There is one thing all critics agree when it comes to the Frenchman Philippe Starck. He is always good for a surprise. For some he is an iconoclast with a strong sense of image cultivation. For others he is a true humanist expressing his views on mankind and nature and anything in between with objects as distinct from each other as one can imagine. Interiors for Baccarat or the shape of pasta, Philippe Starck never shied away from anything. Who else could claim to have a toilet brush by his own name in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art?
Philippe Starck, design with a message
So it happened that he didn’t actually exhibit any objects at the retrospective that the Centre George Pompidou held in Paris in 2003. Rather he told stories of his objects in an audio-visual installation. And there it is again. Starck’s philosophy, that seems to be somewhat anti-design at times.
“Subversive, ethical, ecological, political, fun: this is how I see my duty as a creator.”
Philippe Starck’s quest during the 80’s and 90’s to democratize design was successful. It’s done. It is probably safe to say that everyone in the civilized world has seen or even owns a Philippe Starck design object. His collaborations with Alessi, Samsonite, Kartell to name just a few made it possible. A lemon squeezer, a toilet brush, an alcoholic “food spray for the future”, however trivial some projects may seem, they are the result of a legacy that is not obvious at a glance. Indeed, Starck sees his own work in the Bauhaus tradition in the sense that he wants to improve the quality and reduce the price of objects thus make them accessible through smart channels of distribution. Only that he adds a sensual, emotional and ethical aspect to the meaning of quality. He has been a potent catalyst of this development.
This endeavor of democratization included hotels and affected the hospitality industry for everyone to enjoy today. The Paramount in New York, designed by Starck is the first budget design hotel and the beginning of that trend. Many more should follow.
Now he aims to do the same for “Democratic Ecology”, applying the same logic in a new quest to enable the largest possible number of people to deal effectively with the new ecological challenges and their side effects. To make the technology to reduce energy consumption or even better, generate energy, affordable, accessible and user friendly. So he introduces windmills for home users, starting at just 500 Euros and ready to use in an hour. He designed an electro car for Volteis introduced at the Geneva Motor Show 2012. Nor does bio food escape his social radar, creating the organic nutrition brand OAO.
“The desire to do good, better and fairer” leads to Starck’s recent brainchild, P.A.T.H, prefabricated, accessible, technological homes; turnkey solutions launched in 2013. And again one cannot miss the resonance of what another pioneer of design called “machines for living” almost a century ago.
Philippe Starck interior and furniture design
The son of an aircraft engineer started his career as innovative interior designer. He gained institutional recognition with the interior of the private residence of Francois Mitterand at the Elysée Palace. The Café Costes in Paris received spectacular reviews and the iconic Costes chair is a famous object of desire till today.
Philippe Starck has designed countless nightclubs, restaurants, bars and hotels allover the world. Along with it the collection of furniture designs grew into an extensive list of chairs, shelves, drawers, lounge seating, beds, tables, stools, mirrors and more. Not to mention an equally extensive list of lighting objects.
It is almost impossible to define a coherent Philippe Starck furniture style although each piece of furniture has a distinctive character. There are organic shapes as seen with the Soft Egg chair, Out-In chair and the Impossible series. The Costes and Royalton chairs as well as the Monsieur X Deckchair feature more restrained classic shapes and wood.
The blockbusters Dr. Glob and Dr. No, an inventive combination of metal and plastic and the series of Ghost chairs, entirely in transparent plastic, show a playful side.
The Cosy Chair for the American discount giant Target in 2002 is an icon for democratic design available for just a few dollars and long sold out.
One can only wait and wonder what will come next. Most certainly Philippe Starck is not done feeding the creative world his own recipe of fast food and fine dining.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). Less is more.
Mies van der Rohe - From a mason to a world renowned architect
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is an icon of modern architecture. The Museum of Modern Art honours him as a representative of the International Style although he never formally studied architecture.
He learned his profession from scratch. A mason’s son he worked at the father’s workshop before training to be a draughtsman. First apprentice with the architect and furniture designer Bruno Paul in Berlin his career in architecture begins when he joins Peter Behrens, the “pioneer of industrial design”.
Mies van der Rohe - Skin-and-bones architecture
When he opened his first studio in 1919 he had already developed his own style and worked on the first skyscrapers in steel and glass. Several similar studies on the subject are the result of his collaboration with the revolutionary artists and architects of the November Group. They should become popular as skin and bones architecture. Although none of these were ever built they should be significant for his increasing popularity and many of his buildings later in his career.
„Form is not the objective but the result“ he is often quoted and revived the dogma form follows function. With „Less is more“ he describes his ambition for absolut simplicity. As far as possible each element of a design should serve multiple aesthetic and functional aspects.
Mies van der Rohe - The Weissenhof Estate
The Weissenhof Estate, launched 1926 under his direction in Stuttgart, should become one oft he most influential examples of modern architecture of the 20s, even an entire era. Many inspiring architects such as Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius joined the project and added to this collection of work on the subject Modern Living.
It is in this context that Mies started working on furniture designs, all of them by-products to commissioned projects.
When he encounters Mark Stam’s designs for a cantilever chair while working on the Weissenhof Estate he picks up on the idea and experiments further with tubular steel for the frame. The MR 10 is born and along with it the MR 20 with armrests.
Mies van der Rohe - Barcelona 1929
More innovative furniture concepts follow for the German Pavilion for the world exhibition 1929 in Barcelona. The use of forged band steel makes the scissor like form possible and with it the visual lightness of the Barcelona Chair. Mies himself calls it a “monumental object”.
Mies van der Rohe - The Tugendhat villa
In 1930 work on the villa for the industrial couple Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic is completed. The designs for the interior become world-famous.
The Tugendhat Chair, constructed as a cantilever reminds visually of the Barcelona series. The Brno Chair is a cantilever as well. Mies comes back to the idea to work with band steel and introduced spring steel for the frame. The Brno Chair is available with a tubular steel base as well.
Mies van der Rohe - The end of the Bauhaus and a new beginning in the USA
Mies van der Rohe is often remembered as the last director of the Bauhaus. With increasing pressure from the Nazis he decided to close it down 1933 before he immigrated to the United States in 1938. He is appointed director oft he department of architecture of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. His philosophy and teaching style influence architecture till today especially in Europe and America.
Till his death he was very productive with his own studio. Although most of his work is in the USA the last of his projects that is gets to complete himself is the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin.
Like only a few others the man who should become famous as Le Corbusier has caused controversies in the architectural world.
Born in 1887 as Charles Edouard Jeanneret in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, he became one of the most influential and controversial architects and artists of modern times.
His designs for housing, called "Dwelling Machines", are prototypes for an inhuman suburban architecture and sparked a discussion but masterpieces like the Ronchamps Chapel or the Villa Savoye were applauded from the beginning.
He absorbed impressions and experiences, traveled extensively, even backpacked through Europe.
After an apprenticeship as a watchmaker the beginning of his professional career too resembles an educational trip through several architectural studios. He worked and studied with Peter Behrens amongst others.
He was a thinker and an artist as his paintings, manifestos and journals, all with a purist spirit, prove.
In the 20s his focus started to shift towards spreading his ideas through exhibitions, magazines, books and lectures besides his work with his own studio. It is around this time that he starts publishing under the pseudonym Le Corbusier in reference to his great-grandfather.
Today most connect his name with designer furniture.
He drowned in 1965 while being a guest in Eileen Gray's house in Roquebrune on the French Côte d'Azur.
Le Corbusier - The visionary
Just like his artistic works his concepts on urbanism, architecture and as by-product interior design are based on the same thoughts. Through them he expresses his demand for purism and ideals of efficiency in design, a vision of a brave new world.
In order to achieve these it was necessary to let go of traditional structures. And so it is not surprising that his studies on urban development were criticized vehemently.
Le Corbusier - Urban planning
Many of them remained in the planning stadium. Most concepts that were actually built came up postwar.
One of his residential units was built in Marseille followed by a few variations of the same in the following years.
The Weissenhof Estate too contains a partial realization of his vision.
Surprisingly it is in Chandigarh, India’s first planned city that he could translate at least a part of the radical Radiant City of his mind into reality.
He had some influence as chairman of the commission for urban planning of the French architectural association.
Le Corbusier - Theory and proportion
He formulates his own doctrine with his Five Points to Architecture published in “Vers une architecture” and works on the theory of colours.
Le Corbusier carried out extensive studies about the human body and its relation to architecture and design. With the Modulor he devised his own scaling system building on Da Vinci’s work before him. It would be the groundwork for all his future architectural work.
He aimed to take the human measurements as a base for designs yet create an objective order of things.
His striving for an almost machinelike functioning of city, house and furniture is visible throughout his work.
Le Corbusier - LC furniture design now and then
Particularly Le Corbusier chairs and lounge chairs are considered design classics today.
Le Corbusier named his modernist furniture collection Living Equipment when he first presented it at the Paris Fall Exhibition in 1929 in cooperation with his assistant Charlotte Perriand and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret.
It was not an instant success though and was mocked by some as "hospital furniture". Also the industrial production turned out to be very complicated and apart from a few prototypes and small series by Thonet Paris and Embru in Switzerland they did not go into production until the 60s.
Le Corbusier rejected Heidi Weber's suggestion to add sofas to the collection in the early 1960ies. “Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois”, he proclaimed once. Initially there are only designer chairs and lounge chairs in his collection and it was more than 10 years after his death that the sofa collection was introduced.
Le Corbusier - LC furniture in context
He conceived furniture for his studies on modern housing. Residential units could consist for example of the patented “Dom-ino” system, houses in reinforced concrete out of ready-made frames.
These, often small units made it necessary to rethink the interior as well. Projected as furniture for the masses, it is irony that their technical complexity turned them into luxury items and status symbols. It concerned him his whole live that his furniture designs remained inaccessible to most.
Le Corbusier LC furniture - Expression of ideal proportions
Le Corbusier was a great admirer of Thonet furniture and it reflects in his own designs. The same curved lines shape the structures of the famous LC4 chaiselongue. It looks as if he only substituted bentwood by tubular steel. The lines of the armchairs and tables are clearly rectangular and seem influenced by the more geometric approach of the Bauhaus.
Be it a chair or a table, they are based on the same proportional ideal and are the result of his attempt to rationalize and mechanize the "living process".
Although his structures are often reviewed with skepticism even today Le Corbusier furniture designs remain undisputed design classics and symbols of modern times.
Dogmas and theories are not much to Marcel Breuer’s liking. His focus is always on the development process.
His name is closely connected with tubular furniture and the Bauhaus that he influenced with his craft.
Marcel Breuer - At the Bauhaus
The Bauhaus shaped him and he shaped Bauhaus furniture.
Despite his scholarship he dismissed the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna as too conservative after a brief stint and seeks admission at the Bauhaus in Weimar. He is part of the first group of apprentices at the carpentry workshop.
None of his many architecture projects during his years in Germany is ever built with exception of a house in Wiesbaden. Nor does he ever receive formal training in architecture. He is appointed head of the furniture workshop instead. When the Bauhaus relocates to Dessau he is responsible for the interior design of the houses for the master craftsmen, one of them Kandinsky.
Breuers designs embody the philosophy of his alma mater perfectly. He is experimental on the basis of Functionalism and Minimalism and deals with standardised and normed forms.
Alongside his school he underwent a development from the focus on art and craft towards art and technology. While his Slatted Chair is still based on craftsmanship his tubular furniture represents the increasing importance of technology.
He leaves the Bauhaus 1928 but continues to work with Walter Gropius.
Marcel Breuer - The evolution of his design classics from wooden to tubular steel furniture
The African Chair, Breuer’s first furniture design still exudes the romanticism of crafts. At other projects around the same time one can see that he already adopted the new theories about form but still employs the traditional understanding of the layout.
This should change the following years. Smaller residential units would require contemporary furnishing that consumes less space.
Marcel Breuer - The Slatted Chair
The Slatted Chair is kind of a prototype for the chair. It was to be functional and suited for serial production. Taking inspiration from Gerrit Rietfeld’s designs the chair meets all expectations. The critique too is exemplary. Some dismiss it as an uncomfortable piece of art , others consider it the perfect implementation of the assignment. It is produced in series but never a commercial success.
Marcel Breuer - The Wassily Chair
While the Slatted Chair is more of a study subject the Wassily Chair is still in demand today. The most popular of Breuer’s furniture designs is simply called Tubular Chair in 1926. It is one of the most spectacular objects of the Bauhaus.
Breuer had solved the issues related to bending tubular steel and thus made it available for furniture design. He revived the idea of a club chair with a different approach. The materials had to be light, inexpensive, dismountable and hygienic.
He dedicated himself to the matter and designed a collection of chairs - amongst them cantilevers, bureaus, side tables and cabinets. Breuer expected mainly criticism and was surprised by the commercial success.
Marcel Breuer - The Cesca Chair
The Cesca Chair, available with or without armrest, is not only produced and marketed successfully it is also in the centre of a major infringement dispute evolving around the cantilevers by Mark Stam, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.
Breuer establishes a new type of furniture with the tubular collection. It became a symbol for radical modernity.
Marcel Breuer - More furniture design
During the early 30s commissions for architecture and design were rare. He travelled and worked on aluminium furniture that was awarded but never became a commercial success.
After immigrating to London 1935 he discovered organic shapes while working on plywood furniture as Director of Design of the company Isokon. These designs are amongst the earliest that incorporate the shape of the human body and are ancestors of the organic furniture that should see its heyday in the US during the 40s.
Marcel Breuer - Second career in the USA
Again immigrating, this time to America in 1937, urged by Walter Gropius, he is in demand and successful as architect. But furniture and interior design dominate his years in Europe. Many of his furniture designs form the 20s and 30s in particular are considered design classics today.
Appointed as professor to the School of Design in Harvard he inspired an entire generation of aspiring designers while building his second career as architect commissioned to work on many international projects. He and his mentor Gropius are partners until he starts his own firm Marcel Breuer & Associates. He retired in 1976 and died 1981 in New York.
Harry Bertoia’s artistic talent was acknowledged right from the beginning. When his father took the 15-year-old Italian boy to Detroit to visit his brother he was accepted in a program for talented students in art and science at Cass Technical High School.
It should be the beginning of a fulfilled career in art and design. While on a scholarship at the Art School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts he took part in many local art competitions. Yet another stipend brought Bertoia to the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen and founder president of the academy, persuaded him to set up the department of metalworking. Harry Bertoia had found his material.
Harry Bertoia - At the Cranbrook Academy
The Cranbrook Academy was an exhilarating place to be for young artists. A new institution without degrees but with a social message the academy encouraged its students to explore arts, express themselves.
The relationships and connections formed there should result in some of the best collaborations in the history of Modern American design and beyond. Charles and Ray Eames met at the academy, Eero Saarinen taught and Walter Gropius visited. To name just a few.
Harry Bertoia - The jewellery designer
Due to the shortage of metal during the war Bertoia centered his work around jewelry, consuming less of the precious material. Charles and Ray’s wedding rings were made by their friend. Their relationship should continue.
Harry Bertoia - The furniture designer
In 1943 Bertoia began developing techniques for moulding plywood with Eames building on the Organic Design competition that Eames and Saarinen had won earlier. The winning designs couldn’t yet successfully be mass-produced and Bertoia came on board to help solve the issues. The separation of the armrest from the back rest as well the skeletal tubular steel base for plywood chairs were his concepts but he didn’t receive the credit for either of them. Seeing the limitations of this partnership he moved on.
Harry Bertoia - The collabration with Knoll
The company Knoll, a melting pot of modern design, like Cranbrook where Florence Knoll was a classmate, offered Bertoia to design for them whatever he wanted with full credit and handsome compensation. It resulted in Bertoia being a made man. He was able to buy the house and studio in Pennsylvania that is the family home till today and the royalties of the extremely successful wire chair collection enabled him to focus on his sculpting work for the rest of his life.
Harry Bertoia - The Diamond chairs
The Diamond chair series was born. A collection of innovative wire mesh seating with the characteristic tubular steel base formed and welded by hand in a highly complex process including a bar stool, chair and side chair as well as a children’s chair.
Bertoia solved all the functional and industrial obstacles but the artist in him sculpted the form of the chair. He is often quoted comparing the chair to a sculpture.
Harry Bertoia - More design classics
The Bird chair too is very similar to the Diamond series but slightly more dominant in shape and typically fully upholstered.
The first piece designed for Knoll was the sophisticated Bertoia bench, not yet featuring the signature wire grid but a combination of wooden slats and a welded wire base already promising what was to come.
Harry Bertoia - The artist
At the core Harry Bertoia was an artist and highly productive to say the least. He had produced more than 50000 pieces of art. Starting early as a student with experimental prints and drawings later known as monoprints, he added jewelry, accomplished utilitarian objects and foremost sculptures to his portfolio.
Garry Bertoia - Metal, his favorite instrument
His real passion was metal sculpting, already apparent in his wire chair designs and he is often quoted saying, "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them."
The effects of metal, manipulated in many ways, and air passing through fascinated him and he created different variations of sound sculptures that are not only astonishing visual works of art but create an audible experience as well. He even produced a series of albums titled Sonambient entirely performed by his sculptures and the elements of nature. Harry Bertoia should take organic design to another level.