Discovered, a platform promoted by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), in partnership with Wallpaper* and the Design Museum, is opening up new perspectives on tomorrow. By tackling isolation, the Discovered platform has uncovered a new, enhanced sense of contact through introspection, fostering new connections with nature and prompting reflections on personal experience that spawn the creation of future design.
Bringing together 20 young creative minds from 16 different countries on four continents, Discovered questioned them about their feelings, their ability to adapt to a new normal, and their respective reactions to the pandemic through products and items of furnishing (closets, coffee tables, chairs and more abstract works).
It all began with a question: how can an object help people combat pandemic-inspired loneliness? Well, the first answers are in. Indeed, they were on show at London’s Design Museum between September 13 and October 10, 2021, in an event that raised awareness among the general public and industry insiders about what this new generation of creatives is capable of achieving: their sensibility has opened a debate on how relationships have changed after a year of blocked access to traditional display routes.
Every participant’s connections and progress were documented step-by-step on the discovered.global portal, which continues to showcase a virtual version of the exhibition, mirroring the scene within the walls of the world’s foremost contemporary architecture and design museum.
The need for protection, time for oneself and for one’s own intimacy, rediscovering one’s roots, and initiating a new conversation with nature underpinned many of the projects created on Discovered. All different and all with their own individual story to tell, the designs nevertheless emerge from the same matrix. Designers were asked to choose one or more sustainable American hardwoods among the following: red oak, cherry, and hard or soft maple, benefitting from the model for environmental life-cycle assessment AHEC introduced some time ago.
Swedish-Iraqi designer Sizar Alexis sought a strong sense of protection, dwelling on parallels with his childhood memories of war in Iraq in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ideally transforming his own home into a bunker, primarily for his young son and family. In his youthful experience, people needed protection against a visible enemy; in the pandemic, on the contrary, the enemy was invisible. This explains why he chose the name Lahmu, borrowed from an ancient, protective, beneficial deity in Mesopotamian culture: a pair of massive, interlocking volumes that serve as both a storage cabinet and a bench, conveying serenity through their minimalist, geometric lines. One half is made from American cherry, the other from red oak, its surface altered using a special burning technique. For Martin Thübeck’s Rå in red oak (which he chose for its ability to absorb pigment) the inspiration was local Swedish culture and the ability of children to adapt to play spaces. As well as referencing purity, the name recalls a mythical, shape-shifting forest figure from traditional folklore. One peculiarity in this project: overturned, his chair transforms its interplay of angles and lines into a slide, ensuring the coexistence of multiple worlds - static and in motion, adults and children - as two opposing spheres battle it out, ultimately combining as one.
With her cherrywood coffee table Iuxta Me (meaning “near me” in Latin), Australian designer Vivienne Wong explores the connection between multiple worlds through non-verbal communication. With a background as a ballet dancer, her designs convey a desire for closeness, contact and intimacy, rendering physical boundaries invisible by using lighting and reflections to dominate a curved base, reprised in four interlocking tops of different sizes, plus hanging inserts.
A similar connection to the past, temporarily-distant loved ones and her own traditions is visible in Yunhan Wang’s Winding Stream hard maple table, inspired by the Chinese tea drinking game of the meandering river, in the Recollect cabinet made of hard maple and red oak by Tan Wei Xiang, and Siyanda Mazibuko’s Kumsuka bench which, inspired by isicholo tribal hairstyles and indlamu celebratory Zulu dance, was conceived for outdoor sociability. Made out of interlocking strips of high-temperature, thermally-modified red oak, this piece of furniture provides ergonomic, modular, layered seating for public spaces.
For many of these designers, the pandemic was a period of profound introspection and reflection on the meaning of their lives and surroundings. Pascal Hien defines it as a moment out of time: his
Migo 01 red oak chair (a single plank whose parts are held together with dovetail joints) embodies a sense of greater presence in the world and heightened sensitivity. Because it has no front/back or right/wrong side, it is a living demonstration of adaptation to new contexts, conveying the feelings that led to the creation of a versatile, changeable stool that can be turned and moved without constraint. Indeed, either side may be sat on. The name is an abbreviated form of the Spanish word for friend, expressing the hope of returning to friendly contacts and relationships.
Nostalgia for the social life she had always taken for granted guided Thai designer Nong Chotipatoomwan who, fascinated by the grain of American red oak, created Thought Bubble, a rocking chair with curved lines that combines solids and voids, using motion to reconcile relaxation and awareness.
Interpreting the experience positively, through his Concur cherrywood chair and coffee table, English designer Mac Collins was keen to rethink the value of isolation. In his opinion, isolation broke through the rules of “socially-prescribed routine”, offering time to dedicate to ourselves, read a book. In other words, an invitation to stop and enjoy the value of time, to explore one’s own resilience even at such a challenging moment through the objects that surround us. Korean designer Taiho Shin is equally convinced of this, creating a semi-finished product in hard maple adaptable to a variety of environments and different needs, offering greater opportunities to enter more often into contact, given that, assembled using a system of joints, the coffee table can be transformed into a system of stackable tops. Its name, Ikare, is an adaptation of the English phrase “I care”.
Focusing on the relationship between man and nature, Ivana Taylor’s multi-layered sculpture in three different woods (hard maple, cherry and oak) also has a reflective and contemplative essence. Reframe is “a sculpted path towards the light” using multiple scales of perspective, something that also characterizes the design by Mew Mungnatee, a Bangkok-based designer who created Corners Lamps in soft maple and cherry, her goal specifically to explore the relationship between form, light and shadow in lamps shaped like traditional Thai temple architecture, the bulb casting shadows on the surfaces underneath through an intricate grille of wooden slats and notched corners.
Australian designer Duncan Young is keen to bring the light at the heart of the experience of being in contact with nature into people’s homes with his shelter-installation Shelter Within in hard maple: a solid structure with a moiré-effect shelf inspired by the historical symbolism of furniture as theater, its base featuring two handmade glass elements that refract and distort light, reproducing the effect of walking under trees.
Isabelle Baudraz’s Presences installations are another way of bringing nature into the home in a series of objects with sinuous shapes in American cherry. A tactile and emotional experience, she created a suspended piece of furniture, an object that balances on a desk combined with wall accessories, conveying an additional sense of protectiveness and closeness to the environment. All it takes is a small touch, a delicate interaction and as they start to move, as the Swiss designer explains, we perceive their company, in a form of contact suitable for children too, as is the overhead movement of the ceiling elements.
From nature to tradition, reinterpreted in a contemporary style.
A number of designers intertwined these two elements to create their projects, cross-pollinating multiple ways of interpreting our new, forced home life. For example, with Riverside in cherry, Colombian designers Juan Carlos Franco and Juan Santiago Sierra created a bench with a number of accessories, trays and containers, inspired by the characteristics of pile/stilt houses, adaptable and flexible for use at home or in public and work spaces.
Similarly, Trang Nguyen’s reference to the culture of her own country, Vietnam, is visible in The Roof Stool, made out of cherry, red oak and hard maple. Drawing on the simplicity of Vietnamese temple architecture and clothing, the stools seem to replicate overlapping tiles: indeed, they can be stacked on top of one another, using wooden pins to conceal their contrasting joints. A similar composition underpins Josh Krute’s design: inspired by totem poles, he created the Toteemi system of stackable boxes in hard maple, in a variety of colors, for storing the many tools he works with at home, along with coffee tables, trays and stools, in a modular system designed to combine domestic intimacy and work at a single location.
Mimi Shodeinde grasped the new paradigm of space expressed through pieces of furniture with Howard, hard maple desk and stools that are a translation of our desire for renewed stability and strength into a sinuous form. She was inspired and guided by a series of cultural references ranging from the compositions of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth to the modernist architecture of Lina Bo Bardi and the aerodynamics of flight (the name refers to famous aviator and film director Howard Hughes).
Designer Alessandra Fumagalli Romario found evocative inspiration in Renaissance paintings, particularly of artists’ studios and monks to create Studiolo 2.0, an item of furniture that also converts into a backdrop, depending on whether its compartments are kept open or closed, offering the freedom to show and conceal what its user wants, its gradient finish producing a depth effect. The designer chose cherry for its chromatic variability, alighting on a material “that speaks for itself”, its warm color changing rapidly when exposed to light - characteristics that are even more important given that, when all is said and done, they remind us that these objects come from nature and change with passing time. Wood that, through its essence, reflects the personality of the person who has acquired the cabinet for their home or office.
Kodai Iwamoto has achieved a similar result by bringing the texture of the bark of a tree into a human living environment. Drawing upon Japanese techniques uzukuri (a rubbing practice to lend the wood greater consistency) and chouna (using an ax to chisel into the surface), and then experimenting with removing the top layers of wood, the designer created a red oak coffee table, Pari Pari, whose discontinuous base is characterized by the texture of its grain. The designer’s inspiration was fired by childhood memories, when as a kid his parents used to take him on woodland visits because he was so passionate about being in contact with nature.
Many of these designers have highlighted the value of people and inter-personal relationships in their ideas, with the vital support of the AHEC and Wallpaper* project team. Throughout the project, AHEC’s European Director, David Venables, and Wallpaper*
Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Douglas, not to mention designer/mentors Tomoko Azumi, Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska, Nathan Yong and Adam Markowitz, all supported the selected young designers.
Location: London, UK
Promoted by: American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) with Design Museum and Wallpaper*
Designers: Sizar Alexis, Isabelle Baudraz, Nong Chotipatoomwan, Mac Collins, Mew Mungnatee, Siyanda Mazibuko, Josh Krute, Pascal Hien, Trang Nguyen, Alessandra Fumagalli Romario, Taiho Shin, Mimi Shodeinde, Juan Carlos Franco and Juan Santiago Sierra, Ivana Taylor, Martin Thübeck, Yunhan Wang, Tan Wei Xiang, Duncan Young, Vivienne Wong
Manufacturers: Benchmark Furniture, Wewood, Fowseng, Evostyle
All photos courtesy of AHEC
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