It’s Design 101, as past, present and future come together to create a new morally sensible world. Design is hotting up. Things are sparking in the design crucible, as the newest ideas now buzz in all directions and demonstrate a necessary smart determination to outwit or at least address from left field the globalistics of financial and planetary threat. So it’s feelgood to the rescue in many ways, with much more visible process (interesting) and both high and low-tech, often tethered to the handmade, for a new alchemy and reinvention of craft. It’s a world where wabi-sabi counts; where a moral sensibility drives. And if you look at this year’s Milan Furniture Fair, you see that the most interesting aspect was how clearly many had spent the past year absorbing Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman, a book that reintroduces us to the vital and historic links of the hand to the eye.
And with wood everywhere in Milan you could sense the forest: sustainable; recyclable; seams showing; and sometimes cheapish, as in Droog’s kit house made of chipboard with craft refinements. If the odd designer muttered about yet another chair, there were more than a few good thoughts to sit on, and wise considerations to sit at. Who knows best how to reassemble the past in a concrete and seriously ironic form that re-imagines the future? It’s the process that gets you thinking, this wonky aesthetic narrative first bloomed in the low countries among the Dutch in the mid-1990s, at Droog (aptly this is Dutch for 'dry') and then at Moooi. They came out of Design Academy Eindhoven, and have taken their ideas to the world. Maarten Baas first seriously nutted out key ideas (think of his now iconic new-antique Smoke chair), and with Hella Jongerius of Droog and Marcel Wanders of Moooi, they are creating a fluent folkloric but most contemporary visual language. Also fascinating us now with future possibility are the latest experiments by Front, bringing Royal Delft back to life again with the Blow Away vase – light as a feather. And look at Patricia Urquiola, as per a thoroughly modern nana, with her crinolined armchairs for B&B Italia. She has not lost her link into a past atelier where the visible hand is so vital.
Many are up for the title of carpenter to the Zeitgeist. Frontrunners the Campana brothers: springing as they do from the recycling chutzpah of their Brazilian favela culture. To capitalise on these ideas they are ‘remaking’ the Yes Hotel Athens, shaping old into new from the bones and remnants of the original Olympic Palace Hotel interiors. With necessity being the mother and father of it all, bro, there is a newly emboldened and heart-warming belief in the future of design. And so much material reinvention includes many a rebirthing; Studio Job, not God botherers, while delivering the handmade of the Lord in beautiful porcelain inspired by Christian iconography, somewhere between heaven, earth and tomorrow, also made great rusty jugs and dishes from corroded founding iron.
But perhaps most telling was the show Craft Punk, a new form of design exhibition picked up from Design Miami, hosted by Fendi, and on show in Milan. Craft Punk demonstrated how the design future is coming together from all directions. Here, Tomas Gabzdil Libertiny of Studio Libertiny whirled his steel Weldgrown Void for days (it could be eternal), and Simon Hasan boiled leather into mega-tough dishes using a medieval recipe. It was in truth a glorious example of design as performance art, as chance, the idea of the multitasking shed and random choice at work in playful, natural experiment so we could all read and participate in the back stories.
It was, glory be, the storytelling counter aesthetic, the planet-loving design invention 101 that was well underway, and which we will be seeing much more of. What do we have here? Chance as a rough and a fine thing; past, present and future creating a new tradition in which design is updated and transformed with a new brilliance and responsibility to man and his planet. This is Salvation Road that we’re on, and it’s both serious and fun.