The internet of things is here. Kitchen appliances have bluetooth, central heating is controlled with smartphones…But for all its beauty, our furniture is still stupid. Why aren’t more manufacturers making smart furniture?
Greg Lynn, designer of a smart sports chair for Nike gets it. His new chair has sensors to warm or cool users as required, eliminating cramps and reducing fluid loss after exercise. A great invention for athletes looking for the edge. In an interview with Dezeen he commented “I think probably the furniture industry is slow to engage technology. It’ll either happen or they’ll disappear.” Amen Greg.
Technology is all powerful. A tech invention can send a startup from a garage in Stoke to the stock exchange in weeks. If the furniture industry doesn’t integrate tech fast (not just wireless phone chargers), it will lose market share to tech companies that truly innovate.
Kram and Weisshar’s SmartSlab dining table integrates circuitry, allowing food to be cooked and kept at optimum temperature. At the same time your bottle of wine is kept perfectly chilled. All this on your dining table as your dinner guests sit around it. The collaboration between Kram/Weisshar and Iris Ceramica Group is a case in point: neither party is a furniture company. Iris Ceramica (ceramic tile producer) was looking for new uses for its range of tiles and hey presto. Very Jean Prouvé too.
As cities become more congested and built up, space becomes more valuable. And so does flexibility. If homes become smarter and more space saving (or multi purpose) using products like SmartSlab, they should also integrate smart reconfigurable interior walls and flexible equipment. In a state of the art city pad of the future (in just 10 years time) interior walls, furniture and equipment will be reconfigured on command to allow flexibility and optimum use of space.
MINI unveiled a micro living concept at Milan furniture fair, where certain items are foldable and movable. Great idea, but let’s make it smart. Bluetooth it up with 3 or 4 pre-programmed automated layouts. One tap of a smart phone screen and your studio pad goes from ‘Office layout’ to ‘Ooh la la Love nest’. Whilst you’re on your way back for coffee.
In this situation furniture needs to keep up. No. In fact, it needs to lead. In recent blogs I’ve discussed wearable tech, the rise of Asian design and market disruptors such as Tesla. Now I’m joining the dots. In the next decade I predict we’ll see at least one major player emerge from Asia in the furniture mass market. And their furniture will be smart, automated and flexible. The Apple of the furniture industry. Bye for now.
European design fairs used to be dismissive of Asian furniture companies; confining them to Hall Z where the tumbleweed blows. Meanwhile Western brands in swankier halls complained loudly about Chinese photographers getting too close to their precious chairs. But the landscape is changing fast. Asia has upped its game and the Western design community is reconsidering its position like a stuttering politician.
Shin Azumiwas the first Asian designer during my career to cause ripples on the Western furniture design circuit. His Lem stool for La Palma (2000) was an overnight success. We’ve since seen a steady rise in talented Asian designers adding quality and flavour to the Western market.
Neri and Huquietly sneaked into the fray a few years later from their base in Shanghai. You’d be forgiven for thinking some of their furniture was designed by time-served Scandinavian creators. They managed to absorb some of the finer nuances of modern European furniture design and put their own stamp on it. Their diverse design team speak 30 languages and reflect China’s current generation of cool creatives. Design-aware, well travelled and on-trend.
They are also creative directors to a furniture producer called Stellar Works. This Shanghai based manufacturer aims to “celebrate the poetry of Japanese aesthetics, the richness of Chinese ornamentation, the playfulness of Italian design, the refinement of French luxury and the less is more ethos of Scandinavian design.”
NENDOon the other hand have a distinct style of their own – with an unapologetic Tokyo accent. This design team burst on to the scene in 2003 with their exhibition ‘sinking with furniture’ (below). A simple concept, brilliantly executed.
You can see similarities with their marble tables shown in Milan last week forMarsotto Edizioni. The initial illusion of a wobbly table is dispelled on closer inspection by a perfectly flat and stable high quality marble surface.
Their Tangled Leg table for Capellini (below) is a playful response to a brief calling for a casual “but not typical” modular table. The designers wanted it to appear that the tables were holding hands. And if these two examples aren’t enough, their50 Manga Chairs exhibitioncertainly provided the ‘!’ moment on Instagram during Milan Design Week.
Asian Design Evolution
‘Alamak!’ translated means ‘Oh my God’ /’What a surprise!’The exhibitionby the same name celebrates Asian craft and design at the XXI Triennale in Milan. It also acknowledges the West’s habit of overlooking – and at times ignoring – the design and manufacturing prowess in this part of the world.
UK readers will appreciate the novel Birmingham Library Side Table above. Designed byNaihan Li, this product epitomises a trend of young mobile Asian generations who travel, explore and study in the West before returning home to apply their ideas to traditional local craft production methods. Made in Asia by Asian Designers: Asia could very well be the driving force of the next global design movement.
And why not? The West has grown to love and embrace many Asian brands. Toyota (above) are a perfect example. TheirSestina concept caron show at Milan last week was a real head turner. If Lexus (Toyota’s luxury division) can engage Saatchi & Saatchi to successfully penetrate the Western design-led consumer market, then Asian furniture producers can hire European designers to do the same. Or maybe they’ll just use their own. If you consider Asia’s manufacturing capability, emerging design talent, their desire to diversify into new markets and the region’s embracing of cutting edge technology – it seems obvious change is coming.
Made in China
China has made itself the ‘go to’ country for mass production. Many well known Western furniture brands have (quietly) produced there for over a decade. And there are a growing number of Architects, Brands and Designers emerging from the Far East with a spring in their step and a sense of fun in their design style. What is happening now is a change in attitude – our eyes are finally starting to open.
Japan Pottery collaboration
A group of European designers has recently linked up with craftsmen from Arita, Japan: an area with 150 potteries and a 400 year history of porcelain production. Overseen by a creative team including Scholten and Baijings, the aim is to support Arita’s craftsmen, who have been going through difficult times. The craft of various potteries was carefully considered before matching a pottery with a designer. What a great story – and a real example of potential future East / West collaborations.
Milan goes to Shanghai
And the proof is in the dumpling. The committee behind the Milan Furniture Fair announced in February that they will stageSalone Del Mobile in Shanghaion 19-21st November. A shrewd move. They have taken this step to foster relationships between the Italian furniture industry and China. And let’s be honest- they want in.
I will leave you with a video of Japanese ArchitectSou Fujimoto‘s exhibition ‘Shifting Forest of Light’ in a derelict theatre in Milan. Fujimoto was appointed by fashion brand COS to launch their new collection – and wowed everyone with his simple yet effective use of spotlights, darkness and mirrors mimicking a forest at twilight.
Perhaps the lights are finally coming on and our perceptions of Asian furniture design are shifting… Alamak!
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Already a thousand Milan previews have invaded your Twitter and Facebook timelines. A few have even found their way into your inbox. So I’ll be brief. Here’s some cool stuff that has caught my eye as we head towards the 55th Salone…
Knoll have gone GOLD. In recognition of Harry Bertoia’s centennial, the Bertoia and Platner collection will be shown in an 18 karat gold finish. Cue Tony Hadley and Spandau Ballet…. “Always believe iiiiin….”
Like a bit a Manga? NENDO’s ‘50 Manga Chairs‘ exhibition promises to be action packed. The cool Tokyo design studio have fused Manga with furniture, to create a sense of story. Speech bubbles, emotions and actions have all been interpreted into chairs, produced in a mirror finish to ‘reflect life’ – as does Manga. Go find it.
Fritz Hansen join a growing number of furniture manufacturers targeting the accessories and homeware market. Objectscollection has been created by a group of designers including (the main man) Jaime Hayon and aims to complement the Fritz Hansen furniture collection in terms of design, craftsmanship and quality.
ONE Collectionwill relaunch the classic Finn Juhl designed France chair, originally released in 1956. It was named after British entrepreneur C.W.France who single handedly kick-started the Danish furniture export market. He came up with his business idea whilst being held captive in a WW2 Prison. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Speaking of Brits, Lee Broom is planning another Salone First. Following ‘Lee Broom Department Store’ last year, he will present his 90’s inspired Optical lighting collection in the back of a delivery van that tours around the city. Cleverly named Salone del Automobile; I hope for Brit authenticity purposes the van will have a half eaten sausage roll and a copy of the Sun displayed on the dash – and will honk the horn at passing female pedestrians.
Marcel Wanders and Moooi are presenting no less than 22 new pieces in what will be a an extravagant 1700m2 space – a mysteriously dark and seductive ballroom. The Unexpected Welcome promises “a universe of sophistication, surprising creativity and rebellious harmony.” Mooi don’t disappoint – this is not to be missed.
OFFECCThave teamed up with Shanghai-based Neri and Huto produce Hanger. This understated, beautiful coatstand collection is a fresh look at what is usually disregarded as a mundane everyday object. In line with Offecct’s LifeCircle philosophy the base is made from recycled stone. In the words of the designers, it aims to ‘adorn grace, beauty and usefulness in the household.’ Images don’t do it justice.
Lievore Alther Molina (known for work with Arper and Andreu World) unveil their clever modular sofa, produced by Spaniards Viccarbe. SISTEMA has been years in the making. It can be broken down into elements: high / low backrests, arms and there’s various leg options including a no leg version (legless?). Mucho possibilities for this one in both contract and domestic markets. Viccarbe will release new components to keep the design fresh and relevant. Great concept, great design team and quality manufacturer.
Stellar Works(creative directors Neri and Hu – sound familiar?) will show a brand new collaboration with Architect David Rockwell. The Valet collection consists of 14 different furniture items including lounge seating, customisable shelving, a bar trolley and coat stand. Some really tasteful material and finish combo’s – Look out for the full grain saddle leather versions. This is bang on trend.
THE RESTAURANT– a collaboration between Caesarstone and Tom Dixon has to make your dining shortlist this week. Four conceptual kitchens inspired by the elements – Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Arabeschi di Latte food design studio are running the kitchen so the grub promises to be pretty good too.
Not advisable if you’re feeling delicate: Following a major exhibition in London last summer, slightly twisted German artist Carsten Höller invites you to his Fun House (shouldn’t that be das Fun Haus?). Choose your path through the mad hallucinatory adventure. Eventually all paths lead to a blindingly lit room with two hospital beds. And you can stay the night if you want. Alles klaar?
From one madhouse to another. Milan wouldn’t be Milan without late night networking at Bar Basso. So make sure you track down this old fashioned bar at a fairly non-descript and random Milanese road junction. Expect a fight to get a drink, but also expect to meet alsorts of furniture folks. Be warned, it stays open very late… Salute!
With the untimely passing of such an influential figure in global Architecture, it feels appropriate this week to write about Hadid’s contribution to the wider design world. Whilst Architecture is undoubtedly her most revered legacy, her unique design portfolio is not restricted to buildings alone.
Let’s start at the beginning. Having previously been dismissed as too dynamic and too original with her unique futuristic style, Zaha Hadid’s first major built project was the fire station on the Vitra Campus. Vitra owner Rolf Fehlbaum took a leap of faith and commissioned Hadid to design the facility following a disastrous fire at the factory in 1981. The result was way more ‘Pow!’ than ‘Public Service’ (undoubtedly Fehlbaum’s intention) and the building served as Hadid’s career launchpad following its’ completion in 1993.
“There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?“
It’s a great building to photograph, but many visitors become a little wobbly-legged on entering, as their brains desperately try to make sense of the optical illusions contained within. Angles and perspectives are set ever so slightly ‘out of sorts’, resulting in dizzy spells for unsuspecting design enthusiasts. Zaha’s magic is at work.
Hadid returned to Vitra to design the Mesa table in 2007. Comparing it to “the way water lilies sit on a pond, flat mats supported by an unseen, complex and organic structure underneath.” Four ‘place mats’ sit snugly together but are attracted by an ‘invisible gravitational force’. Plastic, elastic, fantastic.
The first time I saw a Zaha Hadid designed piece of furniture in the flesh was at an Established & Sons event in London back in 2005. Her Aqua table was like nothing I had seen before. Throughout the course of the evening, my colleagues and I were repeatedly drawn to this sculptural piece of art. I remember arguing over what chair you would partner with it. We could never agree on a worthy winner.
You can draw similarities with Zaha’s Serac Bench, designed for Lab23. Part bench, part great white whale, there’s clearly a common design language. The concept behind the bench was inspired by ‘a block of ice formed by intersecting crevasses in a glacier’. All Zaha Hadid’s furniture designs play with the idea of form and function; art with a purpose. In the case of the Serac bench, the sculptured glacial fin acts as a backrest.
“Few Architects manage to cross the threshold into the furniture hall of fame…”
Many Architects have turned their attention to furniture design during their careers. Few however make the leap into the furniture hall of fame to rub shoulders with Jacobsen, Saarinen, Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe. These legendary figures created both architecture and furniture legacies that are unmistakably theirs. Although she didn’t design the ‘classic’ iconic lounger or dining chair, Hadid will certainly be recognised as not just one of the great Architects, but one of the great Designers of the 21st Century.
“The Zaha Effect”
Hadid’s inimitable style transcended her buildings, furniture, objects, lighting, jewellery and fashion. Each Zaha design was a newly penned poem, using a literary language of her own creation. The inclusion of a Zaha Hadid piece of furniture in an interior scheme sets the tone. Or as others have said, gives a space the ‘Zaha effect’. The recent launch of her Georg Jensen jewellery collection is an extension of just that. And in true Zaha style, it was presented to the public within an interior setting she designed herself.
Queen of the curve
Too often the experience of a building’s interior is disconnected from the architectural exterior: You leave the wow factor at the door as you cross the lobby. Zaha Hadid provided the complete experience: she created her own universe. And within this universe are complex, wavy, organic natural forms, mimicking the growth and evolution of plants and living things. It was this approach that earned Zaha the nickname; ‘Queen of the Curve’.
“Would they call me a Diva if I were a guy?”
Hadid was uncompromising and at times controversial. Considered fearsome by many and often misunderstood. She was a strong voice for gender equality in a male dominated profession, a RIBA Gold Medal winner, twice Stirling Prize winner and a Pritzker prize winner. Dame Zaha Hadid smashed boundaries. And as with all trailblazers, there are those who find fault with her design style, citing it as offensive or inappropriate. I’m sure that gave her a great deal of satisfaction.
Aside from the futuristic style itself, I appreciate the continuity she managed to develop: Her furniture designs are buildings. Her Jewellery designs are furniture. Her building designs are objects. Her fashion designs are art. Her entire portfolio is an evolving concept. Ask yourself – who else can do that?
And now for the Global Architecture and Design community begins a period of mourning – alongside a period of suspense. A large number of Hadid’s current and unreleased projects are currently in progress. Some will not be realised for a number of years. The true value of her works will take time to settle and be fully digested, but it is already very clear that the world has lost a hugely talented and uncompromising visionary whose life’s work will be studied for decades to come. My condolences go to her family, friends, students and colleagues. Zaha, you will be missed.