There’s nothing unusual about an architect extending their artistic vision beyond the bones of a building, and into the detail of its content – iconic pieces of 20th century furniture design are often attached to a specific building. Among those practising such gesamtkunstwerke, or the art of synthesising all aesthetic aspects of a site, were often the authors of architectural movements; the artist and crafter William Morris, the Bauhausian lead Walter Gropius or the Secessionists Joseph Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann.
Today the practice is less common, but there are those, such as the distinguished and independently-minded Swedish architect-designers Claesson Koivisto Rune, who operate in a similar way to these early modernists, crafting every last detail of an assignment. And as was the case for their forerunners, in their hands, new furnishing icons are born.
Project-specific design made to last
Such is the case in Claesson Koivisto Rune's new chair design, 822, for the Czech bentwood brand TON. It was issued from a Norwegian restaurant interior the studio designed. It is graphic, modern, comfortable and sustainable, perfectly aligning it with the effortless contemporary modernism of the eatery’s architecture.
"I think it is actually much better to design a product for some specific project, because you think about it differently," says Eero Koivisto. "Everything must work for the specific situation and the design is also influenced by the particular circumstances." This, he explains, was the case for the new 822, "We designed it to last generations, because the client in Norway is a family who has been running hotels for four generations. These chairs will probably still be in this restaurant in 40, even 60 years’ time. This context also influenced our approach, because we cannot design something only according to some current trends and fashion."
Making a new icon from a piece of classic design
This contextual design isn’t all that defines the new 822 – it also happens to be an evolution of a chair designed by supreme all-rounder, Austrian architect Josef Hofmann. Hoffmann was something of a visionary and co-founded the Wiener Werkstätte, an organisation founded at the start of the 20th century that brought architects, designers, artists and craftsmen together and formalised the idea of Gesamtkunstwerke.
"We used the original 811 chair for many projects before," explains Koivisto. "Our idea was to keep the spirit of the design of the 811 and give it a more contemporary, Nordic character. We used holes in the seat to make it lightweight and graphic." A happy consequence of the boldly punched out circles in the backrest, is that when in use, the sitter’s clothing is seen through the voids bringing a new colour-infused dimension to the design each time.
Design is in the detail
Bringing Hoffman’s 811 into the 21st century also meant simplifying the construction, making the joins more geometric and the edges thicker, slightly shifting the proportions, and though bentwood techniques define the new 822 chair as much as its modernist predecessor, the studio set about ironing out some of the more romantic curves that recalled 19th century inspirations.
"As architects, we work on many projects where we have to deal with renovating old buildings and implementing the original architecture in a new way and this is quite a similar task," explains Koivisto. "In this case, bentwood technology has proven itself so well that it always influences the way the chair is designed. You cannot translate a bentwood chair into a plastic or metal chair, or vice versa. So most of the discussions with TON were about small details – how to improve the appearance and functionality of the original 811 chair." Getting the ideal number and size of the signature holes, for example, was a mission, and aided by precise CNC technology, "I like that we extended traditional bentwood technology, which has not changed for 160 years, to the future, using these contemporary production possibilities."
The result of the collaboration is a family of chairs that update and extend the original 811 model, bringing a versatile new lounge version into the fold, alongside a stool in two heights, all of which now sit in TON's permanent collection. Designed to furnish the new Claesson Koivisto Rune-shaped Frescohallen restaurant on the site of the former Norwegian stock exchange in the centre of Bergen, the 822 has all the makings of a modern classic.