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AHEC, Benchmark Furniture and Design Museum launch new project ‘Connected’

Nine international designers have been challenged to create a table and seating to explore new working practices during lockdown.

15/06/2020 9 min read

During the past few months the design world has had to adapt their processes using new technologies to work together at a distance and often operating from new, improvised home offices.

Connected is an experiment set out to explore how designers and craftsmen adapt their working practices during lockdown. For this project the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark Furniture and the Design Museum have challenged nine international designers to create a table and seating, which will suit their new ways of working from and living at home. They will also record their creative journeys to allow us to witness how they approach the brief and develop their thoughts, sketches and ideas during these challenging times.

The designers involved in Connected are: Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Maria Bruun (Denmark), Jaime Hayon (Spain), Heatherwick Studio (UK), Sebastian Herkner (Germany), Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska (Poland), Sabine Marcelis (Netherlands), Studiopepe (Italy) and Studio Swine (UK / Japan).

The resulting pieces will be shown at the Design Museum in London as an installation called Connected, when the museum re-opens to the public – celebrating the act of physically coming back together and reconnecting after lockdown.

Made together, apart

Connected will also explore how designers can champion a beautiful and sustainable material: hardwood. The project will challenge both the designers and craftsmen at Benchmark to work in innovative ways by relying solely on digital communication and video conferencing to bring the designers’ visions to life. This approach will require a new level of trust in the makers, since the designers will have no physical contact with their pieces until they are finished and on display at the Design Museum.

Each designer will be paired with a craftsman at Benchmark’s workshop in Berkshire, with whom they will develop their pieces. Benchmark will collate all the production data for each design to enable AHEC to model its environmental life cycle impact (LCA). The designers will record the design process and product development throughout the summer, producing a series of video diaries to be shared on the project website and social media, using the project hashtag #connectedbydesign. These diaries will also feed into a documentary-style film that will narrate their individual journeys.

Once complete, the pieces will be displayed in the atrium of the Design Museum this autumn and will feature both virtual and actual content as a way to celebrate these new designs and mark an end to the isolation caused by the virus.

Purely digital processes and a commitment to sustainability

 Sean Sutcliffe, founder of Benchmark Furniture, says: ‘It is pertinent at this moment to explore new ways of working remotely – and of creating at a distance. It’s by no means the first time we’ve developed furniture using digital communication tools, but this will be the first time we’ve developed pieces in a purely digital environment, without visits to our workshops from designers. I’m interested to see what the lockdown period has made designers think about in terms of product development. How does working from home influence the furniture in our home, and its functional requirements?’

With Benchmark and AHEC, the message of sustainability is at the core of the project – any non-wood elements to the designs will be ethically sourced.

AHEC’s European Director, David Venables, says: ‘We were faced with designers across Europe being, to a greater or lesser degree, in isolation, having to work alone. Connected will tap into their individual creativity but will also bring them together to work towards a common goal. This material-driven project is all about three underused hardwoods – red oak, maple and cherry – which combined account for more than 40% of all standing hardwoods in the American forests. All three are beautiful woods and we want the designers to discover their aesthetic and performance potential. But our emphasis is also on the environmental merits of making more use of what nature is growing. Over-reliance on a narrow selection wood types must ultimately result in supply stress. So, we have a responsibility to widen the choice.’

Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator at the Design Museum, adds: ‘Commissioning nine designers to make furniture from wood doesn’t sound like a particularly original brief. But these are not ordinary times. We are all being over-exposed to our homes, and having to adapt to new patterns of working. The pandemic has forced each designer to approach their home-working set-up with a completely fresh perspective – what do they really need? The Connected project is a rare opportunity for them to design for themselves, but the key challenge is that they will have to rely entirely on digital communication. It couldn’t be more relevant and we look forward to hosting the results at the Design Museum.’

Meet the designers 

Ini Archibong, Switzerland

Ini Archibong’s work is characterised by a deep interest in master-craftsmanship and its intrinsic relationship to technology – both modern and ancient.

He takes inspiration from the study of architecture, environmental and product design, as well as lifelong passions for mathematics, philosophy and world religions, and seeks to apply his vision and methods across a wide range of disciplines. His clients include: Hermès, Knoll, de Sede, Bernhardt, Sé, and Vacheron Constantin.

The son of Nigerian parents who came to the United States as academic scholars, Archibong was born and raised in Pasadena, California, where he graduated from Polytechnic School and the Art Center College of Design. He moved to Switzerland to pursue further studies – earning a master’s degree in luxury design and craftsmanship from the prestigious École Cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL). Archibong’s work has been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery in Pasadena, Galerie Triode in Paris, the Museo Bagatti Valsecchi in Milan, the Dallas Museum of Art, amongst others.

Archibong resides and works in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where he collaborates closely with many highly skilled Swiss technicians, watchmakers, artisans and master craftspeople.

Maria Bruun, Denmark

Maria Bruun Design is a furniture and design studio founded by Maria Bruun, Cand. Design, based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The studio offers full creative direction, furniture and interior design services.

What makes some designs more desirable than others? That is what Maria Bruun centres her outlook on when working with design. Based in Copenhagen, she primarily works with product and exhibition design. She combines a soft and intuitive approach with hands-on design. At times she works alone or with skilled craftsmen in the workshop focused on learning a new craft or technique or gaining new knowledge about a certain material. Other times her work is more introspective with the vision of creating an experience, a redefinition of form or a new narrative about the materials. In her optic, this way of working is reflected in the end product. Almost all her products consist of a series of designs; it reflects very well her process of creation. In her terminology, each idea is flexible in scale, variation and function.

Jamie Hayon, Spain

Spanish artist-designer Jaime Hayon was born in Madrid in 1974. His artistic vision was first fully exposed in the ‘Mediterranean Digital Baroque’ and ‘Mon Cirque’ installations. These collections put Jaime at the forefront of a new wave that blurred the lines between art, decoration and design, also added a renaissance in finely crafted, intricate objects within the context of contemporary design culture.

Jaime further defined his vision in subsequent solo exhibitions and shows at major galleries, and design and art fairs all over the globe. After founding Hayon Studio in 2001, his wide client base has spanned diverse functions and mediums, including domestic furniture for B.D. Barcelona, Cassina, Fritz Hansen, &Tradition, and Magis; lighting fixtures for Parachilna, Metalarte and Swarovski; and sophisticated objects for Bisazza, Lladró and Baccarat. He has also executed complete interiors for leading hotels, restaurants, museums, and retail establishments worldwide.

Hayon Studio’s creative base is in Valencia, Spain with offices in Barcelona and Treviso, Italy, Jaime’s work has appeared in the most prestigious art and design publications worldwide. He has won numerous awards, including multiple Elle Decoration International Design Awards, included by Wallpaper Magazine in its “Top 100” list and recognised by the magazine as one of the most influential creators of the last decade, lauded as a “visionary” and one of the most creative icons by Times magazine.

Sebastian Herkner, Germany

Sebastian Herkner studied Product Design at HfG Offenbach University of Art and Design. During his studies he began to focus on designing objects and furniture, honing his keen sense for materials, colours and textures.

Herkner founded his own studio in 2006 and has since designed furniture, lamps and smaller items for manufacturers such as Ames, & Tradition, Cappellini, ClassiCon, Dedon, Ex.t, Fontana Arte, Gubi, Linteloo, Moroso, Pulpo, Rosenthal, Schramm Werkstätten, Thonet, Wittmann and Zanotta.

He has unconditional love for traditional craftsmanship, paired with a good feel for new technologies, a true flair for colour, authentic materials and textures as well as an unadulterated curiosity for different cultures. Balance and intuition are important and enduring factors in Herkner’s work, which he sees as a continuous dialogue that straddles the disciplines. It takes him to the far corners of the world in search of almost forgotten crafts techniques, of manufacturers that have a tradition going back centuries. Since the success of the Bell Table for ClassiCon in 2012, he has never looked back.

Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Poland

Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska was born in Fontainebleau in 1983. In 2012 she established her Office for Design & Research. She graduated from ECAL’s industrial design course in 2007 and was awarded a scholarship from the IKEA foundation that led her to work for Galerie kreo in Paris, Konstantin Grcic in Munich and Alexander Taylor in London.

She works on industrial design projects, exhibition design, as well as research-based projects in the field of design. She is convinced that in today’s world, research can trigger and generate new forms of answers and offers. Her clients include: Ligne Roset, Kvadrat, Actus, Vitra, 1882ltd, the St Etienne Design Biennale, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

Sabine Marcelis, Netherlands

Sabine Marcelis is a Dutch designer who runs her practice from the harbour of Rotterdam. After graduating from the Design Academy of Eindhoven in 2011, Marcelis began working as an independent designer within the fields of product, installation and spatial design with a strong focus on materiality. Her work is characterised by pure forms that highlight material properties.

Marcelis applies a strong aesthetic point of view to her collaborations with industry specialists. This method of working allows her to intervene in the manufacturing process, using material research and experimentation to achieve new and surprising visual effects for projects both showcased in museums and commissioned by commercial clients and fashion houses. Sabine considers her designs to be true sensorial experiences and not simple static works: the experience becomes the function, with a refined and unique aesthetic.

Sabine recently won the prestigious Wallpaper* ‘ Designer of the year 2020’ award, the Design Prize 2019 in the ‘Newcomer of the year’ category, The Elle Deco International Design award 2019 ‘Young designer of the year’ and ‘GQ Men of the year 2019’ International Artist of the year.

Heatherwick Studio, UK

Heatherwick Studio is a team of over 200 problem solvers dedicated to making the physical world around us better for everyone. Based out of their combined workshop and design studio in Central London, they create buildings, spaces, masterplans, objects and infrastructure. Focusing on large scale projects in cities all over the world, the studio prioritise those with the greatest positive social impact. Working as practical inventors with no signature style, their motivation is to design soulful and interesting places which embrace and celebrate the complexities of the real world. The approach driving everything is to lead from human experience rather than any fixed design dogma.

The studio’s founder Thomas Heatherwick comes from a background immersed in materials and making. His curiosity and passion for problem-solving matured into the studio’s current design process where every architect, designer, landscape architect and maker is encouraged to challenge and contribute ideas. Positive and pragmatic, the studio’s team are collaborators whose role is to listen, question, then lead the conception and construction of special and unusual places. Ingenuity and inspiration are used to make projects that are affordable, buildable and sustainable. Their client is vital, who comes on the journey and challenges their thinking; together they look for the opportunities that might traditionally be overlooked. The best future projects are the ones that will teach us the most.

Studiopepe, Italy

Studiopepe is a design agency founded in Milan, in 2006, by Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara Di Pinto. Studiopepe’s focus is on design and research through the use of a multidisciplinary approach: this includes interior design (retail, hotels, private commissions), product design, architecture and creative direction. The language they use for their designs is stratified and eclectic, uniting poetic vision and rigorous design. Art, installations, study of formal archetypes, experiments with materials and the dialogue between opposites are some of the themes developed by the Studio.

Studiopepe’s projects are recognizable by their strong iconographic identity, based upon experimenting, continuous research on colours and materials and the contamination between the various contemporary languages with the intent to provide a solution that is uniquely special and respectful of each client’s individuality.

Studio Swine, UK/Japan

Studio Swine (Super Wide Interdisciplinary New Explorers) is a collective between Japanese Architect Azusa Murakami and British Artist Alexander Groves.

Their work straddles between the spheres of sculpture, installations and cinema, blending poetry and research into immersive experiences. The studio adopts a unique approach to each work, drawing on the distinctive resources and vernacular aesthetic of its cultural, historic and economic landscape. Professional training in art and architecture allows the studio to bridge rich and emotional narratives with rigorous spatial awareness.

Studio Swine’s films have been awarded at Cannes and other film festivals around the world and their work have been widely exhibited at institutions such as the V&A Museum in London, Venice Art and Architecture Biennales. Their works have been collected by MoMA New York and Centre Pompidou in Paris. Studio Swine is represented by PACE Gallery and Pearl Lam Gallery.

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