STEEL: ART, DESIGN, ARCHITECTURE catalogue.
For the JamFactory’s recently-launched STEEL exhibition, ArtsPeople’s Danielle Robson was asked to profile four Australian designers who work in the medium: Design by Them, Brodie Neil, Craig Hiron and Matthew Harding. We thought we would share them with you!
Born 1979, Hobart, Tasmania
Lives London, United Kingdom
Brodie Neill is inspired by expansive worlds. Be it outer galaxies or the deep sea, complex natural systems provide a wealth of scientific and mathematical principles, which the designer uses to push the boundaries of form and material in his work. ‘Every design is a chance to do something new,’ says Neill. ‘There is creative spontaneity and romance in the process of working towards and realising a dream goal.’
For more than a decade this Australian-born, London-based designer has forged a signature aesthetic by creating striking biomorphic furniture pieces. The works in his collection stand out as explorations in form and material, yet Neill is adamant that these are designs, not artworks. Aesthetically adventurous as they may be, each piece is designed to provide function. ‘I always consider my editions to be design as they are the result of a design process,’ notes Neill. ‘They can be considered art due to their concept, but it is design that drives ‘what’ and ‘how’ I do something’.
Neill honed his designer-maker skills studying Furniture Design at the University of Tasmania. It was here that he learnt how to design in the third dimension and think like a sculptor. These formative years taught Neill the foundation of all materials – wood, metals, plastics, upholstery, glass and ceramics. ‘I was a sponge, going in on Saturdays and Sundays, blagging my way into all the departments. It was important to me to learn how to express my design language in a range of materials,’ says Neill.
Upon graduating, Neill set off to study a Masters Degree at the acclaimed Rhode Island School of Design in New York in 2004. While he had some early experience using digital technologies in his undergraduate degree, it was here that Neill harnessed the potential of computer-aided design in his practice.
Merging advanced digital design technologies with a profound respect for material and the handmade, is a skill that has come to define the oeuvre of this furniture designer. Digital techniques afford Neill the ability to use complex mathematics to map the surface and create startlingly beautiful forms. From this, he then extracts how the hand can best be used to enhance the design. It is a delicate dance, with the digital and handmade each performing a crucial role in the creative process.
Neill entered the international design scene at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2005 to great critical acclaim. His work caught the attention of Gregorio Spini, a founder of Italian lighting brand Kundalini, for whom he went on to develop the Morphie lamp and then the swirling, intertwined E-turn seat. Later that same year he established his current studio in London’s East End.
The Brodie Neill studio is prolific, producing work in a variety of scales – from the handheld to large commissions for the public realm. Works range from production pieces for design houses such as Kundalini and Riva 1920, to one-off projects for global brands such as Swarovski Crystal Palace and Alexander McQueen, to collectible edition pieces for galleries and private collectors.
In 2013, Neill founded the award-winning self-produced furniture brand ‘Made in Ratio’ with the aim of bringing uncompromising ideas to life by embracing experimental and boundary-pushing processes. Earlier this year, Neill cemented his position as a leading light in Australian design by being the first designer commissioned to represent Australia at the inaugural London Design Biennale.
Born 1971, Sydney, Australia
Works Sydney, Australia
In 2005, tradie-turned-entrepreneur Craig Hiron set himself the task of creating a product that could deliver cafe-grade espresso coffee in the home. Inspired by Giordano Robiatti’s 1947 design classic the Atomic, Hiron saw an opportunity to marry the convenience of a stovetop coffee machine with the quality of espresso.
Coffee is measured in terms of total dissolved solids (TDS), which indicates the concentration of coffee in the water. Simply put, the higher the percentage of TDS, the stronger the flavour. Drip-filter coffee typically measures 2.5%, stovetop methods produce 5%, with espresso coffee measuring around 13%. With espresso as his benchmark and clean intuitive design as his inspiration, Hiron enlisted a team of experts to help him realise his ambition. The team included award-winning industrial designers, Tiller Design, professor of thermal dynamics Dr Allan Wallace, mechanical specialists, engineers and a manufacturing agent. After four years of research, development, design, tooling and production, The Little Guy, 2013 espresso maker was born.
Bringing The Little Guy into the world was an exercise in dogged determination. Twelve months into the design process, it became apparent that the single-unit internal shape of The Little Guy was hindering its ability to achieve espresso-grade extraction. In order to maintain Hiron’s insistence that there would be no external part lines visible on the body of the machine, the internal mechanics had to be completely re-engineered. This juncture led to the breakthrough patented design by Dr Allan Wallace which divided the internal workings of the machine, so that the head and boiler could heat independently. This was the moment when Hiron’s initial idea became a workable reality.
This was also the moment that dictated The Little Guy be crafted from stainless steel. Steel is the only material that provided the thermal stability required for precise espresso extraction.
Despite committing over a decade to the creation and promotion of The Little Guy, Hiron recently made the decision to suspend production of his stove-top espresso maker. Although warmly embraced by the design and coffee aficionado communities in Australia, recent inroads into the international market have not led to the kind of traction to ensure business is sustainable. Hiron’s commitment to design and coffee excellence – in equal measure – saw the idea for The Little Guy come to fruition, despite countless obstacles. The uncompromising manufacturing methods used will ensure that the machines currently in existence will be used and loved for generations.
The Little Guy has received many accolades, including winning the Australian International Design Mark in 2008, being a finalist in the International Design Excellence Awards in 2009, winning The Chicago Athenaeum’s Good Design Award in 2011, and being nominated for the prestigious German Design Awards in 2013.
Born 1982, Sydney, Australia
Lives Sydney, Australia
Born 1984, Sydney
Lives Sydney, Australia
Like many bourgeoning industrial designers in Australia, Sarah Gibson and Nick Karlovasitis were nearing the end of their studies and found themselves beleaguered by the tough conditions of staying local and forging a design career. While many young graduates head overseas in pursuit of work and opportunities, Gibson and Karlovasitis resolved to stay put and build the option that they felt was missing in Australia. And so in 2007, DesignByThem was born.
DesignByThem is a furniture and object design house that develops and represents the work of Australian design talent. As well as creating products themselves, DesignByThem counts the likes of Stefan Lie, Trent Jansen and Jon Goulder among their stable of collaborators. The DesignByThem collection is a careful balance of fun and function. Products must be innovative, but not forced; useful, yet enjoyable; contain personality, but also humility. The result is a body of work that explores process, shape and material with marked respect, adding pops of colour and hints of whimsy with a deft touch.
In the near-decade they have been collaborating, Gibson and Karlovasitis have refined and honed their aesthetic, pursuing a ‘form follows function’ approach. As noted by Gibson, ‘We love nothing more than taking out a detail. It’s about minimalism, and personality, and reducing the form to a point where it satisfies both.’ The Dial Hose Hanger, 2014 is a recent standout product for the pair, and a perfect example of this pursuit. Comprising a simple circular shape in flat, block colour, this garden-hose-concealer is an ingenious reinvention of an Aussie backyard staple. It’s also a reflection of how their work has changed: ‘We wouldn’t have designed a garden hose hanger in that way when we were starting out,’ says Gibson.
Understanding their customer, their expectations and what they value has also shaped their design practice. ‘We’ve become much more comfortable designing for the customer, rather than trying to impress our peers,’ notes Gibson. ‘We value what people love to buy and own in their home. If someone with no preconceived notion of design sees our products and loves them, then we’re happy and we know we’ve nailed something intuitive’.
An in-house workshop is further evidence of their acute attention to detail. Assembling, inspecting and dispatching every item they sell is par for the course for DesignByThem. A perfectly executed finished product is just as important as a thoughtfully and carefully conceived concept.
DesignByThem has also had to balance the commercial realities of wanting to support local manufacturers and produce their wares in Australia, with their mandate to support Australian designers, which in turn means being accessible to their customers. This ever-present tension led the duo to concede that sometimes it is in the best interests of the designer and the customer to manufacture products overseas. This means the company can invest more in the materials and processes used. However, a commitment to local manufacture remains important, and DesignByThem offer the option of locally-manufactured versions of their products to their customers.
DesignByThem is a member of the Design Institute of Australia. Karlovasitis is a DIA fellow and is involved heavily in their events around Australia. Both Gibson and Karlovasitis studied Industrial Design at the University of Technology, Sydney, graduating in 2006.
Born 1964, Sydney, New South Wales
Lives Trentham, Victoria
Matthew Harding grew up watching his father manipulate material with his hands. A builder by day, Harding’s father spent his free time shaping boats, a passion that forever instilled in Harding a love of, and respect for, the creative potential of raw materials.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Harding originally trained as a carpenter. However, on the day he completed his apprenticeship, he promptly left and enrolled at the Hunter Street School of Art and Design in Newcastle (now the Newcastle TAFE) to pursue a career as an artist. He originally focused on painting, not equating ‘art’ with the material skills he had left behind in carpentry. It didn’t take long for Harding to find his way into sculpture, with carving his technique of choice: ‘Carving is a way of thinking that is distinct from other art practices. Most processes are constructive, additive, where you model a shape to take form. To carve is to reduce. It requires a different sense of visualisation, and I fell in love with that process.’
The idea that a form emerges almost organically from a material, underpins much of Harding’s work. He is a maker of forms, above all else. While much of his career has been spent creating permanent works for the public realm, Harding has adamantly held on to his need to work intuitively. ‘I start off with a thought, with the material in hand. I look at it, and go with it. I try to maintain as much plasticity in the process as possible’.
Harding went on to study Furniture Design at the Canberra School of Art in 1992. He describes this experience as the pivotal moment where he was able to reconcile himself as both an artist and builder, ‘…because design bridges that. It removes all the divides between artist and artisan, between art and craft, art and design. As pure aspiration of form, art is design and design is art. They are both processes that are seeking to express an outcome.’
Harding produces innovative art and design pieces, which utilise his unique sculptural sensibility and refined craftsmanship. Whether creating large-scale public art, sculpture pieces or design objects, Harding’s tenacity and hunger to push the boundaries of what is possible are ever-apparent.
While diverse in materials and processes, Harding’s works demonstrate a common theme and investigation into the experiential aspect of form and materiality. He creates objects to be interacted with, touched, and sat on. His are objects that reflect and morph; objects that have a vital and poetic relationship to their surrounding environment and the people who interact with them.
In a stellar career spanning almost three decades, Harding is renowned for his steel forms, both stainless steel and corten. His thorough understanding of material, and boundary-busting approaches has seen him reap countless accolades, and exhibit in group and solo shows across the globe, with his work held in public and private collections around the world.
Alongside his art practice Harding has guest-lectured and taught in various higher education institutions across the country, including the Australian National University and the University of Tasmania. Cross-cultural collaboration and skill-sharing and transference has also been a particular area of interest for Harding, and he has actively participated in many cultural exchange platforms in Australia and abroad including symposia, collaborations and residencies.
Published by JamFactory
Words by Danielle Robson