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Is Iconic design dead?

Once Upon a Chair (Gestalten) is an extensive international survey of furniture design today that examines design beyond the icon, progressing more into the realm of conscious, social and sustainable design.

By Editor Design.nl /asdf 01-10-2009

Once Upon a Chair aims to show how contemporary design is increasingly leaving behind the age of so-called iconic design and progressing into conscious, democratic and sustainable design.

Published by Gestalten, the book examines several key trends indicating a recognisable shift towards progressive design that makes a social impact – designers are collaborating with artisans to revive the tradition of craft, elevating it to new levels of luxury. A conscious effort to produce sustainable and ethical design is also evident where designers are not only working with environmentally friendly material and production methods but also creating furnishings that are made to be durable and retain their value over a long period of time.

The book further explores how designers - both established and emerging - are focusing more on process-driven and storytelling concepts to create furniture systems that are flexible, crafted in a collage-like manner or even decorative objects that serve as interior installations. A continuing flirtation with organic forms can also be seen with pioneering examples of material and technological experimentation, many of which are characterised by an unrestrained, playful attitude with an ironic exuberance.

Presenting work from 2008 and 2009, the book gives an impressive visual overview of current developments in furniture and object design. Four chapters dissect the issues; The strongest chapter, 'From our house back to Bauhaus' looks at the recent renaissance in rational and functional design, not entirely surprising given that during times of economic crises, everything is called into question. Undue excess is stripped away and 'indeed design's intense flirtation with art over the last few years must inevitably be followed up by a period of sobering-up.' But unlike the cool minimalism of the 90s, this time it's simplicity with a soul. A perfect example is the Raimond light for Moooi designed by Raimond Puts, whose double frame, built using triangular geometries ensures structural stability but also allows electricity to be conducted through the LEDs that are located at its nodes.

'Performing Arts & Crafts' looks at the idea of design as social sculpture, process and experience driven, seen in light of a strong context whereby 'by permeating society with objects that are useful, functional and aesthetic, society can be transformed in the sense of attaining a different i.e. better quality of life'. 'A Tale Told by Design' takes readers through storytelling and the strong influence of the arts and crafts, less against the threat of the industrial age as in the past but in our search for authenticity and to combat the increasing digitalisation of our lives. 'The result is a new luxury which - rather than being ostentatious - is rooted in the cultural history of handcraft design'. Here we see the work of Studio Job, Bo Reudler, Snodevormgevers, Kiki van Eijk, Marcel Wanders and Tord Boontje. Lastly, 'Hunting & Gathering' explores a new modesty that finds expression in new forms, back-to-basic materials, techniques and forms. Atelier NL's Drawn from Clay series made from different clays found in The Netherlands reflects this new austerity, however its strong context gives a clear narrative about its process.

Dutch designers featured include Raimond Puts, Sander Mulder, Studio Makkink & Bey, Edward van Vliet Sushi, Kranen/Gille, Pelidesign, Jack Brandsma, Sebastian Brajkovic, Nacho Carbonell, Pepe Heykoop, Richard Hutten, Tord Boontje, Snodevormgevers, Kiki van Eijk, Bo Reudler, Marcel Wanders, Hella Jongerius, Satyendra Pakhale, Studio Job, Piet Boon Zone, Studio Niels & Sven, BCXSY, Atelier NL, Blofield (Jeroen van de Kant), Pepe Heykoop, Richard Hutten, ByAMT (Alissia Melka-Teichroew), DRIFT (Lonneke Gordijn & Ralph Nauta), Harco Rutgers, Maarten Kolk & Guus Kusters and Onze Studio.

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