Le Corbusier

Design Friday. The B.F.K. Chair. Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy.

I have a vintage Knoll B.K.F. (butterfly chair) that dates to about 1960. My mother bought it before I was born and I inherited it when I bought my first house more than ten years ago. The butterfly chair is credited with being designed by Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy in 1938, but is widely attributed to mid-century modern design due to its distribution by Knoll furniture beginning in the 1940’s.

The original design for this popular chair dates from 1938, when GATCPAC member Antoni Bonet left le Corbusier’s studio and went into self-induced exile in Buenos Aires. While living in Buenos Aires, Bonet together with a group of Argentinean architects, they established the Grupo Austral based on GATCPAC (Group of Catalan Architects and Technicians for the progress of contemporary architecture) principles. Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy was one of the founding members of the group. Hardoy graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires in 1939, he had lived the previous year in Paris, where he worked with Bonet and le Corbusier in the development of the “Plan Director para Buenos Aires.” Hardoy is probably best known internationally for his BKF chair, designed together with Juan Kurchan and Antonio Bonet in 1939 yet his work spans far beyond this singular item.

The B.F.K. chair was originally designed for a building in Buenos Aires, designed by the three architects in 1939. The first name given to the chair was  “Southern”, but then they developed a new  name by using the first letters of the name of their creators, B.F.K.. later the chair simply became known as the “butterfly chair” or even as the “Hardoy chair”.

The actual chair design was inspired by chairs used by the British military in North Africa in the nineteenth century. The B.F.K. however is an object much more refined and simple. A sculptural object that is light years away from the folding canvas chairs used by the military. The impossibly thin, light design was achieved by using two thin steel loops, bent and welded together, which were hand polished to create a seamless finish. Even the earliest chairs produced in Argentina were treated with epoxy paint which was cured with high temperature baking to create a protective surface.

The first two B.F.K. chairs to come to the United States went to Fallingwater, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.’s home in Pennsylvania designed by family friend Frank Lloyd Wright. Edgar Kaufmann accurately predicted that this lightweight and inexpensive to manufacture lounge chair would become hugely popular in the U.S. The B.K.F. chair was produced by Artek-Pascoe from 1941 to 1948. Knoll Associates acquired U.S. production rights in the late 1940s and unsuccessfully pursued legal action against unauthorized copies, which continue to be produced to this day.


Design Friday. Jasper Morrison.

Over the last few weeks I have been watching a BBC show that unfortunately isn’t available here in the USA. The broadcast is “The Genius of Design”, and it focuses on design topics and practices from industrial design to graphic design and all touch points in between. I was lucky enough to find the first 5 episodes online, and after some lengthy downloads, took time to watch them. (no I won’t post links to the copy-write protected content, you must find it on your own.)

One of the people who has been interviewed throughout the series is Jasper Morrison, who is quite arguably one of today’s most influential industrial designers. And because of Morrison’s profound influence on the world of design, he is the subject of today’s “Design Friday Post”.

If you want to truly understand Jasper Morrison’s work, you should flip through a copy of “World Without Words”. This is a series of images that Morrison compiled in 1988 from a collection of second-hand books and postcards. The images range from one of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion houses and Gerald Summers’ one piece plywood chair to a fisherman’s hut on Hastings’ shingly beach, each image illustrates the wit and elegance with which Morrison has revitalised rationalist design.

Morrison was born in London in 1959 and grew up there as well as New York City, when his father an advertising executive was posted in the United States. He studied design at Kingston Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art. In 1986, a year after graduating from the RCA, Morrison opened his Office for Design in London.

Morrison cites his early influences as his grandfather’s study – a light, bright room furnished in the modernist style and an Eileen Gray exhibition he saw at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. During his student years, Morrison became interested in the work of modernist pioneers – such as Buckminster Fuller, Gerald Summers, Jean Prouvé , Le Corbusier, and Eames. In 1981 Morrison saw the first exhibition of the Memphis Movement’s furniture designs in Milan, This exhibition became a major inspiration for his thinking on design. Later Morrison described the experience as: “Just fantastic. Here was proof that none of the old design rules mattered any more.”.

Jasper Morrison has always been a designer that focused on industrial production. Rather than making a single piece, or short run of production mockups by hand, Morrison went to small industrial workshops which would make up small quantities of objects from ready-made industrial components. His 1984 Flower Pot Table, for instance, was made from a glass circle supported by a stack of ordinary flower pots.

Over time Morrison won commissions from SCP in London; FSB, the German door handle maker; Cappellini, the Italian furniture manufacturer; and Vitra, the Swiss furniture company whose chairman, Rolf Fehlbaum, contacted Morrison after seeing a slide presentation of A World Without Words.

In 1988 Morrison created “Some New Items For The House”, a room set for the Berlin Design Werkstadt exhibition. The set consisted of chairs, tables, a chaise longue, four walls and a door – all made from plywood. At first glance, the objects looked banal with their simple lines and familiar forms, but closer inspection revealed the quiet intelligence with which Morrison had refined them. Critic Charles Arthur Boyer, described the pieces as Morrison having “crystallised” his design ethos: “to produce everyday objects for everyone’s use, make things lighter not heavier, softer not harder, inclusive rather than exclusive, generate energy light and space”.

Morrison has pursued that specific goal ever since. He still works for Vitra and Cappellini, and has now nurtured a strong working relationship with other clients including Flos, the Italian lighting company; Italian plastic manufacturer Magis; Rosenthal, the timeless German porcelain manufacturer; and Italian design the giant Alessi. The perfectly plain 1998 Tin Family steel kitchen tins he produced for Alessi and 1997 Moon tableware for Rosenthal echo the apparent simplicity and underlying subtlety of his aesthetic, and the “archetypal objects” that Morrison searches for constantly with his design process.

Critically, Morrison’s clients have also allowed him to experiment with new materials and technologies. The results include his 1999 Low Pad Chair for Cappellini, which was inspired by one of Morrison’s favourite mid-20th century chairs – the Danish designer, Poul Kjaerholm’s 1956 steel and leather Chair, but used a new method of condensed upholstery to create a comfortable, but durable padded leather seat. Another technical coup is his 1999 Air Chair, an elegant, relatively inexpensive moulded dining chair made from a single piece of plastic using Magis’s new gas injection technology.

In recent years Morrison has tackled even more complex commissions: notably by designing a light rail system for the city of Hanover in what he described as “an exhausting, but not unenjoyable” two-year project. He has also collaborated with the Swiss architects of London’s Tate Modern museum, Herzog & de Meuron, to furnish its public spaces with his Low Pad Chairs and 1998 Op-lá tray table for Alessi.

In 2000, Jasper Morrison departed from his self-imposed rule of concentrating on industrial production by accepting a commission from a museum in the Provençal village of Vallauris to produce a limited edition of ceramics made by local artisans. The result, as Morrison himself admits, shares the sleekness and formal clarity of his industrial designs. Rather than being flattered by his interest, the European craft community was outraged. “Why work with the ancient skills of the Vallauris potters,” railed an editorial in one craft magazine, “to make something that looks as if it came from a factory?”

In the early 2000s Morrison set up a new studio in Paris and proceeded to divide his working life between there and London. He acquired new clients such as Rowenta, the French household appliances manufacturer for which he is developing a new range of kitchen products including kettles, irons and coffee machines. Morrison also sustained his relationship with established clients by designing new projects for Cappellini, Magis and Vitra.