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In new contexts
von Nora Sobich | 3/4/2009

The idea sounds absurd - making a curtain out of heavy concrete of all things. Nevertheless, two years ago, three designers from an Austrian company, Memux, were bold enough to take on this project. Their invention, which has now won a variety of prizes and this year was awarded the red dot design award in the Best of Best category, is now a kind of wall sculpture suitable for everyday use. Memux-Textil is designed to keep out light, noise and prying eyes but more importantly to function as a decorative room divider and facade decoration. Manufactured using a type of waffle iron technique, the concrete is pressed around a lattice-like, metal mould which creates a kind of woven surface, with small, cushion-like, solid rectangular pads. Naturally the concrete weave isn't soft and cuddly although it is fairly flexible. Not the least important thing for the Vorarlberg-based, designers from Memux, in terms of the concrete innovation, was to put the most popular material of the modern era in a new context and give it a new look. There's nothing new about this type of contextual shifts and aesthetic alienations, which occur with increasing regularity in the post modern. Now, most importantly, the range of new materials and applications opens up exciting opportunities. There have always been two different approaches, if you will: either functional and formal requirements have been decisive in terms of the type of material used or the aesthetic and technical properties of the material itself have provided the inspiration for new products. A kind of permanent dialogue takes place between these two poles. If industrial production and materials have played an important part in Bauhaus aesthetics, then materials have not been the primary starting point for design concepts. When, for example, Marcel Breuer, inspired by bicycle handlebars, designed his revolutionary cantilevered steel tubing chair or when Mies van der Rohe used steel supports to establish a new form of architecture, which exposes the building's structure, then constructive and aesthetic considerations also determine the choice of material. On the other hand, these days, products are made from industrial material, so what leads to new products is the huge range of innovative materials rather than design and technological interest. Years ago, Werner Aisslinger, for example, used a soft gel, which up to that point had primarily been used in medicine, for his Soft Chaise recliner for Zanotta. And the Bouroullec brothers recently designed a cover made from an innovative, high-tech knit for their Slow Chair for Vitra. But then there's the other case. For example, the almost legendary Friday bag evolved from the idea of designing a practical bag for everyday use. The fact that the bag was created on the basis of recycling old truck tarpaulins was a mere consequence of this. And, at the end of the day, the cool look of the material elevates the Friday bag from contemporary cult object to tried and trusted brand.

Ideally, function, form and material are seamlessly combined anyway and create a new context. Stefan Diez designed the "Kuvert" range of bags for Authentics consisting of a rubber-coated polyester fabric which is stamped from one piece and sealed at the edges, not sewn. The open edge deliberately shows the layering of the fabric. The choice of material had a considerable influence on the design concept. The rubber-coated fabric calls to mind air-bed material, the circular label button, to which the carrying strap is also fixed, functions as its eyes. Moreover, Authentics has now also launched the "Papier" range by Stefan Diez, in two different sizes thus far, namely, "A1" and "A2". The gray shoulder bags are made from the synthetic paper Tyvek - a feather-light and very tear-resistant material.

Slow Chair by Bouroullecs for Vitra
Slow Chair by Bouroullecs for Vitra
Soft Chaise by Werner Aisslinger for Zanotta
Loom by Franco Poli for Matteograssi
Loom by Franco Poli for Matteograssi
Loom by Franco Poli for Matteograssi
Kuvert by Stefan Diez for Authentics
Papier by Stefan Diez for Authentics
Concrete curtain by Memux
Concrete curtain by Memux
Friday bag
Friday bag
Friday bag
Friday bag
Friday bag
Friday bag