Looking back, designers and architects brought those innovations into a significant form that stood for the particular period, representing it in a brilliant manner. Due to these excellent product solutions, we get the feeling of subjective timelessness.
What comes to mind are the classics of the 30s to 50s from Charles and Ray Eames to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier – these designs in the clean, perfectly shaped, elegant Bauhaus style are still relevant today and all over the world as a synonym for superior aesthetics.
The Lounge Chair by Charles and Ray Eames is still produced today. Back then, the choice of materials, such as Brazilian rosewood, polished aluminum and black glove leather (at the beginning of production, glove leather from Scotland was used), was highly modern. The production kept adapting to the given technological possibilities and the chair developed its distinctive profile. As such, the feeling arose that this product could remain eternally competitive in the market.
Though the Lounge Chair represents a luxurious object, the Eames design duo is famous for the philosophy: “Create the best for the most for the least”. This saying, combined with their poetic style, made them darlings of American modern design.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another example, is the leading and most influential exponent of steel architecture of the mid-20th century. He coined the phrase: “Less is more”. This is what design has to focus on – it should be reduced to the essential, avoiding, at the same time, unnecessary details.
Beyond question, Le Corbusier had an important impact on the development of modern design and architecture in the 20th century. The cube-shaped leather chair, LC4, from 1928 and the designed deck, LC2, from 1929 are among the design classics and still incite desire.
The classical direction is losing nothing of its appeal, while of the designers who are now in vogue, only a few will remain. It is this simple: the more surprisingly unobtrusive design is, the greater the chance that it will be a classic.
Due to new technologies, innovative, smart materials have emerged. Production has become more and more efficient, and designers are continuing to be inspired by the forms that have already been created.
Tizio from Artemide – a table lamp that, in fact, features in my office in Essen, Germany – is undisputedly another design classic that is still state-of-the-art. The purist Tizio table lamp is a modern design icon created by Richard Sapper. What makes it a milestone of lighting design is not only its clear appearance, but the selected light source. The minimalist Tizio design was the first table lamp that used low-voltage halogen technology.
The perfectionist Sapper had the necessary vision and the ability to create a light that had never existed before: a low-voltage halogen lamp. The basic concept of Tizio is as simple as it is ingenious. The foot is a transformer that converts the voltage from 230V to 12V and supplies the light source with power by the rods and buttons on the joints. When it was released, it was nothing short of a sensation to work without cable positions. Today, low-voltage lamps can hardly be covered up.
Together with the Tizio, the Tolomeo desk lamp is another must-have item for most creative minds. The very flexible base, the simple aluminium optic, as well as the hat-formed shade reflect the characteristics of the Tolomeo and marked, in 1987, the pioneering design of Michele de Lucchi and Giancarlo Fascina.
The Tolomeo works because we relate it to the ‘archetype’ of a table lamp, where there was a button on the top that we could push. There was some kind of ‘parallelogram rotary arm’ so that the lamp could be moved freely in all directions. It is a successful attempt at an historic ‘quote’ of an original classic. The feeling of timelessness applies, but, in fact, it is, again, our personal degree of timelessness. Whenever you succeed to combine the highest aesthetics with sophisticated functionality, the result can only be good.
However, material is nothing without a form in that it can be shaped. And there is one distinctive German company that stands, maybe like no other, for perfect shapes. This year, the honourary title red dot: design team of the year went to Porsche AG, the iconic sports car manufacturer. In my opinion, the Porsche 911 had become a design classic long since, and those who know me are aware of the fact that I admire well-designed cars. Like no other sports car – in fact, like no other car at all – Porsche’s 911 model stands for tradition and innovation in the truest and most symbiotic sense.
Porsche has succeeded in developing the 911 model further from one generation to the next while always remaining true to itself. A philosophy that documents the extraordinary design continuity, the innovative capability of the company and the power that sets the course for design classics in the future.
Obviously, Apple also knows how to manage this. For years, the sought-after brand has been very successful in the red dot design award, and like no other company it knows how to create a perfect symbiosis of innovation and identity. The simplicity of design or the product’s feel – these exceptional characteristics in use make the design so unique. Apple, as well as Porsche, focus on preserving the tradition, relating it, at the same time, to brand-new technological developments.
Nevertheless, we have to consider that most design classics are independent from those innovations. They arise from sectors in that technological progress is far slower than in other branches. For example, a chair is and will remain a timeless seating accommodation. You could sit on it 100 years ago and right up until now. By contrast, a vintage car could not stand the technological comparison to the cars of today.
The design classics, that I refer to are more likely to be found in interiors although they represent a technological leap in innovation in their own time. As a result, our feeling of timelessness is driven by the fact that those ‘low-tech’ products are timeless, because they are based on technologies and materials that are still relevant in this day and age.
A Charles Eames furniture piece can easily keep up with every piece of furniture of today – and this is what makes it state-of-the-art.