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"utopia" Tag

Becoming an Utopian Dream

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


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 Picture 1: The Wassily Chair (Model B3)


Marcel Breuer

Wassily Chair (Model B3)

1927 – 1928



Chrome-plated tubular steel and canvas


28 1/4 x 30 3/4 x 28″ (71.8 x 78.1 x 71.1 cm)


I still remember when I was a child the furniture of my uncle was always in the way. I couldn’t play with my toys because of the strange shimmering steel frame that was blocking my way. As I grew bigger and bigger I found out that the frame was part of a chair, but not a very comfortable one. I climbed the chair, but my legs got stuck between the spaces of the frame. The only thing that went on in my mind was, why the hell would you buy a chair that’s not comfortable at all? Later I found out that the annoying thing that was blocking my playground was a part of the chair that I now recognize as the “Wassily Chair” made by Marcel Breuer in 1927. A chair that symbolizes modernist design.

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Picture 2: Reclameposter from the bicycle brand Adler, the brand from the bicycle on which the chair is inspired. 

The story goes that Breuer often rode a red bicycle and that this inspired him and led him make the most important innovation in furniture design: the use of tubular steel (Picture 3). Strong and lightweight. Perfect for mass-production. A model that is based on the traditional overstuffed club chair: but all that remains is mere the outline. In this way, an elegant composition of gleaming steel arises. The seat, back and arms seem to float in the air. An interesting tension between heavy and light is created.

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Picture 3: The “exposed” chair

By scrolling over the internet, I found a picture that really catches my eye. On this picture (Picture 3), an “exposed” version of the chair is showed. The photo makes me curious, I want to see and touch the steel and throw it and feel how heavy it is. See what happens if you turn the frame around, would it still be a chair? It looks a little bit ridiculous. In my head, it looks like a tool for a playground, or a tool to work-out with, no wonder that I got stuck. But at the same time, it looks fragile and light, and the shiny steel creates an effect of a mirror, it reflects the surroundings. All of this creates the feeling as if the completely chair doesn’t exist. The feeling that I had as a child, by almost disappearing in the chair pops up in my head. The feeling of exposure, getting stuck between a frame that is almost invisible, in other words a human trap.

Breuer himself spoke of the chair as “My most extreme work… the least artistic, the most logical, the least ‘cosy’ and the most mechanical.” And he was probably right.

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Picture 4: Marcel Breuer on his Wassily Chair

The chair is part of the style of Bauhaus. Which is part of the Modernism movement. Modernism is a term widely used, but rarely defined. We live in an era that still identifies itself in terms of Modernism. The buildings we inhabit, the chairs we sit on, the graphic design that surrounds us have mostly been created by the aesthetics and the ideology of Modernist design. The term refers to something that is characteristically modern, of its time. “The New”, “forward-looking”. In the designing world, it can be defined as: “Modernism is not a style, but loose collections of ideas.” It covered a range of styles, spread along different countries. But all those sites have in common that they were espousal for the new and mostly rejected history and tradition. An utopian desire to create a better world, to reinvent the world from scratch. Belief in the power and potential of the machine and industrial technology. Where there is a rejection of decoration and ornament. And a belief in the unity of all the arts. Most of the principles were frequently combined with social and political beliefs, which held that design and art could and should transform the society (Wilk, 2006), and by this raise the standards of living for all people [x].
It’s a global architecture and design movement emerged in the 1920 as a response to accelerated industrialization and social changes. By using new materials and advanced technology. It emphasized function, simplicity, rationality and created new forms of expression with a new aesthetic. Building and design can be recognized by use of clear lines, geometric shaped, cubic forms, windows, flat roofs and functional flexible spaces (Poursani, 2018).

The Bauhaus movement, started as a design school in 1919 by Walter Cropius, Mies and Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. They combined technology, crafts with industrial production to revitalize design for everyday life (Poursani, 2018). They thought that ‘new machine age’ demanded a new way of living and a new architecture with new materials as reinforced concrete, steel, and glass (Poursani, 2018). Their design principles, such as simplicity, rationality, functionality and universality, would change the world (Poursani, 2018). Their mission was to create a functional design with the principles of fine arts. Faith in new technology convenience and the promise of a better life. New materials brought new possibilities, break with the conventional forms, and use traditional and modern materials that show the possibilities of the modern industry. Functionalism is priority. Production for everybody a fact.

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Picture 5: The Wassily chair in its “natural” habitat 

When I was able to climb the chair, I got stuck between the frame made out of steel. The space between the black leather and the frame was something where I got lost into, and my body didn’t know how to findrest in this chair.  The leather seat turned into a slide, and the chair became for me more an attraction then an object with the function of sitting. A labyrinth of body, steel and leather, or maybe a hybrid creature seen from far away. Where the object and the human became one, or where they are maybe to different.

Seeing this chair in the Stedelijk, brings questions to the mind. For example, by placing the chair in the museum, its uniqueness is accentuated. But do cheap reproductions destroy this feeling of uniqueness again? Does the space where the chair is placed have influence on how we look at it? The function of the chair is faded, by placing it really high and not as how it should be (picture 6).

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Picture 6: The floating chair

Could you speak of design for “everybody”, when the price of a “real” Wassily chair is “almost” unaffordable. Does the contrast between functionality and comfort, make the chair a utopian idea?

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Picture 7: The Rising Star (prize wise)

By designing an object, such as a chair, the tension between the user and the object is important. There seems to be a confusion between things that are designed and who is going to use it. There is a risk that design can be over-determined and this creates not enough space for the user to act and improvise on the object. Knowledge about people, capabilities and needs and desires is required. It seems that there is a misunderstanding in the way that the intention seems to design the user experience, but this doesn’t make the user the subject of design. By the design of the Bauhaus form became subordinate to the function. Design became not only a matter of forming objects, but increasingly a matter of how ways of use and even ways of living can be designed and in this way, it turned into designing with a social agenda. This clearly state an ambition of social transformation. But by now we know that while the social aspects of the modernist project may have been ambitious, they did not necessarily succeed. Misfits between the intended and actual use, and the user’s understanding is something that exist, but this doesn’t need to mean that they are not necessary to have. Misfits can bring new knowledge on what can be improved. Also by designing you’re in a sort of way predicting how the object will be “used”. But this doesn’t mean that it will work out in this way. Communication between the user and the designed object is based on understanding and interpretation, misunderstanding can also be seen as a point of this. It’s in important to understand that people are active parts of the system and not only a “user” because they are turned into an object. By designing it’s not possible to making people fit into systems, societies and strategies. People are fluent and flexible, such as their taste, needs and desires.And besides that, people are moving creatures, changeable, and different. Creating something that fits all of them is a beautiful utopian idea (Redstrom, 2005).

Back to the chair again, a couple years ago I found out that the chair from my uncle had disappeared from the room. The space of where the chair ones was located is filled with some new interior stuff. Something soft, more colourful and bigger. When I asked my uncle where the chair went he said that he had put it with the trash (picture 8). Not even tried to sell it, because according to him nobody would have been interested. Maybe this was something that should have happened. How my connection with the chair started as an annoying object turned into a fascination for the weird structure. But how the chair in the house of my uncle turned from something functional to something that was not interesting anymore.

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Picture 8: Life of the Wassily chair


Modernist had a Utopian desire to create a better world. This they frequently combined with left-leaning political and social beliefs that design and art had the power to transform society (Lodder, 2006). The word utopia is taken from the Greek and literally means both nowhere and a good place. An impractical scheme for social improvement, an imaginary and indefinitely remote place, an ideal place or state. Something that is described as perfect, but from what you know is not possible, it’s more like a beautiful dream (Collins, s.d). Nowhere and a good place is an interesting point, because in my eyes there are contradictions from each other. A good place can exist, but maybe it’s then subjective. For example, the house of my parents is a good place to me. But nowhere only seems to exist in words. It means to no place, the state of nonexistence. So actually, it’s not there, but a good place can be, can exist. The chair makes clear that the faith in new technology is a usable for creating new objects, and in this way the step to a better life is maybe made. But the chair makes also clear that the “right” object doesn’t exist. By making the chair, an idea, an ideal, a dream, (a good place), is created as an existing object. But because the chair doesn’t completely function as a chair for all the people, because of taste, price, function and discomfort, and new materials and development of technology. It makes clear that the perfect “chair” doesn’t exist (It’s nowhere). Time is a huge disturb transmitter. Technology and innovations are changeable. Besides that, humans and their needs and desires are not predictable, stable and universal, and this makes it impossible to create an object that suits all and is timeless. The chair is the symbol of modern design. Progress is the realization of Utopias, and by creating this chair at that time a little step towards a utopian dream was made. And a progress starts with a strong idea, that then is made in practice. So maybe the outwork and how it is used doesn’t need to be perfect, and we only need a Utopian dream to move forward in making new things.

It’s interesting to see how a chair can be placed in a museum, but at the same time can be sold on Marktplaats just for 100 euros (Picture 8). How easy it is to own an “extraordinary” piece. But also, how fast you don’t want to have it anymore. When I walked in the Stedelijk, the only thing that I thought was, why are those chairs so high, I want to sit in it and try them out. Untill I saw the Wassily chair, because it gave me so much memories of my childhood. Ofcourse the chair made me more curious to try out than any other, but at the same time the “special spot” in the Stedelijk is the “special spot” that the chair deserves. The untouching, unreaching of the chair, by placing it this high, reminds me of the fact that as a child I couldn’t climb the weird steel thing. And this “unreachable” value of the object as a child I now have when I walk into the museum and this is for me a beautiful annoying feeling.

A dream that started as a functional designed chair for everyone, made of new materials. Unity of all the arts, and principles combines with social and political beliefs and raise the standard of living for all people. A step to a utopian dream. Realized and made, fitted for a living room, but where slowly the function and the appreciation faded. Just as the visions that inspired the creative figures were dreams based on the technological potential and the social experiences of that time. Maybe the chair cannot be seen as a symbol of modern design, but as a symbol of the progress to realization of Utopian dreams.



Collins Dictionary [Online] / aut. Collins // Definition of Utopia . - 17 02 2018. -

Modernism in Architecture: Definiton and History [Online] / aut. Poursani Ela. - 10 02 2018. - 2018. -

Searching for Utopia [Sectie van boek] / aut. Lodder Christina // Modernism: designing for a new world / boekaut. Wilk Christopher. - Londen : V&A publications , 2006.

Towards user design? On the shift from object to user as the subject of design [Tijdschrift] / aut. Redstrom Johan. - Sweden : Elsevier, 2005.

What was Modernism? [Sectie van boek] / aut. Wilk Christopher // Modernism: Designing for a better world / boekaut. Wilk Christopher. - Londen : V&A publications , 2006.






A feeling that reality can be heightened

Thursday, October 19, 2017

With my roll of freshly drawn papers I step out of my house on a rainy day in the direction of Rietveld. I see my neighbor throwing away a stack of paper rolls. Another unfamiliar face to me of the many people living in the city of Amsterdam. The rain is too bad to go out without protecting my papers, and I manage to put my roll of papers in one of the tubes.

Satisfied with the abundance of the trash of the city I cycle away. Smiling because I realize that sometimes a problem can be solved unexpected, quick and easy. Many times the world around me seems too complex and too unpredictable to find suitable solutions. This complexity and unpredictability often gives me the idea that the world around me is imperfect and far away of any ideal world, any fantasy world or any utopian world. I start to wonder how artists and designers of different times make an attempt to get step by step closer to for them a more perfect world.



Questioning the material world

Opening my paper roll at Rietveld I see there is still a poster in it. A well protected and kept poster. A poster that once was a solution to a certain question. I try to figure out the question that lays hidden in this poster. Why and based on which principles is this made? As an artist and designer myself, I keep on questioning this to the material world around me. But many times, I find myself in getting shallow answers and understanding of the material world around me.

A well protected and kept poster. A poster that once was a solution to a certain question. I try to figure out the question that lays hidden in this poster. Why and based on which principles is this made? As an artist and designer myself, I keep on questioning this to the material world around me. But many times, I find myself in getting shallow answers and understanding of the material world around me.


                                             The solution for a problem


New Social Design

I send him a mail and we meet up the next day. Melle Hammer tells me how he is creating mainly by necessity. He says "The difference between art and design is ridiculous. The underlying principle is just the creating, nothing else". Creating is not to create a nice fancy tool, not to have something decorative, but just to serve a certain function. He tells that his girlfriend had a birthday party but didn't had enough space to let all the guests sit, so in one day he made a table and extra chairs so all the guests had a place and a table to eat from.

“The difference between art and design is ridiculous. The underlying principle is just the creating, nothing else”

In making his decisions certain things are important. Such as recycling, using everything from the material and not creating waste, and using simple material options and using the maximum of working with the qualities of the material. In hearing his story of his years as a student and as an professional designer you hear mainly his eagerness. The eagerness in his hands, the eagerness in his ideas, the eagerness in his eyes and the eagerness in giving smart solutions to the world around him.


He tells me that he just moved out. He is now looking for a new place to live and recently went to Almere to visit the project called The Fantasy and The Reality. Thise project I consider as Modern Social Design. Modern Social Design is a new term used in design. A group of people is attracted by it to shape reality. Examples of principles they work from are:

    1. Search a connection with the society
    2. Design social
    3. Sustainable
    4. Connect ethics with aesthetics
    5. Strife towards involvement
    6. Be critical
    7. Be transparent
    8. Be humble and serving
    9. Be dedicated and radical
    10. Take responsibility together.


The fantasy and the reality

All these principles can be found in this project. Melle explains to me that Almere knows two experimental neighborhoods, The Fantasy and The Reality. These two neighborhoods are a result of a contest. On a place of 450 m2 people were able to design a house with fantasy, with a temporary character, this was the assignment for The Reality. The designers did not had to take construction rules, destination plans and quality requirements. The seventies winning designs are realized with a subsidy with ten thousand gilder. Just as The Fantasy, did the buildings get a temporarily character. The place is now functioning as a holy place for people that love experimental architecture. The inventive solutions on energy, price and recycling are serving recent issues. The first experimental neighborhood in Almere was the neighborhood The Fantasy. In 1982 a contest was send out with the name “unusual living”. The idea was to break down the neighborhood after 5 years, but the project was a great success and got the status of high architectural appreciation. After 5 year it was decided to keep the neighborhood. A second design competition started after the success of The Fantasy. To develop diversity was the theme “temporary living”. The participants didn’t had to be a designer or architect. These days a lot of Dutch and foreign tourists visit the neighborhood on a yearly base. In this story as well, you hear that the initial plan is adapted and new decisions are made. This is again the research and the questions again that counts most.

How high can the creative class rise

Giving, creating or claiming empty spaces to let something new emerge is essential for the development of the world around is. This is a great example of a place the government gives to let something new emerge. A answer to a question of how should the world look like when designers get the freedom to create? A realized fantasy, a small utopian answer. These places of creative explosion are essential to create and keep a creative class in society alive. For more in-depth understanding of the creative class, Richard Florida wrote the book “The rise of the creative class“.


Utopian thoughts in design

This wish to develop works for a future utopia is alive in a lot of human beings. To my own surprise, I relate the word utopia in the first place to social and economical issues. The word utopia is first used by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516. He used this word for an ideal community or society possessing perfect socio-political-legal system. In this definition I don’t hear much about architecture or design. Utopian visions are of all times and shapes, as written by Faber and Faber in the Faber book of Utopias. They keep embarking of new creative solutions and ways what it means to be human and live in a society. A specific field that draws my attention are utopian thoughts about sound as a more integrated part of our societies. A specific symposium was held about this topic called Utopia of Sound. This in bundled in a book by Diedrich Diederichsen and Constanze Ruhm. For the excerpt click this link. It was held in 2008 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  Here thought were shared about futuristic ideas about the sonic. Not emancipated from music, but sound as a genre on itself.  Sound gives human freedom against the representational logic of notation, Societies can get stuck in patterns that are harmful. How can you give people a mechanism to escape from that trap and make real progress? In many famous utopias, design and architecture are not the main focus but the condition humans live by.




Although, the fact that De Stijl exists this year (2017) for hundred years made me realize how much designers work from an utopian idea just as much as social and political change makers. An exposition in the Gemeente Museum in The Hague (Den Haag) elaborates broadly on this topic. I always believed that the material and shaped world around me is less important than the situation. Diving into the Stijl actually made me aware of the fact that this goes often hand in hand.

Gemeente_museum Where Thomas Moore uses Utopia as a perfect place, diving into how design works. I come closer to realize that the perfect place is an illusion to live up to, but creating a perfect research and process will give in the end more output.

In that sense, the developments the Stijl made are fascinating to follow. The Stijl stands out because its aspirations were as social as they were aesthetic. By ostensibly removing the individualism of the artist in favor of precision and universal harmonies. The De Stijl (Dutch for “the style”) group was one of several art and design movements that responded to the chaotic trauma of World War I with a “return to order.” Their aspirations were total: in order to reform society, their aesthetic aimed to eliminate false distinctions between so-called “high art,” “applied art” (such as graphic or product design) and architecture. The fascinating aspect is that De Stijl artist made a huge impact on modern designers: minimal simplicity, establishing tension and balance between solid and empty space, the grid. The style has been a catalyst for innovation.

The most remarkable way of creating was the way of Mondrian. BBC wrote an in-depth clarifying blog about his vision. He was applying his utopian rules in his own lifestyle. Other people part of the stijl were focussed on shaping other people their surroundings, but on a less rigorous way in their own life. With Mondrian it was exactly the other way around. It speaks for itself that in his interior only his own paintings were there. In the end, he is one of the most radical de stijl interio designers. By 1909, he felt sufficiently self-confident to depart radically from 19th Century traditions – as witnessed by the way he transformed his studio. He got rid of some old-fashioned furniture, as well as several fusty carpets and drapes, and painted the walls bright white. For the rest of his life, Mondrian always arranged his working environment sparsely and meticulously, in a way that chimed with his abstract paintings – as journalists who came to interview him often noticed. Between 1921 and 1925, Mondrian created in his famous studio in Paris at Rue de depart 26 an environment that corresponded exactly with his idea of the the new plastic, as he called his extraordinary art. A famous quote of him is: everything is expressed through relationships. This is made directly clear by everything that is in his work space with a reason. Carefully placed and thought of. In his mind a radical world of an artist takes place, that works on new art for a not yet existing outside world. The desire for the style is entirely satisfied in it.


Slowly I start to see the profound relationship between utopian ideas and Mondrian’s art. His art can give a feeling of heightening reality. And that’s what Mondrian was searching for in his paintings: a heightened experience of reality. Certainly, his abstract paintings have a sure grasp of a visual utopia.

In the stories of Mondrian I hear his obsession for modernity. Sometimes he gets criticized that he did not had a relation to the real world. Some people assume that he was living a monk-like life, who devoted his life to abstract paintings with no relation to the real world. Although, throughout his career, he engaged with, and fed off, aspects of modernity that he encountered in the cities where he lived. He loved music and clothes, always kept up with the latest developments in popular culture. From this I learn that sometimes it is necessary not to have a close relation with the real world and withdraw from it, to give a new answer on the question what it means to be human.

In hearing the stories of these designers, they seem to have a sharp analyzing ability in questioning the world around them. Plus being aware of their dissatisfaction and being able to react on that with a new solution, a new answer. In the work of these people I sense a strictness to the principles they work from. A certain sincerity, directness and clarity to that what they create.


Shaping your world

In the end designers and artist can focus on shaping and creating the world of people around them, but most essential is shaping your own direct world. Next to really doing the deed of creating, it is of importance to share stories and moments of an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. For me the creators that take the effort to make a change in their direct surrounding the most true to themselves. From their way of decision making, we can learn that working, creating and implementing your own utopian ideas in your direct surrounding are essential to let your own utopian ideas become more realistic. It is necessary for people to learn that the access, the freedom and the impact people have on their direct living surrounding is always present. It is the direct space people live in and have the freedom to shape it.


 The necessity of uplifting stories

After the conversation with Melle, I realise that he was the owner of the cardboard cases. The poster designed as well by a great photographer lady from Rietveld that committed suicide. As sad the story can get. This reminds me to even share more stories of hope that an uplifted version of reality is possible. The last week was full of expected and unexpected relationship with humans and objects. I used them to get new inspiration and to express my insights. I look at the cardboard case that came into my live by necessity and I look at the poster that came into my life by coincidence. Realizing now, that the unknown face of last week and the unfamiliar and meaningless poster for me, now became a familiar face, with a name and a story. And that an understanding in me was born that where the poster, the font, the colours and the layout came from. I smile realizing that with being eager to understand the simple question “Why is this made and based on which principles?” gave me an unexpected answer back that helped me to develop further my own design and art principles. The accessibility to smart solutions, can in this case, and in many others, literally be found on every street corner in Amsterdam. Many designers create from their own inner utopia. Everyone has moments that they experience something or hear something that sparks our imagination that the reality we currently experience is heightened. This drive to keep on searching and creating for a heightened idea of reality will keep people and the material world moving forward.

Utopia on a small scale

Friday, October 28, 2016

Utopia could be characterized as a place where all the problems we experience every day have been resolved. And for that, it could be a way to criticize the society we live in. Utopia is also a no-place as the etymology of the word itself tells us. And for that, it is a place that has not and also can not be realized. Nevertheless, utopian thinking has been and still is a basis for political ideas. A scale model can be one of the steps for developing or realizing a project. So isn’t it just so smart to combine the two ideas in one’s artistic practice?

I’d like to start with – maybe the most famous utopian scale model – Monument to the Third International. calls it the “world-famous symbol of utopian thought”. It is a never realized project for a communist building that was supposed to serve various governmental purposes. But it is also a symbol of modernism, for it was the first project using steel and glass. And in its ambitions – at this time it was supposed to be the highest building on earth – we see the utopia. It looks in a way like the biblical Tower of Babel – the symbol of man’s vanity -  a building so great and enormous it cannot exist. Even though the tower has never been realized, it is vital in our Europian culture. Not only as a part of Russian avant-garde history, but as a symbol of utopia.

Tower Bawher Theodore Ushev : National Film Board of Canada

Utopia is a social project, but as history shows us trying to implement it in society fully can be fatal. Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn tries to do so on a smaller scale. He has made sculptures referring to various philosophers and thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, Baruch Spinoza, George Bataille or Gilles Deleuze. He places his works in selected areas, where with members of the local communities it becomes a sort of inclusive, intellectually stimulating event. His sculptures seem to be social scale models. Scaling not space but time. Making use of their temporality. Hirschhorn calls them “social commitments”.

I want to make non-hierarchical work in non-hierarchical spaces. The work is not something more in the museum and something less in the street; this is essential for me. I am concerned by equality and inequality in all forms. Thus I do not want to want to impose hierarchies (…) I am not interested in prestige. I am interested in community.

Thomas Hirschhorn, Interview with Okwui Enwezor, 2000

 Be sure to see it for yourself:

Spinoza Monument in Bijlmer Amsterdam, 2009

Thomas Hirschhorn: "Gramsci Monument"

Another artist that plays with the idea of utopia is Bodys Isek Kingelez. He builds scale models that represent the future state of cities/villages that already exist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What the cities are in his scale models is not necessarily the desired way he imagines future, but rather a capitalist utopia – an inevitable way in which cities are transformed in a logic of consumerist society. Depending on how you look at it – it could be a utopia or a dystopia.

Kimbéville is a real town witch, given time, will exist; it is not an effigy made up of well-known brand names witch is doomed to remain a maquette. (…) This maquette is a promise of something real. The attractions of this town include a plethora of services, hotels and restaurants. Sometimes with an American flavor, sometimes Japanese, Chinese or European, not to mention African fare. 

The town has it all, from sun-up to sun-down, and for forever and a day. The artist, Kingelez, prophet of African art, is striding towards a new world witch is more modern, more prosperous and a better place to live.
Bodys Isek Kingelez, The Essential Framework of the Structures Making up the Town of Kimbembele-Ihunga (Kimbéville), 1993-4


Utopia is a way to criticize the society we live in. Dystopia serves the same role but utopia does so by providing/imaging an alternative to what we have, whereas dystopia points out the risks that society might face in its development. Dystopia is a utopian project that went wrong.

(…) there remains something subversive about these attempts to celebrate the beauty of utopia as inherently totalitarian while maintaining a critical distance from the implications of this attraction.

Pil and Galia Kollectiv - The Future is Here

The ultimate dystopia has been indeed realized in a history of human activity and probably is still in realization in places like North Korea. But for western people, the most horrifying part of the world’s history is likely to be the Second World War. The unimaginable dystopia that has been created by the Nazi government is the concentration camp, where the idea of efficiency has been realized to the point where a mass genocide could be profitable in the logic of capitalism.
Polish artist Zbigniew Libera has made an art piece in dialogue with this historical fact. It’s 1996 “Lego. Concentration Camp”. He used popular Danish construction toy to make a scale model of a concentration camp.

Holocast LEGO 1996 by Zbigniew Libera ©2016


Who is Gherpe? About Superarchitecture and corruption by conventions

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gherpe – a lamp designed by Superstudio

I think the Gherpe lamp is a relevant design because of several reasons. First of all, the lamp itself is made of materials that are still considered modern, even though it was designed more then forty years ago. That alone already shows how we still hang on to, or maybe are condemned to these materials nowadays. Next to that is the design, which references to the mathematics that appear in Nautilus shells. Then again the way this shape is interpreted is more like a cartoon of it, leaving the classical Nautilus image behind. This way of designing, letting interests and research – the designer was into marine biology – influence the work is something I think many designers work like, or would like to work like. Last reason why I think this is a relevant piece is because I think the whole of Superstudio, their designs and mainly their architecture is, because of their new views and extensive researches, relevant. They were part of a critical wave, commenting on Florence and it’s ancient heritage, on the years of full trust in technology and on architects before them. They wanted designers to be responsible for their creations when they design to make a better world. Their criticality on how design and architecture influences the life of other people and self-reflectiveness is what made them different from many before them. This idealism in theories, but with playfulness towards the designing process itself is to my opinion something important to keep relevant in art and design.




Nautilus shell


To test it’s relevance I’ m trying to get to know what Gherpe is, what it is not and what it could be, what it means to Superstudio and what it means to me.

At a time where popular culture is stealing all the science and logic that Modernism employed to make this world better, with youngsters starting to call themselves Mod.’s, Pop Art commenting on this Modernist reality and society by reproducing imagery from that popular culture, Gherpe is born. It’s designed by Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, and adopted by Superstudio, the Italian architecture group where Toraldo is the most important member of, together with Adolfo Natalini, who is a Pop Art painter when they found the group in 1966.



Alessandro Magris, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, Piero Frassinelli, Roberto Magris, Adolfo Natalini


Where Modernism, in its affirmation of the human power to improve their environment the aid of practical experimentation and science, goes for logic, Gherpe pretty much mocks Modernism, by taking it’s science and it’s new materials to make something that is not in any way useful other than it’s aesthetical purpose. Gherpe is not practical, and it’s not helpful. But Gherpe’s cartoon like ambiguity looks fun, you want to have it, it looks smart even though it isn’t, and that’s exactly in line with popular culture of that day. Gherpes connection with nature is meaningless, but very important for it’s attractiveness. You could say it’s a beauty trick. The interest of Superstudio in nature combined with construction is to be traced back to one of their guides in the Academy of Architecture in Florence, which most members of Superstudio were attending. His name was Leonardo Savioli. As Adolfo Natalini says about Savioli: “Even when the drawings looked like traces of insects or explosions, galaxies, spiderwebs or wounds, they were always able to resemble parts of constructions or something constructable”.



Plate XVIII, a drawing by Savioli



The fact that Gherpe’s reference to nature doesn’t have any symbolism or engagement in it, already shows what things it really has to do with, things like freedom. Gherpe is free from the morals that come with modernism: Superstudio didn’t think architecture could change the world for the better. Gherpe is the joyous realization that the burden of creating something that will add to create paradise on earth is not possible.

Gherpe was in the Superarchitettura show. This was a show combining two groups. The Superstudio and Archizoom, both from Florence and mainly from the same architecture school. The show took place right after a flood had swallowed a chunk of Florence’s renaissance beauty, at a time where others mourned renaissance architectures birthplace the Superstudio show was a psychedelic experience work that purposely lacked engagement and put consumerism on a pedestal. Their ideal: morals were irrelevant to architecture, and so you should not aim to change the world with it either. So there is a different approach: “Superarchittettura accepts the logic of production and consumption, it utilizes it in an attempt at demystification” and  “Superarchitecture is the architecture of superproduction, of superconsumption, of superinduction of superconsumption, of the supermarket, of the superman, of the super gasoline”.


Toraldo and Gherpe, and Passiflora

Seeing Gherpe from the eye of the Superarchitecture that it is, means not that Gherpe was meant for a world better than ours, but for the world as it was in 1967, where consumption and production were exploding. You could say, Gherpe is super itself. A lamp fitting for all these phenomena that felt relevant for the younger generation at this time. Instead of denying these phenomena, or wanting to change them, Superstudio designed something that fit in. It might even accelerate superconsumption, be meant for that purpose. In this perspective Gherpe is in a way a neo-futuristic piece, a monument for the speed and mass of its time. You could also see Gherpe as an, perhaps slightly melancholic, attempt at creating something, something touchable and real out of all the superlatives that together form the ungraspable frightening dystopia that was (and is) everyday life. And maybe that this is the reason we enjoy it, because Gherpe is then our comfort, a sign that from superproduction and superconsumption something appreciable can materialize.


Image of Superarchittettura show

Gherpe shows Superstudio’s double nature: it’s serious, socially critical but can also be ironic.  When Superstudio presents an utopian, or dystopian design we can never accept it at face value. When they design a utopia, they explore every possibility into the extreme, and so exploration of the architecture itself is it’s aim. Instead of presenting the possible solutions it tells the stories of the decisions of mankind, the ones it made and might make. A very serious and melancholic subject, reflecting their serious opinions (Adolfo Natalini: “the race of consumerism is definitely wrong”) but enabling playful and smart experimentations.

As Gherpe is an early Superstudio piece, Gherpe is also an early exploration which, as we can see in the Stedelijk, ended in a lamp. As Superstudio kept exploring their ideas became more and more critical of architecture and design, which made their projects end up way less often in actual designs and realizable architecture. Instead they expressed their ideas in movies, models and collages.

According to Superstudio architecture was corrupted to such an extent that even the avant-garde architect was guilty of suppressing human development, since he made use of existing conventions in architecture. An interesting idea, which suggests human development can come from no other place than out of the blue. Where one can ask the question what human development actually is, but let’s get back to Superstudio. They saw reason as the only quality that’s uncorrupted by these conventions. This makes it’s easy to see why they step farther away from architecture and design, as they are easily seen as complete and valid evidence of manifestos or ideas, rather than generally questioning and alienating. That doesn’t mean Superstudio didn’t make anything at all anymore, as you might expect.

Instead they found ways to visualize what architecture could be, without designing from conventions. Something that wasn’t really architecture. For the exhibition “ Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”  in the MOMA Superstudio made an 8 x 8 black square on the floor, and made it repeat itself in an endless grid by placing mirrors at the walls. They put a box with wires on each corner, making the plugs recur regularly in this “landscape” [x]. It wasn’t the first time they worked with this black grid [x], but it was the first time architecture and design was so completely dismissed that it was actually left out at all. Even though this seems like the ultimate conclusion, there’s more to the ever expanding black grid. In the Continuous Monument, a glass grid-like structure that spans all over the world, visualized in absurd collages [x] where it embraces Manhattan or faces the Taj Mahal, the irony, social critic and dystopia remains: a homogenous unrealizable blank space, but also a space where we can project our own ideas on of what it really is. Our ideas, full of conventions and corruption.


Grid in the Moma: View of Supersurface: An Alternate Model of Life on Earth, by Superstudio, in Italy: The New Domestic Landscape, MoMA, 1972. Photo: Copyright Cristiano Toraldo di Francia.


As you understand now, Gherpe too is a piece of corruption. A mash up of conventions and brainwashing, which will, as you look at it, only corrupt and brainwash you more. Which is very true in the sense that, the more you know, the more you are stuck in the things that already are. Whether that really suppresses the development of humanity is questionable. I personally am less negative about the influences of the past and the conventions we get taught. But the fact that Superstudio deals so productively with their frustrations over a system is something everyone, defenitely every art student, can be inspired by.

Over thinking and commenting on how design works is something I find fundamentally important, as I think this self reflection is what can bring us to new insights. Insights that can be reflected on again later, a continuous process I’d say would be human development rather than corruption. But, if you are reading this, and you do happen to find yourself having been corrupted by looking at Gherpe and reading about it, then at least we can be sure about it’s relevance for the (design) world today.



The Continuous Monument, one of the many collages.


chaos and order, architecture and linguistics

Monday, April 14, 2014




I found the blog post “Chaos and Order” when I was looking at different tags on the design blog. I thought the tag and title “Chaos and order” seemed interesting and I started to read the blog-post.
The text is based on the Dutch architect and graphic designer Hendrik Wijdeveld’s exhibition ” To plan the impossible” [x].

Henk Wiljdeveld had a romantic viewpoint with a focus on nature and the universe in his utopian architecture. His project “Chaos and order” [x] was a proposal for an alternative expansion of Amsterdam. He wanted to protect Amsterdam from chaos from Randstad. In his plan Amsterdam as a perfect star shaped city with green surroundings from the city centre to the edge. He was searching for an universal model of urbanisation.

The blog-post “Chaos and order” starts with:

“Chaos and order in its most extreme form can be used as a formula for practically everything. From the beginning of time to the death of universe.”

” Chaos and Order” also refers to the Saussurean constructionist’s who believe that you cannot understand a word until you are aware of its opposite. To understand order you need a understanding of chaos. Saussure is the father of modern structural linguistics and he means that meaning is constructed by the use of the language. It is not fixed. Saussure divides the sign in the categories, the signifier and the signified. The signifier is the actual word or sign while the Signified is our idea of the concept.

A lot of focus in the blog-post is on the Universe and life/death in relation to order and chaos. To grasp this huge questions is not simple and I tried to relate the idea of chaos and order on myself.

If you see “order and chaos” from a personal perspective chaos and order are essential elements of daily life. It is impossible to have order everywhere. Chaos is somehow always present. It is as if you are just able to focus on order for some elements of your life at the same time. When you focus on one part and create an order other parts will be in a state of chaos. A very literal example is an article I read about that it exists two types of people the type who is spending a lot of time on cleaning and therefore can find everything fast and the type that is living in chaos but does spend a lot of time looking for things. Both types are spending the same amount of time but some are creating order and others do search in chaos.

Hey Hole!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The project I singled out from the NAI treasure collection is called 15 MILES INTO THE EARTH by Hendrik Wijdeveld.

Wijdeveld situated his 1944 design for an international geological research centre in a shaft in the earth at a depth of 15 miles. Designed during the harsh winter of 1944 and 1945 at the tail end of the Second World War when food and supplies were scarce, this project is a plea for international collaboration and for putting science and technology to a peaceful use. At that point in time, little was known of the earth’s deeper strata. Wijdeveld foresaw new discoveries, an ‘uranium age’. At the same time, the project is a ‘world theater’. With a ritual scene taking place at the base of the shaft, he depicts the world coming into being as the primordial force of nature and man’s creative power collide in an explosive display of energy.

Hendricus Theodorus Wijdeveld (1885-1987) considers himself as director with the world as a total theatre, a stage for his designs: he is architect, editor-in-chief, and typographer of the journal ‘Wendingen’, as well as a designer of books, theatrical stage sets and costumes, furniture and utensils. The most famous example is the huge People’s Theatre in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam in the shape of an enormous vagina, the national park Amsterdam-Zandvoort, a number of enormous high-rise projects and “Plan the Impossible”, like this extraordinary proposal dating from 1944, involving boring a 25 kilometre deep shaft deep into the earth, and a plan to hem in the existing city with a ring of towers. The towers would not only act as dramatic landmarks but would set a resolute boundary to urban growth. He took advantage of his experience in theater design to stage a new landscape and evoke collective experiences.
Several architects such as Brandon Mosley, Rick Gooding and Douglas Darden have based their utopias in the underground. The novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne digs into the depths of the prehistory of the globe. Furthermore many modern and contemporary artists worked with the concept of the hole, in primis Anish Kapoor seems to be almost obsessed by it.

hole (hõ?) noun 1. opening into or through a thing 2. hollow place, as a pit or cave (a deep place in a body of water; trout holes) 3. underground habitation, burrow 4. flaw, fault 5. the shallow cup into which the ball is played in golf; a part of a golf course from the tee to the putting green 6. shabby or dingy place 7. awkward position. [middle English, from old English hol (from neuter of hol, adjective, hollow) & holh; Old High German hol, adjective, hollow and perhaps to Old English helan, to conceal; first known use: before 12th century] 1. I have a hole in my sock 2. He fixed the hole in the roof 3. There is a mouse hole in the wall 4. The dog dug a deep hole 5. Her putt rolled right into the hole 6. She made a birdie on the seventh hole 7. The course has 18 hole synonims perforation; gap; flaw; weakness; burrow; aperture; orifice antonyms bulge, camber, convexity, jut, projection, protrusion, protuberance rhymes with hole bole, boll, bowl, coal, cole, dole, droll, foal, goal, knoll, Kohl, kohl, mole, ole, pole, poll, prole, role, roll, scroll [...]

‘A hole?’ the rock chewer grunted. ‘No, not a hole,’ said the will-o’-the-wisp despairingly. ‘A hole, after all, is something. This is nothing at all’. (Ende)

Holes are an interesting case-study for ontologists and epistemologists. Naive, untutored descriptions of the world treat holes as objects of reference, on a par with ordinary material objects. Hole representations – no matter whether veridical – appear to be commonplace in human cognition. Not only do people have the impression of seeing holes; they also form a corresponding concept, which is normally lexicalised as a noun in ordinary languages. Some languages even discriminate different types of hole, distinguishing e.g. between inner cavities and see-through perforations. Moreover, data from developmental psychology confirm that infants are able to perceive, count, and track holes just as easily as they perceive, count, and track paradigm material objects such as cookies and tins. These facts do not prove that holes and material objects are on equal psychological footing, let alone on equal metaphysical footing. But they indicate that the concept of a hole is of significant salience in the common-sense picture of the world, specifically of the spatio-temporal world. If holes are entities of a kind, then, they appear to be spatio-temporal particulars, like cookies and tins and unlike numbers or moral values. They appear to have a determinate shape, a size, and a location. (‘These things have birthplaces and histories. They can change, and things can happen to them’, Hofstadter & Dennett) On the other hand, if holes are particulars, then they are sui generis particulars. For holes appear to be immaterial – they seem to be made of nothing, if anything is.
For example: 1. It is difficult to explain how holes can in fact be perceived. If perception is grounded on causation, as Locke urged, and if causality has to do with materiality, then immaterial bodies cannot be the source of any causal flow. So a causal theory of perception would not apply to holes. Our impression of perceiving holes would then be a sort of systematic illusion, on pain of rejecting causal accounts of perception. (On the other hand, if one accepts that absences can be causally efficacious, then a causal account could maintain that we truly perceive holes) 2. It is difficult to specify identity criteria for holes – more difficult than for ordinary material objects. Being immaterial, we cannot account for the identity of a hole via the identity of any constituting stuff. But neither can we rely on the identity conditions of its material “host” (the stuff around the hole), for we can imagine changing the host, partly or wholly, without affecting the hole. And we cannot rely on the identity conditions of its “guest” (the stuff inside it), for it would seem that we can empty a hole of whatever might partially or fully occupy it and leave the hole intact.3. It is difficult to assess the explanatory relevance of holes. Arguably, whenever a physical interaction can be explained by appeal to the concept of a hole, a matching explanation can be offered invoking only material objects and their properties. (That water flowed out of the bucket is explained by a number of facts about water fluidity, combined with an accurate account of the physical and geometric conditions of the bucket.) Aren’t these latter explanations enough? Further problems arise from the ambiguous status of holes in figure-ground displays. Thus, for example, though it appears that the shape of holes can be recognized by humans as accurately as the shape of ordinary objects, the area visually enclosed by a hole typically belongs to the background of the host, and there is evidence to the effect that background regions are not represented as having shapes. So what would the shape of a hole be, if any?

These difficulties – along with some form of horror vacui – may lead a philosopher to favor ontological parsimony over naive realism about holes.
A number of options are available: [A] One could hold that holes do not exist at all, arguing that all truths about holes boil down to truths about holed objects. This calls for a systematic way of paraphrasing every hole-committing sentence by means of a sentence that does not refer to or quantify over holes. For instance, the phrase ‘There is a hole in…’ can be treated as a mere grammatical variant of the shape predicate ‘… is holed’, or of the predicate ‘… has a hole-surrounding part’. (Challenge: Can a language be envisaged that contains all the necessary predicates? Can every hole-referring noun-phrase be de-nominalized? Compare: ‘The hole in the tooth was smaller than the dentist’s finest probe’) [B] One could hold that holes do exist, but they are not the immaterial entities they seem to be: they are, like anything else, material beings, which is to say qualified portions of space-time. There would be nothing peculiar about such portions as opposed to any others that we would not normally think of as being occupied by ordinary material objects, just as there would be nothing more problematic, in principle, in determining under what conditions a certain portion counts as a hole than there is in determining under what conditions it counts as a dog, a statue, or whatnot. (What if there were truly unqualified portions of space-time, in this or some other possible world? Would there be truly immaterial entities inhabiting such portions, and would holes be among them?) [C] One could also hold that holes are ordinary material beings: they are neither more nor less than superficial parts of what, on the naive view, are their material hosts. For every hole there is a hole-surround; for every hole-surround there is a hole. On this conception, the hole-surround is the hole. (Challenge: This calls for an account of the altered meaning of certain predicates or prepositions. What would ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ mean? What would it mean to ‘enlarge’ a hole?) [D] Alternatively, one could hold that holes are “negative” parts of their material hosts. On this account, a donut would be a sort of hybrid mereological aggregate – the mereological sum of a positive pie together with the negative bit in the middle. (Again, this calls for an account of the altered meaning of certain modes of speech. For instance, making a hole would amount to adding a part, and changing an object to get rid of a hole would mean to remove a part, contrary to ordinary usage.) [E] Yet another possibility is to treat holes as “disturbances” of some sort. On this view, a hole is to be found in some object (its “medium”) in the same sense in which a knot may be found in a rope or a wrinkle in a carpet. (The metaphysical status of such entities, however, calls for refinements.)
On the other hand, the possibility remains of taking holes at face value. Any such effort would have to account to the effect that holes are sui generis, immaterial particulars – but also for a number of additional peculiarities. Among others: [a] Holes are localized at – but not identical with – regions of space. (Holes can move, as happens anytime you move a piece of Emmenthal cheese; regions of space cannot.) [b] Holes are ontologically parasitic: they are always in something else and cannot exist in isolation. (‘There is no such thing as a hole by itself’) [c] Holes are fillable. (You don’t destroy a hole by filling it up. You don’t create a new hole by removing the filling.) [d] Holes are mereologically structured. (They have parts and can bear part-whole relations to one another, though not to their hosts.) [e] Holes are topologically assorted. (Superficial hollows are distinguished from internal cavities; straight perforations are distinguished from knotted tunnels.) Holes are puzzling creatures.
Black Holes appear to be the origin of the Universe, and vaginas the cradle of life.

G group’s research subjects

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Poeme2_web_final 0708g-brasilia-redu

Based on the general theme “Le Corbusier and Other Stories” we investigated a variety of subjects related to the content presented at this summers Corbusier Art and Architecture exhibit at NAi, Rotterdam. Research material was edited down to A4 sized guided tours/portals into these subject matters. All subjects presented in this list were available as hard copy prints at the Research Folder Archive at the library of the academy from November 2007 until January 2013 at which date we decided to have them only available as part of the online Designblog archive:

Primitivism, Le Poème de l’Angle Droit, Corbusier’s Christmas Gift, La Chapel de Notre Dame, Amedee Ozenfant, Corbusier in Istanbul, Varese’s Poème Electronique, The Candigarth Project, Modular, Language of Organic Form, Corbusier and Politics, The Bric, Ferdinand Léger, The Brasilia Project, Sandberg’s Experimenta Typografica 11, Koolhaas/Lagos, Nature Design Zurich, Constant’s New Babylon, Rietveld’s Academies, The Chaisse Longue

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