Every year during New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), designers from all walks congregate for an orgiastic string of events and parties that now stretches to a full week, officially designated Design Week by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2005. In this issue, we offer a guide to the week’s activities, as well as profiles of three off-site eventssin Williamsburg, DUMBO, and the Meatpacking District>whose fresh energy is giving ICFF a run for its money. We also highlight architects’ forays into furniture design, including the work of Foster and Partners, Future Systems, Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, Zaha Hadid, and the late Joe Colombo. Bringing their discipline and style to a smaller scale, these architects prove that true talent has no limits.
Foster and Partners
Emeco, a company founded in 1944 to make aluminum furniture for the Navy, has perfected the art and science of making durable, lightweight chairs. When its classic, the 1006, better known as the Navy Chair, began appearing in chic restaurants and designer hotels in the late 1990s, owner Gregg Buchbinder realized that the company had a customer base other than the Navy (for which it still produces thousands of pieces of furniture per month): interior designers, architects, and style-minded consumers.
Not content to rely on the retro-chic appeal of its iconic bestseller, Buchbinder embarked on collaborations with designers to interpret the company’s unique 77-Step Process,, which involves forming, melding, heat-treating, and various other steps devised by engineers and Alcoa scientists to create products that meet strict military specifications. Foster and Partners is the latest in a series of designers, including Philippe Starck and Frank Gehry, to collaborate with the skilled hands at Emeco’s Hanover, Pennsylvania, factoryyincluding engineers, welders, grinders, and machine operators, some of whom have been with the company for over 30 years.
We were intrigued by how the 77-Step Process works,, said John Small, a partner who has been with Foster for over 20 years and directs the firm’s product development. But we wanted to bridge the company’s process and create something more modern.. Buchbinder acknowledges that the company has tried over the years to streamline its labor-intensive process, but every time we try to skip this or that step, the results don’t measure up.. Emeco’s chairs will last 150 years, easy. It might be overkill, but durability and longevity are cornerstones of their products.
These values dovetail perfectly with those held by Foster and Partners. The simply named 2006 Chair is understated, even nondescript, suitable in almost any context. The design’s intelligenceeas with most Foster projectsslies in its efficiency. Able to support up to 350 pounds, the chair uses 15 percent less aluminum than the Navy Chair and is one pound lighter than Gehry’s 2004 Emeco design, Superlight, which itself was an accomplishment at 6.5 pounds.
Norman always has this thing with How lean is it?” said Small. We always try to take things to the failure point and work our way back.. To achieve lightness without sacrificing stability, the designers thickened up the tube walls of the chair’s slimmed-down members and added a crossrail under the seat. It’s the minimum material doing the maximum amount of work,, Small observed.
The chair stacks compactly, up to 10 chairs high, but doesn’t have the awkwardly angled legs characteristic of many stacking chairs. And, consistent with Foster and Partner’s philosophies, the chair is also sustainable, made with 80 percent recycled aluminum.
One of the things I am interested in is for the company to keep learning,, said Buchbinder. I love working with people who challenge us, for example, like Foster coming up with problems that are really tough to solve. As a result, we’ll always get better as a company.. Cathy Lang Ho
ESTABLISHED & SONS
Known for technologically driven and sleek projects, such as the Commes des Garrons boutique in New York, which features an asymmetric tubular aluminum entrance, or the bulbous, shimmering Selfridges building in Birmingham, England, London-based architects Future Systems have continued to forge new territory in architecture and design. Now, principals Jan Kaplicky and Amanda Levete are applying their sense of technology and form to furniture design.
Created for Established & Sons, the one-year-old London-based company founded by ex-Wallpaper publisher Alasdhair Willis, Drift is a sculpted, slightly curved object with hollow cavities that can be used as a low-lying table or bench. Made of glass-reinforced polyurethane, the form is built up with a fiberglass lamination process, shaped to a mold.
According to Levete, Drift embodies the signature stylee of their practice. It’s an attempt to accentuate form with the ambition of turning a simple object into one with subtle complexities,, she said. In fact the bench is more than just a fluid architectural maquette; it is also an elegant sculptural object that bears a passing resemblance to the subway entrance designs for Naples that they recently created with sculptor Anish Kapoor. Drift gives the feeling of an object made from free-flowing sinuous tendrils, emphasizing the negative space of its computer-rendered cutouts and concave sides. The form tapers out from its base in a gentle cantilever yet sits solidly on the ground.
The bench currently comes in either red and white, with a glossy finish. Established & Sons is also offeringgas they do for all their furniture piecess a limited edition run of twelve Drift benches in stained layered beech plywood that sell for $54,000 each. The company plans to offer another version of the design, in a concrete material that can withstand harsh weather.William Menking
MASSIMILIANO AND DORIANA FUKSAS
Where can an architect go after creating one of the largest buildings in Europe, which is also a huge symbol for the furniture industry? If you’re Massimiliano Fuksas, whose 2-million-square-meter Milan Trade Fair building just hosted its first Il Saloni Internazionale del Mobile (otherwise known as the Milan Furniture Fair, see AN 06_04.05.2006), you build a chair. I didn’t want a big ego,, said Fuksas jokingly, so I wanted to work on something on a small scale..
Fuksas’ latest creation with partner and wife Doriana, an office and home chair for Vicenza, Italyybased manufacturer Luxy, may be small in scale, but took nearly as long as the Milan Trade Fair to create. The chair, called Bea and unveiled last month in Milan, took 18 months to design; the fair hall, 26.
He noted that the process of design for a piece of furniture can feel alien to an architect: It’s strange to use so much energy to create small pieces, almost like using the atomic bomb to kill a small bird..
The designers arrived at the chair’s sensual form almost immediately. The first idea was also the last,, Fuksas laughed. Sometimes it happens that way.. The curvy form is meant to hugg its occupant, he explained recently over breakfast in New York, so that you wear the chair.. The chair’s organic profile houses complex mechanisms that are integral to providing adjustability and comfort. We wanted to get past the age of expressing mechanics,, he said. Office chairs have a lot of machinery, but you don’t have to see it..
The chair appears to have only three discrete parts: the monocoque, or shell-like seat and back; the continuous plastic piece that wraps under the seat and acts as armrests; and the base. The controls, which adjust the armrests, the chair’s height, lumbar support, and seat position, are mostly hidden from view. The seat is covered in a high-performance fabric and the frame is made of a light but strong polymer chosen for its tactile quality, which is almost metal-like in its smoothness. Both were developed especially for the chair by workshops in and around Vicenza.
>In many ways, this chair could have only happened in Vicenza, where there are many strange and specific industries,, observed Fukas. The secret of the Italian furniture industry’s success has always been its vast network of small specialized shops that supply everything from custom materials to mechanical parts. Doriana added, Without this [type of manufacturing], the cost of the chair would have been astronomical..
Accessibility, not only in price but in use, was a key concern for the designers. Furniture can be very undemocratic,, said Massimiliano Fuksas. Larger or old people can have a lot of difficulties using furniture. We have to think of those people who have difficulty moving.. Bea was designed to accommodate people of all sizes, strong enough to hold up to 330 pounds. It was also designed with a goal to maximize the ease of sitting down and standing up. The product is targeted at an American market, where these concerns are more pronounced than in Europe. It will be available in electric green, blue, and orange, as well as black or white. Jaffer Kolb
In the 1960s and early 1970s Italian architect and product designer Joe Colombo designed a series of objects he called Total Furnishing Units. These designs blurred the boundaries between architecture, interior design, and furniture design, representing the type of open-ended and experimental design typical of the era. Many of his earliest designs were mobile, opening the possibility of a new kind of domestic interior, where objects were free to move around a room, without constraints. From there, Colombo turned to concentrating all the domestic services into single units, or mono-blockss as Italian industry would label them. These unitssdevoted to different domestic activities, like sleeping, bathing, dininggcontained everything a person needed in one compact volume.
These Total Living Units included a small modular mini-kitchen called Carrellone that Colombo designed for his friend Paolo Boffi, owner of the eponymous kitchen manufacturer. The unit was unveiled at the 13th Milan Triennale in 1964, earning the event’s Gold Medal, and the company produced and sold several of the units even though it maintains that the design remained a prototype. Now, several decades after its debuttand having achieved iconic status after its appearance in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1972 exhibition, Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, curated by Emilio Ambaszzthe Carrellone has been put into full-scale production. While the 1963 original was built of wood and metal, the new Carrellone has been created primarily out of a luscious white Corian. The design remains as fresh and original as it did when Colombo designed it. Press materials for the contemporary version boast that the unit contains all the indispensable functions of a kitchen environment: a stove, a refrigerator, a can opener, drawers for tableware, working surfaces and storage for cookbooks,, all operating off a single electrical plug.
Colombo died prematurely, of heart failure at the age of 41 in 1971. He did not live to see The New Domestic Landscape, which included his last great design, a large-scale Total Furnishing Unit specially fabricated for the show. This experiment was his attempt to create a complete functioning residence in a box, featuring roll-out beds, a fold-down dining table, built-in storage, and an airplane-scaled bathroom. Little did Colombo know that some of his ideas would survive and serve future generations. WM
ESTABLISHED & SONS
SAWAYA & MORONI
Zaha Hadid’s Swarm chandelier was shown with her Aqua table, both for Established & Sons, in Milan this year. Below: Hadid’s Z.Island kitchen counter for DuPont Corian.
Between Milan and the New York furniture fair, Zaha Hadid’s office has churned out enough furniture designs to rival even the most prolific industrial design studios. So far this year, her office has released two chandeliers, one for British upstart Established & Sons, the other for the Italian mainstay Sawaya & Moroni, as well as an experimental kitchen for DuPont Corian. And there are rumblings of more, non-architectural projects coming out of her studio, including, possibly, a car.
>The practice has grown quite a lot,, said Thomas Viektze, a senior designer who handles many of the furniture projects for Hadid’s office. There is an immense output now regarding all works, not just furniture.. With a practice famous for its penchant for experimentation, furniture designnwhich has always been a part of the architect’s body of workkhas become a de-facto research arm for the firm. Our product design can fuel ideas for the design of a faaade letting, for example,, said Vietzke. The fabrication of the Corian kitchen, called Z.Islandda prototype for a kitchen counter that includes information screens and electronic parts built into the bodyyhelped the firm understand the limitations of Corian, a moldable, durable, and versatile substance that is commonly used in interiors but can also be used for exterior cladding.
>With Zaha’s project, it seems like the boundaries are floating in a way,, said Moritz Waldemeyer, an information engineer who collaborated on the Z.Island project. Since everyone is working with the 3-D tools,, he said, referring to industrial designers, manufacturers, and architects, there doesn’t seem to be the big difference [between the disciplines] anymore..
>[The furniture designs] are projects in their own right, as well as a good way to test manufacturing technologies,, said Vietzke. Beyond allowing Hadid’s team to gain technical expertise, the furniture designs also capture, on a smaller scale, the dramatic forms and titanic complexities of her architectural work, which will be the subject of a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in June. Last year, Established & Sons made its debut with a silicone-topped table designed by Hadid, called Aqua, which listed for nearly $80,000 and was manufactured through a vintage car facility. (It recently sold at auction for $296,000.) This year, the same company commissioned Swarm, a limited-edition chandelier made from 16,000 black crystals arranged in a way that evokes a cosmic explosion. Swarm is vastly different from the chandelier Hadid designed for for Sawaya & Moroni, called Vortexx, a continuous fiberglass-encased LED strip that drops from the ceiling and spirals baroquely into a knot. While completely different, both projects reflect the fluid dynamism that’s a trademark of Hadid’s work. ANDREW YANG