Azzedine Alaïa Cecil Balmond Gui Bonsiepe The Bouroullecs Thoughts on Decay François Dumas Design and Fertility Massoud Hassani Islands in Japan Museoa Balenciaga Yoshiyuki Miyamae Pringle’s Archive Rethinking LA Helen Storey Martin Szekely The Tip Ton
Cover image by Iwan Baan of visitors to Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima, Japan.
T / H / E G / L / O / B /A / L F/O/R/ U/M F/O/R D/E /S/I/G/N ��. November — �. December ���� Preview Day ��. November Miami Beach / USA designmiami.com
ILLUSTRATION FRANÃ‡OIS DUMAS
“When I release a collection it always feels like I’ve been stripped naked before the crowd. No matter how much time passes, this feeling always remains the same.” This quote by Yohji Yamamoto was emblazoned on the stark, white wall of the exhibition Yohji Yamamoto At Work, at the London College of Fashion earlier this year. It struck a chord, as I was about to embark on a similarly disrobing journey – the creation of Disegno. Disegno is a biannual magazine examining architecture, design and fashion. It is created through a journalism of experience and criticism, it insists on going places, meeting the people behind the projects, and asking lots of questions. Disegno aims to inspire further learning through footnotes and reading lists and further creation – we want your thoughts on the subjects discussed here. But Disegno is not just a printed magazine – the first part of the project went live online three months ago (www.disegnomagazine.com) and in December our first Salon takes place (p. 209). “Disegno,” wrote Anthony Hughes in the Oxford Art Journal, “is a loaded and usefully slippery term.” In the 16th century the Italian painter, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari argued that “disegno” meant much more than just the act of drawing or the process that is known as “design”. Rather, he regarded “disegno” as the definition of the mental process that makes the practice of creating art and architecture possible at all. It’s a suitable name then, for a magazine exploring the culture of design. Although there is no intention to theme this issue there is a common thread running through it: hard work and doubt. From Azzedine Alaïa’s late nights in his studio (p. 60) to Ronan and Erwan Bouroullecs’ uncertainty at seeing their work in a retrospective (p. 148) and the extraordinary decade-long building project in the Japanese Inland Sea (cover and p. 92), doubt seems a necessary part of the creative process. And if Yohji Yamamoto, the great couturier, is still feeling naked after 40 years in the business, I guess it’s fine if I do too. EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Johanna Agerman Ross
Johanna Agerman Ross firstname.lastname@example.org CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Daren Ellis/See Studio email@example.com DESIGNER
Julia Newcomb, Brett Lampitt FOOTNOTES EDITOR
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Rio Jade Ali, Anna Bates, Heston Blumenthal, Shumi Bose, Andrea Branzi, Felix Chabluk Smith, Aric Chen, David Crowley, Charlotte Cullinan, Sara Fanelli, Shelley Fox, Rafael Gomez‑Moriana, John Hegarty, Fergus Henderson, Mark Hogan, Sam Jacob, Justin McGuirk, Monica Narula, Helena Reckitt, Vera Sacchetti, Tom Scott, Adrian Searle, David Tanguy, Henrietta Thompson, Oliver Wainwright, Julian Worrall. PHOTOS BY
Arthur Arkin, Iwan Baan, Pieter Baert, Tuur Van Balen, Trish Belford, Iñigo Bujedo Aguirre, Kevin Davies, Francois Dumas, Felix Friedmann, Marcus Gaab, Vincent Van Gurp, Marcus W Hansen, Rene Van Der Hulst, Inga Knölke, Michelle Marsh, Maurizio Montalti, Lynton Pepper, Giles Price, Linus Ricard, Marcus Ross, Daniel Rybakken, Kalle Sanner, John Short, Susana Soares, Francesc Torres, Jaime Vazquez, Noah Webb, Jane and Louise Wilson, Luisa Zanani. THANK YOU
To all the contributors who gave their time and talent for free and to Fredrik Jung-Abbou. Without you this magazine would not exist.
Thanks also to Clémence and Didier Krzentowski, Anja Aronowsky-Cronberg, David Myron, Hanna Nova Beatrice, Sofia Lagerkvist, Eldina Begcic, Violetta BoxillRoope, Jere Salonen, Penelope Shaw, Kate Shaw, Rosie Spencer, Madelaine Levy and last, but definitely not least, Biggles. PAPER AND PRINT
“What is this lovely paper?” we can hear you ask. Disegno is printed on X-PER 120gsm with a 250gsm cover, provided with many thanks to Pari Taylor at Fedrigoni UK. Disegno is printed by St Ives Westerham that is sadly closing down. We wish the lovely Ian Paull and his colleagues the best of luck. CONTENT COPYRIGHT
The content of this magazine belongs to Disegno Publications Ltd and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. DISEGNO PUBLICATIONS LTD
Disegno is a biannual magazine published by Disegno Publications Ltd. 6 Disegno.
london pop-up shop oPEn 2 DeCemBeR – 31 JanUaRy *
Enquiries +44 (0)20 7901 7901 firstname.lastname@example.org * ClosEd 24 DeCemBeR–2 JanUaRy Hide N’ Seek 2011 From the Watch Sculptures: Moments in Time series by Dominic Wilcox All unique and available through Phillips de Pury & Company.
Phillips de Pury & Company London Pop-Up Shop 45-47 Brook street at Claridge’s London W1 4HR
Punkt. for Japan: Still Time to Help Supporting Architecture for Humanity
Punkt. for Japan: Still Time to Help, is a special charity initiative to aid the reconstruction process in Japan following the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami which hit the Tōhoku region in March 2011. Background Since January 2011 Punkt. has been working with the Japanese company Seiko, engineering and manufacturing its second product: the AC 01 alarm clock, designed by Jasper Morrison. The AC 01 was launched at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April 2011, just one month after the catastrophic events which struck northeast Japan. Punkt.’s business partners and friends were seriously affected. Sensitised by these events, and confident about the potential of design when it comes to collaborative problem-solving, Punkt. conceived Punkt. for Japan: Still Time to Help in order to contribute to rebuilding the future of the affected areas in Japan. Still Time to Help Thanks to the generosity of Jasper Morrison’s design studio and the contribution of Seiko Clock Inc., Punkt. has designed and produced a limited edition AC 01 clock with a red dial and white body to represent the country’s flag.
100% of the profits from the sales of the special edition clock will go to Maeami Village Reconstruction, a project supported by AfH, to rebuild family homes and play areas in Maeami, a fishing village in the Tōhoku region which was swept away by the tsunami in March 2011. The project will help the children and families of the small fishing village to build a brighter and more sustainable future. Punkt. for Japan: Still Time to Help will run through to December 2011, it is also possible for visitors to make voluntary donations to Architecture for Humanity (Maeami) for the full duration of the campaign through our official website. Punkt. commits to informing donors on the project in Maeami until its completion, even in the event that it prolongs the sales of the special edition clock, which will terminate in December. You can follow the progress of the AfH reconstruction project in Maeami on our official website punktgroup.com. FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @punktforjapan JOIN US ON FACEBOOK: facebook.com/Punkt.forJapan
This limited edition design piece is on sale in the best design shops worldwide in order to raise as much as possible for charity. The Charity For the allocation of funds raised for this initiative Punkt. has joined forces with Architecture for Humanity (AfH), a non-profit organisation founded in 1999, which seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crises and brings professional design services to communities in need. Since it was founded the organisation has worked in more than thirty countries on projects ranging from schools, health clinics, affordable housing and long-term sustainable reconstruction.
RL2069 Punkt AC01 Japan_Disegno_200x270_AWv2.indd 1
Martin Szekely’s Paris apartment
Los Angeles by bicycle
Yoshiyuki Miyamae, creative director of Issey Miyake
Alice Rawsthorn’s favourite books from 2011
The winner is... Daniel Rybakken
Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa
A game of exquisite corpse
Massoud Hassani trials his mine sweeper
Designers’ fascination with decomposition
Nicola Morgan makes clothes with rapid prototyping
The couturier prepares for a 21st century retrospective
Cecil Balmond on his new studio
Barber Osgerby’s chair deconstructed
Sealed chair by François Dumas
A discussion between Gui Bonsiepe and Justin McGuirk
Tze Goh is a master of minimalism
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ERNESTO BONES
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
LUNCH WITH ALAÏA
THE TIPPING POINT
DESIGN & DEMOCRACY
What we can learn from the architectural wonders of Japan’s Inland Sea
ARCHIVE OF MEMORIES
Clothing that cleans the air
Photo essay of the London 2012 Olympic Park
The meaning of Disegno
Rebuilding Pringle’s past
Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec
DESIGN & FERTILITY
Why birth control needs a redesign
EAT WORK PLAY
The office lunch documented
They belong to the Object Frame family by British designer Jasper Morrison. Although they are similar in appearance, their contents couldn’t be more different. One is filled with neatly linedup dictionaries; the other is a shrine-like amalgamation of objects. “Things that belonged to people who are now dead,” Szekely says, deadpan, in a low voice that draws you in and makes you listen. >
PHOTO LINUS RICARD
There are two boxes on the wall of Martin Szekely’s Paris apartment.
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Object Frame by Jasper Morrison for Galerie kreo, filled with Martin Szekelyâ€™s mementos.
me commentary is part of the work,” says Szekely, the philosopher. The green tea we drink comes in thin, white porcelain cups without handles, which Szekely picked up on a trip to China. He muses on their industrial manufacture. Szekely doesn’t build things himself any more, but the sense for materials is in his fingertips. Their properties are skewed as a result of sensitive and thoughtful execution. Aluminium appears paperlike, fragile. Plywood becomes luxurious. Right now, the cheap, mass-produced cup from China he cradles in his hands appears expensive. [...] It is autumn now. The Parisian light is a little gloomy and the streets are full of people, busy going places. Szekely, however, stands still, monitoring his Units at Galerie kreo. It’s a day before the opening and the shelves, made from uniform technical plaster, create a diagonal barrier
Martin Szekely standing in front of his Soleil Noir mirror for Galerie kreo.
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> It’s a rainy summer afternoon, and Paris seems to have emptied of people. But Szekely is here, working side by side with his wife, Rosanna, in silence and deep concentration. It’s two months until the exhibition Ne Plus Dessiner (Draw No More) opens at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It is also two months until his solo show, Units, at Parisian design space Galerie kreo. But everything is organised. Exhibition texts are neatly filed in plastic pockets on the table. The first prototype for Units, a modular shelving system made from technical plaster, rests on the table between us. Like the two boxes on his wall, the retrospective at the Pompidou exposes two sides of Szekely: the philosopher and the pragmatist. French designer Martin Szekely trained as a cabinetmaker at the legendary Boulle and Estienne schools in Paris. He worked as a carpenter before finding recognition as a designer in 1983 with the chaise longue Pi. Since then he has enjoyed a successful career both as a product and furniture designer – largely on home turf. “I’m an intellectual.
Italian furniture producers don’t like that,” he declares, explaining his resistance to take on the Mecca of 20thcentury furniture design. A plan of the Pompidou exhibition space, lying on the table, demonstrates what Szekely means. It is divided into two parts. One room is taken up by a vitrine. In it are industrial design objects like the Perrier glass he created, which has sold more than 20 million units; the repackaging of French perfumier Roger Gallet and an exquisite reflex hammer for the European Neurological Society. All of them are results of intense research and understanding of a specific client’s needs. The pragmatist. The other room is filled with furniture – or, as Szekely sees it, research. “I don’t do it for people,” he says. “I don’t do it because I want create a better world. I do it because I like to consider the boundaries of furniture. What makes a chair a chair?” These questions are not accompanied by drawings (as the title of the exhibition suggests, Szkeley doesn’t draw any more) but rather by words – reflections on materiality. “The object doesn’t need commentary, but for
across the gallery floor. It is austere, stripped back, cold. “My intention is to consider only the nature of the object – its use,” Szekely has said of his work, “without necessarily exposing a signature, craftsmanship, the beauty of a material or a pattern.” And here it is in practice, maybe more than in any of his other pieces. Jasper Morrison’s Object Frames in oak are also extraordinarily minimal, but they also have a warmth, both in the material they are made from and their name – friendly, familiar, a container for something. “Units” is a cruelly non-descript title; the name challenges the object’s very function. It is two days after the Pompidou opening. Szekely looks a little pale. He is gearing up for the final stage of a week that has celebrated his 30 years as a designer. So how did he like the opening night? Szekely breaks into a disarming smile. “I really wanted to dance, but the music wasn’t loud enough. It’s a long time since I danced.”
Johanna Agerman Ross (see p. 6) Ne Plus Dessiner is at Centre Pompidou, Paris to 2 January 2012. Units is at Galerie kreo to 23 December 2011.
PHOTOS LINUS RICARD
The retrospective exposes two sides of Szekely: the philosopher and the pragmatist.
The second Object Frame contains Szekely’s dictionaries. Below it, stuck to the wall are snaps from the film that British artist Mark Lewis created for the exhibition Ne Plus Dessiner at the Pompidou. It features Szekely’s Soleil Noir mirror.
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PHOTO LEFT JAIME VAZQUEZ
Postcard from The 105/110 Freeway Interchange as it looks today (top) and (right) as Shift Architecture imagines it 50 years from now.
Shortly after landing at Los Angeles International, instead of picking up a rental car and nudging it onto Freeway 405, I rented a bicycle. I swapped fiddling with radio stations and looking for my exit for enjoying a warm breeze on my skin and the afternoon sunlight on the palm trees on my ride to the motel in Culver City. What would a Los Angeles without cars look like? At one point an unfathomable question, the creative collective Rethink LA is now provoking an answer through a series of events and exhibitions, and I wanted to find out more. >
> It is exactly 40 years since the British architecture critic Reyner Banham’s genredefying Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies launched. As the later BBC documentary Reyner Banham Loves LA (1972) showed, his book is a love letter to this sprawling city. And it’s an ode to the culture of the car. “Like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, I learned to drive in order to learn Los Angeles in the original,” wrote Banham in the introduction. The Los Angeles that Banham describes is an American city of the late 16 Disegno. EXPOSÉ
1960s, when freeway driving was still a relatively new experience and the suburban way of life meant freedom. Banham went to great lengths to assure his readers that the traffic and smog weren’t that bad in Los Angeles (no worse than the train network in London, he claimed) yet for many people, driving in Southern California has created an intolerable lifestyle. Los Angeles’ freeways no longer conjure up the “ideal version of democratic personal transportation”, as Banham described them, but instead are a gridlocked exercise in day-long frustration. Today, a new generation of thinkers is challenging the
automotive culture that has defined Los Angeles since the Second World War and examining what its future should look like. Rethink LA, a “collaboration of forwardthinking volunteers”, has a vision for bottom-up change that creates community by encouraging citizens to have a voice about the future of their neighbourhoods and the city as a whole. The collective is staging a show titled Perspectives on a Future City at the Architecture and Design Museum in Los Angeles. After a 45-minute bike ride from Culver City, along the famous Miracle Mile, I arrive at the museum where Rethink LA’s co-directors Kellie
PHOTO TOP LEFT NOAH WEBB
Hyperion Treatment Plant collage by Taalman Koch Architecture (right) and the site today (above).
Konapelsky and Jonathan Louie greet me. Both in their twenties, they look like creative-media types. Louie, originally from Hawaii, is a student at the graduate architecture programme at the University of California and Konapelsky, pale and fashionably dressed, is a graphic designer. Together, they founded the collaborative Rethink LA with the intention to make a better city, one where you would “not lose friends because they live on the East Side and you live in the West,” says Louie. “There are things happening here that could be a catalyst for the future, beyond just the demographic
shifts of Millennials wanting to live a certain way.” The exhibition at the Architecture and Design Museum is the collective’s first major project – a simultaneous starting point and summing up for their discussions to date. Today, the Sunday before Labour Day, the exhibition is sparsely populated, but a week earlier around 200 people people were milling about the museum enjoying small talk for the event Moving Beyond Cars. Attendees were encouraged to make their way to the museum without using a car, so they biked, bused and in-line skated their way down Wilshire Boulevard past the La Brea Tar Pits to the
museum’s front door. Today, all that is left of that exercise is a Flickr stream of photographs and a map that people annotated, showing where they came from. On route to the party, groups of people on foot ran into each other and joined up to travel together, immediately spotting each other in the often pedestrianfree landscape of Los Angeles. “Here, it’s so foreign to meet someone while you are walking, in a way, you are surprised,” says Louie. With these connections between people created, one of Rethink LA’s goals has partly been achieved, but the initiative’s main goal is to connect policy makers to the public and to start discussions about the future of Los Angeles. “When you listen to policy makers talk, you often don’t understand the jargon,” says Konapelsky. “So we wanted to break it down to basic facts.” A series of videos playing in the gallery, feature local thinkers on urban issues, including Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council president, and Richard Bruckner, director for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning. “These people come up with some incredibly clear and provocative statements when put on the spot with a carefully framed question,” says Louie. The most prominent portion of the show is a series of collages suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the gallery in two-sided frames, with one side showing a photo of a present-day infamous LA landscape such as a freeway or drainage culvert, and the other showing a collaged proposal for what that same place could look like in the future. While not necessarily practical solutions, the collages show a playful and optimistic approach to the possibilities of the city. XTEN Architecture’s proposal for the Freeway 405 near the Getty Museum features underground trains and the entire roadway being replaced by a park and a new Sepulveda Cultural Corridor. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has made improving conditions for bicyclists a priority, but his own experience of breaking an arm after being cut up by a taxi is instructive for others considering taking a ride here: it is often not for the faint of heart. While bicycle routes
do exist, many are on the side of incredibly wide, busy roads and intersections that often require cyclists to get off and cross at traffic signals. However, covering long distances over flat topography is often much quicker than you would anticipate. The rhythm of the car is in your body in Los Angeles and freed from its constraints and gridlocked existence, navigation and progress can be measured differently. In a city where the average household currently spends more than 18 per cent of their total expenditures on transportation, change is sorely needed for economic reasons as much as for social and environmental ones.
Today, a new generation of thinkers is challenging the automotive culture that has defined Los Angeles since the Second World War and examining what its future should look like. Banham writes that the city didn’t sprawl from the centre but rather developed in its dispersed form, prior to the automobile, through the layout of the city’s now-destroyed streetcar lines. The questions today concern whether Los Angeles is ready to find a new way forward. Could the city return to public transportation, 50 years after its extensive, original transit network was ripped out? Are LA’s residents ready to give up four wheels for two? As I watched fledgling pelicans stretch their wings along the Ballona Creek Bike Path on my return to the airport, I started to believe that they might. Even, Banham, himself famously bringing a fold-up Brompton bicycle on his travels, would most probably approve.
Mark Hogan is a San Franciscobased architect, bike fanatic and sometime blogger. Perspectives on a Future City at Architecture and Design Museum, Los Angeles closed 2 September 2011.
PHOTO TOP LEFT MICHELLE MARSH
Rios Clementi Hale Studios has replaced the Tarmac of Wilshire Boulevard (top) with a green corridor (right).
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PHOTO TOP LEFT JAIME VAZQUEZ
The Sunset Strip in 2054 as imagined by Willem Henri Lucas (right) and as it is today (top).
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Yoshiyuki Miyamae explains the spring/summer 2012 fabrics to his team.
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“I feel the anxiety that is around at the moment regarding the world economy and particularly the dreadful consequences of the Tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan,” says Miyamae picking at his fruit salad in a grand London restaurant. “It has had a profound effect on me and how I think about the directions that I take. It has made me look at things differently.” The message in Miyamae’s first collection for the Japanese fashion label, shown in Paris in October, was simple: this was about growth and renewal. Miyamae took his inspiration for his first collection from flowers, harnessing the moodenhancing powers of nature and revelling in both its fragility and its extraordinary inner strength. Billowing capes and sleeves, semi-transparent layers and ruffles bringing to mind buds, petals and leaves, the looks were offset by strong geometric cut-out leggings, and huge tissue headdresses. It was a message fitting for a global Japanese brand in the wake of a disastrously turbulent year, and fitting, quite particularly, for Issey Miyake’s incoming new head of design. Since replacing Dai Fujiwara in May, Miyamae, at just 35 years old, is taking the helm of a brand that is five years older than he is. But while Miyamae may be young, he is far from inexperienced. Having joined Issey Miyake in 1996, he has already been part of Fujiwara’s design team for 10 years. He not only knows the brand inside out, but his respect for it is palpable. “My direction was always to include the basic principles of Issey Miyake – that is, the spirit and essence of Issey Miyake, which I have learned during 10 years of working with Miyake himself,” he says. “I can cultivate this spirit and bring it ever forward with my own vision. But I have to face
the reality of what is going on in Japan today.” Anxiously anticipated, and a huge step for Miyamae himself, his first collection treads a tightrope. It’s a balance between needing to honour the traditions of the brand while also manifesting the radical creative vision that has seen Issey Miyake give the world such game changing innovations as Pleats Please, A-POC and the origami garments of 132.5. Miyamae, like Fujiwara before him and, to an extent, Issey Miyake himself, has a presence that is at once humble and humbling. But while the balanced, confident, charming and thoughtful demeanour at once inspires respect, his excitement for the task at hand is still clearly bubbling underneath it all. He slides open his iPhone to show snaps from a paper manufacturer outside of Tokyo where he has spent a lot of time in the months leading up to his first collection. It shows Miyamae, hands-on, at the machines, interacting with the workers. The future, he believes, is in paper. Sustainable, natural, and let’s not forget – a Japanese specialism, the design team at Issey Miyake has been researching (and
He slides open his iPhone to show snaps from a paper manufacturer outside of Tokyo where he has spent a lot of time in the months leading up to his first collection. eventually working with) what he says is the biggest paper production company in the country to develop a truly wearable paper textile. “Of course Issey Miyake has been working with paper for more than 20 years, but paper fabric has never been used for clothing on a daily basis, because it has been stiff and therefore not comfortable on the skin.” Producing paper thin enough to make it easy to wear, yet also durable has been prohibitively expensive, but after two years in development Miyamae’s
collection showcases the first results. The factory, according to Miyamae, is cultivating special plants specifically – but while it takes two years for them to grow, it is a slow work in progress. Last year, Issey Miyake’s position as a trailerblazer in textiles technology was compounded with the 132.5 collection. Astonishing garments expanded gracefully from a two-dimensional geometric platform – an intellectual aesthetic inspired by the work of computer scientist Jun Mitani. It was the highlight of the Barbican’s Future Beauty exhibition in London last year, which charted 30 years of innovative Japanese fashion. That it sets a tough standard for Miyamae is quite evident, but his own textile innovations seem to match it on every level. In another move that shows support for the homestead, Miyamae is sourcing and working with local manufacturers and makers to produce the collection, preserving, where possible, Japan’s ancient and traditional production methods. “If we continue to work with and support these people, then we are somehow helping; however small, to keep these skills alive.” The team worked with hand silk-screen printers in Kyoto as well as specialist porcelain producers in Arita which would make the porcelain buttons by hand. It’s not always been easy: “These craftspeople take huge pride in their work and knowledge, which has been passed down over many generations,” explains Miyamae, his passion for the subject evident in his voice, the fork now still next to the plate while his hands gesticulate. “Because of the current big economic crisis, they also need to grow, change and develop if they are to continue; they cannot stay in the same place without moving forward too. Some of these craftspeople are quite conservative, so we need to challenge them. We need to develop and grow together. Issey Miyake is about nurturing old and new talent and growing with each other, it is not about quick fixes and never has been.”
Henrietta Thompson is a design writer with a background at Blueprint and Wallpaper*.
PHOTO TEAM AT ISSEY MIYAKE
Yoshiyuki Miyamae took over the creative helm at fashion house Issey Miyake just two months after the biggest disaster that Japan had seen since the Second World War.
Alice Rawsthorn’s selected reading list is shot on the Vitsoe 606 shelving system, designed by Dieter Rams.
Do you judge a book by its cover? Only up to a point. A bad cover wouldn’t stop me from buying a good book. But a good book with a good (or preferably great) cover is unbeatable. Where is your favourite place to read? In bed. Where do you store your books and how do you arrange them? In two rooms of my home, and idiosyncratically. Do you have a favourite bookshop? I love great independent and vintage bookshops like Donlon Books or Simon Finch in London. Unfashionably, I also love Amazon. Why? It is so powerful and so ubiquitous that it is easy to forget how miraculous it is to be able to visit the world’s biggest bookshop – and lots of indie and antiquarian ones – with a few clicks of a mouse. Do you use an iPad or Kindle to read books on? I travel a lot, so an iPad is invaluable for storing books that I can usefully read on the road, but would be too heavy to carry. Though, I still love old-fashioned printed books, beautifully bound ones, especially. I’ve always thought of the book, hardback or paperback, as a brilliant piece of packaging: light, compact and portable, yet big enough to be visually expressive and resilient enough to protect its contents.
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The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War by CJ Chivers ALLEN LANE €30.99 Apparently, no weapon has been responsible for more deaths than the AK-47 or Kalashnikov. In this book, a former officer in the United States Marine Corps, Chivers, tells the story of how the invention of this lightweight, easy to disassemble, clean and reassemble armour affected warfare in the 21st century. Carlo Mollino: Maniera Moderna by Chris Dercon (editor), Armin Linke (photographer) et al VERLAG WALTHER KÖNIG €35 This is the catalogue for the exhibition which documents the Italian architect, designer and photographer Carlo Mollino’s work at Haus de Kunst in Berlin. His smutty polaroids as well as his Turinian villas and beautifully sculpted wooden furniture is featured here. A Taxonomy of Office Chairs by Jonathan Olivares PHAIDON €35 Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Gio Ponti, Richard Sapper, Jasper Morrison and Konstantin Grcic have all designed office chairs. Here, they are documented next to lesser-known designs in a book that charts the office chairs evolution from 1840 to present day. The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination by Fiona MacCarthy FABER & FABER €30.99 McCarthy paints a picture of the elusive British artist Edward Burne-Jones, following her earlier work on his contemporary William Morris. Le Corbusier – the architect on the beach by Niklaas Maak HIRMER VERLAG €19.90 It wasn’t until Corbusier spent some time on the beach, studying sea shells and stones and reading French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry’s work that his approach to modernism took a slightly different turn. This account by Maak is a beautifully written piece of architectural history. And a brilliant argument for taking more holiday…
Hella Jongerius: Misfit by Louise Schouwenberg PHAIDON €39.95 This is the second book that Phaidon has published on the Dutch designer, but this one documents the Misfit exhibition that Jongerius showed at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam until February 2011. I swear I use no art at all: 10 years, 100 books, 18,788 pages of book design by Joost Grootens 010 PUBLISHERS €24.50 Here, graphic designer Joost Grootens charts the 100 books that he created over 10 years at a total of 18,788 pages. Patterns by Gerhard Richter VERLAG WALTHER KÖNIG €450 The hefty price tag is matched by its weight and size of this book that documents Gerhard Richter’s experiment of taking an image of his original Abstract Painting and dividing it vertically into strips. The result of the experiment is 221 listed patterns, published as 246 double-page images. The book is a limited edition of 800 numbered copies. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks... by Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist TASCHEN €39.99 Between 2005 and 2011, architect Rem Koolhaas and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewed the surviving members of the Japanese Metabolism movement. This is the documentation of that undertaking – in words and image. Helvetica and the New York Subway System by Paul Shaw THE MIT PRESS €32 This is the story of how the font Helvetica made its way into the New York Subway System Signage over a period of 20 years. It tells the story both of the font and the world-famous subway.
PHOTO ARTHUR ARKIN
The International Herald Tribune’s design critic, Alice Rawsthorn, picks her favourite architecture and design reads from the past year and answers a few questions about her reading habits.
The exhibition at Röhsska shows (from left to right) Colour light, Right Angle mirror, Layers light, Surface light, Daylight entrance, Structure table, Light tray and Counterbalance light.
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It was the chairman of the Bruno Mathsson Award announcing that Rybakken was the winner of the 2011 award, and that the 200,000SEK prize money was his. “I’ve been lucky,” Rybakken admits. “The award has made it possible for me to continue working as a designer of more conceptual projects where a marketable product isn’t always the end result.” However, luck seems to have little to do with it. Ever since the Norwegian designer graduated from the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg in 2008, he has had his eyes firmly set on carving out a niche for himself. From his hair, which is tied back into a loose knot, to his carefully typeset name, which is embossed on the cardboard boxes that contain his portfolio, Rybakken comes across as someone who leaves nothing to fate. His tightly reigned-in designs communicate the same message. Control and constraint are themes that run through his work, which is often expressed through the simplicity of form and structural integrity. One of his recent pieces, Counterbalance, which he showed during Milan Furniture Fair 2011, is a light
that works on a pivot system. Rybakken took the basic mechanic principle of equilibrium and translated a sketch diagram into an elegant cantilevered lamp. The black lamp is graphic through its use of bold geometric shapes. Counterbalance is the most traditional, product-like design that Rybakken has produced. His work with light has previously taken more abstract forms, working with simulations of daylight. Project Surface Daylight 1 & 2 uses backlighting
pictures of Rybakken’s work on crisp, uncoated paper. “There are so many designers that just do design, and don’t care about the photography,” comments Rybakken, disapprovingly. “The photo is the first link to your work for most people.” Without much explanation in today’s design press, images are left to do the talking, so it’s understandable that Rybakken takes care over his. Rybakken’s FedEx packages paid off. An appreciative email
to play with our perceptions of windowless spaces; literally transforming the way they are perceived with carefully placed rays of light. More recent works, such as Colour, invite the user to rearrange sheets of tinted glass placed in front of a naked bulb. “Often when I start a project, I visualise the result as a press
from French designer Ronan Bouroullec is pinned up on the wall – a spur-on for gloomier days. Two pieces currently in production with furniture designer Ligne Roset (Colour light and Right Angle mirror), and projects in the pipeline with furniture designer Knoll and light manufacturer Luceplan are proof that the strategy worked. And now, the prestigious Bruno Mathsson Award. The award, created in 1983 is awarded to an emerging Scandinavian designer together with an exhibition held at the design museum, Röhsska in Gothenburg. It might seem like provincial accolade, but it’s a reminder of a once fertile design landscape where production opportunities existed locally. Rybakken belongs to a generation of designers who have to seek their fortunes – almost exclusively – on the international design scene. Just like his work, his successes seem to have been achieved with extraordinary simplicity, but as Rybakken insists: “Simplicity requires attention to every last detail.”
Counterbalance is the most traditional, product-like design that Rybakken has produced. image of it. I can see how the image looks when I sit and draw the different objects,” says Rybakken. It is this attention to detail that has got him to where he is today. He started strategising his path just after graduating, and came up with an alternative route to get his work viewed – FedEx. “If you receive something packaged with FedEx, you open it,” he says. Being on the receiving end of that parcel was a joy. Once the plastic was ripped open, there was a beautiful cardboard box. Inside, there were a series of carefully orchestrated
Manijeh Verghese (see p. 6) Daniel Rybakken’s exhibition at Röhsska closed on 20 November 2011.
PHOTOS KALLE SANNER
One rainy summer afternoon, a few hours after Daniel Rybakken had checked his Visa card statement and then, in quiet despair, contemplated his future as a designer, the phone rang.
Daniel Rybakkenâ€™s studio is in a discontinued factory on the outskirts of Gothenburg.
Back in the 1950s, a journalist asked the Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga what stylistic changes he would be making to his collection for the new season. An offended Balenciaga replied: “Change? I never change my clothes.” To Balenciaga, change was a sign of failure. Rather, he regarded his design ideals to evolve slowly from one season to another. The irony is that, while small seasonal changes in his designs were barely perceptible, he ended up changing the silhouette of women’s clothing for ever. Now, at a new museum in his native Getaria in the Basque region of Spain, the evolution of Balenciaga’s style can be studied closely. It’s regrettable that the museum’s architecture doesn’t live up to the skill or innovation of its subject – even though the drama of the realisation is every bit as intricate as Balenciaga’s couture – but that is not a story the museum wants to tell. >
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The sinuous glass building is attached to the 19th century Berroeta-Aldamar Palace.
Investigation Detailed view of the reception area of the museum.
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> Getaria is a small, quiet coastal town in the province of Gipuzkoa. With its Gothic church tower dominating an urban fabric of stone houses standing cheek-by-jowl in narrow streets, Getaria seems almost frozen in time. Certainly, things don’t change much around here. Young men play Pelota Vasca, a Basque ball game, on a Tarmac pitch in the town centre, while older folk gossip in cafés, idling the days away. For such a small town there have been a lot of intriguing stories to tell over the past 10 years – many of them relating to the long, sinuous glass building that has appeared next to the 19th-century Palacio Berroeta-Aldamar on a hillside above the town – the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa. Balenciaga, who died aged 77 in 1972, lies buried in the town’s cemetery. He was the son of a local fisherman and a seamstress, and started building a reputation as a couturier when he opened a boutique in nearby San Sebastián in 1919 – then a glamorous seaside resort for the European aristocracy. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores, which by then had expanded to Madrid and Barcelona. It was the resultant move to an atelier on Avenue George V in Paris that was to become the game-changer. It was here that he was to make his name as the world’s greatest couturier during the late 1940s and 1950s, hailed by Coco Chanel as “the only true couturier among us, able to design, cut, assemble and sew a dress entirely by himself”. But it was in Getaria that he learned the skills of his trade, accompanying his mother to appointments. And it was in Getaria that the charismatic former mayor, Mariano Camio, started the chain of events that resulted in the new museum. In 1994, Camio led a group of enthusiasts in
starting the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga development association, its purpose to raise the profile of this artistic genius and promote his work through the opening of a permanent exhibition to display the foundation’s collection, secured by funds from the Basque government. As ideas go, this was of its time. After its transition to democracy in the 1980s, Spain experienced a museum boom that lasted nearly two decades – a period during which this building type became the architectural fetish object par excellence. Rivalry between Spain’s regional cultures runs deep, so building world-class museums has developed into a race of one-upmanship among provincial cities. Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry, located 90km away, is the best-known example, spawning what is referred to as “the Bilbao effect”. Camio saw the building of a museum in
It’s regrettable that the museum’s architecture doesn’t live up to the skill or innovation of its subject. Getaria as a way of putting the sleepy fishing village on the world map. This was by no means a local affair. Camio understood the importance of high-profile endorsement, and recruited retired fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, Balenciaga’s protégé, as honorary president. Over the next few years, support was rallied from Spanish and Belgian royalty and fashion designers Paco Rabanne, Emanuel Ungaro and Oscar de la Renta. Government grants were secured from the Spanish ministry of culture and the municipality of Getaria. In 1999, the museum project began with the refurbishment of the Berroeta-Aldamar palace, a 19th-century summer residence that once belonged to the Marquesa de Casa Torres, Balenciaga’s first client and patron. But the building was too small, and a major addition was needed to display the collection of the
foundation, which had by now grown to more than 1,000 pieces, accumulated through high-profile private donations. It is sometimes jokingly commented that the new museums in Spain – products of the competitive building boom – are visited more for their architecture than their content. With the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, this is simply not the case. This outstanding collection has no comparison, and the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga has done a remarkably diligent job of building an archive that surveys both Balenciaga’s early years – as a local couturier in San Sebastián – and his move into the higher echelons of couture. The prospect of building a brand-new museum in Balenciaga’s honour would have been a match made in heaven for any of the architects well used to furnishing high-end fashion brands with grand spaces. The stature of the museum’s subject and its outstanding collection should have attracted the best architectural talent. However, while much energy was expanded on recruiting high-profile support for the museum’s foundation, little or none was spent on sourcing an architect who would match Balenciaga’s invention and talent. And although the museum was built with public funds, not even an invitational architectural competition was organised. Instead, the little-known Miami-based Cuban Julián Argilagos was lined up as the only contender. Despite Argilagos’ thin CV, he made the ambitious and erroneous claim that his museum design would be “the world’s first suspended building”, that it would “revolutionise world architecture”. Argilagos’s appointment was surprising to say the least – especially as his close personal relationship to Camio was well known. And his shortcomings were eventually revealed. Construction of his black glass box – “inspired by Gaudí, American architecture, and Balenciaga himself” – commenced in 2002, but by 2007 the building was still largely incomplete, and it was beginning to appear that Argilagos lacked the experience to make his design >
The undulating walls of the exhibition spaces have builtin glass vitrines. They are temperature controlled to best preserve the clothes.
Investigation The architect claims the museum was inspired by Gaudí and Balenciaga’s couture.
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> a reality. This was no minor issue – especially as he was also contracted to supervise the construction process. And so the story of the building of Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa turned from celebration to scandal. The museum’s €6 million budget had swollen to €21 million while the foundation was €1.8 million in debt. But maybe more alarmingly, it was revealed that pieces had gone missing from the foundation’s collection, including 139 sketches with Balenciaga’s handwritten notes, as well as scarves and gloves. It was alleged that the pieces had been given to councillors in the town halls of Getaria and nearby Zarautz. The Spanish culture ministry immediately froze a €1.4 million grant to the building, and Hubert de Givenchy called for Camio to step down from his position as deputy president of the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga. A criminal investigation in 2008 resulted in Mariano Camio being charged with misappropriation of public funds, falsification of invoices and administrative disloyalty. He denied all charges, and the process is ongoing. Julián Argilagos was charged with practising without a licence, but has yet to appear in court to testify, citing poor health and financial ruin as reasons for not travelling back to Spain. A decade after the first steps had been made to create a museum to house the Balenciaga collection, the building was a half-finished shell and the pride of the project – the collection – had been plundered. The rescue operation began in 2008, involving the legal reconstitution of the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga, when Sonsoles Díez de Rivera, an important donor to the collection, was appointed director. An
architectural competition was launched the same year, and the dubious honour of putting things right architecturally was won by the young Barcelona firm AV62. Their brief was to design the interior – but as they have diplomatically stated: “The scope of the job was in fact significantly broader than previously announced. It not only involves fitting out a new and finished building, but also involves resolving the enclosures, finishes, interiors and facades which weren’t resolved previously.” Unfortunately, the result is a clunky hodge-podge of an edifice which bears little relation to its site and original programme. A black metal façade with a single, angular Gordon Matta-Clarkesque cut comprises the entrance. Passing through the main doors of this blind frontage, you enter a greenhouse-like space with canted glass walls on either side, one of which looks over Getaria’s rooftops to the sea, while the other closely encounters a fourstorey, vegetation covered retaining wall. Within this overly bright and vast space, reminiscent of an airport terminal, the exhibition halls are contained in large steel boxes suspended from the museum’s trapezoid steel structural frames. The three, two-storey-high boxes line up one after another, connected by simple walkways. The interiors of these exhibition boxes are lined by deeply undulating walls that create smooth, seamless
The final outcome is a project of lost possibilities. exhibition spaces. The curves form niches in which Balenciaga’s garments are beautifully shown and illuminated. It is a simple but effective idea that displays Balenciaga’s work with the dignity and beauty it deserves. Nevertheless, the final outcome is a project of lost possibilities – a project where architecture and fashion might have intermingled to create a space that truly investigates and challenges the two disciplines’ relationship. For many years this combined aesthetic has been hinted at in
the writings of critics including Kazys Varnelis and Bradley Quinn, and in the exhibition Skin+Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, which was staged in 2007 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Instead, there is a feeling of making do over this hilltop structure. Nothing could be further from Balenciaga’s attitude to his profession, which was all about perfection and small detail – the turn of a collar to reveal the collarbone, the cut of a sleeve to allow his wealthy clients better to display their jewellery. But whatever the museum building lacks, the citizens of Getaria make up for in spirit. They are proud of their famous son. A small bakery in town has a shrine-like window display commemorating him. There is a street named in his honour, spelled the Basque way: Cristóbal Balenziaga. Some locals are even old enough to remember him. On 7 June this year many of the town’s inhabitants took the newly installed escalators – which stretch from the main street to a plaza in front of the museum’s entrance – to witness Queen Sofia of Spain inaugurate the new structure. Among the faces in the audience were many of the people who had helped make the museum a reality, among them Hubert de Givenchy. Argilagos and Camio, however, were nowhere to be seen, and their negative contributions to the project – unintentional or not – were not mentioned. Judging from the diplomatic wording on the museum’s website, it seems the strategy is to silence the building’s problematic building process. While this is understandable, the history of commissioning and constructing this building provides some crucial lessons on architectural patronage. The importance of making public projects both transparent and closely monitored – with proper expertise sought, and without any parties being allowed to dominate or monopolise – is demonstrated with stark clarity. For the time being, though, it’s up to Getaria’s natives to continue telling the story of how this strangely alien glass edifice came into being.
Rafael Gómez-Moriana is a writer and teacher living in Barcelona. He writes the blog Criticalismo.
The entrance lobby looks like an airport terminal.
Recessions are good for architecture – at least, that’s how the old adage goes. Ask any architect in their fifties or sixties and you will be regaled with stories of magazine launches, exhibitions and self-initiated projects – tales of subversive, unsolicited activity that has somehow led them, 30 years later, to preside over a conventional architecture office that actually makes buildings. Recession, they will tell you, is the creative furnace in which the best, most radical ideas are forged. At least, this is how they have comforted the hordes of jobless graduates who have emerged since the bubble burst. I didn’t really believe the old adage until I saw it happening for myself. Whether we have been witnessing the development of a daring new movement over the past few years remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: that the perceived expectation of a paradigm shift has led to a lot of architects with a lot of time on their hands, all too eager to talk about rethinking what architecture could be. Meanwhile, with a distinct lack of real buildings to exhibit or realised designs to critique, conversation about architecture as a practice has stepped sideways, unleashing a torrent of panel discussions and workshops, talks and debates, performance banquets and live publishing programmes – all intent on discovering what this new “spatial practice” might consist of. With even the Royal Institute of British Architect’s own think tank, Building Futures, asking, “Will architects exist by 2025?”, clearly the profession is undergoing something of an identity crisis. The watershed moment came in 2008, when the faculty of architecture at TU Delft in the Netherlands dramatically burned to the ground. This was seized on by 34 Disegno. EXPOSÉ
a group of Dutch architects as the symbolic death knell of architectural education. The fire represented “a starting point for an exploration of what values to defend, what territories to explore and what practices to develop as an architect”, according to the catalogue of the Dutch pavilion at that year’s Venice Biennale, which had made it a quest to discover “the capabilities of architecture – beyond building”. Calling itself Archiphoenix, the pavilion was a provisional arena for live research, providing a platform for a marathon of talks and debates, which were compiled daily into a magazine that was edited and printed on site. The performative quality of the project – matched nightly by lively parties – generated a buzz in the Giardini, reminiscent of when French group Exyct had decided to live in their pavilion two years earlier. Both projects were deemed a huge success of architectural discourse acted out as physical spectacle.
The arrival of this privately funded educational institution was presaged by the opening of a bar and nightclub. Similar tactics were used by Dutch architects OMA in their choreographed launch of the new Strelka architecture school in Moscow in 2010. A fascinating symbol of the new Russia, the arrival of this privately funded educational institution was presaged by the opening of a restaurant, bar and nightclub on the site – which quickly became the city’s coolest place to see and be seen. It hosted a series of guest lectures and summer workshops – and only once its cultural capital had peaked did term actually begin. Once again, spectacle and hype overrode any serious attempt to interrogate the products of this research institute – which interestingly places the word “media” in its title before “architecture and design”. In recession-struck London, the win-win combination of bankrupt developers’ vacant sites and creative graduates has seen a proliferation of
“pop-up” projects that employ a similarly provisional language. Here, the very act of doing – the “performance” of making – has become more important than the product. In the summer of 2010, a loose co-operative of architecture students and graduates, calling themselves Assemble, converted an abandoned petrol station into a temporary cinema. Their presence on site, the way they worked as a vast team, and the night-time animation of this space were themselves the rasions d’etre for the project. This year, the same group occupied the space beneath an urban flyover with a brick “folly” that played host to more films and workshops, as part of the Create London festival – a bank-sponsored arts festival designed to foment artistic excitement in the run-up to the Olympics. Both projects were born out of the simple desire to build something, after frustrating years of theoretical projects. They were not designed to solve a client’s brief; nor an urge to hold an event. The programming was a byproduct, an end to the means. The group had set out to make something for the fun of it. However, as is often the case with promising young designers, their work was seized on as a new model of future practice, interpreted as something that it was never intended to be. As with the live Venice pavilions and the Strelka Institute – along with hosts of other temporary events-based projects – the performative spectacle of the process itself became the product, the “alternative spatial practice” was put into the foreground as the subject. The architectural product mattered little. The recession has produced a healthy questioning of what architecture can, could, and should be – “beyond building”. But perhaps this navel-gazing is happening at the expense of relevance, as well as quality of production. If architects want to be in existence in 2025, they could do worse than stop examining who they are and how they work, and start focusing on the world outside their own internalised discourse.
Oliver Wainwright is a Londonbased architecture critic and is the buildings editor at Building Design.
PHOTO DAREN ELLIS
A flurry of temporary projects has raised the question of what architecture can mean. But are architects in danger of losing their relevance amid all the navel-gazing?
Folly for a Flyover by Assemble being constructed under the A12 in east London. It was open between June and August 2011.
Close-up of the Herself dress, which featured in a film shot by Adam Mufti.
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But why couldn’t a garment help us tackle pollution in cities, for example? This is a question fashion designer Helen Storey is asking herself. The professor and designer from the Centre of Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion is working on a new project with professor in chemistry Tony Ryan from the University of Sheffield, that can come to change the way we wear clothes. The project is called Catalytic Clothing and involves the addition of a photocatalyst – sometimes found in cement and other architectural applications – to the composition of washing powder. Catalytic Clothing re-imagines the function of clothes by using the surface area of garments to reduce the level of pollutants in the air. The catalyst in the powder makes the electrons in fabric more reactive and able to break down airborne pollutants into non-harmful chemicals. As such, it is a prime example of the burgeoning opportunities for science to be used in design. The world of haute couture is no stranger to such developments. British fashion designer Hussein Chalayan has experimented with everything from shape-memory alloys to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) on the catwalk. Belgian fashion
designer Martin Margiela has flirted with microbiology and bacteria-affected cotton; while Viktor & Rolf, the Amsterdambased design duo, have used blue screening to use garments as digital display. Yet, away from the rarefied context of the catwalk, gaining mainstream traction for these propositions is notoriously difficult. Alternative functions for fashion may be conceivable but in everyday reality they are difficult to implement. We live in an era when the validity of science and the desirability of its applications are debatable. How then do you sell a product which is amorphous, the benefits of which are impalpable? There is something of the Emperor’s New Clothes to Storey and Ryan’s proposition. And without an object other than powder to materialise it, Storey needed a way to disseminate the project to the public. Storey is adamant the journey from scientific discovery to inclusion in everyday life is made via cultural intervention. “Science
Catalytic Clothing re-imagines the function of fashion by using the surface area of clothing to purify the air. moves very slowly; because it deals with life and death, it has to. Culture changes every few seconds,” thinks Storey. “However, for science to be of value to society it needs to have a much bigger conversation with culture.” Catalytic Clothing has therefore been incarnated as a highly considered cultural campaign. It began with the design of a “couture textile sculpture”, a chiffon dress with a textile pattern of human lungs – the inside of which is splashed with pearls of concrete. Enigmatically entitled Herself and redolent with metaphor, the dress was toured to Moscow, Dubai and Singapore. Then, it was taken viral in a video campaign with an ambient soundtrack by Radiohead and art direction by experimental fashion filmmaker Adam Mufti.
In the video, model Erin O’Connor stands statuesquely clad in Herself amidst light projections of calculations, computer code and scientific imagery. “The idea of using pop culture is to be able to have a conversation with the world about a technology which is yet to come,” says Storey. She is a strong believer in the communicative power of fashion: “No one’s afraid of a frock.” In this, she shares the aims of critical design as articulated by British interaction designers Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby. Critical design uses design as a medium for discussion about the social and cultural implications of science and technology. It therefore offers the public an opportunity to reflect and comment before such implications are instituted or set in stone. Whereas critical design often confines itself to a gallery context, Catalytic Clothing aspires to become a consumer product. “The ideal conclusion is that the catalyst we’ve come up with becomes what’s known as a threshold product so it’s a bit like fluoride in water,” says Storey. “It becomes accepted that you don’t produce cleaning stuff unless this agent is in it.” With this aim, Storey and Ryan are working with Belgian ecological cleaning fluid manufacturer Ecover to bring the product to supermarkets as early as two years’ time. However, in order for the product to work, there would have to be something like 30 people wearing catalytic clothes per square metre, passing by each minute, in a city the size of London. It’s not an entirely unrealistic estimate though, if the product will be as ubiquitous as planned. But whether a fashionoriented sculpture and an experimental film can fulfil the mass aspirations Storey has for Catalytic Clothing is yet to be seen. Her next project at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion might offer a solution. “We’re working with neuroscientists to map the effect your desire for stuff has in the brain… what it means to be a consumer and not express the addictive part of ourselves through our shopping habits.”
Elizabeth Glickfeld is a Londonbased design writer from Australia where she has lectured in design theory and history.
PHOTO MARCUS ROSS
Why are we expecting so little from our clothes? Their function is largely the same as when we first covered our bodies thousands of years ago – concealment, decoration and protection.
Helen Storey with one of the dresses she designed to communicate the message of Catalytic Clothing.
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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ERNESTO BONES PHOTOS John Short A Day in the Life of Ernesto Bones is the result of an elaborate parlour game, instigated by architect Ab Rogers for his Stanley Picker Fellowship. “The exquisite corpse will drink new wine.” This was the resulting sentence, when, in 1925, the founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, asked a group of people to write something on a piece of paper, fold it down, and pass it on. In doing so he transformed the parlour game Consequences into a method of communal creation and the Exquisite Corpse was born.
For Rogers, principal of multidisciplinary design agency Ab Rogers Design, called on 24 international participators to do the same. Instead of writing one word, they were asked to write about one hour of the fictional character Ernesto Bones’ life. Illustrator Sarah Fanelli started. The last two lines of her text was then passed on to chef Heston Blumenthal who wrote about the next hour, and so on.
Thirteen photographs and stories from 13 hours of Ernesto Bones’ life are interspersed throughout the pages of Disegno, displaying this product of the collective imagination. The result is a hybrid story that weaves the real with pure invention. Elizabeth Glickfeld A Day in the Life of Ernesto Bones was on at the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University, London 24 March – 21 May 2011
Each piece of text came with a photograph of an object representing Bones’ possessions. These objects were selected from the vast collection of vintage pieces at the Stanley Picker House. Built in 1968, it was designed for the cosmetics mogul and patron of the arts Picker, by architect Kenneth Wood on the outskirts of London.
6:00AM Every morning Ernesto jumps out of bed and steps on a landmine. The landmine is Ernesto himself. After the explosion, he spends the rest of the day putting the pieces back together. As he glances into the red disk of his looking glass, Ernesto realises that he has managed, once again, to find himself on the wrong side of the mirror. He is dismayed to find that, even here, he is assaulted by 7 oâ€™clock sights and sounds: sunshine rays, brave radios, underground zigzags, starched ribbons, black briefcases, steaming cups, fast centipedes and fresh new shadows. By the time he finds his tortuous way back through the looking glass he is ready for breakfast. He hopes that eating some food will stitch him securely to this side of the world for the rest of his day. Sara Fanelli, ILLUSTRATOR, LONDON
7:00AM Bones was a messy eater. In all other areas of his life he was fastidious. He always wore a dove-grey Brioni suit. Always wore hand-tailored shoes the colour of softened caramel. His home was an immaculately conceived arrangement of graceful objects. Balletic bronzes on plinths. Globed lampshades in gleaming steel. Stained-glass panels that shimmered and shifted in the light like a kaleidoscope. Even his can opener was a thing of beauty – cream-coloured, dimpled and rigged to the electrics, it looked more like a piece of vintage space-race technology than a humble household implement. There were times – standing motionless at the window gazing at the precisely manicured garden perhaps, or seated in one of the sumptuous leather chairs – when Bones couldn’t help feeling as though he was just another exhibit in the house, a kind of exquisite corpse. Perhaps that was why he favoured food that dripped and bled and spattered. Carnal stuff that was anything but insubstantial and reminded him he was real. Liver. Tripe. Marrowbone. Trotters of lamb and pig. Sheep’s heads and shoulders and little piggies’ tails. Bones eating bones – the wordplay appealed to him. He thought about breakfasting on a tin of potted salted and fermented sardines, neatly scythed open with that electric opener and eaten straight from the can. But it was too much, even for him. Yet, given how his day had started, he badly needed to indulge in some form of ritual. Besides, he was unquestionably hungry. From the larder he took a readysliced loaf and smeared two pieces with butter. From the fridge he removed the only thing in it, a single white truffle, shaved off 20 wafer-thin pieces with a blade made of Damascus steel, piled them onto one slice of bread, pressed the other slice on top and polished off the lot. He’d just eaten $100 of truffle in a manner calculated to upset almost anyone’s sense of decorum. He felt faintly ashamed but at the same time elated and ready, finally, for whomsoever he might cross swords with in the coming hours. Heston Blumenthal, CHEF, LONDON
PHOTO MARCUS W HANSEN
Faye Toogood's Natura Morta: Assemblage 2 was her second collection of furniture and objects. It was shown during Milan Furniture Fair 2011 and explored the dark side of the natural world. This image was one of the still-life photographs commissioned for the exhibition.
An essay on decay
How things die, or how the materials from which they have been fashioned decompose or not, is one of the troubling questions of the age. It is not surprising then, that decay as a concept is finding a way into the work of many designers. WORDS David Crowley
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
E There is currently a research cluster at the Architectural Association in London called Paradise Lost by Mark Campbell, which focuses on decay in architecture.
The Unknown Fields Division, also partly at the Architectural Association, is a nomadic design studio that ventures out on annual expeditions to "the ends of the earth". In summer 2011 it went to Chernobyl. Italian designers Andrea Trimarchi (b. 1983) and Simone Farresin (b. 1980) founded Studio Formafantasma. Currently based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where they graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2009. They are known for their critical approach to sustainability drawing references from material history.
Montalti (b. unknown) is Italian and graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2010 and has now set up Officina Corpuscoli.
5 Chalayan (b. 1970) is a British/Turkish Cypriot fashion designer know for his avant garde style which crosses the boundaries of fashion and and art. An exhibition of his work has shown at Musées des Arts Decoratifs, it closes on 11 December 2011.
Decay ought to be a matter of interest to architects and designers as well as forensic scientists and coroners.2 How things die – or, more precisely, how the materials from which they have been fashioned decompose – is one of the troubling questions of the age. We often talk about the life cycle of products but some things just refuse to leave this world. The image of the rubbish dump strewn with indestructible products, belching invisible greenhouse gases is the visual symbol of our present anxieties, just as the mushroom cloud was for our parents and grandparents. Manufacturing high-quality biodegradable plastics has, for example, been a 21st-century grail. The challenge is to provide materials, which look and behave like their everlasting counterparts but then disappear without a trace. When we have been encouraged to value the stable, smooth and infinitely malleable qualities of our synthetic materials, it is difficult to imagine an alternative language for plastic.
When Studio Formafantasma3, a young Italian designer duo, set themselves this task, they turned to the early science of botany to find prehistoric plastics. The Botanica collection, shown in Milan earlier this year, exploits materials and techniques generated in an early experiment with resins, polymers and natural rubber. Their simple vessels and lamps have irregular shapes and uneven surfaces, often bearing the rough texture of the aggregates used to stiffen the resins. Worked by hand with heat or pressed in moulds, these forms can be reshaped too. The forms seem as archaic as the techniques used to make them. But, of course, with the post-oil condition approaching rapidly, the future of plastic may be more like its past than we once imagined.
Coloured in subdued tones and with their origins in plants, blood and even insect excrement, Studio Formafantasma’s experiments ask not only that we reset our taste but also our expectation about the mutability of things. Undeniably beautiful and enigmatic, these sketches for domestic products look impermanent, as if on the cusp of decay – a little too soft or too brittle, a little too damp or a little too dry. Fellow Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Maurizio Montalti4 took the idea of plastic and decay one step further by tackling contemporary plastics that refuse to decompose altogether. Dressing them up for death in a cloak of fungi (Phanerochaete Chrysoporium) that feeds on the plastic, it has the ability to remove gaseous aromatic compounds, solvents and more generally volatile organic compounds from the plastic. The result is shrivelled up pieces of plastic that take on a strangely organic form, fusing it with nature – the very same that it previously refused to bond with.
There have, of course, been good reasons why designers and manufacturers have fought decay. “Durable” is a good sales-tag. Moreover, we are hardwired to avoid decay, an evolutionary response to the threat of polluted materials and rotting food. It accompanies a category of abject things that exist on the borders of the living and the dead. Yet, at the same time, we seem to be attracted by abjection, fascinated by the way in which dying things can change their appearance before our eyes. Mould can grow in miraculous sprays of colour and rotting matter can smell sickly sweet.
46 Disegno. AN ESSAY ON DECAY
Famously, in 1993, fashion designer Hussein Chalayan5 caused a stir with his graduate collection at Central Saint Martins in London, entitled The Tangent Flows, featuring dresses he had buried with iron filings in the garden of the house where he was living. Clearly, the young designer had things to say about vanitas – the tradition in Renaissance art of using images of cut flowers, tables burgeoning with over-ripe food and snuffed-out candles to meditate on the provisional nature and ultimate emptiness of human existence. Chalayan was making a point about the dead-eyed world of fashion in which he was about to become a star. Yet the appeal of his decomposing dresses was not just a matter of lofty ideas: the rusty surface of the frayed lace and braised silk was strangely beautiful. >
PHOTO MAURIZIO MONTALTI
1 American men's magazine founded in Chicago in 1953 by Hugh Hefner featuring photographs of nude women as well as journalism and fiction. The centrefold is the biggest accolade a woman can have in this publication.
arlier this year, the mummified body of an ex-Hollywood actress was found in a dilapidated Beverly Hills villa. The 82-year-old Yvette Vickers had made a career in the films by playing pneumatic blondes in B movies such as Attack of the Giant Leaches and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman in the 1950s, before becoming a Playboy1 centrefold. Believing that she was being stalked, Vickers had become a recluse late in life. She’d not been seen for a year and had probably been dead for as long. A (misplaced) sense of celebrity had overwhelmed her. She died with the lights on, surrounded by movie magazines, fan mail, wigs and the contents of her wardrobe. Her discoverers had to fight their way through piles of Hollywood junk to find the compressed body and what the coroner’s office described as “dried skin, leathery”. It is perhaps not surprising that some commentators drew a poignant connection between the debris of celebrity and her mummified body. A product of an industry which trades on on-screen novelty, she’d become a kind of forgotten scrap, literally.
In the project Ephemeral Icon, Maurizio Montalti takes on the idea of decay by tackling plastics that normally refuse to decompose altogether. Here, the ubiquitous monobloc plastic chair is covered with fungi that makes it decompose. It was part of Montalti's graduation project at Design Academy Eindhoven, 2010.
PHOTO LUISA ZANZANI
The Botanica collection by Studio Formafantasma exploits materials and techniques generated in experiments with resins, polymers and natural rubber. It was commissioned by Plart, an Italian foundation dedicated to research into the conservation of objects made from plastic. Botanica was shown at Spazio Rossana Orlandi in Milan in April 2011.
“THE IMAGE OF AN ABANDONED AND CRACKED BUILDING YIELDING TO WEEDS SEEMED TO OFFER LESSONS ABOUT THE INEVITABLE FALL OF OVERBLOWN CIVILISATIONS AND THE ULTIMATE POWER OF NATURE.”
British architect David Chipperfield (b. 1953) founded his firm in 1984. It now has offices in London, Berlin, Milan and Shanghai. Chipperfield is known for recent buildings such as the Stirling Prize nominated Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany and the Turner Contemporary in Margate, England.
The museum was designed by the architect Friedrich August Stüler (1800-1865) in 1841 and was badly damaged in the Second World War.
Spanish artist Torres (b. 1948) reflects critically on the diverse manifestations of culture, politics, memory and power through his multimedia installations.
10 An exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, open until 26 February 2012.
A British literary magazine, published every two weeks. Hal Foster is a regular contributor.
12 Foster (b. 1955) is a Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, USA. He writes about modernist and contemporary art, architecture and theory. His most recent book is The Art‑Architecture Complex.
Auger (b. 1970) and Loizeau (b. 1968) met at the Royal College of Art in London and have been collaborating on interaction design projects since 2000.
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
> The aesthetics of decay
Chalayan may have brought decay to the catwalk but it was hardly a new aesthetic. Two hundred years ago, Romantic poets and painters6 drew melancholic pleasure from ruins. The image of an abandoned and cracked building yielding to weeds seemed to offer lessons about the inevitable fall of overblown civilizations and the ultimate power of nature. Decay and ruination was valued in the Romantic imagination because they can remind us of the age of things. In this view of the past, a cracked and broken monument is more resonant than a pristine one.
This understanding shaped David Chipperfield Architects’7 much celebrated restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin8. A ruin after the Second World War with its windows broken and roof missing, this neoclassical landmark had to wait for Berlin to become the German capital again to be revived. Chipperfield eschewed imitation, trying to salvage what he could of the historic fabric while introducing unsentimental and avowedly new elements where the past could not be reclaimed. Like strata in an archaeological dig, fragments of 19th-century decorative schemes float on rough plaster and new wall surfaces frame old brickwork. The result is not only ethereal but it makes the Neues Museum a chronometer of Berlin’s troubled history.
The poetics of decay should not, however be confused with decay itself. For the past few months Chalayan’s decomposing dress has been on display at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, almost 20 years since it was disinterred from the ground. A garment which once spoke about the ephemerality of fashion has been preserved in the low light and temperature-controlled glass cases of the museum. It looks like an artefact from a lost civilization (c. Britain, 1993AD). Similarly, the Neues Museum is beautifully arrested and stabilised. The building seems to be saying, “History stops here”.
The debris from the site of World Trade Center in New York stored in a hangar at JFK Airport confronts the paradoxes of preserving decay. Produced in the course of a terrible few hours, it has been kept there for a decade, awaiting its future deployment in the form of memorials across the States and elsewhere. Recorded by Francesc Torres9 in photographs exhibited in London’s Imperial War Museum under the title Memory Remains10, some of these relics – including a crushed yellow taxi-cab and a damaged fire engine – are easily identified. Others are not. The vertical collapse of 110 storeys pulverised metal, glass and concrete into strange, extra-terrestrial objects. Buckled and scorched, the things in the hangar have been subject to the careful attention of white-gloved conservators. Loose flakes of paint are glued back in place when they drop from the shattered objects in the hangar. Writing in the London Review of Books11, art critic Hal Foster12 has puzzled over this: “Is that the right response to something which has value in part by its index of time?” This is a question about the differences between decay as a look and as a process.
We only have to look around us to understand decay as a natural and inevitable process. It plays a key role in the cycle of life. Cells that are not renewed, degenerate. And, once dead, life forms decompose into simpler forms, supporting micro-organisms and bacteria. The fertile soil from which we are sustained is, of course, the organic product of these cycles of growth and decay. The idea of the life-cycle is explored in James Auger and Jimmy Loizeau’s13 Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots (2009), a series of experimental projects exploring the form and purpose of the future robot. A family of devices performing modest domestic tasks, the Lampshade Robot, the Flypaper Robotic Clock and the Mouse Trap Coffee-table Robot are each equipped with microbial fuel cells that can turn organic matter into electricity.
When mice and insects – attracted by light or crumbs – are trapped and delivered to the cell, the chemical energy released as they decompose is converted into the electrical energy needed by the robots to function. In Auger and Loizeau’s designs, the cycle of life and death promises to revolve ad infinitum. And, with the operation of the microbial fuel cell fully visible, the owner is a witness to a struggle of (artificial) life and death. >
PHOTO FRANCESC TORRES
Romanticism was an artistic movement originating in the second half of the 18th century in reaction to the Industrial Revolution and the scientific rationalisation of nature. The most important representatives were German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), French painter Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863), English painters JMW Turner (1775-1827), William Blake (1757-1827) and writers including German Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and British William Wordsworth (1770-1850).
Francesc Torres photographed the buckled and scorched World Trade Center debris stored for a decade in a hangar at JFK Airport.
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
PHOTO (LEFT) MARCUS GAAB STUDIO PHOTO (RIGHT) FRIEDERIKE VON RAUCH
Auger-Loizeauâ€™s Carnivorous Domestic Entertainment Robots (2009) is a series of experimental projects exploring the form and purpose of the future robot. They feed on the decomposing bodies of mice and insects.
52 Disegno. AN ESSAY ON DECAY
David Chipperfield Architects restored the Neues Museum in Berlin by salvaging what they could of the historic fabric while introducing new elements where the past could not be reclaimed.
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
PHOTO PIETER BAERT
Tuur Van Balen's Pigeon d’Or project, developed with biochemist James Chappell, speculates on how pigeons might be further “redesigned”.
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
“MOULD GROWS ON WALLS IN DARK OMINOUS SWIRLS; DAMP HAS CAUSED THE PARQUET TO CONVULSE, MAKING THE FLOOR LOOK LIKE A STRANGE GEOMETRIC LANDSCAPE. IT IS A TERRIBLE BEAUTY.”
15 British architectural practice founded by Sir Norman Foster (b. 1935) in 1967 known for projects such as The New German Parliament, Beijing’s Airport and the City Hall in London. 16 Van Balen (b. 1981) is from Belgium but lives and works in London. 16 Chappell (b. unknown) is a biochemist at the Imperial College in London.
READING LIST The Aesthetics of Decay by Dylan Trigg, PETER LANG, 2006. Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality by Tim Edensor, BERG, 2005. Purity and Danger: an analysis of concept of pollution and taboo by Mary Douglas, RKP, 1966.
> A new nature
The strange beauty of decay is evident when looking at the eight large-format, photographic images produced by artists Jane and Louise Wilson14 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Pripyat was abandoned in 1986 when an explosion spewed large clouds of radioactive material into the atmosphere. The artists revisited the town to produce the Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) series. Abandoned interiors – the original purpose of which seems no longer clear – have succumbed to nature. Mould grows on walls in dark ominous swirls; damp has caused the parquet to convulse, making the floor look like a strange geometric landscape. It is a terrible beauty. Signs of occupation, like the ordinary possessions of the people who once lived in Pripyat, have already disappeared. Soon, all that will be left is the steel and concrete.
The Wilsons’ photographs tap into a potent fantasy of the Earth without human life. It is expressed in The Bible in the form of the Garden Eden, the blessed state from which mankind was banished. It has, in recent years, been a staple theme of science-fiction films and futurology. The History Channel’s documentary series, Life After People, for example, bore the tagline “Welcome to Earth... Population: Zero.” In the programme, some unexplained and comprehensive disaster has befallen mankind and the planet returns rapidly to a natural condition. The programme’s CGI animators took evident pleasure in predicting the fate of a number of icons of modern architecture including Foster Associates’15 Swiss Re HQ in the City of London, Pierre Koenig’s steel and glass Stahl House perched in the hills above Los Angeles and Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. Without maintenance, what Foster likes to call “London’s first ecological tall building” will exist for 300 years as a vertical jungle – a truly green building – before it topples. With the reasons of the disaster unclear, the viewer is left to infer that the event, which removed people from the planet, is manmade.
Decay is a natural process but we live in an age when it is no longer clear what is natural, at least in traditional terms. Global warming, developments in biotechnology and genetics mean that we cannot maintain a neat divide between the natural and the manmade. Often, understanding of this fact is forced on us by events. The woods and fields around Chernobyl were, apparently, super-abundant in the years after the disaster. In the light of the explosion in the nuclear reactor, reports of mammoth mushrooms and apples cannot be distinguished from other troubling accounts of mutant fish and birds. But for a young generation of designers who see a future for their skills in the applications of biotechnology, new nature is a world of opportunities. The processes of decay are not, for them, something to be eschewed but to be harnessed. Tuur Van Balen16, a graduate of the Design Interactions Programme at the Royal College of Art, London, has made interventions into the field of synthetic biology to speculate on our possible futures. His Pigeon d’Or project, developed with biochemist James Chappell, speculates on how pigeons might be further “redesigned” (after all, they have been bred for racing for years). If fed with special harmless bacteria, the metabolism of these urban “pests” could be modified. Pigeon droppings could become a detergent, cleaning the streets and car windows on which it lands. Therefore, a waste that harbours disease and damages stone and brickwork could become a useful substance. A speculative and much exhibited project, van Balen’s Pigeon d’Or contains a truly provocative proposition. It is not that we need to change our attitudes to decay but that we can change decay itself.
David Crowley is a professor at the Royal College of Art, London, where he is the head of critical writing in art and design. He has a specialist interest in the art and design histories of Eastern Europe under communist rule and he was the co-curator of Cold War Modern at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. He also curated The Power of Fantasy – Modern and Contemporary Art from Poland, which recently closed at Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
56 Disegno. AN ESSAY ON DECAY
PHOTO JANE AND LOUISE WILSON, COURTESY OF 303 GALLERY AND HELGA DE ALVEAR GALLERY
14 Jane and Louis Wilson (b. 1967) are British contemporary artists working with film and photography as medium. They were nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999.
Jane and Louise Wilson revisited Pripyat, Ukraine, close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, to produce their Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) series (2010).
AN ESSAY ON DECAY
8:00AM But the moment was fleeting. As the blood rushed to Bones’ gut, making him lightheaded, he felt a rising sense of panic. What on earth should he wear? How should he look, what would he like people to think of him? It was, after all, his one and only day. He rifled through his closet for the perfect ensemble. Dapper Dan? Don Juan? Slick Rick? So many choices, so little time… Afraid of making a fashion faux pas or being too flashy, he finally settled on his classic Harris Tweed. His confidence growing, he carefully plotted the rest of his outfit: navy argyle socks, a weathered pair of brogues, a polkadot bowtie, and a bright-orange pocket square that he obsessively folded three times over to perfect precision. Effortlessly Handsome English Gentleman? He hoped so, he wanted to make a good impression and only had a short amount of time in which to do it. Just as he left the house, the sky grew dark. As the heavens opened, he decided that turning his suit’s garment bag into a self-fashioned Mac was his only option. He couldn’t risk looking like a soggy sack of bones. Tom Scott, FASHION DESIGNER, NEW YORK
A jacket with a crocodile tail from the Alaïa couture collection, 2003.
Lunch with Alaïa
As the Parisian couturier Azzedine Alaïa prepares for his second exhibition at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands, we pop into his studio for a spot of lunch and speak to the show's curator – Mark Wilson. WORDS Johanna Agerman Ross PHOTOS Robert Kot
60 Disegno. LUNCH WITH ALAÏA
zzedine Alaïa’s kitchen is like the set of a play, a theatre in the round. People seem to make entrances from all directions, and there’s always an element of surprise as to who arrives and when. It is lunchtime, and the kitchen is filled with the smells of food in preparation. Two women are busy rinsing and chopping vegetables and something is stewing in a large pot on an industrialsized stove. The focus of the room is a large rectangular table with space for twenty people. At no precise time, people start filling the table as if a silent bell has suddenly rung, taking their seats in the drama. There is a pale artist who likes to paint harbours, a photographic developer with a pony-tail and a black box under his arm, a young woman from England, the elegant commercial director in headto-toe Alaïa and, of course, Azzedine Alaïa himself. He’s preceded by a very large and lovable Saint Bernard, Didine.
This is a ritual that is played out every day in the Alaïa studio, a large warehouse on a rather glum road in the middle of the Marais district of Paris. The Alaïa logo is carved out of the stone façade over the front door in a fashion that makes it look like it’s been here as long as the building. But it hasn’t. Before he moved here, Alaïa worked in a small studio a few blocks away – “with only one table and a couple of assistants”, according to someone who was there. Then, as now, he liked to do everything himself: cutting patterns, steaming clothes, cooking food, serving food…
The generous three-course lunch is under way and Alaïa is busy checking the pots and serving up the main course. He’s a hands-on operator and he likes, no, needs to use his hands: to stroke the fur of Didine, to touch the laser-cut velvet fabric of one of his dresses, to leaf through the black and white prints that will be withdrawn, post-lunch, from the photographic developer’s black box. In his book Alaïa, French writer Michael Tournier writes: “A native of Tunisia, the first garments Azzedine Alaïa knew were those of white African Muslims. Thus from early childhood Alaïa was accustomed to the harmony of long, flowing robes.” He studied sculpture at École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis before moving to Paris in 1957, where he fully applied his appreciation for the human form as a tailleur at Christian Dior and Guy Laroche. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that he set up on his own in his small apartment. Here, his background in sculpture combined with his skill as a dressmaker and his childhood memories of flowing robes. These influences reached a zenith in his body-conscious designs, executed in stretch fabrics that had the ability to make women feel tightly reined, in control, while looking and feeling free. “Stretch achieves the fusion of pleat and surface, clinging and flowing,” Tournier writes – and herein is Alaïa’s trademark. Women love it; they somehow appear more confident, more reassured, robed in Alaïa. It’s not difficult to see why. Sculpted to perfection, his garments are engineered to deal with the individualities of human form and turn each of them into a virtue. It is a couple of weeks since Alaïa exhibited his latest collection – seven years since his last show, and characteristically off-schedule – to an assembled crowd of friends, clients and the odd journalist. When it’s discussed at the dining table, Alaïa shakes his head, disapproving of too much excitement because it creates the impression that he hasn’t done any work for seven years. “He works all the time,” confides someone at the table.
Above the kitchen in this beautiful turn-of-the-century warehouse is Alaïa’s atelier. Here, rails filled with the fineries of his latest show are set off against the rough brick of the walls. In stark contrast to this Parisian chic, Alaïa’s cutting table faces a flat-screen television of enormous proportions, which he likes to watch while he’s working. Like Didine, it’s company. Above the atelier is Alaïa’s apartment. Reached by a lift, it tells of his love for modern and contemporary design. Pieces by Jean Prouvé and Marc Newson are dotted around the insanely messy space. Alaïa likes things. He likes to have them around, just like the people around the lunch table downstairs. In close proximity.
This is Alaïa’s universe, spread over four floors in a Marais warehouse. His habit of releasing collections only when they’re ready is often hailed as a healthy contrast to the mad pace of the fashion industry. He serves as the reminder to the fashion “self” that not everything needs to be about commerce. But it would be impossible to do any of this if you weren’t Alaïa. His brand, now owned by the Swiss Richemont Group, is built on his skill as well as his myth – but above all, it is built on his fierce independence.
62 Disegno. LUNCH WITH ALAÏA
Lunch is wrapping up in the kitchen; dessert and coffee are served. One by one the protagonists of this lunchtime leave the table. Left are the two women doing the dishes and a sleeping Didine.
A fur coat from the AlaĂŻa couture collection, winter 2011.
A snakeprint dress from the AlaĂŻa collection, winter 2010.
A black fur coat with laser cut leather belt from the AlaĂŻa couture collection, winter 2011.
1 Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st century is on at the Groninger Museum (Groningen, the Netherlands) from 11 December to 6 May 2012. The book will accompany the exhibition.
met Azzedine Alaïa for the first time in 1996. I was lucky, because I called his studio and asked, "Would you be interested in doing an exhibition?" and saw me straight away. It was good timing, because he had finished a smaller exhibition in Italy and had just started to develop the Plexiglass mannequins on which he now displays his clothes, so he was interested in pushing them further. That is how I came to do his first museum show in December 1997. I had just started as curator at the Groninger Museum, and decided to integrate fashion into the contemporary art galleries. The museum, which is designed by the Italian architect Alessandro Mendini, is perfect for it and especially for Alaïa’s pieces. He is, without question, a sculptor. And when you realise how he works, it becomes even more intriguing. When someone is starting out, they are often forced to do everything themselves. But Alaïa still does, 40 years later. He controls everything. He draws the patterns, he cuts the patterns, he drapes the clothes. He's really one of the last great working couturiers, without a question. He usually works until the early hours of the morning because that's a quiet time for him. At times I've stayed up with him until four o’clock.
He always starts by draping fabric over the body of the mannequin, sculpting it to fit. Then he makes the patterns. But he is always perfecting them, redoing, remaking, refitting constantly. And that's why I think his work is so great: because he doesn't release anything because he needs to release it; he releases it when he's ready to release it. You don't see any mistakes with him. It is this precision, and the way he cuts his garments, that we are trying to reveal in this exhibition. After the show in 1997 I was waiting for him to do another exhibition. I would check online every six months to see if anything was coming up, but found nothing. So I went to him in January this year and I asked, "Azzedine, do you want to do another show?" and he said yes, and he put the time aside for it immediately. I don't speak any French, and he speaks no English, but that doesn't matter – it's a visual thing, creating the exhibition and the whole process of making the selection. There will be between 60 and 65 outifts on show, depending on how many he gets finished, all of them from the past 10 years.
The exhibition is divided into different sections based on materials, rather than by season, because Alaïa doesn't work according to seasons. I decided to concentrate on materials that he keeps coming back to – so there's going to be a fur room, animal prints and skins, wool, cotton, chiffon, definitely knitwear and, of course, leather. It's going to fill about nine galleries, measuring around 1200 sq m in total.
Alaïa personally finds the pieces we have selected in his archive. He's kept almost everything, and if he doesn't have the pieces he still has the patterns. When we’d made our selection of what to show and started to edit it down, the garments would suddenly disappear. Then we found out why: he was remaking them from scratch or recutting them to fit the mannequins exactly. That's how he is: if he wasn't satisfied with how they fitted on the mannequin, he would recut them or remake the pieces completely. We are making a book to go with the exhibition. We photographed all the pieces in his show space, behind his boutique in the Marais. Alaïa has been part of shooting the mannequins as well. We’ve been doing it in batches to leave him time to work on the outfits between sessions. He's back and forth, fitting and drawing. The mannequins remind me of the Winged Victory Greek sculpture, and that's how we’ve decided to photograph the pieces: as strong, iconic images that are all about the detail and the fit of the clothes. Azzedine has produced only one other book, back in 1998. It was a collaboration with several photographers, and focused more on Alaïa as a person and the people he worked with. It wasn’t so much about the clothes as the personalities wearing them. This time it’s 100% about the work. This time, the garments are in focus.
Mark Wilson is the curator of Azzedine Alaïa in the 21st Century1 66 Disegno. LUNCH WITH ALAÏA
A long dress in AlaĂŻa's signature jersey fabric from couture collection, summer 2010.
9:00AM Drawing the coat around him in the rain, he ran to the café he frequented every morning at this time. It was a superior establishment with leather chairs and fashionable music. Bones stood at the bar, his coat dripping on the floor. The place was empty of course: nearly everyone had left the city since the proclamation, and those who remained could not afford to come here. The barman acknowledged his presence with his shoulders, not his eyes. Like everyone else, he could not bear to look at Bones. But he knew what Bones wanted and he set to it without malice. Soon enough there were three teacups lined up on the bar. Each one was brimful of sake. Bones picked up the first cup and put his head back. A moment of irritation – his jaw had started to creak when he opened his mouth – was forgotten as he poured the liquid over the ramshackle portcullis of his teeth. If he had had eyes, he would have closed them. Down his neck the viscous sake ran, pouring unseen inside the raincoat and scattering over his ribs. As it gushed through the hole of his pelvis he trembled again with pleasure. Alcohol stung his bones: it was faint, certainly, but just enough to transport him for an instant back to the kingdom of sensation. His morning ceremony was soon over. Stepping over the puddle of sake he had left on the floor, Bones left the café. Monica Narula, ARTIST, DELHI
The tipping point Tipton is the name of a city of around 47,000 inhabitants in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. It is also the name of a new chair designed by Barber Osgerby. This is why. WORDS Vera Sacchetti PHOTOS Felix Friedmann
Yannik, Alba, Nicole, Mickey and Noah try the Tip Ton chair.
THE TIPPING POINT
O 1 The monobloc is often said to be the world’s most common chair. It is injection moulded in polypropylene and only costs about €2.20 to make. In 1969 the first one-piece plastic chair was produced, it was the Selene designed by Italian Vico Magistretti (1920-2006) in 1967.
Vitra was founded in Weil am Rhein in Germany by Willi Fehlbaum. The company is now based in Switzerland, manufacturing the works of designers including Charles and Ray Eames, Philippe Starck and Ron Arad.
See p. 150.
Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007) was an Italian architect and designer, perhaps best known for his work for Olivetti and as a founding member of the Memphis Group. Currently based in Milan, Andrea Branzi (b. 1938) is an Italian architect and designer, working mostly within industrial design and urban planning. Architect and designer, Michele de Lucchi (b. 1951) has worked for prominent companies such as Kartell, Artimede and Olivetti.
5 The Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and Sciences (RSA) was founded in 1754 by William Shipley, a drawing master, in London. The society was based on the idea of using premiums to support improvements in the liberal arts and sciences.
John McAslan and Partners is an architectural and design practice, founded by John McAslan (b. 1954) in 1996 after having trained previously with Richard Rogers. The UKbased practice have worked on the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill, London’s Roundhouse venue and the New Delhi Metro system amongst others. McAslan’s RSA Academy opened in September 2010.
72 Disegno. THE TIPPING POINT
n that particular evening in May, getting lost at the Javits Center was easy. This was the second day of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) 2011 in New York, where the cold, fluorescent lighting of the trade centre was only matched in intensity by the rumble of conversations everywhere. Innumerable corridors of furniture, lighting, rugs, faucets and construction materials left both minds and feet exhausted. Reaching a crossroads under Frank Gehry’s diaphanous Cloud Lamps, I paused to consider left or right when a white chair tucked into a corner of booth 1826 caught my attention. It was all white, plastic, distinct but unassuming, and to my drained self, a beacon of hope onto which I eagerly collapsed. Five seconds later, I noticed the tilt, and while shifting positions back and forth, it occurred to me this chair was somewhere between a rocking chair and a monobloc1, the ubiquitous plastic chair that dots the world from middle-class lawns to forgotten dictator palaces. It didn’t take me long to immortalise the moment with a fairly banal tweet (“Vitra’s Tip Ton chair is very comfortable indeed!”). The chair charmed me at first sight.
Designed by British design duo Barber Osgerby – Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby – for Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra2, the Tip Ton chair had been introduced to the world earlier that year alongside its companion, the Map table, during the 2011 Salone del Mobile in Milan. And the two were strikingly different: the Map table was monotone, clunky and ordinary, the Tip Ton was vibrant, colourful, sculptural and odd. Yes, odd, mostly because of the nine-degree angle that caused the chair to tilt forward should you shift your weight forth.
“When you move forward and put your weight to the front, exactly what I want to do now with this chair, you go up with your spine,” Ekart Maise tells me over lunch, while unsuccessfully trying to tilt forward Ronan and Erwan Bourollec’s Vegetal chair3 at the VitraHaus café in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. “Your body moves up, you have a better posture at the table and better blood circulation. It’s better for concentration.” Maise is an amiable man in his forties who speaks in long, assertive sentences. He is the chief design officer at Vitra, and as such was involved at all stages of the creation of the Tip Ton. He can recite chair-related statistics with surprising ease, because chairs, and office chairs specifically, are at the core of Vitra’s business and Maise’s job. The company, which was founded in 1950, has been conducting research around the office environment for decades alongside top researchers and academic institutions, which allows it to constantly come up with innovative solutions for the office space and, of course, seating. Vitra is also responsible for defining the Citizen Office, a “planned” office space concept originated by the company’s 1992 project with Ettore Sottsass, Andrea Branzi and Michele De Lucchi4, where the office becomes “a living space” and workers are encouraged to exercise and interact with each other by walking around, changing seats and socialising in different areas. The Tip Ton chair’s “dynamic seating” was a by-product of this research, despite the fact that the Tip Ton isn’t anything near to an office chair. “The chair is an all-round chair,” Maise says. “A great chair for all kinds of situations, indoor, outdoor, dining, learning, working.” Maise now looks at the Tip Ton as a “universal chair”, but it wasn’t always so. The Tip Ton was originally conceived as a school chair. Tipton, considered
Tipton is the name of a city of around 47,000 inhabitants in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. Part of a region that was largely industrialised in the wake of the 19th century, most of Tipton’s factories closed during the 1980s and the places where they stood were filled with housing estates. Despite the job losses, and assisted by government subsidies and welfare, the city has advanced to this day, and was chosen by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and Sciences (RSA)5 for the instalment of its first Academy. Opened in September 2008, the Academy was structured around the RSA-encouraged principles of Opening Minds, presenting an innovative curriculum based around the development of five key competences: citizenship, learning, managing information, relating to people and managing situations. Such an innovative school required innovative facilities and installations, and the RSA consulted with designers and architects on how to best design the school. McAslan Architects6 designed the building; and for furniture evaluation, the RSA called on Royal Designers for the Industry: Barber Osgerby. >
Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby in their London studio on Charlotte Road. Barber sits on two stacked Tip Ton chairs.
“EVERY LITTLE PART OF THE SHAPE OF EVERY LITTLE MUSCLE YOU CAN SEE IN THE CHAIR HAS A REASON. I THINK IT MAKES IT MEMORABLE.”
Karl Nothelfer (1900–1980) was a German furniture designer. His 1950 Skid chair was composed of a plywood seat and backrest, supported by a simple steel frame.
“Today’s most successful pieces derive from those years, when Karl Nothhelfer created the bestselling Skid chair (1950), Egon Eiermann’s foldable wooden SE 18 (1953) and the spring swivel chair SE 40 (1952), Friso Kramer’s sets of a table and chair, Result and Revolt (1954-58), and Nanna Ditzel’s the Trissen stool (1962). In the US, Charles and Ray Eames made versions of their DSSN, DSX and LCM with an added flipdesk or basket underneath the seat during this era. These models, however, have not survived, except as stripped-down copies.” - Anniina Koivu, Abitare, 2009.
74 Disegno. THE TIPPING POINT
> Barber and Osgerby meet me at their studio in Shoreditch, London. A blue Tip Ton chair sits on the table next to us, overseeing the conversation. “The RSA calls on Royal Designers for various tasks, and one of these tasks was to evaluate good furniture,” Barber recalls. “And they chose us because… I don’t know why. Because…” His voice trails off and Osgerby jokingly steps in. “Because we’re closest to remembering what education was like. We’re the youngest.” After looking at a catalogue of furniture options, Barber and Osgerby were confronted with a gap in the market. “We looked at the chairs we knew from the design world, which were obviously high priced and not really appropriate, and then we had the chairs chosen for education which were sit-up-straight, still chairs, you know, that cost £20,” Osgerby says. Not that the design-world chairs were wrong – “they were just too expensive,” Barber says, “and we were focusing on school furniture, and saying, ‘Surely there must be something better than this?’” The fact is, Osgerby notes, school furniture hasn’t evolved since Robin Day’s Polyprop chair from 19637. “You can see that the only criteria people have used with school furniture has been cost,” he adds.
For the generations of post-war children in Europe, Robin Day’s polypropylene chair, Karl Notholfer’s 1950 Skid chair8, or a variation of these served as the archetypal school chair9. They stood for a concept of schooling and education that was static and rigid, where children would quietly sit, listen and learn. And if recent years have given rise to a number of school spaces that are spacious, minimalist and light-filled, the same attention hasn’t been devoted to school furniture. “It is striking how little consideration is given to the furniture of these spaces. Is this because we have come to accept mediocre furniture design in state schools?” Anniina Koivu wrote in a special report on schools for Abitare magazine in 2009. “Why has so little that is truly innovative happened in recent times? Do a handful of furniture producers hold the monopoly in outfitting schools? Should we point the finger at cost-saving measures and a lack of progressive public administrators? Probably.” But initiatives such the RSA Academy were the embodiment of the larger debate around education that took place around 2008 and 2009. “It was a moment for these big spending programmes for education,” Vitra’s Maise notes, which accompanied a discussion in recent years about new programmes and ways of teaching. “How children and young adults are taught these days is very different to how it was in the 1960s or 1970s, when the previous generation of furniture was developed,” Osgerby points out. “Now they work in project groups, sat more closely together, they might have an interactive whiteboard, or they might be using a laptop or tablet.” Barber agrees: “They are doing everything in groups, they’re moving around, not just sitting forward.”
As Barber Osgerby developed initial research around school furniture in the UK and Scandinavia, Germany, and Switzerland, this idea of movement in the classroom found a parallel in different types of seating. Knowing that Vitra had done their own research about movement in the office space, the designers approached the Swiss manufacturer. “We had been talking to Vitra for a few years before this,” Osgerby says, “and what we didn’t want to do was to start a relationship just designing another chair. We wanted to make something that was really significant.” Vitra’s size, excellence and vast distribution network didn’t hurt either. For Vitra, the issues being debated in the educational sphere mirrored the ones discussed in the office sphere, and the issues around them overlapped. “We had never done a product specifically for the educational market,” Maise tells me, but the educational market’s notions of “flexibility, changing, knowledge, economy, informally exchanging information and knowledge are also the definitions of knowledge in the office, where the information and the learning have changed. So, somehow the two fields came much closer together, and we thought it had a new relevance for us to do something in that field.” The collaboration that produced the Tip Ton had started, but it would take almost two years for the chair to see the light of day. And by then, Barber says, “We’d missed the opening of the Academy in Tipton.” >
PHOTO BARBER OSGERBY
Robin Day (1915–2010) was a British industrial and furniture designer. His injection moulded polypropylene stacking chair, designed for S Hille & Co in 1963, was one of the first pieces of furniture to utilise the massmanufacturing technology. The chair is still in production, with an estimated 40 million already sold since its inception.
An early seating test rig, made from two deconstructed plastic chairs to test forward tilt using as few movable parts as possible. In the background, sketches show ideas for counterleaver seats.
PHOTOS BARBER OSGERBY
An early sketch model made from card and paper at 1:10 scale. It incorporates back perforations and shows the early thinking behind the design which featured a cantilevered seat.
76 Disegno. THE TIPPING POINT
This is the second seating test rig, made from deconstructed plastic and metal chairs with advanced base to increase forward tilt.
THE TIPPING POINT
“THE MOMENT THEY CAME WITH THEIR LITTLE BLUE STYROFOAM MODEL IT WAS PRETTY CLEAR THAT IT WAS A DIFFERENT THING. ALL OF A SUDDEN, IT HAD A SCULPTURAL VALUE, IT HAD A CHARACTER, A PERSONALITY, AND A UNIQUENESS.”
It took two years to develop the Tip Ton chair. The Tip Ton chair is made from injection moulded plastic. The finished chair weighs 4.5kg. The injection moulding takes four minutes. It takes another two minutes to screw on the plastic skids. The crank on Tip Ton’s skids measures nine degrees.
> Making a memorable chair
The dialogue with Vitra started with the definition of specific criteria for the chair. A percentage of it should be made out of plastic, a sturdy, cheap material. It should come in bright colours, invigorating and ever-present in the contemporary school environment. It should be recyclable. Components should be minimised, “so there is nothing to fall apart”, Barber tells me. The chair “should answer the need for flexibility”, Maise points out, allowing “for the students to be able to move around in a dynamic type of seating.” Embodying Vitra and Barber Osberby’s fascination with movement at a larger scale both in the office and in the school environment, the idea of dynamic seating brought movement onto the chair itself. From there, “we really started in many different ways”, Barber says. “At that point, we didn’t care what it looked like. It was a threedimensional diagram.” Filled with drawings and full-scale models, the Barber Osgerby office became the ground for explorations such as kangaroo-like cantilevers, different types of back perforations, and myriad leg configurations. Some of them now look like “horrible contraptions”, says Barber, but were necessary stages in the design process.
The first breakthrough came when the designers re-equated how the movement in the chair should occur. All the cantilevered experiments had an angle at the top which got “your fingers trapped when you went forward”, Osgerby says, “and then we simply swapped it over so the crank would go on the floor instead of under the seat.” But multiple components proved to be an issue. “If you have components like a metal leg and a plastic top or a wooden top and metal legs,” Barber says, “there is always a vibration between those pieces”, which would not be ideal in a heavy-use scenario. The real breakthrough ensued. The chair would be a one-piece, monobloc plastic chair with movement defined by the crank on its skids. “The moment they came with their little blue Styrofoam model,” Maise says, “it was pretty clear that was a different thing. All of a sudden, it had a sculptural value, it had a character, a personality, and a uniqueness.” “Once we cracked it, ” Barber says, “we were like, ‘This is definitely the right move, in vitro. Let’s do 20 different options to make sure we get the right tilt and the right balance...’” Getting to the final nine-degree angle and tilt was “trial and error, really,” Barber says. Makeshift cranks and skids were created, attached to and tested with existing chairs. Trips to Vitra were constant, and fine-tuning the chair was a long process, which involved a team of “around 20 people, including the engineers,” says Osgerby, as well as a specific senior management meeting at Vitra. “We just put the prototypes of the Tip Ton chair around the table, and had everybody sit on them,” Maise says. “It was interesting to see that if people had a moment of irritation, it was very short and then they just started using [the chair].”
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Despite its simplicity, the Tip Ton posed some technical challenges in its making. First, the chair’s shape had to be adjusted to the way the plastic flows in its production. And then, producing for an educational market meant the need to pass a battery of tests to correspond to a series of standards from the UK to Germany, the US and Japan. “There was the original concept, but it’s all a result of navigating the chair through all these waves of tests here and standards there, what can you do with injection moulding and so on,” Maise points out. “Every little part of the shape of every little muscle you can see in the chair has a reason. I think it all makes it memorable.” “It’s the most modern of chairs, in some ways,” Osgerby says, “It surprised our contemporaries when they saw that the chair was in plastic, that it passed all the tests and that it was light – both physically and visually. And it’s the latest technology that has enabled that to happen.” Today, the Tip Ton is produced in a factory just outside Milan, in eight colours and using a 20-tonne mould. The 4.5kg chair has a total injection time of four minutes, with an additional two minutes to apply and screw the transparent plastic glides that protect its skids. >
PHOTO BARBER OSGERBY
. . . . . .
This is a scale model in blue foam showing a more refined design with forward tilt floor skids and no moving parts. It is very close to the final Tip Ton design, but without the back cut out, instead it has a hole in the seat to make it easy to lift and carry.
“I FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT TIP TON AS A SOCIAL PROJECT, BECAUSE IT ISN’T, REALLY.”
READING LIST Abitare, issue 490, March 2009. Abitare, issue 510, March 2011. The Architecture of Schools and the New Learning Environments by Mark Dudek, ARCHITECTURAL PRESS, 2000. The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design by Galen Cranz, WW Norton & Co, 2000. Objects of Desire: Design and Society since 1750 by Adrian Forty, THAMES AND HUDSON, 1986.
Many thanks to Alba, Mickey, Leoni, Nicole, Noah, Yannik and their parents.
> Good design, not social design
Formally, the Tip Ton echoes an earlier Barber Osgerby design: the 2002 wooden Portsmouth bench, originally designed for the choir stalls of the Portsmouth cathedral. Despite the different materials, the same simple, gently curved lines inhabit the two, as if this was Barber Osgerby’s chair archetype. The designers see it as a matter of simplification. “It had to be a lightweight piece of furniture, so in the end we were doing the same thing, I suppose, in a different material,” Barber says. “We were quite conscious that we wanted the chair to feel like it referred to the average type of a school chair too,” Osgerby adds. “So it didn’t feel alien to the environment.” And when, in 2009, Anniina Koivu took the chair to the Casa del Sole school near Milan, as part of a follow-up feature on furniture design for schools at Abitare, the kids instantly got it. The feature proclaimed Barber Osgerby and Vitra were “about to remedy the dearth of choice in school furniture as they take the ‘good design’ of office chairs into the classroom.” With such accolades being handed out it is surprising then that the context of the school has been stripped away completely in the way that the Tip Ton is promoted. The Tip Ton is now, as Maise put it, “more of a universal chair”, sold as part of the Vitra standard line as a multipurpose – and for adults, not for kids. Looking at the Tip Ton entry in the Vitra online catalogue, there’s a woman sitting at home, exemplifying the chair’s two positions. The only reference to schools comes at the end of the chair’s description. “Thanks to its striking appearance, Tip Ton is an outstanding dining table or home-office solution,” the Vitra website proclaims. “It is also ideal for use in restaurants, conference and meeting spaces and educational institutions.” So what about bringing “good design” into schools? “I feel uncomfortable when people talk about Tip Ton as a social project, because it isn’t, really,” Osgerby says, “Not in the way that we now talk about social and ethical projects. It isn’t. It’s a commercial [project], with a benefit. And hopefully there’s a good enough idea behind it for it to be a commercial success.” As such, there won’t be a massive distribution of chairs in every school of the western world. As a Vitra chair, the Tip Ton will be sold and distributed within the Vitra network. “You can’t just start selling school furniture, because you have to be part of a system,” Barber says. “Vitra isn’t in that system yet. Over the next few years they will definitely move into that area.”
With the ideology that helped form the Tip Ton chair gone at this last stage of the process that started at the Academy in Tipton in 2008, it is difficult to look at the chair with the same sincerity that its creators are asking for. And if its merits are now different, then the Tip Ton sits within another system of chairs. Not as the next step in the evolution of seating for educational institutions, but as yet another chair that launched in the vast halls of the Fiera Milano in Rho, 2011. As such it faces entirely different competition, its unique characteristic being the ninedegree angle at the front of its skids, a design quirk that doesn’t speak of its origins in the dire landscape of educational furniture. However, if the original agenda was followed, the Tip Ton could be a game-changer for a generation.
Vera Sacchetti is the international press officer for Experimenta Design Lisbon and a recent graduate of D-Crit, or Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Sacchetti has written about design and architecture for Change Observer, Arte Capital, and Proximo Futuro/Next Future, and co-edited At Water’s Edge, the first in the D-Crit Chapbook series. Felix Friedmann is an Austrian photographer based in London. He likes to photograph landscapes and architecture.
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The chair is currently not sold as a school chair but is promoted as a universal chair and it comes in only one size.
2:00PM Ernesto looked through the large window. The wind was blowing in the trees; the branches were undulating very slowly, unusually slowly. “Could Madeline be outside in this slow wind?” he wondered. “Could she be making her way gently through this breeze, or hiding in the garden shed, waiting for the slowness to stop?” Ernesto walked to the couch and let himself fall into it. He’d always loved how he could trust the downy cushions to catch him. This time, however, his fall seemed slower than usual, and his landing even gentler. It felt odd, and left some space for apprehension, but he was grateful he could savour this special moment of total abandon. He looked around the room, everything was still, filled with silence. The clock showed 2:15pm, and that felt right. At least time is keeping its rhythm, he thought. Something moved on the dinner table. He walked towards it. He walked and walked. The distance felt much longer than before. He turned around and realised he was only a few steps away from the couch, so he started running, all the while staring at the clock. After a long minute, he finally got there. Straight-away he noticed the cocktail sticks on the surface of the dinner table. They seemed more colourful than before; they were vibrant, living. They assembled in the shape of a swirl. As he stared at the swirl, it started moving, slowly and then fast. As it turned faster and even faster he got the distinct impression that its colours were being injected into his eyes until, suddenly, everything went dark. “Where am I?” he whispered. Was he expecting an answer? From Madeline maybe? His body felt weightless and his arms were moving about without much effort, as if caressing the air around him. He started making out shapes in the darkness. He could see trees of various colours and sizes. A friendly looking creature passed by. Its form was undefined, and it was glowing – a lovely, blue, glowing dot. Soon it was out of sight, hidden behind a bright green leafy bush, but he looked up and saw a few others moving about like shooting stars in a circle. Each dot was a different colour, a different intensity. Were they dancing? It could have been a ballet of vibrating auras. He was taken by an uncontrollable urge to touch them, so he moved closer. In a fraction of a second they vanished, and sucked him into their movement. Unexpectedly, he was surrounded by brightness. With squinty eyes he could see his table, his couch, and his bookshelf. Madeline was standing in front of him, smiling, her hair floating upward as if she was underwater. He tried to talk. There was no sound. Instead, each word was replaced by a gigantic bubble that rose into the air above his head and disappeared. David Tanguy, GRAPHIC DESIGNER, LONDON
Design & democracy Discussion between Gui Bonsiepe1 and Justin McGuirk2, November 2010, La Plata, Argentina.
ui Bonsiepe is an interesting character. He is someone who has been thinking deeply about design for decades, and who can speak and write about it with a precision and clarity that is all too rare. And yet, he is not well known in the Anglophone world. This is largely the fault of geographic circumstance – German by birth, he lives between La Plata in Argentina and Curitiba in Brazil, and most of his writing is in German or Spanish.
Bonsiepe was a pupil of another respected figure to be omitted from the English-language canon: Tomás Maldonado, the Argentine designer and theorist who was the rector of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm3. Bonsiepe was one of his students in the 1960s, and it was Maldonado who first brought him to Argentina, where he started to consult on industrialisation policy for various South American countries. In the 1980s and 1990s Bonsiepe was an interface designer, and then a professor at Cologne University of Applied Sciences. Today, he writes and lectures, and works on the various translations of his books. In late 2010 I was in Buenos Aires, and since La Plata was only an hour’s bus ride away, I decided to pay Bonsiepe a visit. I’d recently read a lecture he’d given entitled Design and Democracy, which promised enough of a platform for a good conversation. We talked about the newfound sense of destiny in design discourse; the dematerialisation of design and the links with financial crisis; “design thinking” zealotry; different global perspectives on industrialisation; and the nature of design in Latin America. What impressed me about him was the depth of his thinking and the degree of semantic precision he applied to the discussion (there was no loose bandying of terms, even in a chat over coffee). On the question of the immaterial nature of digital design, history may not be on Bonsiepe’s side. However, when it comes to thinking about design and industrialisation in the developing world, where the majority of the globe’s population lives, Bonsiepe has valuable insights to share – ones that become more relevant with each passing day. Justin McGuirk, September 2011
84 Disegno. DESIGN & DEMOCRACY
Justin McGuirk It seems design has reached a point where it’s so confident about what it can achieve and the areas of influence that it can infiltrate that, if all these optimists are to be believed, designers are going to supersede architects in the influence stakes. With the “design thinking” mantra, design is permeating new aspects of life, from healthcare to prison services, and all of this is somehow “design”. I’d like to talk to you about this because I’m amazed and excited by, and also suspicious of, this design thinking rhetoric.
Gui Bonsiepe I agree with you. An explosion
of the notion of design and design disciplines in the 1990s has produced counter-productive results, leading to this almost megalomaniac ambition that everything is design. I don’t agree with Hal Foster’s book Design As Crime4 – I think he misunderstands what design is about – but when he says that today everything is design from our jeans to genes, he’s right. Unfortunately, this explosion of design has produced confusion, in my view. Confusion in the field of education, with all these design programmes. I do not believe in the generalist. You are a designer of products or medical tools or agricultural tools or even service design – a new field in the past 10 or 15 years, where the quality of service can be designed. One can agree with this, but one has to be careful not to treat design as a magical medicine for all the evils of our society. I would say a certain modesty might be appropriate. What I’m concerned about, and what happened in the 1990s, was the subsuming of design as a tool of branding. Marketing specialists understand design as a tool for their services for the market – and I can understand why they do so. I am not convinced the market is the best tool for all the problems we face, especially today. But branding discourse is so powerful and has been imbued so much in this generation of designers that if I make a slight criticism of branding they look at me as though I’m ET5. Branding is synonymous with preparing something for the market. Fine, we have to accept the market, but that doesn’t mean I subordinate everything to the market as the ultimate institution.
JM I think the problem is that branding came
to supersede the market in some way, in the sense that everything is a brand now. People are brands, and everyone is either consciously or unconsciously selling their own brand whether it’s on the market or to their friends on Facebook. We’ve bought this idea of the brand hook, line and sinker. What used to be a capitalist process is now just human behaviour.
GB That means that everything has taken on
the market value of merchandise. However, I would say the overemphasis of branding has to do with symbolic aspects and nothing to do with material ones. It perhaps has material support but the dominating issue is the symbolic or semiotic domain. This has almost led to a kind of contempt for the material substructure of our society. If everything is branding then everything is symbolic value, and if the design profession jumps on this almost exclusively, it will lose its base in materiality. I look at the new generation of industrial designers and they no longer know how to classify joints, or how to put pieces together – instead we have to talk about branding and symbolic values. And this is supported by software. Now you have rendering software that gives you the impression that a product is almost finished instead of only just begun. The software creates a Fata Morgana6, as if “design” means making a good rendering, which is then passed to technicians who deal with the minor, pedestrian stuff of how to produce it and assemble it. JM It’s almost as if you’re making an analogy
between where design is going and what happened in the financial crisis – with the financial services losing their grounding in materiality. As if once you lose sight of materiality you’re on the road to crisis.
1 Gui Bonsiepe (b. 1934) is a designer and scholar. See text for more info.
Justin McGuirk (b. 1975) is a journalist, critic and editor. He is the design critic of The Guardian newspaper and publishing director of the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design in Moscow. He is also the former editor of Icon, the international architecture and design magazine, and is currently working on a book about activist architecture in Latin America.
Founded in 1953 by Inge Aicher-Scholl, Otl Aicher and Max Bill, the Ulm School of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung) gained international recognition for its radical approach to design education. Until the founding of the Ulm HfG, there was no systematic approach of design education. The school pioneered the integration of science and art, thereby creating a teaching of design based on a structured problem-solving approach. The German college was short lived however, closing in 1968. Between 1954 and 1966, Tomás Maldonado (b. 1922) taught at Ulm and served as Rector and Prorector. He is largely credited with developing the Ulm model of education.
In Design and Crime, art critic Hal Foster (b. 1955) surveys the new political economy of design, exploring the effects of the aftermath of modernism and postmodernism on critical culture in the present day.
5 A 1980s science fiction movie directed by Steven Spielberg, where the main charcter was ET - an extraterrestrial.
A complex and rapidly changing form of mirage.
DESIGN & DEMOCRACY
“WE HAD DESIGNER JEANS, DESIGNER DRUGS... THIS HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THE DEGRADATION OF THE TERM DESIGN.” John Kenneth Galbraith (1908–2006) was a CanadianAmerican economist and a leading proponent of American liberalism.
Donald Norman (b. 1935) is an academic in the field of cognitive science, design and usability engineering. In his book The Design of Everyday Things, Norman describes the psychology behind what he deems as good and bad design, highlighting the importance of design in the everyday.
IDEO is an international design and innovation consultancy that was formed in 1991 in Palo Alto, California. The company designs products, environments, and digital experiences as well as providing advice on management and organisational design.
GB Yes. It creates a virtual reality that is
separated from material substructures. Even stubborn capitalists criticise this lack of materiality. If you forget about it you’re always speculating in this fantastic virtual world. And it should be shown now, with this financial crisis, that this world has imploded. And I’m not so convinced that the measures that are being taken to get this under control will achieve the right results. I’m afraid we are facing a deep, deep crisis in the future because the 2008 financial crisis was a crisis of the market, of speculation, of the design of so called financial products that enable us to keep selling on debt – and our policy of throwing public money at the problem will not get us out of the mess we are in.
JM Does that mean that if design is trading in the same phantasms that finance was trading in that it is also heading towards some kind of correction? In other words, is it possible to sustain an economy of virtual products, of images and renderings, which are sometimes not even made real? GB No. This has no future. In the short term
we can be bewitched by this but it is not a solution. I have sufficient confidence in human intelligence that sooner or later a decisive person will discover that this overblown symbolic domain of our material world and also of the financial world will lead to nothing – it will explode and we will start again on a better base.
JM While we’re talking about markets. I would
like to raise something that you wrote in your lecture, Design and Democracy. You quoted Kenneth Galbraith7, who said that design was being used by corporations to gain and consolidate power. Which is something we’ve all observed. Meanwhile, there is a cadre of designers and design zealots who think that design thinking is the way forward. And I want to suggest that design thinking represents a more sophisticated, perhaps even sinister, form of high capitalism. In the sense that it’s still at the service of corporations but in a way that is much cleverer and more difficult to pin down. It’s giving corporations control at a much deeper level – at the level of people’s experiences and behaviour. Businesses used to approach design for sex appeal and branding to help them sell more, whereas now they’re using design thinking in a way that really gets inside consumers’ heads.
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GB I would question the validity of the notion
of design thinking. What is this famous “design thinking”? Don Norman8, the American cognitive scientist, who was a consultant of Apple, wrote a very sharp note on his blog about demystifying design thinking. He said this is flimsy stuff, and I agree with him. How is it possible that companies that for decades didn’t even mention design and didn’t even know it existed, are suddenly jumping on this bandwagon and waving the flag of design thinking as the new solution. As a designer, I should perhaps be content that design is getting this attention, but I might not completely agree with these new clever management people’s interpretation of what design is. JM Well we may be sceptical, but there is a new breed of designer and design teacher who is more zealous. For instance, I was talking to Bruce Nussbaum, who teaches at Parsons and writes about design for Business Week and is precisely one of those conduits between design and big business. He believes in design thinking so much that at Parsons they’ve considered replacing the term “liberal arts” with “design thinking”. So I asked, “Does this mean design thinking is the new humanism?” and he said “Yes”. And when I look at Ideo9, which sells design thinking to large corporations, I start to get a little nervous. You think, to what ends are they improving these operations? Which meat grinder do they want to feed us into? GB I would be careful with these new notions.
What is the instrumental value behind all this? What do people who use these terms want to achieve? It would be out of range to try and substitute the liberal arts with such a narrow notion as design thinking. This is an ambition that will lead to defeat.
JM One of the problems for me, is that because of design’s history and its associations with machinic creation, all they mean by “design thinking” is making things work better, applying a kind of designer’s ingenuity to any problem, whether it’s a business problem or a social problem. This is where the word “design” starts to become nebulous.
GB Yes, design has a machinic connotation
but what if we get away from the notion of design and try to substitute it with “project”, in the sense that Daniel Defoe does in his famous article, An Essay upon Projects10. He “designed” or invented a social security system for mariners, where if they lose one finger they get retribution of so many pounds, and if a hand or an eye then so many pounds. He establishes a list of prices that people who are not protected in dangerous jobs get as retribution. You could ask, is this design? I would say no, it’s project-making applied to a social problem: how do we deal with people who suffer accidents in their work? So I feel that the notion of “project” is broader than the notion of “design”. This is also the difference between science and design: projectability. Design implies that something new has to be produced. Whereas the sciences approach reality from the point of view of cognition: I want to discover new tools, I want to produce true sentences that can be verified. This is science, interpretations. But I’m afraid this neutral notion of “project” might not be to the taste of this new generation.
JM Well I think it’s interesting that you
suggest that, because for me the problem is that instead of trying to find broader notions, “design” is already too broad. The problem with “design” is a linguistic one stemming from Renaissance Italy – and the concept of disegno – which has left us in the position where the word is so elastic it ends up covering too many bases. It’s almost that “design” needs to be broken down, but it’s just such a useful word. GB I agree that there’s a certain danger in
over-extending the notion of design. Do we “design” a birthday party?
JM There’s no doubt that people do! The
sultan of Brunei will pay someone to design his son’s birthday party.
GB Yes, it’s a typical service design. There
was this notion of design that emerged in the 1990s where a manicure shop would become a nail designer. Or, for a haircut you go to a hair designer. We had designer jeans, designer drugs etc. This has contributed to the degradation of the term design, whereby everything becomes design. This is dangerous. And design is not the medicine for the problems we face today – there are other problems than only design problems. But you can explain this out of the minority complex that designers have suffered over the decades, where they were always of a lower status. Now they have been blown up into this glamorous theatre, where design has permeated the top level of companies.
10 An Essay upon Projects, a series of proposals for social and economic improvement, by Daniel Defoe (c. 1659-1731) was first published in 1697.
Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was a French philosopher, best known for his development of the critical theory of deconstruction. His work centered on challenging unquestioned assumptions of the Western philosophical tradition and Western culture.
JM So we’ve established that design is in a self-confident mood and has achieved an unprecedented level of access, and yet there’s a lack of design discourse and theory. Does design need a discourse? Do we need theory? Who are we trying to persuade here? GB I can give you an answer. I would say that
a design discourse is not only necessary; it is inevitable. Let’s take architecture, or even medicine, or jurisprudence – they’re all professions. Each profession lives in a linguistic world, which we call discourse. So a design discourse exists whether we like it or not. It may not be formalised strongly but it exists. To structure this discourse – to give it more weight or more credibility – this is a task that might be tackled. And you cannot avoid a discourse because we live in linguistic universes and each profession has one, even taxi drivers. There are stronger discourses and weak discourses. And I would say that in design, so far, we have a weak discourse.
There’s a difference between a design discourse and design theory. A design discourse, whether formalised or not, exists. It can be hermetic or open, and I would like it if discourses were open to other people who are not specialists, so they are more inclusive. I am convinced that a strong design discourse without excluding non-designers would be a valuable task to attack. Because if you read some design theory you scratch your head – what do they want to tell you? It’s like Derrida11, brilliant formulations sometimes, but can his discourse contribute to the quality or understanding of architecture? I doubt it.
DESIGN & DEMOCRACY
“DO WE HAVE A REAL CONCEPT OF SUSTAINABLE DESIGN OR IS IT MERELY A NICE, CALMING CATCHPHRASE?” 12 Slavoj Žižek (b. 1949) is a Slovenian philosopher and critical theorist working in the traditions of Hegel, Marx and Lacan. In addition to his writings on political and film theories, in his most recent book, Living in the End Times, Žižek explores contemporary architecture.
William McDonough (b. 1951) is an American architect and founding principal of William McDonough + Partners. His 2002 book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (co-authored by Michael Braungart) is a manifesto for the cradle to cradle design model: an approach to the design of systems modelled on nature’s processes. The book suggests that the ‘reduce reuse recycle’ method only perpetuates the cradle to grave strategy and instead, encourages the manufacture of products with the goal of upcycling (the process of converting waste or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value).
14 The Wire is an American television drama set in and around Baltimore, Maryland that has been praised for its gritty portrayal of urban life.
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JM Thinking again about your Design and
Democracy lecture, I wanted to raise with you something about the paradox we’re in at the moment. In the western world we have become somewhat disenchanted with mass production, with industrialisation itself, where mass-produced products, whether we’re talking about food or household products, are seen with a certain amount of distaste now. Perhaps as a necessary evil but, at worst, as a sort of disposable pollution. Now it’s all about craft and organic food and so on. Whereas in the developing world, where the majority of the world’s population lives, industrial production is going to be absolutely necessary in terms of democratising comfort and eradicating poverty and just giving people access to basic comforts that we take for granted in Europe.
GB I agree that in highly complex, western
societies, the word industrialisation often doesn’t have the same positive connotation that it has in South America, for example. There is general agreement that the only way of having a more homogeneous distribution and access to slightly more comfort, is industrialisation. If you are living in a world where all these basic needs are satisfied through industrial means, then you can have the almost luxurious attitude of saying I don’t care much for this stuff, I want to have my individual artisan, craft object. This is a phenomenon of rich countries, not poor. We are living in a period where industrialisation still has positive connotations in Latin America and there is hardly any government that does not put the word on its banner. Although, they may have a critical perspective on what the consequences or costs of industrialisation are – what it destroys in resources and what we get for it. Perhaps, we might reconsider the typology of products that a society produces? Nobody plans this at the moment, it just happens. And nobody is able to control it, nor desires to control it. But, if we take computers, the rate of innovation is so high that we get tons and tons of hardware that you don’t know what to do with it. Do we have a real concept of “sustainable” design – I have my doubts – or is it merely a nice, calming catchphrase? Companies say they produce sustainable products or have sustainable policies, but it’s so difficult to design a product that is sustainable in a way that you can actually prove – you need a lot of research to assess the cost that any service or product puts on
the shoulders of the environment. Now to discover this and quantify it is a scientific task of enormous dimensions, designers cannot do it for themselves. This is where a strong discourse would come in. Perhaps we must invent new business paradigms. I’m not sure, I have no answer.
JM I agree with Slavoj Zizek12 that
sustainability is a new dogma of fear, that with this great sword hanging over our heads it is harder to have ambitious dreams. Once, we used to want to go to the moon. Now, the very word sustainability implies a more limited scope of ambition, a form of survival. We’re clearly at a threshold, and there seem to be two paths forward. There’s the “cradle to cradle” ethos13, which implies that as long as we recycle we can produce as much as we want with impunity – a celebration of consumerism that I can’t help but think is a fantasy. And then there’s the more philosophical approach, which is that we just have to learn to want less, to not have everything we want when we want it. GB But you say we want to do the same with
less. This is an old capitalist paradigm. Instead of continuing to do the same with less, one has to invent a new typology of products. There was a great hope that in socialist countries a new product culture would be invented, but this hope was not realised. In the Soviet Union they admired the consumer society of the West and they wanted to catch up with it and even surpass it, but I wonder whether the politicians and designers envisaged another kind of product culture. It was a utopian idea and there are documents about this, but this is a question I have to leave open.
JM But I think you raise an interesting point, because this phrase “more with less” is pervasive now. “More with less” is the language of the recession, it’s what the remaining staff are told when their colleagues are made redundant. Isn’t it a problem that the language of the recession and the language of sustainability are the same? Did you ever watch The Wire14? In the final series the editor of a newspaper is firing people and the great phrase he keeps wheeling out is “we need to do more with less”. And at some point one of the journalists says, “You don’t do more with less, you do less with less”. And I think we’re at this point where we have to decide whether we’re going to do more with less, or just do less.
GB But it also depends on whether
we’re talking about ecological or social sustainability. They’re not the same thing. I care about using the word ecology without forgetting the social dimension behind it. Nature does not exist as such, as pure. No, nature is always related to society. You cannot talk about one with the other. They’re linked dialectically – this is old Marxist stuff.
JM There’s a nicely prescient phrase in your
Design and Democracy essay where you say that public intervention in the market is demonised except when paying the debts of a bankrupt privatised service. Which is exactly what happened in Europe and America two years ago.
GB Yes, it happened here in Argentina in
2001 and 2002. What I said there was written from the experience of living and working in the developing world. I would not have written that if I had stayed in Milan or in Ulm certainly not.
JM So, what is it like to write about design from the perspective of Latin America?
GB I think your question touches the political
dimension of design. These third world countries are still in a so-called post-colonial state – I have my doubts about this, I think we are still, in a certain way, in a colonial status. These countries are still seeking autonomy, and this is a political decision. And I would say design in these countries is imbued with this desire to decrease dependence and increase autonomy. This need is not much felt in European countries or established, dominating ones. It’s difficult to understand this but in Latin America this fibre of independence – or reducing others’ dominance of us – is a commonly shared feeling, the existential soup in which designers are living here. In other contexts you’d say, what is all this romantic, idealistic stuff ¬– “autonomy”, “independence” – but it’s a reality. These countries are struggling for a new status, to decrease their extreme dependency and vulnerability.
GB If you compare the industrial design here
with developed countries, you might not find the same level of sophistication. But this is not a question of competence. I would say the issue is which kind of problems do we attempt? In my book [Historia del Diseño en America Latina] I gave an example from La Plata University of a design problem that would hardly be addressed in a richer country. Following the crisis of 2001-2, people started collecting garbage in the streets. And then someone made a garbage collecting device so you can squeeze the plastic bottles and fit more volume into the carts. This is a problem that is typical of this context that you won’t find in Germany.
READING LIST Civic City Cahier 2 - Design and Democracy by Gui Bonsiepe, BEDFORD PRESS, 2011 Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, VINTAGE (PAPERBACK), 2009 Nussbaum on Design WWW.BUSINESSWEEK.COM
If you took a high-tech chair made in Germany or France and compare it with a chair here, of course technologically we cannot compete. Where these countries can compete is in the computing stuff, in the virtual word – in graphic design the production tools are rather cheap. Having a computer is fine but let’s take a bicycle. A sophisticated high-tech bicycle, you cannot make that here, but you can make a reasonably good bicycle. So I would be very careful in establishing comparative standards. There is no universal good design. You have contexts, you take products or clothing design in a context, and you must derive the criteria for evaluation from this context. If you believe in universal values of design then these countries will lose. Marx and Engels wrote in the The German Ideology, “The dominating thoughts are in every epoch the thoughts of the dominating class.” If we transfer this statement to design, it would read: The dominating design standards are the standards of the powerful. Do we really need that? I doubt it.
JM So design is a tool for liberating.
GB I would say so, yes. This is the political
dimension of design.
JM And what about the quality of design in Latin America? DESIGN & DEMOCRACY
3:00PM Ernesto picked up his trusty, old paper knife and began waving it about him, trying to puncture this bag of wind before it escaped, but it was futile. He looked at the knife as though to find fault with it. It was a good knife, precise as a scalpel, honed on years of envelopes, white ones as well as brown. One sharp slit and the words spilled out like guts. “Dear Mr Bones,” they read, “It has come to our attention that your account is overdrawn”, or “Your library book is overdue”, or “Sign Up Now for this unrepeatable offer. Dear Mr Bones, please get in touch with us at your earliest convenience…” Very rarely had he received any other sort of letter, the kind that began “My Darling Ernesto” or “Ernesto dearest, light of my life”. Only once, in fact. This very day. It had been sitting innocently on the hall table till now, and he took the opportunity – knife in hand – to open it. He sat in the chair by the window reading and re-reading it, over and over, first in consternation, secondly with alarm, thirdly with a feeling of helplessness, absently bouncing the flat of the blade on his knee, his mind unfocused. The minutes went by, the quarter-hour chimed and then the half-hour, and still he toyed with the knife, till inadvertently, and just as inevitably, he did himself a mischief with the blade, skewering the point through his trouser and stabbing himself in the leg. Blood trickled into his sock. He yelped, he swore, he did a little jig. But who was his unexpected, unasked-for and wholly unwelcome admirer? Finally, his past had caught up with him. Bones limped to the bathroom, in search of a bandage and the solace of liniment. His stalker was back. Adrian Searle, ART CRITIC, LONDON
The northern half of Naoshima, scarred and polluted, is host to a tangle of industrial plants.
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Island odyssey The “Naoshima model” has transformed three islands in Japan’s Inland Sea into cultural destinations without comparison. WORDS Julian Worrall PHOTOS Iwan Baan
T 1 The Seto Inland Sea separates Japan’s three main islands (Honshū, Shikoku, and Kyūshū), between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan.
The Great Seto Bridge opened in 1988, after 10 years of construction. The bridge is one of three sections of the Honshū-Shikoku Bridge Project. It comprises 6 bridges and 5 viaducts, stretching more than 13 km to allow travel between the Inland Sea islands, by car and train.
Soichiro Fukutake (b. 1945) was ranked among the top ten richest people in Japan by Forbes magazine in 2010.
4 Benesse Holdings is the parent company of several of Fukutake’s businesses, dating back to 1955. The company focuses on correspondence education and publishing. 5 Tadao Ando (b. 1941) is a Japanese architect. He won the highly regarded Pritzker Prize in 2005.
o cross Japan’s Inland Sea1 by train, you take the Great Seto Bridge2 from Onomichi on the mainland to Imabari on the island of Shikoku. The train with its precious cargo of human beings is held aloft toylike in an enormous cage of iron, hundreds of metres above the sea. Giant girders zigzag past the windows, turning the views of the dreamy landscape of overlapping islands feathering the horizon into a flickering film reel. For 20 minutes, the bridge performs a colossal hop, skip, and jump in slow motion across the Inland Sea, stretching from one granite island to the next with absolute confidence, gathering itself around each support before leaping again into the blue haze. Far below, beyond the dashing steelwork, the grey-green waters lap placidly at the feet of the massive pylons, unhurried and indifferent, a watery metronome gently marking the beats of a separate world, in its own time and space.
I am crossing this bridge on my way to a group of tiny islands in the Inland Sea that are the setting of an unlikely and extraordinary experiment. For more than two decades, the island of Naoshima and its neighbours have been the laboratory for an alternative vision of human progress to that represented by the Great Seto Bridge. With a population barely exceeding 3,400, whose ancestors subsisted on fishing and whose parents worked in heavy industry, and where to turn 60 is to finally reach the average age, the island has been gradually transformed into a magic garden of contemporary architecture and art. This transformation has been effected by a visionary local Medici named Soichiro Fukutake3, the billionaire president of Benesse Holdings4 and avid art collector. Describing himself as “a revolutionary whose weapons are art and architecture”, Fukutake’s interventions at Naoshima commenced with an art museum-come-hotel hybrid by Tadao Ando5 built in 1992, and have extended to include two other Ando-designed museums; artworks in a half-dozen abandoned houses embedded in the island’s villages; a visitor centre designed by architectural firm SANAA6; and even a public bathhouse built as an art and architecture collaboration by artist Shinro Ohtake7 and creative group Graf. As Naoshima’s garden blossomed, Fukutake has in recent years extended his attention to the neighbouring islands of Inujima and Teshima, installing ever more ambitious Art Sites – careful intertwinings of contemporary art, architecture, and landscape – on each. In 2010, he orchestrated the inaugural instance of a triennial art festival, the Seto International Art Festival, that sprinkled artworks and events across an archipelago of eight islands, attracting hundreds of thousands of art lovers from across Japan and the world over a three-month period. During the festival, the daily number of visitors to the islands outnumbered the resident populations many times over, bringing youth, wealth, and vitality to these quiet communities, remnants of an older Japan that is nearly lost to the modern world. This year is not a festival year and the migratory flocks of the art world are elsewhere. But I am returning to Naoshima and visiting the neighbouring islands of Inujima and Teshima to breathe its air, refresh my spirit and check on the progress of Fukutake’s grand and subtle experiment. > Clockwise from left: Visitors arriving on Naoshima are greeted by the artwork of Kusama Yayoi; The port in Naoshima; People taking pictures in one of the colourful pumpkins by Yayoi; A cyclist passes Dreaming Tongue by Shinro Ohtake; Naoshima harbour and fishing boats.
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A boat arrives at the ferry terminal on Naoshima. The terminal is designed by SANAA.
6 SANAA is a Japanese architectural firm founded by Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956) and Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) in 1995. They were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2010. The Naoshima Ferry Terminal opened in 2006. 7
Donald Richie (b. 1924) is an American writer who first visited Japan in 1947 and later returned to live there. The Inland Sea (primarily a travel journal) is one of Richie’s most well known works.
Kusama Yayoi (b. 1929) is a Japanese artist. Her sculpture Pumpkin is on permanent display outdoors at Naoshima.
10 The Benesse House Museum comprises a hotel and art gallery. Designed by Ando, it opened in 1992.
The Chichu Art Museum, also by Ando, houses a permanent collection of artworks by James Turrell, Walter de Maria and five of Monet’s water lily paintings. The Lee Ufan Museum was a collaboration between Ando and the Korean artist Lee Ufan (b. 1936), Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948) is a Japanese photographer and architect. His Seascapes series is displayed at the Benesse House Museum.
> Naoshima – stories between strangers
Donald Richie8, the doyen of living Western writers on Japan, visited Naoshima in the pages of The Inland Sea, his elegaic paean to this region written in the late 1960s. “Naoshima is a small, beautiful, somehow sad little island” he wrote then. “The sadness comes perhaps from the loneliness – in the early afternoons there never seems to be anyone on these islands.” Today, as my ferry sidles up to the dock on a wet and blustery afternoon, the pearly light reveals a scene unimaginable to Richie then: a mix of genteel seniors, handsome young couples, and a few fashionable females scattered picturesquely under the levitating white plane that forms the roof of the terminal building. A group of older foreigners study their guides. Nearby, a giant pumpkin sculpture in the unmistakable spotted livery of Japanese artist Kusama Yayoi9, delights children. Even on a day of typhoon warnings, the island no longer seems lonely, in fact, it seems suffused with happiness. While waiting for the shuttle to the hotel, I observe my fellow travellers. All these people are visitors, outsiders, urbanites. It is not just for the nature that they are here. The beauty of the island’s perfect bays and soft horizons is a necessary but not yet sufficient condition for their presence. It is art, framed by architecture, that fills the gap, and has motivated their visit. They have made time to find space. Naoshima holds out the promise of a place in which the contradictions that cleave contemporary life are transcended and healed – where art can deepen communion with nature; where the city can coexist with the village; and where the global can invigorate rather than erase the local.
The island, barely 14 sq km, is itself a model of such contradictions. The northern half, scarred and polluted, is host to an unlovely tangle of industrial plants for refining raw materials – and until the trickle of visiting art lovers became a steady stream the main economic basis for the island. It is the picturesque southern half where the locals live that visitors see. The island community is spread across three villages, each around a little harbour, charcoal studies of grey roof tiles and ash-blackened timber walls huddled between blue-green waters and deep green hills. The various facilities of the Naoshima Art Site, Fukutake’s domain, occupy much of the rest of the island. This includes the accommodation facilities of Benesse House and Museum10, and the dedicated art museums of the Chichu Museum10 and the Lee Ufan Museum10, all bearing the luxurious gravitas of Tadao Ando’s potent articulations of material, space, and elemental nature.
After some time ensconced in the exquisitely hospitable spaces of Benesse House, soothed by the sound of a rushing stream nearby and misty horizons of the Inland Sea in the distance, and surrounded by pellucid depths of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s11 art, I began to feel the rub of a dilemma, one that I imagine is familiar for many utopians and other believers who seek paradise on earth. Should the divine be sought within the world or apart from it? The harmonious perfection of the environment around me left me missing the benign tensions of the everyday. Rather than spend my limited time diving deeper into the hermetic intensities of Ando’s underground museums, I hopped on a bicycle and rode back to Honmura village, to explore the Art House projects. > Clockwise from left: Lee Ufan Museum by Ando and Ufan; James Turrell’s Open Sky in the Chichu Art Museum; People experiencing the architecture of the Chichu Art Museum by Tadao Ando.
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The Chichu Art Museum is buried into a hill.
Inside view from two of the underground chambers of the Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima.
The Oval Hotel is situated on a hill and is connected to the Benesse House Museum by a monorail.
“INUJIMA HAS BECOME THE LABORATORY FOR AN APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY THAT RESCUES THE OLD THROUGH CREATING THE NEW.”
12 James Turrell (b. 1943) is an American artist, known for his installations that experiment with light and space.
Kadoya was the first completed Art House at Naoshima. The 200-year-old house opened in 1998 with works by Miyajima (b. 1957).
Sea of Time ‘98 by Tatsuo Miyajima features flickering LED lights under dark pools of water.
> This is where the artistic mission of Benesse intersects most directly with its social goal of revitalising the local community. Using six houses which have fallen empty as frames for contemporary art, the Art House project invites visitors directly into the heart of the village world. The spaces are dark and potent, suffused both with ancestral spirits and the artists’ imagination. Subtlety of touch is a common thread in these interventions – and the experiences that are wrested from them are the richer for it. The mysterious presences in American artist James Turrell’s12 Minamidera take you to the trembling edge of visual perception, leaving you buoyant and tingling. Tatsuo Miyajima’s Kadoya13 scatters flickering LED counters, the timings of which were set by individual villagers, under dark pools where tatami mats once lay – an inverted constellation of luminous heartbeats. At each entrance, a local attendant greets you and explains the work, encounters with people whose gentleness and dignity leave a mental dent as deep as that left by the art. Running late for the last entry to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s underground Go’o Shrine, I met Ueda-san, who with infinite patience ushered me to the entrance, a drainage tunnel driven straight into the side of the hill. Upon my re-emergence, beaming with pleasure at my delighted gratitude, he proceeded to tell me stories of the local shipyards where he worked; his daughter’s life in Australia; and his happiness at being able to meet so many fascinating people simply by sitting and waiting, overlooking the ever-changing sea. In encounters like these, one of Fukutake’s guiding precepts is revealed: “The power of art,” he once told me, “is that it creates stories between strangers.” The conversations emerging from these stories become the glue that binds a community to one another, and to visitors. Inujima – creating to sustain
Naoshima may be small, but with a population of thousands it has the numbers to sustain essential public facilities such as a junior high schools, a welfare facility, and a town hall. Inujima, an island which is one wet hour’s ride by speedboat from Naoshima, has a population of only 56, with an average age of 75. This is an example of what is called in Japan a “dead-end village”, where the end is now just a matter of time. The question of sustainability is posed with brutal clarity in such a situation. Without a definitive influx from outside, in less than a decade there will be nothing left to sustain. Despite grim prospects, Fukutake has confronted the situation with another of his aphorisms: “Revive that which is. Create that which is not.” Inujima has become the laboratory for an approach to sustainability that rescues the old through creating the new.
Inujima (the name means “dog island”) had been exploited for its natural resources since medieval times – granite quarried from its shores was used to build Osaka castle. In 1909, during Japan’s frenetic industrialization, a copper refinery was built on Inujima. The island location facilitated the supply of raw materials, and limited the impact of the pollution that had devastated the environments around other refineries on the mainland. But the jobs and prosperity brought by the refinery were short-lived – within a decade the copper price had crashed, and the facility was abandoned along with the community of 3,000 whom it had supported.
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In 2007, the national government designated the site of the Inujima refinery as part of Japan’s industrial heritage. Fukutake built on this designation by engaging Hiroshima-based architect Hiroshi Sambuichi14, and Japan-born, US-trained artist Yukinori Yanagi15 to give the vision tangible form in the Seirenjo (refinery) project. >
Using six houses which have fallen empty as frames for contemporary art, the Art House project invites visitors directly into the heart of the village world.
The Lee Ufan Museum on Naoshima is dedicated to Ufanâ€™s work. He designed it together with Ando.
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108 Disegno. ISLAND ODYSSEY
Inujima from above with the remains of the copper refinery that now makes up part of the Inujima refinery project in the foreground.
16 Mishima (1925–1970) was a Japanese author and playwright, whose work challenged social norms and cultural boundaries. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mishima committed suicide at the age of 45, after his attempts instigate a coup d’etat to restore the emperor’s powers failed. Mishima (1925–1970) was a Japanese author and playwright, whose work challenged social norms and cultural boundaries. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mishima committed suicide at the age of 45, after his attempts instigate a coup d’etat to restore the emperor’s powers failed.
> Built in red brick and “karami” masonry – blocks of congealed slag, the colour of coagulated blood – the russet bones of the refinery protrude through vegetation like the ruins of an ancient temple. These include a number of crumbling chimneys 20-30 metres high. In developing the architectural diagram, Sambuichi sought to harness what he calls the “energies of the landscape”. Poignant monuments to a lost industrial past, Sambuichi also grasped that the chimneys were ready-made ventilation engines, with the latent capacity to drive a passive system for heating and cooling interior spaces. “Revive that which is...” Herein lay the impetus for the plan.
Sambuichi devised a series of four linked halls: two “caves” buried underground, and two “sunrooms” functioning as greenhouses. Two are connected in series directly to the chimney, and the remaining two, one cave and one sunroom, form reservoirs of warm and cool air respectively that can be “switched” in or out of sequence using their common entrance as a spatial valve. This enables the interior climate to be conditioned by mixing these pools of air as required, with all the pressure differential needed being supplied by the chimney. A display in the separate reception building gives an overview of the temperatures in the different halls, so visitors can watch the process live. Each hall is both ventricle for ventilation and frame for art. In three halls, Yanagi has gathered the deconstructed elements of Japanese writer, actor and film director Yukio Mishima’s16 house into floating constellations of wood and paper, amidst the language and imagery of his writings. Mishima’s nativist critique of modernity is dispersed throughout the facility, mingling with Sambuichi’s parallel critique of modernity from the perspective of matter and energy. In a sublimation of these paired visions, the fourth and most extraordinary hall offers a beguiling path to the pure luminosity of the sun via a series of mirrors – a vision of the unattainability of the divine... or of nature herself?
Despite its careful imbrication of existing and introduced elements, in formal terms, the Seirenjo follows the typical model of a museum – a receptacle for art separated from daily life. The tiny settlement, housing the few dozen remaining residents at Inujima inverts this pattern, and its fabric provides the context for the other major intervention on the island – Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima’s6 series of subtle building-sized installations scattered throughout the village. “Create that which is not” Sejima has planned a number of delicate cubic, linear, and annular elements scattered on vacant lots among the traditional wooden houses of the village. Variously enclosed in mirror-finish aluminium and perfectly transparent acrylic, you encounter the buildings as ghostlike presences shimmering within the townscape. Reflection and transparency, twin techniques of disappearance, are the predominant means used. The buildings optically dissolve into their surroundings, while paradoxically bringing this world of wood and tile into focus, operating like environmental lenses. > Clockwise from left: F-Art House by Kazuyo Sejima on Inujima; Inside the F-Art House; A local dog poses for the camera.
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The old cemetary next to the Nakanotani Gazebo by Kazuyo Sejima on Inujima.
In 2007, the national government designated the site of the Inujima refinery as part of Japanâ€™s industrial heritage. Itâ€™s now a museum created by Hiroshi Sambuichi Yukinori Yanagi.
“IF INUJIMA IS A PETRI DISH OF ART AND SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY, TESHIMA IS WHERE ART’S RELATION TO NATURE IS GIVEN FULL REIGN.”
Rei Naito (b. 1961) is a Japanese sculptor.
> This strategy of environmental dissolution and refocusing can be thought of as a strategy of camouflage. The boundaries between what is existing and what is new, and between what is exhibition and what simply is, are interlaced. The entire village gradually becomes a landscape suffused in the attentiveness that usually is reserved for art. As the inhabitants disappear one by one, a new village emerges, revalued as art. Landscape becomes exhibit. Sejima writes: “Art will become one with the local scenery, as existing houses and new structures become exhibition spaces and a new landscape emerges.” And with this new landscape, a new population of visitors eager to experience it as landscape, with new inhabitants to serve them. Teshima – Nature Framed
If Inujima is a Petri dish of art and social sustainability, Teshima is where art’s relation to nature herself is given full reign. This is achieved most vividly at the Teshima Art Museum, which being completed in October 2010 after a six-year collaboration between architect Ryue Nishizawa6 and the artist Rei Naito17 is the youngest of the interventions in these islands.
Art, we can probably agree, helps us see the world differently. More intensely, perhaps, or more clearly; or in a new and unfamiliar way. This requires a separation between the artwork and the world. Art sets up territories and borders, the lines that define where the ordinary world ends and the art begins – a frame, a plinth, a stage. But what if the artwork demands to include itself, the space that houses it, and even the surrounding environment as integral to its conception and perception? Where does the art stop and the world begin? Or could this separation between art and world in fact be transcended, in pursuit of a new understanding that encompasses both?
Teshima Art Museum prompts such reflections. The “museum” is in fact less a facility to house artworks than a gigantic art installation in its own right, set amidst a breathtaking landscape of terraced rice paddies high above the soft sea horizons. When first seen from the road, the museum appears as a strikingly alien presence: two smooth globules, one large and spreading, one small and bead-like, emerging pristine from the ground as if they were the long-buried shells of eggs laid by some mythical creature. A pathway leads you through a copse of trees and past a sea view before arriving at the entry to the larger volume. You enter the space shoeless through a narrow funnel, which seamlessly expands to a vast interior cavern, 40 by 60 metres. Two large circular apertures open to the sky, filling the space with light and birdsong, which dance off the smoothly polished concrete in soft reflections and vibrant echoes. Several fine gossamer ribbons hang from the edges of the holes, registering the lightest movement of air. The space appears to capture and distill its surroundings. > Clockwise from left: Small roads through the farm fields on Naoshima; A shrine along the road on Teshima Island; Farther Memory by Chiharu Shiota on Teshima.
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Mariko Moriâ€™s sculpture, set in a lake on Teshima lights up at night.
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The Teshima Art Museum by Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito is set in the breathtaking landscape.
Clockwise from this image: A view of Christian Boltanskiâ€™s Les Archives du Coeur, Teshima Island; Honmura village on Naoshima; Les Archives du Coeur compiles recordings of heartbeats from around the world.
The Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture opened to the public in June 2011 and houses exhibitions about architecture and his own work.
READING LIST The Inland Sea by Donald Richie, STONE BRIDGE PRESS, 2010 (with an Introduction by Pico Iyer). Insular Insight: Where Art and Architecture Conspire with Nature edited by Lars Müller and Akiko Miki, LARS MÜLLER PUBLISHERS, 2011. Naoshima: Art, Architecture, Nature, HATJE CANTZ, 2009. Julian Worrall is an Australian architecture writer and critic based in Tokyo. He has written extensively on Japanese architecture and urbanism for among others Domus, Icon and The Japan Times.
> But this is not all: added to this distillate of the real is a slice of magic. You soon notice that puddles of water are dotted across the spreading expanse of the floor, and gathered in larger pools under the openings in the roof. Closer inspection reveals this miniature landscape to be in constant motion – glistening rivulets dart from place to place, following imperceptible topographies. These puddles and streams are fed by tiny springs: droplets of ground water are beading out through the concrete floor. Tiny white discs and spheres affixed to the floor and ceiling form another family of elements. Naming the work Matrix, Naito describes her aim as “revealing to the linkage of all things, the infinite connections of life on earth, its hidden bliss.” All is subtle, yet filled with animation. In this creation, there is no boundary between the artwork, the space that enfolds it, and the energies that animate it. As the boat pulls away from the Teshima dock, I can make out the museum as a dazzling white presence surrounded by golden rice terraces. It becomes apparent that the aesthetic treasures that the museum is framing are precisely those of the landscape itself, and in this, it brilliantly realises Fukutake’s brief to the artist and architect: “A place where art, architecture, and nature are one”. Reconstruction and the “Naoshima method”
With encounters between strangers prompted by contemporary art at Naoshima; built heritage and cultural landscapes revealed and revalued at Inujima; and the relation between human creations and nature herself reinterpreted as an seamless continuum at Teshima; these islands in the Inland Sea have begun to be seen as a model for an alternative approach to building places and communities. This so-called “Naoshima method” is emerging on other islands in the Inland Sea, and in other parts of Japan.
A few hours by boat to the west, on the island of Omishima, is the Toyo Ito Museum of Architecture18, a new space for exhibition and interaction designed by Toyo Ito to foster discussion about architecture’s meaning and broader role. Built in the form of two “primitive huts” – one a replica of Toyo Ito’s first house, the elegant barrel-vaulted Silver Hut that made his name; and the second, the Steel Hut, a dark and faceted volume formed from regular polyhedra – the complex is a socially motivated yet deeply personal dialogue between two eras in the architect’s life and work. Ito was famous during the time of the Silver Hut for seeing in the artificiality of Tokyo a “second nature”, populated by “new humans”. But in recent years, he has renounced this aesthetics of an intrinsically urban lightness of being, calling instead for a corporeal appreciation of the world in all its fleshy, earthy materiality. The “return to the real” in Ito’s thinking is analogous to the revaluing of the rural communities that is embodied in the Naoshima Method. As Japan faces the monumental task of rebuilding its devastated northern coast and reconsiders its reliance on nuclear power, the Naoshima method presents a powerful vision for a way forward. It is an approach that offers a model of how art, architecture and other cultural assets can be at the centre of reconstruction plans, while also responding to the entrenched underlying problems of depopulation and over-reliance on environmentally destructive industries. Rather than the image of a monumental bridge to the future, like the Great Seto Bridge elevated far above the world it spans, the example of Naoshima suggests an elegant sailing vessel skipping across the waves – lightweight, self sufficient, and beautiful. I took the boat, rather than the bridge, back to the mainland.
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Clockwise from left: Bathhouse by Shinro Ohtake, where visitors are welcome to take a bath; Detail of a traditional island dwelling; Go’o Shrine by Hiroshi Suhimoto, 1999-2002
Inujima has a population of only 56, with an average age of 75.
4:00PM Bones left the bathroom and headed straight to the drawing room where he helped himself to a thimbleful of Russian vodka from his drinks cabinet. He put on a record on the player, poured another shot and cleared his mind. It was something about the line up of bottles – the clear and semi-clear vodkas, the labels with excruciatingly precise fonts and layouts, the reduction of colour – that enabled Bones to relax. His thoughts turned idly to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square and the sound of John Cage’s musical work 4’33”. It was as if he was able to mechanically induce a state of mind whereby the narrative of the day ceased completely. The hour slipped by in an almost entirely detached way. Some consider it “the long and lonely teatime of the soul”, but for Bones it was the perfect time of day. The clutter of the objects, thoughts and conversations that had surrounded him were diffused; all things figurative relaxed and his thoughts collapsed cleanly into the absolute. Indeed, Ernesto Bones was shocked into abstraction. Charlotte Cullinan, ARTIST, LONDON
A worker operating kntting machines at Robert Pringle’s factory, established in Hawick, Scotland in 1815.
Archive of memories
When Pringle of Scotland lost its archive in a flood in 2005, it seemed the connection with its past was forever severed. That was until some students from London-based Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design were put on the case of rebuilding it – from people’s memories. WORDS Felix Wolodymyr Chabluk Smith PHOTOS Pringle archive
ARCHIVE OF MEMORIES
B 1 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning refers to the 1960 film adaptation of Alan Sillitoe’s novel of the same name, written in 1958. The film, which was directed by Karel Reisz and starred Albert Finney, was characteristic of the British New Wave movement.
enoit Duverger looked on in mild disbelief. Two boxes: that was all that was remaining of 194 years of history. It was 2009 and he had just been appointed global communications director of knitwear label Pringle of Scotland. Charged with turning its profile around, he was certain that the answer lay in the collected material of almost 200 years of manufacturing history. But while scanning the scattered and incoherent content of the two boxes, it became obvious that he had to rethink. “Two hundred years of history and no archive, it was just hideous, totally ridiculous,” says Duverger as he leans back in his chair, surveying his domain on 142 Sloane Street – the London head offices of Pringle of Scotland (where Duverger is now managing director). People in his position aren’t often concerned with such things as archives, but Pringle’s past was precisely why Duverger had accepted the role at the ailing company in the first place. The idea of an archive is a potent identity builder for any luxury brand. Fashion houses are always working a year and more ahead, constantly creating their future, but it seems that, even in a world where new is the key selling point, many luxury brands make their heritage a central focus. An archive gives the design team access to unrivalled sources of creative inspiration and technical know-how that is unique to the brand, and Pringle should have had more than most. Firmly rooted in Hawick on the Scottish Borders, before the Hermès family had even set foot on French soil, with a 40-year head start on Burberry and Louis Vuitton, Robert Pringle established his factory in Hawick in 1815. The company began as a manufacturer of nothing more glamorous than woollen underwear, but it seems that dull decades of producing necessities are the best foundations of an international luxury brand. So if your modus operandi is to draw on the gems of an archive, what do you do when that history no longer exists? This was the question Duverger asked himself stood in front of those two boxes. And the answer that came to him was: you create it.
Pringle was once the largest employer in Hawick, with more than 2,000 men and women on the books. If you didn’t work for them, your brother, sister, mother or father probably did. The surviving copies of The Pringle Bulletin, an in-house magazine given to every employee, show rows of smiling workers at knitting frames, company cricket teams and day trips to Edinburgh; a Saturday Night and Sunday Morning1 world of factory-floor romances and generations in symbiosis with rattling machines. Demolished in the early 1970s, the collection of warehouses and sheds, by the river Teviot, housed every manufacturing process on one site. The company still maintained a manufacturing base in the town until 2008 but now Pringle’s presence in Hawick is purely administrative; the financial division is tucked away in Glebe Mill, with a wall-to-wall Argyle carpet (Pringle’s signature pattern) in midnight and royal blue.
The root of the closure was, of course, financial, but was triggered by a number of factors. Changing consumer habits were partly to blame, as Duverger explains in the swish Sloane Street offices, where the carpet is of a stain-hiding grey shade. “Nobody pays those prices for knitwear. People can’t moan about closing factories and then go shopping at Primark and think, ‘I’ll have that top for £7.99’. People don’t pay the price, so we can’t manufacture, it is as simple as that. And then they ask, ‘Why did you close the factories?’”
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Pringle’s positioning as an international brand also meant it needed to rethink its products – what might be suitable for a Scottish summer would be unbearably weighty in Singapore, and the factory simply couldn’t produce knits fine enough. But the mills of Hawick are not like the pitheads of the north east, they are not mere relics. Production hasn’t moved overseas altogether, but less than a kilometre down the road. Other factories in the town are still making world-renowned knitwear, and it was to these that Pringle outsourced their manufacturing, keeping local skills alive and some of the locals employed.
“DUVERGER WAS DETERMINED; HE WANTED THOSE 200 YEARS BACK.”
Wash boarding and drying room at Pringle.
Duverger’s strategy to reinvent Pringle was to draw on history and Duverger was determined; he wanted those 200 years back. One day in spring 2010, speaking to Louise Wilson, the head of the fashion MA at Central Saint Martins in London, he found his answer. The prestigious fashion school’s students could help him. In June that year Alistair O’Neill, senior research fellow in the fashion history and theory department at Central Saint Martins briefed his students: they were going to rebuild part of the Pringle archive under O’Neill’s supervision. Enlisting the help of Central Saint Martins was a smart move, as building and maintaining an archive is a costly exercise. With this set-up Pringle got access to the resources at the worldfamous institution for free, and the students got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to build an archive spanning two centuries from scratch. Under the direction of O’Neill, they began to catalogue and preserve what remained and restore what was lacking. When O’Neill’s students arrived in Hawick they were shown to a room with bin bags sitting in puddles on the floor.
Pringle had always kept an archive. It was never properly catalogued or preserved but it did exist, until around 1975 when the then-managing director demanded a ruthless purge. Wearable garments were sold in bulk bales for next to nothing, and hundreds of ledgers, photographs and other records were destroyed. “It was vandalism, absolutely criminal,” says Leslie Rankin, the first female designer at Pringle in the 1960s, who was there for the bonfire. Rankin, alongside fellow designer Wallace Shaw rescued whatever they could. In brick vaults lit by bare bulbs, the air fuzzy with damp, he rummages through laundry bags and steamer trunks unearthing vests, long johns, v-necks and cardigans, all saved from the skip. We find a 1940s trompe l’oeil2 twinset in light camel, Pringle’s answer to looking chic in your Anderson air-raid shelter3. Two lines of ribbing complete with mother-of-pearl buttons and working button-holes run from either side of the round neck, down the centre front and perfectly mimic a cardigan over a sweater, saving considerable wool for the war effort. A 1950s peach slip in pure spun silk emerges like a crumpled cocoon. It is gauzy and gossamer-light with a shaped bust, fitted waist and gathered skirt with a butterfly design. Knitted on now-nonexistent lace frames4, it is also impossible to reproduce.
Trompe l’oeil (French for “deceive the eye”) refers to the visual technique in art and design where extremely realistic imagery is used to create the optical illusion that the depicted pattern or objects appear in three dimensions.
The Anderson air-raid shelter was designed in 1938 by William Paterson and Oscar Carl Kerrison to protect against bombing raids during the Second World War. The corrugated steel shelter was buried in back gardens and covered with soil. It could house up to six people. Around 3.6 million Anderson shelters were distributed before and during the war as cheaper and more convenient alternatives to the larger public shelters.
Perhaps most revered in its handmade form, lace production in the late 19th and early 20th centuries relied heavily on machine technology. Lace was made on a stocking frame by transferring stitches to form a net.
What did survive in the official archive wasn’t safe. Eager designers and technicians wanting knit swatches to recreate were let loose with scissors, slicing historic garments and samples to ribbons. The final nail in the coffin was hammered in the autumn of 2005. Days of heavy rain had caused the tranquil Teviot river to swell to a grey-brown raging torrent, finally bursting its banks, breaching the basement of the Pringle factory and pulping almost everything that was left. The Saint Martins’ students began by searching vintage dealers worldwide and national museum archives for rare pieces of Pringle’s past but that only got them so far, as O’Neill explains: “Our first intention was to try to build up the early history of the first 100 years, but its proven to be very hard in that Pringle was mainly a hosiery company, so the type of things it produced were not normally things that people kept. They would have cared for them, and repaired them, and circulated them through the family, but they wouldn’t have kept them as heirlooms. Also, the practice of labelling garments is a 20th-century phenomenon, so it is hard to attribute examples.”
The next step of the archiving process could have gone terribly wrong. As Pringle had been such a big part of the life of Hawick for so long, it made sense that there would be a tangible legacy of information and objects that had been accumulated by the population at large. And so, on 12 August 2010, the doors of the old yarn store were tentatively opened to the community once again. The Day of Record was an open call for local residents who may or may not have worked for the company to look through their wardrobes and cupboards, under their beds and stairs to bring in anything relating to the company – a newspaper cutting, a photograph, a twinset or a single sock. Bernie Harrington, Pringle’s then-head of public relations, had no idea if it would be a success. “We were a little nervous because we’ve never done anything like this before...” >
ARCHIVE OF MEMORIES
“IN BRICK VAULTS LIT BY BARE BULBS, THE AIR FUZZY WITH DAMP, HE RUMMAGES THROUGH LAUNDRY BAGS AND STEAMER TRUNKS UNEARTHING VESTS, LONG JOHNS, V-NECKS AND CARDIGANS, ALL SAVED FROM THE SKIP.”
5 Situated in London’s Mayfair, Savile Row is often referred to as the “golden mile of tailoring”. Famous for its traditional men’s tailoring since the early 19th century, the term “bespoke” is believed to have originated in Savile Row when cloth for a suit was said to “be spoken for” by individual customers.
Orhan Pamuk (b. 1952) is a Turkish novelist and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006.
> The company that decades ago had no use for the workers, was now needing their help. “We didn’t know what to expect, but with the students, the locals could see how enthusiastic they were, they could see it was authentic, they could see that we knew what they were talking about and that we are interested,” says Duverger. Hundreds arrived with carrier bags of cashmere, including the Provost of Hawick, a former Pringle model, Zandra Elliot in her chains of office. With the smell of the yarn immediately sending people back half a century or more, the Saint Martins’ students began collecting stories alongside the press cuttings and cardigans. “We decided that we would invest in oral history,” explains O’Neill, “as a way of documenting the details that people tend to carry around in their head, but don’t write down. We took transcripts and recordings and they will go into the archive. A big theme that came out of the Day of Record was the role that women played and we think it is an important story to tell, the number of locally raised girls that went on to have international careers with the brand.” These transcripts and the testaments are now on display in Hawick Museum in an exhibition called The Women Who Wore Pringle. It reads at times like a Cinderella-style rags-to-riches tale of local Hawick girls joining as secretaries and typists, rapidly finding themselves standing in as fit models before being whisked away to modelling school in London and then on to Savile Row5 for fashion shows in front of an international audience.
The findings from the Day of Record are still being catalogued, and the sourcing and recording of garments and information from the local community is ongoing. The resultant archive will be unique. Company archives are usually compiled according to corporate, impersonal opinion. Contemporary items and documents are put aside if they are thought worthy from this point of view, perhaps becoming of historical importance as time progresses. The majority of pieces in Pringle’s new archive will have existed outside of this framework for most of their life, surviving purely on their merits of use, aesthetics, quality of manufacture and sentiment as viewed by the lay person for whom they were designed and performed as they were designed to do. Only time will tell if this kind of retrospective archive is of more or less use than a conventional one. A full chronology will never be possible, with the first 100 years destined to remain forever incomplete. It will, however, be made up of garments that did their job and were loved for it, replete with documents and photographs of times that people wanted to remember.
The idea of rebuilding an archive from memories is a poetic one and an interesting approach by a commercial brand. Tinted with the same romanticism demonstrated at Orhan Pamuk’s6 Museum of Innocence that is yet to open in Cukurcuma, Istanbul. Pamuk’s museum tells of a fictional history and is based on his book of the same name. It charts the objects belonging to one woman, as collected by her lover, where each object holds talismanic qualities to produce the memory of her. While Pringles ex-employees are probably not going to conjure the same tender love for the company, it is nevertheless an interesting exercise in building something bottom-up.
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However, the mammoth task of rebuilding an alternative archive was not the only involvement that Central Saint Martins had with Pringle. When the Day of Record was over, the fashion history and theory students presented their findings to the MA fashion design students at Central Saint Martins, who then worked with Pringle’s design team to produce a capsule collection of garments inspired by the new archive. Although an interesting premise, as it is not simply a student project but also an ongoing collaboration, it nevertheless smells of commercial opportunism, which could have perhaps been executed more subtly a few years down the line. However, every piece in this collection is being made by a local workforce in Hawick in the 1898 premises of the Peter Scott factory on Buccleuch Street. A majority of Pringle’s cashmere is knitted here in the labyrinthine machine rooms where antique knitting frames rasp and clatter under dirty skylights and once‑white wooden eaves, exuding a glorious yellowing scent of hot metal and concrete, waxy grease, oil thickened by cashmere dust. >
Promotional image for Pringle from the 1950s.
ARCHIVE OF MEMORIES
Female workers in the sewing room of the Hawick factory, prior to its closure in the early 1970s.
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“EVEN IN A WORLD WHERE THE NEW AND THE NEXT IS THE KEY SELLING POINT, MANY LUXURY BRANDS MAKE THEIR HERITAGE A CENTRAL FOCUS.”
Intarsia is a knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours.
Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895–1972) founded his eponymous fashion house in 1914. It was headed by him until 1968. It lay dormant until 1986 when the French company, Jacques Bogart SA, acquired it. Balenciaga is now owned by the Gucci Group with its womenswear and menswear headed by Nicolas Ghesquière.
Marni is an Italian fashion label, founded by Consuelo Castiglioni (b. 1959) in 1994. Her designs as the label’s chief designer have been noted for their asymmetry, large volumes and unusual prints. Chloé is a French fashion house founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion (b. 1921). Rejecting the stiff formality of 1950s haute couture, Aghion created a line of high quality off the rack pieces that she termed “luxury prêt-àporter.” Other designers to have worked at the fashion house include Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo. The fashion year is typically composed around four collections: spring/summer, prefall, autumn/winter and resort (or cruise).
10 The Gucci Museo opened earlier this year in Florence to coincide with the Italian label’s 90th anniversary. The museum is situated inside the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia located in the city’s Piazza Signoria.
The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa is founded by the Balenciaga Foundation rather than the brand itself. It opened in June 2011 and is located in Getaria in Spain – the birthplace of the fashion house founder. It has a collection that consists of approximately 1,200 of his pieces, spanning from the 1910s to the 1960s. See Exposé on p.30 for more details. READING LIST Vintage Knitwear by Marnie Fogg, CARLTON BOOKS, 2010 The National Fabric: Fashion, Britishness, Globalization by Alison Goodrum, BERG, 2005 The Culture of Knitting by Joanne Turney, BERG, 2009
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> The only knitting technique not practiced at Peter Scott is hand intarsia7, which takes place a few minutes’ drive away at the Roxburghe Hand-Knits workshop. The time this takes is limited only by the complexity of the design; one of the designs from the Saint Martins collaboration features a four-colour roaring lion, its mane cascading down one sleeve. It takes a single worker around 20 hours to complete this garment, laying rows of cashmere one by one according to a hand-drawn chart. So here the expertise and know-how, which is also documented in the archive, is being kept alive by production.
Local skills like these are what the new creative director Alistair Carr, formerly of Balenciaga, Marni and Chloé8, is keen to exploit and continue to invest in. It was the company history and manufacturing expertise that were the initial attraction for him. “Archives are the most inspiring things for me; to look at the techniques; look at what’s been done and then take it completely out of context,” says Carr. “There was a photo from the Day of Record of a fit model in the 1960s, which inspired the whole pre-collection9. It was just a black and white photograph, but the actual piece was all psychedelic colours. It was a white top with a knitted, printed cardigan, and it just makes this beautiful white graphic band in the middle of all this colour, and that was the start of the collection. What I love as well is all the crazy argyles. You absolutely wouldn’t want to wear them, but you could use it as a starting point, to make it chic and to move it on.” The archives of a fashion house are both its past and its future: its DNA. As well as providing the historical stability and inspiration, they also offer a kind of reassuring ratification to new designs and directions – an authenticity. In recent months, both Gucci and Balenciaga have opened museums over their respective histories10, but here the history is straighter, more polished and above all, more financial investment has gone into making them a reality, with custom-designed exhibition spaces dedicated to displaying the brands’ pasts. The students of Saint Martins’ have brought some of its past back to Pringle, but packaged in a more alternative fashion. With the proper care and direction, it can come to grow up to a meaningful documentation of history, not only for the knitwear brand, but for the community that helped build it over the past two centuries. However, that future currently seems far away. The white-gloved care and attention that is normally associated with an archive is still missing. When asking to photograph some of the archival material, several plastic crates, containing a mix of cuttings, black and white photographs and garments are brought out from a store room at the back of the Pringle London offices. It’s contradictory as the temporary exhibition in the Pringle shop downstairs, telling the customers of the archive project, has been set up to mimic the idea of archival care. Cuttings are mounted behind glass in a filing cabinet, books are displayed on Perspex cradles.
The discrepancy between the two scenarios risks revealing the archiving exercise as nothing else than a clever marketing strategy to bring Pringle back to the attention of the fashion press. Only time will tell the real outcome, but if the proper resources aren’t spent on building and maintaining the archive, the future of guarding Pringle’s past looks bleak.
One September morning, a queue forms outside 7a Wakefield Street in Bloomsbury, London. This is the venue for Alistair Carr’s debut womenswear collection for Pringle of Scotland and the fashion press Tweets excitedly about the star-studded front row. As the guests settle in their places in the bare, white space, the lights go down and everything falls quiet for a brief moment before the show starts. Maybe it’s just because of my privileged insight into parts of the archive over the past months but many of the themes that came though in Carr’s collection seem to have their foundations in Pringle’s history. The trompe l’oeil twinset is reincarnated in a contemporary vision of a v-neck drawing on eight-bit computer graphics. The intarsia work of Roxburghe Hand‑Knits was put to the test in a pattern that mimicked a chunky cable knit. The power of Pringle’s heritage was made blatantly clear in this show and it highlights even more acutely how its archive needs continued care and attention.
Felix Wolodymyr Chabluk Smith is a menswear designer who has first-hand experience of the importance of archival material. Every garment in his graduation collection from Edinburgh School of Art was built up from fragments of late-Victorian tailoring patterns, with no modern patterns or blocks used, creating clothing with a bloodline. He has recently started a MA in menswear at Royal College of Art, London.
Image from Pringleâ€™s advertising campaign in the 1950s.
ARCHIVE OF MEMORIES
6:00PM This was something that pleased him: order and containment, each item laid out impeccably and in its rightful place. It all made sense in his mind. Out the corner of his eye, a flickering light disturbed his reflections. Line 1 was alight. It was still his preferred mode of communication: he had no patience with his mobile phone, a bothersome necessity. Certainly he was not about to engage in the frivolity of the internet. He communicated with the world on his terms. He waited until the flashing ceased and went to take the phone off the hook. It rang just as he lifted the receiver. Irritated, he took a deep breath, â€œErnesto Bones!â€? The line went dead. He went back to his work, all the drawing plans lined up just so, only to realise that he had been given the wrong instructions. This put him in a precarious and risky position. How would the others know where to meet him? How would they know who he was? The best way to deal with the problem was to get the airport, and fast. He rifled through the drawer that contained his passports, but he needed to remember which one he should use. The other plans were trapped safely between the frame and the carefully mounted photograph underneath the stairwell. Hurriedly, he collected up the assignment papers, rolled them into his travel bag and proceeded towards the spiral stairs for the telephone. Shelley Fox, FASHION DESIGNER, NEW YORK
Olympic Stadium by Populous (formerly HOK Sport). During the Games the Olympic Stadium will have a capacity of 80,000, including 55,000 seats on a temporary upper tier. It will be the venue for the Olympic and Paralympic Athletics competitions and will also host the opening and closing ceremonies.
Macroscopic Olympiad The London 2012 Olympic Games are transforming 2.5 sq km of land in east London to an Olympic Park. Photographer Giles Price's Macroscopic Olympiad chronicles its development through a series of aerial photographs. The detailed and abstract perspectives on the site borders on the decorative, but these extreme close-ups also invite a more detailed examination and questioning of the utopian packaging of the area. PHOTOS Giles Price
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Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid Architects. The Aquatics Centre comprises a permanent central structure with two temporary seating wings during the Games, which increase capacity to 17,500. The Water Polo Arena next door is a temporary structure with a capacity of 5,000 containing competition and warm-up pools.
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Hockey Centre by Stanton Williams. The temporary Hockey Centre will be relocated after the Games. The two pitches will also host Paralympic football 5-a-side and 7-a-side matches.
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Key bridge by Heneghan Peng Architects. This footbridge in the centre of the Olympic Park forms part of the main walkway through the park. Like many of the bridges here it has been designed with a temporary section to carry increased numbers of spectators during the Games.
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The Olympic and Paralympic Village is comprised of 11 residential blocks with apartments for around 17,000 athletes and officials. After the Games, there will be 2,800 new homes available in the area.
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8:00PM Bugger this he thought, his stomach rumbling. Something steadying is required; the dying flowers are making him slightly sick. He emerged through the trap door. A cold roast partridge in the fridge and a piece of cheddar would put him back on track. A glass or two of Burgundy all helped down by shuggering in the Mies Van Der Rohe chairs round the dining table. He starts to wonder how many times you would have to shugger until the chairâ€™s steel frame would give way. Not the night to attempt such a thing. After a small digestive (his favourite Fernet Branca, a bitter brew), he took out a cigarette, not entirely sure whether he smoked or not, but it seemed a good idea to try. As it happened, he smoked two more, musing on the fact that his home was full of open galleries. When he was downstairs and looked up at the gallery, there was no one there to wave to or beckon down to join him, and when he went up the stairs there was no one to look down on. However fast he ran up and down the stairs the situation did not improve. Another glass of Fernet Branca helped a little. Spending too much time by himself, as the night drew in, his thoughts turned to merriment and carousing. Fergus Henderson, CHEF, LONDON
As Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec prepare for their biggest retrospective to date, Disegno gains an insight into their studio and the set-up of the exhibition. WORDS Johanna Agerman Ross PHOTOS Linus Ricard
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Erwan (left) and Ronan Bouroullec share an office. It is a cosy mess of prototypes, their completed designs and a few design classics, such as Vico Magistrettiâ€™s Selene chair from 1969 (next to Erwan).
See p. 22.
Compasso d’Oro is an Italian industrial design award that was founded in 1954 by the Milanese department store La Rinascente. Since 1964 the award is handed out by Associazione per il Disegno Industriale annually.
The Centre Pompidou Metz opened in 2010 and is designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and French architect Jean de Gastines. It is opened around two hours from Paris by the TGV (Trains à Grande Vitesse). The exhibition remains open until 30 July, 2012.
Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Works by Anniina Koivu will launch in April 2012.
5 Gottfried Semper (1803-1879) wrote The Four Elements of Architecture in 1851, exploring the origins of architecture.
hen Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec were young they used to visit their mother’s great uncle in the countryside. To pass the time while the grown-ups were talking they kicked a football on the gravelled drive in front of the house. It was built for two families and it was neatly cut down the middle, but they never knew who lived on the other side.
“To my surprise mum told me not so long ago that it was her great uncle’s brother, but we never met him as far as I can remember,” says Erwan Bouroullec, tucking into a spicy beef dish at his favourite Thai restaurant in Belleville, north-east Paris. He likes telling stories. The two uncles had run a carpentry business together, but had fallen out and were no longer on speaking terms. They had, however, remained physically close in this Jacques Tati-esque, symmetrical existence. “That’s what mum has always been nervous about – what working together does to mine and Ronan’s relationship as brothers.” Erwan tells the story in such a matter-of-fact way that the sad undertones are lost, but the nature of his and his brother’s collaboration is obviously something he has considered many times. Ronan, five years older and quieter than his brother, is back at the studio, eating a sandwich while keeping an eye on the office. It’s late July, a week until France goes on annual summer leave. Five days from now the studio will be empty and there is a lot to wrap up before then. A sense of taking stock is hanging in the air.
Over the past decade, French designers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec have built a steady reputation as one of contemporary design’s most important names. They have longstanding relationships with furniture manufacturers Vitra, Magis, Cappellini and Kartell, and have designed interiors for such fashion brands as A-POC1 and Camper. Their signature is a sensual, poetic design style that doesn’t reveal the dual authorship. They create intriguing and complex furniture that often addresses the living conditions of the postmodern age – small, flexible and constantly changing spaces.
In the month that I meet them, the Bouroullecs’ Steelwood chair for Magis has won the prestigious Compasso d’Oro2 award (the news is met with a gentle shrug by both brothers) and it is two months until their biggest exhibition to date, Bivouac, will open at the Centre Pompidou-Metz3, followed by the release of a monograph by Phaidon, their second with the publisher4. A mock-up of the cover is lying on the desk of their long-term employee Felipe; it is grey and tombstone-like, with the title Complete Works. Are the Bouroullecs trying to say something?
“We’re only playing around with names at the moment,” says Ronan, brushing off a remark on the finality of the title. He is fiddling with a scale model of the Bivouac exhibition – a long and narrow space filled with their pieces from the past ten years. The title of the exhibition reveals their preoccupation with temporary set-ups, a bivouac being an impermanent shelter or camp. There are several pieces in the exhibition that serve as this type of shelter – Twigs and Algues for Vitra (2004) are made from injected plastic pieces that snap together to create partitions, and Clouds (2009) for Kvadrat are flat, irregular shapes covered in felt, assembled with the help of elastic bands to create three-dimensional cloud-like textures. These hangings bring to mind German architect and writer Gottfried Semper’s text on the use of carpets as definers of space in early civilisations5: carpets hung from a frame fulfilled the structural and practical needs of sheltering, he wrote. It’s as if the Bouroullecs are addressing this first and very basic need of architecture through their design.
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Compared to many of their contemporaries, the Bouroullecs offer an extraordinary sense of space through their work, with their furniture forming a landscape, a world of its own. Sometimes it even forms whole rooms, such as Lit Clos, a cage-like bed on stilts for Galerie kreo in 2000; the sofa made for the same gallery in 2008 that is placed in a 2m-by-3m box standing on its side; or the Alcove sofa for Vitra in 2007 with such a high back and sides that it cuts out any sensory experiences of one’s surroundings. “I would like to be a good architect,” says Ronan, moving the miniatures of the exhibition around in an oblong box. “But I know I will never be.” False modesty or not, he and his brother are good manipulators of space. It is no surprise that they are drawn to creating such free-flowing environments given Ronan’s admission to claustrophobia. “I have always been, for as long as I can remember,” he says. He regularly needs to escape Paris, renting a cottage on the river an hour outside of the city or visiting his house on the coast of his native Brittany, 500km away. “I must go there every so often, just to breathe the air,” he says. >
There are seven people working in Bouroullecâ€™s studio. Here is Erwan with Emi.
The window sill in the studio is a collage of objects and samples stuck to the window. Here is the flyer for the Bivouac exhibition and the Vegetal chair for Vitra as a miniature model (middle).
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“ERWAN OFTEN POPS OUT FOR A CIGARETTE, SMOKING 20 OR 25 A DAY AND RONAN SOMETIMES JOINS HIM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE STEPS, NOT SMOKING, FOR ONE OF THEIR MANY DISCUSSIONS.”
The term CAD monkey is not very flattering. It refers to somebody who has gone through years of education in engineering or architecture, only to wind up with the repetitive job of doing one task on a computer drafting program.
Galerie kreo, based on Rue Dauphine in Paris was founded by Didier and Clémence Krzentowski and works with designers such as Martin Szekely (see p. 10), Marc Newson and Jasper Morrison.
> The Bouroullec headquarters are housed in a former clothing warehouse in Belleville. Here the brothers share the same office, closed off from the rest of the studio by a partitioning wall with a big glass window. Their desks stand side by side, overlooking the courtyard with north-facing light. It is pleasantly unruly. Paper models of furniture are scattered about and behind Ronan’s desk is the Self shelf for Vitra. It is full of books and magazines, showing off the shelves’ full potential. “Erwan says he doesn’t read,” says Ronan. “I buy a lot of books, but I don’t read so much either. I like books about objects, not necessarily about design.” Next to him is a floor-to-ceiling mirror leaning against the wall, giving the illusion of more space, while behind Erwan’s desk is a blackboard of the same size, sketches of a chair taking shape on it.
The stand-out piece in the room is the Steelwood chair for Magis that launched in 2007. Normally seen in red, white or black, this version is untreated, with bare wood and metal. It reveals a completely different character to the chair, which was an experiment in how to fuse wood with metal to lower the cost of production. “It’s the best version, the Steelwood in bare metal,” says Ronan. “Magis weren’t happy with how it came out – there are small marks on it from the process of making and the colour conceals that. There is always a problem in this industrial world when there is a flaw – is it a problem or is it the charm of something?” The chair standing here has gone through the ultimate test, spending six months outside Ronan’s house in Brittany, by his own account a “terrible” house with only the bare necessities – electricity, water and a stunning view of an often stormy Atlantic. “I often take prototypes there to see how the furniture looks in context, and this one I left outside to see how the non-oxidisation treatment worked.” The chair looks as good as new, and now he hopes that the Compasso d’Oro award will make Magis consider launching the original version, colourless, as was first intended. The Steelwood process is a reminder of the frustrations of furniture design and the long turnaround time from idea to finished product, often revealing a compromised result not in line with the original idea. It’s not difficult to see, then, that the process of staging a retrospective is an honour as well as a burden. “Without the exhibition we are already conscious about where we can be better,” says Erwan, revealing the show as an exercise in evaluating the past ten years not only for visitors but also for the brothers themselves. “It’s quite interesting to fix work in a certain period,” says Ronan. “Afterwards you can forget it.” Before the Bouroullecs moved to Belleville they were based above lock-up garages in the rough suburb of San-Dénis, but even in this bigger and more central location, the space reflects their modesty. They are not interested in a sleek design studio with countless CAD monkeys6 behind computer screens in neat lines. There are only eight people working here (including Erwan and Ronan) and the atmosphere is relaxed and hands-on. Ronan and Erwan are involved every step of the way, and can often be seen leaning over people’s screens to give some input or instruction. They are not interested in expanding. “We turn down around 90% of all work that we’re offered,” says Ronan, highlighting their privileged situation. “That’s the benefit with being a popular designer, the freedom.” While cosy, the studio still has everything it needs under one roof – there is a mezzanine level with a makeshift photography studio and a kitchen, and a basement containing a workshop and an archive of sorts – boxes with drawings and models.
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Erwan often pops out for a cigarette, smoking 20 to 25 a day, and Ronan sometimes joins him at the bottom of the steps, not smoking, for one of their many discussions. That’s how I found them earlier in the day, looking comfortable, familiar, brotherly, but for the rest of the day they work separately, even preferring to answer questions by themselves. “Otherwise we argue a lot about the use of words,” says Erwan. “We give a lot of time to details that don’t make any sense in the real world or to other people.” Instead they take to quoting each other. “Erwan said last week” or “Ronan always says” often open their sentences, revealing that it is the power of two that makes the Bouroullec brand so strong. “They are completely different personalities,” says their friend Didier Krzentowski, owner of Paris design space Galerie kreo7. “Ronan is really anxious about everything, Erwan is more free, and they know that. It makes them a terrific design couple.” And yet their professional life started out entirely by accident. >
Ronan in front of the Self shelf for Vitra, 2004. He is trying out the new Cercles iPad app that the studio launched to coincide with the exhibition.
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An overview of the installation process of the Bivouac exhibition at Pompidou Metz.
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The idea of how the Bouroullecs play with creating space can here be seen. From left: Clouds by Kvadrat, 2008; Rocs by Vitra 2006 and Losanges rug for Nanimarquina, 2011.
“IF I COULDN’T DESIGN ANY MORE I THINK I WOULD BE ALRIGHT, BUT IF I COULDN’T DRAW I WOULDN’T SURVIVE. ”
> “I don’t know why exactly, because it’s not in our parents’ nature, but when I was seven they started taking me to art school every Wednesday,” says Ronan. He was bored by normal school, but art school was different – here he felt at home and at ease. By the time he was 15 he started a vocational college where he could spend much more time on applied arts. “All of a sudden I went from being very mediocre to being brilliant,” says Ronan, still happy at the memory. He went straight on to an industrial design school and then to the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris. Erwan’s trajectory was slightly different. For him it was music that was the deciding factor in his career choice. “It began with indie music when I was 14 or 15 – it became obvious that you could really make something on your own. The energy was based on a freedom of creation and its goal was to please, surprise. That’s why I went to art school,” says Erwan. Drawing still forms a huge part of the Bouroullecs’ work. In the Bivouac exhibition, an 80m-long wall is covered in small drawings in specially designed white Corian frames. The drawings range from obscure to figurative and are instantly attractive. Emotional, sinuous, quirky and humorous, they are extremely personal. “If I couldn’t design any more I think I would be alright,” says Ronan. “But if I couldn’t draw I wouldn’t survive. I think Erwan expressed it perfectly the other day when he said that the discipline of drawing is very positivist and it’s a quick outcome, very different from the long process of creating a product.” The brother’s drawings were the subject of another exhibition, Album, shown in Bordeaux earlier this year. It was an exhibition of ideas where the Bouroullecs decided to present their work in its most raw state, free from the imprint that production and marketing often leave on a finished product. “There is a misunderstanding in the general public concerning the process of design as an idea, a sketch and then a product,” said Ronan when the exhibition opened. “We contradict this, for example, in a room where we show 100 drawings around the Vegetal chair. They all seem to be the same yet are all different.” It’s an attractively low-fi approach to solving a problem or question around form, and it is this detail of their working process that might be at the core of the sensual and romantic aesthetic of the finished product. However, confides Erwan teasingly, “Ronan can’t even work in the most basic 3D modelling program.”
So while Erwan looks after the more technical details, Ronan supervises the imagery of their products, always working closely with photographer Paul Tahon. “We started the discipline in an interesting period,” says Ronan. “The beginning of the internet. I remember I spent a lot of time in the post office sending slides to magazines in the beginning.” He made a “not very interesting table” when he was 18 and got some press attention, simply because he had bothered to document it through photography. “I quickly understood the importance of the picture,” he says. Nowadays you can spot a “Bouroullec shot” a mile off. The sense of space and perspective is always present, and the addition of cut-out figures – sometimes of Ronan, sometimes of the photographer or a friend, with their back turned to the camera, surveying the landscape ahead – is an ever-present visual prop. “I like to take inspiration from Romantic landscapes for our imagery,” says Ronan. The resulting images are highly unique.
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While the process of taking stock is underway, what are they looking to do next? It is obvious that the Bouroullecs are frustrated at their profession’s slow pace, and the desire to be intuitive, to improvise, is in both of them. “I am often envious of people designing mobile phones,” says Erwan. “As their function changes all the time, it is more obvious why they need a new design. But Ronan often says that in order for that to be interesting, you need to be working in-house for a company, and then we would lose our freedom.” It’s somewhat difficult to envisage the brothers as in-house designers anywhere, their individuality having been so carefully preened for a decade. Even in their long-term collaborations with brands such as Vitra, the constraints of company policy get too much at times. It was a few years ago, after a particularly tense meeting at Vitra, that Ronan started feeling claustrophobic while flying. “I had been fine for years, but all of a sudden it came back,” says Ronan, who now deems himself an expert on perfectly dosing medication so that “you sleep on the plane but are alert once you land and have to go directly to a meeting”. >
Erwan, Felipe, Claire and Ronan during the exhibition installation at Pompidou-Metz. Behind them, a wall of drawings and photographs of the work.
The pink colour of the Slow chair for Vitra, 2007, is the result â€œof a horrible red and a horrible white yarn knitted together.â€?
The Cloud module for Cappellini, 2002, standing by the window. Below: cups and saucers from from the Aio 2000 collection for Habitat Europe, 2000; Stone bowl for the French Ministry of Culture, 2002; Piani lamp in red for Flos, 2011.
Claire and Ronan position the Losanges rug for Nanimarquina, 2011.
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Object line-up. Steelwood bookshelf for Magis with black and white Steelwood chairs in front, 2007; The chair in the middle is the Striped chair in metal for Magis, 2005; In the foreground the Papyrus chair in plastic for Kartell, 2008; The Osso CNC-milled chair for Mattiazzi, 2011, stands at the very front; A corner of the Alcove sofa for Vitra, 2007, can be seen to the left.
Clockwise from this picture: Ovale for Alessi, 2010; Combinatory vases for Cappellini, 1998; Milk jug from the Aio 2000 collection for Habitat Europe, 2000.
“IT WAS DIFFICULT TO CONVINCE THEM TO WORK WITH A GALLERY AT FIRST. AS WITH ALL DESIGNERS, THEY THOUGHT ITALIAN COMPANIES WERE THE ONLY INDUSTRY.”
READING LIST Cercles by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, WWW. BOUROULLEC.COM/IPAD The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings by Gottfried Semper, CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2011 Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec with texts by Giulio Cappellini, Rolf Fehlbaum and Issey Miyake, PHAIDON, 2003
> One way the Bouroullecs have brought in some variety to their practice is to branch out into other areas of product design. They designed the Axor Bouroullec bathroom suite for Hansgrohe last year, and the critically acclaimed Ovale series for Alessi also launched in 2010 – a collection of irregularly shaped containers and utensils in stainless steel and porcelain. Further exploration comes through the collaboration with Galerie kreo, where they have free reign to create what they want under the direction of Clémence and Didier Krzentowski. “It was difficult to convince them to work with a gallery at first,” says Didier. “As with all designers, they thought Italian companies were the only industry.” But some of the brothers’ most intriguing work has come out of this collaboration, such as the Lianes lamp (2010), an attempt to unify the cable, light and shade into one entity. The result is a creeper-like installation executed in leather, and the limited-edition project found another incarnation as the Aim lamp for Flos this year. The idea of the limited edition brings the designers closer to the end consumer, so is this a relationship the Bouroullecs cherish? “I’m quite afraid to find people that like what we do,” says Ronan. “After a certain time I always see a lot of problems in the projects that we have done, so to find someone that is happy to have it around is a bit problematic for me.” Tellingly, most of the pieces in the studio are halffinished or prototypes.
The working day is drawing to a close and in normal fashion, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec are wrapping up work on time. “We never work late or on weekends,” says Erwan. “But I’m a monofocused guy and I tend to think about design all the time, as well as cooking and my daughter.” Judging from Ronan’s often distant blue eyes, it seems he is no different. And what about each other, do they ever meet up outside of the walls of the studio? “Not much, actually,” says Erwan. “We see each other enough during the day. I guess this is what mum worries about.”
Erwan installing the Baguettes chair for Magis, 2011, at the Pompidou-Metz.
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Ten years of products being unwrapped, from back to front: part of a light for Galerie kreo, 2008; Objets Lumineux for Cappellini, 1999; Metal side table for Vitra, 2005.
9:00PM “Carousing,” he said, toasting his reflection in the window. “Carooooowsing. Yes, we caroused. We made merry – often with liquor – we boozed, we drank, we frolicked, we went on a spree. We had fun, imbibed, painted the town red, played, quaffed, raised Cain, revelled, rioted, roistered, wassailed and positively whooped it up. And thus, we were not sad nor did we grieve. Together, we beat the drum.” Shuddering slightly from his drink’s stinging pungency, Bones drained his glass. “One is all right, two is too many, three is not enough.” She liked to tease him about his drinking and had a penchant for taking other people’s phrases (Thurber? On the martini?) and making them her own. From inside the cabinet Bones pulled out his old Ferrograph tape recorder – “built like a tank!” – and a tape marked “Julia – Generation X”. Clicking the reel into place, he pressed play. “I know I could take an easier path, be a teacher, a banker, go to law school. But being an artist is all I’ve wanted. You know? It may be 15 years before I get my first show. There’s going to be a lot of work between now and then that won’t seem to go anywhere. But it’s a different system of rewards to other careers. You don’t get the raise or the promotion. You have to keep working, almost to the point of craziness. I just hope that I can persevere. Because I can’t imagine living without it.” The voice was girlish yet earnest. The knowing irony, that catch in the back of the throat, had yet to enter her voice. But even then she seemed sure of herself. Bones looked at the picture above his desk: an aeroplane about to crash into a skyscraper. It was one of a several photographs of “planes on the verge of disaster” that she’d taken in summer 2001. The exhibition opened on September 10. Within a week the gallery had closed it down. On bad days, Julia thought that her images had caused the ensuing disaster. The pictures, the tapes – all were his now. Yes, he missed her. But would he have her back? Go through it all again and risk losing her once more? Not when he had all this. Alone in his study, the single light enveloping him in warmth, safe with memories that could not hurt him now. Helena Reckitt, CURATOR, LONDON
Design & fertility The birth of the seven billionth human has highlighted ongoing concerns about overpopulation, yet worries over fertility are just as prominent a subject for discussion. Disegno looks at how these concerns have manifested themselves in art and design.
PHOTO TUUR VAN BALEN
WORDS Johanna Agerman Ross
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The Artificial Biological Clock by Revital Cohen acts as a reminder of the fragility of fertility. The object identifies when a woman is physically, mentally and financially ready to conceive.
E 1 The Museum of Modern Art in New York is often referred to as MoMA. It opened in 1929.
Revital Cohen (b. 1981) is an Israeli designer based in London. Since studying Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, she has frequently collaborated with scientists, animal breeders and the British National Health Service.
Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects was an exhibition that closed in November 2011 at New York’s MoMA. The exhibition displayed objects that involved direct interactions, such as interfaces and information systems, as well as projects that established an emotional, sensual, or intellectual connection with their users.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a process by which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside of the body: in vitro. The first successful birth of a “test tube baby”, Louise Brown, took place in 1978. In 2010 the British physiologist Robert G. Edwards (b. 1925), who developed the treatment, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
5 The oral contraceptive pill, often referred to as “the pill” was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1960 and is currently used by more than 100 million women worldwide.
The intrauterine device (IUD) is a form of birth control that is inserted in the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The earliest form of an IUD was introduced by the German gynecologist Ernst Gräfenberg in 1929, entitled “Gräfenberg’s ring”.
arlier this year, the Museum of Modern Art in New York1 acquired a peculiar object for its design and architecture collection. Made from glass, resin and nickel-plated brass – and looking like a cross between an elaborate horological apparatus and a complex sex toy – it is called Artificial Biological Clock and was created in 2008 by Israeli interaction designer Revital Cohen2. As the name suggests, it’s prosthesis for a specific instinct: the urge to procreate.
“I was interested in how technology affects women’s biological clocks,” says Cohen from her London studio. “Advances in technology don’t only affect us socially and culturally, but also biologically. They change the way our bodies act – and because of the pressure on women nowadays not to think about themselves as women, the concept of fertility and how fragile and short it is doesn’t enter many people’s minds until it’s too late.” The Artificial Biological Clock assists women in remembering the ideal time to have a baby. Each month a white ball drops from the machine, completing a metaphorical menstrual cycle and presenting a reminder of the irreversible nature of time. But as well as providing a visual representation of one’s biological clock, the device is electronically connected to your bank, your therapist and your doctor. When feedback from all three is deemed to be optimal, the machine lets you know that now is a good time.
“It’s not very complicated,” says Cohen. “It’s just another internet service really.” And the notification doesn’t come kicking and screaming, the machine simply releases a bubble, demonstrating both the ephemeral state of fertility and the concept of the “perfect time”. As Cohen puts it: “I wanted it to be subtle.” However, there is just one Artificial Biological Clock in existence, and Cohen doesn’t intend to make any more. She sees the object as a physical question, a conceptual object. “I don’t make commercial things,” she says. “For what I want to achieve, just one is enough.”
The clock has been on continuous display in exhibitions around the world since Cohen made it for her graduation project in interaction design at the Royal College of Art in London, and it has now come to rest in the New York institution, where it was included in the recent exhibition Talk To Me3.
If Artificial Biological Clock is a record of early 21st-century attitudes to fertility and childbearing in the Western world – where modern reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilisation4 makes it increasingly difficult to form a realistic view of how long a woman may put off having children – the archives of the Wellcome Library in London record the attitudes to childbearing in times past. They also offer some explanation as to how our current attitudes have manifested themselves.
Here, the histories of the contraceptive pill5, IUDs6, injectables7 and implants8 are told through the annals of medical history and through the collections of physicians dedicated to the cause. The unique archive holds research documents, newspaper clippings and, more interestingly, leaflets accompanying various contraceptive methods and devices. Through these duo-tone pamphlets, it is clear to see how contraceptives have changed the landscapes of both parenting and womanhood. In the 1960s, the era during which most of today’s
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contraceptive solutions entered the marketplace, their development followed an almost simplistic trajectory – from being a relief from anxiety about having too many children, to giving a sense of freedom for women to enjoy sex and decide when was the “right time” for themselves. It is within this vocabulary of freedom that the roots of some of our contemporary anxieties around fertility are found.
“It seems that we are always relying on having options and choices – that we don’t have to make proper decisions because we always have the freedom to change,” says Brigitte Coremans9, a recent graduate from the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. “It’s also typical of our time that, when we decide for something to happen, it needs to happen straight away,” she continues, “and if it doesn’t, it is difficult to deal with.”
Coremans’ Life Clock echoes Cohen’s piece, in that it releases an egg through a steampunkinspired10 apparatus on a monthly basis, but her clock offers a timeline too: a string of beads – in shades ranging from pure white to dark grey – represents the number of eggs a woman is given in a lifetime and their “quality”. “You start off with seven million eggs when you are a foetus, and then it quickly depletes,” she explains, “so an average woman has only 500 eggs released in her lifetime.”
Her ticking clock could be seen as a stress-builder if ever there were one, but Coremans doesn’t see it like that. “The piece is about our limited chances to create life and our negotiation within our bodies to either accept or reject these chances,” she says. The project started with a study of natural rhythms and how to visualise them. Then she started to study rhythms in herself, and very quickly developed an interest in the particular monthly rhythms she experiences as a woman.
Injectables refer to fertility drugs taken via injection.
The contraceptive implant is a small, flexible tube that is inserted under the skin in the inner upper arm. It slowly releases the hormone progestogen and works for three years.
Brigitte Coremans (b. 1983) is a Dutch designer and graduate of the Grafisch Lyceum Utrecht (GLU) and Design Academy Eindhoven.
Mostly known as a 1980s subgenre of science fiction, and speculative fiction by authors like Bruce Sterling, Steampunk also refers to the material subculture that has stemmed from these retrofuturistic Victorian narratives. Presented in a Neo-Victorian fashion, Steampunk objects are usually constructed from materials such as tarnished brass and copper.
“I started to visualise what was happening in my body,” says Coremans, who didn’t have an end result in mind at the time. She stopped taking her contraceptive pills and became interested in understanding how her body worked. While the pill allows women to forget about their fertility and conception, Coremans went in search for hers – asking herself whether there may be healthier attitudes towards fertility than taking the pill, and whether she as a designer could add anything to these alternatives.
She started to examine the temperature method – already widely available via charts and special thermometers – but she wasn’t happy with their visualisation. Nor was she impressed with how they were integrated into everyday life. So Coremans developed a thermometer which, after measuring your temperature for one minute in the morning, sends the information with the click of a button to a wall-mounted printer that marks your ongoing temperature curve on a scroll of paper. It’s a beautiful object, created in brass, and thanks to its prominent position it is something that can easily be studied and scrutinised. Monitoring her own readings, Coremans noticed a significant difference in the period leading to the completion of her graduation project. “The stress and pressure of finishing the project knocked my monthly cycle out completely – as did the intake of a lot of alcohol.” So her Menstruation Clock doesn’t only tell you whether you’re fertile or not; it also gives an indication of your health and general wellbeing. “Of course, I could just have developed an app,” she says, “but to me it was important that it was also a beautiful, physical object. I even like the fact that at the end of your fertile life you have this memento – the scroll.” >
DESIGN & FERTILITY
PHOTO VINCENT VAN GURP
Brigitte Coremansâ€™ Cycle Clocks track and portray the female reproductive cycle, reintroducing women to the natural rhythm of their bodies.
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DESIGN & FERTILITY
12 Rachel Herz (b. unknown) is a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, specialising in the psychology of smell. Since 1990, her research has focused on the relationship between smell, emotion and cognition.
Soares identifies the sociocultural acceptance of her nasal objects (such as these cilia substitutes) by future generations. Opposite: Sniffing Others proposes tools that arouse the sense of smell in order to perceive compatible partners.
READING LIST Encyclopedia of Birth Control by Vera L. Bullough (ed.), ABC CLIO, 2001. Sexual Chemistry – a history of the contraceptive pill by Lara V. Marks YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2001.
> “It is interesting that we are all women,” reflects Susana Soares11, a Portuguese designer based in London. “Many of the developments in contraceptive medicine in the 20th century were made by men.” Soares is also questioning commonly available contraceptives through her work – specifically in a project called Sniffing Others. It is based on a study by Rachel Herz12, who researched the effects of the contraceptive pill on women’s sense of smell, and whether it affects the way they relate to and choose their partners. Soares is pushing the boundaries of what is accepted in terms of both genetic engineering and aesthetics, through creating nose prosthesis or “plugs” that will allow women to perceive, through smell, other people’s genetic code, in order to make the “right” choice of partner.
Back in the silence of the Wellcome Library, in front of countless glossy leaflets carrying the names of the most popular contraceptive brands, and personal introductory letters to GPs spelling out the benefits of this pill or that IUD or implant, it becomes obvious that the world of contraceptive medicine was – and still is – big business. It has of course had extraordinary benefits to many women across the globe, and the impact of the pill on women’s independence and the second-wave feminist movement in the 1970s is undeniable. However, after 50 years of tackling the issue of birth control with the same methods, and with an increasing number of women turning to alternative ways of conceiving, it might be time to reconsider our options. Asking physical questions, as Cohen puts it. “Sometimes I got the feeling that women seeing my exhibit thought I was doing something wrong,” says Coreman of her project. “Once a woman got very critical and told me how the pill freed women. But my work is not a criticism of the pill. It is simply a reflection that we stand still right now and we need to look at new possibilities.”
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PHOTOS SUSANA SOARES
Susana Soares’ (b. 1977) work involves developing collaborative frameworks between design and emerging scientific research.
12:00PM But, oh, the times they had. The way they were. It was midnight now, and that vile old nag – regret – was starting to sink in. He’d told himself that he wouldn’t let this happen, that he’d always push forward and never look back. But how many other promises had he made and then broken, how many other – “Stop it, Ernesto,” he muttered, as if anyone was listening. No. He was not that Ernesto Bones any more. He was through being the sad sack who would pick up the phone but not make the call, the has-been who always stopped short of the finish line, the dud who… blew that contest all those years ago. Remember that, Ernesto? It had started out so well. So well! “Sea World’s the World for Me.” He’d come up with that little ditty himself, and for that the radio announcer sent news across the air waves that Ernesto was headed to sunny San Diego. Six days, five nights, all expenses paid – and most of all, a shot at riding Shamu. Imagine that. The entire world would be watching! Ernesto saw his chance to prove his mettle, to show he was a man of the people. He prepared for months, cutting back on shortbread and puddings, and practising his stance for maximum impact in a wetsuit. He rehearsed his lines: “Why should I be nervous? Orcas are lovely creatures – friends to man, and deserving of our protection.” But when the moment finally came – with the crowds cheering, the cameras flashing, with all eyes on him – Ernesto did what he did so often: he froze. His mind shut down, his body seized up. They had to carry him off the platform – or so the next day’s papers said. Pouring himself a drink, Ernesto was determined to rectify the cowardice of his past, to undo the shame of that afternoon so long ago when, glistening like a shark, he shrivelled like an anchovy. Tonight, he would redeem himself, maybe even make history. Aric Chen, DESIGN CRITIC, BEIJING
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Eat work play The line between work and play is becoming increasingly blurred. What does it do for the office lunch? WORDS Sam Jacob PHOTOS Imagekontainer/Knรถlke
ou don’t need me to tell you that the economy that we live in seems unable to pull itself over the rim of recession, that there is little prospect of growth, that unemployment is rising. Our jobs are precarious, defined by short-term contracts and careers that last just months. Our labour rights are dissolving in the Americanisation of our economy. The idea of retirement is receding. We work multiple jobs, simultaneously. So do our partners. And neither of us see each other, our friends or the kids as much as we’d like. As the idea of job security has evaporated we find the presence of work leaking into our private and domestic spaces. Equally, the difference between work and non-work has eroded. Communication technologies have erased the spatial distinction between home and work. We are on call almost everywhere, almost all of the time. Ironically though, as work expands to dominate our domestic lives, work spaces themselves are becoming more domesticated.
Picture an old-fashioned image of the workplace. Picture those scenes in movies where the factory whistle blows, its gates open and its workers walk home down cobbled streets. Think of sit-coms where work regulates the life of its characters socially, economically and temporally. This is the world of work. It is work figured, for better or worse, by industrial capitalism. In this final flourish of the industrial revolution the structures of work, provided not only employment but the structure of society. Work here seems as secure and structured as it appears class-ridden, dull and repetitive. Yet in late capitalism, where relationships between labour and value exist in a hall of mirrors, we find a different idea of work. In keeping with the strange inverted logics of late capitalism, the response to this crisis of labour is not Marxist revolution but the phenomenon of the domesticated office. Here, the office becomes a place where you are not just an employee but part of a community. It reimagines the office as a place where we enjoy ourselves, where we have meaningful social interaction and relationships as though we were friends or even family. The origins of the domesticated workspace were first defined by the baby boomers, fuelled by their drive to redefine the world. The office as playground represented a wholesale rejection of the conventions of previous generations – workers on the factory floor or the salaryman of the bureaucratic corporation. Instead, ideas of freedom and self expression would be promoted. These freedoms would be deployed to destroy the hierarchies of work.
Warming lunch with food design in Guixe studio Barcelona.
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We see it in the cliches of pool tables, desks made out of surfboards, meeting rooms like picnic spots and other images of the workplace as leisure-space. You will hear its advocates argue that this increases our happiness. Yet management consultants will also tell you that these are strategies that aim to increase productivity.
Here then is the terrible dilemma: a nicer office is only being nice because of what it wants from you. The domestication of the office may make you feel at home but it is actually a strategy of advanced capitalism to make you more efficient.
Sam Jacob is a founding member of the London-based architecture firm FAT and a regular contributor to Icon and Arts Review. He also teaches at the Architecture Association and Yale School of Architecture while posting musings on strangeharvest.com.
The world of work now may not look like work. It might actually look like the opposite of work. Yet at the same time work continues to expand to fill our own domestic spaces. We might speculate that the only space we can construct the sensation of domesticity is now within the office, the idea of home having been colonised by work. Nowhere is this more visible than the communal office lunch where the image of family and friendship is deployed as a central agent of work. Here, we cook for each other. We sit together, pass each other salads and organic bread. Maybe, we even wash-up together. And as we do this, we get to know each other as people rather than workers, we share not only the food but time and ourselves. This collective activity binds us and breaks down differences that our working roles may set. We can talk in different ways, about different things. The collective lunch unwinds our professional selves, dismantles the very idea of the office and constructs instead a domestic scenario. It is nice, enjoyable and fun. The office lunch, like the office-as-playground, deliberately attacks the idea of work as an alienating, de-humanising activity. Yet it might also be regarded an escape from the frightening realities of contemporary work. On one hand, it echoes the secure sensation of old-work by resurrecting the idea of a canteen. On the other, it creates a feeling of domestic warmth. Neither may be true, as you pass the salad to your co-worker, but this is not the point â€“ the important thing is that these sensations are made palpable.
Of course, a shared lunch wonâ€™t take the place of transformed labour laws or de-unionisation. It wonâ€™t salve economic crisis and neither will it improve job insecurity. In an era where the solidarity of labour has been atomised, the collective lunch might be the nicest way to work before we are all summarily dismissed without.
EAT WORK PLAY
Where Ab Rogers Design Who (left to right) Shahid Hussein, Jun Takagi, Tom Housden, Louise Martin, Olivia Ward, Yosuke Watanabe, Ab Rogers, Philippa Stockdale, Lucie Reuter, Rosann Ling, Claire Wells, Paula Andren, Richard Greenwood What Falafels, flat bread, rice cake, hummus, taramasalata, home made tzatziki, various hot chilli sauces, lettuce, green, red and yellow peppers, cucumber, grated and sliced carrots, tomatoes, raw red onion, flat leaf parsley, olive oil When 20 September 2011 On design The house and studio was built in 1968 and is designed by Richard Rogers. The table was designed by Ab Rogers Design for a Richard Rogers & Architects touring exhibition and the chairs are the Polo Chair by Robin Day. On lunch Since the studio started, as Kitchen Rogers Design in 1998, they have eaten lunch together every day.
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The ritual of the office lunch is celebrated in a series of portraits of London-based creative studios. PHOTOS Kevin Davies
Where Martino Gamper and Harry Thalerâ€™s studio Who Martino Gamper (with carrot), Jason Whiteley, Naohiro, Francis Upritchard, Momoko Mizutani, Harry Thaler, Simone Mair What Pampa al pomodoro (tomato with bread), ginger pasta with beetroot, cooked carrots, satay When 6 October 2011 On design Martino Gamper designed the studio space and Harry Thaler helped build it, including the parquet floor. The furniture is an assortment of different pieces from different projects. The table was designed as part of a series called Gio Ponti translated by Martino Gamper. The chairs include the Sessel chair for Established & Sons, an upholstered monobloc chair and on the wall hangs various prototypes made from bent wood components of the Thonet chair. On lunch It is an important part of the day and the studio has always eaten lunch together, both in this and its previous studios.
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Where Pentagram Who Staff at Pentagramâ€™s London office What Moussaka with tomato salad When 5 October 2011 On design Theo Crosby, one of the founders of Pentagram, designed the studio. The table is a Pentagram design and the chairs are the Ant Chair by Arne Jacobsen, manufactured by Fritz Hansen. On lunch Lunch has been offered to all staff since the formation of Pentagram, 40 years ago. The chef on this occasion was Rebecca Reed.
EAT WORK PLAY
Where t.n.a. design studio Who (from left) Thorunn Arnadottir, Tomoko Azumi, Barbara Etter What Potato and pumpkin gratin with tomato and ginger sauce, carrot and apple salad When 1 November 2011 On design Tomoko Azumi designed the studio space in 2002, together with the office and living spaces. The collection of chairs around the dining table is a mixture of modern classics and t.n.a. studioâ€™s own design prototypes. Barbara sits on the Arne Jacobsen 3103 dining chair, Thorunn is sitting on a chair from Lammhults and Tomoko on the t.n.a.-designed Arc chair for Zilio A&C. On lunch The studio gets a delivery of organic vegetables once a week and there are three compost bins outside the studio for food waste, which they used for growing tomatoes last year.
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Where Mother Who Teams at Mother, Poke and Monkey Kingdom What Jerk chicken and vegetable jerk skewers, rice and peas, pineapple and coconut salad with lime and chilli dressing When 2 November 2011 On design The furniture comes from different sources. The tables are by ISM Design and the cladding on the bar is by Karl Crick. On lunch On this occasion, the lunch was prepared by Gavin from Lettice catering company.
EAT WORK PLAY
3:00AM At that moment the clock struck three: Ernesto went under the bed covers for a nap and immediately started dreaming of Ossian’s poems and those of the Latin poet Lucan, poems that spoke about cemeteries and the dead. He had the impression they were dedicated to him (Bones) and he woke up feeling as if he were buried in a coffin underground… It was the result of the overdoses of amphetamine, heroin, Benzedrine and Methedrine, drugs he’d been on since he was a child, so he wasn’t particularly scared. On the contrary, being buried alive filled him with a sense of safety and security when compared to the world of the living, as the living usually kicked him in the face. This sense of deathly well-being was brutally interrupted by the clock tower ruthlessly striking four… He got up, covered in cold sweat and started gathering the clothes scattered all over the room, in order to get ready for this damn meeting. He tried to recall at least his personal data, but he wasn’t sure of himself and his history… He searched, to no avail, beneath the furniture and under the bed for his trousers and his underwear; he had probably left them in the lift… He decided it wasn’t worth the while to get stressed and prepared to leave the house half naked. Outside, a freezing dawn was beginning to corrupt the night and pollute the streets. Andrea Branzi, ARCHITECT, MILAN
“People think this is an artwork, but I didn’t mean for that,” says Afghan-born designer Massoud Hassani. The Design Academy Eindhoven project is undergoing fierce tests at a military training ground to see if it is capable of its goal: detonating land mines. >
PHOTO RENE VAN DER HULST
Looking like a huge dandelion, the Mine Kafon is beautiful but its purpose is practical – life-saving even – as it is designed to be blown by the wind across the land to detonate mines.
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Massoud Hassani on a testing day of the Mine Kafon, or Mine Sweeper, with the Dutch Army in October.
the hands of communities. If the designer achieves his goal of producing Mine Sweeper cheaply, he will give agency to small communities, making it possible for them to “reclaim their own land,” he says. “It’s a difficult subject to discover how things happen, and there are many stories; but they say the mines were put down to mark the land – because they know it has lots of minerals, lithium and oil. Because of these land mines, people who live there can’t use the land.” It is an idea that originated when Hassani was growing up in Afghanistan; he and his brother often made toys that rolled in the wind, regularly taking off into land pitted with mines they couldn’t access. But it was a long while before the luxury of training as a designer entered his mind – back then, it was simply about survival. “There was war all the time, there was no education,” Hassani says, matter of fact. When he was 11, his father died in a war accident and the family fled in pursuit of safety: “We lived in 30 different places in and around Afghanistan, trying to find a better place – I counted once,” he chips in, breezing over the
It should be a really stupid thing and really cheap – with no mechanisms. horrific undertones. Once Hassani was 14, the family used its European connections to smuggle him into the Netherlands “by pretending I was 18, and someone else’s son,” he says. His family followed three years later. Given this journey, it is not a surprise that Hassani set out on a sensible career path at business school: “but I quit after three years – I didn’t like offices,” he says. He re-trained, and got a job working wellpaid night shifts for a security firm. It was here, with quiet to think, that Hassani wrote down a plan. He handed in his notice, and went back to school – packing four years into one – to get the qualifications needed for a place at Design Academy Eindhoven. “I know of one other Afghan designer who went to the academy,” says Hassani, as we discuss how under-represented Middle
Eastern designers are in the design industry. And yet the innovative project his insights have led to demonstrate just how in need the industry is of designers like Hassani, who can self-initiate solutions for problems the majority of us don’t fully understand the complexities of – or even know exist. But right now, there are benefits to being one of few: with the trace of business studies residing in his mind, Hassani is well aware he can profit from his position. Flashing half a smile he says, “There is a lot of inspiration in countries like Afghanistan – it just needs translating into Europe, and then you have a product that is totally different to anything around.” He shows me a series of cooking pots and pans that are inspired by processes used in Afghan cooking: “This one is based on sand cooking,” he says, picking up a pot filled with small pebbles; it absorbs the heat reaching extreme temperatures and cooks meat in around 10 minutes. We take a seat on low wooden chairs. “I made these for fun,” Hassani says, perched over an Afghan rug, the chair supports your back as you’re sitting on the ground – and is incredibly comfortable. Here, the designer starts talking about a side project particularly close to his heart. “I will probably make a kitchen there,” he says, pointing to an empty corner of his workspace. “My mum creates a lot of recipes, so she can experiment. There aren’t really any books on Afghan cooking and we want to put on paper how the meals should be made. There is a story behind every meal.” So Hassani and his mum are penning down the stories and recipes together, with Hassani taking the photos and arranging “how the dishes look, otherwise my mum will make in an Afghani way”. The plan is to bring Afghan recipes to Europe, where a big culinary hole resides. But, at its heart, this cookbook is about putting memories onto paper, and documenting a culture the pair are separated from. With this, just like with his Mine Sweeper, Hassani’s starting point is his past.
Anna Bates started out as writer at Icon and is currently researching a book on design and politics.
PHOTO RENE VAN DER HULST
To watch 196 Disegno. FORECAST
> The Mine Kafon, or Mine Sweeper, crawls the land, powered by the wind, setting off mines that it hits in its path. The piece is made of bamboo sticks attached to an injectionmoulded centre usually used in the car industry. Pads fixed to the end of the sticks apply pressure to a patch of land; if there’s a mine, “it loses a leg instead of you,” says Hassani, and carries on rolling. The addition of an integrated GPS device means the clean route can be tracked. It is a poetic solution for a devastating problem: “In Afghanistan, there are more landmines than people,” Hassani claims. “So people are prisoners in their own country.” At present, they cost “thousands of pounds to deactivate”, but Hassani hopes his Mine Sweeper will price up at €40. So it is no wonder the project attracted interest from The Netherlands’ Queen’s Commissioner, the Minister of Defence, and public praise from designers as varied as Swiss Yves Béhar, Italian Fabio Novembre and Dutch Maarten Baas. “But it’s probably not going to be a military product,” Hassani says. For now they are helping me out, but they only use things that are perfect, and this is not 100 per cent.” We’re sitting in Hassani’s new workspace – 50 sqm of a sparse echoey block in Eindhoven – the designer is turning over a small model in his hands. “I’m working on a new foot that captures the wind so the ball makes turns and doesn’t just shoot off in one direction,” he says. But while Hassani can engineer the product to move in a certain way, he can’t control it. There is also the problem of tracking the clean route, when many of these remote areas have no internet access. “The best solutions are robots, but they’re very expensive and steered by people, so it consumes a lot of time.” But to complicate Mine Sweeper would be to miss the point. “It should be a really stupid thing and really cheap – with no mechanisms,” Hassani says. At present, aid trusts and government organisations are slowly trawling the land; clearing mines from the western district of Herat – a five-year project – costing £11 million. Hassani’s proposal is more DIY: he wants this product to be in
Hassani started out studying business before embarking on a design degree at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
Putting on a garment by Nicola Morgan requires assistance.
Experimental orthogonal patterns in jersey are created by pinning the fabric to a board.
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Claw-like constructions fasten to a shoulder or the neck; soft jersey fabric drapes from these alien assemblages to conceal the body. Uninhabited, it’s impossible to see what the garment will become. Inhabited they form elegant dresses that feel like a contemporary take on the Parisian couturier Madame Vionnet, utilising 21st century technology to achieve the results. In Morgan’s pieces hightech production meets lowtech construction. Avoiding concrete definition in their oscillation between ornament, couture and architecture, the garment’s visible references are the rationalisation of a design process that has travelled beyond the confines of the fashion discipline. Morgan graduated with a Master of Arts degree from London’s Royal College of Art in the summer of 2011. Her final collection is a testament to the interdepartmental approach of the institution as her clothes use technologies more closely related to product and jewellery design. Her impetus was a set of questions as to how modular systems might impact fashion’s time frames and mutability. This began with
small-scale experimentation, stretching fabric in orthogonal patterns using various forming devices to test the range of possible permutations. Out of these initial studies came the inspiration for a joining method that sees the proposed garment inserted into a rigid frame, gathering the fabric along its length. It was in the search for an appropriate manufacturing process for these structuring devices that Morgan started exploring the different departments of her college, moving between her native Fashion department and those of Jewellery, Product Design and Rapidform. Her belief is that it is only within these interstices that “things become interesting ”. It was the expertise offered by the Rapidform department that proved pivotal to this project’s evolution. Here she was able to pursue an interest in the manufacturing possibilities provided by rapid prototyping technologies. Encouraged by the complexity and delicacy
Each piece will be tailored to the individual and the client returns to the designer over a number of years to have the fabric changed or recomposed. of form made feasible by machines more often utilised in the manufacture of product mock-ups or architectural models, the result is an incredibly intricate but highly delicate construction of plastic particles and glue binder. “These machines produce prototypes and prototypes are not really meant to be touched”, says Morgan. An obvious problematic for an object designed not only to come into intimate contact with the body but also to have a variety of competing stresses placed upon it. The material deficiencies were in fact twofold, not only durability but also tactility and appearance. The answer was to use the structure as a forming device over which copper or silver could be electroplated or coated
in industrial enamel. The beauty of this solution is the way in which this final stage reintroduces an element of imprecision into a design that would otherwise have been, given each prior stages of production, an example of the rather inhuman purity of digital manufacture. Instead these finishes create an object that to hold and examine appears to have a more artisanal origin. It is in this fusion of high technology and craft sensibility that the project acts as truly valuable exploration of contemporary production techniques. A task in which she is joined by other innovators, such as British Unfold studios and their printed clay vessels, in trying to humanise such abstract contemporary design tools. The collection speaks to a wider trend that sees the co-option of technologies once unreachable for those without large sums of money and expertise. Now, in what the creators of American MakerBot, the company that produced the first viable home 3D printer, call the “democratisation of manufacturing”, such systems are being positively exploited. After a tortuous fourweek production period (her manipulation of the process was such that it excised both the ‘rapid’ and the ‘prototyping’) Morgan is finally left with what she terms the “timeless element” of the garment. A device into which a range of fabrics might be fitted and arranged in multiple compositions. It is in the discrepancy between these two constituent parts, not only hardness against softness but also permanence against transience, that Morgan’s investigation of fashion’s temporal flux re-emerges. She envisions that each piece will be tailored to the individual and that the client returns to the designer over a number of years to have the fabric changed or recomposed. It’s an evolution of “the old-fashioned couture where you would go and spend time with your dressmaker to develop the piece,” says Morgan. But this, is the next step of the process and one which might prove harder to implement in fashion’s fickle craving for what’s new.
Peter Maxwell (see p. 6)
The final dress fitting at the Royal College of Art demonstrates how the fabric loops through the structure created with rapid prototyping technology.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit is taking shape in the Olympic Park.
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The 115 metres steel viewing tower, that Balmond designed with artist Anish Kapoor, is a local and imminent spectacle. Its red steel loop, like a warped Ferris wheel, is jutting up over the low East London skyline. Balmond, now sitting comfortably at his desk, dressed in sober corduroy, is undeterred by my efforts to address any tabloid vitriol against the Orbit’s divisive, vascular design. Instead, he quotes French writer Georges Bataille’s philosophy of l’informe, the unformed or formless, riffing on energy states and entropy. Balmond unflinchingly maintains that those critics who have been panning the Orbit are talking about it as an image, whereas it should be experienced as, well, an experience. “There are three tectonics at play; canopy, disc, and spiral star. It is a strange thing to be in, and it’s the first time such a complex form has been made without a continuous support; there is no discernible grid...” Cecil Balmond is one of the world’s most illustrious engineers and widely
acclaimed polymath. Being an integral part to engineering firm Ove Arup & Partners for more than 40 years and a founder of its Advanced Geometry Unit, he announced his departure from the firm a year ago. He then set up Balmond Studios in a quiet pocket of north east London. It has the normal busy hum of a young architectural practice, with models both prosaic and preposterous cluttered around the windowsills, desks occupied by eager and freshfaced staff. Balmond exudes an avuncular authority over his new domain. Spectacle, as well as structural genius, has become Balmond’s motif. Earlier this year, at the Targetti + Louis Poulsen showroom in Milan, Balmond’s H-edge installation formed an otherworldly landscape, embedded with ghostly illuminations. Another installation in Tokyo, exhibiting numerical, geometric and structural patterns, provoked the fantastic comment, “You can smell the abstraction,” from Japanese architect Toyo Ito. With Balmond Studios, he takes the opportunity to pursue more open-ended investigations; the studio
In the creation of artwork, Balmond identifies the freedom of control as the attractor. feels like a seedbed for ideas. “Suddenly, art critics started appraising these objects as artworks,” says Balmond referring to his installation pieces. “It’s strange, because it’s a completely different world, a different language.” Balmond seems unsure how to wear this new appraisal, admitting he is not yet established in the art world – and he gives no clue as to whether this is one of his intentions. But in the creation of artwork, Balmond identifies the freedom of control as the attractor. Balmond’s fascination with numerical mysteries and natural wonders is well documented; the man is certainly master of his own secrets too. Several grittier projects at Balmond Studios remain, for now, strictly hushhush: an interior design for a school in North America;
a large master-planning project in Asia; a building product [with American company 3M] capable of profound impact on the building industry, with a “high sustainability agenda”. For all Balmond’s intellectual underpinnings, he is not averse to popular culture. “There’s also the Bond Room,” Balmond divulges. Bond, as in James? “Yes, yes; it’s a venue at a luxury hotel resort in St Tropez.” He vaguely describes a crystalline roof – all glamour and fractal glass – and with more candour, mentions a fun meeting with the legendary Bond film production designer, Sir Kenneth Adam. At his most engaging, Balmond talks about the possibilities of narrative experiences in space, or rather in time; better yet, he revises, at the intersect of time and space. “But the phrase space-time is simplistic,” he says, “There is a singularity of time.” This lyrical waxing, particularly on metaphysics and mathematics, is a passion Balmond has indulged on the radio and Twitter too. His recent BBC World Service radio series, Iconic Geometry, allowed him to expound on the spiritual potency of number and form. This summer, Scotland was named the next place in the UK to be furnished with a Balmond creation, this time working with celebrated architectural theorist and landscape designer Charles Jencks. The Star of Caledonia at the Gretna Gateway is another extravagant swirl in the sky; it will be ready in time for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But grand commissions aside, Balmond Studios aims to provide enabling structure for new talent; Balmond describes it as a “nexus for an idea stream”, simultaneously capable of delivering the gallerysaleable object, functional prototypes in product design, structural engineering and masterplanning. The scaleability of ideas being, of course, one of the fundamentally dazzling principles of fractal mathematics. As ever, conceptual purity underpins every aspect of the Balmond operation.
Shumi Bose is a London-based architecture critic.
PHOTOS GILES PRICE
Cecil Balmond has just returned from a site visit to the ArcelorMittal Orbit – nearing completion in London’s Olympic Village.
Cecil Balmond is unsure how to wear his new cloak as artist.
“The bending element has remained,” says French designer François Dumas, standing before a jumble of half-made Sealed chairs outside his studio in Eindhoven in the Netherlands, trying to sound optimistic.
and aesthetic, it is no wonder that the Sealed chair wowed critics; winning the designer the Grand Prix du Jury Design Parade 5 prize in 2010, and being taken on by a producer for further development. It’s a great outcome for the Design Academy Eindhoven graduation project, but something is niggling Dumas. “Unfortunately, the producer didn’t have the money to invest in this development,” he says. The chair has been taken up by new French design company Editions La Chance, and it’s made at a small plastics manufacturer in Groningen, the Netherlands. Its innovative joins were deemed too fragile by the producers, so Dumas developed a new model using stronger, opaque plastic rods, milling out connection points to slot the parts together, and adding screws. The developments have shifted the aesthetic, upped labour and costs, and what started out as a “utopic project” has “lost some of those characteristics in production – I was a bit sad
Its appearance is as fun as the process. The soft, artificial sheen of the translucent frame has a candy-like aesthetic. The original Sealed chair was made without any screws.
202 Disegno. FORECAST
The chairs are made using a rather unconventional process: Dumas bakes standard plastic rods in the oven to make them flexible, bends them into a mould, and closes the mould to seal the parts. Just like that, the frame is made – no screws needed. The process is simple and the tooling cheap enough so “the moulds could be situated locally for manufacture and ease of distribution”, Dumas says, hinting at the chair’s potential to challenge current modes of production and importing. Their appearance is as fun as the process. The soft, artificial sheen of the translucent frame has a candy-like aesthetic and, when accompanied by the brightly coloured seats, they look like Willy Wonker’s answer to the Thonet bentwood. By balancing an original concept
about that”, Dumas explains. But rather than take on this battle, Dumas is trying to look differently at his process-led design ethos, and to play with the problems. “I develop production systems for myself – for my pleasure to work – and to experiment,” he says. “I see it as a way to research and stimulate processes. But I don’t mind if afterwards there is an industrial interpretation.” To satisfy his desire to experiment and his need to produce, the designer would like to see several versions of this chair produced – the original, sold as “an art piece”, the adaption for design enthusiasts, and another, cheaper injection-moulded version, which will be sure to offend those who bought into the product based on its production process. “A lot of people like the shape. You lose
a lot of the story, but then my process would have been a way to look for shapes,” he says. It is not Dumas’ only project to have followed such a sequence. Following a 10-day residency at Spanish shoe manufacturer Camper in Majorca last year, Dumas came up with an innovative shoemaking concept, inspired by the sole of an espadrille: “We were given a shoemaker’s last, and we had to shape our shoe over it, so my idea was to wrap a strip of wet leather around. When the leather dries it sticks to the wood and keeps that shape.” The result failed to convince the craftsmen, who refused to acknowledge it as a shoe, but it was the art director’s favourite. Aware that the coiling process was too complex for mass production, Dumas set about designing a version for the shop floor. “I cheated, and tried to apply the same feeling to a flat pattern,” he says. In short, he designed a version that looked like it had been wrapped, but which was in fact one piece of leather, slit repeatedly. The designer flew out to Barcelona to present his new prototype to the art director at Camper. “And then he came to the Design Parade show at Villa Noailles and announced that Camper is going to produce it,” Dumas exclaims elatedly. As much as Dumas works with processes, his practice is equally one of aesthetics; he uses the Dutch word for design: vormgeve, meaning shape-giver, to define his practice. “I like this. I think it is good for me,” he says. In fact, in most of Dumas’ projects to date he builds a form from strips – the sealed chair consists of strips of bent plastic, and the Camper shoes are wound up from a strip of leather. Dumas built up shapes from a series of plaster profiles to develop his superimposed vases before settling on a shape he liked and building a mould. “I guess I’m drawing in the air,” he muses. It is because Dumas draws so well, that the final outcome – no matter how far from the original process – is still a desirable product. But, as he explains: “I still hope, as much as possible, to propose a scenario to make objects and see it work.”
Anna Bates (See p. 196) Sealed chair will launch in early 2012.
Franรงois Dumas bend the heated plastic rods into a mould and shuts it tight to seal the parts - thereof the name.
precious, sparkly items. Goh’s pared down aesthetic stands in stark contrast to these trinkets, but the simplicity of his womenswear is deceiving – to achieve the most comfortable fit, the fabric is often highly innovative and the construction intricate. “I’m interested in looking at how the principles of men’s tailoring can be applied to womenswear, in terms of structure and fit, so that each garment isn’t determined by the wearer’s own body shape...”. Goh trails off, his eyes now firmly focused on one of his assistants. He places his hands on her shoulders and resolutely ushers her away, correcting her work, quickly pinning a pattern block to a fabric and then walking over to the other side of the room where he commences to steam the cloth in preparation for sewing. Any notion of an interview is by now long gone. It was Goh’s graduation collection from Central Saint Martins, London, in 2010 that first placed him in front of an international audience of fashion buyers and press. He was one of the lucky few selected by course director Louise Wilson to present his collection in the MA catwalk show that year – a staple of February’s London Fashion Week. His minimalist collection, entirely based
The simplicity of his womenswear is deceiving, the fabric is often highly innovative and the construction intricate. Tze Goh’s spring/summer 2012 collection features only white, black and khaki fabrics.
204 Disegno. FORECAST
To conduct an interview with the Singaporean fashion designer is uneasy – the conversation is punctuated by silences and there is little willingness on his part to bring the conversation forward. To watch him at work is a different matter – his fine, long hands work with the material in an intuitive way, he looks relaxed and comfortable. He’s clearly in his element. Goh’s London studio is tucked away in a basement in the quaint neighbourhood of Hatton Garden. Overrun with jewellers and gem dealers, it is awash with
around the shape of a T-shirt, had a curiously rigid look. “I investigated ways to create a more structured T-shirt so that it became an outer garment rather than an undergarment,” explained Goh at the time. “I experimented with materials and found this foam that’s used in bra padding.” It was ideal for creating the clean shapes that Goh was after and the result is more akin to a moulded object rather than a garment with stitches and seams. Central Saint Martins encourages this level of experimentation, but how has Goh fared in the real world?
As Goh’s atelier prepares to show its fourth collection at London Fashion Week, this time for spring/summer 2012, reality is clearly biting at his heels. “I’m working towards developing more wardrobe pieces,” admits Goh on his return from the cutting table. “There were more avant-garde creations in the last collection.” But having to consider salability isn’t a daunting prospect for Goh, who just sees it as part of his job. “I like designing clothes that people wear – that’s why I design my garments as simple and clean as possible.” Goh favours wearing all black and his only sustenance at such an intensely busy time are Diet Coke and cigarettes. A few weeks later though, as he is presenting his finished collection at London Fashion Week, his jittery movements have calmed somewhat and a glass of champagne has replaced the ubiquitous aluminium can. There is a look of relief on his face, too. The collection, in black, white and khaki, is probably his straightest to date, with wearable pieces, such as collarless jackets and white shirts, featuring heavily. But the playfulness of his previous collections is no longer there. The mood is sombre now. It’s maybe best expressed in a calf-long cape, a cloak of immense beauty and serenity. Instead of a fashion show, Goh opted to express the feel of his collection in a film, which he made with British photographer Marcus Ross. It’s minimalist, slow and refuses to be flirtatious in any way. The models are deadly serious and look deep in thought. It comes as no surprise that the inspiration behind the film is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, 1966 – an existential drama between two sisters in the Swedish director’s trademark angstridden style. It’s clear that Goh is determined to establish restraint as a permanent fixture in his clothes. When the financial crisis hit three years ago, a new austerity was born and Goh is resolute that the excessive era of fashion is well and truly behind us. Nothing says that better than his cloak made from black wool.
Rio Jade Ali is a fashion writer and also works with the archives of Burberry and Margaret Howell.
PHOTOS MARCUS ROSS
Tze Goh is a new master of minimalism. Both when it comes to words and cutting cloth.
5:00AM He knew how it all began, but seemed incapable of stopping it. How, he wondered, had he come to push that green button marked “start”. The past 23 hours had battered his emotions. Draining him of meaning and energy. Sadly, his magic box didn’t have a pause button. Only “on-off”. Is that all this world offers? No pause, no reflection, no possibility for improvement. Just the grinding progress of time. The tick tock of the inevitable. If this was existence it left much to be desired. His feet grew soggy as he approached the pool’s edge. Why is water always so wet, he wondered, as the cold seeped in to his leather-lined boots. Why does he need to know the identity of his stalker? He’ll never meet him again, his stalking days are over. He assumed it was a he. Aren’t men always stalkers? It comes to them so naturally. Hunter gatherers, wishing to own everything they touch. His hand caught the drifting figure by its coat. Despite the wet, the cold and hesitation, this coat felt familiar. He didn’t like it and shivered momentarily. That “off” button suddenly seemed enticingly attractive. One simple stab of the finger and this story would be all over. But not just yet. The floating stalker drifted closer to Ernesto as his hand pulled the familiar coat toward him. It was then that the body spun round in the scarlet seeped water. Ernesto staggered back in shock as he peered at the face. His own face. He was his stalker. John Hegarty, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, LONDON
1325 (ISSEY MIYAKE)
www.harveynichols.com/brands/alaia www.neimanmarcus.com BALENCIAGA
www.balenciaga.com BRUNO MATHSSON
DOVER STREET MARKET
www.doverstreetmarket.com EDITION LACHANCE
ESTABLISHED & SONS
www.establishedandsons.com FABER & FABER
www.faber.co.uk FRITZ HANSEN
208 Disegno. STOCKISTS
www.lammhults.se LIGNE ROSET
PENGUIN (ALLEN LANE)
PRINGLE OF SCOTLAND
www.pringlescotland.com ROGER GALLET
ZILIO A & C
Salon No.1 The Disegno. 2011 Review To round up the key events in architecture, design and fashion from 2011, Disegno invites a panel of experts to share their views during an evening of festivities at Vitraâ€™s London showroom. Visit our website for details.
Inside Martin Szekely's Paris apartment • Considering Los Angeles by bicycle • Breakfast with Issey Miyake's Yoshiyuki Miyamae • Alice Rawst...