Every June, the W Hotel Designers of the Future Awards are presented to a group of young designers whose work is characterized by new aesthetic research, innovative uses of technology and a creative "contamination" with other disciplines.
This year a jury of twelve, including Mike Tiedy, SVP Global Grand & Innovation Starwwood Hotels; Kenya Hara, Creative Director, Muji; industrial designer Konstantin Grcic; and Aric Chen, creative director of Beijing Design Week, honored the English architect Asif Khan, the Viennese office mischer'traxler and studio juju from Singapore.
For Design Miami/ Basel, all were asked to present a "Conversation Piece"—a project to stimulate conversation and dialogue between people from different countries and cultures with the aim of giving visitors an unexpected gift through human contact—produced by the continuous crossover of design with the rest of the world.
Asif Khan, a young English architect, honored by MoMA and profiled in the New York Times as one of five designers to watch this year, presents "Cloud," a machine that creates airborne volumes of soap bubbles. The foam inside rises slowly upward, deforming like a cloud to be caught in fish net stretched across the ceiling, from which a light rain begins to fall after a few hours.
When W hotel asked him to design a "conversation piece" for Art Basel, Khan was in the bathtub playing with bubbles with his son. He studied the architecture and the forms of Eurolite Foam Fluid (his bubble bath), which he carved around the bathtub to imagine an archetypal space where people, surrounded by nature, converse under a tree, caressed by the shadows of the clouds. And he invented a machine that would bring us back to that dream-like place that we have inhabited since childhood. He uses the common elements of water, soap and helium. He does not try to imitate atmospheric conditions, as perhaps Olafur Eliasson might, and with charming simplicity, he hypnotizes us.
His work, which he likes to call "open," crosses many disciplines, from architecture to design to contemporary art. He fuses high and low tech, craftsmanship and design culture. For Khan, design should not impose a method, "because it is something that grows and each time, creates new situations and new contexts; it is therefore a way to enter fables and vice versa."
Whether designing an object like "cloud" or a building like the West Beach Café, Khan's signs are immersed within the same world that generates the infantile vertigo narrated by Twombly, or in which Mike Kelley's restlessness takes refuge. But when the British designer tells us about an architecture made of clouds or a bar whose windows are out of scale, we plunge into the dolls' house that inspired the project; its sophisticated lyricism, suspended between nostalgia and remembrance, pervaded by the lightness of rediscovered naivety, tuned into a frequency that can be heard directly by all, with no need for further explanation. "There was no need to explain that an electronic system calibrates the gas pressure so that the foam will rise into the air to look like clouds. People sit watching it entranced for hours; and also the fact that we are sitting here talking about it, even if on a different level, is still part of this project.
mischer'traxler is the Viennese office of two young Austrian designers: Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler. They met in college and decided to attend the Design Academy in Eindhoven together, where they worked for Designhuius. Later, they presented some of their work at the Art Institute in Chicago and at the London Design Museum. Awarded the Austrian Experimental Design prize and the DMY Award, at Art Basel Miami , mischer'traxler presents two objects and a machine for producing vases. Requested to design their conversation piece, they reflect upon how dialogue necessitates the interaction of at least two people and invent a mirror that works only if at least two people are reflected in it. Not only that, exploring the interaction between man and machine, mischer'traxler create a machine that works only if someone observes it carefully.
This machine is, in fact, a robot that rolls a thin strip of wood to form a conical vase, which is then colored with four markers placed around it symmetrically. A series of sensors in the supporting structure allows the work to continue only if the robot perceives a person near the machine. Only in this case does it continue to form the vase, which will become larger and more colorful based on the number of people that approach it to observe its work.
Simpler, but no less effective, are two lamps, which we usually imagine each with its own light bulb, but in this case are united by a single luminous fluorescent tube. The work of the two Austrian designers lies partway between installation and "true" design objects; the difference is not their totally conceptual approach to design, but the context in which their objects are placed. Their approach to design is absolutely procedural, meaning that it develops like a theorem whose axioms have been predetermined. Sometimes they follow a trial-and-error scientific method which, after a few attempts, led them to obtain containers with fruit and vegetables, bringing them to "Reversed Volumes," a series of containers made with the imprints of vegetables. mischer'traxler describes their work as "slow, like Vienna."
Also at the fair, the Singaporean office, studio juju, made up of Timo Wong and Priscilla Lui, presents a curving tent structure defining an area in which some nearly electric-blue chairs are grouped. The tent's organic shape encourages the kind of intimacy that helps people start a conversation, or at least unites them in one space. The tent's steel structure, having no fabric roof, is immediately accessible along its entire perimeter and, for this reason, according to the two designers, should fulfill the festival's goal of facilitating encounters between people.