The director of Ljubljana’s Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) and organiser of the BIO Design Biennale Matevz Celik is an architect from a generation straddling the cultural divide between the state socialism of former Yugoslavia and the burgeoning fre-market economy of the young Slovenian nation. He spoke to Sophie Lovell about how the knock-on effects of political change have affected the country’s design industry and the difficulty of finding new models of engagement whilst hamstrung by the old.
Architect Greg Lynn believes the good outweighs the bad when it comes to carbon composites…
Interview with Greg Lynn for uncube magazine no. 16 CARBON
Times are tough for photographers: everyone thinks they can be a Jürgen Teller or a Martin Parr these days. Why should we pay someone to take some pictures when we can do it ourselves with our smart phone or repost someone else’s images from the web? Sophie Lovell talked to architecture photographer Andreas Gehrke about the saturated market, his love of “slow capture” and setting up his own publishing company.
Andreas Gehrke was born in Berlin in 1975. His career has bridged the gap between his art photography and commercial projects. Under the name “Noshe” he has been a regular contributor to the likes of Wallpaper and AD and shot buildings for publishers including Taschen and Hatje Cantz, whereas his alter ego Andreas Gehrke has exhibited his spare yet aura-laden landscapes and building portraits in galleries ranging from Pierogi in Leipzig to PS1 in New York. Yet even Gehrke has not remained untouched by the changes that have drastically altered the practice and perception of photography over the past few years. Self-publishing, globally accessible image banks and the fact that millions now carry a high quality camera masquerading as a telephone in their trouser pocket have all taken their toll. But the biggest problem, in Gehrke’s view, lies in print. For hard hit publishing companies photography books are an expensive specialist niche market they can increasingly ill afford. So last year Gehrke decided to set up his own publishing company, Drittel Books, for his own works and those of colleagues he admires. His first publications are a series of slim, carefully crafted volumes of his own visual essays on dormant modernist buildings that once hosted business enterprises playing a significant role in shaping the political, social and economic face of post-war Germany: Quelle, IBM and the newspaper Der Spiegel.
Uncube: Did you set out to be architecture photographer?
Andreas Gehrke: I have never differentiated between architecture, landscape or portrait. I don’t think it is important what you photograph, but how you photograph it. A good friend once said that he sees a portrait in everything that I shoot: be it a portrait of a landscape, a building or a person.
What drew you to architecture as the subject of your work?
Growing up as a city kid in Berlin, I was always interested in my immediate surroundings: streets, corners, walls, derelict spaces and so on, that’s how photographers are. At the age of eleven I joined a photography club and a few years later I had my first exhibitions centred around the urban⁄rural theme. The distance between nature and city is never far in Berlin.
When did you start working as a professional photographer? What was the work climate like then in your profession?
I got my first commission in 1999 and it wasn’t long before I was able to earn a living from my photography.
Photography has undergone big changes over the last few years, as has the publishing industry. In what ways has this affected your work as a photographer?
Because my career began towards the end of the “fat years”, I got used to a pattern of working hard, staying flexible and keeping costs down. In recent years the jobs have not got any less but there are certain trends that worry me a lot: the growing market invasion of image banks, shrinking picture editorial budgets and the constantly shifting print market. Worst of all is when the photographic element of photography gets lost, when everything is shot in a flat and neutral way and we end up needing artificially generated filters to bring back the errors in order to re-establish our relationship with the medium.
Is it hard to earn a living in this business now, if so why?
Of course it is hard sometimes, but I would not want to switch places with my journalist colleagues or the architects either. It is the same everywhere. The market is saturated, there are far too many experienced photographers, and young talents.
Does the Internet and increasingly high-quality mobile devices mean the death of professional photography?
I don’t think so. It is always the eye behind the camera that counts. Even when it has become technically so much easier to achieve a relatively satisfactory result you can usually see whether the photographer has devoted a lot of time to the subject or the medium, or not.
You have had books of your work published before, so what drove you to take the step towards setting up your own publishing company Drittel Books?
The photography and art book market has really changed a lot. There is a varied and of course interesting range on offer but at the same time the print runs are dropping. This makes it hard for publishers to finance smaller projects. That means that artists today have to finance production themselves with their own money – or that of a sponsor. I will most likely continue to self-publish my own projects in the future. But that will only work if the small editions that I have published so far sell successfully. I also hope to publish more works by my colleagues again, like the recent book galerie berlintokyo that I did with Martin Eberle. Drittel Books is intended to be a platform for contemporary photography. But I have to be realistic and see to it that the organisation of it all remains manageable.
Where would you like to go next?
My aim is to publish the next editions in a print run high enough to allow them to be sold through a distributor.
What advice would you give to photographers wanting to work in the world of architecture?
Use a tripod!
What advice would you give to architects wanting to have their buildings photographed?
Give the photographer the freedom to look at and photograph the building using their own eye. That doesn’t mean you can’t still give concrete specifications, I always find it interesting to see how architects view and understand their own buildings.
Another photographer who has a passion for abandoned spaces, Robert Polidori, said at a talk in Berlin recently: I like the reproducibility of digital, but its capture is brittle and not so great. With digital you take the picture to expurgate it out of your life, with film you take a picture to keep it. Would you agree?
I still shoot my personal work exclusively analogue with a 4 x 5 plate camera. It’s the process, the rapprochement with the place and the slow capture I love. The camera forces you to concentrate on the motif, I love the intensity of that concentration. Also it’s softer in the highlights than digital. On the other hand I totally enjoy the advantages of the digital process, the speed and it can produce excellent results. In the commercial world, no client has time for the analogue process anymore.
Who are your photographer heroes?
The list could be endless, but the photographers that influenced me the most when I was younger were those that I got to know through their books: Michael Schmidt, Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, John Gossage, August Sander, Richard Avedon…
You have shot a lot of buildings over the past 14 years – do you have a favourite?
I am still inspired by the concept and realisation of the Boros Collection building in a former bunker here in Berlin and the penthouse on the roof by Realarchitektur and Jens Casper is one of the most beautiful apartments that I have ever seen or photographed.
– Sophie Lovell
Five years ago, Wallpaper* reported on a masterclass of a modernist housing estate tucked amongst the trees in the heart of Berlin’s Tiergarten (see W*104). Since then the German capital’s property market has just kept on booming and the Oscar Niemeyer apartments or Arne Jacobsen villas in the Hansaviertel are now well up the desirability scale for young-ish, moneyed creatives. In Berlin it is the story as much as the location that makes a building special and, as David Chipperfield so handsomely demonstrated with his 2009 reworking of the Neues Museum, the most stunning spaces tend to be cleverly worked interfaces between the contemporary and historical. The Atrium Haus is a freshly restored and renovated Hansaviertel bungalow by one of Mies van der Rohe’s favourite student and it ticks all the right boxes for lovers of the late modern and the latest mod cons.
The two architects responsible for the atrium house refit know about making the most of the special mix in Berlin. Stefan Flachsbarth and Michael Schulz from bfs d Architekten have a great portfolio of narrative-rich buildings that they have renovated, updated and reworked in recent years, including the Blain|Southern gallery in the former Tagesspiegel newspaper print room and a gallery/atelier space in a former 1950s Shell petrol station for Nolan Julin gallery as well as the (sadly) short-lived Berlin branch of the Haunch of Venison gallery, the (happily) thriving restaurant Alpenstück and two experimental food retail outlets called Kochhaus.
The Atrium Haus was built in 1957 as part of the Interbau building exhibition. It is nestled between residential buildings from Walter Gropius and Arne Jacobsen, so both company and location are superb, but the story attached to it, in terms of architectural provenance, is even better: Eduard Ludwig is an architect who almost had it all, yet is now barely remembered. He was one of Mies van der Rohe’s favourite students at the Bauhaus and went on to work for the master of modernism right up until he set up his own studio in 1937 – It was Ludwig that designed Mies’ noted Drinking Hall for the Masters’ Houses in Dessau, but the boss got the credit of course. After the War Ludwig best known works were the famous monument to the Berlin airlift in front of the Tempelhof airport building (but was never really credited for it) and five bungalows for the Hansaviertel as well as a show home for the World Exhibition in Brussels at the end of the 1950s. As an architect it seemed that Ludwig was firmly en route for stardom, but tragically, in 1960, at the age of 54, Ludwig was killed when he crashed his sports car on the motorway near Berlin. His final building design, a church for Berlin’s Tegel district, was built posthumously on his behalf by Karl Otto in 1963.
Ludwig’s 1950s design for the Atrium Haus and it’s siblings was highly modern at the time, but spartanically built with prefab insulated concrete walls, night storage heating, linoleum floors and large expanses of glass. It was well-proportioned and not a little reminiscent of his form mentor’s Barcelona pavilion, taking maximum advantage of light, air and aspect, yet thanks to a high surrounding wall and a clever puzzle-like interlocking with its neighbours. it was, and is, extremely private. Over the years, however, various owners had renovated and changed interior elements every decade or so and as a result the interior had become a mishmash of colours and materials with cherry wood parquet floors, an added-on winter garden and other adaptations.
Flachbarth and Schulz come from a retail design background – they like to work on the “complete package”, as they call it, “individually tailored to each client and their belongings” – so when the new owner commissioned them to update the house they needed to balance not only a careful mix of space and use requirements for the owners alongside strict listed building restrictions, but also materials and colour schemes for fixtures and fittings, floors, lights and walls and furniture as well. The fact that many original elements – such as the kitchen furniture – were no longer present meant they were free to create larger spaces and install new facilities, but enough historical features, such as the original radiators remained and were restorable to keep the authentic feel of the building. “The original kitchen, dining room and pantry were tiny”, explains Flachsbarth, “we opened them up into a much larger kitchen/dining area but kept the traces of the original walls in the ceiling”. The sleeping area was originally designed for a family of five, here too walls were removed so it could be adapted for the needs of the new, single owner with a master bedroom, guest bedroom and large walk-in shower/ bathroom area. The garage was converted into an office and studio for the client’s casting business, but the indoor/outdoor living areas comprising a glass-walled sitting room and two atrium gardens were kept as close as possible to their original form even the birch and conifer planting is historically correct.
The interior colour scheme is mainly a combination of chromatic whites that reflect 1950s colours – with the palest of pinks and creams, and a grey poured polyurethane floor throughout. Another ’50s style touch is the handmade Ann Sacks ceramic relief tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. But the renovation was not intended to turn the house into a time capsule: “A lot of the furniture we acquired for the house is vintage,” says Flachbarth, “in fact we bought a fair bit of it on Ebay, but we also mixed in some new pieces, such as the Rolf Benz sofa and the lacquered aluminium dining table, that we custom-designed ourselves”.
Through a great deal of hard work and attention to detail Flachbarth and Schulz have displayed a remarkably light touch in their re-interpretation of a really rather important little building. You get the feeling that Ludwig would have approved of their efforts and of course the owner must be happy with his investment, which has his new home now rocketing off the top of the “must-have” scale.
Heinz Witthoeft says he is most definitely not a designer, he is, he explains, an “ARCHITECTURTAILER and STATIONIST” and it is very important to him that we understand the difference. His Stuttgart atelier is also his home, packed to the brim with archive material, work in progress and drawing equipment. The only sign that anyone lives here is a mattress in the corner with a few blankets piled on top: “my dog bed”, he says. Witthoeft is a sprightly man dressed in black with a polo necked jumper and heavy-rimmed “architects” glasses. He looks and moves like one far younger than his 76 years.
Since 1959 Witthoeft’s life work has been based on a city system of his own devising which has its own manifesto, own society ideals, it’s own systemic structure, own furniture and even its own nomenclature. “Modernism has failed to this day”, he says, “to provide us with an urban model suitable for our society”. So Witthoeft has spent the last forty years devising one of his own. All his furniture systems, drawings, photographs and graphic designs are part of his utopian urban ideal. They are strictly reduced, almost severe in form, yet they have an attractive emotionality about them that makes them far from cold. He belongs to the great German post-war, functional generation but was never part of it. His furniture forms and his sense of proportion are powerful and iconic, yet hardly anyone outside a small circle of insiders in his home town of Stuttgart has heard of him and his work and not a single piece of his furniture has ever made it into series production…
She may be half Danish and live in Paris, but that hasn’t hindered furniture designer Gesa Hansen from becoming the new darling of the German design scene. Born in 1981 to a Danish father and a German mother, she grew up in Arnsberg, North Rhine-Westphalia where her family’s furniture business is based, before studying at the Bauhaus University in Weimar – so the Germans can rightly claim her as their own.
At the same time, Hansen’s long-term sojourn by the Seine – which began eight years ago, and included an apprenticeship with architect Jean Nouvel and a parallel singing career with French chanteur Benjamin Biolay (their duet single La Superbe recently went platinum) – lends her just the right amount of je ne sais quoi.
Hansen never intended to be a furniture designer. Growing up in a family “where almost everybody has something to do with wood, architecture or design” she initially decided to go her own way and study graphic design at the Bauhaus University. But thanks to the multidisciplinary approach of the college, where students are encouraged to explore product design, art, visual communication and architecture, Hansen took a product design course with professor Axel Kufus, one of Germany’s key innovative designers in the 1980s, and found herself moving back to furniture. “Kufus made me document every step of the design process so that I could step back and choose maybe another direction than the one I was heading in before”, she says of her former mentor, “he always made us think in industrial production terms, made us aware of potential production problems and always pushed towards simplification of the product”.
After college Hansen went to Paris to visit a friend and lost her heart to the bright lights and cuisine of the French capital: “I love the Parisian lifestyle, to start the day slowly in the morning, to have a long lunch with other designers and to work late into the night”, she says. After a stint at Jean Nouvel’s atelier, it was her involvement with the H5 graphic studio that provided her next big influence: “They have a very simple style with great details in typography and patterns. For me Rachel Cazadamont [co-founder of H5] is the best graphic designer of our times and we are still working together today”. Recent collaborations with H5 have included a competition for the visual identity of Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Foundation building, exhibition signage for the Musée d’Art et Decoration, Paris and a project for the Prix Hermes.
Now Hansen has her own studio in Paris and she spends most of her time in the city with her friends and her own young family. But twice a month for the past four years she has been making the trip back to her other home in Arnsberg to uphold family tradition and attend to what is now her core profession: furniture.
Philipp Schöpfer und Daniel Klapsing met as students at the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany and formed their own design studio together in 2007. They called their company 45 Kilo as a sort of metric reference to the archetype of the “seven stone weakling” boy at the beach, but their growing body of muscular and well-toned work shows them to be anything but puny and unattractive when it comes to quality design.
45 Kilo’s early work first caught our eye at DMY in Berlin in 2008, then as part of the self-initiated platform My Bauhaus is Better than Yours at the Carwan gallery in Milan last year and again at Meet My Project at the Maison et Objet in Paris this January. Over that time they have put together a collection of products that are functional without being severe and exhibit a lot of consideration towards both production and the user “We try,” they say, “to make things that are simple and well-balanced, work well and long, are easy to make, and are fun”: All qualities that we have come to expect of good German design, but with a touch of lightheartedness thrown in.
45 Kilo’s furniture reflects a conflation of their early influences and experiences: Daniel felt himself initially drawn to the easy-going Dutch design scene and spent time doing internships with Bertjan Pot and Chris Kabel, whilst Phillip on the other hand took the architecture track and work for a while in the office of his uncle H G Merz who is renowned in Germany for the powerful understatement of his museum and exhibition architecture. But interestingly it is the word “Bauhaus” that one finds writ large along their path to date. They not only studied at the legendary school (albeit much changed from how it was back in the day) but have taken much of what it stands for to heart: “The school now is very different to the historic Bauhaus, of course, but it keeps the tradition in the sense of encouraging its students to work both manually and conceptually, or in other words: to bring together form and meaning”. “The nice thing about the Bauhaus,” they add, “is that on the one hand it is linked to a certain strictness and effectiveness, on the other hand it stands for experiments and a very playful creativity. We think both aspects are important to our way of designing and they fit to our personal profile quite well”…
The German furniture fair the imm Cologne is huge. Every year it kicks off the annual international trade fair circuit with over 1,000 exhibitors from all over the world showing their wares in 14 halls. The imm is also a regular occasion for a great gathering of the clans from the host nation’s furniture producers and designers and an opportunity for a mass meet and greet amongst some of the finest and most respected furniture producers and design know-how worldwide. German design and the label “Made in Germany” still carries a reputation for quality and innovation on a technical as well as design know-how level that is the envy of many, so keeping an eye on the mood swings of the German designer/producer scene is still a good way to gauge furniture foibles that will influence our interiors in the coming years.
A strong sense of sobriety paired with superb material quality and beautiful hand-finished surfaces is more evident than ever this year. Thonet, for example, have brought out a new version of their Marcel Breuer cantilevered classic chair design from the 1920s covered in finest nubuck leather with oiled wood armrests from sustainable forests. And carpet meister Jan Kath introduced a new range of vibrant silk rugs made from recycled saris.
A return to German functionalist roots with high tech adaptations is reflected in Interlübke’s Bookless shelving system with its clever hidden technical interface sockets that anticipates the evolution of the bookshelf in an era where our libraries become ever more virtual. Konstantin Grcic’s much-lauded new Pro chair for the 100 year old firm Flötotto from East Westfalia is a contemporary version of the classic school chair that is a masterclass in contemporary sitting, stacking and construction design. The moulded plastic shell is shaped in such a way as to be strong and springy without the need of added fibreglass. “You can see it still has the company DNA” says CEO Elmar Flötotto proudly comparing the Pro to their old wooden school chair model, the legendary Formsitz from the 1950s.
Upcoming young designers get to make their statements at the imm too thanks to the D3 Contest show curated annually by the German Design Council. Stools made of stitched concrete and industrial shelving made of wood show too that German students take both their design heritage and material innovation traditions seriously. And in the imm Das Haus study in contemporary living by guest designers Doshi Levien the London-based pair have introduced a number of new prototypes and editions including a superb mixed-materials dining table in collaboration with Stilwerk.
We took our imm pick of the fair this year from pieces by German manufacturers and German designers to show that when it comes to form, fabric, function and innovation they are still well ahead of the game…
Three years ago German business strategist Christian Kurtzke was offered a “mission impossible” challenge: to turn a loss-making, national manufacturing treasure into a global luxury brand with no additional financing. The treasure in question was the state-owned Meissen Porcelain Manufactory. At 300 years old it is Germany’s oldest and most esteemed porcelain firm and the symbolic heart and soul of the state of Saxony; rich in tradition, heritage and standards of excellence. But in 2008, after years of stagnation, Meissen was in trouble, choking on the dust of its own antiquity and bleeding millions. The challenge that tempted Kurtzke, was not just about blowing off the dust, implementing new entrepreneurial structures, launching new products and setting up new business areas, but also the opportunity to “reinvent the company from scratch whilst remaining loyal to its DNA”. The catch was that being state-owned, and therefore according to European law, this turn-around had to happen using purely operational capital. “That really was a ‘mission impossible’”, says Kurtzke, so naturally enough he accepted.
The problems facing the European porcelain industry, not just Meissen, are well known. For Kurtzke the first problem Meissen was facing when he took over as managing director in 2008 lay in an over concentration on the saturated and declining tableware market. The second was that internally the company was filled with highly skilled craftspeople yet had barely changed structurally since the war: the GDR ended over twenty years ago yet “the Wall came down for Meissen just three years ago” he adds. Kurtzke’s third problem was that he took over as managing director of the company right in the middle of the global financial crisis. Nevertheless, he managed, through a radical shake-up of staff and structuring and some surprising diversification to generate “double-digit growth within two years”. “I changed everything so that everything would stay the way it is – I had to”, he adds. This included causing a scandal by smashing skiploads of unsellable stock and also dismantling the entire design team in favour of a global network of external designers (“Meissen is unique in craftsmanship but don’t ask us to design”). There then followed the lightning development of a new Meissen architectural tile range, new flagship stores in China and Taiwan, a second HQ in Milan to be called the Meissen Villa, a jewellery range, an “Art Campus” for guest fine artists and now, previewed for the first time here in Wallpaper, a furniture and furnishing fabric collection called Meissen Home.
“The speed of it all sometimes scares me,” says Kurtzke, “because I am violating every rule in every management book. Normally you have to be really cautious with this kind of brand diversification: slowly introducing new products and lines over years not months, but I don’t have the time. To cope with crisis you need to create diversity and you have to reach a critical speed; like with a stuck car you need to gain momentum to get out of the rut”. So far, his breakneck velocity approach seems to be paying off: “The nice thing is that the market is reacting well to it – our new silk scarf line, for example, sold out within three months” and, he says, the company with its 600-strong staff is already in profit again with a revenue of some 40 million Euros. But Kurtzke has the future to think of and they are not quite out of the woods yet: “the revenue needs to be at least 80 million so the company sustains” and this, he believes is only possible through diversity in order to absorb knocks that the markets might throw at it…
While many of us have long considered the idea of buying and collecting design objects as a legitimate pastime and the art scene now grudgingly allows design to be traded within its (indirect) vicinity, the design-art scene itself still practices its own form of segregation by dividing the contemporary from the historical. There is a noticeable barrier between galleries focusing on mid-century modern design pieces and those choosing the slightly more perilous path of contemporary design. This segregation makes sense within traditional fine art mores – you won’t often find a gallery that would specialise in dealing, say, Piet Mondrian and Thomas Demand, let alone hang them in the same room. But collecting and dealing in design is a different ballgame to that of fine art and it is an area where there is still plenty of potential for rule-breaking.
There are one or two design galleries at the vanguard of design collecting that are making a success out of facing down conventions and one of those two is Nilufar. Owner Nina Yashar believes in mixing up the generations: she shows young unknowns side by side with museum-worthy historical design objects in her extensive gallery on Milan’s smartest shopping street, the Via della Spiga. The Nilufar gallery shows have become must-sees during the annual the Salone del Mobile Milan furniture fair as well as the DesignMiami /Basel and Frieze fairs and Yashar’s instinct for quality in innovation is increasingly well respected. Much of the impact of her shows comes from her adventurous juxtapositions, which, she says, are not simply for the sake of eclecticism, but “absolutely necessary”. “I think the dialogue between the historical and contemporary is fundamental”, she explains, “they give relevance to one another – I never show contemporary design on its own”.
Tehran-born Yashar began her career as a gallerist back in 1979 dealing in antique oriental carpets. It was not long before her interests spread to carpet designs from Europe including examples from Sweden. It was on a carpet-buying trip to Stockholm in the late 1990s, she says, that her love-affair with furniture design began. Whilst exploring the city, she came across some mid-century modern furniture pieces that really fascinated her: “so I just bought some”, she says, “without really having any background knowledge about what they were, and when I got them back to the gallery and showed them to friends they said: ‘oh you have bought Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner and Bruno Mathsson’”. There then followed exhibitions (particularly Crossings in 1999 and 2001) where she began mixing modernist furniture with 17th Century Tibetan and 19th Century Indian carpets. Yashar’s eye for fine work continued to prove true and she had a series of shows over the following years with pieces from innovative 20th century designers such as Gaetano Pesce, Barnaba Fornasetti, Roger Tallon and Paul Evans.
It was in 2007, however that Yashar really caused waves amongst the design establishment. She gave over her booth at the DesignMiami/Basel fair to a young, unknown designer called Martino Gamper who proceeded to saw up a collection of Gio Ponti furniture designed for the Hotel Parco dei Principi on site and recompose them into his own works. When Gamper repeated the exercise with 100 chairs that he remixed into 100 new chairs at an exhibition entitled Onehundred at Nilufar in Milan that same year, it caused a sensation…
Whether in fiction or reality, we are rarely gifted with the perfect plot. And yet for some architects the most difficult terrain can prove not only a challenge, but an inspiration. In the 1960s the Swiss Society for Construction Entrepreneurs (SSIC) chose, perhaps rather rashly, to build their vocational training college on an alluvial flood plain by the village of Gordola in the Ticino district of Switzerland. The ground is spongy here and the water table very close to the surface. In the year 2000 alone the nearby Lago Maggiore burst its banks twice and soaked the entire campus. So when the society held a national competition to design a new workshop building for its trainees in 2004 that would also contain half a million Franken-worth of digital machinery, priority number one was that it be flood proof.
Surprisingly, many of the submitted designs involved building dams or raised mounds to hold back the waters when they came, but winning architects Pia Durisch and Aldo Nolli of Durisch + Nolli Architetti chose the path of least resistance and put their building on stilts. If and when the lake floods again, they reasoned, the water will pass underneath, and when not, the space under the building can serve as a useful parking and storage area. “It also seemed a terrible shame to break the topography of the plain”, says Nolli.
Completed in 2010, their building is a 140 metre-long volume set on a single concrete slab sitting on 68 slim concrete stilts, which in turn are standing on a gravel base. So far so solid, but above the slab is where all the poetry begins: the architects chose a lightweight steel shed roof construction that covers a combination of single and double height spaces in a sharp saw-toothed silhouette that contrasts wonderfully with the flatness of the plain. A shimmering outer skin of inox steel enhances the effect of a floating, slightly other-worldly yet obviously functional building. Viewed from the west, its long, long serrated profile is rather fort-like, but since it appears to hover above the ground on almost invisible stilts one is reminded of the expression “castles in the air” in the nicest possible way. The new building from this angle hides the rest of the buildings belonging to the campus and in front is a large expanse of bare ground called the “paddock” where students are trained to operate heavy construction and site machinery such as excavators and cranes. This area of naked earth provides an eye-catching visual contrast to the shiny metal technical construction resting lightly upon it…
If you only ever bought one set of shelves in your life what requirements would they need to fulfil? Practically, they would need to be strong and well built. You would need to be able to dismantle them and reinstall them easily in different spaces. You should be able to repair them or replace elements if they got damaged. Aesthetically, they would need to look good but in an unshowy way; it is your books that are on display here, not the shelves. And they would need to be neutral enough to fit with changes in colour scheme or architectural style. In other words, you should be able get on with your life and your shelves should get on with being shelves.
Vitsoe’s 606 Universal Shelving System designed by Dieter Rams in 1959 is just such a piece of classic furniture. It’s a plain-looking, wall-mounted assembly of beautifully engineered and proportioned powder-coated steel and lacquered plywood components hung on extruded aluminium E-profile tracks. It is quite extraordinary in its ordinariness yet it fulfils all the requirements outlined above and more. Jasper Morrison has gone so far as to call it the “the endgame of shelving systems”. It does its job so perfectly that “there is no point in trying to design another”.
Dieter Rams was 27 when he designed the RZ 60 (later known as the 606) shelving system. Four years earlier in 1955 he had joined the German electrical appliances manufacturer Braun as an interior architect just as they were in the process of revolutionising domestic-appliance design. In an atmosphere of almost idealistic postwar optimism, Rams was rapidly pulled into the product-design team alongside older, former Bauhaus disciples and Ulm School founders including Fritz Eichler, Otl Aicher, Herbert Hirche and Hans Gugelot. Within months he was designing and co-designing record players, radios, slide projectors, flashguns and razors for Braun. By 1961 he was head of design for the whole company. But he wanted more…
The young Danish designer Anders Warming is the new head of design for MINI cars in Munich but he has been a BMW “family” member for years.
Born in the Gentofte region in eastern Denmark in 1972, Warming is a lean, alert and highly focused individual with a sharp intellect and a passion for designing cars that is only matched by his love of making music. He began his career with BMW at Designworks USA in 1997 directly after finishing his studies in product and automotive design in Perugia, Vevey and Pasadena respectively. With Designworks he spent much of his time on the automotive design team in California but also gained experience in the BMW design office in Munich. There followed a brief stint with Volkswagen between 2003 and 2005 but it wasn’t long before Warming returned to the BMW fold as head of Advanced Design in Munich, and later Chief Exterior Designer, before being handed the responsibility for the family’s favourite baby – the Mini – at the beginning of 2011.
The English design critic and author Sophie Lovell went to meet him in Munich to talk about materials, intangibles, the complex perfection of guitars and the new Mini Coupé.
Many car designers seem to have been drawing cars even before they could walk and spend their entire lives as automotive obsessives? Are you one of them?
A I have been told that I was drawing cars since before I can remember. I have no idea why, it’s just me and what I do, and I do it all the time. Whenever I’m on the phone or in meetings, I am constantly doodling cars. Last weekend even I did another car painting – I could have been mowing the lawn but I painted a car instead. It is a lovely thing that I am blessed with being able to do this for a living. It’s my dream job and my hobby – I would even do it for free.
Do you feel there is a necessity to break away from that now and then – to take a step back to reassess your perspective?
I think you have to go through waves as a designer between more factual and then more conceptual thinking. Maybe I needed two years of working in Advanced Design in order to be able to do production cars. Now in my role as head of Mini from a design perspective, I’m much more involved with conceptual and long-term issues.
BMW has been very active in recent years with examining the car industry as a whole from a highly conceptual angle – in rethinking the whole apparatus we know as “car”. Project i and now the Guggenheim Lab are looking at patterns and experimental solutions in design, materials, technology, use and production with individual consultants ranging from the artist Olafur Eliasson to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. How important do you think it is for designers, and indeed companies, to think conceptually and “out of the box” in today’s climate?
I think that, as designers, before we all start drawing flying saucers that can change the world there is an essential need to focus on the automobile as an object. Firstly because as a product it has stood the test of time over many decades and secondly because an automobile is an incredibly complex object to design. We sometimes refer to it as “five hundred products in one”. In order to design a car well you have to have certain qualifications in terms of drawing, engineering, craftsmanship and so on. BMW as a group now has the capacity to build really good cars that just get better and better in terms of lightness, aerodynamics and build quality. We have got so good at doing what we do that we have reached the point where we can use this knowledge to transcend into a state of doing cars in a different way. And I don’t mean “different” for the sake of being different – I am talking about a bandwidth of possibility. Encouraging designers and engineers to think “new”, to get into the deeper meaning of the product, as with Project i, is something that can happen only when the quality levels are saturated. You can’t do this if you have a poor quality product…
These days when we talk about mid-century modern collectables, many of us are au fait with furniture designers such as Alvar Aalto, George Nakashima or Jean ProuvÃ©, but what about the potters who made some of the era’s most defining vase forms: Pol Chambost’s sensual yellow curves, for example, Robert Lallemant’s architectonic shapes, or the fabulous Atelier Primavera’s glazes? Lets face it, when it comes to ceramics most of us can’t tell our lustre from our bisque. And whereas every home needs a decent vase or three we don’t often take the time to even appreciate the world of difference between a hand-thrown one-off and a mass-produced crock stamped out of a mould.
The grande dame of Swiss ceramics, Margrit Linck (1897-1983), is barely known outside of her home country. Her artwork ceramics change hands for modest prices amongst pottery enthusiasts, yet it is the powerful formal language of her domestic ware handmade in her home studio near Bern that has brought her an avid Swiss following since she chose to reject colour in favour of pure functional form back in 1941.
Margrit and her sculptor husband Walter Linck spent their early years in Bern before moving to Berlin in the 1920s and renting ateliers in Paris for the best part of the ’30s. Here they both soaked up the modern European artistic scene before returning home in the early years of the war. The influences Margrit brought back with her were primarily those of artists such as Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, and Joan Miro –she had little to do with contemporary potters of the time – and an abiding passion for African and South Sea Island sculpture.
Linck started producing gebrauchskeramik (domestic pottery) in the 1940s, deciding, as she said “to carry on where the old guard left off”. The early forms still echoed those of the local traditional pottery Heimberg, where she first learnt her trade, but she soon moved on into a stricter, more modern geometric language that has clear African influences but also looks forward to shapes later found in the Ettore Sottsass’ ceramic totems from the 1960s onwards.
Linck’s pieces, all thrown by hand on the wheel and glazed in either plain black or white, are highly technically demanding. They are baked for 48 hours apiece in two separate firings where the difficulty of getting an even glaze and avoiding cracks and faults is not inconsiderable. Since Linckâ’s death at the age of 96 in 1983, her small team of four part-time potters have continued turn out a maximum of 60 pieces per week in the tiny family workshop, all made to Linck’s exacting specifications…
Jonathan Ive is a man who needs little introduction, which is just as well because not an awful lot is known about him. He is a Chingford-born lad who studied Industrial Design at Newcastle Polytechnic and, after a brief stint with the London design consultancy Tangerine, went on to join the Apple design team in Cupertino, California in 1992. At the tender age of 43 he is now Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc., head of their in-house design department and, some would say, the greatest industrial designer of his generation. Ive and his team have brought us one achingly beautiful object of desire after another including iMacs, Powerbooks, iPods, iPhones and iPads, and given shape to whole new age of multi-touch personal computing, entertainment and communication.
Although he is the public face of Apple’s conspicuously anonymous design team, Ive rarely gives interviews and despite being heaped with honours and awards, does not tend to frequent the events that go with them. Apparently he prefers to spend most of his time working inhuman hours in the Apple HQ at No.1 Infinity Loop fine-tuning prototypes and experimenting with new materials. So it was quite a treat when we got the call asking if we would like to talk to him about his work and his passion for making all things Apple-shaped.
After 18 years living on the West Coast, Jonathan Ive’s North-East London accent is still as broad as the North Circular. He speaks intensely, with great concentration and little of the trade jargon one tends to encounter with other industrial designers employed by large firms. He does not need to sell what he does, his products speak clearly enough for themselves, but he does want to communicate his approach and the intensity of his relationship with the company from which he now seems inseparable.
Ive’s design team at Apple is small, “you would be very, very surprised at how small”, he says, but it is clear this is not going to be a conversation about names and numbers. They have worked together for a long time and he values their ability to understand and communicate with one another, particularly when as a designer “you are barely able to articulate your intent or your view or perception of something that you are working on”. The team’s candid attitude, he says, is also essential: “We can be brutally critical of our work and the personal issues of ego have long since faded. We are very clear on what our priorities and goals are, so being focused and resolute is made much easier when you are a small group that is implicitly understood”.
Ive talks in the first person plural for much of our conversation. It is hard to tell where the use of “we” – meaning Apple Inc – begins and “we” – meaning the design team – ends. This integrated view of himself as part of a whole, rather than a discrete individual is reflected in how he describes the role of design within the context of company and the goals of both his design team and the company. “What we try to do is to design and make the best products that we can” is a phrase that he repeats often, for him it is the foundation upon which everything else is based. “It is important that I said design and make”, he adds: “I think it is absolutely essential that the process is seen as continuous. The object and its manufacture are inseparable”. It is true that design is often talked about by designers as if it were a discrete activity disconnected from the processes of manufacture and this in Ive’s view is a big mistake: “If you are going to be making something in high volume, the actual process of mass manufacture is in many ways more definitive than design. Our manufactured environment speaks volumes in this respect – it is filled with objects that have been barely considered from a design point of view, but the fact that they have been made is incontrovertible…”
German studio AFF Architekten has built up quite a reputation for unconventional interventions that use raw materials and striking topographical forms. We were quite taken with its museum conversion of Schloss Freudenstein in, Freiberg, Saxony in 2007 (see W*128), and now they have wowed us again with a simple countryside retreat, again in Saxony. Built out of raw, poured concrete, the new Schutzhütte am Fichtelberg is equipped with the minimum of comforts: stove, fireplace, pinewood floors, beds, lights and windows that open onto a densely forested landscape. This woodland “hut” looks a bit like what might happen if sculptor Rachel Whiteread got lost in the woods with Henry David Thoreau; a post-industrial Walden that is an impressive exercise in the luxury of the elementary…
It is difficult to talk about the work of the artist James Turrell to someone who has not experienced it. Born in California in 1943, he has been working with light and optical phenomena since the 1960s, exploring the edges of human perception, where they meet what might be called spiritual experience, with the precision of a scientist, the lyricism of a poet and the zeal of a visionary. He builds structures for people to enter and experience the physicality of light, pieces of surprising delicacy with planes, fields or spaces that set free the mind of the viewer to construct their own castles in the sky from and intense, yet subtle photon palette. We told you it was difficult to talk about.
Turrell is no easier to follow when he talks about his work. He greets us personally at the door to his compact New York City pied à terre in a leafy Manhattan square and leads us into a sitting room furnished in a Quaker-built, rather classical style. There is no bustling entourage, just a work associate quietly wrestling with some technical drawings in the next room. Turrell is a big man, simply dressed in dark trousers and a jacket which contrast his shock of white hair and magnificent snowy beard. Meeting him is like sitting down with Isaac Newton masquerading as Father Christmas. His jovial avuncular appearance and patient, measured tones belie an extremely sharp mind that has been pondering the finer points of electromagnetic radiation, complex geometries, astrophysics and theology for over half a century. It helps to know that he studied perceptual psychology, mathematics and art history as well as art and that he is an accomplished pilot and aerial photographer. It is also important to know that Turrell is a Quaker, a member of the Religious Society of Friends (once termed “Children of the Light”), which is a stripped down branch of Christianity that focuses on the direct spiritual experience and has done away with what it sees as unnecessary frills and ceremony.
Turrell’s conversational threads can be both multidisciplinary and multifarious, sweeping from the shape of the universe, Riemannian geometry and Plato to prehistoric architecture, Bez Alel, Meister Eckhart and Robert Mapplethorpe in less than the time it takes to drink a cup of tea. But he is a natural communicator and educator, patiently unpacking what he does. “I take light and make it seem like it is material”, he says, “basically I traffic in coloured air and blue sky…”
The gentrification of Berlin took an interesting turn recently with the opening of a new branch of the Soho House private members club in a former department store (later the Politbüro HQ) in Mitte. The Soho House Group, founded in 1995 in London is a niche concept that provides attractive, members-only boutique accommodation, restaurants, spas and R&R facilities for aesthetically demanding creatives in London (five premises), Somerset, New York and now Berlin – with Hollywood and Miami to follow later this year.
The principle is fairly simple: members pay an annual fee to use the facilities of the various locations worldwide in a home-from-home atmosphere that is chic, generously proportioned and attractively decorated with private cinemas, pools, roof terraces and in-house kitchens. A large proportion of the members work in media related industries, thus these are not stuffy clubs for men in suits, but convivial pads to chill in and discuss the next campaign shoot with your art director over a steak and a glass of red.
It is not hard to understand why the Soho House club concept has boomed over the past 15 years and the new Berlin base with its 40 rooms, rooftop pool, amazing city views, brasserie and Cowshed spa is already wowing the German media crowd. Founder Nick Jones is delighted with the location, an imposing 1920s building on the edge of the Scheunenviertel in Mitte: “We have had Berlin on our radar for quite some time” he says, “and were just waiting for the right place to come along”. The distinctly English-eclectic rooms with their rough walls, retro, rather ’40s furniture, chintz furnishings and old fashioned record players also have excellent bathroom facilities – a mix that goes down well here in Deutschland. As a result (and thanks to canny marketing), the opening night of Soho House Berlin saw it packed with PR representatives and creative directors chucking back glasses of bubbly and trying to get their names on the membership list. The following two days were Gallery Weekend in Berlin and the entire place was already booked out for Damien Hirst and his entourage – an auspicious start for any boutique hotel…
Husband and wife team Andreas and Gerda Gerner have had their own practice in Vienna, called Gerner+Gerner Plus, for over twelve years. Their highly successful formula of breaking with convention yet adapting appropriately to the location has kept their team of 16 members busy with some 60 completed projects to date, ranging from social housing to private residences, loft conversions and wineries. Their signature forms are edgy and angular, often floating on V-shaped supports, and it comes as no surprise when both partners site the early 20th century Russian Suprematist painter and architect El Lissitzky as an influence.
Their predominantly steel and glass buildings tend to be transparent, cantilevered and reduced in terms of both materials and detailing. Including the landscape into the buildings is an important consideration for them and this is often achieved with an element of the building jutting out of its footprint to greet the best local view with welcoming, open glass walls: “The periscope is our favourite form”, says Gerda Gerner, and it is a recurrent theme in many of their projects including the fabulous Sued.see house (2002, cover story in W* 61), in Burgenland, east Austria. But despite similarities in focus, each gerner+gernerplus construction is clearly individual and tailored to the circumstances of its location. The Triath gallery, featured here, for example, is their first building in reinforced concrete – not because they just felt like it, but, as Gerda explains, because it is a local speciality: “the quality of workmanship in the area is very good – it is hard to get firms in Vienna that can do this”.