Vienna Design Week 02.10.15

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While John Pawson’s contribution is a thing of beauty, the wider festival focuses more on the everyday impact of design

Under the great dome of the palatial Kunsthistorisches Museum, a group of design connoisseurs and glamour-seekers gathered to see British architect John Pawson present his installation “Perspectives”. Produced in collaboration with Swarovski, the structure we were told is the largest optical lens ever produced using its crystals and was previously shown at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral and Venice’s Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore. Speaking to his audience, Pawson argued that design is just a craft – its aim, he said, was to create beautiful products without any particular social or educational ambitions.

But the rest of the Vienna Design Week programme contradicts his assertion. A variety of installations and exhibitions, curated by Lilli Hollein, consider design as a profound and elemental part of our everyday life. “Design is more than just a designed object,” she argues. “Design shapes our material culture, our every-day life and our world as consumers. It influences our lifestyles and most fundamentally our aesthetic senses and judgements.”

Conceived as a culture festival rather than a design fair, the event focuses each year on a particular district of Vienna, considering its economic and urban conditions and looking for possible influences of design on its social and political relationships. This year's headquarters is the Anker Brotfabrik Wien (Vienna Bread Factory) in the 10th district, Favoriten – the city’s largest working-class neighbourhood, where industry and housing stand side-by-side and a contrasting range of social and economic realities are apparent. On the one hand, it is home to the largest immigrant groups, who have created their own mini-towns with specific cultures and traditions. It is also often the setting for criminal TV series. On the other hand, around the new Central Station complex is Vienna's largest area of urban development, with buildings such as the new offices for the savings bank the ERSTE Foundation coming up. In addressing these issues, the curators present an exhibition of archive materials and new architectural solutions called City Work, focusing on the history of the area and its problems. Among these are projects such as “Where do the bricks come from?” which tells the story of the history of the brick-making district and speaks to the question of its present identity. The Wienerberger brick factory’s decision to move out of the area left employment and empty sites, but the company is still associated with the area, and involved in its housebuilding.

Other elements address wider issues. The Future Urban Mobility Initiative, subtitled “[r+d] post-carbon Vienna”, asks us to imagine the world after cars and petrol. Young design teams who responded to an open call worked together with international and local experts to develop concepts to develop the city on these lines. The result is an exhibition of prints responding to three topics – energy, space and living – with Vienna as the test case. Some of the installations on display also address social concerns, albeit in more abstract terms. At the bread factory, Austrian design duo Mischer’Traxler’s Ephemerä comprises three furniture pieces, a big oak table and two mirrors, on which decorative floral motifs move and change in response to the audience – an attempt to highlight the dialogue between mankind and nature.

Elsewhere, the Passionswege programme presented work produced in direct collaboration with manufacturers – among them Alexandre Echasseriau’s champagne bucket inspired by the shape of mountains and glaciers, Laureline Gaillot’s art nouveau textiles and Marlène Huissoud’s experiments with recycling waste. The offering at this year’s Vienna Design Week was purposeful, yet diverse, but it remains to be seen whether the Favoriten as an area will be transformed by its intervention.

Vienna Design Week ends on 4 October. Pick up a copy of our latest issue to find out why we love John Pawson's Instagram feed

 

Words

Boris Kostadinov

quotes story

Conceived as a culture festival rather than a design fair, the event focuses each year on a particular district of Vienna, considering its economic and urban conditions and looking for possible influences of design on its social and political relationships

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