I am looking forward to seeing Konstantin Grcic, prolific and highly acclaimed designer, speak this week at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. His new furniture collection Man Machine, being exhibited in Gallerie Kreo Paris, has taken its name from the name of the 1978 album by legendary group Kraftwerk. I didn't know that before writing this, but pretty cool! Just out of interest, Kraftwerk did a show in the Tate modern last year, with the tickets sales crashing the website. Sadly I missed out on seeing Kraftwerk, which by all accounts was amazing, but can still see Konstantin talk about his work. Well done RA!
Konstantin has worked exclusively in glass, a common enough material and yet one rarely seen in the field of contemporary design. Examples are few and far between in the discipline, with the exception of Shiro Kuramata’s Glass Chair (1976) and a handful of designs by Fontana Arte.
It does present a challenge though if it's the only material you are working with and it's hard, cold and visually barely there.
In collaboration with a workshop established in Frankfurt in 1829, Konstantin Grcic has developed an ingenious collection of glass furniture made from industrial float glass identical to that used in architecture.
Each piece round table, bookshelves, chair, side table, large table, single and double chests,
vertical cabinet is operated by a simple mechanism that not only meets contemporary design’s demand for scaleability but also that truly performs its function. By means of pistons, hinges, cranks and knobs, and through the use of black silicone that allows plates of glass to move whilst highlighting their design, each piece is dynamic and lends itself to human movements and
mechanical strength a reminder of the designer’s penchant for the world of automobiles, already manifest in his Champions collection exhibited at Galerie kreo in 2011.
Nonetheless, there is nothing cold, distant or “electronic” about this association of the transparent and the mechanical. Although Man Machine is firmly bedded in the industrial design approach characteristic of Konstantin Grcic’s work, here the glass like Kraftwerk’s electronic music takes on sensual and porous notes.
Yet, in 2008, with his Karbon chaise-longue, the designer was examining the tension between reality and appearance: for this piece between the lightness of a design and the sturdiness of a structure.
Exploring the relationships between exterior and interior, fragile appearance and real practicality, potentialities and tautology, human mechanics and the power of air, the Man Machine collection, stripped of all artifice, also seems to toy with the current questionings of design, elaborating on the issues addressed by the Light & Space movement in 1960s America and Larry Bell, in particular or those raised by Jeff Koons with his cabinets in the early 1980s. Once again, Konstantin Grcic pushes back the boundaries of the domestic stage by creating a radical collection poised between hi-fi aesthetics, a fascination with transparency and a reflection on his own practice.
In the words of the designer:
MAN MACHINE is a collection of furniture pieces developed for Galerie kreo in Paris.
Like the CHAMPIONS tables, my previous project for kreo, I based the entire collection on one material (and technique): glass.
Glass is surely not the most obvious material for making furniture. Apart from being cold and heavy, there is a prevalent stigma about its fragility. However, if you think about it, glass is one of the most commonly used building materials in contemporary architecture. The idea of MAN MACHINE (named after Kraftwerk´s 1978 album) started to formulate when we began introducing moving elements to the glass furniture.
The movement is achieved by using industrial gas pistons, a kind of magic muscle. The performance and leverage of each gas piston is customized according to the exact movement required.
On the CHAISE (chair), the piston is used to alter the position of the backrest, on the round TABLE_M the piston makes the table top fold away.
The large TABLE_XL has four synchronized telescopic pistons which allow the table top to be cranked up or down.
The big boxes (CRATE) have pistons lifting the glass lid, the book SHELF incorporates pistons pushing wooden blocks like sprung bookends. All pieces are made out of tempered glass jointed together with silicone glue. The MAN MACHINE collection is produced in a limited edition of 8 pieces each.