'Bolle' bottles by Tapio Wirkkala, the product of a collaboration with Murano-based glassworks Venini, 1966–67; image courtesy of Venini
With leading Finnish design brand Artek reissuing two of its fellow countryman Tapio Wirkkala’s striking designs from the late 1960s and early 70s, as well as first-time-round, ‘vintage’ pieces of his being shown at international design fairs such as Design Miami Basel, now is the time to look back at the work of this highly productive designer, whose contribution to postwar Scandinavian design was as major as it was diverse.
Land of the midnight sun Finland may, in terms of historical regional politics and power at least, have often been eclipsed by its Scandinavian neighbours Sweden and Denmark, but when it comes to having helped define the course of the postwar 20th-century design, the country has certainly never been in the shadows.
'X-Frame Table' by Tapio Wirkkala, originally for Asko Oy, 1958; recently reissued by Artek
‘Domus’, the iconic and authoritative Italian design journal founded in the 1920s by architect-designer Gio Ponti, did much to disseminate images of, and commentary on, Finnish design to an international audience from the 1950s onwards, but the work of one its countrymen more than any other was to appear in its pages with great regularity: Tapio Wirkkala. Indeed, Wirkkala, who trained as a decorative carver but went on to become a key figure in Scandinavian modernism, was included in the pantheon of prolific designers’ names that featured in the masthead of the magazine from the early 1960s until 1973.
Tapio with coffee pot from the 'Finlandia' service, produced by Rosenthal AG in the 1950s; image courtesy of the Tapio Wirkkala Rut Bryk Foundation
‘Sedia 1’ – this pretty self-confident name sounds like a prototype of THE only primal chair. But maybe this is what Enzo Mari also wanted to suggest when he designed his self-assembly chair in 1974. ‘Sedia 1’ was the first object from the famous and thought-provoking project ‘Autoprogettazione’ – a collection of furniture to be constructed from low-end and affordable materials and techniques. This year, the year of the Euro-crisis, the Finnish manufacturer Artek put it into production – which is fantastic!
In a world where every new product that’s launched seems to feature some pun in its name, it’s refreshing to encounter the literally titled ‘Shelving System’ by Naoto Fukasawa for Artek, launched at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair. Its utilitarian moniker fits perfectly with the project: a beautifully considered and pared-down modular system, which takes pride in its functionality.
Detail of 'Shelving System' by Naoto Fukasawa for Artek
Made of lacquered birch ladders, painted MDF shelves and zinc and aluminium supports, ‘Shelving System’ is the first collaboration between the leading Finnish design manufacturer and the renowned Japanese industrial designer, whose work is characterised by formal restraint and thoughtfulness.
The collaboration between Artek and the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has been going on for several years now. At this year´s Salone del Mobile the Finnish manufacturer presented ’10-unit system’ by Shigeru Ban under the motto “One chair is enough”. The modular system consits of only one element. With a minimum of ten pieces one can create chairs of varying designs, stools, coffee tables, and even combine them for benches and more.
We had the pleasure to meet Shigeru Ban on the Artek stand in Milan.
Shigeru Ban on his '10-unit system' he developed for Artek
Shigeru Ban was setting new benchmarks with his famous bamboo structures long before sustainable building became part of the agenda of many architects. For the Finnish manufacturer Artek the Japanese designer has now developed a modular furniture system which once more illustrates the principle of using resources economically.
As a bench
It is based on L-shaped units that can be combined in all sorts of ways to make furniture – a chair, a table, a bench. Putting furniture together and disassembling it is made easy by the ingenious yet simple design.
The single elements of the system
10-UNIT SYSTEM is made from UPM ProFi, an environmentally innovative wood plastic composite. Its principal raw materials are recycled paper and plastic. The composite has proved to be tough and humidity resistant. It is an environmentally sustainable material that can be disposed of by incineration, or recycled back into the production process. All materials in the composite are non-toxic.
Artek at Salone Internazionale del Mobile, April 22-27, 2009 Hall 12 Booth C 14