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Furniture 2001 Odyssey into the Future?

When Stanley Kubrick's film "2001 - A Space Odyssey" premiered, the future still looked modern. 33 years later - having arrived in the year of the projection - much has been relativised.
Silke Becker paid a visit to the Cologne Furniture Fair - and discovered much that represents the future of yesterday between the countless new ideas.

Nothing new? With more than 1600 providers and an exhibition space of almost 300,000 square metres, it's difficult to believe that this is a tenable conclusion.
At this year's Cologne Furniture Fair, you cannot help but think of the 1968 cult movie "2001". On the one hand "Hal", the computer in 2001, would jump for joy if he could see how extremely successful his technoid ancestors are in pushing ahead with their control over humankind. On the other hand, the proximity of the products on the market to the visions of the 60s and 70s comes as a surprise. And the fact that, at the end of the day, it is man himself who determines the script and looks for ways out of the omnipresent faith in technology of that era makes the comparison all the more exciting.
2001 – it was a huge portion of unbroken faith in the future, also founded on the new possibilities of the time, of being able to process plastic industrially and use new materials to create playful forms. And the colourful spectrum of furniture and everyday items was accompanied by an era of product names with a decidedly galactic ring to them.
Where does the journey lead today? Having arrived in the anticipated reality and being confronted with what designers wanted for us at the time, it only remains to say that the invasion of the spherical television failed to materialise just as did the establishment of the cave-like, organic domestic landscapes that Joe Colombo, Verner Panton, Olivier Mourgue or Jack Lenor Larsen presented in Cologne in the 60s on the occasion of the "Visiona". And yet the home worlds of that era are present wherever you look and are wooing the nostalgic favour not just of the "old rebels of '68" but also of their children and grandchildren. There are set pieces such as the "F 582 Ribbon Chair", created by Pierre Paulin for Artifort and in uninterrupted production since 1966, or re-editions such as the "Classic Edition 369", an armchair from Walter Knoll designed in-house in the 50s.
What is common to all the upholstered furniture is that every piece is a technically perfect product of today - in terms of choice of materials and workmanship. Yet the look is firmly rooted in the past. The "bag seats" (1) are a good example of how sprawling has become socially acceptable. Both sofas and armchairs display dimensions that would turn any 60 square-metre bachelor pad into a furniture store - in both senses of the term. Thus Cor has added light models with smaller measurements to its domestic landscapes. The "Nemo" armchair (2) and "Circo" chair, both designed by Peter Maly, provide comfortable seating on a reduced base and are thus adapted to the actual size of real apartments. Yet much of which - spaciously arranged at the fair stands - triggers an "I want" reflex, fails in practice because of the floor space available for furnishings.
What was already indicated last year with the catchword "lounging" is being pursued with logical consistency by almost all the renowned manufacturers in 2001. As part of the 'Passagen', the off-programme of the furniture fair, Cappellini was counting on a presentation at the "Cologne Guggenheim". An old industrial hall provided 6000 square metres for the most dazzling party and most dedicated "clubbing", where the furniture, far from having a bit part, played the leading role - which was just as the inventor wanted it. Sitting allowed, subsequent acquisition forbidden, much to the chagrin of many a bargain hunter - the complete and yet partly shop-soiled furnishings were sold to London, Harrods be praised.
Back to the fair, where Rolf Benz was showing the playfully canoe-shaped "Canoa" by Mauro Lipparini and the sofa model "2200", for which Charles Eames' "Lounge Chair" was yet again the driving force. Nevertheless, the furniture manufacturer from Nagold still came up with some surprises, this year in the form of details. The solitaire furniture collection "Evolution" boasts drawers and doors that do not shut with a loud bang but instead absorb the thrust and are drawn in with a slight delay, turning the patent into an aha-experience.
Interlübke's walk-in closet room "aparo" exhibits technically sophisticated doors in bigger dimensions. The partition wall system from team form ag can be erected anywhere in a room with a ceiling height of 267 centimetres; the doors swing completely to the side by means of a parallel fitting - the omnibus is coming to everyday life at home.
If you take a look at the Italians, Miriam Steffen's pronouncement on the Milanese relationship to the Cologne Furniture Fair proves well-founded: "Anything new is presented in Milan, here in Cologne it is sold." Pronto - there are new ideas at Cassina, Tisettanta is launching a re-edition of the furniture programme "Quadratus" designed by Antonio Citterio in 1994, Misura Emme and mobileffe are sitting this one out and, in addition to the "Meter" sofa by Cini Boeri, Molteni & C. are showing Swiss design qualities: Alfa, a chair by Hannes Wettstein, composed of two elements (3).
Indeed, the Swiss. They are not only represented in the "Swiss Made" exhibition at the Museum for Applied Art - what has been brewing behind the Alpine panorama could, in base marketing jargon, definitely be called a success story. The Wellis AG with its labels Team by Wellis and Room by Wellis and its head designer Kurt Erni is inspiring the market with its "Arioso" wardrobe(4). Based on angle supports without bearing separating walls, it turns the bedroom into a place of insight. In a crystal-clear look (although it is also available with frosted glass doors for those less inclined to be tidy or admit to their own chaos...) and based on the sliding door technology of the "Volare" sideboard, it turns clothes into an integral part of the room. The only disadvantage of the magic box: neither Christmas presents nor surprised lovers are safe from discovery. The ingredients of the Wellis AG are spot-on and result in a menu that is in no way strained but instead carefully harmonised. The "Edition 2001" might well be called the icing on the cake. A container designed by Kurt Erni in 1998 is, as a limited edition, "the best seller per square metre at the fair, I believe" says joint partner and director Egon Babst with a wink. At Wellis you feel as if you are encountering the implementation of the here and now. It is the sum of the empirical values that produces something new - but not without reflection, if you please.
Nobody can accuse Konstantin Grcic of insufficient reflection. He is showing his "Chaos" chair at Classicon (5): "The slight asymmetry, the hint of instability, I think that supports a more causal, short-term way of sitting," says the Munich designer, who devotes a great deal of thought to changed habits and accuses the furniture industry of "reacting extremely slowly."
That's no problem for Florian Asche and Philipp Mainzer of e15. They prefer to take things into their own hands and this year, for the first time, are adding an external design to their products that lays the foundation stone for a new definition of e15 as a "distribution company". What else is there to say about the archaic bench table "HP01 Tafel" (6) by Hans De Pelsmacker which - as a piece of communication furniture - fits in excellently with the existing range of products - except the vague suspicion that a dinner for two without the addition of an occasional table would be just as minimal as the design of the table stipulates.
Talking of design: the fair stand of Nils Holger Moormann and his team from Aschau was in a class of its own and a jolt to the senses in the midst of the perfectionist corporate portrayals. Built of roof battens and transport blankets, there was many a raised eyebrow in the face of such simplicity. Unjustly so, as the iF Exhibition Design Award for Moormann & Co. in the category of stands up to 100 square metres goes to show.
Why is it that the interior worlds of the new millennium are presenting themselves with so many borrowed ideas and the umpteenth sideboard, decorated with three glass vases, no longer constitutes an eye-catcher? Leo Lübke from Cor gives some food for thought: "If back then the parents had domestic landscapes, they probably lived in a more modern way than we do. That was more revolutionary than it is today and a declaration of belief in a lifestyle, the demonstration of an attitude." The doyens and heroes of design have long been proving that consistent and well-thought out action leads to success.
At the Lighting Centre, the focus of the 2001 fair, Ingo Maurer is not only showing the continued development of his LED lamps, but also a very special kind of project. What started with the question "What do you think about light?" in a class of 10 to 14-year-old pupils in the East Harlem School of New York City in May 2000 has been translated into the lamp "lil Richard (7) by pupil Richard Melendez. The fact that the sales proceeds will go to the young designer and his school is almost less momentous than the willingness to take a look at the ideas and imaginative worlds of today's generation, and at its problems in particular. It seems that people prefer to wander along familiar paths than pursue new directions.
In 2001, the sensuousness of seating furniture is being exalted - and the outlook from there is a sober one. In the working world, on the other hand, functional furniture is promising to concentrate on the essential, namely on the media world that imitates sensuousness. An inversion of the argument, then? It should be remembered that, as copies of their originals and charged with the myth specific to that time, the retro and revival products are no longer the same things, but only similar. Which would make "Odyssey 2034" as a new field of projection for future interiors an exciting project.
Text: Silke Becker Photography: Lars Phillips

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