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In the spotlight: Ascan Mergenthaler

Q&A with Herzog & de Meuron senior partner on the new Volkshaus range of furniture

On the occasion of the Salone del Mobile.Milano 2024, ClassiCon presented the new furniture series Volkshaus, designed by Herzog & de Meuron for the eponymous institution in Basel. Built in 1925 as a community centre, the building was recently redesigned by the local architects – and complemented by a boutique hotel with 45 rooms. The Lounge Chair, Stool and Side Table were designed for the hotel rooms and have now been developed for serial production by ClassiCon. In this interview, Ascan Mergenthaler, senior partner at Herzog & de Meuron and head of the interiors and objects division at the international architecture firm, reveals background information regarding product development.

Ascan Mergenthaler. Photo: Gina Folly.

What was the inspiration behind the development of the Volkshaus furniture range?
'Since the original furnishings of the Volkshaus were almost completely destroyed over the years, we were not interested in a faithful reconstruction, but rather in designing something new and independent: an interior that interprets the spirit of the building and its period in a contemporary way. To complement the furnishings of the hotel rooms, we wanted to create a piece of furniture that combined the characteristics of a lounge chair with the functionality of a deck chair - in other words, a chair that was comfortable but not bulky. Furthermore, the stool should not only serve as a footrest or stool, but also as a luggage rack in the hotel rooms. Our designs consciously set themselves apart from the plush furniture of the 1920s.'

What are the main features of the furniture?
'The furniture in the Volkshaus series is characterised by a clear, sculptural appearance. Only at second glance does the complex construction of the frames, which are made of intersecting X-shapes, become apparent. It came into being during an internal research project in which we explored the possibilities and limitations of CNC precision cutting for traditional wooden joints, such as those used in Japanese architecture. At the interface between analogue and digital, we tested the idea of pure wooden leg joints, which appear simple but are in fact complex, in many different forms and variations. This led to the design of a piece of furniture with CNC-cut wooden legs that intersect and interlock at a single central node. This point of intersection is the central design feature of the furniture in the Volkshaus range.

The design of the Lounge Chair consists of three elements: a robust, sturdy wooden construction, cord-strung wooden frames for the seat and backrest and loose cushions that can be added as required. Foregoing solid wood or upholstery in favour of a durable cord weave lends the Lounge Chair and the Stool lightness and transparency. Especially in a hotel room, it's important that the furniture doesn't appear bulky or take up too much space visually - the room practically breathes through the chair. The complex wooden structure ensures that the geometry varies according to the viewing angle and that the furniture looks good from all sides, regardless of how it is positioned in the room.'

The Lounge Chair and Stool are available either in natural oak with sage green cord or in black-stained oak with black cord. What is the reason for this choice of materials and colours?
'For each project, we try to use a reduced, carefully selected range of materials. The few preserved original construction details of the Volkshaus in Basel include window shutters and doors painted a rich forest green. We therefore incorporated different shades of green into our redesign of the building. The dark sage green cord of the Volkshaus Lounge Chair and Stool is coordinated with the green shades of the wallpaper and curtains in the rooms and is also a perfect match for the natural colour of the oak. In contrast, the all black version - black-stained oak with black cord - emphasises the lines of the construction and the characteristic structural look of the form: the spatial composition of wooden frame and cord mesh is perceived as a single form.'

About ClassiCon
ClassiCon prides itself on straddling the line between classic and avant-garde furniture design. The company emerged in 1990 from the tradition-steeped Vereinigte Werkstätten in Munich. The licences for the designs of famous classic modernist designers, such as Eileen Gray, Eckart Muthesius or Otto Blümel, form the foundation for the current collection. Contemporary designs by designers such as Konstantin Grcic, Sebastian Herkner and Victoria Wilmotte create a bridge to the present in the company's portfolio. Sole owner and managing director, Oliver Holy, has been shaping the company for over 20 years with his passion for design, architecture and art. Today, Oliver Holy and CEO Larissa Sarjeant run ClassiCon together as a management duo.

More information:
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