Today the village has more or less outlived its usefulness. Even before the German Work Federation took a public stance on "The great landscape destruction" in 1959, one of the oldest forms of human settlement had started falling into disrepute. Country life, as it was exalted in the school primers on local history in the 1960s, no longer exists. Increasing urbanization has led to a lasting identity crisis in rural regions. Even in today's era of the global village, people who live in rural areas are often cut off from information and political self-organization. Brain drain, a lack of capital and a fear of backwardness have made the village a hybrid, which is neither rural nor urban. Their own aesthetic rules, which have often been passed down through the generations, are no longer valid and barely familiar to village residents. Often, there's a lack of awareness for quality is often lacking and there is an even greater dearth of ideas to formally redefine the village.
Not so at the "imm cologne" (commonly known as the Cologne Furniture Fair). There the village as an idea, a projection is vibrant and highly useful. As we all know, markets are essentially self-regulating. Yet if market players (in our case manufacturers, dealers, politicians, associations and other influential groups) sometimes shift the balance and redefine the rules of the market, we also need to sometimes reconsider the framework conditions.
In early 2012 we can only sketchily recall past debates. Owing to the favorable market conditions for Germany at the beginning of the year and a strong 2011 for furniture, characterized by an increase in exports and rising sales figures, the mood in Cologne could hardly be better. The trade fair is once again more effectively fulfilling its role as a central marketplace and platform for exchanging information and discussing concepts and projects.
It was a different story only a few years ago. A series of factors, some of them of their own doing, led visitors, exhibitors and journalists to make critical observations. In a first step Helmut Lübke (1936–2006), president of Verband der Deutschen Möbelindustrie (the German furniture industry association) and of the German Design Council, suggested that the organizers offer new accompanying activities. The Council conceived, among other things, the competition "Interior Innovation Award", a forum for up-and-coming designers from all over the world ("[D3] Contest") and the idea of the "Ideal House", which over the course of the years has been conceived by such designers and architects as Zaha Hadid, Karim Rashid and Konstantin Grcic, the Bouroullec and Campana brothers, Hella Jongerius, Joris Laarman and Stefan Diez, to name but a few. Yet at times there was a huge gap between the ambitious concepts and their realization, as the trade fair organizers were better at renting out stand space than collaborating with creative professionals on site.
Some exhibitors, dealers and critics insisted that too little or the wrong thing was being done for the close-knit village community of design aficionados. If that were not enough, crisis years in the furniture industry strained the mood even further. And in the north of Italy there has always been a competitor who, although offering only a limited accompanying program itself, drew an international public. Mind you, we are talking of a small, yet sophisticated market segment, which alone can hardly carry a trade fair, but as that extra something can ensure that sought-after target groups such as architects, interior designers and other planners visit the fair.
After a phase of stoic persistence the trade fair organizers appointed Dutchman Dick Spierenburg, co-founder of and long-time consultant to the neighboring rival company "Design Post", as creative director. Spierenburg, who usually devises products, interiors, buildings and venues for events, gradually worked his way through one-time problem issues and areas with the aim of transforming them into new, attractive features of the fair. "Pure Village", an annual fixture in Hall 3.2 since 2010, is one of the most visible elements. The village of purists enables the fair to present both young companies and brands ("[D3] professionals") and established labels such as String and Thonet in one place. Even entire neighborhoods exhibited products in the design village: Swiss brands Baltensweiler, Création Baumann, Lehni, Röthlisberger Schreinerei, Thut Möbel and Wogg, each separated by a red half-height picket fence by designer Jörg Boner, presented their latest designs under the umbrella brand "swissness".
The label e15 showed off its new line "Selected" for individual objects and Spanish brand Gandia Blasco exhibited the new sofa "Tropez" by Stefan Diez, one of those items of furniture that really doesn't mind whether it is outside or in the living room. Hansjörg Helweg presented his new brand Frei Frau, among other items with the armchair "Lina" by Studio Vertijet. For both small and major labels, be they designers of office furniture (Interstuhl) or bathrooms (Burgbad, Grohe), carpet manufacturers (Carpet Concept), lighting producers (Erco) or color system specialists (NC Colour, RAL), the "Pure Village" concept offers the opportunity to focus attention on particular aspects of an extensive collection. Alongside a café (with all kinds of seating furniture by imm exhibitors) and a "Stage", a lecture forum, which has played host to events such as Westermann Kommunikation's "BOOK-Lounge", this time a new and yet familiar project took center stage in the hall: "Das Haus – Interiors on stage".
In a similar way to how Volkswagen has claimed to be "Das Auto." since 2007, the organizers aim to develop "Das Haus" into a recurrent brand in future. This time it was designed by designer couple Nipa Doshi (born in 1971 in Bombay, India) and Jonathan Levien (born in 1972 in Elgin, Scotland) and shows meticulous attention to detail. Even the dustpan and bucket do not appear to have simply been randomly left somewhere, but rather await use at a particular spot. It features a series of spatial arrangements of well-known items of furniture and luminaires, plus their own designs, traditional objects and places – such as a bathroom in which you sit on a bench to wash. Beds, loungers, seats and a green atrium serve as a platform, a series of meeting points. A perfect house, say the designers, is never finished. Their design, accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalog which is unfortunately somewhat superficial on the text side, lives off a peculiar tension, a certain proximity to kitsch and to a world of imagination that enables visitors to mentally continue work on this orchestrated home environment.
Complaints only came from the university camp, because this time round educational institutions were not allotted their own presentation area on the exhibition grounds free of charge, as in previous years. Yet perhaps, in conceptual terms, a moratorium makes good sense precisely here.
Is "Das Haus" in the village not rather an urban bungalow? Will the village residents engage in communal village life in the future? In any case, in its third outing "Pure Village" has become an inspirational forum and meeting place in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the trade fair.