Our everyday life and the underlying basis for it are changing at an incredibly rapid pace. The Internet alone, along with the opportunities for global communication it offers, is shifting the main emphasis of our relationship to the world and to our fellow human beings ever more frequently into the domain of the virtual thanks to contacts brokered online. And that is certainly not all. If we take the word of techies the world over and the augurs of a future that seems to have only just begun, then new types of materials and production methods will radically change our lives, once again.
How will we live under such conditions? Will the spaces in which we tarry become transient, i.e., nothing more than spaces we pass through? How will our perception be changed by the new technologies? What will we consider sublime or poetic? Will our experiences in the hybrid world of tomorrow be different, be new? And what things will we look upon as luxurious?
In Hall 4 at the Kortrijk Xpo a strange structure rotates. It is one of the so-called “Future Primitives”, a series of proposals initiated by Lowie Vermeesch, curator of the Biennale by seven renowned designers, artists and architects (Muller van Severen, Ross Lovegrove, Makking&Bey, Troika, Nendo, David Bowen and Greg Lynn), all developed with a view to postulating which elements will play a role in “our future living environment”. The seven concepts of which four relate to living in the future and three to our relationship to nature assume the function previously fulfilled by a single “guest of honor”; moreover, they attempt to sensitize the viewer to the changes pending.
Such as the strange structure that Greg Lynn dreamed up for Hall 4. The “RV (Room Vehicle)”, as he calls it: creating an interior space of a quite different kind. What he presents is a mobile, cave-like capsule that physically challenges the person inside it like an exercise or training machine, by turning continuously, constantly changing its position. Meaning you have to play the mountain goat or Spiderman, forever changing your own position, scrambling on, rolling around or moving through the ergonomically designed cocoon made of a sandwich construction – its entire surface can be used and is meant to correspond to a contemporary 60 square-meter apartment. Will residential capsules look like this soon? Will the apartment itself become a piece of furniture that keeps us moving and thus fit? Or will we prefer combination furniture made of simple materials such as those designed by artists Fien Muller and Hannes Van Severen?
Such more or less exciting designs and installations are not only to be found at selected locations within the trade fair halls but also in project rooms on the Buda Island, located on the River Leie, which flows through the center of Kortrijk, this venue forms the second part of this year’s biennial, the “Interieur 2012”. Now and again you even encounter pieces in free spaces, be it in a white cube, a black box or in historical premises at the foot of the Buda Tower. This in itself proves that in Flanders people do indeed know how to present both a “biennial in town” and the town itself thanks to the biennial. Let me go one further: Here you can not only inspect finished products but also participate in all manner of different aspects within the design process. This is thanks to the interaction between trade fair stands and curated areas, between spaces for new talent and for skilled craftsmen, not to mention that throughout the trade-fair halls in the different exhibition corridors and lab settings you can watch designers, students and artists using computers and 3D printers to create this, that or the other.
This biennial is so exciting simply because they’ve got the mix just right. In Kortrijk you can as a matter of course try out a sofa or chair, inspect a luminaire, a garden table or a carpet, or pop next door for in-depth advice from one of the 300 selected brand-name manufacturers, such as Arper, Moroso or Zanotta, Molteni, Jan Kath or Extremis, Spoing, Next or Flos. And depending on your mood and needs you can also simply contemplate the sheer diversity of present-day design perusing furniture made from beautiful woods or for that matter cheerfully colorful cups and saucers. Suddenly one perceives the real advantage of not having to look at a glut of things or hunt for this year’s novelties as happens each year in Milan.
Visitors evidently appreciate the fact that a rich, but not huge mass of things are on show, some simply choosing to wander around and almost coincidentally be inspired to outfit their own homes with insulated frameless sliding windows, for example at the stand of Swiss manufacturer Sky-Frame. Or admire, say at the Pastoe stand, not only the elegance and precision of the products in the current collection but also that of furniture from past eras and also be amazed by the fact that the company will be celebrating its first century as early as next year.
And not only among the young designers in the midst of the fair or in the Buda Factory, you suddenly discover several shelving systems made of individual elements of different sizes that are as practical as they are well-designed – such as at Düsseldorf-based Cubit’s stand, where the idea is a variable system made of simple boxes that can simply be connected to create small units or entire walls if required. Or you rummage about in the wall of storage shelving at the Lensvelt booth and find out that some of their ever-innovative products are now “in stock” and can be supplied within the week. And if you want a little peace and quiet in-between, then you can simply try out the elegance of the designs by Finn Juhl dating from the 1940s and 1950s – and just stop for a moment at “onecollection”.
Moreover, on the opening day there was an exciting panel discussion on what autos, transportation and the city of tomorrow will look like. Audi Belgium not only supplied countless limousines and SUVs, shuttling the innumerable guests between the Xpo and Buda Island, but also sponsored a debate on the key aspects of a more effective combination of various forms of transportation, which repeatedly touched upon the issue of whether and above all what we will be prepared to share in the future. In the person of Eric Höweler of Boston’s Höweler + Yoon Architects, one panel discussant would (although no one could have known at the time) emerge as the winner of the “Audi Urban Future Award 2012” shortly thereafter, - his explanation of parts of his new American Dream were indeed most eloquent.
With the assistance of quite different and consistently well calibrated elements, not to mention skill and intelligent self-restraint, Kortrijk (which is not by any means in the middle of nowhere, but only around 100 kilometers outside of Brussels) has once again succeeded in turning a biennial into an appealing mix of manufacturers, young talent, architects, designers, aficionados and clients interested in design. It’s all in the right mix.