What a difference a price tag makes. The jurors wanted a clear message sent about Cloud, Frank Gehry’s puffed-up $575 paper lighting module for Vitra. “Call it the ‘would-be Best of Category,'” Beylerian sniffed. The jurors loved most everything else about the piece, whose contours can be customized by adding or subtracting panels to form small clusters of light or long, snaking, papery installations. “I have a visceral response to it,” McCarty said when the light turned on, revealing the seams between polyester cups that darkened like overlapping cloud edges. “It updates the traditional paper lantern with wonderful possibilities.” But the jurors continued to grapple with the eye-popping price. “It’s anti-industrial,” Beylerian remarked. “It makes us very uncomfortable.” “This is polyester with $10 worth of electrical components, and there isn’t even tooling required,” Bernett added. Vitra, the jurors warned, should keep a watchful eye out for price-shaving copycats.
DESIGN Frank O. Gehry (Los Angeles)
CLIENT Vitra (Biersfelden, Switzerland)
MATERIAL Refined polyester
The jurors were uncertain at first as they eyed Hella Jongerius’s staggered-top creation for Vitra: Were the details—threads hanging loose behind the couch, mismatched buttons—too pretentious or too fussy? But they were eventually won over by Polder, named for the land tracts in Jongerius’s native Holland that are reflected in the jumbled topography of the sofa’s cushions. In fact, the jury eventually agreed, no other upholstered entry this year compared. “There are so many rectilinear sofas out there that are all the same,” said Bernett. “This is one-off couture, but it also has an unfinished, handcrafted quality.” McCarty added, “It’s a landscape, a piece of sculpture. It would dominate a room like an artwork.” And for all its excesses (including a $9,450 price tag), Polder even has some practical virtues. An armless side ledge can hold trays or reading material, and if a fabric square gets stained or a button is lost, matching replacements are, for once, discouraged.
DESIGN Hella Jongerius (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)
CLIENT Vitra (Biersfelden, Switzerland)
MATERIALS Wood, polyurethane foam, water buffalo horn, olivewood, bamboo, mother-of-pearl
Sean Yoo, a Los Angeles-born designer based in southern Italy, hates to keep his bookshelves orderly. While exploring Pompeii a few years ago, he noticed irregular polygonal stones layered in the ruined walls, an ancient technique often used by masons that scholars call Opus incertum. The cracked pattern inspired him to create a line of injection-molded polypropylene bookcases that encourage haphazard display. “I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a bookshelf that actually looks better when it’s not organized,” the designer confessed in his submission. Manufactured by Casamania by Frezza, the square-yard modules have a few straight shelves for displaying anything slippery or fragile and can be used outdoors. When stacked or abutted into partitions, the lines match up to create seamless diagonals. Though the modules weigh only nine pounds each, they can support up to 220 pounds. McCarty envisioned laying them “flat on the ground as plant beds,” and Bernett suggested that Casamania develop a sideline of weirdly faceted containers to fit into Opus Incertum’s openings. Beylerian was teasingly critical of the design: “I’d go nuts if my books were in all different directions,” he grumbled.
DESIGN Apt 5 Design (Matera, Italy): Sean Yoo, designer
CLIENT Casamania by Frezza (Signoressa di Trevignano, Italy)
MATERIAL Recyclable expanded polypropylene
Liberty Side Chair
A sequel to Niels Diffrient’s lauded 2004 Liberty Task Chair for Humanscale, the Side Chair first caught the jurors’ attention when someone bumped into it and hardly felt a thing. “The light weight is impressive,” McCarty said. The jurors also certified the comfort of the tailored three-panel Luminesce mesh back and the frameless—though slightly saggy—front seat edge. Humanscale’s Task Chair (as well as the nonabrasive, breathable mesh by Elizabeth Whelan) was in fact a finalist in this competition last year. But the gracefulness of the Side Chair’s die-cast aluminum legs made the wheeled base of last year’s winner seem clunky by comparison. “It’s simpler and better resolved than the task chair version,” Bernett said. “In a market saturated with seating, it’s a step forward.”
DESIGN Niels Diffrient (Ridgefield, CT)
CLIENT Humanscale (New York)
MATERIALS Aluminum, steel, Luminesce mesh
SOFTWARE Autodesk AliasStudio, SolidWorks
POD/UC 2005 Stage Podiums
It’s daunting to speak and PowerPoint onstage, and most podiums—usually “some makeshift situation with a little side table somebody’s dragged up,” McCarty noted—hardly lend speakers a sense of poise. For GIS software manufacturer ESRI’s 2005 conference, California designer Jordan R. Brant III built boomerang-shaped podiums that anticipate speakers’ needs while keeping them visible, audible, and unflustered. The white laminate top’s reflected glow makes presenters easy to capture on video, concealed wires link laptops to backstage mixing boards, table flanges resembling the bodies of electric guitars allow for left- or right-handed mousing, and Velcro bumpers keep the table edges from clattering against pocket change or sleeve buttons. Two people, using tools no more sophisticated than Allen wrenches, can assemble the portable units in under six minutes. “More attention like this should be paid to podiums,” said McCarty.
DESIGN Brantgraphics (Redlands, CA): Jordan R. Brant III, designer
CLIENT ESRI (Redlands, CA)
MATERIALS Steel, wood, plastic
SOFTWARE Swift 3D, Adobe Photoshop
In a small town in Bavaria, South African-born designer Mary-Ann Williams cuts felt into egg warmers, log holders, greeting cards, and lamp shades. But the jewels of her felten empire are the Sconcigli—named for Italy’s snail-shaped pasta—daybeds, carpets, and cushions that from afar resemble pebbled beaches. Williams loops the spiraling curlicues through stiff cotton mesh rather than gluing them to a backing, which means dirt can be shaken out, and hopelessly stained or dog-chewed strips are effortlessly replaced. The felt is water-repellent, springy so it doesn’t crush flat, and not easily frayed. It’s biodegradable as well, but at these prices—$850 per yard for rugs, $1,680 per yard for cushions—the pieces are more likely to become heirlooms than landfill. Felt is trendy, but this take on the material, Bernett said, “brings a playful element that’s engaging aesthetically and experientially.”
DESIGN/CLIENT Illu Stration (Leidersbach, Germany): Mary-Ann Williams, designer
MATERIALS Wool, wool felt, cotton web
“Ambiental jewelry” is what the Slovenian designers call their tiny cloverleaf pendant lights, whose LEDs seem to float inside heat-absorbing aluminum eggs. Asobi originally prototyped the piece for Slovenian manufacturer Intra Lighting as an entry to an LED competition organized by German bulb-making giant Osram. The lighting system casts beams of white light but is available in a programmable RGB mode that produces ambient waves of color, making it a hit with restaurants and stores. Gwig was the nonsense letter code given to anonymize the original competition entry, but the jurors agreed it seemed to suit the fixtures, which resemble futuristic alien pods. Beylerian found the units a bit too “confined and inflexible,” but Bernett said he could imagine them in long, shimmering, atmospheric lines over bar tables or dining banquettes.
DESIGN Asobi (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
CLIENT Intra Lighting (Miren, Slovenia)
MATERIALS LEDs, aluminum, polycarbonate, SMD electrical circuits
SOFTWARE Rhinoceros, Pro/Engineer