With the buzz around this year's imm cologne that it's rapidly returning to its former glory (let us not forget that the long-established furniture fair on the banks of the Rhine first opened its doors in 1949, a good ten years before the Milan Salone del Mobile, now widely regarded as the mother of all international design events, was launched), Architonic was there to report on the industry's current – and future – movers and shakers, and to check out the new products on show.
Take a seat, if you dare: renowned art director and curator Mike Meiré offered a subversion (perversion?) of conventional design-exhibitionary discourse with his provocative 'Back Room: Adults Only' installation in Ehrenfeld
But we're never afraid of putting in some decent legwork and so hit the streets of Cologne, too, to find out exactly what this year's Passagen – the city-wide programme of design shows and events that, for a number of years now, has run concurrently with the imm cologne – had to offer fair visitors with a taste for discovery and a disregard for colder temperatures. Here are five stops on our peripatetic tour that took our creative fancy in particular.
Berlin-based Jerszy Seymour's do-it-yourself-meets-hard-times 'Workshop Chairs' took over the Hallmackenreuther café in Cologne's Belgian Quarter, displacing its usual Eames-designed seating
Jerszy Seymour's 'Workshop Chairs' at Hallmackenreuther café
Love might often hold us together, but Jerszy Seymour's 'Workshop Chair', first presented last year, chooses blobs of wax instead as a joining technique. Proving its sound structural credentials, the Canadian-born, Berlin-based designer's concept chair was temporarily installed, en masse, at the Hallmackenreuther café in Cologne's design-conscious Belgian Quarter, where it replaced the venue's usual Eames seating. The overall aesthetic was do-it-yourself-meets-hard-times, which, given the times we live in, isn't such a bad thing.
Mike Meiré's 'Back Room: Adults Only' installation took some of modernism's most iconic furniture designs and gave them the SM/bondage treatment
Le Corbusier would turn in his grave: the modernist legend's 'LC2' armchair at Mike Meiré's 'Back Room: Adults Only' installation, leading a shady double life
'Back Room: Adults Only' installion by Mike Meiré at Meiré und Meiré
Subversion and provocation were dished up in Cologne's Ehrenfeld district this year by respected art director and curator Mike Meiré, who cocked a snook at the whole concept of exhibiting furniture and the reverence with which design is often treated by presenting a series of hallowed classic design pieces that had, in the spirit almost of punk, been pimped rather naughtily. Entitled 'Back Room: Adults Only', Meiré's installation took some of the greats of modernist design, such as Eileen Gray's 'Day Bed', Marcel Breuer's 'Wassily Chair' and Le Corbusier's 'LC2' and gave them the SM/bondage treatment, resignifying their black-leather upholstery through the addition of all manner of chains, rings and other fetish-like accoutrements. The concept was a strong one, encouraging visitors to think about the extent to which the notion of what constitutes 'good' design is itself constituted through the workings of opinion-making and marketing discourse.
Now you see it, now you don't: A&W Designer of the Year 2011 Tokujin Yoshioka's dry-ice-filled exhibition at the Cologne Kunstverein was an homage to his ongoing concerns with transparency and lightness
Tokujin Yoshioka A&W Designer of the Year 2011 show at the Cologne Kunstverein
In stark contrast to Mike Meiré's backroom was Tokujin Yoshioka's light-filled exhibition at the Cologne Kunstverein, which, marking the Japanese designer's winning of the coveted title of A&W Designer of the Year 2011, foregrounded his long-held fascination with transparency and lightness. Replete with ethereal dry ice, the space, with its glazing on both sides and back-lit wall panels, underpinned the visual levity of the work on show: chairs and objects designed over the last ten year's of Yoshioka's career that, either through their form or material, occupy a liminal position between being there and gesturing towards a denial of their presence.
Northern lights: Artek's 75th anniversary installation at the showroom of Cologne-based design label DROOM reflected the clarity und quiet confidence of the respected Finnish brand
Artek 75th Anniversary Installation at DROOM
If we look as great as Artek does at 75, we'll be doing well. The Finnish design brand, with its impeccable modernist credentials, having been co-founded in 1935 by design legend Alvar Aalto, has stayed the course, treading a fine line between respecting its heritage and take an innovative approach to its products. Its emphasis on function and a paired-down aesthetic means that, for once, the application of epithet 'timeless' is a meaningful one. Artek's anniversary installation of classic pieces at the Cologne-based design label DROOM's showroom in the city's Belgian Quarter echoed the company's design values – visually clean and confident, without being overstated.
The smell of promise: the third edition of the Designers Fair was held in Ehrenfeld in the old 4711 eau de cologne building; photo Bozica Babic
2D/3D: PSA Scherer's 'Aluminium Chair' is constituted from a folded two-dimensional metal sheet (shown at the Designers Fair 2011); photo Heimatdesign
Designers Fair 2011 at the Barthonia Forum
Cologne. If the city's name doesn't make you think of Kölsch beer or carnival, then it might be the classic 4711 eau de cologne that comes to mind. The Designers Fair 2011 (no apostrophe) took place this year in the company's old building in the Ehrenfeld district of the city, lending, as it has in its previous two annual editions, young independent designers a platform to showcase their work. We particularly liked design collective JASD's (Jan Weber, Agnes Morguet, Stefan Zickert and Daniel Stoller) concrete and stone offerings, PSA Scherer's highly graphic 'Aluminium Chair', Stadtnomaden's formally reduced, flexible furniture collection and Pepe Heykoop's leather lampshades. Ah, the sweet smell of young design.
Many hands make lights work: Pepe Heykoop's leather lampshade (above) and JASD member Daniel Stoller's pendant light made out of natural stone (below) at the Designers Fair 2011; photos Heimatdesign
Read Architonic's interview with Tokujin Yoshioka in Cologne
Find out what Ronan Bouroullec had to say at this year's imm cologne
Read about this year's [D3] Design Contest for young designers at Cologne on Architonic