Design Indaba: Day 2

Highlights of yesterday’s second day of Design Indaba in Cape town included a talk from London-based design studio Bibliothèque, a history of Italian design factory Alessi, delivered by Alberto Alessi – and a great talk by young furniture maker Maarten Baas…

Bibliothèque… they like books

Highlights of yesterday’s second day of Design Indaba in Cape town included a talk from London-based design studio Bibliothèque, a history of Italian design factory Alessi, delivered by Alberto Alessi – and a great talk by young furniture maker Maarten Baas…

Bibliothèque‘s three founders – Jonathan Jeffrey, Tim Beard and Mason Wells – took to the stage and introduced themselves by showing an image of their bookshelves (top image) and explaining that they are avid collectors of books and magazines and other artifacts relating to design. Which is also why they chose their studio name. Creative Review got a nice name check when the guys showed the shot of the three of them in the empty shell of a studio which was taken to accompany our One To Watch piece on the studio when they were just setting up back in 2003. The studio also showed the studio plan photograph they took which appeared on the cover of Creative Review when we ran a bigger feature on the studio in March 2006.

Having given the audience a sense of who they are and the space they work in, the trio took it in turns to show and tell various projects, from the beautifully monochrome floral identity for New York lingerie label Catriona Mackechnie, to the cleverly researched and redrawn harmonographic logotype for the London Sinfonietta.

The trio also demonstrated their love of “making objects to make graphics” by showing images of the block of concrete cast especially for the identity they created for Corbusier show at The Barbican. This project led nicely into showing a host of exhibitions and events for which the studio rigorously created graphics and environmental design – for clients including D&AD and London’s Design Museum. Great stuff.

Above: We dedicated an issue of Monograph to Bibliothèque’s work for the Design Museum’s Dieter Rams exhibition, for more info, click here.


In the afternoon, Alberto Alessi delivered a history of his family’s company in an attempt to explain what he called “the phenomenon of the so called Italian design factories”, talking through the ideas, products and designers that have shaped the company over the years. He was charmingly candid about the time when he joined the company in 1971 and decided not to commission architects and designers to design homewares as his father had been doing since the 50s. His plan was to collaborate with artists and sculptors instead to create art objects, but despite an attempted collaboration with Salvador Dali to create art multiples, his idea flopped.

Alessi’s 9091 Kettle designed by Richard Sapper, 1982

As well as showing some of the company’s hugely successful products such as Alessandro Mendini’s Anna corkscrew and Richard Sapper’s melodious kettle from 1982 (and demonstrating its sound by blowing through the whistle to a delighted audience), Alessi showed several products designed for and by the company that failed to find a buying audience – including the little-known and, apparently, unGoogle-able “Alessophone”. He then told the audience of his “borderline theory” in which he positions his company as being on the borderline separating the possible and the impossible. Some things they make will be viable, and some won’t – but all of Alessi’s products will strive to embody an Italian attitude to design, he said, that combines both art and poetry. I have a sneaking suspicion that sales of the Sapper designed Alessi 9091 kettle (which is still in production) might be enjoying a spike at the moment…

If he was nervous taking to the stage immediately after Alessi (Alessi welcomed him to the stage by tooting on the melodious kettle whistle) furniture designer Maarten Baas didn’t show it. Rather than be intimidated by Alessi’s celebrity, he began his talk by questioning perfect looking designs and what he called the “superman aesthetic” – before showing a selection of his furniture projects to date – all of which, unarguably, challenge current design convention.


Baas also showed his collection, entitled The Chankley Bore (chest of drawers shown below), which he created for Established & Sons which hasn’t been as popular as his Clay Furniture (shown above) or his Smoke furniture. “The sales were even more limited than the edition,” he told the audience.

A chest of drawers from Baas’s The Chankley Bore collection he created for Established & Sons

Baas then brought the audience up to speed with his Real Time project which explores very manual ways of displaying the time…

Grandfather Clock, for example, is a free standing clock that displays a looping 12 hour film of a man drawing the time every minute – and there’s a “digital” iteration of the project (with a person visible behind the display physically changing the display every minute) available for the iPhone called Digital Analogue Clock which was launched in Milan in April last year.

With a few minutes to the scheduled end of his talk, Baas said that he normally asks an audience if there are any questions but actually he gets asked the same things a lot so he produced a list of FAQs and set about answering them. The first question was whether he considered himself to be a designer or an artist. His response? “For years I’ve been eating and enjoying tomatoes. Yet I’ve never really known whether or not it’s a vegetable or a fruit.”

To end his talk, Baas explained he was missing his mother’s birthday in order to be at Design Indaba. He asked the crowd to say Happy Birthday on cue so he could make a film of it to send to his mother. The crowd happily obliged, following the birthday message with whoops, clapping and cheers.

Another great day at Design Indaba!

More info on Design Indaba at
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