Hella Jongerius: "There's too much shopping without any social or environmental consciousness" 26.02.15


The self-proclaimed "design pastor" denounced production "without any social or environmental consciousness" and called on designers to be more responsible at Design Indaba in Cape Town yesterday. Christopher Turner was there

"There's just too much shit design," Hella Jongerius told an audience at Design Indaba in Cape Town, to roars of approval. (She spoke, the organizer Ravi Naidoo said afterwards, with "real fire in her belly".) Jongerius showed a picture of a female priest and explained that she was going to speak today as a "Design Pastor", an evangelist for a holistic approach. "There's too much shopping without any social or environmental consciousness," she said.

"I definitely have merchandising talents," she added. "But designers also have a responsibility." She invoked the Bauhaus, a time when industrial designers sought to make high-quality design accessible to many, and recalled how her parents once saved for months to buy a sofa: "They invested in thinking and longing for something." Why does art seem to have a longer life than design? "Because good art triggers the imagination," she said.


Cork & Felt designed by Hella Jongerius for Danskina

Design, Jongerius empasised, should tell stories. "You should start with a yarn," she said. "It's more than just the new, more than all the other stuff that is around." She illustrated this with a newspaper picture of a KLM flight attendant sitting on a mountain of old uniforms. This image inspired her to recycle the bright blue outfits, mixed with waste wool from the meat industry, when she created materials and carpets for her cabin interiors for the airline. Passengers might never know this story, but Jongerius thrives on such texture of care. "I took my responsibility seriously, and KLM supported me in it."



Christopher Turner


Image: Inga Powilleit

quotes story

There's too much shopping without any social or environmental consciousness


KLM business class interior, 2013

Jongerius also emphasised the importance of working with an archive. "I never start with an empty piece of paper," she said, "I work on classics or existing things." She found a Rietveld design for KLM from the 1950s, which was never realised, but experimented with cabin seats in a range of bright blocks of colour. She developed a palette of five dark shades, from aubergine to cobalt, and discovered that this variety made the plane interior seem wider. She embarked on two years of model-making, and 1:1 mock ups to get the "human scale" right. Fabrics were taken on colour test flights, because – as Jongerius noted – there is a reddish light above the clouds.


polder sofa

Polder sofa for Vitra (2005), which will be refreshed for Salone this year

Her colour palette for the UN North Delegate Lounge interior was also inspired by a colour palette developed by Le Corbusier for the building in the 1950s, which inspired the shades of green and blue she eventually used. The past inspires her. As art director for Vitra, Jongerius has also "reactivated" classics by Eames and Jean Prouvé, updating the colours and finishes of materials and upholstery. For this year's Salone, she is also revisiting the Polder Sofa she created for the brand in the 1990s, with its broken silhouette and range of complimentary hues, which she acknowledges has also become a classic.


east river chair

East River chair for Vitra, 2014

Jongerius stressed that she liked to celebrate imperfections, misfits and asymmetries. For her B-Set range of crockery for Makkum, for example, she deliberately left the clay in the kiln until it warped out of shape. But, if she had to define her signature (and she thinks it important to have one), it would be her love of dots, which join many of her projects. Her cushions for KLM are a sea of dots, and her 14m x 7m curtain at the UN, which screens off the East River, is also made of large porcelain spheres. She is currently undertaking a series of colour tests on ping-pong balls, which celebrate the instability of industrial colours in changing light. She's cooking up recipes, she said, hinting at future work that allow objects to "breathe with light".

Design Indaba runs until 27 February 2015


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