Urban intervention and Miami icon 'The Living Room' by Robert Behar and Rosario Marquardt, 2001
Architonic talks to Miami-based artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt about the relation between art and architecture, and how public space has become more contested than ever.
Long before architects were commissioned to sign their names on skylines across the globe, artists were largely responsible for creating local icons. And few of those public artworks have achieved the notoriety of ‘The Living Room’. Created by Robert Behar and Rosario Marquardt, who work under the name R & R Studios, the 2001 installation arguably qualifies as the most widely recognised of their interventions in Miami, their adopted hometown since 1985.
'All Together Now', Denver, by Robert Behar and Rosario Marquardt, 2007
Since then, R & R Studios has continued exploring subjects that ‘The Living Room’ captured so well, such as the scale (and more generally, the attitude) of public monuments, urban life, and the perceived permanence of cities in works like ‘House of Cards’ for the Miami Art Museum and ‘All Together Now’ in downtown Denver. Here, Behar and Marquardt delve deeply into ‘The Living Room’ and discuss how recurring themes in its work reflect the state of American cities as well as the relationship between artistic and architectural practice.
“Cecilie is just like her furniture,” a friend of mine who works as a designer told me when I mentioned I was going to be interviewing the Copenhagen-based designer Cecilie Manz. And, indeed, Manz exudes a calmness and composure much like her pared-down, uncomplicated work. It was extremely rewarding to meet her at this year’s Stockholm Furniture Fair in February. Here’s our conversation.
'Mikado' side table by Cecilie Manz for Fredericia
As predicted, this year’s fair features a large number of novelties. It’s amazing just how quickly new products, which all claim good reasons to exist, are developed and produced. How long do you work on an object?
Yes, the mass of new products is incredible, but if you’ve ever spent time on a stand at a design fair, you’ll know that “What are you showing that’s new this year?” is always the first question to be asked. No wonder that manufacturers feel under pressure.
The development time of an object really depends on its complexity. But I can say for certain that, regardless of what type of object it is, it takes no less than a year for development. I’d say, on average, it’s between one and two and a half years.
You work alone. Does that mean you don’t like working in a team?
I’ve always worked on my own. Perhaps because I’ve never found the perfect partner. I don’t know. My work situation is perfect at the moment: I’ve got an assistant, who I value enormously. She questions my designs at critical points in the process. But I always have the last word.
This means that the number of commissions is limited.
That’s right. But I’d find it tough to take on commissions that I couldn’t look after properly. I can get enormousy involved in a project and that’s precisely what I like about my work. I can’t simply hand this intensive involvement over to another person. In this sense, a small, manageable studio is what suits me.
'Mondrian' pendant light for Lightyears
You’ve had your own studio for almost 12 years. How has the way that you work changed during this time?
Naturally, I’ve learnt a lot of practical things. A lot of blind alleys that I used to go down in the design process I now know not to revisit. This means my work is more focused, though it’s more limited, too. Apart from that, I still work in an old-fashioned way: I draw a lot with pencil and coloured pens, build small models. Thank God I can’t draw on a computer…
Your designs are extremely reduced in form. Do you see your work in the context of your Danish heritage?
Definitely. I believe our roots are in our blood and the culture that surrounds us, defines us. We people from the North tend to be quite sober and that shows up in classic Danish design. I try to limit my objects to the essential. In doing so, my work mirrors my temperament very well.
In spite of all restraint, as a designer you are part of a system in which sales figures are a decisive valuation factor.
I’m very aware of this, but I definitely don’t want to create things whose appearance and construction don’t serve their function. Many things are produced and bought, without people having thought about them. There should always be a clear reason for designing and producing a new product. It could be to improve functionality or to rationalise something, such as the use of a material, for example.
As the metaphoric dust settles following another Milan Salone del Mobile (not to be confused with the ash from that pesky Icelandic volcano, which did its best to keep the great and the good of the international design press stranded in Italy), Architonic brings you a series of engaging interviews with some of the most influential designers working internationally. We’re calling them the Milan Conversations.
'Blow' table by Konstantin Grcic for Established & Sons in collaboration with Venini, 2010
The plethora of design blogs and design journals available to us these days means that you can get a pretty good idea of what’s been launched at any particular design fair without packing that suitcase with comfortable shoes and business cards. The real value of going to somewhere like Milan are the encounters that you have, not with new products but with other people. It’s probably the design industry’s most productive and rewarding way of exchanging information, ideas and enthusiasm. It’s about inspiration.
In this first installment of the Milan Conversations, Architonic talks to Compasso d’Oro-winning, Munich-based Konstantin Grcic about his new collaboration with leading British design brand Established & Sons (whose show, in an indoor pelota court, was monumental in scale) and how he had to learn to let go. We also talk to Sebastian Wrong, founding member and design development director of said brand, about irony, sustainability and the thinking behind the company’s new own-label collection.
(The interview was held by Simon Cowell)
'Crash' chair by Konstantin Grcic for Established & Sons, 2010
Architonic: It seems quite fitting that we’re standing in a pelota court, as the Established & Sons brand seems to express the idea of play. Humour and irony appear to run through it.
Konstantin Grcic: And the idea of competitiveness. That’s what I like about them. They are really showing muscles. They are only six years old and they’re renting a space that’s larger than any of the traditional companies that have been around for decades. There’s something like a sporty ambition that they have, which fits the space as well.
Your work has in the past often shown a strong sense of analysis and rigour, and form is well considered. What was it like working for the first time with a manufacturer whose products are sometimes more playful, more relaxed? Was the process different?
Yes. The only reason for starting a collaboration with a new company is to do something new. The decision to work with Established & Sons was the joy of new territory. Something completely outside my other experiences. Who the company are and what they’ve done over the years forms one pool of information for me. The other one is purely my own: what have I done and where do I see a niche of new territory for myself. Working with textiles, working with soft materials. Exploring a more organic language of things. Comfort in a totally different way than I normally treat comfort. Or discomfort. All of this was important for me as a consideration. I like that. A designer should be considerate in many different ways. Work is not something you just pour out. There’s always context to it. The company you work with is a context. You have your own context. Even the year 2010 is different from what I would have done last year.
When Tom Kühne, originally an interior designer who was born and raised on the coast, talks about sailing and his fascination for boats, you get an idea of where his momentous but still functional works derive from. We met him at his Berlin studio.
'Wohnwagen' by Tom Kühne
Tom, you have created architecture for a long time. In what way does this influence your work as a designer? As with many other architects the design is being strongly influenced. You literally speak of architects’ design. So you just feel if an object was created by a trained industrial designer or rather by an architect. Because an architect is used to thinking in bigger dimensions, he doesn’t give that much attention to detail and the form of an object. He has a rather skeptical approach to design and tries to integrate other parameters. A designer doesn’t fundamentally question the function, but tries to revive it with a bold form. The architect is obsessed with philosophic thoughts about behaviours, spaces for movement and everyday functionality, obviously with various degrees of success.
And that has to to do with the Dimensions? Of course. The architect is a general planner and the bigger the matter he is planning, the more conscious he becomes about the processes involved. He has to consider time, space and approaches. He always has to bare the parameters which can influence the procedure in mind. All of this together has a higher complexity. This leads to solutions which indeed express themselves in a certain style, but point out to the actual application stronger. And exactly that is what my objects shall do.
iLand by Tom Kühne
Your dwelling objects move away from the established prospect. Doing this, you seem to be inventing completely new types of furniture as for example the “Wohnwagen”. What exactly is your goal creating those dwelling objects? And what is your approach to this? It’s all about performance. You could say, I see the use the object highly stylised. We are actually not aware of the meaning of handling as well as the meaning of an objects independent existence. The rituals of Zen Buddhism clarify this fact. A good example is the art of archery. What is the point there? The point is to empathise the course of movement and to bring it to perfection step by step. Thereby you gain consciousness of the extensive interaction between your own body and the bow. Only such consciousness allows a deeper relationship to items: you start to appreciate them, you develop feelings. With my objects I want to implement such association with things.
'Supersystem' by Tom Kühne
Can you explain this process of conditioning on the basis of one of your objects?
I have developed a light which you carry like a flag or a torch. The illuminant soars above your head as a trophy. It demonstrates solemn might and emblematises the power over light like a torch. In contrast to this, the light has the weakness to fall over when not supported by a wall. The lance-like rod suggests further power blended with slick elegance – the one of a weapon – also resembling the handling of a stick. You will find various associations. The more there are, the more emotional the response towards the object will be.
The two German designers Blasius Osko and Oliver Deichmann have been working as a team for over ten years now. They first attracted international attention with their ‘Pebble’ sofa at Salone Satellite in 2005. A lot has happened since then. ‘Pebble’ is finally in production and osko+deichman have impressed a number of prestigious manufacturers with their reduced and minimalist designs. We met them at their studio in Berlin.
'Clip Chair' by osko+deichmann
You got to know each other while you were studying in Berlin and started your first company as early as 1998. How did this early cooperation come about? Deichmann: Yes, everything actually started during an integrative course of study which was taking place in this form for the last time. We worked very hard in a group of 10 students. As soon as we received our preliminary diploma we decided to set up our own company — in the late 90s there was a feeling that everything was possible and in this spirit we launched ‘Wunschforscher’. Osko: during the period of the New Economy everything was very dynamic and you could take risks.
Last year you started a cooperation with the Swedish manufacturer Blå Station. Your ‘Pebble’ sofa, which you presented in 2005 at the Salone Satellite, is now finally in production. It was actually ready for production back then — why was it mothballed for so long? In fact it wasn’t mothballed for so long, at least not by us but rather by a number of manufacturers. The original response to the sofa was great and a number of prestigious companies were interested in it. However, the first manufacturer we came to an agreement with simply took too long for us, and the next one withdrew from the project – I no longer know how many hands ‘Pebble’ went through. Blå Station got in touch with us almost 4 years after they had seen the sofa in Milan.
'Pebble' armchair and ottoman
In view of the current economic situation, designers of consumer goods are coming in for a certain amount of criticism. How do you think designers should and could react to this situation? Osko: I believe that the keyword is reduction. Quite apart from the crisis, we have always tried to design things at a low level of complexity. Our products are intended to have a clear concept and be as simple to create as possible. It would be nice if the kind of transparency which is being demanded at the political level also managed to to trickle down to the design level. The result would be ‘honest’ products. Our design always involves the challenge of saying as much as possible while using the minimum amount of resources. I believe that this type of design will be very much in demand in the years to come, for both economic and ecological reasons.
'Straw Chair' by osko+deichmann, a interpretation of the Marcel Breuer cantilever
With his playful design Alain Gilles creates entire worlds which are conspicuous for their colour. As the product of a conscious exploration of the possible multiple personalities of an individual object, Gilles has now created a piece of furniture which is designed along strict but at the same time geometrically free lines. The concepts of movement and durability are integrated into the design process of the ‘Big Table’, which was created for Bonaldo and presented at Salone del Mobile 2009. The result is a fusion of function and sculpture.
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.
At this year’s Milan furniture fair the German manufacturer ClassiCon presented some famous classic creations by Sergio Rodriges, a real doyen of Brazilian furniture design. With his work Rodrigues managed to give Brazilian design its own identity and with his casual ‘Mole’ armchair he attracted well-deserved international recognition – “modern furniture in the spirit of Brazilian tradition,” as Oskar Niemeyer remarked. From this year on ClassiCon will be marketing some of these classics. We had the honour of interviewing Sergio Rodrigues in Milan.