Konstantin Grcic: One of the most important designers of our era

At TYPO Berlin Konstantin Grcic will be joined in a round-table discussion by another design character. Typographer, font designer and TYPO founder Erik Spiekermann. Along with Mateo Kries, director of the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, they’ll explore the “DNA of design” and talk about attitude and ideals in design.


Konstantin Grcic is one of the most influential designers of our time. Serious and functional, unwieldy and occasionally disconcerting, his works combine an industrial aesthetic with experimental, artistic elements. Many of Grcic’s creations, such as »Chair_One« or the »Mayday« lamp, are widely acclaimed as design classics.

Konstantin Grcic (*1965) was trained as a cabinet maker at The John Makepeace School (Dorset, England) before studying Design at the Royal College of Art in London. Since setting up his own practice Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID) in Munich in 1991, he has developed furniture, products and lighting for some of the leading companies in the design field. Amongst his renowned clients are Authentics, BD Ediciones, ClassiCon, Flos, Flötotto, Laufen, Magis, Mattiazzi, Muji, Nespresso, Plank, Serafino Zani, Thomas-Rosenthal and Vitra.

Erik Spiekermann, Konstantin Grcic, Mateo Kries: The DNA of design – attitude and role models, Saturday, TYPO hall, 3pm

For Galerie kreo in Paris, he has created a number of limited edition pieces since 2004. Many of his products have received international design awards such as the prestigious Compasso d`Oro for his MAYDAY lamp (Flos) in 2001 and the MYTO chair (Plank) in 2011. Work by Konstantin Grcic forms part of the permanent collections of the world´s most important design museums (a.o. MoMA/New York, Centre Georges Pompidou/Paris).

Chair one, photo: Tom Vack
Konstantin Grcic has curated a number of significant design exhibitions such as DESIGN-REAL for The Serpentine Gallery, London (2009), COMFORT for the St.Etienne Design Biennale (2010) and BLACK2 for the Istituto Svizzero, Rome (2010). In 2012 he was responsible for the exhibition design of the German Pavillon at the 13th Architecture Biennale in Venice.
Solo exhibitions of his work have been shown at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, 2006), Haus der Kunst (Munich, 2006), The Art Institute of Chicago (2009) and most recently at the Vitra Design Museum (Weil am Rhein, 2014).
The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) appointed Konstantin Grcic “Royal Designer for Industry”, in 2010 he was fellow at Villa Massimo in Rome. Design Miami/Basel arwarded him the title “2010 Designer of the Year”. This year Wallpaper* announced Konstantin Grcic and Patricia Urquiola to be the joint winners of this year´s DESIGNER OF THE YEAR AWARD. “Konstantin Grcic can do industrial design and conceptual experiments better than anyone, as proven by last year’s sweeping overview of his career at the Vitra Design Museum. At Design Miami/ Basel, he turned heads with his pavilion for Audi, built from parts of the new TT Coupé. Grcic also produced the ‘Rival’ chair for Artek and the ‘Tuffy’ chair for Magis, as well as making his first foray into bathroom furniture for Laufen. But his ‘Man Machine’ collection for Galerie Kreo was perhaps the most striking: mechanical glass furniture animated by pistons and cranks.” (Wallpaper)

Konstantin Grcic defines function in human terms, combining formal strictness with considerable mental acuity and humour. Each of his products is characterized by a careful research into the history of design and architecture and his passion for technology and materials. Known for pared-down pieces, Grcic is often called a minimalist but the designer himself prefers to speak of simplicity.


A selection of Konstantin’s projects and exhibitions

Konstantin Grcic: SAM SON is an easy armchair with a hint of a cartoon character. Propped up on 4 stilted legs, the chair features a softly suspended seat shell between a giant, horseshoe-shaped sausage, the chair’s characteristic arm- and backrest. Made from two different rotational mouldings, the chair combines a rigid plastic for its base and a more elastic polymer for the upper part. The exaggerated dimension of the arm- and backrest provides comfort and support, and creates a protective space for sitting in it. SAM SON comes in 4 different colours. It is suitable for both in- and outdoors.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-20 um 20.41.54 Sam Son (2015)

Konstantin Grcic: The CLERICI collection of wooden benches radiates devout serenity. The philosophy and construction of CLERICI is consistent with our first collaboration for Mattiazzi (MEDICI, 2012). The manufacturer´s excellence in technology and workmanship enables the interpretation of a classical typology with contemporary perfection. The precision and simplicity of the benches´ solid construction manifest a calm intensity that lives up to the architectural grandeur and clarity of spaces CLERICI is destined for: museums, waiting halls, restaurants, boutiques etc.
The CLERICI collection comprises of a classical bench (as 2-, 3- and 4-seater) as well as a lower, more reclined version (from armchair to 3-seater, with optional upholstered seat cushions). The benches are made in sold oak or stained ash. The upholstery on the low version is available in leather or woven fabric.

Clerici, photo: Gerhardt Kellermann Clerici (2015), photo: Gerhardt Kellermann

Konstantin Grcic: For the occasion of design miami/basel 2014, Audi commissioned us to design a presentation of their brand new third generation Audi TT coupé. We conceived the TT PAVILION, a small polygonal ‘building’ in wood and aluminum which incorporates seven original TT hatchback doors as wing-like entrances.For me, the Audi TT is a car that you drive from the city out into the countryside. I wanted to respond to this experience with a small building that stands as a remote destination to such a drive.
Conceptually, I was interested in applying the high technology used in automotive manufacturing to an architectural context. Cars can be regarded as very sophisticated industrially produced architectures. They not only provide a protective shelter but also are perfectly equipped functional spaces for working, communicating, eating and relaxing.
The free-standing TT-PAVILION is pre-fabricated and mounted on adjustable pylons, allowing it to be installed in even the most imponderable terrain.

Installation view of the TT PAVILION and Audi TT Coupé at design miami/basel 2014. Photo: Tom Vack, image courtesy Audi AG. Installation view of the TT PAVILION and Audi TT Coupé at design miami/basel 2014. Photo: Tom Vack, image courtesy Audi AG.
Konstantin Grcic: MAN MACHINE is a collection of furniture pieces developed for Galerie kreo in Paris. Like the CHAMPIONS tables, my previous project for kreo, I based the entire collection on one material (and technique): glass. Glass is surely not the most obvious material for making furniture. Apart from being cold and heavy, there is a prevalent stigma about its fragility. However, if you think about it, glass is one of the most commonly used building materials in contemporary architecture. The idea of MAN MACHINE (named after Kraftwerk´s 1978 album) started to formulate when we began introducing moving elements to the glass furniture. The movement is achieved by using industrial gas pistons, a kind of magic muscle. The performance and leverage of each gas piston is customized according to the exact movement required. On the CHAISE (chair), the piston is used to alter the position of the backrest, on the round TABLE_M the piston makes the table top fold away.

CHAISE and ZED table Man Machine (2014): CHAISE and ZED table

Konstantin Grcic: I started to work on this project during my bursary at the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome in 2011. My first inspiration came from the wrought iron benches which furnish the parkway of the academy´s premises. Structural considerations soon led to the cross-shaped leg in cast aluminum which, inevitably, created an image reminiscent of the famous Barcelona chair (1929). The logic and beauty of this leg detail were so definitive, they overruled any initial qualms concerning Mies van der Rohe´s iconic design. Ironically, my project was to be produced by a company based in Barcelona. Nearly a century later, we were able to re-interpret this furniture classic in a new way, making it ergonomically better while turning it into a more systematic, technologically advanced product. Using aluminum extrusions for the curved seat/back profile and slats is a logical continuation of my previous work for BD, but also adds a great flexibility to the production of the bench. BENCH_B can be made to any length from a one-seater chair up to a maximum length of six meters. It can be fitted with optional armrests, it can be upholstered or left in pure aluminium.


Konstantin Grcic: Muck Petzet, architect and general commissioner of Germany´s contribution to the Architectural Biennale in Venice, has assigned us/KGID to be in charge of the exhibition design of the German Pavilion. Entitled REDUCE/REUSE/RECYCLE, the show points to the hierarchical logic of waste management and how the same value system may be addressed to the restructuring of building stock.

The exhibition features sixteen projects exemplifying strategies which recognize the less-appreciated buildings and housing estates of postwar Germany as an important cultural, social and architectural resource.

Muck Petzet: “The quality of the projects shown here lies in the intelligence of their strategies and not of their interventions. In the long run, the ability to study and identify with the existing inventory counts more than confronting it with something new.”

The scenography of the exhibition reflects these ideas by keeping the design to an absolute minimum. Each project is represented by a single large wallpaper image (photographed especially by Erica Overmeer) while a “parcours” of platforms, so-called Passarelle, link the rooms and serve as makeshift seating. Passarelle are those temporary structures typically used in Venice during Aqua Alta (high tide) to provide dry walkways for pedestrians. We are using the elements on loan from the Venice municipality for the duration of the exhibition.

View of the exhibition at the German Pavilion, Venice 2012 View of the exhibition at the German Pavilion, Venice 2012

Konstantin Grcic: Starting to work on the chair, we tried to talk to (nearly) everyone who would have a stake in our project: kids, teachers, school janitors, procurement managers for school furniture, even insurance companies. We wanted to learn as much as we could about the characteristics of school chairs, about their production industry, and about the school furniture market.

School furniture is a very national affair. Each country not only has its own norms and regulations but also its own school furniture industry. In Germany, 3-4 players dominate a highly consolidated market. Without outside competition, these companies don’t seem to have much pressure to innovate or implement the insights gathered in recent studies on school as a workplace.

Recently, and as part of a general attempt to better promote public health in schools, questions of ergonomic seating and working have received much attention. The German Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth has recently published a thorough study called “Work Place School.” The study found that dynamic sitting was the most important condition for physical, spiritual and emotional wellbeing. This, in turn, is the premise for healthy learning. While traditional furniture encourages children to sit straight and still, dynamic sitting allows kids to frequently change posture, even to get up during class.

PRO is implementing these findings through three design elements. First, the round seat is similar to that of a stool so that it does not prescribe a forward sitting position. Second, the slim backrest gives the torso room to move sideways. The third and most decisive design element is the backrest’s distinctive S-shape. Its lower curve allows for freedom of movement and takes strain away from the lower back and pelvis. The three-dimensional shape provides for enough structural stability that the plastic shell can be produced without fiberglass reinforcement. This, incidentally, increases recycling options.

Pro, photo: Oliviero Toscani Pro (2012), photo: Oliviero Toscani
Last in the 360° family is an adjustable work table. Just like old technical drafting machines it has a central column which conceals a mechanism for height adjustment (73cm – 95cm). The base is die-cast in aluminium, the tops are made of laquered MDF (dia. 120cm or 140cm x 90cm).

The 360° family consisting of stool, table and container. Photo: Tom Vack The 360° family (2010) consisting of stool, table and container. Photo: Tom Vack

Konstantin Grcic: 360° is neither a stool nor a chair, but something inbetween. Its name implies that it swivels around and that one can sit on it in all directions. It is meant for seated activities that require a constantly changing posture. 360° is not intended for long stints of work in a static position. Instead it encourages a form of dynamic sitting, short term, ad hoc, improvised – moving around.

360° comes in two types, as a chair on castors and as a high stool. Both versions have a gas piston for height adjustment.

Konstantin Grcic´s radical take on the office chair shatters the ergonomists´monopoly on workplace design and turns a bumrest into a tool. Sitting on it in a traditional way is the least successful approach – you feel a vertiginous sensation that everything that should be there isn´t. (…) In its efforts to shake off the flattened, generic experience of traditional office furniture, Grcic has made something that asks us to think of a chair-as-tool, or chair-as-device. (…) What´s happening here is a strange trick – where by undoing the direct functional performance of a chair, Grcic makes the 360° somehow more functional. By un-inventing the normative perception of the chair, he asks its user to be party to the imaginative invention of sitting. (…) And somehow this provisional quality feels like a relief from a more conventionally comfortable chair. Sitting on it here in my office, it feels less like work, more like doing something.” (Sam Jacob in ICON magazine, September 2009).

360° chair. Photo: Tom Vack 360° chair (2009). Photo: Tom Vack

Konstantin Grcic: In late summer 2006, BASF commissioned me to design an application/product using the BASF material Ultradur® High Speed. Its complementary characteristics led to the idea of developing MYTO, a cantilever chair conceived as monoblock plastic injection moulding. The design was significantly influenced by the material. Chemically speaking, this material belongs to the family of polybutylene terephthalate (PBT). Its high flowability, coupled with the strength of this plastic, allows an elegant transition from thick to thin cross sections. The construction of the chair is based on a supporting frame which disolves seamlessly into the net-like perforations of the seat and backrest.

In May 2008 MYTO was officially selected into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
In 2011 it was awarded the Compasso D´Oro by ADI (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale).

Myto Myto (2008)

Konstantin Grcic: Chair_ONE is constructed just like a football: a number of flat planes assembled at angles to each other, creating the three-dimensional form. I think my approach was a mixture of naivety and bluntness. Given the chance to work with aluminium casting I thought that I should take it all the way. The more we worked on the models the more we learnt to understand the structural logic behind what we were doing. What began as a simple sketch, a series of cardboard models, prototypes, is now a real chair.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-05-20 um 21.03.27 Chair one (2004)

Konstantin Grcic: I designed the MAYDAY lamp to be a tool. It has a practical handle which incorportates the ON/OFF switch and two spikes to wind up the 5 meter long cable. A big hook on the end of the handle comes in helpful to install the lamp wherever needed. The big white funnel is at the same time reflector and protector. Its smooth polypropylen plastic gives off a warmly diffused light and is strong enough to absorbe any bashing. MAYDAY is not designed for anywhere in specific. It rather comes in handy in all sorts of expected/unexpected situations: Taking it to the garage for work underneath the old Mercedes Benz. Taking it to the garden where it can hang from a tree. Using it on top of a ladder or lying on the floor trying to get the cat from behind the cupboard. Kids love MAYDAY inside their self-made cardboard house. I have one next to my bed for late night reading. Another one sits by the front door of my apartment … just in case.

Mayday (199), photo: Florian Böhm Mayday (1999), photo: Florian Böhm

Konstantin Grcic © Markus Jans

Konstantin Grcic

Industrial Designer (Munich)

Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID) was founded in 1991. The work includes furniture and industrial design, as well as exhibition space and interior design. KGID works with some of the leading brands in the design industry. Many of the firm’s products have won international design awards and become part of permanent collections in various globally renowned museums. Known for his pared down aesthetic, Konstantin Grcic is often called a minimalist. But he himself prefers the term simplicity. His definition of function tailored to human use is a mixture of formal severity, intellectual acumen and a certain irony. Grcic’s designs are informed as much by his enthusiasm for new technologies and materials, as by his appreciation of architectural and design history. Photo: Markus Jans