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Konstantin Grcic, the Transformer

Until August 26, the Kreo gallery presents “Transformers”, an exhibition by Konstantin Grcic. The designer exploits a precision measuring device used in the automotive and aeronautics industries, diverted from its original function. He has created a collection of nine pieces, including pendant lamps, floor lamps, reading lights, table lamps and tables, in addition to a number of new Milanese items, just a few days before the Basel Fair, where major collectors converge. A wonderful excuse to meet this uncompromising designer and delve into his career.

It’s one of those names that we exchange with a knowing air, once we can boast of pronouncing it correctly. Konstantin Grcic has become the essential German designer of exacerbated rigor, in the manner of Richard Sapper or Dieter Rams. When you meet him, you can’t help but admire his engaging calm, a calm that thrives on the combination of craftsmanship and technique. Trained at Parnham, a private school in Dorset, before joining the Royal College of Arts, three years of collaboration with SCP Ltd will strengthen his ties with the UK. For him, perfectionism is essential. A moral and disciplined approach to design that he shared with his supervisor, Jasper Morrison, barely seven years his senior. Function, obviousness of expression, “utilisme” they like to say. He is one of a group of designers who, in the 90s, reintroduced in Europe a partnership with industry and a new rigor that had disappeared in the 80s.

Exhibition ``Transformers``, Konstantin Grcic © Alexandra de Cossette

Ongoing dialogue


Wood has always inspired him, as it is infinitely recyclable, but he excels in working with metal, plastics, which he uses sparingly, and new materials resulting from research. Her brain remembers the works of art in her mother’s gallery and the open-mindedness of her father. He designs with industrial manufacturing in mind. At RCA, he did not take part in the proliferation of arbitrary forms in the 80s. His furniture is designed for production, as are his lighting fixtures. He favors the human-object relationship, what Marcel Breuer called “conceptual generosity”, and shares an ecological vision of design that SCP and Cappellini appreciate. The manufacturers know their market and he talks to them – with ClassiCon (known for its Eileen Gray re-editions) or the Authentics firm, which maintained an impressive network of small European or Southeast Asian manufacturers (metal/Germany, plastics/Taiwan, glass/China, bamboo/India).

Exhibition ``Transformers``, Konstantin Grcic © Alexandra de Cossette

When he opened his studio in 1991, he began international collaborations with Driade, Flos, Krups, Montina, Moormann, Moroso, ProtoDesign, Whirlpool… In 1998, his MayDay polypropylene hand lamp, published by Flos, entered MoMA’s permanent collection and won the Compasso d’Oro.

Exhibition "Transformers", Konstantin Grcic © Alexandra de Cossette
Exhibition "Transformers", Konstantin Grcic © Alexandra de Cossette

Good design is design that can be explained over the phone. It tapers thickness and reverses the logic of mass. At Euroluce, on the Flos stand, the Black Flag extended like a large arm over 3.50m, not to cast shadows but to create light. His luminaires have kept pace with the transformations in the electrical industry, which has to apply increasingly drastic safety measures on a planet in danger. Today, use and recycling go hand in hand. And he’s delighted to see the May Day hand-held lamp now transformed into an outdoor luminaire thanks to advances in waterproofing techniques.

Black Flag, design: Konstantin Grcic © Flos

From industry to experimentation


“There’s no connection between Flos’ Black Flag and Kreo’s Transformers collection. This project is much older. ‘Black Flag’ started out in raw materials and ended up in aluminum profile. Which was necessary from an engineering point of view.” The Flag is a commercial lamp (Flos), while the Transformers, which don’t transform, are subversive modules, catalysts for another idea, like social invaders. The microscopic spotlight, magnetized to the metal structure (the sound of the connection is magical!) is not his creation, but he uses it. Ditto for the profile. “It exists. I use it. It’s an Alufix profile from the automotive industry that measures the strength of each point on the vehicle to reinforce its skeleton. In this way, manufacturers measure the precision of the metal’s pressure point to facilitate door manufacture, robot handling and installation on another manufacturing station. “This company, near Hamburg, makes ‘precise measure gigs’ which then become like a silver Lego. It’s a pattern, a model.”

Raggiosole, design: Konstantin Grcic for ALPI © Federico Cedrone
Arcobaleno, design: Konstantin Grcic for ALPI © Federico Cedrone

“In 2018, the project was already clear with the Kreo gallery. But with Covid, everything was postponed, postponed, and we had to try other things. I wanted to make a ‘big and heavy’ lamp, with chains, impressive, not in the weight but heavy like a cross, … big but different… and we made the table with this profile which allowed us to make very free typologies. In furniture, it’s not so easy to make a table that doesn’t look like a table. As a luminaire, it doesn’t look like a lamp, but it is a lamp with crazier typologies (that don’t make sense). (…) Then came the pandemic and the first lamp was this one, the small one. You can’t change the height, just the lamps and their orientation for greater elegance. The company that manufactures them only makes them for showcases and museums. In showcases, they are invisible, simply pointing out the object to be discovered with their rays of light. They are used in some showcases at the Louvre, for example. You can’t add so many because you have to run the power cables through the tubes. There are as many lamps as there are cables. We played with this controllable mechanism. Here, we celebrate the beauty of matter like an insect on a branch, ants or ladybugs. 48 lamps on the line. From a technical point of view, it’s a great way to light a table, a work surface or a shelf, because you can direct the rays.

Cugino Soft stools, design: Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi © Studio AKFB

At the Salone del Mobile, he presented Magis outdoor furniture with a cover in progress. with Hella Jongerius. “We’ll need another year to finalize it. In a new role, he is artistic director at Mattiazzi. He designed the stand and chose the designers for the Cugino project in oak, which could be declined in other woods. “It’s a very different kind of work. I’m not the one drawing. But it’s very important for small companies today to find their way to a just future. This is a very small company with a turnover of 5 million euros and just 50 people.”

Plank bench / Remo chairs, design: Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi

Design and mobility


Today, he is working on an exhibition to be held in Paris next March, coinciding with the Olympic Games, on sport and design. He curates and manages the scenography at the Musée du Luxembourg, under the direction of Fabienne Charpin-Schaff and with the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. Among the areas he rarely touched on were mobility topics: cycling, boating… ” Areas where you need good partners, because mobility is part of our lives. You have to be able to move. Confinement was obediently followed because we were all afraid of an invisible danger that brought the world to a standstill. The production lines were put on hold with astonishment, but today we can celebrate the success of this containment and continue to think about a more ecological and reversible design. “Welcome to the era of distributed capitalism and the third industrial revolution in a networked sharing economy! Until 2024, between medieval chandeliers and cyberspace ships, let yourself be fascinated by these ‘Transformers’ exhibited at Galerie Kreo.

Bénédicte Duhalde