Contemporary art and design is often thought of as that which is removed from our grounded, daily existence with meaning or function that is often difficult to grasp in practical terms. Furniture is no exception. Designers and artists experiment with different materials, structures, and aesthetic treatments to push the boundaries of expression and innovation. The results are varied with successes and failures both in practical terms as well as in artistic merit. The divide between nature and humanity can often be amplified in this process. However, at the 2011 ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Festival) in New York City, a different trend was shown reflecting something different than what history has shown us. Contemporary furniture design flourished after the Second World War and from that point, had various stages and styles within its evolution. The development of modernism was spurned by earlier work by designers such as Alvar Aalto and his experimentation in the 1930’s with laminate wood chairs such as his Model No. 41 showing organic and simple forms. Marcel Lajos Breuer showcased a more industrial model of design with efficiency and clean lines being underlying features of his Bauhaus-influenced work. In the late 30’s and into the 40’s Breuer’s career flourished in America where he was influenced by Aalto’s work and he became one of the key players in the development of the Modernist movement – where affordable furniture for the masses was an underlying principle. Herman Miller has been a furniture design company that has withstood the test of time since its formation in 1923. They have a very comprehensive environmental design approach for their products and are recognized as one of today’s leaders in this area. History has shown the ebb and flow of furniture design based on various economic pressures and social trends. The question is: what patterns are we seeing today and how really do design processes and environmental perspectives mesh? “Green design” is more than a fad or a buzzword as it has a deep foundation of scientific and technical knowledge behind it. Furniture design requires functional considerations, aesthetic awareness, market knowledge, and an understanding of the fabrication process. The wave of environmental consciousness that has surfaced (or re-surfaced) over the past few years has mainstreamed “green” engineering and design techniques that have developed over the past fifty years. Environmentally conscious contemporary furniture must account for the life cycle of the product from its inception through to the end of its life (LCA – Life Cycle Assessment). This means that the energy and materials used to fabricate the product must be quantified and their environmental impact minimized. Carbon emissions from energy used in fabrication should be minimized, health impacts from toxicity of materials must be minimized, and the environmental impact from materials used must be reduced through recycling or biodegradation. The various designers showcasing their new products at the ICFF showed significant progress in environmentally conscious design. Wood was the material of choice at the 2011 ICFF in New York. There were various takes on how to implement wood as the building material but there was an overwhelming presence of designers who chose wood (primarily sustainably harvested) as their building material. John Houshmand, Weplight, Shimna, lolltrade, Urban Zen and Phillips Collection all demonstrated very unique and creative ways of using wood in contemporary design. The Art of Board showcased their wall coverings which are made from recycled skateboards – very cool. A DE favourite, Nanamarquina from Spain, stood out with their amazing work – one of which is a trademark rug made from old bicycle tire tubes. One of the highlights of the ICFF was talking with Ismael Quintaro of iQ environments. His Odyssey Light is a remarkable green conception that uses melted recycled glass applied to casts created from fire hydrants in New York. These lights are a true tribute to a great city. Bravo Ismael! The ICFF is a showcase event for contemporary design and it was clear that environmentally sustainable design methods are prevalent in the industry today. The key insight to draw from observations of the world of contemporary furniture design is that even in the upper echelons of contemporary design green thinking is becoming the norm. This implies that the green wave that is seen throughout the media and business is for real. It is manifesting itself in things as concrete as materials selection in furniture and decoration. We are just at the start of a very big shift in the way we design the world we live in and DE is looking forward to playing a significant role in this evolutionary process.
The key insight to draw from observations of the world of contemporary furniture design is that even in the upper echelons of contemporary design green thinking is becoming the norm.
Check out more photos from our visit to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair on Flickr!