Designerly exploration: an interview with Wolfram Putz from GRAFT
Thomas Willemeit, Wolfram Putz, Lars Krückeberg of GRAFT, © Pablo Castagnola
With offices in Berlin, Los Angeles and Beijing, GRAFT is one of the most renowned architecture and design studios in Germany. We talked with the office partner and co-founder Wolfram Putz about materials and customization in architecture.
Wolfram Putz, GRAFT is active in the fields of interior and product design, but also in architecture and urban planning. What major trends do you see in materials and surfaces today?
We’re currently seeing less of a radical change of direction in the trends and more of an intensification of existing developments. Ideas such as rough luxury, health, re- and upcycling and performance in terms of environmental impact are still going strong. Corresponding certifications are in high demand on the market. Atmosphere also continues to play an important role, in particular a natural ambience. And that is all well and good, but we had hoped that the new plastics might lead to the re-emergence of a Barbarella-style euphoria for the future, like in the 60s. But the more differentiated message, namely that the material is recycled, is best communicated when the product has that look. We’ve yet to see a real paradigm shift in design. The same applies to the application of new technologies. If you think of conductive surfaces or curtain materials that can change their light transmittance for example, it is all happening very much in passing. It would be great if more designerly exploration were possible on the market.
GRAFT: Old Mill Hotel, Belgrade, Serbia, photo: Tobias Hein, Berlin
To what extent do you cooperate with manufacturers on product and interior design and perhaps also on the development of materials?
We’re doing a lot more product design than before, and we’re also collaborating with manufacturers. For example, at the moment we’re developing a carpet series for a large manufacturer and designing furniture and lighting, which is a field where there is tremendous technological progress in areas such as LED, OLED and so on. We’ve just developed a large light sculpture with a lighting manufacturer. But our work tends to consist of design as a specific stimulus that we present to manufacturers that are active in material development. Generally the volumes aren’t sufficient for this.
GRAFT: Showpalast Munich, © Stefan Müller-Naumann, by courtesy of EQUILA
Speaking of volumes, what role does customisation play?
That’s a big question. Rapid prototyping hasn’t quite lived up to its promise yet when you look at the costs. Fittings can be produced with 3D metal printing, but generally the right tool is made, and that feeds into the price. Warranty issues are also more difficult than with traditional manufacturing. A general development can be seen here, but it’s very product-dependent. Where the industry already has suitable possibilities, we make use of them. But we also do customisation in furniture in a very traditional way – with a carpenter and an upholsterer. That naturally depends on an architectural project’s function and its budget; different things are possible with a luxury hotel than in residential construction.
Today digitalisation is a topic with a formative influence. To what extent is it already integrated in our living spaces in a very concrete form?
Digitalisation is influencing materials and production, but it is also having an effect on the hardware house. We’re observing growing demand – naturally we’re still talking about a high-end market when it appears in a very pronounced form. If a living room wall is to be turned into a giant LED screen, for instance, it’s a cost issue. Added to this are the very short amortisation periods because the hardware is obsolete after just a few years: the extreme speed of development is the driver of implementation and the brake on it at the same time. There’s also the problem of data harvesting, the secret “vacuuming up” of our personal information in the home or at work, for example via a networked fire alarm that doesn’t solely fulfil its real function by any means. Time will show whether growing awareness of these risks among consumers will ultimately put a limit on this development.
GRAFT was founded by Lars Krückeberg, Wolfram Putz and Thomas Willemeit. Its offices in Berlin, Los Angeles and Beijing realise projects ranging from product design to urban planning. Together with Marianne Birthler, GRAFT curated the German Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2018.