In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal (which labeled him the ‘quiet superstar of industrial design’), the German-born designer Konstantin Grcic referred to fellow designer Philippe Starck as the Madonna of the design world, meaning that Starck’s global popularity, like that of the singer, kept him from being accorded the credit he richly deserved. Thankfully, Grcic, whose client list includes leading design companies FLOS and Emeco, has no such problem.
Solid evidence of Grcic having ascended from the ranks of noteworthy designer to full-fledged star is the current retrospective of his work at the Vitra Design Museum on the outskirts of Basel. There, Konstantin Grcic: Panorama, which opened this week, and runs through September, provides the first such showcase for Grcic’s prolific output, including the design for which he’s best known (and which graces the show’s catalog): Chair One by Magis, introduced in 2004, and quickly snapped up by the Museum of Modern Art and the Centre Georges Pompidou for their permanent collections.
Characterized by an airy, web-like aluminum seat and back—”more void than solid”—Chair One was a technological breakthrough that required four years of investigation and material experimentation—preoccupations that have emerged as Grcic trademarks. “This was possibly the first time ever that such a large die-cast was used for making a chair. Typically this technology is used for smaller components only. It involved a lot of heavy tooling. I decided to break up surfaces into thin sections like branches and let the material flow through the mold to create the shape, which is kind of like a basket or a grid, and very three-dimensional.”
But perhaps most revealing of Grcic’s approach to design is the fact that Chair One (like Stool One) is, contrary to its sharp-edged good looks, supremely comfortable, too. “People were really kind of stunned,” he reveals. “They didn’t believe it was a chair one could actually sit on.”