Industrial designer Konstantin Grcic has left no area of design untouched. He has designed everything from glasses to clothes, watches and even bottle openers, but it is his chairs that have brought him the most recognition to date. Konstantin Grcic has been a consistent name on all the lists of hottest designers in the past decade, and for good reason. His innovative objects are writing design history at this very moment. His work is not necessarily always beautiful, but his cutting-edge techniques continue to push the boundaries in terms of what is considered contemporary design – and it changes by the minute. Grcic wholeheartedly embraces this notion. He says“designing chairs touches issues of society, how we live, how life changes–that’s most interesting. How our needs change.” It is change that fuels his design philosophy, and what makes his work so essential today.
Born in Munich in 1965, Konstantin Grcic grew up in Wuppertal, a prominent industrial center in Germany. Upon finishing high school, he trained as cabinetmaker in England, before earning a Master’s degree in industrial design at the Royal College of Art in London. He has since commented on this experience as being integral to his creative development. There, he witnessed a raw, genius creativity in design that was missing from the very rigid and standardized nature of German artisan culture. Throughout the course of his career, Grcic has striven to reconcile these two approaches in creating high quality, innovative objects.
Among Grcic’s teachers was prominent designer Jasper Morrison, who he had managed to impress with his talent. After completing his studies in 1990, Grcic began his career working in Morrison’s design studio for a year. He then returned to Munich, where he opened his own studio “Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design” in 1991. This marked the beginning of his independent journey as a designer, still ongoing almost thirty years later. Since establishing his studio, he has worked for some of the biggest manufacturers like Flos, Vitra, Magis to name a few.
The earliest pieces to come out of his studio were the Tom Tom & Tam Tam side tables. Originally produced in 1991, they were relaunched in 2009 by SCP. The tables feature a steel base and brightly colored MDF tops placed on an adjustable beech column. Though rudimentary in form, they express Grcic’s exploration of function in design, which remains a core element of his philosophy. Stripped down to the essential shapes of a circle and square and featuring an extremely simple mechanism, the tables serve to fulfill their primary function. The design is a no-frills approach to functionality, with a tinge of rawness characterized by the youth of its creator.
Designs for a coat hanger, waste paper basket, trolley, coat stand and glassware set stand between the 1991 side tables and the 1999 Mayday lamp – one of Grcic’s most successful and unwavering designs. It was his first project for Flos and one he approached from a very personal perspective: designing a lamp for himself. To this end, he created a lamp “like a tool” which aimed to rethink an entire typology. The Mayday wasn’t a pendant lamp or a table or floor lamp. It was none of the above and all of them at once. Equipped with a five-meter-long cable and practical hook, the portable lamp can be used anywhere, anytime. It caters to no specific space or function, lending itself to a vast array of situations instead. Grcic found the inspiration for his handy lamp in the handy man’s workshop. The design is loosely based on the portable hooked lamps employed by auto-mechanics in their everyday work. With the Mayday, Grcic’s utilitarian approach was met with a newfound sophistication which would become more prominent over time.
In 2004, Konstantin Grcic impressed the world once more with his Chair_ONE for Magis. The chair came as the result of spectacular ambition and – to quote the designer himself “a mixture of naivety and bluntness”. Presented with the opportunity to work with die-cast aluminum, Grcic decided to push the possibilities of the material to the limits. The final form of the chair was derived from the characteristics and demands of the die casting process after four years of experimentation. It was a breakthrough in innovation involving “a lot of heavy tooling. I decided to break up surfaces into thin sections like branches and let the material flow through the mold to create the shape, which is kind of like a basket or a grid, and very three-dimensional,” Grcic explained. Chair_ONE was also the first project for which Grcic’s studio employed 3-D computer modeling, another important milestone. It led him down unexpected pathways which further chiseled out the core of his design philosophy – research. Grcic believes information to be the foundation for his work, the “only tangible” which prevents designs from becoming overly subjective.
Reinventing the Chair
Four years later, armed with a much deeper understanding of computer-aided design, Konstantin Grcic designed the Myto chair. He had been commissioned by BASF to design a product using Ultradur High Speed, an advanced engineering plastic used in the automotive industry. Once again the material heavily influenced the design, creating a fluid chair with a seamless transition from the thick supporting base to the thin surface of the perforated seat. It is stackable, suitable for indoor and outdoor use and comes in a variety of bold colors such as “traffic red” or “yellow green”. But unequivocally, it is significant for receiving the prestigious Compasso D’Oro for its innovative use of material and record development time. The Myto won Grcic his second Compasso D’Oro, having already earned one for the Mayday in 2001.
The Miura bar stool and 360⁰ stool are further prominent examples of Grcic’s relationship with the complex philosophy of sitting. With the Miura, he sought to distance himself from the faceted aesthetic of Chair_ONE that he was slowly becoming synonymous with following the success of the project. Instead, he used computer software to generate a softer, more sculptural design in plastic. The 360⁰ stool, however, exemplifies a completely different side of Grcic’s approach. In designing the stool, he “wanted to contradict the idea of what a chair should be”. It has all the components of a swivel chair: a horizontal slab for a seat and an upright slab complete with legs on wheels. Yet, if a person were to sit on it the way they would on a regular chair, they would find it extremely uncomfortable. The awkward rigidity of its form encourages a change of posture, improvised seating positions, a heightened awareness of an everyday activity often considered banal. The 360⁰ is made for movement, redefining the way people sit.
Grcic’s chair designs illustrate most obviously the essence of his design approach, but his contribution to design is much broader than these paradigmatic objects. The sheer variety of his work is impressive alone. But his timeless quality is reflected in his ever-evolving and profound thought process and his ability to tell a story with his objects.
In the end, Grcic’s work doesn’t serve to please the eye, it serves the needs of people. Each individual piece with each different purpose contains at its core the answer to a particular situation, an inherent need, a desire. His designs create the framework of modern day life, questioning the essence of life itself in the process. Konstantin Grcic’s work to date is nothing if not progressive, characterized by a thoughtful and intelligent design process. That is the mark of a truly great designer.