As one of the youngest talents working today, Dutch designer Bram Geenen appropriated ideas and processes from legendary Catalan architect Antoní Gaudi, for a chair design that is firmly positioned in the 21st century.
For his graduate project in product design at the Utrecht School of Arts in 2009, Bram Greenen produced a stool using the methods and ideas of Antoní Gaudi as a guide – yet turned upside down and created with technological materials and tools that Gaudi never could have imagined.
The Gaudi Stool instantly garnered international recognition and exhibition, and today stands in the permanent collection of the DHUB Design Museum Barcelona. In 2010, Geenen carried the project further with the Gaudi Chair. Three models of the Gaudi Chair and Stool are part of a present group exhibition in Paris, entitled “Self-Structure”, uniting works that explore alternatives to the straight line and test the boundaries of Euclidian geometry.
Antoní Gaudi (1852-1926) was a master of Catalan Modernism, renowned for both perfecting and surpassing Gothic architecture; his most imposing legacy is the Sagrada Família Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Spain, which he would only live to see fractionally complete. He was exceptionally prolific, imposing remarkable style and engineering rigor. He was the first to use the catenary curve, that used in suspension bridges, in architecture, among other innovations based on keen observation of natural forces such as gravity.
In the present day, Bram Geenen has different tools at his disposal than Gaudi, but brilliant ideas transcend time and material. Geenen has a particular fascination for lightweight yet strong materials (the Gaudi chair is exceptionally so) as well as a drive for understanding the physical laws of the composite materials he works with and those at play in nature, much like the master did before him.
As a young designer whose career is quickly taking its own form, Geenen is one to keep an attendant eye upon. While continuing to work on furniture using innovative techniques and materials, Studio Geenen is also in the process of completing an online open-source design platform, scheduled for release in December 2011. Of these exciting projects – past, present and future – we talk with Bram Geenen about his projects, processes and vision:
In the original Gaudi Stool design, can you please outline the main design methods that you appropriated from Spanish architect Gaudi?
Antoní Gaudi thought his structures should be natural and logical, and they had to be efficient, just as structures in nature are. He also knew a great deal about the physical laws underlying structures and materials. He understood that by creating effective and logical structures you will naturally get beautiful and inspiring shapes. That vision is something I strongly agree with.
One of his methods was to build a model of his churches by suspending chains. Those chains are pulled by gravity into a certain type of arch, called a catenary. When you turn the shape of this model upside down, you will have generated a strong shape to resist forces. In other words, gravity shows you the way.
I decided to create a chain-model of my chair, and turn that shape upside down to generate a strong structure. Afterwards, I applied software calculations to optimize the result, thus bringing Gaudi's methods into the 21st century.
How did you come upon this original idea?
I researched ways to create strong yet lightweight products. I read a lot of physics books, books about architecture and about structures in nature. I found there are a lot of interesting methods, I choose to start working with Gaudi's methods because they are very inspiring to people.
Why do you think designing a chair is, often, the most challenging object to craft for a designer or architect?
A chair is in a way the most complex structure of all types of furniture. But, besides that, it is just a special object, how its design affects its users.
Is there a chair by any other designer that particularly admire?
I admire the furniture of Gerrit Rietveld, and of Charles and Ray Eames.
Can you please describe the online open-source design platform you are working on? What do you think it will add to your practice or to the design community at large?
It is a platform for people or organizations that need online tools for collaborating on the development of products but feel constrained by the functionality and scope of existing software. The platform combines social networking, project management and a collaborative working-environment.
You can collaborate within a closed environment, but you can also open up the project in an open-source way. It uses creative commons and open source licenses for content that is open-sourced.
The platform aims to be a support for the growing amount of open-design / co-creation projects that are taking place, and to help spur their development. It offers those projects a superb collaboration tool. Secondly, it connects different projects and people with each other to stimulate the exchange of ideas and knowledge.
There are more and more people and companies realizing that collaborating with each other, and sharing and being open in various ways, is a great way of working and can help achieve things that otherwise wouldn't be possible. This goes for both small bottom-up projects as well as for developing ambitious technology. And big companies are starting to follow this mindset, too.
Open source, as a concept, has proven itself in software to be able to generate innovation. It is important that it still allows commercial activity to thrive around open source. The big example is Linux, an open product around which an economy has risen with revenue of 35 billion! You have to understand that even the biggest companies around today are using, and creating, open-source software.
This will also spread to hardware and physical products. Openness will just become part of our lives, and the design community will have to deal with that. The important thing is that you shouldn't see this as a threat, but as an enormous opportunity.
I started researching this about two years ago, and quickly two friends who saw the potential of open-design joined me. The three of us designed the whole platform in our evenings and weekends. Now we teamed up with some great programmers and started coding the platform.
Can you please describe any other projects you are currently working on?
Besides the open-design platform I'm working to get the Flax Tray (a tray made 100% out of renewable resources) into production. It is a new material so it takes some time to figure out how to produce it efficiently. After I have gained experience with the material, I will also apply it into furniture. It will be interesting to create durable furniture of a material that is totally derived from biological materials.
Is there a designer working today that you particularly admire?
Though question. At Art School I was really impressed by the work of the artist Olafur Eliasson. He was able to create natural beauty in a very simple way, and didn't hide or mockup how he created that beauty. Showing his techniques made the beauty even more impressive.
Is there a particular era in design and architecture that interests you?
A lot of periods in the history of design and architecture are very interesting, and all of them left their traces. I really like learning about bygone styles and eras in design. What was the mindset at the time, their goals and how they succeeded of failed. Yet, in the end, I'm mostly interested in what will happen in the future.
Do you have a particular philosophy on design?
For myself, I only want to create products that are solving a problem, improving current situations or bringing technology further.
September 30th – December 17th, 2011
Le Lieu du Design
74, Rue Du Faubourg St. Antoine
75012 Paris, France
DEFINITION OF LUXURY
What is your definition of luxury?
Luxury is perfection. It is a luxury to have a perfect space. Or to spend a perfect day. Or have the freedom to pursue perfection in you work.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
I think luxury is to have space, to have time, and to have freedom. I think that is true luxury. Objects and money can only help to get you closer to that. Real luxury is immaterial.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
Luxury is a moment in which you do what you want to do, instead of doing things you must for other people. Or things you think you must do for yourself. I realize that sounds a bit complicated but in comes down to this: a moment of luxury is doing what you really want, or else doing nothing at all.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
It’s a place in your head. You can be in the most luxurious hotel, but feel stressed about you job. Or you can be in the same hotel but feel good and relaxed. That feeling happens in your head. You can feel good almost everywhere. Of course a beautiful place really helps, but in the end it is inside yourself.