Béhar and Bouroullec: Unconventional, Extraordinary Design

Metropolis Magazine held its second annual conference, “Design Entrepreneurs: the Next Generation II,” May 17 at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF). The event featured emerging designers who discussed their approaches to business and creativity. One of the key sessions, “Unconventional Approaches: Re-thinking Design,” featured two rising international luminaries: Yves Béhar, of fuseproject, based in San Francisco; and Erwan Bouroullec, who partners with his brother, Ronan, in the Paris suburb of St. Denis.

Yves and Erwan have much in common: their youth and inventiveness; an expansive, multidisciplinary body of work; and a special sensitivity with regard to the environment. Not surprising for their generation, they subscribe to a philosophy whereby they attempt to humanize design, and are establishing their own unique styles in a world that is saturated with “high consumerism,” according to Yves.

All About Yves
Yves’s creed is “design brings stories to life,” and he will change the words around—“life brings stories to design”—to reflect various projects he is working on, from electronics and computers to cosmetics and shoes. In a slide presentation showing his work, he discussed three critical factors in his approach to design: new technologies, identity, and ideas. Increasingly in his designs, he has been using electroluminescence lighting technology (such as LEDs), which typically illuminate cell phones and car interiors. Yves described how he used this technology in a design commissioned by Austrian company Swarovski, for whom he created a massive oval chandelier with over 7,500 hanging crystals. “The materials alone cost $30,000,” said the Swiss-born Yves, who would not speculate on what the retail price of the chandelier will be.

Recently, he has been trying to “humanize and bring poetics” to computer manufacturers in Silicon Valley, who have hired him to redesign their machines. One stunning example is a new, lacquer-red computer that he designed for Toshiba. “It is a magical transformation that changes the interfacing between user and machine,” he said. The computer will be available to consumers some time in 2005.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art commissioned Yves to explore the future of shoes, something in which he had no experience. “My ignorance and naïveté brought about a fresh perspective,” he said, emphasizing that he builds from ideas, not purely style. He designed a computer chip in the shoes as a marketing tool that would record data about the wearer, enabling manufacturers and retailers to produce and sell a more customized product.

Yves feels that, in the future, design will be at the center of business and art, with a movement away from mediocre products hyped by advertising. “Today’s fashions and designs are more about eclecticism and personal development,” he said. “Consumers are less likely to follow trends and more likely to develop their own style. Today, designers are approaching work in a more strategic way.” He described some projects in the works that communicate “transition”: a backpack attached to seat backs in cars and an integrated sock-shoe. Added the inspired designer, “I do two types of projects: those for love, and those for love and money.”

Erwan Explains
Claiming that he is the “cleverer” one in the duo of designing brothers, Erwan Bouroullec feels that design is always about context. “When you work for a company it is a love story,” he said. “You must always have a dialogue with the manufacturers. You must consider what they do well and what they can do. The product, in the end, is co-realization.”

The Bouroullec brothers’ designs are characterized by functionality and a sense of transformation. In two haunting, limited-edition vases the brothers created for a Paris gallery, Erwan claimed that “we wanted to create a ‘strange’ quality, something that would make you question your eyes.” Always searching for the remarkable, they generate big ideas in designs that Erwan referred to as “in-between furniture and architecture.” One such design is a raised, enclosed sleeping bed, Lit Clos, which the brothers launched at Cappellini’s exhibition at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2000. Reminiscent of a childhood tree fort, the bed is supported by steel legs and gives a feeling of privacy and serenity.

Another pragmatic design is the brothers’ “Disintegrated Kitchen” with modular components. Owners can add shelves and drawers and reconfigure their kitchen space. Both designs can be packed up and moved from one home to another—ideal for a wandering generation of 20- and 30-year-olds.

Erwan discussed one of his most capricious designs, “Modern Knitting,” which involves click-on plastic filaments, resembling seaweed. “You click the pieces together and it makes you feel like a kid. The asymmetrical pieces don’t have any direction—the point is you don’t have to make it perfect,” he said. When amassed together, the pieces can take the form of a wall or a hanging partition. “It takes a long time to piece these together; you can organize a party with friends and offer them something to drink,” he added.

Admitting that, though a furniture designer, he never worked in a large, corporate office, Erwan described a stunning white table that he and Ronan created for office workers. “It’s a long, collective table that condenses the work space,” said Erwan. “Consider if you have 10 or 20 workers, and had to give each a desk.” The “self-involving” system is easy to assemble and requires no screws or tools. The table comes with writing mats and partitions, giving workers privacy. “The design had to be simple to allow people to feel free to be themselves,” Erwan said. The table was set up in the Press Room at ICFF, with attendees readily using it, perhaps unaware that they were working on a great Bouroullec design.

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