It’s been nearly 20 years since Konstantin Grcic studied at the Royal College of Art. But, recently, the Munich-based designer has been back in town just a stone’s throw from his alma mater to curate Design Real, the Serpentine Gallery’s first ever design show, opening next month.
Now 44, Grcic has great credentials for the job. Since leaving the RCA, he has built up a reputation for innovative design that is highly sophisticated, yet often of deceptively simple appearance. He trained initially as a furniture designer, but has worked across both furniture and industrial design with clients such as Magis, Vitra Editions, Krups, Flos and Muji, and has curated several exhibitions.
‘Konstantin is a genius. He’s one of the great minds of our times. It’s wonderful that many people, not only those in the design world, will be able to discover him,’ says Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery.
After two decades in design Grcic is certainly firmly established, heading a team of seven and with an enviable project list. Currently, he’s working with Magis on a stackable outdoor chair for St Mark’s Square in Venice, as well as school furniture for a German manufacturer, another chair for Plank and a long-awaited collaboration with Established & Sons.
Despite his success and experience, it’s not getting any easier for him. But that’s the way he likes it. ‘To be honest, it’s getting more and more difficult, but that’s not necessary negative. Our projects are so much more complex and challenging than ten years ago, with more technology involved,’ he says. ‘I enjoy it. I think if things had become routine by now, I’d have left [design].’
Everything he does is driven by the nature of the materials and the design potential yielded by the production process. This is something that began with his cabinet-making apprenticeship at Parnham prior to the RCA, and he’s enjoyed applying it to other materials, engaging with production experts at factories to really understand what can be achieved. Recently, he fulfilled a long-held wish to work with aluminium extrusions with Table B for BD Barcelona. ‘I’ve always built on my experience [at Parnham] of taking a material and working with it. My work is always rooted there,’ he says. This has been one of Grcic’s great strengths, says Sheridan Coakley of furniture company SCP, which has recently reissued two of Grcic’s pieces. ‘Apart from his natural talent as a designer, he has a clear understanding of how materials work. Training as a cabinet maker at Parnham before he went to the RCA gave him fundamental knowledge of how furniture works and the freedom to design.’
Inspired by Bauhaus designers such as Marcel Breuer, Grcic’s work often displays a no-frills utilitarian attitude as seen in early work such as his H20 bucket and Two Hands laundry basket for Authentics.
‘I’m always looking for simplicity, but I don’t think all my [projects] are – some are very complicated,’ he says, pointing to his recent work for Magis. The 360° Work chair is a highly complex and technical reinvention of the conventional office chair to suit the non-sedentary desk worker who may perch, loll, scoot, fidget – anything rather than static sitting. Grcic himself ‘sits’ on one as he works.
Grcic’s work is often talked of in terms of wit. One of his best-known early works in the UK was the appealing Six Public Clocks at Canary Wharf. His Chair One, for Magis in 2004, resembles a football. He denies that any humour is intentional, but there is often a warmth and a sense of personality to his designs.
‘Imagine a world made of super-rational things – it would be terribly boring. The things we keep are those that are very human,’ he says.
As an enthusiast for good industrial design Grcic relishes the opportunity to spread the word to a mainly non-design crowd at the Serpentine Gallery show, where he has selected 43 items, none designed by himself. But there’s no danger that he’s heading off on a new career as a curator. ‘I’d love to do more of this, although in the end, I’m a designer,’ he says.
Design Real, curated by Konstantin Grcic, is on at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2, from 26 November to 7 February 2010