STÉPHANIE BAECHLER




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

For me utopia is a vision, it’s the force that drives me forward and makes me want to continue exploring. It creates an energy that drives my approach and my desire to deconstruct limitations. In my opinion, the utopian purpose of design is to liberate design from its entrenched circuits – so that unexpected connections and relationships can become tangible.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

Neutral is being in-between opposites. I see neutral design as an undisturbed balance between function and aesthetic expression.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

Experimental collaborations are mandatory to move design forward. Engaging with new parameters such as engineering, mechanical processes or learning about new materials can trigger unexpected viewpoints and provide huge impulses to the creative process. In my collaboration, it was really important to be able to connect on a human and social scale with the craftsmen in the Meroz factory. The personal conversations were essential to exploring and developing my ideas. Gaining insights into their expertise provided not only valuable insights into the technical aspects of precision springs, but into the interconnectedness with the world of watch-making, triggering wider questions: What is the future of traditional watch-making? What is the future of luxury goods?


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

The objects are domestic sculptures inspired by “complications” from horology, representing tension – the main purpose of such springs. The ceramic structure combined with the enlarged spring embodies movement and mechanism. It reflects human tension and the never-ending search for equilibrium.

MICHEL GRETZ, Meroz Ressorts S.A.




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

Actually all the objects we make are utopian! Many of our clients (mostly from the watchmaking industry, but our clientele is quite diverse) ask for the near-impossible. We have to make a detailed analysis of the inquiries and then decide if it can be done or not. It is quite a crazy business, and yet we manufacture around 1000 different products at our company.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

To me those are typically Swiss words. Neutrality may work in diplomacy and politics, but otherwise you can’t be neutral – that would even be dangerous, I think. You have to overturn things if you want to progress. Being neutral is a luxury.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

One difficulty in the early stages was trying to understand what Ms Baechler wanted, and what we could offer her. As time went on the project became more clearly defined and very exciting exchanges took place. Her savoir-faire is admirable and that was what brought us together in the end. Our competence is technical in nature, while hers is artistic; we managed to meet in the middle. The collaboration also gave us the opportunity to rediscover our own expertise.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

That is quite difficult, since Ms Baechler’s work includes an additional component which we have not seen. Even the pieces we manufactured are most unusual, particularly in terms of their scale. She enlarged the “complications” we produce for the industry by a factor of 10,000. Normally we never make such large parts from brass. Usually we only produce prototypes by hand, but in this case all the parts were hand-made for her.






DIMITRI BAEHLER




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

Utopia suggests an ideal which we cannot attain. It is the everyday experience of the designer.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

To me, neutrality in design refers to silent, still objects. Objects which blend in with their surroundings (which must themselves be neutral at that point). They are ‘normal’ objects whose function might not even have been determined yet. Blank canvasses.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

Collaboration with companies, artisans, developers and others is essential. We, the designers, are dependent on the expertise we gradually discover in this process, which gives us the opportunity to realise our dreams. Without collaboration, a project has little chance of seeing the light of day.
In this project I sometimes feel that my role has been rather that of coordinator than designer. As the project developed, we (myself, Mathieu Rivier and Christoph Guberan) decided to set up a platform so that we could work more effectively. Mouvement: a catalyst for exchanges between design and technology, based on research and development.
Our work on Hyper Modular lead to in-depth research into the concept of a material which can be a flexible, solid conductor as well as a conductor of heat. At the Biennale we are showing the first tests from this research and its utopian dimension.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

Hyper Modular is essentially based on one question: how to produce a lamp whose light source is the lamp itself, with utilitarian physical qualities too. This luminous bar becomes raw material, a neutral element from which a new field of experimentation emerges. Hence the almost utopian name Hyper Modular.
We chose to show the object as a mobile installation precisely to avoid giving it a defined function. This profile, set in movement by five motors, amplifies the idea of flexible light in an almost exaggerated manner. Delineated by a black line, the flow of light changes slowly, creating a diffuse wave over the surfaces it illuminates. Hyper Modular is alive.

OLIVIER THOMASSIN, NTPT




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

Our utopia is to have carbon everywhere! Actually the use of this material is continuously increasing. It is already used in marine and aviation; in high performance motors; the watchmaking industry; in space technology; and in sporting goods; with great potential for many other applications. Our strength as a company lies in our high degree of flexibility, our reactivity, and our capability of innovation. Our headquarters and R&D center are here in Switzerland – we do not simply sell standard products.
In the case of the extremely thin layers which we manufacture, the main driver is to extract the maximum properties from the materials – in all our applications, our partners are solving technical challenges with composites.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

Working with composite materials already shows that the philosophy has moved beyond conventional and predictable. The right materials for the right application without the constraint of what has been done before.
In relation to the project with Mr Baehler, I would say that the objective was to achieve a harmony of material by optimizing adhesion of three different components and to find the optimal balance between the materials so that they correspond to the desired features of the design. For this to work, we have to stay open to what is new.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

We liked the idea of the light from the very beginning. For us it was a serious challenge to find the right copper and the right bonding agent, and for sure to determine the right composite material, as the light was supposed to be extremely flexible. It is always interesting to work on such challenging projects, first with the satisfaction to ultimately see the object we that created together, then also because such a challenging subject always helps us to make progress with other projects too. The designer was deeply involved with the technical aspects and in the end it was he who discovered the right material for bonding.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

For us, the real challenge was to find the right combination of materials and the right thickness of the layers to achieve the flexibility whilst being strong enough. Although the design seems very simple, the production side is nevertheless extremely complex. The final result is a great advert for what is possible with composites – flexible; adaptable; strong; and revealing.






JOERG BONER




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

I see utopia in design as something which does not conform to the general rules that usually accompany the design process. Higher goals, values and dreams determine the direction and aim of the work.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

Regarding neutrality, it occurs to me that I have been thinking for a long time about objects and things which are neutral in the sense that they do not leave any physical trace behind after they have been used. Waste is an antiquated principle and it would be great if we could overcome it one day.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

As I mentioned, it is the transformation of the rules which is the most interesting aspect. In commercial projects all possible parameters have to be taken into account. In particular, many projects are subject to immediate business considerations and have to defer to these without question. An experimental collaboration disregards everyday restrictions and pursues different goals. So it is exciting because rules change over the course of time. It is quite probable that we will have to re-think and re-formulate many of these rules in the future. It is really great to work with a company which is already thinking that we must seriously examine the possibility of new rules quite soon.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

In our project, plant-based materials - woven mats made of flax and natural resin - meet light-emitting diode technology. An ancient material encounters a technology which is only a few decades old. The only thing they have in common is the fact that they represent potential solutions for working with the resources of our planet. One is renewable and does not leave any waste products in the modern sense, the other reduces energy consumption to a minimum. LED has virtually no physical form. In this technology everything centres on the efficiency level of a light-emitting diode. A diode itself is an electronic component. The production of light moves from the material world to an invisible world of electronics. The aim is to reduce the size of the object while increasing its performance. In relation to LED, form soon becomes a minor issue. In my project flax becomes an electronics carrier and, by absolutely minimising material quantities, a reflector.

SOPHIE DE RIJK, Bcomp Ltd




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

The world of composite materials is generally governed by the ideal of lightness for high performance. Usually, this is associated with synthetic materials. A polymer matrix, either through the mixing of fluid components reacting together to make a solid, or a meltable plastic heated up and then cooled, is combined with man-made fibres to reach this ideal of high stiffness for low mass. Bcomp, with its motto “play naturally smart”, brings natural fibres to this synthetic world and doesn’t stop at matching the performance of existing synthetic solutions - it wants to exceed it (and does!). Bcomp’s utopia is to perform better and to do this in a sustainable way.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

‘Neutral’ might at first glance be associated with the insignificant, the flat, but this is not the meaning it has for us. As Bcomp is very concerned with sustainability, to us neutral suggests accomplishing or producing something without any environmental impact. Neutral is therefore integrated into a perception of the world in terms of lifecycle. Neutral becomes the absence of tracks left behind, not the absence of action or result.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

A designer sees materials a bit differently; this story will perhaps show how. In this project, Bcomp’s engineers worked together with the designer to select the materials and to find the best way of shaping them into something inspiring. The engineers start thinking about all the practicalities: which material will make a stable but still good-looking shell, will it be reflective enough, how are we going to build it, will it stand in a stable way… The designer looks at the materials and makes some initial trials guided by the engineer’s suggestions. He then goes home with his first samples. The first samples look good, a couple of fabrics are combined together to get something light and the result matches what the engineer had in mind. With some time to think, the designer comes back with the drawings for the final part and it looks radically different. The final design has been stripped down to the most basic component; all the engineer’s practicalities have disappeared; now it just needs to be built.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

Essential, elegant, smart.






KUENG/CAPUTO




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

To have the courage to allow thoughts and imagination to wander freely amongst frontiers which have not yet fully formed in the mind. That is fertile ground for ideas and visions, far from the mere reproduction of the now. To be able to design a possible future we have to venture further, to think in unbiased ways and to try out many things.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

We come from a country that describes itself as ‘neutral’. But weapons exports are an important pillar of Switzerland’s economy. To do justice to the political concept of neutrality and Switzerland’s humanitarian standards, the arms industry should be abandoned.
In design, ‘neutral’ means treating all the parties involved as equals. As a designer, one is often the coordinator of diverse aspirations and know-how. Designers have to take responsibility, so that everyone involved can develop their full potential. To ensure satisfying outcomes, designers can play an important role in establishing the conditions for all contributions to come together.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

When experts in different fields work together and respect the different ways of working, a unique fusion of expertise arises automatically. The specific collaboration is fruitful and as a result the surprising, the novel, becomes tangible.
It is stimulating, inspiring and enriching to immerse ourselves in other people’s worlds. We are really fascinated by ‘nerds’, by people who have a great passion for something. Mutual respect for the knowledge of others is the basis for such collaboration.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

It hangs in the corner, it embeds itself into the existing architecture, it deadens noise and does not answer back.

Dr. URS T. GONZENBACH, de Cavis AG




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

We are sometimes faced with client requests which we categorize as difficult or even impossible to realise at the time, as our technology is not yet mature enough to allow us to do so. If similar requests are received years later, we often find that we have a suitable, almost ready-made solution that we can offer as our technology has been continually developing in the meantime. Through this continual development and effort, an initially utopian idea evolves into practical prototypes and products.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

First of all Switzerland of course, as a neutral country which does not participate in other countries’ armed conflicts and which, as a result, can often act as an intermediary. But neutrality also means balance, which plays an important role in a start-up environment when there is a difficult balancing act between - for example - work and leisure time.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

Due to the nature of our projects we are always used to working in a very precise way and to developing structural components with well-defined features that can be reproduced for our clients. But the collaboration with Kueng Caputo involved an approach which brings chance into play as an important factor. So for us it was challenging to work with this different way of thinking and proceeding. Even if the journey was challenging, the result was more than satisfactory and definitely inspiring.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

By fusing our development with Kueng Caputo’s design, it was possible to create something which neither partner could have created alone. Therefore the collaboration certainly inspired and motivated both teams. For me the end result is not so much a porous meteorite or elegant porous plasterwork, but rather a fusion of different ideas and attempts to create something that would not have emerged without this fusion.






PLUEERSMITT




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

Our interest in design can always be traced back to a utopia – various fragments which collide with each other, giving rise to a new entity. Utopia is a wish, a thought, a motivation to examine something, which only exists as a mass of ideas. So utopia is always striking out in new directions.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

Neutrality is an attribute which can actually be regarded as a tool that can either be set aside or added to the mix. Neutrality can be viewed as a positive pause or rest which is necessary to gather sufficient stamina to deal with the impact of stronger characters, and to actively seek out something gentler and more restrained. In relation to industrialisation and mass production in particular, neutrality could be something to strive for to achieve the optimum result.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

Experimental collaborations are absolutely essential when you begin with a fundamentally utopian idea. A willingness to embrace the experimental and to dedicate your own time and energy must be present on the part of the specialist team who are brought in, so that the utopia can become a reality. In this collaboration, our own vision too was very much strengthened in this respect.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

Zirconium oxide is utilised as a component which extends the life of industrial goods and to repair solid parts of the human body (teeth and bones). But now, a typically concealed material is exposed and applied as an outer membrane over a steel skeleton. Thus a displacement in its primary function occurs: the interaction with the human body now takes centre stage. We turn our attention to its optical and textural quality rather than its durability.

Dr. STEPHAN SIEGMANN, Novaswiss, Nova Werke AG




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

Coating technology is used worldwide and its significance is continually increasing. The thermal spraying process originated with a Swiss engineer. Without this process many things would not have been feasible, for instance in the rocket and aeronautics industry. A moon landing would have been virtually impossible. We unite materials which are fundamentally unrelated. Through the coating process the characteristics of the surface materials are improved, or new characteristics even emerge.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

To me, neutrality is about balance between opposites in all possible fields. Between positive and negative, between moving forward and looking back, between pro and contra, between man and woman, between yin and yang.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

For us the artistic, aesthetic aspect was new. Usually we work with engineers who know exactly which technical characteristics a surface ought to possess. With the designers it was different. The shape of the object caused particular difficulties, as did the aim to achieve an appropriate haptic and optical effect.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

It was the first time we had coated a consumer item of this kind. I am very happy that the experiment was a success. The object looks very fragile, although the ceramic only forms the thin external coating. In fact the bench is made of steel. The underlying utopian theme is that function and appearance would actually be mutually exclusive.






ADRIEN ROVERO




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

Utopia is a moment surrendered to dreaming, when we are able to think forward. In terms of design, that allows us to be open to vision and not to be distracted by the usual restrictions, therefore it is a great word to create a context for experimentation. In my opinion, utopia is not a distant or impossible place. Being conscious of what surrounds us, taking time to look at it and understand it can lead to a utopian vision as well.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

Of course, the Swiss label immediately springs to mind when speaking of the neutral. In design, it’s the constant search for a good balance within the object’s DNA – positioned somewhere between a conceptual statement and a ‘Gute Form’ approach.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

The word ‘experimental’ is very important in setting up the right goal: trying new things. Certainly, when we develop a product, we are always trying to innovate and find new solutions; but when we agree with a partner to adopt an experimental approach, it creates a sense of freedom for everybody involved. Expectations are centred around the potential of the project rather than the perfect final result.
The collaboration strongly influenced and shaped my understanding of the different processing technologies, but also my perception of the ‘value’ of glass as a material requiring high levels of engineering precision that takes considerable amount of time to refine.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

My project is like a book, telling us different stories about the materials and their transformations. It creates dialogue between materials that have been transformed by heat: lava stone and glass. Both materials are derived from minerals through a heating process. One process is more than 500,000 years old, the other is based directly on the latest manufacturing technologies.
Today, what tools and knowledge are available to us to enable us to look carefully at nature? The project is like a still-life landscape. I hope visitors will take time to breathe and to perceive.

MAYLING LUONG, Schott (Suisse)




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

At SCHOTT it is part of our DNA that we try to push existing limits, to overcome current boundaries whether they are technical limitations or fixed in our mind. For 125 years we have been working on ideas or goals that might have been utopian or unrealistic in the beginning, but finally come to fruition. So our daily business is to get everybody's life closer to a perfect utopian life.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

As a chemical company, physics and chemistry are part of our daily life. So the term ‘neutral’ is commonly used in our development. Nevertheless as a global company with a dedication to sustainability and social responsibility we cannot be neutral. We always try to make our position clear, that we act according to government rules and to our code of conduct.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

It was a completely new experience for SCHOTT Yverdon, even if other plants do work with designers from time to time (e.g. Ronnie Horn). This was the first time SCHOTT Yverdon had collaborated with a designer; our usual customers are from industry sectors such as semiconductors or life science. The work was inspiring and showed us what else can be done with our daily work.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

We normally produce according to clearly defined and often complex requirements that utilise multiple, specialised processes, each needing careful planning and sufficient time. Collaborating with the designer in finding the best solution to bring a vision to life was a challenge. We had to come up with a different approach in creative thinking as well as tangible solutions that could be implemented within a reasonable amount of time. Everybody involved was very happy to see what has been achieved. It gave us the opportunity to see our expertise applied in an aesthetic and also tangible way.






SIBYLLE STOECKLI




What is your understanding of utopia, or how would you define the utopian function of design?

I don’t like the concept suggested by this word. It makes me uncomfortable. The imagination is a tool which allows us to bring new situations into being and to live our dreams. Describing a project as utopian is like not allowing it to exist. To me that seems unfair, for I like to think that everything is possible simply if you believe in it.
To my mind, the utopian function of design is believing that design will help people to live better lives. That might have been true in the early days of design, but today, in western societies where we have ‘everything’, design largely offers superfluous objects. This is why, as designers, we have to reflect on new models by questioning the real needs of our human society and demonstrating other possible approaches in our own local context.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’? What can neutral mean in design?

‘Neutral’ is the place where opposites meet. It’s like a centre. Or a non-place, a bubble. A discussion where everyone makes compromises in a shared and positive spirit. A form of consensus (maybe like Switzerland…). Open ‘to possibilities’.
In design it implies making things with intelligence and good sense, as well as respect for all the participants in the production of an object with a common aim of service, quality and durability.


To what extent are experimental collaborations important in bringing design forward? How has the collaboration influenced your outlook?

The experimental collaborations are these neutral places focused on consensus and learning. The more shared knowledge we have, the more we enlarge our vision and the more our ability to make conscious choices is honed.
The fact that this project does not have to involve a product with commercial sales constraints is one of those freedoms which often do not exist in our professional projects. It is very enjoyable to work in this way. It provides a framework where you can ask true questions, without limitations.
This collaboration enriched my view of the embroidery sector in Switzerland, and of the textile industry in general and its connections around the world. It was not as I had imagined it and that is what strengthened the idea of working on an open project, where everyone can contribute with their own imaginative ideas and transform this fabric to make something that they consider significant and necessary.


How would you describe the character of your object or project?

I see this fabric as a working tool, which facilitates questioning, stimulates the imagination and the desire to create something for oneself. Observation, open-mindedness and freedom allow us to take responsibility for our lives and those of others.
Using the buttonhole as a graphic ‘cross-stitch’ and ‘Swiss cross’ element is a visual metaphor, a desire to deconstruct established codes and boundaries. Almost invisible, the embroidered buttonholes – a functional and universal detail – question our perception of existing solutions, somewhere between form and content.
‘Machines’ enable material to be manufactured rapidly. ‘Humankind’ with its creative potential can bring in its expertise and its desire to produce something in a hand-crafted way. Perhaps we are in this in-between state… Man-Machine… another form of neutrality?
This project can be described as technical, industrial, artistic, hand-crafted, aesthetic and political.

JOBY MANGALATH, Saurer (Embroidery)




What would you consider the most utopian aspects of your industry, work and expertise?

Because of the high production costs today, it is utopian to imagine that the textile industry in Switzerland can continue at current production levels. International competition is too intense, with many small firms having to close or be swallowed up by larger ones. But the embroidery sector has undergone extensive development. Embroidery was previously a purely luxury item, yet today the field of new applications has become much broader. Premium embroidery still exists, although these products are extremely expensive. And the lack of young skilled workers entering the industry in Switzerland is a problem. On the other hand it has to be said that Switzerland is still very strong in this specialized field.


What comes to mind in regard to the terms ‘neutral’ or ‘neutrality’?

When everything is in balance, things go better in the economy and in politics – I think that is true worldwide, not only in Switzerland. Armed conflicts are never a good option.


What was the most challenging and/or inspiring aspect of collaborating with the designer?

The designer knew exactly how the design of the fabric should look, but was very open and flexible at the same time. At first she thought her project would be easy to realise, but then she had to spend three days with us before the desired result was achieved. It was a great pleasure to work with her. And it was exciting to see how things really can be done differently; we also learned something.


Can you describe the end result of this collaboration in a few words?

We are very pleased with what was achieved – after all it was the first time we had attempted to do something like this. At first we were rather sceptical; it is not always easy to work with artists, as they have their own way of thinking and working. But the production process that took place over the three days was very enjoyable.