Mårten Claesson
Mårten Claesson,
Architect SIR
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The future of (Swedish) design

Form Follows Function. Nowhere has this concept been as nurtured as it has in Sweden. It is no coincidence that Sweden’s version of Modernism, ever since 1930, has been referred to as Functionalism — as if to emphasize even further the need for architects and designers to stand out as engineers rather than artists.

And functonalism has prevailed...

But rather suddenly — over, say, the last couple of years — something has changed. When the icons of functionalist design have been reduced to just icons; symbols of a certain historical period, it must mean the modern movement has finally lost its momentum.

The Y-chair by Wegner, the Swan easy chair by Jacobsen, and the bright plastic shapes of Verner Panton have changed.

(Yes, all of them Danish. But quite frankly — aren’t all the best pieces of Scandinavian modern design from the 50’s?)

Changed, not literally of course, but in how we see them. Myself, I used to think that if any period aspired towards being eternally modern it was the Scandinavian Modern of the 50’s. And it was. For half a century! But now all I see is museum pieces, no more eternal than those of any other era.

The modernist belief in the rational and the thorough research of the purely functional has drawn to an end. The idea of the Bauhaus to turn artists into engineers was a mistake. It lead to soul-less mass production. And still, when summarizing the period, only the true artistic talent remains: Le Corbusier, Aalto, Lewerentz — No more, no less than in any given time in history.

This of course is not an instant process. It’s been going on for at least 10 years, perhaps even 30, and may continue another 100 until the last wave of nostalgia rolls away. But now is the first moment when the change is truly tangible.

So what is this "new" change?

The new architecture or design may look like Modernism. But at a closer examination it contains elements that directly contradict Form Follows Function. In our own work we like to think of Modernism as something to "sample" from, but not follow. One example is our own (Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune) Arc table that through a clever side profile appears thinner than possible. Another the Silicone lamp by Monica Förster that should be hard, but is soft as a sponge when touched. And yet another the Wedding Stool by Thomas Sandell that connects like pieces of a puzzle creating a bench.

(Yes, I am proud to say that all my examples of contemporary Scandinavian design are Swedish!)

Describing a change into something that is still unclear is difficult. You could argue that the mould is just not cool enough to reveal the shapes. But I believe the characteristics of the new design are just that: unclear, ambiguous, hazy.

Ideas are the key — intellectual, emotional, human. Simple ideas, literally or metaphorically hidden behind semi-transparent veils, and therefore not immediately apparent. A play with inherent semiotics, unexpected materials or symbols from a disparate area. But not too obvious — rather for each and every one to discover.

Realized ideas instead of revealed principles of construction. Swedish or not — this is the future of design.

I call it emotional functionalism.

Mårten Claesson, Architect SIR
Home page: claesson-koivisto-rune

(from speech held in New York, May 2000)