The Design Museum has challenged nine designers to come up with a table and seating component, which are adapted to new working practices.
The London museum’s new project aims to showcase changing working practices among designers amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is a collaboration between the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Benchmark Furniture, a UK-based furniture company founded by Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe.
Nine designers have been chosen, with an international focus – perhaps an attempt to showcase working practices across the world. Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Thomas Heatherwick (UK) and Sabine Marcelis (Switzerland) are among the cohort.
What designers are thinking about
The museum says: “In the design world, creatives and makers have had to adapt their processes using new technologies to work together at a distance and often operating from new, improvised home offices.”
The idea of escapism – no matter how temporary – is a theme among the designers. “You can expect to see a piece of furniture that somehow has the capacity to transport you to another place,” Archibong says.
Alexander Groves, from Studio Swine, says: “Being in lockdown in the centre of Tokyo surrounded by so much concrete, we find that having materials such as wood around can give us connection to nature.”
The brief has inspired many to think about the intersection of home and the office. Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, an industrial and product designer from Poland, says: “I’m interested in certain aspects of the home and how to create objects or furniture that are in between architecture and furniture”.
Sebastian Herkner, based in Germany, proposes a table that can be used to work and eat at, which could be “the centre of life”.
New working practices
One of the most unusual parts of the project is that the designers will have no physical contact with their pieces until they are finished and on display. They will have to have “a new level of trust” in the craftspeople at Benchmark.
Each designer will be paired with a crafts person, and they will work through the design process together. The design process will be recorded (in video diaries) throughout the summer to “share how they approach the brief and develop their thoughts, sketches and ideas during these challenging times”.
There is also a sustainability focus, as the designers will be working with hardwood, which is a “beautiful and sustainable material”. The three types are red oak, maple and cherry, which make up more than 40% of all standing hardwood trees in American forests.
AHEC’s European director David Venables says that an “over-reliance on a narrow selection of wood types must ultimately result in supply stress” so there is a “responsibility to widen the choice”. Any non-wood elements will be ethically sourced, the museum says.
The full list of designers is: Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Maria Bruun (Denmark), Jaime Hayon (Spain), Thomas Heatherwick (UK), Sebastian Herkner (Germany), Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska (Poland), Studiopepe (Italy), Sabine Marcelis (Netherlands), and Studio Swine (which works across UK and Japan).
The resulting pieces will go on display at an exhibition – Connected – at the museum when it reopens (provisionally in the autumn). It will be, the museum says, a celebration of “the act of physically coming together – reconnecting – after lockdown.”