Everything is made of details

There is a close connection between architecture and furniture design. Many furniture designers trained as architects and many architects designed furniture for their buildings. I find that I often look at architecture for inspiration, both in terms of “shape” and as a challenge to question and understand “structure” – how do buildings stand up and how does that relate to how furniture works?

I was intrigued by the write-ups about the “Sensing Spaces” exhibition at the Royal Academy and I finally found the time to visit it last weekend. It was a wonderful experience! I thoroughly recommend it.

(Disclosure – it is possible that my view was also affected by the fact that in the morning I visited the Ideal Home Show – very busy, cramped and noisy)

Architects from all over the world had been invited to create installations to encourage the public to engage with spaces and materials. And that they did. The big surprise for me was that the installations also encouraged visitors to engage with it each other.

Grown ups and children alike played with the plastic straws that created the structure of Diebedo Francis Kere’s installation. In a video interview he explained that he wanted to re-create the feeling of rural construction in Burkina Faso where the whole village shows up and contributes to the building. Colourful and playful it was a moment of pure play!

Pezo von Ellrichshausen - image dezeen.co.uk

Pezo von Ellrichshausen – image dezeen.com

The next room contained a platform supported on four large hollow columns housing spiral staircases. It reminded me of times as a child climbing up spiral staircases of ruined castles… and at the top I was face to face with angels! The platform brought us to the level of the cornice looking at the gilded cherubs from a very different angle (angle / angel – get it?). And here I felt my classical religious education let me down – the angels each held a different object (a book, a scroll, a palm leaf, a laurel wreath etc., 7 in total) but I could not fathom what they were supposed to tell us. Saints are usually portrayed with standard signifiers (St Peter holds a key, St. Christopher has baby Jesus on his shoulder and so on); even the archangels (Michael holds a sword, Gabriel an olive branch) but who are the ones depicted here? More research needed…

Kengo Kuma - dezeen.co.uk

Kengo Kuma – image dezeen.com

Japanese architect Kengo Kuma created a wonderful experience in the rooms allocated to him. Almost completely dark, these housed installations made of very thin sticks bent and joined to create a fairytale landscape. I loved how my mind was working hard at finding patterns, seeing footpaths through the forest or tunnels in the shrubbery…

And then a labyrinth clad in twigs by Li Xiadong. The fun of exploring space, of finding small secret rooms and peep holes! All leading to what he described as a Zen garden. A room with a large mirrored wall and the floor covered in pebbles. And the noise! You could hear it from some distance away, wondering what it was… children jumping and running on pebbles: how far from the stereotypical “stillness” of a zen garden. And yet how Zen all the same: just the experience of the moment! No thought or rational explanation required.

Visitors came and went, engaged with each other, smiled to other people and bantered. And the children were loving it!

I’m not sure that I “learned” much about highfaluting architectural stuff. But the exhibition made a strong impact. Scattered around were quotes from the participating architects and I was pleased to find many that resonated with my own beliefs about my role as a furniture designer.

“Everything is made of details. When something is well designed the details come together to form a whole. Otherwise they remain separate.” Alvaro Siza

“I believe it is important to engage people in the process of building so they have an investment in what is developed.   Through thinking and working together  people find that the built object becomes part of a bonding experience.” Diebedo Francis Kere

7 Hall Table in Cherry - A. Magnino

7 Hall Table in Cherry – A. Magnino

Design (whether be architecture or furniture or other) engages us on many different levels (Donald Norman talks about visceral, behavioural and intellectual domains). What I have learned about myself over the years, is that the designs of mine I am most pleased with, tend to have a strong element of humour:  just like this exhibition, they encourage you to look at the world slightly differently, they surprise and tickle you, and hopefully bring a smile to your lips. Not bad for a few pieces of wood, eh?