The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, MN is currently the home of a traveling exhibition which features the works of Austrian-born architect and designer Josef Frank. A wide array of furnishings and textiles by Frank are on display now through July 8, 2012.
Firm principals, Christine Albertsson and Todd Hansen were asked to give a gallery talk shortly after the opening of the exhibit where they shared images and concepts of Josef Frank’s career that have inspired the work we do at a&h. They were able to draw connections and parallels between Frank’s sensibilities and principles we use in our design today.“Josef Frank was educated in Vienna just after the turn of the 20th century and became the leader of the younger generation of architects in Austria after the 1st world war. But Frank fell from grace when emerged as a forceful critic on the extremes of “modern” architecture and design during the early 1930s. Dismissing the demands for a unified modern style, Frank insisted that it was pluralism, not uniform, that most characterized life in the new machine age. He called instead for a more humane modernism, one that responded to peoples’ everyday needs and left room for sentimentality and historical influences. He was able to put these ideas into practice when in 1933, he was forced to leave Vienna for Sweden, where he became chief designer for the Stockholm furnishings company, Svenkst Tenn, where during 30+ years his work came to define Swedish or Scandinavian Modern Design.” (Josef Frank: Life and Work, C. Long 2001)
"Interiors of today are characterized with sun, air, flowers and color, with harmony, simplicity, comfort and pleasantness, cleanliness and purity.” (Convenience & Pleasantness, Frank)
Frank was committed to ideas of comfort and pleasantness in architecture. He had “civilized” values and achieved his ideas through an understanding of interiors as symbolic rather than utilitarian. The minimalist, industrialization of design de-humanized homes and living spaces. Frank believed that people could not tolerate extremes but rather that a combination of clean-ness, comfort and personal expression was the best path.
The application of principles Raumplan vs. Plan LibreFrank’s ideals stood in sharp contrast with standard European mottos of the times. Take for example, Corbusier’s famous quote, “A house is a machine for living in.” Frank believes that a home should be a place of comfort and beauty rather than an industrial and impersonal environment.
Neutral backgrounds allow for the mixture of materials in fabrics and furniture and they are more vivid against a white backdrop. Frank’s fabric designs also lack apparent repetitive geometry. His patterns only repeat on a large scale and it often takes a long time to find the repetitions, creating a sense of freedom, infinity and connections to the natural world which make them hold your attention longer and make any piece of furniture covered with them a mystery.
Complex patterns bring a sense of calm to a room “Ornament subdivides the surface and thus reduces in size. The monochrome surface seems restless the patterned one calming, the richness of the ornament cannot be fathomed immediately, whereas the plain surface can be grasped immediately and thus ceases to be of interest.” (Frank)
To allow for the greatest flexibility Frank treated his rooms as more or less neutral containers unless a client insisted otherwise. He left walls white, introducing color through use of Oriental rugs and printed fabrics.