When Adam Štěch goes on location for Okolo, the Prague-based design blog and magazine he founded with his brother Jakub and graphic designer Matěj Činčera three years ago, he likes to picture himself as a National Geographic reporter. Okolo’s recent Vienna Only issue, for example, became a kind of urban hunting expedition through the wilds of the Austrian capital, while legitimate business trips — like attending the Milan Furniture Fair as an editor for the Prague interiors magazine Dolce Vita — are rife with opportunities for fieldwork. After “cruising around crowded Zona Tortona in the center of design hell,” as the 25-year-old puts it, he’ll often spend a day or two searching out amazing examples of indigenous architecture to document. One such recent excursion to Lake Como entailed a curious encounter with the locals: “We were looking for an Ico Parisi house, for which I knew the district but not the exact address, and there was a single old man walking nearby,” recalls Štěch. “I approached him on a whim, explaining who Parisi was and asking if he knew the house. He picked us up with his car and dropped us off directly in front of it. I love those kinds of stories.”
We love them too, which is why we asked Štěch to put together this slideshow sharing some of his favorite moments from his travels in the past few years, which revolve almost exclusively around modernist buildings from the ’50s and ’60s. “When I visit a city, I’m not so interested in contemporary design, because it’s already all over the blogs,” he says. “I want to discover something totally new yet totally old. My favorite is seeing an old house in a book and being so surprised at how it looks in person. Often when I ring the bell, people are nice enough to let me inside.” Some of his finds are posted on Okolo, while others he holds on to for future books and projects. Wallpaper recently commissioned Štěch to write about the Parisi house in Como, sending a professional photographer out to retrace his steps (presumably without the aid of any unsuspecting pedestrians). The images in this slideshow, though, were all taken by Štěch himself, and all throughout multiple trips to various regions of Italy. “The ’50s were a heydey in Italian design,” notes Štěch, who’s taken similar photos all over Europe. “There was this amazing connection of rationalism and strict geometry with baroque, organic decoration. It’s modern, but rich in details, craft, and materials. Like brass and tropical wood.” Read his dispatches here, then head over to Okolo’s website to see how it all fits into the larger context of what he and his brother do. Also be sure to check out the duo’s recent book devoted to their Italian design idol: Carlo Mollino.
For the team behind the Czech curatorial studio and blog Okolo — Adam Štěch, Jakub Štěch, and Matěj Činčera — their work is informed as much by the fact that they're based in Prague, with a front-seat view of all things fascinating in Eastern European design, as it is by the fact that they love to travel. Adam Štěch has toured the region documenting amazing modernist homes, one of which he covered for Wallpaper this fall and more of which you'll see on Sight Unseen in 2012, and the trio recently produced a print magazine devoted entirely to the city of Vienna. They also traveled to Frankfurt in November, visiting a succession of designers' studios and photographing them for the Okolo website, slotting them in between posts about new work by Tomáš Král and the deconstruction of a Phillips auction catalog. One of our favorites was the studio of artist Tobias Rehberger, known for his striking graphical sensibility and his affinity for design and architecture, recently witnessed in the award-winning series of spaces he created in partnership with Artek; we've reposted it here with additional images and text that Adam prepared exclusively for Sight Unseen. Meanwhile, look out for a more extensive collaboration we're preparing with Okolo for later this winter.
It all started with the pistol, if only because it was “the simplest to do,” says photographer Adam Voorhes. He first studied the gun, looking for ways to segment it, then he took it apart so that its innards were exposed, right down to the bullet casings. “Some objects can be separated like a technical drawing, while others look more organic, like a football helmet with its straps weaving in and out,” he says. The pistol was squarely in the former camp. He took its disassembled parts and built a kind of 3-D installation, each part hanging from a fishing line in proximity, so that the gun would appear to have exploded in mid-air, a bit like the artist Damián Ortega’s axonometric Beetle or this iconic ad from the ’60s. The wires could be erased in Photoshop once Voorhes got the final shot. After the pistol he’d do an Etch-a-Sketch, and an old-school telephone, turning the studio experiments into his best-known series and then selling commercial clients like ESPN and Spirit magazine on the technique. This is how Voorhes works — he is a commercial photographer. He’s not interested in gallery shows. He tests ideas, and then he sells them.
Does it seem strange to think of furniture, which has such an intimate relationship with the human body, as architecture in miniature? Not, at least, if you count the number of legendary architects who employed their craft in the making of chairs and tables — Eames, van der Rohe, Gray, Corbu, Saarinen, Sottsass — plus all the contemporary ones, like David Adjaye, who aspire to work fluidly across all scales. Way before there was design-art, there was no more permeable disciplinary boundary than the one between buildings and the objects that occupied them. Which, of course, has made the overlap a longtime topic of interest among Sight Unseen's editors. But what's really piqued our curiosity lately is how the relationship works in the other direction, when designers trained to make furniture and objects try to harness larger architectural ideas and shrink them down to a more familiar level — one on which they can be lived with, rather than in. Sometimes you end up with baby skyscrapers or re-appropriated I-beams, other times it's a single detail used to evoke a disproportionate sense of the monumental. We decided to put together a small roundup of recent furniture by designers who take inspiration from various aspects of a profession that Philip Johnson once called "the art of wasting space."