Night Purge

The CH2 council building in Melbourne for uncube magazine issue no. 29: "After Dark"

Mick Pearce is a Zimbabwean architect who specialises in designing buildings that utilise renewable energy systems for environmental control, based on biomimetic models drawn from nature. And, as with nature, many of the interesting things that go on in his buildings happen after dark. In 2006 Pearce was the principal design architect for an office…

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Mick Pearce is a Zimbabwean architect who specialises in designing buildings that utilise renewable energy systems for environmental control, based on biomimetic models drawn from nature. And, as with nature, many of the interesting things that go on in his buildings happen after dark.

In 2006 Pearce was the principal design architect for an office building for Melbourne City Council in Australia called Council House 2 (or CH2). It utilises an innovative combination of passive measures to maintain a natural ventilation and comfortable indoor climate of 21-23 degrees Celsius in a city where summer temperatures can soar to 45 degrees. A key aspect of this climate system is what takes place in the building at night. “If you want to design a building which works passively by responding completely to its immediate environment then the night is as important as the day”, explains Pearce, adding: “CH2 uses the night to disperse day heat like the planet does through back radiation into space”.

(Read article online)

The office’s exposed concrete ceiling panels are chilled during the day providing radiant cooling for the building’s occupants and storing excess heat in the ceiling spaces above. Then, some 60 percent of this heat is removed at night during the “night purge”, when the windows automatically open to a maximum of 65 degrees and the cooler night air is drawn in, across the undulating ceiling panels to be then sucked out through shafts at the side of the building, drawn up by the assistance of wind turbines on the roof. This natural ventilation system, usually occurring between 2am and 6am, is based on the way termite mounds regulate their core temperature, due to this same chimney or “stack” effect. It is simple in principle but its efficiency is dependent on the CH2’s computerised building automated system BAS, which uses temperature, wind and rain sensors on a floor-by-floor basis to optimise its functions: if the building is cool enough, the windows stay closed.

Supplementary cooling measures in the building, particularly useful for the retail spaces on the lower floors, include a set of “shower towers” at the side of the building through which air and water fall and cool together. The water is then pumped through a phase changing material (PCM) plant in the basement which also acts as an additional passive cooling unit – like a rechargeable battery – to help keep the ceilings refrigerated, maintaining a steady supply of “coolth” (as against warmth) during the day.

CH2 is Melbourne’s flagship building for sustainability. Yet a report by Exergy Australia in 2012 found its performance not quite matching its promise, which Pearce believes is down to a number of reasons: “The contractors handed over the building after their one year guarantee ran out and the occupiers did not educate anyone to run such a complex building. You need an engineer to run a fully computerised control system being fed with data from 2,500 probes in the building’s structure and equipment. There was soon a data overload and no one to deal with it. Hopefully Melbourne Council will do something about this”. He adds that while users were assumed to tolerate a temperature range from 20-25 degrees Celsius, in practice they refused to budge from 22-23 degrees, whilst admitting too that the co gen plant seems less efficient than predicted.

But while Pearce and his team had hoped to generate energy savings of around 88 percent, the actual value is closer to 50 percent: which is still a massive reduction. As Pearce concludes: “My designs can easily save 50 percent energy consumption without any social engineering, but to get there you have to aim at 80 percent saving at the design stage and you have to give people what Lance Hosey calls ‘the shape of green’: the aesthetics – here the wavy ceiling, shower towers and the yellow roof turbines. The occupants of CH2 love the building so it probably will last a long time past its energy life cycle.”

Night cooling is without doubt a vital component of passive climate controls for building and CH2 is an impressive model in this respect. But all systems – especially natural ones – need ongoing care and nurture in order to succeed. It is this aspect of our biomimetic building future – dynamic monitoring and capacity for adaptation, (admittedly not particularly sexy fodder for the marketing aspect of architecture) – which will likely prove to be one of the most significant areas of architectural development in the future: day or night.

From uncube magazine issue no. 29: “Water”, edited by Sophie Lovell

Holding Back the Waves

An interview with Matthias Schuler for uncube magazine issue no. 22: "Water"

Matthias Schuler is founder of one of the world’s leading climate engineering firms, Transsolar, and teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has worked with Frank Gehry, OMA, Herzog de Meuron, Stephen Holl, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster and many others developing sustainable design strategies for everything from cabins to entire cities. He talked to…

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Matthias Schuler is founder of one of the world’s leading climate engineering firms, Transsolar, and teaches at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He has worked with Frank Gehry, OMA, Herzog de Meuron, Stephen Holl, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster and many others developing sustainable design strategies for everything from cabins to entire cities. He talked to uncube about thermodynamic entities, compost toilets and the measures we need to take if we are going survive the next flood.

(Read original article online)

You call yourself a “climate engineer”. What does that mean exactly?

As engineers and physicists, we understand buildings and cities as thermodynamic systems. We want to understand how they perform – not mechanically, but in their reaction to outside loads, such as wind and sun exposure. Energy, air quality and resources such as water, are our focus and we seek to optimise performance by adapting forms and openings through “passive measures” – the building itself should do as much as possible. It’s important to be part of the design team from the start, so architects can integrate these measures, tailored to each individual building and its site: what we call local thermodynamic identity.

Talking of specific projects, you completed a tiny and self-sufficient building prototype recently with Renzo Piano for Vitra, called “Diogene”.  

The main intention of that building was to show people you can live on a small footprint, not just spatially but energy and material-wise as well. This project was Renzo’s life dream; he first sketched it as a student and has worked on it throughout his career. Now finally he found Vitra to support it and even develop a product out of it. It’s not intended to be a permanent home, more a weekend place or maybe an extension to an existing building. The idea is you could place it wherever you want, unconnected to any form of civilisation, to any grid. No electricity, no water, no sewage, nothing. It will have limited capacity for energy-generation, water collection and storage, so at some point you may have to decide between a hot shower or warm food. Therefore it was obvious it should do without a water toilet. This provoked one of the longest discussions with Renzo! He’s a sailor, and said: “you really have to love someone on a boat to share a chemical toilet”. That was his experience of the non-water flush toilet. But I told him we could use a compost toilet. We even installed one in the office which the whole company used for two months – with no smell problem! The important thing with compost toilets is to separate the urine and faeces. When mixed, a digestion process starts, which creates the smell. If you separate them, it just dries off. Urine is a great fertiliser so you can use it for your tomatoes around your Diogene. The solid matter is collected in a self-composting bag which, when full, can be taken out, buried, and takes about a year to turn into soil.

It’s very Walden, this idea of the Diogenes hut, isn’t it? Surely there are too many people in the world for us all to be able to go out and live like Thoreau in the woods.

Vitra is now going to make a hotel using about 25 Diogenes on their campus, but clearly they’ll have water-flushing toilets. And if you buy one for your garden you can connect it to the water supply if you want. For us it was about if the house really can be autonomous for electricity and water. The toilet accounts for 80 per cent of our domestic water consumption: all over the world we’re flushing valuable drinking water down the drain. We need to distinguish between drinking water – of which we need perhaps five litres per day for drinking and cooking – from grey water used more as a hygienic element. That was the main lesson we learned from this project.

Tell me about the “Secular Retreat” house you’re working on with Peter Zumthor in South Devon in the UK.

The project is part of the  “Living Architecture” there, an enterprise where they both refurbish old protected buildings and build new, high-value, architecture, for rent as holiday homes. I think it’s a great idea. Very few of us will ever live in a Peter Zumthor house, but you will be able to rent this for around 2,500 GBP per week and stay there with ten friends. The site is beautiful: on a hill overlooking the ocean. It has electricity but the water’s from a well, and there is no sewage.

So compost toilets again?

No, I couldn’t convince Peter. There will be water flush toilets. We talked about a biological reed-bed filter system but this is hard because it’s on a hill. So we have a three- or four-stage enclosed treatment system. The water that comes out is quite clean, so we can run it on site. This is the most state-of-the-art water treatment that’s possible on an independent site.

That’s interesting because one doesn’t usually associate Zumthor buildings – or retreats – with high tech or “state-of-the-art”.

You’re right: I can imagine such a building by Zumthor with just water and no electricity, nothing else. But if you rent something for that amount, even if it’s a Peter Zumthor house, people still expect WiFi.

Turning to the other end of the scale, you did the climate concept for Norman Foster’s Masdar City masterplan in Abu Dhabi due to be six square kilometres in size.

The energy and climate concept for Masdar is one thing, but the water concept is also interesting. When we were approached to develop this carbon-neutral city with Foster, we had to include water treatment because there’s no fresh water in Abu Dhabi. The only water available is from the shallow Arab Gulf, which is 30 per cent more saline than normal ocean. For the past 20 years local states like Quatar and the UAE have all been surviving on desalinated water. With this process you take the sweet water out and pump the highly concentrated saline residue back into the Gulf: a disaster environmentally. The typical corals and mangroves of the Gulf have been lost as the salinity of the Arab Gulf has increased by two percent. So one of the first lessons we learned was: thinking we can solve the water problems in the Middle East with solar-driven desalination is wrong. Energy-wise it might be okay, but overall this highly concentrated brine residue is a real load. Our Masdar energy concept showed that we would produce 120,000 tonnes of salt a year:, but what to do with it? We’ve had brainstorm sessions with the German chemical company BASF and they came up with ideas like encapsulating salt crystals in plastics to add to road material. But we’re still working on it. Another issue is that daily water consumption in Abu Dhabi today is 500 litres per person. By contrast, the French are down to around 130 litres and the Germans close to 150. So in a region where water is a rare resource, they’re consuming triple the amount used in European countries, which includes water for all the golf courses and the 400 million trees planted along Abu Dhabi’s highways. Emiratis wash their cars three times a week because of the dust – yet don’t pay a single dollar for water or electricity. Only expats are required to pay.

What stage is Masdar’s construction at now?

Around 25 per cent of the university is built and in operation – some 50,000 square metres – and the huge Siemens HQ for the Middle East is under construction, as well as the Abu Dhabi Energy Foundation. Foster is working on detailing the first 25 per cent of the city, transforming the masterplan into actual buildings. In my opinion, though we may never see all Masdar built as planned, the lessons learned will impact majorly on future developments. This is what I see as the big potential of Masdar City: that it creates an example for everybody who is starting in the same direction.

Masdar, as well as your new Al Fayah Park project with Heatherwick Studios, are environments created from scratch in extreme conditions. What about interventions within existing buildings and cities? Should we knock down old inefficient structures and start again?

No, around 75 per cent of the embedded energy of a building is in its structure. So whilst you can replace its façade or technical systems, holistically, energy-wise it would be a crime to tear it down and build anew. A rough rule of thumb is that even for very low-energy buildings, it’ll take around 15-20 years to make up for the energy wasted in destroying the old one.

This leads us to the recent news of the Thwaite ice sheet’s collapse in Antarctica with sea levels now predicted to rise by up to ten feet over the next two centuries. If these predictions are true, massive changes are coming.

We’ve known this since at least 1972. At the time of the Club of Rome, they were already showing the limits of growth. The only thing we can do is change our social systems. Take the ETH Zurich 2000-Watt Society proposal for getting annual carbon emissions per person down to one tonne. This is exactly the kind of proposal to show the world – that it’s possible to do this yet keep a high-quality lifestyle. We must rethink our idea of luxury, asking ourselves: do we really need three TVs, walk-in refrigerators or whatever. Realistically, we can’t now save the world from some changes. There are already areas with annual temperature rises close to 2.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, we need our systems to be adaptive. This doesn’t mean everybody going and living in secular retreats without electricity or running water, but we do each need to live on a smaller footprint.

(From uncube magazine issue no. 22: “Water”, edited by Sophie Lovell)


His Master’s Voice

Interview with Edgar Wiesnewski for uncube magazine issue no.21: "Acoustics"

The Berlin Philharmonie is an architectural masterpiece famously conceived from the inside-out around the requirements of its acoustics. Designed by Hans Scharoun, the main 2,440 seater auditorium, the Großer Saal, opened in 1963, but Scharoun died before the second, smaller chamber music hall, the Kammermusiksaal, was built. This was designed in detail by his partner…

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The Berlin Philharmonie is an architectural masterpiece famously conceived from the inside-out around the requirements of its acoustics. Designed by Hans Scharoun, the main 2,440 seater auditorium, the Großer Saal, opened in 1963, but Scharoun died before the second, smaller chamber music hall, the Kammermusiksaal, was built. This was designed in detail by his partner Edgar Wisniewski, who also completed the surrounding suite of public cultural buildings, the Kulturforum.

As is so often the case in these “man behind the throne” scenarios, Wisniewski’s input is rarely acknowledged in textbooks, yet much of the Philharmonie’s success as a building is owed to him. He died in 2007, but ten years ago Sophie Lovell, uncube’s editor-in-chief, got the chance to meet Wisniewski, a tall, striking man in his mid 70s, at the Philharmonie, and talk to him about a working life devoted to translating Scharoun’s simple yet revolutionary ideas – sometimes technically nightmarish to realise – into buildings of world renown.

(see the original article)

Dr. Wisniewski, you started your working life as Scharoun’s assistant, helping design the Berlin Philharmonie, but ended up completing and continuing his work yourself.

We worked together for 15 years until he died. During the latter part we were in partnership, which contractually means if one partner dies, the other carries on the work. And that’s what happened. When he died in 1972 I had all these projects, including the rest of the Kulturforum, to continue.

The site was still a bombed-out wasteland then – though 30 years earlier it had been the busiest city centre in Europe.

The final location on the former Kemperplatz is not far from where the old Philharmonie building had been before the war. During construction, the Berlin Wall came down. We stood here on the roof and watched the tanks rolling up and the barbed wire being laid. Some of the main workmen on the site had to come through the sewers to work every day from the eastern part of the city. The building was very close to the border, almost within firing range. Nobody knew what was going to happen next.

How did your partnership with Scharoun come about?

When I finished my studies at the Technical University in Berlin, Rügenberg, one of Scharoun’s assistants, recommended me to him as there was a post available. Of course I knew who he was and had attended his lectures. I liked how he worked in an organic way; the form of his buildings developing from the inside out. Then the very first project that came up when I began working for him was the competition for the Philharmonie. It was very helpful that I was heavily involved with music. I was in a famous choir at the time, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral Choir, which the Philharmonic Orchestra under [Herbert von] Karajan played with. My knowledge and understanding of the repertoire helped form a good, trusting relationship with Karajan, who was the one that pushed the Philharmonie through. Karajan also told me once he’d originally wanted to be an architect.

So Karajan was a decisive factor in choosing and building Scharoun’s design?

Although the scheme had won first prize in the competition, there were intrigues: people wanting to hinder its construction from the start. The decision to build was won narrowly by a single vote, only after Karajan threatened to leave the orchestra – and Berlin – if it wasn’t built. His support was decisive.

Was this support because of Scharoun’s idea of putting the “music in the middle”?

The trust and understanding between us, Karajan and the musicians was very important because this idea of putting music, the orchestra, at the centre of the hall with everything else circled around it, was new – the Berlin Philharmonie was the first.  Scharoun always said that it’s no coincidence that wherever improvised music is played, people immediately form a circle around it, and that this must be translatable to a concert hall. The whole design developed from that premise.

Was the design driven primarily by the acoustics?

Putting the music – the acoustics – in the centre had other important benefits too: Scharoun didn’t want any hierarchies. In the seating there are only slanting planes and stalls with no dress circle, apart from two galleries for special music performances, and there’s a single foyer for all. The idea of being up close to the action was also important. There are over 2,200 seats in the main hall, yet none is more than 28 metres away from the stage. That’s what’s so special about this space: you are so close to the people making music. This works the other way too: when you stand on the podium you feel how close the audience is, how they demand the best from you. I particularly like to sit in the choir seats behind the orchestra because you are so much inside it all. The whole floor, everything, vibrates there.

Do you think visiting musicians and orchestras look forward to playing here?

Since 1963, practically every great orchestra in the world has played here. But they do have to adjust acoustically. Many of them are used to playing in halls with a shoebox construction, with walls all around. Suddenly, here there is nothing – the flanking walls are relatively low, and some are angled, meaning part of the sound is reflected back to the orchestra so that the musicians can hear each other.

The reflectors in the ceiling are also specifically designed to stop the echoes from the high ceiling. A relatively long, two-second reverberation time in the full hall was originally requested, because that is what’s needed for the late Romantic pieces such as Brahms, Brückner, Mahler and Richard Strauss, the tradition of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. The only way to get this reverberation is with a large volume, which is why the ceiling is 22 metres above the podium. But then it comes down in a convex sweep towards the audience, who comes up to meet it, like coming up the sides of a valley. Mrs. Scharoun said it looked like a vineyard.

I understand it was Lothar Cremer who worked out the acoustics. It must have been an intense collaboration.

Yes, the first thing he said was that it wouldn’t work! There was nothing to go on. Nobody had built a hall like this before. There were no lasers and computers for measuring like today. We built a big scale model at 1:9 that you could stand in, and they fired a type of acoustic pistol in there, recording the results with microphones.

And the Kammermusiksaal? You built that yourself based on a rough sketch from Scharoun.

I was not only deeply involved with music, I also studied musicology at the Technical University, with lectures from people like Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, one of Schönberg’s students. I’d learnt about the whole development of new music and was able to bring this to the design of the Kammermusiksaal, and it was Scharoun’s wish that I do – he was very open. He made just one sketch of it: not so much a design as an agreement that we make a centrally orientated space. Cremer said it was acoustically more complicated to build than the main hall, but when it was finished we didn’t have to make any acoustic adjustments at all.

How much of the Philharmonie is you and how much is Scharoun?

That’s something I wouldn’t even discuss in private! Many changes had to be made to the original design, to the staircases, the foyer, and so on. I designed a lot in the building. Even the gold aluminium façade is mine.

Was it a burden carrying on Scharoun’s legacy?

Scharoun’s and my own achievements are inextricably bound. From the initial planning of the Philharmonie, I simply moved on to the other big building projects of the Kulturforum. They represent more than 30 years of continual work. I never perceived the work as a burden, more a challenge.

Do you see yourself as having lived in his shadow professionally? His name often only gets mentioned in relation to the Kulturforum ensemble.

Planning the four main buildings of the Kulturforum: the Philharmonie, the Staatsbibliothek, the Staatliche Institut für Musikforschung with the Musikinstrumenten- Museum and the Kammermusiksaal, has been so fulfilling. I perceive Scharoun’s shadow as inspiring, not obliterating. He only lived to see the Philharmonie, but I, on the other hand, can look at the four buildings, remember the battles fought to build them and experience them now, today, filled with music. Any feelings about shadows evaporate.

From uncube magazine issue no. 21: “Acoustics”, edited by Sophie Lovell

New Worlds, Old Metaphors

Interview with Ricardo Scofidio for uncube magazine issue no. 19: "Space"

Architect Ricardo Scofidio co-founded Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an interdisciplinary design studio based in New York in 1979. His practice is as well known for its installation and performance projects as its architecture. He talked to uncube‘s editor Sophie Lovell about skeuomorphism and the dangers of investigating the new, when burdened by luggage from the…

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Architect Ricardo Scofidio co-founded Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an interdisciplinary design studio based in New York in 1979. His practice is as well known for its installation and performance projects as its architecture. He talked to uncube‘s editor Sophie Lovell about skeuomorphism and the dangers of investigating the new, when burdened by luggage from the old.

(see the original article online)

I understand that you have an interest in science fiction and space. Is there a particular author whose visions have left a strong impression on you?

Yes, I’ve read many books over the years. Science fiction has changed so much from the times of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells through cyberpunk to an incredible amount of dystopian fiction today. I’m less interested in somebody’s idea of what the future of technology might be and more in stories dealing with bodies and people and ideas and problems – I guess “soft” versus “hard” science fiction.

With the recent Mars missions, Chinese probes on the moon, and the move towards commercial space flight for private citizens, we seem to be entering a new space race era. I find it interesting how little architecture has been involved in these plans. Have you ever been involved in thinking up scenarios for space habitation?

I haven’t been approached to make a proposal, but I do think it’s an incredibly interesting problem, for many reasons. On earth, if you make an architectural or construction mistake, you may get water leaking from the roof; if you make a mistake in space it may mean the end of your life. There’s such an enormous amount of technological issues that have to be met that it would require an architect to spend years acquiring that knowledge or else working with a compatible engineer. The other problem is that when a design needs only to solve pragmatic problems a creative approach often becomes less important.

But probably the thing that scares me the most is that wonderful word “skeuomorph”. If I look at my browser and click on a skeumorphic “home” symbol it takes me to my personal folders. We’re burdened by so many analogies that attempt to help you deal with new, unfamiliar technologies by using old metaphors rather than creating a new language. For example, if you were designing a gravity-free architecture, I’m sure somebody would still insist that you put a standard doorway in the wall just so people know it’s the place to enter.

Like the designer Raymond Loewy, who was the first to suggest putting a window in the American manned spacecraft so the astronauts could actually look out.

What is a window on a spacecraft compared to a window on earth? Windows are often an opening to day-dreaming, allowing the mind to think, fantasise, and wander. At the turn of the millennium we did an installation project called Master/Slave for the Cartier Foundation in Paris about the shift from the twentieth to twenty-first centuries. Our project involved a collection of tin toy robots that were owned by Rolf Fehlbaum from Vitra. The Cartier exhibition included a spectacular film by Andrei Ujica, called Out of the Present, about the astronaut Sergei Krikalyov [he spent 10 months aboard MIR during the collapse of the Soviet Union, ed.]. Ujica gave Krikalyov a camera, which he smuggled on board the Russian space station. Sergei was at the opening of the Cartier exhibition and Elizabeth Diller and I were lucky enough to sit opposite him at dinner where we talked about living in space. He found that being in space for an extended period of time produced a continuous enjoyable euphoria. One orbit took an hour and a half, during which time he saw night and day, and all four seasons. The most incredible thing for him was spending hours looking out of the window at earth. So to design for space I think you would have to spend some time in orbit just to understand the issues involved.

We have had ideas of outer space influencing architecture for many decades: from Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth to silver flying-saucer shapes and streamlined rocket forms. Norman Foster’s new Spaceport America for Virgin Galactic is particularly interesting since it seems to blend the terrestrial with an alien aesthetic. Humans seem to have a propensity for turning science fictions into science facts. Is this also the case for architecture? Are we building our futures according to how we envisage them to be?

In the 1920s, Norman Bel Geddes and other engineers started looking at automobiles in terms of aerodynamics and streamlining. Suddenly there was a whole field of aerodynamic design being applied to things like irons and toasters and coffee pots – even if they didn’t move one inch. So what is the vision for an object in space? The closing sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the protagonist Dave Bowman [Keir Dullea] ends up in a Louis XVI bedroom, was alien, inexplicable and disturbing for me to watch. Much more so than if it had been something that we perceive as a “space environment” as represented by Hollywood today. You mentioned that the future becomes what we project upon it – as far as I’m concerned there are very few examples in which someone predicted the future and that’s exactly how it happened. Foster’s Spaceport seems to me more symbolic of the way we think space or the future will be, rather that really what the future might be.

The first photograph of the earth taken from behind the moon in 1968, Earthrise, inspired the idea of “spaceship earth” and suddenly changed our whole perspective of ourselves. Do you think it continues to have an effect on design?

Scientist have invented and sold us so many things that the industry can’t now turn around and say: “Oh we made a mistake, this thing is terrible for the environment and now you can’t have it.” Rather than developing new paradigms energy is being spent to allow us to keep what we have been convinced that we want and desire, with modifications to make it less aggressive towards the environment. We really have to dump some things and find new answers to old problems, rather than propping up old solutions.

How would you envisage the beginnings of a Martian or a lunar colony?

Thinking about skeuomorphism I become concerned that a lunar colony might look like a suburban town under a big protective dome. I wonder what Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies would do with a space colony? Would we even be designing for our same bodies? How much luggage are we dragging from one discipline into an area that really wants to be perceived in a totally different way? I reread Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange a while ago. What’s so beautiful is that when you first start reading there are new words in the opening chapter that you don’t comprehend. But as you continue reading you pick up the language and start to understand this future time/place. So, how can we take a new problem and give it meaning that transforms the way we think about the object we are trying to make?

Do you think all the film material documenting the lives and work of astronauts on the ISS has any kind of effect on architects and how they think about environments?

I’m still struggling with the idea of what space is. At the moment I can’t think of space in terms of feet and inches. At one time the earth was flat with heaven above and hell below, and if you went too far you fell off the edge. Then with the industrial revolution, space became about the transportation of goods from one place to another. Someone in a prison cell had no space, and someone in a mansion had lots of space. My personal understanding of space is no longer feet, inches, or metres, but time. I don’t say a place is 500 metres away, it’s five minutes away by foot – or if it’s in Los Angeles, its five hours away by plane. If we talk about going to Mars we don’t talk about distances, we talk about how many days we will spend travelling to it.

I was talking to a mapmaker once and got him a bit upset by saying: maybe the Moon is just half a mile from earth, but it’s very small. So, when we leave earth and travel towards it we shrink, getting smaller and smaller, which is why it takes so long to get there. How do we know that is not the case? I wonder how much we really know about what’s out there in terms of distances and dimensions. We have an Einsteinian understanding of space and know that dimensions change and space warps, but there are so many new discoveries and questions, I think in the future scientists will look back at how little we knew.


From: uncube magazine issue no. 19: Space, edited by Sophie Lovell



Design, Decline and Dogma

Interview with Matevž Čelik for uncube magazine issue no. 18: "Slovenia"

The director of Ljubljana’s Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) and organiser of the BIO Design Biennial, Matevž Čelik is an architect of a generation straddling the cultural divide between the state-socialism of former Yugoslavia and the burgeoning free-market economy of the young Slovenian nation. He spoke to Sophie Lovell about how the knock-on effects…

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The director of Ljubljana’s Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) and organiser of the BIO Design Biennial, Matevž Čelik is an architect of a generation straddling the cultural divide between the state-socialism of former Yugoslavia and the burgeoning free-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 while hamstrung by the old. 

(See original article online)

You are a trained architect and had your own practice until 2010 when you took over the directorship of the MAO. What led you to take that step? What did you hope the museum would give you that designing buildings did not?

At the turn of the millennium, Slovenia was a country in which it was easier to carve out an independent career than elsewhere, but at the same time architecture was produced and communicated in a way that was still deeply rooted in the past. As young architects building our first projects we strongly felt this gap. So in 2002, together with Dekleva Gregorič and Bevk Perović architects and others, we founded Trajekt Institute for Spatial Culture. Trajekt organized exhibitions and workshops and communicated mainly via the internet. It soon became a locus of architectural debate in Slovenia. I edited the Trajekt website and moderated discussions for eight years, so moving to the museum was a logical step in extending communication and reaching the general public.

From the nineteenth century onwards, during the period in which design as a discipline was taking shape worldwide, Slovenia went through several identity changes as a nation. How do you think this has affected Slovenian design – both stylistically and in terms of practice?

Design in Slovenia carries the genes of the Austro-Hungarian craft schools, the Bauhaus tradition as well as post-war socialist modernisation in Yugoslavia. It began with Jože Plečnik, who visited the Craft School in Graz and studied and collaborated with Otto Wagner in Vienna. Another key moment for the development of modern design in Slovenia was 1961, when Edvard Ravnikar [Plečnik’s former student and Slovenia’s second most famous architect. Ed.] set up an experimental design course at the Ljubljana Faculty of Architecture. The course leaned conceptually towards the Bauhaus and the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, where Ravnikar collaborated with Max Bill. The course itself didn’t survive, but later the same methods were revived at the Department of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts, established in 1984. To this day, design in Slovenia has remained committed to modernist reductionism, subordination to function, ergonomics, and rationalisation for the purpose of mass production. The belief that the role of design in society should be connected to industrial production is still deeply rooted within the Academy’s product design department.

This year the Slovenian Biennale of Design, (BIO) founded in 1964, will be 50 years old. This must make it one of the oldest events of its kind in the world. Why was it founded and why do you think it has endured?

BIO is the oldest design biennial in the world. In former Yugoslavia the 1960s were years of industrial growth, optimism and opening up to the world. After the war, modernisation through industrialisation was high on the agenda of the socialist government. The Biennial of Industrial Design has always been associated with the development of industry, and the efforts to enrich and humanise mass-produced objects for every home were seen as clear proof of socialist welfare. These ideas were still strongly present at BIO in the 1990s, although the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia and restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe called them into question. In 2012 we started to think about possible alternatives. Now with the 50th anniversary edition, the role of the design biennial in the future is becoming much clearer.

I have heard that in its time the BIO was as important for the European design scene as the Salone del Mobile in Milan is now. Was it the Eastern Bloc counterpoint? Or did it have an international presence?

There was always strong international presence at BIO from the beginning. The biennial in itself can be seen through different lenses. By comparing the latest everyday products from the East and West, BIO was probably a platform that intended to supply tangible proof that socialist prosperity could compete with and exceed that of capitalism. And until the fall of the Berlin Wall BIO was a window for the West, through which it was possible at least to peek at Eastern bloc production. But in fact it was mostly a local professional initiative. The local designers and architects who established and ran BIO always saw the biennial as a natural integration of their work with the international world of design.

Many European countries are having to rethink their industries as manufacturing businesses struggle – and Slovenia is no exception. What used to be the key areas of industrial design and manufacturing in Slovenia and how are they faring today?

As the most developed and industrialised part of former Yugoslavia, with state owned companies that had successfully exported to the West, Slovenia was well-placed in the 1990s. However, it responded wrongly to the challenges of economic transformation. The process of de-industrialisation in Slovenia coincided with the restoration of capitalism and the privatisation of state-socialist enterprises. Slovenia opted for a protectionist approach in which the government favoured the transfer of shares to local owners. It worked well for a time, but during this redistribution of power, rather than providing companies with visionary and responsible managers, a new economic elite emerged, who played primarily on their links with political parties and access to public money.

During these years the traditionally strong wood, furniture and textile industries virtually disappeared. Many factories no longer exist. Instead of investing in restructuring and modernising production, transactions over the last 20 years revolved within a closed circle of semi-state-owned banks and enterprises. When Europe entered the crisis, the Slovenian economy imploded and the cream of our companies were lost. On the other hand, now many new small companies are emerging, run by intelligent people who are looking for niche products, thinking long term, and enthusiastically developing their business models in accordance with social responsibility.

What problems need to be overcome?

In my opinion one of the big problems in Slovenia is the expectation that big players or systems, either economic or governmental, will solve the everyday problems of every individual. Everyone wants to have a job but there are very few who think about how to create new jobs. If design is to develop, designers shouldn’t wait for clients to ask for something to be designed.

What areas and strategies of design are on the rise?

The design scene in Ljubljana is very lively. The young generation realises that the role and influence of traditional industrial manufacturers in the market have decreased. For instance, people gathered around a group called Rompom to organise “Pop-up Dom”, a flexible peer-to-peer network. This is replacing the rigid top-down production models designed to optimise the mass production industry in the last century. Crowd funding platforms are just one of the tools that speak of new production models for our time. Designers act as facilitators and they organise co-working spaces or other services for designers. Another new initiative is Gigodesign’s recently launched Design Forward Accelerator, a service that includes seed money in cash, services, workspace and mentorship. Crisis also acts as a powerful engine for change in design.

How big a role do natural resources and materials and local skills play in contemporary design in Slovenia?

Wood, glass, textiles, metalworking, and also expertise in the chemical industry, where new materials are developed, have always been important for Slovenian design. In the past, it was the manufacturers who dictated the use of these materials. Over the last two years MAO has presented the exhibition Silent Revolutions at various design events around Europe, which showcases contemporary design from Slovenia. The products in the exhibition show that designers are the ones increasingly suggesting use of natural resources and local skills to producers.

What direction would you like to see the BIO take over the next 50 years and what role do you wish the MAO to play – in short where would you like to take it?

Right now we are facing the challenge of finding new solutions with almost no available resources for research and development of new models within existing economic structures. Production has been divorced from expertise and the two need to be reconnected. It is necessary to break with the fetishisation of products that has alienated design from production. I believe that BIO should play a role in this field and strive to support creativity in its most delicate and vulnerable stage. This means that in the future, BIO has to increasingly play a research-based, experimental role.

From uncube magazine issue no.18: “Slovenia”, edited by Sophie Lovell

The Lightest Touch

Interview with Greg Lynn for uncube magazine issue no. 16: "Carbon"

Best known for fusing the words ‘blob’ and ‘architecture’ into a – now infamous – portmanteau, the architect and designer Greg Lynn has been exploring the integration of structure and form since the 1990s. The highly technical areas of expertise that he explores with his FORM studio team in Venice, California are balanced by a…

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Best known for fusing the words ‘blob’ and ‘architecture’ into a – now infamous – portmanteau, the architect and designer Greg Lynn has been exploring the integration of structure and form since the 1990s. The highly technical areas of expertise that he explores with his FORM studio team in Venice, California are balanced by a surprisingly high level of handcraft – especially when it comes to working with carbon composites. He talked to uncube about the potential and pitfalls of working with carbon and how design thinking needs to shift to incorporate the properties of the material.

(see the original article online)

When did you first start working with carbon? What were your reasons for getting involved with it as a construction material?

I started using composites because I was looking for a material that was translucent rather than transparent. This is why I used glass fibre instead of carbon years ago, but the principles are the same for what I would call ‘rigidized cloth’ – fabric and woven goods that are stiffened with resins. The difference between carbon and glass fibre is really more about stiffness than weight and strength. Otherwise they are almost identical – especially for architectural applications. If you want to eliminate deflection and make something really stiff then you go for carbon – otherwise you use glass. But the black fibre aesthetic of carbon is really different and presently has cultural associations with high performance sports and luxury. I remember a series of magazine advertisements by Prada, who used 3DL™ load path carbon and aramid North Sails as a backdrop to their clothing ads. The network of curved lines of carbon twill looks like a drawing, similar to Piranesi’s hatching. And I know of architects who have noticed the material and worked it into buildings. Renzo Piano used it for his Americas Cup building in Valencia, where he draped the Team Prada headquarters in used sails. For Swarovski Crystal Palace’s exhibit at Design Miami in 2009 I designed hanging surfaces of carbon and dyneema made by North Sails with millions of crystals sandwiched into the gossamer translucent membrane. That was probably the first time I worked with carbon.

At the end of the ‘90s some of the Droog designers did some work with carbon fibre, notably Hella Jongerius with her Kasese Chair, Marcel Wanders with his Knotted Chair, and later Bertjan Pot. But they seemed to drop it again quite quickly. Pot told me that as a material “it has issues” and is very expensive…

Actually, it keeps getting cheaper. The real problem for the use of carbon in industrial products, or any composite for that matter, is cycle time. I designed what has to be the lightest hanging chair ever made as a prototype for the Art Institute of Chicago in soft flexible carbon pre-preg tapes manufactured by North Sails. They were placed and laminated manually from four-inch wide tapes and they take two people at least an hour, because you are really placing material at the fibre level in multiple orientations based on load paths. It is similar to tailoring in terms of time and labour. Because of the time it takes to laminate, cook and cure carbon objects it becomes prohibitive for the world of high volume production in furniture and automobiles. For Formula One cars, for example, there is not a piece of metal left on the structure and body of the car any more – only in the engine – and even most of that metal being replaced by handmade, labour-intensive carbon. A lot of people think these things are made by machines, but really it’s one of the last truly artisanal craft-based methods of construction. It will get more industrialised, but it hasn’t yet.

Isn’t the very nature of carbon composites environmentally problematic, in terms of recycling or breaking down the materials afterwards?

Not really. Michael Lepech at Stanford published his comparison of composites with other construction materials and, more often than not, because of their light weight and high strength, they often use less material and out-perform materials like wood, masonry and steel that take more energy to manufacture, transport, assemble and support. In Lepech’s comparisons, if you include the stuff they put in wood to keep it from rotting and to discourage insects from eating it and so on, a wood-framed building ends up being more toxic with a larger carbon footprint than an actual carbon fibre building. Yes, it is environmentally nasty to burn piles of sand into fibre using huge amounts of energy and then glue the sand together using petroleum resins around foam cores. But when you look at how little material is used, how much steel is saved in holding up these lighter materials, how much energy is saved in transport, longevity and performance, it is easy to see why composites are high-performance.

It sounds like we are still at the very beginning of using carbon composites in manufacturing, structures and objects. Because of these manufacturing difficulties do you think carbon will turn out retrospectively to be just some kind of interim material?

In the United States, the transportation infrastructure is dangerously antiquated and badly maintained. Much of the current reinforcing and retrofitting of bridges and overpasses is glued carbon strapping. For certain niche building industries, like bridge-building, retrofitting infrastructure and mining, carbon is already a mature material. It’s been around for 60 years or so. The capacity in China now far exceeds the demand – that’s because manufacturers such as airlines are eliminating aluminium and changing to composites. No one would consider designing a new commercial airplane in metal anymore – we have to go to carbon because it is so much more energy efficient. I think the issue with a delayed adoption of the material in buildings and commercial products is that designers frankly don’t understand the principles of it. Until designers understand at a conceptual level how to use carbon composites, they won’t use it appropriately and therefore it won’t be a sensible alternative.

Some have understood though, like Marcel Wanders with his Knot Chair.

That was a very smart way of understanding how to make a flexible thing rigid. What I’ve found is that there are a couple of really huge ideas in composites: like locating structure in load paths rather than consolidating structure into a frame and disengaging the structure from the lineaments defining a form. If you use the character of the material in all those ways, it not only becomes really practical but there is also a whole language of design that comes out of it. Another problem with the use of carbon in particular and composites in general is that, until 2009, building codes viewed composites as finishes, so the only way to use them without running your own tests was to use them decoratively. Most architects attempt to use carbon either like a steel frame or like a material swatch that’s purely decorative.

I read somewhere that you are good at predicting the future. How do you see our future as carbon-based life-forms in terms of our relationship with carbon as a material. Do you think we are going to move towards a more biological, organic relationship with our environment?

I’ve never tried to predict anything because I find it very tough to do, but I have had some success in influencing the field, in particular with digital technology. I see potential for my own exploration in the design of large-scale composite structures and I will publicize and explain the principles and possibilities to my colleagues and students as clearly and concisely as I can in the hopes of speeding their adoption. Over the last several years I have invested a lot of time, energy and money into mastering composite design and construction. We are even making composite parts and prototypes right in my office. I co-designed an ocean-going trimaran with Frederic Courouble and we built much of the tooling for it, as well as the carbon interiors and details that I built and supplied directly to Westerly Marine, one of a handful of builders in the world experienced in high-performance carbon yacht construction. I initiated the project mostly because I am interested in the challenge of using state-of-the-art software and construction to design a building-sized object that is under thousands of pounds of load moving at high speed, converting the wind into motion.

So you are saying that working with composites has fundamentally changed how you think about architecture?

Yeah sure, like Marcel did with that chair: it’s a macramé chair rethought with new chemistry. I look at everything totally differently now, through a cloth lens. So rather than trying to make wood behave like steel, which is what Richard Neutra and other modernists did, now I see wood behaving like, say, wicker or woven rattan.  My personal design paradigm has changed.

From uncube magazine issue no. 16 “Carbon”, edited by Sophie Lovell

They Shoot Buildings Don’t They?

interview with photographer Noshe for uncube

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…

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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

One Storey Love Song

A Mies disciple's 1957 modernist bungalow in Berlin is finally restored to glory

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…

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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.

A Life Less Ordinary

Heinz Witthoeft portrait

Last of the utopian modernists? A portrait of the Stuttgart-based “Architecturtailer and Stationist” Heinz Witthoeft
Frame magazine issue 86

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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…

Hot Desker

A profile of the designer Gesa Hansen

Collecting everything from design awards to pop hits, Paris-based German designer Gesa Hansen has plenty to write home about
Wallpaper* magazine issue 158

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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.

Heavy Hitters

A profile of the designers 45 Kilo

The Bauhaus-inspired functionalist designs of Weimar- and Berlin-based duo 45 Kilo are anything but lightweight
Wallpaper* magazine issue 157

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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”…

United Nation

imm Cologne 2012

“Our edit from this year’s imm fair in Cologne shows that when it comes to marrying form and function, German designers and manufacturers are still ahead of the curve”
Wallpaper* magazine issue 157

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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…

Saxon Survivor

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory

Three years ago, the 300-year-old porcelain manufacturer Meissen was about to bite the dust. But now, thanks to a rapid brand extension, from jewellery to furniture, the state-owned company is back on the luxury label list
Wallpaper* magazine issue 153

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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…

Modern Love

Profile of Nina Yashar of Nilufar gallery

With hot young designers side by side with midcentury favourites, Nina Yashar’s Nilufar gallery is a highlight of this year’s Pavilion of Art & Design
Wallpaper* magazine issue 151

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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…

Nerves of Steel

Gordola College by Durisch + Nolli

Swiss architects Durisch + Nolli showed they were up to the challenge when it came to designing a construction college slap bang in the middle of a flood plane
Wallpaper* magazine issue 151

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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…

606 Universal Shelving System

Icon of the Month

Dieter Rams’ 1959 modular shelving system has grown old gracefully, living up to the German designer’s high ideals of enduring simplicity, harmony and flexibility
Icon magazine issue 99

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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…

Anders Warming interview

Mini International magazine issue 36

The young Danish designer Anders Warming is the new head of Mini Design. British design critic and author Sophie Lovell went to meet him to talk about materials, intangibles, the complex perfection of guitars and the new Mini Coupé

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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?

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…

Feat of Clay

Linck Ceramics

“As sales of Swiss-born potter Margrit Linck’s work go global, it’s clear to see why her ceramics have had her countrymen fired up for years”
Wallpaper* magazine issue 148

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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 Prouvé, 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…

Core Strength

Interview with Apple's Jonathan Ive

“Head of the design team behind the most coveted contemporary ‘tools’, Jonathan Ive reveals, in an exclusive interview with Sophie Lovell for Wallpaper*, what gives Apple products their bite.”

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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…”

Out of the Woods

Schutzhütte by AFF Architekten

A simple Saxony countryside retreat in raw, poured concrete brings a whole new perspective to the idea of the cabin in the woods
Wallpaper* magazine issue 140

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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…