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Posts Tagged ‘Knoll’

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

Blurred Lines or What if Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke designed furniture?

On March 10th 2015 a jury at the Central District Court of California in Los Angeles concluded that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had relied a little too heavily on Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” when composing their track “Blurred Lines”. For infringement of Gaye’s copyright the court ordered Williams and Thicke to pay Marvin Gaye’s estate $7.4 million dollars.

Responding to the judgement Pharrell Williams mused in the Financial Times that “the verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else” and that in his opinion the case could lead to creative industries “frozen in litigation”1

And to a degree he has a point.

The history of music is a history of taking concepts developed by one composer and developing them further, of being inspired by other musicians. Those who go their own way either being lauded as genii or damned as fools.

Which of course got us thinking…..

For just as the history of music is largely built on inspiration, homage and developing the ideas of others, so to is the history of furniture design.

Michael Thonet Boppard Bench 1836 1842

The so called Boppard Bench by Michael Thonet from ca. 1836

As a prime example of furniture design’s traditions, the father of the modern furniture industry Michael Thonet began by re-creating established forms of the day; a training which helped him develop his own understanding of form, aesthetics and functionality, before with his 3D steamed bentwood forming he created not only a new process for industrial chair production but with the subsequent Chair 14 one of the most successful and popular chairs of all time. In a similar vein the Godfather of Danish modernism, the architect and furniture designer Kaare Klint, was firmly of the opinion that historic furniture models provided everything that one needed for developing modern, functional furniture, one just had to develop them further and in context of the modern age. A position his pupils, including Hans J Wegner and Børge Mogensen, more than eloquently demonstrated in many of their own works. And which is continually demonstrated by contemporary designers. Konstantin Grcic‘s 360° Stool for Magis, for example, must be considered more as a development of George Nelson‘s 1964 Perch in a new material and for a new age, than a new product genre per se, while according to Italian manufacturer Mattiazzi Jasper Morrison‘s Fionda chair is inspired by a Japanese camping chair owned by Morrison: a quick look at Snow Peak’s Take! chair being sufficient to understand what is meant. And where would contemporary design be without the Shakers? A religious sect they may be, but their simple approach to architecture and furnishings has inspired, and continues to inspire, untold designers and architects.

Aside from being inspired by individual objects or product genres, designers are also regularly inspired by the way their contemporaries use production processes, just as musicians are regularly inspired by the way their contemporaries use new technology or new understandings of rhythm and composition. Michael Thonet’s 3D steamed bentwood process, for example, owes more than a passing note of gratitude to boat building, while Alvar Aalto was famously introduced by his business partner Otto Korhonen to a plywood moulding process used by Tallinn based manufacturer Luterma for the production of tram seats. Recognising the potential of the process Aalto took the Estonian methods and developed them further – technically and formally – applied them in context of site specific commissions and created something new, and something which itself went on to provide inspiration for the likes of Marcel Breuer, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Egon Eiermann, Arne Jacobsen and neigh on every designer since.

Børge Mogensen FDB Chair Danish Museum of Art and Design Copenhagen

On the left a 1940s chair by Børge Mogensen. On the right an 18th/19th century English Windsor style chair

A further parallel with the music industry is that just as most commercially successful musicians generally arise from a scene of artists doing very similar things, so to does one regularly find several designers working on similar concepts at the same time. Some with more lasting success than others. Such can be considered the case with, for example, the cantilever chairs of Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe and the Brothers Rasch. All knew one another, yet all developed their own projects according to their own understanding of aesthetics and how best to solve the problem at hand. Similarly, Hans Knoll allegedly almost didn’t release Harry Bertoia’s Diamond Chair because of the similarities to the Eames DKR Wire Chair and his fear that people would accuse Knoll and Bertoia of copying the Eames’s and Herman Miller2. Even though there was no suggestion that they had. Egon Eiermann and Wilde + Spieth had no such qualms with the SE 3 from 1949, a work known today as the SE 42, and a work that bears a more than passing similarity to the Eames DCW, yet which was, as with Bertoia’s Diamond Chair, developed independently of the Eames’s, if with knowledge of what they were doing; and where importantly, and as Arthur Mehlstäubler is at great pains to point out, when one looks at details such as the way seat and frame are connected, the formally more open Eames construction compared with the more compact Eiermann chair or indeed simply the number of legs, the differences can be considered to outweigh the otherwise apparently obvious similarities.3

Then of course there is genuine homage, works which don’t claim to be anything but a loving eulogy to an existing work. Franz Volhard‘s table Egon through Nils Holger Moormann, for example, is a cheeky, self-confident solid wood reinterpretation of Egon Eiermann’s classic tubular steel table frame: and one which through its unmissable, almost overly obvious, simplicity serves to underscore just how good Eiermann’s original idea is and was. Or Rudolf Horn’s 1962 Conferstar Club Chair, a chair developed because Rudolf Horn found Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair so uncomfortable, and was so disappointed by the sitting experience, he felt almost honour bound to improve it.

mies van der rohe barcelona chair rudolf horn conferstar club chair

The Barcelona Chair by Mies van der Rohe (1929) and the  Conferstar club chair by Rudolf Horn (1962)

Pure plagiarism is, naturally, another thing altogether. Not only because plagiarism denies creatives the rightful rewards of their work, but, and at least in terms of furniture if not music, the copies are often not only inferior quality, but potentially dangerous, as our smow Australian cousins recently demonstrated with their Tolix stool tests.

However, as all the above examples indicate, the line between inspiration/homage and plagiarism is very, very fine.

Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke continue to argue that they haven’t crossed that line and have formally requested a retrial. Their lawyers see hope for a successful appeal based on the fact that the jury were only supposed to asses the sheet music versions of the two compositions, were however played both tunes and so, potentially, formed their opinion based on what they heard not what they read. A small but important difference, also in context of the furniture industry.

The score is how a song is constructed, contains the musician’s intentions, explains the relationships between the various components and gives an indication as to how competently, or otherwise, the composer masters the essentials of their craft: the audio version is how it is subsequently styled, a process generally not undertaken by the songsmith alone but rather in cooperation with a producer, engineer and record company.

Similarly with furniture what one generally buys is the styling; only very rarely is the final market version an exact 1:1 replication of the designer’s original version, but is invariably an industrial producible adaptation created in conjunction with the manufacturer. And, yes, and as with music, when the publishers intention is profit over content this tweaking can all to often be aimed towards creating an end result that conforms to a current standard and/or a particular lifestyle t***d.

However, and ignoring for the time being such unpleasantness and the monotony that results, the construction principle on which the project is based, the choice of material, the intention and inspiration behind the original idea and the competence, or otherwise, with which that is then developed into a finished model, that is the real work that a designer undertakes: and ultimately is the difference between a copy and an original.

A copy lacks any sense of authorship, any semblance of character, being as it is simply a soulless generic construction conferring the visual impression of a successful designer piece and an object created purely to confuse the unwary into believing they are buying something other than that what the ultimately receive. A cynical ploy to blur the lines and make profit at the expense of others.

And so, and to come back to our original question, what if Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke designed furniture?

No, let’s not, let’s just be grateful they don’t…….

1. Matthew Garrahan, “Pharrell Williams warns of copycat litigation wave” Financial Times March 19th 2015

2. George Nelson, The age of modern design, Architectural Record Mid-February 1982

3. Arthur Mehlstäubler, “Egon Eiermann – der deutsche Eames?” in Sonja Hildebrand & Annemarie Jaeggi, “Egon Eiermann (1904 – 1970). Die Kontinuität der Moderne”,  Hatje Cantz, 2004

The 360° Stool by Konstantin Grcic for Magis (2009) and the Nelson Perch by George Nelson through Vitra (1964)

The 360° Stool by Konstantin Grcic for Magis (2009) and the Nelson Perch by George Nelson through Vitra (1964)

The DCW plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames through Vitra (1945) and the SE 42 by Egon Eiermann for Wilde + Spieth (1949)

The DCW plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames through Vitra (1945) and the SE 42 by Egon Eiermann for Wilde + Spieth (1949)

Self inspiration: The Uncino chair Mattiazzi by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi and the Officina chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis

Self inspiration: The Uncino chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi (2013) and the Officina chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis (2015)

smow blog compact Milan 2015 Special: Pilot Chair by Barber Osgerby for Knoll

Upon seeing Rui Alves’s Bridge armchair prototype at IMM Cologne 2015 we commented on the unfamiliar, and for us not instantly accessible, overproportioned upholstered seat and backrest…… Before realising in context of both the Pocket Chair by Jesper Junge and the Lenz Lounge Chair by Bartmann Berlin, Silvia Terhedebrügge & Hanne Willmann, that possibly Rui was just riding the Zeitgeist a lot better than us and that the overproportioned aesthetic had a contemporary relevance we were unaware of.

Since Cologne we’ve befriended the concept of the oversized backrest, fortunately: for the Pilot chair by Barber Osgerby for Knoll would tend to indicate that we should all get used to backrests as voluminous and unapologetic as an Edwardian wig.

A delightfully reduced, uncomplicated and unhurried object the Pilot chair is based around a simple T-shaped aluminium frame onto which backrest, seat, (optional) armrests and base are attached – the latter via an excellently conceived slanted bar construction which both bestows the chair a very pleasing and well proportioned cantilever optic and also allows for the very slightly feathered, and comfortable, sitting experience.

Much less satisfying however is the decision to clothe some of the chairs in clown garb…… but what you gonna do? Other than hope that was just a very poor joke from the Knoll marketing team and in future the Pilot chair will only appear in the understated, and appropriate, leather and textile versions.

Otherwise an excellent chair and an object which for us stole the show from the intended star of the Knoll Milan presentation, the OMA Tools for Life Counter.

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

“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!

*UPDATE: The Kickstarter fund successfully reached its goal and in addition the 11 Sonambient albums are now available in a box set complete with a 100 page booklet through Important Records (Catalogue Number IMPREC419)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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