if they are to survive so to do the visual arts.

We thought George Brückmann painted onto photographs.

He doesn’t.

Still life with beer by George Brückmann. The objects are real, have been painted and then photographed

Still life with beer by George Brückmann. The objects are real, have been painted onto and then photographed

Initially he painted onto objects, coating the objects with paint of the same colour –  and then photographed them. And in doing so created wonderfully, obtuse, voluminous scenes somewhere between reality, painting and photography.

Then he moved onto painting objects which in the consciousness of the viewer were then extrapolated into other objects, before tackling the subject of design classics or better put the relationship between design classics and non-design classics.

We wont spoil the work by revealing the process, but enough to say George Brückmann paints designer furniture classics in such a way that through the composition of the final photograph “normal” objects appear transformed into the iconic pieces.

The paintings of the chairs themselves are not especially accurate, for all the the proportions and form  often vary from the originals. But that plays no role in your observation. You still recognise them, still find them attractive , still give them a value –  a value that then also seems to meliorate the raw and rudimentary settings.

Brückmann’s work is concerned with the “imaginary  extension” of one object into another and is achieved through a combination of perspective, context, art and the viewers innate cognition. Be it a cardboard box transformed into a deck chair or an everyday garden lounger seen as a Le Corbusiers LC 4 chaise longue.

Charles and Ray Eames’ lounge chair, The F 51 by Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohes’ Barcelona Chair being just three of the design classics he has re-interpretied.

Or better put extended from less valuable everyday items into the design classics we all know.

In the words of Brückmann “Here objects are what they could have been, could be, want to be or even should be”

The exhibition “Gute Aussichten – junge deutsche fotografie 2009/2010” can be viewed at the Art Foyer DZ Bank in Frankfurt am Main until September 11.

Le Corbusier LC 4 by George Brückmann

Le Corbusier LC 4 by George Brückmann part of "gute aussichten - junge deutsche fotografie 2009/2010"

2010 Designer Furniture World Cup: Finland 2-France 0

July 1st, 2010

After the strenuous match against Alexander Girard, France decided to rest Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for the match against Eero Saarinen.

Their replacement, the enfant terrible of contemporary French design Philippe Starck however failed to match the old Finnish master; too often Philippe Starck strove forward with fairly predictable and poorly considered approaches.

Eero Saarinen was able to make use of the gaps produced by Philippe Starck to good effect scoring with his Tulip Chair and a pedestal table for a thoroughly deserved 2:0 victory

The Group D table and all Group D results can be found here.

Philippe Starck failed to get teh better of Saarinens Tulip Chair through Knoll International

Philippe Starck failed to get the better of Saarinen's Tulip Chair through Knoll International