Sustainability is on everyone's lips these days – but mostly with a view to the future and the question of how it is possible to use fewer resources, produce more sustainably and reduce waste. However, sustainability can also be lived with a view to the past or the present – namely with a domestic environment that consists of durable furniture designs that outlast trends and never go out of fashion. In the third part of our series on design icons, we put Philippe Starck, Eero Saarinen, Achille Castiglioni, Patricia Urquiola and Max Bill in the spotlight with their evergreen furniture icons, which can be found on architonic.com.
His furniture has already made history and he is one of the most renowned product and furniture designers of the present day – and probably of all time: Philippe Starck, born in Paris in 1949, has laid milestones in terms of iconic style with his designs, such as the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer for Alessi or the Ghost Chair for Kartell. His style: extroverted, unconventional, free-spirited. In his own words: "The only acceptable style is freedom". Further clients of him include Dedon, Axor, Duravit, Magis, Alias, B&B Italia, Driade, etc.
Starck, now 73, studied interior architecture and design at the École Nissim de Camondo in Paris. At 27, in 1976, he founded his own company "Starck Product". In 2000, he received the Order of the Legion of Honour – just one of the many awards Starck has received in the course of a career that has now spanned more than 40 years. Just as well renowned as his products are his interior styles, such as the furnishing of the Elysee Palace together with François Mitterand or the Café Costes in Paris, which made him an international star.
His global real estate brand Yoo – founded in 1999 in collaboration with John Hitchcox – creates luxury interiors all over the world. The company has also realised projects with design greats such as Marcel Wanders and Sussanne Khan.
"There has to be irony, both in design and in objects… One of my secrets is to joke all the time." This quote is by Achille Castiglioni (1918-2002), a Milanese designer who won 9 Compasso D'Oro awards and who made his first career steps in the family circle. While he initially studied classical subjects and art, he decided to follow the path of his brothers in 1937 and transferred to the Politecnico Milano, where he graduated with a degree in architecture in 1944 (after interrupting his studies to be stationed in Greece and Sicily during World War II).
With his brothers Livio and Pier Giacomo, he designed products that represented the new Italian style of the postwar period, focusing on design, architecture and urban planning. Through precise analysis and research, they arrived at new forms, techniques and materials, which eventually became known as "integral design". Achille experimented and boldly placed objects in new contexts – one example is the Mezzadro stool (which went into production only 20 years after being imagined with Zanotta), whose form is derived from a tractor seat, or the Arco lamp for Flos, which spans a wide arc and is held by a solid block of marble.
In addition to the often purpose-driven objects – such as hoovers or coffee machines – his creative work in the field of lighting stands out particularly strongly: The aforementioned Arco lamp by Flos, as well as the Snoopy lamp, are design classics that form a fabulously grandiose symbiosis of minimalism and excitement – shining heroes among the ambient lights!
Our next creative icon takes us to Scandinavia, more precisely to Finland. We are talking about Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), who only lived for half a century but left behind a remarkable creative oeuvre. His artistic talent was practically born in his cradle: His father, Eliel Saarinen, was also a well-known architect who designed the main railway station in Helsinki. In 1923, the family emigrated to the US, where they lived on the Cranbrook Educational Community campus, designed by his father in the wealthy Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
After studying sculpture and architecture, Saarinen joined his father's office in 1935. His first famous piece of furniture is the Tulip Chair, which can be seen in slightly modified form as a prop in the Star Trek The Original TV series from the late 1960s (1966-1969). Saarinen developed the Tulip Chair as part of his Pedestal Collection for Knoll International, which was created between 1955 and 1957 and with which he wanted to "eliminate the slum of legs". As a result, Saarinen presented a timeless and visually pure sculptural collection that can be found in stylish interiors today as it was then.
Outstanding works of his architectural oeuvre include the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis – posthumously completed in 1963 – and the 1962 TWA Flight Center terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. It is also remarkable that he brought organic forms into architecture – at a time when the functionalist International Style a là Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe was predominant. Emblematic of this are not only his organic furniture designs for the living rooms of the modern world, which formed a counter-image to the austere style before the Second World War, but also his airport buildings with their arched roofs in New York and Virginia.
Another design icon who is still with us and enjoys worldwide fame is architect and designer Patricia Urquiola, born in 1961 in Oviedo, Spain. She studied architecture at the Madrid Politecnico and the Milan Polytecnico and graduated in 1989 under supervisor Achille Castiglioni, who had a lasting influence on her style. Today, she is one of the best-known representatives of eclecticism. She lives and works in Milan, where she founded her Studio Urquiola in 2001 with her partner Alberto Zontone, focusing on industrial product design as well as architecture for hotels, retail spaces, and more…
During a partnership with the Italian furniture brand De Padova, she met Vico Magistretti, with whom she designed the Loom sofa and the Flower Chair between 1990 and 1996 – her first well-known pieces of furniture. Now, she is more popular than ever and renowned design brands the world over are practically scrambling for a partnership with the designer. Her countless clients include furniture brands such as Kettal, Glas Italia, Cassina, B&B Italia, Alessi, Louis Vuitton, Moroso or Rosenthal and many more, while her designs are always harmonious, soft and inviting with a feminine touch. Urquiola experimentally combines different styles, patterns and materials, and some of her works are now part of well-known museum collections, like her Fjord armchair and footstool in New York’s MoMA.
In 2020, the designer launched an outdoor collection with Cassina entitled Trampoline: a seating landscape in which the aspect of sustainability played a major role. Some parts of the series, such as the backrest and the seat cushions, are made of 100% recycled PET fibers. In this way, sustainable design works on two levels: the result is not only long-lasting in the outer shape and aesthetic sense, but also produced in an environmentally friendly fashion.
Known as a Zurich student, painter, architect, art theorist, and furniture designer, Max Bill (1908-1994) was one of the main representatives of so-called Concrete Art. The main characteristics are the functional and material character of his designs and works of art. More precisely, he designed his works without any external orientation towards nature. He began his studies in 1924 at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, but continued them from 1927 at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Here he met Oskar Schlemmer and Josef Albers among others. His time at the Dessau Bauhaus shaped his idea of a unity of all the arts as well as of the form of art that does justice to the material as well as the function: he designed his works like scientific constructions.
In 1951 Bill was appointed founding director of the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, which he led until 1956. During this time, from 1953 to 1955, he was also significantly involved in the construction of the university building, in the context of which he designed the Ulm Stool that is produced by Swiss manufacturer wb form today – and the piece that made Max Bill known as a furniture designer.
His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions since 1928, and many of his constructive sculptural works can be found in public places in Europe, America and Asia.
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