DESIGN ARCHITECTURE FASHION BIANNUAL s/s 2015
Viktor&Rolf on the death of conceptualism
Ethnographic pursuit with Jasper Morrison. Copying in an age of mass production. Eileen Gray in conversation. The frontier lands of food design. Fashion and feminism. Thomas Taitâ€™s material dating. Operatic illustration with Klaus Haapaniemi.
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In January, Disegno had the privilege of working with renowned Paris-based printer Idem. Located in Montparnasse, it has, since the 1880s, specialised in lithography. Many of its printing presses date back to that time – when the place was founded by Emile Dufrenoy, whose name is still above the doorway. If you’re lucky, you can catch artists like David Lynch and Paul McCarthy working there, while upstairs Jean-Michel Alberola has a studio. Meeting Idem’s owner Patrice Forest and his team was quite an eye-opener. Despite the physical nature of their work (up to six people have to operate the various printing processes), the atmosphere is calm and quiet, like a sanctuary devoted to the printed page. It’s a much-needed reminder that a faster pace of work does not necessarily make for a better result. On the contrary, the reverse is normally true, although that is sometimes difficult to remember. Disegno is a biannual magazine and our intention is to create a “slow” publication. Yet somehow the biannual print dates come around quicker every time; even the best-laid plans sometimes change at a moment’s notice. Here is an issue that in part resulted from such plans taking odd and unexpected turns. Our cover story for example, a residency by Viktor&Rolf, was initiated more than a year ago over lunch in London, but it wasn’t until the recent news that the fashion house was ceasing its ready-to-wear line that the theme we asked it to explore – the death of conceptualism in fashion – was thrown into an interesting and timely light, one we were unaware of at the start of the process. Other articles in the magazine, such as the process story of London-based design studio Loris&Livia, also reflect on time. It is sometimes better to develop a project slowly rather than as knee-jerk reaction to public interest, as in the case of Loris&Livia’s Tipsy glass, a limited edition design developed over the course of four years into a product capable of supporting a small studio. Maybe the ultimate slow-burner of this issue is the piece dedicated to Irish architect Eileen Gray (1878– 1976). Half a century went by before Gray received the recognition she desired in the architectural community. Now, two new films about her life and work, as well as the upcoming opening of her E.1027 house to the public, will firmly place her as an important pillar in architecture and design history, granting her the recognition she richly deserves.
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No.8 s/s 2015
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The cover image is a Viktor&Rolf porcelain doll. Photographed by Philip Riches WORDS BY
Iwan Baan, Crystal Bennes, Caroline Constant, Alexis Georgacopoulos, Ana Kinsella, Amelie Klein, Madelaine Levy, Joe Lloyd, Eckhart Maise, Viviana Narotzky, Jonathan Olivares, Jack Self, Deyan Sudjic, Olivier Sailland, Johannes Torpe, Will Wiles, Elizabeth Wilson. IMAGES BY
Iwan Baan, Roman Beck, Ola Bergengren, Thomas Brown, Kevin Davies, Lucinda Devlin, Brian Griffin, Simay Onaz, Philip Riches, Nick Rochowski, Roman Sakovich, Kalle Sanner, Tjerk Spannenburg, Björn Steinz, Jara Varela, Arthur Woodcroft. STYLING/SET DESIGN BY
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This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Symbol Tatami 115gsm from Fedrigoni UK. THANK YOU
Thank you to Rolf Snoeren, Viktor Horsting and Olivier Saillard for a beautiful residency; Marcin Rusak and Jacopo Sarzi for a great collaboration; Alexis Georgacopoulos and ECAL for their help and advice; Patrice Forest and his team at Idem for their hospitality; and Simay Onaz for her wonderful illustrations.
We are very grateful to all our contributors and for the help of Nina Hartmann and Philip Riches, Caroline Constant, Kimberly Oliver, Jennifer Goff, Mary McGuckian, Marco Orsini, Viviane Stappmanns, Jere Salonen, Jasper Morrison, Belinda Fisher, Inga and Ronan, all the contributors to DisegnoDaily’s Christmas project, the Jocks&Nerds team, and Annie the cat for her persistent friendliness. CONTENT COPYRIGHT
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13 INTRODUCTION A plea for the slow
22 TIMELINE The last six months in review
PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED Photographer Iwan Baan documents Haiti’s recovery from its 2010 earthquake PAGAN PRACTICE Hilda Hellström reflects on the trials and triumphs of a young designer
LEARNING FROM MILÁ A look at the career and legacy of octogenarian Catalan designer Miguel Milá OBSERVATION 1 Project Ara
OPINION: ETHICS IN ARCHITECTURE Jack Self explores the ethical quandaries raised by architectural torture chambers OBSERVATION 2 Nike ACG
46 TIPSY-MAKING How a melted drinking glass built London-based design studio Loris&Livia
OBSERVATION 3 Almora by Doshi Levien
OPINION: FASHION AND FEMINISM Elizabeth Wilson laments the dilution of feminism to mere spectacle HUB: ROTTERDAM HARBOUR Rotterdam’s repurposed fruit wharfs conceal a thriving design community
DISEGNO RESIDENCY: NO MORE POETRY? Viktor&Rolf explores the decline of conceptualism in fashion in a series of photographs accompanied by poems written by fashion curator Olivier Saillard
A NEW FRONTIER As a host of university degrees emerge worldwide, Disegno investigates whether food design is ready to come of age
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER In preparation for his first-ever retrospective, Jasper Morrison invites Disegno on a tour of his archive
GALLERY: WELD Artist Brian Griffin presents a photo series exploring gender, identity and feminism in fashion design
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA Designer Klaus Haapaniemi’s heraldic set and folkloric costumes for Czech opera The Cunning Little Vixen EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE Modern movement architect Eileen Gray returns to public consciousness as the lead figure in a little-published dialogue from 1929
VOLUME, NO WEIGHT Fashion designer Thomas Tait opens his studio to discuss material experimentation and subversion
BAKU BEYOND BILBAO A travelogue of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and reflections on its urban renewal ROUNDTABLE: COPYING IN THE AGE OF MASS PRODUCTION A conversation about the origins, problems and creative possibilities of copying and sampling
ALL OF THIS BELONGS TO YOU A new exhibition at the V&A prompts a consideration of the design of government TD BENCH BY JONATHAN OLIVARES DESIGN RESEARCH Jonathan Olivares’s flexible bench system explores customisation within the parameters of industry OF SOIL AND WATER Rotterdam-based architects Ooze create a natural swimming pond for a King’s Cross building site
DELTA BY FORMAFANTASMA Design’s great historians Formafantasma share details of their Roman research holiday
THE FENDI HEADQUARTERS A look at the architectural history of Fendi’s global headquarters
THE MAKING OF MAKING AFRICA Curator Amelie Klein shares the lessons the Global North ought to learn from Africa
THE FLÂNEUR Two exhibitions resurrect Baudelaire’s urban aesthete
207 INDEX People and brands in this issue 18 Disegno.
scamp bag by jasper morrison
# Re b e l X Wa t e r f o r d www.waterford.com
Timeline Recent news in fashion, design and architecture.
A SWAN SONG FOR PRÊT-À-PORTER? Jean Paul Gaultier shows his last ready-to-wear collection in Paris in order to focus on haute couture; six months later Viktor&Rolf makes the same announcement. Both studios confirm plans to continue working in perfume. Ready-to-wear once provided a financial basis for couture; fragrance sales now perform this work more than ably.
MARC NEWSON DESIGNS A GUN The design world reacts with near-universal unease to Marc Newson’s unveiling of a shotgun designed for Beretta. Newson’s weapon serves as a convenient public conduit for grappling with the uncomfortable truth that not all design is necessarily for good.
THE FUTURE OF THE ASPLUND LIBRARY British studio Caruso St John are announced as the architects selected to restore and “restructure” the Stockholm City Library (1928) by Swedish architect Erik Gunnar Asplund. The building, subject to an abandoned expansion proposal in 2006 by German architect Heike Hanada, proved highly influential on the development of Nordic modernism and its proponents such as Alvar Aalto.
22 Disegno. TIMELINE
GALLIANO ANNOUNCES RETURN Fashion designer John Galliano’s muchpublicised absence from fashion comes to an end as he is announced as the new creative director of Maison Margiela (MM), a studio that has long eschewed the cult of star designers. Galliano’s return is generally welcomed but, following a first couture collection in January, doubts remain as to how successful the blend of Galliano romanticism with MM bricolage actually is.
FRANK GEHRY GIVES JOURNALISTS THE FINGER Architect Frank Gehry is reduced to swearing at his critics when asked at a press conference whether his architecture amounts to anything more than spectacle. Around the same time, Rem Koolhaas defends his CCTV building against criticism from China’s president Xi Jinping, while Herzog & de Meuron’s Paris skyscraper is rejected by the city’s council. The years of unquestioned privilege enjoyed by starchitects and their projects seem at an end.
COOPER HEWITT REOPENS Signalling the end of its four-year closure for renovations, New York’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum reopens. It marks the return of a dedicated New York design museum, a niche filled in recent years by design-led exhibitions from MoMA, the Met and MAD.
ILLUSTRATIONS Simay Onaz
ARCHITECTURE FOR HUMANITY CLOSES Non-profit organisation Architecture for Humanity’s original San Francisco office files for bankruptcy, citing “serious funding challenges” to its mission of promoting architectural solutions to humanitarian crises. Architecture for Humanity operated under the slogan “Design like you give a damn”; the body’s demise suggests that not enough people in positions of financial power did.
JE SUIS CHARLIE The terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris prompts journalist Joachim Roncin to create the now familiar “Je suis Charlie” monochrome graphic and hashtag. The phrase becomes a rallying point for defenders of freedoms of speech and the press, both inside and outside the creative industries. FEBRUARY
HEM ACQUIRES DISCIPLINE DESIGN Discipline, a young Italian design brand lauded for its role as a talent spotter and product developer, sells the bulk of its catalogue of designs to newly founded internet-focused brand Hem. Discipline professes to be “restructuring” (the implicit meaning of which seems clear), while Hem becomes the latest canary in the coalmine for determining whether design brands can adapt to the online marketplace.
UNCLOAKING APPLE Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s senior vice president of design, is the subject of a 16,000-word New Yorker profile. The article marks the culmination of a year in which Apple dramatically demystifies its design process. In September 2014, a photo a photo ofof Apple’s Apple’s industrial-design industrial-design team appears team appears online,online, only the only second the second ever in circulation. ever in circulation. Soon afterwards, Soon afterwards, the company the company hireshires high-profile high-profile designer Marc Newson designer Marcand Newson Ive publicly and Ivelectures publicly at London’s lectures at London’s Design Museum. Design Museum. The curtain The curtain behind behind which which design’s design’s most famously most famously secretive secretive company company works has been lifted. works has been lifted.
THE EDITORIALISATION OF CHRISTIE’S Ambra Medda, co-founder of online design platform L’ArcoBaleno, is appointed global creative director of 20/21 Design, auction house Christie’s department of 20th and 21st-century design. It follows the appointment of Mr Porter’s Jeremy Langmead as the house’s chief content officer. The moves suggest Christie’s has resolved to modernise, appointing younger curators and journalists to drive itself forward.
KENJI EKUAN DIES Industrial designer Kenji Ekuan, a name known to few outside the design industry, dies in his native Japan, aged 85. Despite his relative anonymity, the story gains worldwide attention because of the ubiquity and success of Ekuan’s designs, the Kikkoman soy sauce bottle chief among them. It serves as a potent reminder that a designer’s legacy is their work, not whatever mythos might surround them.
ILSE CRAWFORD FOR IKEA Swedish giant Ikea uses the Stockholm Furniture Fair to preview a cork and natural fibre-based homeware collection designed by London-based Ilse Crawford. Along with further collaborations with respected creatives such as Form Us With Love and Walter van Beirendonck, this sees Ikea establish itself in the mid-price design market. It is a shot across the bows of smaller furniture companies everywhere.
Jalousie is a slum in the hills to the south-west of Port-au-Prince. “It’s incredible to see Haiti from the air,” says Iwan Baan, “because it has been very seriously deforested, an effect that is clearly visible in the hills surrounding the city. They’re grey and devoid of plant life, but completely developed, with houses built on top of one another other. You can only imagine what effect the next earthquake to hit Haiti will have on this community.” PHOTOS Iwan Baan
24 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
Photoessay: Haiti Revisited Five years ago Haiti was devastated by an earthquake, sparking a flurry of international media and outpouring of sympathy for the Caribbean island nation. Yet over the proceeding half decade focus predictably drifted. Recovery makes for harder headlines than disaster.Â >
PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
> Haiti’s rebuilding is worth studying, however. In late 2014, Boston’s MASS Design Group completed a pair of cholera and tuberculosis clinics in the country’s capital Port-au-Prince and this spring will see the publication of Haiti Now, a new study by architectural research body The Now Institute. Together, the projects encourage the world to remain engaged with Haiti’s ongoing recovery. When the earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, there was a natural tendency to fall back on statistics; they represented something tangible to grasp onto in the face of the incomprehensible and cruel. The earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale (which classifies it as “major”) and its epicentre hit 25km from Port-au-Prince. Around 300,000 structures were destroyed or damaged; at least 230,000 people were killed. At the time, 2.7 million people lived in Port-au-Prince, a city whose population density rivals that of Hong Kong. Around 26 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
a million were displaced by the earthquake’s effects. Haiti received more than £5.6bn in public and private donations in the aftermath of the disaster, in the hope that the nation would not only rebuild itself but also redress the poverty that had long afflicted it. As to this programme’s efficacy, the statistics are discouraging. Haiti remains the world’s poorest nation outside of Africa and Afghanistan – 80 per cent of its urban population live in slums and 55 per cent of the country subsists on less than $1.25 a day – and quality of life is low. Only one in five citizens have access to sanitation facilities and just 43 per cent are literate. Haiti remains a country in dire need. Yet statistics only tell a story in outline. In December 2014, Dutch
architecture photographer Iwan Baan visited Haiti, documenting life in Port-au-Prince during the reconstruction. What is seen in Baan’s images is complexity – a country that in part confirms its statistics, yet which gestures towards a richer human story: a crowded iron market; modern clinics that may inspire similar health centres worldwide; a cemetery that is home to a blur of Catholicism and Voodoo. A selection of Baan’s photographs are published in Haiti Now. Here, an additional series has been curated as a photoessay of Haiti’s renewal, accompanied by captions provided by Baan that reflect on his time in Haiti. They provide an insight into a nation in flux far more vivid and compelling than any statistic.
What is striking about MASS Design Group’s cholera and tuberculosis clinics is how specific they are to the location. The cholera hospital, for instance, is a completely closed system. This hospital is next to one of the slums on the coastline, which is built on top of an old landfill with streams of water running through it. There’s no real sewage system in Port-au-Prince, so everything that comes out of a home or a hospital immediately flows into a stream and down into the ocean. Of course with a cholera hospital that can be extremely dangerous, so in MASS Design Group’s clinic they’re treating all the waste water on site.
PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
This cemetery is a melting pot. Itâ€™s a very active place and the Voodoo culture of Haiti is extremely exposed there. You have lots of different places of worship inside the cemetery, leading to a strange mixture of Christianity, Voodoo and Catholicism, where many of the graves are opened up so that you see bones and skulls scattered in the cemetery itself. The man feeding his chickens is a caretaker; you can see the open grave which he is using as storage. Jalousie was subject to a slum upgrading project about a year and a half ago, in which the government painted it in bright colours. But itâ€™s very striking that this project basically amounted to a paint job. The slum is located such that right in front of it is Petionville, one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince. So the project was more or less to make a nice wallpaper for the expensive neighbourhoods which look onto the slum. People in Jalousie are still living in the same terrible conditions as before.
28 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
The iron market is a very important place for Port-au-Prince and was one of the first areas to be restored after the earthquake. McAslan + Partners were involved in the restoration project and a lot of money went into it. There’s a great atmosphere and it’s very busy, but from above you can see that it
30 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
stands in the middle of what still looks like a warzone. All the houses are completely empty and falling apart. But the market was a centre of the city, so it was important for them to rebuild it. It sells everything you could imagine. Hardware, electronics, household items, whatever you need.
There is no running water in Jalousie, but a number of wells. People wait in line to get water from these wells and then carry it to their houses. These hills are very steep, with staircases going up and down. The women who collect the water do an incredible job.
PHOTOESSAY: HAITI REVISITED
Hilda Hellström’s anthracite arch and half arch occupy the darkened exhibition space at the Göteborgs Konstmuseum. PHOTOS Kalle Sanner
32 Disegno. PAGAN PRACTICE
Pagan Practice Hilda Hellström and I have been talking for some time when I finally say what I’ve been meaning to from the beginning of the interview. “I think I saw an old man trying to push over your arch.” Hellström looks like she’s been expecting this. “It’s because it looks light and heavy at the same time,” she replies. Hellström’s arch is the centrepiece of an exhibition of her work at the Göteborgs Konstmuseum in Gothenburg, Sweden. The arch is made from anthracite, a particularly lustrous and pure variety of coal. Jagged slithers of this wet-look material rest precariously atop one another, before being locked in place by a keystone slipped in at the crest of the arch. It evokes both heavy industry and Roman engineering, but what it recalls most is paganism. It’s the sort of archway that the faun in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth should beckon you through. Paganism, oddly, has been a recurrent theme in Hellström’s nascent design career. Born in Gothenburg, she studied at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, before completing an MA at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, from which she graduated in 2012 with a series
“I don’t really like glitzy and happy. I’m attracted to something slightly darker.” of primitive vessels made from radioactive soil taken from the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan. Much of her subsequent work has centred upon jesmonite, a plaster-like material that easily accepts pigment. Hellström used jesmonite to create her lauded Sedimentation Series of urns, the swirling colours of which look like strata from some magic-realist geological dig. A sense of the arcane and mythic is all-pervading. “Yeah, why is that?” says Hellström quizzically. We’re sat in the education centre at the Konstmuseum, at a table overlooked by a too-large blackboard and a series of children’s art projects. It seems an incongruous setting in which to discuss paganism. “I mean, I try to do something modern, but this is what always happens. I suppose it’s just because I don’t really like glitzy and happy. I’m attracted to something slightly darker.” Its origins may be a mystery to her, but the design world has embraced Hellström’s paganism. In the three years since her graduation, she’s featured in The Guardian, > PAGAN PRACTICE
> Frame, Icon and American Vogue, as well as exhibiting works in galleries and museums across New York, Beijing, Paris and Tokyo. The Konstmuseum show is further vindication. The exhibition is an annual event organised by the Sten A Olsson Foundation for Research and Culture scholars, an institute that supports artists, designers, researchers and scientists with links to the Gothenburg area. Hellström is one of the foundation’s 2014 laureates and the award, you sense, is a significant one for her. “Growing up, my mum always used to take me to these exhibitions, so she’s very proud of this,” she says gesturing from the education room to the gallery across the hall. Her voice becomes conspiratorial. “For my mum, this is way bigger than having an exhibition in New York.” Hellström has emerged at a time when many young Scandinavian designers have moved away from the region’s tradition of minimalism. Swedish designers such as Anton Alvarez and Fredrik Paulsen have turned to naïve modes of expression driven by factors such as narrative and emotion over functionalism, and it’s in this mould that Hellström seems to fit – a kind of design-led sibling to Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg’s pagan claymation fantasies. The Konstmuseum exhibition is a neat introduction to Hellström’s method of working – there are numerous examples of the Sedimentation Series, as well as two wall-mounted jesmonite maps of the world she originally developed for Gallery S. Bensimon in Paris – but it’s her anthracite arch, a new work, that fascinates. It’s easy to see why someone might try to push it over. It looks unearthly. The anthracite slabs are leaden (I later find out they weigh between 80 and 100kg each), but their gleaming slickness subverts this.
The arch is so fantastical that there is a whiff of stage design about it; some carefully produced polystyrene prop that a teamster might effortlessly lug over their shoulder at any moment. It’s an ingenious effect and one you feel an urge to verify through touch. “I’d been interested in working with it for a year and a half, ever since I found it at an artists’ residency in Scotland,” says Hellström. We’ve left the education centre and walked through to the exhibition, where Hellström is now clearing away the ropes that cordon off the arch to get access to it. “I went out for a hike and on the road I saw this black shiny lump and thought, ‘What is this?’ I mean, it had probably fallen off the back of a truck. But the thing with carbon is that it’s very illustrative and pedagogical. It’s a material that is used throughout its different metamorphosis processes. It’s
The arch is so fantastical that there is a whiff of stage design about it. a fuel as both bituminous coal and anthracite; then it becomes graphite, which is used for pencils; and then later on it becomes diamond. It’s a true hierarchy of material.” I touch the arch and find it’s pleasingly cold and craggy. To build the arch, Hellström ordered slabs of anthracite from a mine in Wales, before consulting with engineers on construction techniques. The work is on a far greater scale than anything she has completed before and is also substantially rawer. The anthracite is coarse and fat, and looks like what it is: fresh from the earth. 34 Disegno. PAGAN PRACTICE
Jesmonite segments that build up into a map of the world, developed by Hellström in 2014. Below: Hellström in the education centre of the Göteborgs Konstmuseum.
“The mine doesn’t normally bring up pieces this big, but they thought it was quite exciting,” says Hellström. “Then, when they started, I began getting these phone calls saying, ‘This is a bit more difficult than we thought.’” The only treatment Hellström subjected the anthracite to was to cut its top and undersides flat to allow it to stack easily. Where the carbon is cut, it loses its lustre – those parts of the anthracite are matte coal. Hellström emerged from the RCA at the same time as her aforementioned compatriot Anton Alvarez, a designer who has worked exclusively since graduation with the thread-wrapping technique he developed while at the school. For a time it seemed as if Hellström might follow a similar path with jesmonite. The bulk of her output focused on the material and the Sedimentation Series dominated her practice. “For a while I was selling quite a few of the Sedimentation Series through galleries, which meant that I almost became a small factory,” she says. “I was producing more than I was interested in producing, because for me the research is the interesting part. But you need the money to work. “Galleries are rarely interested in showing things that they haven’t seen as an end product and even if I try to describe a potential project, they usually say, ‘Let’s see it when it’s done.’ That’s what happens when you’re young: you have to put the money in. But my Fukushima graduation project had no thought of commercial viability
The anthracite used in the exhibition was sourced from a mine in Wales. Right: Examples of Hellström’s Sedimentation Series.
and this,” she says, gesturing to the arch behind her, “this was just something commissioned for a museum. There’s no intention of selling.” Hellström says that mass production or commercial products – more surefire roots to funding – are not routes that she wants to go down and her decision to relocate her studio from London to Stockholm in late 2014 was at least partially financially motivated. “The money thing is easier here in Sweden,” she says. “In London the competition is just so… I mean, in Sweden there are annual grants from the Craft Council and the Arts Council, which give you money to work for a year. It’s easier to be a bit more independent in your work. There’s money for it. Although I haven’t been able to apply for any of that yet.” Which is why the Sten A Olsson Foundation recognition – exhibition aside – is so important. It comes with a stipend. The best way to
understand what this means for Hellström’s practice is to look at the anthracite arch. It is, quite literally, what she would do if she had the money. It’s a noncommercial, research-driven and exploratory project. Which is why I think she didn’t mind that an old man tried to push it over. It’s not as if he could have damaged it; the carbon is too heavy for that. In all likelihood, he was acting out of the same motivation that Hellström had when she began the project: material curiosity. “Jesmonite is an artificial material that tries to look natural through the addition of pigments, but anthracite is a natural material that looks artificial,” she says. “If you aren’t familiar with it, it kind of looks like plastic.You don’t know what it is, but there is a feeling or a notion there. And I like that.” To wrap up our meeting, I ask Hellström if she’ll tell me the exact size of the Sten A Olsson bursary. She won’t, but she does give me a nice line in what it means for her future practice: “I can say no to producing urns.”
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno.
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Learning from Milá
Miguel Milá began his design career in Catalonia in the late 1950s and continues to work in the region. PHOTOS Jara Varela
Miguel Milá is an oldschool gentleman, a great conversationalist and a reluctant interviewee: “One should aim never to talk about oneself, rarely about other people, and often about things.” It’s lucky, then, that things are what we’re here to discuss; the kind of simple, beautiful things that Milá has spent a lifetime designing. These things, mostly furniture and lighting, have made Milá the only Spanish recipient of Italy’s most prestigious design honour, the Compasso d’Oro international career award, which he won in 2008. Born in Barcelona in 1931, Milá is of a generation widely celebrated in Spain as “pioneers”, a group of designers who gave visibility to a previously unknown profession and established its first institutions in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Now in his eighties, Milá is one of Barcelona’s most admired design patriarchs, a much-loved presence at the city’s design events and private views. He often arrives in a perfectly cut tweed jacket, riding his Montesa Impala motorcycle – a model that is on permanent display in the Barcelona Design Museum and which was designed in 1962 by his brother Leopoldo Milá. Miguel has worked as a designer since the late 1950s and remains professionally active, with new designs coming out every year. He’s inspired, he says, by an enduring inclination to apply order to the elements that surround him, trying to achieve what he describes as “maximum comfort”. In his early career, Milá worked with some of the most noteworthy Catalan architects of the post-war generation: Milá’s older brother Alfonso and his partner Federico Correa, as well as José Antonio Coderch. He began his career designing interiors for these architects’ late modernist projects, eventually focusing on furnishings. At the time, this meant coordinating small-batch productions with local craft workshops, a practice that chimes with contemporary design’s fixation on making and makers; of designers being involved personally with creating objects from scratch. Even as an “old-school” industrial designer, Milá has always had a close relationship with craft, championing low-technology solutions. “The craftsmen were pretty unreliable, but they were very, very good and they made things very well,” he says of his time working at his brother’s architectural practice. “The upholsterer, the blacksmith, the guy who bent cane to make chairs – working closely with them allowed me to learn so much. I was extremely lucky. It was a great opportunity and one that young people don’t have now because there isn’t so much close contact with real craftspeople anymore. It’s all much more theoretical. But the
basis of my design has always been to listen to the craftsperson, and then try to adapt what they say to the idea you have. That’s what makes it modern, or at least what I understand as modern, which is to bring it closer to perfect functionality, to a simple comfort,
architects in Italy and northern Europe – establishing a small business to produce his own ideas. Tramo enabled him to launch products, but it had limited means; the cheapest and easiest way to work was to make small objects, like lamps.
“I can see that every day, people value more the emotions provided by what I would call a successful aesthetics of comfort.” one that is not about luxury but about authenticity and a good life.” Milá’s first independent venture was Tramo, a design brand he co-founded in 1960. Tramo focused on lighting and this became a constant in Milá’s work over the following six decades. Yet this focus came about primarily for practical reasons. Milá started his career in the same way as many mid-century
One of those early lamps, the TMM (1961), is the object Milá still considers to best express his approach to design. The TMM is an exercise in restraint: a floor lamp with a cross-shaped wooden base and a vertical shaft upon which a shade moves up and down. It doesn’t have a light switch – you pull the electrical cord to turn > LEARNING FROM MILÁ
Milá’s house in Barcelona, a city where he is a fixture of the design scene. His Compasso d’Oro stands on the mantelpiece. Above: The Cesta lamp (1962) is manufactured by Santa & Cole. PHOTO Carlos Pericas
> it on. The design came out of the need to create something economical and Milá reduced everything to the bare minimum, keeping in mind that the lamp should remain practical, useful and uncomplicated: “If you had to take it apart and put it back together again, you wouldn’t need an instruction leaflet.” In the 1980s the pendulum swung away from Milá’s austere approach; his sensitivity towards materials and preference for
and Jordi Canudas all admirers of Milá’s precision and formal restraint. Milá takes this revival in his stride. He is aware that fashions come and go and that the market is an unreliable critic, yet he acknowledges a satisfaction in seeing people value his work. He is, he says, happy to be able to apply his sense of order to the world: “I can see that every day people value more the emotions provided by what I would call a successful aesthetics of comfort.” Furthermore, he has continued to
There seems a certain ruthlessness to the way he keeps going back for more – more synthesis, more comfort, more ease. simple, easy solutions were out of step with the emergence of more ornamental and referential postmodern approaches. Yet it is these same qualities that have now brought him back into the spotlight. Younger generations, both in Spain and abroad, have found inspiration in his work, with designers like Jasper Morrison, Alberto Liévore 38 Disegno. LEARNING FROM MILÁ
add new designs to his catalogue for Santa & Cole, his main producer and a Barcelona-based brand with which he has a close relationship. In collaboration with his son Gonzalo, Milá has worked on urban furniture like the Harpo bench and contract lighting like the Línea Estadio lamp, both produced in 2014. It is also in collaboration with Santa & Cole, in a process beginning
in the late 1990s, that many of Milá’s older designs have been reissued, often reworked to incorporate sustainable materials or LED technology. Some of these reissues, such as the Cesta, TMM or M68 lamps, have become international bestsellers. The Cesta (meaning “basket” in Spanish) is a white sanded glass globe delicately encased in a bent wood strip, with a handle for easy transport. It was designed 52 years ago, yet seems attuned to contemporary appreciation of craft and natural materials. Ditto the M64 hanging lamp, which came out in 1964 and won that year’s ADI-FAD Gold Delta prize – Spain’s main award for industrial design. Last year, Milá updated its design with components from Santa & Cole’s HeadHat lighting collection, itself a Delta award recipient in 2013. There seems a certain ruthlessness to the way he keeps going back for more – more synthesis, more comfort, more ease. “For me, this has to do with the idea that one should cut things very close to the bone,” he says. “The point is not to design yet another lamp so that we have one more, but rather to take the one that already exists and make it better. Turn it into a classic, if I can. The bullfighter El Gallo used to say that a classic is that which cannot be improved – and that opened up a whole new definition of classicism for me that was beyond style. When we admire a classic work and go back to it again and again, it’s because it’s drawing us in, because there’s more to it than just a gesture. There’s something solid in it. And that is what drives me. That is what I try to achieve.”
Viviana Narotzky is a designer and design historian. She is president of ADI-FAD, the Industrial Design Association of Barcelona.
PHOTO Arthur Woodcroft
Project Ara by Google Planned obsolescence is a familiar concept in industrial design – an approach whereby a product has an intentionally limited lifespan; and a business model to keep consumers consuming. It is an approach that Project Ara, a modular smartphone being developed by Google, plans to upend. Project Ara is a smartphone made of detachable customisable modules. Developed by firms outside of Google, these modules could include anything from a long-life battery or an infrared camera, to an oximetry module to test bloodoxygen levels. Ara accommodates evolving tastes: modules can simply be changed, upgraded (or downgraded) depending on a user’s needs or preferences. Sustainability is the driving force. “Because Ara is made to be replaced, fixed and therefore 40 Disegno. PROJECT ARA BY GOOGLE
upgraded through the years, we predict that it could last three times longer than an average phone,” says Gadi Amit, the phone’s head product designer and president of San Francisco-based studio NewDealDesign. “That sustainability is both functional, by replacing and fixing modules, and emotional, by being part of the co-creation process.” Emotional sustainability seems to represent a new frontier for consumer electronics – a world in which we are used to buying highly produced identikit devices straight off the shelf. “When people are sharing the experience of actually building an object,” says Amit, “they come to cherish it for a longer time.”
Anya Lawrence is Disegno’s editorial assistant.
Dornbracht Culture Projects
Meiré und Meiré
DIS The Island (KEN)
Created by artist collective DIS in collaboration with Dornbracht and co-designed by Mike Meiré. On the occasion of the New Museum Triennial 2015 SURROUND AUDIENCE.
Ethics in Architecture Godwin’s Law states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, if allowed to run their natural course, all internet forums and threads eventually stray into fascist hyperbolic comparisons. It took the snappily named Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) just one post on their website in January to compare the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to those responsible for the Holocaust. It may be a new record for Godwin’s Law. The context for the comparison is a fierce moral debate currently causing consternation in the global architectural community. It concerns whether or not architects should reject commissions for “torture rooms” (a broad term not principally referring to actual torture chambers, but to spaces that contravene the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including so-called SuperMax solitary confinement cells and execution rooms). ADPSR has been petitioning the AIA for some months to include a clause in its code of ethics banning architects from designing these spaces. Last December the AIA refused, saying its “Code of Ethics should not exist to create limitations on the practice by AIA members of specific building types.” “Really,” ADPSR responded, “not even gas chambers? The Nazi regime’s crematoria were technically complex buildings designed by architects.” And thus, with all the charm of a furious YouTube comment, the exchange proved Godwin right. Notwithstanding the ubiquity of Hitlerian rhetoric, even US internet lawyer Mike Godwin himself, having coined Godwin’s Law in 1990, would perhaps be surprised to see an ethical debate escalate so rapidly and to such extremes. And yet, the question at the base of it all is a valid one: are there types of buildings architects simply shouldn’t design? Historically, the definition of architecture – as opposed, perhaps, to just buildings – has changed dramatically and understanding its limits today largely depends on where one decides to locate its origins. The first recorded use of the word “architect” described the priest Imhotep, who was responsible for the great stepped pyramid of Djoser, in around 2630 BCE. For ancient Egyptians, only religious buildings constituted architecture. To ask an architect to design your house would not only have been nonsensical, but likely very insulting. Another figure often cited as the first architect is Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c.78–10 BCE), in large part because he is the only 42 Disegno. OPINION: ETHICS IN ARCHITECTURE
architect of the Roman era whose texts on architecture survive. His Ten Books cover a number of familiar building typologies: temples, villas, libraries, and so on. Imhotep would doubtless have found Vitruvius’s final chapter – dedicated to war machinery and a description of his assistance to Julius Caesar in capturing Marseilles – appallingly profane. The torture rooms in question today are as nothing in comparison with the infrastructure of war and imperial domination devised by Vitruvius – machines used to win one of the most violent sieges of all Caesar’s campaigns. Yet even Vitruvius held some things sacred; he would have found the work of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio abhorrent. Palladio’s 1566 Villa Rotunda was the first domestic building ever to incorporate a dome. This may not sound unethical now, but for ancient Romans – and the medieval popes of the Vatican who followed them – domes were reserved exclusively for basilica. To have one in your entry hall was an affront to all that was sacred. These examples point to the fundamental impossibility of defining what types of buildings are or are not architecture, let alone clarifying the ethical duties of the architect. Furthermore, they highlight a vital difference between morals and
ethics. Morality is really the pursuit of absolute truths and refers to the struggle of eternal good and evil. Ethics, on the other hand, are bundles of morals and opinions that together form a snapshot of a society’s ideas about what is right and wrong. Ethics, while they might seem eternal, are in constant flux and what is generally held to be right or wrong can change very quickly. The classic moral “Thou shall not kill” seems as true now as on the day Moses carved it into stone. By contrast, the postwar ethical assertion that it is the state’s duty to build enough houses for everyone seems today quite archaic. We need only consider 1950s attitudes towards homosexuality, divorce or debt to see how flexible ethics can really be. The AIA’s code of ethics already demands its members uphold human rights, even though ADPSR doesn’t consider it specific enough on this point. The AIA’s response to the petition – that to ban one particular type of building from being designed by architects sets a dangerous precedent – is understandable. Once we start drawing ethical boundaries of this sort in architecture, where should we stop? Let them without sin cast the first stone. Architecture is the built manifestation of conflicts – be they military, commercial, political
Electric Chair, Greensville Correctional Facility, Jarratt, Virginia and Final Holding Cell, Greensville Correctional Facility, Jarratt, Virginia (left) from The Omega Suites by Lucinda Devlin.
or economic. The act of realising a building involves so many different kinds of people, from engineers and financiers to planning officers and disgruntled neighbours (each with their own interests and concerns), that architecture is inevitably
a moral standpoint, even though architects make ethical decisions all the time. If the AIA upheld the petition on terror chambers it would, to remain consistent, have to extend the definition to all conditions where
The question at the base of it all is a valid one: are there types of buildings architects simply shouldn’t design? a process of strategic compromise. In practice, the architect spends very little of their time designing, and a good deal of it mediating between parties to negotiate the best possible outcome for everyone. In this sense, it is an intrinsically compromised profession from
UN human rights are not observed. Overnight, American architects would be forbidden from working in most parts of the world: Russia, China, the UAE and Saudi peninsula, large parts of Africa and much of Oceania, to name but a few. Then there would be endless disputes over the line balls –
given the data-collection revelations of Edward Snowden, or recent reports detailing evidence of “black site” CIA torture, could they even work for the US state? We can see very quickly that curbing typologies and moral conditions becomes an absurd activity. ADPSR would have done better to push for an AIA torture-room design guideline. The “minimum standard” is a fantastic mechanism for dealing with ethical concerns of this type: the standard is not a blanket refusal to engage with questionable conditions, but it does set basic rules that cannnot be broken. Negotiations fail when one side refuses to compromise. If ADPSR truly wants to raise the AIA’s ethical standards, it should focus on productive dialogue and direct engagement, rather than unconditional demands.
Jack Self is a London-based designer and writer. He is the reviews editor for the Architectural Review and the founder of Fulcrum.
OPINION: ETHICS IN ARCHITECTURE
PHOTO Arthur Woodcroft
NikeLab ACG “A fit block is like the foundation of a building or the chassis of a car. It’s the raw platform. The fit block is the basic cut, mechanics and shape of the garment.” Errolson Hugh, director of design consultancy Acronym, is in the mood to talk fit blocks. They’re the basis of his collection for NikeLab ACG, the 30-year-old Nike sub-brand he was tasked with reimagining in 2014. Hugh focused his project on the form of the garments. Rather than cutting to a traditional standing stance, Nike’s design team worked on the ready stance – a crouched, anticipatory position used in sports and martial arts. ACG jackets and T-shirts are cut small on the front and wide on the back – gently coercing 44 Disegno. NIKELAB ACG
the wearer into the crouched, bowed posture: a suitable starting point for any kind of free motion. “The standing stance has no potential energy,” says Hugh. “This one does.” It’s the same process by which a curve curves: the route travelled by the exterior is longer than that of the interior. “A fit block is a subconscious thing; you’re not aware of it,” says Hugh. “Nobody looks at a piece and thinks, ‘That’s a great fit block.’ But when you put it on, you’re reading all of its information: it’s determining silhouette, aesthetics, mechanics, what can I do, what can I not do?”
Starbrick design by Olafur Eliasson www.starbrick.info
The Tipsy is created by melting a Picardie glass in an industrial oven, causing it to deform. PHOTOS Bjรถrn Steinz
46 Disegno. TIPSY-MAKING
Tipsy-making “There’s absolutely no design in this product. It’s an idea and an experiment rather than a design,” says Livia Lauber. “The next step is already the production process,” her colleague Loris Jaccard adds. Lauber and Jaccard are speaking about the Tipsy glass, a product that over a period of four years has evolved from a limited edition of 10 pieces to a bestseller that in March saw its 10,000th glass shipped. All the while it has maintained its original concept of making. The Tipsy glass is a ready-made. The raw material is an already well-known design: the Picardie 25cl glass tumbler produced by French glass manufacturer Duralex, a brand famous for its tempered, close-to-unbreakable glassware. What Loris&Livia brought to the product was a playful idea. “As it’s very durable, we thought it’d be quite funny to deform it, to work out a way to, not destroy it, but distort it a bit,” says Jaccard. The result is a somewhat collapsed Picardie – reheating the glass in an industrial oven causes its walls to sag a little. It looks familiar and yet “other”. Tipsy dates back to 2011 when London-based Loris&Livia was one of 10 design practices answering a brief set by creative platform Design Marketo to make something of the Picardie glass for Bar Alto, an exhibition staged for that year’s London Design Festival. While other designers sandblasted, marked in permanent pen and covered Picardies in metal, Lauber and Jaccard did almost nothing, at least not on the surface of it. They found glassblower Richard Paton a short walk from their studio in north-east London and, using his oven and expertise, heated the toughened glass to make it soften and collapse a little. “We did tests upside-down, we put them on little slopes, to try and make the impact a bit stronger, but it was far too much,” says Lauber. “It worked the best when the glasses stood on an even surface and we made the temperature just a little bit hotter,” Jaccard adds. “This way, they keep a shape where you can still use them as drinking glasses, without getting too abstract or collapsing too much.” Interest in the glasses came in a steady stream after the London exhibition and Lauber and Jaccard found themselves consumed by ordering Duralex glasses from the company’s French factory, bringing them to Paton to melt in batches, then bringing them back to be packed and shipped from their studio. But when a call came from a distributor interested in larger quantities, Loris&Livia were forced to consider their options. “We were constantly running up there, then going down to ours with crates of glasses, and that’s something we weren’t really interested in doing. So we started to look for people that could help us,” says Jaccard. > TIPSY-MAKING
Each Tipsy glass must be hand poslished before going into the oven.
> Both Swiss, Lauber and Jaccard studied at ECAL in Lausanne, and Jaccard also attended the nearby L’Ecole d’arts appliqués de La Chaux-de-Fonds. They met in London in 2006 – Jaccard worked at design studio Barber Osgerby and Lauber was looking for input on her portfolio. “Loris liked my work and suggested that we could collaborate,” says Lauber. “A month later we worked almost the whole night to meet a deadline for an upholstery competition in Switzerland that we didn’t win. But it wasn’t too disappointing, because we realised that we worked very well together.” Their practice is small, it is just the two of them in their 30sqm studio, and they
“To find a good production technique for something, that’s also the role of a designer.” have become known for projects that rethink existing designs: their colourful Wogg 57 circular bookends go with Swiss designer Gerd Lange’s monochrome Wogg 1 bookshelf from the 1980s; and Lemon Toys is an absurd collage of lemon squeezer, rolling pin and sex toy, also created for an exhibition for Design Marketo. Theirs is a restrained approach: looking to existing designs and delivering their own interpretations. And here the Tipsy glass is the flagship product, although it’s a flagship that has brought the studio substantial doubt. “We don’t want to be known as ‘the melting girls,’” says Jaccard. Following the launch of Tipsy, the studio got a call from Swedish fashion brand Acne asking to use a similar technique to create a limited collection of vases for its stores, while other retailers suggested that Tipsy could be joined by similarly treated glassware. But any further melting is curbed by the studio for now. Although it’s understandable that Jaccard and Lauber want to use the technique sparingly, it isn’t actually the technique that is Loris&Livia’s real demonstration of strength. Instead, it’s the act of bringing Tipsy from a small batch of 10 glasses to a product that now sells in its thousands without sacrificing the original concept of making or its ambition to remain affordable and accessible. What some might write off as tonguein-cheek or gimmicky in fact has a rigorous 48 Disegno. TIPSY-MAKING
approach to both concept and production research. Tipsy has proven to be the kind of product young design practices dream of – something that supports a studio and which allows it, rather than a manufacturer, to control its process and manage wholesale orders. Lauber agrees: “To find a good production technique for something, that’s also the role of a designer.” In support of her point, other designers in the original Bar Alto exhibition also came up with the idea of melting the Picardie. Yet unless the technique employed is perfect, the glass will shatter. Only Loris&Livia took the idea through to final execution. “It’s so important that you find the right people to work with and to find a way to make it happen,” says
and the quantities that the distributor was interested in selling, the only solution for making the Tipsy on this scale was to use a mould in the shape of a collapsed Duralex glass. “Maybe we should have gone that route,” says Lauber. “But then we would have lost the initial idea. I mean, not every glass would be different and the hands-on approach would have been lost. We would have had to make too many compromises on our original concept. Even though maybe no one else cares, we do.” It wasn’t until autumn 2013, two years after the initial project, that Loris&Livia worked out a way of making the glasses, concept intact, in a more industrial fashion. Lauber and Jaccard were introduced to an industrial catering glass manufacturer in Teplice, Czech Republic that can fulfil orders of hundreds at a time. Pallets of individually packaged Duralex glasses arrive at the factory in Teplice, where they are unpacked and polished by hand, much like the original process in London. Any fingerprints will cause the glass to stain in the heating process as oil from the skin reacts with the glass. “They can make about 280 to 300 glasses in the oven at the same time, compared to 9 to 12 in London,” explains Jaccard of the significant difference in scale of production. It’s a difference that means the studio is now largely supported by its Tipsy glass sales.
If the heating and cooling process is done incorrectly, the glass easily shatters.
Lauber. “It started with one glass, and it’s now thousands, and they are still all different. And I think that’s something that we’re quite happy with; that we found a solution to make this happen and to bring it to a bigger scale.” Early on, Loris&Livia was approached by a US distributor, but due to the cost of shipping
Tipsy released two coloured Picardie glasses last year – in blue and amber. “It’s a way of extending the range without changing the packaging,” says Lauber. Having worked as a product developer at design brand Established & Sons for three years, she is well versed in how diversification can quickly alter the way a product is shipped and sold, >
> as well as the importance of fulfilling orders. In January, following lengthy negotiations, the studio received its first order from Hong Kong department store Lane Crawford. It’s an introduction to the buoyant Asian market and it’s vital that the studio can deliver. The most obvious way forward for the Tipsy might seem for Loris&Livia to start working directly with Duralex and its production facility in Orléans, France. But although Duralex is synonymous with drinking glasses in France, the company suffered badly from years of mismanagement in the early 2000s. Following a buyout led by industrialist Antoine Ioannides in 2008, Duralex is focused on simply surviving, with scandalous reports about working conditions in its factory hitting the press in 2013. Lauber and Jaccard recently made a last-minute order for a pallet of Picardie glasses in order to deliver to a new client on time. What is usually a quick email purchase turned into a lengthy phone call, during which Lauber directed the Duralex sales agent to the Loris&Livia website. The agent fell silent for a
Tipsy glasses are packed in sets of two and four. The 10,000th glass was made recently.
50 Disegno. TIPSY-MAKING
moment. “You know that the Picardie doesn’t come in that shape,” he replied. It demonstrates the importance of designers working with manufacturers who understand their products. It is often this relationship between designer and producer, rather than the design itself, that determines if a product will be a commercial success. Independent, self-initiated ventures like the Tipsy glass have become an increasing fixture of the design world in recent years. Take, for example, designer Martino Gamper and his Arnold Circus stool, which his London studio manages production and sales for. Since its launch in 2006 the stool has sold in its thousands. On the other
tabletop designs. There are likely multiple reasons behind the launch of Smaller Objects but it’s highly probable that the opportunity to keep more than the standard three per cent royalties on products sold is among them. It’s the same calculation that Loris&Livia made years ago. “We try to keep track of how much we have invested and how much we have earned in this project,” says Lauber, “and I think we make 15 to 20 times more in one year from the Tipsy glass than having one product in production with a manufacturer paying us in royalties. It’s a significant change. Sometimes it can be quite frustrating when
“In Teplice they can make about 280 to 300 glasses in the oven at the same time, compared to 9 to 12 in London.” end of the spectrum is New Yorkbased lighting designer Lindsey Adelman, whose Branching Collection from 2006 has evolved into more than 50 standard models and made Adelman a small fortune. Even designers with long track records of only working with established design brands are considering the option of selfmanaged production. In February, Swedish architects Claesson Koivisto Rune launched Smaller Objects, a brand that produces its own
you work a long time on a project and a brand tells you: ‘OK, I don’t think we’re going to produce it.’ With the energy that we put into Tipsy – even though I must say that it’s sometimes very tedious as you might write 10 emails and only get one positive answer – we know that the time that we have invested will somehow be paid back to us.”
Johanna Agerman Ross is the founder and editor-in-chief of Disegno.
JUST ADD YOU.
ME by Starck. Sleek lines, iconic shapes, pure aesthetics, sustainability and durability. An ideal, adaptable design that emphasizes your unique personality. More at www.duravit.com and www.duravit.me
PHOTO Arthur Woodcroft
Almora by Doshi Levien It’s intriguing that after years of miniaturisation, the reverse is now happening. In consumer electronics, the industry that led the initial trend towards smallness, we have begun to see marked increases in sizes of products. In September, Apple launched its iPhone 6 in two sizes, both of them bigger than the previous model, while the recently released New Nintendo 3DS games console was produced from the beginning in two forms: a standard version and an “XL”. Fashion is likewise moving away from years of the body-conscious, while furniture design is experiencing a similar leaning towards the oversized. Instead of celebrating the light and compact, furniture brands are releasing objects so large as to seem borderline unrealistic 52 Disegno. ALMORA BY DOSHI LEVIEN
in terms of fitting into a contemporary, urban home. Wrong for Hay’s Hackney sofa is 2.5m long, for example, while B&B Italia’s sumptuous Almora armchair by London-based design practice Doshi Levien is a particularly spacious one-seater. The Almora’s construction adds to its grandeur. The chair is made up of three separate parts that envelope the sitter. A two-piece conical plastic base forms the seat and backrest, atop of which balances a wide headrest in oak covered in soft shearling. Given its size, it seems fitting that Almora has its origins in an Indian town of the same name in the Himalayas,a place where space is rarely an issue.
Johanna Agerman Ross
H A R R I S W H A R F L O N D O N . C O . U K
Fashion and Feminism It sometimes seems as though political correctness – the desire to be on the right side of progress – has done more harm than good to the causes it claims to support. These days we are all gay-friendly, anti-racist and, of course, feminist. Political correctness is not to be equated with political engagement or political commitment; it is an alternative to these, a well-meaning desire not to cause offence. The problem is, it ignores (indeed may often be unaware of) the widely divergent views within the movements it endorses. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of feminism, for there are many feminisms and certainly no one feminist “line”. Feminism itself has undergone significant change since the rise of second-wave feminism in the late 1960s. What was then still a movement involving traditional forms of political organisation such as demonstrations, marches, single-issue organisations and even (dare I say it) adherence to political parties has now become, above all, a media event. Feminism today is no longer about writing and distributing leaflets or lobbying MPs; it is about spectacle – viral, virtual and actual. The importance of spectacle has revived – or perhaps it never went away – the perennial standoff between feminism and fashion.
The fashion industry has sought to adapt to a new feminist agenda. It has incorporated the idea that fashion and feminism can go together. Historically, even in those periods when men were peacocks and dressed as showily – and as sexily (remember codpieces) – as women, religious moralists denounced women specifically for using fashionable dress in order to enhance their erotic appeal and lure men into sinful lust. By the 19th century this had mutated into a feminist position whereby men oppressed women by forcing them into elaborate fashions that crippled their bodies and restricted their movements – the crinoline, the bustle and the corset as woman’s prison. Both positions were influenced by a puritan suspicion of personal display; they also operated on an assumption of active male lust and male power operating on and controlling a passive female body. 54 Disegno. OPINION: FASHION AND FEMINISM
The implication was that a woman could only, or most easily, gain social independence by ceasing to present herself as a sexual being (a view, incidentally, still advanced by some Muslim feminists in defence of covered dress). Some women, however, rejected this view and demanded the right to “flaunt” themselves, the most recent manifestation of this being the idea of the slutwalk. These two views of fashionable dress – that it oppressed women and tempted men – unexpectedly converged in the 20th century. By this time the ideal of the attractive woman had become more demanding. Freudian psychology, Hollywood and the cosmetics industry had resulted in a feminine ideal of woman as not only a dutiful wife, domestic manager and mother, but as sexually proficient as well. One of the earliest and certainly best-remembered demonstrations of second-wave feminism was bra burning. Actually, bras were not burned – they were simply put in a trash can – but the message was clear: the way in which women were expected to beautify themselves for the pleasure of men and in order to attract male attention was central to the oppression of women and must be rejected. Fashion was the culprit, because fashion objectified the female body and hypersexualised it. However, to this a third position was added. It was now recognised that women themselves had an autonomous female sexuality of their own; far from merely responding to the active sexuality of the male half of the species, they were active sexual agents in their own right. From this it could be deduced that fashion might be woman’s partner, not her enemy. Dressing to look attractive was a pleasure to which women might now lay claim. Dressing up was therefore good and part of women’s power. And in the 1970s and early 1980s there were alternative modes of dress that could be understood as both radical and oppositional, and as beauty-enhancing in their own right. There has been a move forward to the recognition that women’s self-adornment is not simply to “please men”, but to achieve their own aims in terms of sexual pleasure and also all the other pleasures of dressing well and “making the most of yourself”. Capitalism has a way of incorporating everything. It seems particularly the case that aesthetic forms of protest – avant-garde art, personal deviance and outrage, and alternative lifestyles – can be swallowed up and converted into mere lifestyle or decoration.
Opposite: Trois Femmes (detail) by Pierre Mornet for Prada spring/summer 2014 show. PHOTO A. Maranzano
Capitalism aims to please; it cannot have failed to notice that in many parts of the world women now demand far more of life than they did 100 or even 50 years ago. It should be no surprise, therefore, to find that not only have feminist scholars been engaged in the study of fashion since the 1990s or earlier, but that the fashion industry has sought to adapt to a new feminist agenda. It has incorporated the idea that fashion and feminism can go together. Alexander McQueen was the earliest designer to base collections and catwalk shows on themes of women’s (and other forms of) oppression and in this way, as fashion theorist Caroline Evans observed, fashion was transformed: no longer the oppressor of women, but the last redoubt of radical critique of society. Hussein Chalayan meanwhile played with and subverted the ideal of the veil in his spring/summer 1998 collection. In the new millennium the open referencing of feminism has seemingly increased, reaching critical mass by its second decade. Designers and other actors in the media industry understandably wish to proclaim their liberal credentials, but in doing so appear to be responding to a critique that is now out of date. Feminists no longer believe that fashion equals the oppression of women (although we might note that some religious men of power do apparently still believe that women use adornment to incite male lust). Anxiety has migrated from lipstick and bras onto the actual body. Norms of physical perfection have narrowed. Tolstoy wrote in War and Peace that the down on Princess Bolkonskaya’s upper lip was part of her beauty; the charms of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath were enhanced by her gap-toothedness. But today body hair (even for men), crooked teeth and other imperfections are abominations to be at all costs eradicated and the obsession with weight and diet are part of a wider neurosis about food that haunts western societies. It is not so much fashion that is the oppressor as the fashion industry. Fashion – changes in style – is not itself oppressive. It is not the clothes slightly diminutive fashion models wear that are objectionable, but the excessive thinness of the models themselves. It is the visual representation of fashion that causes offence – one example being the heroin-chic photography of the late 1990s, >
OPINION: FASHION AND FEMINISM
> which earned a reproof from then-US President Bill Clinton, no less. Similarly the perceived feminism of designers and others in recent years has been expressed through representation – in the “faux feminist” demonstration at Chanel’s spring/summer 2015 show; at Prada’s spring/summer 2014 show, which referenced Riot Grrrl and “women who struggle”; and jewellery designer Eddie Borgo, also inspired by Riot Grrrl and feminist art. This is the society of the spectacle with a vengeance; a world in which ideas and image are no longer anchored to material reality but, uncoupled from it, float without visible means
there is also something fundamentally wrong about the charitable endeavours of all the wealthiest stars in the stratosphere. What effects do such arrangements have on the tax affairs of wealthy donors? Nor should it be the case that the health of Africans depends on the goodwill of individuals. Where is the political process in all this? Charity is ultimately an antidemocratic form of beneficence undermining the collective role of the public sphere and not necessarily empowering its recipients. On a much
Anxiety has migrated from lipstick and bras onto the actual body. Norms of physical perfection have narrowed. of support in a kind of celebrity virtual reality. As expressions of ethical goodwill such gestures are unobjectionable, indeed elegant – as in the Longines watch advertisement that intones “elegance is an attitude” – and to strike an attitude can in certain circumstances be a powerful form of critique (writer Quentin Crisp comes to mind), but it is also an end in itself, without consequences. Such attitudes are part of a much wider deformation of a global society in which individualism is the measure of all things. It is, for example, to be applauded that Bill Gates and his wife Melinda have embarked on huge charitable endeavours supporting health initiatives in the developing world. But 56 Disegno. OPINION: FASHION AND FEMINISM
smaller scale, while it is well-meaning of model Cara Delevigne to campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM), this practice will not be eradicated by the indignation of celebrities. Only the education and emancipation of women in those countries and cultures that practice FGM will end this horrible tradition. When Chanel and Prada include feminism in the spectacle of the catwalk, this could be interpreted as a gesture of disavowal, which acknowledges yet does nothing to change the often dire economic circumstances of those thousands
A photograph by Nick Waplington from the series Alexander McQueen Working Process, 2013. Courtesy of Nick Waplington. Alexander McQueen: Working Process 10 March – 17 May 2015, Tate Britain.
of workers in the industry who make the garments, at every level, inspired by top designers. This is merely one example of the way feminism today, whether in its bearing on fashion or anywhere else, has by some strange cultural sleight of hand ceased to be a political enterprise and become another spectacle. It might be argued against this that today everyone inhabits the virtual world of social media and massmedia spectacle and that political statements operating in this sphere are as real as canvassing voters. Unfortunately, they are not. They can act as posters or alarm signals. But – as has been demonstrated by the Occupy movement and Pussy Riot – without ongoing, sustained organisation and dedication, they are largely irrelevant to social change for women.
Elizabeth Wilson is an author and cultural critic. She has written extensively on feminist politics and policy, and the history of dress as cultural practice.
Ed Meadham, co-founder of Meadham Kirchhoff on the role of gender in his work. Feminism has been a part of Meadham Kirchhoff’s practice for a long time, but now it’s showing up in more mainstream collections. What did you think of Chanel’s catwalk demonstration for spring/summer 2015? Anything that brings feminism and issues of gender and otherness in general into public consciousness is always a good thing. But I feel Chanel’s adoption of this is very empty. Empty and transient. Nevertheless, it brings some issues into people’s consciousness and that’s a good thing, though the problem is that they will be forgotten as quickly as they’ve been adopted. Hopefully at least one or two people in the world will now start to think about these issues and act upon them. Is fashion a good forum or medium for exploring those issues? Fashion has never really been somewhere where politics are explored. I think it could be a forum for that, but it’s a personal thing. Individuals have more capacity to change things than the fashion industry, which chooses to briefly adopt an idea or a concept. The industry generally does not have a political voice or a political opinion, although at the moment it temporarily seems to. But I think fashion could do a myriad things that it generally doesn’t. What about gender in particular? You have often used men in womenswear shows, for instance. We’ve done that for a long time and people didn’t even notice. We’ve had girls in boys’
clothes, boys in girls’ clothes, boys in boys’ clothes, girls in girls’ clothes. The rigidity of gender binaries is a completely ridiculous notion that belongs to centuries long before us. People don’t fit into these concepts as well as they’re supposed to and this is something I’ve always felt personally connected to. I have never felt like a boy and nor would I say I feel like a girl. I feel like I’ve been raised in a culture that I do not relate to on any level, that has always expected things of me that are not there and things from other people that I don’t think of as being there. In women, girls, boys, gays, lesbians; the whole shebang is a pile of shite. People are much more complex than two genders can accommodate. I think there is more than one gender, more than one sexuality, more than one way for every aspect of your life. There’s room to explore that in fashion. What has your own experience brought to Meadham Kirchhoff’s conception of feminism in fashion? You grew up in a culture that put you in a box you didn’t fit in. It’s a box I absolutely do not fit into. For me, gender and feminism are all one issue. If the way I feel doesn’t
relate to what is expected of me, then that just highlights to me the farcical nature of gender expectations as a whole. That, to me, is feminism. My concept of feminism is not only related to issues directly concerning women but to gender as a concept. Could fashion discussing these issues change people’s opinions and help people accept a more encompassing view of feminism? Who knows? Who knows what people will make of any of this or how long anyone will remember it. I think fashion could have that effect, but it just doesn’t. When we talk about fashion, we’re actually discussing the industry and the designers – Chanel for example. In that context I think this will all be forgotten by next season. So I don’t know how much change will actually get made. Is that not a cynical view? I would not say that, no. I think it’s realistic.
Ana Kinsella is a writer and editor at Bon Magazine.
Meadham Kirchhoff spring/ summer 2015.
OPINION: FASHION AND FEMINISM
Rotterdam Harbour Rotterdam’s quayside warehouses once stored goods; now, goods are created in them. Since the late 1990s the city’s harbour area has become home to a slew of influential design practices. The Netherlands’ second city has long stood at the forefront of architecture and is home to more than 300 practices (including heavyweights such as OMA and MVRDV), but it is increasingly also recognised as a design hub, with major practices >
58 Disegno. ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
At 126sq km the port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe.Â PHOTOS Tjerk Spannenburg
> like Richard Hutten and Studio Wieki Somers based there. Although design studios dot the conurbation, it is the old fruit wharves – at the eastern, town-facing edge of the enormous port district – that have become the design community’s epicentre, with about two dozen practices nestled there around the waterfront. The 126sq km commercial port of Rotterdam is by far the largest in Europe and for a long time it was the world’s busiest. A series of expansions towards the sea since 1872 have rendered its older harbours disused and it is in these harbours that designers have taken up residence. Marconistraat is a kilometre-long road that caps one such
“It feels like the countryside. It’s our island in the city, but it also has the rough side of heavy industry.” wharf; largely built in the postwar years with Marshall Plan reconstruction money, it was devoted to fruit. Warehouses – some brick, others corrugated iron – periodically break up the desolate stretch and only a couple of the dozen cranes that punctuate the sky remain in operation. Besides the odd speeding vehicle, it has an odd tranquility. Marconistraat 52, an old industrial building that sits next to a still-functioning warehouse, is the area’s nucleus. Now divided into several studios, it is a heterogeneous space, with room for product designers, architects and photographers. “The architects were here
The old parts of the harbour are largely disused and it’s in these abandoned warehouses that designers have found studio space. Above: Sculpture by area resident Joep van Lieshout.
60 Disegno. ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
first,” says Odin Visser, co-founder of resident industrial-design practice Studio Kees. “But then the recession came and they left.” Designers – with lower overheads and greater self-sufficiency – gradually took over. Although a largely Dutch community, the present tenants of 52 include Italian/Japanese furniture designers Minale-Maeda and US artist Ellen Gallagher. The building acts as a draw for its inhabitants.
The first to arrive, in 1998, were Richard Hutten and architectural model-maker Vincent de Rijk. Both already rented properties elsewhere in the city but needed space for expansion. Hutten’s branch is accessible through a side door removed from the rest of the warehouse and includes a voluminous office, workshop and storeroom. “Rotterdam is really cheap,” says Hutten in short explanation of the size of his space.
Richard Hutten was one of the first designers to arrive in the harbour, in 1998. Below: Hutten’s workshop.
Larger still is Studio Wieki Somers, a few minutes down Marconistraat in the old customs house. Faded remnants of the old signage are still visible on its concrete façade. At 4,500 sqm, the studio has ample room for specialised workspaces. Both Hutten and Somers’s studio presence speak of two main reasons why designers have been drawn to the fruit wharves: abundant space and cheap rents. “The local government knew that we were looking for a bigger space,” says Somers, who founded her practice with partner Dylan van den Berg in 2003 in Rotterdam, “Only in this undefined area was it possible.” Like most designers in the harbour, Somers rents her premises from the publicly-owned port authorities at a non-commercial rate. The city is happy to lease out structures that would otherwise remain vacant. Although a renewal plan for the area is in place, its timespan remains vague. Visser says that direct government grants have decreased since the 2008 recession but the city’s administration is still active. “It often facilitates things,” he says. “If a building has no insulation, for example, they’ll add it for you if you’re willing to pay the rent.” Rotterdam also hosts the national Creative Industry Fund, which provides €1.5million a year in
subsidies for design. In Rotterdam, designers can enjoy face-to-face access to the fund’s organisers, although funding is by no means guaranteed. Asked if Minale-Maeda has received sponsorship, Mario Minale’s response is unilateral: “No, nothing.” Transport connections also make the area attractive. Hutten spends several months a year abroad and sees Rotterdam as a convenient base from which to travel: “Rotterdam is
a suburb of London. With a 10-minute bike ride I’m at the airport, and 40 minutes later I’m in London.” Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is also a mere half-hour train ride from Rotterdam Centraal. The proximity of Rotterdam’s architectural scene also bolsters the port’s desirability: Studio Makkink & Bey, a collaboration between architect Rianne Makkink and designer Jurgen Bey, also based on Marconistraat, recently co-designed the city’s municipal headquarters within OMA’s monumental De Rotterdam office block; > ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
Dylan van den Berg of Studio Wieki Somers, based in the harbourâ€™s old customs house. Below: Somers was drawn to the area because of the ample studio space it offers.
62 Disegno. ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
> Studio Wieki Somers’s Merry-Go-Round Coat Rack won the 2009 Dutch Design Prize and serves as a cloakroom at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in the city; and Hutten designed the refectory and shop at the Centraal Museum in nearby Utrecht, also part of the Randstad conurbation (along with Amsterdam and The Hague). Exploring Marconistraat 52, with its shared lunch tables, it is tempting to view the harbour as home to a collaborative design community. Yet things are not as cohesive as they seem. “We work quite independently – but of course I see people in the area and we’ll sometimes go for dinner or something,” says Hutten, while Visser speaks of there being “healthy competition” in the complex. Nevertheless, a cluster of designers with complimentary skills has a creative benefit, a fact embodied by the practice of Vincent de Rijk. Although best known as an architectural model-maker, de Rijk is also a materials expert specialising in polyester resin. Designers in the harbour speak of him with admiration and he is a valued collaborator. “He has incredible knowledge of resins and porcelain,” says Visser, while Hutten acknowledges him as a crucial supplier. This fascination for difficult, often unexpected, materials seems to pervade the harbour. Fashion designer Martijn van Strien, based nearby in Delfshaven, has crafted elaborate coats out of single tarpaulins, while Studio Kees’s Edison the Petit LED lamp is made entirely of polyethylene. It seems appropriate that Ellen Gallagher, an artist famed for her collaging of materials such as rubber, velvet and plasticine, has also chosen to work here. This culture of material experimentation notwithstanding, the wharf’s relative calm is a boon. “I did have some plans to move elsewhere, but since we moved here we want to stay,” says Somers. “It feels like the countryside. It’s our >
Jurgen Bey of Studio Makkink & Bey in his Marconistraat studio. Below: Its exterior.
The workshop of Vincent de Rijk specialises in works in polyester resin.
> island in the city, but it also has the rough side of heavy industry.” Hutten also accepts an influence. “The docklands’ objects are very utilitarian and made to work,” he says, a fact that parallels his own design process: “Functionality is the starting point,” he says. Rotterdam’s disparate skyline has also influenced van Strien, who describes his tarpaulin garment series Dystopian Brutalist Outerwear (2013) as “stiff and rigid” like the city’s glass towers. “It feels like a real city,” he says. “Messy, with all these different styles thrown together.” The community is in part linked by education; many of its designers studied at the Design Academy Eindhoven (about an hour’s drive away), a school famous for its theoretical, socially-directed focus. Its ethos is particularly evident in the workspace of Studio Makkink & Bey, where the storeroom includes public space-led plans for building projects and asymmetrical chairs that experiment with the ways in which people sit, lie and lean. The practice has been informed by collaborations with Indian cottage industries (a 2014 project produced a cheese maker in collaboration with artisans in Jaipur) and a belief that “machines are becoming smaller and cleaner”. Bey says that at the Rotterdam docklands “living and working will happen in the same place again” and that it is a place where aspects of design are restored to a communal, pre-industrial state in which designers are better able to respond to people’s needs. 64 Disegno. ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
At a conceptual level, these concerns are echoed in the art of Joep van Lieshout, whose atelier lies a few hundred yards south of Marconistraat, opposite a gargantuan E.ON plant and a cylindrical gas tank now converted into a nightclub. Van Lieshout and his 20-strong team use metalwork, woodwork and fibreglass-sculpting techniques that reverberate with the old industry that surrounds them. Throughout his career, van Lieshout
clothes, and even Hutten’s Last Ashtray (2012), a farewell to smoking that was created as the typology’s final, pre-obsolescent form. A forward-thinking ethos also pervades the RDM Centre of Expertise Campus across the river, linked to Marconistraat by water taxi. RDM Campus is a maker space that includes two design colleges and an enormous “Innovation Dock” housing numerous small practices. The focus is on original, often
The Marconi Freezone project will offer space for studios and exhibitions and allow architects to build experimental prototypes. has been concerned with how a “new industrial revolution” might lead to agrarian, ecological ways of living. This chimes with the work of several nearby practices, who also seem concerned with crafting objects for a resource-poor, post-technological future. This preoccupation emerges in Makkink & Bey’s Conceptroom Huisraad furniture for a nomadic era (2014), van Strien’s aforementioned garments for a future that lacks the fabrics needed to make conventional
environmentally-focused technology; the space offers inexpensive training in digital and mechanical techniques, enabling more people to train as creators. Funded by the Port Authority, RDM Campus is an investment in Rotterdam’s design future. This tendency towards the long– term doesn’t apply to Marconistraat itself however – it remains in the state of uncertainty prompted by future redevelopment plans. “We can use our building until >
The RDM campus is based across the wharf and contains maker spaces and an “innovation dock”.
The workshop of fashion designer Martijn van Strien.
> 2025,” says Somers, “Then they have a renewal plan. They will break everything down and make islands to live on. But if there’s another economic crisis, we might be able to extend.” Until that point however, the dockside community is set to expand. Further design practices, such as the art and technology-led Studio Roosegaarde, are relocating to the area, yet the more crucial move is in the city and designers’ efforts to introduce the public to the life of the wharves. Van Lieshout (who already assists an adjoining farm that is devoted to filling food banks) plans to run free workshops, while Marconistraat boasts a second, organic 66 Disegno. ROTTERDAM HARBOUR
vegetable-producing city farm, and there are additional plans underway for a park, brewery and open-air cinema. The Marconi Freezone project will develop 3 sq km of land around a nearby former railway depot, offering space for studios and exhibitions, and allowing architects to build experimental prototypes, while new paths will connect the area with Schiedamseweg, a major shopping street, allowing for easier public access and helping transform the docklands into a consolidated cultural nexus. The success of Rotterdam’s docklands as a locus for design is perhaps not surprising: its affordable rents and abundant space, enviable connections and a vast pre-existing architecture
sector are considerable virtues. What is more remarkable, however, is the support lent by the city and port authorities, matched by occupants with a burgeoning sense of public utility. There is a belief that even within a delineated time frame, more can be achieved. Yet there is still a risk, as highlighted by Mario Minale. “As the area becomes more popular, the prices will rise and the creative industry will disappear,” he says. It is a familiar story, but one that the docklands’ residents seem ready to weather; until the process Minale describes happens, the new developments bring only excitement. “It’s starting,” says Bey, “the designers here live on islands, but the islands are startling to touch each other, and when they are touching you can see new developments happening. It’s like living inside your own experiment.”
Joe Lloyd is a London-based journalist working in architecture and literature.
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NO MORE POETRY? VIKTOR&ROLF ON THE DEATH OF CONCEPTUALISM IN FASHION
With poems by Olivier Saillard
NO MORE POETRY?
“The House of Viktor&Rolf announces today that it will discontinue its ready-to-wear collections. Fall/Winter 2015 will be the final season.” This was the press release that Amsterdam-based fashion label Viktor&Rolf released on 3 February 2015. Two months earlier I had sat down with Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting, the house’s Dutch founders, at a long table in their sumptuous headquarters on Amsterdam’s Herengracht canal. Snoeren’s dachshund Swanny sought the safety of her owner’s lap, staring at me suspiciously, and we began to talk. “Viktor and I are in the mood to really explore a movement back to something that lies away from trends and this focus that is too business-minded,” said Snoeren. It was a response to the question that I had asked Snoeren and Horsting to consider for the Disegno No.8 residency: is conceptualism in fashion dead? Both the conversation that followed and the announcement about stopping ready-to-wear in favour of haute couture that came two months later seemed to suggest the opposite. So why did Disegno want to explore this theme of conceptualism’s demise? Viktor&Rolf’s own trajectory provides an answer. Snoeren and Horsting met while studying fashion at Arnhem Academy of Art and Design (ArtEZ) in the Netherlands. Upon graduating in 1992, they submitted their work to the Festival International de Mode et de Photographie, a fashion festival in Hyères, France, under the joint name of Viktor&Rolf. They won first prize and the name stuck. They then moved to Paris to pursue a career as fashion designers. Their work was highly conceptual, bordering on art performance. For a 1996 collection they clutched placards and went on strike instead of producing garments, while for their autumn/winter 1999 collection Russian Doll the “catwalk” consisted of Snoeren and Horsting dressing a model in layers upon layers of garments, swaddling her until she looked like a matryoshka with only her face peeking out over the neckline of the final garment.
72 Disegno. NO MORE POETRY?
Snoeren and Horsting’s collections became both a commentary on the fashion industry they were attempting to break into and a reflection on their marginalised position within it. According to a 1999 interview with New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn, they supported themselves on a “mix of government grants, museum sales and good will”. The fact that Snoeren and Horsting were active participants in their shows seemed to emphasise this questioning of their position and relationship to the industry, but also hinted that, as Horsting told Horyn: “You could say that for the last couple of years our name was the only product we were working on.” They were not alone in questioning the ruling fashion system. The 1990s was a fertile decade for alternative explorations. The glamour traditionally associated with fashion design was stripped away and conceptualised, with a plethora of independent magazines such as Visionaire (US, founded in 1991), Dazed&Confused (UK, 1992) and Self Service (France, 1995) frequently mixing fashion with music and art, and challenging the power and status quo of leading titles like Vogue. London-educated fashion designers Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen rose to prominence and London proposed a serious challenge to Paris as a “capital” of fashion. Conceptualism rather than wearability was a virtue to be celebrated and with this came a healthy questioning of the industry. The “businessmindedness” that Snoeren talks about was rarely discussed in mainstream media. Fashion was first and foremost portrayed as an art form. Fast-forward 20 years and the situation looks very different. Those magazines that led the vanguard have long since been incorporated into industry machinery
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY? VIKTOR&ROLF
where editorial and adverts are difficult to tell apart and many previously independent, family-run fashion houses are now owned by global luxury conglomerates. A majority stake of Alexander McQueen was acquired by Gucci Group in 2000, and Diesel co-founder Renzo Rosso’s OTB Group took majority stakes in Viktor&Rolf in 2008, Maison Martin Margiela in 2002 and Marni in 2012. One of the early 21st century’s most celebrated fashion magazines is online platform The Business of Fashion. The title spells out its preoccupations blatantly: this is not a platform about the creative forces of the industry, it’s about the bottom line. Here CEOs are interviewed as frequently, if not more regularly, than fashion designers.
– it is, after all, a product of late-capitalist society – but the question is one of balance and how much those business concerns can be prioritised before the industry becomes lost in its own self-interest. In February, respected Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort announced the “death of fashion as we know it”. Edelkoort’s justification was simple: “Marketing, of course, killed the whole thing. It’s governed by greed and not by vision.” Elsewhere fashion critic Dana Thomas closed her new book Gods and Kings with the following epitaph for contemporary fashion: “It’s about consumption, not creation... There is no poetry. No heart. No angst. It’s just business.”
Elsewhere, creative directors are moved around major fashion houses like pawns in a chess game (Raf Simons from Jil Sander to Dior, Nicolas Ghesquière from Balenciaga to Louis Vuitton, etc.) and it has become clear who the power really belongs to in the industry. Whatever influence creative directors and designers once had – often as heads of their own houses (read Martin Margiela, John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Azzedine Alaïa, Ann Demeulemeester) – has gradually been stripped away, replaced by the interests of investors. It would be naive to claim that business interests should not form a part of the fashion industry
Snoeren and Horsting have experienced these changes first-hand. In 2000 the house secured an investor and branched out into ready-to-wear, with haute couture becoming of decreasing importance to its shows. Menswear was added in 2003 and in 2005 the label launched its first perfume, Flowerbomb. Having by 2006 worked sufficiently on “their name”, Snoeren and Horsting were invited to design a collection for global high-street brand H&M. The increasing pace of running a fashion brand brings with it the pressures of designing pre- and resort collections and, of course, consideration of the >
NO MORE POETRY?
> ever-important bottom line. But with that pace, some of the qualities that first put Viktor&Rolf in the limelight seemed to get lost. It is a possible explanation as to why the house returned to the Paris haute couture schedule in July 2013 for the first time in more than 10 years. Snoeren and Horsting showed their pared-down Zen Garden collection; with models dressed all in black, it seemed to signal a move back to slowness and contemplation. With this in mind, it felt like an apt time to ask Viktor&Rolf to reflect on the “death of conceptualism”. In Snoeren’s and Horsting’s first email to Disegno, in Autumn 2014, they wrote: “The question ‘Is conceptualism in fashion dead?’ made us think of the eternal ebb and flow of time and creation. Trends in fashion, art and design come and go, but there is a timeless undercurrent beyond these temporal changes. This is the well of creativity. In
showing the work of Viktor&Rolf. This work is represented by miniature replicas of some of their past catwalk looks, as modelled by the fashion house’s custom-made porcelain dolls. “It’s a way to cherish an idea, to go over it again as opposed to getting rid of it – to hold on to an experience, to freeze time, if you will,” says Horsting. “We find it a pity to throw out ideas as rapidly as fashion does. We like to nurture our work instead of disposing of it.” The studio’s first dolls were made for a retrospective exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London in 2008. There, they were displayed in a giant dollhouse. “It provided an opportunity to look at the clothes from a different perspective – by showing contemporary fashion on historically inspired dolls, suddenly one doesn’t look at fashion anymore,” says Horsting. This custom has continued and Viktor&Rolf now makes these miniature garments in its couture
recent times, business and money are aspects of fashion that have come more and more to the forefront. When talking about fashion, there is an emphasis on the numbers: turnovers, deadlines, profits, likes, etc. In our minds, this emphasis on the quantifiable aspect of fashion is more connected to the discourse in the media than to fashion itself and to how it is created. Our society at the moment is in love with the surface and seems to have a fear of introspection and emotional depth. This does not mean these are absent, however, or ‘dead’. It is merely what is projected now, more so than 10 years ago. But when conceptualism was an admired trend, business was anyway running the show behind the scenes.” To illustrate their point, the designers decided to emphasise the poetry of fashion for their residency. They asked Olivier Saillard, a writer and curator of fashion museum Palais Galliera in Paris, to write eight poems to accompany a selection of images
atelier, producing them for each collection, the dolls dressed in exact replicas of the garments displayed on the catwalk. The legs and bodies are made by a doll maker in Hungary, while the porcelain hands and heads are made by a ceramist in the Netherlands who meticulously interprets the make-up from the show for the dolls’ faces. The wigs are made from human hair by a hairdresser in the Netherlands who replicates the models’ hairstyles. Each doll is subsequently placed in its own wooden crate and stored in an art warehouse. A selection of these were removed from storage for an outing to Viktor&Rolf’s Amsterdam studio for the shoot with Disegno. “The combination of image and poetry stakes the case that, far from being dead, conceptualism and poetry are very much alive,” wrote Horsting and Snoeren in their first email. “They have less to do with an extreme dress than with a way of looking at and experiencing things.”
“EVERYTHING IS ABOUT THE BUSINESS. IT WASN’T LIKE THAT BEFORE. THERE’S LESS INTEREST IN CONCEPTUAL FASHION.”
74 Disegno. NO MORE POETRY?
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY? VIKTOR&ROLF Johanna Agerman Ross interviewed Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting on 15 December 2014 in their Amsterdam studio. What did you think of the theme when I first suggested it? Rolf Snoeren Our first reaction was
a sense of time. I think we wondered about how in life and art history things come up, disappear, and then come up again. In the end, death is not really death. It’s just... Resurrection?
RS Yeah. So that got us thinking about
our own work and time.
Viktor Horsting Because at first we
thought, “Why would you ask us this question?” Because it’s like asking, “Are you dead?” I think our work is pretty conceptual. Are we dead? What does it mean? RS But then we read how you thought
we’d moved from being very conceptual towards being more wearable. VH And it is a fact that when you
look at fashion now there seems to be little space for anything other than business-oriented messages and product-oriented work. RS Everything is about the business,
and it wasn’t like that before. There’s less interest in conceptual fashion. But Viktor and I are in the mood to really explore a movement back to something that lies away from trends and this focus that is too business-minded.
What first interested me in fashion were collections like your early work – they made me reflect and pushed me into design. What’s happened to that direction in the industry?
VH We share your feeling. What
happened such that we are where we are? If you look at recent fashion, the message is visually very businesslike. Even if something isn’t very commercial, it still looks commercial or suggests a commercialism. A grand gesture or theatrics – or even the suggestion of an idea behind a show or collection – doesn’t seem to be done anymore, as if it’s not allowed at the moment. That has changed since we started. Why is that? Apart from the ebb and flow of trends, why are we seeing it at the moment?
VH I honestly don’t know. I sometimes
wonder if it is connected to more than fashion. RS I think it’s everywhere.
Well, let’s look back on your time in Arnhem and maybe we’ll find parts of an answer. What prompted you to start your path together? VH I think we had a feeling of not being
part of anything. We felt very much like outsiders. We were from Holland, where there was no fashion industry or media, so we were studying fashion in a country where it didn’t exist. It was like studying your hobby – to turn that into a profession was considered funny, unusual, or impossible. Then we lived in Paris for a while and we got our first sense that fashion was something real. At the same time we still felt very much like outsiders. We were starting out, didn’t know anybody and Paris was a very closed city. You don’t just enter the fashion industry. There are all these rules and regulations that you have to follow >
“WHY WOULD YOU ASK US THIS QUESTION?”
NO MORE POETRY?
“WE WERE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLACE IN THE ART WORLD AND IMPOSSIBLE TO PLACE IN THE FASHION WORLD.” > and we had no idea. It’s not something you learned or were familiar with. So we just started with the pure desire to create something together. In a way it was naive. There was no master plan or blueprint. Our approach was never businesslike. But you won the Festival d’Hyères prize in 1993. That was recognition very early on in your careers. RS That was totally unexpected and
it was because of that prize that we felt we could really try to do something for ourselves. But it hadn’t been an ambition before that. We didn’t enter fashion to start a label. VH It was a creative endeavour that
turned into a collection.
RS Afterwards there was a lot of
interest from the art world and we slowly got into that because it gave us more freedom than the fashion business, which just wanted us to sell. It was great for us to do fashion in that setting, but at a certain point we felt that to say something about fashion we had to be in the fashion world itself. We really wanted to be fashion designers and not drift too far away from that, which we felt was happening. But your collections at that point weren’t necessarily about wearability. They were more about ideas. RS Our couture was only about ideas
and couture gave us a medium to do that. But before couture the medium could have been anything from video to sound, to sculpture, to real dresses, to museum work or live performances. Everything was open and I think we tried everything. VH It meant we were impossible to
place in the art world and impossible to place in the fashion world. In our own minds it became blurry: what did we want? Then we started on couture, and that took off.
76 Disegno. NO MORE POETRY?
RS Already at that time we felt that
the world around fashion had become omnipresent. In 1995 we made a piece where we had six-year-olds in a primary school reciting the names of models. A teacher said the name of a supermodel and the children repeated it. It was a great soundtrack. VH We were presenting something in
a gallery and the first thing you’d hear when you entered was this class of schoolchildren reciting the names of the top models. At that moment, everything was all about models and we thought it was so ridiculous, because it was supposed to be about clothes and the message. In 2000 you started a ready-to-wear line and it seemed your approach changed somewhat. Was it a pure business decision to move from couture and into ready-to-wear? VH When we were making the last
couture show we realised that in order to exist we needed to work on the business. That’s why we started to do ready-to-wear, not just to make money but to communicate with an audience. The couture was bought by a collector or a very rich woman, so it wasn’t like we were communicating. It wasn’t flowing. It’d be the collection, the show, the press, and then it would end. We wanted to be more alive. RS We wanted to go back to couture
because we felt there was something missing. What’s our point of difference? What do we really love?
VH And to let the ready-to-wear be what
it is. Perhaps this fits in with the whole movement of ready-to-wear being more business-oriented. We have noticed that a lot of collections are really being designed for the pictures on style.com or vogue.com. They’re frontal and everything has become very graphic. They’re made to communicate in 2D and when you look at a show there
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY? VIKTOR&ROLF are just one or two ideas. There has been this extreme condensing of every brand and designer. RS Which is something we don’t like.
Everything becomes the same.
VH But everything has to be like this
[clicks fingers] on the internet. It’s changing the way we all look at things. We also look at shows like that now. RS But we do think about how to
do it differently, because it’s not really working. VH It’s a pity that the sense of
mystery is lost when everything is visual or available.
Looking at your progression, what made you think you had to go from couture to ready-to-wear? Did you have to in order to continue doing what you loved? Or were you more interested in seeing how your ideas could work in that context? VH It felt like a natural progression. We loved working on couture, but businesswise it wasn’t viable. We had to come up with a plan and that was ready-to-wear. RS But we kept doing a couture section
in our ready-to-wear shows because that’s what we like: to communicate an idea.
Soon after the switch to ready-to-wear you also launched Flowerbomb. Now when you search Viktor&Rolf online the first two or three pages are all about fragrance. It takes a while to get to the clothing and that’s quite symbolic. RS We talked about it. In 1996 we did
an exhibition about our ambitions and at that time we weren’t known at all. So we said to ourselves, “Who do we want to be?” We made miniature installations of the iconic moments a fashion designer experiences and which we wanted to experience: the atelier where you make things; the photoshoot; the catwalk; the
shop. All were small, doll-size. Then we had a fake perfume, which was our big ambition. We made 250 bottles of fake perfume and an advertisement for it. VH The installations were all made
using little dolls depicting humans, but in the perfume installation the advert was made using a real girl. It was only recently we said, “Why wasn’t she a doll?” In hindsight it is kind of symbolic. RS I think we have a gift for storytelling
in perfumes. It’s much easier for us to translate things into that than into a garment on a hanger. With perfume you directly tap into the story and when I was growing up the perfume world was my portal into fashion. I really started by getting interested in perfume ads. Maybe fashion was too difficult for me to understand, but the perfume ads... VH Where we’re from, it’s not as if you
had great fashion stores. You didn’t have a salon down the road. RS In all of Holland there was one
fashion magazine, a Dutch magazine called Avenue. Not a great choice?
RS I thought it was great because
it was the only one I saw. But no.
VH It’s unimaginable now. There
was no knowledge.
RS Nothing on TV, the internet didn’t
exist. Talk about the Stone Age!
But how do you feel that someone searching Google won’t see your clothes until page two? A commercially successful project such as Flowerbomb makes people aware of Viktor&Rolf, but not necessarily your ready-to-wear or couture. RS The thing I find difficult with these
questions is that I have to defend my creative side. Flowerbomb is commercial but what we love so much about it is >
NO MORE POETRY?
> that it’s our creation as well. It’s something to be proud of and something that was very daring when we launched it. The perfume is as much a part of our work as the clothes and couture are. You don’t differentiate between them? VH We never did.
RS It’s not a licensed thing for us,
although maybe for other designers it is. For us it’s a great way to sell something beautiful, a story. Let’s talk about that story a little. How did you develop it? RS When we started working on
Flowerbomb we had to put everything that we’re about into one bottle: one name, one image. So we started thinking about what our brand is. It’s about extremes, combining opposites to create some sort of tension; something aggressive and something poetic. VH When you see something poetic
or an artwork, if it’s been reproduced frequently like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, very often you forget about the original. I have this association when speaking about Flowerbomb because it’s an equal expression of creativity to the collections we do. It’s artistically equal and it’s just that it has been lifted out of everything we’ve done and become extremely successful. Therefore it suffers a little from “Sunflowers syndrome”. If you see it, you hardly experience it for what it is. RS There’s a different time experience.
Why when something is good does it always have to be renewed? Sometimes I find that with a fashion collection
everything has to be thrown away the minute it’s presented. When something is good you should try to stick to it. The fashion world has become such that nothing can exist – when something has existed for one day on the internet it’s already old. You become cynical about creativity. Creativity is something that means something and we should want it to last. It’s not just to renew interest in a brand or sell something else.
You spoke about this when I first wrote to you. You said that timelessness is the “well of creativity” and what you go back to all the time. It’s an abstract idea, but where is your “well”? And how do you make sure to replenish it? VH Talking to each other, that’s very
important. We’ll always discuss whatever is happening around us, how we feel, what we miss. Usually ideas come from there, from being frustrated or angry or anxious. We don’t get excited by a new length of a skirt. Perhaps in the end that’s an important consideration, but it’s not a starting point. That’s not the “well”. RS If you talk about the well, it never
needs to be renewed. It’s always there. Talking in mystical terms, the challenge is to tap into that well or you drift too far away. You have to come back over and over again. VH It’s about being silent and not having
too many distractions. Remaining aligned is something we’re careful about, which is why we say that our friendship is the most important element of what we’re doing. If we can’t find each other, then it’s very difficult, impossible, to create something.
“WHEN SOMETHING HAS EXISTED FOR ONE DAY ON THE INTERNET IT’S ALREADY OLD. YOU BECOME CYNICAL ABOUT CREATIVITY.”
78 Disegno. NO MORE POETRY?
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY? VIKTOR&ROLF In her book Fashion at the Edge, fashion theorist Caroline Evans links your collections from the 1990s to the conceptual work of Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. Did you feel a part of that world? VH I read that, but I don’t think we’ve
ever really felt a part of anything, have we? Intellectually I could understand that people would look at us in a similar scope. We didn’t think at all about being a part of a movement. It was about trying to be a part of the fashion world with things that we found beautiful and important. Maybe looking from the outside we were part of a movement and that’s recognisable – which is fine – but it’s not a consideration of ours. RS Because we were so young I didn’t
feel that there was a conceptual wave going on. Now I can see it, but we were just entering the fashion world and it wasn’t a society... we were so much in our own little world. Of course, we weren’t separate from everything, but we didn’t realise it ourselves.
global and it doesn’t matter if you’re from Holland or Tokyo or wherever. The work should be presented on a global platform and judged in a global context. Let’s return to the question of the residency and this investigation into conceptualism vs. business. Have we come to the peak of business being celebrated in fashion? Or do you think we still have some way to go? VH More and more we ask ourselves,
“How can this continue?” This entire system of people going from one place to another to look at all these shows and all these clothes that are being presented. All these looks! It’s so much. RS But then we can’t judge a whole
system. We can only think that maybe it’s time to do what we want to do and forget about what should be done. That’s how we started: we just did what we did, which was very unconventional.
Is the financial security afforded by something like Flowerbomb what makes that possible?
Not that I’m trying to push you into belonging to a movement, but Dutch product and furniture design came to the fore internationally at the same time you did, and many of those designers had a similar preoccupation with storytelling. Do you feel that you fitted into that?
RS It makes it possible to do things
VH From the start – although maybe it’s
starts anew. And sometimes that’s easy and things just flow, but sometimes it’s tough. You probably have the same experience when you write. Sometimes it’s just there and sometimes you can’t get a word on paper. It’s the same with us.
a bit different now – we’ve been allergic to being cornered as part of a Dutch design movement. To us that signified something very provincial, which was the last thing we wanted to be. That’s why we wanted to be in fashion: it’s
VH On a financial level.
RS At least we have a chance to think
about freedom and a chance to think how we want to do things on our terms. VH Everyone who creates always
NO MORE POETRY?
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
MOTIF N°13 Je viens arroser les fleurs de ta chemise, Caresser les poils de ton pull angora, Embrasser les poches de ton gilet, Mesurer l’écartement des carreaux de ton pantalon, Compter les chevrons de ta veste… Je viens dormir dans ton dressing
Karlina, Flowerbomb, spring/summer 2005. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
TENUE DE JOURNALISTE DÉVOUÉE, DÉVOTE OU DÉFAITE pour Madame S.J. Maquillée de perles et de larmes, des phylactères en ceinture, les yeux à demi clos tout le printemps, tu attends un fax qui ne vient pas de l’archange Gabriel Sainte Madeleine et Saint Laurent Rive gauche te guident en médaillon de boucle d’oreille. Viktor & Gabbana Miuccia Montana Rolf Mugler Azzedine André Adeline Cavalli Christian Marant sont les apôtres d’une garde-robe échangiste mais pieuse Les plis religieux de tes robes longues s’écrasent comme une descente de croix
Final Preparation, Russian Doll, autumn/winter 1999. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
TENUE DE PLAGE pour Madame A.M. Tu marches A 33 cm du sol sur un parfum De fleurs bleues en sachets. Je t’assure un été de longue tenue, Un éclat de soleil que tu connais par cœur Au fond de ta poche
Tiiu, Bedtime Story, autumn/winter 2005. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
Julia, Zen Garden haute couture, autumn/winter 2013. PHOTO Philip Riches POĂˆME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
TENUE EXPRESS pour Madame A.-L. Q. 100 costumes d’hommes d’affaire au placard t’attendent et t’applaudissent dans le silence d’une armoire à domicile. 100 chemises de banquiers bulgares te regardent. D’un col à l’autre tu passes des journées parallèles à hésiter sans jamais t’habiller. Des cravates sentimentales ou mathématiques s’accrochent à ton cou Aux 100 amants pendus sur cintre tu roules les manches sans fausse humilité mais jamais plus ne te mets au travail.
TENUE COURTE pour Madame M.-A. G. Tu rétrécis les beaux jours Et retiens des ourlets longs L’élégance sans peine Des femmes qui ont de la peine
Magdalena, No, autumn/winter 2008. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
TENUE DE PARADIS pour Madame F.L. De pluie, tu arroses des robes courtes aux boutons piailleurs qui poussent à vue d’œil dans une armoire jardinière bien orientée. Des oiseaux de paradis s’invitent en motif immobile sur les bas de jupes primevères. Des trompettes, des castagnettes brodées s’agitent en guirlande aux encolures balcons. Tes bijoux comme du lierre, s’agrippent aux fenêtres entrouvertes drapées d’accordéon du dimanche Des vêtements tu portes, des allures en bouture tu emportes.
Maryna, The Fashion Show, autumn/winter 2007. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
TENUE DE JONQUILLE pour Madame A.C. Tu portes les étiquettes Des noms des couturiers Que tu ne connais pas toujours Et qui te chatouillent le bas des reins Plus facilement que les mains d’un amant. Tu n’aimes les admirateurs Que de 4 points cousus blancs. Avec la poésie d’un rien Amoureux de peu, Tu marches élastique Sur des chaussures de coton Soucieuse du bitume hydrophile De te voir voler.
On Strike, Viktor&Rolf on Strike, autumn/ winter 1996. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY NO MORE POETRY VIKTOR&ROLF
MOTIF N°2 Dans la penderie aux suicidés, Dans la pénombre des vêtements entre eux, Des vichys roses, Des rayures indispensables, Des écossais barbares Me font mourir une seconde fois
Mini, Black Hole, autumn/winter 2001. PHOTO Philip Riches POÈME Olivier Saillard
A New Frontier Food design is in its infancy, but with three international design schools launching degrees in the subject within the last year, is the discipline about to come of age? WORDS Oli Stratford PHOTOS Nick Rochowski
82 Disegno. A NEW FRONTIER
A NEW FRONTIER
Mike Lee is the founder of Studio Industries and innovation director for AccelFoods. Working out of New York, Lee has focused his work on mass-produced packaged foods. 1
A mixture of the strengths of the brands (we know Nutella, not Nutella’s designer); has sheer ubiquity and commonplace nature of the product; and a desire to see our food as fresh and natural (not shaped by man and industry), among others. 2
Marije Vogelzang was one of the first food designers. She founded her Dordrecht-based practice in 2000 after graduating from DAE and has gone on to become one of the most well-known practitioners in the discipline. 3
The long-running food design workshop at ESAD in Rheims, France is a notable exception. 4
84 Disegno. A NEW FRONTIER
n the past year, global revenues from packaged foods reached $2.4tn, which is more than double the $1tn in sales mustered by consumer electronics in the same timespan. Just as a mobile phone or tablet are designed, so too are the foodstuffs we eat. When you consider the intermingling of fresh ingredients, flavourings, additives, bleaching agents, replacers, colourings, sweeteners, salt substitutes, preservatives, shaping, injecting, cutting, moulding, packaging, branding, graphics and logotypes required to devise even the simplest market-ready packaged food, you realise that food can throw up design projects every bit as complex as creating an iPad. And given the scale and immediacy of its production – Mars produces 2.5m Mars Bars a day in its main UK factory in Slough – food ought to stand as one of the crown jewels of industrial design. So why isn’t food design discussed more often?
The situation is summed up well by US food designer Mike Lee:1 “I hope eventually food gets to the point where products are designed and scrutinised to the degree that people scrutinise Apple products. It’s interesting how much attention products like that get compared to food, which is so much more intimate than consumer electronics.” The reasons for this discrepancy are varied,2 but there are signs that the situation is changing. In 2014 a surprising number of food design initiatives were launched. In the early half of the year, Pratt Institute in New York began Food Design Studio, a semester-long class hosted in the school’s industrial design department; in July, Design Academy Eindhoven (DAE) in the Netherlands announced Food Non Food, a BA department headed by designer Marije Vogelzang3; and in December, Scuola Politecnica di Design (SPD) and International University of Languages and Media (ILUM) in Milan announced a joint MA in food design, sponsored by PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food and beverage business. Food design is starting to be talked about seriously. What is interesting about these courses is that they have been created in a design context. Training in food design has existed before – principally in the form of “food engineering” courses at technical schools – but had little traction at design and art institutes.4 Yet the courses at SPD, DAE and Pratt suggest that the design world is interested in extending its own role in the food industry, and that a giant on the scale of PepsiCo (with a turnover of $66.4bn in 2013 alone) has chosen to back food design education suggests that industry is interested in examining design too. “The world hasn’t known about designers working with food, and this type of design still needs to prove itself, especially in the outside world,” says Vogelzang. “What can it add? What can it do for us? Why do we need it? Those are very valid questions.” In other words, the three courses may begin to unravel a question that has plagued food design from the beginning. What even is it?
In terms of definitions, it’s easiest to say what food design is not. It’s not packaging design and it’s not cookery (although both of these may play a part). But because the chef/food designer conflation in particular is such a common misconception, it’s worth adding a few more words. The best way to conceive of the difference between designer and chef is to consider the difference between a furniture designer and the craftsman who executes their design. The relationship between a food >
Rotary Tray designed by Jasper Morrison for Vitra. Cheese provided by the East London Cheese Board.
A NEW FRONTIER
Martí Guixé works between Berlin and Barcelona. Although widely heralded as the father of food design, he works across a number of fields. He is one of the designers due to teach on the SPD Food Design MA. 5
“You can eat technotapas underwater, or by motorbike driving, or by design exhibit vernissages. SPAMT is also ideal for city demonstrations and Internet surfing,” wrote Guixé at the time. 6
London-based Jacopo Sarzi is one of the more recent food designers to emerge. His practice is socially-led, frequently looking at food and digestion as educative tools for bringing about social change. 7
A small, fat puck.
A term (most commonly used in winemaking) that conveys the way in which characteristics of a place’s geography, geology and climate are made manifest in its produce. 9
Francesca Sarti trained as an architect but founded food design practice Arabeschi di Latte in 2001. Based between Milan and London, the studio’s focus is on experiential projects that explore food’s cultural significance. 10
New York food designer Emilie Baltz’s practice incorporates teaching, the development of installations and events, and the creation of cookbooks. Much of her work in food has been linked by an interest in food’s role in shaping personal identity and its potential as storyteller. 11
86 Disegno. A NEW FRONTIER
> designer and a chef is near-perfectly analogous. Historical context will help. The man usually credited with the creation of food design is Martí Guixé,5 a Catalonian designer whose practice in food launched when he showed SPAMT at H2O Gallery in Barcelona in 1997. SPAMT was a series of conceptual tapas (Guixé prefers the term “techno-tapas”) designed to suit the strictures of modern life.6 Guixé has always insisted that he can’t cook and denies any real interest in food beyond its status as a mass-produced object, yet his work challenged the formal design of the food we eat and in the years following SPAMT, Guixé’s example was seized upon by a small pool of designers who also found profit in exploring food and food culture. Yet food design existed long before Guixé. “Some of the first food design is cheese,” says London-based food designer Jacopo Sarzi.7 “The French ‘fromage’ comes from the Latin word ‘forma’: form or shape. So cheese can be any shape and we decide what to give it based on functionality, taste and branding. If I’m making a cheese out of goat’s milk, this will be soft and likely to break if I make it too big, so the smaller the better. You would make something that looks like a crottin,8 which is, in fact, the shape we do give it.” Given that the development of cheese predates recorded history, food design has long roots.
What Guixé should perhaps be credited with, rather than the creation of food design, is initiating its gradual codification as a discipline. Which is where the exact nature of food design becomes complicated. The phrase “food design” – treated like comparable phrases “furniture design” or “product design” – suggests that the role of the food designer is clear: they design foodstuffs. In the case of Guixé and those like him, whose projects typically result in proposed designs for foodstuffs (Guixé has developed concepts for hands-free lollipops, edible corks for sake and hollowed-out apples that act as cups), this seems a good description. Yet it is a less comfortable fit for designers whose work results in outcomes outside of a defined food product. Vogelzang, for instance, has developed dinners where diners reach the table by pushing their heads and hands through tablecloths suspended from the ceiling, and a trial of tap waters from across the Netherlands to introduce the notion of terroir9 to waterways. Elsewhere, Francesca Sarti,10 founder of studio Arabeschi di Latte, has designed a coffeepot with multiple spouts to encourage communal drinking, and a restaurant that used only ingredients gathered from within the M25 motorway around London. These designers are not so much designing food, as designing with or around food. To add to the confusion, the projects Vogelzang and Sarti develop are probably better indicators than Guixé’s of the outcomes most food designers reach. “Honestly, I don’t even particularly like the definition ‘food design’,” says Sarti. “For years I tried to explain what I was doing without using it. Now I just accept it because it allows people to understand more or less what I’m doing.” Vogelzang goes further and prefers to self-identify as an “eating designer” instead. “I think food design is a smaller part of a bigger thing called eating design,” she says. “Food design is the literal design of food, which is valid and there are really interesting works done in that field, but we need to get people away from the idea we’re only there to shape food, give it different colours and make more money.” Whether “eating design” improves upon “food design” is a subject upon which designer Emilie Baltz,11 who initiated Food Design Studio at the Pratt Institute, is particularly eloquent. “The question is, ‘What is the point of entry for a creative?’” she says. “An eating designer is maybe more like an interaction designer who focuses on the systems first, whereas a food designer is more like someone who goes off to make a table because they’ve found a new material. They test that material, tweak it to understand its properties, and from there start to address the wider systems. Perhaps the same goes for food versus eating design. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a distinction between the different points of entering the process.” >
A NEW FRONTIER
Featured chopping boards: London Plane by Hampson Woods; Field designed by Shane Schneck for Hay; Plank by Fort Standard (all provided by SCP); Over Easy by Smaller Objects; and Series One by Another Country.
88 Disegno. A NEW FRONTIER
A NEW FRONTIER
“Many potato chips are shaped industrially by injection but made to look as if they’re cut by hand – which is like injectionmoulding a plastic chair but still imitating wood grain.”
Earlwyn Covington is a Paris-based lecturer of humanities at schools including Pratt in New York and ESAD in Rheims. He founded Thinking Food Design in 2012 and his work centres on food design. 12
> The distinction is important because it goes some way towards answering Vogelzang’s question about the discipline: “Why do we need it?” If food design is simply the creation of new products or variations upon existing products (to repeat: “the idea we’re only there to shape food, give it different colours and make more money”), then a charge of redundancy against the discipline might carry more weight. But if we shift towards looking at eating design and its engagement with the systems that surround food, it becomes easier to see the discipline’s value. “I’m not a chef, I’m not a food expert, and I’m not a farmer, but I am interested in all these domains,” says Jacopo Sarzi. “Food design really begins with the linking of those fields together and looking at how all their various elements could connect.” Vogelzang agrees: “The specific role of the designer working with food – and most other designers, actually – is to link different fields of expertise. The designer is a linking agent and that’s where I think the value is. The designer is not the specialist or the farmer, but they can work with the farmer and make the link to a different field and add some creative thinking to help solve problems.” This is significant. If design is at root a problem-solving discipline, then the food industry has more than enough problems to keep it occupied. Consider the following, which are a quick sample of some of the issues that the food industry ought to be concerned about: • • • • •
Enough food is produced annually to support the world’s seven billion people, yet 805 million are still chronically malnourished. (Source: World Food Programme) Four billion tonnes of food are produced per annum, yet between 30 and 50 per cent is never eaten due to poor practices in harvesting, storage, transportation, and market and consumer wastage. UK retailers are estimated to reject 1.6m tonnes of food a year for cosmetic reasons alone. (Source: Institution of Mechanical Engineers) Livestock production currently accounts for 30 per cent of the land surface of the planet and is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions (more than transport), while 70 per cent of previously forested land in the Amazon is now occupied by pasture. (Source: Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations) Farmers in the UK are paid around 27p for a litre of milk, while the average cost of production is just over 30p. (Source: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) The world’s population is estimated to rise to 8.3 billion by 2030. An extra billion tonnes of cereals will need to be produced to cope with this. (Source: Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations)
With these statistics in mind, consider another question often asked of food design: “Is it necessary?” Earlwyn Covington,12 one of the teachers on DAE’s Food Non Food course and a co-founder of online food design platform Thinking Food Design, has a particularly memorable response to the question. “That’s the criticism I hear most,” he says. “Oh, I don’t know, is what you put in your mouth and what comes out of your ass necessary?” 90 Disegno. A NEW FRONTIER
Covington’s response is successful because it’s visceral, which ties it to the nature of food itself. Simply put, everybody eats, and this means that problems surrounding food have an immediacy lacking from most areas of design; for “mouth and ass”, read “our most basic needs”. This same idea about the primacy of food is also expressed by Vogelzang, who expands it into a cultural context as well. “We’ve all been fed by our mothers or whoever took care of us when we were babies, so it’s a very basic thing,” she says. “Food and eating are things we all know and understand, and that’s true globally. If you think about culture and how that’s represented – sometimes through paintings; sometimes through architecture – it’s actually food culture that’s really alive and is recreated every day. And it has to be this way for us to live.” Whether food designers are actually able do anything to resolve the problems facing the industry is another matter. Sam Bompas is one of the co-founders of Bompas & Parr,13 a high-profile Londonbased practice working in food design. Bompas & Parr has worked for the likes of the Serpentine Gallery, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Whitney Museum of American Art, Mercedes-Benz, Kraft Foods and Heinz, and completed projects ranging from an illuminated drive-thru restaurant and cooking with lava, to jelly architectural models and banquets themed around dirt. Yet Bompas and his partner Harry Parr choose not to identify as food designers, preferring the term “experience designers” instead. “Nobody needs their food made by a food designer,” he says. “It’s a luxury and pushes things into the realm of entertainment. Some food designers might say they’re talking about society and using food as a way to highlight this, but really it’s entertainment for middleclass people who like to be entertained by these sorts of things. It’s delightful and it’s fun, but it’s not changing people’s lives.”
Bompas & Parr is a London-based practice founded by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr in 2007 that made its name with a series of large-scale jelly models drawing on Parr’s architecture background. It has since diversified into areas including catering, installations, consultation and publishing. 13
Carolien Niebling trained at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem and ECAL, with most of her projects centred on food design. Since graduating from ECAL in 2014 she has worked as a teaching assistant at the school. 14
Marc Bretillot is a highly influential food designer who is noteworthy for founding the food design workshop at ESAD in Rheims in 1999. 15
Bompas’s point is as much a piece of self-reflection as it is a criticism of food design – much of his studio’s work has focused on the production of events and installations for clients geared towards grabbing public attention (“And food is a very good vehicle for getting people’s attention for five minutes”) – but it still has teeth. Much current food design is conceptual, and gallery or installationbased. Equally, while many food designers have links to the food industry, it is typically in the form of ad-hoc consulting work on one-off projects, rather than ongoing positions in the development of commercial products or supply networks. And the most familiar role that food designers play in this arena, as Bompas suggests, is as quasi-marketeers. The point is ably put by Carolien Niebling,14 a food designer and recent graduate of the ECAL design school in Lausanne, Switzerland. “The work remains in the design world, which is really a world on its own: design for designers rather than for the whole world,” she says. “Maybe food design has stayed too much in this design-gallery atmosphere and the people who go to these kind of events would probably go even without the food design being there, just because they want to attend. I worry we’re targeting the wrong group.”
While sympathetic to this suggestion, other food designers would doubtless offer a rejoinder: food design has only been widely talked about since the early 2000s; you can’t expect it to have had a mass impact yet. “It wasn’t that discussion of food design was missing before the early 2000s, it’s that it was non-existent,” agrees Covington. “It wasn’t until the democratisation of the internet in 2001 that people and industry began to become aware of what was going on.” Marc Bretillot,15 one of the first practicing food designers and a colleague of Covington’s, makes a small addition to this: “One hundred and fifty years ago most furniture manufacturers didn’t work with designers either.”
Given that food design is still in its infancy, it’s unlikely that it will solve huge questions over food distribution or meeting the demands of population growth in the near future. But this is not to say that food designers ought not offer solutions to such problems, even if they are unlikely to be taken up at present. “There is a lot of development still needed,” agrees Vogelzang, “and you might not expect that designers are going to save the world. But they may be able to change the world or have an influence on what happens in other areas. That’s not going to happen instantly however. If you look at the number of graphic designers in the world and compare that to designers working on food, then that second number is still really, really tiny. To have a big impact, it needs more time to grow and develop, time to take on projects that are maybe less elitist.” This means that the question “What is food design?” is probably better rendered as “What might food design become?” and it’s here that the courses at DAE, Pratt and SPD become particularly relevant. For the first time, a steady stream of design graduates will soon be emerging who are specially trained in food design. It is an open question as to where they will lead the discipline.
One suggestion, owed to Martí Guixé, would be a pure product-design route. “A lot of food projects are not, in my opinion, contemporary,” says Guixé, “so consider, for example, the imitation of traditional shapes. Many potato chips are shaped industrially by injection but made to look as if they’re cut by hand – which is like injection-moulding a plastic chair but still imitating wood grain. In the classical parameters of design, that’s kitsch. Then consider how you might sit for hours on a chair and after a year start to feel pain because it’s not ergonomic. That could be transformed into how, after eating potato chips for one year, you’re obese and have health problems. >
A NEW FRONTIER
Grey Marble boards by Studio Skandium.
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A NEW FRONTIER
And this is no oneoff. Nestlé (the world’s biggest food company) has hosted workshops with design students at ECAL, while giants such as Heinz and Kraft have also worked with external designers. 16
Mauro Porcini trained in design at the Politecnico di Milano in the 1990s. Prior to converting to food design when he moved to PepsiCo in 2012, Porcini was chief design officer of 3M. 17
Christian Saclier has worked at Nestlé since 2008 and been its head of industrial design since 2012. Prior to this he worked in packaging design for healthcare company Novartis. 18
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> Most examples of food design, if you can say they’re designed at all, are bad. Or if they’re “good”, they’re only good for making a lot of money. But by 2020 I think that there will be truly good food design products on the market, which will be entirely driven by economic reasons. They’ll be there because they’re better than the old ones.”
The idea that food designers will forge stronger links with industry is a compelling one. “Food design already exists applied to industry, but it’s an engineering component of projects at present,” agrees Jacopo Sarzi. “Take some of the Wall’s ice creams for example, which are incredible works of engineering. I think what’s changing in industry is design applied to food as a sensibility or sensitivity. Engineering alone doesn’t have that, because sensitivity isn’t purely scientific.” Given PepsiCo’s sponsorship of the SPD MA16 it seems clear that industry believes it can benefit from this input.
Mauro Porcini17 is PepsiCo’s chief design officer and one of the leading figures behind the MA. He is clear that his company wants to work with food designers. “We live in a society where consumers are hyper-connected,” he says. “They’re becoming very savvy, very spoiled and very demanding, because they know everything about everything; they can take a cell phone out of their pocket and see everything in real time. So it’s important to deliver products and create solutions that are meaningful and relevant for them, and design is really about that. Innovation is becoming more and more a must, a need. It’s expected by society and customers, and no longer a luxury like it may have been. Cycles of innovation were slower in any industry in the past, but today there are sites like Kickstarter, social media and, in the near future, 3D printing that will give people the ability to manufacture things by themselves. Competition is becoming more and more aggressive, and if a corporation doesn’t deliver innovation to its customers, then somebody else will be able to do it.”
Porcini’s belief in design’s growing relevance to the food industry gains support from Christian 18 Saclier, global head of industrial design at Nestlé. “Our mindset as a company is to apply design thinking to any kind of problem, and one area we’re developing at the moment is to help people understand portion size, which isn’t always obvious,” he says. Given that 1.9 billion adults are currently overweight, he may have a point. “We’re developing ways to guide consumers about portion size, which can be communicated through packaging or the product design itself, in terms of shape or visual clues like breaks in a chocolate bar. As a company we need to have a business that’s sustainable and sustainability comes through understanding the needs of our consumers. Consumers no longer just want products, but products and services. It’s about the overall
The food industry produces on a scale foreign to any other area of design, meaning that the level of investment in tooling and stock needed to make even minor alterations to a product is vast.
experience because there is a general consensus that people want balanced lifestyles. At Nestlé we want to provide our consumers with the best experience we can. Design can help us understand what a good experience is for our consumers.” Yet in spite of Porcini and Saclier’s votes of confidence, caveats apply. The food industry produces on a scale foreign to any other area of design, meaning that the level of investment in tooling and stock needed to make even minor alterations to a product is vast.19 “They’re massive beasts and scared of changing big things, which is kind of understandable because one little change can have a huge effect,” says Vogelzang. “They’re really like dinosaurs: slow because they’re so big.” The result is that innovations from larger companies20 are likely to be modest in the short term (“Think of all the huge-name brands in food right now that are ubiquitous,” suggests designer Mike Lee. “Now, how many of those were creative in the last 20 years?”) and the companies themselves are likely to remain risk-averse. The last word on this should go to Sam Bompas, whose experience of working with food companies is greater than most. While Bompas defends the industry’s willingness to innovate (“I see the food industry as being an incredibly aggressive innovator, because the reward of innovating well is so huge”), he is unequivocal about its main use for design innovation: “Brands really want things simple: they want to sell loads of product. If you’ve got something that’s going to sell loads of product, they’ll lunge at it. If the idea is really niche, great, but that’s not the right avenue for them.” New industrial food design projects will almost certainly emerge; whether they’ll meet Guixé’s hope of prioritising factors other than sales is less clear.
If food design is only likely to gain traction with industry at a steady rate, a question remains as to where it might make more immediate short-term gains. Here the answer is probably to be found in a question not yet asked: why are there suddenly so many food design courses and how does this development relate to the wider emergence of a “foodie” culture that has seen television and publishing schedules bloat with cookery shows and books; Instagram flood with food photography; restaurants and pop-up cafés reviewed with the depth and cultural seriousness of art criticism; and sales of speciality foods soar in not just supermarkets, but the cavalcade of farmers’ markets, concept restaurants, food festivals and bijoux street food booths that are now in the ascendent? It’s a situation that led essayist William Deresiewicz to the following conclusion in the New York Times in 2012: “The weekend chef is what the Sunday painter used to be… Just as aestheticism, the religion of art, inherited the position of Christianity among the progressive classes around the turn of the 20th century, so has foodism taken over from aestheticism around the turn of the 21st. Now we read the gospel according, not to Joyce or Proust, but to Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.”21 “I have a suspicion that it has to do with the rise of digital technology,” says Pratt’s Emilie Baltz. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s we started as a culture to have all of our mechanical and physical tasks reduced. Everything changed. We changed relationship to our work and we changed relationship to our bodies. Lots of people have talked about this, but there is a certain amount of dehumanisation that happens with technology becoming smarter and smarter. And with that I think there comes a counterbalance. So we turned to food, which is something that uses our body, uses our emotions and uses our hearts, because we understand food through our senses. I think we’ve started to see a rise of food design as a sort of humanisation of a creative industry and a bit of a cry for help: reminding me that I’m here and that I’m not a machine. Food is this last sort of low-hanging fruit that everyone has dismissed in the past.” >
“Which is a problem,” acknowledges Porcini. “I see so many designers coming from the design world saying, ‘Oh my god, why don’t corporations innovate with the pace of start-ups?’ Because the investment is unbelievable.” 19
Smaller companies are more flexible, but limited reach means their products struggle to make as much impact on the market as those backed by industry giants. For instance, Vogelzang suggests a Dutch hamburger made from seaweed, the Weedburger, as an example of an interesting recent food innovation (which it is), but worth remembering is that, at the time of writing, the Weedburger’s global distribution is limited to 71 restaurants in Benelux. 20
Michael Pollan is a journalist and keen critic of modern agribusiness and the industrial food chain; Alice Waters is a chef, restauranteur and author of cookbooks. 21
A NEW FRONTIER
“Some food designers might say they’re talking about society and using food as a way to highlight this, but really it’s entertainment for middle-class people who like to be entertained by these sorts of things.”
Cerf was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California in February. 22
Although it’s worth pointing out that food, while physical, is no less ephemeral – perishability is practically inbuilt. But ephemerality is part of the appeal for most food designers.“There’s a short life for these projects,” says Jacopo Sarzi. “A project lasts a few months and then you start from scratch again. You don’t have time to get bored of your own projects.” 23
READING LIST Eat Love, Marije Vogelzang. BIS Publishers, 2009. Food Designing, Martí Guixé & Inga Knolke. Corraini Editore, 2011. CrEATe: Eating Design and Future Food, Martin Raymond & Chris Sanderson. Die Gestalten Verlag, 2008. Thank you to: Another Country, East London Cheese Board, SCP and Skandium for providing products for this shoot.
> In this sense, food has become a way in which we interpret our identities and the culture around us. It’s not that this was absent before – there have always been food cultures – just that the cultural role of food, a physical medium, has developed a more pressing edge in light of the mass digitisation of other areas of culture. At a time when Google vice-president and “Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf is warning of a “digital dark age”,22 in which we risk the mass loss of cultural and emotional digital artefacts (such as digital photographs and emails) as technological formats advance and old files become unreadable, food represents something tangible and physical23 to latch onto, and through which to understand the world around us. Which could leave the food designer free to assume the role of a kind of cultural provocateur. They’re there to teach us things in much the same way that any artist or speculative designer might; what separates them is the medium through which they achieve this. To return to Deresiewicz: “Food, for young people now, is creativity, commerce, politics, health, almost religion.”
Baltz’s idea is theoretical, but matches up with the way that many food designers choose to work. So Vogelzang’s suspended tablecloth dinner was not a literal proposal for how we ought to eat, but rather an effort to place all diners on the same level, thereby emphasising food’s potential as a social leveller. Ditto, while Sarti’s multi-stem coffeepot is available to buy, it’s most potent as a reminder of food’s function as a social glue. “When I started working with food, ‘food design’ just meant the industrial design of the shape of new cookies, or the shape of new snacks,” says Sarti. “Now it’s more powerful as a way to look at everyday life and where food can bring you in terms of experiencing something, or getting in touch with other people.” It is a point with which Baltz agrees. “Food is the most fundamental material of consumption,” she says. “It gives us life and when we start to see in that vein, we begin to treat it as material in a design relationship. So we have a relationship with our planet because of the way we’ve designed our agricultural system, and we should question if that relationship is healthy or unhealthy. There are positive ways and negative ways to understand the world, and one positive way is to understand that we’re in systems and relationships with things around us. Food has always been a connector in those relationships; a kind of ‘and’.”
So how do you define food design if the designers themselves seem to range from those who literally design foodstuffs, through to those who simply use food as a tool to explore cultural phenomena? The most precise definition that it seems possible to give is that a food designer is someone who designs food, or someone who designs with, around or about food; although it’s worth noting that this definition will also admit cutlery designers and their ilk as food designers. Whether this is a problem is a matter of opinion, but the following remarks from Earlwyn Covington are worth remembering: “I believe the walls between any kind of creative discipline should be blurry. I like things to cross and interlock, and I go head-to-head with academics and school administrations who want to separate things. We live in the 21st century; disciplines are definitely fluid.” This fluidity lies at the heart of contemporary food design. “I think we’re still in the exploration phase of food design,” agrees Vogelzang, “and I think it’s good to prolong that phase for as long as possible. Various people take various stands when it comes to food design and that’s great because obviously we need the right ideology when it comes to the discipline, but it’s so new that it’s still very free and open. You can make it what you want and there’s a blank slate there, which is a nice space to be in. I think we need a couple more years there yet.” And this tone of uncertainty is a good note to end on. While the emergence of the three food design MAs suggests an institutionalisation and final codification of the discipline, food design fundamentally remains frontier territory; an anything-goes hinterland.
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Ultima Thule serving platter designed by Tapio Wirkkala for Iittala, provided by SCP.
A NEW FRONTIER
The Casual Ethnographer As designer Jasper Morrison prepares for his first-ever retrospective, he invites Disegno on a tour of his archive to talk about faxing, public speaking and capturing the everyday. WORDS Johanna Agerman Ross PHOTOS Kevin Davies
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Jasper Morrison is looking for a book in his Shoreditch studio and home. The Glo-Ball light for Flos (1999) is perched atop a book shelf, strewn with books, paper, and a small cricket cage purchased in Portugal.
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
J The cricket cage from Portugal is one of many trinkets that Morrison has in his studio; small, useful objects with an intriguing shape or history. 1
Morrison’s three cameras are all from Canon: a G1 X, a PowerShot and an EOS. 2
asper Morrison, a 54-year-old British designer who has made the study of everyday objects an integral part of his practice, has recently spent considerable time looking at his own work.
While rifling through brown archive boxes marked with neat stencilled numbers, Morrison has mutteringly appreciated his reuse of paper and innovative application of photocopying technology; bemoaned his carpentry and drawing skills; described his design as “one that you can hardly see” and “neutral”; all the while conveying his admiration for the expressiveness of Spanish designer Jaime Hayon’s drawings and Italian designer Achille Castiglioni’s sense of drama and timing in front of a live audience. He is knowingly self-critical and humorously self-deprecating. When asked about people’s admiration of his design he agrees that, yes, he has had some nice comments but, “I think it might be quite a recent thing. Maybe we’ve been doing nice work or something.” Yet when Morrison moves around his studio on the quiet soles of his Camper shoes, his gestures are confident. Economical, but precise. And regardless of what he says, 30 years into his career, Morrison is one of the world’s most respected furniture and product designers. He is also one of the least seen. He typically declines interviews outside of the design-fair schedule and never speaks in public. “I like all means of communication except the spoken one because, first of all, I am really lousy at it, and it doesn’t seem as important as just showing the things,” he says. “If they are any good, why do you need to explain them?”
The first time I meet Morrison for this article he’s cooking in his London studio and home. He puts spaghetti, florets of broccoli and cloves of garlic in a pot of boiling water, then looks through his kitchen cupboards for the utensils and crockery he needs. He methodically weighs up plates, forks, a sieve, sharp knife, cutting board, cheese grater and a flat ladle pierced with small holes. Everything has a story – a chunky cutting board with a pattern of holes left by woodworms is from a craftsman in Sweden, and a miniature wire cage next to the stove turns out to be for crickets.1 As the water simmers, Morrison strains the broccoli and garlic, letting the water drip back into the pot. He puts the vegetables on the cutting board and starts chopping them, the broccoli crumbling in the process. He drains the pasta and returns the ingredients to the pot, adding a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and shavings of Parmesan cheese. It’s delicious. These eight minutes in Morrison’s kitchen are a brief but apt introduction to his design work: an economy of effort and form, carried out with great care, and with an outcome that is beautifully simple and, dare I say it, surpasses expectation. It’s mid-December and Morrison’s studio, situated in a converted stable in a courtyard just out of east London’s Shoreditch Triangle, is cold. Christmas parties and twinkling lights haven’t made it in here. A cast-iron Norwegian wood burner crackles in the middle of the room and Morrison is playing music from his iPhone speaker, seemingly trying to settle in again after a few weeks of travel. His Muji suitcase is still packed, but a Canon digital camera,2 notebook and laptop – his work tools – are placed neatly on the table – The Bac for Cappellini from 2005. >
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The HAL chair for Vitra launched in 2010 and is Morrisonâ€™s best-selling chair; 80,000 sell annually. This 2014 version comes with armrests.
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
“I like all means of communication except the spoken one because, first of all, I am really lousy at it, and it doesn’t seem as important as just showing the things.”
The Isamu Noguchi Award is given annually by New York’s Noguchi Museum to “recognise kindred spirits in innovation, global consciousness, and Japanese/American exchange.” The first year’s awards went to architect Norman Foster and artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. Morrison is jointly awarded with architect Yoshio Taniguchi. 3
Route 31 has since changed but, says Morrison “In those days it started at World’s End in Chelsea (where I was born); ran up to Kensington where we moved when I was about 10; on to Westbourne Park in Notting Hill where I lived from about age 15; and up to Swiss Cottage where I had my first shared apartment. If I’d moved on to Chalk Farm I would have completed the route.” 4
The chair was originally produced by Morrison himself but was later picked up by Cappellini. 5
> Morrison divides his time between studios in London and Paris, and the home in Tokyo that he shares with his wife and young children. This is his last stop in London before the end of the year and he’s here to tie up loose ends on his upcoming book A Book of Things and work on material for his retrospective, due to open at the Centre d’Innovation et de Design at Grand-Hornu in Belgium in May. It’s a surprising fact that Morrison, one of the world’s most renowned contemporary designers, has not been the subject of a retrospective anywhere until now. “I like to think that was because I was too young to have a retrospective,” says Morrison. “But it has always been more about doing the work, for me, and an exhibition takes a lot of time.” Coinciding with the opening, Morrison will be awarded the second annual Isamu Noguchi Award3 in New York. The finite implications of the retrospective and award make Morrison uncomfortable. “I like to think that we are still improving.” Considering that London is both his birthplace and the city where he established his career (“It seems my early life was spent along the 31 bus route”),4 it’s a natural place for Morrison to prepare for his show. His Shoreditch studio, which he bought 10 years ago and designed with the help of architect Michael Casey, has a small archive at its back where stacks of cardboard boxes are stored on custom-built plywood shelving. A few weeks after our initial meeting, I come back for a tour. It’s a cornucopia of snippets of printed communication, hand-written notes and drawings. Box C42 houses a collection of sketches of Morrison’s Thinking Man’s Chair5 in a makeshift notepad: a sample book from an Italian paper manufacturer. Box D2, by contrast, drops you into an era where high-tech communication was via fax. One such exchange, between Morrison and staff at Italian furniture producer Alias from February 1994, is about an upcoming trip to Italy. It signs off with, “Could you fax me a map. Best regards, Jasper.”
In the intervening 20 years the world has undergone a technological revolution, one that requires a different approach to not just communication, but the very things we furnish our homes with. One of the drawings in D2 shows a telephone table, another a TV and VCR console; they’re both items that have little relevance today. Meanwhile, the landscape of new technology has influenced Morrison’s work. The contents of box C5 are dedicated to his Universal System storage units for Cappellini, the multiple drawers, of which were inspired by the filing function of Morrison’s first Macintosh computer. By contrast, the original presentation document to Cappellini is an artfully photocopied drawing of historical filing and index card cabinets. The technical drawings were done by hand and there are countless iterations of Universal’s rounded cut-out, in place of a handle, into which a finger is poked to pull the drawer open. They’re all drawn on thin tracing paper with millimetre variations in height, depth and circumference. After he graduated from London’s Royal College of Art in 1985, Morrison set up his studio Office For Design in Notting Hill to manage the production of his own designs. “It worked very well. It was keeping me going,” he says. “The only problem was, I was starting to feel like a taxi driver, driving around London picking up glass and metalwork and taking it to the spray painter. In the end there wasn’t a lot of time left for designing anything new.” Opposite Morrison’s first office on All Saints Road, designer Tom Dixon was “bashing metal” and making furniture with scrap material; although Morrison’s approach to making was different to Dixon’s, he also tended to use what was readily available. His Handlebar table was made using two drop bicycle handlebars, while the Flower Pot table was inspired by a stack of terracotta plant pots he saw in a Berlin
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The ephemera that fills Morrison’s studio is indicative of the way in which he works. He draws inspiration from non-authored objects, archetypes and the everyday.
hardware store during a one-year exchange at the city’s University of Arts. “It was all about having some occupation that was real, instead of sitting and waiting for somebody to come and ask me to work for them,” says Morrison.
It was Aram Store in Covent Garden, and its founder Zeev Aram, that first gave Morrison a platform when it started selling the Thinking Man’s Chair. Sheridan Coakley, who founded British design brand SCP in 1985, also picked up on his talent and put the Slatted stool Morrison had designed as a student into production in 1986. Vitra and Cappellini soon followed. An early editorial on Morrison, from a 1988 copy of Domus that is still on his bookshelf, paints a picture of a vibrant design scene: “Coming up the steps from Jasper Morrison’s basement-forge to the street level of Hillgrove Road in London, one goes away with the impression not so much of having paid a visit to a young man of talent who lives, sleeps, and works among the pieces he makes (and which will certainly be talked about in future) as having brought away a key for interpreting the panorama of British design.”
“I used to be a book dealer at college. A lot of the library of the office is old stock I picked up and didn’t want to sell,” Morrison told Disegno in an earlier interview about his exhibition Library of Design, published on disegnodaily.com. 6
Although Morrison’s earliest projects were the result of studying and processing his surroundings – the Thinking Man’s Chair, for example, was a response to an antique chair without a seat that Morrison spotted on the street – they are expressive in a radically different way to his later work. The first archetypal Morrison project was a commission to design a door handle for German manufacturer FSB. Doorhandle Series 1144 from 1990 clearly demonstrates Morrison’s changed approach – it’s not about the invention of form, but rather the adaptation of what already exists. It is based on a 19th-century handle for the door of a horse-drawn coach that Morrison found in a book, combined with the rounded outline of a light bulb.
It was also around this time that Morrison resolved that public speaking wasn’t for him. In 1988 he was invited by the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan to give his first lecture. He considered turning the invitation down, but instead proposed a silent slide show. He called it A World Slideshow, and the event is now part of design folklore; a story people can tell even if they weren’t there. “I wrote on a piece of paper a text that the head of the school had to read out to the assembled audience. It said something like, ‘Jasper Morrison isn’t going to say anything about what will be shown, but if anybody has any questions he will be in the bar across the road afterwards,’” says Morrison. The slideshow comprised a series of images he had found in the art and design books that he read, collected and sometimes sold while still a student to support his studies.6 “It was just silent and I was busy counting. I had two projectors and clicked alternatingly every five seconds,” remembers Morrison. “It was a strong belief that what I could show from all these books would explain much better what I thought about design than talking about what I thought, or trying to express myself.” >
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
“I was totally shocked. I remember thinking, How could he say that we have the best job in the world? He’s nearly 80. What’s wrong with me that I am having such a bad time?’”
The Pipe chair is produced by Magis and launched in 2008. 7
> The slideshow was later turned into a book by graphic designer Tony Arefin, who named it World Without Words, and the first edition of 1,000 quickly sold out, adding to its status as legend. Yet there is something false about both the title and story. Although the book has only rudimentary captions and Morrison does dislike public speaking, he is not as taciturn as often made out to be; he is a good conversationalist and enjoys recounting stories, albeit in a slight mumble. Relating to his own reluctance to speak in front of an audience, he tells a story about Italian designer Achille Castiglioni: “I went to a lecture in Berlin, and Castiglioni was a master performer, to the point that he knew his shadow was being projected huge behind him on the white screen, and he was posing with a cigarette and a glass of water. It was extremely effective and no doubt he said brilliant things; but if you can’t do that, why bother?” Morrison has accepted that he can’t offer the drama of a Castiglioni, so instead of delivering what he perceives as an inferior show, stays away from it altogether. In an industry with a tendency towards iconising its more prolific names – placing them on pedestals and stages whenever possible – this attitude is unhelpful for building brand Morrison. He just shrugs his shoulders: “Not being able to speak in public might be a good thing for me. I save a lot of time not travelling to Miami.”
When I arrive at Morrison’s studio some weeks after our first meeting it’s almost pitch black inside: road workers have accidentally severed a cable, cutting power to the entire block. Logs crackle on an open fire but apart from the yellow light coming from the wood burner, the studio is lit entirely by candlelight. John Tree, a long-term employee in the London office, sighs as his laptop battery dies, while his colleague Lloyd Cowdry shuffles around using a bicycle light to find his belongings so he can leave work early. The desktop computers stand mute and unresponsive. Two weeks later Google chairman Vint Cerf addresses the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting with a warning that future historians may consider the 21st century an information black hole; that we risk losing most of our memories – stored digitally in the form of pictures and correspondence – in the face of ever-evolving software and operating systems. Looking back, I can’t help but recall Cerf’s message in the context of the candlelit studio operating entirely in analogue mode.
The filing systems on Morrison’s first Macintosh and its various descendants are no longer filled with the promise they once were. iClouds, Google drives, hard drives, remote discs, Dropboxes and servers mean that huge virtual archipelagoes of digital files have been allowed to accumulate, and finding what you’re looking for can now be a considerable challenge. By contrast, the key to Morrison’s cardboard box storage system is simple. A print-out hangs from a peg at the end of the bookcase that instructs you, for instance, that box A17 contains all the physical drawings, picture slides and correspondence about the Op-là tray-table for Alessi. As digital data is accumulated at ever-greater speeds and without the physical memory of a storage space (all files look the same in the digital world) the virtual becomes difficult to fathom and Morrison’s practice of design for the real world – for physical reality – is increasingly attractive. Sitting in front of a fire, on Morrison’s Pipe chairs7 at a rickety, old café table, Morrison sipping from a glass of green tea; the fundamental set-up of this meeting – a gathering around the hearth – is an experience unaltered for millennia. >
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The Plywood chair is one of Morrison’s earliest designs. It’s designed using cut-out sheets of Plywood. This particular version was made by Morrison himself. “You can see it on the shoddy workmanship,” he says. The chair was later manufactured by Vitra.
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
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“I think that discipline of looking, and learning to keep your eyes open, is very enriching. The more you look, the more you think, and the easier it is to keep a sort of freshness in your work.”
The archive is housed in brown cardboard boxes and contains original drawings and notes on all of Morrison’s design. Here, sketches of the Thinking Man’s Chair and Universal System for Cappellini.
> There is something equally fundamental about Morrison’s design, or at least what it aims at. Its neutrality is its strength, while its minimalism gives it a timelessness that helps it fit any context. Alhough it presents an air of effortlessness, Morrison’s design has taken years to perfect. For a long time he has documented his day-to-day life on a digital camera, capturing everyday episodes that inspire him: shop window displays; discarded cardboard in an interesting colour or shape; plumbing. “Nobody would claim it’s Cartier-Bresson level,” he says. “I am very untechnical. I used to take photos with a Pentax and do all the right things, but when you have a digital – a camera that fits in your pocket and does everything for you – it’s the perfect tool.” I recall the camera on Morrison’s dining table back in December, one of the few things he had unpacked from his luggage. The images are part of Morrison’s research process and sometimes he writes extended captions for them, posting them on his website under the title “Photo of the Month” (although the last Photo of the Month was posted almost three years ago). Sometimes he collates the images into publications, like his most recent book The Good Life.8 “I think that discipline of looking, and learning to keep your eyes open, is very enriching. The more you look, the more you think, and the easier it is to keep a sort of freshness in your work,” he says. “If I was locked in a room with no windows, after about 12 weeks I probably wouldn’t have any more designs in me. They get increasingly barren somehow.” Three months seems a remarkably generous time frame for creating things without external visual stimuli.
The Good Life is published by Lars Müller Publishers and was released in 2014. 8
Air moulding is a manufacturing process that creates hollow plastics. The Air chair is a one-piece, gas-injected polypropylene chair. 9
Magistretti was also one of Morrison’s teachers at the Royal College of Art in the early 1980s. 10
The tram was commissioned for the Hannover World Expo in 2000. Morrison worked with designers Colin Watson and Klaus Hackl on its development. 11
Yet this sort of quarantine actually happened to Morrison in the late 1990s – he injured his back and was bed-bound for six weeks. It was in this period that he designed the Air chair for Italian manufacturer Magis, one of his best-known designs. “Magis gave me this section of air moulding9 that looked a bit like a bone, just a tube but slightly elliptical. It was such a nice thing, this bone, and I thought, ‘What would the chair look like if it went on from here?’” recalls Morrison. The Air chair and its accompanying projects, a bottle rack and waste basket, were the 2.0 of his design practice. Prior to Morrison’s meeting with Magis founder Eugenio Perazza at a furniture fair in Udine, Italy, he had become disillusioned with his profession. “I lost belief in what I was doing and was quite depressed about the design world,” he says. “I would go to the fairs and show things, but it didn’t feel that great. I don’t think I was doing it very well.” Morrison recalls bumping into Italian designer Vico Magistretti10 on the steps of a plane from Milan to London at the time. Magistretti exclaimed, without prompting, “We’re so lucky, we have the best job in the world!” The comment deeply concerned Morrison. “I was totally shocked,” he says. “I remember thinking, ‘How could he say that? He’s nearly 80. What’s wrong with me that I am having such a bad time?’” Two things changed Morrison’s mind. The first was a 1997 commission by Üstra, the Hannover transport authority, to design a tram.11 It was a prestigious task and one that took Morrison’s work in a new direction for three years. “It was a real-world project and nothing to do with Milan, >
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
The Norwegian wood burner in Morrison’s studio is from Jøtul; next to it is Morrison’s December chair for Finnish brand Nikari. Opposite: The Vitsœ 606 Universal shelving system by Dieter Rams creates a division between the kitchen and the rest of the studio. On its shelves are Morrison’s designs: Moon porcelain for Rosenthal; PlateBowlCup for Alessi; drinking glasses, pots and pans for Alessi.
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On 9 March, Apple opened preorders for its new Apple Watch; its 18K rose-gold model retails for more than £13,000. 12
Glo-Ball is manufactured by Flos and launched in 1999. 13
Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary by Jasper Morrison & Naoto Fukasawa was published by Lars Müller Publishers in 2007. 14
> nothing to do with the design world,” he says. The second factor was his meeting with Perazza. “He looked like the bad guy in a James Bond movie and he said, ‘Maybe you can do something for Magis?’” says Morrison. “I had never touched anything like those plastic mouldings and he said, ‘What about a box for sewing equipment, or a bottle rack?’ As soon as he said that, I had the design in my head. I thought, ‘He’s fantastic, he is actually making things for the real world.’”
In Morrison’s book Everything but the Walls he remarks that the Bottle rack is one of his most copied designs, while the Air chair, which launched in 1999 quickly became a staple in public spaces. Yet it is the less-discussed and published HAL chair for Vitra (2010/2014) that is Morrison’s best-selling chair. Around 80,000 HAL chairs are sold each year, compared to the 40,000 managed by Air at its peak. Morrison believes that the design world has become richer since Air’s debut. “It’s more open and the contract market has grown, so that allows for more investment in technology and more possibilities,” he says. “With that comes more access to a wider range of consumers. So for sure it’s more interesting now.”
But Morrison’s optimism comes at a time when it’s easy to be pessimistic about the design industry. The week after my final meeting with Morrison, at the end of February, the New Yorker published a 16,000-word editorial on British designer Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of design at Apple. The value of Ive to Apple is described starkly in the piece: “He’s uncomfortable knowing that a hundred thousand Apple employees rely on his decision-making – his taste – and that a sudden announcement of his retirement would ambush Apple shareholders. (To take a number: a tenpercent drop in Apple’s valuation represents seventy-one billion dollars.)” It’s a number that makes the European furniture market look like a cottage industry, and reading the article I found myself wondering how, in a world where the majority of the media’s perception of and excitement for “design” centres on the imminent release of the Apple Watch in rose gold,12 furniture and objects can hope to remain relevant? Other people seem to share this view. In early March the New York Times closed its Home section and, with it, any natural place for architecture and design writing in the paper. When Apple, a brand built on design, launched a 12-page advertising campaign in March, it wasn’t in a design or technology magazine, but in American Vogue. There is a general air of doom about the industry, or at least around its ability to impact on people. Here, Morrison’s approach stands in opposition. Regardless of how wirelessly connected we are, or how much storage space we have on our digital devices, day-to-day life still happens in the physical world: on the trams of Hannover; in our kitchens and offices; or, if you’re lucky enough to own one, in front of a Norwegian wood burner. And this is what Morrison is trying to get at: people use design, they don’t consume it. His job is to make that use as pleasurable, easy and intuitive as possible. The way the circumference of the tubular aluminium of the Pipe chair is a little fatter than that of a bentwood Thonet chair for example, making it more generous to to the touch; the handle in the One chair that makes what could otherwise have been an awkward piece of furniture seem easily accessible; or the gently squished form of the Glo-Ball lamp13 that makes its sphere organic rather than geometric. A human consideration is apparent in everything Morrison does. “If I see my door handle on the door of a German beer hall, that’s a real pleasure,” he says. “It gives you a huge boost, much more than seeing 400 of them in an architect’s office. In the beer hall it was chosen by somebody because they thought it was a nice handle. My name is not important at all in terms of the commercial objects – or rather, the more it isn’t, the better.” In 2006 Morrison and Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa branded this form of practice Super Normal and wrote an accompanying manifesto.14 “Super Normal was a kind of realisation of how much better non-authored products seemed to behave in the real world than the sort of things we were all designing, which were desperately trying to attract attention or be overly expressive
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An early prototype of the Alfi chair for Emeco (2015), shot in Morrison’s Paris studio. The seat is made from a type of polypropylene with added wood chips, and mounted on a rough support to test the angle of the leg. The finished chair base is produced by an Amish workshop. PHOTO Jasper Morrison Studio Opposite page: The prototypes and parts of designs on show in the studio include a Sony Dect Phone; a Hannover tram armrest inspired by the phone’s shape; a prototype of the Samsung mobile Morrison designed; the Punkt Dect phone and a Hannover tram handle model. Two models for sofa feet and a cast iron condiment server in cast iron designed for Oigen.
because we wanted them to be noticed,” says Morrison. But if the un-authored object is superior, why does Morrison dedicate so much time to designing new things? “Hundreds but not quite a thousand,” is the estimate he gives of the number of products he has designed. Regardless of their quoting existing forms, these products are all additions to our domestic and work landscape, and – apart from his work for Muji – are all mostly promoted with Morrison’s name displayed prominently. Their author is key to their success, both in terms of sales and the press attention they receive. For a while Morrison tried to offer an alternative. With German colleague Andreas Brandolini, he set up design agency Utilism International in the 1990s and pitched for public-realm design projects. “Our goal was to be useful,” he says. While Utilism International pitched for projects like a park south of Paris and a square in a small town in Brittany, only one of its proposals was realised – a bus terminal in Graz, Austria. Morrison and Brandolini’s input was minimal – they removed stickers from the existing bus terminal’s windows to allow for a view out over the plaza it was built on, enabling passengers to spot approaching buses. A café was added and sleeping policemen were installed on the road, making traffic move in a slower, safer way around the terminal. “It was a very basic-level proposal, which felt really right. It had a very noble aim to improve on a situation,” says Morrison. The problem, he says, was local politicians; Utilism International’s low-key improvements weren’t showy enough. “It was always the case that the money was not there because the project was deemed too mundane,” he says. “Taking stickers off windows is not enough for them. They want bridges.” Around the same time the controversy surrounding planning permission for British architect Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge in central London features prominently in the news.15 >
The Garden Bridge’s design, competition and planning processes have all been discussed in the media. Revelations about its covert public funding were broken by the Guardian in March. 15
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
“I design things that people think are good products; I try to design things that can be mainstream. Something that annoys me, and which feels wrong, is that the design world doesn’t vary that barrier.”
READING LIST Everything but the Walls, Jasper Morrison, Lars Müller Publishers, 2002/2006. Jasper Morrison – Répertoire pour une Forme, texts by Laurence Mauderli, Bernard Chauveau Éditeur, 2006. Masterpieces of British Design, Charlotte and Peter Fiell, Carlton Books, 2012.
> Discouraged by his experience of local governments across Europe, Morrison resolved to attempt Utilism International’s design approach in the world of objects. “I like the world of objects,” he says. “I think that for me, anything that has to do with normal everyday life, public or private, has a sort of fascination.” But commercial object design imposes a practical outcome on his practice that cannot be denied: Morrison’s designs are geared towards making money and he has a flair for making what sells, even if his lack of showiness often makes you forget that. That he owns residences and studios, albeit small ones, in multiple locations is proof of his commercial success. “I design things that people think are good products; I try to design things that can be mainstream,” he says. “But something that annoys me, and which feels wrong, is that the design world doesn’t vary that barrier. It doesn’t make much effort to break out of it.”
Morrison, on the other hand, does. For the past three years he has been visiting Lisbon’s National Museum of Ethnology in his spare time. The first time, he arrived and asked to see the collection. “You just missed the tour,” said the man at reception. Morrison looked disappointed and, after an artful pause, the receptionist added, “But as nobody came, I can show you now.” The collection is the subject of one of Morrison’s upcoming books, for which he has taken all the pictures. There are cork beehives, small wooden stools, ceramic dishes, all neutral and earthy in colour, beautifully executed and resolved to work in the real world; they are designed and made for use. “It’s not that I want to poke my profession with a sharp stick, but they are such beautiful objects,” says Morrison, selecting his words carefully you get the distinct feeling that poking is exactly what he is trying to do. Given his long-standing and stable relationships with the likes of Muji, Vitra, Cappellini, Alessi and Magis, and that he manages a stream of 10 to 20 projects at any one time, Morrison is in a position to poke. This spring he adds three new brands to his bow, making chairs for US manufacturer Emeco and Swedish Offecct and a small table for Danish brand Fredericia. Our final meeting takes place a couple of days before Morrison is due back in Tokyo and he is more stressed than previously. He flits between his desk, kitchen and upstairs living space, moving fast and speaking quicker than usual. The to-do list is growing and Morrison’s first draft of A Book of Things (to accompany the retrospective) rests on the table between us. He still has about a third to write, with three weeks left until the deadline. As he flicks between pages, the odd image appears with a big rectangle pasted over it carrying the bold text “72dpi”. It means an image is too small to print at a satisfactory size. “Now the problem is where to find the bigger image,” says Morrison. Cerf’s warning comes to mind again. But apart from missing images and text, what are his feelings towards the imminent retrospective, which he has named, somewhat existentially, Thingness? “It will probably be quite a shock to see it all together,” says Morrison. “I hope not a bad one.”
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The old stables were converted by architect Michael Casey to house Morrison’s London office. Below: The studio’s door handle is the Series 1144 Morrison made for FSB in 1990, which changed his approach to designing.
THE CASUAL ETHNOGRAPHER
Weld With a documentary on his life to be released this spring, British artist BrianÂ Griffin was commissioned by Disegno to create a series of fashion portraits that explore the theme of fashion and feminism, as investigated on p.54 by Elizabeth Wilson. PHOTOS Brian Griffin STYLING Emma Clifton
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Top in blue suede by J.W. Anderson for Loewe.
White cotton shirt and blue flared trousers, both by Kenzo. Opposite page: Cream dress and leather clutch bag by Prada.
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Beige knee-length elasticated dress with white trim by Max Mara.
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Black pleated dress by Pleats Please.
Khaki dress and striped shirt by Comme des Garรงons.
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Black sleeveless jacket by Eudon Choi.
Blue and pink cropped bomber jacket by Meadham Kirchhoff. Opposite page: Navy tweed jacket with flecks of ecru and pink by Chanel.
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All (garments) selected from spring/summer 2015 collections. MODEL Arlette Ess STUDIO Shed London
Illustration for Opera Designer Klaus Haapaniemiâ€™s heraldic-fantastic set and costume design for the Finnish National Opera faced a difficult challenge â€” bringing in new audiences without alienating the old. WORDS Crystal Bennes PHOTOS Ola Bergengren
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A trio of designer Klaus Haapaniemi’s gouache sketches of costume designs for the Finnish National Opera’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen.
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
K Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was born in Hukvaldy, Moravia. He worked as a composer, theorist and teacher, with much of his output influenced by his research into Moravian and Slovak folk music. 1
Lilli Paasikivi (b.1965) is the principal soloist of the Finnish National Opera. She was appointed artistic director of the Opera in December 2011 and assumed the role in August 2013. 2
The collection takes its name from the Finnish word for “magic” and encompasses heraldic patterns based on foxes and owls. The collection initially focused on tableware but since 2014 has also encompassed soft furnishings. 3
Heikki Orvola (b.1943) is a Finnish designer working across glass, ceramics and textiles. In 1998 he was awarded the prestigious Kaj Franck prize, which recognises Finnish product design. 4
laus, should the thread be in this shade of red, or this one?” Klaus Haapaniemi and I are walking through the costume department of the Finnish National Opera when a woman behind a sewing machine jumps out to ask him this question. She’s holding two spools of thread in ever-so-slightly different shades of red, as well as a brown wool waistcoat, and she wants his opinion. A few minutes later, the scenario is repeated when another seamstress asks about the fit of a jacket. Soft-spoken, articulate and incredibly polite, Haapaniemi takes the time to stop and talk through the minutiae of every decision. What’s particularly striking about this process is that rather than make snap decisions, Haapaniemi consistently refers to his original costume drawings before responding to the questions posed by the various seamstresses.
It’s December 2014 and this is my second visit to the Opera’s workshops in Helsinki. Since October, I’ve been following the development of Haapaniemi’s costumes and set design for an upcoming production of The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera by Czech composer Leoš Janáček1 that was first performed in 1924. For the Helsinki production, commissioned by the Opera’s artistic director (and star mezzo-soprano) Lilli Paasikivi,2 Haapaniemi is creating a complete visual world for Janáček’s moral fable of human-animal relations. The decision to appoint Haapaniemi seems to have been an easy one for Paasikivi. “Klaus is a superstar in Finland and everybody knows his designs,” she says. She’s not exaggerating. Haapaniemi, whose studio is based in London, originally trained in illustration and graphic design at the Lahti Institute of Design in Finland and it was as an illustrator that he initially made his name. Yet since the mid-2000s he has made a series of successful inroads into design, creating objects and textiles decorated with ornate patterns of woodland animals in heraldic forests.
Haapaniemi’s design work marked a return to ornamentation in Nordic design at a time when its aesthetic was (and indeed remains) largely associated with cool minimalism. His first collection for Finnish design brand Iittala – the Taika range3 that launched in 2006 – saw his illustrations transferred to objects such as mugs and plates designed by Heikki Orvola;4 significantly, his designs ended up on desks and dining tables across Finland. To illustrate this point Immo Karaman, director of The Cunning Little Vixen, tells the story of when he first heard that Haapaniemi was working on the opera. “I was not familiar with Haapaniemi, so I made some coffee and began to search for information online,” he says. “I soon realised that my favourite mug – the mug I was just drinking out of – was actually one of his designs! It was a magical moment.” Magic seems a watchword for The Cunning Little Vixen. The opera is not only Janáček’s most enduringly popular work, it’s also one of the most unusual operas in regular repertory. Its central characters are animals – not a common feature of opera, which tends to focus on the loves, losses and lives of human protagonists – and instead of following a tight narrative arc, the libretto is a series of loosely linked sketches that follow the Vixen and her human owner as they reflect on the differences and similarities between the natural and man-made world. Janáček’s opera refuses >
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Haapaniemi on the set he designed, a so-called “Finnish Renaissance ballroom full of animals”.
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
The costumes for the Fox and Vixen. Haapaniemiâ€™s designs were produced by the Operaâ€™s costume department and incorporate elements of Victorian frock coats and geometrical patterning.
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“The concept for the set is that it’s a forest, but it’s also a ballroom where the animals are all going to a party. I guess you could say that it’s a Finnish Renaissance ballroom full of animals.”
> to claim one world as superior to another and instead portrays its animals and humans as similar in their ability to behave both poorly and admirably. Its ambiguous ending neither results in everyone living happily ever after, nor in desolate tragedy. In Janáček’s story, bad things happen to good creatures, but life goes on and things come full circle. It’s easy to see why Paasikivi imagined Haapaniemi’s designs – replete as they are with animals, fantasy, ornament, strong colour palettes and natural motifs – would interlock so poetically with Janáček’s world.
The opera was removed from the national portfolio of arts organisations that receive regular funding. It is now subject to “special funding arrangements”. 5
Haapaniemi’s signature style has brought whimsy and a popularising touch to events and installations before. In 2010 he memorably collaborated with restaurateur Antto Melasniemi and art director Mia Wallenius to produce Hel Yes, a series of curated food and design events in London, Helsinki and Stockholm. Hel Yes showcased the talents of the chefs and product designers involved, all of whom were Finnish, but its unconventional approach – the combining of different disciplines; use of ornamentation; and at times weird entertainment, notably the Bone Orchestra of the Stockholm incarnation of Hel Yes (exactly as it sounds) – also marked out contemporary Finnish design as distinct from its more sober Scandinavian compatriots. Though a certain rebelliousness might seem to lie behind Haapaniemi’s loyalty to ornament and folk culture at a time when not just Nordic but global design pursues a largely minimalist style, Haapaniemi maintains that his approach is more insular. “My philosophy is purely aesthetic, grounded more in the aesthetics of art than design,” he says. “I’m interested in visual storytelling, and I aim to create some sort of illusion of an ongoing story for the viewer.” It’s this ability to connect with and captivate people that seems to have contributed to the success of events like Hel Yes. It’s also what underpinned Paasikivi’s desire to commission Haapaniemi in the first place. The inspiration to combine Haapaniemi’s work with Janáček’s came from Paasikivi’s young son’s copy of Neko, an illustrated children’s book about samurai animals, published by Haapaniemi in 2009. Neko is the tale of righteous samurai cat Neko’s fight against cruel silver fox Toranaga, illustrated in Haapaniemi’s distinctive style. Having bought Neko for her son, Paasikivi rediscovered the book shortly after being appointed artistic director of the Finnish Opera in late 2011. “I was cleaning his room and I found the book on his bookshelf. Then it hit me that I’m now in a position to work with a person like Klaus,” she says surrounded by Haapaniemi’s prints on the walls of her office. “His fairy-tale cornucopia of a visual language is a perfect fit. It has to be on stage.”
While Haapaniemi’s aesthetic may be an ideal match for Janáček’s folk tale of animals and men, it’s also a clever strategy on the part of Paasikivi to leverage the popularity of Haapaniemi’s designs to attract new audiences. At a time when opera is under mounting threat to increase revenues – as seen recently in the UK by a warning to the English National Opera by the Arts Council, its major funder, to reorder its business model or risk significant loss of funding5 – it’s an interesting proposition. Perceived by some as elitist and culturally irrelevant, opera houses are trying to unearth means of appearing more modern, accessible and relevant without, of course, alienating existing audiences. It seems to be in this gap between attracting new audiences and retaining current devotees where design can be best put to use. In the specific case of Helsinki, the argument made by both Haapaniemi and Paasikivi is that design can act as a tool to entice those who might not normally attend opera, who can then decide for themselves as to its wider merits. “My thoughts vary quite a bit in terms of intentionally trying to popularise established art forms like opera,” Haapaniemi says, “especially since you might lose existing supporters, specialists >
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
“I saw exactly how my style could be incorporated within his music and I recognised the similarities in the composition, with its ornamental overlay and quite complex modern structure underneath.”
Not to mention a product tie-in with Iittala, of which more later. 6
The text of a dramatic musical work, including both lyrics and dialogue. 7
A type of water-based paint that differs from traditional watercolours in being heavier, and more reflective and opaque. 8
> and critics who uphold high levels of artistic quality. But this doesn’t mean that art should stay untouched by any interaction from the outside world. I personally like to believe that all kinds of crossovers in arts and culture are making the whole experience for spectators more exciting, as long as the original work is respected enough.”
While Haapaniemi isn’t the first outsider brought in to work in the world of opera, few artistic directors are currently combining different creative practices as a strategy to bring in a more diverse audience as explicitly as Paasikivi. There is a precedent for opera houses turning to fashion designers to create couture-worthy costumes, such as Miuccia Prada for Attila at New York’s Metropolitan Opera in 2010, or Viktor&Rolf for Der Freischütz in Baden-Baden in 2009. Likewise, architects and illustrators have sometimes served as set department collaborators, notably Frank Gehry’s crumpled paper design for Don Giovanni at his own Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2012 or, in the case of The Cunning Little Vixen, author and illustrator Maurice Sendak’s scenery and costumes for the New York City Opera’s 1981 production. What is unusual about Haapaniemi’s project is its scale. It is rare for a national opera house to give an outsider free reign over the total visual concept – set design, costumes and promotional material.6
Although his initial commission was simply to design the stage set, after listening to Janáček’s opera and reading the libretto7 Haapaniemi did what most savvy designers do: he proposed an extension of his duties. “I listened to the music and read the libretto as background research before starting the design, and my heart melted,” he explained at our first meeting. “I saw exactly how my style could be incorporated within his music and I recognised the similarities in the composition, with its ornamental overlay and quite complex modern structure underneath. From there, I thought that I also needed to do the costumes. It became a way to tie everything together.” Having begun work on the designs almost two years ago, Haapaniemi went through a long process from first thoughts to end results. Beginning with a few characters that caught his imagination when first listening to the opera – the Rooster and the Vixen – he began making sketches in gouache.8 Later, he expanded his view to include the environment in which the animals live, thinking and sketching how best to transpose his designs onto an operatic stage. “In opera,” says Haapaniemi, “a lot of people seem to think that the stage is the main character, but I think that’s a little bit old-fashioned. I wanted to think of the stage as being more like empty space where the characters and the costumes come to the fore. The stage is just a frame. But of course, it’s a beautiful frame.”
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Costumes for the Crested Fowl and Cockerel. The designs for the Opera draw upon Haapaniemi’s familiar references of heraldry and natural motifs.
When I first visited, four months before the opera was due to open, this beautiful frame had been finished and packed away, ready to come out again for dress rehearsals closer to opening night. Nevertheless, we went down to the scenery workshops to see what we could find. A strange, fantastical world, the workshops are huge hangar spaces with dozens of people hammering, painting and moving pieces of sets back and forth between the stage and shop. Haapaniemi wasn’t able to locate his painted set panels, so we settled for looking at the miniature model of his completed set design. For each new production at the opera, a scale model is made of the entire set to work out a finished design before it is then built to size. The model for Haapaniemi’s Cunning Little Vixen is painted in rich wooden browns and deep blues. Intricate, stylised natureinspired ornamental patterns wind their way across the back of the set, with tall columns spaced evenly across: a cross between a baroque palace and the forests of Slavic folk tales. It’s a simple but affecting design, one that doesn’t rely on technical wizardry to make an impact. “The opera is about the forest, this place where animals and people are living together,” Klaus explained, “so the concept for the set is that it’s a forest, but it’s also a ballroom where the animals are all going to a party. I guess you could say that it’s a Finnish Renaissance ballroom full of animals.” While we were looking at the model, someone in the workshops located and unwrapped a corner of one of Haapaniemi’s set panels. Considering that no one in the audience will see the set close up, the attention to detail on the paintwork is impressive. The painted panels are as expensively lavish as those you might see in the grand dining room of a stately home. They don’t seem like a set design for a temporary stage production. As we walked back to the costume workshops, Haapaniemi talked enthusiastically about the privilege of working with the scenographers, technicians and costume makers of the Opera. “Initially, I was expecting the costume department to look at my designs and say, ‘We can’t do this,’” he said. “I was ready to make a lot of compromises because I understand that it isn’t just about fashion or communicating the visual atmosphere. It’s also about function. I have been so surprised with how well everything has gone. I had elaborate designs with very layered costumes, but when I see them in production, they look exactly how I thought they would. It’s been amazing.”
This marks an interesting change from the usual narrative of design collaboration. In the world of designer-manufacturer relations, the story typically focuses on the process by which the designer pushed – technically or materially – the capabilities of the manufacturer to result in a new product, or vice versa. In the case of this collaboration, despite the rich detail of his designs, >
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
Costumes from left to right: the Hen, the Badger, the Cockerel, the Fox and the Vixen.
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ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
Headgear from left to right: the Vixen, the Crested Fowl and the Cockerel. Haapaniemiâ€™s Stephen Jones-inspired hats form a central part of his costume design.
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ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
Shoes designed for the Opera. Throughout the production process for his costumes, Haapaniemi continually referred to his original drawings to ensure consistency of artistic vision. Opposite page: a detail from the set for The Cunning Little Vixen.
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“I want the whole play to be like a single painting and when you leave you have this image of one almost still image in your mind.”
> Haapaniemi’s demands don’t seem to have technically strained the capabilities of the Opera’s creative teams. Not that the craftsmen haven’t had their work cut out for them, but perhaps Haapaniemi recognised that the collaboration required compromise on both sides. After all, while the costumes and staging have to work on a visual level, they must also work on a practical level for the performers. “Klaus has strong integrity and vision, but on the other hand he is absolutely willing to learn and adjust to the needs of opera,” says Paasikivi on my second visit when I ask her to reflect on Haapaniemi’s working relationship with the Opera’s creative team. “He has a gift for telling stories visually and there’s a richness to his designs, as well as to Janáček’s music. I’m sure we’ll have a very beautiful production.” It’s clear that this collaboration hasn’t been about a designer bringing technical artistry and theatrics to an already theatrical industry. Rather, Haapaniemi has brought an aesthetic flair and a talent for engaging viewers with visual narrative which, if all goes well, will not only help the Opera get new people into its seats, but keep them spellbound once there.
Back in the costume department, a large cork board is covered with Haapaniemi’s original illustrations for each of The Cunning Little Vixen’s numerous characters, for which he created 49 costumes. The designs are instantly recognisable as Haapaniemi’s work, with their repeating geometric patterns and Finnish ornament, but the scale and level of complexity is beyond anything he’s done before. The costumes are an intriguing fusion of high fashion and historical costume, gloriously postmodern in combining a broad spectrum of influences. Take the design for the Vixen, the opera’s titular character, for example. There’s a touch of Elizabethan court dress to the dark hose – studded with pinned-on grey triangles – and the pompom-adorned squaredheeled shoes and geometric-patterned bloomers that anchor the lower half. A rich red Victorianameets-Balmain9 frock coat incorporates Haapaniemi’s oft-used geometric figures down the side panels and sleeves and then it’s back to the Elizabethan for a modern interpretation of a starchy white ruff around the neck. The whole thing is topped off with a clever, Stephen Jones-inspired10 pointed-ear hat that also resembles the upper section of a fox’s head.
A Paris-based haute couture studio founded by Pierre Balmain (1914-1982) in 1946. Balmain embraced Christian Dior’s New Look and his work was noted for its refinement and attention to detail. 9
Stephen Jones (b.1957) is a British milliner who has created hats for collections by John Galliano, Nicolas Ghesquière and Comme des Garçons. His work is noted for its inventiveness and complex technical construction. 10
“Tanssi” means “dance” in Finnish. As with Taika, the Tanssi patterns are applied to tableware designed by Heikki Orvola. 11
The costumes are unified by variations on geometric shapes – triangles, diamonds, chevrons and circles – that are used throughout. While the colour palette for animals is rich reds, blues, greens and yellows, the opera’s human characters are dressed in more muted tones: creams, light blues and greys. Each individual character has a distinctive identity, but massed together, even on the costume workroom’s cork board, they create a striking visual portrait. “I had this idea that when people come to see the opera, they only see one picture,” said Haapaniemi. “I want the whole play to be like a single painting and when you leave you have this image of one almost still image in your mind.”
For those unable to visit Helsinki to see Haapaniemi’s painting for the stage, there’s another, third, player in this collaboration. Having already begun work with Haapaniemi, Paasikivi approached Iittala about producing a new range of ceramics based on the character sketches for the opera and the Tanssi tableware range11 was born. The way Haapaniemi describes it, this extended Iittala collaboration is something of an outreach project; an access route for those uninterested in opera or unable to see the production. “It’s a chance to bring the project outside the Opera,” Klaus explains. “There’s a whole city living outside the Opera House and it’s great to be able to bring the designs outside this building.” >
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
The costumes are an intriguing fusion of high fashion and historical costume. There’s a touch of Elizabethan court dress to the dark hose – studded with pinned-on grey triangles.
READING LIST Finnish Design: A Concise History, Pekka Korvenmaa. V&A Publishing, 2014. The Janáček Opera Libretti: Translations and Pronunciation, Vol 1, Timothy Cheek. Scarecrow Press, 2013. A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years, Roger Parker & Carolyn Abbate. Allen Lane, 2012.
> Though it may seem strange to have such an explicitly commercial relationship between Iittala and the Opera, given the nature of Haapaniemi’s previous work there is perhaps more sense in this tactic than, for example, the art’s traditional commercial sponsor approach. While Haapaniemi’s designs are well known in Finland, in large part thanks to the success of previous collaborations with Iittala, one nonetheless wonders whether the Tanssi collaboration risks countering Paasikivi’s wider aim to attract new audiences by collaborating with people like Haapaniemi in the first place. Some may simply buy the collection without thinking twice about its connection to Janáček’s opera; on the other hand, if even a handful of people find themselves curious about the inspiration behind Haapaniemi’s new designs and subsequently discover Janáček’s music, even without attending a performance, that surely counts as a success in terms of engaging new audiences. I returned to the Opera for a final visit in January to see the culmination of Haapaniemi’s work in a live performance. In December, on my second visit, Paasikivi had been keen to stress the degree of sympathy between the opera’s composer and the designer brought in to construct its visual concept. “This is a totally different visual language to anything we’ve done before,” she said, “but there’s a richness both to Klaus’s designs and to Janáček’s music. The whole thing is quite detailed, but if the end result is that the audience can find new things to look at throughout the evening, then I think we will have succeeded.” While watching the performance the extent to which Janáček’s music has influenced the design of the costumes becomes evident. There’s a shared sweetness; a warm, lyrical quality and a romantic sensibility to both the visual design and the lush sounds. Perhaps Haapaniemi’s style simply is a perfect match for Janáček’s score, something Paasikivi recognised from the outset. The opera’s narrative, expressed through Janáček’s libretto remains, as mentioned, sketchy and hard to follow. From snatched bits of overheard conversation, I can tell that people around me are having a hard time understanding what the story is about, but it’s equally obvious that they are delighting in the production’s aesthetics. The children in the audience, and there are surprisingly many, gasp with delight each time a new animal arrives on stage. The spectacle of a group of fabulously-attired chickens and their even more fabulously-attired rooster garners a particularly lively response. When a group of ladies, whose costumes seem to be on upside-down, lie on the stage with their legs in the air to form a field of straining sunflowers, the audience bursts into spontaneous applause at the sheer wit of the display. A few weeks later, when he’s back in London, I ask Haapaniemi how he feels about the project now that the opera has opened. Reflecting on two years of work, he’s primarily full of praise for his collaborators. “I was so satisfied with the outcome,” he says, “and it was really moving to see how the hard work of everyone at the Opera, especially the costume department, came alive, shaping the illusion for me and the audience. I wouldn’t do anything differently, even though I’m sure something will come to mind later. I’ll save the improvements for my next project.”
Crystal Bennes is a writer, curator and artist based in Helsinki. She is a contributing editor to Icon, runs the blog Development Aesthetics and is one third of the London Research Kitchen.
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The Badger costume evinces the level of complexity in Haapaniemiâ€™s designs. The detailing and intricacy is beyond anything the designer has done before.
ILLUSTRATION FOR OPERA
Eileen Gray: Operating in Dialogue Modern movement architect Eileen Gray was forgotten in her time, but now her influence resonates throughout the field. Here, a rarely seen conversation between Gray and architect Jean Badovici about their E.1027 house reveals Gray’s architecture of “mind and heart”. INTRODUCTION Caroline Constant DIALOGUE Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici PHOTOS Eileen Gray, courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
ntil 1968, when architecture critic Joseph Rykwert published an essay on her practice in Domus magazine, Eileen Gray had been virtually forgotten.
Gray (1878-1976), an Anglo-Irish architect whose practice was centred largely in southern France, realised fewer than 10 buildings during her long career. Yet her ability to combine architecture, gardens, furnishings, fabrics and fittings, all directed toward the reintegration of architecture and daily life, led Gray to create settings with an evocative quality that is rarely found in the work of her avant-garde contemporaries. Celebrated in major exhibitions at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt (1996) and more recently at the Design Museum in London (2005) and Centre Pompidou in Paris (2013), Eileen Gray’s creative output has a subtle and elusive appeal that is attracting a growing body of admirers. The recent resurgence of interest in Gray’s work stems largely from the vast amount of archival material that the National Museum of Ireland acquired between 2000 and 2008, and which its curator Jennifer Goff analysed in her book Eileen Gray: Her Work and her World. This material has in turn inspired two new films: Gray Matters, a documentary directed by Marco Orsini and The Price of Desire, a feature film directed by Mary McGuckian. Although both films begin with an account of the 2009 Christie’s auction in which Gray’s Dragon Chair fetched a record price of £19.4m, they point to the broader significance of Gray’s work in the decorative arts and architecture.
Central to the two films is E.1027, a house on the Mediterranean coast outside Cap Martin, France, which Gray designed for (and with input from) her companion, Romanian architect Jean Badovici, between 1926 and 1929. The design reflects Gray’s awareness of the work of contemporaries such as Adolf Loos, Le Corbusier and Gerrit Rietveld, among others, and her interest in engaging their architectural concepts in dialogue. By challenging yet working within such modern movement precepts, Gray sought to overcome the cold, inhuman qualities associated with abstract forms by engaging the subjective qualities of experience. E.1027 is itself the focus of the written dialogue From Eclecticism to Doubt, first published in 1929 in a special issue of Badovici’s avant-garde periodical L’Architecture Vivante and now republished in translation in Disegno.
E.1027 was named a Monument Historique in 2000. Owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral, it underwent a heavy-handed and historically problematic restoration in the 2000s – at the hands of Pierre-Antoine Gatier, the state-appointed Architecte en Chef des Monuments Historiques – a task undertaken more effectively through the recent efforts of Michael Likierman (founder and CEO of the French arm of Habitat) in cooperation with architect Robert Rebutato, who was raised in the bistro next door in the company of Le Corbusier. The aim is to organise, as a study centre, the series of seaside buildings in Cap Martin: E.1027; the Rebutato bistro/residence Étoile de Mer (1948) and “Unités de camping” (1957), designed by Le Corbusier and built at the instigation of Rebutato’s father Thomas; and Le Corbusier’s adjoining cabanon (1952) and workshed. The official inauguration is tentatively scheduled for late June 2015. >
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Dressing cabinet in principal bedroom. See full caption on p.159.
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
READING LIST Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World, Jennifer Goff. Irish Academic Press, 2014. Eileen Gray (paperback), Caroline Constant. Phaidon, 2007. Eileen Gray: Her Life and Her Work, The Ultimate Biography, Peter Adam. Schirmer/Mosel, 2014. Gray Matters directed by Marco Orsini, on general release spring 2015. The Price of Desire directed by Mary McGuckian, on general release spring 2015.
> From Eclecticism to Doubt serves to clarify Gray’s contribution to modern architectural discourse. Dialogue in this context can be understood as an alternative to the architectural manifesto, the principle literary means by which modern architects attempted to argue for the “universal” validity of their approach. Gray challenged the totalising claims of such prevalent examples of contemporary theorising by questioning, adapting and/or expanding upon them, thereby engaging them in dialogue. Through this critical process she sought to enhance the human potential of modern architecture, overcoming its supposed cold and alienating qualities by reinstating fundamental physical, psychological, and spiritual needs as primary. A dialogue is open-ended; it does not attempt to prove a point, but leads its readers to draw their own conclusions. This approach led Gray to design buildings that have the same effect – with respect to both the experiences of their occupants and the work of her avant-garde counterparts. Gray represents the most substantive voice in the E.1027 dialogue. While Badovici introduces themes associated with avant-garde theory (such as geometry, abstraction, mechanisation, hygiene, functionalism and the avant-garde), Gray opens them up to a relational logic that contrasts the manifesto’s assertive tone. She exploited dialogue for its capacity to expand upon certain dichotomies prevalent in modern movement discourse: body and spirit; reason and intuition; order and flux; science and art; individual and collective; particular and universal. Rather than view such categories as mutually exclusive, she sought their points of convergence and overlap. The title of From Eclecticism to Doubt is itself dialogic; it reflects the uncertainty that accompanied the early 20th-century rejection of historic styles and the resulting quest for rigorous and logical bases for architectural form.
Gray occasionally wrote in prose, using that form to engage Le Corbusier’s own writings in dialogue. In her Description of E.1027 (which was published in 1929 alongside the dialogue, parts of which appear on the following pages), she qualified certain statements from his Vers une Architecture (1923). To Le Corbusier’s assertion that “Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light,” Gray responded, “If lyricism can be dedicated to the play of masses brought together in daylight, the interior should respond to human needs and the exigencies of individual life, and it should ensure calm and intimacy.” She countered his assertion that “The plan is the generator” by declaring her priority for human values: “The process is subordinate to the plan, not the plan to the process. It is not only a matter of constructing beautiful arrangements of lines, but above all, dwellings for people.” Opposing the formulaic aspects of the architectural manifesto, she argued, “Formulas are nothing, life is everything. And life is simultaneously mind and heart.” Rather than reject such formulas outright, however, Gray sought to challenge their limits and “push them to the point where they reestablish contact with life, to incorporate reality within their abstraction.” To Gray, a house was not an object to be apprehended through intellectual detachment, but a flexible structure whose occupants would invest it with life. “External architecture seems to have absorbed avant-garde architects at the expense of the interior,” she wrote. “As if a house should be conceived for the pleasure of the eye more than for the well-being of its inhabitants.” Linking her critique of the building-as-object with her a-theoretical stance, she concluded, “Theory is insufficient for life and does not respond to all its requirements.” At a time when technique has again begun to dominate architectural discussion, this provocation is well worth revisiting. Caroline Constant is a Professor Emerita at the University of Michigan and author of Eileen Gray (Phaidon, 2000) and The Modern Architectural Landscape (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).
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The following captions are excerpts from a special issue of L’Architecture Vivante on Maison en Bord de Mer by Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici published in 1929. External architecture seems to have absorbed avant-garde architects at the expense of the interior, as if a house should be conceived for the pleasure of the eye more than for the well-being of its inhabitants. If lyricism can be dedicated to the play of masses brought together in daylight, the interior should respond to human needs and the exigencies of individual life, and it should ensure calm and intimacy. Theory
is insufficient for life and does not respond to all its requirements. It is necessary to free oneself of a tendency with obvious failings and seek to create an interior atmosphere that is in harmony with the refinements of modern life while utilising current technical resources and possibilities. The thing constructed is more important than the way it is constructed, and the process is subordinate to the plan, not the plan to the process. It is not only a matter of constructing beautiful arrangements of lines, but above all, dwellings for people. To consider the construction of a table or a chair as a sculptural entity, undertaking it only from the point of view of formal harmony, necessarily leads to excess and to absurdity, which misleads public taste and makes those who have not abandoned the notion of practical utility seem outdated. Tubular steel as it is conceived and used by avant-garde architects is expensive, unstable and cold. The need to distinguish oneself, to be original at all
costs, leads to suppressing the most elementary concern for practical comfort. All of these inventions with modern pretensions that appear and disappear respond only to a fleeting fashion, and they lack any genuine style. There is no one particular style. The true creator aims for the universal. The “camping” style is only a temporary means and the creations that are inspired by it are undeniably precarious. It leads to an impoverishment of the inner life by suppressing all intimacy. The truly civilised man requires a certain formal elegance: he knows the propriety of certain gestures; he needs to be able to isolate himself. In this very small house we have tried to express two parallel ways of life: the “camping” method, which responds to an accidental need for outward expression, and the normal method, which tends to provide an independent and remote centre where the individual can develop his profound powers. One must anticipate that the present need for action, for a hectic life, will come to an end; that it will subside as soon as the effects
of the war disappear and will be replaced by the need for inner knowledge and refinement. It is up to artists to take the lead in this inevitable recovery, to alter its direction and facilitate its development. The interior plan should not be the incidental result of the facade; it should lead a complete, harmonious and logical life. Rather than being subordinated to the external volume, it should on the contrary control it. It should not be pure convention, as in the eighteenth century, but on the contrary, as in Gothic times, a homogeneous whole, built for man, to the human scale and balanced in all its parts. The house that we are going to describe should not be considered perfect, with all of its problems resolved. It is only an attempt, a moment in a more general pursuit. If certain of the innovations that it provides can be regarded as definitive and should be adopted everywhere, others need further improvements, while still others should be brushed aside.
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
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The Large Room The house has been built for a man who loves work, sports and entertaining. Although it is very small, its layout should permit the occupant to welcome friends and entertain them. Only the â€œcampingâ€? style allows this otherwise exceptional difficulty to be resolved: one has resorted to it without thinking for an instant that it might result in a normative method, nor that it will be the style of tomorrow, but simply as a convenient response to an exceptional circumstance. To allow for entertaining numerous guests one has made a convertible room of 14m by 6.3m. Since this room is to be used for other purposes, a low wall has been provided at its end that allows the entire ceiling to be visible from any point, while concealing a dressing area, complete with shower, linen chest, cupboard, etc. Against the full wall is a large divan of 2.2m by 2m, where one can stretch out or sit, for resting or conversing comfortably, an indispensable item that can be converted into a bed. The cushions can be placed around it like satellites to extend the divan
by 4cm, providing comfortable and relaxing seating. Opposite the dressing area, an alcove shelters a small divan at the head of which one has provided a flat storage unit containing pillows, mosquito netting, tea kettle and books. A flexible table with two pivots allows for reading while lying down. A white lamp bulb mounted between two panes of blue glass provides sensible light. At the head of the small divan a double door provides access to a covered terrace that is sufficiently large to hang a hammock. A metal door is housed in the thickness of the wall, as well as a shuttered door with pivoting slats to allow practical ventilation and give the sleeping figure, if he leaves the first door open, the impression of being outdoors. For warm summer nights, a pierced opening high in the fixed part of the glazed frame at the foot of the bed provides excellent cross ventilation. Above the small divan a thin cable at human height allows the mosquito netting to be extended at night. Placing the fireplace against the window allows
one to enjoy firelight and natural light at the same time. The furnishings, chairs, screens and pile carpets, the warm leather colours, low metallic lustre and depth of the cushions all contribute to an atmosphere of intimacy. A marine chart, lighted at night, brings an ingenious note, conjuring up distant voyages and provoking daydreams. Even the carpets are reminiscent of marine horizons, through their colour and form. When viewed from within the room, the entry partition consists of a series of racks that end in a deep vertical segment of the celluloid half cylinder, which encloses a column of gramophone records. This is the music corner, and the felicitous arrangement of the partition serves to amplify the sounds. The tea table is made of tubes that can be retracted and it is covered with a cork sheet to avoid the impact and noise of fragile cups. It includes discs for fruits and cakes and a narrower end on which one rests the cup that one is about to offer.
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
From Eclecticism to Doubt
Jean Badovici Donâ€™t you fear that this return to fundamentals, this systematic simplification that seems to dictate modern art, will only end by grounding this art in general, and architecture in particular, in a purely theoretical pursuit that is too intellectual to satisfy the demands of both our minds and our bodies? The human being is not a pure intellect. And when one sees these large buildings with smooth lines and especially these interiors, where everything seems to derive from strict and cold calculations, one must ask whether people could be satisfied living in such a place.
Eileen Gray You are right. This return to essential elements, this emancipation from all that was inessential, responded to a need. It is necessary to liberate oneself from such oppression in order to experience freedom anew. But this state of intellectual coldness that we have reached, which corresponds only too well to the harsh laws of modern mechanisation, can be no more than a passing phase. We must rediscover the human being in plastic expression, the human intention that underlies material appearance and the pathos of this modern life, which has initially been expressed only in algebraic terms. JB To what pathos are you referring?
EG To the pathos that is inseparable from all real life.
JB In short, you mean to rediscover emotion. EG Yes, but a purified emotion that can be expressed in a thousand ways. It is not necessary to return to old complexities. Sometimes all that is required is the choice of a beautiful material worked with sincere simplicity. It is necessary to reconstruct an ideal that is able to satisfy the most general modern consciousness while guarding against all excesses, but without neglecting individual pleasures. JB So you advocate a return to feelings, to emotionalism!
EG Yes, but once again to an emotion that is purified by knowledge and enriched by ideas
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and does not exclude the knowledge and appreciation of scientific achievements. It is only necessary to demand of artists that they be of their time.
JB You intend that they be of their own era and express it.
EG Yes, without any artifice of any kind. The work of beauty is more genuine than the artist. JB But how can one express an era and, above all, one like ours that is so full of contradictions, where the past survives in so many respects and where, on the other hand, one sees such extreme points of view?
EG Every work of art is symbolic. It conveys, it suggests the essential more than representing it. It is up to artists to find, in this multitude of contradictory factors, those that constitute the intellectual and emotive framework of man as both an individual and a social being. JB Do you think that inspiration will ever suffice for such a task?
EG It is life itself, the meaning of life, that provides inspiration, but inspiration and faith can no longer provide knowledge as complex as that required today âˆ’ knowledge of the conditions of existence, of human tastes and aspirations, passions and needs, as well as technical knowledge and material means. JB You demand that the architect have a universal mind?
EG Almost! But the essential thing is that he understand the meaning of each thing; that he know how to remain straightforward and sensible, without neglecting any means of expression. The most diverse materials will be useful to him in turn, and he will be able to express what he wants of the life around him through the judicious use of new materials as much as through the architectural structure itself.
JB There is a word that you have not mentioned, but is implicit in your discussion: that is unity. For it seems evident that, just as much as the elements of construction, this
The stair has been made with the smallest possible dimensions, but with large deep steps that are grooved to be comfortable underfoot. The stair shaft is much larger than the spiral staircase, so that the volume will seem light and airy. Around the
spiral stair, which serves like a stepladder, are a series of cupboards that are ventilated and lit and accessible from both inside and outside. The light pours down through the glass shaft above, which provides access to the roof.
An off-centre table has a tubular steel base that can be adjusted to hold the breakfast tray at the desired height and fits under the divan.
diversity of inspirational factors would only lead to chaotic disorder if the architect did not direct them explicitly toward a common goal. EG Indeed, strictly speaking, there is no architectural creation that is not an organic unity. But, while such unity was formerly completely external, it is now a question of making it internal as well, including the smallest details. JB But could so systematic a unity be reconciled with that diversity of which you spoke earlier?
EG Evidently! It is by interpreting the desires, passions and tastes of the individual that one will best interpret social life and collective order. Art is founded upon habitude, but not upon the fleeting or artificial habits that give rise to fashion. The object should be given a form that is most suited to the spontaneous gesture or instinctive reflex that corresponds to its purpose.
JB Arenâ€™t you afraid that the material life will thus overwhelm the spiritual?
EG The public has already reacted against such a misinterpretation and brought swift justice to it. The introduction of camping furniture, deck chairs and folding furniture into a room intended for rest or work is just such an excess. No more intimacy, no more atmosphere! Everything has been simplified to death. Simplicity does not follow from simplification, particularly such crude simplification. Formulas are nothing; life is everything. And life is simultaneously mind and heart. JB In short, you want to react against fashionable formulas by returning to the past.
EG No, on the contrary, I want to develop these formulas and push them to the point where they reestablish contact with life, to enrich them and incorporate reality within their abstraction. Art is not just the expression of abstract relationships; it must alsoÂ >
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
“Formulas are nothing; life is everything. And life is simultaneously mind and heart.”
> encapsulate the most tangible relations, the most intimate needs of subjective life. In addition to inspiration, genuine scientific experimentation is needed to sustain it.
JB You want architecture to be a symphony in which all inner forms of life are expressed. EG Exactly. In it dream and reality will find equal support.
JB Decoration could be a powerful aid in this. EG Architecture must be its own decoration. The play of lines and colours should respond so precisely to the needs of the interior atmosphere that all detached paintings or pictures would seem not only useless, but detrimental to the overall harmony. JB Isn’t that what so-called avant-garde architecture sought to accomplish?
EG In a sense, yes, but in one sense only. For the avant-garde, architectural creation must be self-sufficient, with no consideration for the atmosphere that the inner life calls for. It is a creation of proportions that are sometimes intelligent, but detached from its main object, which is the living human being. It relies on the occasional, the accidental, when only universal sentiments should be conveyed and fulfilled and only the human being should be considered, but the human being of a particular era, with the tastes, feelings and gestures of this era. JB Yes, but all the same it was the avant-garde who first stressed the need to respect proportions in order to create well-balanced objects.
EG The avant-garde has only reminded us of a very old and often forgotten principle, while overlooking the fact that proportions and balance were only present in art because they existed first of all in life, as vital principles. It is over-intellectualised: an art of thought and calculation, but lacking in heart.
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JB It is true that many works are a bit cold, but isn’t that because we are influenced by the recent past? And aren’t the principles of hygiene partly responsible for this coldness that disturbs us?
EG Yes! Hygiene to bore you to death! Hygiene that is badly understood, because hygiene excludes neither comfort nor activity. No, the avant-garde is intoxicated by mechanisation. But there is more than mechanisation; the world is full of vivid allusions, vivid symmetries that are difficult to discover, but nevertheless real. Their excessive intellectualism suppresses that which is marvellous in life, just as their misunderstood concern for hygiene makes hygiene intolerable. Their desire for strict precision has made them neglect the beauty inherent to all forms: disks, cylinders, undulating lines and zigzags, ellipsoidal lines that are like straight lines in motion. Their architecture has no soul. JB It is clear that they build houses just like engineers build their machines. But is that necessary?
EG In terms of technique, yes. But technique is not everything; it is only the means. One must build for the human being, that he might rediscover in the architectural construction the joys of self-fulfillment in a whole that extends and completes him. Even the furnishings should lose their individuality by blending in with the architectural ensemble.
JB Today’s architects scarcely speak of anything but standardisation and rationalisation. Can you explain the meaning they give these terms, which I have often heard elsewhere but with a significance that I can hardly associate with architecture?
EG It’s always the same thing. Technique becomes the primary concern. By focusing on the means one forgets the ends. If we aren’t careful, standardisation and rationalisation, both excellent means for reducing costs, will only lead to providing buildings that are >
The Principal Bedroom The principal bedroom includes a boudoir-studio with a small private terrace, on which one finds a day-bed in the open air. A dressing cabinet in aluminium and cork conceals the washstand and, when opened, forms a screen; although very shallow, it contains all the drawers and bottles necessary for grooming oneself. A washbasin is provided in case the bathroom is being used by friends. Service can be provided directly from the bathroom, which adjoins this small bedroom. From this room one can go directly to the garden via a small external stair; the independence of each room is assured, despite the small size of the house. There is a level of comfort that one would expect to find only in a much larger dwelling. The room is sunny from morning to evening, and,
owing to its shuttered windows, the light and air can be regulated at will, as with the shutter of a camera. The bed, sheltered against two full walls, has coloured sheets so that the mess is not noticed when the bed is unmade. Owing to the layout of this room (through shifting alignments) the doors are invisible from the interior. In the part arranged as a studio are a writing table, metal chairs, a filing cabinet, a low-hanging light diffuser of frosted glass and a private terrace with a day-bed. This room has a small bookshelf, a bed with a plywood headboard against the wall, where there are built-in lamps, one in white and one in blue that dims to serve as a night light; a movable bedside table with two segments and a luminous watch face; electrical outlets for a
kettle and bedwarmer; mosquito netting in transparent celluloid, the fabric of which extends along an extremely thin steel cable with a guy rope, which eliminates the heavy weight and inelegance of ordinary mosquito netting. The linen cupboard below the window is placed at the height of the hand, so that one can reach the bottom without bending over, effortlessly. It is hung from the wall, which allows the tiled flooring underneath to be easily cleaned. Completing the furnishings for the dressing area are a waste basket, a stool, shelves, a washbasin, a disk for jewellery and an aluminium dressing cabinet âˆ’ a beautiful material providing an agreeable coolness in hot climates. The tile flooring is gray black for the studio and gray white for the room.
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
The Guest Room The guest room has been carried out with the essential concern for avoiding the mistral. Since the bed must be sheltered from the currents of air, a partition wall cuts off all air flow. The room comprises a studio and a dressing area with a lit ceiling. The lighted mirror has a small satellite mirror that permits one to shave the nape of one’s neck: a lamp is fixed at the centre of the mirror, flaring so that all is lit equally,
without shadows. There are drawers everywhere, external and internal, pivoting and sliding, able to contain any ordinary objects. The guest room is independent, with doors leading directly to the garden and the terrace under the house. The bed is an ordinary divan, simply modified with a fixed headrest for use during morning breakfasts. An off-centre table has a tubular steel base that can be
> even more deprived of soul and individuality than those we have seen thus far. One seeks a type of architecture more than a genuine style. But for a certain type of architecture to have true value, it must correspond to a generally accepted conception, to a collective taste, to an ideal. How can we achieve such a result if we build without the least concern for the inhabitants’ well-being and personal comfort and if we don’t take into account their human need to discover in the places where they live certain characteristics that express their individual personalities and their own tastes? How can architects who focus only on minimising costs both satisfy public taste and please the elite? Besides, it seems inevitable that this kind of typological research can only lead to extreme simplification and ultimately to concepts that are as poor as they are limited. JB The search for a building type evidently coincides with economic circumstances against which one can do nothing. EG No doubt!
JB But is it necessary to present something as ideal that results only from such an unfortunate necessity?
EG I think that most people are mistaken in the meaning that they have agreed to give this
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adjusted to hold the breakfast tray at the desired height and fits under the divan. An item of furniture with multiple drawers, shelves for books and a writing desk can be closed up. A soft light, in white and blue, does not reach the eyes directly. A small portable dressing table in leather and tubular steel has pivoting drawers. Above the door is a cubbyhole for suitcases.
word “type.” For them “type” is synonymous with a creation that is simplified in the extreme and destined to be reproduced in series. But I understand otherwise. To me a maison type is only a house whose construction has been realised according to the best and the least costly technical means and whose architecture achieves the maximum perfection for a given situation; that is to say, it is a model, not to be reproduced ad infinitum, but that will inspire the construction of other houses in the same spirit.
JB Certainly it is along these lines that research into the architectural “type” of our era should be understood. Far from being dangerous, research of this sort would become not only an economic necessity, but a logical and moral one as well. Besides its great advantage of opening up enormous possibilities for future pursuits, it encompasses a sort of fundamental unity, which, through its diversity of details and multiplicity of applications, will increase the value of future developments. The type should not respond solely to commercial concerns. It must express the psychological reality of an era.
Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici from a special edition of L’Architecture Vivante on Maison Au Bord de Mer from 1929. Translation: Caroline Constant.
EILEEN GRAY: OPERATING IN DIALOGUE
Volume, No Weight Thomas Tait is a fashion designer driven by material experimentation. He talks to Disegno about micro-pleats, the luxe banal, and serial material dating. WORDS Madelaine Levy PHOTOS Thomas Brown SET DESIGN Sarah Parker
The LVMH Young Designer Fashion Prize was launched in 2014. It is open to designers under 40 who have created at least two women’s or men’s ready-to-wear collections. It is overseen by fashion conglomerate LVMH. 1
The day he sandpapered his chin; carpet burn on the velvet seat of the family van in the Montreal summer heat; wool on his skin that gave him a rash. When Thomas Tait looks back at the material memories of his childhood, it is not the softness of a security blanket, the rustle of a mother’s dress, or grass tickling his feet that he remembers. Instead, it is the painful and uncomfortable that has stuck in the London-based Canadian fashion designer’s mind.
Tait became the youngest student ever to emerge from the Central St Martins Fashion MA programme when he graduated in 2010. Now 26, he is already a staple on the London Fashion Week schedule. His collections have won accolades from around the industry and he has been awarded two of the most coveted prizes available to young designers today: the inaugural £25,000 Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize in 2010 and, last year, the first ever LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize.1 The latter entailed a £220,000 investment in his brand, as well as access to invaluable LVMH mentoring. A master cutter and colourist, Tait has something of the old-fashioned couturier about him, but his design is also contemporary. He produces tailored, sculptural, leisurely womenswear that sometimes (like when he infuses vomit yellow into his camel tones or accessorises workwear with oversized cartoon-hand gloves) comes with an ironic edge. Tait is a designer focused on materials. He has explored everything from heavy, double-sided coloured leathers to featherlight knits in his collections. Despite still being an emerging designer (this year marks five years in business for his brand), Tait has developed several unique fabrics, often in collaboration with UK-based mills and studios. They are materials that have not only shaped his own collections, but also set precedents in fashion.
“You know when you date a bunch of different people and your friends say you’re always dating the same girl or boy?” Tait asks as we sit down, fittingly in his materials cabinet (the only part of his Cannon Street studio quiet enough for an interview a fortnight before London Fashion Week). “Well, I am a serial dater when it comes to fabrics. There are certain features and characteristics, certain common denominators, that I return to.”
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These usual suspects include materials typical of the luxury segment that Tait belongs to (his clothes retail for upwards of £300), such as fine wool, leather, silk and furs. But less predictable and more innovative ones are also included, such as upholstery velvet and various synthetics. >
A Klein Blue skirt made from a fabric that Tait had only a small, unlabelled fabric swatch of for a long time. Tait searched for the fabric for two years before discovering that it was a stretch zibeline. It was the starting point of his spring/summer 2013 collection.
VOLUME, NO WEIGHT
Tait’s autumn/winter 2013 presentation was inspired by the world of Formula 1 racing. While preparing the collection, Tait (who usually works with local suppliers) discovered that there were no UK-mills that could provide down-filled nylon. Eventually, he ended up using a furniture maker. “For this collection, I also recall staying up all night trying to get the zipper calculations right,” says Tait. “It really put me off zippers for a while. But then they started to sneak their way back in again.”
> All, however, serve a common purpose. “With me, there is a big ambition to do volume with no weight,” Tait explains. “Something that holds a form very well, that bends and curves, but which doesn’t weigh anything. It is actually a very difficult thing to do, because for that you need to have a certain amount of stretch to the fabric, which means you often end up with something that is incredibly heavy. Which I don’t like.” For Tait, material aesthetics are not just a matter of taste or personal preference; they are rooted in a certain outlook on how fashion can affect people’s lives. “The reason I try to do volume but no weight is that I think ease of movement is so important,” he says. “I want to see people move freely in their clothing, to be able to walk and have a speed to how they move, and that requires lightness. Also, I want my pieces to create a sense of protection and that requires structure so that for the person wearing them there is something between them and the world. So, movement and protection – volume but no weight – that is my challenge.”
One of the materials with which Tait made his name is micro-pleat, a jersey fabric folded and joined so tightly that it looks solid rather than pleated. Since first used by Tait in 2011, micropleat has become more common, with mills now offering similar fabrics ready-made. Yet Tait started from scratch. “That was a nightmare,” he recalls. “I had used some suede pleats with a backing for autumn/winter 2011 and then for the following season bonded micro-pleat became my big material challenge. In order to get the glossy effect, we had to first get the fabric hand-dyed and then we heated it with a tiny little pinstripe of adhesive glow, which we silkscreened on, then added a clear, iridescent foil. After that, we had the whole thing pleated and then, as it came back from the pleaters, it was bonded onto a thin jersey, which kept all the tiny little pleats in place.”
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Tait embarked on this complex, lengthy trial-and-error process despite running a tiny business with virtually no employees. When the result – a micro-pleated material that shifts colour depending on lighting – emerged on the catwalk in his spring/summer 2012 show, it confused editors in the audience. The sturdy-yet-light, structured-yet-malleable garments on display were hard to place. Embroidery? Sequins? Print? Tait says it was exhilarating to know that the cause of the confusion was common jersey fabric (albeit common jersey fabric modified in his studio) and since then he has continued to work with materials in deceptive ways. He has, for example, played with size by enlarging, printing and then pleating fabrics so that motifs shrink back to their original size, and contradicted fashion hierarchies by muddling notions of the banal and exquisite. >
This moss green t-shirt from autumn/winter 2012 is made in silk velvet. “I wanted to accomplish an incredible shape in a healthy thickness, and I found this silk velvet at an upholstery maker,” says Tait. “What I discovered was that there were so many local suppliers of furniture fabrics, but the minute they get a call from a fashion designer they just go, ‘No, no, no you can’t make a dress out of this, this is for furniture.’ So you really have to hold their hand and explain how it is going to work out and convince them to let you make an order. It was fine in the end. To be honest, I’ve had much bigger challenges than sewing through upholstery velvet.”
VOLUME, NO WEIGHT
For spring/summer 2014, Tait’s work became lighter and more feminine, using – among other things – washed silks and layered tissue-paper nylon. “It was the static nature of the nylon that I wanted to get at,” he explains. “I wanted to work in something that is completely malleable, the kind of nylon that you can pull and lift away and make a form with, and then completely push back into place. So it looks controlled and seems firm, but is not.”
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VOLUME, NO WEIGHT
“I am a serial dater when it comes to fabrics. There are certain features and characteristics, certain common denominators, that I return to.”
Fashion designers use textile agencies to help them source and buy fabrics styles from mills. 2
> The latter was the case with his spring/summer 2013 collection, shown in London’s Southbank skatepark. On a superficial level the looks were focused around leisurewear – simple white T-shirts and baggy comfortable shorts. Studied close up, however, the collection was a masterclass in tailoring and material choices. It all started with a fabric sample. “I had seen a fabric at an agency2 when I was at school and I had a little sample of it,” says Tait. “I was certain it was going to be perfect for what I wanted to do. But two years later I had lost the reference and when I took it back to the agency, they didn’t know what it was.” So began a lengthy process in which Tait, who became obsessed with finding the fabric, had his sample sent to mills all over the UK. “It is weird to talk about a fabric in that way but it was such a frustration to think of what would have been possible if I found it, and then not having it,” he says. Tait likens the moment of finally finding what he was looking for to reuniting with a long-lost lover; the resulting collection a “perfect marriage”. The lost fabric, although hailing from one of Italy’s more renowned silk producers (and thus coming with all the cachet of the “Made in Italy” label), was almost entirely synthetic. “Because of the history of polyester, people still associate it with the 1970s when it was incredibly sticky and unwearable. But it’s a bit like brands saying, ‘Oh, it’s all made in Italy.’” says Tait. “Actually, there are insane factories in China where they have the most incredible working conditions and do the most beautiful work imaginable. There is pressure when you are labelled as a luxury brand, because everyone assumes that everything has to be traditional from a fabric standpoint. So it is nice to be able to do little tricks where it feels luxe but nobody knows what it is.” Tait’s material experiments are to continue. For autumn/winter 2015 he has combined cashmere wool with jersey through sonic fusing, a bonding technique that uses ultrasonic oscillations to weld fabric surfaces, eliminating the need for stitching or glue. “You end up with something that looks like it could weigh a tonne and that would cost a fortune, but is actually quite light and easy and comfortable,” he says. He also aims to take his blurring between the pedestrian and luxurious a step further by clashing “something colloquial with something supernatural”. For that, Tait uses a recurrent reference in his visual lexicon: the American photographer Gregory Crewdson, whose carefully staged images of suburban domesticity have an eerie feel of unseen presences. Tait is aiming for something similar. “I was interested in garment categories that have been deemed inappropriate or unattractive by the fashion world,” he says. “Like someone going to a petrol station in Middle America without really having dressed for it, in maybe just a T-shirt, or shorts and slippers. But I wanted to give it a supernatural aura. Crewdson’s photography is grounded in a mundane reality and if you had to describe his pictures to a blind person, they wouldn’t sound like much. But something visual is always happening that you can’t put your finger on or identify in words. That’s the supernatural. And I want that to be in there, too.”
Madelaine Levy is a London-based fashion writer and editor-at-large of Bon Magazine. The First Ten Years: Designer Collaborations, a book she edited for H&M, was published in 2014.
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A white vest from spring/summer 2013. The diamond shapes are foam caught in-between silk jersey and white Japanese plongé leather. Plongé (which means “plunged” in French) is a technique reserved for the most exquisite, blemish-free lambskin. The material is coloured by immersion, making it soft, supple and rich in colour. Plongé leather is prone to marking, which means it is sensitive, but which also allows for beautiful possibilities in terms of patina.
VOLUME, NO WEIGHT
Baku Beyond Bilbao An arts centre under construction on Bakuâ€™s waterfront suggests a break from the architectural icon-making transpiring elsewhere in the city. Has Azerbaijanâ€™s capital discovered a more sensitive form of urban development? WORDS Will Wiles PHOTOS Roman Sakovich
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BAKU BEYOND BILBAO
A Aida Mahmudova (b.1982) trained at the American Intercontinental University in Schaumburg, Illinois and Central Saint Martins in London. She lives between Baku and London and has exhibited in Zurich, Berlin, Moscow and Paris. 1
ida Mahmudova1 is an artist. She collects old doors, window frames and cultural organisations. Well, strictly speaking just the one organisation, but one that has accumulated a tremendous number of tentacles in the four years since its foundation. Yarat has, in short order, become a major artistic force in Mahmudova’s native Azerbaijan and is about to open its flagship development in an emerging “arts city” on the waterfront of Baku, the nation’s capital. “It’s so huge now and how it started was so small,” Mahmudova says with a chuckle, as if she can hardly believe it. For some years, she says, “I was thinking about creating, I’m not sure exactly what, a community of artists that provided mutual support and united all the young artists of that time.” In 2011 she launched Yarat – the name means “create” in Azerbaijani – with a small exhibition in a half-constructed building in Baku. The next year, the organisation began a spree of establishment and inauguration. It opened the Yay Gallery, a small exhibition space in Baku’s old city, launched a public art festival, and despatched a touring show of contemporary Azerbaijani art on a long jaunt around the world. In 2013 it oversaw the Azerbaijan pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and artist studios and an educational programme also joined the organisation’s activities. Now, Yarat is getting a proper home: a cultural centre, combining administrative offices, several exhibition galleries, a library, and warehouse space for a fledgling permanent collection. Baku stands on a natural bay formed by a hook of land protruding into the Caspian, the world’s largest inland sea. Its waterfront has in recent years been turned into a linear park strung with new prestige projects. There is a gigantic museum devoted to carpet-making, the main national craft, and a hall for mugham, the national folk music. Further along is the Crystal Hall, built to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, and National Flag Square, adorned by an immense 162m flagpole. Past the pole, the grandeur drops off. On a wedge of land between the Caspian and an urban motorway sits a more modest collection of buildings, the remnants of a Soviet-era naval base. This is where Yarat Contemporary Art Centre is being constructed, in one of two large neoclassical former ship-repair workshops.
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“Previously all this was in very bad condition,” says Gadir Gasimov, the project architect. “We are changing it, but what we could keep, we’ve kept.” What at first glance looks like a straightforward effort to carve large, white gallery spaces out of the existing building has in fact been a much more intensive reconstruction. The hefty steel arches supporting the building’s roof are new; its other most striking feature, very large windows, have also been replaced, although keep their old proportions. A concrete frame has been installed inside the old shell and new slabs have been laid. Some metal from the old building has been recycled to make new stairs inside and out and, in places, old service hatches have been retained, concealing the controls for the underfloor heating and cooling in the new slab. Otherwise, the only original feature hits you in the face as you walk in: a colossal metal-cutting machine, which is to stand as an unusual talking point in what will be the café. >
HOKâ€™s Flame Towers, completed in 2012, has dramatically altered the Baku skyline.
BAKU BEYOND BILBAO
“It doesn’t spring from a blank slate and isn’t a prozacked starchitectural white elephant unaware of the past, which means we will certainly hear much less about it in the west.”
Azerbaijan produced 43m tonnes of oil and 18m cubic metres of gas in 2013. The economy is dependent on energy exports, with oil and gas accounting for about 90 per cent of total exports. 2
The Bilbao Effect is the trend by which cities rely on landmark architectural projects to attract tourism and economic revival. It is named for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, credited with stimulating €500m in economic activity in Bilbao in the three years after its 1997 inauguration. 3
The European Games is a planned sporting event for European athletes, governed by the European Olympic committees. The Games open in Baku on 12 June and will recur every four years in different cities around Europe. 4
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> “The main aim was to keep a more industrial style inside,” says Gasimov. “You have seen our metal-cutting machine, not moved from here because it’s a very heavy machine. At first we had brick walls, but we decided that they can distract from the gallery. That’s why we went back to the white walls, to not distract from the art.” Gasimov is also working on a near-identical building next door that will house a hoard of Azerbaijani art owned by a Turkish collector; between the two is a restaurant. Nearby is another renovated structure that will also have a cultural purpose. “All the neighbours will have some connection with art,” Gasimov says. Two electricity pylons have been retained as reminders of the site’s industrial past. More confusingly, two long hangar-like buildings sheathed in wood and dull metal, which one might swear are retained shipyard structures, are in fact new. One houses a nightclub called Energy. That name is a nod to the pylons, but only a little way along the coast is the real source of Azerbaijan’s energy: immense fields of derricks and nodding donkeys, drawing oil from the black-stained dirt.2 It feels like a familiar story: a post-colonial country blessed with resource wealth embarking on a project of iconeering; drawing attention, investment and tourism by way of architectural grand gestures, hopping aboard the global museum-culture carousel, flagging down international events, upgrading its first-class lounge. At a glance, Baku sits apiece with the stories of Georgia, Kazakhstan, and assorted emirates. But these comparisons are lazy and serve no purpose. Baku and Yarat are interesting because they imply a critique of that tendency. Here on the Caspian Sea, it’s possible to see the tide going out on the “Bilbao era”.3
The Yarat building and its twin look out onto a dock cut into the shoreline. On the far side of this dock are two sports facilities – one of which is an aquatics centre – that are being built for the first European Games.4 This regional Olympics is organised by Europe’s 50 national Olympic committees, and will bring more than 6,000 athletes to Baku in June. Hosting the event is a coup for Azerbaijan and a source of considerable local pride. A brace of new stadia are being built, as well as assorted infrastructure projects, such as Heydar Aliyev International Airport’s just-opened Terminal 1, designed by Arup with interior spaces by Istanbul-based studio Autoban. The new National Stadium has a dynamic facade that lights up the main road from the airport into the city. Dynamic facades are popular in Baku: overlooking the city from a ridge on its eastern flank is Flame Towers, designed by HOK and completed in 2012. This triad of curvy buildings are intended to resemble tongues of fire, and 10,000 LEDs embedded in the towers’ skins make them appear to ripple with flames at night – a literal rendition of the fire that is both a national and civic symbol. But the truly emblematic modern building in Baku is on the northwestern edge of the city centre. Here lies Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid’s massive Heydar Aliyev Centre, completed last year and already the stuff of fridge magnets available from the city’s numerous souvenir vendors. The Heydar Aliyev Centre (HAC) is the indisputable cream of the city’s icon-mongering, symbolic of its ambiguous and at times strained relationship with architecture.
Yarat Contemporary Art Centre is located in a Soviet-era naval base on the Caspian Sea and will open this year.
Baku might have thought it had an unalloyed triumph on its hands when the HAC won the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year Award5 last year. Cities around the world are lumbered with duff projects by famous architects – just getting the big name is no guarantee of anything. But this wasn’t just a major work by perhaps the world’s most famous architect, it was a prizewinner too, perhaps her best work, a “pinnacle” in her career, in the words of the judges. A true succès d’estime? No, not quite. The award prompted a blaze of criticism. The HAC was assailed as grandiose and vulgar, undeserving aesthetically and politically; the coverage lingered on the evictions that made way for the building and the treatment of the workers who built it. Even the HAC’s supporters did it few favours; in the Architectural Review, Archigram’s Peter Cook gloried in its pirouette past western liberal society’s “circumspection, restraint and morals” and expressed his pleasure that Hadid did not have to truck with “those so-called democratic creeps who sent Jørn Utzon into exile”.6 Not exactly the uncomplicated PR boost that might have been expected, but by all accounts not too much of this filtered back to Azerbaijan. And Hadid’s supporters here and there can console themselves that buildings endure far better than newspaper columns or angry tweets, or even `studies in architectural magazines. (They often endure better than the names on the dedication plaque, too.) The architect might not win in the end, but they are at least still there at the end.
“Bully for the Aliyevs,” Cook signed off his essay. The first of the ruling Aliyevs was Heydar, who governed Azerbaijan when it was part of the Soviet Union, but fell from power before the union disintegrated in 1991. In 1993 he returned to become president of a now-independent Azerbaijan, bringing to an end a messy and traumatic period of war and upheaval. With peace and stability restored, so began the renewed exploitation of the copious deposits of oil and gas that lie along Azerbaijan’s Caspian shore. The black gold flowed and after Heydar’s death in 2003, his son Ilham Aliyev took over as president,7 setting about using some of the torrent of oil money to inscribe his father’s legacy on the capital. The road that links Heydar Aliyev International Airport to the Heydar Aliyev Centre is Heydar Aliyev Avenue; not far from the centre is the Heydar Aliyev Sports and Exhibition Complex. Aliyev Senior’s face smiles at you from billboards across the city. The Heydar Aliyev Foundation – run by First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva – is the most important philanthropic organisation in the country. The legacy building is palpable, although no mention in Baku of the repeated accusations from bodies such as Amnesty International and The Council of Europe about the Aliyevs’ reported corruption and human rights abuses. What was odd about the HAC debate in the UK was its abstraction – the fact that the majority of voices raised on either side had never seen the building outside of photographs. Indeed, only one of the Design Museum’s judges had actually set foot in Baku at the time of voting. The centre is >
Designs of the Year is an annual exhibition and competition overseen by the Design Museum. It nominates, displays and awards recent designs across categories such as product design, fashion, architecture and transport. 5
Jørn Utzon (1918-2008) was a Danish architect most notable for designing the Sydney Opera House. He left Australia before finishing this project due to a series of disputes with local politicians. 6
Heydar Aliyev (19232003) and Ilham Aliyev (b.1961) are the third and fourth presidents of the Republic of Azerbaijan. 7
BAKU BEYOND BILBAO
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Bakuâ€™s hosting of the European Games later this year has resulted in the creation of various infrastructural projects around the city. Opposite: Two hangar buildings, clad in wood and metal, have been built on the waterfront. One houses a nightclub.
BAKU BEYOND BILBAO
The interior of Baku’s Carpet Museum. The curved spaces are conducive to the display of rugs, which warp if hung. Opposite: The museum’s exterior is styled after a rolled carpet and was designed by Austrian practice Hoffmann-Janz.
“Duck” is a term coined by architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi in their 1972 book Learning from Las Vegas; it is a building that is a sculptural object (where the form often foretells the activity taking place inside), as opposed to a “decorated shed”, a generic shape where purpose is only identified by signage. 8
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> a fascinating billowing form from the road, resembling an attractively rucked carpet crossed with a breaking wave of milk; inside it becomes an intriguing landscape of sinuous lines, folds, balconies and courtyards. “Not a single straight line was used in its construction,” our guide says proudly: a line repeated in some of the official blurbs. It’s an odd boast, especially given the fact that straight lines do seem to have snuck in here and there. Under those Marilyn skirts the interior is echt-Zaha, all smooth ceilings flowing down into curved walls and out into sweeping flights of steps, swirling around internal terraces. The centre houses an exhibition about the life of Heydar Aliyev and a collection of the official cars he drove, as well as displays about Azerbaijan’s history, a whole floor of architectural models of new developments in Baku, and other cultural spaces. At its heart is a wood-lined womb of a concert hall, a space that is both impressive and welcoming, certainly the great success of the centre. Its great failure is a dazzling, sterile desert of white paving that must be crossed to reach the centre from the road, which is merely inhospitable in winter and must be actively hostile in a scorching Azerbaijani summer. This apron also separates the HAC from its attractive terraced park, which might otherwise have made a congenial setting. Whatever its merit as a Design of the Year winner, the building is the architectural highlight of any Baku visit. The flickering Flame Towers, though genuinely impressive at night, is perhaps just a little too literal. Also very literal is the Carpet Museum on the seafront, just outside the ruthlessly restored Old City. This, by Austrian architect Hoffmann-Janz, takes the form of a gigantic rolled carpet, complete with traditional pattern. It might sound a bit much, but in fact it’s rather marvellous, evoking roadside architecture on a grand-projet scale. A duck then, but no turkey.8 The abundance of curved surfaces that the rolled outer shape yields inside would bedevil any other museum, but are almost helpful for the display of historic carpets, which are hard to appreciate laid flat, and warp and tear if hung. Yet other recent developments are distinct misfires. Trump Tower, a luxury hotel, is a cack-handed sail shape – has any other formal template yielded so much clunky building? – and at the Port Baku development on the other end of the waterfront park that joins Yarat and the centre, some of the west’s less inspiring architects are conducting their usual grim business. British architecture practice Broadway Malyan, for instance, has brazenly reprised its St George Wharf development, one of the most widely hated buildings in London.
More interesting, perhaps, are some of the buildings that aren’t there. A 2008 masterplan by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels to transform an island in the bay with mountainous residential megastructures never made it past the concept stage. Plans for a modern art museum by French architect Jean Nouvel have been mooted for a decade, for a while as part of a huge masterplan by New York-based Asymptote Architects, backed by ex-Guggenheim director Thomas Krens’s Global Cultural Asset Management and chock-full of the usual Koonses and Serras. But these plans have not moved forward and no mention of them can be found on Nouvel’s website. What’s more, another cultural complex now occupies an adjacent site: Yarat and its neighbours. Independent, and outwardly the product of individual initiative rather than state planning; it’s not quite a grassroots anti-Bilbao, but it is clearly the product of different thinking. Mahmudova places Yarat’s emphasis firmly on local artists and the regional context. “There really isn’t a place like this in the whole region,” she says, back in the hotel after a whirlwind site visit, in a languorous manner at odds with her industry and ambition. “We want to concentrate on art that comes from the countries that surround us, so whenever someone wants to understand what is going on and what contemporary art is in this region, they can come and visit our centre. If you want to see western art you can go to London, Germany, anywhere. But here, it’s kind of unknown, it’s emerging. We have a lot of things to show and I think it’s the perfect time, because the interest is really growing.” No global cultural merry-go-round, then. No Koons, no Kapoor, no Serra. The opening show, guest-curated by Dina Nasser Khadivi, is Iranian artist Shirin Neshat. As well as Iran and Russia, Yarat will look to “Turkey, the Caucasus, central Asia”. It strives not to be a “world-class” Bilbao-style institution – a category in which there is much squalid competition – but something more interesting, providing a regional synthesis in sympathy with Azerbaijan’s history as an extraordinary confluence of cultures. Some international recognised artists will be invited to produce works for the permanent collection, Yarat curatorial director Suad Garayeva says, but works that “reflect the environment they’re in, the environment of the centre, be it the country or the landscape or the people or whatever.” In this way, a pool of related works will be developed, “That’s the most interesting part to me,” says, Garayeva “to have international artists seemingly unconnected to the region, to bring them here >
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“My main theme is the modernisation of my hometown and the changes that are taking place, rapid changes.”
READING LIST In the Shadow of Aliyev, Jason Thomson. Bennett & Bloom, 2005. Heydar Aliyev Centre, Baku, Zaha Hadid Architects, Peter Cook. The Architectural Review, 2013. Wave of protest over Zaha Hadid’s Baku prizewinner, Oliver Wainwright. The Guardian, 2014. Thank you to Yarat and Pelham Communications for sponsoring and organising the trip to Baku.
> to educate themselves, and then make work to illuminate others and bring fresh perspectives.” More important is the cultivation of indigenous talent. As Mahmudova says, her original intention was to provide a community for young artists: “They could then experiment and grow as a team rather than as separate individuals. That’s how it used to be – there is a union of artists here but it’s the older generations with the advantages of their times. I wanted a similar concept but in a more contemporary way.”
Which sounds quite reasonable and commendable; a route to kickstarting a contemporary art scene in a small country with a population about the same as greater London. But it is also a form of vertical integration, with the same organisation providing studios and exhibition space, and running festivals and touring shows. It also raises the question of how Yarat is funded and the extent to which it can be seen as a grassroots effort. Mahmudova is coy about the means of the organisation’s rapid success – it receives no direct government funding, relying instead on generous sponsors. We are used, in the UK, to arts organisations scrabbling over sponsorship, but here in Azerbaijan there are fewer sources of cultural cachet for deep-pocketed banks. “A lot of them are approaching us themselves,” Mahmudova says. “Before, we had to ask all the time, send a lot of letters.” But the government does provide “technical support – space, billboards, permissions”. This includes the new building, which is leased from the government. And Mahmudova is the niece of the president, which must be no hindrance. Whatever her advantages, Mahmudova is an artist first of all, and a skilled one. She studied at Central St Martins in London and paints – when we spoke, she was fuming about a mistake in a canvas. And then there’s the old doors and window frames: she makes installations with found objects and architectural salvage, works that grew out of a collection started with no particular aim. “I kind of had a fascination towards them,” she says. “I find them very beautiful. Apart from the aesthetic point of view, they have a certain power and energy, and some of them are just thrown away, but to me they’re treasure.” Baku’s building boom has, of course, yielded a great deal of this treasure. “My main theme is the modernisation of my hometown and the changes that are taking place, rapid changes,” she says. “I base all my paintings on that, places that are going to be renovated or have already changed. I add my own memories from childhood, so I kind of mix and match those elements to get that sense of nostalgia and time.”
It’s not hard to detect a melancholy note there, rooted in ambivalence about the way the city has transformed. “Baku has definitely become much cleaner; it’s nice, it’s beautiful. I love the changes but at the same time,” she sighs, “I feel sometimes disconnected from my childhood. But that’s again fine. A lot of old buildings, most of them are still there. The new buildings, the expansion of the city, the Port Baku site – before, there was nothing there.” This criticism, this refusal to merely cheerlead, is the promising aspect of the Yarat project. It doesn’t spring from a blank slate and isn’t a prozacked starchitectural white elephant unaware of the past, which means that we will certainly hear much less about it in the west as a result. But that is our problem.
Will Wiles is an architecture and design journalist and author of two novels: Care of Wooden Floors (2012) and The Way Inn (2014).
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The white exterior curves of Zaha Hadidâ€™s Heydar Aliyev Centre flow down into the white paving of the surrounding plaza.
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Copying in the Age of Mass Production For Disegno’s first roundtable we invited a panel of design industry leaders to debate both the problems and creative potential of copying. INTRODUCTION Deyan Sudjic PORTRAITS Roman Beck Roundtable hosted by ECAL with Alexis Georgacopoulos, director, ECAL; Eckart Maise, chief design officer, Vitra; Jonathan Olivares, designer, JODR; and Johannes Torpe, creative director, Bang & Olufsen.
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The idea of the copy and of copying has fascinated us since at least the dawn of mass production. It touches on our most fundamental attitudes toward not just design, but how we see and understand the world around us. It was in John Ruskin’s mind when he wrote The Stones of Venice (1851-53) and concluded that there was hope in honest error, but in the icy perfection of the mere stylist, none (as his words were later paraphrased). Walter Benjamin in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) explored the aura of a work of art that allows us to understand it as an original. Our attitude to the idea of the copy can be seen as both cultural and pragmatic. The original has life while the copy is lifeless, even sinister or parasitical; as witness popular culture’s obsession with the clone. The copy undermines the economic value of the original. We have been programmed to understand the idea of copying in negative terms, to see originality as a quality in its own right. Perhaps in some ways we see “copy” as a word that is even more negative than “fake”. We are overfamiliar with the idea, attributed to Picasso, that “bad artists copy, great artists steal”, but why should we privilege the idea of originality? As Mies van der Rohe had it, he would rather be good than interesting.
Mass production changed our relationship with the object. It cut the direct link between user and maker and introduced the role of designer. The economic model of production was transformed. Instead of a relatively low investment in tools but relatively high unit cost for objects made in small quantities, factories demanded high tooling costs but delivered low-cost objects of quality in huge numbers. Which is the real Le Corbusier chaise longue, the one that Charlotte Perriand used herself, or one manufactured under license by Cassina? Which is the real Grand Confort, one with foam cushions, or one that is not made under licence but has feather-filled cushions like the versions you see in the old photographs? How many holes does a real Hans Coray aluminium chair have? These are long and in the end somewhat fetishistic arguments. They have value if they cause us to learn more about the ideas and intentions of designers, and the strongest argument for the idea of legal protection for designers and their heirs is that it allows innovation to be rewarded and continuing investment to be made in new innovations. In the wake of the digital explosion, everybody from journalists to musicians are struggling to find ways to support themselves as they lose control of the distribution and consumption of their creative ideas. This is an important issue, but ultimately not as important as the questions about the idea of the original that Benjamin raised. Against the background of the astonishing digital transformation of the last half-century, it is time to explore it once more. Deyan Sudjic is director of the Design Museum in London. He co-founded architecture and design magazine Blueprint in 1983 and was editor at Italian architecture publication Domus between 2000 and 2004.
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Roundtable, Lausanne 13 February 2015, moderated by Johanna Agerman Ross.
Eckart Maise, chief design officer, Vitra.
How do you define copying? Picture courtesy of Herman Miller, Inc. 1
Eckart Maise Copying is a real issue in our industry and is linked to the definition of what an “original” is. If something is mass-produced or reproduced in quantity, like in the case of industrial design, then our understanding at Vitra is that each and every model made by an authorised manufacturer in agreement with the designer – or with whomever took over from the designer if they are no longer alive – and which has the quality and detail that the designer intended, is an original. There is no difference between an Eames lounge chair1 from 1956 – let’s say the first one they presented on NBC’s Home show and said, “This is our brand-new design” – to the ones that left Vitra or Herman Miller’s assembly lines today. These are all originals. Some people would only regard the very first Eames Lounge Chair that the designers touched with their own hands as the original and think that everything else is a copy. But that’s not what authentic serial production is about. Also, the discussion about copies is often limited to the physical qualities of objects, which is only one aspect of it. You can have a copy that’s perfectly made or you can have a copy that’s crap. In the end they’re both copies, because it was never the Eameses’ intention to produce Fibreglass chairs with somebody in China, for instance. They never spoke to that producer and the people who make them have no idea what the designer wanted. It can never be the same product in terms of the details, neither in its intention, nor its non-physical qualities. Alexis Georgacopoulos Speaking from an educational perspective, we try to push students to define their own language and
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create original things. The main question we ask students when they’ve designed something is whether they’re sure it hasn’t been done before. If they use terms like “reference” or “inspired by”, then those should really be words, more than something that you can actually find in the physical aspect of an object. But on the other hand I have had cases where students come to me a year after graduating and say, “Look, I’ve found this designer who just did something which looks a lot like what I did a year ago.” We look into these instances as much as we can and see who designed what first, but it’s not easy. You can’t just go and say to someone, “What you’ve done was designed after ours.” There are ways of proving that, but it’s a hugely bureaucratic and painful process.
Jonathan Olivares It’s a complex issue and one of the things that often goes missing from the conversation is this idea of creative theft, which can be a really positive thing. Film director Jim Jarmusch said something like, “If something really speaks to your heart then the theft is authentic” and this kind of transferred knowledge is something that can get forgotten and lost in a creative economy. But pre-industry and pre-industrial production, anonymity and reproduction were the standard. Some craftsmen didn’t even sign their products and there was a natural building of a design over time. Innovation would have been looked down upon, because these craftsmen worked in baby steps. So maybe every third generation of craftsmen would find a new way, but these changes were so subtle that you could see the evolution took place very slowly. With industrial production you see things change more quickly. There
Alexis Georgacopoulos, director, ECAL.
are new tools and so authorship becomes an important issue. But even within that you still have this trajectory of progress over time. So we’ve worked with companies where you’re dealing with intellectual property [IP] and there are certain things which will make the lawyers come and tell you, “You can’t do that, because that’s what this other company is doing.” But there are only so many ways you can make something stand up off the ground. It’s like someone having a patent on something having four legs – the level of patents that actually exists is not that different to that. In Silicon Valley you can see that IP really slows companies down, because they have to dance around each other’s ridiculous claims. I’ve seen certain computer programmes get worse and worse over the years, and you can tell that it’s because they’re having to forfeit functions because of patents. It can be really counterproductive. That’s a level of copying I find interesting, especially when it comes to the evolution of furniture. There, you can trace a design back through its history and each succession of progress becomes like a stepping stone. I don’t know if things necessarily get better, but they do draw on each other and push things forward. That’s the nice, positive aspect of what we call “copying”. Johannes Torpe You could look at that in terms of sampling and the music industry, where people take small existing parts and prisms and create something new from them. The music industry didn’t understand the meaning of sampling at first, but it’s so driven by money that people will take any chance to get a piece of the cake. James Brown, for
instance, made a lot of money out of being sampled. The industry found an economic model to support that. But if you think about design, wealthy people want the real thing because they can afford it, but the remaining 95 per cent just want something that looks like the real thing and that’s good enough for them. The aim of the designer should be to make something with sufficient sophistication that you can’t copy it, something with so much integrity and originality that if you copy it, it becomes offensive. Take many of Bang & Olufsen’s products from the 1950s and 1960s, for instance, when things weren’t as deeply industrialised as they are today. Those designers looked much more at doing something beautiful, functional and simple.
EM Unfortunately, however, it’s not easy to do a design with that character of sophistication. If someone wants to copy a physical product, it’s pretty easy. And it’s fine with me if someone says, “I’m going to buy this chair because it’s cheaper.” But then buy another chair; don’t buy a copy of a chair where a designer, engineer and company have poured their hearts into realising it. Too many people just look at the physical qualities of a product, whereas industrial design is a discipline that enters our culture and adds to it. If we want designers to be able to make a contribution to culture, to be expressions of it and to drive it forward (which they might do by sampling or by working within a typology someone else created), then we need to protect their intellectual property and educate people about what it means; where it comes from; what the intention was; and what the non-tangible aspects of the design are. If you have no idea about those aspects, >
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“It’s not about replication, it’s about the design industry taking the good parts of what’s come before, readapting them and moving forward step-by-step.”
> then of course you are tempted to go for a cheaper chair that looks the same. But if you’re informed, then you know what the original can give you in terms of physical quality, but also in terms of emotional value and cultural value. That knowledge is very important. The discussion isn’t about the physical product alone, it is about cultural values. JT But there’s a new reality that I don’t think can be fought against. I do a lot of interior work for hotels in China and, as part of that, often design furniture pieces with a particular manufacturer. But if another manufacturer finds out, they will copy that and within a month my design will be everywhere. I could spend all my time fighting against that, or I could just design more furniture. And with the arrival of technologies like 3D printing, the problem is just going to grow. In 10 or 20 years we’re going to have 3D printers that are so good you can print your own designer chairs. EM But that does not necessarily mean printing a copy of an existing chair. Rather, we should work with designers to treat these new technologies as a different method of design, a different method of production, or a different method of distribution. There will be designers saying, “Here is my design, it is open for everyone to improve and change,” which is an interesting idea, but it very much depends on the designer’s intention. When a designer works on a chair for two or three years, it’s not just those two or three years that have gone into it; it’s also the 10 years of education they went through and the many years where they didn’t make any money at all because they did not have anything in production. That has to be appreciated. If the designer still says, “This design is open,” then that’s a great model and there are a lot of opportunities with that. But if they say,
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“No, I want to protect my intellectual property,” we should respect that.
AG Open source isn’t something new. If you think about Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione2 in the early 1970s, that was open-source in the sense that it encouraged people to take pieces of wood and make their own chairs, beds, cupboards and so on according to freely distributed blueprints. Open source has become one of the main issues in schools nowadays as everybody says, “OK, I want to make a 3D file that everybody can download.” But that’s a very romantic way of thinking about product design and in the end we still don’t know how to work with that. We do, however, get a lot of examples where we tell students to look at a detail on a light or a chair and try to understand how it works in order to push the design forward. It’s not about copying but about understanding how something is made and being able to add your own perspective to that. That’s a form of learning by doing – seeing and understanding and being curious about how something is made. It reaches out to the master and apprentice relationship, which is very old. In ancient Greece or Rome you had a relationship where the pupil was doing the same thing as a master, but year after year adding their own details. But with our new, globalised world you lose all track of where something has come from. It becomes difficult to say, “OK, this originates from there and we can trace its development.” EM That’s something that Jonathan has tried to do with his book A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, and which brings us back to the question of sampling that Johannes raised. If you take different headrests and armrests from office chairs, for example, then you can study their typology. You can take a good solution from an earlier armrest or headrest,
Jonathan Olivares, designer, JODR.
adapt it and still make the whole chair a very distinguished and distinct design of your own. In that sense it’s not copying, it’s sampling and a handing-over of knowledge. Transfer, continuation and evolution should not be prohibited by intellectual property laws, unless of course it is an innovative technical solution that is itself patented. But let’s take the example of an office chair. If you took its base, its seat, its headrest, its armrest, its colour, and its detailing and logo, then that’s a little too much sampling. That is not sampling anymore. That is copying.
JO With things like literature or art you can just call it plagiarism, because those disciplines are examples of pure artistic expression. But design deals with both artistic expression and function, and there’s no going back in that field. Once man discovers electricity, there is no going back. And in furniture, once you’ve completely improved the organisation of an office, no one would go back to how it was before. The rest of the industry follows suit, and quickly too. So when we discuss copying in design we are often dealing with creative articulation and practical progress, and while these two are intertwined, our society and legal systems want to treat them very differently. And this contributes to the haziness of the issue. If you look at the idea of an object and how the steps leading to a design are an evolutionary trail, one thing we realised in A Taxonomy of Office Chairs was that you have archetypes. So we tried to constrain ourselves to only finding the first instance (or getting as close as possible to the first instance) of a certain feature. Which is very difficult for office chairs, because things in that field get copied and copied. At one point we had a poster of copies of Ergon chairs.3 We had 300 of them, and from 10 feet away they looked like 300 1976 Ergon chairs, but when you
took a step closer you realised these were 300 different Ergon chairs from 300 different producers. So we were really looking at the evolution of archetypes and in the vast majority of cases archetypes develop around the introduction of a new material. So you have the exact same design with wood; then with fibreglass; then it moves to cast aluminium; then eventually to nylon and so on and so forth. That somehow becomes a licence to adapt something and also provides a level of sincerity – you reinvigorate something that was done before – which is very different to what’s happening in knock-off culture. JT I’m interested in how an object is actually sampled or copied. You can see the process of copying in interior design as well, almost to the level of one-to-one replication. So the PuLi Hotel in Shanghai is a beautiful hotel done by an interior designer called Johannes Hartfuss, but there is another hotel in a small town a little way outside Beijing that is an exact copy of it. This hotel took the PuLi’s lobby, its rooms, furniture – everything – and copied them. It’s not been done in a precise way, but you can see that they simply copied the PuLi. And there’s nothing you can do about that. But you could also look at 2001: A Space Odyssey,4 where the ending scene has a room with a big, illuminated floor and very rococo furniture. It’s a beautiful scene and if you have been to the bar in Philippe Starck’s Hudson Hotel5 in New York, you can see that Philippe sampled it. I’m sure he would never say that, but the spatial design of that movie has inspired so many people, myself included. That a film’s design can inspire people is amazing, but how much can you sample or copy from something like that? It seems like less of an intellectual property question.
JO This issue of China and knock-offs comes up a lot and I have a real curiosity about what >
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Johannes Torpe, creative director, Bang & Olufsen.
Picture courtesy of Muuto.
> will emerge from China’s culture in terms of a strong design identity. I have to say that in furniture I have yet to see one, although maybe that’s because my criteria are so steeped in my own culture. But the other day I was coming out of a meeting in Los Angeles and I saw a chair sat out in a courtyard. It looked like the fifth generation of offspring from a Chair One and a Vegetal chair, but I was curious about it because it had a real simplicity. I went over and it was cast aluminium and had some nice details, so I flipped it upside-down and there was a Chinese marker that I couldn’t read. I sat down on it and was there for a good few minutes inspecting this thing. And somehow I left with the impression that this was a really solid chair. It somehow did everything you wanted it to do and it gave me a real feeling of this notion of apprenticeship; that strong design could be produced through a kind of attentive and decisive studying of existing forms. And again, this is how most design was made prior to the industrial revolution; craftsmen looked, studied and learned, and then essentially made very good remakes of whatever it was they had studied. EM But what you describe sounds like a design, not a copy. Obviously there was an evolution that took place. Maybe it was like a hand-me-down copy; or maybe it was improved; or maybe there was sampling that turned into something new and specific. But there clearly was a design performance in it.
AG One thing that we say to students is that if you design something, show it. Develop an awareness around your design, because in a very abstract way that protects it and marks it: you did it first. Contemporary design today is produced at a crazy pace, with all these companies producing so many things. French,
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Scandinavian, American – you don’t know who has done what first, in the end. But students work on great projects and so they need to show them. Some of them say, “I’m in my second year and I’ve made this, but I’m afraid that someone will copy it if I show it.” At that point in your education that’s not the problem. You want someone to see it, get interested in your work and offer you a job. At a young age designers shouldn’t be obsessed by getting copied. They should be more concerned with showing what their work is about in the best possible way.
JT That’s a problem for everyone. Look at all the new manufacturers in Scandinavia, the New Nordics6 as we call them. They all do such similar things now that if you took away the logos from their trade-show booths you wouldn’t be able to see the difference – all pastel colours and a new chair and sofa and so on. I’m not trying to be offensive to these guys because I respect them for their business sense, but all their design has become similar and that’s a problem for originality. Which makes me think about Arne Jacobsen, who really designed inside and out. If he did a building, he would also design a lamp and a glass and a stool for it. It was a way of doing something all-inclusive and it let him dominate manufacturers, because he could suggest product ranges through his projects. So in many ways his way of thinking became a way to effectively creatively direct a company. But now it’s the other way around. A manufacturer finds out what sells and then makes lots of products along those lines. So a manufacturer says to a young designer. “OK, you have to do something like this. We buy products like this,” and all these young designers are putting their lives into it, because they know what it means to have a chair in production. But I would like that
“When a designer works on a chair it’s not just those two or three years that have gone into it; it’s also the 10 years of education they went through and the years where nobody wanted to produce their stuff.”
to change. We can’t rely on letting manufacturers like the New Nordics spit out more and more plastic furniture, because that then takes control of the designs, and the designers just become tools for the movement. Designers need to take control of their work again.
JO There’s a very dangerous situation happening where you have so many producers working with so many different designers that it all turns into a bit of a roadshow. As a designer you want to establish an area that you feel competent in, but which isn’t so narrowly focused that you can’t move comfortably between things. There’s a tendency to really overspecialise, which is a problem that reminds me of those stories about birds that hung out for too long in the Galapagos, and suddenly a predator came along and they couldn’t fly anymore to escape. As a designer you want to maintain a level of adaptability and feel comfortable in different contexts. You also want to learn about what already exists, so that copying can become authentic – in the Jarmuschian sense – and lead you to something original. And that’s a really exciting and wonderful process to go through. So for the factory owners out there in the “Apple-C Apple-V” mode of copying, I would love to see them adopt a much more spirited form of emulation that results in things like the chair I saw outside the building in Los Angeles. All that took was for someone to bring themselves into the process. EM If you take designs that have made a mark in history and use them to orientate yourself or study them to understand how they were made, then you’re bringing yourself into the process. If you make an effort, then you make a contribution and that’s something that design has always had. If you have the intention of adding something, then I wouldn’t use the word “copying” anymore, I would use the word “reference”. If you study something, or improve it, or use it as a base, then you
need to find another word, because copying has the intention of not doing that. Copying is about fraud; about taking the easy way and letting somebody else do all the work, so you can just get quick success for yourself and have an easy business. If you take something as a reference and make your own design from that, then maybe the result will be great, or maybe it will be a step backwards instead of forwards. But then I wouldn’t call it copying.
AG It’s about learning and looking at things, and understanding why something is considered a good chair and something else a bad chair. If you look at the history of copycats, you find that only things considered good are copied. People don’t usually copy bad designs. But as things are referenced and pushed forward, it’s good to have in mind that while you can be inspired by a chair from the 1950s, we’re 60 years further on. It’s about how you reinterpret that design with today’s technologies, today’s manufacturing processes, today’s materials. It’s not about replication, it’s about the design industry taking the good parts of what’s come before, readapting them and remaining relevant.
READING LIST The culture of the copy, Hillel Schwartz, Zone Books, 1996. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin, Penguin Great Reads, 2008. Mechanization Takes Command, Sigfried Giedion, University of Minnesota Press edition, 2014. Dimensions of Creativity, Margaret A. Boden. MIT Press, 1994.
JO That reminds me of an amazing story that the artist Tom Sachs told me about one of his early artworks. He used to go to MoMA and spent a lot of time with a Mondrian painting there because he loved it so much. He was so into it, but of course he couldn’t afford to buy it. So he went home and made a replica with duct tape.7 He made it for himself and I’m sure it was a completely authentic reproduction. And I think that’s fantastic. If you really love something go ahead and make it, but do it in your own way.
Thank you to ECAL for hosting and organising this roundtable. All participants, including Deyan Sudjic, were speakers at the ECAL Research Day, 12 February 2015. Roundtable edited by Oli Stratford.
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M L M I S T FNIGF H IL TS lons a H S . G I o Negn S T s i H D
M L I F M G I M N L M I S L L T I S F M I H T F L F I G S H I H T FN G H I M G I G L M M N I I S L N I T N
L F H I S M G I T L F N I M S H T L FNIGHNIGFIIGHTS S T FNIGH
Featuring Playtime & Office Space 3 & 30 June 2015 in association with RIBA London For more information on film nights visit architecture.com/filmnights
For a full programme of Disegnoâ€™s autumn/winter salons visit disegnodaily.com/salons
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Five Eyes by James Bridle. PHOTO courtesy of V&A.
All of This Belongs to You At one stage in its development, All of This Belongs to You (a spring 2015 design exhibition at the V&A in London) was to contain a working polling station among its exhibits. On 7 May 2015, visitors to the exhibition would have been able to vote in the UK’s general election and play a role in electing their next government. It is a great shame that this plan could not come to fruition; there could have been no more powerful reminder that a government, at root, is a designed entity. Members of Parliament are representatives of the people and should have no authority beyond this. We select the candidates we believe will best serve us and, if they cease to do so, they ought to be stripped of their authority. A government must be fit for purpose; it must 198 Disegno. ALL OF THIS BELONGS TO YOU
function. And if it doesn’t, we should do as we do with all designed objects. We should redesign it. An election ought be one of the most significant design processes a nation goes through. In it, we select the candidates we believe will protect our interests, and imbue them with the power to do so. Amidst the stream of news reports about sleaze; corruption; cronyism; broken pledges; tax evasion; cash for honours/questions/influence; expenses scandals; torture collusion; and wars under false pretences, this is worth remembering. An election, at least in principle, is the opportunity to design the kind of government we want. A government is a tool; it has no purpose other than to work for us.
All of This Belongs to You, V&A, 1 April – 19 July 2015.
TD Bench by Jonathan Olivares Design Research There is a current vogue for customisation within industrial design projects. It offers, so the argument runs, a blend of mass manufacture and the intimacy of craft. It is the ethos behind products such as NIKEiD custom trainers and Vitra’s ID Chair Concept. Note the recurrence of “ID”. Customisation is largely about personalisation, which is why it so often boils down to little more than colour or finish options; the opportunity to have your name etched on the back. Yet a conceptually rigorous application of customisation is visible in the TD Bench, an aluminium bench developed by Los Angeles-based design practice Jonathan Olivares Design Research (JODR) for Zahner, a Kansas City-based metal fabrication shop. The main component of TD is Zahner’s “house extrusion”, a long aluminium form that Zahner normally rolls to create the underlying frameworks for curvaceous architectural claddings.
JODR’s bench plays with this rolling process. The extrusion is capable of being softly curved and a software developed by the studio allows customers to specify the exact shape they want their bench to be. TD can be a straight line or a circle, and all permutations of arcs and undulations in between. But what is impressive about JODR’s customisation is how it is grounded in the design. While the options are myriad, they’re all determined by the production process. “You can’t roll aluminium too tightly,” says studio founder Jonathan Olivares, “so the parameter becomes how the bench is generated. You can’t have abrupt curves, only slow contours. It becomes an operation where you’re not just thinking about a finished, fixed thing, but about how things operate in flux with one another. You’re designing a system.”
TD Bench launches at NeoCon, Chicago, 15–17 June 2015.
TD BENCH BY JONATHAN OLIVARES DESIGN RESEARCH
Under Construction: Of Soil and Water, the King’s Cross Pond Club. PHOTO King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership.
200 Disegno. OF SOIL AND WATER
Of Soil and Water Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, King’s Cross has been an area devoted to transition. It is a part of London dominated by its railway station and a public space built accordingly; somewhere you go to leave. King’s Cross Pond Club, a project by Rotterdam-based architects Ooze and Ljubljana-based artist Marjetica Potrč, challenges this. The Club is an open-air swimming pond; a kidney-shaped wilderness built on a hillock and entirely filtered by the wild plants that grow from its waters. Yet it is built in the middle of a slurried building site in King’s Cross, part of the city’s ongoing redevelopment of the area. Over the course of the pool’s temporary existence, tower blocks will rise around it. “We want to create an enclave within the building site,” says Eva Pfannes, co-founder of Ooze. “There’s a notion of rediscovering the land; looking onto something, but also being looked at within the site. When you’re swimming you’re vulnerable, you’re exposed.” As the swimmers will be exposed, so too the area. The Pond Club transports a species of replicated wilderness into a construction site, a space in which the city is literally creating itself, its entrails spilt out for all to see. Construction is a form of harnessed transience, but nonetheless invites a visitor to reflect on matters of permanence: what might the area become when the transition is over? The pond will remain in place for the duration of construction and will open each day to a maximum of 163 swimmers, a limit set by the capacity of the plants to filter the water. While the designers want the pond to be experienced by as many people as possible, they do not wish to compromise their concept by using chemical purifiers such as chlorine. “Sensorial experience is very important nowadays,” says Sylvain Hartenberg, Ooze’s second co-founder. “Everything is digital, everybody is connected to Facebook or whatever, so it’s very important to rediscover a kind of real experience in a city. You need to rediscover physical adventure and a sense of exposing yourself to what’s around you, which is a mirror to the King’s Cross development. This area, historically, has been a place for travel and within it there has been nowhere to go. I lived in London for many years and at that time this area only had gas containers and blank walls. But maybe behind those walls there was beautiful nature.” In this vein, the Pond Club becomes a rebuttal to King’s Cross’s transience. It is a project that invites swimmers to consider the nature of the city in which they find themselves and to reflect on its future. “People who might have passed by or through King’s Cross can now engage with the space and, more importantly, with the making of a space,” says Pfannes. “Water is an element you expose yourself to directly. You smell it, you taste it. The balance of nature within the city becomes instantaneously palpable.”
The King’s Cross Pond Club opens spring 2015.
TITLETITLETITLE OF SOIL AND WATER
Delta by Formafantasma “We were asked to seek inspiration from a specific historical period, Roman Baroque, but were much more interested in the archaeological history of Rome.” Simone Farresin is one half of Amsterdambased design studio Formafantasma. Together with partner Andrea Trimarchi, Farresin was asked to travel to Rome in 2014 by the city’s Galleria O. Inspired by its archaeological sites, notably those around the Capitoline and Palatine hills where the ruins of the Roman Forum and Colosseum survive, Farresin and Trimarchi researched the design of Delta, a series of lamps, tables, mirrors and small objects. The collection is emblematic of Rome’s material history. The objects are made from travertine, black and red porcelain, bronze, silver and marble, all shaped into classical forms. “The material 202 Disegno. DELTA BY FORMAFANTASMA
selection in Rome’s museums is peculiar,” says Farresin, “as ceramic, bronze and marble seem to be the only materials that have survived. So we decided to base the collection on those.” While much of the design world preoccupies itself with technological advance, Delta is noteworthy for its insistence on historical reflection. It is a paean to a city’s heritage. “The project became a study trip,” says Farresin, “and the city’s museums became an archive of ideas stimulating us to design new archetypical objects. But a big part of the collection will be the lights. Rome is permeated by a very specific light which is reflected by the stone of its buildings. It’s a city almost entirely covered in travertine.”
The Delta collection, Galleria O, June 2015.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana In the archives of MoMA in New York there are four sketches dated 1938 by Italian architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula and Mario Romano. Each is of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, each showing a slightly different iteration of what is popularly known as the Square Colosseum. Yet none of the sketches accurately reflect the proportions of the finished building, with its four identical facades of six-storey superimposed loggias, each storey made up of nine arches. It is said that the final 6×9 construction hints at the six and nine-letter names of the building’s commissioner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The building was commissioned for the 1942 World Exposition in Rome, with the intention of promoting fascism and its architecture internationally. Although the Second World War prevented the exposition from taking place
and Mussolini’s regime was toppled in 1943, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana still stands. This spring, Italian fashion house Fendi will make the Palazzo its headquarters. It seems an odd pairing considering the building’s tainted history, but for Fendi it is simply a way of putting its 400 employees under one roof while connecting with its native city’s history. The building is also the inspiration for the window scheme that Milan-based design studio Analogia Project is designing for Fendi stores worldwide. In the studio’s sketches, the loggias of the Palazzo hover like spectres behind mannequins and handbags. They would make a worthy addition to MoMA’s existing series of four sketches. They are documentation of the reappropriation of the century.
The Fendi store windows by Analogia Project go on display spring 2015.
PALAZZO DELLA CIVILTÀ ITALIANA
The Making of Making Africa Whenever design from Africa has been discussed in the past decade, it has generally been in the context of recycling, humanitarian design, or the transfer of traditional folklore to contemporary products. I observed this phenomenon from a critical distance and was left with the vague yet persistent hunch that the intersection of design and Africa has many more facets. This hunch became concrete during the development of Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design, a new exhibition at Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany of which I am the curator. It became apparent that the matter at hand was wickedly complex. The prevailing image of Africa corresponds to deeply anchored clichés – the continent of crises and hunger; a backward zone in a world of globally active creative industries and designers; the origin of anonymous arts and crafts. But the rapid economic, political, societal and technological developments in Africa since the turn of the century are producing a new reality. The one-way street approach that sees industrial designers from the Global North provide products and solutions for challenges faced by the Global South no longer applies. It is true that the majority of African states still number among the poorest in the world, but it is also a fact that about a third of Africa’s 1.1 billion people now belong to the middle class. Cities such as Nairobi in Kenya or Lagos in Nigeria have lively start-up scenes and there are now some 650 million mobile phone subscribers on the continent – more than in Europe or the USA. Around two years ago, Vitra Design Museum set out to chart the world of African design. We wanted to do so not from the outside, but by meeting, talking to, and understanding those who are concerned with design in and from Africa every day. It became one of the
Africa doesn’t have to take on the role of the victim – it is a hub of experimentation that can generate new approaches and solutions. largest efforts in researching original material the Vitra Design Museum has ever undertaken. Over the course of some 18 months, there were hundreds of discussions with theorists, design practitioners, artists, gallerists, urbanists and architects from across Africa and beyond. What our resulting exhibition offers is a new narrative that has not yet been heard: one possibility among many for seeing Africa. It is a suggestion, a hypothesis, and if the often heated discussions we had in its making are any indication, it won’t be 204 Disegno. THE MAKING OF MAKING AFRICA
one that will be met with uniform approval from its critics. At the start of the 21st century, major shifts in global power structures have coincided – if not correlated – with a mounting discussion around the potential of design. We would like to suggest that African design and art can make a unique contribution to this. It can offer a new perspective that may be more pertinent and relevant in addressing current challenges and issues than our traditional understanding of design. In the Africa I have gotten to know through my research, design may be the expression of social change, or it may itself be changing society. The more you look at Africa, the more you see. Africa doesn’t have to take on the role of the victim. It is a hub of experimentation that can generate new approaches and solutions of worldwide relevance – a driving force for a new discussion on what design can be and do
Caribbean Sun (2012) from the C-Stunners photography series. PHOTO Carl de Souza
in the 21st century. I and my fellow curators made many observations about design in the 21st century by looking at and learning from Africa. Here are four: Design is interdisciplinary Many works presented in Making Africa cannot be clearly allocated to specific design disciplines. Products, furnishings, art, crafts, graphic design, architecture, urban planning, photography, textiles, fashion, film, music, analogue and digital work all blend into one another. The term design, as defined by traditional western thought, is no longer adequate. In an age where the main issue is designing complete systems, we will need to think more
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Onile Gogoro Or Akaba (1975). PHOTO Ojeikere Estate
comprehensively; we will need to be capable of working with more than one tool. Design is collaborative We must take leave of the myth of the creative genius, an individual producing endless masterworks in series through the simple kiss of the Muse. Today, people involved in the creation of a project frequently do not even know one another; they are united solely by a common objective. This is true in places other than Africa too, but the continent has produced some especially interesting examples in this area. Take Ushahidi, an online map that tracks the occurrence of violent events after other forms of public reporting have collapsed. Originally produced by a collective as a reaction to the widespread political unrest that spread
throughout Kenya following its 2007 elections, the Ushahidi software is now employed in crisis centres around the globe – recently, in the wake of earthquakes in Haiti and Afghanistan. Design is decentralised Projects like Ushahidi demonstrate how small decentralised units in large-scale networks can react with greater success to complex problems than large, singular, centralised ones. Dinosaurs are not as nimble as shoals of fish. It is in Africa – where some steps in the western path of technological evolution (such as landline telephones) have been leapfrogged – that we have first been able to see clearly how mobile phones are superior in functionality to fixed-system telephony; how small solar-energy cells are better than
big power stations; and how the mobile phone money-transfer system M-Pesa is better than traditional banks. Design is informal Traditional industrial production and maker culture still seem to have little to do with one another – conveyor belt at one end of the spectrum, little workshops in which people around the world (above all in the Global South) are busy producing things at the other. Very soon, however, we are all going to be makers. We will print out products and furniture on cheap 3D printers, creating items that have been customised appropriately from online patterns to meet our personal needs. When this happens, it will be informal maker culture in the Global South that is driving formal industrial production.
Amelie Klein is curator of Making Africa – A Continent of Contemporary Design. Making Africa, Vitra Design Museum, 14 March – 13 September 2015.
THE MAKING OF MAKING AFRICA
Pelerin cane. PHOTO courtesy of Hermès
The Flâneur “The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite.” These are the words of French writer and ur-flâneur Charles Baudelaire from 1863. This spring the flâneur makes a return, appropriated as the inspiration for two exhibitions in London by accessory brands Camper and Hermès. Hermès’s Wanderland opens at the Saatchi Gallery in April. Its intention is to make visitors flâneurs within an the exhibition of a series of Paris landscapes created by set designer Hubert 206 Disegno. THE FLÂNEUR
le Gall. The pieces on display are selected from Hermès’s archives by curator Bruno Gaudichon, director of La Piscine-Musée d’Art et d’Industrie in Roubaix, France. Elsewhere, Camper is preparing a retrospective, Life on Foot, to coincide with its 40th anniversary. It opens at London’s Design Museum in May. Though the exhibition in the main is an insight into Camper’s archive, the flâneur makes an appearance in the final section, where an installation will investigate the social, cultural and environmental impact of a life on foot, both past and future. Time to dust off Baudelaire, then.
Wanderland, Saatchi Gallery, 9 April – 2 May 2015. Life on Foot, Design Museum London, 13 May – 9 November 2015.
LEOŠ JANÁČEK p. 130-145
MASS DESIGN GROUP p. 26-27 massdesigngroup.org
MAX MARA p. 122 maxmara.com
JØTUL p. 110 jotul.com
STUDIO KEES p. 60-61, 63 studiokees.nl KENZO p. 120 kenzo.com L
LASVIT p. 39 lasvit.com
LE CORBUSIER p. 150, 152, 189 fondationlecorbusier.fr
MIKE LEE p. 84, 95 studioindustries.com LINDBERG p. 2-3 lindberg.com LOEWE p. 119 loewe.com
LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL p. 47 londondesignfestival.com
LONDON DESIGN MUSEUM p. 23, 178-179, 182, 188189, 206 designmuseum.org LORIS&LIVIA p. 46-48, 50 lorisetlivia.com M
MAGIS p. 106, 109, 112, 114 magisdesign.com MAHARAM p. 19 maharam.com
MAISON&OBJET p. 209 maison-objet.com
MAISON MARGIELA p. 22, 73 maisonmargiela.com
STUDIO MAKKINK & BEY p. 61, 63-64 studiomakkinkbey.nl
208 Disegno. INDEX
ENZO MARI p. 192
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN p. 54, 56, 72-73, 79 alexandermcqueen.com MEADHAM KIRCHHOFF p. 57, 126 meadhamkirchhoff.com MIGUEL MILÁ p. 37-38 miguelmila.com
MINALE-MAEDA p. 60-61, 66 minale-maeda.com MOOOI p. 6-7 moooi.com
JASPER MORRISON p. 38, 85, 100-115 jaspermorrison.com MOMA p. 22, 195, 203 moma.org N
NESTLÉ p. 94-95 nestle.com
MARC NEWSON p. 22-23 marc-newson.com NIKARI p. 110 nikari.fi
NIKE p. 44, 199 nike.com
CAROLIEN NIEBLING p. 91 carolienniebling.nl O
JONATHAN OLIVARES p. 188-195, 199 jonathanolivares.com OOZE p. 200-201 ooze.eu.com
HEIKKI ORVOLA p. 132, 143 P
PEPSICO p. 84, 94 pepsico.com
PLEATS PLEASE p. 123 pleatspleaseshop.com
MARJETICA POTRČ p. 200-201 potrc.org PRADA p. 55-56, 121, 136 prada.com
PRATT INSTITUTE p. 84, 86, 90-91, 95 pratt.edu R
RICH BRILLIANT WILLING p. 67 richbrilliantwilling.com
VINCENT DE RIJK p. 60, 63-64 vincentderijk.nl ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART p. 33-34, 104, 109 rca.ac.uk S
SAATCHI GALLERY p. 206 saatchigallery.com SAINT LAURENT Outside back cover ysl.com SANTA & COLE p. 38 santacole.com
JACOPO SARZI p. 86, 90, 94, 96 jacoposarzi.com SCP p. 88-89, 97, 105 scp.co.uk
SCUOLA POLITECNICA DI DESIGN p. 84, 86, 91, 94 scuoladesign.com SHINOLA p. 8-9 shinola.com
SKANDIUM p. 92-93 skandium.com
SMALLER OBJECTS p. 50, 88-89 smallerobjects.com PHILIPPE STARCK p. 193 starck.com
MARTIJN VAN STRIEN p. 63-64, 66 martijnvanstrien.com
T THOMAS TAIT p. 164-171 thomastait.com U
USM p. 4-5 usm.com
V&A p. 198 vam.ac.uk
VIKTOR&ROLF p. 22, 71-81, 98-99, 116-117, 128-129, 136,146-147, 162163, 172-173, 186-187 viktor-rolf.com
VITRA p. 85, 103, 105, 107, 112, 114, 188-195, 199 vitra.com VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM p. 68, 204-205 design-museum.de MARIJE VOGELZANG p. 84, 86, 90-91, 95-96 marijevogelzang.nl
VOLA p. 36 vola.com W
WATERFORD p. 20 waterford.com
STUDIO WIEKI SOMERS p. 60-64 wiekisomers.com
YARAT p. 174-185 yarat.az Z
ZAHNER p. 199 azahner.com
ZUMTOBEL p. 45 zumtobel.com
No.8 s/s 2015
A J.W. ANDERSON p. 119 j-w-anderson.com ALESSI p. 106, 111, 114 alessi.com
AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS p. 42-43 aia.org
ANALOGIA PROJECT p. 203 analogiaproject.com ANOTHER COUNTRY p. 88-89 anothercountry.com APPLE p. 23, 52, 84, 112 apple.com
ARABESCHI DI LATTE p. 86, 96 arabeschidilatte.org ARAM p. 105 aram.co.uk
ARCHITECTURE FOR HUMANITY p. 23 architectureforhumanity. org ARTEMIDE p. 12 artemide.com
ATELIER VAN LIESHOUT p. 60, 64, 66 ateliervanlieshout.com ARCHITECTS/ DESIGNERS/ PLANNERS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY p. 42-43 adpsr.org B
B&B ITALIA p. 1, 52, inside front cover bebitalia.com
JEAN BADOVICI p. 148-163 EMILIE BALTZ p. 86, 95-96 emiliebaltz.com
BANG & OLUFSEN p. 188-195 bang-olufsen.com BOMPAS & PARR p. 91, 95 bompasandparr.com
MARC BRETILLOT p. 91 marcbretillot.com
CAESARSTONE p. 10-11 caesarstone.com
CAPPELLINI p. 104-105, 108-109, 114 cappellini.it
CARL HANSEN & SØN p. 16 carlhansen.com CARUSO ST JOHN p. 22 carusostjohn.com CAMPER p. 102, 206 camper.com
HUSSEIN CHALAYAN p. 54, 72, 79 chalayan.com
CHANEL p. 56-57, 127 chanel.com
EUDON CHOI p. 125 eudonchoi.com
CHRISTIE’S p. 23, 150 christies.com
CLAESSON KOIVISTO RUNE p. 50 claessonkoivistorune.se
COMME DES GARÇONS p. 15, 124, 143 comme-des-garcons.com COOPER HEWITT p. 22 cooperhewitt.org
EARLWYN COVINGTON p. 90-91, 96 thinkingfooddesign.com
CRAFTS COUNCIL p. 70 craftscouncil.org.uk D
DESIGN ACADEMY EINDHOVEN p. 64, 84, 90-91 designacademy.nl
DISCIPLINE DESIGN p. 23 discipline.eu DORNBRACHT p. 41 dornbracht.com
DOSHI LEVIEN p. 52 doshilevien.com DURALEX p. 47-48, 50 duralex.com DURAVIT p. 51 duravit.com E
CHARLES AND RAY EAMES p. 190 eamesoffice.com ECAL p. 48, 91, 94, 188-195 ecal.ch KENJI EKUAN p. 23 gkid.co.jp
ELMO LEATHER p. 49 elmoleather.com EMECO p. 113-114 emeco.net F
FENDI p. 203 fendi.com
FINNISH NATIONAL OPERA p. 130-145 opera.fi FLOS p. 100-101,112 flos.com
FORMAFANTASMA p. 202 formafantasma.com FORT STANDARD fortstandard.com
ELLEN GALLAGHER p. 60, 63
GALLERIA O p. 202 galleriao.net
JOHN GALLIANO p. 22, 72-73, 143
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER p. 22 jeanpaulgaultier.com FRANK GEHRY p. 22, 136, 178 foga.com
GOOGLE p. 40, 77, 96, 106, 114 google.com
GÖTEBORGS KONSTMUSEUM p. 32-35 konstmuseum.goteborg.se GRAND-HORNU p. 104 grand-hornu.eu EILEEN GRAY p. 148-161 eileengray.co.uk MARTÍ GUIXÉ p. 86, 91, 95-96 guixe.com H
KLAUS HAAPANIEMI p. 130-145 klaush.com
ZAHA HADID p. 174-175, 178-179, 182, 185 zaha-hadid.com
HAMPSON WOODS p. 88-89 hampsonwoods.com
HARRIS WHARF LONDON p. 53 harriswharflondon.co.uk HAY p. 52, 88-89 hay.dk
HILDA HELLSTRÖM p. 32-35 hildahellstrom.se HEM p. 23 hem.com
HERMAN MILLER p. 190 hermanmiller.com HERMÈS p. 206 hermes.com
RICHARD HUTTEN p. 60-61, 63-64 richardhutten.com I
IITTALA p. 97,132,136, 143-144 iittala.com IKEA p. 23 ikea.com
STUDIO ILSE p. 23 studioilse.com
ARNE JACOBSEN p. 194 arne-jacobsen.com
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