by Jerry ElengicalJun 11, 2021
As part of the core team who co-curated Milan Design Week 2021, Lukas Wegwerth is no stranger to circularity, locally produced designs and being emotionally connected to nature. The Berlin-based designer was tasked to create and produce the Supersalone installations, which he did with aplomb, underscoring each with sustainable strategies, akin to his own approach to design that sees reuse as the cornerstone – repairing instead of replacing, rational methods instead of money-making ones, repurposing offcuts and reclaiming materials instead of new production – to spin parables of green.
Prior to graduating with a diploma in Product and Process Design from the University of the Arts of Berlin, Wegwerth was trained as a carpenter, which explains his passion for a hands-on approach to creating, his works an intersection of crafted objects and engineered modular structures. Shaped by his practise of applying explorations and research practically paired with an avid interest in natural processes and traditional material systems, Studio Lukas Wegwerth offers itself as a lab and stage for collaborative building and multiple contexts such as exhibition design, academic research, designing public spaces and private interiors, as well as furniture and structures of architectural scale.
As this year’s Salone del Mobile.Milano concludes with elan, STIR speaks with Wegwerth about co-curating the international furniture fair, its “green” persona, the importance of local production and what shapes his own sustainable practice.
Jincy Iype (JI): Can you highlight some underlying concepts that you and your co-curators based Supersalone on, and what is something that you as a creative individual, wish to bring to the foreground?
Lukas Wegwerth (LW): Supersalone explores possibilities for a new way of creating a fair, that too in a hybrid format ambitiously merging the physical and digital realms. Besides many cultural and democratic aspects, committing to sustainability and responsibility were the main objectives.
Within the curatorial team we generally questioned which materials and functions we needed and because of that, the number of materials used was reduced significantly. We developed material strategies based on rented or prefabricated materials as well as strategies of reusing the applied ones. Together with Andrea Caputo and Stefano Boeri’s studios we developed a strategy that would allow to re-use large quantities of the materials applied for the walls in the commercial area. The structures that we have designed for the social areas are partly built from a rented scaffolding system and in other parts from the Three+One system, an earlier project of mine where we devised a system of connector elements that can be used to build structures. These scaffolding systems allow you to build large structures with ease and in record time, on top of being flexible which we applied to the fair as well.
I believe that diversity in strategies and decision making is important here: there is no “one-fits-all” solution to save resources, minimise waste and move away from the current “take-make-dispose” model. It is rightly said that it takes a village to raise a child – in this case, industry experts who came together for the love of design and respecting each other’s processes and of the planet’s.
JI: What are some learnings from your experience of co-curating the special, recovery edition of Salone del Mobile 2021? What would you like to tell us about the collective curation, collaborating with architect Stefano Boeri and how all of you came together to channel your expertise and ideas into the fair’s program?
LW: The process started very openly, and most decisions were discussed in the whole group of co-curators— during this phase we developed the main ideas and drafts of the concept mentioned earlier. Stefano Boeri put together a unique team that brought together a great diversity in knowledge and backgrounds which allowed us to operate across disciplines, in a widespread configuration. All of us shared the excitement of having the possibility and responsibility of creating a large, impactful event that would bring people together, to celebrate and enjoy design after such a long time. Nevertheless, we also felt the urge to use this special moment in time to rethink and condense the values of coming together and experimenting with the format, to make the event as sustainable as possible. It was fascinating to see how these ideas shaped and how they come together for this diverse, complex, and multifaceted event.
JI: Circularity has been cited as one of the key aspects of the Supersalone – can you elaborate on your contribution to infusing a green strategy throughout the program, in the context of the brief that was given to you by the Milan Design Week?
LW: Supersalone is a dynamic event - it allows exhibitors to focus on their core competence and showcase it to the visitor directly. We believe the lightness and immediacy of this approach works very well with a design that is less material intense and allows for reuse and exchange afterwards. We wanted to avoid wasting material for a temporary moment, and so we decided to create a set of durable but adaptable structures for the social spaces of the fair.
Our brief was to focus on the idea of creating a material strategy that would allow us to introduce the used resources into a cycle of reuse inside and outside the Rho Fiera. We developed a system of modular connectors that can be applied to build minimalist structures for seatings, tables and lounges. The system has been applied in a variety of other projects before and we were able to learn from these past occasions. The structures can be easily produced in a wide range of facilities and can be adapted in future applications. When working with institutions we seek to collaborate in such a way that our partners will learn about the way the structures are made so that they can work with the system independently and implement future adaptations themselves. Like this, exhibition designs can also be exercises in learning together about local production.
Apart from that we also worked with rented scaffolding and refurbished display systems. By including greenery in the form of trees and plants, into the planned scenery of the fair, we created future value: Forestami will plant these trees in Parco Norte once the fair is over.
JI: What is your relationship with nature and how do you extract inspiration from it, as is evident in your works? Can you highlight some favourite, sustainable projects from your oeuvre, the materials you use often and what message these works seek to relay?
LW: When working on projects we always focus on the process of making. The outcomes may seem completely different, but what connects them is the interaction with our surroundings. Rather than designing a surface we want to design a cycle, which is more of a long-term plan. Often, this includes external factors that we tend to include rather than working against them; to collaborate with or integrate nature into our processes of production.
One such example is the Blankenau project where we create structures and furniture from tree forks. Before studying design I was trained as a carpenter: wood is the material that intrigues me the most - I found tree forks particularly interesting as a resource as these are widely neglected as a building material inspite of being durable and strong. They can be harvested from living trees thus bypassing the classic value chain of wood. The process of creating a Blankenau piece requires a certain openness towards the specialties each tree possess — when we start working on a piece, we have a very loose idea of what we want to build. In the process of joint making, more and more potential outcomes become visible and we follow along these routes in order to create a piece based on the given characteristics, resulting in distinct designs.
JI: Tell us what led to the second branch of Studio Lukas Wegwerth and the impact of the Three+One project?
LW: A concentrated interest in establishing a regenerative material cycle led to the foundation of a second branch of the studio outfitted with a wood workshop and sawmill in sylvan, in Germany. Forming a transdisciplinary collaboration of local and international experts, craftspeople and designers, we set out to combine historical and local knowledge, modern processing methods and research tools to explore the various aspects of wood as a material and to develop a responsible practice with respect to its social, environmental and economic context.
The Three+One system has been applied in Non-Extractive Architecture at V-A-C Foundation, State of the Art of Architecture at Triennale di Milano, Biodesign Lab at HfG Karlsruhe, Atelier LUMA, LUMA Foundation and Istanbul Design Biennial .
JI: What are some personal experiences that have shaped your design philosophy and creations so far?
LW: Contributing to the Open Design School in Matera was an experience that has profoundly shaped my approach to working and viewing design: to put the process of making and developing ideas and concepts to the foreground and like this, allowing to learn from each other through working together impressed me deeply. Supersalone would also make the list. (laughs).
The experience of working with the system as a platform for collaborations with organisations or institutions made me realise that it is important to keep processes open and flexible — I usually tend to view outcomes of projects as stages of a process that can be continued. To me, Supersalone is similar: the physical outcome of our involvement in the project are parts of a larger, open process, that we can pursue further and learn from.
JI: Did the worldwide pandemic bring about a systematic change in the way you approach design? What have the past months taught you and what are some aspects you wish the design industry was more mindful of?
LW: We are collectively experiencing the consequences of our very actions on a global level. The topics that we consider the foundation of our work now have gained more visibility, with concepts of responsibility, sustainable design and circularity getting introduced into wider contexts, which is great. People seem to be taking it a bit more seriously than before; we are experiencing a pivotal moment of change.
With planning the event and other collaborations, I have realised how important local production, as well as short and independent value chains are. We must be selective, we must do our research and pay close attention to our conscience, is all I can say.
Click here to read all about STIR at Supersalone, a STIR series on the best of exhibits, moods, studios, events and folks to look out for at Milan Design Week 2021.