Design by Architects
Text: Oliver Herwig
Hardly any designer builds houses, but many architects design furniture. Is this a question of a big ego – or might architects be the better designers?
All great architects had one fatal weakness – namely
for everyday objects, for chairs, tables, sofas and vases. Be it Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Citterio, Walter Gropius, or Mies van der Rohe: Looking back on 20th century design history, you could be forgiven thinking that all the icons of Modernism, all well-known design classics were crafted by architects.
There may well be an explanation for such a wealth of designs by architects. Those used to being in the big picture work as perfectionists, paying attention to the smallest of details of that overall work of art, the house. In Frank Lloyd Wright’s case, space and the interior melded in an orchestration. The small man with the big ego fitted out his houses down to the marrow and even told his baffled clients what color their socks and ties should be.
Even today some architects have similar egos, leading them to make statements such as: “Architecture is more than just what has been constructed, architecture is the three-dimensional design of our culture,” as Wolf D. Prix of Coop Himmelblau opines. As such, this includes design. However, as opposed to their fellowarchitects, the Viennese studio has refrained from design. In many households Michael Graves’ steel whistling kettle with its comic little red plastic birds, for example, was the epitome of Post-modernism. Zaha Hadid designs shoes, handbags and luminaires, and Norman Foster has even masterminded yachts and the popular London double-decker bus. Architects extend their design language and design standards far into everyday life. Those who see Ben van Berkel’s Sofa Circle (Walter Knoll) are inevitably reminded of his 2008 Music Theater in Graz, with its steel staircase painted in red that winds its way through the building like a tongue.
Designers like to stay out of the limelight and sometimes even seem to have their signature disappear; architects, on the other hand, love grand gestures and emphatically sculptural designs. Architecture is unique and related to one particular place; design, on the other hand, is ubiquitous mass production. Hence the differences are not revealed in scale but rather in the stances towards space and the object. Architecture and design meet, inspire each other, search for a common CAD language. It is just the materials that still differ. Maybe in the future more designers should become involved with architecture. They would certainly have the necessary ego.