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“Das Haus” 2016: Beyond the Ivory Tower

© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse
© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse

The design industry is predominantly shaped by commercial factors. Nevertheless, “Das Haus” 2016 by Sebastian Herkner, set to be built at the next edition of imm cologne, shows that design has more to say than can be expressed merely in terms of aesthetics, function, engineering, material and sustainability.

Without a doubt, the current political situation puts Herkner’s 2016 interpretation of “Das Haus” in a context reaching far beyond the fair and the world of interior design. However, his idea and creative design concept can stand on their own, independent of the global events of the last few months and days. Already in early 2015, the Offenbach designer had decided on the shape and character of his house, designed as a symbol of openness which is intended to appeal to all of the visitor’s senses by means of colours, materials and furnishings.

Aesthetically and symbolically, “Das Haus” at imm cologne 2016 represents core values of our lifestyle. Openness and freedom of movement – these are values we have grown accustomed to associating with our European “house”. The concern that these values seem to suddenly be in jeopardy gives Sebastian Herkner’s house a greater meaning than can have been known to the designer when first drafting his “Haus”. The way we live, the way we dwell, the people with whom we share our house and how we furnish it – all of a sudden, this all seems to represent much more of a fundamental stance than before.

© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse
© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse

Over the last few years, the design format of “Das Haus – Interiors on Stage” has been witness to an astounding spectrum of entirely different designs which have continued to lend each “Haus” new character. First, there was the “Haus”, by Indian-British designer couple Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien, who were the pioneers of this format and helped it become what it is today, creating an exotic, free-flowing room ensemble. The next interpretation of “Das Haus” can almost be described as classic: the house created by Italian designer Luca Nichetto, who surrounded the elegant interior with breathing, shutter-like walls with plants in between the walls’ slats. In the hands of British-Danish designer Louise Campbell, “Das Haus” became one large room, the wooden studding of which conveyed Scandinavian flair. Finally, Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri of Shanghai created a course out of rooms and furniture for visitors to follow. The furnishings made visible and called into question living rituals in both Western and Asian culture.

Despite their diversity, one characteristic has remained a central element in all versions of the “Haus”: communication. For the designers, the home was the ideal place to meet, work together and exchange ideas not only with family, but also with friends and the people in one’s surroundings. Now Sebastian Herkner’s concept of an open house makes the case for an interior design that transforms the home into a meeting place, too. Sebastian Herkner has designed a round, partially transparent house, employing movable curtains rather than walls to continually enable new perspectives. In his design, “Das Haus” becomes a statement with symbolic significance: Herkner wants his “Haus” to be understood as taking a stand against societal isolation.

© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse
© Sebastian Herkner, Koelnmesse

It is clear that this interpretation alludes to the current political backdrop of the ongoing global issue of refugees fleeing the war in the Middle East, but it might also be understood as the antithesis of the “conventional” reality of living, the still frequent density and congestion of which do not exactly encourage people to move about freely and interact with their environment. The fact that there is a desire for open living arrangements in our society has become clear over the last few years in many areas – from open kitchens to outdoor living, to bathrooms which have been converted into private spas, and the ideal of the loft apartment, just to name a few examples. Beyond all socio-political issues, Herkner’s design encourages freer forms of living and, indeed, thinking.

Whatever one’s position on Sebastian Herkner’s personal statement may be, his design demonstrates that a way of living is also always a way of life. In addition, the five interpretations of “Das Haus” also show that visionary designers such as Sebastian Herkner, Doshi Levien, Luca Nichetto, Louise Campbell and Neri&Hu are firmly convinced that our lives can be influenced by the design of our home. All of these designers aimed not “only” to create something beautiful with their versions of “Das Haus”, but also to make a statement. They each had a vision of how something could be improved through architecture, furniture and interior design.