»Don‘t fight forces, use them.«

Richard Buckminster Fuller

Blog Review

Milan: Fallen Angels

Stephan Burkoff on Starchitects’ furniture at the 2013 Salone del Mobile

  • Zaha Hadid was in Milan with the Avia lamp collection for Slamp, this amorphous bench of marble called Serac for Lab 23...  1 / 13  Zaha Hadid was in Milan with the Avia lamp collection for Slamp, this amorphous bench of marble called Serac for Lab 23... 
  • ...this Mercurial Table collection for Citco... 2 / 13  ...this Mercurial Table collection for Citco...
  • ...as well as this Array seating system for Poltrona Frau – and other products besides. But all the Zaha Hadid designs might as well have been produced by a single manufacturer or merely as self-marketing tools. (Photo: Jacopo Spilimbergo)&a 3 / 13  ...as well as this Array seating system for Poltrona Frau – and other products besides. But all the Zaha Hadid designs might as well have been produced by a single manufacturer or merely as self-marketing tools. (Photo: Jacopo Spilimbergo)&a
  • Daniel Libeskind could be seen with his Paragon lamp from Artemide, which is indisputably consistent with his style... 4 / 13  Daniel Libeskind could be seen with his Paragon lamp from Artemide, which is indisputably consistent with his style...
  • ...but ultimately appears mechanistic, cold and sharp-edged. 5 / 13  ...but ultimately appears mechanistic, cold and sharp-edged.
  • Tadao Ando showed his chair based on old designs by Hans J. Wegner, made for Carl Hansen & Søn.  6 / 13  Tadao Ando showed his chair based on old designs by Hans J. Wegner, made for Carl Hansen & Søn. 
  • But Ando's design compared with these Hansen classics, is strikingly inferior in its design quality and bears no relation to the brand's heritage. 7 / 13  But Ando's design compared with these Hansen classics, is strikingly inferior in its design quality and bears no relation to the brand's heritage.
  • OMA and Rem Koolhaas presented the “Tools for Life” collection, expressly developed for Knoll’s 75th anniversary, with mechanical gadgetry that recalls 1980s James Bond films. Here's an innocent looking coffee table... 8 / 13  OMA and Rem Koolhaas presented the “Tools for Life” collection, expressly developed for Knoll’s 75th anniversary, with mechanical gadgetry that recalls 1980s James Bond films. Here's an innocent looking coffee table...
  • No! Don't touch that red button! 9 / 13  No! Don't touch that red button!
  • Whoosh... we have lift off! 10 / 13  Whoosh... we have lift off!
  • The exception that proves the rule. The new Studio series by UNStudio for Offect is communicative, flexible and uncomplicated.  11 / 13  The exception that proves the rule. The new Studio series by UNStudio for Offect is communicative, flexible and uncomplicated. 
  • Its strength lies in its practical design...  12 / 13  Its strength lies in its practical design... 
  • ...which could develop real market potential. 13 / 13  ...which could develop real market potential.

This year’s Salone del Mobile and the spectacle that surrounded it simply overflowed with furniture designed by architects. Hardly any of the well-known major manufacturers risked forgoing this supposed trump card in their latest collections - from over-the-top street furniture, to unashamedly sharp-edged light fixtures and dated-looking tables and chairs. 

Houses, they say, are like the garments of life. In their attempt to furnish these garments with linings and accessories by adapting their own stylistic idioms to the scale of furniture, contemporary architects can be seen to have largely failed. Often their furniture designs are just a facile synthesis between their own architecture and design, sometimes they are just stereotypic reproductions of a certain aesthetic. They rarely evince any real creative novelty, being instead icons intended to convey an image. In some cases, these criteria might well lead to sales.  It can be presumed, however, that on their part the manufacturers are pursuing very different goals from that of just selling as many as possible of the design objects they exhibit.

What is undisputed is that many of architecture’s greats from the past have created exceptional pieces of furniture. Modernism in particular, with Le Corbusier, Mies and others, proved that architecture together with furniture and interior design can – or indeed must – constitute a meaningful aesthetic whole. Because they ideally always proceed from a single need, goal or aim. But there lies precisely the problem with much of today’s furniture by architects. There is no must. When architects and manufacturers come together today, it is as a product of the marketing department. An attempt, using the brand names of the Olympian Gods of Architecture, to stimulate business and unlock new markets. Success or failure is measured not in mere sales but through the media impact that is generated.

Hence why the 2013 Salone del Mobile occasionally felt like being at a merchandising stand for the international architectural scene. A sellout of identity on both sides. Who is using whom here remains just as murky as the benefits that the individual parties will actually receive. The results of these collaborations hardly provide any answers to the questions of our time. The fast pace of the industry is therefore likely to mean many of these designs will fade rapidly into obscurity.

– Stephan Burkoff, Berlin

 

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PUBLISHED 23 Apr 2013 WHAT Design Review WHERE Milan Italy AUTHOR

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