Milan is, without a doubt, the most obvious, go-to design capital for contemporary design and exciting new ideas. Every April, during Salone del Mobile, the who’s who from the design world descend on this rather old-fashioned, industrial town to search for the next big thing – whether it be a hot designer, an installation that captures everyone’s imagination, or simply a series of new design concepts.
So where does Design Miami, held in Swiss spa town Basel, sit amongst other designs shows like Salone, Maison et Objet and the London Design Festival?
To coincide with Art Basel, Design Miami – now in its 10th edition – is known for showcasing the best in craft and design. Unlike other shows which primarily promote new product launches and emerging talent, Design Miami focuses on desirable and collectible design, an ongoing trend which sees the finest, handcrafted pieces – by the likes of Marc Newson, Raw Edges and Fredrikson Stallard – being bought as collector’s items and sold via major international galleries and auction houses including The Gagosian, Phillips and Sotheby’s. This year’s Design Miami was no exception with leading galleries from around the world – from Paris-based Galerie Downtown and Jousse Entreprise, to Brussels’ Victor Hunt Designart Dealer and London’s very own Gallery FUMI – all bringing their best, one-of-a-kind pieces to the Herzog de Meuron designed Messe Basel.
Surrounded by one-off pieces featuring the most unusual and exquisite materials, or those that require hours, if not months of research and handcraft work, Jean Prouvé’s original twentieth-century furniture, which you could point out right away, was the highlight of the show.
For those who couldn’t afford a piece of Prouvé in the home, they could still experience the architect designer’s legacy and innovative way of thinking by visiting his Total Filling Station (1969) which formed part of the show’s Design at Large exhibition. This year, curated by André Balazs, the exhibition focused on the history of prefabrication, and Prouvé’s filling station was a centerpiece – a lightweight 13-sided circular building with a central spine evenly dispersing stress throughout the freestanding structure. Its flexibility, coupled with its technical and material innovations, allows it to go beyond standardisation, resulting in a host of variations possible with minimum components.
Also revisiting Prouvé’s work was living architect Richard Rogers. For the show, his practice Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners adapted Prouvé’s 6×6 demountable house – originally built in 1944 for rehousing French civilians during the Second World War – by adding modern living facilities in cylindrical pods, including a bathroom, kitchen, hot water system and solar panels (for generating electricity). Easily assembled and dismantled, the house forms a significant blueprint for further adaptions, such as transportable and demountable refugee housing, in keeping with Prouvé’s original vision.
So, was Design Miami any good this year? For us, it certainly was. It was simply designed but with huge sophistication. It’s not a big show (by square metre), but it had a lot to offer with its carefully curated selection of galleries and feature content. It’s exciting and refreshing to see a show like Design Miami offering something different and unique, one that isn’t driven by trends nor designer brands. Rather, it gives you the opportunity to discover one-off design gems and take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship and every detail. It’s a real showcase with well-thought studies and exercises that really make you think when you exit and return to the ordinary surroundings of this Swiss spa town.