The Discreet Charm of Honest Needs
Neuland Industrial Designers
Together considering themselves an ‘undiscovered land’, these two designers who call themselves Neuland, have an interesting and rather unconventional way of setting about their work, and it is pretty much back-to-front. Stemming from a fundamental distaste for the domination of aesthetics over practicality, they begin designing from the inside out. Doubtless their fondness for mountaineering plays a part in this process, further revealed by the names they choose to give their furniture. Despite this more obtuse approach, the resulting pieces are cool and stylish, which could be somewhat incidental or could just be due to the poetry contained therein.
There are many things to be discovered in Eva Paster and Michael Geldmacher’s packed studio in Munich. Sketches of all sizes transform the walls of the narrow space into diversified pin boards that give a clue as to their latest works. Cardboard models of furniture are arranged on miniature shelves, and prototypes of seats hang from the ceiling. Welcome to the creative cosmos of Neuland. “Normally we develop ideas on our own initiative, without being commissioned. However, we often have a supplier in mind from the beginning”, says Paster. Neuland, meaning ‘undiscovered land’, have a clearly focused approach. By thinking about interrelations and honest needs, Paster and Geldmacher conceive design as a process of uncovering that reveals the essence of a product. As a consequence, there are no particular images that serve as a starting point in the design process, but instead, it’s the ideas and written concepts that lead to the many different aesthetic solutions. At the same time, furniture pieces by these designers are not overly intellectual. They rather concentrate on their use
in every day life. “By far the worst thing is when design becomes l’ art pour l’art. We are allergic to that”, both designers agree, and consider themselves service-orientated problem solvers.
Having a classical background in industrial design, Neuland had been working on surgical desks, board games and packaging before entering the furniture world. The freestanding shelf, called Random, presented in 2005, made Paster and Geldmacher famous as authors of an elegant and deliberate bestseller in the market. Instead of another complicated modular system with typically endless planks and military-style lines of books, they based the emotional relationship to books on their users. Singular small divisions of different heights suppose a very personal way of organising poetry and non-fiction, photo albums and magazines. “We wanted to dematerialise the furniture and give the books maximum value”, explains Geldmacher. Made of 6 mm thick medium density fibreboard, Random communicates its content, while the shelf itself takes a back seat. Following this concept, the designers developed a version that can be opened or closed using doors, and another one called Randomito that is a hanging bookcase.
Things are not always what they seem at first glance, it’s the play of abstraction and surface that often define the aesthetic language of the two designers. They do not consider the outside appearance a superficial pattern, but a consequence that reflects the inner structure of the furniture and therefore its essence. The outside relief of their Elephant Chair explicitly shows the inner tubular steel-construction that exists underneath the leather, like the backbone of an elephant extruded onto the skin. “We did not skin elephants!”, says Geldmacher with a laugh. The most recent version of this anthropomorphic furniture in hardened polyurethane – the first chair Neuland realised – not only has legs and a back like its pachyderm archetype, but is much more delicate. With its far-reaching armrests, it also reminds one of elephant ears. “I like the idea that armrests are charmers when you touch them”, Paster says. Developing furniture from the inside out rather than the other way round, the two designers and mountaineers often play with alpine associations in their designs. ‘El Capitan’ was the working title of a closet-system, referring to the granite monolith in Yosemite National Park – a challenge for all rock climbers. The relief-like front of the wardrobe that was later called Reef, provides many closed units in different sizes and depths.
The effect from the outside is a skyline of shadows and light that changes with daylight and perspective, similar to an outcrop of rock or an underwater reef. “The 1:1 model we built in our studio convinced Interlübke to produce it”, Paster remarks. Hard to believe that this massive cardboard model stood in that small space. “Every year we have more concepts than suppliers”, the designers say. The challenge for Neuland is definitely not their creativity. With Nils Holger Moormann, the furniture company based in the Alps, near Munich, they found an equal partner for one of their newest designs. “This is for sure the most complex design we have developed so far”, Geldmacher says about the ‘K1’ built-in wardrobe. The characteristic point of this plywood piece is the transformation of its weakest aspect into a feature. The tension of the material was increased by systematically placing cuts in the space. Going deeply into the development process with the walls, doors, drawers and shelves, the designers even worked on specially designed hinges. Without any tools required for assembly, the system can be expanded endlessly, providing flexibility, and it also has two-sided access. “We love going beyond the possibilities of construction”, Geldmacher says, describing the furniture’s technical impact. Their design for K1 – which means ‘Kasten 1’ (Cabinet 1) but also has associations with ‘Kommune 1’ and the K2 mountain – was developed as a pragmatic solution during the process. “If we design a whole K-family, that would be unique”, they both agree. A plywood wardrobe that can function as a partition, assembled easily using only a few modules, and held together by inserted plug-and-play pegs, is much more than unique. But showing-off their own achievements is not customary for Paster and Geldmacher, nor is it characteristic of K1 and the whole Moormann family of furniture.
Text: Sandra Hofmeister
Photos: © Neuland Industriedesign