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Posts Tagged ‘Milan’

smow blog compact Milan 2015 Special: Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi

April 18th, 2015

Given that all we have too many household accessories and our planet too few natural resources to justify continually producing ever more household accessories, the vast majority of which will invariably merely gather dust before being thrown out next time you move house, how should designers react?

Stop designing household accessories? Certainly one option.

Move away from resource heavy mass production to more sustainable forms of smaller scale production, so more craft than design? Without question, another option.

Stop designing objects and instead develop share/repair concepts to encourage us all to keep those knick-knacks we have little longer? A valuable idea worth exploring.

Design very simple objects which allow you to create your own household accessories as and when you want.

Option four is the one chosen by Kobe Design University student Hiroyuki Ikeuchi and his Ripple collection.

Crafted from a range of woods, occasionally combined with marble and slate, the Ripple family allows you to create your own vases, storage jars, pencil holders, loose change collectors etc, etc, etc by simply rolling up a piece of paper. Or even more simply by placing a bit of paper between wood and marble/slate.

Just one of those painfully simple solutions, and one that we’d really encourage Hiroyuki Ikeuchi to put out there as an open design resource.

Its a concept, not a product, and a truly delightful one at that.

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Ripple by Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, as seen at Ventura Lambrate, Milan 2015

Milan Design Week 2015: On Seating…..

April 17th, 2015

For us one of the few genuine joys of Milan Design Week is observing visitors to the furniture fair perching on the simple metal benches to be found on the peripheries of the exhibition halls, benches which resemble safety barriers more than public seating

Our joy stemming not from the irony that they find themselves surrounded by chairs in whose collective development millions of Euros have been invested, but because it is the most poetic reminder that a chair is a purely functional object.

Historically this essential truth was hidden by a fondness for ornamentation and outlandish visual aesthetics, adornments created and employed to impart a sense of value and status, for chair and sitter, before, thanks largely to the likes of Michael Thonet, J. & J. Kohn et al we learned to appreciate the enticing simplicity of reduced chair design. And while post World War I the functionalists may have elevated the functional to a chair’s raison d’etre, form follows function does nothing more than create a conflict between two aspects of a chair’s character, creates a “with us or against us” scenario, and singularly fails to recognise that “function” isn’t a fixed given but is a matter of perspective.

For the private individual a chair must provide somewhere to sit, be that in in the living room, the kitchen, garden, in the home office, on the balcony…….. And that, ideally, in a degree of comfort.

Similarly, industry and commerce need chairs which allow their customers and clients to sit, generally however in more fleeting situations, be that, for example, in a restaurant, theatre or bar, in the waiting areas of private or public institutions, in a museum, at an airport, railway station or post office; and where thus flexibility is every bit as important as comfort. If not more so.

Then there are the real speciality areas, hospital chairs, orchestra chairs, school chairs, or of course office chairs.

Furniture retailers need chairs which meet these customer wishes and which in addition offer them an argument with which to convince the customer that this or that chair is exactly the one they need, the chair functioning as it does as an important source of income for retailers. And while yes aesthetic arguments are often employed in such cases, this commercial function of a chair is in fact realised by other factors such as, for example, the choice of materials, aspects of the construction, durability, ergonomic factors, ecological considerations or historical associations.

Manufacturers meanwhile need chairs which allow them to achieve and offer all of the above while at the same time allowing them to maximise their profitability and company profile, a function of a chair which requires them being, for example, light so as to reduce distribution costs, particularly innovative in their construction or mix of materials so as to set the manufacturer apart from their competitors or cost effective to produce and that in a way which allows for later modifications in material and/or colours without the need to invest heavily in new machinery.

That the above functional requirements must not only be additively combined and aggregated in any given product, but that evolving social, cultural, technological and legal considerations continually allow for and force the development of new solutions, is of course the reason why a furniture fair such as Milan is awash with chairs.

However, the vast majority of the chairs in Milan are unnecessary, largely because their creators have either misinterpreted, or perhaps better put misjudged, the functional focus and created something which fails to tick enough of the requisite boxes and which thus although it may look “good”, fails to meet the functional demands of a contemporary chair intended for mass production and distribution.

And a chair is only necessary when it meets its functional demands.

A fact beautifully illustrated by those weary fair visitors resting on bare metal bars.

Milan Furniture Fair Barrier Seat

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Milan Furniture Fair Seat 101

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Milan Furniture Fair Seat 102

Simple, functional seating at Milan Furniture Fair

Michael Geldmacher: “I would always encourage any designer to at least attempt to get paid for the development of a project.”

April 7th, 2015

It being early April Milan furniture fair once again stands before us and with it the promise of untold column inches about the latest trends, the hottest young talents, the sharpest suits and the best bars for sharing an Aperol spritz and unsavoury gossip.

Or a chance to critically assess the contemporary furniture industry.

Yes, we’ve been here a few times in the past, but are always happy to return. There be nothing we enjoy more than biting the hand that feeds us.

Among those perennial themes in the design industry that always seem especially worthy of discussion around Milan design week are the system by which furniture designers are paid and the associated conditions under which furniture designs are realised and marketed. Some may call it old hat, but if it is then only because the hat has remained unchanged for decades. Which is what makes them subjects worthy of discussion.

For all who are unaware, as a general rule – and as with all general rules there are obviously expectations – designers develop their projects themselves and at their own cost and are then paid a licensing fee by the manufacturers, typically between 3 and 5% of the factory gate price.

A system which means that, for example, for a chair with a retail price of €500, the designer might get €11 per chair sold.

Developed in Italy in the 1950s the system works fine as long as you have a product which sells in very large numbers over many, many years, or you have several products which sell in decent numbers. Over many, many years.

In 1950s Italy when the furniture industry as we know it today was in its infancy, that was generally the case.

These days in our mature, global market, it generally isn’t.

Something which will no doubt be ably proved in Milan with X thousand “new ” products being presented, many of which will either never reach production and so generate no income for the designer involved or if they do reach production could be discontinued after a couple of years as the company respond to some new perceived new “trend”.

Among those advocating for a change and the introduction of a more contemporary system that better reflects the modern reality is Michael Geldmacher from Munich based studio Neuland Industriedesign.

Established in 1999 by Michael Geldmacher and Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign initially concentrated on what they refer to as “classic industrial design (medical technology, outdoor products, games, cosmetics)” before in 2005 they switched their focus to concentrate exclusively on furniture design.

Although the studio’s first furniture project was the bed Kengo for German manufacturer Interlübke in 2001, Neuland Industriedesign first reached a wider international audience with their 2005 Random shelving system for Milan based MDF Italia, a product whose commercial and critical success in many ways convinced Eva and Michael to dedicate themselves to furniture design. Over the past ten years in addition to expanding their co-operations with Interlübke and MDF Italia, Neuland Industriedesign have worked with manufacturers as varied as Moormann, b-line, Freifrau and Kristalia.

Having decided to concentrate on furniture design, Eva and Michael quickly came across a, for them, unknown and unfamiliar situation, as Michael Geldmacher explains:

“Because we came from the classic industrial design world, and didn’t know any better, when we were offered our first furniture design projects we sent the companies quotes for the development work, which is how industrial design works, you receive payment for the time invested in developing a project. And the companies response was generally along the lines of, “Is this some sort of joke? We’re not paying development fees!” to which we replied, “Well, we’ll not do the project. We’ve got to live from something!” And so slowly but surely we learnt about the ruinous working conditions the furniture industry offers designers.”

smow blog: OK, we understand the problem, but why should a manufacturer pay for work undertaken by yourselves on your own initiative?

Michael Geldmacher: Clearly if you present a market ready design to a manufacturer you can’t then expect a retrospective development payment. But that isn’t how most projects develop. Most start as an idea or a briefing that is then developed into a product over a period of months or years for a specific manufacturer.
One must add and acknowledge that manufacturers invest considerable sums in the technical development required to bring the designs to production, investments which are always accompanied with a certain risk. But that investment only begins from the moment the design is accepted, and until that happens is often a very long way and one that the designer often has to fund themselves. And in such cases I believe one can ask the manufacturer to contribute to the development, not least because it affects the manufacturers perception of an object.
Here in Bavaria we have a saying “was nichts kostet ist nichts wert” – what costs nothing isn’t worth anything – and it often appears that is how the industry views things. You have manufacturers who have say 100 products in their portfolio, but the whole company hangs on the success of one or two top sellers. Consequently although a designer may have a couple of products with a company, the one chair might sell seven times, the other twenty, and at the end of the year the designer gets a royalty cheque for €400, which is of course a waste of the time and money both sides have invested in the project.

smow blog: And for you the payment of a fee for the time taken to develop a project is the key to changing the situation, rather than say reviewing the royalties system and/or the nature of the financial distribution between manufacturer, designer and trade?

Michael Geldmacher: I don’t think the royalty system is so much the problem, although I would favour a change so that the royalties are scaled such that designers get more for products which sell less and a lower percentage for high selling goods, or to a system whereby royalties are paid in advance and then deducted from later payments, it is however for me important that the manufacturers are forced to contribute to the development of a project.

Development payments are a form of commitment and it is important that the manufacturer is prepared to say, I like the project, your work has a value for me and I’m prepared to take a risk on this project. In addition development payments act as a natural brake on the number of projects a manufacturer can develop per year; and reducing the number of projects would take a lot of the pressure out of the industry, would automatically slow things down and would help the manufacturers focus their attention on developing those projects which genuinely interest them.

In the same vein, I also really like the idea of only having the major furniture trade fairs every two years because that would also take a lot of the pressure out of the system. Every manufacturer wants to release X new products per year and present them in Milan, Cologne, London, Stockholm, etc. Often we’re talking here about companies who are only generating a few million Euros per year turnover, yet who several times a year invest six figure sums in trade fairs just so that they can present new products which ultimately may only sell a few times, if they even come onto the market at all. And such pressure is absurd and unhealthy for all involved.

smow blog: And are these opinions that find a positive resonance among your colleagues?

Michael Geldmacher: To be honest I don’t know, principally because while many complain about the situation only very few are prepared to openly discuss it and so no one really knows what the situation is like elsewhere and for other design studios. Which for me is an unbelievable state of affairs because when the, lets say, established designers would speak out more and express opinions based on their experiences then that would help not only them but also the young designers.

smow blog: Young designers is a good keyword, you used to teach at the technical college here in Munich, did you advise your students to always demand development payments, or…..?

Michael Geldmacher: I taught industrial design to students of packaging and many of the students there weren’t looking to move towards furniture design, so it wasn’t necessarily a theme; however, in principle yes I would always encourage any designer to at least attempt to get paid for the development of a project. If the producer says “no!” you can always decide, OK, the project is particularly interesting or important, I’ll take a chance and do it for nothing. But it’s important to ask. Even after ten years we still ask for development payments before accepting a project; however, whereas at the beginning we were very strict and simply didn’t work for those who didn’t pay, now we’re less strict, and do make exceptions for particular, individual, reasons.
But in terms of design education generally I do think students need to be taught to be more critical, they need to question the industry more critically, to better understand the consequences of their decisions and learn to deal more professionally with manufacturers, not simply accept what is offered.

However one must also understand that such is difficult because an awful lot of young designers are seduced by the perceived glamour of the industry, design is currently highly pimped by the press, and many young designers don’t want to feel they have somehow failed because they are not getting media coverage, be that in magazines or blogs, and so accept poor conditions with the promise of publicity.

smow blog: Criticism understood and accepted, but we’d argue that while yes the press may not be perfect, they’re not alone to blame….

Michael Geldmacher: Clearly we as designers need the press so that the manufacturers are aware of us, the manufacturers need the press to help them promote their collections and the press need the designers and the manufacturers so that they have something to report on, the latest products from Milan for example, so that they can sell the advertising space they live from. I’m not sure if one can ever fully break this triangle of inter-dependencies, but in my opinion it would be a good start if the press were more critical, and for example didn’t praise every new chair without pointing out that a very similar chair, potentially, already exists, or to question in how far such a new chair is even necessary.

smow blog: You’ve been in the furniture business for ten years now, do you feel things are getting harder, getting easier, staying the same……..?

Michael Geldmacher: My impression is that things are getting ever harder, not least because ever more manufacturers rely ever more on products from big name designers. The manufacturers deny such, but despite the enormous variety in the scene one has a small group of designers who crop up everywhere. In some cases that is justified because the designers are genuinely innovative and deliver continually good work. But not in all cases, and all to often you find yourself asking what is the point of this or that product.

Then there is the monoculture that currently exists in the industry, a poisonous state of affairs which both stifles creativity and encourages ever shorter product life cycles and as such opportunities to earn from a design. And last but not least the design schools are turning out ever more designers, often very talented designers, but who obviously increase competition for work at an ever greater rate, and with an awful lot of manufacturers simply refusing to pay development money the result will inevitably be ever more designers not receiving such payments for projects that are potentially not likely to sell, and a consequent worsening of the situation. Unless that is we can find a new way of paying for furniture design.

smow blog: One potential “new way” is self-production and marketing, something ever more young designers are opting for. Is that for you a viable option, a viable alternative?

Michael Geldmacher: I find it very brave of those who set up on their own and I have a lot of respect for such decisions, and also think it is very important that such occurs if we are too break the current monoculture in the industry. It is something we have also considered in the past, but we’re not sales professionals, we have no experience in, for example, establishing distribution networks, managing PR campaigns and the like and so decided the better option is to let professionals do what they are trained to do and we’ll concentrate on doing what we’re trained to do.

smow blog: And beyond thoughts of self-production, you yourselves have never considered giving up furniture design and returning to classic industrial design and development payments?

Michael Geldmacher: No, not at all! Last year for example our very first customer from 1999 approached us, a company from the medical technology branch, and they asked if we could develop a new dentist chair for them. Our initial reaction was no, we’ve been away from such for too long, but then because it was the first customer and the connections involved we said OK, we’ll do it. And you really notice the difference, the project was fun and challenging, but it is a different world with much more specific limits and demands and we simply wouldn’t have been able to implement our design concept in the radical way we did with another customer in the sector. And so, no we’ll be staying with furniture design, and keeping on trying to rectify the ruinous working conditions.

Michael Geldmacher Eva Paster Neuland Industriedesign

Michael Geldmacher & Eva Paster a.k.a Neuland Industriedesign

smow blog 2014. A pictorial review: April

December 25th, 2014

As all old thesauruans know “April” is merely a synonym for “Milan”

And lo despite all promises to the contrary April 2014 once again found us in Lombardy, where, amongst other objects and exhibitions, we were very taken with the Alexander Girard reissues revealed by Vitra, the exhibition of Meisenthal Glassworks at the Institut Francais and the new Rival chair by Konstantin Grcic for Artek. Away from Milan April 214 saw us get to know the work of Pascal Howe at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin, experience the full depth of the Thonet chair design history at the Grassi Museum Leipzig, the work of Ola Kolehmainen, Okolo Offline at Depot Basel and wish Hans J. Wegner a happy 100th!

Haus am Waldsee Berlin Ola Kolehmainen Geometric Light Hagia Sophia year 537 III Untitled No 6 2014

Hagia Sophia year 537 III, 2014, and Untitled (No. 6), 2005, by Ola Kolehmainen. As seen at Ola Kolehmainen - Geometric Light, Haus am Waldsee Berlin

Okolo Offline at Depot Basel

Okolo Offline at Depot Basel

Sitzen Liegen Schaukeln Möbel von Thonet Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig 02

Sitting – Lying – Swinging. Furniture from Thonet at the Grassi Museum for Applied Arts, Leipzig

Pascal Howe VDI 2860 at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

Pascal Howe - VDI 2860 at the DMY Design Gallery Berlin

Milan 2014 Artek Rival Konstantin Grcic

Rival by Konstantin Grcic for Artek

Milan Design Week 2014 Special Le Feu Sacré Designers and glass blowers at Institut Francais 02

Le Feu Sacré Designers and glass blowers at Institut Francais, Milan

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Vitra Alexander Girard Colour Wheel Ottoman

Colour Wheel Ottoman by Alexander Girard through Vitra, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2014

WEGNER – Just one good chair Christian Holmsted Olesen Hatje Cantz Verlag

WEGNER – Just one good chair by Christian Holmsted Olesen through Hatje Cantz Verlag

5 New Design Exhibitions for September 2014

August 29th, 2014

The inescapable chill in the morning air and the deep-seated boredom in the eyes of school aged children can only mean that summer is, ever so slowly, coming to an end.

And just as spring beckons life to return in the natural world, so to does autumn herald a revival of activity in the unnatural world of museums and galleries.

Consequently, whereas in August we only managed to find three architecture and design exhibitions to recommend, for September we have seven!

A Magnificent Seven who not only help us keep our recommendations average at five per month, but also, hopefully, will provide some stimulus and hope at a time of year when despondency can so often have the upper hand.

“Crafting Narrative” at Pitzhanger Manor House & Gallery, London, England

London is by no stretch of the imagination a city short of notable galleries and museums, yet despite the apparent museal saturation a smallish gallery in the west London suburb of Ealing is slowly but surely making a name for itself as one of the leading London addresses for design exhibitions. Following on from the cross-media exhibition “Reason & Intuition: Alvar Aalto & Ola Kolehmainen in Soane”, the Pitzhanger Manor House & Gallery present Crafting Narrative, an exploration of storytelling in design. Organised by the UK Crafts Council and curated by London based designer Onkar Kular, Crafting Narrative is a touring exhibition which aims to demonstrate how contemporary designers use the process of designing and making to create narratives incorporating cultural, historical and social themes. Featuring works by creatives as varied as Hilda Hellström, El Ultimo Grito or Martino Gamper and presenting projects such as Zhenhan Hao’s “Imitation, imitation” clothing collection or “The Welsh Space Campaign” by Hefin Jones, Crafting Narrative has all the potential to be a highly entertaining and thought provoking exhibition.

Crafting Narrative opens at Pitzhanger Manor House & Gallery, Walpole Park, Mattock Lane Ealing, London W5 5EQ on Wednesday September 10th and runs until Sunday October 19th

Hefin Jones The Welsh Space Campaign Crafting Narrative

Hefin Jones - The Welsh Space Campaign, part of Crafting Narrative at Pitzhanger Manor House & Gallery (Photo © Dan Burn-Forti, Courtesy Craft Council UK)

“100 Years of Swiss Design” at the Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich, Switzerland

In September 2014 the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich open their new depository in the city’s Toni-Areal district. In addition to providing space for the museum’s collection the new Schaudepot offers a new exhibition gallery; a gallery which will be inaugurated by the exhibition 100 Years of Swiss Design. Presenting projects ranging from the mundane everyday such as light switches and vegetable peelers over furniture design classics from the likes of Le Corbusier, Max Bill or Willy Guhl and on to clothing and more conceptual design, 100 Years of Swiss Design features over 800 objects, prototypes, models, sketches and advertising films and thus promises to be one of the most inclusive and wide ranging studies of the Swiss Design tradition ever undertaken.

100 Years of Swiss Design opens at the Museum für Gestaltung – Schaudepot, Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 96, CH-8005 Zürich on Friday September 26th and runs until Sunday February 8th

100 Jahre Schweizer Design Willy Guhl Scobalit-Stuhl mit abnehmbaren Sitzschalen

The Scobalit chair by Willy Guhl. Part of the exhibition 100 Years of Swiss Design, Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich

“Le Labo des héritiers” at Le Grand Hornu Images, Hornu, Belgium

There is, we assume, we have no direct experience, nothing more infuriating than attempting to establish a creative career as the offspring of an internationally renowned creative. People are either accusing you of riding on your parents coattails. Or viewing your work in the context of your parents, stubbornly refusing to accept you as an independent individual. Consequently many children and grandchildren don’t even bother. But some do. With success. Taking four “creative dynasties” as examples Le Labo des héritiers aims to explore questions such as how do younger generations relate to the oeuvre of the older generations, how do older generations relate to the oeuvre of the younger generations, is the desire to contradict a loved one greater than the instinct to follow, are family members more relevant to a career than teachers, critics, colleagues and other non-family influences? Presenting objects, sketches, photographs and texts Le Labo des héritiers investigates such questions in the context of Gijs Bakker/Emmy van Leersum and their son Aldo Bakker; Pieter, Lowie, Tinus and Robin Vermeersch and their father Rik and grandfather José; Tobia Scarpa and his father Carlo Scarpa; and David Van Severen and his brother Hannes, the children of Maarten Van Severen and grandsons of the Belgian abstract painter Dan Van Severen.

Le Labo des héritiers opens at Le Grand Hornu Images, Rue Sainte-Louise, 82 7301 Hornu, Belgium on Sunday September 21st and runs until Sunday January 4th

Le stock d’atelier de muller van severen Le Labo des héritiers

"Le stock d’atelier de Muller Van Severen" (Photo: Fien Muller, Courtesy of Le Grand Hornu Images)

“Copper Crossing” at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan, Italy

Copper can in many ways claim to have been the bridge between the technical advancement of the neolithic age, when our ancestors started forming tools, and the bronze age when this increased technical capability could be coupled with a new, hard yet pliable, material. The Chalcolithic period may only have lasted some 3000 years but is and was critical in the story of man’s cultural, social and intellectual evolution. Subsequently the Romans used copper as one of their earliest currencies; the pliability of copper allowed it to be used in construction, for all roofing and cladding; the development of copper water pipes helped protect from the negative effects of the original lead piping; while copper’s conductive properties have allowed for the increasing electrification of our daily lives. Where would we be without copper! In their exhibition Copper Crossing the Triennale Design Museum Milan bring the story up to date and reflect on the use of copper in contemporary art, design, architecture and technology. Featuring over 250 copper based projects by artists such as Joseph Beuys or Anselm Kiefer, architects including James Stirling and Renzo Piano over design objects by, amongst others, Tom Dixon, Ron Arad and Oskar Zieta, and on to a final section looking at more technical uses of copper, including IT and communications applications in addition to copper’s anti-bacterial properties, Copper Crossing will seek to explain the contemporary relevance of this most ancient of materials.

And while yes it all sounds like some expensive and decadent promotional campaign for copper, does copper really need promoting? Of course not, it needs celebrating!

Copper Crossing opens at the Triennale Design Museum, Viale Alemagna, 6, 20121, Milan on Tuesday September 16th and runs until Sunday November 9th

Oskar Zieta Plopp Copper

Plopp Copper by Oskar Zieta, part of Copper Crossing at the Triennale Design Museum, Milan

“Spatial Positions 8: Kooperationen. Diener&Diener in Zusammenarbeit mit Martin Steinmann und Josef Felix Müller / Peter Märkli und Josephsohn” at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel, Switzerland

In 2014 the Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel celebrates its 30th anniversary and as part of the festivities is hosting an exhibition curated by the institutes very first Director, Dr. Ulrike Jehle–Schulte Strathaus. Architecture and art often cross over into each others territories, yet it is invariably an artist getting all architectural or an architect getting all artistic. For Spatial Positions 8 the Swiss Architecture Museum paired up architects and artists to work on a joint project, joint projects that explore what happens when the two disciplines collaborate. Thus the Basel architect Roger Diener was teamed up with St. Gallen based artist Josef Felix Müller while Zurich based architect Peter Märkli collaborated with Zurich sculptor Hans Josephsohn. In addition to presenting the results of their collaborations and the associated prototypes, sketches and development works the exhibition will, we hope, provide a few clues to help us better understand in how far architects are just artists with a sense of order and in how far artists are architects who don’t believe space should be confined by walls.

Spatial Positions 8: Kooperationen. Diener&Diener in Zusammenarbeit mit Martin Steinmann und Josef Felix Müller / Peter Märkli und Josephsohn opens at S AM Swiss Architecture Museum, Steinenberg 7, CH-4051 Basel on Saturday September 6th and runs until Sunday October 19th

Spatial Positions 8: Kooperationen. Diener&Diener in Zusammenarbeit mit Martin Steinmann und Josef Felix Müller / Peter Märkli und Josephsohn" at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel, Switzerland

Spatial Positions 8: Kooperationen. Diener&Diener in Zusammenarbeit mit Martin Steinmann und Josef Felix Müller / Peter Märkli und Josephsohn" at the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel

“Future Stars?” at Aram Gallery, London, England

Established in 2002 by Zeev Aram, proprietor of the Aram contemporary furniture store and holder of the exclusive global rights to the furniture design works of Eileen Gray, the Aram Gallery hosts exhibitions dedicated to contemporary art and design, exhibitions which more often than not are of an experimental, conceptual nature. As part of their contribution to the 2014 London Design Festival the Aram Gallery are presenting new works by seven young designers, designers the Aram Gallery are tipping for a bright and glorious future. Featuring product design by Maria Jeglinska, Kim Thome, James Shaw and Lola Lely, fashion/footwear from Cat Potter, jewellery by Sophie Thomas and, we presume, we’ve not seen it yet, something more conceptual from Arnhem based Thor ter Kulve, Future Stars? doesn’t just promise to be a fascinating show but would also appear to offer everything that all the more corporate London Design Festival events don’t. Indeed can’t.

“Future Stars?” opens at The Aram Gallery, 110 Drury Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5SG on Saturday September 13th and runs until Saturday October 25th.

aram gallery future stars

Future Stars? at Aram Gallery London

“Alvar Aalto – Second Nature” at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

Alvar Aalto stands like no other for the easy accessibility of 20th century design. The man who questioned for whom “functionalism” should be “functional” Alvar Aalto not only helped us understand that modernism could be humane and so helped guide post war design and architecture along the path we’ve all come to know and cherish, he was also the man who taught us to mould plywood and that designers can also be producers. In the first major retrospective of Alvar Aalto’s oeuvre this century the Vitra Design Museum exhibition promises to explore not only Aalto’s most important architectural and design works but also examine the wider influences on the man and his canon, including his correspondence with artists such as Hans Arp and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and his contact with and relationship to the leading international architects of the day. We can’t however guarantee they will repeat the epic tale of what happened when Alvar Aalto met George Nelson.

Alvar Aalto – Second Nature opens at the Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, D-79576 Weil am Rhein on Saturday September 27th and runs until Sunday March 1st

Alvar Aalto on his boat Nemo Propheta

Alvar Aalto on his boat Nemo Propheta, 1960s.... And obviously enjoying the memories of his adventures with George Nelson....(Photo Göran Schildt © Schildt Foundation, Courtesy Vitra Design Museum)

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: USM Haller

May 4th, 2014

We round up our Milan 2014 coverage with a company we admire, but about whom we find it all but impossible to write.

Because their products and their collection so rarely change.

Milan Furniture Fair 2014 USM Haller

USM Haller at Milan Furniture Fair 2014

Ever since commencing with the commercial production of the modular USM Haller furniture system in 1969 USM have done little else. Save the introduction of the USM KITOS system in 1989.

But that’s it. That’s all they do.

Which is also one of the principle reasons we admire them. They do what they do, do it well and let the others chase headlines and plaudits.

However, at Milan Furniture Fair 2014 USM Haller did present two new permutations of the accepted raster: one obvious and one much, much more subtle.

The obvious refinement is a collection of new materials and new colours for the USM table collection.

A couple of years ago USM invested heavily in the launch of a series of new colours for the Living Essentials collection as part of a concerted effort to persuade the public that a furniture system all too often associated with offices can also be successfully and happily deployed in domestic situations. The Living Essentials colours only applied to the USM Haller sideboards, highboards, lowboards et al. The new table tops are, in effect, the next step in this process of gentle persuasion.

In domestic spaces users have, somewhat naturally, different demands of their furnishings than in office spaces, for all in terms of what one could term the “emotional” aspects of the furniture. To this end when developing the new table tops in co-operation with La Neuveville based design studio Atelier Oï not only was special attention paid to the colours but also to the haptic qualities of the surfaces. The result is a range of new materials, including MDF and matt glass, and some 20 new colours, a considerable increase on the previous palette and one which means the USM table collection is now available in some 55 colour/material combinations.

Enough of a choice for any living room, dining room, balcony or kitchen.

And yes, we did write “in co-operation with La Neuveville based design studio Atelier Oï”

USM working with an external design studio!

The co-operation with Atelier Oï is of course the more subtle innovation from Milan 2014. One is so use to contemporary furniture manufactures co-operating with external design studios, co-operations that currently always seem to be in context of developing new colour schemes, one tends to register such and roll on.

But in context of USM Haller one must gave it a little more importance. Because it is simply not the sort of thing they do. Or at least not publicly.

We must admit to still being a little unsure if we approve of the idea or not. It’s a bit like when your conservative great uncle starts watching The Simpsons. Your happy that he’s experiencing more of life, but you fear that before too long he’ll want to start skateboarding. Or watch Breaking Bad. And so part of you wishes he’d just go back to reading Sophocles and complaining about the quality of modern peppermints.

Time will tell how far USM Haller take their external co-operations, or if the co-operation with Atelier Oï is but a blip on an otherwise linear trajectory.

We will of course keep you updated. Should anything happen…………………………….

Milan Furniture Fair 2014 USM Haller

USM Haller at Milan Furniture Fair 2014

Milan Furniture Fair 2014 USM Haller

USM Haller at Milan Furniture Fair 2014

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Sarah Böttger & Hanna Emelie Ernsting at Salone Satellite

April 24th, 2014

Milan is awash with churches.

Milan is awash with monasteries.

Basilica. Friaries. And other suitable locations for submitting penitence.

We go to Salone Satellite.

Last year you may remember we had to apologise to Karolin Fesser for our failure to publish a post on the from Karolin co-curated Objects for the neighbour exhibition. Not that we were obliged to publish anything on the exhibition; it was just so good it deserved one and we were negligent in not doing such.

This year it was Sarah Böttger to whom we expressed our contrition.

During Cologne Design Week 2014 we bumped into Sarah in the cellar of the Boffi flagship store during the Young Perspectives showcase, and after exchanging pleasantries preceded to take a series of really, really bad photos of her Woodware storage box project.

We refuse to accept the full blame, the Boffi cellar is not the best photo location in Cologne. Nor was the placing of Woodware by the curators the most advantageous. That said our photos really, really didn’t do Woodware any justice.

And that was negligent of us.

In Milan Sarah Böttger was sharing a Salone Satellite stand with Frankfurt based, HfG Karlsruhe graduate Hanna Emelie Ernsting, a designer whose Petstools project we’ve also nearly managed to kill in a succession of photo disasters for both these pages and other projects.

Cue more apologies.

Undeterred we did of course take photos of their joint stand.

A joint stand that included a first joint project: the carpet series Dune.

Inspired by the rounded, serene forms found on calm, sandy beaches the Dune carpets are woven from loden – a wool based fabric traditionally used for blankets and overcoats in the Germanophone Alps and a material which is characterised by extreme durability and a very welcoming, soft, surface. Just what one wants from a carpet: and an extremely pleasing project.

Solo, Sarah Böttger was presenting Woodware and Woodware’s bigger cousin, the side table Cache. Essentially a related wooden storage concept, just in a much larger form, and for us the more logical realisation of the idea as Cache’s size makes them unavoidable and somehow more practical, easier to integrate into and justify in a space. In addition Sarah Böttger also presented the turned ash doorstop… Doorstop, a project that we first saw at the aforementioned Object for the neighbours exhibition and an object which for us still retains all the naive, innocent charm from then; and the seat-cum-step Peak, a deceptively simple and beautifully crafted object which impressed with its self-confidence.

Hanna Emelie Ernsting meanwhile presented Petstools and Red Riding Hood, two projects which delightfully illustrate her ongoing research into what we’re going to term “living textiles”. The 2013 Petstools projects is a series of stools in animal form which can either be used as stools or footstools, but into which you can also sink your feet, or as we wrote last year “…the beauty of the dumb companions comes when you allow your feet to sink into the soft material. The effect is just as if a household pet, or a partner, is gently massaging your feet after a hard day in the uncaring world.” Complimenting the Petstools collection, and providing more protection from the uncaring world, is and was the armchair Red Riding Hood – essentially an armchair with a cape – and a project that impressed and impresses us more than most of Hanna’s previous projects involving furniture that engulfs one, not least because optically it is a very unobtrusive, easily accessible yet thoroughly absorbing object. Or put another way, we can well imagine it looking as if it belongs in any given living room. Something which isn’t always the case with experimental furniture design.

A few impressions:

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Artek @ Salone del Mobile

April 13th, 2014

If we’re honest, we really, really, should have seen it coming. We didn’t.

Having been acquired in 2013 by Vitra, Artek have now begun working with leading designers from the Vitra roster.

Specifically, in Milan Artek launched a new chair from Konstantin Grcic and new colour and textile schemes from Hella Jongerius for the classic Alvar Aalto 400 and 401 armchairs and Stool 60.

We just hope no-one is tempted to over egg this particular pudding.

In the Milan press release Artek CEO Mirkku Kullberg expresses her delight that through Vitra Artek have become part of an infrastructure that allows the company to focus on product development and the expansion of the distribution network, in the words of Kullberg “the core elements for growth”

Judging by the easy, almost natural way, the Vitra sales reps crossed from the Vitra stand to the neighbouring Artek stand to show their customers the Artek collection, Artek should have no major problems growing through the new distribution possibilities. And certainly it makes perfect sense for both companies to fully utilise the new realities to optimise their sales, marketing and distribution structures.

For us however in terms of products, product ranges and product development Artek must remain focused on its core competence: Alvar Aalto as designed by Alvar Aalto. That is what it does best. Nothing against new collaborations and new products, and indeed over the years Artek have regularly – and very successfully – co-operated with new designers and brought new blood into the company, perhaps most famously with Tom Dixon as Creative Director. Which is obviously all positive and helps keep the company fresh and competitive. But one shouldn’t get too distracted. Just because one has easier access to leading contemporary designers doesn’t mean one should take up the option.

That said, the two new collaborations presented in Milan have, we believe, been completed in Artek’s best interest.

With Konstantin Grcic Artek have cooperated with a designer who understands the soul of Artek and understands where Artek come from. A fact demonstrated, perhaps a little too elegantly, by a work in progress prototype from Grcic being presented in Milan by Magis. At this juncture all we shall say is, had Alvar Aalto been a keen skier he too may have arrived at such an idea.

However for Artek Grcic has also poetically demonstrated his understanding of Aalto and Artek and has developed a new swivel chair christened, somewhat curiously, Rival and intended for home office use, but which in our opinion is much better suited to bar, restaurant and conference room use. Or possibly co-working spaces. Crafted from birch Rival comes with either a high or low backrest, a choice of seat padding and in a range of colours.

Hella Jongerius meanwhile has not created a new product but has refreshed three Aalto classics, in that she has developed four new wood colours – silver birch, honey, walnut and charcoal – for Aalto’s Stool 60, Armchair 400 and 401, and introduced new textiles for the 400 and 401. Developments that will almost certainly help make the objects interesting and accessible to a wider audience than was perhaps the case until now.

While we full understand the background thinking behind the changes, and would agree that Hella Jongerius has achieved her aim of adding more depth and warmth to the objects, for us, and for all with the designs for the 401 we just feel that she has gone a little too close to a “generic Jongerius” aesthetic. The 401 would, for example, look every bit as good and every bit at home on the Vitra stand as on the Artek stand.

And that is exactly what the two companies need to make sure they avoid. Vitra and Artek come from different backgrounds, their identities, philosophies and understanding of design originated at different times, from different motives and in different contexts; consequently they must travel different paths. Must maintain that what makes them unique.

A fusion of the two traditions would benefit neither.

As we say, the start is positive, but it’s going to be interesting to observe how things develop!

A few impressions from Artek in Milan.

Milan 2014 Artek Rival Konstantin Grcic

Rival by Konstantin Grcic for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

Milan 2014 Artek Alvar Aalto 400 Hella Jongerius

Alvar Aalto Armchair 400 by Hella Jongerius for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

Milan 2014 Artek Alvar Aalto 401 Hella Jongerius

Alvar Aalto Armchair 401 by Hella Jongerius for Artek, as seen at Salone del Mobile Milan 2014

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Berlin Design Selection

April 11th, 2014

In design the term “readymade” is used to refer to products created by giving existing objects a new function; generally a new function far, far removed from the original.

Examples of the genre include the Mezzadro stool fashioned from a tractor seat by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Jasper Morrison‘s 1983 Handlebar Table or David Olschewski’s Clothes Peg Lamp, an object that never reached the fame of the previous two examples. But which is and was every bit as interesting.

Berlin based Werner Aisslinger has pushed the scale boundaries of readymade design a little, and has transformed European landmarks into items of furniture.

No, honest!

The first results can currently be enjoyed as part of the Berlin Design Selection exhibition in Milan: and despite sounding like an obvious, and particularly uninspired, student project, one can genuinely enjoy Aisslinger’s interpretation of the Colosseum as a side chair-cum-lounger or the Atomium as a side table/light combination. The latter being a truly marvellous item reminiscent in many ways of the better, more structured, less experimental works of Joe Colombo.

Elsewhere in the Berlin Design Selection show we were very taken with the Crossboard shelving system by LOCKWOOD, a relatively simple concept that combines oak and steel to excellent, modular, effect, the rattan lamps by hettler.tüllmann initially confused but ultimately delighted us with their innocent mix of 1970s DIY and Japanese lantern while Hopf, Nordin’s Astrahedra lamps, visualising in their form as they do the vastness of the interstellar void are always a joy to behold.

And a special mention must go to the ceramic-table collection by Elisa Strozyk,featuring table tops created through experimentation with mixing and handling different liquid glazes. A collection we first saw when they premièred at the Objects and the factory exhibition in Cologne. And which still delights.

A few impressions from Berlin Design Selection 2014 in Milan.

(smow) blog compact Milan 2014 Special: Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger

April 11th, 2014

“We are red, we are white, we are Danish dynamite!”

So sang the Danes their national football team to victory at the 1992 UEFA Euro tournament.
Another example of “Danish Dynamite” is/was on display at Ventura Lambrate as part of the Design School Kolding’s Milan 2014 show.

If we were slick professionals we’d now say something along the lines of, and it isn’t red and white. But green!!!

Created by Interaction Designer Alexander Muchenberger and essentially nothing more technically advanced than three sticks and a piece of rope, the idea with Danish Dynamite is that you bind the sticks with the rope to form a tripod. The sticks have small spikes on top which you can use to fix a magazine, pile of cardboard – or in Milan a catalogue – and as if by magic you have a makeshift stool.

When you no longer need a stool you simply dispose of the seating element and pack up the sticks/rope.

Until you next need a seat.

As a system Danish Dynamite is, in our opinion, perfect for camping trips, bike/walking tours and of course festivals and similar events. One just needs to ensure that you can find always something stable enough to use as a seat. Which shouldn’t really pose too many problems.

In addition it is a wonderful space saving, resource light object that ably demonstrates that in product design new approaches and new concepts can always be found and developed. One just has to know where and how to look. And we really like they way Alexander has approached the project.

Following their 1992 success the Danish national football team’s star began to wane somewhat.

We hope that of Alexander Muchenberger’s Danish Dynamite is just beginning its ascendency and look forward to seeing how it develops.

A couple of impressions.

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger, Design School Kolding @ Ventura Lambrate Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite by Alexander Muchenberger, Design School Kolding @ Ventura Lambrate Milan 2014

Danish Dynamite Alexander Muchenberger Design School Kolding Milan 2014

And from where it gets its name.......

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