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August is a weird time at Disegno HQ. While it seems that the rest of the world goes off on summer jollies and fills Instagram with sun-kissed beaches and blue seas, we go through one of the most intense periods of the year – preparing our autumn/winter issue for print. It is particularly jarring as even the most urgent questions frequently receive auto replies with due-back dates set in early September. This year the feeling of disproportion intensified. We haven’t just been working on the magazine, but also on our first exhibition. 2°C Communicating Climate Change, opens at the Aram Gallery on 21 September and is designed by Universal Design Studio. 2°C is also the title of our residency in this issue. It can be considered an experiment on many levels. Traditionally, the residency has been a showcase for original work by a designer on a theme of their choosing. But with 2°C, Disegno has set the topic, inviting multiple design practices to respond to it. In November, the United Nations will host its 21st Climate Change Conference. It will invite 195 nations and the European Union (which will be represented in addition to its 28 member states) to reach an agreement about how to reduce greenhousegas emissions to ensure the global temperature change does not rise more than 2°C, a threshold above which dangerous climate change will take place. Considering the pressing issues that this conference is to highlight, we were curious to see how a publication that covers the design of things could engage with it. We homed in on the public communication of climate change and set this as the task for 10 design studios to tackle. To date, the de facto symbol of climate change has been a lonely polar bear perched on a melting iceberg. Yet such an image is highly abstracted from people’s day-to-day lives and easy to disassociate from oneself. So how can climate change be communicated more effectively to influence people to change their behaviour and improve their understanding of the problem of global warming? The residency in this issue is our first contribution to this debate, one which we will continue in the exhibition at The Aram Gallery and also through a dedicated microsite on DisegnoDaily.com/twodegrees As with all experiments, we will evaluate this one in due course, but until then we are grateful to everyone who made it possible. People who, like us, make very little use of their auto replies in August.
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Cover 1 Warning Signs by Ilona Gaynor, typeface by Dalton Maag Cover 2 Char-Dolly by Parsons & Charlesworth Cover 3 Glass Mobile by Sam Baron WORDS BY
Matthew Allen, Edward Barber, Crystal Bennes, Erwan Bouroullec, Ronan Bouroullec, Jessica Bridger, Robin Day, Leslie Julius, Priya Khanchandani, Joe Lloyd, Adolf Loos, Siska Lyssens, Mariah Nielson, Catharine Rossi, Ian Volner, Alex Wiltshire. IMAGES BY
Iwan Baan, Cleo Barnham, Ola Bergengren, Henrik Blomqvist, Rebecca Jane Callaby, Thatcher Cook, Kevin Davies, Yannis Drakoulidis, Mario Ermoli, Luigi Fiano, Océane Izard, Åsa Johannesson, James King, Thorsten Klapsch, Sunjoo Lee, Heidi Lender, Yann Morrison, Morgan O’Donovan, Simay Onaz, Nick Rochowski, Hedi Slimane, Ian Willms. COLOUR MANAGEMENT
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This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Symbol Tatami 115gsm from Fedrigoni UK. Thank you for everything Fred! THANK YOU
Thank you to all our residents for your wonderful work; Hannah Carter Owers for believing in our idea and Cathrin Walczyk, Ali Stewart and the Universal Design Studio team for all their work; Max Fordham for its input; Bolon for its support and Zeev Aram and Riya Patel at the Aram Gallery.
We are grateful to all our contributors and for the help of Marloes ten Böhmer, Nick Murphy, Moussa Diogoye Sene, Andrew Seguin, Alexandra Carson, Micol Fagotto, Luca Cipelletti, Humanscale, Neşe at RIBA London, Ruth and Katherine at Camper, Matthew at the Design Museum, and Lucy, Lola and Tetley for their feline support from afar. We also thank Andrew Chidgey-Nakazono for his work at Tack Press over the last two years. CONTENT COPYRIGHT
The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask us first. TACK PRESS LIMITED
Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with men’s fashion magazine Jocks&Nerds and creative agency Tack Studio. tack-press.com tack-studio.com
photography by: Gwenael Lewis
73 73 Series by Omer Arbel Standard fixtures and custom installations
Bocci Berlin O P EN I N G Autumn 2015
15 INTRODUCTION On design’s duty to climate change
25 TIMELINE The last six months in review
PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY Photographer Heidi Lender captures Uruguay’s cooperatives of women woolworkers OBSERVATION 1 Jasper Morrison’s dumbphone
POWER BEHIND THE SCENES Magis founder Eugenio Perazza lifts the curtain on industrial production
SOLE ALTERNATIVES Ethical-footwear designer Mats Rombaut explains leaving leather for tree bark OBSERVATION 2 Return to Villa le Lac
BERLIN REVISITED An assessment of a creative-class city opening its doors to big business OBSERVATION 3 Technophilic fashion
A MUCH-WATCHED KETTLE The story behind Michael Graves’s Alessi 9093, his celebrated whistling bird kettle
DISEGNO RESIDENCY: 2°C New proposals for communicating climate change from designers Ilona Gaynor, Maria Blaisse, PearsonLloyd, Sam Baron, Neri & Hu, Marjan van Aubel, Universal Design Studio, Parsons & Charlesworth, Dominic Wilcox and Ross Lovegrove THE INTERNET OF THINGS Disegno examines the uneasy relationship between furniture design and e-commerce
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES Fashion designers Peter Pilotto discuss breaking with digital printing in favour of traditional techniques >
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY An archived internal document for Hille reveals the process behind designer Robin Day’s groundbreaking 1963 plastic chair
DISPARATE THREADS A village in Senegal’s rural east inaugurates a thatchedroof arts centre with a progressive vision of culture’s place in society
150 FOOTWEAR/SHOES Modern architect Adolf Loos holds court on the biological development of feet and the design progression of footwear
THE BIG MOVE A portrait of Toronto, a fast-growing city on the cusp of a new $50bn public transport system A MAN-MADE MATERIAL Amidst a flurry of new projects, faeces emerges as a design material for the future
RONAN BOUROULLEC ON SCREENS Ahead of an exhibition in Tel Aviv, Ronan Bouroullec shares his pleasure in partitions
ERWAN BOUROULLEC ON SCREENS The other half of the Bouroullecs reveals the process behind creating a television for Samsung CUTTING THE BULK Lighting designer Michael Anastassiades ventures into furniture design with a sofa for SCP
SURFACE QUALITIES Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic brands a roundthe-world yacht for Hugo Boss
STATE OF THE ART OF ARCHITECTURE Chicago’s architecture biennale looks to burnish the city’s history of modernism
RETURN TO THE MAISON DE COUTURE Saint Laurent revitalises the literality of a fashion house LETTER FROM ATHENS In the face of austerity, Athens opens its doors to cooperatives and community design ventures
207 INDEX People and brands in this issue
chroma by hella jongerius
Timeline Recent news in fashion, design and architecture. MATHIEU LEHANNEUR APPOINTED CHIEF DESIGNER OF HUAWEI Apple has its admirers. In March, Chinese phone producer Huawei hired Mathieu Lehanneur to lead its l’Aesthetic Research Centre in Paris, and unify its lines and stores. The move recalls Apple making Sir Jonathan Ive its chief design officer. Huawei will hope the designer can help close the gap between its yearly revenue of $56bn (about £36bn) and Apple’s $182bn.
MARCH FREI OTTO NAMED 2015 PRITZKER PRIZE WINNER What a difference a few days make. German architect Frei Otto died on 9 March. On 10 March he was named the 2015 Pritzker Prize laureate. Told of his success a few days previously, Otto said, “I have never done anything to gain this prize” – a typical understatement from an architect known for his lightweight, democratic and low-cost canopy structures.
E.1027 OPENS TO PUBLIC E.1027, a modernist 1920s villa by Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray reopened in May. Defaced by Le Corbusier and allowed to fall into disrepair, E.1027’s fate came to parallel Gray’s own fall into obscurity, with her groundbreaking work largely forgotten until a 1968 essay in Domus magazine by Joseph Rykwert. With the Cap Martin villa restored, it is time for Gray’s renaissance to gather pace.
NEW ACADEMIC APPOINTMENTS The selection of journalist Justin McGuirk to lead Design Academy Eindhoven’s Curating and Writing MA was one of several encouraging university appointments this year. Parsons hired Li Edelkoort as dean of its Hybrid Design Studies, while Pratt appointed conceptual designer Constantin Boym as its head of industrial design, signalling an encouraging willingness to innovate.
THE LOCKHEED LOUNGE SETS AUCTION RECORD A Lockheed Lounge daybed, designed by Marc Newson, became the world’s most valuable piece of furniture by a living designer when it sold at auction in London for £2,434,500. The event was reported ubiquitously by the mainstream press. What does it say about the health of the discipline’s public communication when one of the year’s most prominent design stories is that an editioned daybed sold for an inflated art-world price?
CASPER VISSERS DEPARTS MOOOI Entrepreneur Casper Vissers announced he was leaving Moooi, the Dutch design brand he co-founded with Marcel Wanders in 2001. The firm has been dominated by Wanders’ ornate aesthetic and Vissers’ departure is likely to cement this: his replacement is Robin Bevers, previously managing director at Marcel Wanders Studio. Wanders is known to be adept at brand building; the consolidation of Moooi is another coup for the empire.
ILLUSTRATIONS Simay Onaz
MOMA ACQUIRES THE RAINBOW FLAG In the month in which the US legalised gay marriage, MoMA in New York inducted Gilbert Baker’s 1978 Rainbow Flag into its collection. The presence of this symbol of LGBT culture in MoMA provides a welcome reminder of design’s ability to engage with, summarise and help inspire a social movement.
MOREAU KUSUNOKI ARCHITECTES WINS GUGGENHEIM COMPETITION The most prominent architectural competition of the year came to an unexpected conclusion when the Guggenheim selected little-known, Paris-based Moreau Kusunoki Architectes to design its Helsinki museum. The firm’s charred-timber and glass design, built around dispersed pavilions, still has to win over a sceptical Finnish public, but the appointment is a refreshing challenge to the hegemony of the starchitects.
INVESTINDUSTRIAL BUYS B&B ITALIA After its 2014 acquisition of Flos, private equity firm Investindustrial bought a majority share of furniture company B&B Italia from its founders, the Busnelli family. The purchase was rapidly followed by Italian kitchen and bathroom brand Boffi’s merger with furniture firm De Padova. The age of the design conglomerates is at hand. DONNA KARAN STEPS DOWN Donna Karan announced her retirement from her eponymous brand, following designer-founders such as Jil Sander, John Galliano, and Calvin Klein. But the label has an uncertain future. Karan’s main collection has been suspended, with owner LVMH focusing on the more commercially successful DKNY line. “Most people who buy DKNY did not even know it was by Donna Karan,” said LVMH Fashion Group chairman Pierre-Yves Roussel.
JULY LONDON DESIGN BIENNALE ANNOUNCED The vogueishness of design biennales reached fresh heights with the announcement of Utopia by Design for September 2016, the inaugural London Design Biennale. It will open at the same time as the London Design Festival, run for three weeks, and be based in a single venue, but organisers are adamant that it is a fully fledged biennale. When does an exhibition become a biennale? Let’s hope the answer is more than, “When it’s fashionable for it to do so.”
AUGUST ROBIN HOOD GARDENS PETITION FAILS Despite backing from various Pritzker Prize winners, an appeal to prevent the demolition of Robin Hood Gardens, Alison and Peter Smithson’s innovative 1972 social housing estate in Poplar, London, failed. The building will not be considered for listing for five years. While the views of leading architects should not be sacrosanct, such widespread support suggests the decision is unwise, even if the “streets in the sky” have seen better days.
26 Disegno. TIMELINE
ALEX DE RIJKE STEPS DOWN FROM THE RCA Architect Alex de Rijke resigned as dean of the Royal College of Art’s School of Architecture. He joined Ab Rogers, Clare Johnston, Jeremy Myerson, Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby in departing following reorganisation of the school’s management structures; changes that have seen the student body stage a series of silent protests. It will fall to a new guard of tutors to try to return a sense of stability to one of design’s most august institutions.
Sorting and untangling yarn on the floor of the Dragรณn cooperative. PHOTOS Heidi Lender
28 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Photoessay: Manos del Uruguay There is a history of craft production in Uruguay, the nation nestled between Argentina and Brazil on South America’s Atlantic coast. “But there isn’t really ‘design’ in Uruguay,” says Matteo Fogale, a London-based, Uruguayan designer. “There isn’t design production, whereas Brazil and Argentina have been very industrial over the years. Production in >
PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Above: A tiny pueblo close to Fraile Muerto in the Cerro Largo region of Uruguay, where some of Manos’s 13 cooperatives are based. Below: A colourful street in Melo, the capital of Cerro Largo.
> Uruguay hasn’t really existed, so it’s hard to do design there.” In place of industry, and amid the economic and political instability that engulfed the country in the 1960s, Uruguayans became reliant on local resources, leading to the development of small-scale production across the country. Craftspeople produced goods in their homes, using materials such as leather, wood and wool, which they sold to the domestic market. In December 2014, Fogale and his design partner Laetitia de Allegri
produces wools and garments in a series of 13 cooperatives across Uruguay, all using traditional techniques involving a network of 250 craftswomen. Its headquarters, based in the capital Montevideo, acts as a central sales body. While Manos sells to the domestic market, it is unlike many cottage industries in that it also sells internationally, as well as collaborating with global fashion brands such as Prada, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Marc Jacobs.
“We weren’t planning to base the colour palette on Uruguay itself.” undertook a research trip to the country. “We wanted our time there to be like an extension of working in London,” says de Allegri, “We wanted a project.” “I suggested that we find someone working with local wool,” begins Fogale. “And I found Manos,” finishes de Allegri. “Manos” is Manos del Uruguay, a non-profit organisation that operates on the borders of craft and industry. The company 30 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Manos was founded in 1968, initially as a means of aiding women in rural Uruguayan communities. “The objective was to develop economic opportunities in a country where there weren’t – and still aren’t – job opportunities for women living in the countryside,” says Ana de Prado, a designer and Manos’s head of product development. “The founding members seized on the idea of bringing together the knitted >
Some of Manos’s yarn is sourced locally from Corriedale sheep.
PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Above: The Gloria collection is dyed in this quartet of vats in Dragón. Left: The stained palms of a dyer in Fraile Muerto.
32 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
> products of women, often from remote villages around Uruguay, who had been hand-dyeing and spinning their own yarns.” “Using traditional craft techniques and wool, which is one of Uruguay’s main industries, was a decision we made early on,” adds Cecilia Lalanne, a designer in charge of the handknit yarns for Manos. “This combination forged the identity of the cooperative. At the beginning, it was a means to the social objective as the women already knew the crafts, the folk aesthetic was beginning
a hand-dyed merino-wool yarn, a product range christened Gloria. Gloria is hand-dyed in kettles to produce a marbleised effect that forms a rich palette of semi-solid tones and multi-colours. Because of how the yarns are processed, each thread is different, while the merino three-ply wool is soft and lightweight. The yarn is produced in three different workshops, each specialising in one step of the manufacturing process: spinning, quality control and dyeing. “It’s a system that is better for the artisans and ensures a better quality for Manos del Uruguay,” says de Prado. The workshops that form each cooperative are typically small, with the craftswomen allowed a high level of autonomy in how they work.
Above: In Dragón, solid-hued yarns are soaked for 30 minutes. Below: The wood-burning stove that fuels the dye baths in Fraile Muerto.
“The objective was to develop economic opportunities in a country where there weren’t – and still aren’t – job opportunities for women living in the countryside.” to be fashionable and it was a good match for the type of production that we wanted to organise, with small groups scattered through the countryside. When things started to change in the following years, we remained true to those options.” It was in this context that Fogale and de Allegri proposed a collaboration. Upon arriving in Uruguay, the designers toured the Montevideo headquarters and reached an agreement that they would work with Manos’s artisans to develop a colour range for
“In one workshop they were making shawls for Prada and the sound of looms, and the women talking and laughing, filled the studio,” says Fogale. “Each cooperative chooses who will be in charge and everything runs smoothly because there is a shared sense of ownership. They use very old machines, but over time customise the looms to improve movement and speed. The workshops are all very full of life.” De Allegri and Fogale’s concept for Gloria began with a month-long road trip, during which they documented features of the natural and urban landscape. Uruguay is diverse, with cities replete with colonial and contemporary architecture, rugged coastlines and extensive > PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Gloria colours Vereda (green) and Muro (blue) hang drying in the courtyard of the Fraile Muerto cooperative. Opposite: Rewinding, untangling, tying and tagging the dried yarn.
> farming communities. The photographs that the designers collected ranged from dilapidated modern facades in Montevideo, to the delicate centres of hibiscus flowers and details of ropes used by local fisherman. From these, they selected 23 key photos, extracting one colour sample from each image to form the basis of the collection. “We weren’t planning to base the colour palette on Uruguay itself,” explains Fogale, “It was after looking at the pictures that we thought the palette should originate from the landscape.” “Although the knots and twisting that takes place during the dyeing process will of course influence the final colour,” adds de Allegri. “There’s so much variation.” International collaborations with the likes of Fogale and de Allegri prompt further opportunities for Manos. “Designers we’ve worked with recommend us to new brands, opening those doors for us,” says Lalanne. “Once you have a certain 34 Disegno. PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
experience with brands like Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney or Marc Jacobs that’s a great reference, as all brands know we will meet their standards.” Such collaborations not only promote the work of Manos’s craftswomen, but also the mission and reputation of the cooperatives. In a region in which the design industry is underdeveloped, Manos has bridged the gap between craft and industry. By relying on local resources and distributing production throughout the country, it has been able to sustain rural craft communities and maintain a respectable scale of production. “Work with international brands requires us to stay updated in terms of trends, processes and quality management,” says de Prado. “Our success in exports is based
as much on the quality of our products as on the design services we provide.” Fogale and de Allegri value this. “One of the reasons we wanted to go to Uruguay and work with Manos is because of our interest in understanding where products come from and how they are made,” says Fogale. “People want to know the story behind a product. It’s important to promote what Manos does, because it’s not just a trend. It’s sustainable craft production that has been working for years.”
Mariah Nielson is a London-based design curator and design historian. In this photoessay, Uruguay-based photographer Heidi Lender documents a selection of the Manos del Uruguay cooperatives, as well as the creation of the Gloria yarn collection.
PHOTOESSAY: MANOS DEL URUGUAY
Jasper Morrison’s MP 01 mobile phone, designed for Punkt. PHOTO Nick Rochowski
Jasper Morrison’s Dumbphone Consider Nokia’s classic phones. The 3210, simple and refined, and the compact 8210; they performed a few tasks while lasting days on a single charge. Punkt’s MP 01, designed by Jasper Morrison, isn’t meant to be nostalgic, but it evokes such phones with its physical keypad, little, mostly monochromatic screen, and no email, internet, camera or apps beyond a calendar and reminders. MP 01’s stripping away of features is designed to address the pressures of modern, always-on life. “It would be a disaster if people thought Punkt was nostalgic,” says Punkt chief executive Petter Neby. “We think technology is great, but the smartphone is centric to everything for convenience’s sake, rather than sanity’s sake.” For those who can afford it at £229 – and bear not accessing email away from the desk – there 36 Disegno. JASPER MORRISON’S DUMBPHONE
is much to appreciate in MP 01’s fine detailing, the result of the hand of Morrison, as well as four years of development. The sturdy casing’s texture and moulding are tactile delights, the weight and balance just so. A faceted humpback tilts the Braun calculator-like face when it lies on a table and it fits comfortably in the pocket. Yet, despite the pleasures of the MP 01, I found myself missing my iPhone’s grander capabilities, although some smartphone owners may find it a practical alternative to switching off their notifications. Regardless, this peculiarly beautiful dumbphone holds great allure, not just because of its reminder of quieter times.
Alex Wiltshire is a technology and video‑game journalist and consultant.
O N E
Experience Axor One at the London Design Festival, 22â€“24 September 2015 at 12â€“16 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 or at one.axor-design.com
Axor One is a veritable monolith in the shower. All aspects of this thermostat module are subjected to a strict code of simplicity. Both in design and in functionality. All that is needed to activate the various showers is a gentle tap of the paddles with the finger, the back of the hand or even the elbow.
A L L
Power Behind the Scenes A good guide as to who is influential within the design industry is to listen to who designers themselves venerate. When you do this, a name that comes up frequently is Eugenio Perazza, the 75-yearold founder of Italian design brand Magis. Consider the following testimonials. “I love working with him. So much so that he is without doubt my favourite, closest and most inspiring ally in the industry,” says Konstantin Grcic. Meanwhile, Jasper Morrison credits the man he describes as “looking like the bad guy in a James Bond movie” with reinvigorating his interest in design in the 1990s and driving his fascination with everyday objects. “Next to Rolf Fehlbaum at Vitra, Perazza has been my most important experience as a designer,” says Ronan Bouroullec. To Philippe Starck – hardly prone to deference – Perazza is “Papa Perazza”. Eugenio Perazza seems worth getting to know, yet few outside his collaborators do. Compared to much-interviewed industrialists such as Rolf Fehlbaum, Alberto Alessi and Giulio Cappellini, Perazza is an enigma. Neither he nor Magis feature in Claudia Neumann’s 1999 book Design Directory Italy – Neumann skips directly from graphic designer Italo Lupi to architect Vico Magistretti – while internet articles are few and far between. Adding to the sense of secrecy is the relative obscurity of Magis’s location. The company is based in Torre di Mosto, a small town in Veneto, north-east Italy that is surrounded by farmland and vineyards. It is in the midst of this relative torpor, from behind the tall electric gates of the Magis compound, that Perazza holds court. Morrison’s assessment is delightfully apt. Perazza is broad and bald – positively Blofeldian – with a self-assertion that dominates proceedings. Yet he is also playful and welcoming, garrulous on the subject of design and manufacturing technologies. When we meet at the Magis headquarters, he sits alongside two of the company’s in-house designers, Enrico Perin and Marco Citton, as well as the firm’s press officer, Micol Fagotto. For the next few hours, Perazza seems to take as much pleasure from needling his coworkers as he does from discussing design. “My English is very poor,” he announces delightedly, peering at his colleagues. “But my French is alright, isn’t it, Marco? Marco? And my Italian, Enrico? My Italian is super good, eh Micol?” All present – Citton aside – seem to enjoy talking over one another, but Perazza is the 38 Disegno. POWER BEHIND THE SCENES
loudest and best at it. It’s easy to see why he sticks in the mind. Magis was founded in 1976, prior to which Perazza had had limited formal involvement in design. He was born in 1940 in Ceggia, the next town over from Torre di Mosto and pre-Magis he worked in the export department of a household product manufacturer that specialised in steel wire; a company, he says, that was “strictly orientated towards copying products”. It was only when he bought himself a Harry Bertoia wire chair for Knoll that he began to explore the potential of moving beyond copying: “I asked my colleague from the technical department to give me an idea of the production cost of the Bertoia chair. It was €10, but the retail cost was €300. Mamma mia, maybe it’s a good idea to produce chairs in wire…” It’s a surprisingly financial foundation story for a firm like Magis. While the company’s annual turnover is healthy – €20m – it is not large, and Magis captures the imagination as a critical darling rather than a commercial behemoth. The company worked steadily throughout the 1970s and 80s, collaborating with designers such as Marc Berthier, Niels Jørgen Haugesen, and Andries & Hiroko Van Onck, but came to prominence in the 1990s with plastic accessories.
akin to injection-moulding plastic, that opened the flood gates. Chair One was highly successful (both critically and commercially) and Magis began working with materials beyond its traditional plastic heartlands: steel, wrought iron, plywood, wicker, steel rod and solid wood. Similarly, its roster of designers grew to encompass Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Thomas Heatherwick, Naoto Fukasawa, and Jaime Hayón, many of whom Perazza commissioned before they became household names. What had initially seemed like a simple producer of plastic accessories and furniture was becoming something far more diverse. Magis’s collection now numbers some 179 entries, many of which appear wilfully unconnected in their plurality of construction, material and language. This is explained, in part, by Magis’s structure. In contrast to many furniture brands, Magis has no internal manufacturing capabilities. Everything is produced by external suppliers, most of which are drawn from around north-east Italy. The system has its disadvantages – it leaves the brand at the logistical and economic mercy of manufacturers – but it nonetheless enables Magis to work across a vast range of materials and techniques, granting far greater production flexibility.
“The mule is a humble animal, a good strong worker and a champion of the mountain. He’s the spirit of the company.” These were unglamorous objects – Jasper Morrison’s Bottle winebottle rack (1994) and A, B, C… cutlery tray (1996); Marc Newson’s Dish Doctor draining board and Rock door stop (both 1998) – but produced using high-technology manufacturing techniques, with injection and blow-moulding plastic chief among them. Rigorous design and technical innovation were applied to workaday items, a direction that prefigured much of design’s contemporary fixation with vernacular everyday objects. “The ambition of Magis is to be the first mover,” says Perazza. Household accessories were the first battleground for this. A similar devotion to process and manufacturing carried through to the 2000s, when the company focused increasingly on furniture design. Jasper Morrison’s Air chair (2000) was the first one-piece polypropylene chair created by gas moulding, a considerable technical breakthrough, but it was Konstantin Grcic’s Chair One (2003), a design that pushed die-cast aluminium to its skeletal limits to create an effect
“Perazza uses the palette of different industrial techniques that surround him,” says Bouroullec. “He’s like a painter discovering a new colour. He asks designers to try and forget what we know and to invent a new typology.” The expertise of the specialist manufacturers forces designers to concern themselves with all aspects of a design’s development and production (“They can’t just say, ‘Here’s a drawing. Produce it,’” says Citton). In effect, this allows Magis to develop projects around any production technology that catches its eye, regardless of its experience with the process. “Perazza is one of the few people, if not the only one, to propose ideas to us,” says Grcic. “They’re ideas about a certain technology or typology. Other companies don’t do that.” “Magis in a certain sense is like a small umbrella company,” says Perazza. “Forty years ago that was very new as a concept and at the beginning the business was very difficult. But, step by step, it got better and for me the direction was always clear: to be an innovative >
Eugenio Perazza, founder of Magis, inspects a series of unfinished Pipe chairs. The chair is designed by Jasper Morrison and produced in a factory close to Magis’s headquarters in Veneto, Italy.
POWER BEHIND THE SCENES
> company in terms of language, technology, and materials. I respect this strictly. We want to walk the line and my mission is for our design to be unique and universal. You’ll love it or hate it – nothing in between – but what is important is that we operate a reversal job in terms of design. We put the manufacturer at the heart of products and use the best qualities of each manufacturer. The designer is at a lower level. When we work like that we produce a better result than the Bouroullecs, Konstantin or Starck can achieve on their own.” Yet, collectivism aside, it seems to be Perazza himself who underpins these collaborations. “The key to everything Magis is and does is Signor Perazza,” says Grcic. “Eugenio Perazza, founder and ‘head’ of Magis. That’s what he calls himself, the head, and he would tap his index finger on his forehead while saying this.” The head tap is one of Perazza’s signatures and is repeated liberally throughout our meeting. Magis is not a large company. It has only 42 employees and retains a family core. Perazza is the CEO and leads the company’s internal design team, while his son Alberto and daughter-in-law Barbara Minetto control the business side. “The spirit of this company is the spirit of a startup,” says Perazza. “Me, I’m the gatekeeper. When developing prototypes, Magis doesn’t have the capacity to invest €10m, so it’s necessary for us to only select the best of the best. The cream.” Cue a head tap. For Perazza, developing design – particularly when one lacks the resources of giants such as Herman Miller and Vitra – is about thinking ahead. It’s not for nothing that its mascot is a mule, an animal that happens to be embroidered on
the shirt Perazza is wearing on the day we meet. “The mule is a humble animal, a good strong worker and a champion of the mountain,” he says. “He’s not a snob and he thinks more than the other donkeys. He’s the spirit of the company.” Critical self-assessment and rigorous planning are traits that all furniture companies claim to possess, yet what is interesting about Perazza is the manner in which he pursues these. Magis is built upon near obsessional contact with its external designers, a process led on the frontlines by Perazza and his telephone. “He normally calls me at least once a day, not always to discuss urgent matters, but rather to connect,” says Grcic. “I guess it is his way of saying that he is thinking of me, that he cares. At the same time, of course, he wants to know that I am also thinking about him and Magis. He thinks about Magis constantly, non-stop, and in the office we joke about the fact that Italian summer holidays must be the saddest days of the year for Perazza. In August it must feel like someone is stealing his toy from him.” Grcic is not the only one. Perazza and his design team are in touch with Magis’s other regular designers on a similar basis. Each is assigned a member of Magis’s in-house technical team as a collaborator on every project. Prototypes are developed constantly and assessed by Magis and the designer, a process that often takes years. Perazza has developed a reputation as not just a talent scout, but someone able to nurture lasting relationships with designers. It is revealing that Ronan Bouroullec, a regular collaborator since 2003’s La Valise filing system, professes that his work with Magis pays little heed
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s Officina collection is based on a wroughtiron structure. Below: The wheel on Philippe Starck’s Big Will table for Magis.
to financial remuneration. “I’ve learned so much,” he says. “Some projects are for money and some are not.” While it is the designer’s name that ends up on a product, the example of Magis and Perazza is a reminder that products are not developed in isolation, nor do designers operate with creative carte blanche. Products grow out of collaboration with a manufacturer and the staff of that manufacturer – from CEOs like Perazza, through to in-house designers like Citton and Perin – all bring their stamp to bear on a finished product. In an industry prone to veneration and messianic idolisation of designers, it is worth remembering that lesser-known powers exist behind the throne. “The end product of any collaboration always has to be Magis,” says Perazza. “And 50 per cent of any product we produce is
“He asks designers to try and forget what we know and to invent a new typology.” owed to Magis’s influence. When we started with Marcel Wanders, for instance, it was really a fight because his idea was for a lot of decoration, but we refused. Things have to be right for both of us and the most important secret for a long, strong relationship is to speak frankly. When I’m not completely satisfied with a prototype, I send an email to the designer saying, ‘OK, you can do better.’” Perin chips in: “It’s an elegant way to say ‘This is not nice.’” “And believe me, I say that a lot,” says Perazza. “Things have to be Magis.” It’s a statement that brings to mind one of Ronan Bouroullec’s observations: “It’s impossible for some designers to work for Perazza because you don’t want to be violently treated.” To explain what “Magis” means in this context, Perazza summons a Chair First, > POWER BEHIND THE SCENES
Magis’s archive is housed within a series of Boogie Woogie bookcases, designed for the brand by Stefano Giovannoni.
> a polypropylene table chair, designed by Stefano Giovannoni in 2007. It is summarily placed on the table and flipped to reveal the way its legs curve inwards at their ends to tuck into protective caps. It’s a tiny detail – a refinement few would miss were it absent – but one that Perazza and his team discuss for longer than you might think possible. “This is Magis,” says Perazza. A further case in point is 2015’s Officina collection, a series of tables and chairs developed by the Bouroullec brothers. Officina is built on semi-irregular slithers of wrought iron that wrap about each other. The collection is formally beautiful, yet
“Perazza is always tinkering with ideas for new projects.” principally noteworthy for its material: Officina converts nostalgic, baroque wrought iron into a contemporary, functional structure. The production capabilities were found in a workshop close to Magis, the Bouroullecs briefed to work with the manufacturer on the technology, and the collection developed steadily. The manufacturer bends and welds the wrought iron by hand, but in a light enough fashion that the project can lay claim to be industrial rather than artisanal. “All manufacturers in Italy are based on this very high level of quality,” says Bouroullec. “So how do you produce at a certain industrial quality something that is almost craftsmanlike? That’s the question I want to develop with Perazza.” Both the question and the Bouroullecs’ answer seem to provide the model for not only Perazza’s vision of Magis’s 42 Disegno. POWER BEHIND THE SCENES
future, but also the furniture industry as a whole. “The idea was to develop a new language for forged iron because it’s necessary for Magis to discover a new way for design,” says Perazza. “There are a lot of products without any soul or heart, which are pure style exercises.” Both Grcic and Bouroullec praise this criticality and enthusiasm for experimentation. “Perazza is always tinkering with ideas about new projects,” says Grcic. “Just two weeks ago, during the Salone del Mobile, when everyone else was celebrating the new launches, Perazza pulled me over to talk about future projects. He was restless, like a little boy. Enthusiastic and passionate. The Monday after the fair I received an email and a phone call as a follow up. Typical Perazza. Typical mule. Faster thinking and more intelligent than the others.” Moving forward, Perazza says Magis will reduce the number of products it launches, preferring to focus on the careful development of a few. It’s a model he believes others should adopt. I ask if he has further ambitions for the brand. “I intend to multiply our turnover by five in the coming three years,” he replies. “Magis is an underperforming company. We have the capacity to multiply our turnover by four, five or ten because we’re entering another age. Magis had its age of plastic; its age of die-cast aluminium; its age
of wood; its age of design. Now it’s the age of pushing the market. I intend to dedicate a lot of energy to improve the turnover very quickly, because we are a superunderperforming company. Chiaro?” Yet on the way out, PR Fagotto has a word of warning. Perazza, she says, should not always be taken at face value. She tells me he sometimes likes to say things and I shouldn’t believe that Magis is an underperforming company. It’s just something he likes to say. The warning makes me reflect on an incident from earlier in the day, when Perazza was driving me through Torre di Mosto. We arrived at what looked like a Mediterranean school house, a low long building with “Casa della Dottrina” emblazoned above its main doors. It’s where he comes to play Tressette, a traditional card game. Perazza says that he doesn’t play for money, but rather for cheese and salami. I ask how often he comes. “Twice a week.” And how often does he win? “Twice a week.” And how much has he won? “About 100kg of cheese and 200kg of salami; I’m a super champion.” I ask Fagotto if these winnings might have been exaggerated too. She pauses: “Actually, that’s probably true.” Typical Perazza. Typical mule.
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno.
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Sole Alternatives I’m lucky to catch Belgian footwear designer Mats Rombaut at his Belleville studio. It’s a sunny mid-August day and the city is eerily quiet. Parisians are notoriously unavailable during this month and Rombaut is spending less than 48 hours in the city. >
44 Disegno. SOLE ALTERNATIVES
The Oddysey II, a cut single-strap running sneaker, by Mats Rombaut. PHOTOS Yann Morrison
Mats Rombaut in his Belleville studio. Opposite: A selection of prototypes in Rombaut’s studio, including Min and Oddysey II (top). Technical images showing designs for the Esa II.
> He is making a short pit stop in between trips to Belgium to visit his storage space, and Denmark, where he presented at the Copenhagen Fashion Week earlier in the month, and a holiday to the Philippines. He won’t see his large, light-filled live/work space for about 30 days and he’s looking forward to it. “I’m so happy it all went fine,” he says. “My production for the
“The smell of tree bark is pretty strong. People are reluctant to buy it!” autumn/winter 2015 collection was on time – they are shipping it out now. I can go on holiday with a relaxed mind.” It’s a welcome break. Ever since Rombaut unveiled his first collection of unisex footwear under his eponymous label for autumn/winter 2013, things have progressed steadily. The brand develops sustainable shoes made from plant-based materials, 46 Disegno. SOLE ALTERNATIVES
responding to the ecological problems posed by glues andtanning chemicals used in traditional leather shoes. Rombaut aims for progressiveness in design in areas beyond brand ethics too. The trainers are typified by a chunky look – either angular or organic – which is a direct result of the earthy components used in their construction. As an alternative to leathers, Rombaut uses natural rubber from the Amazon, potato starch, fig, cork and tree bark from Uganda – raw materials that are unarguably more difficult to work with than animal hide. Rombaut conducts his research online (“you can find anything and everything on the internet”), sourcing suppliers for the sustainably harvested materials he works with. Artisans in Italy perform some of the more handson material treatments, such as
dying, before the shoes are constructed at a factory in Portugal. It’s a production chain that’s not without its problems, not least because of widespread unfamiliarity with the materials. “It’s much more restricting, especially because all the factories are used to working with leather only,” says Rombaut. “They don’t have a lot of patience with me. With shoes, you can’t just choose whatever material you want; it takes a while to research, develop and find the right combinations that work in terms of engineering a model that wears well. If you only use leather, it’s very easy because the factory already knows how to work with it and leather is a good material: it’s very versatile.” Matters are further complicated by the slow pace with which the luxury market – particularly in Europe – has embraced ecological and sustainable fashion. “It’s mainly
in the mind of the consumer. They mostly want leather,” says Rombaut, who founded his business in a bid to change this mentality. His collaboration with fellow Belgian designer Bruno Pieters – for whose ethically minded Honest By brand Rombaut developed a collection of Ugandan-tree-bark derby shoes – is testament to a desire to develop a viable alternative to fast fashion, moving the industry away from the types of plunderous products made from either animal skins or toxic materials. Rombaut is not alone in this respect, with more and more designers in fashion and other industries turning to unconventional materials and production methods. London-based designer, researcher and lecturer Julia Lohmann works with algae and kelp to create objects and art installations in an effort to confront viewers with ways in which natural materials might be consumed in a more responsible manner. Similarly, Italian design studio Formafantasma used the natural world as inspiration for its 2011 Botanica vessels – objects designed as if today’s oil-based industries were not a reality and produced using only natural polymers extracted from plants or animal derivatives. What separates Rombaut from these designers is that his practice is rooted in commercial industry. Rather than existing as concepts or pointed experimentation, his products sit within the framework of luxury fashion and, so far, consumers and retailers have shown confidence in the brand. Sales rose 40 per cent last season and Rombaut’s designs have been bought by Parisian concept store L’Eclaireur, Harvey Nichols
Hong Kong, and cult Antwerp boutique Coccodrillo, amongst others. In London, Rombaut will soon be available for the first time at east London retailer LN-CC with his autumn/winter 2015 collection, a considerable feat considering the exclusive nature of the store and the selective buying style of its founder John Skelton. The calibre of Rombaut’s retailers places his brand firmly in the higher contemporary-luxury segment. Nevertheless, he wants to appeal to as broad a customer range as possible, something made difficult by the presence of major brands such as Adidas and Nike. “Without those, my growth might be bigger. Everyone in fashion wears their sneakers. It’s a trend,” he says. “They sell Raf Simons collaborations at the same price as my shoes, but my shoes are made in Portugal, while theirs are made in China. Their margins are much higher and for a customer the choice is easily made.” Rombaut’s trainers initially fell in the €600-€800 price bracket (about £430-£570), but it became clear that this was uncompetitive, particularly when you consider that eco-friendly shoes have a shorter shelf life than more affordable leather ones. On online retailer Farfetch, the majority of Rombaut’s shoes now sell for between €300 and €600. “I used to make derbies more, but I noticed that I sold more sneakers so I started to make only those,” he says. “I didn’t make any crazy shoes this season, but some new models – like sandals – that are more basic, more wearable. That’s the part of the business I want to grow.” Even so, Rombaut has stayed true to his initial concept. “I knew from the beginning that I wanted
to do this super-niche thing,” he says. “In my first two collections I used a lot of tree bark, treated with rubber, and emphasised the vegan qualities of the materials I use. I still use them, but talk about it less, as it seems to turn some people off.” He starts to laugh. “The smell of tree bark is pretty strong. People are reluctant to buy it!” Such considerations led to a partial rethink of his approach. Rombaut still works with plant-based materials, but now uses his signature tree bark more sparingly. “Some of my first shoes in tree bark ripped after a while,” he says. “But this is what happens when you are doing something experimental. Now I’m much more careful than before. You can wear them with no problems.” He now often incorporates cork into the natural rubber soles of the shoes – his own material development – and, in place of the more common polypropylene carbonate (PPC), he uses polyurethane (PU), a polymer that is less toxic, biodegrades faster and leaves fewer harmful traces in the environment. Unlike the majority of his peers, Rombaut didn’t formally train in design. He studied Business Administration and Management, first in Ghent and later in Barcelona, and his background is in development and production – areas he worked in at Paris-based fashion brands Lanvin and Damir Doma. “I learned so much by working with the factories,” he says. “You end up knowing more about what is realistic than the designer does. That was a great experience, but at some point I felt like I just couldn’t learn much more. And I was working with leather so much that I just wanted to do my own thing. Most vegan shoes on the market are pretty ugly. That’s why I started making my own.”
Siska Lyssens is a London-based fashion and culture journalist.
The Bird and The Bird House, designed for Cassina by Jaime Hayón as part of the Villa Le Lac Paulownia collection. PHOTO Nick Rochowski
Return to Villa Le Lac This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Le Corbusier (1887-1965), whose work across architecture, urbanism and furniture design continues to resonate. Commemorative projects have come thick and fast. At one end of the spectrum are those who have lionised. Swiss design school ÉCAL devised Corbu-inspired furniture and furnishings for an exhibition at his Cité Radieuse apartment in Marseille, while Italian design brand Cassina approached fetishisation with its 080 Villa Le Lac Paulownia editioned collection. Created by Spaniard Jaime Hayón, it features a bird sculpture, birdhouse and swing-shaped shelf, all in oiled wood from the Paulownia tree that overhung Le Corbusier’s Villa Le Lac in Corseaux, Switzerland. At the other end, things are not so celebratory. Three new books by journalists and critics Xavier 48 Disegno. RETURN TO VILLA LE LAC
de Jarcy, Marc Perelman and François Chaslin have done much to publicise Le Corbusier’s connections to France’s far-right, combining to raise the spectres of fascism and antisemitism around him, and recasting his vaunted Modulor proportion system from a triumph of humanism to an example of cold standardisation in action. Amid the flurry of accusation and counteraccusation, Paris’s Pompidou Centre announced a research project into Le Corbusier’s politics, due to culminate in a 2016 symposium. What to make of such contrasts? A definitive answer will likely never emerge. Yet in this anniversary year it is fitting that Le Corbusier should be remembered, both for his positive and negative traits.
Oli Stratford is Disegno’s deputy editor.
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Berlin Revisited Berlin as a hub for creative endeavours may be a familiar story, but the past few years have brought a notable shift in the scale of who and what comes to the city. Major design brands such as Canadian lighting company Bocci, Finnish furniture manufacturer Artek, and design startup Hem are now establishing themselves here, joining existing brands such as eyewear designer Mykita (founded in Berlin in 2003) and a roster of internationally renowned art and design studios, including Jongeriuslab, Jerszy Seymour Design Workshop and Studio Olafur Eliasson. With this new wave of brands arriving, Berlin’s international community of designers continues to grow in complexity, number and, perhaps most importantly, in turnover. For a long time the joke was that you could live best in Berlin if you made your money outside of the city, a situation that a globalised creative workforce and companies open to flexible working relationships made possible. Yet this is now likely to change as established companies come into the city, bringing jobs and exposure to broader networks, supply lines and international media with them. The most recent government data indicates that creative industries in Berlin had a turnover of €16.6bn in 2012, an increase of 28 per cent since 2009. With a large creative community already having made Berlin its home, the arrival of these design brands further legitimises and validates the creative side of the city. It is a process that can be seen as a noxious disharmony selling out the city on the one hand, and a necessary expansion of possibilities on the other. Bocci, which has established a reputation for its sculptural glass pendants made in Vancouver, is the corporate newcomer most reminiscent of Berlin’s original ad-hoc vibe. With a significant European client base, Bocci has ties to both London and Berlin, and what began as an idea to put down roots in London became a serendipitous Berlin move involving a spontaneous weekend in the city, a party and a cheap lease of a 2,200sqm former courthouse, according to creative director and cofounder Omer Arbel. It is here, in the former courthouse on Kantstrasse at the western edge of the Charlottenburg district, that the company will begin its next phase this autumn, a decade after it was founded. The building’s generous proportions will allow the company to establish > 50 Disegno. BERLIN REVISITED
A view of Berlin from the offices of Finnish design brand Artek. PHOTOS Thorsten Klapsch
Artek moved its marketing office to Berlin in 2013.
> a new glassworks in Berlin, a city where craft traditions went into grave decline in the postwar period. “The rent for the entire Berlin building is about what it would have cost for a mediocre shopfront in London,” says Arbel. Renting an entire building expands the possibilities available to a company and creative team known for – and proud of – its experimentation. For Bocci this is integral to the creative process and its products, which are the commercially viable aspect of a larger ongoing exploration of material, craft and form. “In Berlin we have the luxury of letting a process/project unfold at its own pace, based on its own intrinsic logic and the conscious and unconscious desires of the
For a long time the joke was that you could live best in Berlin if you made your money outside of the city. people involved,” says Arbel. “Because we can afford it.” Berlin’s status as a “cheap” city is the symptom of a sadder economic reality. It has been subject to a decades-long slow death of primary industry in the postwar period and a slower-than-expected recovery following reunification in 1990. Both processes contributed to property values and rents becoming low in comparison to many other European cities. Berlin’s unemployment rate is currently 10.7 per cent, higher than the national average of 6.4 per cent, and was 19 per cent as recently as 2005. Wages and the corporate tax rate are both lower than the German national average, and the residential and commercial property market have remained static in response. 52 Disegno. BERLIN REVISITED
Wartime damage created empty lots, a wealth of unbuilt space on which development stalled due to economic and political conditions. Space was, and still is, cheap, even as foreign real-estate investment has closed in on the city. Purchasing power in Berlin is strong, and there is less pressure to make money to cover rent and other living expenses. Berlin is a place where people can take creative risks, whether they are founding tech firms, establishing design studios, or pursuing unusual careers. Many people in the city have multiple areas of expertise and the bloated business cards to match: branding strategist/architect/bookmaker; entrepreneur/academic/designer; urbanist/journalist/consultant. These permutations are permitted thanks to low resource pressure, allowing people to pursue multiple professional angles. While there are some for whom this flexibility is a smokescreen for doing little,
many creatives do work between traditional categories. Companies coming into Berlin benefit from both this same flexibility and the new hybrid professionals who form a part of the city’s creative networks. American entrepreneur Tobias Tanner runs Valise, a Berlin-based international creative consultancy and concierge service that has advised brands, companies and high-profile visitors on their entry to the city. He observes that “more and more people realised that Berlin is an affordable place, that its value lies in being a city of influence in politics, culture, art – not money – which set the tone for what is happening now”. Tanner works with design brands entering the Berlin market and advises as to its quirks, such as internal anxieties about how much commercial appeal is too much. “I’ve watched people make mistakes, doing things that look too slick, which might work in another city, but not in Berlin,” he says. The major shift from individuals coming >
Bocci, a Canadian producer of glass pendant lights, is openingÂ its first European headquarters in a formerÂ courthouse in Berlin this autumn.
Online furniture retailer Hem has its offices close to Checkpoint Charlie.
54 Disegno. BERLIN REVISITED
> to try their fortune in the city, to established companies taking a risk on the hope of qualitative returns and cost savings is ongoing, and mistakes in reading the culture of the city can happen. Low commercial rents, corporate tax rates and employee wages, combined with easy connections within the EU, thanks to excellent infrastructure, make setting up here relatively easy. In addition, the city and national government support low-interest loans and other incentives for Berlin-based firms. As a result, sound business understanding is essential, as evinced by Hem, a company started by Jason Goldberg in 2014, along with head of design Petrus Palmér. Hem’s offices are just south of the tourist epicentre at Checkpoint Charlie, the border station between former East and West Berlin. The brand’s showroom and large office floor straddle another divide, between tech and design, and Hem is perhaps closer to the system disruptors of the tech industry than a traditional design firm: it designs furniture and sells directly to consumers through an online showroom, with numerous customisation options. For Hem, Berlin offers the chance to streamline marketing, sales, logistics and manufacturing within an ecosystem that mirrors its hybrid nature. This is not a new model for Goldberg, who was the co-founder of Fab, one of the first internet direct-sale curated design companies, which was also based partially in Berlin. Long courted by the city, the tech sector is booming here, earning the place the title “Silicon Allee”. Recent moves by Amazon to establish a corporate office in the city and the success of Berlin-based SoundCloud are joined by thousands of smaller startups and spinoffs. Berlin also has an important human factor, part of Hem’s strategic continental straddle.
Design agency and brand New Tendency has set up its showroom in Neukölln.
“It’s a very good place to be as a design company – there’s access to international talent. A lot of creative people are moving to Berlin,” says Palmér. Goldberg adds, “When I started Fab a lot of people said to me, ‘Why Berlin? Why not London or Paris?’ There are no questions like that anymore. People come to Berlin to create things. It is a great place to recruit in.” The talent pool in the city is large, and Berlin’s reputation as a creative capital has allowed Hem, and others like it, to convince people to relocate there. For Palmér it is clearly holistic: “In Berlin we can tap into the international creative mindset – people moving into this kind of city have a certain mindset, lead a certain life.” These benefits also appeal to more established design brands. Artek was founded in 1935 by modernist designer Alvar Aalto in Finland, and was acquired by Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra in 2013. Its main operations and marketing team have been in Berlin for two years. The logic behind moving that arm of the company to the city was to maximise European and international connections, while
maintaining close contact with the Helsinki HQ. Artek managing director Marianne Goebl was appointed in 2014. “In Berlin there’s a solid framework, but at the same time the city is generous: it offers freedom. People choose a city because it promises them something,” she says. The move means that Artek has located its business side in Berlin in the same way that Hem has done. “There is political interest in the creative sector here, engagement and an openness,” Goebl says in recognition of the city’s support of a major growth area, however tacit that may be in comparison to more traditional industries like transport, or more lucrative ones such as tech or even art. It seems a logical move for Artek, one that keeps it agile enough to take advantage of the city’s network of people who are directly and indirectly involved in design. But it’s not just the bigger international design companies that benefit from the city’s creative networks. Berlin-native design brand New Tendency was established in 2013, born from an earlier iteration founded in 2009, and has built its reputation by collaborating with a number of Berlin-based designers and architects on its product range, most notably Markus Miessen, Clemens Tissi and Something Fantastic. The brand, with a showroom on a leafy street in up-and-coming Neukölln, sources all its production locally, often from > BERLIN REVISITED
Mykita was founded in Berlin in 2003 and continues to be based and to manufacture there.
> long‑established craftspeople and specialist manufacturers. “We also closely collaborate with [local] photographers, stylists and floral designers to make our catalogues and other printed and online collaterals,” says designer Manuel Goller, one of the three co-founders of New Tendency. Now the brand is transitioning from a local base to an increasingly international distribution network and outlook, although the leap from “Big in Berlin” to known elsewhere has been hard and is something that few Berlin-born-andraised companies have achieved. Yet expanding a company’s customer base for high-end design goods – a niche market – outside of a single country is beneficial. Eyewear company Mykita often comes up in conversation with smaller, Berlinbased designers as proof that expansion from a Berlin beginning is possible. Mykita is something of a hometown hero, an example of a business success that is relevant in the international design scene and it boasts revenues to match its profile, generating around €25m in 2014. The brand was established in 2003 as part of the vanguard of business-oriented design and fashion labels and its headquarters on Ritterstrasse, where all of its eyewear is manufactured, is a new hot spot in the roving hunt for good space and neighbours. Yet Moritz Krueger, Mykita’s co-founder and 56 Disegno. BERLIN REVISITED
creative director, is quick to observe the difficulty of international expansion: “What actually surprises me is that, as before, hardly any globally important brands that started in Berlin managed to make the jump beyond Germany’s borders. Berlin is constantly changing. It is a lot about imperfection and the permanent
founded by Berlin University of the Arts graduates Gunnar Rönsch and Stephen Molloy, experienced. The two have benefitted from Berlin’s rising star and increasing economic viability; the city has enabled them to build their company slowly, testing each facet of their business and design practice. This now includes Fundamental Berlin, which
“The rent for the entire Berlin building is about what it would have cost for a mediocre shopfront in London.” process of reinvention and transformation, making the best outof limited resources.” The risk involved in setting up headquarters in Berlin is considerable and success is by no means guaranteed. Many jump into Berlin blinded by its energy, without fully appreciating the challenge of being in a city that is rising from significant economic stagnation; moving to Berlin is a gamble, not a sure thing. This is something that architecture and design firm Fundamental Group,
produces and retails its own design accessories. “In Berlin it used to be that everyone was a ‘failure’ by the standards of any other businessminded city, so you didn’t feel like a loser if you failed and you could try again,” says Molloy, resident in Berlin since 2002. “That is incredibly freeing, and enables you to define your own terms of what success can mean.”
Jessica Bridger is a journalist and consultant writing for titles such as Monocle, Metropolis, FRAME and Volume.
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The Out Comb, Big Big Button brooch and Forbidden Garden shoe accessory from the Download EP01 collection. PHOTO Nick Rochowski
Technophilic Fashion Compared to other design industries, fashion has been slow to embrace 3D printing. It remains in thrall to handcraft. Download EP01 is therefore significant. Devised by Belgian fashion designer Bruno Pieters and Spanish fashion consultancy Comme des Machines, it is a collection of 3D-printed accessories, comprising combs, buttons, keyrings, and shoe clips shaped like panthers and fig leaves. The project represents a break from conventional fashion retail. Rather than buying the objects themselves, customers download a 3D file that they print either at home or at dedicated 3D-printing hubs. Compared to the 58 Disegno. TECHNOPHILIC FASHION
exclusivity of traditional boutiques, Download EP01 is a strikingly democratic model. Or so it seems at first glance. In fact, the files range from €30 to €70, and while breaking new ground in an often technophobic industry is laudible, the collection’s designs are questionable, plunging close to the aesthetic of cracker toys. At the advent of a technology, novelty is often enough to sell a product. Yet this effect fades. Eventually, designs must speak for themselves. 3D printing has existed since the early 1980s and by now we ought to demand more from it. Even within the relatively virgin realm of fashion.
Stan Portus is Disegno’s editorial intern.
A MuchWatched Kettle It may not actually have been the first teakettle with a bird over the spout. Years after he began his groundbreaking collaboration with homeware specialists Alessi, architect Michael Graves was wandering through a flea market in New Jersey when he happened upon an art deco-ish kettle, probably vintage 1920s, with a familiar miniature fowl secured to one end. Somebody, apparently, had beaten him to the punch. But by then the bestselling Alessi 9093 had become so ubiquitous that any antecedents were as good as irrelevant. Besides, who else but Graves, who died in March 2015, would have had the audacity to stick a whimsical detail like that on a faintly Hoffman-esque, studded metal body, and sell it through one of Italy’s most admired and well-established industrial-design powerhouses? And perhaps who but Alberto Alessi, the driving force of the family enterprise since 1970, would have let him do it? Now in its 30th-anniversary year, the Alessi 9093 teakettle still seems like an absolute original,
60 Disegno. A MUCH-WATCHED KETTLE
a one-time-only collision of design and commerce at just the right cultural moment. Alessi remembers it only too well. “I recall [Ettore] Sottsass was our leading designer and when I showed him the prototype he was both very critical and very admiring,” he says. “He said, ‘You must have a great courage as a designer to design something like this.’” To hear that from someone like Sottsass – whose Memphis group had already become synonymous with irreverent forms and bold colours – might have given anyone pause. Here was a design that seemed daring even to one of the most daring designers in Italy. Yet Alessi pushed forward. “I immediately understood that it would be a big success,” he says. By 1985, that sense of intuition had already made Alessi a transformative, not to say disruptive, figure within his company. Alberto had joined the Piemonte-based business in 1970, scarcely 24 hours after he had graduated from law school. In the half-century since Alberto’s grandfather Giovanni had founded the firm, the Alessi brand had risen to blue-chip status in the Italian design marketplace. It was a leader in the burgeoning consumer-goods industry that took hold in the country after the Second World War and which helped bring its national economy back to life. As with Italian design as a whole,
Alessi’s global reputation rested on its commitment to a bracing vision of modernist aesthetics: forwardlooking, high-functioning products like Luigi Massoni and Carlo Mazzeri’s 1957 cocktail shaker, for example, which looks like it should be held by a slim-suited Marcello Mastroianni in an all-white Milanese office suite. Alberto, however, had a different kind of shake-up in mind. In part, it was less a question of what than who. “Almost all important Italian design work, the masterpieces of Italian design, were always done by architects,” notes Alberto. Alessi had been lagging in that regard and its new executive was determined to make inroads into architecture. To that end, Alessi brought in architect and designer Alessandro Mendini, one of the foremost figures in the Radical design movement of the 1960s and a determined gadfly on the Italian scene. Together, Mendini and Alessi would go beyond merely adding architects to the manufacturer’s roster, but would insist on recruiting a number of non-Italian architects. As Alessi puts it, Mendini “thought that it would be good to bring a bit of oxygenation into our world of design – oxygenation meaning new inspirations, new ways of expression.” Alessi began to look abroad. By 1983, Alessi and Mendini had turned out a series of experimental tea services created by a select number of foreign and domestic architects. The concept, entitled
Kettles stacked in racks at Alessi’s production facility in Crusinallo, Italy. Opposite: Michael Graves’s 9093 teakettle. PHOTOS Mario Ermoli
Tea and Coffee Piazza, was an unusual one. As Mendini saw it, the ensemble of sugar bowl, creamer, kettle and pot composed a sort of miniature landscape; Alessi’s architect-designers could use the space of the tray as a testing ground for urban thinking, creating little cities that doubled as beguiling domestic curios. Sales were, at most, a secondary consideration and the results bore that out: at least as late as 2003, the company had still not sold all its original sets, little surprise considering that they were priced upwards of $12,000. But the list of architects that Alessi drew into the Piazza project reads like a who’s who of architecture in the last quarter of the 20th century, showing how prescient the company’s first foray into architect collaborations really was: Richard Meier, Hans Hollein, Robert Venturi, Aldo Rossi, Stanley Tigerman – and Michael Graves. By the modest standards of the series, the Graves commission sold reasonably well, with 40 of his Piazzas doing actual duty at someone’s breakfast table. That success seems especially curious since nothing about Graves’s Piazza suggests the promise of greater functionality: four roughly equal square volumes, identically clad in faintly columnar metal strips and decked out with festive turquoise balls, Graves’s tray-top village is a stylistic melange of early-19thcentury German Biedermeier and early-20th-century American deco. Graves was as new to product design as Alessi was to architecture, and their Piazza collaboration might simply have been a one-off. It turned out to be a beginning. The commission came at a key moment in Graves’s architectural development. Born in the American Midwest and trained at Harvard, he came of age at the apogee of the International style in the US – “marinated,” as the historian Vincent Scully once put, “in modernism”. Alongside friends and contemporaries Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, John Hejduk, and Charles Gwathmey, Graves broke into architecture as a member of the New York Five, advocates of a hyper-refined architecture that distilled the principles of designers like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe to austere essentials. In the tumultuous 1970s, the group was cast against a rising heterodoxy in American architecture, as the emergent postmodernist movement
began to turn away from the midcentury masters and experiment with ornament and historical reference. Architects of the latter tendency were called the Grays. Graves was a convinced White. Then, in 1982, he dramatically switched sides. He completed the
had put on celebratory bunting for a permanent civic holiday. The project’s debut caused a sensation and it made Graves the most famous architect in America. The pastiche approach visible in the Piazza design was evidence of the same turn in Graves’ thinking. But the tea service represented something else as well: Graves
The initial impression is patently cartoonish: the geometries so broad, the handle cover so fat, the bird so wilfully kitschy that it seems as though each element were fashioned independently. Portland Building, a municipal office tower in Oregon that flouted nearly every convention of high-modernist design. Masonry with punched windows replaced the glass-curtain wall; colourful strips enlivened the facade; and, most provocatively, flattened sculptural motifs adorned the flanks, as though the building
wanted to do products. “I came to his office to meet Michael for the first time,” Alessi says, “and he told us he was extremely interested in developing industrial design.” Over the previous 40 years, American architects had moved away from furniture and fixtures, clearing the path for companies such as Knoll and Herman Miller that could provide suitably subdued interiors for the buildings of the International > A MUCH-WATCHED KETTLE
> style. It was ironic given that the initial objective of modernists like Walter Gropius was “total design”, the creation of complete living environments inside and out. Graves, reborn as a postmodernist, wanted to pick up the baton where the modernists had dropped it. And the success of the Portland Building meant he had the leverage to do just that. Alessi had only recently released an eye-catching teakettle by German designer Richard Sapper, the copper and stainless steel 9091, but the promise of Graves’s Piazza, and his evident enthusiasm for product design, convinced Alessi to add a second kettle to the catalogue. Alberto’s instructions were simple: he wanted something that could boil water fast, and he wanted it to be distinctly American. What he got, he says, was something that “really surprised us”: a kind of rounded pyramid in stainless steel, with a handle projecting in a three-quarters circle and a conical spout popping out jauntily. These three basic geometries are accented by three primary decorative details: a blue-polyamide handle cover, a black knob atop the lid, and, most famously, a red bird over the spout, attached by a hinge so that it sings when the water boils. The initial impression is patently cartoonish: the geometries so broad, the handle cover so fat, the bird so wilfully kitschy that it seems as though each element were
Polishing the stainless steel body of the 9093. Below: The kettle’s base is exaggeratedly wide to allow it to sit easily on a hob (left). The new Tea Rex boxed up ready for shipping.
“You must have a great courage as a designer to design something like this.” fashioned independently of the others. Which, in a sense, they are – except that they combine to make a series of cogent statements about what a teakettle is meant to do. The large ring declares its status as a handle, and its blue sleeve lets us know it’s cool to the touch. The body widens at the bottom in anticipation of its place on the wide, round hob. The bird may seem a flippant bit of pomo irony, but it’s deployed in such wise fashion that anyone can recognise its symbolic role. In architectural terms, the 9093 is a classic instance of architecture parlante – talking architecture, conveying its function as literally as possible – applied here, perhaps for the first time, to a simple household item. This did not make it any less of a risk for the company that was poised to
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manufacture it. “For Alessi, and for Italian design, it was a very surprising move,” admits Alberto. The work of Sottsass and others had already shattered the staid, monochromatic image of Italy’s design culture. But for Alessi to embrace the 9093 design – with its pre-modern decorative studs
and signature pop‑detritus accent, not to mention the mere fact that it was made by an American – entailed a considerable leap of faith. Italian design makers had spent the postwar period carving out a commercial niche, and national identity, based on good taste. Now one of their >
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The original bird whistle, alongside the winged dinosaur produced for the special-edition Tea Rex version of the 9093.
> standard-bearer brands was fixing to launch a high-profile provocation, conceived by a very high-profile architect. The payoff came quickly. “Our distributor in the US immediately loved the product,” says Alessi. “We had more than 100,000 sales in the first year.” It initially sold for $65 and continued to sell briskly when the company raised the price. Originally intended for a two-year run, it cleared over a million units in sales shortly after its fifth year. It’s now approaching the two-million mark, at a pace of 70,000 a year, and retails at $125 (about £100). Especially in the 1980s, the 9093 was a status 64 Disegno. A MUCH-WATCHED KETTLE
symbol unlike any other. In the US, people of a certain generation cannot imagine the homes of their (typically slightly wealthier) friends and relatives without that kettle stood proudly on the range. At the very moment when American residential architecture began to shift to integrate the kitchen into the living space, the 9093 kettle remade the kitchen as a showcase for design. It also remade Graves. In the years that followed, his office expanded to become one of the most active industrial-design practices in the US, and his line for mass-market retailer Target brought his unique aesthetic into the homes of millions of Americans.
On his death earlier this year at the age of 80, The New York Times headline read: “Postmodernist Designed Towers and Teakettles.” For Alessi, the Graves collaboration confirmed Alberto’s conviction that the company “is a research lab, where we can receive into our catalogue many different aesthetic languages and personalities”. To celebrate the kettle’s anniversary, the company is issuing a specialedition 9093. Called Tea Rex, it features “a kind of flying monster”, a winged dinosaur, in place of the customary bird. It may also help correct a design flaw: the bird, Alessi notes, “is the most-stolen part – people pass by the shelves and they grab it”. Three decades on, the 9093 is still in high demand, and a long way from any flea market.
Ian Volner is an architecture, design, urbanism and art journalist.
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2°C COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE ILONA GAYNOR MARIA BLAISSE PEARSONLLOYD SAM BARON NERI & HU MARJAN VAN AUBEL UNIVERSAL DESIGN STUDIO PARSONS & CHARLESWORTH DOMINIC WILCOX ROSS LOVEGROVE
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE On 30 November the leaders of 195 nations will descend on Paris in order to manage the “climatic disruption that threatens our societies and our economies”. The premise is simple: there is no longer a question about whether climate change is happening. It is. Or even why: it is human-made.
News of this event in Paris, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21), piqued Disegno’s interest. If climate change is occurring – and 98 per cent of climate scientists agree that it is, predominantly as a result of greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels – how should the design world relate to this? What role might design play in addressing a problem of this scale? For the Disegno No.9 residency, we decided to examine the way in which climate change is communicated. We asked numerous leading designers to reimagine the campaign’s public face, asking them to consider how the issue might be presented so that a familiar story feels fresh and provides a new impetus to action.
be happening too fast for human comfort, but they happen too slowly for the newsmakers… Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead.” Disegno wanted to examine whether design could play a role in remedying this. Design is frequently described as problem solving, but clearly no single discipline will solve climate change on its own. Instead, we wished to set a more modest target: could design trigger a shift in the way that we perceive global warming?
None of the 10 proposals that are exhibited in this issue provide a solution or a campaign that is ready for roll-out, but they do prod and probe, raising questions and asking us to examine a problem that we will all have to tackle before long.
“FEAR OF CHANGE MAKES THE SITUATION ABSOLUTELY STIFLING. FEAR MAKES US RUN.” The need for greater public understanding of climate change is crucial. The aim of COP21 is to find ways to prevent the global temperature from rising by more than 2°C, a UN target that was agreed in 2009. Should the international community fail to meet this target – and at present rates of fossil fuel consumption the world is on track to heat up by 4°C or 5°C by the end of the century – dangerous climate change will take place, with huge swathes of the planet becoming uninhabitable, subject to flooding, desertification, or severe food and water scarcity.
Considering the outcomes of such a temperature rise, it is shocking that the issue does not garner more attention in mainstream and social media. “Changes to the Earth’s climate rarely make it to the top of the news list,” wrote Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s then editor-in-chief, in March. “The changes may
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Following the completion of the residency, Disegno invited several of the contributing designers to come together to discuss climate change. The resultant conversation is documented in the coming pages and provides an insight into the designers’ research and the thinking behind their final proposals, as well as the failings of the existing communication of climate change. “There isn’t enough campaigning,” noted Cathrin Walczyk, a designer at Universal Design Studio and one of the participants in the roundtable. “That’s the fundamental issue.” This is what the Disegno residency aims to address. An exhibition supporting this residency opens at The Aram Gallery on 21 September during the London Design Festival. Created by Universal Design Studio and curated by The Aram Gallery’s Riya Patel, it will remain open for a month.
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY THE PARTICIPANTS 1. Ilona Gaynor Speculative designer and artist Gaynor’s proposal confronts us with the visceral impact that climate change will have on everyday life: on the human body and built environment, for example. The print published in the magazine refers to the symptoms of a brain tumour. Gaynor’s design deals in horror and pessimism, rooting the communication of climate change in a bleak reality that she believes is inescapable. p. 72–73 2. Maria Blaisse Fashion designer and architect Inspired by naturalist Viktor Schauberger’s book Living Energies, Maria Blaisse focused her contribution on how humans might interact more carefully with nature. Developed as a part of her ongoing research into form and movement, Blaisse photographed a dancer interacting with a flexible bamboo structure. The bamboo form is an oloid, a shape with great potential for transformation and movement. Through the simplicity of her work, Blaisse invites us to develop a deeper connection with nature. p. 74–75 3. PearsonLloyd Industrial design studio Mies van der Rohe’s dictum of “less is more” is adapted by PearsonLloyd for a campaign focused on rehabilitating public perception of the concept of “less”. The studio proposes that climate change has been largely prompted by an economic system and widespread cultural mindset that are obsessed with growth and acquisition at all costs. PearsonLloyd proposes countering this with a vision of a better, richer way of life focused on promoting less acquisition, less waste and less expenditure of energy. p. 76–77 4. Sam Baron Conceptual designer and director of design at Fabrica
Baron’s reflection of climate change is manifest as a glass, Miró-like mobile. The structure is a weather vane, with a candle balanced at one end and a young plant in a beaker of water at the other. The proposal invites reflection on the way in which energy consumption affects the environment, the delicacy of the mobile suggesting an imbalance in current conditions. p. 78–79 5. Neri & Hu Architecture and design studio Neri & Hu wove its treatment of climate change together with reflections on the rapid demolition of sections of Shanghai, where the practice is based. The result is a collaged image of a dystopian version of the city, behind which runs a dense screen of disturbing facts surrounding pollution. Neri & Hu’s proposal is intended to challenge the way we view our cities, and reflects on how the built environment is inalienably linked to the progression of climate change. p. 80–81 6. Marjan van Aubel Designer Many climate technologies are alienating and poorly integrated into our daily life. Van Aubel’s campaign features an image of an orange solar cell, the final photograph in a chromatic scale of close-up imagery of natural materials, rock formations and floods. The sequence reflects on the need for a holistic approach to climate technologies, which must be designed in such a way that they are seamlessly adopted by users and connect with the wider world. p. 82–83 7. Universal Design Studio Architecture studio Collaborating with Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network, Universal Design Studio focused on the environmental implications of global food production. Their research
is manifest in a collaged series of four fictional restaurants, each of which presents a different vision for the future of livestock rearing and crop farming. The proposal scrutinises the narratives that people construct around food, and the beliefs and assumptions that surround its production. p. 84–85 8. Parsons & Charlesworth Speculative design studio Parsons & Charlesworth’s design blends facts around carbon sequestration with a fictional tale of a group of people seeking to embed such practices in their everyday lives and cultural rituals. The proposal seeks to develop new and compelling stories that could be told around and about climate change, the idea centring on a suggestion that changing ways in which we think about the problem can trigger shifts in behaviour. p. 86–87 9. Dominic Wilcox Designer and artist Wilcox presents a tragicomic vision through his Global Warming Funtime Island, a speculative fairground in which the rides ridicule political and social failings around climate-change action. The proposal uses wit and irreverence to sugar the tragic and frightening, making engagement with climate change accessible, although the effect conversely deepens the unnerving quality of the issues. p. 88–89 10. Ross Lovegrove Furniture and product designer A photograph of the Earth at night, Lovegrove’s design reflects the fragility of life. Lovegrove likens the few lights visible on the planet to bacteria clinging to its surface, expressing our vulnerability. He suggests that while the Earth will survive without humans, humans cannot survive without the Earth; there is a need to appreciate the precariousness of our situation in the face of climate change. p. 90–91
72 Disegno. 2Â°C | ILONA GAYNOR
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
2Â°C | ILONA GAYNOR
74 Disegno. 2Â°C | MARIA BLAISSE
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2Â°C | MARIA BLAISSE
76 Disegno. 2Â°C | PEARSONLLOYD
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2Â°C | PEARSONLLOYD
78 Disegno. 2Â°C | SAM BARON
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80 Disegno. 2Â°C | NERI & HU
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2Â°C | NERI & HU
Image 1 Salt – San Francisco Image 2 Damaged Concrete Floor - Stromboli Image 3 Rain – Sorrento Image 4 Oxidised Copper – Lausanne Image 5 Dye-sensitized Solar Cells – Solaronix Lab in Lausanne Image 6 Rocks and Pieces of Broken Glass
82 Disegno. 2°C | MARJAN VAN AUBEL
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
Image 7 Flood – Sorrento Image 8 Marble – Pompeii Image 9 Weathered and Oxidised Metal – Stromboli Image 10 Flower Mixed with Oil – Stromboli Image 11 Stained Glass that Charges Electricity from Daylight – London
2°C | MARJAN VAN AUBEL
2. 8. 3.
10. Fig. 1: Calibrated carnivory Fig. 2: Architectured flesh Fig. 3: Livestock on leftovers Fig. 4: Fruits of the Earth
1. A ntibiotic irrigation tank 2. Genetically engineered long cows, agoraphobic and shunning daylight 3. Close-loop vertical livestock tower 4. Rise of the food porn industry 5. Prevailing obesity 6. Liposuction studio 7. Real cows 8. Artificial meat laboratory 9. Artificial milk tank 10. Egalitarian eatery 11. In vitro cannibalism
84 Disegno. 2Â°C | UNIVERSAL DESIGN STUDIO
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
12. Revival of hunting 13. Forrests turned into arable land 14. Return to agrarian lifesyle 15. Back to nature 16. Less and better: Food scarce and only available for wealthy few 17. Mothers for Meat protest 18. Hydroponics 19. Insect farm 20. Raw salads main food 21. Economy of scale: Get more for your carbon buck 22. Psychotherapist clinic for eating disorders 23. Sweets are a cheap and low impact source of calories 24. The New Hedonists
21. 15. 23.
2Â°C | UNIVERSAL DESIGN STUDIO
86 Disegno. 2Â°C | PARSONS & CHARLESWORTH
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
2Â°C | PARSONS & CHARLESWORTH
88 Disegno. 2Â°C | DOMINIC WILCOX
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
2Â°C | DOMINIC WILCOX
90 Disegno. 2Â°C | ROSS LOVEGROVE
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
2Â°C | ROSS LOVEGROVE
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
What are the problems with how climate change is communicated at the moment? Hannah Carter Owers Universal Design Studio Jessica Charlesworth Parsons & Charlesworth Ilona Gaynor The Department of No Ross Lovegrove FutureAir and Ross Lovegrove Studio Tim Parsons Parsons & Charlesworth Luke Pearson PearsonLloyd Simone Rothman FutureAir Cathrin Walczyk Universal Design Studio
Ross Lovegrove Climate change is not
a fashion or a trend, it’s a fundamental part of life. When you work as a designer and visit all sorts of factories and fairs, you become very sensitive to the vast scale at which things are produced, which causes a dilemma. Industry is both good and evil. It’s there to improve life, but I still don’t know where all this stuff goes. But how can we influence the people we work with? Commerce and shares are often a big negative because they drive the wrong value system. A lot of the things we may talk about here don’t always go down well when you’re talking to producers, who are not doing so well as to be able to invest in things that might affect their profitability. Ilona Gaynor I have a tendency to run
away from the mawkishness that occurs in relation to climate change. Images of polar bears and tigers that are going to become extinct are dull and so far removed from the realities of the gritty, chicken-wing-floored London life that we actually experience. Everything is so far removed from our reality that we just can’t imagine the effect on our everyday lives. The cynicism surrounding that interests me. Images of polar bears and ice caps melting are incredibly cynical. They’re obviously true, but there’s a falseness in us actually giving a shit, in caring about them. Luke Pearson I really feel like I’m part
of the generation of pure choice. We can decide what we want to do for a living, where we want to live, whether we want to be a hippy or wealthy. I went
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to college at a time when mass production was moving from global to local and things were really changing at an incredible pace. Everything was getting cheaper, yet it was clear that we couldn’t keep expanding. So when we started looking at this brief we plugged in “climate change” to Google and you get these very dull images that, mostly, are incomprehensible. They don’t mean anything to me because I’ve never seen an iceberg. I can imagine what one would look like, but to imagine that nine tenths of it are under the sea? I can’t imagine the scale of that. So I think the problem is scale. The scale of the problem is enormous. What we fundamentally need to do is relate that back to the human being and to make every single person realise that they have a choice. Hannah Carter Owers Fear of change
makes the situation absolutely stifling. Fear makes us run away and stick our heads in the sand and for us this particular exercise was quite a selfish pursuit. We wanted to address our own fear of change by imagining possible futures. It’s only once we’re used to that language of talking about change in a more positive way that you can start to come up with ideas to help us move forward. But at the moment we’re petrified and stifled, even though people are ready to engage. We need to find different ways of engaging. LP For us, this project was about
bringing communication down to a human level so people feel empowered. People don’t feel that
they’re empowered, because they’re all a part of a big system and a global machine that rolls on. But of course, a collective of 7.3 billion people all acting consciously and carefully is a huge influence. Communication should be about showing that everybody has an opportunity, which is where most campaigns fail. They’re generally too dramatic and all about doom and gloom: “What the heck. I can’t do anything. I’ll carry on as normal.” Tim Parsons One of the things that
jumped out to us from our research is the notion that if you tell a story in a compelling enough way, it can last. There is a very interesting talk given by the writer Neil Gaiman,1 in which he mentions a gentleman called Thomas Sebeok,2 who in the early 1980s wrote a report for the US Department of Energy. Sebeok was asked to devise a method for communicating the dangers of nuclear waste-storage sites, which have a radioactive life of 10,000 years plus. So it was an interesting design problem because written language can change its meaning over that time, as can pictograms. His conclusion was that the only solution would be to come up with some kind of compelling story that would be passed down through generations like folklore. That story doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be
gripping, which points to our problem: the stories we’re being told about climate change are not even gripping enough to contain our own generation’s mental energy. If we can’t manage to tell ourselves a story that we are prepared to pass on, then what hope do we have? Cathrin Walczyk Part of the problem
of the climate change campaign is that it’s very academic as a subject, spanning across very many actors and issues. I think designers can help by being a lens on the debate, pulling out the relevant bits and presenting them in a fresh way, rather than mirroring the complexity of high-level academic discussion. RL There’s something fundamentally
wrong with the big picture. There are so many interrelated problems, which a designer designing objects can’t solve. They can rationalise them maybe, but there’s still a political level. Simone Rothman I don’t think we
can design our way out of this problem. Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, which seems a while ago in the scheme of things, and a lot more damage has been done since then. There is a lot of discussion right now in the US about the root of the problem and how we got where we are today, a lot of which is political. There is an amazing book by >
“PEOPLE DON’T FEEL THAT THEY’RE EMPOWERED, BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL A PART OF A BIG SYSTEM AND A GLOBAL MACHINE THAT ROLLS ON.”
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
> Naomi Klein called This Changes Everything, which is really about how our climate problem could actually be the solution to the next wave of capitalism. There are solutions out there, but we’re stuck in a system that doesn’t allow them to be implemented. It’s a really scary time right now and I don’t think people fully realise how scary it is yet. HCO People still don’t know what to
do on a grassroots level, but we can’t sit around waiting for policymakers to tell us what to do. As designers we can do the groundwork so that by the time policymakers reach decisions we’re already more receptive to change. I was recently talking to my mother’s elderly neighbour, who was the rations mistress in her village after WWII. It was her job to look after the ration tokens and make sure that everybody received their allowance. I started looking at the messaging around rationing and there was a lot of positivity surrounding it. People had already suffered the catastrophe of the war, so they needed to feel good about what they were doing. It’s actually interesting looking at that, rather than looking at the catastrophe that is now happening or waiting to happen. IG But there’s something interesting
about embracing the dark enlightenment and accepting the fact that it’s over. Designers, instead of designing things by brute force and forcing them on the environment, as all designers do now, could begin designing for the best of what we’ve got left. We’re
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past the point of no return and could actually enjoy the rotting of the Earth, being quite content to watch it fall apart because we’ve made that happen. It’s a completely alternative opinion I know, but designers can begin to adapt, rather than continue to propose things that are preventative when we’ve already crossed the Rubicon. LP We have got to prepare for some
pretty horrible things ahead of us. Our fundamental psychology is based around an idea of growth and acquisition, which is probably built into our DNA. But we are smart enough to start questioning that and challenging it. The problem is that our economic structure is based on growth. You go to school, acquire knowledge with the idea of bettering and furthering yourself. That’s generally based on acquisition: earn more, have better surroundings, more opportunities. The whole economic framework we’ve developed is about that, but it also tends to promote the acquisition of goods, the generation of product. All those things take energy and resources and are finite. Tim mentioned pictograms and a short period of communication, but we have had an even shorter period of industrial development. We’ve created phenomenal change in an extraordinarily short period of time, all based on an absolutely horrible premise: growth. Companies talk about success in terms of growth, they don’t talk about it in terms of quality or sustainability. This is the fundamental problem.
“BUT THERE’S SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT EMBRACING THE DARK ENLIGHTENMENT AND ACCEPTING THE FACT THAT IT’S OVER.”
HCO As designers we need to be careful that we’re not facilitating guilt-free consumption and designing things that feel OK to keep consuming. I know plenty of people who have gotten rid of gas-guzzling cars, bought new hybrids and felt that that was a very positive thing to do. But the car they just got rid of is still around. It’s either going to landfill or will be driven by someone else. It’s about changing behaviour rather than the products we consume. LP I read a piece of documentation that
said if you heat the average London home to 21°C, which most of us would say is comfortable, then raising that figure to 23°C doubles your heating bill. That’s effectively twice as much CO2. So put a jumper on instead. People can do things that will have a positive impact, and what designers promote in the products they create also has a knockon effect. These things can become viral and designers can start to produce things that challenge how people want to consume products. We can talk about if local is good, or whether having to ship from China very slowly with a sail-powered ship is better than driving at 50mph on the back of a truck. The system we inhabit is highly complex and without education it will remain elusive in terms of how we actually do the right thing within it. But we have to start this debate and we can’t just say it’s too complicated. We also have to be careful not to preach. We’re in the developed West, but certain parts of the world have come out of very poor subsistence economies and suddenly
have opportunities in front of them, which are driven by our consumption. We have to educate and build a healthy environment in which the culture can change, rather than just laying down laws. RL The disappointment is that
emerging cultures and economies should benefit from the new systems and technologies the world has to offer, yet they fall into the old trap of luxury consumption and aspiration. That’s sad, because you don’t recover from that. TP There’s a question of whether
to be optimistic or pessimistic, utopian or dystopian in communicating this. But we felt it’s not particularly useful to polarise one way or another in this situation. We were really keen to create a fiction that held a mirror up to the viewer and invited them to question the idea of individual action. Is it futile or is it something that actually, if enough of us did our bit, would really make things change? One thing stories can do, by temporarily removing you from your reality and the stories you’ve been told, is tell a slightly different story, even if it’s a parallel one. Then there is a possibility of people reflecting on their own situation. Jessica Charlesworth We were keen
not to tell anybody what to do, because we didn’t feel that we were in a position to do so. To change behaviour is very difficult and we were interested in how you could imagine a culture of change in a group of people. What can individuals do? We wanted to learn about >
THE DISEGNO RESIDENCY COMMUNICATING CLIMATE CHANGE
> geoengineering3 and mitigation, and I became interested in some of Margaret Atwood’s4 writing about different technological impacts, such as carbon sequestration.5 Could people take on a very absurd set of technologies for their own way of life? How far could people take a local, individualistic geoengineering, if there even is such a thing? Would it be so absurd as to be futile, or would it get everybody on board to have a go at changing their behaviour? TP We were keen that our story was
about actually doing something, about making, because so many of these narratives that we’re fed are about limits. We all know that limits will help, but they have not proved compelling as a narrative. To Luke’s earlier point: everybody knows we should just put on another jumper in place of turning the thermostat up, but how many people actually do that? That mode of communication is not getting through.
LP I think, unfortunately, not everybody
does know that putting a jumper on will save your heating bill by a factor of two. As Hannah said, a lot of people have gotten rid of gas guzzlers to get a Prius,6 not realising that a far greater impact was created in building that Prius in the first place. We have to be optimistic about the power of education and information, which can be delivered in lots of different ways. I’m an incredible pessimist, but I’ve got two children, who have changed my belief system. The reality of the matter is that I have to believe that I can promote change
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and that, somehow, society can maintain itself and sustain itself.
IG I think there’s an interesting point
in relation to children. We know that children are the denizens of the future and it makes sense to make them the target audience for these visions of tomorrow’s world and how we should do things to affect the future in terms of climate change. But that effect is very disconcerting. There’s this absurd talking down to children about how the world is happy as long as you’re happy. Putting on a jumper? I just don’t believe that those kinds of messages hit home or put across deep-seated change. I think it needs to almost be horror, to put across the pessimistic. CW I want to add to this idea of
whether campaigns are optimistic or pessimistic. To me it doesn’t matter. There isn’t enough campaigning, which is the fundamental issue. The reality of my takeaway coffee, for instance, is that the cup takes 140l of water to make. One cup. So ever since I did this research, I’ve been running around thinking “Oh my God, what can I eat, what can I drink?” Everything has such a big impact and if only there was a will to communicate this to people, change would be possible. But it’s not fashionable, it’s not sexy. Campaigning is about choices.
Thank you to The Aram Gallery for hosting this roundtable on 2 September 2015.
2°C Communicating Climate Change is open at The Aram Gallery 21 September – 30 October 2015. disegnodaily.com/twodegrees
“IMAGES OF POLAR BEARS AND TIGERS THAT ARE GOING TO BECOME EXTINCT ARE DULL AND SO FAR REMOVED FROM THE REALITIES OF THE GRITTY, CHICKEN-WING-FLOORED LONDON LIFE THAT WE ACTUALLY EXPERIENCE.”
Neil Gaiman (b.1960) is a British novelist, graphic novelist and screenwriter, whose work ranges across science-fiction, horror and fantasy. In June 2015 Gaiman delivered a seminar titled How Stories Last for The Long Now Foundation. It may be watched at longnow.org 1
Thomas Sebeok (1920-2001) was a Hungarian-American academic at Indiana University. Sebeok worked widely, but particularly in the fields of semiotics and linguistics. Sebeok’s 1985 report Pandora’s Box: How and Why to Communicate 10,000 Years into the Future was commissioned by the Human Interference Task Force, a body run by the the US Department of Energy and the Bechtel Group. 2
Geoengineering is also known as climate engineering and refers to deliberate interventions in the Earth’s climate, typically on a large scale, with the aim of limiting the effects of climate change. Mitigation refers to efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases. 3
Margaret Atwood (b.1939) is a Canadian novelist, poet, essayist and environmental activist. She is known for her use of speculative fiction and dystopia, as in her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s 2015 essay It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Everything Change imagined various future social scenarios that might result from climate change. The essay may be read on medium.com 4
Carbon sequestration refers to a series of processes for capturing and storing CO2 from both atmospheric and anthropic sources. It has been proposed as a way to prevent the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as mitigating the effects of climate change. 5
The Toyota Prius is a family of hybrid electric cars, the first version of which went on sale in 1997. The cars are fuelefficient, although critics have attacked the amount of fossil fuels needed to build the batteries that partially power the hybrid vehicles. 6
The Internet of Things As a number of online retail sites dedicated to design launch, Disegno looks at why furniture brands arenâ€™t embracing the full possibilities of the internet and how thatâ€™s now likely to change. WORDS Joe Lloyd PHOTOS Kevin Davies
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THE INTERNET OF THINGS
Design Within Reach was founded in 1999 by entrepreneur Rob Forbes. Originally the business ran as an online store and a direct-mail catalogue, but it began adding physical stores to its portfolio in the early 2000s. 1
Goldberg originally invested $350,000 of his own money into Fab and invested a further $250,000 in 2011. The site was reworked to adopt a model similar to Paypal. New users were given $10 credit upon registration, and more money if they signed up friends. Such incentives meant the site had 165,000 users before its official launch and before it even had products to sell. 2
Flash sales are a form of e-commerce in which products are offered for limited periods. Customers register with the website to receive news of offers by email or social media. 3
Backcountry was founded in Utah, USA in 1996. Shellhammer was Backcountry’s chief design officer until September 2014. He remains an adviser to the brand. 4
It can be t is hard to imagine life without the internet. Almost everything – groceries, clothes, computers, holidays – can be purchased online, with no need to interact directly with the physical world. If you’re looking for a rare, out-of-print book, you’re more likely to find it on Abe Books or Amazon Marketplace than by combing the shelves of second-hand shops. For any business with aspirations beyond a concentrated local community, the idea of forsaking the virtual forum seems absurd.
Yet in design, particularly when it comes to furniture, we find an industry whose presence within e-commerce is incomplete and whose relationship with the internet remains non-standardised, even ambivalent. Many established design brands offer none or a limited portion of their repertoire online, and prominent attempts to create online marketplaces have faced stormy times. Over 2013 and 2014, even the seemingly thriving Fab.com, one of the progenitors of online direct sales in design, faced complete implosion. The issues facing design retail affect everyone from gigantic corporate brands to small, designerled practices. But in light of Fab’s struggles, it seems high time to define these problems and explore why the design world has failed to match other industries in moving online. And with so many brands and retailers vying for the vaunted position that Fab once held, it’s worth looking at approaches that might finally enable online success. The story of Fab is an informative one, which reads like a cautionary tale. Its two founders, Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer, both had significant backgrounds in digital startups and design. Goldberg, a former member of Bill Clinton’s staff, had previously raised $48m (about £31m) for Jobster, a jobs search engine akin to a prototype LinkedIn. Shellhammer had worked for Design Within Reach (DWR),1 and was founding editor of the still successful LGBT blog Queerty. When they came together to found Fabulis in early 2010, they envisaged it as a gay social network. Just over a year later, the company dropped the “-ulis” and flew headlong into online design retail,2 largely structured around regular flash sales.3
By the end of 2012, Fab seemed a sure success. More than 4.3m pieces had been sold, with sales totalling $100m. Fab had partnered with Facebook, and had its own android and tablet apps. Investment raised $150m and the company was valued at $1bn. Goldberg’s vision of an Amazon for design, a one-stop department store selling everything from evergreen classics to inexpensive new works, seemed on the verge of coming true.
But then, in 2013, Fab’s fortunes began to turn. The costs of marketing, expansion and maintaining a vast stock saw the company burn through its backing, which still fell far short of the desired amount. At one point, Goldberg estimated losses of $14m each month and after four years as chief design officer, Shellhammer left for outdoors equipment retailer Backcountry.4 An attempt to refocus on lower-priced in-house designs over working with external designers was too little, >
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Made.comâ€™s Jam floor lamp, designed by MADE studio.
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“The design world lacks the strong brand visibility and the must-have, seasonal products that exist in fashion.”
Fab.com and its associated app are still running. 5
Charles Eames (1907-1978) and Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) were mid-century designers and architects, both of whom believed in the modernist conception of design as a democratising force. 6
> too late: round after round of layoffs saw a staggering 565 of 750 employees leave. By the end of 2014, Fab was reduced to a fragment of its previous form and in March 2015 Goldberg sold the remainder to hardware manufacture and distribution company PCH International,5 leaving the brand to focus on his new venture, online-focused design manufacturer Hem.
This tumultuous rise and torturous fall offer a warning. Even with strong investment and sales, Fab foundered. Although it is tempting to cast its story as one of flying too close to the sun, its decline spotlights the problems facing design retail. The Amazon model – an ever-swelling core that omnivorously draws products into itself – is not one that appears to work for design. Why is this the case, and how can the design industry work around it?
Before looking at these two questions, it is prudent to consider a third: why does online matter to brands or designers? When it comes to adapting to new technology and business models, the design industry often reveals an inherent conservatism. According to Ning Li, CEO and co-founder of London-based online furniture retailer Made.com, “it’s remained unchanged for decades, with retailers buying their two big spring and autumn collections through a chain of agents and importers.” Industry fairs have changed little since the 1960s and with that the model of design brands selling to stores hasn’t changed either. When Guillaume Petit, artistic director of French online design store Made In Design began approaching brands to appear on the site, he found many of them “concerned and suspicious… unable to know how to deal with their own distributors”. What worked works – so why change it now? For many larger manufacturers, contract sales still form the central pillar of their businesses. Although both Vitra and Herman Miller, for instance, have online shops, neither displays anything like their full range and both keep their online retail sites separate from their brand sites. In 2014, Herman Miller purchased Design Within Reach. Although this might suggest a bold surge into consumer e-commerce, its projected aim for these sales in 2017 – $360m – falls hugely short of its $2.53bn plan for contract sales. Equally, despite the popularity of its website, DWR remains a part-analogue business, with more than 30 stores across North America. The purchase seems more a canny investigation of possibilities than a fully fledged flight into internet retail. As Linda Choong, a Herman Miller vice president and chief merchandising officer at DWR puts it, “We will continue to track innovations in e-commerce… and evaluate how the technologies may be appropriately applied.” Hardly the words of one being pushed relentlessly towards the web.
Outside these manufacturing behemoths, numerous smaller companies follow a similar model. Very Good & Proper (VG&P) is a furniture brand based in London that operates an online store selling a small selection of its products. According to company director Ed Carpenter, its “sales to business versus individuals is probably 80:20, perhaps even 90:10”. Dealing with corporate clients is a process rather than a purchase, usually requiring face-to-face interaction, site visits and mutual planning. Nevertheless, Carpenter “definitely wants to increase [VG&P’s] presence online”. With the internet’s help, two groups are growing that look to threaten this established model. First, there is the customer base. For the past few decades design furniture has been largely the province of a relatively privileged handful, far from the world-changing, mass-market products envisaged by the likes of Eames and Jacobsen.6 As Petrus Palmér, head of design at Jason Goldberg’s post-Fab venture Hem, explains: “When postmodernism came, it turned furniture
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into a luxury product.” With this kind of model there was limited need to reach out to a larger public or find ways of promotion and distribution outside established industry channels. This image has now been shattered. “The first big trend we are seeing in recent years is the demand for ‘affordable luxury’ design products,” says Goldberg. Whereas a decade ago there was an apparent gulf between design and mass-market furniture, the middle ground is now broader and – through the internet – more visible. The internet makes furniture shareable and comparable, vastly broadening the potential consumer base for each design. For many consumers, a previously closed-off world has opened. In the words of Ning Li, “Interiors has become the new fashion.” By selling affordable-luxury products to this wide consumer base, the likes of Hem and Made.com could gradually eclipse older, more expensive brands.
The second group challenging the hegemony of the old system is design outsiders, muscling in on a previously closed-off territory. Before founding Fab, Goldberg worked in tech; the four founders of Made.com also came from non-design backgrounds. When it comes to e-commerce, such entrepreneurs have expertise that most furniture manufacturers lack. Goldberg is worth quoting at length: “To get online distribution right, design companies need to have expertise in acquiring, developing and cultivating an online customer base, as well as in e-commerce back-end systems and logistics and customer service.”
Boxed components of Sylvain Willenz’s Lock coat-stand for Belgian brand Tamawa.
Weebly was founded in 2006 by three students from Pennsylvania State University: David Rusenko, Chris Fanini, and Dan Veltri. It was included in TIME magazine’s list of the 50 Best Websites 2007. 7
Weebly provides $100 of free advertising to new customers of Google Adwords, Google’s online advertising service. 8
As well as those entering design retail from the realms of tech and business, there are also outsider designers – entrepreneurs whose work would be unlikely to find a home with a traditional brand. Before the internet, these creators would have had to work in localised settings; now they are accessible almost instantly. Web-hosting services such as Weebly7 streamline the process of building both a website and an online shop. As Weebly CEO David Rusenko puts it, they help “people who find technology standing in the way”. Packages range from free to $25/month, a minuscule amount for setting up an e-commerce platform, and Weebly now hosts more than 30m sites. As well as continuing support for all users, those paying receive Google advertising credit8 to bolster the presence of their online business. “It has gotten,” says Rusenko, “to the point now where really anyone can do it for themselves.” The internet has democratised design, at least to the extent of giving companies of all sizes the opportunity of a sales platforms. Though such small-scale enterprises are unlikely to leave established brands behind in sales, they can tap into the contemporary agenda with a fleetness that eludes their larger competitors. One >
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The back of Hem’s Hai chair by Luca Nichetto folds down to reduce its volume during shipping.
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THE INTERNET OF THINGS
Opposite: Hem’s Key side table, designed by GamFratesi.
Chairigami was founded by Rotholz in 2001. It produces furniture in Triple Wall, a three-ply corrugated cardboard. 9
> of Weebly’s most successful sites, Zach Rotholz’s Chairigami,9 sells inexpensive and sustainable cardboard furniture “for the urban nomad”, chiming with younger consumers in a way that few traditional brands can. By buying direct from the maker, as opposed to through the chain of retailers, distributors, manufacturers and designers, customers can feel as if they are gaining an “authentic” experience – one not mediated by a pre-existing commercial structure.
The forecast for traditional design in light of these changes is uncertain, complicated further by the industry’s slow adaptation to e-commerce. Certainly, there are some moves being made by traditional designer brands towards online retail. Made In Design, for instance, provides an e-commerce home for numerous big names – Kartell, Hay, Moroso and Moooi among others – many of whom lack their own e-stores. But while such pieces are available online, their presentation lags behind that of newer, internet-only ventures. Setting aside the industry’s conservatism, what are the difficulties facing online furniture retail and how can it succeed? The most manifest problems start with the nature of furniture itself. As Ed Carpenter states, “the biggest issue is obviously the size of the products. Shipping a chair is a lot harder than shipping a pair of shoes or a T-shirt.” The logistics of transporting products is difficult enough without the heightened demands of e-commerce, where people expect products to be dispatched almost instantly and shipped internationally.
However expensive a piece of furniture is, it is a rare purchase. Furniture has a large spatial footprint and is, generally, intended to last several years. As a consumer, you are likely to want to see it with your own eyes first. In the words of Sylvain Willenz, a Belgian designer who runs his own online shop, “furniture is something you experience. You have to literally experience it with your body, you have to touch it.” Interaction is also key. As Willenz notes, “people sometimes ask for recommendations, to be advised... Customers want to feel like there is an actual human behind the shop.” Carpenter frames this as “engaging customers in a conversation”, letting them “really buy into the product” – something more difficult to do online.
Andrea Ciccoli is CEO of The Level Group, a Milan-based company that provides clients with a comprehensive e-commerce platform. It covers everything from design, content and marketing, to financial services and logistics. In the past, The Level Group has worked largely with clothing labels, including New Balance, Woolrich and Geox. This June, it launched Wallpaper* magazine’s new online store. Although WallpaperSTORE* currently focuses on accessories over furniture, Ciccoli indicates that there are plans to broaden it in future. For Ciccoli, with his experience in fashion, design’s online difficulties are principally commercial. “The design world lacks the strong brand visibility and the must-have, seasonal products that exist in fashion,” he says. “Then you have the problem of the design world’s fragmentation – there are so many different players and so much diversity. It’s a huge world to wade through.”
The two issues Ciccoli brings up are crucial. Few furniture designers are household names and, even for consumers who buy products online, the presence of physical shops builds awareness by casting both brand and product as open and available. Design, with its tendency for limited shops and showrooms in small bands of locations, lacks such prominence, especially for consumers outside international centres. As Bradford Shellhammer puts it, “try living in Ohio”. In addressing these concerns, Made.com is a paramount example of how to do online retail right. The price of its furniture, although significantly higher than mass-market levels, is still considerably lower than that of traditional design houses. Strong marketing has helped the >
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When it comes to adapting to new technology and business models, the design industry often reveals an inherent conservatism.
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Made.com has now expanded to offering websites in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Italy. 10
Etsy is a peer-to-peer e-commerce site that launched in 2005. It focuses on handmade and vintage items, and in August 2015 launched Etsy Local, an app that allows users to find Etsy sellers nearby. 11
> brand become visible to groups that previously did not invest in design. As Carpenter puts it, “my mum has heard of Made.com, and bought something from there. If she wasn’t my mother, she would have never heard about our company.” This year, Made.com raised $60m to allow for rapid expansion into Europe.10
Made.com’s status as an industry outsider has allowed it to work around its processes. At the back end, the company combines orders of the same item to minimise logistical expenses. By working with factories that produce the designs and then ship them straight to the customer, Made.com avoids the “costly middle steps” that characterise traditional design. Through such cost-saving measures, it is able to reinvest more of its revenue in new products. As Li notes, the company “can bring new designs quickly to the market, releasing an average of two new designs a week, versus the industry standard of two a year.” As a result, it can afford to take risks that would prove expensive for a traditional brand.
Although brands such as Made.com cannot entirely overcome the internet’s lack of physicality, they have found ways to plug the gap. According to Li, Made.com “invested more information and detail into our product pages than any other retailer in the industry”, and its pages abound with photographs, specifications and description. “Unboxed”, featured under each product, is a photographic database of the site’s products in context, uploaded by contactable customers. Perhaps you don’t need to go to a showroom to see a dining table when you can see it installed in someone else’s house. Unboxed seems both a culmination of social media, with its function of allowing people to share aspects of their life with a wider online community, and a clever way of letting consumers help spread the products they purchase. As Goldberg says of Hem, “our customers do a much better job at sharing the excitement behind Hem products than we can ever do just by ourselves.” The importance Made.com attaches to social media is spreading throughout design e-commerce. Brands such as Hem have embraced this potential, with Instagram galleries and Facebook updates creating a sense of community around their products.
Such practices also cultivate a sense of storytelling, with each piece becoming more than just a piece of merchandise. On a Hem product page, you will find a biography of the designer; on the front page there are workshop videos, which foreground the craft behind the designs. Petrus Palmér sees this as a contemporary shift, where the internet’s capacity for widening choice makes old ideas such as exclusivity and material less important. “Today people want other values, the emotional, the intellectual, storytelling,” he says. The online medium, where everything can be presented on a single page, is ideal for getting such ideas across. The post-Fab projects of the company’s two founders both offer visions as to where design e-commerce may proceed. Shellhammer’s Bezar, launched in the US in March, borrows its predecessor’s multi-designer flash-sale model, although there are plans to move into a more permanent repertoire. Some of its products are large-scale, but the majority of stock is small and easily shippable. “I struggle with furniture,” Shellhammer admits. “With accessories, there are fewer complications.” Shellhammer is also conscious of the challenges of international retail: “Fab rushed to Europe too quickly.” By focusing on the US – “a giant market, with one language and one currency” – Shellhammer believes that Bezar has “a bigger opportunity to grab a share”, without having to worry about the different packaging and returns legislation that contributed to Fab’s enormous costs. Rather than an Amazon model, Shellhammer looks to Etsy,11 a “platform for the little guy” with a more cautious programme of growth. Goldberg’s Hem, meanwhile, grew from two shrewd purchases made during Fab’s troubled later years. In April 2013, Fab acquired German furniture shop Massivkonzept, which provided an online system for the customisation of furniture. Users could set the dimensions and materials
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of their furniture, which would then be professionally designed and delivered. In June 2014, it purchased One Nordic, a small Finnish brand founded by Joel Roos and Stefan Mahlberg. One Nordic pioneered furniture e-commerce through an effortless self-assembly system that removed both the stigma of the flatpack model and the expense of shipping large, high-quality items. Maybe most importantly, it gained acceptance within design circles by working with a roster of younger designers establishing themselves internationally, including Willenz, Swedish designer Staffan Holm and Italian Luca Nichetto. With these two acquisitions, Goldberg wasted little time in launching Hem. In September 2014, it went live in 40 markets. Palmér, who before moving to Hem worked as creative director of One Nordic, is clear about the move’s expediency. One Nordic had “a pretty clear idea of design for the digital generation”, he says, but as a small startup it lacked the reach to distribute widely: “We brought the design knowledge, and Fab knew the whole online game and how to do online retail effectively.” Hem’s designs are inexpensive enough to appeal to the affordable-luxury market, and their easy assembly and disassembly provide a draw for a younger clientele prone to moving house regularly. It is a flexibility that chimes, to some extent, with the recent trend in design for urban nomadism. This autumn, Hem is launching a modular pendant light, designed by Nichetto with over a thousand different configurations possible in terms of shape and colour of the modular shades. The customer decides on the configuration and size they want through the click of a button.
A wrapped The Entertainer shelving unit from Tylko, a Polish furniture brand.
TOG was founded in 2014 by Brazilian footwear brand Grendene. The brand’s art director is French designer Philippe Starck and it focuses on furniture designs that can be customised at the point of sale. 12
Nike launched its NIKEiD service in 1999. The platform is influential within design as an example of customisation and personalisation being applied to mass-produced products. 13
Although Palmér is sceptical about customisation as the only way forward, it has quickly gained traction as a possible route for design’s future online. Even a figure as established as Philippe Starck has moved into customisation with newly founded furniture brand TOG,12 grandly declaring at the brand’s Milan launch in 2014 the death of trend and the birth of choice. Goldberg is hugely enthusiastic about this potential: “People crave uniqueness and self-expression. People live in different-sized spaces and with different preferences.” The ability to customise online provides “a more efficient and convenient way to meet that very real customer demand”. Here, fashion has led the way: both Goldberg and Shellhammer separately note the success of NIKEiD,13 which allows consumers to create their own trainers. Last year, Warsaw-based brand Tylko won audience support at the Launch startup festival in San Francisco. It left with the prize for Best Use of Technology, subsequently raising $1.6m through investment and adding 25 staff members to its team. Tylko’s first product, a set of shelves, can >
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“Collaboration between designers and customers is the next big thing.”
Tylko’s shelving units feature connectors built into the edge of each element, so that the separate pieces can be easily slid together or dismantled. 14
READING LIST D2C Generation, Jonathan Olivares. Domus 964, December 2012. Behind the Scenes: Stories from the Design Industry, Hanna Nova Beatrice. Arvinius Förlag, 2013. The Tech “Titanic”: How Red-hot Startup Fab Raised $330m and then Went Bust, Alyson Shontell. Businessinsider.com, February 2015.
> be sized and arranged to suit the customer’s needs. The Tylko android app, which launches in the UK at the London Design Festival (LDF) in September 2015, allows the user to easily manipulate this design. By placing a printed card on the floor and photographing it with your phone, you can use the app to calculate what would be possible in the space, something co-founder Benjamin Kuna describes as an “augmented reality”. By sliding bars and buttons, a user can create their own variant on the base design. On the top-right corner of the app, a red button instantly updates the price in real time, allowing the user to assess both what they can accommodate and what they can afford. Products can then be manufactured straight away – “distilled production”, as Kuna says, that “cuts out the middle man”. Such stripping away of extraneous process is underscored by the company’s name: “Tylko” is Polish for “only”. As with Hem, Tylko’s products can be quickly assembled by the consumer, without the need for tools.14
Two more Tylko products are on their way: a table designed by San Francisco-based designer Yves Béhar and a salt-and-pepper mill. Priced at less than €100, the mill can be customised with a number of diverse parts, while still remaining a single, identifiable design piece. This parametric design – based on the manipulation of variables to create different outcomes – manages to both embrace efficiency and involve the consumer in the making process. In the words of co-founder Jacek Majewski, such “collaboration between designers and customers is the next big thing”. This belief pervades Tylko’s online presence, from tutorials with designers on its blog to Facebook taglines such as “If you can’t find the furniture you need, design it yourself.” The app, Kuna claims, “makes the process more fun for everyone, both designers and consumers”. While designers can produce suitable objects for a large number of consumers, consumers can feel a personal stake in their purchases. Customisation, visibility, interaction with consumers, cutting out the middle man: the routes taken by these younger sites seem to signal the way forward for furniture e-commerce, although whether customers will ultimately choose established brands or more web-savvy operations remains to be seen. Individual designers are certainly far from out for the count. Sylvain Willenz notes that “In the past I was selling small boxes, lamps. Now occasionally people buy tables and chairs, or lampshades.” Linda Choong at Herman Miller is also optimistic. “As consumers grew more comfortable with shopping online, other categories, such as fashion, grew,” she says. “We are beginning to see this evolution in the furniture world as well.” The brand’s Bolster sofa, for instance, was purchasable from its website before it became available in stores. Could furniture’s previous difficulties selling online in part be due to a lack of consumer confidence?
Furniture’s very nature as a physical product means that its physical retail presence seems unlikely to diminish in the near future. Despite its online focus, Hem nonetheless has stores in Berlin and Hamburg, with a pop-up London branch planned for Covent Garden this autumn. Made.com has a showroom in Soho, while according to Ciccoli the WallpaperSTORE* “has had plenty of interesting offers for retail that we are considering”.
Still, change is afoot. At Made.com, Ning Li has seen “mobile overtaking desktop traffic for the first time ever. People are ordering sofas on their phones during their commute to work.” For a slow-moving industry that pivots around chains of distribution and trade fairs, that is extraordinary, whatever happens next for furniture e-commerce. The internet may have defeated Fab, but for its successors it has finally become a land of opportunity, one which might yet render the face of design retail unrecognisable.
Joe Lloyd is a freelance architecture and literature writer based in London.
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The backrest of Very Good & Properâ€™s Canteen Utility Chair, seen against a backdrop of Herman Miller packaging.
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Analogue Dreams, Digital Realities
London-based fashion label Peter Pilotto’s move from digital print to processes more closely allied to the handmade provides an insight into the challenges of production for a young fashion startup. WORDS Johanna Agerman Ross PHOTOS Morgan O’Donovan
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The Peter Pilotto autumn/winter 2015 catwalk featured large geometrical shapes in striking colours. All photography is from the backstage area of the show.
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
A Kumi Sugaï (1919-1996) belonged to the first group of Japanese artists to adopt western styles of painting in the 1950s. He was also known for printmaking and producing geometric, abstract designs. 1
Kurt Østervig (19121986) began his career as a shipbuilding engineer, before moving to furniture company E. Knudsen’s Design Studio. 2
Megha Mittal (b.1976) bought Escada in 2009 after the brand filed for bankruptcy. Mittal had previously worked for Goldman Sachs. 3
n oval, drop-leaf table in oiled teak is the centrepiece of the east London studio of fashion designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, who operate under the brand name Peter Pilotto. Narrow rectangles of paper are scattered across the tabletop, each with a computer-drawn sketch of a different dress silhouette; there is a book on the graphic and snaking art of Kumi Sugaï;1 and a water jug in rough, brown clay. The haphazard set-up adds warmth to the space, which is otherwise made up of concrete floors and walls, plate-glass windows and strip lighting. “It’s new,” says Pilotto about the table, which was designed by Danish furniture designer Kurt Østervig in the 1950s.2 “We aren’t quite finished in here, but we really like the shape of the table and it’s much more pleasant to have meetings around.” De Vos adds: “Before we just had a couple of square trestle tables pushed together and it became too big and impersonal.”
It’s fitting that we should be talking about meetings. Our interview is focused on the creative process of the designers’ autumn/winter 2015 collection, but rather than drawing or cutting, it is meetings that are the mainstay of Pilotto and De Vos’s working day. A known plague of corporate culture, meetings are something that the founders of this young fashion brand are no better at escaping than anyone else. It’s coming up to seven o’clock on a warm Saturday in early August. Despite an almost empty office, Pilotto and De Vos have just finished a meeting on fabrics for their upcoming collection (spring/summer 2016) – “We need to finish off the fabrics before Italy closes for summer,” explains De Vos – and another meeting is lined up to follow our interview. Over the last year, in between designing the four womenswear collections that the brand releases annually, meetings have been the key to growing the label.
In March it was announced that Peter Pilotto had received a significant cash injection from British investment firm MH Luxe and Megha Mittal, the chairman and managing director of German fashion brand Escada.3 The amount was not disclosed. “We grew in such a smooth way, with hardly any start-up capital, and we could keep on growing at that pace, but to reach certain goals faster the investment was needed,” says Pilotto. “Adding more senior and experienced staff members will free us up to go back to designing more.” It’s a significant step forward for the brand, but surprisingly the investment coincides with a decision to take a step back from the very thing that originally made the practice’s name – digital printing. Is it a risky move for the young brand, or just the foresight required for continued growth? >
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A wool dress with hand-stitched wool and sequin embroidery embellished with Swarovski crystals.
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
Walter Van Beirendonck (b.1957) is a Belgian fashion designer who is head of the fashion department at the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts. His designs are notable for their strong graphics and use of colour. 4
Jonathan Saunders (b.1977) graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2002 and set up his own label in 2003, producing both mensand womenswear. 5
Bruno Basso and Christopher Brooke set up the Basso & Brooke brand in 2004, producing both mensand womenswear. 6
The Erdem womenswear brand was founded by designer Erdem Moralioglu (b.1977) in 2005 after he graduated from the Royal College of Art. 7
Womenswear designer Mary Katrantzou (b.1983) founded her brand in 2008 after graduating from Central Saint Martin’s. 8
Prints for the Cyberage appeared in The New York Times on 12 April 2010. 9
> Austrian-Italian Pilotto and Belgian-Peruvian De Vos met in 2000 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, where they both studied fashion under the tutelage of Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck.4 It wasn’t until 2008 however, both having moved to London, that they launched their first collection together for spring/summer 2009 under the Peter Pilotto brand. Pilotto had already produced collections in his own name and was known by a selection of prominent fashion retailers, hence the brand name stayed. The studio was simultaneously set apart and anchored in a specific context by the vivid and colourful textile prints that it cut its clothes from. In the mid-2000s digital printing became a popular way of personalising a collection and London was the hotbed for the practice, with new fashion brands such as Jonathan Saunders,5 Basso & Brooke,6 Erdem,7 and Mary Katrantzou8 all building their reputations on it. Fashion writer Suzy Menkes published an editorial in The New York Times in April 2010 proclaiming: “Printed matter has undergone a digital revolution, as the new millennium has witnessed a dramatic change in the way that a pattern is developed.”9
It is not surprising that this new generation of designers embraced the technology. While the traditional textile-print industry is accustomed to mass production with long runs, digital printing is accessible for startups because no major investment is needed to make a personalised print. It goes directly from a computer to the fabric through an ink-jet printer. Hence the playfulness of collections such as Peter Pilotto’s spring/summer 2013 collection, where a kaleidoscopic mix of flowers, diamonds, stripes and trompe l’oeil intarsia designs are incorporated in the same textile. Or the autumn/winter 2012 collection where op-art fuses with architectural landscapes and enlarged florals. There was a heady excitement to the collections produced by De Vos and Pilotto at this time, communicating the optimism of its designers for the technology they had mastered. “We worked on them for endless hours,” says Pilotto of the prints. “Two or three months in total and we pushed to ensure that every little component was nice. We just wanted to make sure that there was a certain warmth and traditional quality to this very modern technique.” It was Van Beirendonck who had introduced the pair to a digital-printing textile mill in Belgium when they were students. “He had been using it for a while in the 1990s, but at that time the technology was quite rough,” says Pilotto. “You could only print on synthetic fibres in the 1990s and then in the 2000s it started to be possible to print on natural fibres. That’s the moment when it became really interesting and Walter obviously understood the impact this would have on the industry. He literally told us all to use it.” Both Central Saint Martin’s and the Royal College of Art in London introduced their students to digital printing at around the same time and the effect was inevitable, prompting a chromatic explosion towards the latter part of the 2000s, during which recent fashion design graduates set up businesses of their own.
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A wool lace blouse with wool guipure appliqués and a jacquard collar. Opposite: A detail of a brushed jacquard knit coat.
Although not solely accountable for the success of such brands, the digital-printing revolution afforded startups the chance to personalise a process that until then had been the preserve of bigger fashion houses. With this access, the young brands grew. This year alone, Jonathan Saunders and Peter Pilotto both received significant business investment; Katrantzou was the recipient of the £200,000 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund;10 and Erdem celebrated 10 years in business by opening the brand’s first standalone store in London in autumn 2015. It’s curious then that, almost simultaneously, all of these designers have restricted their digital endeavours drastically in favour of more old-fashioned techniques. While Saunders and Katrantzou have both embraced materiality in recent collections with ruching and frills,11 Peter Pilotto’s autumn/winter 2015 collection uses wool as its most prominent material and techniques such as embroidery, brushing and guipure.12 Jacquards are also used heavily, taking the designers back from the frontline of a cutting-edge technology to an invention that was groundbreaking in the early-19th century.13 Why this turn?
“What we realised with digital printing is that it’s very cold,” says Pilotto. “Any other traditional technique has craftsmanship in it. Even if it’s now often machine-made, it has a certain feeling of the hand. Digital print is a very hard technique and it doesn’t have any charm.” De Vos adds: “When digital print came out and when the technology developed, we were really excited about it and we really wanted to possess it, so we pushed it as much as we could and the suppliers were really open and excited to work with us.”
Here De Vos admits to one of the harsh realities of being a young fashion designer: willing and open-minded suppliers are key to delivering on store orders, but many bigger textile mills refuse to engage with younger brands. The quantities are simply too small to make financial sense. With the help of digital print to build its image, Peter Pilotto expanded from 28 stores in 14 countries to 200 stockists in 50 in the space of eight years, growing sales significantly, but it was not until American retail chain Target approached them for a collaboration that the larger and more specialist textile manufacturers took note.14 This 2014 collection was online retailer Net-a-Porter.com’s fastest-selling collaboration ever, with one item selling every second for the first hour post-launch. All of a sudden textile manufacturers that had previously been off limits to the brand started to open their doors, inviting the designers for factory visits. The publicity around the mass-produced Target collection eventually led to a collaboration with a textile factory in Como, Gentili Mosconi, which resulted in a jacquard fabric that was the starting point for the spring/summer 2015 collection.15 Since then, Peter Pilotto’s Italian textile suppliers have grown to five. >
By winning the 2015 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund she succeeded the fund’s 2014 laureate, Peter Pilotto. 10
Ruching was prominent in Saunders’ spring/ summer 2015 collection, while oversized frills formed part of Katrantzou’s autumn/ winter 2015. 11
Guipure is a type of heavy lace with large patterning. It usually has either no background or designs that are joined in place by coarse threads. 12
The Jacquard loom is a mechanical loom that was invented in 1801 by Joseph Marie Jacquard. The loom used punch cards and is considered an early precursor of modern computing. 13
Target Corporation was founded in 1902 as the Dayton Dry Goods Company. As well as offering affordable goods, Target has a history of working with fashion designers to create high-street lines. 14
The collaboration was referenced in an article in The Wall Street Journal on 7 January 2015. 15
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
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A wool and lace embroidered skirt, with embroidered flowers embellished with Swarovski crystals.
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
“We always look for materials that feel new, that are going to give us a kick and that we’re going to want to work with. We always need to get to know the material first.”
Première Vision in Paris is a biannual textile fair that brings together 750 exhibitors from 35 countries. 16
Show notes are a form of press release provided to journalists at fashion shows. They are typically highly descriptive, providing information on a collection’s inspiration as well as show production details. 17
Cabochon is the term applied to a stone cut into a round, unaffected, convex shape. 18
> Yet making jaquards, embroidered fabrics or chunky guipure laces involves entirely different processes to digital printing. What can be easily adjusted on a digital file instead has to be produced and then evaluated using a process that amounts to more than just applying colour to fabric. It is this process of reviewing fabric samples that Pilotto and De Vos are in the midst of when I visit. “We were excited to have access to new possibilities and new fabrications, new mills and new things,” says De Vos. “We love to push the boundaries and I think that’s what excites the whole team. We don’t pick anything from the mill that already exists. We always change it and develop it further. It’s a big process to keep the standard between sampling and production; the look throughout all the steps; and to make the clothes fit correctly. A lot of it is product development, I guess.” For Peter Pilotto, a collection often starts with material possibilities, rather than the “look” or the “woman” that much mainstream fashion reporting suggests to be the origins of creative thinking. “At the beginning of the seasons we go and research at the fabric mills or at the textile fair Première Vision Fabrics in Paris,16 and we’re always looking at what fascinates us,” says De Vos. “We look for materials that feel new, that are going to give us a kick and that we’re going to want to work with. We always need to get to know the material first.”
Peter Pilotto’s work is close to that of a product developer; the studio finds the most suitable application for a material or the right material for a specific application. It’s this part of making a collection that most interests the duo. “That’s the point of working with the industry and working together. It’s those boundaries that excite us, but at the end of it you need to make it relatable to something,” says De Vos. “That’s why the fashion industry likes to pinpoint specific looks to specific periods, because fashion is also about a certain emotion, references that people relate to.”
In the fashion press, Peter Pilotto’s autumn/winter 2015 collection was generally discussed as having been inspired by board games and pinball machines. While this impression came directly from the show notes17 – “shiny counters and pieces, winding mazes and chromed cabochon buttons trace circuits down pinball-inspired ensembles”18 – the real starting point lay elsewhere. Evocative references aside, this and last year’s collections were a direct result of access to new suppliers, their very materiality a consequence of new possibilities having opened up. Imagine how discussions emanating from the cloaked world of fashion might differ if the industry removed itself from familiar narrative constructs; if it honestly shared Peter Pilotto’s excitement at finally being “allowed” to experiment with new, intriguing techniques. Such knowledge invites a very different interpretation of a body of work that is exquisite in its material choices, play with textures, embroideries, colours and fabric. Peter Pilotto’s autumn/winter 2015 collection is not as nostalgic as its historical techniques might suggest. Instead, it’s a celebration of a new period for the brand, a transition from startup to establishment, a coming of age.
Yet Pilotto and De Vos aren’t about to change how such things are discussed. Not this Saturday night, anyway. When I’m invited into their atelier, the print-outs on the table containing details of next season’s collection are face down, concealed and mysterious. When I ask what time the two can spare to talk about it, I’m told “20 minutes” without a hint of apology. Maybe it’s because they are going on holiday the next day or maybe the designers rarely get to speak in depth about their processes, which makes comprehension of the final outcome difficult. Instead, they push soft values to the fore – inspirations, emotions – leading to the pinball machine and Connect Four references that Vogue and Style.com included in their show reviews. When I send follow-up questions in order to better understand the result of the designers’ recent textile developments I get the reply: “With regards to textile manufacturers, I’m afraid we aren’t able to disclose suppliers.”
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Digital print still features in Peter Pilotto’s collections, seen here on two wool coats (right of picture).
While both contemporary design and architecture have systems of criticism that support understanding of the disciplines, spaces reserved for open discussion uninhibited by commercial concerns, the fashion system is more opaque and regulated. In-depth observation and analysis is mostly reserved for historical accounts, while writing on contemporary fashion is often luxuriant, non-specific and thoroughly uncritical. It is an approach that French literary theorist Roland Barthes interpreted as serving an economic agenda as far back as 1967 in his book The Fashion System: “Calculating, industrial society is obliged to form consumers who don’t calculate; if clothing’s producers and consumers had the same consciousness, clothing would be bought (and produced) only at the very slow rate of its dilapidation.”19 Descriptive words and emotional references form an important part in selling a collection. Adjectives are king; just consider the “shiny counters”, “winding mazes” and “chromed cabochon buttons” of the show notes. The 900sqm atelier that Peter Pilotto inhabits in east London, as well as the 40 people it employs, is testament to the brand’s financial success, proving Barthes’ theory correct. The studio that contains the Danish drop-leaf table is just a small part of a two-storey complex designed by architects Matheson Whiteley to a minimalist brief.20 “For this space it was important that it was a neutral backdrop that keeps us focused on the clothes,” says Pilotto. “In our opinion this was the best reaction to the space.” It’s bare and entirely executed in grey concrete, apart from Perspex screens in a rainbow of colours that lean against the walls of the corridors and Martino Gamper-designed Arnold Circus stools that scatter the reception.21
Secrecy aside, upon entering the space you have no doubt as to what the Peter Pilotto enterprise is all about – behind the receptionist, and in plain view, a large room unfolds, measuring some 18.5m long and 11.5m wide. It’s filled with sewing machines, fabrics rolls, cutting tables and clothes rails. It is here that next season’s collections are produced as samples by an atelier team of around 12 permanent staff. The design of the space and the deliberate openness of the layout underlines the craft involved, but in the midst of the analogue production line there is a table full of computer screens – instruments that, more than any other, have played a crucial part in Peter Pilotto’s growth. “No matter what we do, somehow at some point it goes through the computer because our clothes are so graphic and so considered, and the computer is such a great tool,” says De Vos. “We don’t want it to look computer-like, but we embrace technology quite easily. It was, after all, through technology that we first got caught by the buyers and the press.”
The Fashion System saw Barthes (1915-1980) reflect on ways in which the fashion industry employs semiology, analysing the ways in which it uses language. 19
Matheson Whiteley is a London-based architecture studio founded by Donald Matheson and Jason Whitely in 2012. The building for Peter Pilotto looks over the Regent’s Canal and makes extensive use of exposed concrete, its spaces designed to accommodate the different sizes of the Pilotto design teams. 20
The Arnold Circus stool (2006) is a plastic rotation-moulded stool that was designed by Martino Gamper for the Friends of Arnold Circus regeneration project in east London. The stool is now commercially available through Gamper’s website. 21
De Vos’s choice of words may not be entirely deliberate, but Barthes would have singled out “caught” either way. It is a term indicative of a studio firmly embedded within the commerciality of the world in which it operates.
Johanna Agerman Ross is the founder and editor-in-chief of Disegno.
ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
Wool coat with thread stitch embroidery (left), and wool and jaquard jacket with bonded-velvet appliquÃ©s (right).
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ANALOGUE DREAMS, DIGITAL REALITIES
The Polypropylene Story With British furniture designer Robin Day’s centenary falling in 2015, Disegno shares a rare internal document about the creation of his celebrated Polypropylene chair, introduced by contemporary designer Edward Barber. INTRODUCTION Edward Barber ESSAY Robin Day and Leslie Julius PHOTOS Images courtesy of The Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation
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Robin Dayâ€™s Polypropylene chair, the first version of which was produced by British manufacturer Hille in 1963.
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
obin Day’s Polypropylene chair was the first mass-produced injection-moulded polypropylene chair of its type. It is, in fact, the best-selling plastic chair ever designed and has been produced around the world. Exact production figures are hard to find, but estimates of total sales range between 20m and 50m pieces to date.
The Polyprop chair, as it is affectionately known, became ubiquitous after its introduction in 1963, changing the look of schools, universities, village halls and football stadia across Britain and countless other countries. Yet the chair was a challenge to produce, one that required foresight and tenacity from its designer Day and manufacturer Hille. Great design pieces come from a clear strategic vision, often coupled with a new material or one developed within another industry. The first mass-produced chair, the 1859 Thonet No.14, exploited new steam-bending technology and became the world’s best-selling chair. Michael Thonet’s ambition to create a chair that anyone could afford led him to invent not just a manufacturing process, but also the way his chair was shipped. Day had a similar vision for the Polyprop.
In 1960, Day took the relatively new material polypropylene, discovered in 1954 by Italian chemist Giulio Natta, and applied it for the first time to the furniture industry. With this material, it became possible to produce large multiples at low cost because of the speed of the injectionmoulding process. A seat shell could be made in a matter of minutes.
Day was a democratic designer and committed to designing objects for everyday use. He said in 1962, “A good design must fulfil its purpose well, be soundly constructed and should express in its design this purpose and construction.” His diligent problem-solving, combined with his economical approach to construction, led to the innovative design of the Polyprop. The chair was reduced to a few simple elements, a process typical of his work: a plastic seat shell, a welded tubular steel A-frame leg that enabled efficient stacking, and four nylon feet. “Considerations of posture and anatomy largely determined the sections through the shell,” explained Day, who achieved maximum strength in the plastic by rolling over the edges of the seat shell to reach the desired strength, while also reducing the amount of material needed. Reading through the following essay from 1963, it struck me how similar the process is today when designing something as complex as a plastic chair. The to-ing and fro-ing between >
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Development work on the Polypropylene chair in Day’s Cheyne Walk studio in London.
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
Development of the mould for the Polypropylene armchair (1967).
> engineer, mouldmaker and manufacturer, as well as the highs and lows of the process, are so well captured in this detailed account.
There are many parallels between the Polyprop story and that of my and Jay Osgerby’s own plastic chair for education, the Tip Ton, produced by Vitra in 2011. We studied the Polyprop closely when designing it, as it was still seen as the benchmark in many schools and set a new standard in Britain. It was largely indestructible and produced in various sizes for all ages.
We took a lot from the simplicity of Day’s chair, yet technology has moved on greatly since the 1960s and we were able to make strong, thin plastic legs using a technique called gas-injection moulding. This process blows gas into the molten plastic when it is still in the mould, hollowing out the legs to make them stronger and reduce the amount of plastic used. This meant that the Tip Ton could be produced in a single piece, instead of as a shell mounted on legs of a different material, as was the case with the Polyprop.
The other dramatic difference between the two eras is the computer. Day had to rely on modelmaking and intuition to achieve a seat shell that looked as though it would be strong enough. The first version of the Polyprop actually turned out not to be, hence the now-standard Mark II version, launched in 1964. With modern computer simulations, we were able to accurately determine whether the strength of the plastic would be sufficient before committing to mouldmaking for the Tip Ton. This saved a lot of time and prevented us from making substantial and expensive changes to the mould after the first chairs were produced, one of the key factors behind the Polyprop chair’s four-year development. READING LIST Robin and Lucienne Day: Pioneers of Contemporary Design, Lesley Jackson. Mitchell Beazley, 2011. Contemporary Days: The Designs of Lucienne and Robin Day, directed by Murray Grigor. Released in 2010. Mid-Century Modern Complete, Dominic Bradbury. Thames & Hudson, 2014.
I’m sure Robin had no idea what impact the Polyprop would have on society when he started designing it back in the early 1960s. But he must have known that he was creating something special and certainly something new, which for a designer is the most exhilarating feeling. What he undoubtedly stayed true to was his concept of producing a genuinely mass-produced, low-cost chair, something he believed in so strongly. I was fortunate to meet Robin on many occasions. During a dinner hosted in Milan amid the city’s Salone del Mobile, he once voiced his disappointment to me over the non-industrial wave of design that was becoming more prevalent across Europe. Yet Robin Day’s legacy as a designer of seating lives on not just through the Polyprop chair, but through much of his other public seating, which is still in use in airports and on station platforms around the world. He was a true industrial designer.
Edward Barber is an industrial designer and founder of British design studio Barber & Osgerby. His book showcasing the studio’s work, One by One, which he co-authored with partner Jay Osgerby, is available from Barber & Osgerby’s installation at the London Design Festival and the Rizzoli Bookshop, both at Somerset House.
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Timber armature for theÂ Polypropylene chair mould.
The Polypropylene Story This is the story of the Hille Polypropylene chair designed by Robin Day.
Some three years ago, Robin Day was asked to judge a competition by Shell Chemicals for which designers were asked to submit designs of products using a new polyolefin material known as polypropylene. Investigation of this particular problem resulted in Robin Day being interested in the material as such and the manufacture of a chair in polypropylene.
By that time, a new chair had appeared in Europe made of polyethylene and much was claimed for this product. It was quite brilliantly engineered from the production point of view, but poorly designed from the ergonomic, aesthetic and structural aspects, resulting in subsequent failure of the chair, due mainly to the use of polyethylene. This material fractures under repeated stress in much the same way as a piece of tin constantly bent backwards and forwards in one position will show signs of stress and eventual deterioration results in a complete fracture. Polypropylene has been tested for use as a hinge and, whilst the material shows the stress flow marks, it does not, in fact, for some extraordinary reason, deteriorate in strength and so is free from the trouble encountered with polyethylene. About this time, some amusing correspondence relating to the material, polypropylene, appeared in The Observer. This particularly interested Leslie Julius, the joint managing director of Hille, who suggested to Robin Day that he should design a polypropylene chair. They discussed this at length and it seemed to answer the problems which they had regarding the designing of plastic chairs, for both agreed that at that time the only satisfactory plastic chair was the Eames fibreglass chair, the design and form of which were so near perfect as to make it well-nigh impossible to design a better chair using polyester resins and glass fibre. In fact, this had always inhibited Robin Day from designing a chair of this kind himself. Polypropylene offered a new avenue of approach for this material, as it would be injection moulded and, having its own mechanical problems, would thus demand an expression of those problems in its aesthetic. It was decided to consult with the manufacturers of the raw material, Shell Chemicals, and the Furniture Industry Research Association, to discuss the mechanical problems of the material and the sort of chair which would be likely to result therefrom.Â >
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
So little was known about polypropylene that most of the decisions made were subjective and based on experience in fibreglass or polyethylene.
> The next problem was to select the moulder. After very careful investigation of resources available in Britain from the point of view of techniques and machinery available, Robin Day and Leslie Julius decided that the resources of Messrs Thermo Plastics, a division of Tootal, should be used. They were accordingly invited to join in the project.
A meeting was held in the Piccadilly Offices of Shell Chemicals and present were Leslie Julius, Robin Day and three teams – Shell Chemicals, led by Dr Narracott, the Furniture Industry Research Association, led by Mr M. Merrick and Thermo Plastics, led by Mr D. Collier.
Robin Day produced his first proposals in the form of sketches. So little was known about this material that most of the decisions made were subjective and based on previous experience in fibreglass or polyethylene. As a result of this conference, Robin Day knew some of the problems concerned, but had the designer’s intuitive feelings for others which might occur. Several plaster shells were made and were tested for comfort by people covering a wide variety of body measurements and modifications made until satisfactory sections were achieved. A fibreglass prototype chair was produced from one of these plaster casts. Further discussions took place between the design group as to the best method of attachment of the shell to the frames, and also the likely strength of the shell which Robin Day had designed. Consultations took place between the Research Department of Guest, Keen and Nettlefold to decide the correct type of bolt for use with polypropylene. Modifications were made, and further prototype plaster casts and fibreglass shells were produced.
Meanwhile a year had gone by and all concerned were becoming impatient to see the machining under way. From the epoxy moulds, fibreglass shells were produced. These made it possible for Robin Day to proceed with designs for various bases, many of which, of course, he had already worked out in sketch form in relation to final shell. Finally the day arrived in October, 1962, when the tools were ready for testing on the injection moulding machines at Thermo Plastics. It was decided that the etching of the tool and the final polishing should be withheld so as to make it possible to test the shells which the tools produced for strength. This precaution was a wise one for when the shells were produced, Mr Day considered that they were not entirely satisfactory from the point of view of flexibility. It would have been possible to strengthen the shell quite cheaply by means of adding ribs, but the resulting aesthetic would have been unsatisfactory. Robin Day considered that certain alterations should be made and therefore drew up the necessary amendments so as to have the tool altered. He did this after producing further plaster moulds and fibreglass models. It was decided that the tool would have to be altered and arrangements made for etching. The exact texture of this etching required a considerable number of trial samples being made to Robin Day’s specific requirements. Trials were obtained from Germany and the United States, but mainly because of the time factor it was decided to have the tool hand etched in Britain rather than photo-electrically produced abroad. In the meantime many bases had been made to Robin Day designs at Hille Metals, the Haverhill engineering factory of the Hille Group, but now that the tool had been altered the resulting shell
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Polypropylene chair onÂ high stool base.
was different from the original conception and, consequently, the bases had to be redesigned. Currently designed were the pedestal base, the stacking chair base, the tapered tube base and the wooden stacking chair base. Unfortunately the bad winter of 1962/63 played its part in the further delay of the completion of the chair, as the tools were snowbound at Talbot-Ponsonbyâ€™s for a month before they could be moved to Leicester for the hand engraving. By the end of February 1963 the tools were returned from Leicester to Talbot-Ponsonby for the final marriage ceremony. The male and female tool sections were married together and at the end of February were returned to Thermo Plastics for trial production. A few shells were produced for testing purposes and were placed under test by the Furniture Industry Research Association at their laboratories at Holloway. In the meantime, during the period of this research the tool was returned to Talbot-Ponsonby for final finishing. The first test showed that under stress of one hundred pounds applied to the back a quarter of a million times, a minor failure took place which could be easily rectified. Modifications were made to the tool and more shells were produced. Further FIRA tests tool place and the chair passed these completely satisfactorily.
In the meantime other equally important decisions had to be made regarding the various finishes in which the shell bases would be produced. Hille had already had many years experience ofÂ >
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
The method Halliday used to design an adjustable base was so ingenious that worldwide patents have been taken out on the movement.
> nylon coating, being one of the first furniture companies to produce metal parts in this way. It was decided that a new machine should be designed and built for this process at Hille Metals, so as to maintain the major procedures concerning the engineering side under one roof. The plant design incorporates many ingenious features and is semi-automatic in that it is operated entirely by one man. Other experiments are still taking place with forms of resin coatings with which it is hoped to improve the quality of the finishes in which the chair bases can be offered to the public. Such finishing will be the object of continuous research and it is hoped that in the near future such a finish will be available at low cost. Hille Metals factory have tooled up for mass production of the bases using the most advanced techniques. These include an automatic bending machine, the most modern ICT degreasing plant and advanced welding techniques. A side issue of this programme included the design of an adjustable pedestal base, the mechanical section of which was designed by Mr R. Halliday, the works director of Hille Metals. The method he used was so ingenious that worldwide patents have been taken out on the movement. The design enables the adjustment of the pedestal to be made without the exposure of ugly handles and knobs or moving parts.
During all stages of the procedure it was decided to photograph both the designer and the tools being manufactured, as well as the final process of the injection moulding coming away from the tool. It was thought that this might be of service to the industry at a later date. Consequently the Shell Film Unit have produced a movie film on the procedures from the drawing board to departmental store, whilst still photographs of the same procedures were produced by Tony Mann.
From this story, it will be seen that new products produced by means of advanced technology require in themselves new techniques at all stages from design to sales promotion, for the story of the Polypropylene chair does not end when the final shells are produced by Messrs Thermo Plastics and when the final metal frames have been produced by Hille Metals; the chair still has to be marketed. To market this chair Hille decided to give away six hundred chairs to a selected group of people whose technical knowledge of and user requirements could be of assistance in producing further chairs and finding further markets, for as Leslie Julius says “It is not a question of producing a chair, but it is a question of producing a continuing chair programme.” Results of this market research are expected to be of service to the designer and to Hille’s in considering the next steps they should take in widening the programme of the polypropylene shell to include other bases and other colours. It is hoped that different shells will be produced at a later date. Decisions as to distribution also affected the question of packaging and research revealed that the most reasonable way of sending these chairs was in packages of six, other than for the pedestal bases where two in a package provided a satisfactory solution. Ivan Dodd was commissioned to design packages in such a way as to enable the package itself to be used for display. His solution permits boxes to be piled on top of one another to give the appearance of a continuous stack of chairs. Instructions on the boxes are printed in three languages. Thank you to Paula Day, The Robin Day Foundation and Caro Communications for their help with this republication.
This chair would never have been possible without the enthusiastic co-operation of all members of the staff of all the companies concerned. The final investment made by each of the companies is very considerable; thus mass sales are of the utmost importance. To achieve this it was necessary to produce a high-quality chair at a very low price. The resultant product is one which has a world market and which should achieve the hopes and aims of all the companies concerned.
This text has been lightly edited to remove typographical errors.
132 Disegno. THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
A Keller machine used in production of the Polypropylene chair for Hille.
THE POLYPROPYLENE STORY
134 Disegno. DISPARATE THREADS
Children play in the savannah that surrounds the Thread cultural centre in Sinthian, Senegal. Designed by Toshiko Mori Architects, the centre is operated by US-based non-profit American Friends of Le Korsa and funded by The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. PHOTO Iwan Baan
An arts centre in Senegal’s savanna provides a glimpse of a society in which culture is politics, and art the basis of national and personal identity. WORDS Oli Stratford PHOTOS Iwan Baan and Thatcher Cook
S A rust-coloured rock that is rich in iron and aluminium. 1
Toshiko Mori (b.1951) was born in Japan. She founded her eponymous studio in 1981 and works across architecture and exhibition design, as well as teaching at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. 2
inthian’s roads are red with laterite,1 passing through green fields of millet, corn and grass. It is the rainy season and Sinthian, a village in the east of Senegal, is unexpectedly sylvan. Its goats, cattle and donkeys graze in pasture noduled with termite mounds, watched over by children in the savannah, while the village proper is grouped in a series of round mudwall thatch huts, white against the soil, close to which grow young gardens of okra, bitter eggplants, cucumbers and spice. Amidst this August verdure is the Thread cultural centre. It is white-walled too, made from plastered bricks produced from Sinthian’s clay, and its canopy is thatch, although of more ambitious form than the conical shapes that top the nearby huts. Thread’s roof undulates across its low-rise walls in curves that suggest discrete shaded spaces within the open-plan centre below. The building is a rough figure of eight, open to the savannah at its middle and arranged around two concrete courtyards at either end. All of it is ventilated by geometric patterns in the brickwork that aerate the sultriness of Senegalese summer. The thatch splits above the dual courtyards and sweeps into extended circular skylights in the canopy.
Thread is a social experiment, conducted in an outpost of west Africa some 520km from the Atlantic coast and Senegal’s capital Dakar. The centre was designed by Jordan MacTavish, an associate at New York-based architects Toshiko Mori,2 and, in the spirit of experimentation, is a hybrid. Thread is an artists’ residency programme, with two live-work spaces for visiting practitioners. It is a community space, which Sinthian’s 900 or so residents can use for education, workshops, gardening, relaxation, and – as a result of Thread being one of the few electrified structures in the village – a charging station for mobile phones. Equally, Thread is a piece of infrastructure, the roof canopy pitched so that rainwater pours into channels that run through to external cisterns providing 200,000 gallons of water a year, around 30 per cent of the village’s annual consumption. More than this, however, Thread is an attempt to answer certain questions. What role does art play in modern Senegal, a country that, historically, has used the arts as the engine for its political and societal development? And what role might art play in shaping a community – any community – through the cultivation of personal identity? “What is the impact, what do we hope the impact will be?” asks Thread’s director Nick Murphy. “That’s what we’re trying to learn. What can this space be?”
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Attempts to unravel Thread’s history quickly become knotty. The centre is run by American Friends of Le Korsa (AFLK), a US-based non-profit that works across health, education and >
Villagers in Sinthian clean the blue mosaic tiles that circle the cultural centre. Thread functions as a community centre as well as a residency space for Senegalese and international artists. PHOTOS Thatcher Cook
It is an alien and compelling space, a great writhing manta pinned out to dry in the sun, with further aesthetic tricks inside.
Josef (1888-1976) and Anni (1899-1994) Albers met while students at Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in 1922 and married three years later. During their years in the US they held teaching posts at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and Yale University. 3
> culture in Senegal. AFLK was founded in 2005, initially as a US support wing to an existing French NGO, Le Kinkeliba, yet funding for Thread comes from a third source: The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. This foundation, based in Connecticut, USA, is devoted to the legacy of the Albers, Bauhaus artists who fled to the US from Nazi Germany in 1933 and made major contributions across 20th-century modernist art.3 Neither Josef nor Anni Albers had any connection to Senegal and neither set foot in Africa. “How did Thread come about?” asks Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Albers Foundation and president of AFLK. “In 1999 I went to Paris and visited a skin doctor. Actually no, let me step back…”
Serendipity played a major role in what followed. Fox Weber’s dermatologist was Gilles Degois, founder of Le Kinkeliba, who in 2004 Degois took Fox Weber to Tambacounda, the region of Senegal in which Sinthian is based and where Le Kinkeliba was already established. “I saw that for a couple of thousand dollars you could make a life-saving difference to these communities,” says Fox Weber, who subsequently praised the place to his friend, architect Toshiko Mori. In 2009, Mori began leading expeditions with her Harvard architecture class to sites around Senegal. During one such trip, her student, MacTavish, designed a cultural centre as a hypothetical project for the area. It embodied an idea already championed by Magueye Ba, a doctor who runs an AFLK-funded medical clinic in Sinthian and who saw artist residencies as an opportunity to foster “larger ideas about life and ways to live” in his community. It’s a messy story, one in which people and places collide in unexpected ways. “Anni Albers was a dear friend and a font of wisdom,” says Fox Weber. “She used to tell me you can go anywhere from anywhere.” In January 2014, construction on Thread began. MacTavish coordinated the $200,000 project through occasional site visits, but mostly worked from New York, leaving Ba on site to translate his plans for the Tambacoundan workforce. “My metier is medicine, but I could explain to the masons and builders exactly what to do because Jordan made great plans,” says Ba. “Where the challenges came is that the architects didn’t know the local materials as well as we did, so we proposed some alterations. We worked that out over email.”
“There wasn’t much logic in it,” says Fox Weber. “If we were talking about functioning in the middle of London, there would be documents that go on for 50 pages, with endless discussions, symposiums, colloquia and discussion of metrics. Instead, we’re talking about a spirit that’s ‘Let’s go ahead and do this. Let’s try this and see where it goes.’ Going with the gut and instinct has, so far, worked incredibly well.”
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Part of the intrigue surrounding Thread is that it’s not clear where it’s going. The centre opened in March 2015 and initially hosted residencies for Tambacoundan artists such as rapper Neggadou and found-object sculptor Saliou Diop. It is now August and Thread is entering its sixth month and its first rainy season. Already, the centre is changing. The pitch of the roof requires mild adjustment to deal with the rains, while one of the cistern walls has buckled and collapsed into the water, the result of a construction flaw. “We were working in unknown circumstances with unknown results, so you have to think of it as a refinement process,” acknowledges MacTavish, returning to the centre for the first time since its opening. Meanwhile, Thread has just welcomed its inaugural international residents, Serbian video artist Ivana Bobic and Norwegian knitwear designer Siri Johansen, thereby initiating its attempt at inculcating cultural exchange. In addition, the centre’s on-site staff – general manager Moussa Diogoye Sene and agricultural coordinator >
The centre’s architecture is inspired by the materials employed in the construction of the mud-wall thatch huts that are typical in Tambacounda, a region of Senegal. The surrounding landscape changes dramatically over the course of a year. In the rainy season it is lush and verdant. Here, it has been photographed in the dry season in March.
Condition Report: On Building Art Institutions in Africa, was hosted in Dakar between 18 and 20 January 2012. 4
Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001) was born in Joal, French West Africa, but educated in France. He built his name as a poet and theoretician, but entered politics upon returning to Senegal. He served four terms as president of Senegal, retiring in 1980 and making way for Abdou Diouf. 5
The festival was held in Dakar between 1 and 24 April 1966, and featured black literature, music, visual arts, film and dance from around the world. The Musée Dynamique, a contemporary arts museum, was created to mark the event. 6
> Mamadou Yaya Diallo – constantly feed back on the community’s evolving relationship with the space. Plans changing is part of the plan.
The flexibility of the architecture reflects this. The centre breaks down into as many as 12 distinct spaces, yet the effect is amorphous and the separate areas difficult to identify. Wide central courtyards flow into narrower studios around the edges of the floor plan, yet no set use is prescribed and the series of wooden benches and chairs that populate the centre circulate as required. “It was appropriate to not just come up with a typical architectural box and then build boxes around a courtyard,” says MacTavish. “The whole idea was maximising the use of different gathering areas. Visiting it again, it’s become very clear that it is an experiment.”
Central to this is a desire for Sinthian’s residents to take ownership of the space. Plans are being assessed as to whether the cisterns could be converted into fish ponds, while the centre already functions as a waiting room for Ba’s adjacent medical clinic. Visitors drift in throughout the day and evening, and Sene, the centre’s manager, is enthused by Thread’s presence in the day-to-day life of the village. “Every day people come to water the gardens here,” he says. “Apart from that, they’re making soap. They were trained in the centre and make and sell it here, so it’s an incomegenerating activity that Thread facilitated.”
“We settled on an architecture that is incredibly flexible so that its function can evolve, change and adapt,” adds Murphy, who wants Thread to host an equal mix of international and Senegalese artists in residencies lasting between four and eight weeks. “We want people to feel comfortable using this space as they wish, proactively determining events, functions and uses for it. Thread can function as a retreat, but it’s also used as a community centre. There’s no way an artist would succeed here if they just wanted to be a hermit.” Bobic plans to produce a collaborative series of non-linear narrative films – “It all comes together in terms of storytelling. How do the people in Sinthian see the world that they live in?” she says – while Johansen has proposed a knitting project: “I have a jumper my mum was knitting before she died. She didn’t finish it and gave it to her friend, who didn’t finish it either. I would like to work with people here to complete it.” Such communal projects tie to more general adjustments in ways art spaces are used worldwide. Studios and galleries have gradually transitioned from formal display spaces into community resources. “The role of the contemporary exhibition space has evolved from being a place to showcase artworks after they are produced to one that interacts or intervenes in the artist’s work,” noted Korean curator Sunjung Kim in a 2012 essay written for a symposium on art institutions in Africa.4 “The exhibition space is no longer a place that is removed from reality, but the site of diverse activities: from performances to lectures, film screenings, weekly DJ programs, parties and even massage sessions.” It could be the mantra for Thread. Bobic and Johansen are planning communal pancake-making, cinema nights and yoga. In terms of massage, physiotherapist Alexandre Guillaumin has just completed a series of consultations in the village.
This commingling of art with community has a history in Senegal. The country was a French colony for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, and when Senegal achieved independence in 1960 its presidency fell to Léopold Sédar Senghor,5 a poet and cultural theorist. Senghor was one of the progenitors of Négritude, a form of early-20th-century black cultural ideology that advocated the legitimisation of African culture as a means for combatting colonial assimilation. Négritude became the cornerstone of Senghor’s worldview and his 20-year presidency promoted art as both a symbol of Senegal’s independence and the political mechanism for the assertion of this. Cultural bodies such as The National Dance Company and The National Ballet were quickly founded, while grands projets including the 1966 World Festival of Negro Arts and Dakar’s Musée Dynamique established the nation as one of Africa’s cultural leaders.6 A generation of artists, such as painters Papa Ibra Tall and Iba N’Diaye, and film director Paulin Vieyra, began to emerge.
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Subsequent presidents have not promoted the arts as vociferously as Senghor, yet a legacy remains. “The primary goal of cultural politics was to forge a national consciousness for nationstates that had inherited borders that rarely followed ethnic and cultural coherency established
One of the community resources provided by the centre is a small library, atop which rest Josef and Anni Albers prints.
by precolonial history,” wrote Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne of Senghor’s presidency. “This emphasis is so significant that the idea itself must be understood to mean that true politics can only exist through culture and for culture.” Senghor created a postcolonial identity in which art and culture were indivisible from sociological development and, postSenghor, Senegalese youth groups Set/Setal, Boul Falé and Y’en a Marre7 have all employed art as a means of political protest, feeding into a national ideology in which culture is the handmaid of social change. It’s a point made by Fou Malade, a rapper and artistic director of Y’en a Marre: “Art is something that is in our veins.” The question therefore becomes what Thread might offer Senegalese society. While Senegal has a history of political stability and a growing economy, its national debt is high and 46.7 per cent of the population is in poverty. One in three Senegalese lives on less than $1.25 per day and the statistics deteriorate outside of Dakar. Tambacounda is particularly poor, its distance from the capital leaving it underfunded and cut off from certain essential services and supplies. “Tambacounda is ubiquitously considered as too far and too hot by the rest of Senegal,” acknowledges Murphy. Ba describes Sinthian, for instance, as “lost in the brush”, while Fox Weber is more prosaic: “If >
Y’en a Marre (We’re Fed Up) is a group of journalists and rappers that organised widespread protests against President Abdoulaye Wade’s 2012 plan to adjust the two-term limit of Senegal’s constitution to ensure his re-election in 2012. The group’s activism was partially credited with ensuring Wade’s defeat in the 2012 elections and peaceful exit from office. 7
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A dancer in attendance at the inauguration of Thread in March 2015. Opposite: Wooden furniture constructed by a Tambacoundan craftsmen is intended to bring flexibility to the centre’s interior spaces. The chairs are light and can be easily moved around Thread as required.
“For the cost of building the Vuitton Foundation, you could build 10,000 Threads.”
As has always been the case. Political scientist Tracy D. Snipe notes that “A particular weakness of the Ministry of Culture in Senegal is that it has never really been able to expand on the cultural realm beyond Dakar… when it comes to modern art forms, regional cultural development still is virtually non-existent outside of Dakar.” 8
The West African CFA franc is Senegal’s currency. The CFA franc has a fixed exchange rate to the Euro and is used by a number of West African nations. 9
In the UK, Arts Council England funding was cut by 32 per cent between 2010 and 2015, with the amount of money given to the arts – 0.3 per cent of the total public spend – tiny compared with what they generate. In Italy, spending on cultural heritage dropped from €165m in 2008 to €75 million in 2013, while in Florida, USA state funding for competitive cultural grants fell from $41m to $950,000 between 2000 and 2010. This list could go on. 10
The essay appears in Herz’s African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence. 11
> you’re born in Sinthian, you’re likely to be… in fact, no, there’s no other way, you will be brought up with your brothers and sisters in a structure that is about 3m by 3m and you will eat very few foods other than peanuts and corn. It’s subsistence living.” Sinthian faces a battle – not just internationally, but domestically – to avoid slipping into obscurity.
To reach Thread, you travel through Missirah, a district made up of rural villages, of which Sinthian is one. The roads are widened dirt tracks that cars dig into, spuming up clouds of ochre laterite. Before Thread finally appears at the edge of Sinthian, by now deep in the bush, Missirah’s built environment is largely limited to the adobe huts that line the savannah route. The centre is reasonably small – just over 1,000sqm – yet seems vast against these surroundings. It lies on the village’s extremity like a writhing manta staked out to dry in the sun. The aesthetic tricks continue inside. The floor is made from shards of tile, with a ribbon of blue mosaic that surrounds the exterior and gives way to reds, creams, greys, black and white inside. The tiles are all cast-offs – sourced from scalloped green bathrooms or grey-grid offices, or emblazoned with bunches of grapes and sprigs of spring flowers – and the bricolage seems a good metaphor for the project as a whole: beauty from the unexpected. The success of Thread’s architecture is a reminder of culture’s capacity to help Tambacounda overcome its challenges. While cash-poor, the region has a rich arts community. The Centre culturel régional de Tambacounda, a state-run facility, estimates that the region is home to 1,000 rappers, with the centre’s sound studio in constant use. “We make two recordings a day,” says Abdourahmane Diallo, the facility’s director, “so you can see there is a demand for it.” Yet while artistic talent is present, Tambacounda lacks the infrastructure to support it.8 “The region’s cultural scene is strong, with many artists,” says Saliou Diop, one of Thread’s first residents, “but they’re dispersed and there’s nothing to bring them together.” Dispersed, but also underfunded. “On a national level cultural funding is 200m CFA [about £222,000]9 a year, but until now Tambacounda has received less than 5m CFA,” says Diallo. “We have many activities at the cultural centre, but the funding is not sufficient for all that we want to do and it’s not sufficient for the functioning of the institution.” Thread collaborates with Diallo’s organisation in an attempt to provide such a platform; an independent body to pick up the slack when state funding runs out. “Tambacounda is the one place Senegalese people don’t want to go,” says Murphy. “The only way to change that narrative is to support its artists, to support rappers or painters or graffiti artists, and share its story more widely.” Mamadou Yaya Diallo, Thread’s agricultural coordinator, is even clearer: “We have the goal of working for the community. As Senegalese, we have a duty to better their conditions.”
Thread will not solve all of Sinthian’s problems, yet its suggestion that Tambacounda benefits as much from cultural engagement as, for example, provision of medical supplies is encouraging. It would be a provocative suggestion anywhere – worldwide arts funding cuts make it clear most governments consider culture an optional extra10 – but in Africa, a continent described by Malian author Aminata Dramane Traoré as having been taught “to think of herself as poor”, it is radical.
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A 2014 essay by urbanist Manuel Herz11 argues that conventional narratives surrounding Africa associate the continent with “the poor, the violent, the raw, the exotic, and the peripheral” and >
Portraits of residents of Missirah, the network of villages of which Sinthian is a part, as well as professional traditional Bassari dancers who came to inaugurate Thread. All photographs were taken during the celebrations for Threadâ€™s opening.
This page: The aquifers at Sinthian will be supplemented by water collected by Thread’s thatch roof, which is pitched so as to let rainwater drain off it into channels that run through to external cisterns. Opposite: The interior space of Thread is highly amorphous. The centre is open plan, but the undulations of the roof suggest discrete spaces.
As stated in Kouoh’s 2012 essay Filling the Voids: The Emergence of Independent Contemporary Art Spaces in Africa. 12
> certainly, western perceptions of Africa rarely seem to move beyond the notion of relief work and the idea that the continent is fit for little but the grateful reception of medicine, shelter and food aid. “Africa is never seen as possessing things and attributes properly part of ‘human nature’,” wrote Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe in his 2001 book On the Postcolony. “Or, when it is, its things and attributes are generally of lesser value, little importance, and poor quality. It is this elementariness and primitiveness that makes Africa the world par excellence of all that is incomplete, mutilated, and unfinished, its history reduced to a series of setbacks of nature in its quest for humankind.”
Thread’s positioning of culture as essential to Tambacounda – as something as important to human existence as the fulfilment of brute biological needs – is an effort to move beyond such a narrative. It’s a proven methodology. The past 25 years have seen independent arts spaces spring up across Africa, from Doual’art and Bonendale in Cameroon, to Townhouse Gallery and Darb 1718 in Egypt. Thread is part of this movement, which Koyo Kouoh, founder of Dakar-based gallery Raw Material and a curatorial advisor to Thread, describes as a pan-Africa cultural flourishing: “Whether large or small, generously funded or not, centres such as these are changing the cultural and artistic landscape and, if nothing else, they replenish the dearth in spaces of free expression, productions, exhibition and reflection.”12 The independence of such spaces is key. While Senghor helped establish art’s contemporary role in Senegal, he also created a near state monopoly on its funding and production. “As a general rule, the types of administration inherited from colonial systems and perpetuated by the political and administrative elite in Africa, have not placed an importance on private initiatives,” says Kouoh. “This is especially true in the arts and in the situation of former French colonies, where the heirs to a centralistic model of an omnipotent and omnipresent state continue to adhere to their constitutional roles as initiator, regulator, controller, promoter, producer and critic.” Platforms such as Thread help divorce art from governmental control, acting as incubators of national identity outside state machinations. Such ideas of agency are embedded in the cultural mission of Thread, but also in the architecture itself. Thread is largely constructed from materials local to Sinthian – the bricks made from its soil, the thatch woven from its grass and bamboo – and the small number of press articles that greeted its opening focused heavily on this. The Guardian mentioned the importance of familiar materials in promoting local ownership of the space, while The Wall Street Journal praised its capacity to speak “in something approaching a local dialect”. The idea was that Thread’s embracing of the vernacular made it a good cultural centre for Sinthian.
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In part, such praise for vernacular architecture comes from context. The second half of the 20th century saw modernist architecture blossom in Africa as postcolonial governments rushed to embrace the International Style, the results of which were rarely international and frequently degraded to a simple transplant of US and European values on to African nations seduced by western affluence. “No word captures the hopes and ambitions of Africa’s leaders, its educated populations, and many of its farmers and workers in the postwar decades better than ‘development’,” notes historian Frederick Cooper. By contrast, vernacular architecture seems more palatable, although praise for its adoption is all too often patronising, a closeted form
of exoticism that celebrates what looks right in a context – in this case an African village – or what is deemed understandable by locals. At least modernism was up front about its intentions: “Modernisation stood for the belief that with a big push any nation could reach the same level of development as the First World,” writes Manuel Herz. “In that sense, even if maybe naive and even if often perverted, modernism stood for an honourable promise.”
The danger of focusing on vernacular is that it awards primacy to the idea that Thread is a good cultural centre for Sinthian, but remains silent as to the suggestion that Thread might be a good cultural centre period. The use of thatch and locally sourced bricks is not some emotional sop to the populace,13 but a sound architectural decision. The materials are cheap, durable, quick to produce, and can be worked with readily by local tradesmen. These factors enabled MacTavish to manage the build from a separate continent and also facilitate the small but constant revisions the centre is likely to undergo. The centre’s materials and structure are further vindicated by the final result. Thread has architectural moments on a par with anything offered by buildings with construction budgets many thousand times greater. “The architecture photographer Iwan Baan covered the opening of Thread and the opening of the Vuitton Foundation in Paris as well,” says Fox Weber. “He pointed out to me that for the cost of building the Vuitton Foundation, you could build 10,000 Threads.” Tambacounda’s rainy season brings frequent thunderstorms, during which the circular openings above the centre’s courtyards take on a new purpose. Reconfigured as Turrellean apertures,14 they frame a sky that glows alternately blue and rose, the cloud cover illuminated by sheet lightning as rain hisses all around. It is a staggering effect. Such gestures are central to Sinthian asserting itself on a wider stage. “When I arrived in 2000, there was nothing,” says Ba. “Now, there’s a kindergarten, a medical centre, a school, and with Thread the people know that their village is now known throughout the world. I was just in France and people said, ‘Ah Sinthian, I’ve heard of it, we were just talking about it.’” A notion of civic pride is undoubted, yet so too is a sense of placemaking. Thread promises a kind of Guggenheim effect15 for Missirah, the entire project an assertion that Sinthian has something to offer. “Aesthetics have a real social function in terms of generating pride and encouraging use of a space,” says Murphy. “There are the little moments of Sinthian being a destination. We field many requests from journalists, every week, saying ‘I’m in Dakar, how do I get out to Thread?’ These are journalists who would never get to Tambacounda. While we’re certainly not the only reason to go there, if we’re what gets people here, then they can go on to have a wider experience of the region.”
The challenge for Thread is whether an international organisation, by means of a building created by an international architect to house international artists, is the best body to facilitate a Senegalese community uncovering agency through cultural practice. Any form of foreign intervention in a nation’s culture is sensitive, but in a former French colony where oppressors asserted the legitimacy of their actions by citing the supposed superiority of European culture – “La mission civilisatrice”16 – it feels particularly pointed. AFLK says that it is alive to such criticism. The body is advised by Senegalese consultants who live and work in the communities it supports, while Allegra Itsoga, the organisation’s director, points to countervailing practicalities also. >
“I think the people in Sinthian were actually surprised we were proposing to use their own resources; they were expecting something totally different,” says MacTavish. 13
James Turrell (b. 1943) is a US light and space artist. His large-scale installations and projections manipulate light, frequently creating framing devices that play with viewers’ sensory perception. 14
The Guggenheim effect is named for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum (1997) in Bilbao, Spain and refers to the phenomenon of cultural projects in architecture prompting urban regeneration. 15
La mission civilisatrice was the underlying principle of French colonialism in the 19th and 20th century, arguing that rule of foreign nations was justified by its promise to spread European civilisation to backwards peoples. 16
A more detailed discussion of this can be found in Snipe’s book Arts and Politics in Senegal, 1960-1996. 17
A 2012 essay by Katharina von Ruckteschell-Katte, director of German cultural body The Goethe-Institut in Sub-Saharan Africa, prophesied that Europe’s best hope of remaining culturally relevant in the 21st century is by supporting art in the Global South: “The future of art consists in individual, creative productions of globally situated artists… We are convinced this is the only way that will make it possible for us Europeans to take part in the artistic discourse of the future.” 18
READING LIST African Modernism: The Architecture of Independence, edited by Manuel Herz. Park Books, 2015. Arts and Politics in Senegal, 1960-1996, Tracy D. Snipe. Africa World Press, 1998. Condition Report: Symposium on Building Art Institutions in Africa, edited by Koyo Kouoh. Hatje Cantz, 2013. Josef + Anni Albers: Designs for Living, Nicholas Fox Weber. Merrell, 2004.
Thank you to AFLK and Reiber + Partners for sponsoring and organising the trip to Sinthian.
> “I think we can act as a sort of bridge,” she says. “Senegal has a severe shortage of funds and the projects we’re doing are ones they cannot do. The other thing we can do – which local artists, doctors and residents cannot – is get meetings with government officials and bring these causes to light. Unfortunately, when you’re foreign you have connections with people in Europe that people in Senegal just don’t have. I’m not saying that that’s a great system, but we’re going to use it to help the people we can.”
“People are understandably sceptical of a Western organisation being involved in any kind of aid in Senegal or West Africa,” admits Murphy, “but the amount of sensitivity built up around it can also cause a sort of congealing where people don’t take any action. That isn’t an answer either and I’m frustrated by the notion that when we raise money to put into these projects we’re seen as fundraising, but when Magueye Ba develops a relationship with our organisation and leads discussions to bring the cultural centre to this community, he’s seen as receiving. The bent of the West is to grant ourselves agency and deny it to others.” Murphy’s message is a good one. Even within the context of Senghor’s Négritude, Senegalese arts policy was based around twin concepts of enrancinement and ouverture: rootedness and openness. A national culture was to be cultivated, but one that was embedded in the international arts scene. “Senghor wished to demonstrate that African civilisation had contributed to universal civilisation,” writes Tracy D. Snipe, “thus refuting European claims to the contrary.”17 And while Senghor’s development of cultural identity was nationalist, it was certainly not isolationist. In the same way, Tambacounda does not wish to be isolated. The region is not so fragile that outside influence risks subsuming its culture; instead, it desires a place in the wider artistic world on its own merits, to borrow what is good in other cultures and to share what is good in its own. As suggested by Koyo Kouoh, “The times of micro ideas in micro states have passed.”18
This is where the strands of Thread – its origins, its ambitions, its location, its philosophy and its context – start to knit together, curiously within the two figures who seem to stand apart from it all, the two people who never even went to Senegal: Josef and Anni Albers. The Albers are firmly embedded in art history; Josef’s paintings and university teaching helped form geometric abstraction and colour theory, prefacing minimalism, while Anni is credited as the foremost textile artist of the 20th century. Their work sells for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars at auction “but they couldn’t stand art-world pretension,” says Fox Weber, “people clapping their little hands when a Mondrian goes for $10m on the auction block. For them, makers of everyday household objects were true artists.”
The Albers believed that art’s power derived from its being embedded in the quotidian and they conceived of the modernist mission as an assertion that art spoke a universally understood common language, functioning as an essential constituent of any healthy society. “Yes, art is useless, in a sense,” wrote Anni in a 1969 article. “But it has a restorative power that we need again and again. It assures us of a timeless meaning across epochs and regions.” It may not have been full-blown Senghorian “art as politics”, but the Albersian interpretation of culture was nonetheless compatible with this, built on an understanding that art ought to infiltrate all areas of life. “Although you may expect a long answer to this, my answer is very short,” said Anni in a 1977 interview with art critic Gene Baro. “There is no medium that cannot serve art.” Thread is this ethos made manifest. “AFLK’s view is to encourage the support of culture right alongside health and education,” says Murphy, “because these things don’t exist in Tambacounda in separation. You can’t support one without the other and if one is weak they all feel that way. There is a real misunderstanding that art and culture should be this privilege afforded to those who have everything else squared away, when in fact it can be the most important thing.” To this, Magueye Ba makes an addendum, offering a parting shot of which Senghor and the Albers might have been proud. “Art is not something at the end of development; it’s a form of development.”
Oli Stratford is deputy editor of Disegno.
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Concrete courtyards are found at either end of Thread. They are performance and rehearsal spaces, left open to the elements by apertures in the thatch canopy.
How does the human anatomy influence the design of shoes? InÂ aÂ little-read essay from 1904, architect Adolf Loos sets out an eccentric vision of footwear trends as defined and shaped by the leisure pursuits of the dominant classes. Could it provide an alternative reading of contemporary footwear design? ESSAY Adolf Loos PHOTOS Ola Bergengren
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Front: Black velvet shoe with black patent straps, featuring pink and blue detailing on heel and inner sole by Giorgio Armani. Back: Green patent-leather shoe from Pierre Hardyâ€™s ACE collection with cubed, monolith heel.
empora mutantur, nos et matamur in illis. Times change, and we change with them. Our feet change as well. Soon they will be small, or large, narrow, or broad. And the shoes made by the shoemakers will be small, or large, or narrow, or broad. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. The shape of our feet does not change season to season. This takes centuries or, at least a generation. It just isn’t possible to turn a large foot into a small foot on a fashion whim. In that respect the creative makers of other fashion items have it easier. Full waist, wasp waist, high shoulders, sloping shoulders; these and many other styles can be attained by the aid of a new line, a bit of padding, or something similar. However, shoemakers have to stick to the shape of the individual foot. If they want to (re)introduce small shoes, they have to wait patiently until the “Big Foot” dynasty has died out.
But it is evident that not all people have the same shape at the same time. People who make greater use of their feet will develop larger ones; people who use them less will have smaller ones. What can the shoemaker do about this? What shape of foot should he use as his standard – for he must endeavour to produce a contemporary product. He, too, wants to get ahead in a competitive world and therefore wishes to make his products as marketable as possible.
Consequently, he does what all the other craftsmen do. He bases his designs on the shape of the foot of the socially most prominent class. In the Middle Ages the knights were socially dominant, riders who, because they spent a great amount of time on horseback, had smaller feet than the common foot-folk. This in turn meant that the small foot was modern, and by lengthening it with the turned up toe the craftsman was able to emphasise its slimness, which was regarded as the most desirable feature at the time. With the decline of Knighthood, the pedestrian burgher replaced the knight in the social standing and the large, broad foot of the patrician with his relaxed way of walking became fashionable. During the 17th and 18th centuries the predominance of the royal courts meant that walking was on the decline again, and the widespread use of the sedan chair led to the ascendancy of small shoes with high heels, ideal for the park and the palace, but not suitable for the street.
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The revival of Germanic culture brought horseback riding back to prominence. In the 18th century everyone who wanted to be fashionable wore English riding boots, even if they did not own a horse. The riding boot was the symbol of a free man, a man who had finally liberated himself from the confines of buckled shoes, gleaming parquet floors and the oppressive air of >
Suede-leather stiletto shoe by Casadei, with a handmade, steel, blade heel and structured back.
Leather and metal Bluepanelshoe by Marloes ten Bhömer. “The aim is to replace the standard approaches to footwear design and manufacturing with the working processes of engineering. This avoids fashion trends and styles, and is based on research into the structural parameters required to support a foot in motion.” MARLOES TEN BÖHMER
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Walking as slowly as people did in earlier times would be impossible for us today. Life is just too hectic.
> the courts. Feet remained small, but the high heels, of no use to horsemen, disappeared. Throughout the century that followed, our century that is, people endeavoured to have as small a foot as possible.
But in the course of this century the human foot has undergone a transformation. Changing social conditions have meant that year after year we walk more and more quickly. Saving time, means saving money. Even the best circles – that is, people who actually have time to spare – have been caught up in this change and increased their pace. Nowadays the normal pace of an agile and active person can be compared to that of running footmen preceding a carriage in the previous century. Walking as slowly as people did in earlier times would be impossible for us today. Life is just too hectic. In the 18th century soldiers marched at a pace that, to us, would seem like standing still on each leg alternately and be most tiring. The increase in walking speed can best be illustrated by the fact that the army of Frederick the Great took 70 paces per minute, while the modern army takes 120. (Our parade regulations specify 115 to 117 paces per minute, but it is very difficult to keep contemporary soldiers to that, as they tend to increase the speed on their own accord. A new edition of the regulations will have to take this modern development into account – something that certainly will not harm the overall tactical readiness of the army.) Using this as a basis, it is quite possible to extrapolate how many paces per minute an army – or all people who wish to get somewhere quickly – will be marching in a hundred years from now. People of more advanced civilisations walk at a faster pace than those who are behind the time – the Americans walk more quickly than the Italians for example. In New York you always have the feeling there must have been an accident somewhere. And a Viennese of the 18th century walking on the Kärntnerstrasse of today would have the impression that something has happened.
Therefore it is evident that we now walk at a faster pace. This means that we push off from the ground more strongly with our big toe. And, indeed, our big toes are becoming bigger and stronger. Strolling at a leisurely pace results in a broadening of the foot, while fast walking, through the more extensive use of the middle foot, invariably leads to a lengthening. As the other toes, in particular the little toe, cannot keep pace with this development, they atrophy through reduction of use, which in turn results in a narrowing of the foot.
The pedestrian has, so to speak, overtaken the horseback rider. The pedestrian is simply a further development of the German ethnic principal: to get ahead on one’s own will be the motto for the next century. The horse was merely a transitional phase between sedan bearer and one’s own self. The story of the 19th century is also the story of the glory as well as the demise of the horse tradition. The smell of the stables was the most noble of perfumes and horse racing our national pastime. The horseman was the spoiled favourite of the German folksong: A Riders End, The Rider’s Lady, and The Horseman’s Farewell. The pedestrian was non-existent. The entire world dressed like a horseman. When we wanted to dress up for a special occasion, we put on our riding coat, the tailcoat. Every student had his mount and the streets were filled with riders of all sorts.
156 Disegno. FOOTWEAR/SHOES
How things have changed! The horseman is the man of the plains, of the flatlands. The English country gentlemen bred horses and appeared at the hunt from time to time to jump the fences
chasing after the fox. He has been replaced by a man who lives in the mountains, who finds pleasure in climbing to the peaks and risking his life to take himself above the habitations of man, the highlander, the Scot.
The rider wears high boots and long narrow trousers that come down over the knee and end in a very narrow leg (riding breeches). They are no use to the pedestrian or the mountain climber. Whether in Scotland or the Alps, he wears lace-up shoes and long stockings that should not come above the knees, but leave them free. The Scot wears his well-known kilt, the alpine mountaineer leather shorts, Lederhosen, but in principle they are the same. There is a difference between plainsman and the mountaineer in the type of material used: the former wears fine cloth, the latter coarse weave (home spun and loden).
Mountain climbing has become national sport. The very same people who a hundred years ago had such a profound dread of high mountains are fleeing the flatlands and making off towards higher ground. Mountain climbing, using one’s own physical strength to push higher and higher, is currently considered one of the noblest of passions. But, must those who do not live in the mountains be excluded from this noble passion? One must only remember that in the previous century horse riding was called a “noble passion”. A means was sought that would allow these people in the low country (as well?) to exercise themselves in a similar way. Therefore the bicycle was invented.
Middle: Black velvet Nola pump by Nicholas Kirkwood, with black patent leather toe, gold detailing and curved heel. Right: Stiletto Sphere shoe by Roger Vivier, embellished with gold triangular detailing and matchstick heel with gold sphere. Vivier invented the first needle-thin heel in the 1950s. Left: See page 159.
The cyclist is the mountaineer of the plains. Therefore he dresses similarly. High boots and riding breeches are of no use to him. He wears trousers that are wide at the knee, closing below it in a turn-up, around which the turned down tops of the stockings fit. (The stockings are turned over at the top both in the Alps and in Scotland, so they stay up.) In this way the knee has room to move under the trousers and can bend and stretch without restriction. By the way, it is worth mentioning that there are some people in Vienna who apparently do not know the real purpose of turn-ups. They leave just as silly an impression as the various city tourists in alpine garb who infest the Alps in the summer. Like the mountaineer, the cyclist wears lace-up shoes. Laced shoes will dominate the next century just as riding boots have done in this century. The English have already made a direct transition and wear both styles today. We, however, have created a hideous hybrid for this transitional period: the elastic-sided boot. The ugliness of the elastic-sided boot became immediately apparent with the advent of short trousers. It >
BBQ by Chu-Ting Lee features a wooden heel and delicate ceramic upper. “Each shoe style represents a dish. The way you decorate the plate, the way you eat your dishes, how you cook. In order to discover more exciting design processes, I covered my eyes and used other senses to design some of my footwear.” CHU-TING LEE
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Epidermis by Alejandra Simonetta, with vegetable tan leather heel and upper, and red suede inner sole. “Epidermis, which means skin, was made in collaboration with the cinematographer Maria Guerberof. This design was inspired by the idea of the shoe as an extension of the body.” ALEJANDRA SIMONETTA
The riding boot was the symbol of a free man, a man who had finally liberated himself from the confines of buckled shoes, gleaming parquet floors and the oppressive air of the courts.
Pseudonym of Karl Gottlieb Samuel Heun (1771-1854), a purveyor of sentimental and mildly titillating fiction to the German middle classes. 1
> quickly became evident that elastic-sided boots could not be worn without the charity of a concealing long trouser leg. Our officers used to wear gaiters to conceal them, and were justifiably unhappy when uniform regulations were more strictly applied and the infantry was forbidden to wear gaiters. For us, elastic-sided boots are dead, as dead as the tailcoat during daylight hours, the comic effect of which can only be appreciated when we go for a walk with it in the street. Even in sweltering heat we have to put on an overcoat to cover up, or take a cab. Producing a comic effect: that has been the death knell for any item of clothing.
As a result of their various pedestrian activities, the foot of our upper crust is no longer as small as it used to be. They are getting bigger and bigger. The Englishman’s and the Englishwoman’s big feet no longer incur the mockery that they used to. We climb mountains as well, ride bicycles and – horribile dictu – are developing “English” feet. But, this is hardly a disturbing process. The small foot is slowly beginning to lose its attraction, especially in a man. I recently was sent a description of Rigo from America. One of his acquaintances begins: “I knew the gypsy,” and in the course of the description that follows states: “A pair of disgustingly small feet were peering out from under his trousers.” Disgustingly small feet! It sounds convincing, this new doctrine from America: disgustingly small feet. Poor Saint Heinrich Clauren,1 if you heard that, you whose heroes could never have had small feet enough, on which in noble virility they danced into the dreams of a hundred thousand maidens. Tempora mutantur… Button shoes, which are acceptable only in patent leather, should be mentioned here as well. They are shoes for leisure. Where patent leather shoes are required, such as with full‑dress uniforms, the English as well as their aristocratic regiment wear patent leather boots with polished legs under their trousers. The only acceptable dancing shoes are patent leather (pumps).
Adolf Loos (1870-1933) was an Austrian architect and an influential early proponent of modern architecture. Footwear/Shoes is taken from Metroverlag’s English-language edition of Loos’ Why A Man Should Be Welldressed: Appearances Can be Revealing (2011). Translation: Michael Edward Troy. This essay has been mildly edited for style.
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Black leather shoe by Kei Kagami, supported by an arching metal structure and spring back. “This shoe collection was quite architectural, as I took the structural idea from rainbow bridge structures. I learnt that a stainless steel sheet of 2mm thickness could support human weight.” KEI KAGAMI
162 Disegno. FOOTWEAR/SHOES
Boat Shoes by Chu-Ting Lee. A multi-panel leather shoe, with leather strap mounted on a wooden wedge and aÂ detatchable EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) heel.
The Big Move As Toronto prepares for an unprecedented investment in a new public transport system, Disegno asks whether branding has come to overshadow the concept’s true objectives. Or does it simply represent a new type of “public”? WORDS Matthew Allen PHOTOS Ian Willms
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Crowds outside Torontoâ€™s central Union station during evening rush hour.
THE BIG MOVE
C The Big Move was published in 2008 and proposes a number of transit projects for Toronto that resulted from various earlier green and white papers. 1
an urban development ever be said to have a recognisable character, a personality? This is a question cities have always faced when they set out to create comprehensive plans, but it is an increasingly urgent problem for those urban centres that are in competition for the hearts of a well-informed and mobile population of global citizens. The mismatch between desire and reality is acute in Toronto, a city whose character, at least in terms of statistics, is changing. The population has increased more than tenfold since 1945 – from around 263,000 in 1945 to 2.86 million – and is expected to hit 3 million by 2031. A recent C$50bn (about £25bn) public transportation masterplan, called the Big Move,1 promises regional coherence to accommodate this, but Toronto itself seems set to remain diverse. None of this is particularly unusual. What is strange, however, is that a new vision for what the “public” in “public transit” might mean underpins much of the Big Move. Stranger still is the consensus this new vision seems to be attracting.
What is public transit in Toronto? What is Toronto itself? An early suggestion as to what Metrolinx, the state-owned agency behind the Big Move, might have in mind is gleaned by riding one of the first of its key projects, the recently completed express train that meets visitors at Toronto’s Pearson airport and carries them to its downtown rail hub, Union station. The ride leaves you with the pleasant feeling of having experienced a representative cross-section of the city. On departure, the train swoops out with a commanding view of the busiest airport in Canada – which served some 38.5 million passengers in 2014 – and proceeds into what looks to be a bustling industrial area amid thriving suburbs. Next, it passes though hipster- and immigrant-friendly neighbourhoods (the converted warehouses and various storefront scripts are conspicuous), where art graffiti lines the railway, a practice that is not just tolerated, but has been institutionalised in a programme that matches local art students with blank walls. The ride, which lasts 25 minutes, ends at Union in a downtown core dense with new condo towers.
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The UP Express, as the train is called, certainly presents Toronto as a neat package. So neat, in fact, that you cannot help but feel it matches expectations too well – that what the passenger is being offered is somehow an illusion. A cartoon map inside the train focuses this suspicion: it shows the train route curving among cheerful icons representing parks and neighbourhoods, but mostly against a blank backdrop. Looking around, the same monomaniacal curatorial attention can be seen everywhere: in the signage, the carpeting, the hip magazine in the seatback >
The UP Express train, which takes 25 minutes to travel between Pearson airport and Union station.
THE BIG MOVE
In front of Union station.
Tyler Brûlé is editorin‑chief of Monocle and a contributor to FT Weekend. Brûlé launched Wallpaper* magazine in 1996, but left in 2002 to focus on his branding and advertising agency, Winkreative. 2
Daniel Libeskind (b.1946) designed the 2007 extension for the city’s Royal Ontario Museum. Frank Gehry (b.1929), a Toronto native, renovated the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2008. 3
The process dissolved East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough and York to create the current City of Toronto, the fourth most populous municipality in North America, trailing Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles. 4
Metrolinx was founded by the Province of Ontario on 24 April 2006 and initially operated as the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority. 5
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> pocket, the attendants’ uniforms. This excessive editing makes sense if you understand the UP Express not as a train, but as a carefully crafted branding effort that has been orchestrated by creative agency Winkreative, owned by Monocle editor and founder Tyler Brûlé.2 What is offered up is a polished – almost airbrushed – vision of Toronto. The background to the city settling on such a singular vision requires a little context.
Grands projets in Toronto have historically been intensely political and subject to compromise. Until the postwar years, the city was essentially a small colonial outpost. It was not until the 1970s that it overtook Montréal in population and as the commercial centre of Canada. Though it has experienced continuous growth very different to that of nearby American cities (Buffalo, Syracuse, Detroit), Toronto still felt the economic slumps of the early 1980s and the city took a long hiatus from high design. The saying in architecture circles is that Toronto has plenty of buildings by first-rate architects, but they all happen to be second-rate projects; Toronto has not seen the benefit – aesthetically or economically – from buildings by, for example, Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind.3 As landmarks and urban fabrics faced underinvestment, so too did transportation infrastructure. Looking across all Canadian cities in the period from 1978 to 2000, transportation spending grew only 0.1 per cent per year – nowhere near the population growth rate. By the 1990s, annual investment in public transit in Toronto was among the lowest of the OECD countries, yet the city’s need continued to grow. By 2031, Toronto Pearson and Union station are expected to welcome around 190 million travellers a year, while 12m trips, a large proportion of which are by car, already take place within the Greater Toronto Area each day. A turning point occurred in 1998 when Toronto amalgamated with five nearby municipalities into the current mega-Toronto, an area slightly larger than Chicago.4 Amalgamation was universally reviled (the word even sounds like “armageddon”) and an important consequence was a shift in municipal political power from the liberal downtown core to the conservative suburban ring. At the same time, municipal services were equalised across the region, essentially resulting in a vast redistribution of wealth. The effects of amalgamation continue to reverberate through city politics. Amalgamation was followed ten years later by the consolidation of regional transit authority under a new agency, Metrolinx.5 Unlike the municipal operator of subways and streetcars, Metrolinx is provincially controlled, which allows it to deal with a regional issue (mass transit) at the appropriate level. The current $50bn transportation masterplan, the Big Move, was drawn up
Inside the UP Express train, a service developed by Tyler Brûlé’s Winkreative design agency.
in 2008, and projects adding up to $16bn are now underway. This huge investment will only bring public transit in Toronto up to the level of other cities, but the fact that so much money is being spent in such a concentrated and coordinated manner nonetheless has its consequences. “I think we’re way behind with design,” says Tarek El-Khatib, a senior partner at Toronto-based architects Zeidler and a collaborator on the UP Express. “If anything, we’re just starting to catch up to the complexity of what design means in terms of creating good cities. There are a lot of buildings with doodads on them that make them look design-y, but the reality is that the public realm is extremely poor in Toronto.” Like amalgamation, Metrolinx has proven to be a source of discontent. To take one example, Metrolinx aims to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, meaning that it works towards policies that reduce automobile use, such as increasing the fuel tax and parking fees. As light rail lines began replacing automobile lanes in already congested streets, former mayor Rob Ford famously vowed to oppose the “war on cars”, and city councillors and residents dug in for a long battle. In the political tug-of-war between city and suburbs that amalgamation unleashed, radical transportation solutions have become less and less likely. Montréal remains a far more bicyclefriendly city, while a recent Toronto City Council debate about whether or not to tear down an elevated expressway taking up lakeside real estate resulted in the adoption of a “hybrid option”. It sounds promising, but really just means that it’s likely nothing will be done.
The Downtown Relief line is a proposed east-west subway that would connect downtown Toronto to the existing Bloor-Danforth subway. The Scarborough subway extension suggests running the BloorDanforth subway further north to replace the ageing Scarborough RT line. 6
The Toronto Transit Commission was founded in 1921 and operates the city’s buses, streetcars, rapid transit and paratransit services. 7
Acrimonious debate has greeted most Big Move proposals. Which should have priority: the Scarborough subway extension or the poetically named Downtown Relief line?6 The isolated suburbs deserve to be integrated, but the beleaguered downtown also needs relief. These projects have been cancelled, postponed, and re-conceptualised time and again and it has even become somewhat unclear as to who is in charge. The Toronto Transit Commission7 runs the subways, but Metrolinx seems to be conducting many of the studies. And these are just two efforts among the 62 outlined by the Big Move. Most of the others on the table for the next two decades involve equally contentious choices. Where exactly will the new transit corridors run? Who will be served by the new bus and rail lines?
The UP Express is interesting because it has been spared the brunt of the discontent. Part of its success lies in the way it unites the suburbs with the city centre, which goes beyond providing a simply physical link. The UP Express is something which the traditionally anti-transit suburban crowd can admire, rather than oppose. Importantly, the UP Express does not present an >
THE BIG MOVE
Inside the main hall of Union station. Opposite: Rush-hour traffic backed up on Lakeshore Boulevard, beneath a raised section of the Gardiner expressway.
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THE BIG MOVE
“The mental image of Toronto hasn’t caught up yet with what the city actually is.”
Dwell is a US architecture and design magazine that launched in 2000. The magazine describes itself as modernist and is notable for its heavy focus on ascetic home interiors. 8
> attitude hostile to cars — if anything it is meant to appeal to car owners. As local transportation consultant David Sajecki notes, “transit begins with the car, and the car is a very comfortable way for people to get around. It’s easy.” But it should be noted that without better public transit the car will become less comfortable. Without the Big Move, the average commute time is expected to rise from 82 to 109 minutes over the next 15 years. Wooing people away from cars requires, in Sajecki’s words, “a more sensitive approach to design for transportation planning”. The importance of this “sensitive approach” should be emphasised: what Metrolinx has done with the UP Express is to recast public transit as a business-class experience, which is no small accomplishment. Popular conceptions of public transit tend to lean towards buses and barebones subway cars filled with minimum-wage service workers – that is, mass transit as a reliable last resort. In a sprawling metropolis such as Toronto, where crawling traffic means that driving is not always a viable option, there is certainly a parallel ideal to be developed: mass transit as the saviour that provides a tolerable commute. In either case, transit is anything but glamorous. It’s a phenomenon that makes the UP Express an oddity: it is aspirational public transportation.
It is worth describing the UP Express aesthetic. Not for its uniqueness, but rather for how typical it is. The livery, signage, and stations all match nicely – as is to be expected – but so do the staff uniforms, retail mix in the terminal, and graphics on the transit fare card. The design language builds from retro colours and simple, flat, cute graphics. The result is described in the marketing literature as “Canadian”, but based on an association with something common to regionalist styles the world over: wood, presented in an abstract and refined way. The atmosphere is understated and clean; the combination of circa 1960s retro styling with modernist minimalism and an abundance of wood familiar from magazines such as interiors title Dwell.8 The frequency with which this style seems to dot the residential streets of Toronto suggests it has become a new vernacular, associated with the renovation of run-down buildings for resale on the newly booming real-estate market. Its obsessive formalism often appears a little too well-considered. Generally speaking, this style matches a certain demographic. The ideal passenger of the UP Express blends yuppie with hipster: he or she is middle class, cosmopolitan, style conscious. It certainly appears that there are plenty of Torontonians who fit this profile. A visit to the Monocle Shop, which is nestled in an old neighbourhood next to bakeries and cafes, offers the spectacle of polished young urbanites darting in and out to buy travel bags and passport wallets designed in Tokyo and Amsterdam. The revelation is that such a specific aesthetic ideal is not only fitting for an express train and a transit system, but also for an urban hub that sees itself as global. The underlying idea is that the city itself is reframed as an experience. In interviews and press releases, the progenitors of the UP Express often describe its design as “welcoming”. This is not quite the right word, as the ambition seems to be to make public transit part of an all-encompassing experience that one never has to leave. A better word would be “seamless”. Imagine walking around Geneva, say, and hopping onto a comfortable train to a pleasant airport lounge and into the hands of a thoughtful airline, then repeating the process in reverse until you arrive at the centre of Toronto, before continuing on to a boardroom or bar or gallery. All this takes place within a sort of distended bubble, a global-network enclave. One mark of such a style is the elision of distance; thus the cartoon map of the UP Express route re-imagines a trip to the airport as a pleasant stroll.
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The true genius of this strategy, however, is not in shrinking the world, but in blurring genres. In this regard, Porter Airlines is an important reference point in Toronto. Porter is a small airline >
New condominium developments that have risen up along Torontoâ€™s lakeshore, just outside UnionÂ station.
THE BIG MOVE
Construction in the passageways below Union station.
Toronto Island airport, formally known as Billy Bishop Toronto City airport, is built on a chain of islands found in the western part of Lake Ontario, a few minutes from the city’s downtown. 9
GO Transit is a division of Metrolinx and carries more than 65 million passengers a year. 10
Richard Serra (b.1939) is an American minimalist sculptor, who creates large-scale sheet-steel installations. Tilted Spheres was unveiled in Pearson airport in 2007 and consists of four steel fins that curve to form enclosures. 11
Global Entry is a pilot programme developed by US Customs and Border Protection. It allows pre-approved, low-risk travellers from the US and Canada to receive expedited clearance through border controls. 12
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> that flies turboprop planes out of the impossibly idyllic Toronto Island airport.9 Since its foundation in 2006, Porter has been subject to a multifaceted branding effort by Winkreative, something that everyone in Toronto has seen. It is likely that this precedent was what secured the patronage of Metrolinx, which hired the agency to not only brand the UP Express, but also to update the logo and signage for GO Transit,10 Southern Ontario’s inter-regional public transit system. What Winkreative did well for Porter was to provide an entire ecosystem to complement traditional branding. It not only produced advertisements, livery and uniforms, but also, for example, an ad campaign for Porter’s special, ultra-quiet jets (made by Bombardier, which is headquartered in Montréal). Then there’s Monocle, Winkreative’s sister journal. Both Monocle and Porter have partnered with luggage manufacturer Rimowa (which is German, but has a factory outside of Toronto). Opening an issue of either Monocle or Porter’s similar in-flight magazine, you can see how it all comes together: there are advertisements for the luggage and the airplanes, as well as for cities and countries, which are conflated with articles extolling their unique virtues. Stepping into the Porter ecosystem means entering a curated world that replaces quotidian existence.
Creating an all-encompassing experience is easy at the small and naturally charming Toronto Island airport, but another strategy is required for an entire transit system. Here, Metrolinx may have learned from Toronto’s larger airport, Pearson. Rather than creating a more beautiful world ex novo, Pearson offers connected islands of refinement: there’s artist Richard Serra’s Tilted Spheres in Terminal One;11 the Global Entry shortcut through immigration;12 and now the UP terminal to take you downtown. To live in this better world, it seems to suggest, one simply needs to opt in, although of course one has to pay for it. A standard adult return is C$53 in comparison to C$14.40 on the regular and non-direct train. For its part, Metrolinx endorses the experience of UP Express to the degree that the train has prompted it to set up a design-review board, a body intended to raise the quality of design across all its services. “I don’t think it needs to cost that much more to have good taste,” says Metrolinx board member Kathy Haley. “I think we just need to be selective and thoughtful.” But what needs to be done to make higher design standards stick? According to Wahn Yoon, the head of Winkreative’s Toronto office, “the critical step is to codify it. Establish a vision, establish precedent, create momentum, but you can lose all of that if people go back to their old ways.” With funds at its disposal that few other transportation agencies have, Metrolinx is in a unique position to codify the experience it seems to have in mind.
Waiting to cross University Avenue, outside Union station.
Designers in Toronto have been eager for a change in mindset along these lines. One trope among Canadians is that their country is plagued by a willingness to settle for “good enough”, with a lowered threshold of expectation making it difficult to appreciate things that are outstanding. Toronto is, by some measures, an exceptionally pleasant place, topping the Economist’s index of “best places to live” in 2015. Yet Shawn Micallef, editor of local pro-urban magazine Spacing,13 pinpoints the problem well. “Sometimes I characterise the city as a teenage city. The mental image of Toronto hasn’t caught up yet with what the city actually is,” he says. “This is a generalisation, but a Torontonian’s view of what our city is is maybe Dayton, Ohio or Indianapolis, Indiana.” In Micallef’s view, a crucial part of the mentality of bigger cities is accepting the necessity of mass transit. “No offence to those places, but smaller places where you can drive to wherever you’re going and maybe park in front of it – you can’t do that here. No great city is easy to drive in.” Thus designers are presented with a serious challenge: overcoming the (false) view that Toronto is a small city by offering a compromise solution (mass transit) to make up for something it’s lacking (a comfortable drive). The alternative is to see public transportation as desirable.
Spacing Magazine was launched in 2003 to examine urbanism in Toronto and Canada’s other major cities. The magazine is quarterly, publishing two Toronto‑centric issues and two nationally focused editions. 13
New York’s Grand Central Station opened in 1913. A beaux-arts space, it was designed by architecture firms Reed and Stem, and Warren and Wetmore. 14
The vision of an exceptional Toronto built on desirable public infrastructure is perhaps best seen in the ongoing renovation of Union station. Seeing it does take some imagination however. As remarked by Alex Josephson, a founding partner of Toronto-based architects Partisans and one of the architects working on the project, “the renovation is very Torontonian because it’s all happening underground and behind the scenes, with very little fanfare and no big renderings.” All there is to see at Union station right now is a disjointed multi-modal sprawl punctuated by caution tape and construction hoardings. What it will become, however, is a destination, or so we are to believe. Josephson goes so far as to promise a space more impressive than the great hall in Grand Central station in New York,14 but adds that “it’s not just for a certain demographic; it’s going to be for the city.” We could summarise the emerging vision for Toronto’s urban development in this way: creating infrastructure to be used by everyone when necessary, but also to be sought out and enjoyed as a cultural amenity.
This vision matches the physical and demographic changes underway in cities like Toronto. Thanks to a growing population and an urban-growth boundary, Toronto is becoming denser every year. It consistently has amongst the most high-rise buildings under construction in North America, and, according to CivicAction, a coalition of Toronto’s civic leaders, even now 42 per cent of its population live in apartments. At the same time, the average apartment is becoming smaller and more expensive. As private space shrinks, public space becomes more >
THE BIG MOVE
The type of branding ecosystem that Metrolinx seems to be embracing is one that offers Toronto something akin to the type of fantasy Wes Anderson serves up in his films.
> valuable, with sites such as parks increasingly expected to become more than mere infrastructure. It’s a point made well by Sevaun Palvetzian, an urban activist and CEO of CivicAction. “For many of our residents, public space is the back yard or living room of the 21st century,” she says. “Things that have historically been treated as icing – public realm and good design – are increasingly being seen as fundamental cake.” Within this trend, demographics are important. As members of the middle class, in particular, spend more time in parks and other public spaces, they demand that these spaces compare favourably with the suburban living rooms and back yards of the older American ideal. The best way to describe the importance of this vision is through analogy. The type of branding ecosystem that Metrolinx seems to be embracing is one that offers Toronto something akin to the kind of fantasy served up in Wes Anderson films. It begins with an aesthetic that is highly formal, highly controlled, and which penetrates to the smallest details. Just as Anderson veers towards nostalgia (either the old world or retro modernism), the branding of the UP Express is supposed to evoke the golden age of travel and the updated GO Transit signage celebrates the triumphs of modern graphic design. Most remarkably, Anderson’s films prove that the pleasures of travel and tourism have less to do with being in a different place than with seeing the world differently. One can be a tourist in one’s own city. Appreciating unique things and experiences only requires – again in the words of Metrolinx board member Kathy Haley – being “selective and thoughtful”.
The standard critique of Anderson’s films also applies to Metrolinx’s seeming strategy: they avoid all politics surrounding highly charged situations and even exacerbate the contradictions involved. In the words of critic Noah Gittell: “With each passing film, Anderson seems to go deeper and deeper into his own universe, and reality gets pushed further and further to the edges of the screen… Wes Anderson may be a brilliant artist with a strong commercial sensibility, but he refuses to push himself to explore new social circles.” The critique also applies to hipsters, a social group that harbours plenty of contradictions, but which greets them with aesthetics instead of politics. Not that hipsters or Anderson or Winkreative are unaware of their apolitical stance. The conundrum of earnest irony is, in fact, a philosophically rich terrain. To return to Metrolinx and the Big Move, it would be nothing short of miraculous to be able to describe a $50bn, multi-decade, regional transportation masterplan as apolitical.
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This sense of having no politics is a defining characteristic of Toronto’s urban development today and has been masterfully cultivated. Being sensitive to the needs of the middle (or perhaps, more precisely, upper-middle) class forms the basis of the broad consensus underlying city building in Toronto. Redeveloped districts full of condo buildings with names like Extreme Architecture and The Paintbox, as well as eco-friendly parks designed by avant-garde landscape architects, undoubtedly displace low-income residents in the same way that urban renewal has in the past, but in talking with local architects, you are as likely to discover that they live in these condos
as to hear anything critical about this form of development. It is hard to disparage high-density, high-design projects. It is much easier to ignore mild contradictions, like the fact that the city’s leading architectural school, the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, is named after a major developer.15 The conflation of design with prosperity is a staple of creative-class economic thinking, which Toronto, like many other cities, has embraced. Creativity is certainly big business in Toronto. The film industry is booming and local design firms like Bruce Mau have shaped taste the world over.16 Bruce Kuwabara, head of the internationally important Canadian Centre for Architecture, is Toronto-based and also a partner in one of the city’s best-known architecture firms KPMB. Even Winnipeg-born and London-based Tyler Brûlé didn’t have an office in Toronto before UP, recalls Yoon: “Tyler called me up and said, ‘Is this the right time for me to make an investment in creating an office in Toronto in Canada?’ He was almost asking if this was the time for him to become the prodigal son and come back to his home country.”
Urban studies academic Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, has developed a theory that the creative class is important because a creative environment is also an inclusive environment. If creativity is promoted, diversity will thrive. I would suggest that this has turned out not to be the case. The art-for-art’s-sake formalism of, say, Wes Anderson may look idealistic and cosmopolitan, but ultimately does not represent a political stance. Tolerance and inclusion are things that must be fought for. The aesthetic or vision that characterises Toronto’s current urban development looks more radical than it is. It is a refined, international, contemporary style passing as regionalism; an upper-middle class amenity passing as public amenity; business class passing as creative class. But all this is only problematic if the rhetoric is to be taken at face value. Beneath it all is a shift that is necessary in Toronto and other cities. In a world of public-private partnerships, it is encouraging to see urban development that is based on large public projects, with the private pushed to the sidelines, although perhaps this requires an updated understanding of “the public”. The ideal of mass transit in the past was almost militantly populist, which usually translated into it being cheap and bare-bones. Why should public transportation always aim for the lowest common denominator? If “the public” is the middle class, we should expect it to tolerate a modestly outré design and pretensions of luxury that cost a little extra. But we shouldn’t forget that what is being offered is an illusion of exclusivity. Given the vast public funds involved, we still ought to expect transit to be accessible to everyone. An important part of urban development in Toronto is now to manage such contradictions.
John H. Daniels is the founder of Canada’s The Daniels Corporation. Between 2008 and 2013, Daniels and his wife Myrna contributed C$24m to the University of Toronto’s architecture department. 15
Bruce Mau (b.1959) is a Canadian designer. He founded interdisciplinary design firm Bruce Mau Design in 1985, before leaving in 2010. He now works with The Massive Change Network, a design organisation he co-founded in 2009. 16
READING LIST Toronto: Biography of a City, Allan Levine. Douglas & McIntyre, 2014. The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, Richard Florida. Basic Books, 2012. The Big Move, Metrolinx. Metrolinx.com, 2008.
All quotes in this feature were taken from a roundtable hosted by Winkreative in Toronto on 19 May 2015.
Matthew Allen is an architect and writer who teaches at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.
THE BIG MOVE
An airline pilot walks to the UP Express train at Bloor station. Opposite: The UP Express train at Bloor station.
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THE BIG MOVE
A Manmade Material With poo having stolen the limelight at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan, it’s time to investigate the design potential of this most taboo of human wastes. WORDS Catharine Rossi
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Illustration by Sunjoo Lee, aÂ Food Non Food student at Design Academy Eindhoven.
A MANMADE MATERIAL
E The Food Non Food BA department at Design Academy Eindhoven looks at food production and culture from a design perspective. It also considers consumption, industrialisation, and animal welfare, as well as the psychological impact of food. 1
Luca Cipelletti (b.1973) founded his Milan-based practice AR.CH.IT in 2000. The practice works across urbanism, architecture, artistic direction and exhibition design. 2
at Shit is a definition of the human condition. You eat, you shit, you eat, you shit, and then you die.
So goes the rationale for Eat Shit, the first exhibition of Design Academy Eindhoven’s new Food Non Food department.1 It debuted at Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile in April this year and was co-curated by the school’s creative director Thomas Widdershoven and Marije Vogelzang, the self-described eating designer who leads the department. It was an apt title. Eat Shit positioned faeces and food in a continuous cycle of production, consumption and distribution, a global politics in which we are all complicit.
Even in the sprawling spectacle of an annual design festival in which poo was a surprising protagonist, Eat Shit grabbed attention. Students embraced poo’s provocative power, exhibiting designs that included intestine-shaped bread, mummified faeces, and a test to examine the number of particles of shit on your smartphone. Lining the walls was a timeline of more than 400 food and faeces projects created by Eindhoven students from 1976 to now, gleaned from a digital archive created by alumnus Jason Page. Other recent graduate work was also on show: Arne Hendrik’s Pigeon Poo Tower (2013), which harvests guano for city farming; Holy Crap by Pim van Baaren (2015), a proposal for rubbish separation in Kathmandu, one of many cities whose inadequate waste-collection system causes disease and environmental damage; and Manon van Hoeckel’s In Limbo Embassy (2014), a diplomatic shelter for refugees, included here for the degraded status of both shit and the state-less. In the often predictable Salone, it wasn’t just the subject matter of Eat Shit that stood out, but its social and political orientation that amplified the shallowness of much of Milan’s commercial agenda. This was not the only example of scatology on display. Pomo Galerie hosted Shit Show, an installation that saw its walls and ceilings plastered in demethanised cow manure, with piles of mattone di merda (brick of shit) given away to visitors. Like the Eindhoven show, this was a window into a larger project. Shit Show featured work by architect Luca Cipelletti2 and was curated in association with PIN-UP magazine, Pomo Galerie and the Museo della Merda (The Museum of Shit), which opened in the nearby region of Piacenza in May.
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Cipelletti designed the Museo della Merda together with curator Gaspare Luigi Marcone and gallerist Massimo Valsecchi. It occupies the ground floor of a late medieval castle in the grounds of Castelbosco, a dairy farm owned by Gianantonio Locatelli, whose 2,500 cows produce enough milk to make more than 130 wheels of Grana Padano cheese each day. The farm and museum >
Violacein-producing E. coli genetically engineered by the University of Cambridge 2009 iGEM team as part of E. chromi, a joint project with designers Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and JamesÂ King. PHOTO James King
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The trend represents a generation of designers willing to get their hands (and minds) dirty.
> also showcase the wonders of the 100,000kg of shit that the herd produces each day. Art installations and informative displays detail the material’s historical and contemporary uses in dung-plastered rooms. Exposed piping carries heat generated by methane gas extracted from cow manure, while old iMacs and iPads are used for displays as part of the museum’s broader ethos of reuse. This sustainable interest is one of the reasons for the museum’s establishment. “Shit has always been considered as waste, a taboo,” says Cipelletti, who developed the idea for the museum with Locatelli. “Yet today it represents an extraordinary response to environmental issues, an option alongside new renewable and sustainable-energy sources. We consider it a very precious resource. This is why we put it on a pedestal, museumifying it as if it were a treasure to discover and be valued.”
So convinced is Cipelletti of shit’s value that he is now working with the museum on a line of products that will launch soon. He finds it “extraordinary” that younger designers have also become interested in this undervalued material, and declares the co-existence of Eat Shit and Shit Show a “very happy coincidence”. The timing may seem fortuitous, but how to explain other expressions of the theme at the Salone? Speakers in Eat Shit’s talk programme included Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, who collaborated with fellow critical designer James King on E. chromi (2009), a project that involved using coloured plastic poo to debate the future of synthetic biology. Down the road from Eindhoven’s exhibition was The Animal Party,3 a show by Geneva’s HEAD school that examined human and animal relations. It included Océane Izard’s Poo Poo Power, a device to convert dog excrement into electrical energy. There is no coincidence in this mutual interest in muck. Rather, it represents a generation of designers willing to get their hands (and minds) dirty as they seek to tackle societal, environmental and political issues. Poo is one such problem. On average, we each produce around 20 to 150g of faeces per day. For all the modern innovations in sanitation, we still don’t know what to do with this universal human product, with 90 per cent of untreated sewage in the developing world ending up in lakes, rivers and oceans. Going by the latest World Health Organization figures, 1.8 billion people rely on drinking water contaminated with faeces, causing more than 500,000 deaths each year. No wonder sanitation is a key component of humanitarian design projects. Those putting up the money in recent years include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.4 In 2011 it launched the Reinvent the Toilet challenge and it is currently sponsoring the Omni Processor, a redesigned sewage treatment plant being built by American firm Janicki Bioenergy.5 The plant is being piloted in Dakar, Senegal, where it promises to transform organic waste into potable water and electricity.
Poo’s got potential. Excrement is an excellent source of natural fertiliser, which is much needed to counter depleting stocks of phosphate, a substance vital for the artificial fertilisers that intensive farming systems currently rely on.6 This is what Hendriks’ Pigeon Poo Tower seeks to address, as does Bobby Peterson’s Pigeon Tower (2013), a project which similarly offers a home for feral pigeons and a means for harvesting fertiliser as part of a larger interest in urban agriculture. The possibilities of pigeon shit are also the focus of Tuur Van Balen’s Pigeon d’Or (2011), which speculates on how synthetic biology could be used to engineer pigeons to defecate soap, and so help clean urban environments.
As part of his project, Van Balen designed devices to direct this detergent onto car windscreens and feed the pigeons from windows. As such, Pigeon d’Or suggests that designing with shit >
Opposite: Plinio il Vecchio, Naturalis Historia, Book XXVIII, an installation curated by the Museum of Shit, 2014. Below: Luca Cipelletti’s Shit Show at Pomo Galerie in Milan featured a space plastered in demethanised cow manure. PHOTOS Henrik Blomqvist
The Animal Party was curated by Alexandra Midal and brought together students from various departments at HEAD, the Geneva School of Art and Design. The exhibition looked at how animals fit into society alongside human beings, with projects including miniature pet homes, fashion accessories, and machines that turn animal bi-products into commodities. 3
Launched in 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports projects devoted to education, healthcare, poverty and other issues around the world. 4
The Janicki Bioenergy Omni Processor gained funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2013. It was originally intended to turn sewage into electricity, with a watertreatment system added to make the project economically viable. The Model S100 processor, used in the Dakar pilot, can produce 10,800 litres of water a day. 5
The Soil Association estimates that we will reach “peak phosphate” – maximum possible production of phosphorus – by 2033. This will significantly increase the cost of phosphate fertiliser and threaten food security. 6
A MANMADE MATERIAL
Océane Izard’s Poo Poo Power converts dog excrement into electrical power. PHOTO Océane Izard
The United Micro Kingdoms (2013) was commissioned by London’s Design Museum. It presented four fictional futures for the United Kingdom and explored the ethical and social implications of various technologies. 7
Dutch technology giant Philips founded its Design Probes programme to conduct “far future” research into technology. The programme has also focused on food, habitats and fashion. 8
The technique was developed by India’s Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, founded in 1970 as a non-profit voluntary social body. Its activities include promoting human rights, environmental sanitation and waste management. 9
Faecal transplants, for instance, have been used as a treatment for stomach superbugs when antibiotics are not effective. Liquid faeces are pumped into the stomach, where microbes in the faeces restore bacterial balance and kill the bug. 10
The project was featured in Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change, first published in 1971. 11
William Stumpf (1936-2006) was primarily a furniture designer, working extensively with Herman Miller to produce ergonomic office chairs, such as the Ergon and the Aeron. His Metabolic House was unveiled in The New York Times. 12
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> could also lead to the redesign of human and animal behaviours and relations, a shift that has inspired other shit-based critical designers. One of the earliest of these projects was Dunne and Raby’s Is this your Future? display at London’s Science Museum in 2004, which considered the implications of non-electricity-based energy sources. Inspired by traditions around the use of human poo as fertiliser in rural China, the designs included a compartmentalised Poo Lunch Box. One half holds lunch, the other awaits your personal deposit to return home for domestic use. Also in the series was a redesigned toilet that would ensure that this valuable resource wasn’t simply flushed away. More recently, Dunne and Raby explored the broader implications of biofuels. The fictional communities in the studio’s United Micro Kingdoms (2012/2013) included the Bioliberals, whose citizens self-produced energy.
As projects like United Micro Kingdoms7 indicate, shit is also energy. This is what happens on Locatelli’s farm, where a biogas generator has been turning methane into electricity since 2008. It was a possibility explored in the Microbial Home (2011), a concept by designers Jack Mama, Clive van Heerden, Peter Gal and Cedric Bernard for Philips’s Design Probes programme.8 This house-as-ecosystem includes a kitchen counter with integrated methane bio-digester to collect domestic organic waste and convert it into methane to power the hob, and to provide lighting and hot water. In addition, the Microbial Home’s filtering squatting toilet uses a flush mechanism based on a technique using just one litre of water, as opposed to the usual nine.9 Shit also has potential as a sustainable material. Sardinian designers Formafantasma used insect excrement, or shellac, for their natural polymer Botanica vessels (2011). Both French designer Manuel Jouvin and Dutch designer Lieske Schreuder have embraced snail shit, enticing molluscs
The E. chromi Scatalog by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King, produced in conjunction with the University of Cambridge 2009 iGEM team. PHOTO Åsa Johannesson Below: The Digesting Stories bread intestine by Merle Bergers, Yildau ter Beek, Mathilde Nakken, Alexandra Genis, Food Non Food students at Design Academy Eindhoven.
to eat coloured paper to produce packaging (2009) and tiles (2013) respectively. The small scale and labour-intensive production inhibits wider application, although this isn’t just because the material is shit. Scaling up production is an issue for today’s designers more generally as they explore the alternative production models of local, manual making and material experimentation.
Of course, using shit is nothing new. For centuries manure has been a material for construction and decoration, and a fuel. In the 19th century guano was the engine of Peru’s economy, an export product that has undergone a revival in recent years owing to the rising prices of synthetic fertilisers and increasing demand for organic alternatives, although a decreased bird population means it remains a limited resource. This is aside from shit’s historical usages as jewellery, snuff and even medicine.10 There are also examples of designers realising its potential. In 1971 Victor Papanek proposed a design for a transistor radio that could run on cow dung11 and in 1989 American designer William Stumpf conceived the Metabolic House,12 which anticipates the Microbial Home in its re-imagination of the home as a biological organism. “Our bodies do a good job of taking in oxygen, food, and water, getting nutrition, and dispelling waste,” Stumpf argued. “Our houses don’t do that very well. They should have a digestive system just like we do.” Yet the examples included here are notable for being exceptions. Mainstream design has stayed away from this material. Most interventions in sanitation are exercises in styling or else humanitarian projects aimed at developing – as opposed to so-called “developed” – countries.
Flush toilets from around 2000 BCE have been reported in China and South Asia, as well as in Minoan palaces and homes on Crete. These systems were wooden seats over covered drains, which were flushed using water from buckets. More primitive toilets have existed since neolithic times. 13
Ellen Lupton (b.1963) and J. Abbott Miller (b.1962) are US designers and writers. Their writing on this topic may be found in their book The Bathroom, the Kitchen and the Aesthetics of Waste: A Process of Elimination (1992). 14
Shit’s absence in design is symptomatic of our flush-and-forget culture. The modern flushing toilet first appeared in 16thcentury Britain – although its origins go back at least four thousand years –13 and the invention was central to Britain’s subsequent industrialisation. In the 19th century, amidst outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and the advent of germ theory that connected cleanliness with their prevention, the government oversaw the implementation of sewage systems and other infrastructure necessary for a modern, industrial society. By the early-20th century Britain and North America were world leaders in built-in bathrooms and kitchens that were celebrated as the epitome of modern architectural space.
In the 21st century however, the flushing toilet symbolises the ills of industrial society. It is a resource-heavy pollutant that entrenches the inequalities of global capitalism. Our treatment of human waste is emblematic of consumerism’s wasteful ideology. This is how Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller interpret the design culture of the early-20th-century US. The endorsement of planned obsolescence encouraged waste and the clay-moulded, organic forms of streamlining expressed an “excretory aesthetic”.14 Today, a cult of clean, shiny porcelain prohibits understanding of the pernicious reality of western sanitation systems, just as the opaque casing of domestic appliances denies any durable relationship with those commodities. Discarded biological and industrial excreta end up in sewage or landfill, their potential for recycling and reuse unrecognised. If we want to clean up our environment, perhaps we need to encourage a dirty design aesthetic. >
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The reactions that shit provokes is perhaps where its potential lies.
British anthropologist and social theorist Mary Douglas (1921-2007) first published Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo in 1966. Bulgarian-French philosopher, psychoanalyst and feminist Julia Kristeva (b.1941) published Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection in 1980. 15
Manzoni and McCarthy are just two artists who engage with shit in contemporary art. Other examples include Chris Ofili and Martin Creed. 16
The iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Foundation was established in 2003 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is dedicated to the support and advancement of synthetic biology. 17
READING LIST Merde: Excursions into Scientific, Cultural and Socio-historical Coprology, Ralph A. Lewin. Aurumn Press, 1999. The Big Necessity: Adventures in the World of Human Waste, Rose George. Portobello Books, 2008. The Bathroom, The Kitchen and the Aesthetics of Waste: A Process of Elimination, Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller. Kiosk/ Princeton, 1992.
> Shit does, however, face a hurdle before it can enter design’s rarefied world. It disgusts us. Excrement – along with materials like menstrual blood, sweat and mucus – comes out of our body. These materials occupy a condition of what Mary Douglas identified as a threateningly ambiguous marginality, or what Julia Kristeva described as the abject horror of the liminal.15 Shit reminds us of our body’s vulnerability, of what lies outside of us and beyond our control. While such associations make shit ideal for sensation-seeking artists from Piero Manzoni to Paul McCarthy,16 design doesn’t deal well with taboo.
This is what Greta Hauer and Delphine Rumo found in Live with Them, developed for Vienna Design Week in 2011. At the time, the city was struggling with a surge of wildlife on its streets, while bees and bats were dying out because of pollution levels. In response, Hauer and Rumo designed several objects to help Vienna’s animal and human inhabitants co-exist, increasing their awareness of each other and providing shelters for both to use. This included the bat dungcovered Scent Stool, designed as a marker for bats and made using dung harvested by a local bat conservationist. “It was a bit of a nightmare to work with,” confesses Hauer. The material was too brittle to stand on its own, so they used an MDF frame and mixed the guano with resin to preserve the smell. In the end, however, the designers were pleased. “I think it obviously generated a debate and questions,” says Hauer, “a combination of humour and disgust” – possibly an interesting reflection of our relationship with nature today.
The reactions that shit provokes is perhaps where its potential lies. This facet certainly informed the material’s use in Ginsberg and King’s E. chromi project. In 2009 they were invited to collaborate with Cambridge students working towards the annual iGEM synthetic biology competition17 and, with the students, considered implications for experiments in engineering E. coli. This included programming bacteria to change colour in reaction to particular diseases, altering the colour of the sufferer’s poo and so transforming shit into a diagnostic tool.
The students won iGEM’s Grand Prize that year. Ginsberg and King attended the conference too, carrying The Scatalog, an aluminium briefcase of brightly coloured plastic poo to illustrate their ideas to an industry unused to thinking about the materiality of their research. While some “scientists wouldn’t look inside, disgusted, others burst out laughing,” says Ginsberg. It was, however, unexpectedly prescient. E. chromi was an experimental speculation on how synthetic biology might lead to questionable bodily surveillance, but this idea has now become an aim that some scientists work towards. The development recalls other instances where critical design’s dystopian imaginings are strangely and sometimes unsettlingly translated into desirable futures. The E. chromi project has meant that Ginsberg has “spent a lot of time talking about poo over the last few years”. While the designer isn’t sure if she would work with it again, she is full of praise for Eat Shit and the willingness to embrace the material amongst today’s design students that it represented. Some reservations are understandable, and yet so is the students’ enthusiasm. Like any other material, shit has its problems and many of these express issues that design faces more generally, as it confronts real-world issues and transgresses the conventions and boundaries of the profession in doing so. But shit isn’t like any other material. It is powerful, plentiful and ripe for exploration as a key material in a sustainable, social-design culture. In the future we won’t see shit as waste at all, but a valuable material worth more than its weight in gold.
Catharine Rossi is senior lecturer in design history at Kingston University, London. She recently published Crafting Design in Italy: From Post-war to Postmodernism. Manchester University Press, 2015.
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The Microbial Home by Clive van Heerden, Jack Mama, Peter Gal and Cedric Bernard features an integrated methane bio-digester and a filtering squat toilet. PHOTO courtesy of Philips Design
A MANMADE MATERIAL
designjunction 24–27 Sept 2015 London’s leading design show returns
One show Two venues Victoria House B1 37 Southampton Row London WC1B 4DA
Trade tickets: Pre-register online for free entry. £14 on the door.
The College 12–42 Southampton Row London WC1B 4AP
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Screens made of chestnut twigs and 3D-printed connectors are part of the Bouroullec exhibition in Tel Aviv. PHOTOS Studio Bouroullec
Ronan Bouroullec on Screens Exhibitions for me are marvellous tools and moments. But when we were contacted by Meira Yagid from Tel Aviv Museum of Art, I was exhausted by exhibitions that looked to our past and I wanted to do a project in a quick fashion. So this show is not a retrospective, it’s more of an experiment in production, an attempt to invent new things. This was the starting point. And it was important that the only goal of this exhibition was to make pieces that weren’t intended to become products afterwards. At the beginning, I wanted to call the whole show Architecture but I think that our contribution to architecture works better as screens or as explorations into the principle of walls, hence the new title 17 Screens. I don’t know where my preoccupation with screens comes from. I always liked them, maybe because I wanted to be an architect from the beginning. But this time it was more about abstraction. It’s like when I draw – I never know 192 Disegno. RONAN BOUROULLEC ON SCREENS
what I will draw, so for this exhibition we continued to produce ideas until the end. The project is like a reverie: a fiction of shape that mixes different principles, materials and colours. And physically, it’s a very floating and light exhibition; nothing touches the floor. The screens are assembled in different ways: one piece is a 5m tapestry, another is a 10m screen composed of 10mm diameter tubes, another is made from raw chestnut twigs with 3D-printed connections. There are a lot of materials and different techniques employed, from embroidery and tapestry, to the use of anodised aluminium and ceramics. Now everything is packed in boxes and ready to go. It will be like a magic trick suspending the screens on site. The project has been a little like researching a new vocabulary.
17 Screens opens at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 31 October 2015.
Prototypes of the Serif television in Studio Bouroullec in Paris.
Erwan Bouroullec on Screens Samsung approached us three years ago. It was clear they didn’t want a product, at least not in the beginning. I think they just wanted to collect ideas and have an external point of view, a certain naivety. There was no brief, no question. So we asked them to give us some televisions and started to dismantle them. We still have some early prototypes. They’re made out of clay and wood, but the screens are still active. They’re really strange objects because a rough prototype stool or chair is quite common, but a rough prototype of a TV? It’s not what we are used to. We applied exactly the same methods as we normally do to our projects. We were looking to make something with a good sensation, rather than technical performance. A good piece of furniture is comfortable to use and easy on the eye. That’s linked to the fact that it is rooted in history. There is a real evolution of shape, which you can see in an almost Darwinian sense – all the shapes around us are the result of mankind. But the current design of flat-screen TVs is un-rooted; there is no clear link with the past. This kind of thing happens sometimes when you
discover new technology, new behaviours, new things that have no reference. So, unconsciously, our design for Samsung is a way to re-root the TV, to make it more about traditional values. We wanted to make it a piece of furniture. The base of the “I” shape is mirrored on top, but this came about by coincidence. When we built the first prototypes everyone started to put stuff on the TV, as if it were a shelf. We didn’t want the TV to be on a pedestal, and as soon as we started to put things around it and on it, it began to lose this kind of pedestal approach. It was no longer something untouchable. We covered the back with fabric because one of the strongest constraints that we gave this TV was that we wanted it to be an object that could be anywhere in a room. It doesn’t need to be against a wall. And fabrics have a rootedness in TV and hi-fi systems. Fabric isn’t highly technical; it more or less conjures an idea of the past. We all feel lost in the modern age sometimes.
The Serif TV for Samsung launches in September 2015. Brothers Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec are industrial designers. They work from their studio in Paris.
ERWAN BOUROULLEC ON SCREENS
Cutting the Bulk “Selfish”, “ugly” and “bulky” are some of the adjectives that designer Michael Anastassiades uses to describe domestic sofas. Yet Anastassiades was asked to design a sofa for British furniture manufacturer SCP to mark its 30th anniversary. >
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Michael Anastassiades with the prototype of his sofa for SCP at the Coakley & Cox furniture factory. PHOTOS Rebecca Jane Callaby
CUTTING THE BULK
> The project is a new one for Anastassiades, who is best-known as a lighting designer and who runs a studio and showroom in London. The majority of his work has been self-produced and is typified by simple geometric shapes executed in metal and glass: blown-glass shades that rest perilously on the edge of brass rods or nickel cones. He has also developed a series of lights for Italian brand Flos, most notably his String Lights, for which he used a dramatically extended chord to trace intricate geometric installations across a space. All of Anastassiades’s lights to date have been highly formal, composed pieces. For his first foray into sofa design, he says that he took a similar approach, intending to reinvent the conventional notions of comfort that characterise much domestic furniture. “I started out identifying the kind of sofa I wanted to make,” he says. “I knew I didn’t want to go for a TV sofa, the kind of sofa you sink into. I was interested in smaller-scale, more intimate sofas that have an element of strictness.” The resultant design is a diminutive twoseater with a high back and arms. It is padded, but lightly, and the back is at a strict right angle to the base, which stands on four short wooden legs. The prototype is upholstered in grey fabric, although this will change for the finished design. Anastassiades hopes it will eventually be upholstered in leather, fitting with the formality and firmness he wishes his creation to embody.
“I never slouched on the sofa at home when I was growing up.” The design started out as a revamped waiting-room sofa. “I was interested in designing something intimate with a formal design,” says Anastassiades, “because I was interested in the public space in a building, as well as the domestic sofa.” Contrasting his work with traditional waiting‑room seating – like the day-bed sofa or Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair – Anastassiades says his design is about creating a more private space for public life. “In this day and age, you are constantly in communication with someone else somewhere else, and I wanted to reflect that. The sofa is less for displaying yourself on a platform, and more about creating an enclosure where you can be discreet without being secluded from your environment.” The sofa was developed as part of a wider project by SCP. The brand was founded by entrepreneur Sheridan Coakley in 1985 and this year it celebrates its 30th anniversary. SCP built its name as one of the first firms to introduce modern furniture design to the British market, and Coakley established himself as a talent scout by collaborating with a generation of young designers who went on to become influential industry figures – Jasper Morrison and Michael Marriott chief among them. To mark SCP’s anniversary, Coakley asked six designers to create new sofas for the brand, all of which are on display during the London Design Festival. Five of SCP’s past collaborators – Konstantin Grcic, Faudet-Harrison, Matthew Hilton, Terence 196 Disegno. CUTTING THE BULK
The back and sides stand at strict right angles to the sofa’s base to create a sense of formality. Below: SCP’s sofa frames are assembled manually.
The latest prototype is upholstered in grey fabric, although this will change for the finished design.
Woodgate and Lucy Kurrein – were invited to participate, along with Anastassiades, who has only ever produced one-off furniture pieces for clients. When I go to see the progress of the sofas at the Coakley & Cox furniture factory in Norfolk, UK, the warm perfume of wood is overwhelming. A chair-shaped piece of foam lies discarded outside – it forms a makeshift breakout area – and inside men in shirtsleeves craft pieces by hand, cutting and working Slovenian beech into the bare skeletons of sofas. This hands-on approach is far from the factory one might expect: a mechanised production line churning out perfect frames, cushions and covers, with the human hand only required for final assembly. This artisanal approach butts against the more industrial methods used in sofa production elsewhere, such as the now widespread cold polyurethane foam moulding that was introduced by Italian brand B&B Italia in 1966.
In this process, chemicals injected into a mould solidify around the sofa’s structural elements. By contrast, SCP’s sofa frames are made by hand and assembled manually. Flat, serpentine springs are attached in rows to create springiness, and, at the next stage, layer upon layer of padding is carefully built up over them. More than mere foam, this comprises numerous materials: hessian, rubberised horsehair, chip foam, needled wool and finally a layer of fireproof lining. It is only when a sofa is upholstered at SCP that the various components beneath its surface assume a more familiar form. I watch a worker setting about one with a giant sewing needle and thread. The needle pierces several layers of thick padding to form inviting dimples, or “tufting”. “Because you have to have a sense of comfort, you need several layers,” says Anastassiades, who used his time at the workshop to acquire an understanding of furniture craft, giving personal
feedback on each of the three prototype sofas produced to date. Padding – and determining its required thickness – became crucial. “As you go through the first layer of softness, you hit a hard surface, so the foam therefore needs to be firmer,” he says. “Despite the thinness of the frame and the cushion, I want it to feel like a comfortable sofa.” Anastassiades says he is conscious of the convention that sofas should be soft and slouchy, professing to both satisfy and subvert such preconceptions in his design for SCP. “I never slouched on the sofa at home when I was growing up,” he says. “Let’s face it. Sofas are very bulky, ugly objects that take over a space. I wanted to challenge the notion of what comfort is and find an aesthetic way to design it, rather than disregarding the way it looks because comfort is paramount. You can’t lie down on this sofa, but you can take off your shoes and curl up. The idea of a hard shell with a soft interior is very much within the spirit of the sofa.”
Priya Khanchandani is a freelance writer and also works for the V&A. SCP is presenting the six sofas at its Curtain Road store in London from September.
CUTTING THE BULK
Surface Qualities An 18.2m racing boat designed for professional British sailor Alex Thomson marks German designer Konstantin Grcic’s first engagement with sports design. Yet Grcic has not designed the yacht. The vessel is sponsored by Hugo Boss, the German fashion label commissioning Grcic to create its two-dimensional visual identity. It is a branding job; an exercise in graphic design. “I am not a graphic designer. This is not what I am trained or skilled to do, but it is something that I have always had an interest in,” says Grcic. “The project appealed to me because it is exceptional, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Grcic likens an IMOCA 60 yacht, the class of the Hugo Boss boat, to a Formula One racing car. Constructed from specialist lightweight materials – layers of carbon fibre impregnated with resin to form the shell, with a cardboard-based structure called Nomex for its core – the boat will be five per cent lighter than its predecessor, a craft that saw Thomson complete the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe (a round-the-world, single-handed
“I wanted to make the boat very pure and leaning towards being aggressive.” yacht race) in third place. The new Hugo Boss IMOCA 60 has taken just over two years to create, with a total build cost of €4.5m (about £3.3m). The boat’s graphic identity – which incorporates the deck, sails and logo placement – is informed by the materials from which it is made. The black colouring is a reference to the carbon-fibre layers of its shell, while the deck is embellished with large tessellating hexagons inspired by the honeycomb-like structure of the Nomex. “I wanted to make the boat very pure and leaning towards being aggressive,” says Grcic. “It is a race machine, let’s face it. Alex is racing this boat around the world and he wants to win this race. It is not a boat that you want to look pretty.” The use of black is part of this identity. A natural absorber of heat, black is, in theory, an uncomfortable choice for a facade. To overcome this, Grcic created a specialist paint 198 Disegno. SURFACE QUALITIES
formula in collaboration with German chemical company BASF. Comprising black pigments that allow ultraviolet rays to pass through to a white undercoat, the result is a visually black paint that behaves as if it were white. Such details reveal the complex layers behind Grcic’s design, although the visual identity itself is striking in its simplicity. While Grcic’s industrially produced furniture is designed to be interacted with, the
majority of spectators will only ever see the boat from a distance, on film or in photographs. It must communicate sponsor Hugo Boss’s message. Simple, bold and instantly recognisable graphics are pivotal. Draping the boat in Hugo Boss logos is only one facet of this. Throughout the year that Grcic worked on the project, the hexagons that envelop the deck went through multiple refinements. The final design, which comprises
Mock-up panels of the hexagon design that covers the yacht’s deck. The design is inspired by the honeycomb-like structure of the boat’s Nomex core. PHOTO Cleo Barnham
large hexagons with delicate silver outlines to mirror the form of the paper-thin Nomex structure, was chosen primarily for its conspicuity – a result of Grcic and his team studying photographs of previous Hugo Boss racing boats to ascertain the distance and angle from which these shots are typically taken. “The large scale makes it very photogenic,” says Grcic. “That was very important because, in the end, I was asked to create
a branding that would communicate Hugo Boss, and that would create fantastic photos [when taken] from a helicopter.” The psychology of graphics and their ability to manipulate perceptions of an object, in particular sporting equipment, has long interested Grcic. In 2011 he created Champions for contemporary design gallery Galerie Kreo, a series of colourful, lacquered tables spray-painted
with sports graphics. “That project gave us a little bit of experience working with graphics on a product,” says Grcic. “The Hugo Boss yacht is a bigger scale and it is for real.” It is in this sense that the IMOCA 60 racing boat is the realisation of a longstanding ambition for Grcic. As the designer himself puts it: “Had they asked me to just put a Boss logo somewhere, I would have still done it. I just wanted to be involved in something like this.”
Anya Lawrence is Disegno’s editorial assistant.
Ultramoderne won the Lakefront Kiosks competition with Chicago Horizon. PHOTO Ultramoderne
The State of the Art of Architecture The inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial has a recycled title. The original State of the Art of Architecture was a 1977 conference organised by architect and Chicago native Stanley Tigerman for a largely American audience. This time around, directed by curators Joseph Grima (who previously edited Domus and co-curated the 2012 Istanbul Design Biennial) and Sarah Herda (director of Chicago-based architecture body The Graham Foundation), the event has widened to include international practitioners. But it is still deeply concerned with the city in which it finds itself. In the accompanying literature, the spectres of architects such as Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rohe and their work in the city loom large, as does Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair Columbian Exposition, an expo that established Beaux-Art in US architecture. Still, it is not what came before, but what will come out of it that is the most intriguing 200 Disegno. THE STATE OF THE ART OF ARCHITECTURE
point of the project. A number of the biennial initiatives bring new architecture to the city, such as the Lakefront Kiosks project – an open competition that invited international practitioners to submit proposals for kiosk-like structures for the Chicago shoreline. The winning entry, designed by Ultramoderne, a collaboration between architects Yasmin Vobis, Aaron Forrest and Brett Schneider, and titled Chicago Horizon, uses an innovative crosslaminated timber to create a vast flat roof. It’s a tongue-in-cheek comment on the modernism that put Chicago on the map, but also provides a public space overlooking the Lake Michigan horizon. The biennial hopes to not only advance Chicago’s place in architectural history, but also position it as a site of contemporary architectural innovation.
The State of the Art of Architecture opens 3 October 2015.
The staircase in the new Saint Laurent Salon de Couture features a diptych by artist Garth Weiser. PHOTO Hedi Slimane
Return to the Maison de Couture Historically, a “fashion house” was a business that made and sold garments of fashionable styles, but the term also related to the building that such a business operated from; the place where it received its customers. House of Worth is considered the first fashion house or maison de couture, set up by Charles Frederick Worth in 1858 at 7 rue de la Paix in Paris. This model was followed by countless Paris-based fashion designers over the course of the 20th century. But, 150 years on, in an age of fashion conglomerates rather than houses, the term has lost its physical meaning. Nowadays luxury brands don’t have houses to which they invite their customers. They have flagships and boutiques, rolled out en masse globally. It is notable then that Hedi Slimane, creative director of Saint Laurent, is making a stand for
the traditional fashion house, having recently opened a Salon Couture on rue de l’Université in Paris. Slimane and his team have spent three years restoring French architect Thomas Gobert’s l’Hôtel de Sénecterre, which dates from 1685, also reinstating the building’s geometrical garden according to historical plans. It is here that Saint Laurent will again offer couture services, 13 years after Yves Saint Laurent showed his final couture collection before retiring. The building is set up to house both a L’Atelier Flou for dressmaking and a L’Atelier Tailleur for tailoring. It is a return for both Saint Laurent couture and the original maisons de couture.
The Salon Couture at 24, rue de l’Université is open by appointment from autumn 2015.
RETURN TO THE MAISON DE COUTURE
Letter from Athens Looking out across the Greek capital from the top of Strefi Hill, you would not think that anything is wrong in the city. Although we love to look at cities from a height, there’s not much to learn about a conurbation from above, other than perhaps a vague sense of layout and scale. From here, I might as easily be in Tel Aviv as in Athens. Everything is white, baked bright by the unrelenting sun, although there are no skyscrapers and the mountains that surround the Greek capital cradle the city like a picture frame. Apart from two teenage boys playing on their phones, I have the hilltop to myself. In front is the Parthenon, sitting on the Acropolis like a pearl in its shell. To the left is the taller and more tourist-friendly Lykavittos Hill. Strefi Hill isn’t in the guidebooks, which is almost certainly why there aren’t any tourists here. Greece has been front-page news for weeks as its politicians have attempted to negotiate the details of a third bailout in a politically and economically charged Eurozone. While the papers have played up finance ministers’ meetings descending into acrimonious name-calling, and internal division within Greece’s ruling Syriza party that threatens to undermine existing and future agreements, less media attention has been paid to the everyday reality faced by those actually living with the effects of the crisis in Greece. It was only in April last year that thendeputy prime minister Evangelos Venizelos said, “Greece is leaving the bailout and the crisis behind.” Today, however, evidence of austerity policies are visible everywhere. They don’t seem to signify that the crisis has been left behind. In a country of just over 11 million people, some 1.3 million were unemployed as of January this year, most without benefits. Wages were down around 38 per cent from 2009 and pensions by 45 per cent. Praksis NGO’s day centre in Athens, established to aid refugees, reports that between 40 and 50 per cent of people now seeking help are locals. While direct links between government and provisions for civic society have been weakened almost to the point of breaking, since 2008 a network of solidarity initiatives has emerged across the country as Greeks try to support each other. These social solidarity movements – many of which are decentralised and non-hierarchical – attempt to fill the gaps as best they can. Greeks see need everywhere around them and many have initiated projects to address the particular concerns of their communities. Sesoula is a small community-run co-op grocery store in Exarchia, a famously 202 Disegno. LETTER FROM ATHENS
anarchistic neighbourhood in downtown Athens and home to Strefi Hill. The co-op was established in the last couple of years by a group of local residents as a way to provide nutritious food at low prices to the community, to support small producers and farmers, and to offer an alternative to supermarkets. The small cornershop premises was donated by its owner to the co-op in exchange for renovation and repair work. Founder members volunteered until the shop became profitable, at which point they converted the excess into hourly wages. A friendly, middle-aged co-op member called Sotiris mans the shop. It’s clean and bright and inviting, with various products lining wooden shelves. Sotiris worries that I’m walking around Exarchia by myself (tourist forums are full of would-be visitors wondering whether the area is safe) and when I brush him off he asks whether Europeans really think all Greeks are lazy and selfish. It depends on which European you ask, I tell him. He’s frustrated by the thought that the rest of Europe sees Greeks as somehow personally responsible for the current situation. He has family in New York, he says, and they want him to come and live there, but he also has a family here and it’s hard to leave. “But you like it here?” I ask, “Would you really want to leave?” “I like Spain,” he says with some finality. It’s a refrain I hear multiple times. Greeks don’t want to leave Athens and many use the various initiatives as ways to make life more bearable, stable and sustainable. One gets the sense that numerous projects are last-ditch attempts to make a living in a country where it is
in the foreign media. “Many of us [who started the Omikron Project] are involved in activism,” he says. “And through activism we saw that there’s an incredible amount of activity taking place across the country, which greatly contrasted with the awful headlines in foreign papers which were being attributed to Greece.” The Omikron Project’s most successful campaign to date is a map of hundreds of grassroots groups in Greece, from education movements and alternative micro-economies, to urban improvements and collective kitchens. It’s an inspiring snapshot of the steps locals are taking to improve their communities in difficult times. “The barriers for entry [to social initiatives] are so low,” says Khalili. “There’s no money to help get things started, but there’s no risk either.” London has been my home for the past eight years and Khalili is half-British, so we can’t help but note the striking dissimilarities between the Greek and British capitals. When British prime minister David Cameron launched his Big Society manifesto in 2010, the programme was widely ridiculed for its ideology of “integrating free markets with a theory of social solidarity” and criticised by the Left for attempting to replace state welfare with people power. Yet seeing how the crisis in Greece has reinvigorated civic society is inspirational and educational. Equally fascinating is Khalili’s assessment of grassroots social movements, such as Solidarity, in Greece. “Let’s face it,” he says, “many of these projects address various gaps left by the state, systematic issues. The need is there. We must fix it. Cynicism,
Links between government and provisions for civic society have been weakened almost to the point of breaking. increasingly difficult to get by. Many feel that, although they do not want to, they will eventually be forced to move elsewhere to survive – whether back to rural villages in Greece where they have family or to other European cities. Battling perceptions of Greeks as lazy, corrupt victims of a crisis of their own making is another recurrent theme. Mehran Khalili, a British-Iranian political communications consultant, is full of love for his adopted country. Khalili is one of the founding members of Omikron Project, a grassroots PR campaign that was initiated in Athens in 2012 to address Greece’s image problem
like you often see in Britain towards these kind of projects, is tedious and unhelpful.” At least in this context. Two of these gaps are addressed by Traces of Commerce, an on-going empty shops project launched by three architects: Harris Biskos, Martha Giannakopoulou and Clelia Thermou. Since the crisis, it has been increasingly difficult for young people to find work. The unemployment rate, at the time of writing, is 25.6 per cent, while youth unemployment is nearer to 60 per cent. Many are leaving Athens to seek work elsewhere. Equally worrying are the huge numbers of empty buildings and storefronts >
Looking towards LykavittosÂ Hill from the top of Strefi Hill. PHOTOS Yannis Drakoulidis
LETTER FROM ATHENS
Above, left to right: Costas Theocharis from Collaboratorium, Helias Giannopoulos, and a visitor in Fixers, a 3D-printing workshop in the Traces of Commerce arcade, which launched in 2014 to open up the ground floor of an empty building to young artists and designers for temporary residencies. Goods on the shelves of neighbourhood co-op Sesoula in Exarchia. Sotiris and his mother pack up groceries in Sesoula, which supports local producers and offers an alternative to supermarkets.
204 Disegno. LETTER FROM ATHENS
Empty buildings in Exarchi.
> in the city; 1,500 and 2,000 respectively, according to Biskos. “The contemporary Greek city is based on ground-floor networks,” he says. “People live the city through the ground floor, and between 2008 and 2012 there was a noticeable boom in shops closing down and buildings emptying out. It completely changes the way people use the city, as well as one’s day-to-day perception of it.” In 2014, Biskos and his collaborators received permission from a social-security fund that owned an empty office building not far from Syntagma Square to host an exhibition in its groundfloor arcade. They issued an open call for young practitioners to occupy the shop spaces and participate in workshops about commercial activities disappearing from the city centre. The monthlong series of workshops culminated in the refurbishment of the shop spaces and an installation of hanging neon signs in the arcade. This served to return light and public notice to the abandoned building. “Everyone came to take an Instagram,” says Biskos. “It’s Instagram urbanism, sure, but people nevertheless
take notice of something they previously did not.” The project ran for a second time this year, with residents – young designers, artists, architects, publishers, collectives – occupying the shop spaces for three- to six-month residencies, leasing them for free on the condition that they provided two collaborative workshops per month and did not sell any goods or services. The residencies recently finished and most people have yet to empty their shops. A couple of the spaces are still occupied by people working – Pavlina Alexia Verouki making hand-engraved gold jewellery; Konstantinia Vafeiadou crafting straw hats using traditional millinery techniques; and Fixers, a 3D-printing studio that has managed to launch a successful online business. Other shop spaces were occupied by The Athens Zine Biblioteque, a library of more than 300 zines; a studio for sign-making and printing; and Debop, an alternative city guide and blog about Athens. Biskos and his colleagues hope to run the project for a third time and have been searching for a way to let residents turn a profit. “It’s difficult,” he says, “because
everything becomes much more complicated when you try to make it commercial. The way we have been working, the residents occupy the shops and that’s it. But as soon as we bring payment for goods or services in, they have to register as businesses, pay taxes, pay rent and utilities. In Greece, those processes are slow and difficult.” Unlike in London or New York, there’s no sense that these kinds of projects are the handmaiden of gentrification. For one thing, the context of Athens is dissimilar to many other cities – the number of empty buildings
“Athens is a human-scale city and things happen slowly; change happens slowly.” is vast, there’s little foreign investment in property pushing up prices, and most premises are privately owned rather than land banked by developers. “Athens is a humanscale city,” says Biskos, “and things happen slowly; change happens slowly. But we’re not trying to design the city; we’re trying to design the conditions for changes to happen.” Other grassroots initiatives address further essential problems, from volunteer-run health clinics to the creation of more green spaces in response to Athens’s lack of parks and gardens. In Kypseli, an ethnically mixed, high-density neighbourhood in the north > LETTER FROM ATHENS
Lights in the Traces of Commerce arcade.
> of the city, physicist Costas Zampelis has initiated a project called Fotini Kypseli that aims to bring better lighting to the area’s shops and residential buildings. In times of need, non-essentials – such as lighting in entrance areas of residential buildings – are often neglected. By using low-cost, energy-efficient LED lights, Fotini Kypseli hopes to relight the streets and homes of Kypseli, making the area feel safer and more attractive. It’s a simple, focused idea, but one with significant potential impact. Other activists have formed Save Greek Water, a campaign to prevent the two state-owned water utilities – EYDAP in Athens and EYATh in Greece’s second city Thessaloniki – from being privatised. Dimitris Nikolaou, a long-time corporate lawyer and communications-team member for Save Greek Water has helped lead the campaign to educate the Greek public about the dangers of privatising profitable state-owned utilities. “We’re not so much an activist group,” he says, “but rather a unit of researchers striving to make the knowledge we gathered during these last three years common to the public.” Formed during the first bailout accord, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (HRADF) was responsible for selling off state-owned assets. Sixty-one per cent of EYDAP was transferred to HRADF in two instalments in 2011 and 2012, while 74 per cent of EYATh was transferred, again in two instalments in 2011 and 2012. The information campaign by Save Greek Water eventually 206 Disegno. LETTER FROM ATHENS
culminated in a judgement last year from one of Greece’s highest courts, the Council of State, which declared that the state must own 50 + 1 per cent of water utilities. While many considered the Council’s decision a success for the campaign, only 34 per cent of shares have been returned to the Greek state. Save Greek Water has continued to press the Syriza MPs for action, but so far with little effect. “Unfortunately, I think the situation in Greece will get worse before it gets better,” Nikolaou says. “But I do believe that if the people wanted to behave
navigate, how noisy, hectic and chaotic it was, and how, according to a recent Eurobarometer survey, Athenians are the least satisfied people in Europe with their quality of life. It continued by enumerating the wonders of an Athens that existed more than 2,000 years ago. To follow this example, it’s easy to see Athens as a tale of two halves: the glorious ruins of the ancient city and the sad wreck of today’s state capital. But this attitude sells short not only modern Athens, but modern Athenians as well. From architects trying
Seeing how the crisis in Greece has reinvigorated civic society is inspirational and educational. as citizens, the politicians wouldn’t be able to stop them. Extreme situations force people to decide what’s really important.” Leaving Greece, I bought a copy of the International Herald Tribune to read on the flight home. It came with a copy of a tourist magazine about Greece, a special issue dedicated to the city of Athens. The editor’s letter opened with a paragraph about how unlovable the city was, how difficult to
to revive downtrodden city centres, to activists helping to draw attention to the consequences of selling off state-owned assets, the breadth of social and urban initiatives and commitment to improving lives in contemporary Athens by its inhabitants is far more worthy of attention than these sad binary oppositions.
Crystal Bennes is an American writer, curator and artist.
No.9 a/w 2015 A ALESSI p. 60-62, 64 alessi.com
ALLY CAPELLINO p. 22 allycapellino.co.uk
AMERICAN FRIENDS OF LE KORSA p. 134-149 aflk.org
MICHAEL ANASTASSIADES p. 194-197 michaelanastassiades.com
BOCCI p. 18, 50, 52-53 bocci.ca BOFFI p. 26 boffi.com
BOLON p. 10-11 bolon.com
RONAN & ERWAN BOUROULLEC p. 38, 41-42, 192-193 bouroullec.com
ARAM p. 68, 70, 76 aram.co.uk
CAESARSTONE p. 12-13 caesarstone.co.uk
ARTEK p. 50-52, 55 artek.fi
CASSINA p. 48 cassina.com
ARMANI p. 150-151 armani.com
ARTEMIDE p. 24 artemide.com
MARJAN VAN AUBEL p. 69, 71, 82-83 marjanvanaubel.com B
BIOMEGA p. 57 biomega.com
MARIA BLAISSE p. 69, 71, 74-75 mariablaisse.com
DUBAI DESIGN WEEK p. 65 dubaidesignweek.ae E
E.1027 p. 25 e1027.org
LUCA CIPELLETTI p. 182, 185 ar.ch.it
COMME DES GARÇONS p. 17 comme-des-garcons.com
WALTER VAN BEIRENDONCK p. 116 waltervanbeirendonck.com
DORNBRACHT p. 43 dornbracht.com
CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE BIENNIAL p. 200 chicagoarchitecture biennial.org
SAM BARON p. 69, 71, 78-79, cover 3 sambaron.fr
BASSO & BROOKE p. 116 bassoandbrooke.com
DONNA KARAN INTERNATIONAL p. 26 donnakaran.com
EMECO p. 8-9 emeco.net
CIVICACTION p. 175-176 civicaction.ca
MARLOES TEN BHÖMER p. 154-155 marloestenbhomer. squarespace.com
DESIGN WITHIN REACH p. 100, 102 dwr.com
CASADEI p. 153 casadei.com
B&B ITALIA p. 1, 26, 197, inside front cover bebitalia.com
BARBER & OSGERBY p. 38, 124-128 barberosgerby.com
DESIGN JUNCTION p. 190 thedesignjunction.co.uk
COAKLEY & COX p. 194-197 coakleyandcox.co.uk
COMME DES MACHINES p. 58 commedesmachines.es LE CORBUSIER p. 25, 48 D
DANISHTM p. 40 danish.tm
ROBIN DAY p. 59, 124-133 robinandlucienneday foundation.org
DE PADOVA p. 26 depadova.com
DESIGN ACADEMY EINDHOVEN p. 25, 181-182, 185, 187 designacademy.nl
ERDEM p. 116-117 erdem.com
FAB p. 54-55, 100, 102-103, 108-110 fab.com
FOGALE DE ALLEGRI p. 28-35 matteofogale.com laetitiadeallegri.com FORMAFANTASMA p. 47, 186 formafantasma.com
FUNDAMENTAL BERLIN p. 56 fundamental.berlin
ILONA GAYNOR p. 69, 71-73, 92, 94, 96, cover 1 ilonagaynor.co.uk FRANK GEHRY p. 147, 168 foga.com
ALEXANDRA DAISY GINSBERG p. 183, 185, 187-188 daisyginsberg.com
STEFANO GIOVANNONI p. 42 stefanogiovannoni.it EILEEN GRAY p. 25, 68
MICHAEL GRAVES p. 60-62, 64 michaelgraves.com
KONSTANTIN GRCIC p. 38, 41-42, 196, 198-199 konstantin-grcic.com H
HANSGROHE p. 63 hansgrohe.co.uk
PIERRE HARDY p. 150-151 pierrehardy.com
GRETA HAUER p. 188 cargocollective.com/ gretahauer
JAIME HAYÓN p. 38, 48 hayonstudio.com
HEM p. 50, 54-55, 102, 104-105, 107-110 hem.com ARNE HENDRIKS p. 182, 185 arnehendriks.net
HERMAN MILLER p. 27, 41, 61, 102, 110-111, 186 hermanmiller.com HILLE p. 124-133 hille.co.uk
HONEST BY p. 47, 58 honestby.com HUAWEI p. 25 huawei.com
HUGO BOSS p. 192-193 hugoboss.com I
INVESTINDUSTRIAL p. 26 investindustrial.com
JOHN H. DANIELS FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, LANDSCAPE, AND DESIGN p. 177 daniels.utoronto.ca
THE JOSEF AND ANNI ALBERS FOUNDATION p. 134-149 albersfoundation.org
K KEI KAGAMI p. 161 artisanwerks.com
MARY KATRANTZOU p. 116-117 marykatrantzou.com
JAMES KING p. 183, 185, 187 science-practice.com L
CHU-TING LEE p. 158, 162-163 leechuting.com
MATHIEU LEHANNEUR p. 25 mathieulehanneur.fr
DANIEL LIBESKIND p. 168 libeskind.com LINDBERG p. 2-3 lindberg.com LOFT p. 59 loft.co
LONDON DESIGN BIENNALE p. 26 londondesignbiennale.com
LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL p. 26, 37, 70, 110, 128, 196 londondesignfestival.com ADOLF LOOS p. 150-163
ROSS LOVEGROVE p. 69, 71, 90-93, 95 rosslovegrove.com M
MADE.COM p. 101-103, 106, 108, 110 made.com MADE IN DESIGN p. 102, 106 madeindesign.co.uk MAGIS p. 38-39, 41-42 magisdesign.com MAHARAM p. 21 maharam.com
MAISON & OBJET inside back cover maison-objet.com
208 Disegno. INDEX
MANOS DEL URUGUAY p. 28-35 manosyarns.com
PEARSONLLOYD p. 69, 71, 76-77, 92-96 pearsonlloyd.com
THE LEVEL GROUP p. 106 thelevelgroup.com
ALESSANDRO MENDINI p. 60-61
PREMIÈRE VISION FABRICS p. 120 premierevision.com
TOTEM p. 49 totemcreative.com
MATHESON WHITELEY p. 121 mathesonwhiteley.com MOMA p. 26 moma.org
MONOCLE p. 56, 168, 172, 174 monocle.com MOOOI p. 25, 106 moooi.com
MOREAU KUSUNOKI ARCHITECTES p. 26 moreaukusunoki.com TOSHIKO MORI p. 134-149 tmarch.com
JASPER MORRISON p. 8, 14, 36, 38-39, 196 jaspermorrison.com
MUSEO DELLA MERDA p. 182, 184-185 museodellamerda.org MYKITA p. 50, 56 mykita.com N
NERI & HU p. 69, 71, 80-81 en.neriandhu.com
NEW TENDENCY p. 55-56 newtendency.de MARC NEWSON p. 25, 38 marc-newson.com
LUCA NICHETTO p. 104, 109 nichettostudio.com
OCÉANE IZARD p. 185-186 oceaneizard.com FREI OTTO p. 25 P
PARSONS & CHARLESWORTH p. 69, 71, 86-87, 92-93, 95-96, cover 2 parsonscharlesworth.com
PETER PILOTTO p. 112-123 peterpilotto.com
PUNKT p. 36 punkt.ch R
RAW MATERIAL COMPANY p. 146, 148 rawmaterialcompany.org ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART p. 26, 116 rca.ac.uk MATS ROMBAUT p. 44-47 rombaut.com
SAINT LAURENT p. 201, outside back cover ysl.com SALONE DEL MOBILE p. 42, 128, 180, 182, 185 salonemilano.it SAMSUNG p. 193 samsung.com
JONATHAN SAUNDERS p. 116-117 jonathan-saunders.com SCP p. 194-197 scp.co.uk
THREAD p. 134-149 thread-senegal.org
TYLKO p. 109-110 tylko.com U
UNIVERSAL DESIGN STUDIO p. 69-71, 84-85, 92-96 universaldesignstudio.com USM p. 67 usm.com
VALISE p. 52 valise.me
VERY GOOD & PROPER p. 102, 106, 108 verygoodandproper.co.uk VHM DESIGN FUTURES p. 186-187, 189 vhmdesignfutures.com VITRA p. 14, 38, 55, 102, 128 vitra.com
VITRA DESIGN MUSEUM p. 66 design-museum.de VOLA p. 63 vola.com W
SHINOLA p. 4-5 shinola.com
WALLPAPER* p. 106, 168 wallpaper.com
ETTORE SOTTSASS p. 60, 62
MARCEL WANDERS p. 25, 41 marcelwanders.com
ALEJANDRA SIMONETTA p. 159 simonettaalejandra.com WILLIAM STUMPF p. 186-187
TEL AVIV MUSEUM OF ART p. 192 tamuseum.org.il
WALLPAPERSTORE* p. 106, 110 store.wallpaper.com
DOMINIC WILCOX p. 69, 71, 88-89 dominicwilcox.com
SYLVAIN WILLENZ p. 103, 106, 109-110 sylvainwillenz.com
WINKREATIVE p. 168-169, 174, 176-177 winkreative.com
A photoessay about Uruguay's female wool workers • Jasper Morrison's dumbphone • Understanding furniture design with Magis's Eugenio Perazza...