Some time ago David Chipperfield described architecture as “… a search for insight concerning the everyday.”[i] In making this exhortation he was articulating the reaction against the excesses of Postmodernism that began around 1990 and continues today. He went on to say:
We need to find ideas and clues in the resolution of simple, everyday problems to avoid the spectacular in order to make the everyday special.
During his tenure as editor of Domus (1992-96) Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani added another voice to the post-Postmodern refrain in a thematic series of editorials with titles such as “In Praise of Slowness”, “Quiet Please” and “Ordinariness”:
There is ordinariness that irritates the eye with its silly superficiality… And there is ordinariness that we hardly ever notice but which later, when observed more carefully, little by little reveals a secret elegance.
… to get noticed it is indispensible to look unmistakable, amazing, out of the ordinary … in other words to make a noise… (however) noise augments the more outwardly vulgar look of the design, to the detriment of inner substance.
In Praise of Slowness:
We would therefore praise slowness in the pursuit of our craft, where slowness is intended as the patient … quest for the best and most beautiful solution.
The preoccupation with the everyday and the ordinary is linked to Le Corbusier’s Objet Type idea[ii] and also finds an expression in the product designs of Max Bill.[iii] Le Corbusier began to shape his ideas of “standard” and “type” almost a century ago and his work led him to postulate an ideal standard “… decorative art without the decoration”. Coincidentally he was developing Purism in painting (with Amandee Ozenfant) at the same time; working with a proposition concerning the recognition of the integrity of the object in art. For his part Max Bill, with designs such as his timepieces for Junghans and his eponymous Ulm Design Stool, responded to an imperative for inimitability in objects intended for daily use.
It is appropriate to position the British designer Jasper Morrison (b1959) in this capable company of those committed to the service of the “everyday” in design – be it architecture, or industrial.
I started to notice that successful objects, that is, objects which are good to live with, seemed to share certain characteristics. They were never the result of aesthetic decisions alone, nor were they purely functional. They always balanced these two extremes with the additional consideration of the appropriateness of materials and their combination, of the human experience of using and living with the object, of the objects effect on its surroundings and of the communication of its purpose.[iv]
In his early designs such as the Ply Chair (1988) Morrison evoked the idea of an archetypal chair: it is thoroughly familiar but refined and pruned back carefully to reveal an essence of “chairness” which somehow represents “chair” in a basic sense. Although we perhaps haven’t seen it before, we recognise it instantly and we know it will work as a chair as we’d expect a chair to work.
Twenty years later the same attributes pertain in the Basel Chair (2008). Significantly Morrison’s chair is not an easy thing to date: is it from 1928…, 1968…, 2008? Timelessness (yet freshness) is a discernible characteristic present in the work of Alvar Aalto – particularly after his late 1920s excursions into the International Style, especially in the Paimio Sanitarium project (1933). For Aalto a blurring of the date was deliberate in a strategic sense, probably so with Morrison as well.
In a recent interview[v] Morrison expressed self-doubt about yielding to pressure to do other than simple, ordinary things:
I have designed plastic chairs and chosen colours for them like so many other designers, and seeing them littering the sidewalks I have become profoundly ashamed of my work and the profession as a whole. That’s visual-pollution design, a phenomenon that’s much too common nowadays, and I think it’s time we designers accepted responsibility for the appearance of the man-made environment.
He regards his better designs and those he and Naoto Fukasawa selected for the 2006 Super Normal[vi] exhibition as belonging to a “community of things”:
The designer’s message is that the Super Normal object has emerged from a long tradition of evolutionary advancement, that it is not attempting to break with the history of form but rather trying to summarise it, and that it recognizes its place within the ‘community of things’.
Among other Morrison designs the 2003 Simplon storage unit and the AC.01 clock tend to confirm his kinship with the now lengthy history of modern design reaching back to Le Corbusier and Max Bill. The Simplon unit is pruned back to essentials: nothing is included that could have been left out, even handles have gone. By way of contrast there is a rich tactility to the expression of materials – smooth white surfaces for the door and door fronts and natural timber for the carcass. Similarly the little AC.01 clock for Punkt[vii] has the precision and clarity of Bill’s Junghans models, but adds the strong red colour in a way that shows Morrison to be one who aims to add to the Modernist design canon not mines it to depletion.
The super normal object is the result of a long tradition of evolutionary advancement in the shape of everyday things, not attempting to break with the history of form but rather trying to summarise it, knowing is the artificial replacement for normal, which with time and understanding may become grafted to everyday life.[viii]
[i] Chipperfield, D (1994) Theoretical Practice p.22
[iv] “Utilism vs Uselessism” in Jasper Morrison: Everything but the Walls (2002)
[viii] From Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary Lars Muller 2007