Form Follows Function: German Designer Konstantin Grcic

German industrial designer Konstantin Grcic views himself as a builder who derives inspiration from unusual sources including Japanese anime

The colourful Magis showroom on Gough Street in Central was buzzing with equally colourful characters from the local design community on the evening of 24 November. Aluminium’s founder David Chiu chatted with Homeless co-founder John Wong, while Magis’ agent Brunella Bighi air-kissed PolyU’s School of Design professor Ernesto Spicciolato and colourliving’s CEO Denise Lau. Near the entrance, a tall man with wavy dark hair and slim trousers was adjusting a display. Soft spoken and unassuming, Konstantin Grcic was the event’s man of the hour, yet he seemed to be perfectly fine to let his works speak for themselves.

Grcic is one of the world’s top product designers. His name is often mentioned in the same breath as Philippe Starck or Tom Dixon, with creations that are just as iconic. Born in Munich, he originally apprenticed to be a cabinet maker before studying industrial design at London’s Royal College of Art. He shot to fame with Chair One for Magis in 2004, and has gone on to design installations that border on pure art to practical accessories that border on pure function. In town to kick off Panorama, an exhibition of his works held at HKDI Gallery in Tseung Kwan O, the Munich-based designer presided over a lecture at HKDI following the show’s official opening on 25 November.

Panorama originally premiered at the Vitra Design Museum in collaboration with Belgium’s Z33 Hasselt. “We are privately funded by Vitra but an independent foundation,” explains Mateo Kries, director with Vitra Design Museum. “We are not a company museum and we don’t only exhibit Vitra products. We mount 12 exhibitions every year on topics of design and architecture, and many of these travel.”

Divided into four sections, Panorama reveals Grcic’s vision of the future through large scale mock-ups of a design studio, urban environment and home interior. Along with his products, Grcic’s design process is chronicled through prototypes, drawings and inspirational objects. “I wanted to show personal items,” Grcic notes. “There is a subjective ingredient in every designer’s work that makes the difference. It’s not just about fulfilling expectations or working off a brief. Everyone makes personal decisions. The subjective forms part of a design’s quality; while designing is a serious and challenging practise, we have to approach it with lightness and allow for play and coincidences—other things to feed into the process.”

Grcic explains that rather than sculpting his pieces like an artist, his approach is to build up. “My mind just works that way—you can see it in my projects,” he admits. “It’s more constructed than sculptural. To help the process, we make models and mock-up, which has influenced my language of thought. We make a lot of models in cardboard with flat planes.”

Chair One, for example, resembles a deconstructed football with a rational combination of solids and voids. It has a futuristic quality that has become Grcic’s calling card. “I’m not interested in a cliché of the future,” he states. “I think ahead to how things can be. The thread that connects my projects is the approach, rather than the style. I’m interested in a wide range of materials and technology. Choosing the right material is important at the beginning of a project. Chair One was conceived for public outdoor spaces—this criteria conditioned the chair to be what it is. The result is a shape that may be associated with other things, such as buildings. It took four years to realise the project from knowing what the chair will look like to making it producible. The challenge was the size of mold, and producing the cement column consistently. We can fly people to the moon but we still struggle to make a wooden chair in an economical, structurally sound way that is beautiful and will last.”

Grcic admits that he loves comic books and looks to them for inspiration. “The first thing I do when I go to Japan is buy a comic book,” he reveals. “There is a beauty in them that I like. My chair Sam Son for Magis is a big easy chair with a name that sounds like a comic character. It looks like a creature out of a comic strip and is fun.”

He believes that HKDI is an ideal venue for the show. “I hope that students will feel encouraged to go their own way; to trust their own decision making and beliefs,” Grcic says. “That was what I learned when I went to school. It was the thing that kept me going.”