New Slovenian design: it’s all about wood

New Slovenian design: it’s all about wood

The 25th Biennale of Design (BIO) in Ljubljana opened its doors to the public in May. Over the last half century, this international event has evolved from a traditional exhibition of designed objects –being the first such biennial in Europe in 1963 – to a completely new format more in line with the demands of the 21st century. Over the years BIO has contributed significantly to the development of Slovenian design, with its influence being especially strong on the latest generation of designers, who are globally oriented, proficient in use of Kickstarter and other social networks, and increasingly likely to use traditional materials and methods in their work. 


This year’s BIO is held under the title “Faraway, So Close,” and focuses on Slovenia’s main potential, at least in the eyes of the curators, its landscape. In the words of the organizers, the Biennale of Design is ”structured as a long-term collaborative process, where teams of designers and multidisciplinary agents develop alternatives to established systems”. The focus has thus shifted from traditional designed object to the use of design “as a tool to question and improve our daily life”. This year the curators have sent international teams of designers to some of the typical landscapes of Slovenia: the woods, the karst underground, mining areas, the plains of the Pannonian Basin, the coast, and the Alps. The event thus takes place in seven locations, not only in Ljubljana, but also in Grosuplje, Kočevje, Kobarid, Lendava, Trbovlje and Piran. The teams of designers have cooperated with local organizations and businesses to explore “new models and strategies for tourism, for marketing and presenting attractions, for food production, and for the development and growth of new activities.”


There is little doubt that the biennial has contributed greatly to the development of Slovenian design, and in recent years we have seen a real flourishing in this area, as a new generation of Slovenian designers who adopt novel approaches has become increasingly visible. These members of the new wave of Slovenian design share many common characteristics, and perhaps most noticeable of all is a focus on wood, combine new forms or usages with traditional materials and techniques.


Ribrand, for example, is a modern brand of wooden products preserving the woodworking traditions of the Ribnica Valley, and combining these with modern forms and technologies. Toni Kancilja’s Istra composition is inspired by traditional drawers and cabinets from the Slovenian part of Istria, and is made of massive pieces of walnut or wild cherry tree. Tok Tok creates wooden furniture in close cooperation with Slovenian craftsmen, using locally-sourced materials, while not being limited to traditional furniture. For example, their highly original wooden speaker for smartphones, called Trobla, amplifies sound without electronic components or batteries. Another young designer, Luka Bassanesse, has created both traditionally inspired furniture, as well as an iPhone wireless charging case and a new shape for kitchen blenders.


“Kredenca”, a kind of kitchen cabinet, were once a central element in Slovenian homes, and the designers Matic Lenaršič and Jernej Koželj have adapted this traditional piece of furniture to meet the needs of contemporary consumers. Their solution uses harmonica pleats and design elements drawn from origami, and has won awards in both Slovenia and abroad.


The Wilsonic Design team has also collected several prestigious awards since it was founded in the year 2000. They cooperate with top Slovenian companies, like Adria Mobil, Hidria, Tam and Kolektor, while their design solutions have been applied in products ranging from electronic roulette machines to airport buses, caravans, and medical examination tables. They have received two Red Dot Awards for Product Design, one in 2012 for their Googy rocking horse, and another in 2014 for Hidria’s high performance fans. They note that the Googy soft rocking horse is “a designer's reply to the challenge of conventional rocking horses, which can be quite unforgiving to the clumsy approaches of toddlers and younger children.” This item is produced by Oblazinjeno pohištvo Novak, and received a gold medal along with being ranked by Zero Design magazine as among the six best featured products shown at the Milan Design Week.


The wooden buildings created by young Slovenian architects also often receive awards and are featured in international design magazines, like Dezeen. The youngest designers, however, are still waiting for wider recognition, and to speed up the process they now turn to social networks and, most of all, the Kickstarter funding platform. A typical example is the ONDU range of wooden pinhole cameras. This lo-tech approach to photography was presented on Kickstarter in 2013 with the goal of raising 10,000 US dollars, and it ended up with almost 110,000. 

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