As great as the temptation to slap economics and aesthetics, like ham and cheese, between two slices of bread and call it a design sandwich may still be, economic weariness (which is not to be overlooked) by no means corresponds to creative lassitude. This can be put down to the lone fact that nowadays there are so many different approaches and directions to be taken, yet no binding aesthetic doctrine. Every single thing has to strive to grab the attention of as many people as possible. Yet even things fundamentally quiet and unassuming do indeed have a chance up against its gimmicky, in-your-face counterparts. If in the near future we really did find ourselves slipping into a situation, whereby all factual differences were abolished, not only would we be left rubbing our eyes in amazement, we would also finally begin to appreciate the colorful diversity of the present.
Revolt? What revolt?
All of those who thought that ever since Zona Tortona is now indulging in all kinds of multimedia folly with Superstudio Più and the surrounding area has begun to dry up all they had to do to get a glimpse of the future of design was to head over to Ventura Lambrate, had it terribly wrong. Even among the more or less young designers in attendance, in search of both an audience and of course a manufacturer, there was absolutely no sign of a new awakening, let alone a revolt. Quite the opposite. Visitors were met with timid revisions and half-hearted copies and things that simply oozed a rather amusing sloppiness. There was simply too little experimentation on show, no bolt for freedom from the dictates of the market and a preoccupation with “career management”. Whereby we have to give it to the universities and young designers, the time it once took to pick up on and adopt ideas and processes from the newcomer arena has been reduced enormously in all areas of the creative industry. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that small labels have to assert their position on the market too, which is not exactly an easy undertaking when there’s less and less cake to go round. So one task for the to-do list over the coming years would be to establish a supportive framework, whereby there is potential to formulate genuine alternatives; in other words, setting up an experimental platform that does much more than simply present everything that’s on offer.
Konstantin Grcic and the structural idea
This year yet again Konstantin Grcic provided a dazzling demonstration of how one meets the challenges posed by contemporary design without neglecting the precedent set by design history nor the breath of fresh air that can come from an intervention of one’s own. It is almost uncanny the way he simply takes his very own path and season upon season succeeds in surprising manufacturers and audiences alike with his designs, which need answer to no one – and all of this with such freedom and precision! It was only at the beginning of the year that he presented his reinterpretation of Mies van der Rohe’s “Barcelona Chair” at BD Barcelona in Cologne, and he’s already onto his next design classic, which he has quite literally taken to pieces.
No, what he has created for Magis (the manufacturer for whom he designed “Chair One” in 2004 – already considered a legendary design) in the form of the seating series “Traffic” has nothing to do with re-design. Echoes of the LC2 chair by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand und Pierre Jeanneret may be blowing in from the industry’s history, but Grcic’s design frees itself entirely from any all too direct associations. He reveals the basic principle of the LC2 and rethinks it in line with present-day conditions without carrying the burden of history on his shoulders while doing so. And so, he has demonstrated just how independent an impression contemporary design can make without losing sight of the past. As though as a side thought, it also becomes clear exactly what differentiates yesterday’s design from that of today and why merely making recourse to certain classics is nothing more than an act of nostalgia.
Traffic – Corbusier but not as you know it
“Traffic” is a typical Grcic design, neither immediately intuitive nor compliant. Comprising an armchair, a two-seater, a recliner, a bench and a kind of stool with a shallow backrest, the fact that like much of Grcic’s work this little family appear somewhat cumbersome and “out-there” upon first glance is not only proof of the sovereignty of his designs, it is also part of his secret to success. It is only once you have warmed up to him and his work that you are able to recognize its true refinement. In “Traffic’s” case this is primarily based on the fact that Grcic reduces all of his pieces to the essential and reveals their function in much the same way as the construction they are borne of. A colorfully lacquered wire frame with a cushion plonked on top of it, he doesn’t need to do anything else to render the armchair or sofa light and yet voluminous in its appearance – and you can even attach a side table.
Parrish and the plastic node
Then, on Emeco’s stand, Konstantin Grcic went on to show that he has many more a trick up his sleeves than simply than dusting off a few design classics. The manufacturer, known for their skill in processing aluminum to perfection but also lending it a special surface finish, already has an aluminum design classic gracing their portfolio in the form of the Navy Chair 1006 from 1940, whose robustness even led to its use on US warships. And now, Grcic has developed “Parrish” for the new “Parrish Art Museum” in Water Mill on Long Island, which opened in November last year, the building a brainchild of Herzog & de Meuron. The outcome is a chair (also available as a small armchair) that scores points for its simple construction. The formula “reduce to the max”, or as Mies so famously put it “Less is more”, also applies here. In its form, “Parrish” is based on a plastic node (the seat) which serves to connect the four legs and the bent piping that simultaneously forms the back and arm rests. The seat is available in a range of material finishes (plain plastic or with a fabric or leather cover) and is fitted with rings, which are used to attach the piping. The furniture ensemble is rounded out with two table designs. And this again leads to the inevitable conclusion that at present there is no other designer who sets the tone for contemporary design as clearly as Konstantin Grcic.
Stefan Diez, the magician
Stefan Diez, once Konstantin Grcic’s assistant and now a successful designer in his own right, has taken a rather different route. With his quite literally magical collection centered on the “Houdini” chair for e15 – and this is something that must be reiterated in all explicitness – the younger designer achieved something truly extraordinary back in 2009. And in the form of “This, That and Other” he has now taken this construction principle one step further. Where “Houdini”, and not forgetting the armchairs “Bessy”, “Eugene” and “Leo”, quasi revamped middle-class living, the chair “This”, the small armchair “That” and the stool “Other” set new, youthful accents. The three pieces emanate from the world of card tricks (not only apparent in their coloring) and are markedly fresh in their appearance; they certainly have something mischievous about them. But this does not detract from the fact that they are as comfortable as they are good value, and fit harmoniously into almost any milieu. The stool “Other” in particular, when viewed in profile, looks as though it is wearing a baseball cap. Well the head accessory has been socially acceptance for quite some time now after all.
Of course, there was a great deal more to discover at the Salone. From Jaime Hayon who is increasingly developing into a designer with a clear stature of his own; at Moroso, who were still presenting a cornucopia of extravagant ideas by Ron Arad, Nendo, Werner Aisslinger and Patricia Urquiola; or at Tecno, who had installed, among other things, a “President’s Room” in the gatehouses of Porta Garibaldi. But whether the accompanying presidential table could be enough of a draw to bring Italy’s quarrelling political parties together around it, is surely not down to design and is an issue that could never be settled at the Salone del Mobile. And on that note I have made it to the finish line and completed my Milan Marathon. Ciao, see you next year!