On Sunday before last this year's imm cologne closed its doors after receiving 107,000 visitors from 103 countries – statistics which speak for themselves. In spite of general pessimistic forecasts, for trade visitors Cologne is still one of the furniture fairs with the greatest worldwide relevance – Cologne is where you do business, on this there was unanimity among the participating manufacturers, whose opinions on the fair were otherwise highly diverse.
Ben van Berkels "world's longest table"
Why the international trade press gives the imm cologne a worse write-up than it actually deserves is very probably due to the lack of new products, which nowadays tend to be presented at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April. This shortage of material for the press is the result not least of the fact that specialist retailers, especially those from Germany, are staying away in increasing numbers. The reason is that where there are fewer retailers there are also fewer new products – and the other way round. In the competition with Milan it is difficult to break out of this vicious circle. However, Milan doesn't have room for everything and the critical level of visitor numbers for successful participation in the fair has long been exceeded there. It is impossible to avoid wondering why a section of the German retailers is so short sighted as to weaken the most significant furniture fair – which is right on their own doorstep - in this manner by repeatedly staying away. Even retailers with the most eventful of lives must surely have one or two days to spare if the manufacturers themselves go to the trouble and expense of coming to Cologne.
In spite of this Cologne tries to remain in the focus of the media, which unfortunately only succeeds in certain areas.
The yearly highlight Ideal House, which has in the past attracted names such as Zaha Hadid, Naoto Fukasawa or Particia Urquiola, this year for the first time did not take place.
In its place an invitation was extended to Ben van Berkel from UNStudio, with the aim of placing the design of Hall 11, which was curated, in experienced hands. However, the Dutch designer's 'Urban Masterplan', which had been eagerly looked forward to, turned out to be a serious disappointment. The patterned fitted carpeting and self-adhesive wallpaper, which showed colour variation along a principle which was impossible to understand, stretched along the corridors of a typical trade fair grid – without a single trace of urbanity or any master plan. It is of course a difficult challenge to create urban spaces out of stand areas which are for the most part fixed – nevertheless the name and the concept had aroused great expectations. On the other hand what did create such a space with success was van Berkel's 'longest table in the world'. With an enormous length of 54 metres he created an inspiring space, a piazza, which functioned in an urban context and was received with enthusiasm by the visitors.
The special exhibition 'Design Deutschland', under the imaginative curation of the 'Rat für Formgebung' design organisation, was a successful retrospective of German design history, although in the connecting passages of the site boulevard it unfortunately did not receive the attention it deserved.
The exhibition "Design Deutschland", curated by the German Design Council
The young designers and colleges of design received prominent presentation. The informal structure of the stand turned the whole of Halle 11.2 into a wild smorgasbord of fresh ideas, at which visitors were able to gather their own impressions. imm showed what it can do with its [d3] Design Talents, a specially chosen and well presented selection of real innovations.
This year, too, the corridor programme offered only few highlights, and the often random selection of 'design events' is over inflated. However, the Showroom of Fantastic Fusion between Cor and Kvadrat was well worth a visit. The focus of the cooperation was primarily the formal merging of textiles for walls, floors and upholstery. The result was a range of top quality prototypes which reveal entirely new forms of home decor. There were unmistakable references to the Sixties, in which designers like Verner Panton invented integrated furnishing concepts covered wall, ceiling, floor and furniture with a uniform design in projects such as the hotel restaurant Astoria in Norway.
to the Cor collection
The Fantastic Fusion of Cor and Kvadrat, with references to the sixties
to the Kvadrat collection
As part of Dornbracht's Culture Projects, at this year's imm cologne Mike Meiré presented, in his usual mystically inspiring way, the first collection of surround sounds to accompany ritual bathroom architecture. In the darkened spaces of the 'SoundSpa' visitors were able to lie on a recliner and, far from the sounds and sights of the everyday world, allow themselves to be entranced by ethereal music and projected architectural images. The spatially impressive pneumatic foyer – a kind of inverted Christo – was by Plastique Fantastiques.
The impressive pneumatic foyer was by Plastique Fantastiques
to the Dornbracht collection
Perhaps it is necessary for Cologne to free itself from the unproductive comparison with its big brother in Milan. The overwhelming mass event in Milan could be seen as an opportunity for Cologne to create an identity of its own in a targeted way. Where i saloni is bursting at the seams –to the great irritation of exhibitors, by the way, above all because of the growing numbers of 'design tourists' – the imm cologne needs to concentrate on what it has always been: the business fair with a clear profile which provides its trade visitors, in other words the retailers, architects, interior designers and planners, with the right atmosphere for in-depth business discussions.
We can only hope that Cologne exploits and preserves this potential.