Ah, youth. All fresh-faced and bright-eyed. But let's not forget its curiosity and creative energy. There was plenty of this in evidence at this year's [D3] Design Talents show during the recent Cologne Furniture Fair. Most design fairs now offer, as standard, a forum for new creative talent alongside its established commercial exhibitors, usually pegged to some kind of award. These can sometimes be somewhat patchy affairs, leaving you with the feeling that the selection criteria could have been, well, a little more rigorous. Not so the case with the sixth and latest edition of [D3], which presented a cogent collection of work from 28 young, international designers, strong on concept, execution and presentation.
From goldsmith to golden ticket: jewellery-designer-turned-furniture-designer Harry Thaler, who was named joint winner of this year's [D3] Contest for young international design talent
Thaler's innovative, ultra-light 'Pressed Chair', which minimises material use and the production process
Harry Thaler has reason to be pleased with himself. Out of the 862 products from 45 countries that were submitted to the competition, his innovative 'Pressed Chair' scooped the [D3] Contest award, along with joint winners Swedish design duo AKKA for their 'OLA' table. In the spirit of Gio Ponti's 1958 classic 'Superleggera' chair, which, as its name suggests, marries solidity with lightness, Thaler has designed one-piece, stackable chair, cut from a single piece of ultra-thin recycled aluminium. Whereas Ponti used a somewhat traditional production process (the frame of the chair, made of wood, is finished with a woven Indian-cane seat), Thaler's gaze is decidedly future-oriented. 'The process came first,' explains the Italian-born, London-based young designer, who originally trained as a goldsmith and made jewellery for ten years before studying in the Design Products department of the Royal College of Art. 'The aesthetics of the piece followed from this.'
AKKA's 'OLA' folding table at the [D3] Contest show in Cologne, where the Swedish design duo became joint-winners of the final award. A clever folding system means the table remains free-standing when closed
A single continuous relief is pressed into the 2.5mm-thick aluminium, which, in concert with its aesthetic function, makes the chair super-stable when the legs are bent into their final position. What's more, Thaler has, like all good sustainability-minded young designers, devised a way of creating a three-legged stool from the 'offcuts' from the 1m-square aluminium sheet, turning the negative into the positive. All great. But, if you're going to think sustainably, surely you need to ask yourself if what you're designing is really needed in the first place. I put this to Thaler. 'Well, you could argue that we don't need any more chairs in this world,' he answers. 'But if you're going to make one, limiting your use of material and keeping your production process as simple as possible is the way to go.' Well put.
'Functional Rhythm' single-piece table by young French designer Emilie Colin Garros, whose laser-cutting plays with positive and negative space
Repeat to fade: pleasure in opening and closing Elisa Strozyk and Sebastian Neeb's 'Accordion Cabinet' is guaranteed
Using negative space to creative positive form can also be identified in Emilie Colin Garros's highly graphic 'Functional Rhythm' table, first seen last year. This striking piece, like Thaler's, is made from a single sheet of metal, featuring a base formed from laser-cut elements in the table top that have been folded down and welded together, the two-dimensional becoming the three-dimensional. Garros is optimistic the right manufacturer will pick her design up in the near future.
Joint [D3] Contest winners AKKA presented 'OLA', an ergonomic foldable table which, visually, works just as hard in its folded state as when its open. Utilitarian function, however, is what's particularly interesting here: when folded, the table is still free-standing, meaning it doesn't need to be propped up against anything, which, in turn, means the table-top surface avoids getting damaged. It also occupies very little space when closed, which is good news in terms of storage and transport.
'Lighting objects' are how Dutch designers Daphna Isaacs and Laurens Manders describe their 'Tafelstukken' collection, which is suggestive of the ready-made. 'The lamps are open to interpretation,' they say
The dynamic of opening and shutting is also a feature of Berlin-based Elisa Strozyk and Sebastian Neeb's 'Accordion Cabinet', which, along the lines of Freud's argument that repetition is itself a source of pleasure, invites you to play with its folded-veneer housing. Made from thin strips of various woods, this exterior layer is fixed to a textile base, which wraps around a rectangular wooden unit. Open and close it, squeeze-box-like, as you wish. Thinking of Edith Piaf while doing so is optional.
Storage also comes in the surprising form of Dutch designers Daphna Isaacs and Laurens Manders' 'Tafelstukken', a collection of 'lighting objects', as the pair describe them, whose intriguing forms combine illumination with receptacles for, well, whatever you can fit in them. 'The lamps are open to interpretation,' say the design duo. 'For example, a Tafelstuk can be used as a container for presenting everyday objects, such as keys, fruit or a magazine.' Whatever you choose to put in them, these pieces, which have a friendly, almost readymade-like, air about them, offer users long-term companionship.
Wherever I lay my hat: Yi-Cong Lu's 'Panel', which, according to how it's positioned within a domestic setting, functions as desk, screen, clothes rail and more
Responding to the shifting landscape of domestic living – we seem to be inhabiting increasingly smaller spaces, particularly in an urban context, and are more mobile than ever before – Yi-Cong Lu, who trained in Germany, has designed 'Panel', a plurally purposed object that forms part of his rather scientifically named 'Living Tools' collection. Here, it's a case of wherever you lay your hat. Mounted on the wall, the piece, which is made of HPL-laminate, Styrofoam, aluminium and which has an integrated neon lamp, functions as a desk. Stand it up, and it's a screen and clothes rail. Lu suggests a further function for his design: a roof. This might be stretching it a bit, but the young designer's 'performative' furniture, as he describes it, certainly provides drama.
The 'SP-7' dining table (left) by Schwab/Panther follows on from their small, low table (right), and features a similarly graphic, reduced bent-wire construction
There's something of the provisional about Schwab/Panther's 'SP-7' dining table, too, whose construction allows tool-free assembly and disassembly. Richly graphic in form, the piece features a bent-wire substructure, where its legs elements are held together by tension and pressure, creating a highly stable base for the glass top. Beyond the strong aesthetic presence that the table's architecture presents, the transportation benefits are clear. Schwab / Panther have also designed a small, low table based on the same constructional idea.
Beyond the visual virtuosity of Dohoon Kim's 'Tension Bentwood Chair' lies a compelling production process. The young designer uses laminate wood that is bent using tension only, without recourse to steaming, moulding or pressing
Dohoon Kim's 'Tension Bentwood Chair' immediately put us in mind of Thonet's classic furniture, but also, in terms of its form at least, George Nelson's 1952 'Pretzel' chair, which was recently reissued by Vitra. What's particularly noteworthy about Kim's 'experiment', as he puts it, is its fabrication process: made up of a number of thin layers laminated together, the wood is bent using tension only, without the need for steaming, moulding or pressing. In short, the wood does a lot of the work, as Kim explains: 'The point of my laminate bending technique is that it can create curves naturally, resulting from the elasticity and flexibility of wood. These curves were created by these two inborn characteristics of wood, not by moulds that will force the wood into a certain form.'
Canadian-based designer Lukas Peet showed a lamp reminiscent of the Memphis group's work, which, with the mirrored inner surface of its bowl-like base element, creates a dynamic of simultaneous up- and down-lighting
Finally, there are shades (no pun intended) of Memphis about Canadian-based Lukas Peet's intriguing 'Specular' table light, with its bowl-like bottom element and exposed light bulb. This highly polished design – both conceptually and literally – directs light downwards, some of which is then reflected upwards, thanks to the mirrored inside surface of the bowl. Both table and ceiling are thus illuminated simultaneously. Typical of the youth of today. They want it all.
to [D3] Design Talents photo album on Architonic@Facebook
to Architonic's imm cologne interview with Tokujin Yoshioka