This is the first of a two-part Trend Report from Cologne 2015 by Le Vin Chin. As ever, the mood and the buffet of design offers in Cologne reflect the location and the Zeitgeist. The imm cologne and the attending Passagen are shows with an European scope and we saw the sombre mood of Europe, and of Germany itself, in the presentations during Cologne’s design week. With economic, social and political worries spilling in from all around, it’s a time of contraction and therefore conservatism, a retreat to the safety of known quantities and values.
But, despite the fact that (as one concerned young local designer put it to me) the German market might not necessarily be looking for exciting, new design at the moment, there were, of course, bright sparks of creativity breaking out everywhere – these will fortunately never go out. Here are some of the notable movements in the world of design, colour and materials from Cologne 2015.
There’s no doubt we are on the march towards an ‘Internet of things’ – a human environment in which everything around us interacts with us and with each other, via the Internet, registering our presence, our preferences and our needs. From the point of view of the technology, we are surprisingly far down that road already, although we may not yet see its implementation in our current surroundings. Still, more and more of us have Roomba vacuum cleaners and Nest thermostats at home. What’s missing is the will and the unified direction to aggregate and integrate all the various technologies being proposed into solutions easily implemented in any home. And, possibly, we still need psychological acceptance of self-driving cars and self-regulating homes.
Two exhibits at the Passagen this year focussed on creating awareness within the general population and finding solutions for integration. eco, the Association of the German Internet Industry, demonstrated an ‘intelligent living room of the future’ with controls for lighting, temperature, music and television, and so on, using an innovative gesture-based interface. In the example, users could select a lamp and then change its colour and brightness by use of a gesture. Gestures are just one possible method of input and interaction, voice and touch are others. The room was developed by Cologne-based digital experiences agency 42DP. Project manager Arzu Uyan explained that their brief was not to promote any specific solution, but rather to showcase the world of possibilities emanating from the concept.
Uptown, in the Rheinauhafen area, m.integration was showing more concrete examples based on technologies and systems available today. Many systems currently available are for specific purposes, produced by specific manufacturers and speak different protocols – requiring expert planners and implementers to bring all the solutions together into one system for the homeowner. m.integration is at the vanguard of providing smart home integration services.
A few great design-driven new ideas for smart homes did appear at the fair this year. Esther Häring’s graduation piece for the UDK Berlin was a design for a table which recharges electrical devices by induction – a concept sure be incorporated into all our homes very soon. To my mind, Manasse Pinsuwan has come up with a great answer to one of the most fundamental and age-old questions in design: why do we need a new chair design? His ‘Have a seat’ is a chair that can become any other chair, at will! According to Weng Xinyu, Confucius had a saying about good medicine tasting bitter. His ‘Angry Lamp’ can be seen in this light, standing like a benevolent, but stern uncle in your home, giving you light to read, but then turning itself off if it’s been on too long, or if there’s other ambient light around.
In form, the ‘Angry Lamp’ brings us to a small developing sub-trend on how we interact with this smart environment around us. Will we anthromorphise these wired things (think of the little robots in the film ‘Dark Star’) as a crutch to better understanding and interacting with them? Will we soon expect everyday objects in our surroundings to have their own personalities? This is where I see Ana Jiménez Palomar’s ‘The Buffoon’ pieces starting a dialogue about endowing furniture with human-like personality.
The intersection of two trends of our current times – the quest for personalisation and customisation, and the straitening economic situation – has resulted in an interesting movement towards modular living. Modular pieces are (theoretically) infinitely customisable to a living space and also economic (you buy only the parts that you need, but you can keep expanding it later).
This tendency was definitely recognised and rewarded by the judges of the imm cologne’s 2015 Pure Talents Contest for young, up-and-coming designers, where Sarah Mellone and Julian F. Bond’s ‘UDO’ shelving system was rewarded with the second prize. Completely modular and expandable in two dimensions, ‘UDO’ only comprises three components (shelves in two sizes and connector pieces) which stack, handily, for maximum space-saving. Simple and effective, Mellone was also proud of the fact that ‘UDO’ is made of Aluminium, which is 90% recycled in Germany.
Following this trend towards the modular, English furniture designer Paul Kelley, normally a producer of exclusive bespoke pieces, has launched a modular system comprising only of copper cubes, all held to each other by magnets. Called ‘BOB’, the innovation here is in how the cubes stick to each other regardless of magnetic polarity, so you can construct your bench / armchair / drinks bar / hut / fort very easily and as you like.
Oskar Zieta’s latest range follows the modular principle of his previous ‘3+’ collection. Whereas, before, all was still in his signature material, metal, PAKIET is made of wood. There are only six types of pieces (plus the metal brackets which hold everything together) and the idea is you can create the final piece of furniture to fit your space. The wood is raw, so the final surface finish is also completely personalisable.
Other notable examples of modular design included Oliver Schübbe’s ‘Balanceakt’ shelving system shown at OS2 Designgroup’s ‘ReThink – ReCycle’ exhibit, which is basically an aggregation of found pieces, assembled into a whole. Modular, therefore, by dint of simply being expandable next time you go to the second-hand shop. Another example is Martin Breuer Bono’s very minimalist shelving system ‘Schlagseite structure minime for books et cetera’.
Upcycling and recycling are certainly an eternal trend. We especially see a lot of re-use concepts and pieces at shows like Cologne’s because it’s still a way for ecologically engaged students to make a flashy point. One wonders, though, whether the current economic malaise might make the general consumer much more open to the idea of upcycled products as more and more people move into the so-called precariat. Going further, whether the current movement towards home manufacture initiated by the 3D-printing revolution might also kickstart a do-it-yourself mentality which takes these upcycling concepts as blueprints for things to try out at home.
Standing out from the assortment of pieces made from wheelie bins, bathtubs and so on, was the work of Laetitia de Allegri and Matteo Fogale, who had come up with designs based on recycled jeans, using technology from recycled materials experts Iris Industries. The final material looks like polished stone. Meanwhile, an old favourite, Walking Chair Design Studio, had put together a series of light objects with various designers, using used pharmaceutical blister packaging.