Precise, coherent, Zwicky
by Michael Kasiske
Dec 6, 2013

Zurich has all the trimmings of a prosperous city as we make our way from the airport to downtown. Everywhere, it seems, office and residential buildings are under construction or have just been completed. And all these dazzlingly glazed apartments offer a first taste of what is awaiting us at “Neue Räume 13”. As in previous years, the seventh edition of the international Interior Design trade fair is taking place in the ABB Event Halls in Zurich’s Oerlikon quarter, just a stone’s throw from the city’s famous MFO Park. The vine-covered gigantic steel structure welcomes the visitors in the bright shades of fall.

Inside the hall the colors are artificial and unambiguous, as are the shapes. “Concrete art” readily springs to mind, which is still very much en vogue in Switzerland today. “The aim of Concrete art is to develop objects for intellectual use,” Zurich-born Max Bill declared in 1949, “just as man creates objects for material use.” The statement by the famous architect and artist could be the motto of this year’s “Neue Räume 13”, and not only because half or so of the exhibitors (and there are more than 100 of them in total), are domiciled in Switzerland. No, the reason is that Bill’s “Ulmer Hocker” by Wb, shown here for the first time in Swiss red, possesses an extraordinary aura.

There are 15 manufacturers showcasing their wares under the “Swiss made” label in the center of the hall. With their product displays they have impressively mastered the art of presenting superb innovation and quality with utmost casualness. Yet isn’t this what the Swiss are famous for the world over? Some products have already attained the status of a classic, examples include the minimalist “Bett 1” by Lehni, the well-laid-out “Kienzle” shelf system by Thut and the elegant “Etage” shelf and sideboard, for which Röthlisberger was awarded the “Swiss Design Prize 2013”. IGN Design is showcasing a new product that has evolved from the firm’s “Case” series – storage boxes that could be mistaken for overseas trunks of times past.

There are plenty of alternatives to complement the form-follows-function approach on which Swiss craftsmanship is based. From Italy it was such prestigious brands as Alias, Foscarini, Artemide and Moroso, which radiated a playful elegance paired with outstanding quality. The same can be said about German manufacturers Thonet, Interlübke and Classicon, as well as their Scandinavian colleagues: Fritz Hansen, Jørgensen and Louis Poulsen.

There is a second reason why product innovations are not taking the limelight at this fair, besides the Swiss’ obvious penchant for tradition, as architect Stefan Zwicky, who both initiated and curated the show, explains: Only a limited section of the fair is in fact devoted to specialist industry visitors representing the furniture trade, architecture and design. While the target audience proper consists of end consumers, in other words, those wishing to make their nest in the above residential new builds.

A stand brimming with assorted accessories has been set up in the foyer to satisfy initial cravings for something new. The selection is abundant and includes such items as lamp holders, extendible filing systems and towels. After the foyer you’ll find yourself in the forum, a space that hosts themed design debates every evening and saw Zurich’s architects and designers engage in heated discussion on the opening evening.

Compared to large specialist shows, at the “Neue Räume 13” the items are displayed at relatively small stands that are easily navigated, giving the impression of an interior design market. The brief for the standard booth design envisages a space that is enclosed on three sides, albeit not completely, and offers interior design ideas rather than present the perfect living concept of tomorrow. The offer is aptly rounded out by the service the Swiss Society of Interior Designers (VSI.ASAI) provides – 50 hours of free interior design consultation for visitors who wish to rely on professional help with building projects or interior design ideas.

The “Young Labels” booths are located not too far from the entrance. It is with captivating ease that the budding design talents there have slipped into the role of entrepreneurs. Doing business for them means taking the production and distribution of their creative ideas into their own hands – and on their own account. Take “Minimöbl” by designers Eva Schäfer and Thomas Braithwaite, for example: The furniture series they designed for children’s rooms is highly versatile and can morph into a children’s bed and even a dining table. Or take the Munich-based Raumfieber label by designers Gregor Faubel and Dietmar Sauer, who cover a fantastic range of furniture and lighting with simple forms, some of which have drawn their inspiration from history.

As in previous years, some stores in downtown Zurich are acting as “ambassadors” for the trade fair in Oerlikon. The “Tabak Lädeli”, a small tobacco store on Storchengasse, attracts the attention of passers-by with its amusing window display: Miniature models of furniture items by Fritz Hansen have been grouped around Arne Jacobson’s “Schwan” armchair in brown leather, with cigars and pipes lounging on the seats in what can only be called lascivious poses. The furniture store “Neumarkt 17” is a must for anyone who’s not from Zurich. Over a 20-year period architect Fritz Schwarz has transformed an old townhouse into a labyrinth that runs through the contorted structure of the existing building as well as newly added sections, which take the form of latticed surfaces that hover above a pool of water. Perfect for reviving one’s pleasure in rediscovering perpetually changing spatial situations.

One thing is for sure: The product innovation fetishists among you will not get your money’s worth at the “Neue Räume 13”. That said, those championing old values and traditions will need an open mind to embrace new qualities. On the one hand, the show meets the brief for a national exhibition, including some “friends” from the neighboring countries; on the other “Neue Räume” offers the Zurich audience a selection of individual-living items – made through an architect’s lens. Meaning that Zurich can feed its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities at the design level, too.