Arne Jacobsen thought of himself foremost as an architect and disliked the label of a designer but today some of the most popular and commercially successful design icons are associated with his name.
An uncompromising perfectionist in his work he understood to merge his passion for painting, his love for nature and botanic with his rationalist understanding of architecture and design.
In his time his works were considered futuristic and artistic and indeed some of his designs like the Series 7 chair designed 1955 fit in seamlessly in today’s style world, almost 60 years later.
His abstract stainless steel cutlery for the SAS Royal Hotel Copenhagen could even be seen in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Very early in his career, shortly after graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen he won a competition with The House of the Future. A spiral shaped building with a helipad on the rooftop and conveyor tube for the mail that gained him recognition for his futuristic sense of design.
“The fundamental factor is proportion”, he said shortly before his death and in order to achieve this proportional ideal on a larger scale he insisted that he was given maximum freedom to design everything involved when commissioned a project. From the building itself to the landscaping and the design of fixtures and fittings no detail was too minor for him to obsess about.
When working on the St. Catherine’s College in Oxford he even chose the type of fish to be placed in the pond.
Arne Jacobsen’s interest for product design became more apparent after his wartime exile in Sweden during which he desingned wallpapers and textiles with botanic patterns as architcural commissions were rare during those years. It culminated in the late 50s with the first designer hotel in the world, the SAS Royal Hotel Copenhagen.
It is a result of this obsession to create a complete look and along with it some of his most iconic designs were born. The organic shaped Egg,, Swanand Drop chairs, the matching table and floor lamp are all products designed for this still outstanding project.
Apart from the distinct, often organic shapes for his furniture designs Jacobsen’s work in product design stands apart because he was open to new materials and techniques yet remained close to nature and retained his sense for craftmanship.
His Ant chair followed by the immensly successful Series 7 were inspired by a plywood chair by Charles Eames that he once bought for his own studio. The pressure molding technique applied on plywood was further developed for the Ant, Series 7 and Lily chairs. Jacobsen initially had to agree to purchase a minimum of 100 chairs himself to convince the sceptical manufacturer Fritz Hansen to go into production. It turned out to be one of the most commercially succesful furniture designs with the Series 7 chair more than 10 million times sold.
But above all the work of Arne Jacobsen is relevant till today because of its pictorial energy, its pure and yet comforting aesthetics that is the result of his at the first glance contradicting personality.
The designer Charles Eames and his second wife Ray are synonymous with the rise of corporate and industrial America and the global expansion of its culture.
Their works are very diversified and included furniture, toys, buildings, films, exhibitions and books. Their aim was to improve society functionally, culturally and intellectually.
Charles’ interest in mechanics and the functioning of things merged with Ray’s artistic side when they met in the 30s at the Cranbrook Academy for Arts in New York. The academy’s visionary concept of modern design as a promoter for social change would shape their work throughout their careers.
The Eamses settled in Los Angeles. It proved to be an ideal playground to experiment with design in a society that was suddenly confronted with unprecedented functional demands during the war. The aircraft industry was a boost for the entire region. Subsequently their work with and for the government and aviation industry allowed them access to advanced materials and technologies and not the least, funding.
Material studies that led to their innovative line of molded plywood furniture originate back to these collaborations during which they were commissioned a project to develop a splint for the armed forces in action.
Postwar, as America changed from an industrial economy to a postindustrial society of information and knowledge so did the Eamses’ focus shift. They became facilitators of all new and scientific for government and companies like General Motors, IBM, Boeing and Polaroid and cultural representatives for the New Deal.
The Eamses too believed that what would benefit corporates would benefit the people.
The film The Powers of Ten is an outstanding example for their work in this regard, exploring the relative size of things with innovative visual tools.
Bill Lacy, a friend and colleague said, “There is no Eames style, only a legacy of problems beautifully and intelligently solved”.
They worked on projects they believed in with clients who shared their objectives. Charles wanted “to bring the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least” and had faith in corporate America to achieve this goal.
Their own house served as a model to solve the postwar veterans need for affordable housing.
Their furniture, mass-produced chairs, tables, sofas and storage units were intended as beautiful yet inexpensive furnishings for an increasingly egalitarian society. And they succeeded on every level.
Charles and Ray Eames identified a demand for affordable, multi functional and high-quality furniture.
Their concepts of interior design proposed progressive new ways of living and working and yet retained a certain playfulness, making it appealing and approachable to many.
In 1940 Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, his friend and partner, won the competition Organic Design in Home Furnishings by the Museum of Modern Art. The collection included versions of their famous softly moulded veneer chairs and modular units that formed benches, cabinets, desks and tables.
The ESU (Eames Storage Unit) debuted a little later in Detroit.
The great commercial success of Charles Eames design furniture is to some extent a result of their collaboration with Hermann Miller Furniture, a company that shared their social outlook and involved the Eamses in their marketing plan.
The core of their work for Hermann Miller were four groups of chairs, each a solution to functional and technical challenges.
The moulded plywood chairs, fiberglass reinforced plastic chairs as well as the bent and welded wire-mesh chairs were all designed to have a single, body fitting shell that was comfortable without costly upholstery and to be unproblematic in shipping as they were stackable. Each of the three groups tackles these challenges in a different way. The forth group, out of cast aluminum served as all-purpose, all-weather seating suitable for outdoors.
Other designs grew out of these concepts such as a molded plywood or wire mesh tables.
The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman were Charles Eames first design for a high-end market and are part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
Each of Charles and Ray Eames designs invites the owners to engage with it and mix and match for their own individual needs.
Eero Saarinen was part of the second generation of modernist architects and designers, free to release functionalism from its theoretical restrictions adding to it exuberant visual effects fitting the post war economic rise of the Western world and America in particular.
Eero’s father Eliel already was a successful architect in Finland and should continue to be an influential member of the architecture and design community after immigrating to the US in 1923. His mother Louise was a textile designer and sculptor.
The Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, designed and co founded by Eliel Saarinen in 1927 involved the whole family and should influence the development of Eero Saarinen and many of his fellow contemporaries over the coming decades. It nurtured collaborations and instilled a comprehensive understanding of architecture, art and design in the students that was groundbreaking at the time.
But Eero Saarinen ventured out to other shores before returning to Cranbrook. The early 30s are dedicated to his studies; sculpting in Paris and architecture at Yale. A scholarship enabled him to travel to Europe and North Africa and to spend some time at his native place Finland before he took up a teaching assignment alongside his father at the academy. Father and son should work closely together right till Eliel Saarinen’s death in 1950.
In the late 30s Saarinen began to work on moulded plywood designs with Charles Eames who studied and worked at the academy as well. The teamwork led to a spectacular success with the winning designs for the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" competition in 1940. They are the groundwork not only for Saarinen’s future furniture designs but an entire generation of designers making Organic Design a trademark.
From the time they met at Cranbrook, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll should share a livelong friendship. It should evolve into an exceedingly fruitful professional relationship and yield some of the best-known design classics of the era.
The Womb chair is the first mass-produced fiberglass furniture and inspired others to take organic shapes forward like Arne Jacobsen did with the Egg chair. It was a successful “attempt to achieve psychological comfort by providing a great big cup-like shell into which you can curl up and pull up your legs (something that woman seem especially like to do)”. The chair demonstrates the designer’s concern with anatomy and how it relates to furniture. Many women since then agreed with him.
Versions of the first prototypes were made true to scale displayed in a dollhouse sized model room at Knoll.
Saarinen was determined to clean up under the table. And the chair. Literally. He found the traditional four legs for chair and table too cluttered, called it the “slum of legs”. The Tulip or Pedestal series of tables and chairs is the result creating a unit of base and seat, or base and tabletop respectively.
It took five years of developing work and research and still never fully satisfied Saarinen as he envisioned the entire chair or table made of plastic, which turned out to be unfeasible in production. Ultimately the solution was found with aluminum for the base and polyester for the rest. The tabletops were and still are available in different configurations and sizes from a side table up to a 2-meter wide oval dinning table.
After his father’s death continues to be an immensely successful architect with his own firm Eero Saarinen & Associates.
Saarinen’s architectural work is critically acclaimed and prominent till today. His diverse and often theatrical designs attracted potent clients; he called them “co-creators”, which turned many of his projects into trend setting monuments. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the main terminal of Dulles International Airport in Dallas, two colleges at Yale University and many more are ‘living’ proof for the timeless quality of Eero Saarinen’s designs.
At first sight there seems to be a contradiction in the works of Irish born Eileen Gray but once you take a look at the house E1027, designed as an entity and now a cultural heritage site, a coherent picture forms itself.
She was a sharp observer, resolute and preferred to be by herself. Her father supported her wish to be an artist and she went through her formal education in London and Paris. Surrounded by other open minded, independent designers, architects and artists her unconventional intellect could unfurl.
In the early years her artistic nature dominated her work. Coincidentally she became familiar with lacquer work and developed a fascination for it. The craft was a dying art at the time. She was enthusiastic when she met the Japanese master of the art, Sougawara in 1906. They worked together for many years.
When Gray and Sougawara returned to Paris after the war she got the opportunity to design the entire interior for an apartment in the Rue de Lota. The Lota couch originates from this commission that included all furnishings.
Positive reviews for the apartment encouraged her to open her own shop where she exhibited her own work as well as that of her artist friends. The shop marked the beginning of her career as interior designer and financial independence.
She was at the centre of the modern movement, travelled extensively and worked with and for a relatively elitist circle. Le Corbusier was an avid admirer of her work.
Eileen Gray herself was her best client. This might be the reason that her work never showed the programmatic restraint of the Dutch and German minimalism. She was free to express humour and phantasy yet developed an affinity for functionalism and picked up inspiration from the Bauhaus school of thought.
Due to the influence of the Bauhaus her bias towards luxurious materials diminished although she never completely renounced them.
The Lota sofa features lacquered cubes as armrests and shows her ability to unite the old fashioned craft with the functionalist thought.
Gray is fascinated by Marcel Breuer’s exploration of tubular steel for furnishings and designs a series of tubular furniture.
Many of them for the house E1027, built and furnished by her at the suggestion of her life partner at the time, the architecture critic Jean Badovici.
The name of the house is a playful code; E for Eileen, 10 for the tenth letter of the alphabet as in Jean, 2 for Badovici und 7 for Gray. To hide little humorous notes in her objects is a typical gimmick of hers.
A little side table for E1027 is one her most inventive designs. The tubular steel construction with glass top is height adjustable and constructed in such a way that it functions as a bed table. It is said that her sister’s preference for breakfast in bed inspired the table.
Gray experimented with a series of tubular chairs and extending tables.
The Bibendum chair, initially designed for the Rue de Lota apartment is part of the furnishing as well. Its name hints at the form of the chair and the character symbolizing the company Michelin. The chair is called a “triumph of the modern spirit” by critics and is one of the reasons for the success of the project.
While some of Gray’s earlier chairs are rather decorative in nature she starts working on the ideal functional chair herself during the 20s.
The Transat chair is a slender construction of slim wooden slats connected with each other by metal bars and joints. The upholstered headrest is adjustable. The freely suspended seat describes an elegant curve, a contrast to the geometrical austerity of the frame. It is evident that Gray studied the construction of a chair in detail as well as the requirement of a person sitting in it.
The chair is extremely adaptable. It is available with a simply functional wooden frame or in highly sophisticated and exclusive versions.
Eileen Gray’s ability to assimilate new ideas and refine them met the spirit of the time and she added a personal touch. Her assertiveness in a craft that was dominated by men makes her, maybe unintentionally, a pioneer of the feminist movement.
Even today there are enthusiastic collectors like Yves Saint Laurent. At an auction 2009 in Paris her Dragon armchair was auctioned for 22 Million Euros, the highest price ever paid for furniture from the 20th century.
George Nelson was an architect by education but clearly a developer by nature.
His design is open minded, simplistic, functional and at times playful but always innovative. And he nurtures the same mood as influential design critic and creative director at Hermann Miller Inc.
His inspiring career is not a coincidence or the result of being at the right place at the right time. He had the right ideas for the times ahead and picked the right people for the present to work with.
He began his architecture studies at Yale at the young age of 16 and added a second degree in arts before he ventures to Rome on a scholarship of the American Academy. During these two years George Nelson pursued an idea of his own. He travelled through Europe to interview the crème de la crème of modern architects and had the results published in the magazine Pencil Points. With no delay the Architectural Forum hires him in 1935 and he is soon managing publisher and an influential architecture critic while entertaining his own projects with partner William Hanby and their firm in New York for the next nine years.
He worked only sporadically as an architect, mainly from the mid 30s to the mid 40s, but the Fairchild Residence, a lavish townhouse on the Upper East Side for aircraft manufacturer Sherman Fairchild, proves that he had no reason to take a back seat in this field either. It is a masterpiece and even featured on the cover of Fortune magazine in April ‘43.
“Preconceived ideas are poison. It is a pretty safe rule that if a planning solution is thoroughly workable it is not going to be difficult to design an exterior, which will be agreeable in appearance. It may be unconventional. Maybe the bathrooms will have big windows instead of little ones. Maybe the kitchen will be next to the front door instead of the back door. Maybe it won’t even look like a house at all to those who are accustomed to symmetrical fronts with two shutters on every window. Nevertheless, in it’s personal, modern way, it will be a good-looking house.” (George Nelson & Henry Wright)
Nelson radically broke with traditions. He introduced ramps instead of staircases and an atrium that divided the building in two. Entirely in glass with a landscaped courtyard this allowed much more natural daylight to fall on each level of the house. The interior was high tech for the time, electrically operated Venetian blinds, air conditioning and soundproofing; it truly deserves the label ‘machine for living’.
His beginning with Herman Miller marks the beginning of an extraordinary time for modern American design and furniture production. Within a year of joining Herman Miller 1945 he is creative director and induces a creative and productive environment inviting several leading and upcoming designers to express their ideas and draw from innovative production and material research. He launches several designs by Eero Saarinen, Isamo Noguchi and Charles Eames who worked closely with Hermann Miller for many years.
There is some dispute about George Nelson taking credit for designs by others, employed at Hermann Miller. For example related to the Marshmellow sofa and the well-known Ball clock, both designs likely by Irving Harper, both playful and much less restrained than the Platform bench or the serene Bubble lamps, which are undoubtedly by George Nelson and a beautiful, versatile example of his talent.
Most consider his structured, functional storage systems his biggest achievement for furniture design. Beginning with the Storage Wall that had prompted Hermann Millers interest in him 1945, Nelson introduces the idea of using storage units as room dividers. Various storage solutions and a lot of research later he and Robert Probst brought Action Office I into the market, had the initial idea incorporated and it was soon to be seen in every modern American office.
Action Office II, continued by Probst without Nelson, should introduce cubicles to the office landscape and in continuation Action Office revolutionized workspaces.
Beyond his designs and buildings his legacy is the way he spread the words and works of designers and architects internationally and helped paving the way for modern design a great deal.
One of George Nelson’s theories was that not much design theory is required for good design, which he defined as “the capacity of the human mind to overcome its own limitations”.
When confronted with his most popularly known product design, a delicate paper lamp named Akari, it seems logical to assume that Isamu Noguchi’s work is grounded on his Japanese-American heritage. But it is rather his overall unconventional and restless upbringing that made him unprejudiced towards forms and materials. His particular interest in Japanese art and culture should emerge only later in his life.
The illegitimate son of the Japanese poet Noguchi Yonejirō and the American writer Leonie Gilmour, born in Los Angeles, spent his childhood in Japan before he was sent to the US for schooling. He went under the name Sam Gilmore at the time. Although his desire to become an artist wasn’t received with much support he got the opportunity to apprentice with the sculptor Borglum, best known for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial. But Borglum didn’t recognize Noguchi’s talent and he enrolled for premedical studies at Columbia University in New York.
It didn’t last long and he left the university, took up the name Noguchi again and began to pursue arts full time.
The hostility against Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor had a strong impact on Noguchi. In 1942 he founded the Nisei Writers and Artists Mobilization for Democracy. Disappointed by the lacking response he voluntarily got himself detained at an internment camp for Japanese Americans in Arizona, hoping to create awareness. His vision to create parks and recreation areas remained a dream.
Post war he travelled extensively and started dividing his time between the US and Japan. The experiences during the war and his travels through Japan immediately afterwards are reflected in his art of the time and seen 1946 at the exhibition Fourteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art.
As multifaceted as his story is his art. In Japan, China, India, Mexico and various places in Europe and the US he picked up inspiration, unique skills and appreciation for a wide range of materials. He travelled the arts too and ventured way beyond sculptures. Isamu Noguchi was not just a sculptor, but stage designer, landscape architect, product and furniture designer.
His working relationship with the manufacturers, Hermann Miller and Knoll, both leaving plenty of room for the creative process of their designers, turned out to be very fruitful for modern furniture design. The collaboration enriched the design world with sophisticated objects, functional yet with an artistic angle.
The Articulated table is one of the iconic pieces of furniture that have survived trends and anti trends, the only kidney shaped side table that has survived the more than 70 years of its existence with an unharmed reputation.
Initially designed for A.C. Goodyear, president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Hermann Miller picked it up and it turned out to be an immensely popular piece in the 50s. Made of only three pieces it is a skillful combination of unbiased form and rational construction. Two identical pieces at the base are held together by the weight of the glass top. It seems a modern sculpture with a surrealist touch and reflects his approach to design. "Any material, any idea without hindrance born into space, I consider sculpture."
The Cyclone table, initially thought of as a rocking stool made of wire and wood, turned into a side table. The full sized dining table was introduced only a few years later, suggested by Knoll. For marketing purpose is was paired with a children wire chair by Harry Bertoia, a fellow artist turned designer at Knoll.
A design that many people are familiar with is the Akari paper lamp series. Unfortunately that is likely the case thanks to numerous rip-offs since Noguchi never protected his copyrights and suffered from plagiarism regularly.
The idea for the Akari lamps was conceived during a trip to Japan in the early 50s. The fishermen at the village Geifu used simple lanterns made of bamboo rips and fine paper to attract the fishes at night. Noguchi chooses paper from the mulberry tree and replaces the bamboo rips with wire. This gives him the freedom to shape a series of forms from the classical ball hanging lamp to other rectangular and organic lighting objects that seem to float in the room.
Akari means light, or rather enlightenment, and is truly symbolic for Noguchi’s work. He created the perfect landscape for his art himself at The Noguchi Museum in Long Island, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.