Since 2008 Aram Gallery has been curating an annual exhibition of Prototypes and Experiments by an interesting array of designers and architects. This year’s incarnation features the work of seventeen designers, design studios and architecture practices including Aberrant Architecture, Tomoko Azumi, Dean Brown, Carl Turner Architects, Custhom, Felix de Pass, Dafi Reis Doron, Carmody Groarke with Joe Pipal, Mischer’Traxler, Carlos Ortega, Pinch, Plaid, PostlerFerguson, Daniel Schofield, Studio Vit, Studio Weave and Jule Waibel.
Curated by Riya Patel, the exhibition aims to reveal the extent of the process involved in design across various disciplines by showing not only the finished product, but prototypes, tests and experiments that were developed during the design process.
To varying degrees each designer / architect or studio has revealed the inside track on how their design developed over the time frame of initial concept to final product. Some of the projects remain works in progress while others are done and dusted and in production like Misher Traxler's 'Reversed Volumes'.
Starting life as a limited edition exploration into making fruit the main ingredient in a fruit bowl design by casting actual fruit, 'Reversed Volumes' has moved from its early form, in chalky cast ceramic plaster, to a more refined version for mass production made in food safe resin. The process took over two years but the range of ten bowls are now available through Madrid label PCMdesign. The various fruits and vegetables that form the silhouette of the inner bowl, range from lemons, apples and oranges to aubergines, cauliflowers and two types of cabbage - each in an appropriately selected colour that embodies the essence of the fruit or vegetable. In the exhibition mischer'traxler have displayed a 3D storyboard, tracing the evolution of the idea and the experiments required to make it a viable (if niche) commercial product.
PostlerFerguson are a London based design studio founded in 2007 by Martin Postler and Ian Ferguson. The wall mounted 'Staeckler' shoe hook was a slow burn project as the designers experimented with different shapes and materials before taking it into production themselves through their production arm, Papa foxtrot. Made in ABS the final versions of the shoe hooks have removed all extraneous elements to deliver an archetypal product in four colours. Strong enough to hold any size and weight of shoe they are capable of turning a show collection into an art form.
Felix de Pass, a graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University and later the Royal College of Art, has in the past designed furniture and vessels for Established & Sons, kinetic lighting sculptures for the V&A and now a bottle. To create the first bottle for a new brand has a great deal of pressure attached - it can be the make or break component for any new beverage brand. His iconic looking Sweetdram bottle combines elemental shapes and traditional amber glass for a timeless effect with a slightly modern twist.
Jule Waibel is a German product and fashion designer based in London who is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of pleated materials. A graduate of the University of Applied Sciences (HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd), Waibel also holds and a Masters Degree in Design Products from the Royal College of Art London (2013). While studying at the RCA she she founded VIOVIO ltd, a clothing and lifestyle label with her two brothers where she is the fashion designer and art director. Her work transforms a range of sheet materials into three-dimensional objects. By using the same technique in different contexts and with different materials, she is constantly reinventing new environments for her ‘unfolded’ objects.
"After the pleated paper dress made from Tyvek, I made a steam mould for pressing softer fabric garments that expand and contract as the wearer moves. With the same method I made a collection of seats in wool felt that are folded three-dimensionally under steam and heat to create flexible pleats” says Waibel. “I also make wooden moulds for vacuum-forming shapes in plastic, create plaster moulds to dip into liquid latex, and fold plastic moulds within which I place soft expanding foam. All of these methods are for shaping and developing my range of unfolded three-dimensional objects”.
Tomoko Azumi is a Japanese born designer who has been based in London since the early 90's. She has designed a large number of chairs (some with former husband Shin Azumi) during her career for brands such as Zilio A&C, Mark and Lapalma - all of which exhibit a similar simplicity of line. Azumi designed her ‘Flow’ chair for Ercol to utilize the special abilities the renown British furniture company has with steam bending and modern jointing techniques. The exhibition shows the development of the chair from 1:5 scale models to 1:1 paper and blue foam prototypes. Three models were selected for production from the original twelve prototypes that were designed for the project.
Carlos Ortega’s 'Corkigami' takes the properties of cork to their limit, making 3D objects from 2D materials much in the same way as is commonly in origami. To successfully design a chair from cork Ortega needed to experiment with different methods of lamination and scale models before moving onto full size prototypes. Cork has a number of very positive traits - it is a natural material, is sustainable, lightweight, flexible, warm and quite strong but other than carving a chair from solid cork (which becomes extremely heavy) it had typically been considered far too weak to function on its own as a seat material.
The final design is made from 4mm cork sheet laminated up to 6 layers thick then cut, bent and glued to itself under pressure to form a semi rigid shell and fitted to an oak base. The 'Corkigami' chair is available in Spain from the designer and through Mint in London, with other distributors soon to be announced.
Custhom have been experimenting with embroidery on paper for over ten years. Their 'New Cross' wallpaper is stitched digitally through a non-woven heavy weight paper. Tests are carried out on an ancient 70’s embroidery machine in the studio while the production versions are manufactured in a more industrialised way. The design started by looking at basket weaving and hand-sewn cross stitch techniques because the designers wanted to create curved lines on a grid structure. After experimenting on paper to find a continuous line throughout the designs, the drawings were converted into vector points, then each vector into a stitch using software before sending to a clothing factory in Leicester to be manufactured. The papers are sent back to the studio for finishing where they are varnished to add extra strength, threads are trimmed and the backing paper is removed.
Carl Turner Architects are a London-based architecture studio that has gained a reputation for "high impact, low-cost architecture". They have designed a number of high profile public projects using shipping containers but also work in domestic architecture developing new ideas for everything from floating homes to houses largely made from translucent glass planks or OSB (Orientated Strand Board). Home from Home was a temporary installation at MUDE in Lisbon. It draws upon the notion of a “British” domestic language where the activities of reading, sleeping, eating, watching TV and playing have been separated into different rooms in the form of interlocking modules.
Composed of five individual parts that come together as one, each element is abstracted to a single domestic activity. These could be pushed together to form one single object or pulled apart to encourage interaction, then dispersed around the Home from Home exhibition to form individual interventions. The studio built a series of 3D computer models and small maquettes during the process of designing the installation and these are on show as part of Prototypes & Experiments VIII. Computer modelling allowed the designers to see how the components would fit together - much like a giant Jenga puzzle.
London designer Russell Pinch established the furniture and lighting brand Pinch with his wife Oona Bannon in 2004 and has been a hugely respected figure in modern British furniture ever since. While the label's products generally tend to be crafted from timber, their latest project, the 'Nim' coffee table, is described by Pinch as a gift to themselves after 11 years of working to establish the Pinch brand and is moulded from a very different material - Jesmonite.
Jesmonite is a combination of gypsum powder and resin. The material was chosen over many other more common moulding materials for its ability to hold very fine details while maintaining an organic quality. In the case of the 'Nim' table the Jesmonite was reinforced with glass fibre and mica. The design is hand painted after the Jesmonite has set and the graduated look from dark to light follows the natural texture of the object. Pinch collaborated on the design with Rupert Lampard, a fine art fabricator who helped develop the required moulds using CAD modelling and a 5 axis CNC router. While the original prototypes were hand carved as 1:5 models in Balsa wood, the final used mould to create the limited edition pieces is polyester resin on the outside with a platinum silicon interior. Many tests were required before the 'right' degree of precision and randomness were achieved. The table was launched during the London Design Festival in September 2015.
Prototypes and Experiments VIII runs from the 30th of November 2015 to the 16th of January 2016 at Aram Gallery, 110 Drury Lane, London WC2.
Exhibition photography by Josh Redman.