Contemporary art Fairs Switzerland

Future winners here and now

Basel welcomes three award-winning young designers

Photographic still by Guido Perrini created using Jon Stam's Claude Glass mirror

In the constantly evolving landscape of contemporary design, it is often the younger generation that provides directional cues. The three young winners of the Designers of the Future award, whose newly commissioned work is presented in Hall 1 Süd, Messe Basel, are no exception.

This collaborative project by Design Miami Basel and W Hotels, now in its fourth year, has undergone some modifications. For the first time, the award-winners visited new or renovated W Hotels to solve a specific design challenge while also fulfilling this year’s brief, “Making Connections”, with their site-specific commissions. The Canadian-Dutch designer Jon Stam spent time in the Swiss resort of Verbier, where the W brand will open its first ski retreat later this year. Seung-Yong Song, whose studio is in Seoul, South Korea, visited W Bangkok, and London-based designer Bethan Laura Wood travelled to W Mexico City. Their finished work will be installed in each hotel.

Candidates for the award must have practised for less than 15 years. To qualify, they must demonstrate originality and reveal an interest in experimental, non-industrial or limited-edition design. “We’re looking for designers who work in a variety of media and display a craft discipline, a narrative process and a conceptual approach,” says Mike Tiedy, the senior vice-president for global brand design and innovation at Starwood Hotels and Resorts (the parent company of W Hotels Worldwide). “We look for an ability to develop their work’s conceptual side and build design solutions out of a problem. I like to see a sense of investigation and discovery and an ability to articulate this. I also look for a cross-discipline approach and an international outlook.”

Tiedy is not the only judge: the winners were selected by secret ballot following nominations from a jury including Jan Boelen of Design Academy Eindhoven and Z33, Tony Chambers, the editor-in-chief of Wallpaper* magazine, Aric Chen of Hong Kong’s M+ Museum, Alexis Georgacopoulos of Ecole Cantonale d’art de Lausanne, Marianne Goebl, the director of Design Miami and Design Miami Basel, and the author, curator and journalist Benjamin Loyauté.

Not too exposed

“We looked for designers who have developed a voice but are not yet too exposed,” Goebl says. “They needed to be sufficiently sophisticated in their work but ready to be pushed to the next level,” Chambers adds. “All the winners feel contemporary yet have very different approaches, so there’s a healthy mix of perspectives. I’m a big fan of Bethan Laura Wood’s work. She produces unique products—contemporary, progressive, craft-based work. Seung-Yong Song’s work is more traditional, but I’m intrigued by his interpretation of form, and I like where Jon Stam is coming from—introducing touch, feel and soul into digital design.”

Mixing new technology with traditional materials and craftsmanship is Stam’s forte. “The best way of interacting with digital media is through touch, so my projects often focus on making a physical ‘frame’ for the content,” he says. “My graduation project—now an ongoing series—was a modern cabinet of curiosities where half the drawers are normal and half act as hard disks.

“In Verbier, I was trying to work out what inspired me there,” he says. “The landscape, mountains and valleys are already so beautiful. I thought: what can I add to this? I started taking photographs of windows showing reflections of the landscape. Playing with the light and reflections intrigued me. Then I began collaborating with Guido Perrini, a local photographer, to capture 24-hour time-lapses throughout the seasons. These appear as constantly changing digital images on the shiny, blackened glass of a large, circular wall-mirror I’ve made,” he says.

“In the 18th century, artists used a black mirror called a Claude Glass—named after the 17th-century landscape painter Claude Lorrain—to help them paint landscapes. My mirror is based on that idea,” Stam says. “A computer behind the mirror runs customised software that I developed with a hardware specialist and programmer. Once started, the time-lapse sequences run continuously, but viewers can physically turn the mirror to alter the image sequence. The design is a prototype but could potentially show different landscapes at other W Hotels locations. I’m also looking at the possibility of making a smaller, limited-edition version for residential use.”

“Hand-crafting is everywhere”

Bethan Laura Wood uses “geographical locations and materials” as design springboards. “My laminate furniture is inspired by London’s cityscape, while [the] ‘Totem’ [light collection] resulted from working with local artisans using specific materials during a residency in Vicenza, Italy,” she says. “I found my visit to Mexico City incredibly inspiring and it will feed my practice for a long time. I loved the flower market, the canal area, the intense colours and the mix of full-on Baroque and 1960s public sculpture and architecture. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Palacio de Bellas Artes and Frida Kahlo’s house were particularly inspirational. Hand-crafting is everywhere. Every day I went to different areas and took photographs that I later paired into shapes and repetitions. I wanted to take all this into my work.

“At W Mexico City, there are three public floors but only two sets of lifts, so I was interested in finding ways to encourage people to use the stairs and also fill void spaces like stair-wells. I wanted to create something to make you walk towards and all around these areas.” Wood’s collaborations with the Italian workshop Pietro Viero, which contributed its Pyrex glass-making skills to her “Totem” pieces, have resulted in lights with a colourful pendant drop that is, she says, “like a cascade of floating flowers whose blooms reflect all my Mexican inspirations”.

Colour is also a key ingredient in Seung-Yong Song’s installation. “I was impressed by Bangkok’s vibrant local street life and the way people adapt objects to their needs,” he says. “They transform a car into a street bar. A wagon becomes a restaurant, bar and store. It made me think about the flexibility of objects. The food carts you see everywhere in Bangkok inspired me to create a furniture collection built out of common elements yet with different forms and functions. One can be used as a food-serving table in the lobby, another as a champagne carrier in the bar. The parts are made from treated aluminium to provide a textural response. The surfaces are elaborately decorated in vivid, contrasting colours, but the shapes are simple and clean.”

Time has been the winners’ greatest challenge. “I visited Verbier in late March, so it was a very scary deadline to… [be] ready for June,” Stam says. Nevertheless, Tiedy says “all three responded fantastically well to the brief”. And Goebl adds: “The designers analysed a problem, reacted to tangible elements in the various locations and found solutions. This year, we’ve seen a true design process happening.”

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