Philippe Malouin – a Designer for the Future
Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Philippe Malouin is Canadian and now based in London, but says the influence of the academy and its method are having a larger impact on his career than he imagined.
We first met Malouin in person earlier this year in Basel where he was awarded one of the W Hotels Designer of the Future awards.
At the fair there was a lot of discussion regarding the end of an era – old debates about the nebulous boundaries between art and design were looking not just irrelevant, but indulgent.
Rather, the talk was focussed on DIY, new technologies, rapid prototyping and devising ways to incorporate users in the end product.
And Malouin is just that type of designer. His mentality and projects are the very definition of where design is headed. His interest is in manufacturing and human intervention in the industrial process.
“The design academy hugely affected the way I work,” Malouin says. “There I learned to be process-based. I never really had a Dutch aesthetic but the school was a great match because I’m interested in materials and working out ways to transform them.”
This week Malouin will use a lot of what he learned at the Design Academy Eindhoven in a new teaching gig at the Royal College of Art.
In Basel, his project “Daylight” intrigued visitors as a solution to a city like London's grim natural light. It is a series of artificial windows inspired by plantation shutters set up in the same geometric shapes that make up a Tangram. Each slat contains an artificial light source designed to mimic natural daylight and give the impression of a real window behind it. The light intensity can be adjusted by manipulating the angle of the shutters.
Another recent project, the Hardie stool, was commissioned by Kvadrat as part of the Kvadrat Hallingdal 65 exhibition. It debuted earlier this year in Milan.
Kvadrat Hallingdal fabric is usually used to upholster furniture, but upholstered chairs and sofas are most commonly made by building a structural timber frame, adding cushioning, and only then covering in fabric. The material comprises 5 to 10% of a whole piece of furniture and has a purely aesthetic or tactile role. Malouin saw this as a wasted opportunity, because so much more could potentially be done with Hallingdal fabric.
“The weaving of the fabric is very hard wearing and deep,” Malouin says, “and after comparing the Hallingdal to certain fiberglass and carbon fiber matting, we had the feeling that it could have a structural role as well as an aesthetic one.”
Rolling the fabric up makes it more structural and rigid and when resin is added, it acts in a similar way to laminated fibreglass or carbon fibre. The result is a series of stools that use the same piece of fabric from the inside to the outside, for its structure and for its finish.
“I am obsessed with the whole idea of handcrafting objects that do not look like they have been made by hand,” Malouin says. “Of establishing a dialogue between one and the other and always thinking about ways to make this approach commercially viable.”
What sets him apart from many designers who are re-embracing the art of handcrafting is that he is at his core an industrial designer. ‘That is always my end goal,” he admits. “Everything is process based with a strong human element, but it needs to end up in industrial production.”
His work is about efficiency, lightness and movement. “It is about economy of resources and sustainability,” he says. “I am always trying to minimize the environmental impact of a design to discover ways of further using elements. It is process and you just never know at the beginning what things may lead to.”
He cites Descartes and Eames and Newton as being inspiration. “They were crazy enough to try new things,” he says. “Experiments. You have to go beyond the expected and the known.”
Malouin thinks consumers are only gradually coming to sense the changes happening behind the scenes. “Manufacturing as we know it is so embedded in the economy that it isn’t going to quickly change,” he says. “What I see as changing sooner are consumer demands. Already they want to know what things are made from, where and how they are made. I really see that shift. They want the story; to know a bit more about what they buy and live with.”
“Of course I find it a paradox,” Malouin continues. “We don’t need any more chairs, but here we are constantly designing and making new stuff. I don’t have anything new to add to what has already been invented. The best I can hope for is to help influence people in how they live their daily lives.”
Most recently Malouin was commissioned by Swarovski Crystal to create a digital crystal installation. “Blur” is inspired by the giant particle accelerators of the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Malouin spins multi-faceted Swarovski beads in circles at high speed. Under the shine of LEDs, the coloured beads form abstract light paintings of concentric coloured rings. The intensity of the prismatic patterns varies with the spin velocity.
Images large top the Hardie Stools, small fmr top: Malouin, rolled fabric for the Hardie Stool, three images of the "Daylight" project, Two of "Blur" for Swarovski, "Extrusion", "Abstraction", "Gridlock", "Dervish Lamp".
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