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

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

mart stam W1 weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart vitra miniature

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

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

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

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

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

mart stam house weissenhofsiedlung stuttgart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lorenz sued Thonet for copyright violations.

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

In essence there were two disputes.

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

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

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

Not that everyone appeared to have grasped that.

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

Bauhaus Archiv Berlin Stühle ohne Beine mart stam gas pipe chair

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

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

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

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

That’s gonna hurt.

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

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

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

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

And that is where the story really should end.

But it doesn’t.

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

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

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

And that is where the story really should end.

And does.

Except for the unanswered questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. ibid

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

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

11. ibid

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

13. ibid

14. ibid

15. ibid

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

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

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

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

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

Milan Furniture Fair 2016: High Five!

To the casual observer selecting five outstanding products from the Milan Furniture Fair is a neigh on impossible task, so great is the number of potential candidates. “How”, asks our casual observer, “are you going to select just five?!?!”

For the seasoned attendee selecting five outstanding products from the Milan Furniture Fair is a neigh on impossible task, because the vast majority of articles on show are anything but outstanding. And those which are are invariably older, established products, and thus for the purposes of this column not applicable.

Milan Furniture Fair 2016 was an excellent example of just that: the majority of the new products were, for us, underwhelming, while many of those producers from whom one would/could have expect a shudder of illicit exhilaration mustered little more than a friendly, if knowingly apologetic, smile.

Which isn’t to say what was on display wasn’t good, wasn’t interesting, wasn’t valid. It often was. Just rarely outstanding.

There was however outstanding, and here our High Five! from Milan Furniture Fair 2016*

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis

At Milan 2016 Magis unveiled an extensive extension of the Officina collection by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, including what we’re referring to as the Officina Lounge Chair: and for us an object which represents the ultimate expression of the ideas contained in the Officina Armchair. Don’t get us wrong we’re huge fans of the Officina Armchair, but with the extra width, the exaggerated proportions and the combination of leather and wrought iron the Officina Lounge is for us a much more natural, harmonious construction than the compact Armchair and one which has something primal, almost bestial, about it, albeit an unashamedly domesticated beast, and which makes it for us a very logical and appealing piece of work.

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis, a sseen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Officina Lounge Chair by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec for Magis, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurens

Created as part of Eindhoven based design studio Daphna Laurens’ contribution to the Passionswege programme at Vienna Design Week 2012 the subtly named Stool 01 is by no means a new design, but is one which for us remains as fresh and exciting today as when we first saw in Vienna. And one which we passionately believe more people should have the opportunity to experience. For us the attraction lies in the ambiguity inherent in the object. In essence a very simple stool, Stool 01 is anything but; presenting as it does no clear guidelines as to how or where it is to be used. That is up to you. A situation intensified by the fact that as an object Stool 01 not only invites interaction but continually reveals new facets of its character and new possibilities depending on the conditions under which you approach it. Over the years we’ve seen Stool 01 on numerous occasions and in numerous locations, yet still have no idea how one should sit on it. That isn’t a simple stool, but is a very pleasing and rewarding piece of product design.

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurensas seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Stool 01 by Studio Daphna Laurens as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thonet

As a genre the rocking chair is largely defined by the classic “Windsor”, spindle, form or its more quadratic cousin, as to be found per auto-stereotype on your average American porch. Or it is some horrendous contemporary abomination of the sort that makes you wish for a new law punishing those responsible with long prison sentences. Between the two there isn’t a great deal of note to be found. The new-ish Thonet 866 F Rocking Chair offers just such an alternative. An extension of the Thonet 860 programme by Lydia Brodde from the Thonet Design Team, the 866 F benefits not only from the well considered and excellently proportioned form of the 860 collection, but also from Thonet’s long experience with rocking chairs: Michael Thonet was responsible for numerous rocking chair designs, whereby in addition to investing time and effort in developing filigree bentwood structures he also paid careful attention to the radii of his rockers. Detailed research in the Thonet archives and workshops has thus resulted in a curvature based on this tradition and which allows for a stable, secure and for all very pleasing rocking action.

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thone, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

866 F Rocking Chair by Lydia Brodde, Thonet Design Team for Thonet, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

FRAM3 by Anna Weber

FRAM3 was for us one of those classic trade fair experiences. Walking around the stand where Burg Giebichenstein Halle Anna Weber was presenting her work, our attention kept coming back to it, yet we couldn’t explain why. And thus couldn’t decide if we liked it. Thought we probably did and so took a few photos. Away from the intensity of the fair and with the time and space to think about things we decided that, yes, we did and do like it. Or specifically we really liked/like one configuration of FRAM3. As an object FRAM3 is, as the name suggests, a metal frame which can used in one of three positions, and as a rectangular frame that means it can be used in any one of three heights depending on which edge is used as the base. A series of exchangeable inserts turn FRAM3 into a practical sideboard, table, etc….. and it was the metal insert with the indentation and thus an open invitation for book storage which especially caught our attention. We know, we know. Dust. Leave a book there for too long, it’s going to get dusty. Then don’t leave books there for too long. Life is that simple. Use it as space for temporary book storage, for example in the hall, kitchen, conservatory or office. And not just for books. The rim around the upper surface means that small items can be securely placed on top with the indent providing temporary ad-hoc space for scarves, jute bags, small packages, dog leads etc, etc, etc. Or books. In addition to the pleasing functionality FRAM3 is also an aesthetically pleasing piece of work; reduced without being unnecessarily filigree it has a robustness of character which it isn’t afraid to transmit and which it does without appearing uncouth.

FRAM3 by Anna Weber, as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

FRAM3 by Anna Weber, as seen at Salone Satellite, Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon

One of the joys of Konstantin Grcic’s work is you never know where it will take him next: something unashamedly, if competently, commercial; an artistic diversion; something that explores new formats, pushes horizons and thus expands the vocabulary of furniture design; or something that presents Konstantin Grcic the carpenter. The Ulisse Daybed for ClassiCon is a wonderful example of the latter. Presenting itself in an uncomplicated, reduced formal language, the real joy of the piece is the reclining mechanism; in essence a very simple, almost elementary, carpentry solution to a functional problem, yet one with a logical efficiency that is undeniably industrial. An excellently realised piece of carpentry, Ulisse, as with so much of Grcic’s oeuvre, references numerous historic objects while offering a new interpretation of the elegance and functionality for which they are acknowledged and beloved.

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

Ulisse Daybed by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, as seen at Milan Furniture Fair 2016

* with the proviso that:

(a) Given the 8,000,000 manufacturers presenting their wares in 20,000 halls and across three time zones, no we didn’t see everything, and invariably missed one or the other outstanding piece of work. We’ll catch up with them eventually though.

(B) This list only features works seen at the Milan Furniture Fair, Milan city isn’t the fair. It’s the city. Even if ever more producers try to muddy the waters and convince us otherwise.

smow Blog Interview: Glen Oliver Löw – I have always been of the opinion that design begins with a problem.

Born in Leverkusen Glen Oliver Löw initially studied Industrial Design at the University of Wuppertal before moving to Milan in 1986 where he completed a Masters degree at the Domus Academy. Following his graduation from the Domus Academy Glen Oliver Löw remained in Milan where he took up a position with Antonio Citterio, becoming a partner in the practice in 1990, and developing a wide range of projects for companies as varied as, amongst others, Vitra, Kartell and Flos.

In 2000 Glen Oliver Löw returned to Germany where he took up a professorial position at the Hochschule für bildende Künste, HFBK, in Hamburg and established a design studio in the city from where he has realised projects with clients such as Thonet, Steelcase and Knoll.

We met up with Glen Oliver Löw to discuss contemporary product design, 1980s Milan and the HFBK Hamburg, but began, as ever, by asking why design?

Glen Oliver Löw: As a child I had a strong affinity with design, was always building and creating, and so when it came time to decide on a direction industrial design was an obvious choice. What I especially enjoy is working as part of a team to develop meaningful, functioning products.

smow Blog: And why Wuppertal?

Glen Oliver Löw: It was a Hochschule which had a very good reputation, particularly in terms of practical skills, which at that time was what design was, creating objects for industrial production and at Wuppertal one received a very good basis in areas such as materials or production processes.

smow Blog: After Wuppertal you switched to the Domus Academy in Milan, which sound likes a dictionary definition of “culture shock”, why the decision for Milan?

Glen Oliver Löw: For me it was necessary, and important, after a fairly dry, technical, German education to see and to understand design in a cultural context, and I was lucky enough to get an Europa-Stipendium which enabled me to attend Domus. That was 1986 which was a very exciting, motivating time, Memphis, for example, were very present with their functionalism criticism and their anti position in terms classic product design. I was clearly on the side of the functionalists, and despite the influences I remained a functionalist, always form follows function, but it was a wonderful, exciting, environment to be in.

smow Blog: Interesting you say that because you were a student in Wuppertal as the neue Deutsche Design Welle was breaking across West Germany, did that leave you cold, did what was happening not interest you, or…..?

Glen Oliver Löw: I couldn’t stand all that, I found it gruesome – it never appealed to me. The Memphis aesthetic was however something which I found more interesting

smow Blog: You said that Milan in the mid 1980s was an exciting environment to be in, how is it when you visit Milan today, do you still feel a sense of energy, or has city and its design community changed, evolved with the years?

Glen Oliver Löw: Personally I don’t find it so exciting, that could however be to do with me! However in general I don’t find the contemporary industrial design discourse especially interesting. Back then completely new things were being created, new ideas advanced, there was genuine innovation, these days its more show, to make things different but not necessarily better. And specifically in terms of Milan in the 1980s it was an El Dorado for designers, there were a relatively large number of small and medium sized furniture producers and they all needed something innovative and creative in order to be competitive, and so there was a lot of possibilities for designers. Today I see a lot less innovation and creativity, and for all fewer companies prepared to take a risk and let a designer try something experimental, all prefer to play safe, to focus on that which has already proved itself, or more commonly what competitors have in their programme, rather than risking an investment in something new, and the consequence is that it is always the same designers who are commissioned to produce the same ideas over and over again.

smow Blog: Can you explain why that should be, is it because of a changed understanding of design, has the design market altered….?

Glen Oliver Löw: I have always been of the opinion that design begins with a problem. Today however a lot of design is self-involved – design for design’s sake. In many respects design has become similar to fashion, with the repetition of shortsighted trends. And on the other hand the affinity to objects is not there as it once was, the interest in an object. Everything today happens in media, and how things look is of secondary importance, the object as a physical entity is not so important today, functionality is much more understood in terms of usability. Man-Machine interaction.

smow Blog: And can we therefore assume that you also have the feeling the term design is becoming more vague, less defined?

Glen Oliver Löw: Absolutely, total ambiguous. Today everything is packaged under the term design, if, for example, someone works in a social context then one designs society or social processes. Today everything is design.

smow Blog: Having gone to Milan to study for a year, you remained for neigh on 15 years, principally cooperating with Antonio Citterio, how did that partnership arise?

Glen Oliver Löw: At that time he was looking for a German speaking designer to be responsible for the contact with Vitra. He asked at Domus, they suggested me and as Antonio Citterio was one of the few designers in Milan in those days who’d remained true to functionalism and hadn’t been seduced by Memphis, everything fitted perfectly. For me personally it meant that I started travelling to Basel, to Vitra, once a week and that was then when I truly began to understand how a design process functions and what it means to design in an industrial context.

smow Blog: And how was the design process with Antonio Citterio, was it the case that you developed a project and he said good or not good or was it a more joint approach?

Glen Oliver Löw: From the very beginning we worked very closely together, and then after I became a partner I was much more independent in what I did, but always in close cooperation with Citterio. I think we always had similar approaches and a similar understanding, I would say that I was probably always more interested in innovation and invention, so doing something new or different, whereas Citterio has a very good hand to take things that are already there and to reconfigure in a new and meaningful fashion.

smow Blog: In 2000 you left Milan, was that just a case of new millennium, new perspectives, or….

Glen Oliver Löw: After 13 years cooperation with Citterio the time was right to establish my own office, and the position here at the Hochschule offered the perfect opportunity. There were also personal, family, considerations, but at that time everything just seemed to indicate that a return to Germany was the correct decision, and so I took up the position here and established my own studio.

smow Blog: When we look at the HFBK the Design Department is, let’s say, very experimental, and then there is Professor Glen Oliver Löw as the representative of a more traditional form of design…

Glen Oliver Löw: I’m the dinosaur here, a remnant as it were of Industrial design. In the fifteen years that I’ve been here the design department has changed a lot. When I first came it was much more focussed on the forming of objects, so classic product design, it was understood that design was products, these days I have to fight my position a little harder. The new direction is much more social design, and objects are much more a peripheral aspect.

smow Blog: And what does that mean for the practicalities of the education here, can one for example still design a chair here as graduation project?

Glen Oliver Löw: The HFBK is an art school and all students study for a Bachelor in Fine Arts, within the course there is a focus Design and in terms of the practicalities it isn’t the case that the teaching staff stand at the front of the class and explain how things are, rather each student should find their own way. The aim is that every student develops their own theme, their own attitude and finds a subject in which they work and develop over the three years, and that could yes be product related, for example a chair. One of the great advantages of the HFBK is the fantastic workshops and workshop staff, facilities which mean that all our students have the opportunity develop a design into a functional object; but that is an opportunity that is not taken up as often as it once was, or at least not so often at a high level. When I first arrived here students were building, for example, functional solar aircraft in the workshops, today there is much more dilettantism: Gaffer tape is considered sexy and is regularly used in place of a refined technical detail.

smow Blog: Which we take to mean that not only has the design department changed over the years, but also the design student……?

Glen Oliver Löw: Their interests are certainly different, and they are also much younger, these days they often come straight from school, which is often too early. One regularly has the feeling a student doesn’t really know themselves what they want here, other than this all encompassing “design”, that they need a bit more experience, that they should first of all complete an apprenticeship to get a better understanding of things, because a four year course isn’t that much time to discover what you want.

smow Blog: When we speak to recent graduates they often articulate a wish that there had been more business elements in die education, how is the situation here, are such things taught?

Glen Oliver Löw: No, no, and that deliberately so! We are art school and as designers we are not interested in aligning design with economic aspects! Here, for example, Open Design is a big theme, everyone places their designs online and others can change them, adapt them, and that is obviously a completely different mentality to my generation where we all thought we’d invented something, sought to protect it and to earn money through licence fees.
Occasionally students do come to ask questions and I happily give tips and advice from my own experience on, for example, what is important with a contract or where one should take care when speaking with a client, and in such ways business elements do become part of the student’s education here. In principle I recommend all students undertake an internship or work in a design office in order to learn those elements of the profession which aren’t covered in the college in a professional context.
smow Blog: But were you taught such things at Wuppertal?

Glen Oliver Löw: No, we weren’t taught such things either, if I remember I think we had a course in copyright, but otherwise it was all learning by doing.

smow Blog: And does the situation arise that students come and say, I’ve got a chair design, would like to find a producer….. can you help me?

Glen Oliver Löw: That does occur, yes, and several projects developed here at the college are now in serial production. However often students over-estimate the potential of an academic, student, project. The primary aim of the education is not specific object but rather the gestaltende Individuum, the personal development.
I am in any case firmly of the opinion that one should always develop a project together with a producer. Personally I have never designed something and then looked to place it with a manufacturer, that rarely functions. However as a student or young designer you often have little other choice to try to draw attention to yourself and to attract the attention of a manufacturer.

smow Blog: In addition to your teaching work here you are also still developing furniture projects, is that something you still enjoy?

Glen Oliver Löw: Very much so, it is something which gives a great deal of satisfaction and which shows that classic product design is not dead, and that there is still an interest in a good functional product which functions globally and across cultural borders, and that despite everything functional design is still in demand.

smow Blog: Changing tact slightly, you’ve been in Hamburg for 15 years now, is Hamburg a creative city? Are there options for students here after graduation?

Glen Oliver Löw: Creative yes, but not one with much in terms of production or companies who can realise designs. As a city Hamburg is much more geared towards, for example, media or trading. However in our contemporary global economy designers don’t necessarily need to be based near to manufacturers.

smow Blog: And to end, is there one piece of advice you would give your students?

Glen Oliver Löw: To be successful as a designer requires a great passion for objects, the design process and an unconditional creative will. Design students who have to force themselves to create something, I would advise to consider a different path.

Think by Glen Oliver Löw for Steelcase

Think by Glen Oliver Löw for Steelcase

S 60 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 60 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 1070 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 1070 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

Battista by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Kartell

Battista by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Kartell

Vis-a-vis by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Vitra

Vis-a-vis by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Vitra

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

In the famous Thonet Card Catalogue from 1930/31 the image of the B 9 side table and B 25 lounge chair is augmented by a small lamp atop the B 9.

Whereas the Thonet B 25 and Thonet B 9 are credited to Marcel Breuer, there is no credit for the lamp. But then it isn’t a Thonet lamp. Thonet don’t do lamps. Thonet do tables, chairs, shelving and other furniture. Thonet don’t do lamps.

Or at least didn’t.

In 2010 Thonet released the LUM reading lamp by Ulf Möller as a floor version, adding a desk version in 2015, in April 2015 came the pendant lamp Linon by Andrea Scholz and at IMM Cologne 2016 Thonet officially unveiled the latest addition to the Thonet lighting programme: the table lamp KUULA by Berlin based designer Uli Budde.

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo (Photo: Courtesy Thonet)

For us their is a delightful irony in the fact that Uli Budde is the designer. Not because Uli Budde can’t design lights. He most definitely can. As he has proven with works such as Hazy Day for Marset or Balloon for Vertigo Bird. But because in our recent interview with Uli Budde he told us that, much as he enjoys the challenge and speed of technological change in contemporary lighting design and while he doesn’t want to give up lighting design, he didn’t “want to be considered just as a lighting designer”

It was however this experience as a lighting designer which led to the commission.

“We’ve been in contact with Uli for a three or year years without ever discussing concrete projects”, explains Mirko Nordheim, Head of Product Development at Thonet, “normally when we start working with a designer I prefer to work on a side table, chairs are always judged subjectively, so do I find it comfortable, but with a table it’s all about hard facts, size, weight, price and so you get to know one another and to learn to work together on a more rational basis. With Uli however I like a lot of his existing lighting designs and for all the ideas behind them, and so we decided to ask Uli to consider how a Bauhäusler would design a lamp today, something which could be a functional but also decorative Thonet lamp”

The question was posed at Milan 2014, Uli Budde, somewhat unsurprisingly, found the offer “fantastic” and accepted the challenge, but where does one start when developing a lamp according to such a brief?

“First of all I researched Bauhaus lamps”, explains Uli Budde, “in general one associates Bauhaus with reduction, geometric forms and that was then where I stated. Clearly the first thought one has when one thinks about Bauhaus table lamps is the Wagenfeld Lamp and so that was then also an obvious starting point”

Was there, we venture, not a temptation to ignore what was already there, to avoid as it were the risk of being unduly influenced by existing objects?

“No, on the one hand Bauhaus is sill very relevant today and then on the other Bauhaus is so deeply burnt into our consciousness that ignoring Bauhaus wasn’t an option”, replies Uli Budde, “and so having researched the subject I decided to focus on trying to reduce the Wagenfeld design even further and to bring it more up-to-date through modern technology.”

The result is a lamp which is as reduced formally as it is materially.

Formally KUULA is a lot less ornate, less cluttered, than Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s lamp, much more reminiscent in many ways of Luciano Vistosi’s mushroom-esque Onfale lamp from 1931, if less fragile, less ornamental. This uncluttered feeling is aided and abetted by the decision to do away with both an on/off and a dimmer switch; both functions being combined in and with the cable inlet, thus not only allowing for a more reduced form but also saving on material and production steps. A resource reduction enhanced by the sober aluminium base.

If there is a hint of luxury and of excess about KUULA it is without question the manually sand-blasted, mouth blown glass globe, a true piece of craftsmanship and the defining, visual, element of the lamp. The decision for sand blasting over other, potentially less involved, processes being made to ensure an exact edge between the opaque and clear sectors of the globe and thus highlight the contrast and maximise the effect.

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo, as seen at IMM Cologne

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo, as seen at IMM Cologne

Taking its name from the Finnish word for ball/sphere, KUULA was developed in a cooperation between Thonet and the German lighting manufacturer Oligo – the former being responsible for the formal and aesthetic development the latter for the technical and functional, of which there is much contained within KUULA’s unassuming form.

Aside from the aforementioned combined switch/cable inlet, which as well as contributing to the aesthetic appeal of the lamp is also a very refined and logical functional solution, and thus a further nod to the Bauhaus tradition, the LED light source is located in the foot of the lamp and is precisely focussed by an internal lens so that it that only illuminates the sand-blasted section of the shade, thus guaranteeing a glare free light. In addition KUULA comes in three different light temperatures – homely warm white, warm white or neutral white – thus allowing for a luminescence fitting for any room, be that living room, hallway, bedroom, wherever.

And certainly a very fitting lamp to accompany a B 9 and B 25.

Further details on KUULA, and Uli Budde’s other projects, can be found at:

On/Off/Dimmer & cable inlet/outlet unified in KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

On/Off/Dimmer & cable inlet/outlet unified in KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo (Photo: Courtesy Oligo)

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo (Photo: Courtesy Thonet)

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

KUULA by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo (Photo: Courtesy Thonet)

IMM Cologne 2016: Thonet All Seasons Collection

As we noted in our post from the 2015 Garden Unique Youngstars competition, the contemporary outdoor furniture market is a largely forgotten world as far as quality design is concerned. And as we also noted, it needn’t be. At IMM Cologne 2016 Thonet are presenting with the new All Seasons collection their alternative vision.

Thonet @ IMM Cologne 2016

Thonet @ IMM Cologne 2016

The (hi)story of Thonet furniture is, as with the wider (hi)story of furniture design, essentially one of indoor furniture. Although not exclusively so. Thonet’s first foray out of doors came in 1935 with the B 33 g by Mart Stam: essentially Stam’s classic B 33 cantilever chair the “g” stood for Garten – Garden – and the object featured slats of beech in place of the more familiar solid plywood seat and backrest. Post war, rising financial standards combined with improved housing provision and changing social behaviour encouraged Thonet to release in 1952 the TF 82 folding garden chair by Kurt Felkel before in 1955 launching a series of garden chairs by Günther Eberle, none of which survived into the 1960s. In 1959 Thonet launched the ST 458 garden chair and ST 459 garden armchair by Hanno von Gustedt, chairs which as with those by Günther Eberle were only to remain the briefest of periods in production and which were to be, effectively, the company’s last outdoor chairs until in 1999 a re-edition of Stam’s B 33 g, renamed S 40, represented Thonet’s most recent foray into the world of outdoor furniture.

Not that the new All Seasons collection is a purely outdoor collection, as the name implies, and as everyone at Thonet is at great pains to point out, underscore and generally impress upon you: the collection is intended for “all seasons”, indoors and out. That which brings comfort and style to balmy spring/summer evenings in the garden, terrace or balcony, can be brought indoors in autumn and winter to bring comfort and style to cold afternoons and misty Sunday mornings in the living room, kitchen, conservatory, wherever.

And that the All Seasons chairs can be used indoors and out is not just because the Thonet sales team tell you they can, but because the All Seasons collection presents new versions of the S 33, S 34, S 35 & S 533 chairs – established Thonet classics and all originally intended for indoor domestic use.

S 33 N, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

S 33 N, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

The decision to re-work established classics for the All Seasons collection was not, as one could easily assume, a decision inspired by Mart Stam’s reworking of his B 33, but rather the result of a methodical analysis of status quo and challenge.

“Initially we undertook a research project on outdoor furniture” explains Miriam Püttner from the Thonet Design Team and project leader for the All Seasons collection, “in addition to looking at what was currently available and what already existed in the Thonet archive we also constructed numerous scenarios as to where one uses outdoor furniture and considered, for example, if we should develop single products or if a family of objects was a more sensible solution.” The results of this research project encompassed some 120 pages and came to the conclusion that the company should begin its new foray into outdoor furniture – yes, yes we know, all seasons furniture, but as objects they will, we feel, primarily be of interest for outdoor use – should start with a family of bent tubular steel classics, not least because they are objects with which many are familiar, which enjoy a large degree of popularity and which over the decades have proven their value in a range of settings.

“The initial task”, explains Miriam Püttner, “was to investigate which classics were potentially relevant, which were suitable for adaptation, in which context it was important for me that we made no structural changes to the pieces. The decision for the S 33, S 34, S 35 & S 533 was ultimately made on the basis that they are self-contained in their construction, with, for example, the S 32 the frame requires the wooden backrest for its stability, with the All Seasons collection we have exclusively steel tube chairs with a woven synthetic mesh for backrest and seat.”

S 35 N with, and without cushions, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

S 35 N with, and without cushions, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

Just as the decision for the classics came as a result of sober analysis so to the decision for the Batyline mesh seats and backrest. As a material Batyline is not only widely used in the furniture industry but also in construction as a façade covering; the decision to use it in the Thonet All Seasons collection being made on account of its durability, surface stability, UV and salt water resistance, factors which make it suitable for a wide range of outdoor uses, including yachts. Or perhaps more realistically, for sea front verandas. Similarly the specially developed ThonetProtect system via which the steel tubing is subjected to a multi-stage coating process, provides a level of protection akin to that offered by contemporary automotive lacquer, ensures a universality in the chairs use and deployment. Including yachts. In addition the selected Batyline collection offers a wide range of colour options, both bright and more reserved, colours which compliment and contrast nicely with the colour options for the frames, which aid and abet the indoor/outdoor usability and which as Miriam Püttner explains formed a central component of her deliberations on the direction the project was to take, “for me it was important to create for Thonet a new, fresh concept, and in context of furniture intended for outdoor use, colour plays a crucial role. They must be so selected and coordinated that they fit into the environment, function harmoniously together and also represent the brand.”

In addition to the chairs the Thonet All Seasons collection also includes new versions of the B 9, B 97 and S 1040 tables, including the option of a concrete table top; an option which not only provides a nice material contrast to the steel frames but much more, and being as it is a material which develops a patina and individual character through use, allows for outdoor furniture objects which will age and mature with you, and your kids, and their kids, their kids kids, etc, etc, etc… The Thonet All Seasons collection being, as with all Thonet furniture, objects for generations not seasons.

 S 34 N, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

S 34 N, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

That the new All Seasons collection has been developed in-house is very much in the tradition of Thonet garden furniture: the aforementioned Günther Eberle & Hanno von Gustedt both belonged, indeed led, the Thonet product development team, and both helped the company recover following the upheavals of the war years. Miriam Püttner is a more recent addition to the Thonet Design Team, having joined in 2015 following her graduation from the Hochschule Coburg; the All Seasons collection is the first project for which Miriam was responsible, which of course raises the question how is it as a young, relatively inexperienced, designer to be asked to re-work such established design classics by the likes of Breuer, Stam or Mies van der Rohe?

“At the beginning it was very difficult for me, they are classic designs, everybody knows them and I was very aware of the fact I can ruin them, I can damage the reputation of the objects and so I had a lot of respect for the commission”, explains Miriam, “however the nature of Thonet is that one has a lot of support, not only here in the design team where we have a lot of experience and where I can gather feedback when required, but also throughout the departments be that the upholstery workshop, the metal workshop or wherever, at Thonet there is a great sense of unity and togetherness and that makes such a job much easier.”

IMM Cologne 2016: Thonet All Seasons Collection

IMM Cologne 2016: Thonet All Seasons Collection

That the job was also made easier thanks to the objects already existing is undeniable, but not self-explanatory.

If we accept that “form follows function” was one of the guiding principles of those men and women who developed the first pieces of steel tube furniture, then we must also accept that “function” is subjective, respective, and very occasionally temporal. With his B 33 g Mart Stam demonstrated that the creation of good, functional, outdoor furniture requires a different design approach than that used to develop good, functional, indoor furniture. And with the All Seasons collection Miriam Püttner and the Thonet Design Team have demonstrated that the creation of good, functional, indoor and/or outdoor furniture requires yet a different approach.

We would concur with Miriam that it is very easy to ruin an object such as the S 33, very, very easy indeed. That the All Seasons collection doesn’t ruin the originals and works so effortlessly both as individual objects and a collection is not just because the objects are familiar but much more because in adapting them for outdoor use Miriam Püttner and the Thonet Design Team have demonstrated a respect for the originals, an understanding of the demands of contemporary furniture use and for all a comprehension of the task they were presented. The All Seasons collection doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but then it didn’t have to, no one was expecting it to redefine outdoor furniture for the 21st century; what it was expected to do was provide a family of contemporary furniture objects that can be used indoor and out, in a range of settings and contexts, and that it does with an effortless charm and grace which adds an extra dimension to the original objects.

If we have correctly understood the plan, and as ever we may not have, the All Seasons collection is but the start of a wider collection of Thonet outdoor furniture, a wider collection which is intended to include new, specially commissioned objects, as a start the All Seasons collection is not only functionally appropriate and aesthetically pleasing but very fitting for the Thonet tradition.

Full details on the Thonet All Seasons Collection can be found at

 S 35 N & S 35 NH, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

S 35 N & S 35 NH, from the Thonet All Seasons Collection, as seen at IMM Cologne 2016

smow blog 2015. A pictorial review: October

Normally October is all about design festivals, October 2015 wasn’t. On the one hand we weren’t at that many this year, and on the other those we were at didn’t impress us that much.

What did impress us was the new collection by Ateliers J&J. Oh yes!

In addition October 2015 saw us consider questions of housing provision at Wohnungsfrage at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin, the oeuvre of Charles and Ray Eames at the Barbican Art Gallery in London and Art Nouveau at the Kunst und Gewerbe Museum in Hamburg.

Ateliers J&J, Brussels

Ateliers J&J – Collection 01 Evolution & Collection 02

Berlin Excavation by Lara Almarcegui, as seen at Wohnungsfrage, Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin

Berlin Excavation by Lara Almarcegui, as seen at Wohnungsfrage, Haus der Kulturen der Welt Berlin

KUULA table lamp by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

KUULA table lamp by Uli Budde for Thonet & Oligo

A world of moulded fibreglass, as seen at The World of Charles and Ray Eames, Barbican Art Gallery London

A world of moulded fibreglass, as seen at The World of Charles and Ray Eames, Barbican Art Gallery London

Nietzsche and Nudity. Two pillars of Art Nouveau

Nietzsche and Nudity. Two pillars of Art Nouveau, as see at Art Nouveau. The Great Utopian Vision at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

WA 24 Bauhaus Lamp by Wilhelm Wagenfeld Tecnolumen

smow blog Interview: Walter Schnepel, Tecnolumen – It is the reduction of a lamp to its basic elements that fascinates me most about the Wilhelm Wagenfeld Lamp.

Depot Basel Forum for an Attitude

Depot Basel Forum for an Attitude

smow blog 2015. A pictorial review: January

January being what it is we spent most of the month in Cologne attending the 2015 IMM Cologne Furniture Fair and the parallel Passagen Design Festival. The undisputed highlight of Passagen 2015 for us was the show case MAD ABOUT LIVING – 24 Designers from Brussels, which introduced us to numerous interesting Belgian creatives, and Ateliers J&J, who we feel certain will crop up a couple of times in the course of our review of 2015. In addition we were very impressed by the Objects in Between showcase, the Michele de Lucchi exhibition at the Kölnerkunstverein, the results of the Köln International School of Design project Die Metamorphose des Lagerfeuers at Kunstmuseum Villa Zanders and the new Thonet 808 lounge chair. smow Cologne meanwhile used the opportunity afforded by IMM to present dining tables from the portfolio of German manufacture ASCO.

Away from Cologne January 2015 also us saw us discover Piet Klaarhamer in Utrecht and explores borders of design and biology in Eindhoven

MAD ABOUT LIVING 24 Designers from Brussels

Passagen Cologne 2015: MAD ABOUT LIVING – 24 Designers from Brussels.

SYSTEM DESIGN Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln Thonet

Marcel Breuer for Thonet, as seen at SYSTEM DESIGN. Über 100 Jahre Chaos im Alltag, Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln

Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator Centraal Museum Utrecht

A Piet Klaarhamer chair from 1928. No honest, it is Klaarhamer…… Honest! As seen at Klaarhamer according to Rietveld. Craftsman, frontrunner and innovator at the Centraal Museum Utrecht

Passagen Cologne 2015 Objects in Between

Passagen Cologne 2015: Objects in Between

Die Metamorphose des Lagerfeuers Villa Zanders Transacess Kitchen Kentaro Morita

Transacess Kitchen by Kentaro Morita, as seen at Die Metamorphose des Lagerfeuers, Villa Zanders

Passagen Cologne 2015 A&W Designer of the Year 2015 Michele De Lucchi The Exhibition

A&W Designer of the Year 2015 – Michele De Lucchi. The Exhibition

Matter of Life Growing new Bio Art Design at MU Gallery Eindhoven Common Flowers Flower Commons Shiho Fukuhara & Georg Tremmel

Common Flowers – Flower Commons by Shiho Fukuhara & Georg Tremmel, as seen at Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art Design at MU Gallery Eindhoven

IMM Cologne 2015 Thonet relax

IMM Cologne 2015 – the new Thonet 808 Lounge Chair… and relax

smow blog Interview: Uli Budde

We were first introduced to the work of Berlin based designer Uli Budde when we saw his “Reading Table” project at Designers Fair 2010 in Cologne. A delightfully simple object Reading Table combines table top and magazine/newspaper storage space in a manner that is as painfully obvious as it genial. An easily accessible, contemporary object the fact that no producer has seen fit to take it into production is one of those design mysteries which often keep us awake at night.

Having begun his design studies at the FH Potsdam Uli Budde moved to Eindhoven in 2003 to undertake an exchange semester at the Design Academy, a semester that extended into a six year stay in Holland, including two years in Rotterdam with Hella Jongerius, initially as an intern and later as a full staff member. While in Holland Uli Budde also established the studio Officeoriginair with Dutch designer Ivan Kasner, a vehicle through which the pair have realised numerous product design projects, mainly, though not exclusively, small household accessories.

In 2009 Uli Budde returned to Germany and established his own studio in Berlin from where he has realised lighting design projects for, amongst others, Vertigo Bird, Marset and most recently the lamp KUULA created in cooperation Thonet & the German lighting manufacturer Oligo. A particular highlight for us from Uli Budde’s portfolio is and was the necklace Unfold which he created for A.E. Köchert in context of the 2011 Passionswege programme at Vienna Design Week. Seeking a new representation of the classic jeweller’s diamond, Uli Budde created a moulded 18 carat gold impression of an unfolded out diamond; and thus transformed that most permanent and mystic of luxury objects into something transient, fragile and denuded.

We met up with Uli Budde to discuss Eindhoven, the current design market and Berlin as a creative city, began however, as always, by asking what led him to design….

Uli Budde: I think it was the desire to work creatively, to produce things and for all to translate something from an idea into something solid. From a relatively early age I was interested in product design and architecture, applied to study both, was accepted for both, but ultimately decided for product design because I considered the proportions, the dimensions, more pleasant, practical and interesting.

smow blog: You initially studied at Potsdam, however spent your final semester at, and ultimately graduated from, Design Academy Eindhoven, can we deduce that Potsdam was not to your liking, or…..?

Uli Budde: No, Potsdam was very good, however I was keen to spend a semester overseas. I investigated which schools were attracting positive attention, and the concept at Eindhoven interested me, largely because it was so different to the approach on Potsdam. And then once I got to Eindhoven it became clear to me that there was more than one way to study design, more than one perspective on the subject and that was a very positive experience for me. And in retrospect I’m glad I had both experiences and think I have assimilated and combined aspects from both.

smow blog: And did you experience Eindhoven as a creative city or…..

Uli Budde: Yes, I found it a very creative city and believe it is now more so than it was then because the city has successfully managed to retain the students once they graduate. That process began round about the time I was there, when the city began to actively question why they were letting all this creative potential leave, asking how can we keep them here, stop them moving to Rotterdam or Amsterdam, and subsequently decided to make ateliers and flats available at affordable, realistic, prices and that had the effect that many more graduates remained in the city and I believe that the city has profited from that fact.

smow blog: You are of course one of those Eindhoven graduates who moved to Rotterdam. Was that decision principally linked with the internship with Hella Jongerius Lab, or what convinced you to stay in Holland after your graduation…..

Uli Budde: The principle reason was that in Eindhoven I found in Ivan Kasner a colleague with whom the cooperation functioned excellently, on both a personal and professional level we understood one another very well, and so we decided to open a joint studio, Officeoriginair. In addition I found it a very interesting challenge to remain longer in Holland, not simply to return to Germany as soon as I had finished, and then there was of course the Jongerius Lab, and so because everything fitted it was a fairly easy decision to remain.

smow blog: You returned to Germany in 2009, Officeoriginair is still based in Holland, are you still involved, or is that something you have moved on from?

Uli Budde: Officeoriginair still exists, we still work together, still develop new projects, but my focus has moved to my own work and under my name. It does sometimes arise that I have an idea which I subsequently consider is more suitable for Officeoriginair than Uli Budde, but my focus is my own work.

smow blog: In that context, you’ve been active as a professional designer for, more or less, ten years, in your opinion have things got easier or harder over that decade?

Uli Budde: In my view it has become more difficult largely because today many companies are simply not prepared to invest in projects and co-operations, are not prepared to pay for the work of a product designer. In addition there are currently too many designers for too little work which all leads to a situation of undercutting: there is always someone who will do it for less, or nothing. And as a consequence the development process of designers slows because rather than concentrating on developing their own projects, and developing as designers, ever more designers have to look elsewhere for a source of income.

smow blog: And is that do you think a market problem, and industry problem or……?

Uli Budde: In my opinion the problems experienced by many firms became more serious after 2008, 2009, where everything was falling apart. It was very apparent that many companies became insecure, were unsure how best to proceed and consequently it not only became much harder for designers in terms of securing sensible licensing fees, but many producers decided to save completely on new developments and thus the associated risks.

smow blog: Interesting that you say that because our impression is that there are ever more manufacturers. However more manufacturers doesn’t mean more market, or…….?

Uli Budde: Not necessarily. A lot of the new manufacturers were founded after 2008 and my impression is that in many cases designers have established their own labels as a response to the general market situation, and for all the lower fees, and decided that rather than rely on the couple of percent the existing manufacturers were offering is it not more sensible to establish your own label and so retain a larger proportion of the pie.

smow blog: In your case with Officeoriginair you only cooperated with partners, also as “Uli Budde” all your works are released in cooperation with manufacturers, were there ever considerations on your part to go into self-production? Are there still?

Uli Budde: There were considerations in context of Officeoriginair, and also with with my own work there were recurring phases when I considered if it might not be a sensible route, but ultimately I have decided to concentrate on co-operations with producers because my strength is in creative processes and not marketing, distribution, purchasing etc

smow blog: And returning briefly to the current market, how do you see the future development?

Uli Budde: I think that, and as always with such situations, there will inevitably be changes in the market, some producers will survive and others will either vanish or will be taken over. In addition one must add that the willingness to take risks is slowly increasing, I think many firms have realised that stagnation brings nothing and that they need to find new approaches and develop new ideas in order to set themselves apart and so survive. I don’t think the situation is a positive as before the crisis, but there are I believe positive signs.

smow blog: And so does that mean that it is perhaps more important as a designer to have fewer products with one producer who you know sells, sells consistently, and thus pays, rather than have numerous products with a large number of partners?

Uli Budde: I think so, but is was potentially always the case that working with only one or two manufacturers over a long period was the more secure option, but that is clearly a luxury situation and in the reality one is sometimes forced to take on something with a smaller, newer producer and risk that something comes of it and that the product actually stays in production for a prolonged period and isn’t discontinued after a couple of years. But I would definitely say it is better to work with only a few, good, producers where there is a professional basis based on mutual respect.

smow blog: Changing tact a little, from your time in Potsdam and the past five years in Berlin, have you noticed changes in the Berlin creative community over the past decade or so?

Uli Budde: It has definitely become more professional. Not only are there more designers in Berlin but ever more who are working with large international partners. Ten years ago that wasn’t the case, then there were maybe two or three studios who worked with good, renowned companies, and that is now significantly higher, and that is a situation which without question benefits the Berlin creative community as a whole because if more people are looking to Berlin more often that can only be good for us all.

smow blog: In terms of your own work you said that the focus is now your own work, until now that has, at least in terms of commercial products, been lighting, can we expect more furniture work in the future?

Uli Budde: Yes, definitely, albeit without wanting to lose touch with lighting, because it is something I enjoy and which on account of the speed at which technology is evolving is a very interesting subject where one is always challenged to find new solutions, however I don’t want to be considered just as a lighting designer and there are furniture projects currently in development, with good, reliable producers and which should be released in the not to distant future.

More information on Uli Budde and his work can be found at

smow blog Design Calendar: July 10th 1856 – Michael Thonet granted a patent for his solid wood bending process

“The essence of the Thonetschen invention is that when bending a steamed piece of wood the neutral layer is relocated to the upper, convex, surface of the curved wood. If any cylindrical or prismatic body is bent, the upper layers are extended, the lower, concave, layer compressed, so shortened, and only one layer, namely that which passes through the centre of mass of the cross section, remains in the original length. Thus in this type of ordinary wood bending the upper, convex, lying part is stretched and tends to splinter. Thonet firmly attaches to that side of the not yet bent piece of wood which should ultimately be outermost, a sheet-metal strip; that the metal strip undergoes but a negligible extension during bending, the wood situated directly below the metal strip is forced to compress, to shorten. Therein alone exists the essence of the Thonetschen invention.”1

So surmised in 1875 Professor W.F. Exner from the Technologisches Gewerbemuseum Vienna the nature of the warm 3D wood bending process for which Michael Thonet received a patent on July 10th 1856. And which is still practised by Thonet to this day.

Or put another way:

Or yet another way:

Thonet 214 by Michael Thonet, (originally known as Chair 14)

Thonet 214 by Michael Thonet – originally known as Chair 14, and produced since 1859 via the process patented by Michael Thonet in 1856

1. W.F. Exner, Studien über das Rothbuchenholz, Wien, 1875 quoted in Peter Ellenberg, “Gebrüder Thonet – Möbel aus gebogenem Holze”, Verlag Theo Schäfer, Hannover, 1999

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)

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