BERLIN — Berlin might have a hot music scene right now, but its design industry has a ways to go.
In a creative free-for-all in a city known for its penniless artists, more than 100 participants in the Design Mai festival decided what, when, how and where to show their works, considering public commissions, industrial clients and private patrons are few and far between in Berlin.
A potpourri of projects — some realized, others in prototype form — underscored the problem-solving orientation of much Berlin design, as seen in an exhibit at the Vitra Design Museum that kicked off the festival called “Design Berlin: New Projects for a Changing City.” On the other hand, the exhibit did little to push forward the notion of what defines “Berlin style,” as Mateo Kries, the museum director, said the breadth of submissions defied explanation.
For instance, it would be difficult to compare Robert Knossalla’s aluminum and acrylic glass water taxi with Realities United’s hang-out-the-window lounge chair — an aluminum chaise that can be installed on a girder inside one’s apartment for Berliners lacking balconies.
At least flexibility is an identifiable feature of Berlin design, as seen in Fuchs + Funke’s pack-it-up-and-take-it-with-you pillow chair, Maxi Jahn’s steel origami cut-and-fold furniture or Thorsten Franck’s “build-in-a-minute” furniture collection for urban nomads. Unusual materials also turned up everywhere. There were stone throw rugs from Yoraco Gonzalez and soft gel chairs by Studio Aisslinger. Another Design Mai material highlight: Studio Aisslinger’s Loft Cubes, temporary living units to place on rooftops for out-of-town guests.
“For a lot of designers involved, Design Mai was a chance to play with ideas that never would have seen the light of day otherwise,” said Tory Lichterman, an architect involved with the Loft Cubes project. “And just to have some fun.”
To wit, Berlin fashion designers and consultants Next Guru Now hung up seven years worth of restroom photos taken at fashion events and fairs around the world. Berlin designers Adam & Harbourth offered bags shaped like Swiss Army knives and Mined Work playfully tested reality with their life-size trompe-l’oeil bookshelves, set up in various Berlin galleries and bookstores.