Place Making

Words by Oli Stratford, Disegno

A flock of metal birds, perched delicately and gently rocking in anticipation – learn how the design behind Emeco’s stand at the Salone del Mobile came together.

“Birds?” remarks Jasper Morrison, the designer of Emeco’s 2018 Salone del Mobile stand in Milan. “I suppose they’re a peculiarity of the industry.”

Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the design industry has enjoyed a veritable aviary of bird creations. From the celebrated Eames Bird, through to Kay Bojesen’s Songbird, and Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s Oiseau, across the generations a number of the industry's leading lights have turned their hand to creating such creatures. At this year’s Salone del Mobile, it fell to Emeco to expand the avian pantheon further.

Created by emerging designer Yun Li and edited by Morrison, the Emeco birds were one of the standout features of this year’s Salone del Mobile. A series of aluminium pigeons, sparrows, blackbirds and crows decorated each wall of the Emeco stand, all produced using a series of elegantly bent offcuts from Emeco’s factory. The pieces initially grew out of Li’s studies at Paris’s Ensci-Les Ateliers, where his final project was supervised by Morrison. “Yun is a super-talented guy, and at the end of his project he gave me the pigeon as a present, which I really love,” says Morrison. “Since then we've been thinking about what we can do with it and I thought of Emeco because of the material and the tidiness of it as a project. ”

When invited to design the Emeco stand, Morrison saw the birds as a means to “make the mood a bit lighter, a bit more relaxed, and reinforce the aluminium DNA of Emeco.” It is a design that Gregg Buchbinder, Emeco’s chairman, immediately fell for.

“I saw everything that Emeco does in the birds,” says Buchbinder, who is now overseeing the launch of the birds as a product – Emeco’s first ever object. “They’ve got Emeco's DNA, and they’re made using the things which we were founded on – it’s aluminium, it's bending, it's forming, it's hand-finishing, it's anodising,” he says. “When you look around the stands at the Salone, you see a lot of peacocks, but at Emeco, we like to think we’re humble birds.”

Humbleness, of course, is a trait that can easily get lost in the world of the trade fair – a concentrated pool of product launches and showcases, in which brands from around the world vie for attention in an ever more congested market space. Standing out amidst the melee can be a challenge. “It is so important to have a good stand, and to have the right stand for the product, especially in Milan,” notes Morrison, who has now designed Emeco’s stand for the third time in the past years. Central to Morrison’s work for the company is a desire to express Emeco’s designs simply and consistently, and to place a clear focus onto the values embodied by the products on display. “You feel a bit of responsibility,” he acknowledges, “but it’s fun doing it.”

This year, Emeco presented three new projects, all designed by Morrison: the 1 Inch Reclaimed, a new version of the 1 Inch collection executed in sustainable wood polypropylene; the Alfi Aluminum, a recalibration of the Alfi chair with an aluminium frame suitable for out-door use; and the Alfi Soft, a series of fitted upholstered seat covers that snugly slip onto any existing Alfi chair. As such, Emeco’s 2018 launches were carefully calibrated to rationalise its collection, intelligently rounding out its existing designs with a series of rigorous experiments with new materials and constructions.

Morrison’s stand design was also calculated to convey this kind of economical and highly thought-through approach. Every surface in the stand was clean and white, providing a blank canvas against which the products could be set out and viewed. Similarly, the stand was designed to feel open and airy, welcoming visitors in, while also providing ample space for guests to move easily through the stand. Moreover, each new product was afforded its own clearly defined space, providing a level of legibility and clarity across the stand – an exercise in precision.

“We always want our company to be sincere and transparent,” says Buchbinder. “If you look at how this stand operates and functions and its usefulness – and not just from a 'product standpoint' but from a ‘people standpoint’ too – it's easy for people to get in and get out and it's easy for people to see what we do. It's a beautiful environment, but it's also right for what we're doing.”

This kind of thoughtfulness also extends to working within the constraints of the format. “When we were designing it, Gregg rang me and said, ‘We've got some bad news,’” says Morrison. “'We have a fire escape running through our stand, but the good news is that we’re allowed to use that space.’” The resulting design saw the fire escape’s ceiling converted into an-other display surface, providing a plinth upon which Morrison set out a series of Emeco’s classic Navy chairs.

This kind of improvisational thinking is a vital part of creating a stand at one of the busiest events of the annual design calendar. In that kind of environment, every decision counts. “You’ve got maybe five seconds to catch people's attention and show them what you're doing,” notes Morrison. “If you don’t, they’ll just keep walking.” //

Read Part 2: The Story of the 1 Inch Reclaimed
Read Part 3: A Game of Tennis

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