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Swiss by Design

Explore Switzerland // Aug. 12, 2016

From Ricola sweets to graphic design, architecture, cuckoo clocks re-imagined, army knives and ultra-modern mountain huts... there’s more to Switzerland than just a pretty face.

Swiss by Design

Successful product design leaves nothing to chance; quality and Sigg, Swatch, Caran d’Ache, Toblerone, Rivella, Jura, Biella – the iconic Swiss brands that make an instant connection. Stylish cookware, watches, rainbow pencils, cool chairs, penknives, fine chocolate, dairy drinks, statement coffee machines and clean-cut office files; the link is pared-down efficiency. Add contemporary innovators, and it’s obvious that Switzerland’s still got it. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but it was a designer who put it there...

Swiss art and design was for many centuries an oxymoron. Sparsely populated, pre-industrial Switzerland had little time for patronage of the arts. While the royal courts of Europe saw art as power and prestige, the Swiss gave short shrift to fancy portraits. So how did a small, poor and largely agricultural country become known worldwide for its sense of style? Architecture – which linked to science and engineering - was actually one of the country’s first creative exports. For example, the chief planner of St Petersburg and designer to the Tsars was Swiss architect, Domenico Trezzini. Following the success of his ambitious Summer and Winter Palaces he went on to establish St Petersburg’s first university course in architectural studies.

Moving on to the early 20th century, the Bauhaus school of architecture was headed by Swiss designer Hannes Meyer – and the influence of compatriots Le Corbusier, Heidegger, Frisch, Giacometti, Zumthor and Botta is at every turn. Take a short walk around Basel and the vision of contemporary architects Herzog and de Meuron is apparent; likewise at London’s Tate Modern. Looking for a more radical statement? Check out the futuristic Monta Rosa hut or the Riffelalp Resort in Zermatt.

Form Follows Function

Pairing design with technical competency found an obvious next step in Swiss watch-making. But who would have foreseen the impact of Swiss Style (aka InternationalStyle) on graphic design? Developed in the 1950s using grid-based layouts and sans-serif lettering, it was a modernist movementthat produced Helvetica - one of the defining typefaces of the 20th century. Clear,objective and highly readable, Swiss Style and Helvetica led graphic ID andcommunication worldwide, linking to architecture, illustration, photography anddrawing. Wondering what Helvetica looks like? Check out the branding of the CFF,Evian, Migros, BMW, Jeep, Tissot and Nestlé...

But enough of the past. Is contemporary Swiss design hitting the mark or does the scene belong to Japan and Scandinavia? If there was ever any doubt here’s a new generation of Swiss icons: Freitag bags, Mondaine (the clock on your iPhone), Teo Jacob interiors, Micro scooters, Logitech digital devices, MBT trainers, Rex potato peelers and the latest must-have - Nespresso coffee machines. Looking for an update on your Swiss cuckoo clock? Look no further.

Angry birds? Definitely not...

Only Swiss designers could handcraft a cool, contemporary cuckoo clock with precision mechanics – and bring the wholequirky concept into the 21st century. Alexandre Gaillard and Martino d’Espositocombined their technical and design skills (plus humour) to ruffle feathers with funkydesigns, vibrant colours and painstakingattention to detail. Check out the lime greenKooKoo with its intricate wooden fretwork ora shabby-chic ChooChoo in bright scarlet.These are Swiss cult treasures reworked asfamily heirlooms. If your family’s cool enoughthat is...

A Summer of Swiss Design

The Vitra Design Museum on the outskirts of Basel hosts the inspirational 1950s and60s folk art collection of industrial designerAlexander Girard. Architect and designer offurniture and textiles for Ray and CharlesEames, US-born Girard (known simply asSandro) studied in Rome and workedextensively in Europe. His fascinatingcollection – from toys and dolls to everydaykitchen utensils – is on loan to the Vitra fromthe Museum of International Folk Art, SanteFe. Until January 29 2017.

Dada may have been an anti-art movement but ironically its design legacy lives on ...This summer it’s 100 years since a group ofcontroversial artists and writers set up campat the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich to renounce war and the tyranny of aesthetic –replacing it with absurdity in poetry, musicand installations. One of the most famousDada design statements? MarcelDuchamp’s ‘reworking’ of a ceramic urinal –entitled Fountain.

Manifesta 11, Europe’s nomadic biennial of contemporary art and design opens in Zurich this summer – with a new temporary city landmark created by students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). The Pavillon of Reflections is described as a floating urban island for Lake Zurich, incorporating a swimming pool, bar and cinema – and celebrating the city’s tradition for public swimming pools, or badis. Manifesta 11 - What People Do For Money – Some Joint Ventures.

Venues across Zurich - June 11 to September 18.

Tags: design

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